Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Writing A Screenplay: A Freaking Doing Stuff Saga

I went to film school. Sort of. I didn't go to artsy fartsy Fellini-loving film school. I was a TV & Film major at a school that was more "This is what you should do if you want to stand a chance of actually making any money. Oh and by the way, you'll probably never get a job as a director, so while we're at it why don't we teach you how to be an executive. I know, you think you're not a suit, but trust me, everyone has a price."

And while I was under the impression that I learned a great deal, and even though I seemed to be spending a lot of time working on enormous projects, I somehow graduated without knowing anything about writing a screenplay. Nothing about 3 act structure or character development or how to construct an outline.

This didn't bother me for a while after graduation because I was happy to take any job where I got my very own cubicle. But about a year into my first job in L.A., I realized I should probably have a goal beyond paying next month's rent. And so I chose the same goal as everyone else who lives here -- to write and sell a screenplay.

When I was younger I used to write out short little movies that I would then have my friends act out, while I taped the whole thing with our camcorder. And in college, whenever we had to work in groups, it was always my script that was chosen for the next project. So maybe, just maybe, I had a knack for it. Perhaps I should give it a try.

That was 5 years ago. Since then, I've finished zero scripts.

My first attempt to write a script was a catastrophe. I sat down at my laptop and just started writing. I had no outline, no idea what plot was. I just started making up scenes as I went along. My roommate at the time, also a writer, read my first 15 pages and said it showed promise. But she wondered what it was about. I told her I wasn't sure. Something about a girl who makes herself go crazy. (What?)

It occurred to me I might need to back the truck up and really learn how to write. Conveniently, this revelation took place a week before a screenwriters conference was to be held downtown in the convention center. So I bought myself a weekend pass and a snazzy new notebook for taking down Very Important Notes.

The event was a lot like any other trade convention. Throughout the weekend there were various classes with titles like Getting to Know You: The Importance of Character Development and THE END: How to Reach Those Two Magic Words. Then there were a few seminars held in the large auditorium with special guest speakers -- in this case, writers of popular movies who tried, unsuccessfully, to relate to an audience full of wannabes.

I wish I could say that attending the convention was immensely helpful, but really it was depressing and discouraging. For one thing, there were thousands of people milling about, which only served as a reminder of how many other schmucks are trying to be the writer of the one screenplay a year that's optioned from an unknown. Also, they all looked like losers. I know, this means that probably I looked like a loser too, and that was precisely the problem. By lunchtime on Sunday I'd become convinced that anyone who had any business trying to make a career of screenwriting would not be at this convention. I went home early and didn't write again for years.

Then a year ago, a friend emailed me about a writing group that was about to start up its new session. Because I'm impulsive, I signed up right away. And, to this day, I'm still in the group. I know, I can't believe it either.

There are 5 of us, and we meet once every 2 weeks to offer notes and ideas to one another on our various projects. And while their notes are certainly helpful, the biggest advantage of working with them is that I'm held accountable to someone. If I don't work on anything for a month, I feel like a bum, and guilty for not contributing to the group.

Here's the point in this post where I should write "And now, I'm nearly done with a script. At last!" But that's far from the case. During the second 6 month session of the group I abandoned the script I'd started in the first session. And then the wedding took over and I got nowhere with it. So here we are in the third session and I'm back to outlining.

I suppose I'd be more motivated if I thought that completing a script meant something would happen. Like I could send it off to a national database that important movie people go to when selecting new projects. And then they'd pick mine and give me $1 million. But I know that finishing it will mean precisely squat. I don't have an agent and nobody knows who I am. Plus, I am lucky enough to love my job, and so I don't have that "I've gotta get outta here" motivator.

Still, in the spirit of doing stuff --all the way-- I've decided this is my year. Time to quit being lazy, quit finding excuses, and just finish it for the sake of finishing.

It's a long way to the top if you wanna rock n roll. You know?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Done and Done

Thank you cards are finally complete and were mailed yesterday.

