29 July 2010

Project Twenty1: The Preamble

I'm never certain how often I have to reintroduce Project Twenty1 (P21) to readers of this blog. Random people who wander by may see an offhand reference to it and wonder about it in the flicker of time before they move along to find the actual naked Saffron Burrows pictures they were looking for. (Also, if you're here about Paul Kinsey, I am sorry to report that I do not know whether he will be in the new season. I certainly hope he will be.) Meanwhile, the 4.36 regular readers probably have the gist of it by now, and would like me to just move the hell on. Here's a brief summation to split the difference:

P21 is a film competition where the goal is to create a movie lasting ten minutes or less in 21 days. The films must somehow incorporate a theme; previous ones have included "light" and "key." In one way or another, I have participated in every previous edition, and am about to embark on the journey once again for its fourth year. Last go 'round, I posted a few blog entries updating readers on our progress. As I hope to do the same again, I'm hereby kicking off the festivities with another throat clearing before the shit really hits the fan.

The theme this year won't be announced until Saturday, July 31st. In the meantime, I've been waiting for general inspiration to strike me, not just for P21 but for scripts in general. The closer it gets, however, the more my brain wants to dwell on certain story ideas I've discussed with my collaborators. I can't actually write anything until the 31st, though, so I'm stuck twiddling my thumbs and wondering if I can fit in dick jokes and oblique references to bullshit no one will understand or care about. My thoughts are helping me out at the moment, carefully examining each component of the stories and pondering how they can be made more memorable, more efficient, better. But until I get that element, I'm stuck in neutral, hoping the car won't stall out when it actually becomes time to punch the gas.

As usual, it's humid as balls here in New York City, and us what come from more frigid climes are suffering under the heat. I lay in bed and I sweat. I brush my teeth and I sweat. I wait for the train and I sweat. The only time I'm not covered in a wet sheen is when I am blessed with air conditioning, or have a fan pointed directly at me. At night, I stick my fan two inches from my head and let it blast; the hell with electricity bills, I'm miserable now.

Tomorrow night, we of Hard Boiled Productions will occupy ourselves with an honest-to-God job documenting an evening of festivities. It will be a nice distraction from the looming presence of P21. We are marshalling our forces, preparing our equipment, musing on locales, securing cast and crew. But what are we actually going to do? We have ideas we can build on and flesh out, yes, but who knows what inspiration will hit and make us do something crazy and complex and difficult. We're like divers who can win medals doing simple backflips, but decided to challenge themselves with Triple Lindys; if we can pull it off, everyone will be stunned and amazed by having seen something new. If we don't, then we're just a bunch of assholes (and we probably still are if we succeed). Here's a question: What if we do pull it off and no one notices? After all, sometimes when we see something new, we don't recognize it for what it is, and become tempted to dismiss it.

Or is that just an artist making excuses for his past catalogue? Sounds like a whole other blog post to me...

20 July 2010

New Developments and Old Problems

So the bastards finally corralled me into this Twitter thing. I don't really have time to be prolific on it (I hope), nor the means to instantly update with whatever random thought seems witty or poignant at the time (I do not have a mobile device with Internets access). Nevertheless, several trusted marketing types have told me in the strictest confidence that this is what the kids are using to self-promote these days. And if there's one thing I need more of, it's self-promotion. I suck at telling the world of my existence. I'd much rather sit in a corner and be left alone, cobbling together movies and releasing them to accolades and deep piles of money. But to do that, I need the means to cobble, and the means to let everyone know my masterpiece IS worthy of their time and attention and cold hard cash, and the means to tell them No, that interpretation is incorrect, what I have made is not a piece of crap, you just can't see it for the genius that it is, you stupid!

Anyway, if you want to follow me on the damn thing, here's my profile.

As for actually making movies, like I'm supposed to be doing, that's currently something of a mixed bag. I'm in between major writing projects at the moment. There are many short things I have been and will be working on - we just shot another short this past weekend, post-production is nearly complete on Time In, and, of course, Project Twenty1 is swiftly approaching. But in terms of feature-length, epic scripts I pour my heart and soul and madness into, I'm still in the process of searching for my next great IDEA. And I haven't had one for a while, and it's starting to make me nervous.

When I finish writing something, there's a genuine sense of accomplishment. "I have created this!" I shout to the heavens (and my apartment ceiling). "It shall live beyond me forever!" Or until the Internet implodes. With shorter projects - like my scripts for Radio Hound Productions - there's that feeling of self-satisfaction, but it's a quick hit, not as long lasting or full of promise as an ambitious feature I can fling willy nilly at agents and execs who will promptly ignore it. If I'm not working on a feature - whether I'm still noodling around the plot in my head, or fleshing out a treatment, or revising a first draft - I feel like I'm worthless and wasting my time.

I used to always be working on a feature. That's because I didn't know how to recognize weaker ideas and let them go. Now that I do (maybe), the thought process goes like this:
  1. "Hmm...that could be interesting."
  2. "Oh, wouldn't be awesome if instead of a typical hero, it's a half-human mutant wooing the zombie fighting cheerleader?"
  3. "This might have real potential..."
  4. "Wait...it sounds familiar...."
  5. "Oh, shit, the set-up is too much like Eagle Eye. Fucking shitty movies stealing my goddamn thunder...Maybe it's not shitty, I didn't see it, I shouldn't judge...Fuuck-ing Eaagle Eye."
  6. "Maybe I can change it so it's different."
  7. "No, it's still kind of lame. What about this other idea?"
  8. "Ehh, it doesn't have enough of a hook. Too complex to explain. Not concepty enough."
And back to the drawing board I go.

