Hey kids. In case you haven't noticed, this page hasn't updated in a long time. There's a reason for that. I set up a new blog.
This old site was built for the days when it would get hundreds of thousands of hits a month and we had multiple writers. That's not the case anymore. I've given up being a critic and certainly don't want to be any sort of film journalist. I want to make my own movies. So there is only one writer here and I don't need this many options. I just needed a simple blog.
This site was started in 1998 and contains literally thousands of pages. It's too much work to condense it all somehow, so I'm leaving it here, as is. Untouched. It's a record of what I and the many other great writers did here. Going forward, you'll find me at my blog. It's at the same site, just a different, simpler set up. I'm too busy writing scripts, learning how to film and how to create special effects to have the time to write in great detail here. It's just small sporadic updates, so you can know I'm still alive and kicking and getting something done. I still have the itch to write on the site all the time, I've just had to ignore it.
And man do I hate the word blog. But, it's what people call them, so I'm stuck with it.
So that's it here. Look for me here instead. And I'll be shutting down the comments on this part of the site. I just don't have the time or energy to smack around the spammers on this part of the site.
Hey kids. Remember me? Of course you don't. I'm the guy who sporadically runs this place.
Yeah, I haven't bothered to post in over a month now. The guilt eventually got to me. This site is my browser's homepage so I get a daily reminder that I'm not posting here. But time has been an issue, which means something has to give and as usual, it's the blog. So let's get back to speed, shall we?
I finished NaNoWriMo successfully. With one day to spare I hit 50,095 words on my novel Straw Nation. And then I stopped for a couple days, picked it back up, stopped, picked it back up and then stopped. The story isn't close to being finished but I am putting it aside for now. This was a great experience and I learned a lot from it. And I do intend to finish the novel. Just not now. Novel writing was an experiment. I wanted to know if I could do it. I can, so now I can move on.
And for anyone keeping score, Sam Brady beat me to the finish line. I thought I had him but over Thanksgiving I stopped for a few days and he shot right past me.
So at this point, it sounds like laziness to put the novel down. Why not finish after putting in all this work? Because other things are burning in my brain. I tend to have several ideas churning in my head at one time. They pick up little bits and pieces here and there, gaining mass and interest over months or years. And then suddenly they hit a tipping point and I have to start writing immediately. That's what happened here. One script idea came to me about six years ago and I started writing it but because it hadn't gone through that churning process, it lost steam and died quickly. When my mom died earlier this year, that idea started churning again. I'm not exactly sure why. The idea is for a horror movie, which involves death, so maybe that's what it was. I don't know.
Over the course of the year it has been simmering, picking up stray ideas here and there. In the course of writing the novel, this script idea crossed the tipping point. One last idea hit me, a direct result of writing the novel, and it was the perfect last piece of the puzzle. Suddenly that story idea bloomed, coming fiercely alive. I kept putting it off, because I was already writing something else but it keeps pestering me, demanding my time and attention. At last it seemed for the sake of sanity, I needed to start working on it.
That's where I am now. For a change of pace, I'm going to outline this one completely. I've never successfully managed that before. Being a card carrying member of the just wing it school of writing, outlines are generally anathema to me. But I want to give that process a chance, if for no other reason than so many writers use it. I'm going to couple that with another new method. The reason that I free write most everything is because that's how I find my characters. I let them talk to each other in my head, writing all of it down as they go. That's how I figure out who they are, by listening to them talk. I have to go back and chop out most of it later but it's a useful method. Outlining makes that process difficult. So I will write dialog with no intention of using it in the script. It will be off to the side, completely unrelated, just so I can hear the characters talk before letting them walk around in the story.
The plan is to spend another week on this process before starting the actual script. Then I want to write as fast as my fingers (and time) will allow. I tend to enjoy my work more when it comes out at top speed. At least for the first draft.
For now at least, I'm calling this script Unholy. I'll try to keep you posted.
I mentioned in the previous post that I was writing all the time and that's why I was falling behind in posting photos. The reason that I'm writing all the time, beyond simply being a writer, is that I have decided this year to take up the challenge of National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo).
If you've been reading this site for a long time, (and why would you?) you might remember that we had a guy writing TV reviews here by the name of Sam Brady. While he doesn't do that here anymore, we've stayed in touch and thus I became aware of NaNoWriMo. Sam had done it at least the last two years and it always seemed like a fascinating idea. Simply put, contestants must crank out 50,000 words of a novel in a single month. Now, the idea is not to create a complete finished novel in that time. More specifically, the idea is to come up with a first draft. Even more specifically, the idea is to train writers that disciplined regular writing makes you a better writer.
I rarely have that level of discipline. To be fair, I spend a lot of time mentally working out what I'm writing, so that when I do sit down to type, it comes out in big bursts of productivity. But that's not disciplined enough. So I decided to give this a try.
