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The Next Thing I Write


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2:55 - lay on couch

3:04 - write a single slug line

3:05 - anxiety

3:06 - anxiety / back to couch

3:07 - internet/anxiety

3:45 - see everyone in LA horror scene was at the Universal HHN open last night. I was invited. didn't go. Got serious FOMO.

3:46 - imposter syndrom hits

4:03 - post

So basically, you are saying that being a writer is just like writing papers in grad school, except you get payed to do it? :lol:


Pretty much!

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Id be so mad if someone kidnapped me as I was going to pee. I damn near jumped a messed-up hippie last weekend for stopping me to ask the time as I was in a midnight run to the port-o-pot.


Also, I dont do sigil work, but thanks to this thread Amazon and Pinterest think I do THANKS TANK.

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I would do sort of the inverse to what you are doing. Have the family have a daughter go missing, but dont reveal that at that start. Have Caliope meet a new friend at school who starts coming around alot. Meanwhile slowly reveal what happened to their daughter, maybe through a detective reopening the case due to their being a couple cases of missing kids with similar details springing up recently.


Have Sigil ingratiate herself into the family but start to slowly tear them apart. She makes Caliope into more of a "bad girl", she seduces the father, she befriends the mom and sort of turns her on the father and draws her away from Caliope. Maybe Caliope is a tomboy and the mom always wanted more of a girlie girl type and SIgil is like that?


The detective slowly puts things together and discovers who this "new friend" is, the father kills himself when he finds out he was seduced by his own long missing daughter. Turns out this is the final step of indoctrination from the cult, who sends the kids back to their families to tear them up to prove they have no loyalty to their old families.


What the cult is actually up to or whatever, well that can be saved for the inevitable straight to video sequel that you disown somewhere down the line.


I get this really isn't the inverse, just Id reveal it was the daughter later. Although once you establish they had one go missing it would probably be obvious so it probably doesn't work. And thats why you are a professional writer and Im not.

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You just merged The Good Son and Poison Ivy.


It's not a bad angle at all, but you've identified the key issue-- it would be obvious to the audience who the new girl was.


...unless you don't reveal there was a kidnapped kid in their past. This might also annoy audiences and they might see the reveal as a bit of an ass-pull.


For me, I am trying to avoid too much mystery. That pulls it into being more plot based, which I don't want to do.


Check out The Guest and/or Stoker. Both deal with a person joining a family and we know early on they are trouble. It's less a mystery about who they are, and more about seeing what they get away with before everyone finds out.

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In my head, I pictured the State Park that Randall and Amy visit as this place:



My wife and I went there a few years ago, it's at least an hour and a half way from anything and the views there on top of the mountains near the waterfalls are awesome. It's also the unofficial starting point of the Appalachian Trail.

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True story-- I take weekends off from writing (it's when I do a lot of reading), but Mondays are always hard for me to jump back in. Not sure why, when I work from home, it really makes any difference. Maybe after a couple days off, I need a transition day.


And yes, I know it's a super first-world problem.


That said, I did get notes today on another project with deadlines, so I have to focus my brain on that. Notes on Monday are good, it gets the brain going and creativity flowing, so I am "working" but not. Also, if I face down notes on a Monday, the people who send them generally don't expect a response until midweek. So I can get the work done, then have a couple days of quiet on my own stuff before I deal with outsiders.

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Legally, I'm not allowed to do that. If it was the same studio, distributor, and director maybe.


Or if I was the director I could drop a visual easter egg in, like his Sam Raimi put Ash's Dodge in all his movies, but as a writer, I don't have that freedom sadly.

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Today's Ted talk is about "thread-pulling" and getting notes.


I am still working through the notes on a different project. I should say, I worked through the notes yesterday, making plans on how to address them all, and today has been spent implementing said plans.


Notes are sort of inevitable. Unless you are writing, directing, self-financing, and self-releasing a movie, you're going to get notes. There's basically a handful of guys in Hollywood who can do whatever they want-- Nolan, Spielberg and Fincher can work within the studio system and do what they want.


Tarrantino, Cameron, PT Anderson, Woody Allen, and David Lynch do what they want, but they are in the business of making their particular brand of show, and if you want in, it's known you have to let them do their thing.


