Wednesday 11 November 2009

Interacting With Writers Block

We tend to become instantly polarized by writers block. A voice, or a feeling, or a blank page says to you "No, No. You have nothing to say." Or maybe, for some of you, it isn't that specific, it's just a hazy feeling-- some kind of feeling of being lost that you can't quite describe. The only thing you know for sure, is that you want to go and have a rummage around the fridge, rather than write the screenplay.

Some people identify it straight out as writers block, some people just think they're 'not ready' or 'the character and story haven't developed yet.' Call it what you want, I'm going to call it writers block.

Sometimes, you need to not write. This is probably true. But for the most part, your block is a great opportunity to learn something about your story, or at least, to interact with it differently. So I want to talk about a few different tools, or at least, a few different ways of interacting with it - that I think could help you. This is also closely related to inner-critic work that I have referred to a few times in the past.

1. Think About How Your Writers Block Is Part Of The Story You Are Telling.

If you're writing a screenplay about an aging boxer who is struggling to find the energy and motivation for that last fight, or if you're writing about a teenager who's not ready to take on his duty to save the world from terrorists --- whatever it might be, it is interesting to see how your inner conflict is something that your character is going through as well.

Your inner creative block is a natural thing for all humans. There are elements of it that are similar for your character. In fact, when you think about it - that's what films are about... characters who reach their limits, struggle with them, and then surpass them to save the world/get the girl/win the fight. So use your problem as part of the solution. What does your block tell you about your character?

Interestingly, a block often comes at the point when you have written a block for your character. For example, you may write twenty pages of a script with ease - and it's the best thing you've ever written. And then you make the girl dump your character, you blow up his house, and you make him lose his job. And then you're stumped, you've lost your flow.

What happens is that you identify with your character more than you realize, you begin to find yourself lost, like your character. But rather than think 'meh, I'm out of ideas.' You're not, your character is out of ideas. And if you really delve into that, then you are going to find really exciting ways to move on with your script.

To summarize -- we tend to become a part of the field we are writing about. If we are writing an inspiring story, we get inspired -- but when we write about the tough parts, we feel those tough parts too, we sink with it. The key is to have awareness around this, and to realize it's an opportunity if you identify it and delve into it.

2. Give Your Writers Block A Name.

It's really helpful to communicate with your writers block. You may feel a bit schizophrenic doing it, but it works. When you feel that voice in your head saying 'the idea isn't there yet' - you need to hold it accountable, you need to find out why. So, give your writers block a name. For this exercise, I'm calling mine Harry.

Ask Harry, 'what is your problem? why can't we write?'

And then go and stand on the other side of the room and assume the role of Harry. And give an answer. You may find that Harry gets all confused and doesn't have an excuse. You may find that Harry is really specific, like "I don't think the character of Leigh-Ann is developed enough, she makes no sense." And then you can go and stand on the other side of the room and say "Yes, I know, because you won't let me work on her, you keep making me stop writing!" -

Before you know it, this dialogue will really open up ideas from within you. Rather than seeing the block as a sign to stop - you get a lot more practical advice from it. You need to hold it accountable, find out what its problem is.

3. Realize That Harry Isn't Neccessarily Right.

Your inner-critic, Harry, has never written a script before. And if you go and win a Best Screenplay Oscar, he's going to be really jealous. He's going to find it hard to tell you you're talentless. So realize what Harry is - he's a jealous fool, he doesn't necessarily know what's right.

If you write a joke and you hear this mad annoying fool in your head say "No! No-one will get that joke!" then tell Harry to shut up. Since when did Harry become the authority? We don't need to take him so seriously. Say to your writers block, "Excuse me, but I'm trying to write here. I don't like how you're talking to me and, correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't see your name on the cover page - so stay out of it."

Write and write, and write. Don't let that voice chop you down. If you feel "Don't write, it's not good enough," then look at it differently. It's never going to be good enough if you don't write it at all. You need to tell Harry, "I'm not handing this to anyone, I just want to write it, get some pages done. I can always redraft later.." - You need to cut yourself a bit of slack like that.

To summarize--- your writers block, your inner critic, your Harry - he's not an expert screenwriter. He's probably never achieved anything, apart from stopping you from asking out Julie three years ago by making you think you're too ugly for her. Aside from that, his life achievements are pretty low. You're the one who has big dreams, you're the one you should listen too - the inner voice putting you down is just an annoying fool. And you don't need to take fools seriously.

4. Admit That If Your Script Sucks, The World Will Not Actually End.

That's it. It helps.

5. Get Over An Edge.

A great way to find inspiration is to get over an edge, a comfort-zone. This is something you can do right now, and all you need to do is do something that you don't believe is in keeping with who you are, something you don't see as part of your identity.

As writers, we get locked in by our belief systems, our views of the world -- and that is a big limitation. This transforms when you transform your views, your beliefs. And the good thing is, you get to have some fun.

