Posts Tagged ‘screenwriting’

I’ve talked a couple times before about the Virginia Screenwriters Forum and my hopes for rejoining the group (Musings on Sex Scenes, Climbing Out of the Social Void?).  I was an active member for about six years before having to drop out nine years ago due to the time pressures of two small children and picking up a part-time job to go along with my full-time job.  Well, last night I was finally able to attend their monthly meeting!

The bad news is that it’s a much less comfortable venue than it used to be.  Before, we got to meet in this really plush conference room in the basement of one of the downtown banks, with a huge hardwood table surrounded by these super-comfortable leather seats.  Man, it was nice!

Nowadays the group meets in a multi-purpose room in old renovated warehouse that has been converted into a public Arts building called Art Works.  They push together two much smaller tables, and there are flimsy folding chairs to sit in.

Still, comfort aside, there was something electrifying sitting around the table with 15 other writers, talking about storycraft and the nuts and bolts of screenwriting.  In my very first post here on my blog (…She’d Be Creative) I talked about how much I missed being surrounded by that sort of creative energy, so even as I worried about the chair collapsing beneath me, I felt like I was home and surrounded by “my people.”

After news and VSF business is gotten out of the way, we get into critiquing the first 30 pages of the two scripts for the meeting.  After the screenwriter talks a little bit about his script, each member is given the floor for 3 minutes to offer a constructive critique.  Then things are opened up for an open discussion with back-and-forth between the writer and the group, with suggestions and brainstorming.

I was a bit nervous about whether or not to say anything during my 3 minutes.  As a “guest” I was told I could just listen in without having to say anything.  But I’d read the scripts and the old screenwriting muscles had kicked in, and I had a few ideas I wanted to share.  My heart pounding in my chest, worried I might say something stupid due to being extremely rusty, I went ahead and spoke.

The writer was attentive and took notes.  The others around the table smiled at me, nodded, even jotted down some notes too.  By the end of the 3 minutes I felt much more at ease, and my confidence grew that maybe I still had “it,” or at least a rusty remnant.

To make things even better, there were some women around the table wearing no wedding bands, ranging in age from 20 years younger to about 10 years older, all of them radiating that creative writer’s spark.  I wanted them to read my writing!

To make things even more better (heh), the group has received some grant monies to expand its services beyond the monthly meetings.  Starting next year, every quarter they’re going to have local actors read our 30 page scripts in front of family, friends, and anyone from the general public who wants to come, held at a really cool local theater downtown.  This will allow our writers regular opportunities to mingle with actors, stage managers from the theater, and any casting agents or other people in the business of making movies who might show up.  As a new member, my script will go to the bottom of the list of seniority, but I can still get a charge from listening to the others and meeting all these creative people.  And eventually, someone on that stage will be reading something I wrote…

The VSF is now on summer hiatus, and will resume meetings in September, so I’ve got the rest of the summer to write 30 pages, polish it, and submit to the reading committee.  I’ve had a movie idea that’s been percolating in my mind for about 5 years now, but as I drove home details started bubbling up to my mind.  I thought about it last night as I drifted off to sleep.  Today at lunch I could barely read my book because scenes and characters kept popping in my brain.  Finally I just had to cut lunch off early and pound out about 800 words, worried that I might forget some of the cool stuff that has suddenly started jumping inside me.

(this is NOT an actual screenshot of my script…)

I’m two and a half pages on my way…  of course, maybe I need to also re-read some of my old screenwriting books too 😉

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While I think the idea of a Bucket List is pretty awesome and motivating, for those of us who’ve found themselves at a point in their lives with little free time or money to do the things we always hoped and wished to do, a Bucket List can prove to be somewhat frustrating and depressing.  Sure, I’d love to go to Hawaii or Europe or Australia and see so many awesome sights, but when I look at my financial situation and personal responsibilities it’s just not feasible.

So it occurred to me that a “Reverse Bucket List” might prove to be a good exercise to show that, even if there are a lot of things you wish you had the time and resources to do, you actually have already done of lot of really fun and cool things already in your life.  I decided to think back and list out things I’ve done that most people you pass in the street may have never, ever done.  Here are a few:

Climbed to the top of a pyramid.
When my ex and I got married and had decided to go to Mexico, I wanted to make sure that we had the opportunity to see and do something we not be able to see or do anywhere else.  Turns out that the awesome Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza are not far from Cancun, and our day trip there is forever burned into my memory, and the best part of that trip was being able to climb those steep steps all the way to the top of the pyramid there.  Looking around at the ruins from the top of it was a memory for the ages.

