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The Next Thing I Write


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So I am back at work-- not on the script I started pages back, but on the pitch for Ouija. For legal reasons I can't document anything I am doing here, I probably shouldn't have even let the cat out of the bag when I don't even have the job yet.


While I can't post my actual work, I can talk about my process on pitches.


Pitches are both the bane of my existence, and at the same time the most important part of what I do. Technically, I can write whatever the hell I want. But we live in a world where even a small movie could cost millions of dollars unless you're going 100% indy. Shadowdog isn't around here anymore to talk about the indy side-- but here's the basic pro/con of indie vs. Hollywood.


With Indie films you can do whatever you want to some extent. But you need money. If you're not working with unions you can pay people in cupcakes. You can house your crew at your grandma's place. It's the wild west. Things cost considerably less... BUT they still cost. I have tons of friends making indie films that look great. They found money (somehow) and just went out and MADE them. That's not as easy as it sounds, and the less you spend, the more it shows. The big downside is once you finish it, it is insanely hard to get the movie seen/distributed, and making a profit is nigh impossible.


With Hollywood movies, you have more assurances-- the unions make sure everyone is paid what they deserve to be paid, and the quality goes up considerably... but that of course means the cost swells to very high dollar amounts. And with big money, comes less freedom. Whomever is paying is the boss. There's maybe 5 guys in Hollywood who can do what they want-- Speilberg, Tarrantino, Nolan, Tyler Perry, and Woody Allen. Of those 5, only Speilberg and Nolan work with traditional studios. Tarrantino, Allen, and Perry are basically mega independent filmmakers. They do their specific thing, and it never fails to make money, so studios give them carte blanche. I've talked about this before and I used to put Abrams on this list-- but after seeing TROS, that's clearly no longer true. Hell, even Scorsese and David Lynch have to fight to get their things made.


ANYWAY, point is-- while I can sit here and write whatever I want, if I want to make money, I have to take writing assignments. Most screenwriters work via three different job types-- you sell specs, you take writing assignments, you staff on a TV show. Obviously, there's various iterations of these three job types, but selling specs is hard, TV jobs are very competitive, and writing assignments are both... yet it's also the form most opportunity comes in.


OWAs (open writing assignments) are projects that studios and/or production companies are developing that need writers. I may have said this before, but the days of producers needing scripts/ideas to come their way is long over. Most film projects are based on acquired IP, internally developed concepts, or pitches from other writers that were bought, but for whatever reason, those writers were not hired to write them.


Basically, when a studio has an OWA, they go out to somewhere between 6-12 writers and ask for a take. As in, "what's your take on this material?" The potential writer is given whatever existing material there is, and there's usually a call or meeting where they tell you the background and what they are NOT looking for.


Then it's a bake-off, with each writer cooking up their take on the project and going in to pitch it to whatever development VPs is in charge. The pitch is just that-- the writer goes in and tells them what they want to write.


That simple act can be done a million different ways. Some writers will write treatments and go in and read them. Some will just come up with the sign posts, and go in with a full tilt happy-rant like a used car salesman. The WGA, and most reps, don't want you doing too much work ahead of time. The WGA feels especially strong about actually making any sort of document. If you do, they definitely don't want you leaving it behind. But the thing is-- the person who gets the job is going to be the one who has not just the best take, but also shows the most confidence in their take... and like any other job interview, it's a crazy test to make sure they want to work with you. Point being-- how much work to do, and how much of said work you want to show off in the meeting is something no one agrees on.


I personally HATE the idea of going in and reading off a piece of paper. I know people who do it, and some of them have gotten jobs, but I think it is WAY better if you don't. When I go in, I have my pitch memorized. I also crank my extrovert settings to max and I look people in the eye (ugh) and I try to be funny, animated, and personable.


As for the amount of work-- it varies on the project. If I am pitching an original TV show, I do everything ahead of time-- bible, mood boards, outlines, plot synopses... I go in able to tell them a season's worth of TV. For an original feature, I most likely have already written it, so I can just talk through it.


For a feature OWA I basically work up a light treatment. Basically-- if you looked back at the first few pages of this thread you can see how I just sat down and started listing out ideas and images and concepts that I came up, and slowly put them in the shape of a basic 3 act structure with the usual movie beats. With that one, being an original project, I was just pulling ideas out of my ass and applying them to a concept I felt worked.