My apologies to anyone who receives one of them because it will likely be illegible, outdated (Happy New Year!), inaccurate, or vague.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Outing FAIL: The Los Angeles Street Food Festival

You're probably thinking, "Wait. Is she going to write about something she didn't do?"

Yes. Yes she is.

In the past year or so, the people of Los Angeles have developed a bit of an obsession with food trucks. To name a few, there's the Grilled Cheese truck (which I visited last week), the Buttermilk truck (which I'm told serves chicken & waffles - made famous locally by Roscoe's), and the very popular Kogi Korean bbq truck.

Having only experienced the Grilled Cheese truck, I can't pretend to be an expert on the trend. I'd imagine, though, that's it's owing only partially to the delicious fried foods one can purchase for a relatively cheap price. I think the big draw is that these restaurants are totally mobile - and since (I'm convinced) it's impossible to stumble across anything in this city, if you want to sample their yuminess, you have to do some detective work and track them on their websites, or hope they park for a few hours at an area near your home or workplace.

Or, you can hope that all of these fabled trucks park in one place on the same day, and offer up their treats at discounted prices. Then you'd have the first annual Los Angeles Street Food Festival, which took place downtown this past Saturday.

After spending my Saturday morning getting a haircut and a pedicure, I was feeling quite perky and eager to check out the festival. And I was starving. So I bullied Devin into thinking that making the journey downtown was not only necessary, but also the greatest idea I'd ever had. Also, the weather was beautiful... sunny and warm, bordering on hot. I was happy to wear sandals for the first time in months.

We decided to avoid freeway traffic and overpriced downtown parking by taking the Metro. Many people don't know L.A. has a subway. Even people who live in L.A. don't know there is a subway --possibly because it doesn't go anywhere on the westside...and because the stops are pretty spaced out so you sort of have to drive to the Metro stop, which sort of defeats the purpose...

I'm not selling this very well, but I swear in recent months I've become a huge fan of the Metro. Did you know you can take it all the way to Long Beach? Well. You can.

And for going downtown, it's definitely the best option.

So there we are, riding on the train and our car gets more and more crowded with every stop. I overhear several different conversations that include the words "food" and "festival" and "truck." It occurs to me that I am not the only Angeleno with this marvelous plan.

After about 20 minutes, we arrive at our stop and make our way above ground. As we walk the several blocks to the festival, I notice we are just 2 people in a crowd of perhaps 35 heading in the same direction. When we finally get to the event, we encounter the longest line I have ever ever seen in my whole life. This line went for 2 blocks before folding into a large parking lot, then continuing along the entire edge of the parking lot, making almost a complete square and then leaving the parking lot, continuing straight along the sidewalk, then hanging a left and going on for god knows how long. I couldn't see where this damn thing ended. The entrance was nowhere in sight. It was a line that might have been appropriate if the festival had the ONLY food in Los Angeles. Or perhaps if it was the line for a vaccine against The Sickness in the zombie apocalypse.

We took one look at this insanity and said, in unison, "Fuck this." Then we started walking off, in no particular direction, to see if we could find something else to do. I snapped a few pictures.

Downtown really is a neat area and I always think it's a shame that I can't spend more time exploring. But honestly, on weekends the place is pretty much a ghost town. Devin's last job was downtown and I'm jealous that he got to get out and about on his lunch breaks. I'm sure during the work week it's very lively.

But there we were on a Saturday. All of the good restaurants were closed. Other than that, the only things within walking distance were a Brooks Brothers store, a creepy mall, and a Coffee Bean. Oh, and there was a California Pizza Kitchen, but Devin hates that place and also it was already packed with all of the other would-be festival goers who didn't want to brave the 4 mile long line and who were now directionless and ferociously hungry.

So, back on the train we went. By this point it was 3pm, I really had to pee, the beautiful sunshine had made me too hot, and I hadn't eaten a thing all day.