Scorsese, Burton, Abrams, Del Toro, Cuaron, and Peter Jackson gets as much freedom as the success of their last film bought them.


Everyone else has to get notes. And yes, studio interference is real. Notes can ruin a movie. Not doing a note can get you fired. Trying your best to do a note, and not nailing it because the exec doesn't actually know how to voice their issue, can get you replaced (someday I'll talk about all those other Hell Fest writers).


The trick with notes is not taking them personally. Writing seems to go hand in hand with tying self worth to said writing, so when it's pointed out as flawed, people can lose it. I generally will not respond for at least 24 hours to an email about notes... usually because I have to go through the following steps:



2. self doubt (WHY DO I SUCK)




That said, sometimes notes can be good. Sometimes you get an exec that knows their craft. Sometimes, listening to a department head can really help you hone a scene.


Case in point, this pilot I am working on now. The notes I got are actually decent, and some of them are pointing out weaknesses in the script that I saw when I turned it in, but couldn't think of how to fix.


Line notes are easy. Character motivations notes are too-- you just need to throw something on the nose in to satisfy an exec. (OH! THE EMPIRE MURDERED HIS AUNT AND UNCLE! NOW I GET WHY HE'D LEAVE HOME WITH A STRANGE MAN).


Structural notes are a bitch, cause they cause the most damage.


The note I hate most though, are the thread-pullers-- a seemingly innocuous note that asks you to change a scene or detail that has butterfly effect throughout the script. So often, an exec gets hung up on a logistical thing that can destroy everything.


In this script there is a party, because of timing issues, it's on a Monday. I got the note that "no parent of a teen would let their kid go out on a school night." But things happen on a timeline in this story (that would take too much typing to explain in detail) in a way that I need the party to happen at a certain time. Multiple scenes are effected by this one little note.


A big difference between a writer-brain and a not-writer-brain is the ability to "see" the entire story. Sometimes when I push back against a thread-puller the person giving the note will be shocked at how much damage it does. They just couldn't see past the page they were on.


In all cases, a lot of time we like to "find the note behind the note." Consider that the people giving notes are not writers, they may not know how to voice the feeling they have when reading somebody so they'll just say something like THE WRITING HERE IS WEAK). "Weak writing" is the complaint de jour of both movie reviewers and execs when they know something is off, but are not smart, educated, or verbose enough to figure it what it is exactly.


So sometimes if you can figure out what their actual problem is, you can address it, and at the same time not take their advice. So instead of dismantling my entire script's timeline, I focus on the real issue-- my exec has a teenager and it just doesn't compute to her.


My fix-- the person throwing the party wants it on their ACTUAL birthday (which happens to be a Monday), and my lead, instead of cajoling their parent into it, will just sneak out-- which honestly, works better for later. Originally the kid was going to stay out late, and get busted. Now, they get busted for sneaking out, which is a bigger crime.


Hopefully I can get this fixed and back to them tonight, and can get back to my sweaty southern sex tomorrow.

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^The stuff youre talking about there reminds me of a behind the scenes on Afflecks Daredevil where the director was fighting (should be in quotes) the studio over Daredevils costume. At first they were why does he even need one? Cant he be in jeans? And then they agree to a costume but said it couldnt be red. Then they saw the black costume and thought theyd get sued for copying Batman so they said it has to be red. Then they fought over how red it could be. lol

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Part 13451231: Juggling Act


If I were just on my own with nothing going on, I could knock this new script out in a 3-4 weeks, but I am juggling multiple projects and jobs. Technically, I like to just write ONE thing at t time. I think jumping between projects confuses the mind. I also thing jumping around within a project makes a mess, so I like to work linearly. If I skip ahead to scene down the road, filling the space between is usually 50/50 for actually feeling right.


I am actually learning a ton by documenting my day to day like this. I'm seeing all sorts of ways my process has evolved.


