Celebration Cycle

Recently the Brenner clan descended on Pittsburgh to pay our respects to my Mother’s brother who passed away last month. Uncle Jim was only sixty-four, which made this unexpected loss feel all the more premature and painful.

For those of you who follow this bloggy on a regular basis, you may remember a couple of years ago when I was on my glorious work Sabbatical and was able to spend some time in Florida to help out Uncle Jim after he had bypass surgery.  I ended up being the worst Florence Nightingale ever.  Within a day of arriving my face expanded into a swollen red mess after an unfortunate allergic reaction to some facial cream.  I looked like I had gone ten rounds with Rocky Balboa and eventually found myself at a Tampa Bay Urgent Care getting an injection in the posterior.  As my Uncle joked then, “Who’s taking care of who?”

And that attitude sums him up.  For while dealing with his own health issues and his flailing niece, he always maintained a humorous, upbeat outlook.  I look back on that visit with such fondness.  It was a welcome change of pace for me, and I got to spend time with a generous, big-hearted soul.  I also made note of the gorgeous custom-made Harley Davison that occupied his Florida garage.  I think the thing Uncle Jim looked forward to most after recovering from his surgery was being able to ride his cycle again.

So it was only fitting that my cousin Jimmy made it a priority to have that cycle at Uncle Jim’s memorial service in Pittsburgh, which took the form of a brunch at Jimmy’s country club.  Obviously, transporting the cycle from Florida to Pittsburgh required some serious logistics.  The bike had just been sold to a four-time Purple Heart recipient who had served in the Vietnam War (fitting since Uncle Jim often participated in bike rides for our veterans).  Toby, the man who built the bike for Uncle Jim (and who was also a good friend of his), asked the vet for permission to bring the bike up to Pittsburgh.  Thankfully, he got the okay.  So Toby transported that beautiful machine 1,051 miles so it could be placed on the ballroom dance floor of Cousin Jimmy’s country club.

Cycle - Front View

Bike in a Ballroom

But the greatest moment came as the brunch was wrapping up.  People were saying their goodbyes and Toby was preparing to take the bike back down to Florida.  Jimmy conferred with Toby for a moment and then approached the microphone for an announcement: “I’m about to do something that may get me kicked out of this club.” We all waited in anticipation.  “Toby is gonna ride this bike out of this ballroom.

Fucking brilliant.

And sure enough, Toby mounted Uncle Jim’s cycle, fired it up, and steered it over the ballroom’s parquet floor, down the club’s tastefully anointed hallway, and out the massive front door.  What a thrill to witness!  And no one in the club seemed to mind.  Not the ladies celebrating a baby shower in a separate room.  Not the club’s manager and waitstaff who had provided us with such a wonderful, celebratory afternoon.  And certainly not those of us who loved Uncle Jim.

Get Your Motor Runnin'

Get Your Motor Runnin’

It was one of those amazing, spontaneous life moments that kind of takes your breath away.  And, as a writer, my immediate instinct is to think, “I need to put this in a script.”  It was a great reminder of all of the surprising inspiration around us.  And a perfect tribute to Uncle Jim.


Posted in Life Stuff | 4 Comments

Be Careful What You Wish For

This year marks my third year attending the Austin Film Festival.  Once again, I am looking forward to full days and nights of enlightening panels and animated analysis with my fellow writers. (The latter of which will probably happen around the Driskill Bar.)  It will also be a reunion of sorts as I meet up not only with compadres made at AFF in previous years, but with newer writer friends from CineStory, Film Independent, and even Nickelodeon.

The first year I attended AFF, one of my favorite panels was facilitated by producer Lindsay Doran. (Remember?)  She leads a panel called “The First Ten Pages”, during which she analyzes – you guessed it – the first ten pages of a handful of randomly selected scripts.  The screenplays are pulled from those that advanced to the second round (top 10%) of the fest’s writing contest before being eliminated.  Basically, Doran, a highly successful producer who has worked on films such as THIS IS SPINAL TAP, SENSE & SENSIBILITY, and STRANGER THAN FICTION, walks you through her thought process as she peruses a script’s first impression and decides whether or not she wants to continue reading.  Her analysis is thorough and insightful; tough, but fair.  And what I appreciate most about Doran’s script dissection is that she imparts practical, applicable advice.  I enjoyed the panel so much the first year that I attended it again last year.  As usual, the feedback she offered to those randomly selected scribes was invaluable.

