Finishing my second script

It always feels a bit corny to be living in Los Angeles while writing a film script. It’s so cliché it makes me blush every time I think about it. While my husband and I didn’t move to LA so I could pursue my dreams with stars in my eyes and sunshine in my soul, it does help to live somewhere where movie making is always top of mind.

This second crack at a feature length screenplay has been a lot tighter and fluid compared to my first script. I was more organized and well researched. I outlined the shit out of the thing, which of course morphed and evolved as any story does into something slightly different.

My first script was based in-part on personal experience and ended up this cathartic experience that helped me let go of things from the past and was a good exercise in script formatting. I’m not discounting it entirely, I’d like to revisit it one day and revise it from a romantic drama to the rom com it really is. As much as I wanted to avoid that genre, after hearing film producer Lindsay Doran speak earlier this year I was reminded that it’s okay to write something that makes people laugh and feel good. Some of the films I go back to over and over have happy themes and endings. God knows we could all use some pleasant escapism these days.

The 60s and 70s are eras I’ve always been fascinated by. I often say I was born in the wrong decade, because the music, fashion and attitudes of that time are much more raw and sexy and interesting to me than anything that’s happened since. So naturally, last summer, I made the lofty decision to write a biopic based on Freddie Mercury’s life. Not at all ambitious or ludicrous. Of course, the film has been in the works for years with Sacha Baron Cohen set to play Mercury, until he backed out of the project over rumoured disagreements with the remaining members of Queen. I think more than anything it’s a story I’m dying to see onscreen, and I’m just too impatient to wait for someone else to do it.

While researching my debunked attempt at a biopic, I read the memoirs of two notorious American groupies: Bebe Buell and Pamela Des Barres. Never mind writing a story about rock stars, the women who inspired some of the greatest rock albums of all time deserved my attention so much more. So that’s what I did.

It’s the story of two women who become entangled with the same musician. Not entirely based on Buell and Des Barres, but absolutely inspired by them. I tried to write something that focused on the strength of the women of that era and how so many of them played muse to artists with little to no credit. How many of them went on to enjoy their own success as musicians, mothers, writers and artists.

One of my protagonist’s is based in LA and the other in New York, which made it really easy to immerse myself in the some of the scenes because so many of the places I wrote about still exist! Working title East and West.

When I was in New York in the spring, I managed to finagle my way into Gramercy Park (scene #12) after a kind older fellow caught me awkwardly taking photos through the fence. I stood in the crumbling lobby of Hotel Chelsea (scene #70) to soak in the energy of what was once a creative epicenter and a man came up behind me (seemingly out of nowhere) and said, “You know, everyone used to live here.” Then he kind of disappeared. Maybe he was a ghost?

A few weeks ago, photographer Baron Wolman was to appear at a gallery party in Hollywood to exhibit The Woodstock Years, now famous photos he had taken of fans during the iconic music festival. The reception was to be hosted by Pamela De Barres, so obviously I had to be there and luckily I had a chance to meet the woman who in part inspired my script. And she was warm and friendly and just as lovely as I imagined her to be.

When Baron was signing the book I bought of his amazing photographs, he looked me the eye and said, “You missed it, you know. The party’s over.” I guess that’s why I wrote about it.

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Legendary groupie, author and journalist Pamela Des Barres

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C’est fini!

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Looming deadlines and accepting feedback on a script

Have you ever set a goal right down to a certain day and time and instead of feverishly attempting to hit said goal, you sat at your desk with a glass of wine watching the minutes tick away? Letting your heart skip a beat – quite literally – with each passing hour until your deadline is nigh? No? Well, I don’t recommend it.

I set a goal to complete my second feature film script by TODAY in order to submit it to the 2016 Academy Nicholl Fellowship competition. Yes, that Academy. While I have completed my first draft (huzzah!), I need time to edit and revise and refine the thing so instead of killing myself to get it done (entries must be uploaded by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time tonight, tick tock) I’m going to blog about not getting it done. How’s that for productivity?

Self-loathing aside, Los Angeles is a great place to be if you’re learning how to craft and develop a script. Not great in the sense of risking everything to be here just to pursue screenwriting. Don’t do that. Great in that there are so many resources for writers, whether you’ve been at it a long while, or you’re brand new to the game. Live reads, lectures, table reads with your nieghbors, you name it. Hell, head to the Venice Boardwalk and read it aloud to passers-by. Fuck it, anything goes in LA.

Before diving into the joy of editing – and I do mean that sincerely, editing is the fun bit – I decided to take this time to review the notes I was given on my first script, which I submitted to the Nicholl Fellowship competition last year. My very first script, a story based in part on real events in my life followed by a whole lot of fiction. A story about a girl who is dating a boy who is horrible to her who a few years later turns out to be gay and in a strange turn of events moves in with the girl and her husband temporarily until one day the girl dies and in the end it’s all very monotonous, save a few surprising plot twists sugared with punchy dialogue. Obviously, I should stay away from writing my own film synopsis and/or movie marketing.

