The Perfect Writing Spot...


We all have preferred places to do our writing—places that make us feel comfortable, creative, and inspired. I know I do.

If you’ve followed this blog, you know that I get quite a bit of writing done at cool all-night diners, funky coffee houses, posh hotel lounges, the beach, middle-of-nowhere roadside rest stops, and even cruise ships. Just a yellow legal pad and pen, a cozy, relatively quiet spot to work, perhaps a nice view and a beverage of some sort, and I’m a truly happy fella.

Earlier today—while sweating through another 95 degree day in sunny L.A.—I got to thinking about perfect writing spots and happily recalled one of my all-time favorites. It was early last December at a Starbucks in New York City. There was nothing overly interesting or special about this particular Starbucks—I only went there because it was a couple blocks from my hotel.

Anyway...during that week last December, the city was experiencing some truly great fall weather: chilly, breezy, overcast days; not really raining, but everything was wet. As far as I’m concerned, that’s sheer perfection in the ol’ weather department. (Don’t ask me why I live in L.A. Just don’t.)

So, one drizzly late-afternoon I’m sitting in this Starbucks, cozily ensconced at a table near the window, a half-written script in front of me, people chatting happily all around me, the delightful music from A Charlie Brown Christmas wafting from the store’s sound system, and there’s this content little smile on my face. “Ahh”, I thought, “this is what it’s all about.” Then, as I do with all special moments in my life, I paused for a few seconds to really let it sink in. I even took a photo from where I sat (see above). Then I buckled down and cranked out a bunch more pages.

Now, this is the fab part about being a writer: you can do it just about anywhere. If you’re lucky—and my apologies for getting just a tad bit sappy here—you can find places in our world that have meaning and value to your inner being.

So do yourself a favor once in a while and find that perfect writing spot. Not only will you be doing an awful lot of good for your head, you’ll be doing a lot of good for your heart. For a writer, that can be a very good thing.

NEWSFLASH: THE END OF MY WEBSITE, BUT...

Dear Everybody:

My popular website TheWorkingScreenwriter.com is no more. Yup, I got tired of scraping together the ten bucks a year to keep it up and running. But...all that great material—no, really, ALL OF IT—can now be found here on Blogger. Yes, the former website is now a blog! (Sure, it makes a certain amount of sense...doesn’t it?) So, from this day forth, please feel free to visit The Working Screenwriter 2 (catchy name, eh?) at:

http://theworkingscreenwriter2.blogspot.com/

PS: Please help me get the word out. Tell your friends! Tell your enemies! Tell anyone and everyone who wants to write movie scripts!

Not a bad couple of weeks!

Item #1:

I finally signed that deal with the producer up north. I’ll be doing a rewrite on an existing screenplay. Have to get it done—a first draft anyway—in about five weeks. I got an early start and I’m already nearly halfway through. I’m anticipating a few stumbling blocks during this latter portion of the script, so I’ll need every moment of those five weeks. As for the deal we signed: I’ll get some solid up-front cash, co-writer credit, and a percentage of whatever the script sells for...if it sells. Happily, there’s a money guy who's already interested in seeing this project get made. If he approves my rewrite—and I'm confident he will—he's agreed to put up a good portion of the financing. Look, I certainly realize this is all a long shot, but hey, I’m having fun with the rewrite...and I put a few bucks in the ol’ back pocket!

Item #2:

So...a few weeks ago, a producer I know calls me and says, “I’d like you to send your script __________over to this development executive I know. I think it might be right up his alley.” My obvious response: “Sure!” So I send the script off to this development exec (who works for a prodco you all know). He e-mails me back, says, “Thanks for the script. I’ll definitely give it a read.” A week or so later he gets back to me. He says it’s a really good script—and he enjoyed it—but it’s not quite the sort of thing his company does. It “doesn’t fit our franchise.” But he says, “You’re a strong writer” and “I’ll read anything you send me.” Then he tops it off with, “It’s just a matter of finding the right script.” Then I remember a script I wrote a few years back. It might—might—just be something that would work well for them. So I pitched it. He says send it. I did. Two days later he e-mails: “I like this script. Let me run it by my partner.” So now I’m waiting for a response. The way I figure it, even if they don’t go for that particular script, they’ll read whatever I send them. With some luck, I think we’ll find—or I’ll eventually write—something that fits the franchise.