Well, a couple of weeks ago yours truly received an e-mail from the Austin Film Festival.  It seems my second round script HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF has been randomly selected for analysis at “The First Ten Pages” panel. <GULP!>  The e-mail went on to inform me that should I choose to participate, I could have four days to edit my opening ten pages before sending them in to meet AFF’s deadline.  As terrified as I was at the thought of a producer I admire not only critiquing my work but critiquing it in front of a roomful of peers, I knew I had to take advantage of this opportunity.  After all, being a writer means constantly putting your work on the chopping block, and why not do so when one of the celebrated shot-callers is holding the axe? (How’s that for a mixed metaphor?  Oh God…I’m in trouble.)

So I gave my first ten pages a meticulous review and rewrite.  When all was written and done I had to ask myself: Were the pages clear?  Were they engaging?  Would they leave the reader/producer/greenlighter/amazingly awesome Lindsay Doran wanting more?

AFF starts next week.  Stay tuned.

Let me know when it's over!

Let me know when it’s over!

Posted in Film Festivals, Hungry Like the Wolf, Writing | 4 Comments

Magnificently Fierce

The results of various screenwriting contests are starting to roll in and, as usual, it’s a typically subjective bag of placements for ol’ DLB.  I was happy to see my SONS OF ANARCHY spec script land in the top 10% of the Austin Film Festival Script Competition. (All of that blood, sweat, and Jameson wasn’t for nothing!)  My feature script HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF also made it to the contest’s second round.  But two screenplays that have ascended to the same place at AFF before, BENEATH THE SURFACE and BLACK SEA ROSE, flamed out this year.  On the flip side, both of those scripts made it to the quarterfinals of the Final Draft Big Break Contest last week while the SONS OF ANARCY spec did not.

Of course, I’m always gratified to see my work find recognition in writing competitions, but the more I encounter these mixed results, the more I realize how much luck and subjectivity play a role in their performance.  I know I’ve blogged about this before and I’m not exactly sharing revolutionary discoveries here, but I think it’s good to remind ourselves that success and, for that matter, validation don’t live or die with the outcome of one contest.

I'll give you validation, lady!

I’ll give you validation, lady!

To that point, just today Jill and I received the official news from the Motion Picture Academy that BLACK SEA ROSE did not advance to the finals of the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.  Ah well…it was such a longshot anyway.  And I am pretty stoked to be in the same company as fellow semifinalists Vince Gilligan and Michael Arndt.  However, funnily enough, yesterday Jill and I received reader comments on the script (for the first time in their history, Nicholl decided to share reader feedback with all of the quarterfinalists and semifinalists in the contest) and they were incredibly humbling.

I found one excerpt from the notes a perfect encapsulation of my writing journey experience thus far.  Here’s what the reader had to say: “I’ve tried my best but I could not find one thing I would change about this script.  This is an absolutely exceptional script, anchored by an astounding, three-dimensional heroine.  She’s no saint.  She’s naïve, often exasperatingly so to the people around her.  She makes mistakes.  But she is magnificently fierce.  She is a fighter.  She gets knocked down but she always gets back up.  There’s a line in the script that beautifully captures Patricia’s defiance and determination.  ‘When you get to the end of your rope tie a knot and hang on.’  I loved it.”

So I will continue to take a cue from FDR – and Patricia – and tie that knot and hang on.


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Long Term Delights

On the heels of my recent film festival recaps, I saved two of my absolute favorite films for their own post.  As you know, summer is not my go-to cinema season, but I do always manage to find a few gems among the superheroes, sequels, and fighting robots.  And the good news is that both of these films are currently playing in theatres. (Hopefully, in theatres near you.)

During the Los Angeles Film Fest, Film Independent offered a special “members only” screening of AFTERNOON DELIGHT, written and directed by Jill Soloway.  I have been following Jill Soloway since her days of writing on SIX FEET UNDER.  I think that HBO series stands as one of the best ever produced for television and Jill Soloway wrote some of my favorite episodes on the show.  When I heard that she made her first feature film that won her a Directing Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, I kept the movie on my radar.