Here are a few notes I found helpful and not completely soul-shattering…

Title: However Unlikely
Genre: Romantic drama

However Unlikely has an interesting premise. In a reflection of modern Los Angeles society, a newly married woman helps out her gay ex-boyfriend by letting him stay in their home. After a while, it all makes complete sense and they all become close friends. There’s a certain so-crazy-it-sounds-true to the story.

The dialogue is real, the characters are not all well rounded, but they are all believable and enjoyable.

The writing is adequate and has energy at the outset that quickly diminishes. The descriptions are visual enough for the little action. The high point moments of dialogue are snappy and humorous. Unfortunately it can’t make up for the lack of action.

Here’s the thing. This is such a fun, cute, fresh premise. I really like the idea. The trouble is the execution. This script needs to go back a few steps and be restructured and tell the story it means to tell. And then there will be something really nice here. As is, there’s a lot of obstacles that get in the way of a good idea.

Good advice for any script. I may revisit that story at some point, but for now I’m submerged in something new. This time the story is set in Los Angeles, New York and London in the 1960s. This time the story is not based on my own experiences, but the memoirs of two notable women of that era. This time I’m really trying to knock it out of the park. Sorry, looming deadline, I’m gonna have to let you go.

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The funny thing about creativity and screenwriting in Los Angeles

I didn’t move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the film industry. This question comes up almost immediately when meeting new people here. I’m not surprised, LA is the epicentre of entertainment. But I have to admit, when I’m at a party and stumble upon people with “regular” jobs, it’s almost a relief.

My husband and I moved here for every other possible cliché you can think of. To escape the dismal Canadian winters, for a new adventure, a change of scenery. To do what most people wait until retirement to do – spend our savings on living our dream now, while we’re young(ish). Despite my “regular” job and my pure intentions of enjoying the spoils of an eternal summer, it doesn’t disguise the fact that I’m plugging away at screenwriting in my spare time. *Insert eye roll here*

I didn’t move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the film industry. But, I happen to love film so it’s not so bad living in the epicentre of entertainment. Moreover, I’m fascinated by the art of creating a script. Stringing words and dialogue together to make people feel something, whether it’s inspired or angry or balling hysterically into a box of popcorn. Film is one of the most powerful communication vehicles in the world. Why wouldn’t I want to take a crack at it, even if nothing ever comes of it?

I’m a big proponent of creating things, even if no one ever sees it. It’s still an outlet. The act of being creative can be a reward in itself, if you train your ego to give you the freedom to enjoy it.

This has always been my mantra. There’s no reason why you can’t lead a creative life, just because you don’t make a living from being creative. Which is why my best friend – a singer who has struggled to find balance between his creativity and what he deems successful – recommended I read “Big Magic”, by Elizabeth Gilbert. *Insert second eye roll here*

I don’t have anything against Gibert, other than the fact that a popular book she wrote transformed Bali from a lesser-known island paradise I traveled in the 90s to a mecca for middle-aged women writing their own memoirs of divorce and enlightenment. I digress; I needed a fun read to get me through a flight from LA to New York a few weeks ago so I picked up her new book.

I was in town for the Tribeca Film Festival but also to soak in the energy of that grand old city and recharge my creative battery. Despite living in the epicentre of entertainment, LA can really suck ones inspiration dry. The beautiful weather we moved here for is an inconvenient distraction. How could I spend a Saturday inside with my laptop when I could be frolicking at the beach? I’ve heard people joke about how New York is where you go to write and LA is where you go to pitch your script. I’m starting to get that now.

I was halfway through a screenplay that, in large part, takes place in New York. Set in the 1960s amidst some of the most iconic locales of that era, I needed to physically be there to be sure I was getting it right. How can you write about Hotel Chelsea if you haven’t loitered in its lobby, taunted its ghosts or stood below it’s failing façade, held up by precarious scaffolding? How can you describe an afternoon in Gramercy Park if you haven’t lingered by its gate, hoping to sneak in behind a kind key holder? I appreciate not all screenwriters have the means to travel to locations where their story takes place just to soak it all in, but I guess that’s one of the perks of having a “regular” job.

Back to Gilbert’s book, I was at a place in my script where I needed a spark to get the thing done and one section really kicked me in the ass. The theory that ideas float around the universe until they land on a human being they can confidently collaborate with; a channel to transform them from idea to physical thing. And if the human doesn’t act, it will eventually float away until it can find another person to collaborate with. I realize we’re edging on mysticism here, but she had real life examples to back up her theory plus who cares what or who ignites a creative spark in you. Hold on tight and go with it, people!

I’m close to completing the first draft. Whether it was New York, Elizabeth Gilbert or the universe giving me a break, I’m not sure. But sometimes your creativity needs to be confronted. Sometimes you need to shake things up to shake out your story. Sometimes you need to get the hell out of LA, instead of letting an idea passively slip away while you lounge poolside posting Instagram pics.

One morning while I was in New York I was walking over the Brooklyn Bridge when two ladies behind me mentioned Vancouver. Excited to hear some Canadian accents I immediately struck up a conversation, declaring I too was from Vancouver but currently living in Los Angeles. One of the women asked me if I was an important actress they should know about. Immediately I replied god no, I have nothing to do with the film industry. Not yet, anyway.

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