In this case, I don't have much in the way of marching orders other than "don't do what the other movies did." I know what has to be at the center of it (the Oujia board obv), but story wise it's wide open. My one other prompt, I can't really say, but it was what got my foot in the door to begin with in the kick off call. I threw out a "what if" that they really responded too. So now I have to make that what if happen.


One other detail-- the studio thinks there needs to be a villain to make an icon out of. It's a little odd in that the Oujia board itself is a brand-- but turns out when you base movies on board games, they don't quite have a life of their own. They want a Freddy or Jason. My first task has been coming up with THAT figure. My second task is figuring out how to marry that character to the board with it seeming extraneous. It's a little tricky. It's like saying you want a haunted house movie, but a slasher lives in the haunted house.


Where I am at the moment is refining that monster, deciding how it ties to the board, and brainstorming moments and scary beats in that scenario and just making my document o' ideas.


Next step is to try and order those ideas and connect them. Once I have my basic one-sheet that I like to do, I will flesh it out just enough so that if I were to talk somebody through it, it would take about 25 minutes and they will be excited at the end.

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Ouija boards have scared the shit out of me since I was a kid. One told my brother where my dead cousin's missing wedding ring was hidden, and then a bunch of weird shit started happening. Not much scares me, but that stuff does.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Okay-- updates...


So I booked my first job of the year. I'm going to be doing all the dialog for a horror video game. It's part of a series of games I really like, and it's pretty well known. Not like Resident Evil big, but big enough most have heard of it. I really can't say what it is though because it's super hush hush. The good news is, this is strike proof. It has nothing to do with Hollywood, so if they strike happens, it won't matter.


I also have been dying to break into games, so I am excited for the opportunity. Money wise, it's not quite as big as a Hollywood job, but if the money it pays, plus what I have in savings is all I do this year, I'll be fine. I won't be getting ahead in the world, but I won't have to give up my lifestyle choices either.


I am still waiting to hear if my Amblin show is getting picked up. It feels like I have been waiting forever since I finished writing it before Xmas, but to be fair, no one read it until the new year, so they've only had it a couple weeks, and the food chain of execs that have to read it is pretty long.


My other, smaller show-- pitching it again next week to Sam Raimi's team. Technically I already have a production company aboard, but they could ad serious clout in getting it set up somewhere.


The book adaption job-- read the book, cam up with a take, pitched it last week. Waiting to hear. Ouija-- pitch is done and worked out, I just have to get it into my brain and pitch it in about a week.


So I am mostly waiting and feeling like it is the calm before the storm. I feel like I am going to be double booked very soon. I hate waiting. I still want to write the script I started in this thread, but until I know I have time to get into it, I don't want to shift focus. I can multi-task, but not like that.


Plus I am processing a bunch of personal life stuff like moving, having a new special lady friend, and getting a better awareness of my finances. Which stresses me the eff out.

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I should just change the title of this thread to The next TIME I get to write... cause it seems like I am constantly being kept from doing it..


- video game job is in the contract phase, may close soon. and I might have to jump on a plane to London

- pitched the time travel book adaption, waiting to hear

- pitched Ouija, waiting to hear

- still waiting to hear about my Amblin/Disney show

- have to rework my other show pitch a bit, going to meet with Sam Raimi's company next week


On top of this, my line producer for the movie I am director came back with a budget and seems to think we can't afford to do creature effects... IN A HORROR MOVIE. And what effects he concedes we need are the most expensive way possible. I have to break down all my creature scenes with shot lists, storyboards, and indy film ingenuity so he can see I can pull this crap off. But it is a LOT of work to do that-- work I would need to do anyway, but you know-- once we were in prep and I was getting paid.


Oh, and also, my ex has decided we have to sell out house in April, so now on top of all this, I have to move, which I mentioned in the previous post and a dedicated thread.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Okay— my manager has told me the sweaty southern spec is now my priority. Video game deal is about locked, last pitch for show project 2 is tomorrow, Disney decides on pilot pickups at the end of the month. The feature pitches— all we can do is wait to hear. I get keys to my new place saturday, so outside of packing and moving, all my tasks are done. She’s not sending me out on any more OWA meetings for a minute, so I am finally going to go back to this script.


It’s been a minute now... I am hoping going back and reading this thread will get my brain back into where I was when I started. This is why I hate bouncing between projects... that said, sometimes a gap helps my cut things that don’t work and find new stuff that does.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Praise be, I am back at the project I started this thread with.