The premise of AFTERNOON DELIGHT may seem unusual, if not far-fecthed – a bored, hipster housewife in LA visits a strip club with her husband in an attempt to heat up their marriage, and winds up bonding with a young dancer at the club whom she then takes in as a nanny and takes on as a rehabilitation project.  Yet under the confident guidance of writer-director Soloway, the characters in this exploration of love, sex, initmacy, power, and choices are fully-realized souls who behave in flawed, captivating, unexpected ways.  Soloway has a gift for generating conflict-ridden, realistic scenes that are alternately funny, provocative, and uncomfortable.  But they’re always grounded in a deep authenticity.  She gets major support from the key players in the film: Kathryn Hahn as the troubled stay-at-home mom, Juno Temple as the unapologetic stripper, and Josh Radnor as Hahn’s bewildered husband.   If you like your cinema smart, I can’t recommend this movie enough.

The second film that, like AFTERNOON DELIGHT, is deeply rooted in authenticity, is the 2013 LA Film Fest Audience Award winner SHORT TERM 12.  Written and directed by Destin Cretton, the film centers around a foster care facility for at-risk kids.  Cretton initially crafted his story as a short, basing it upon his own experiences working at a similar type of home, before developing it into a full-length feature.  While the story covers a few familiar tropes (angry youth, absent and/or abusive parents, overhwelmed caregivers), the way in which it’s handled is intelligent, refreshing, and steeped in truth.  Not only is Cretton’s writing assured, but the performances he pulls out of his actors are powerful and heartbreaking.

An outstanding Brie Larson leads the charge as one of the counselors at the home who is all too familiar with the pain her young wards are going through.  Joining her is John Gallagher, Jr. turning in a subtle, moving performance as another counselor on the front lines.  Kaitlyn Dever and Keith Stanfield play teen residents of the home and each of them carry individual scenes offering a raw glimpse into their suffering that are simply staggering.  I hope that SHORT TERM 12 receives some well-deserved love come Oscar time.  Check it out!


Posted in Film Festivals, My Must-See Movies | Leave a comment

Color Me Gobsmacked!

What an interesting few weeks it’s been.  I have once again been riding on the screenwriting contest roller coaster.  Fortunately, I’m hitting more highs than lows at the moment.

What a ride!

BLACK SEA ROSE is a script I co-wrote with my friend Jillian Reilly.  It is based on the true story of Marolen Mullinax, a proud Texan who traveled to Romania in the early nineties to care for HIV+ orphans after the fall of the country’s brutal Communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu.  Marolen wasn’t a nurse.  She didn’t have any formal training in HIV/AIDS care.  And her world travel experience was fairly limited.  But she was answering a call.  She saw children in need and she was determined to help, even if it meant living in a dangerous country that was shakily recovering from the fall of its government.  Darker, more complex motivations were driving Marolen, too, which is what makes her story more captivating and relatable – it’s not a martyr tale.  But there’s no denying that Marolen is an extraordinary woman…especially considering what she ultimately accomplished with so much stacked against her.

LONE - UnknownJill learned about Marolen through her own HIV/AIDS prevention work in Africa. (In fact, Jill’s achievements are worthy of their own blog entry.)  Jill and I met at Northwestern University and one of the things that immediately bonded us was our of love movies (and, yes, martinis).  We’d often lament the dearth of interesting, complicated female characters in today’s cinema, so when Jill told me about Marolen and suggested we try to write a movie about her, I was totally game.

This was in 2004.

For the last nine years Jill and I have been working on BLACK SEA ROSE (and that’s one of a few titles the script has had over the years).  Once our mission was set, we contacted Marolen (via Jill and Marolen’s mutual friend, William – another angel on this journey) and flew to Texas (her main residence once again) to meet her and talk with her at length about her time in Romania.  She was nothing but supportive and gracious in allowing us to be the guardians of her story – what a trusting soul given our limited experience/credentials at the time.  I’m grateful to say that Marolen remains our dear friend and champion.

She Built a House of Hope

She Built a House of Hope

The script has seen many iterations, and our friends and colleagues have offered a lot of valuable feedback along the way.  Jill and I wrote draft after draft – not always easy since we don’t live in the same city – and finally got the script to a place that felt solid, effective.  I figured it was worth a shot to start sending it to some contests, and I started doing so in earnest last year.