So to that, I want to put everything on the table and have transparency, and be honest about everything I have going on, because it effects the work, and outside of one recent newb (who I assume to be an old poster on a countdown to trolling) nightly has oddly become a safe space. Some of what I am about to share may seem like bragging, but everyone here knows that I have literally spent pretty much my entire 20 year history of posting on nightly talking about making movies and trying to break in. I was finishing grad school when I first came here, so my journey has not been quick... so understand that with anything that seems like bragging comes along with YEARS of work and not-fun crap.


Also, before I say what all is on my plate, here's a few things industry things that are are helpful to know.


TV shows are generally made by three parties: a production company that develops the concept with a writer and helps make creative decisions, a studio that is responsible for physical production, and a network/cable channel/ streaming platform to distribute it. Most of the time projects are started with one entity, and the others have to be pitched and brought aboard. In the last few years, companies have found it easier to combine themselves. For example JJ Abrams Bad Robot is both a production company, and a mini studio. The big streamers, Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu can often serve as all three entities (though all of them mostly acquire/license content).


Movies also require all three entities, but depending on which entity has secured the financing and the budget level, sometimes a single entity can be responsible. Also in this case a "studio" refers to one of the big old Hollywood machines, who classically could also be all three entities in one. But these days, to save money, most studios have a myriad of "on the lot" production companies. For example, Simon Kinberg (who somehow gets to work with both Star Wars and X-Men) has an overall deal with Fox. He has a small production company on the lot, and Fox gets to look at whatever projects his company develops first. In reverse, they may come to him with one of their own properties to develop. (Remind me later to talk about why the Disney/Fox deal is actually TERRIBLE for business).


Most writing deals/contracts are referred to as "step" deals. This means that you do the work, and get paid, in steps. Three step deals are common for features, four step deals for TV. The three steps are first draft, second draft, polish. TV's extra step is the union requires them to pay you for a story outline ahead of the first draft. There's also union dictated fees for other things like story bibles, finished script purchases, pitches by themselves, etc. Pretty much every production company and studio will try and get free steps/documents out of a writer. It's a thing we just roll with because if we don't play along, they can always just buy our ideas and hire somebody else to write them-- which is pretty common.


For TV, the step deal refers to developing a pilot. Once the show is actually being made, writers are hired on staff and paid a weekly salary. If they are lower-level, they will just be in the room pitching and helping hone episodes. If they are upper-level, they will get episode script assignments as well. Scripts come with fees that pay the writers. There's no steps, you just write until everyone in the food chain above you is satisfied. Sometimes upper level TV writers with producer titles are not paid a weekly salary, but collect a few for every episode produced (whether they wrote it or not) and can still collect script fees for the episodes they DO write.


80% of WGA writers make an average salary of $40-80k a year. That's pretty standard for the country in terms of a middle/upper level job with a corporation (for comparison). In LA, that does not get you far. So when there is a writer's strike next year, don't say it's a bunch of rich liberals crying for more money. This job can be just as much of a blue collar slog as any other. 10% of writers are in the low six figures bracket. These are mid level writers who get a feature out every couple years and/or low level TV writers who staff regularly. Their quote isn't super high, but they work a lot so it adds up. (This is where I am). 5% are upper level writers making high six figures. These are show-runners and go-to writers for big franchise pictures. The last 5% are the multi-millionaires who have giant overall deals and get paid a crap ton of money to hand a few projects a year to a studio. Or they are a TV mogul with multiple shows on the air (like Dick Wolffe or Rian Murphy for example).


The WGA has a set floor of minimums for what writers will be paid on jobs based on their length and platform. This is considered the floor for pay, everything above is negotiated by a writer's reps.


Agents take 10%, managers take 10%, lawyers take 5% of everything a writer makes. Due to a labor dispute, all WGA writers fired their agents last spring.


A "spec' script is one the writer has written on their own time, with their own concept. A Writing Assignment is when a proco/studio has a concpet/IP that they pay a writer to develop.


Got that?