Item #3:

Tonight is the final performance of my play. I was in attendance with some friends last night and we had a lot of fun. The cast was in top form and the rest of the audience (a packed house!) seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. Who knows, I might tackle another play...one of these days.

Item #4:

I spoke with the producer/director of my upcoming web series MY ROOMMATE SAM. He’s putting the finishing touches on the first couple episodes, so hopefully there will be a premiere soon. I know I’ve been building this up for a looooong while. I do hope it’s all worth it. I wish I had more control over the final product. But what can ya do? You just gotta hope for the best. Anyway, as soon as I know something, you’ll know something.

Interview with Darren Howell: September 2009 Update...

In April 2008, Summit Entertainment optioned the sci-fi action spec Arena written by first-time feature writers Toby Wagstaff and Darren Howell. The story of Arena revolves around a group of modern-day soldiers mysteriously transported from the thick of battle to a terrain-shifting landscape where they must fight the best warriors from different eras and histories in a gladiatorial fight to the death or be killed by the all-powerful operators of the "Arena." Last week, the UK-based Darren gave me a quick update on the progress made by producers. (Be sure to read Darren’s initial interview from June 20, 2008.)


JV: What’s the current status of the project?
DH: Things are ticking along and progressing from what I understand.

JV: So...the BIG question I have to ask: Have you been able to quit your day job yet?
DH: Noooo...still working the Underground [the UK rail system]. To be honest, I never expected to be able to quit on the strength of one sale, and I wasn't going to do anything dumb like just walk out. It's good in a way—it gives me some good time to think up new stuff and develop ideas.

JV: Are the producers keeping you involved in the rewrite process?
DH: The rewrite is done. They're happy with it, apparently. There are meetings taking place.

JV: Thus far, what’s been the most frustrating aspect of the development process for you?
DH: Probably being so far away and missing out on the meetings; the face to face interaction, if you like. They get me on the phone when possible—or when we're invited! But it's a pain in the arse sometimes.

JV: I don’t want to get you into trouble with the powers-that-be on the production, but have you experienced any Development Hell?
DH: I don't think there's been any Development Hell yet as such. My own “hell” is my impatience. Everything seems to take sooooooo long. Is that me—or is that Hollywood in general?

JV: Do you find the producers are resistant to your ideas as the script is being developed?
DH: Haven't really encountered that as yet.

JV: What are some of the most exciting aspects of where you are now in the process?
DH: I just find the whole thing pretty exciting—that someone's gonna make a movie out of an idea you had! I'll probably go into excitement overdrive during the actual production and when I see it on the screen.

JV: Has a director been attached to the project?
DH: Yes, Jeff (Cry Wolf) Wadlow. It's been announced in the trade papers, so no one's gonna shoot me for telling you. He's a great guy. I met him when I was out [in Los Angeles] last. He's really enthusiastic about Arena and has had some neat ideas of his own.

JV: Have any actors been attached?
DH: Not yet, I don't think. I have my own fantasy cast list though.

JV: Have you shared your "fantasy cast" list with the producers? If so, what sort of response did you get?
DH: No, Toby and I have run a few names between us, but only for fun. There were a few names floating around when I met Jeff last June, but I think this was more his own fantasy cast list. I guess casting relies a lot on what they finally fix the budget at, so we'll just have to wait and see, and hopefully be pleasantly surprised.

JV: Now that you have a screenplay on the fast track, now that you're getting some nice attention, have you been offered any other screenwriting assignments?
DH: Yeah, we've had a few things come our way, but nothing solid for one reason or another. We got asked to take a look at the Highlander remake, which was pretty cool as I love the original, but we lost out to the guys that wrote Ironman.

