Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Crisis in Confidence

What screenwriting activities did I partake in last week?
  1. Asked my mentor/teacher, Anne Jordon, to join me in rewriting the TV pilot that I lost when I spilled coffee on my laptop several weeks ago.
  2. Worked on the TV pilot many times during the week.
  3. Attended screenwriting group.
  4. Asked four movie industry professionals to read my TV pilot when it is completed.
  5. Set aside time with a friend to show her how to use a scriptwriting program.
  6. Watched four movies and thought about their dramatic structure:
  • Love and Mercy - a drama about Beach Boy, Brian Wilson's genius and madness. 
  • The Forger - John Travolta played the role of an imprisoned art forger who risks much to spend time with his dying son.
  • The Choice - A Nicolas Spark's love story set in coastal North Carolina.
  • The Walk - Joseph Gordon-Levitt's stunning performance of the French aerialist that crossed between the world trade center towers on a high wire.
The theme of the week though has been "crisis of confidence." Every time I go to work on rebuilding the TV pilot, I resist stronger than a barn-soured mule being dragged from it's stable.

Mule, watercolor and gel gloss, 10x10 by Levonne Gaddy

After working with Anne one day, I felt motivated to keep at it.  But after three days off from work, I return this morning with the same dread as I experienced immediately after losing the file.

So...this is where I stand at the moment. I tell myself over and over to just do it! One word, one sentence, one scene at a time.

Wish me progress on my journey . . .

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Gone, but hopefully not forgotten...

This past week, I lost three screenplays, including the TV pilot that I'd just completed. How? Coffee spilled on the laptop keyboard, complicated by a lax backup system.

How did I let this happen? Still on a bit of a buzz from a weekend trip to L.A., I reached down to pull my dog, Charlie, up onto the settee. Thoughtlessly, I shoved my elbow back and wham! There went the coffee.

I immediately turned the laptop upside down to drain the liquid. I thought it was dry, so I turned it up right, just in time to do a quick backup to an external hard drive before the crackling began. Yes, it fried.

Thinking I had saved everything, I was not totally distraught. I had planned to replace the laptop within the next few months anyway.  But five days later, after exhaustive searches of the external hard drive, the three scripts were not to be found.

I plan to engage someone who knows how to search the external hard drive better than I. (The computer's internal hard drive is unreadable.)  Hopefully that person will know a trick or two about where those files might be hidden. But truthfully, I have very little hope of retrieving them.

What's next? I shall attempt to rewrite the TV script. I'll count the other two feature scripts as practice and will not recreate them.

What's the lesson? Don't place liquids by the laptop.  Do backup files regularly but also backup in multiple ways the things that I'm currently working on. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Popcorn Entertainment's Anne Jordan

Anne Jordan is a fabulous teacher! I met her four years ago when John and I spent the year in Petaluma, California.  Currently, I attend her ongoing screenwriting group (meets weekly) where we do table reads of our scripts. It's invaluable to hear my script read out loud. The problems resound in a way that's impossible to detect when heard solely inside my own mind.

I've worked with Anne privately and attended her screenwriting class at Santa Rosa Junior college. (Anne also the organizes the Storyteller's Conference and Expo in San Francisco.)

Here's a short interview with her:

Anne Jordan, Screenwriter and Teacher, telling me about the future of my TV pilot! Really, Anne is fun. She's actually a RIOT! 

Levonne: When did you write your first screenplay? What was it about?  
Anne:  In 2000 - "President of the Fan Club" - sort of a "Sex in the City" meets "I love Lucy."  (A comedy)  However, I was a novelist and magazine writer before becoming a screenwriter.

Levonne:  What made you choose screenwriting as a writing modality? 
Anne: I enjoy the fact that screenwriting is more succinct, more focused. You can't wander around when you're writing a screenplay. Every word counts. Also, I liked that I could complete a screenplay in 3 weeks, rather than 10-12 months for a novel.

Levonne: When and where did you teach your first screenwriting class? Why did you start teaching?  
Anne: I started teaching around 2007. At first, I taught individuals and then I started teaching at colleges and universities.  I love teaching! It's easily the most rewarding job I've ever had. I truly love my students and when I see the light bulb going on inside their heads . . . well, that's priceless.

There's an old story . . . A Fireman reaches the pearly gates and Saint Peter asks him why he should let him into heaven. The Fireman answers, "Because I saved other people's lives."  Then a Doctor walks up to Saint Peter, and Saint Peter asks the Doctor the same question. She answers, "Because I healed sick children and made them better."  Finally, a Teacher walks up to Saint Peter and again, Saint Peter asks the same question: "Why should I let you into Heaven?"  The Teacher points to the Fireman and the Doctor and replies, "I taught them all."   . . . Teaching is my ticket into heaven, at least I hope it is.