So-- here's what all I have going on:


1. I was offered a blind pilot deal by the company that makes Light as a Feather. They are a division of Viacom and basically serve as both production company and studio. A blind pilot is when they will pay me to write a script sans deep development. Normally, you'd pitch a proco an idea, work up a bible, have a whole presentation, and they would consider it. If they like it, they would then go with you to pitch/sell it to a studio. A blind deal skips all of that. We had a few conversations about what they were looking for, I pitched them a few 2-3 sentences ideas, we agreed upon one, and I'm off. Blind deals come with relationships. I have done 2 seasons of LAAF and 1 season of another show (that has yet to come out) so I know what the execs like and don't like, and they know I wrote producible scripts. They have gotten the edict from Hulu that they want MORER teen horror along the same tone as LAAF. So that's what they are asking of me. A blind deal tends to pay below WGA minimums for a TV pilot, but you are guaranteed that if/when the distributor picks the show up, you will get paid more to make the contracted fee (with respect paid to WGA minimums.) So there is a bit of a risk-- but, for me, the low fee is still mid five-figures for what is essentially a couple weeks worth of work all combined. Plus, if it goes on to Hulu, I've been contracted to be show-runner, which would be a huge step for my resume.


2. Last year I was asked by Amblin (Speilberg's company!) to develop an IP they had the rights to. I planned out a pitch and we went and sold it to FreeForm (Disney!). I am currently between steps two and three on writing the pilot. I have turned in a detailed outline of the pilot, and am waiting on their notes and/or go-ahead to got to script. I can't say what it is about or what the IP is, but the pilot alone is paying me more than my combined salary and script fees for the second season of LAAF. If it actually makes it to series, I will become pretty insufferable.


3. Early this year I had my first spec sale. I have about 8 spec scripts in rotation, and generally speaking, when a development person reads your spec, they are just doing it to see if you're right for whatever open writing assignments they have. Selling a spec is really hard. Selling one for significant money happens maybe twice a year industry wide. Mine sold, but not for a ton of money. BUT, based upon my pitch, charming personality, and a reel I cut together, the proco that bought it has agreed to let me direct it. So while the money is decent, I'm more focused on actually directing a feature.


We are currently in a casting limbo. Basically, the movie's budget is $5m, which is bigger than a "low budget" indie, but still WAY smaller than a studio film. To secure that money, the financiers require that some of the cast have box office cache. It's a teen horror film and I want the parents to be kids from 90s horror films. We already cast the leads for character, so the parent parts need to be my equity players. Finding somebody that does what I want, what they want, has the schedule availability, AND wants to do it has proven to be like hitting a very small moving target. We were supposed to be shooting now originally, but we've pushed to spring now.


4. I have a second spec that is currently being pushed by my reps in hopes of making a sale before the end of the year.


5. I have a third spec that I have teamed up with an up and coming director on. He made Horror Noir on Shudder (a doc) and wants to do his first narrative feature. He has a ton of people wanting to work with him, but doesn't have material. I had this script that was about a black family that I felt was missing some authenticity (cause I am white). Together, this becomes a great package. People are more likely to take a chance on the new kid they already love if the script is from somebody with a semi-decent track record, and people are more willing to go on a "black" horror script with a director who is African American instead of relying on just the white screenwriter.


6. I have been nominated to join this super exclusive annual workshop the WGA puts on for future show-runners. I'm at phase two, which requires an interview, and an essay of intent. I hate essays. And obviously it's from me (a writererer) about writing, being read by other writers. So this is like, college entrance essay level of stress. It's only 400 words, but I hate essays.


7. PITCHES. Most of my time is spent developing pitches in hopes of landing a writing assignment. I just binged a weird ass Korean thriller series because the producers have asked me to pitch on the American adaption. I hate pitching. I will spend a month crafting every detail of a show. I'll spend weeks practicing said pitch so I can deliver it perfectly. I'll actually do the pitch, which is standing and talking to a room full of people (gross), and then I have to wait for weeks as the 5 other writers they've asked to pitch do their thing. And I get paid for none of it.


So items 1 and 2 are priority. I am in-process, so I write, send pages off, then wait for a response. When responses come (as they did Monday) I have to make those adjustments.


Item 3 doesn't take too much of my time, but the moving window of production effects my time in terms of staffing on a show or taking writing assignments.


Items 4 and 5 require me to go to general/pitch meetings. I'm at about one a week for each script. These aren't as intense as TV pitches thankfully. These are basically simple pitches just to interest people in reading the scripts.