The biggest problem for me is that I'm a screenwriter, not a novelist. I've never attempted anything like this before. In school I had a few short stories but nothing longer than a few pages. When the idea for my script She Hates the Idea came to me, I started writing rapidly with no script style or format, so that I could get the basics down on paper without needing to stop for formatting. That was probably the longest thing I've written in that format and it doesn't even vaguely approximate the size of a novel.
This is something very different. And the reason it took me a few years to decide to try it was the jump from screenwriting to novel writing was a daunting one. The format is completely different. Novels are very internal, allowing the reader to hear the thoughts of characters. Scripts are very external, depending on visuals to be added later in the film making process. Novels are much longer than scripts, allowing for a lot more of everything.
I spent years working on the craft of writing scripts. Switching gears to something so different was intimidating. But I want to get better, to stretch my wings. And so I took an idea that I had abandoned as a script because it wasn't working in that format and made it the basis for a novel.
After two days of writing, I'm at 4896 words, almost a tenth of the way. The first day was very slow and awkward as I tried to get the feel for this different style of writing. Attributions and viewpoint were the biggest stumbling blocks. Movies have a very specific viewpoint that is rarely, if ever, found in novels. So not writing that way was awkward. Attributions aren't that difficult but when you aren't used to using them, they slow things down. The first day I only managed about 1300 words. So things are looking up.
I'll try and post regularly on the progress of this project but don't expect them daily. I need my time for writing this book, remember?
The worst part about finishing anything is that it generally means facing a totally blank page (screen) to start something completely new. With a first draft of Hive behind me, it's important to clear my brain and go in a different direction. After a few weeks I'll go back and read Hive again. Hopefully at that point my alpha readers will have gotten back to me with some feedback. Then I can start a second draft.
But now I need something else to write. I had some choices in mind. Typically I keep several projects in mind at once so I can switch gears quickly if I run into trouble on another one. The current short list of ideas had three things on it. One was a page one rewrite of Joe Bob the Messiah. Joe Bob remains my favorite character that I've come up with. And based on feedback from anyone who has read it, I'm not alone in that view. But I've never been totally happy with the story I have him in. The core concept is solid but in practice it seems off to me. I'd try to lighten it up, make it more focused and a lot funnier.
The second idea was a horror story I've had kicking around in my head for years now. For some reason it started popping into my thoughts a lot more often after my mother passed away. I'm not sure what that says about me.
Finally, that zombie thingie I keep mentioning. Originally that was going to be a movie but now I'm seriously thinking web series.
And the winner is...
The zombie project. That one has been on the back burner for awhile because I hadn't come up with a story or characters. There were a few scenes but no connective tissue. But a couple days ago I sat down and just started writing a stream of consciousness document with anything I could think of for the scripts. And eventually an idea popped up. An idea that just got better and better the more I thought about it. And that's all I'll say about that.
The point of this post is to talk about the writing process a bit. I write with headphones on and music going. What I listen to varies by project. For Hive I listened exclusively to Bear McCreary's score for Battlestar Galactica. And if someone ever buys it and wants to make it, I will campaign heavily for him to be hired to compose the score. It seems only fair. He provided a lot of inspiration for it. The choice of that music was very deliberate. That score combines traditional orchestral with a mixture of less familiar instruments, and a distinctive percussion. I've read comments from him that he did that to contrast the human and cylon cultures. That related, in a way, to what I was writing so it became my personal score while writing.
Now that I'm seriously attacking this zombie project, I'm digging through my music library for stuff that inspires me. Which is tricky because I'm just starting to get a feel for what I'm doing. To be honest, I don't know half of what's on my computer. Every year I download the collection of songs from the acts playing SXSW, usually 500-800 songs each time. It's fun to set those to random and see what pops up. And that's how I'm building my play list. Every time something grabs me, it goes on the list. So far it contains no film scores or metal, which surprises me to no end.
That's it. Off to bed. I'm going to try this sleep thing I keep hearing about. I've heard good things.
Update (2010-09-13 07:51:11)
I see I'm not the only one to take this approach. Screenwriter John August has a pretty similar approach.
We interrupt your regularly scheduled photo blog to talk about some actual writing.
One year, six months and nine days after I started working on my original script Hive, I finished the first draft. That is a personal record for a sluggishness I believe. To be fair, I actually stopped working on it for about nine months to concentrate on polishing She Hates the Idea and Natural Tendencies. I had this crazy idea that since I'm trying to make a living at this, the smart thing would be to finish some projects before starting a new one. When those were done I went back to Hive.
This was a tough script. It featured a female main character who was not at all crazy. That is kind of the polar opposite of my previous scripts. And it had a non-linear story line, which I had never attempted before. And when you don't tend to outline, a non-linear storyline is a lot more headache inducing. This script forced me to try outlining for the first time, a process I don't much enjoy. But after months of getting nowhere, it became apparent that I needed to sort out the timeline of the story so that I knew exactly all the beats that should be included. With that solved I could start plugging things in.