I generally like to stick with something once I start it because I can lose focus and moment, so it's been really hard to come back to this thing. I have been listening to my playlists, getting ideas for scenes, trying to get my brain back where it was when I cooked this thing up. The hardest part is that my intuitive way of running a story down requires me to be really steeped into it, and I have been mentally divorced from this thing for months.


Rereading what I have, I still like my first act, save for one thing. I had the crazy mountain folk coming out and getting shot when they find Elijah. I'm not sure what I was thinking, given that I know I want the kids to have come back from a weirdo cult of sorts. This doesn't track at all with mountain folk.


That said, I am thinking since this is a cover story, maybe there was a mountain man living there off-grid, and Sigil and Elijah used him as their cover story. If they maybe find his body in a creepy way, that works much better.


Looking back at my outline after being away for a minute. it does get a bit slow in spots. I have to remember that Sigil and Elijah have an agenda, and they are part of a creepy cult. I think I need to focus in on what they are, and what their agenda is, so I know it runs as a through-line and motivates everything that happens.


That, and I am going to go back and try and re-live this thread from page one to get the feel back.

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Okay-- so the cult.


I'm thinking it started as a big redneck family. Kind of like mine, where the mom never stopped having kids. Add in poverty, and the penchant for crime begins to seep in. Not violent crime, but hustles and scams.


Older kids start to have kids of their own. None of them ever leave. The family plot starts becoming a compound.


At some point, Mom gets too old to have kids. The older kids start having kids of their own, but the family isn't growing quite as fast.


The crimes start to grow in size, and after a decade or so, the family is basically into all sorts of backwoods crime syndicate stuff. Somewhere along the way, somebody brings them a bit of new age spirituality, and Mom, who is going a bit crazy at this point, starts thinking over herself as a chosen one.


They family tries to keep growing, but at this point, we talking inbreeding, and the babies being born aren;'t surviving, or aren't right. So they start stealing children and raising them as their own. They do this enough until they get some heat, then knock it off. Sigil is the last kid they nab.


Another decade passes. At this point Sigil and a couple other older girls in the family have had a few kids each of their own. Sigil has some complications and can't have any more kids. By now, there is a some serious old god of the woods worshipping going on, which explains the odd symbols, masks, and other crap they do.


Queen Mom is getting pretty old by now, and she needs more babies! They should feel as though the situation is desperate. Sigil going back to her family is in one part to fleece them, but also so see if her mother is viable as a baby machine-- Amy may or may not be--but Calliope certainly is.


If their dogma could somehow be a part of this selection process, that would be great.


This isn't super original-- but cults are hard. The more outlandish you make them, the less grounded they are and it's hard to buy into. This is a subtle combo of weird and backwoods and crimey, so it's realistic. It's a bit True Detective, bit Justified, but gypsy, bit Source Family, bit Wild Country.


Since I am keeping the POV with the family, I think it's okay if things with the cult aren't too crazy. It's not about the cult, even though there's a lot of influence from them on the story.


This info also wouldn't come out all at once. This is mostly for me to know-- and I'll have to info-dump some of it somewhere.

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Some set-pieces are coming to mind. A lot of times I get the plot ideas when outlining, and characters moments find themselves on the page, but set pieces are usually independent thoughts.


I think this is where my southern car culture ideas can come into play. We know Randal is prepping a car to sell at swap meet, I think Bird and Callie participate in drag races, ore creepy woods stuff...

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Getting back on the horse...


7:30 got up when lady friend's alarm went off; made bfast while she showered. she leaves, then I went back to bed.

9:00 got up for real

9:15 gym-- body still broken from moving; went easy on elliptical

10:00 re-read existing script pages

10:30 played music

11:00 internetted

12:00 made lunch and decided to watch some inspo material-- pilot episodes of Outsider and True Detective S1

2:30 began revising existing pages

3:30 starting writing new pages based on scene ideas from outline

7:00 8 pages done, making this post.


Time to make my dinner, play some video games, then watch more episodes of Outsider and Altered Carbon

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In looking back at this thread, I saw my list of projects a month or so back.... figured I'd update...


