Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A putrid toilet is a beautiful thing

My manager read my first draft of THE MIDDLE AGES over Thanksgiving weekend. I got a short note yesterday saying he wants to talk sometime today and that it’s a nice start, we have more work to do, as I know, and that he still likes the story and my writing. More on that when there’s more on that.

I’m about halfway through my Improv I classes at SAK. As I said before, I was pretty terrified to do it, but I’ll let you in on a little secret:

Deep down, I fully expected to rock at improv. After all, I’m a screenwriter of comedies and comedic dramas. I’m repped by a great manager. Warren Zide is producing a movie I wrote.

I quickly learned, as it turns out, none of that does me much good on the improv stage.

Next, I learned that many of my classmates are fucking brilliant at this stuff.

Soon after which, I learned that a few of said classmates have taken improv classes at the Groundlings, Second City and UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade). A bunch are veteran Theater People and the others are just wonderfully comfortable in their own silly skin.

It didn’t take long to see that I ain’t got nothin’ on these guys. Cool thing is, in improv, nobody cares.

Improv is anti-ego. It’s all about trust – in yourself and in the other players. It’s about making the other players look good. It’s about acceptance and building and committing and getting outside yourself and leaving your inner critic bound and gagged in a dank basement somewhere.

(See some parallels to writing, here?)

After a few weeks of classes, I was getting better but still thinking too much. Still worried about looking stupid. Not committing or trusting enough.

Then, this past Sunday, I was coming down with something but I refused to miss a class. Apparently, being doped-up on cold meds is a helpful tool for quieting inner critics.

I had a great class. I accepted more, I committed more and I trusted more. And then I had an epiphanic moment that I gather lots of improv artists have had.

We were playing a four-person game where Player A improvises a one-person scene, then the instructor calls “freeze” and Player B has to come in and work in with Player A’s stance and turn the scene into something else. Then that scene is frozen and Player C comes in to turn the scene, then they’re frozen for Player D who comes in and turns the scene again. There’s more to it, but that’s the basic set-up.

So, back to my epiphany. Player A, a/k/a Kevin, was “scuba diving.” When our instructor, the cool and funny Charles Frierman, called “freeze,” Kevin was plugging his nose and kind of leaning over, reaching for something.

Waiting in the wings with the other two players, there's me: foggy with cold meds, my mind completely blank (shut up). I had no idea what I was going to do, but I took a leap of faith. I walked out onto that stage, leaned over beside Kevin, plugged my nose like he was doing and THERE IT WAS!

Through my pinched nose, I whined something like, “What kind of husband can’t fix a toilet? This is crap!” And we went on from there 'til Charles froze us.

Was it brilliant and original? Hell, no. But it was there and it got a few laughs and it worked. And most importantly, that feculent toilet knocked down some walls for me that night. And doesn’t that just put a song in your heart?

Monday, November 13, 2006

There she goes again

Today I FADED OUT on my rough draft of THE MIDDLE AGES.

I’m not whooping it up just yet.

I think it’s a pretty un-rough draft, actually, but I haven't read the thing straight through from page 1, yet, and I’d hate to whoop prematurely.

I’ve never worked that way before – the “not reading it” thing. I had a good outline and treatment and, of course, The Board, and think I adhered to them well and ventured away from them when it made sense and all, but really… god knows what-all’s in there.

I haven’t printed a page of it, yet, either. Ever. It’s tempting to fire up the printer and feel the weight and warmth of my new baby, but first I wanna be sure it has all its fingers and toes. And fully-developed lungs. And a spine. I don’t mind letting it incubate a little longer to give it a better chance at life when it finally comes out.

The draft came in on the short side. I anticipated 100-105 pages and it ended on 97. Not terrible. I’m sure it’ll flesh out in the rewrite. I actually cut five pages a couple days ago – Act 2 was getting long and there was an extraneous scene and a half in there. The brevity problem lies fully in the third act, and I expect to find some loose threads hanging off of the first that need weaving in at the end.

For those interested in such things, I finished my treatment September 15th , got the thumbs-up from my manager September 18th, spent a couple weeks turning my treatment into index cards on a board and filling in the holes, then began really writing the script October 2nd.

So, just under six weeks to a first draft. I could’ve done it faster, but I was away three weekends in October, plus a few extra days in Austin, then there were a bunch of days post-Austin where the clock struck 3:00 p.m. and knocked me out cold until dinnertime.

Not such a long time for a draft, really. However, I struggled to come up with the idea for about four months before I wrote that treatment.

So… tomorrow, I read. Hopefully, I’ll still be smiling.

p.s. Last I heard, POOL BOY went to AFM, the budget is looking bigger and shooting has been bumped to February.