Sang lead in front of a rock and roll band.
I’ve talked about this before in my post Jaegerbombs and Satellites… As someone who isn’t the most self-assured person, especially early in life, the fact that I spent about a year fronting a rock and roll band right out of high school still rather astonishes me.  All three of my fellow bandmates are talented musicians who still now, 20-some years later, play music in bands… and apparently I wasn’t so awful that they still want me to come up on stage and sing with them on occasion.  I still find it surreal.

Learned how to milk a cow.
Even growing up in the country, this was something that many if not most of my peers never learned to do.  I was lucky enough to have a close friend who briefly lived next door to a small farm that had chickens, horses and a few cows.  Sometimes we’d walk over and pester the neighbors, who were always patient and kind to us inquisitive little boys.  One day the farmer taught us how to milk a cow.  It was surprisingly difficult to figure out how to do it until we realized the physics involved.  You don’t just yank on it and milk squirts out; you’ve got to grip the top of it closed to trap the milk, then let your other fingers close to push it out the end into the bucket.  When the zombie apocalypse comes, I know I’ve got a vital skill so long as we rustle up some dairy cows.


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So the meeting with Chuck last night went really well.  He came over around 7pm and left around 10pm.  We talked about all sorts of things and really hit it off well.  I know Chuck from way back, he was a gamer and we hung around together for a stretch of years, but eventually he got more into poker and hung around with different folks.  He’s about 10 years older than I am and has a wicked fun sense of humor and is very easy going.  He’s recently divorced as well and is looking for a place to stay for at least a year and maybe more.  He seemed to like my house and likes the living space I’ve set aside for a roommate (converted the den into a large efficiency-style bedroom/living area with attached half-bath).  He’s pretty much exactly what I was looking for.

He’s not sure exactly when he can move in, says it might be two weeks might be four, so I’m mentally penciling him in by the end of April.  I just had to submit my work hours for my part-time job for May and trimmed about 12 hours from the month.  Which is a little risky but I can always pick up more hours later if I need to.  One Saturday I signed up for 8 hours instead of 12 so I could do some housework before going into work.  I also cleared my schedule for two social outings.

One is a monthly gathering called Drinking Liberally, which is a national organization that encourages liberals to get together over drinks and talk about politics, an American tradition that stretches back to Colonial times.  I’ve written a little bit about politics a few times here before, it’s something I’m passionate about but have rarely had any time to participate in.  There’s a Richmond chapter that meets the first Sunday of each month, so I’m going to go check it out in May and hope to meet some cool people and expand my woefully tiny social circle.

The last Wednesday of each month is when the Virginia Screenwriters Forum meets and I’ve cleared my evening to attend the meeting in May as a guest.  I am super-stoked about this—getting together with a bunch of creative types always gives me a creative buzz and I can’t wait to tap back into that!  Again, I’m hoping to meet some cool people and expand my social circle in this way as well, though it’s much more of a “workshop” environment and when I was with the group a decade ago not many were interested in socializing outside of the monthly meeting.  Then again, I was married at the time, and who knows what this bunch will be like?  Maybe some of them might be interested in going to a movie then hanging out afterwards and talk about it over drinks?

I know I’m getting a little ahead of myself… but I’m so damn excited!  It’s been nearly impossible for me to concentrate and get anything constructive done today…

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Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.
— Thomas Edison

I went through a brief phase where I thought I was going to be an artist when I grew up.  I loved to draw, and one thing I really loved drawing the most was cartoons.  For a while I wrote a comic strip called Cheese that was basically The Odd Couple but with mice.  Then I started writing illustrated stories, and finally pivoted to comic books, which I was obsessed with for a long while.  I just knew my future was in drawing comic books.  I cooked up all kinds of cool stories around my own batch of super-heroes, and had fun laying out the frames and drawing the scenes.

The only problem… my artistic skills just didn’t cut it.  I’d write these great story plots and characters, and try to draw it out… and it just looked lame to me.  I mean, it wasn’t bad, just wasn’t nearly as good as I wanted it to be.

I tried to improve my skills.  I got a book called How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way and practiced.  But it felt after a while that I’d reached the limits of my drawing ability, and it just wasn’t good enough.

I was crushed… but I found that my mind was still churning out characters and stories, even after I stopped trying to draw them.  Maybe I didn’t need pictures to tell my tales…

From eighth grade through my early 20s, I spent a lot of time writing stories and outlining ideas.  I dabbled in screenwriting for a while, which was fascinating as totally different craft from free-form fiction writing.  Eventually though, life got in the way and I stopped writing.

Only, I actually didn’t stop.  I got caught up in a collectible card game called Magic, and got involved in the Magic community and soon became a regular writer about Magic for various venues.  I wrote about Magic for websites and magazines.  I’ve been writing at least 2,000-3,000 words about Magic every single week for 12 years.  That’s… *quick calculation*… 1,560,000 words, and that’s probably lowballing it.  That’s quite a lot of writing.  Granted, it’s writing about something that I love, which I consider relatively “easy” to do, but I’ve recently realized that I’ve gotten really, really good at it.  Sure, some weeks I don’t do my best work, but in general I know I do a great job of it.