1. TV project with Amblin/Disney.


Disney decided to pass on shooting a pilot. It's a bummer, but Uncle Steve and his team believe in it enough they are buying the script back from Disney to shop it elsewhere. They think with the pilot now written we can go back to a lot of the places we pitched before and they may bite. So it's not dead, but it's definitely out of my hands for awhile


2. The second TV project.


Hulu passed, Shudder passed. But we brought on a producer-- Sam Raimi! I say that, but I don't know that he's read it. His production company VPs are all in though. They say they are putting it in front of him, but he's prepping to do the nest Dr Strange movie so it mayt take a minute.


3. My feature.


Casting offers went out today to two actors for the parent roles. One of them is my top on my list for the mom. They dad part, I don't see happening, but I like him, and the financiers would give me a lot more money if he agreed. This is good progress! I also ended u p doing a very deep dive on my creature effects sequences, storyboarding and shot-listing them for the line producer to make sure we can afford what I want to do. It looks like my final budget is $3.5, which isn't bad for an indie film-- but an uphill battle given that for that money I have to secure some names for the adult roles.

4. a book adaption


Pitched on, haven't heard. Probably means I didn't get it.

5. a Korean TV show adaption


Got so busy I kinda forgot about this. I have a lunch with producer and I'll find out if she's still looking for takes. She loves me though and wants to find something.

6. a decent sized video game


Landed it! We're about to close the contract.

7. Ouija reboot


Pitched on, haven't heard. Probably means I didn't get it.

8. A reality TV show


I can't for the life of me figure out what the hell this was. Looking back at emails... nothing. My brain is oatmeal.


So basically, of the 8 items on this list, half are dead, a few are in limbo, and I booked one. That's not bad for Hollywood. The video game job alone, plus my savings, means I can afford this giant expensive AF apartment I just moved into for a year and a half. That's also not bad because I am poretty sure I will book something else this year. It's only March.

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My manager asked me what my "sweaty sexy southern thriller" was about. and I realized I never did a pretty key step in cooking this up.


My manager deals in LOGLINES, which is basically the concept for a movie in a single (but usually a run on) sentence. If you can't say what the movie is succinctly, you're in trouble.


For me, a concept can be crafted if you combine three key elements: the lead character, the setting, and the core conflict. Like this:


A farm boy on a distant planet realizes he is destined for a great adventure when he is thrust into an intergalactic conflict.


A police detective in a dark future Los Angeles is tasked with hunting down androids, but they are so human it eats away at him because it feels like murder.


A writer takes a job as a caretaker at a hotel for the winter, not realizing he will be locked in with angry spirits that will toy with his mind.


Obviously, they lack nuance and leave out a lot of big important stuff, but that's okay. Usually you thrown in a high concept model to get the point across-- "It's (insert hit movie from one genre here) meets (another hit movie from a different genre here).


That gives me this:


One sweaty, Southern spring, a girl kidnapped from her family returns after 10 years to try and fit back in, but she is up to something that at first, seems criminal, but may in fact be much more dark and sinister. Think, southern erotic thriller with culty vibes-- Martha Marcy May Marlene with a gender-flipped Poison Ivy angle by way of Angel Heart.

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Looking back at what I wrote yesterday I think I need to give a little more space between Sigil coming home and Elijah joining the family.


I find myself struggling not to inject more crime and caper stuff, because PLOT HELPS move things. Character stories are a lot harder.

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So Tuesday was super productive. I just sat down and knocked out like 15 pages. I'm 45 pages in now, which technically, should be close to my midway point. That said, I have a lot more story before I am midway, which means I am front heavy.


I'm not too concerned as this happens with pretty much every script I write. I will go in and trim down the first half, and likely break out a new second half. As I said at the top, this too is part of my process.


If I do this though, it will take a minute to slow down and re-assess. Part of me feels like since I am back in the groove, I should write the handful of scenes I have in mind for the next few plot points. I would be kicking the can on the re-break, I will have to do it soon... but I also don't want to slow the momentum I have with knocking out pages.

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Not sure if anyone is still reading-- but I stopped tracking my minute daily moments and just sat down and knocked out pages. I'm on 75 now, which should be nearing the end of the second act. Storywise I have a bit to do... though I am doing what I usually do and re-thinking the last movement of things now that I am at this stage.


There's lots of cool bits, and overall I am worried about it being too slow, then suddenly too fast.


This is also the point at which I switch up from doing a vomit draft in Highland 2, and start working in Final Draft. I'm a very visual person, and seeing how words fall on the page helps me get a sense of pacing and over-writing.

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