As far as screenwriting competitions go, I think most of my writerly friends would agree that the brass ring of them all is the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.  It was established in the mid-eighties by Gee Nicholl (in honor of her late husband Don) and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  (You know…the group that puts on the Oscars?)  Thousands of screenwriters submit feature scripts each year in the hopes of landing one of the five coveted $35K fellowships offered.  I have submitted scripts to Nicholl for the past five years.  Some years my scripts received “positive reads” and I even entered BLACK SEA ROSE last year where it landed in the top 10%.  (Remember last year’s Nicholl experience? Refresher!)  But to reach the quarterfinals you have to land in the top 5%.  And this year that meant being one of 372 entries chosen out of 7,251. <GULP!>

Late last month I was walking to my car after dinner with a friend when I decided to check my e-mail on my phone.  I clicked into my mailbox and saw three e-mails entitled Academy Nicholl Fellowships Notification.  Oh God…the results were in.  I entered the same three scripts this year that I entered last year: HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF, BENEATH THE SURFACE, and BLACK SEA ROSE.  I discovered that the first two screenplays did not make the cut according to the gently-worded rejection e-mails (although HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF landed in the top 20%, which softened the blow).  And then I opened the third e-mail and saw the word: “Congratulations!”  BLACK SEA ROSE had made it to the quarterfinals.  Unbelievable.

Moving into August, I knew that making it to the semis would be challenging as well.  The cut goes from 372 to 149.  I can’t even say that Jill and I were cautiously optimistic – it was such a longshot.  Then this past Wednesday I opened up my e-mail and saw that familiar subject heading again: Academy Nicholl Fellowships Notification.  I took a deep breath.  I was going to pull off the band-aid as quickly as possible.  I clicked open the message.  And there it was…


My heart started pounding as I realized that BLACK SEA ROSE is still in the hunt for a Nicholl fellowship.  We made it to the semifinals!

I immediately forwarded the e-mail to Jill and Marolen.  We shared our mixture of surprise, elation, and gratitude.  It was a virtual celebration, but a celebration nonetheless.

And just in case you’re worried this is all going to my head, I’ve been doing this contest rodeo too long to get overconfident.  It’s worth it to know that BLACK SEA ROSE didn’t even crack the quarterfinals of my beloved CineStory contest this year, nor did it advance to the next round of consideration for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab.  What does that say about the script?  Or the contest readers?  If anything, I think it’s just another reminder of how subjective this whole damn process is.  Yes, it helps to try to write the greatest script ever, but a lot of it boils down to the randomness and hope of finding that one person who says “YES!” to your work.

Early next month the finalists are announced.  The cut is a brutal one – the 149 become 10.  But it’s humbling to still be in the running for it.  Jill and I can still hold on to hope.

Thanks for the honor, Nicholl!



Posted in Black Sea Rose, Contests, Writing | 2 Comments

Sheer Authenticity

The Los Angeles Film Fest did not disappoint this year.  When all was said and done, I saw over twenty films in the course of ten days.  I’m telling you, if there’s a job for a professional film festival attendee, I’m happy to apply!  Once again, I enjoyed a variety of interesting movies – often in the company of my Los Angeles friends.  A big thanks to those of you LA angels who came out to support indie cinema with me (KS, SK, ERW, JJ, CF, MT, RA).

And now…my favorites from the 2013 LA Film Fest:

THE NEW BLACKWhen legislation preventing same sex marriage passed in 2008–the same year of Barack Obama’s historic election–many pundits pointed their fingers towards the African American community’s presumed homophobia. Filmmaker Yoruba Richen questions the history and the validity of these assumptions in this frank documentary that traces the complicated and combative intersections of the African American and LBGT civil rights movements.

I still have the Los Angeles Times newspaper from Wednesday, November 5th, 2008, and its cover serves as a bittersweet reminder of what was achieved the day prior and the work still to be done.  Yes we did elect the country’s first black President, but at the same time my generally uber-progressive resident state of California was making it unlawful for my gay friends to get married.  Were the post-election assumptions true?  Did the black community that came out to vote for Barack Obama also play a significant role in voting against another disenfranchised minority seeking the same equal rights historically sought after by blacks?  I guess that’s why this documentary caught my attention.  And I appreciate that director Yoruba Richen tackles the subject in a thoughtful, objective manner.  While my liberal leanings had me cheering on the Maryland activists fighting for gay marriage, I also appreciate that the people leading the argument from the other side (namely assorted leaders in black evangelical churches) were not demonized and, in fact, given plenty of screen time to explain their beliefs.  Now that’s “fair and balanced” coverage. (And hooray to Maryland voters for voting same-sex marriage into law last November!)

AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTSThis moody, meditative noir tells the tale of Bob and Ruth Guthrie, an outlaw couple whose crime spree comes to an end when the cops find them holed up in a house on the outskirts of town. After Ruth wounds an officer during the inevitable shootout, Bob takes the blame and lands himself in jail. After four years of longing for the love of his life, Bob breaks out of prison and sets out on a journey across Texas hill country to reunite with Ruth and the daughter he has never met.

AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS is an unadorned, straightforward story that derives its depth from gorgeous production values and intense, heartfelt performances.  It reminds me of a Terrence Malick film in that its one of those cinematic experiences you submit to.  Writer/Director David Lowery will certainly remain on my radar – his confidence behind the camera captures moments that are poignant, chilling, and heartbreaking.  Of course, he’s aided by powerful actors, particularly Ben Foster and the always-captivating Rooney Mara.  Another MVP for the film is composer Daniel Hart.  His affecting score includes the unique use of percussive hand-clapping, distinguishing it as one of the most original film soundtracks I’ve heard in a while.

FOREVPete and Sophie are somewhere on the edge of the desert when he works up the nerve to propose. The hitch being: Their whirlwind road trip from L.A. to Phoenix is the closest these neighbors have ever come to going on a date. Nevertheless, fueled by their respective fears of intimacy and low-grade self-loathing, they run with the idea, much to the annoyance of Pete’s sister Jess, who’s along for the latter half of the ride.

FOUR DOGS –  Already branded an acting school drop-out, Oliver courts further indignation by serving as his aunt’s live-in dog sitter and pool boy. Having reduced his (anti)social circle to his paranoid drug dealer and embittered best friend, Oliver is shaken from his stupor by the arrival of an alluring houseguest dealing with her own issues.

These last two ultra-low-budget films share very similar traits: each has a simple narrative that’s anchored more in real characters than in plot, yet the filmmaking voices behind these narratives is anything but simple.  In an industry where so many movies feel like generic, insert-plot-twist-here, carbon copies of one another, FOREV and FOUR DOGS are refreshingly unique in the struggling souls they choose to portray.  They remind me of my Wisconsin Film Festival favorite, ALL THE LIGHT IN THE SKY, in that they’re able to glean drama and humor from slice-of-life observations.  A successful charm is the end result, achieved through sheer authenticity.


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Grazing on Cinema

Once again, I had the pleasure of attending two of my favorite film festivals in 2013 – The Wisconsin Film Festival and the LA Film Fest.  I have neglected to post about some of the great movies I’ve encountered at both of these events, so I figure now is as good a time as any to do so.  There’s a fair amount of ground to cover thanks to some excellent film programmers out there, so I’m going to tackle each festival in separate entries.

Let’s start with the festival of my Packer-proud home state.

MOOOOOOOOOOOOOO-VIES! (I know…I couldn’t help myself.)

It was a fast and furious fest weekend when I headed back to Wisconsin this past April.  Less than a month into my new job, I didn’t have much vacation time to spare, so I took a red-eye flight on a Thursday night (red-eye = good in theory, horrible in execution) and arrived in Madison on Friday morning.  I stopped at Mom and Dad’s for a quick shower and then I was off to see the first of four films for that day.  The multiple screenings continued through Sunday – with friends and family joining me here and there – and I absorbed the finest cinematic offerings from America’s Dairyland before flying back to Los Angeles early on Monday morning so I could report to work.  Yes, I’m getting too old for that kind of travel.

Of course, it was totally worth it, though.

In my usual laziness, I have borrowed each recommended movie’s synopsis from the respective festival’s film guide.  Fear not, though.  My deeply profound analysis is included, too.  Ready your brains.

Highlights from the 15th Annual Wisconsin Film Festival:

ALL THE LIGHT IN THE SKYMarie is a middle-aged actress in Los Angeles with a successful enough career that allows her to have a nice apartment on the beach where she can swim and surf every day.  When she’s visited by her beloved, recently engaged niece Faye, Marie begins to reflect on her non-existent love life, her choice of remaining in an industry that has little need for actresses over 40, and even her place in the universe.