Levonne:  What is your experience with marketing your work? 
Anne: I'm incredibly lazy and not terribly motivated to market my work, thus, my reason for not attaining greater success. I think most writers hate the amount of self-marketing that they have to do in order to sell their writing. Unfortunately, marketing is 50% of any writer's job. As they say on Madison Avenue, "You can build the best mouse trap in the world, but if nobody knows about it, you're not going to sell it."

Levonne:  What advice would you give to an older (over 50) beginning or emerging screenwriter? 
Anne:  There is no age limit on talent. This is your second act in life. Have fun! Write the stories you enjoy or feel the need to write. Somewhere, someone is going to like your stories. The best advice I could give to anyone, regardless of age, is to never give up. Have fun and NEVER GIVE UP.

Levonne:  Want to promote your screenwriting services?

Anne: Sure, I not only teach, but I also do ghost writing and consultation on novels and screenplays. See Anne's website for more information about Popcorn Entertainment.   You can reach her at Annejordanwrites@yahoo.com.

Thank you Anne for sharing about your screenwriting life. You're one of my favorite people in the world!  

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Focus on the Little Pieces

This past week, I decided to focus on the little pieces of a script. I often look at a finished, produced screenplay and think about it's greatness. Before I know it, I'm overwhelmed.

Instead of staying overwhelmed this week, I decided to study the element of "writing description." Here's what I relearned:
  • All action and description must reveal character or move the story forward.
  • The more vivid the description, the more the character and scene come to life.
  • Description should also foreshadow what's to come in the story.
  • Description focuses on three elements of 1) action, 2) setting and characters, and 3) sounds.
  • Keep paragraphs to four lines or under.
  • Be sparse with physical description of locations and characters.
  • Describe what the audience can actually see on the movie screen and hear on the soundtrack.
  • Use specific, concrete verbs and nouns to describe character vs. general ones.  Think about "how" someone is doing the action. (Entertain vs. inform.) 
  • Avoid redundancies in narrative description. 
  • FINALLY - Practice writing great description every day!
I've taken this lesson seriously! Now onward and upward!

What did I do this past week to advance my screenwriting?
  1.  Read "Breaking Bad" pilot script
  2.  Worked with Anne Jordan, scriptwriter, on my TV pilot script
  3.   Reread sections in books - Anne Jordan's The Big Secret,  Blake Snyder's Save the Cat and Dave Trottier's Screenwriter's Bible - on "narrative description" 
  4.  Attended Northern California's Screenwriters group

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Screenwriting as Meditation

What is meditation? From what I've gathered over several years of study and practice, meditation is the ability to sit quietly as one observes one's own mind, body and emotions.

What is my process? Start in a seated position, close the eyes, focus on inhaling and exhaling deep breaths. If using art or writing as a meditation, do the same but after the breaths,  open the eyes and begin making marks or words with the hands. 

Monoprint by Levonne Gaddy

Then listen for all that is there to be heard, inside and out. Feel whatever external conditions are there to be felt. Feel whatever internal conditions call the attention. See whatever pops into the mind as a vision, a memory, a picture. Smell whatever is there to discern. Taste what is there to be tasted.  Just be, non-judgmentally, in that space with self, with body, with mind, and emotions, surrounded by the world.

The external world tells a story in sounds and sensations. The mind tells stories sparked by those external triggers. Which is which? I have a very critical mind. A suspicious mind. My mind can conjure all kinds of stories - all of them just that. Stories.

Today's lessons from my meditation:
I often see myself as a victim in the world. I don't like being so,  but that is my story. My story distresses me.

In the observing space, I become aware that I am not alone. My God Self is there too. I have been a victim of my own neglect. Again.

Just be myself, in the world. Pay attention. Observe.

But what channel do I want to tune in to? There are thousands to choose from. Food, travel, friends, music, art, the dogs, my husband, chores, family, money?

I must feed and prime myself for what I want in my life. Focus and study, outside of meditation, in order to be able to sense my channel.

Study screenwriting, in order to grow the craft consciously. Then when I meditate, or when I write, I may recognize what my God Self has to say about this particular endeavor. I may discover the treasures that are always there, to be sensed by me.

Meditation helps me listen, to myself, and to the world around me without getting swept away.