JV: Give me some detail on going up for the Highlander remake. How did that all evolve—and finally, devolve?
DH: Off the back of our sale of Arena, we were asked by Summit to come up with a treatment for their re-imagining of the original Highlander. We were pretty fired up by it—I LOVE the original! Anyway, we submitted our ideas during a lengthy meeting (with me on the phone in London). They really seemed to like our take. So the waiting game started...until we found out the guys that wrote Iron Man got the job. C'est la vie, I guess. The more experienced guys got the job.

JV: Do you have other screenplays on the shelf? If so, now that you’ve got a project in development/pre-production, are you garnering any interest in those screenplays?
DH: We've got our old faithful “The Duritz Find” waiting in the wings after a radical strip down, re-jigging and title change. And I'm currently working on a cheeky chappy cockney crime caper, kinda like The Italian Job (the original!) meets Snatch. And we've got a few other ideas...

JV: You’ve struggled over the years and now you’re enjoying the fruits of that struggle. What piece of advice would you give the budding screenwriter—the writer who’s in the midst of his or her own struggle?
DH: Well, I dunno if I'd go as far as “enjoying the fruits of your struggle” yet, after all I'm still plodding along with the day job. However, I understand what you're getting at. I've always believed, as the adage goes: “It's better to try and fail, than not try.” It's like I said before, if you have faith in what you're doing; if you have what you believe to be a good solid product—stick with it. All the more better if your circle of family and friends and guinea pig readers agree! Keep going, don't give up. And the beauty of writing is that there's not much of an initial outlay—most people have got a PC and some paper. Personally, I have an awesome writing partner who I couldn't do without. I'm not suggesting that having a writing partner is essential, but it’s worked for me!

* * *

Thanks for keeping us posted on things, Darren. I’m sure all my WS blog readers join me in wishing you continued success with Arena—and we look forward to future updates! (And perhaps a ticket to the premiere for yours truly.)

(Update: To read Part 3 of Darren's interview, click here.)

A New Rewrite Gig...

An assignment recently came my way from a producer up north.

George (not his real name) had a script that—he felt—needed a minor rewrite. Sure, sounds good. But first I needed to read the script. So he sent me a copy. It took me a while, but I eventually got through it.

A “minor” rewrite? Um, no, this thing needed a major rewrite. It needed to be torn down to its base and rebuilt. The script contained all the usual maladies: on-the-nose dialogue, yawn-inducing descriptions, scenes that did absolutely nothing to push the story forward...all the usual novice stuff. I relayed all this via several pages of notes. OK, so now George is definitely interested in having me do the rewrite. But before we sign the deal, I wanted him to know precisely what I’d be doing to the script. He needed to know that I wasn’t going to simply tweak a few words here and there. No, I was pretty much gonna eviscerate the script. He also needed to know that my eventual rewrite draft would be something that could actually sell. So I took the first few scenes of the script and rewrote them.

Three days after I e-mailed my rewrite pages I still hadn’t heard back from him. So I shot off an e-mail: “What’s up? Did you get the pages I sent?” I heard back a few hours later. George admitted that he was somewhat shocked by my changes. He said, “I expected a light trim. What you gave me was a buzz cut!” I told him, “Trust me, it’s precisely what the script needs.”

So a few more days go by and I don’t hear a single word from him. I figured I scared him off. But he finally contacts me, saying, “I gave the script to an associate of mine. I wanted to get his opinion on the changes you made.” So here’s the e-mail George received from the associate:

“Honestly, your screenwriter is doing you a service. Your draft is lovely, but the pacing is very slow, laborious and you will lose your audience quickly. The screenwriter has picked up the pace for you immensely, given it some energy and kept it moving so that it keeps the reader’s interest. You lose none of the beauty of the story in his draft; he has just focused it more—to highlight the important beats. I think you should stick with him.”

So, thanks to his very perceptive associate, George now has a newfound respect for my abilities and is most agreeable to the changes I need to make. The first installment of my fee has been paid and the rewrite is coming along nicely. Contrary to popular belief among many novice screenwriters, rewriting can be a lot of fun. I’ve really been enjoying tackling this script and transforming unworkable scenes into scenes that, well...work. I plan to have a first rewrite draft in the next few weeks. With some luck, I’ll have a “final” draft—something George can take to money people, actors, etc.—completed by mid-October. That’s my plan, anyway.