Surviving the Storm

I survived the storm... fared pretty well from Hurricane Irma as well. I made it through a first draft, even with a Cat 3 hurricane raging outside.

I feel drunk, but haven't been drinking. Writing can really do a number on your head. I get tired going to the gym, but when I write, I get exhausted. I'm always thrilled when I can complete a feature length script. It's an accomplishment. A marathon. Something that seems so daunting that I fear I'll never be able to finish. This was a challenge unlike any other - an adaptation of a blog (LA Stories) that covered seven years of a girl's life. But I did it... all 160 pages!

160 pages is a bit much for a screenplay. Most films are no more than 120 pages (you estimate one page per minute of screen time). For comedies, 90-100 pages max. Oh, geez. Did I write a script that's too long? Is this story simply too complex to turn into an hour and a half film? Should it have been a mini-series? A TV show? A novel? F*******CK!

...After a good night's rest, I looked at the problem with fresh eyes. Remember that editor's cap? Maybe I can chop it down a bit. A lot. I'm going to need a chainsaw. Thank goodness there was a hurricane.

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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, Part 2… This time, it’s personal.

Ever watch a film that was all over the place? No clear focus, no clear direction? Good chance the script began with no big idea. Or too many writers. Or cocaine.

It's time to get personal. It's time to figure out the story. What is this movie really going to be about? What's the big idea? There needs to be a clear purpose before any writing, or even an outline occurs. I want the audience on the same page about what the movie is trying to say. I want to know what the main character is trying to achieve and how that factors into the big idea. Sure there can be a handful of themes. After all, the journey Jaime took in her blog covers 7+ years (and continues here). A few things can happen in 7 years. But I need to find the core theme from which the entire movie is going to be built.

Here's a partial list of themes I'm coming up with... with which I am coming up... with which I'm developing:

  • Coming of age story from girl to warrior.
  • About marriage/relationships, finding love, finding oneself. Loving yourself for who you are.
  • About growing up but never giving up (on dreams, talents, love, friends)
  • Need for home, for connection, success, love, redemption, purpose.
  • Whether we are destined for things or we create our own destiny (or both).
  • What it means to be a writer and the sacrifices of being an artist.
  • The struggles (and psychology) of mental illness, depression, suicide, self-harm, insomnia, and the creative mind.
  • From dependence on meds to coping/resolving problems - healthy living, healthy relationships.
  • Figuring out how to escape an awful place and persevere.
  • The struggles of the poor/working class.
  • Perception vs. reality - what we want to see and what is actually in front of us.
  • The effects and need for change and how it affects us all.
  • Things don't turn out the way you expect.
  • America circa 2009. Great Recession. Slow journey back from the brink. Life before Obamacare. Allegory for American journey/dream.
  • Being reborn, starting over, moving on.

Logistics!

After screaming loudly, going to the gym, getting a good night's rest, and screaming a little more, I regrouped and came up with a plan of how to attack adapting the blog LA Stories.

For a writer, getting started is one of the hardest things. To take that first step, you have to know where you're going. So I'm going to start with the unsexy part of creating a story... logistics! Sounds like something better suited for UPS, but it helps if you want to create a feature length screenplay.

Writing a screenplay requires Baby steps

Writing a screenplay requires Baby steps

Adaptation, I'm finding, requires a few extra steps. I first need to get the blog into a format that I can easily and quickly reference. So I'm going to cut and paste EACH blog entry into a Word doc. As I do this, I'll create Headings using the date and blog heading so I can quickly navigate.

Then, I'm going to highlight key sentences, dialog, characters, etc. I'm searching for the story in terms of voice, theme, and scenes. I probably should have done this as I was reading the blog, as I don't have much time to spare. This is going to take a little while.

The Path Less Traveled

I hate this acronym, but OMG!!! I just finished reading the entire LA Stories blog by Jaime Jessup. All 7 years' worth. EVERY SINGLE POST.

I'm tired. My brain box hurts. I need some fresh air. This is a hell of a story. If you haven't taken a gander, here's the basic rundown: Bright-eyed ingénue moves to LA with actor hubby to find her place in the stars as a screenwriter, but LA rains down meteors and crushes her hopes, her dreams, and all she holds dear. Said girl moves back to Orlando for a year to pick up the pieces, regroup, and rediscover herself.

A few key posts worth noting: The Mexico Plan, Origin Story, and if you're really brave, Porn Again Virgin Pt 1 and Pt2 (X-rated! - You've been warned.)

There's at least five different movies that could be made from this blog. At least. It's part movie industry insider story, part relationship/marriage/divorce story, part mental health/healthcare story, part coming of age story, part American Dream allegory... I could go on.

What have I gotten myself into!? I put on deodorant today, but I'm sweating profusely. Did I put deodorant on? Never end a sentence in a preposition, Jeff. Focus. I took the leap but am in way over my head. Where to begin? How do I approach turning such a daunting, far-reaching story into a concise 2-hour film? Maybe I should re-watch the Spike Jonze film "Adaptation." Maybe I need to reread Robert McKee's "Story." ...

Notice the book He's reading

Notice the book He's reading

… Maybe not. It’s mainstream schlock and I want to be original.

The outline alone could take a month. I need AT LEAST 3 weeks to write a first draft, another 2 for a second draft. Probably another 2 for a final. The deadline for a completed feature length screenplay is Oct. 1st and I don't even know where to begin.

Am I going to be able to figure this out? Am I going to be able to pull this off, or am I a goner? And why do I keep thinking of "Trainspotting" and the opening declaration, "Choose life."