Item 6 is burning a hole in my stomach.


Item 7 is basically in my subconscious. I know the show, but I am still processing it. I am giving it the space to sort of evolve so I can come up with a slightly different spin for a western audience. Once that comes to me, it will likely become my focus once the two pilots are done.


Finally, Item 8, sweaty southern sex. With everything above, I still have a fair amount of downtime. That's why i decided I needed a new spec project.


On top of this workload, I am stressed about money because there is a very real chance of there being a writer;'s strike next May. That means no work, no checks save for royalties, but I don't have a resume deep enough that I can live off of royalty checks.


Finally, my partner of the last 8 years and I are likely headed for a split. It's not ugly, it's really just us being on very different paths and wanting different things. She's leaving soon to go to another country for the rest of the year nd we're going to see how we feel living separate lives, and if that's the new normal... which is likely.

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Okay-- back to work.

Looking at my rough outline, after my opening sequence I need to work to my catalyst (aka inciting incident aka call to adventure aka the plot point that is the basic premise of the movie.) My basic premise is that a girl returns home after years spent with a cult and proceeds to undermine and dismantle her former family for unknown reasons.


A catalyst should usually hit around pages 12-15. 20-ish if it's over 90 minutes. This is the part in every movie where the main character is given their first mission/task/whatever. Sometimes it's innocuous, sometimes foreboding.


Luke has to find R2.

Snake Plisskin has to go into Manhattan to find the POTUS.

The Feds ask Indy to beat the Nazis to the Ark.

Evan and Seth offer to buy the booze for Jules' party.

Arnie sees Christine for the first time and buys her.

Deckard is ordered to hunt down the rogue Nexus 6 replicants.

Ripley is told the colony on LV-426 has gone dark.

Cady has lunch with The Plastics after they tell off a creeper that messed with her.

Harry Potter touches peepees with the ginger kid or whatever.


Obviously, my catalyst is Sigil coming back.


In the past, like I've said, I would beat out plot points and have a map. But doing this more intuitively these days, here's how I am approaching it.


I'm going to say Sigil returns on Page 12. I'm currently about 3/4 through page 6. So, I have roughly 6ish pages to fill. From my very rough bullet points, I have this for the catalyst section:


- status quo: 10 years later, family seems stable

- …but clearly there’s some tension between parents, sleeping separate
- establish they never moved in case Sigil came home
- clearly going through motions for Calliope, now 16
- failed sex attempt?
- Sigil shows up on their doorstep
That's plenty of story. I just need to connect where I left off to Sigil coming home with everything else. I'll find the order on the page.
After an opening sequence you always need to reset, so establishing place and character is still the goal. On top of that I need to layer in the effects of the opening sequence.
Looking at that list, I don't think I need to see Randal and Amy sleeping separately AND failing at sex. One is enough. We've already seen them almost have sex once, so I don't need to see it again. I think instead Calliope will be a little promiscuous. This will allow me to introduce her BF, which is going to be the "Bird" character that popped into my head when I first started thinking on this.
I know I am starting at their home, so I am thinking to stay clean and efficient and producible, I should contain this sequence to their place. Jumping around locations too much early in a script often times scares off producers (because they are maybe half paying attention when they read and will get lost easily).
I've set up Randal as this mechanical dude, so maybe they have a small farm, and he does car work out of the barn. I like that image.
Maybe Bird works for him, and is secretly dating his daughter. That feels cluttered in a good way, so there's secrets and drama to unpack later.
I'm still in the hot south, but to separate from the open which was summer, maybe I'll make this early fall (or spring)-- so it's still gross hot and humid, but there's a lot of rain.
I feel like Calliope maybe works for dad too, part time while she's in school, but not in the usual tomboy sort of way.
Amy is the one I see the least. We learned a bit about Randal in the open, just though details, so I should give her something here too... but I am drawing a blank. In the past, this is where I could lose time and spin out-- thinking I needed to know this before proceeding. But I have good luck finding characters on the page ,so I am going to start writing and see how she comes to me.
If I get through this before the end of the day, maybe I'll dink around with that essay.
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