Welcome Gentle Readers

This blog tends to wander from its main purpose -- updates on my fiction. I do have updates and excerpts of my work. But I also write about my obsessions -- food, friends and pop culture and my weird life in Los Angeles. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Homework, Stick Work, and Compound Nouns

It has long been my dream to be able to afford to stay home and write. It's been an even bigger dream to be writing for something that was about to be produced or published. I had imagined just how amazingly awesome that would be. Of course there would be some sort of libation and possibly some nibbles involved. And in the midst of it all, the words and scenes would come as easily as making toast. Have I ever mentioned how often I burn toast?

Like most things in life, writing a script for eminent production is not all that I had imagined it would be. I sat most things in life, because some things in life are better than I had imagined. For example, Vancouver in the dead of winter (incredibly beautiful) or France in the spring (ridiculously beautiful). But writing under deadline like that even without a day job to further crunch the time available is not easy. When we wrote Demon Under Glass, we had a project that already existed in a treatment. We simply had to fill in the script while keeping limited resources in mind. [That was how the cow bloodletting did not make it into the script. For those who don't know about the cow, the short version is we were going to have the captive vampire feed on a live cow in the isolation tank. Before we finished the first draft we found out that renting a real cow – and yes, that's possible – or a mechanical cow – also more available than one would think – would have cost a significant percentage of the budget. In the case of the live cow, our insurance rider would have been enormous and we would have had to have someone from the ASPCA present to make sure no one actually fed on the cow. Also CGI cows weren't as easily obtained as they are now making them as expensive as the other options. ]. And that was the short version. When a detailed treatment exists, writing the script is relatively simple. You always wish for more time to tweak, but it can get done.

The Warehouse Movie (it has a name, but I'll get into that later) was not even a concept six weeks ago. We had a concept for something vaguely similar based on a building our former roommate works in. But this space was completely different. It was so different that we couldn't adapt that other concept to work in the space. Thus, we had to start over. Craig is the reigning king of stories about people doing goofy things that run into something dangerous. I went to him for inspiration. He gave me so many ideas and other assistance that he's getting part of the Story By credit. Of course, collaborating with Craig has its price. More on that later as well.

Typically, after the concept comes a short treatment. For us, that's usually 5 to 10 pages. Then, we like to do a really detailed treatment of 20 to 50 pages when all of the action and transitions are thoroughly worked out and all that remains is writing the dialogue. For Demon Under Glass, we had the short treatment already, so we were able to move on to the longer treatment before working on the actual script. We didn't have that luxury this time. All I had was a vague seven page treatment and a basic character breakdown sheet. And though there wasn't a stated deadline, I was aware that the time that we would have the space to shoot in was limited and a window would be closing in the next couple of months. Basically, it needed to be done now, now, now.

Thus, for the last couple of weeks I've been working full time as a screenplay writer. The first thing I realized is that having a structure really helps. When I had the day job, the structure was writing happened after dinner was consumed and cleared away until the bedtime ritual began. I thought having an expanse of time from morning until after midnight would make me more productive, but that really didn't prove to be the case. I needed a routine to keep focused. The first couple of days suffered as I figured out how to allocate my time.

First, I had to accept that even if I'm not leaving the apartment for anything, I really need two hours to go from sleep to fully functioning. One of the side effects I have to battle is incredible joint pain and stiffness which is especially bad early in my day. After I do the morning rituals and deal with that, I write for a few hours. If I don't make lunch, Jon will work through until dinner with his headphones on editing. Lack of food gives him headaches and makes him cranky, so I make lunch. I usually take that opportunity to do some prep for dinner like put on a pot of collard greens or something else that needs low and slow cooking. Then, it's back to writing until the evening and dinner. The longest stretch of writing is the evening. I might go from 7pm to 1am with only the odd break now and then. The smaller chunks of time writing meant more pages somehow. I never quite mastered writing while having nibbles. Any sort of snack brought the flow of work to a halt. Though I really enjoyed some of those snacks – especially the onion and leek soup alongside french bread smeared with a bit of foie gras. Likewise, libations didn't work well with writing. One glass of wine would make me sleepy and I'd end up napping. So much for being a two fisted drinking writer like the greats of old.

I'm not saying that it was all difficult. As usual, most of the pressure came from me putting it on myself. When I was just letting the pages come as they would, I was having a great time. It helps that we know two of the actors involved very well and that made writing dialogue a real hoot. One actor is a very respectable, self-possessed lady who has long held positions of great responsibility. We decided that she needed a completely evil, salacious side. It was a kind of role she had never played before and would be a lot of fun. The other is an actor who looms largely in most of our productions. He has an amazing and twisted sense of humor. It was fun to figure out what this actor might say if he were in this given situation. It was a lot of fun putting him in those situations. The third actor is known for a certain type of role. Again, we decided that he needed to show a vastly different side. I blended my love of 60s and 70s era cop shows with my warped sense of humor and a very odd horror film hero was born. He has been a whole lot of fun to write. I really can't wait to see him come to life.

But the true joy of writing this script came from my primary research source to all things strange, Craig. I asked him for information on some of the worst things that the LAPD was accused of in the bad old days when it was said that corruption ran rampant. I then learned about things like 'stick work' (use of a baton in ways that were not appropriate) or 'tune ups' (things certain police were said to have done to suspects to get information or punish miscreants). And I kept for getting the name of the mob family in New Jersey that is said to have killed their own don because they discovered he was gay (the DeCavalcantes). Craig is like a very strange and scary wikipedia.

And then, we get to naming the film. I laughed so hard that I cried.

Me: What about Tentacles?

Craig: There is already a film called Tentacles. Jonh Houston and Henry Fonda were in it.

Me: Stop lying!

Craig: It's true. I think the creature had one big eye and a beak. We have got to have one big eye and a beak in ours.

Me: I wanted the monster from It Conquered the World, but I got overruled.

Craig: What about Sharktopus?

Me: You know that's taken, and there's no shark.

Craig: Whatever it is has to have the Alchamagod in it.

Me: What the hell is an Alchamagod?

Craig: One of those made up words they put in the third sequel to a really bad film.

Me: This is the first film, Craig.

Craig: That's what makes it perfect.

It went on like that for quite a while. And in that conversation above are parts of the name of the film. I can't talk about the title or the actors cast quite yet. Everything is still being firmed up. I should have more news on the film and when it will shoot by this time next week. Fingers crossed.

I've also been working on new recipes and techniques!

Stay tuned!


Deborah Lawrenson said...

Hello! I just found your blog while surfing through The Provence Post. Really enjoyed what I've read do far - but your Follow button doesn't seem to work - which might explain why you only have one so far!

Sorry if it's my connection that's bad - but just in case you might want to check for a blog glitch.

All the best,

DLWarner said...

Thank you for reading, and for the heads up on the glitch. I will look into that and post when it's fixed.