Wonderland

Nelson Mandela once said, "It always seems impossible until it's done." Good words to live by when you're writing. There's a million reasons to give up when you write. You sacrifice your social life, your sanity, and even your personal relationships - DON'T F'ING INTERRUPT ME! But if you give up, you're dead.

Getting the script down from 160 to 120 pages was a Herculean task in and of itself. The original source material, a blog called LA Stories, was a seven year journey of one girl who dreamed of becoming a screenwriter, but crashed and burned and "died" before she was able to achieve her dreams. After sharing the script with a few writer friends, listening to suggestions, and being open to making changes, I took one more stab at editing the story to see if a 2-hour film could be scaled to about 100 minutes. 120 pages is for amateurs.

I took the "truncated-action approach," turning full descriptive sentences into raw action verbs and beats. It's not how one talks, but how most scripts are written. I took an even closer look at some of the voice-over... and threw out good portions of it (see "Kill Your Baby" for more details). I looked at some dialog towards the end and turned it into a title card preceding the film. And I came up with a killer title.

100 pages was the goal, and I almost got there. 103 is the final page count. I'm happy with that. It's done. It's ready to share with the world. Well, at least some literary agents and producers. Gotta get this baby made!

I present to you... "Monarch."

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Kill Your Baby

Sometimes you have to kill your baby. Editing is all about finding the essence of the story and eliminating the extraneous stuff that distracts from the main narrative. Sure you have to keep a little filler and transitions to give the story breadth and rhythm, and specific details to allow the characters to sing, but getting a script down to an acceptable length is all about asking, how do I tell this story in the most concise way possible and boil the narrative down to the basics?

One trick to scale a script is to look at it from a budgetary perspective. Is that car chase really necessary? Do I need the mountain lion on page 35 to complement the main character's emotional state in a grand display of magical realism...or can I save $15K? As a writer, you don't want to completely eviscerate imaginative storytelling, but you also don't want to forget practicality plays a big role in getting movies made.

Another way is to focus on the dialog, and in the case of this script, also Voice-Over (V.O.). Much of the inner monologue from the blog this story was inspired by, was re-purposed for the screenplay, and although each line has meaning, there's a lot of V.O. that seems repetitive. Can it be consolidated without adversely affecting the story? Can two lines be condensed to one? Can five be condensed to one? In real life, our vernacular is often long-winded, and repetitive. The beauty of cinema is that film dialog does not need to be an exact representation of real life. It's got to sound real (if that's the style in which you're telling your story) and authentic to each character, but it should be concise in order to capture the essence of a scene. Less literal, more metaphor! Strangely, I find that the final lines of a scene, especially in a first draft, can often be cut.

I'm almost down to 120 pages! Cutting 40 pages is no easy task. Some tough, painful choices had to be made. I'm agonizing whether to remove a chunk of V.O. I wrote for the ending that encapsulates the entire story:

Alexandra (V.O.): What will the novelists, the poets, the playwrights and the screenwriters write about us a hundred years from now? Did we only sacrifice for ourselves and eagerly turn a blind eye to the problems before us? Did we stop listening and loving, and let anger and fear pit us against each other? Or did we grab our stilts and superhero costumes, spreading our wings with a feather in our hair, and fight for each other, for love, for happiness, for a more perfect union?

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It's powerful, but millions of fluttering butterflies are more affecting. Kill your baby and move on. One week to go until deadline. I still need to trim another 20 pages!

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...

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.