I'm a bit pickier than I usually am not only for quality control reasons. I'm starting to realize that I probably shouldn't waste my time writing something if me and my collaborators can't make it anytime soon, and if Hollywood wouldn't be remotely interested in buying it. Seeing as how I have a pretty good back log of scripts for us to shoot on a relatively low budget, and we don't exactly have the means to move them along the production line like hotcakes, I've decided that the next extensive project I tackle will be my Hollywood Script.

You know - the one that gets sent to screenplay contests, agents, producers, other high-up muckity-mucks I may or may not meet eventually. It will be high-concept, yet fit into the traditional three act structure (complete with pinches! and midpoints! and inciting incidents!) and character and plot arcs (the same thing, but different). It will be written specifically to appeal to the unimaginative, looking-for-a-buck executives who will like it, never produce it, but maybe hire me for other projects.

I've decried this sort of thing before, but dammit, it's time. I need something in my portfolio that's going to be immediately accessible to a broad audience. The problem, however, is actually coming up with a new idea that fits the Hollywood parameters AND jumps my bones enough to get me interested in actually writing it. Each time I come up with a possibility, either the imagination train runs out on me before it gets fully fleshed out, or I run through the gamut of thoughts detailed above.

It's come to the point where I've started raiding my past notebooks and paper scraps for a hint of something that might zap my brain in a different way this time. But something always comes along to kick it in the balls. For example, one of the ideas I've been carrying around for a while involves Superheroes. And recently I came up with a further "twist" on it that made think it could become something new and awesome. But then I second-guessed myself. Aren't "Superheroes" and their various deconstructions and reconstructions more or less played out by this point? Shouldn't I be looking for whatever the next fad is going to be that will make Hollywood take notice? Vampires? No. Zombies? No. Werewolves? No. What is it going to be? Post-apocalypses? Space travel? Post-apocalyptic space travel? (Hmmm...) And/or, can I find something unique and unexplored enough that will then go on to BECOME the next faddish thing, should it exceed even my own rather limited expectations?

This is a tough route to take for brainstorming, because it's approaching the situation in an ass-backward way. While searching for some little germ of a factoid that jazzes me in a way that I go "Maybe..." and "What if...", I'm also thinking in terms of what will goose another person who is a fictional construct built out of stereotypes. And I'm trying to keep in mind the maxims of "What you find interesting, others will find interesting," and "Write what you're passionate about," and "Blow yourself and rainbows will come out of your dick," but I'm still enough of a cynic and realist to know, "You have to make what you find interesting interesting to people who probably do not give a shit. And you may have to change what you find interesting about it to do that."

The challenge is to meet somewhere in the middle. To find something that I enjoy AND is new and fresh and unique to movie makers and movie-going audiences alike. To tap into both my and the nation's subconsciousnesses (?) and find a way to exploit them so that I benefit artistically and financially.

I'm hoping the rush of Project Twenty1 jolts my mind into action. I need inspiration, dammit, and I'm not going to find it staring at this computer screen. It's time to move my duff and live life to the fullest. Kick enough ass and the stories will come to you. Yeah! YEAH! That's the spirit! I'm the man! I can do anything! I will not go quietly into the night! I will not vanish without a fight! I'm going to live on! I'm going to survive! Today, I celebrate my--

Wait...this sounds familiar...

04 July 2010

A Fourth of July Gift From Me to You

I am proud to announce that my second audio drama for Radio Hound Productions' Stray Dogs Project is now online (available here, or any other link in this sentence). It's called "Countdown" and it's a sci-fi comedy that's only six minutes long - you cannot use your limited attention span and our go-go-go world as an excuse to shirk it. If you don't enjoy it for some reason, I promise to award you a full monetary refund.

Would this man lie to you?

(In case you missed it, the first one I wrote for the Project, "Redux," can be found a few slots below "Countdown" on the same page. Here's the blog post I wrote for that one.)

"Countdown" is somewhat unique within my oov-ruh. Generally, I write things set in today's modern world because when you're working on a low budget, it's a bit tough to recreate the French Revolution. But this one is set in the distant future - so distant it doesn't even have a date. Sci-fi is not a genre where I dabble much, but based on this experience, I'd like to change that...if I come up with good enough ideas, of course.

The script came about when Nick Martorelli, the mastermind behind Radio Hound Productions, challenged me to write a script under a tight deadline so he could record it when he came came to visit New York the following weekend. I did not hesitate to agree, and made a joke in an e-mail along the lines of "I'll make this one nice and simple, no complex effects. Just two people talking....in a rocket ship."

Right before I clicked "Send," I re-read that sentence and my mind went "Hmmm..." Whatever it is that hatches ideas in my brain made a noise, and I hurried out a first draft that night, then revised it several times over the next few days based on Nick's very intelligent and helpful notes and suggestions. He found the actors - one of whom happened to be my Hard Boiled Productions partner-in-crime, the criminally handsome Chris Kapcia - and we recorded it in a humid apartment one balmy Monday evening.

I hope you enjoy the results. I'm very proud of it and grateful that I get to work with such wonderfully talented people as Nick, Chris, Tara Henderson, and Andrea Pinyan. They bring new life to my words in ways I never could have foreseen when I hastily scrawled them on a computer screen.