We wound up grabbing lunch at a pub about a mile from our apartment. It was a very long journey to go a very short distance, but I don't regret it. In the end, I still had a little day trip, I still enjoyed the weather, and I still got to cram fried food into my face (fish and chips!). Plus, this place had cold beer. Mmmm.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Doing It Well: Thank You Cards

As of today, it's been a whole 4 months since my wedding. The good news is that we have a bunch of snazzy new kitchen stuff, I never want to watch another wedding show on TV, and I still like my husband.

The bad news is I have yet to send out my thank you cards.

I'd once thought that a bride had to send them out immediately following the wedding. But then a coworker told me I had up to A YEAR to send them and that just blew my good intentions to smithereens. You never tell a procrastinator how much time she can waste.

So, I waited. And waited and waited. And then Christmas happened. And even though I wasn't really busy for the month of December I still used it as an excuse to delay the task.

Don't get me wrong here. I really am insanely grateful for all of the gifts people gave us. The generosity of our friends and family is astounding. If I could, I would send them all a giant bouquet of flowers instead of just a measly card.

The problem is that my laziness is overtaking my gratitude and the idea of writing out all of those cards makes me sleepy. Not to mention that between two bridal showers and an engagement party, I've already composed nearly 100 thank yous (And, miraculously, I did so in a timely fashion) so I am a little fatigued.

But knowing that this is the one final, missing piece of the whole wedding puzzle finally started to wear away on my very soul and so about a month ago I went to Amazon to order some thank you cards. When the package of cards arrived, I shoved it in a dark corner somewhere and ignored it for a while.

Then finally, one evening, I found the nicest pen in the pen cup, pulled up the list of gifts we received and set to work on my thank you cards. It wasn't long before my arm cramped up and I called it quits. Since then, I've worked on them here and there, but now I'm out of cards because I some how managed to order 2 packs of 14, but thought I'd ordered 2 packs of 50.

Yet I'm determined to turn this whole scenario into a good thing, which is why I'm going to offer advice to anyone out there who may be getting married soon. It's the start of a column called Doing It Well.

So, Doing It Well: Thank You Cards

#1: Buy enough cards
Get more than you need because you will most certainly mess up more than once, and you know you can't send out a card with scribbled out mistakes.

#2: Fill them out immediately
Because if you wait until you have some time and are in the mood, you will never never do them and then you'll be cranky and hopeless like me. I'd briefly entertained the idea that I would bring my thank you cards on my honeymoon to work on while I was lounging by the pool. It's a good thing I didn't or the mai tais would've taken over and I don't know WHAT I might have written then. But, I guess at least they would have been done.

#3: It's okay to be generic
For some reason I seem to think that I need to write an original and charming message that is personalized to every recipient of my thank you cards. This, I'm convinced, wastes a ton of energy that I should really be putting toward my penmanship. On average, I spend about 5 seconds reading a thank you card. It would make me feel terrible to know that the writer of that card had sat there for as long as I do, agonizing over the right word choices.

And really, the more time I over-think my message, the worse it gets. Then I wind up with doozies like "Thanks for the towels. They are very warm. It's okay you couldn't make it to the wedding. Australia is far! Maybe we'll visit some time. Bye!" (Actual written message. Envelope is sealed. Can't go back now.)

#4: Do them all at once
I don't care who says that you should break them up into manageable chunks. Do them all at once and get them off of your plate. Otherwise, you'll be like me and wind up with 28 cards that end with "wishing you all the best for the new year" that won't be sent out until all of the other cards are finished... probably some time in April.

#5: Make your husband fill out a bunch
Especially ones for friends and family of his you don't know very well. This way, you won't risk writing something really really dumb and having it read by people who may think it's a reflection of your actual intelligence and personality.

I think I'll leave it off there because 5 is a nice number. Though if I was going to make a #6 it would be - send out the cards you've already written because then you'll feel like you HAVE TO finish the task. And #7 would be - don't blog about things you should be ACTUALLY doing.