If you are Vegetarian, maybe go eat one piece of meat. Yes, you may be disgusted with yourself and think you're going to hell - but what an experience!

Go on a date with someone you find very unattractive, read a book by a writer you hate, be kind if you're hateful, be hateful if you're too kind, dress in women's clothes, step over your comfort zone and tell someone important to you why they keep upsetting you, steal something..

Whatever it might be for you - the emotions and feelings are transformational. On the other side, you realize things about yourself that you never realized before - that maybe you like the taste of cigarettes, or that being a bit hateful makes you feel empowered, or that stealing is very exciting.

I'm sure you all have something personal to you. These edges come at the very edge of our personalities. If you're a guy who never asks girls for their numbers, go and do it, be different to who you normally are. If you're a woman who never speaks her mind for fear of what others think, go and speak your mind.

By doing something simple yet BIG (for you) --- you transform, you have a new angle on life. And then when you go home and sit in front of that blank page - suddenly, you have a lot more options.

Care to share?

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Who are you hanging out with tonight?

Who are you hanging out with tonight? Are you seeing that friend who loves that you're a writer, or are you hanging out with that dude who works in the bowling alley who thinks your dreams are too big? I mean, it's entirely up to you. Which girl are you taking out tomorrow? There's that girl who moans about the weather and about the fact that some guy called Mark won't fix the copying machine in her office, or you could take out Julie. Okay, Julie may not be as physically hot but she's got a soul that's magic, she plays piano - and she gets excited by your scripts. So who are you going to take out? Again, it's entirely up to you. It's your life. You decide.

So you're inviting all your friends round at the weekend? That'll be nice. Who are you going to talk to - are you going to talk to Martin who keeps telling you your last script 'lacked interesting characters' - I mean, you could talk to him, and I guess he meets a lot of 'interesting characters' when he's flipping burgers, but is he really someone who you want to have an influence on your creative pursuits? It's entirely up to you.

And what about next Thursday, that day you had free - are you going to go to that writers workshop you saw advertised on Craigslist or are you going to go to that bar where Jenny works? Again, it's entirely up to you, it's your life - and Jenny sure is hot. And when she doesn't flake out, she's decent company. But if she flakes out again then you won't get her company and you won't get the writers workshop, so what are you going to do? Hey, don't let me influence you - it's your life, it's your career, they're your friends. I'm just asking you the question.

But the other thing to ask is how long are you going to put up with Sebastian questioning what you're doing with your life? Don't get me wrong, he has a right to ask you what you're doing with your life, I mean - after all, he's been almost considering applying for new jobs for three years now, but how much influence do you want him to have? You hang out with him three times a week. That's three times a week he tells you 'the film industry is tough', 'your writing isn't exactly Woody Allen' and 'we're all going to die soon anyway' - do you want this influence three times a week? Or maybe you should ditch him and hang out with David. David is only around once a week, at most, but he actually listens to your script ideas. And his eyes light up when you talk about your dreams. It makes you feel less alone.

Again, it's your week. Your life. They're your friends. It's entirely up to you. Let me know what you choose.

Care to share?

Saturday 7 November 2009

So where the fuck is my footage?

This is a sad but true fact, a lot of actors don't get their footage. This is how it goes.

Julie The Actress: "So, will I get a copy?"
Jonny The Director: "Yeah, of course. And it'll be in a lot of festivals."
Julie: "That's great!"
Jonny: "It's delayed a bit at the moment. I'm having trouble with the special effects."
Julie: "Okay, no problem."
Jonny: "........................."
Julie: "Hi Jonny, I've not heard from you in eight months, just wondering how the film is going?"
Jonny: "......................................"
Julie: "Hi Jonny. I'm moving to L.A. next month. I really liked your film, and I really need some footage for my reel. Just send me anything. I did it for free, and I just want my scenes."
Jonny: "I'm so sorry I haven't been in touch. My Grandma was ill, and then I moved house. Things got a bit crazy."
Julie: "Okay, no worries. I understand. Could I get the footage?"
Jonny: "............."
Julie: "Jonny?"

Now - I'm a Director. I'm not an actor. Luckily though, I have always been extremely good at getting actors their footage. I prefer to give them the finished film only, but in the past, if I've made a really bad short film that hasn't been completed, I make sure they get some footage. This is how it's meant to be.

But here's the strange thing, NO DIRECTOR EVER IDENTIFIES AS BEING THE ONE WHO DOESN'T GIVE OUT FOOTAGE. Yet EVERY upcoming actor I know is waiting on A LOT of footage, and most of it never comes. So, I'd really like us to find some of these Directors who never give out any footage -- and maybe we can come to a new understanding of why it happens. At the moment, Julie is left thinking "This guy is an asshole, he won't give anything." - but I want the Jonnys of this world to have a defence. If you are a Director who has ever failed to give an actor their work, or if you repeatedly do it - please let us know why. Are you ashamed of the work? Did the cat eat it? Are you waiting five years for financing to complete it? Genuinely, I think we'd all like to know what's going on.