And I realize that it’s made me a better writer in general.  The skills I’ve honed writing about Magic can be applied to all my writing.

I decided last year I wanted to branch out into other forms of writing, to take those skills and put them to work in other ways.  To connect to people outside of my hobby through my writing.  Inspired by a few friends who were dabbling in blogging, I created My Ideal Woman and have had a great time writing here.  Recently I went ahead and expanded my blogging to two other blogs, Talking TV and Ben_Scared in order to keep MIW more focused while also expanding the sort of writing I was doing.  I’m almost up to 100 blog posts.  And I’m still writing 2,000-3,000 words about Magic.

What I’ve noticed is that all this writing has really gotten my mind charged up.  I’m always thinking about something to write about:  something about Magic, something for one of my blogs.  And recently—story concepts, movie scenes.  My brain is always chewing over ideas, in the back of my mind while I’m working, in the shower, while I’m driving, while I’m sleeping.  The brain is an amazing thing when you really exercise it, and I think doing all this writing has really amped it up.

That old adage of “just write” is so true.  Just push through, write, even if it’s not popping, you can always go back and polish up later.  If you get stuck, write something else and let your subconscious work through it.

Knowing how many words I already write each week led me to wonder—how many words are in a novel?  I heard that an average 400 page book is 120,000 words.  That breaks down to 2,300 words a week for a year.  Which is something I already do writing about Magic!  If I translated all the words I’ve written about Magic into pages in a book, that’s 5,200 pages!

Granted, writing fiction is a lot more involved than writing about your favorite hobby, or blogging about life, love and television, but it was exciting to realize—I’m already operating at that level of word production.  If I can carve out a little extra time, I can certainly start working on fiction.  I started Ben_Scared as a way to prep my mind back into fiction writing, by typing up my old horror stories and polishing them with the skills I’ve learned in the 20 years since I wrote most of them.  I hope to reconnect with my old screenwriting group as well, to surround myself with creative people and get my brain back into fictional storytelling.

These are exciting times to be a writer.  As the wonderful subtlekate recently discussed on her blog, “facts are easy” – back when I started writing, you had to log a lot of time in the library to research for stories, pouring through books and magazines.  Now just about everything you need to know is just a Google search away, which lets you spend more time and energy on crafting the stories you want to tell.  Accessibility to facts and source material is no real obstacle anymore.

There are also so many avenues available for self-publication and promotion now with blogging and social media and all sorts of things through the internet.  Granted, there are a lot writers out there who have access to all the same tools and channels as I do, but I have faith that if someone has talent and a compelling story to tell, they will find an audience if they make the effort.

Here’s to making that effort!  Just write.

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Going through my big box of writing I’d done years before kids and jobs sucked up all my free time has been a lot of fun.  My stash of horror stories motivated me to launch another blog, Ben_Scared, to put up my fiction (check it out– I should have another story put up over the weekend).  I was also excited to discover my stash of screenwriting!

I’d always loved movies, but ever since I started writing stories it never occurred to me that I could actually write a screenplay until I took a playwriting class in college and had a great time.  My instructor really seemed to enjoy my work, and after several conversations about my ideas suggested that I look into screenwriting.

I was excited at the idea, but baffled as to how someone in Virginia could tap into the movie- and TV-making machine, much less learn how to write screenplays.  However, as I asked around and did some digging, I found out that there was a Virginia Film Office right here in Richmond who’s job it was to support local film industry professionals and encourage studios to come film their projects in the state.

As luck would have it, they were looking for an intern, and I got the (sadly, unpaid) gig.

I worked my ass off and had a really good time at the job.  I had high hopes that maybe I’d be able to get full-time employment there when I graduated.  Sadly, a new governor brought massive budget cuts and my dreams were quickly dashed as the small Film Office shrunk even further.  I did however make connection with a group of people who called themselves the Virginia Screenwriters Forum, a group of amateur and semi-professional writers who were serious about breaking into the business of screenwriting.

I had to jump through some hoops — the biggest being producing a completed screenplay to prove I was serious — but I managed to join the VSF and spent about five or six years with them.  A fantastic group of folks from all backgrounds and walks of life, they really helped me mature as a writer and I was sad to have to drop out of the group when the kids came along and my schedule became too hectic to be an active member.

Before I left, I had the first act (30-40 pages) of a new screenplay read and critiqued by the group.  Amidst my stash of writing was a bunch of the critiques and reading them brought back some fun memories.  What really made me smile were the responses to the explicit sex scene I wrote into my screenplay.


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