What?!?  A film featuring a lead character who is <GASP!> a WOMAN IN HER FORTIES?!?  Isn’t that an endangered creature of cinema?  Luckily for the audience, the endangered creature in co-writer/director Joe Swanberg’s lovely, subtle film is played by the wonderful actress Jane Adams (who also receives co-writing credit).  ALL THE LIGHT IN THE SKY is one of those quiet, observational films that doesn’t follow a traditional story format, but remains captivating nonetheless thanks to the intelligent, contemplative exchanges between its characters.  And, yeah, it’s refreshing to see a forty-something woman well represented – hell, represented at all! – on the big screen.

A HIJACKINGOut in the Indian Ocean, a Danish freighter is hijacked by Somali pirates.  The pirates demand a $15 million ransom from the corporation who owns the boat, launching a series of increasingly suspenseful negotiations.  The pressure mounts as days stretch into weeks, and with each foiled bargain the situation grows more volatile for the pirates, crew, and corporate lawyers alike.

Admittedly, I saw this film on Saturday night (midway through my movie marathon weekend) after an entertaining, cocktail-soaked family dinner.  In the darkened Sundance movie theatre, I may have experienced droopy eyelids every now and then.  But that is by no means a reflection of this taut, tense thriller.  With an eye for realism, writer/director Tobias Lindholm expertly captures the growing dread of both those held captive on the hijacked boat and those desperately negotiating from the boardroom.

KAUWBOY – With his country-singer mother apparently on tour in the U.S., Jojo lives alone in The Netherlands countryside with his father.  A security guard, Dad comes across as a man of few words, volatile and violent.  When Jojo discovers an abandoned baby crow in the woods, he finds solace in caring for the little bird, which is even more vulnerable than he is.  But his father has a very strict rule: Plants and animals do not belong in the house.

A Boy and his Bird

A lonely boy?  A fragile bird?  An intimidating father?  Yeah, I knew going into this film that I’d probably need an entire box of Kleenex to get through it.  And I was right. (Good thing I stuffed my purse beforehand.)  But every emotion I experienced during the movie – joy, anger, heartbreak, relief – was earned honestly by Dutch filmmaker Boudewijn Koole.  In fact, KAUWBOY is one of the most exquisite films I’ve ever witnessed, gorgeously shot and anchored by the fearless, raw performance of Rick Lens as Jojo.  It’s moving without feeling manipulative.  The film still appears to be making the festival rounds, but let’s hope it gets released soon.  In the meantime, enjoy the trailer: KAUWBOY TRAILER.

NEXT UP: The LA Film Fest!

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The Five Stages of Notes

I recently met a pair of showrunners who impressed me with their intelligence, insight, and great sense of humor regarding this business.  One of the topics we discussed was the process of receiving notes.  I’m sure the majority of we creative types approach that exercise with a mixture of confidence, fear, hope, and dread. (Emphasis on the “fear” and “dread”.)  And whether you’re receiving notes from an admired writer, trusted layperson, or assigned studio executive, the feedback you receive can set you on an emotional tailspin that might have you purchasing a GMAT study book as you question why you even embarked on this silly career in the first place. (Not that I’d know what that was like…)

DLB meets MBA

Anyway, the showrunners laid out their own Kübler-Ross model what they consider The Five Stages of Notes, which outlines the emotions they often experience when absorbing feedback on one of their scripts.  I thought this list was pretty hilarious – not to mention painfully accurate.

So here are the stages, along with my editorializing on each one…

  1. CONFUSION – As you consider the notes, your brow furrows.  What does the reader mean there’s not enough of a character arc?  What are they talking about when they say I should cut that dialogue?  How could they miss the nuances I’ve so expertly planted throughout?  Do they even understand what they just read?!?
  2. OUTRAGE – The answer is clear: this person is an idiot.  They just don’t get it and, in fact, they should be thanking me for the honor of reading my script.  How dare they question the 2-brad brilliance I’ve offered up to them!  What the hell do they know about writing and movies and plot points and life experiences?  Sure, they’re smart, articulate, well-informed, compassionate…but I read Save the Cat, for godssakes!
  3. OVERINDULGENCE – The answer is clear: this feedback calls for a PAGE ONE REWRITE.   I need to overhaul the whole. damn. thing.  Should this be a comedy instead of a drama?  Why did I set it in Pacoima?  Maybe I should change the gender of my lead character?  Or make him a dog?  Or an alien?  Yes, my reader has presented me with a thread of feedback that now has me unraveling the entire sweater.
  4. DESPAIR – The answer is clear: I am an IDIOT.  A worthless, talentless idiot.  This script stinks.  I’m embarassed I subjected my reader to this dreck in the first place.  It is a waste of kilobytes on my computer.  I should never write the words “FADE IN” again.  Is it too late to consider grad school?  Maybe I could move in with Mom & Dad?  Lucy could adjust to Wisconsin winters, right?
Um, that would be a NO.