Care to share?

Thursday 5 November 2009

The Bizarre Case Of Dane Cook - The Unfunniest Man In Comedy

I went to see Dane Cook in Madison Square Garden tonight and, I have to say, I was completely blown away by the complete lack of anything funny happening during his entire set. I bought a ticket because, being in NY, it seemed like something to do, especially as the Springsteen shows this weekend had sold out. So instead, I went for some comedy, and I was assured that this guy was the biggest name in comedy right now.

I never figured I would love him. I mean, I've seen his movies and he always just seemed like a weak Ryan Reynolds. But hey, I don't mean to sound like a Dane Cook Hater. After getting home tonight and being extremely discombobulated by how this unfunny guy had taken the comedy world by storm, I began to google him to find out answers. What I found, was quite horrible really - people really hate on this guy, they really make it personal.

And I don't mean to do that, honestly I don't. I'd like to be more mature about it. Comedy is extremely important to me; most of my writing and filmmaking revolves around comedy. It's everything to me. So, I couldn't help but sit there in amazement at what was going on. Thousands of people were laughing uncontrollably, and I just sat there completely lost. He doesn't tell jokes, for one. I've read a lot about him tonight saying he tells 'observational jokes' - but I don't really see that either. He observes things, but he doesn't build jokes around them.

And that's what disappointing, I guess, is that rather than being a storyteller who cleverly crafts material and punchlines, he just talks about internet porn and sex like a guy in a bar would. He's very loud and confident. And I kind of liked that about him, he's great with a crowd, very fun. Problem is, I'm just not sure why they were laughing. The reason it troubles me is because, I'd like to think I have a good idea of what comedy is, and I'm writing a screenplay I'd like to think would appeal to the masses. But the masses, evidently, find Dane Cook hilarious. It confuses me because - I JUST DON'T GET IT! I don't see where the funny is! Why are people laughing?

He seems like a good guy, it's not personal. I'm not saying this because he's wildly popular and successful, he's done very well and evidently deserves his success if he can fill up Madison Square Gardens -- but it's left me confused by how we define comedy, and what people want to see/hear.

Care to share?

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Box Of Chocolates.

It's funny how the world works. You can be having the very best time of your life - but someone, somewhere else, is in downfall. It can be someone you know, or someone you don't know, I guess it really doesn't matter. But somewhere between living and dying, we're all going to travel around the wheel. There's something scary about that, but there's something really beautiful about it too.

And you look back at your life - there are the times you got the girl, the times you stayed up all night with new friends, the time you travelled to warmer climates, and there are the times you didn't get the girl, the times you sat by someone's bed-side as they slipped away, there are times you were stuck inside yourself with no idea how you would get out and do anything with your life.

I guess this is when a lot of people try to figure out the meaning of life, or look to God, or whatever. God can exist or not exist, life can be meaningless or important, either way-- we're on this big wheel that goes round and round until it runs out of energy. At any given moment, you can be flying high, it's all champagne, flowers and parties. But one more spin and it's smashed cars, broken dreams and day turning into night.

Sometimes it really jumps out and hits you -- you can be facing a moment that is literally life or death, and you turn to your closest friend, and they're trying to figure out which dress to wear to the party. But one year later, you're holidaying in Jamaica with your new wife, and that friend of yours is in a wheelchair now, and she doesn't quite feel confident enough to get back into a dress just yet. There's something really profound about noticing that polarity, and it doesn't really happen when you're stuck in your head, in your home, worrying about why your broadband isn't working, or being disturbed by how late the bus is. It only comes when you're faced with true life - when you're at the height of happiness or the depths of despair.

And that's what I find quietly beautiful about it all. Sometimes, a joke shared at someones hospital bed might be the funniest thing you ever hear. And you wouldn't have laughed like that if you were sat at home arguing on a forum about iPhone apps. And you realize, that car crash, that cancer, that break-up, whatever it is - it holds a lot more gold than pretty much everything else.

Your life is going to cycle. If you're laying on a beach, or buzzing around the streets of New York -- make sure you enjoy it. Life is to be enjoyed, and you deserve as many amazing experiences as you can find. Don't fear those bad times slipping in, because they're part of the tapestry of the wheel. I'm not saying you should 'be positive' like some cheesy self-help book; but even if the worst imaginable thing has happened, keep your eyes open, because some spark of life and magic can be found in the most subtle of things. And when life turns to shit, you notice the gold amongst the mud, that's where the silver lining is.

I guess what I'm saying is, whichever side of the wheel you're on - the other side is waiting for you; so if it's going to come, you may as well welcome it.

"Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get."
-Forrest Gump

Care to share?