One of the reasons that I don't like to outline is that system makes the writing feel stiff and too regimented, which my brain rebels against. But here it was essential. It freed me up from constantly trying to figure out where in the story I should be working. And when it came time to write out each beat I found that my original note on the subject wasn't good enough and wrote something different. Those new ideas would spawn other new ideas and the story went in a different direction than I was thinking but still ended up where it needed to be. So, strangely, structuring my writing gave me the freedom to ignore my plans and wing it.
Anyway, now I need to print off some copies and give them to (hopefully) willing alpha readers. Now I get to find out if the long wait was actually worth it.
For the last month I've been throwing stills at you from my new camera, but that's not why I bought the thing. At least not primarily. My goal is to be a working filmmaker, one way or another. Toward that end I bought the Canon Rebel T2i, which is a lovely DSLR for stills but more seductively to me, it also shoots 1080p HD video at that magical film-like rate of 24 frames per second. Now I've tinkered with it a bit, testing it in various conditions but apart from one little short that was closer to a camera test, I hadn't pushed myself with it yet.
I've read extensively on filmmaking and have a pretty good idea how things should work. But knowing it in theory and knowing it in practice are two very different things. A few years ago I started work on a short film and very quickly recognized that difference and just how far I was from the practical end of the scale. So I'm starting simple. Tell a simple story and make it as entertaining and good looking as possible. My subject: cooking breakfast. With the kids off to school, I set up my tripod in the kitchen and set about filming the process of cooking myself a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich.
The T2i has pretty amazing low light capabilities and that quickly suckered me into a mistake. I assumed since this thing could shoot in low light situations that I didn't need to light my shots. When you watch this video, the early shots at the stove make it clear how wrong I was. The shots were dark and grainy and none too eye pleasing. So part way into the process I went and grabbed a dome light and parked it over the stove. Instant improvement. I wish I'd had a few more of them.
Anyway, it's a start. I learned a lot and enjoyed the process, so it was well worth the time. And the sandwich was surprisingly edible, considering how much extra time went into the filming. Several shots of bacon cooking were tossed because I burned the bacon badly due to being more concerned with filming than cooking. A second batch was tossed into the pan, both to eat and shoot. The monster crunch when I bite into the sandwich at the end tells the whole story.
Incidentally, the inspiration for this was this video by DP Phillip Bloom. If you have any interest in making movies with DSLRs, his site is a must read.
Have you ever fought with a rusted bolt? It's one of the most aggravating parts of fixing something. You get everything disassembled except one bolt. And it will not budge. Usually it feels like that single bolt could hold the entire planet together in the face of a monstrous asteroid slamming into the Earth. Eventually the bolt gives way under attack from a variety of methods and a big sigh of relief emerges.
That's how I feel right now. I have been stalled on my current script. It's not writer's block. The writing never stopped. But it sure did suck. The stuck bolt in this case was the main character. For me, writing really flows when I know characters so well that seem to come alive in my brain and take off in their own directions. At that point it feels like riding a dog sled. You hold on for dear life and do your best to make sure the team heads in the general right direction. You can always come back and smack them into shape on the rewrite if they didn't quite behave themselves. Anyway, the main character in this script has bedeviled me from the start. I knew the structure of the story I wanted to tell but she remained an enigma to me.
I was writing someone so tightly wound that she wouldn't open up and show her true nature to me. She was projecting a front and hiding behind it. And suddenly it occurred to me that I was staring right at the core of this character and was faked out by it. You've probably already figured out what I didn't. The nature of this character is that she fiercely protects her true self by projecting a front and hiding behind it. When that epiphany struck, the bolt popped free.
I've never written a script where I threw out so much stuff before. Endless scenes have been written and discarded simply because they were filler. I was dancing around trying to find the center, writing trivial bits and hoping they showed me something useful. All of it crap. Now that I've come to understand my main character, the scenes come winging out with confidence. And I let out a big sigh of relief.
Here is a great sci-fi short film that was shot for a mere $5000. It's an entertaining movie and very well made, but what I like most about it is the way it was made. Big budget movies solve most problems with money. Low budget films can't do that so they use creativity and extreme levels of hard work to compensate. This movie was shot cleverly to make the most of the main actor in the movie. The special effects, while impressive for the budget, are not the point and are used pretty sparingly as spice to help tell the story. They aren't the point of the film. That's not only better for the budget but also for the story. The effects exist only to help tell the story, not to supplant it.
I could easily have used this for the photo blog but I had a different purpose in mind. Time lapse photography. I've long been fascinated by night photography. The light is so odd and alluring in photos taken at night. With my previous camera I attempted some of it, but it just wasn't up to the task most of the time. My new camera is definitely up to the task. So I trekked out to the back yard with the tripod, pointed the camera at a fairly random spot in the sky and took a long exposure shot. When it finished and the image popped up on the LCD, my jaw hit the floor. So many more stars appeared than my eye could ever pick up.
That led to the next step, time lapse. Very simply I just repeated the same shot over and over. Half an hour later I had thirty plus shots. Strung together on the computer gave me the hardest one second of video I've ever shot. But I'm excited with the possibilities. Check out this guy's work for an example.
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