Um, that would be a NO.

5. QUICK SOLUTION – The answer is clear.  And it’s been staring me in the face this whole time.  Perhaps if I just take a few breaths and tackle this thoughtful feedback, then maybe I can actually clarify story points and improve my script?  Victory!

Yes, reaching that final stage of acceptance doesn’t mean I necessarily must agree with all of the feedback, but it signals that I’ve stayed open-minded to receiving it and seeing the note behind the note.  After all, when someone takes the time to read and critique my work, they’re doing it with only the best of intentions.  They are supporters of my success.  Therefore, I must be a gracious recipient of their typically wise counsel.

Rest easy, Lucy.  No winter sweaters for you.

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SPECulations – Part Three: The Final Chapter

The 52-page SONS OF ANARCHY spec script I had crafted and struggled over in a two-week frenzy was now on the brink of obliteration, all due to an FX website feature known as an appisode.  (The recap: SPECulations – Part Two: THE BIG STABBING INCIDENT.)

I put out an S.O.S. e-mail to some trusted writer friends who were also working against the June 1st deadline for contest submissions.  I fired off the following questions: Could I ignore the appisode since it wasn’t on the air?  If I did that would it look like I hadn’t done my proper research?  Was it too early to have a drink?

Official Sponsor of DLB's SOA Spec

Official Sponsor of DLB’s SOA Spec

Lucky for me, my fellow scribes  talked me off of the ledge.  The general consensus was to keep calm and carry on.  My writer pal MT was the first to jump in with advice: Ignore it.  I bet most reading it won’t know that.  And I think that’s beyond the scope of proper research. He was also kind enough to point out:  And the official start time for a drink on Memorial Day is 10 a.m., so sorry, you have to wait 4 more minutes.  JC chimed in: I totally agree with MT. Those Appisodes don’t count really. They’re more of a ploy to upsell the “interactive” experience to advertisers in my opinion. It’s so hip nowadays like THE TWITTER! Or THE FACEBOOK thingy.  My friend Charlie (the one who got me into this mess in the first place) echoed the earlier sentiments: I think your time is best spent making what you have better as opposed to a major reworking of the plot.

I decided that they were right.  It was too late to shift gears, and I’d rather focus my efforts on plussing the pages before me.  If the person reading my script was a die-hard SOA fan who knew every episode and appisode by heart, then hopefully they’d view my spec as a re-envisioning, if you will, of the BIG STABBING INCIDENT. (At least that’s what I’ll tell myself when the moments of doubt creep in.)

And so I continued on.

Rather than try to reassemble my head space during the revision process, I figure I can just share some excerpts of my Facebook observations/rants to these aforementioned writer friends as I dove into the rewrite:

  • I just wrote the THIRD new opening for my spec. Maybe this one’s the charm? #‎whydidIdecidetodothis‬?
  • I have decided that I am officially sick of looking at my script and I’m only on page 16 of the rewrite. Where has all the magic gone?
  • I’m pulling out the big guns. SOA Margarita Time!!!
Accompanying Photo

Accompanying Photo

  • JH, I thought of you yesterday as my SOA-related wiki searches included “Best Medical Marijuana” and “Chlamydia”.  Wait…I should clarify.  It wasn’t the *subjects* that made me think of you. I just knew you’d enjoy the fact that I was researching them in the first place.  (JH’s response: Can’t have one without the other…)
  • So…very…close…
  • Good God, this script is an effin’ SLOG. I stayed up until 2 a.m. last night (waaaaaaaaayyyyyyy past my usual bedtime) and *still* couldn’t finish it. Oh, Sons of Anarchy, why do you mock me so? (Although, considering they usually stab, beat, or shoot their prey, I guess I’m getting off easy with mocking.)
  • HOLY CRAP, I think I’m finally DONE! Can it be? I’d sling back a Jameson if I had any left to sling back.
  • I sent my script to four of my readers late last night and haven’t heard a peep from anyone yet. Yes, that’s a sense of dread you see overcoming me… (EDITOR’S NOTE: This comment is a particularly hilarious insight into the mental state of the writer.  Granted, I had requested a quick turnaround, given the impending deadline, but I don’t think 24-hours had even passed at the time of this comment. Talk about needy!!!  <SIGH>)
  • HALLELUJAH!!! It’s done! Off to the Post Office and then it’s nap time. Good luck, guys! Keep at it – I’m waiting for you at the finish line with a frosty libation.

