Halfway to Heaven

Halfway through a first draft! Converting this story from outline to script is taking time and a lot of effort. The first challenge is finding the right tone. The blog this film is based on is very dramatic, but hilarious. I was afraid to make this strictly a comedy, but there's humor on almost every page. I think there's enough drama to balance the funny. Dark comedy?... Might as well embrace it.

The next issue is structure. The blog is told in first person perspective, and I always saw this as a voice-over (VO) style film. I'm a huge fan of Martin Scorsese pictures like "Goodfellas" and "Casino." I recently re-watched "Wolf of Wallstreet." Heavy VO. Multiple perspectives. Yes. I just pulled the script offline to use as a reference - I guess the studios publish scripts publicly now? I remember living in New York when street vendors sold scripts along the sidewalks. Oh, the good-old days. Actually, it's better now, because they're free.

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Storywise, the very beginning is proving a little tricky. I've got this great "prologue" based on a story I read about agents watching films at Sundance and getting frustrated that all indies seem to have suicide in them. Instead, in my story, a movie executive is reading the script to a film the main character (MC) is submitting (this film?) and likes it, until he reads the suicide part about MC killing herself (spoiler alert!).

However, I'm finding the need for a bit more backstory in the first act, prior to MC moving to LA. How did MC fall in love with movies? How far back should I go? There's some discussion of high school in the blog. Nothing to do with college and film school. Odd. Maybe I need to show how MC develops a love for movies as a child? Maybe the inspiration comes from her father? The blog creator has a contentious relationship with her father, and I'm curious what his role was in shaping her dreams (and despair). Not much about him in the blog, but seems like many motivations and struggles emanated from this relationship.

I'm also curious about how to end the story. I know the return of the wedding album will be the conclusion, but there may need to be more. If we learn MC dies in Mexico in the beginning, shouldn't Mexico also be the end? May need a denouement. Something with butterflies? There's such a prevalent emphasis on butterflies in the blog (Burning Butterflies and Origin Story to reference a few instances). Such meaning. Such personal connection. I've been thinking about the great monarch migration to Mexico. How could I get MC down to Mexico at the end?

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Time to Write... The Outline

The writing has begun! Well, the pre-writing. I'm a little behind schedule, but I think it was worth spending a lot of time on research and answering key questions about characters, themes, plot.

Some of my writing friends use note cards to figure out the structure of a movie, one card per scene. I prefer to write a detailed breakdown of the entire film, scene by scene, with details of basic action and dialog. I'm often putting all my ideas into the outline so that I have options when I write the first draft, or because I haven't figured out all the questions yet. The dialog is very rough. I'm able to pull snippets from the blog, which is helpful, but also difficult because there's a lot of repetition throughout. Which line works best? Which conveys the greatest meaning? Can I pull lines from some blog entries and use them in unrelated scenes in the screenplay? I'm also finding some major problems structurally. As interesting as the blog is, it's not written as a movie. There's some things that need to be changed to make it work as a fictional narrative. Some artistic license is in order.

For instance, there are a lot of characters that Jaime (the author of the blog) encountered in LA. I need to consolidate and even create a few that will represent a handful of people she knew. Did you know that Oliver Stone did this for at least one character in "JFK?" I had a little less respect for him after learning this. However, I'm not telling a historical drama. Well, not really. I'm hoping that as long as I tell this story in a voice consistent with the blog, and capture the spirit of Jaime, I'll be able to take some necessary license.

There's also the issue of getting from point A to point B. How do I bridge scenes? How do I get from one seemingly unrelated blog entry to the next? There's really three distinct parts to this story which will work well for a three act structure. The LA/movie industry part, the crash and burn (marriage and mentally), and the rediscovery/rebirth in Orlando. But there's some missing pieces. How do I transition the MC (main character) into each? What are the key conflicts or events that precipitated each act?

What's the key that binds this story together? Professionally, there's really an interesting story to tell from Jaime's time as a pornceptionist (Pt1, Pt2) - even the history behind the company where she worked. I know some people may be squeamish about this subject (as was Jaime), but I think it's hilarious and fascinating and seems like such a pivotal part of her journey. Should I take the risk of alienating some folks...?

On a personal level, the story seems to revolve around mental health issues and the need for affordable, accessible health care. The blog doesn't shy away from depressions, and suicide, and all the things we face as artists but are often afraid to discuss. There's such a powerful story throughout the blog about Jaime's heart condition and the fear of not being able to pay for life-saving meds - how life was pre-Obamacare, especially with a pre-existing condition.  Her discussion of the homeless population in LA and the fear of Jaime losing her mind, losing her savings, and ending up on the streets with the people she fears the most needs to be a key part of this story. How can I show the homeless in a way that explains why MC is so afraid while humanizing rather than marginalizing them? What was the history of healthcare and mental health services in CA that led to such a large homeless population?

Still need to determine how I can make the ending I want fit so that I can work towards that. Endings can be a tough nut to crack, but I knew from the beginning, even reading the blog for the first time, that the return of the wedding album would be a great ending for a movie. It's pure action. Pure revenge. Pure fun.

This has to take no longer than a few more days. I need to start writing a first draft...

Finding the Story

One of the toughest things as a screenwriter is finding the story. Sometimes inspiration hits you like a ton of bricks. Other times, it takes years. This is a story that found me.

While my previous screenplays have been very personal, often inspired by my own life experiences, this idea is based on someone else’s story. I’ve never adapted anything before, but what the heck. I’m always up for a good challenge. I feel like writing a script that isn’t so egocentric may be a good way to create something powerful and original, and set me on the right path to a screenwriting career. You know, that thing Faulkner said out in the woods…of course, it may lead off the side of a cliff, but let’s stay positive.

So a good friend of mine, Jaime Jessup, writes a popular blog called “LA Stories.” (she’s also doing a relaunch here).  Jaime and I met back in film school, and we’ve shared some interesting adventures over the years. She started this blog back in 2010 when she moved to L.A. from Orlando to become a TV writer. She's had some crazy professional experiences and heartbreaking personal ones, and, of course, decided to blog all the juicy details. Her writing is hilarious, surprisingly relatable (even as a guy), and always offers a powerful message. I've wanted to turn the blog into a movie for quite some time, as her storytelling is very cinematic. She's wanted to turn the blog into a novel, but I convinced her to let me take a crack at turning it into a screenplay first. It's a story I'd like to see on the big screen and feel confident others would too.

First step is to read the entire blog. Don’t tell Jaime, but I’ve only read a handful of the posts. There’s seven years worth of material in the blog, and I need to read every ounce to get a sense of how to turn it into a movie. I’m going to be off the grid for the next few days, reading. Catch you on the flip side...

Gotta love stock photos... Or you can pretend “Handsome-Guy-in-bed-with-laptop” is me

Gotta love stock photos... Or you can pretend “Handsome-Guy-in-bed-with-laptop” is me