Writing can only be a "meditation" as long as I have awareness of what is happening with me as I do the creative work. Beyond being aware, I must be able to bear what is going on inside me as I practice the art.  I'm hoping that the process of blogging further develops my awareness and acceptance.

When I'm writing down thoughts, feeling the associated feelings, I don't have to be swept away. I can just let it all be.

(This post inspired by conversations with my friend, June, who has meditated faithfully for over thirty years and who is also an artist.)

My report on last week's training to grow as a screenwriter:   

  • worked with my teacher, Anne Jordan, on my TV pilot script,
  • attended Northern California Screenwriters group and had ten pages table read, 
  • submitted a six-page short to a competition, 
  • went to de Young Museum (San Francisco) with friends to feed my artist's soul.

 My favorites from the de Young Museum trip below:

Amedeo Modigliani painting.

Edmund Tarbell, The Blue Veil

Thank you sincerely for joining me on my journey. Does any of this make sense?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Is blogging a distraction?

After reading my first post last week, my friend Frieda asked whether blogging about screenwriting might be a distraction from actually working on a script.

My answer is that it can definitely become a distraction. But, what I'm attempting is to put my writing "eggs" in more than one basket. When I have only one writing project going for weeks or months, it becomes too important. Too big. I fret over it. I begin to fear messing it up. Inevitably, I get stuck.

When I get stuck in self-doubt, I become so unproductive.

When my husband and I made a great leap into a nomadic lifestyle eight years ago, I knew I had the potential to become overly anxious, and potentially very unhappy. My solution was to blog (to journal publicly). That way, I looked forward to whatever I would feel the most about in a week. That thing that I felt the most about each week, became the blog post of the week.

Several years later,  those travel journal posts became a book: "This Restless Life, A Dream Chased Through California Parks in an RV".  Not only did blogging save me emotionally, it enriched the experience.

"About the Journey," is my attempt to enrich my screenwriting experience. Something about last week's blog process freed me to write a "short" (five-page screenplay). It freed me to ask for help from a mentor on my TV pilot.  I'm not stuck. I feel productive. But mostly, I'm enjoying the process.

My blog is akin to a well-maintained road. It's the path that supports me in getting to where I want to go. Thoughts and feelings are the road signs that can either help me get there, if I keep an eye on them and use them, or can get me lost if I ignore them.

Happy travels to you...
Signed: "forever trying to raise my awareness"

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

You're crazy! Aren't you?

I'm thinking that being crazy (at least the delusional part) is required, if you set out to be a successful female screenwriter at sixty. Successful in this instance means that someone actually pays me for a  script that I write.

Over the past several years, I wrote two feature-length spec screenplays. I'm currently trying to finish a TV pilot script.

To extricate myself from the "self-criticism, hopeless hole" I'd buried myself in this past week, I turned to YouTube videos on screenwriting. Well-known teacher John Truby hit the nail on the head within the first seconds of the video clip "Why Most People Fail at Screenwriting".

John said people fail at screenwriting because it is the "most difficult craft in the world."  He went on to say that the hundreds of techniques associated with story telling takes a lifetime commitment to master.

Next, I listened to Richard Walter, head of UCLA's graduate screenwriting program. When asked about today's young screenwriters' urge to "hack it" or jump over learning the craft, Richard said "All writers want to jump over everything, always." Boy could I relate to that statement big time. At least I'm normal in that regard, I thought. He said that you can't skip learning.

To Richard's statement "Art wants your life," I asked myself how much of the time I have left on this earth, can I, and do I, want to give to art. Give to screenwriting.

When Richard said that "It never gets easier. It gets harder," I then understood why I have been so frustrated of late. I have fostered the belief that it will get easier as I write more, but the reality is that it has only gotten tougher. Of course,  the better I get, the higher I set the bar. The less I knew, the more carefree and careless I could be.

Both men said that to stick it out as a writer, a professional approach to continuing education is essential. So where does that leave me?

Even though the messages in the videos were validating, they also left me feeling regret for not giving my life completely to art earlier. So back to the internet I went. This time to find out the ages of today's successful screenwriters. On Stephen Follow's blog, I found this graph.

So, although it may take a lifetime to master the screenwriting craft, it can take as little as four years of adult life to write a top grossing film. It seems that about half the people represented on this graph needed twenty years or less of adult living to write a top grossing film.

The graph tells me that lots of time remains for me to "get there". If I commit myself to learning the craft and if I continue to write regularly, lot's could happen over a ten to twenty-year time span. I like that.  Maybe I don't need to be crazy to believe in myself after all!