Yes, on June 1st I mailed in my application form to the Warner Brothers Writers’ Workshop and uploaded my now 59-page spec to the WB website and the Austin Film Festival Teleplay Competition.  Before I submitted it, my trusted readers had weighed in with lots of positive feedback (whew!) as well as some valuable thoughts and questions.  They also served as a final line of proof-reading defense for which I am eternally grateful given my beyond-fatigued condition by that point.

While I wouldn’t recommend writing a script in that kind of time crunch, I realize that the exercise was probably a good representation of what most TV writers experience: brutal deadlines, late nights, and frequent lapses into despair.  Of course, TV writers do it as their day job (rather than fit it in during the precious hours after said day job) and, oh yeah, they get paid to do it.  But still, I learned a lot about staying focused and decisive as I Final Drafted my way to THE END.

I also appreciate that writing a spec means much of the heavy lifting is done for you.  A show as good as SOA possesses well-defined characters and a clear voice and structure – my job as a spec writer was simply to play with all of those wonderful, dynamic attributes – hopefully, in an inventive, surprising way.

And while I would LOVE to advance in either contest, I’m grateful I managed to finally complete my very first spec script.  (Thanks for getting me into that mess, Charlie!)

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When last we left, I had just about finished the first draft of my SONS OF ANARCHY spec (SPECulations – Part One).  Sure there was still plenty to tackle going into my final week of writing, but at least I was close to completion.  With my trusty red pen, I scribbled notes on practically every page to indicate where transitions needed finessing and dialogue needed doctoring.  My extracurricular writing sessions every night of the previous week were catching up with me – I was bleary-eyed, exhausted, and, subsequently, the work ahead felt more daunting.  But I was in the home stretch – only one week to go – and I had to suck it up and get ‘er done, right?  I set to work on the revisions.

And then…

(Remember the “DISASTER” I mentioned in my last post in a pathetic attempt to cap it off in an unnecessarily dramatic way?)

As I dove into more research via the insanely thorough wikipage devoted to all things SAMCRO (“Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original” for those of you wondering), I noticed a tab on the website between those for Seasons Three and Four called “Appisodes”.  Appisodes?  What the hell is an appisode?  I clicked to investigate.

SIDE NOTE: Now let’s not forget that my entire spec episode revolves around the BIG STABBING INCIDENT that’s eluded to in the first episode of Season Four.  It’s the stabbing incident we never see, but only hear about.  Remember the words of my previous post that would come back to haunt me?  Since the assault essentially happened off-screen, wouldn’t it be interesting to see how it played out?  Well, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

This won’t be good, DLB.

Back to those appisodes…

As it turns out, Kurt Sutter and FX also thought SOA fans would like to know what happened to our favorite outlaws during that 14-month stretch between Seasons Three and Four.  (Again, the 14-month stretch within which I set my spec episode.)  So they produced four shorts (each 2-4 minutes long) that were shown on the FX website between seasons.  New content.  Appisodes.

NEW SOA material that I’d never seen before?  Count me in!  I was excited as I began to watch each of these appisodes.

And there it was.  An appisode entitled “Payphone”.  An appisode that may as well have been called “The Big Stabbing Incident”.  It was two minutes of seeing exactly how a significant character was stabbed.  It was basically the condensed version of my 52-page spec script.

Could I ignore the appisode since it wasn’t on televised airwaves?  If I did that would it look like I hadn’t done my proper research?  Did I have the time and mental fortitude to shift gears and alter my story?  Was it too early to have a drink?

At this point, I was ready for SAMCRO to just throttle their Harley Davidsons over me.

With less than a week to go to finish my spec, what was I gonna do?

Stay tuned…

(Oh yeah, I’m gonna milk this entry for all it’s worth.)

I know, Luce-Goose.  I'm exhausted, too!

I know, Luce-Goose. I’m exhausted, too!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment