Finding Time to Write (while working 75-hour weeks)

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Okay, I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve been lax in my posts of late. I do have a good excuse, however (and don’t we all love excuses?). While I have no dog to eat my posts, nor do I have an adjective-munching brain parasite––that I know of, anyway––or even a case of the ultra-rare five-month amnesia.

Nope, it’s none of those things. Instead, I work in the film industry.

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I know what some of you may be thinking. “Ooh, so glamorous! The celebrities! The fun times!”

Yeah. No.

I mean, sure, it’s fun quite often, however when you’re an author trying to meet your self-imposed writing quotas, working on a film set––both the hours and the environment––can be the antithesis of a good work environment for producing material.

My most recent project was a feature, which shall remain nameless, not because it was bad (in fact it was a fantastic crew and looks to be a great film) but because it’s just not cool to discuss those things, especially when you’ve signed and NDA.

fraturday_rectangle_stickerNow, if you recall my much earlier post detailing the film industry occurrence we call Fraturday (when you start work on Friday and get off work on Saturday, thus destroying your weekend), you’ll have an inkling of what the past 10 weeks held.

 

Fraturdays. Every. Damn. Week.

I was trying to bang out a mere one or two thousand words a day during my down time on set (while having a walkie-talkie chattering in my ear), but sometimes that just isn’t possible. Like when you’re on location and it’s 108 degrees. Or when you are so busy loading people into ambulances that there’s no down time to write (my day job is as an on-set medic for film and TV). Or when you’re just so utterly toast from yet another 70+ hour week (yes, in 5 days) that words simply fail you. That, my friends was the last ten weeks.

So, how does one get anything done? By doing the first thing I mentioned in the paragraph above. Namely, banging out a couple of thousand words a day. It sounds like a lot, but if you write just 125 words per hour over a sixteen hour work day, that’s two thousand words. Voila!giphy

Here’s the cool bit. If you work a less-intense schedule and in a more-conducive environment, cranking out a mere 125 words in an hour should be a breeze, especially if you’ve plotted out your story ahead of time. In my case, I typically have the entire book outlined and have chapter notes acting as placeholders in my laptop. As I write each chapter, I delete the notes until that chapter is fleshed out. But you do you, boo, obviously.

One crucial thing to remember, your first draft isn’t you telling the story to a reader, but rather you telling the story to yourself. It’s gonna be rough, it’s gonna suck, it’s gonna need rewrites. So don’t slow your process and edit during the exorcism of those words from your brain––just get it out!

If this seems intuitive to you, fantastic! You’re already taking those little steps toward a bigger goal. If, however, this is news to you, hopefully this tale of writing in difficult circumstances perhaps helped you realize it can be done, even on a crazed schedule. Tiny increments add up, and even 2k words per day (spread out) is 60k in a month. That’s 2/3 of a book––Huzzah!

Happy writing!

 

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Sometimes the Day Job takes over

While most of us would rather pursue our deepest passions every day of the week. For me, that’s writing, be it oddball short story collections, novels, or even screenplays, but from time to time it becomes necessary to dip one’s toes back into the waters of the dreaded, “Working for Someone Else.” This usually means little time for writing, as television and film production, more often than not, leads to 14 or more hour days. Sometimes, however, the end result is so good it’s worth it.

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Oh yes. Weeks of sleep later, I’ve recovered from my recent gig for FX and I have to say, it is shaping up to be a really good show. If you’ve ever been interested in the origins of crack cocaine in 1980’s Los Angeles, John Singleton’s Snowfall is the show for you. Check out the FX trailer.

It’s coming July 5th, so please, give it a try. We put a LOT of hours into it, and the entire cast and crew sincerely hope you’ll enjoy it.

Pitfalls of Shooting Digital

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Now that digital has more or less caught up to shooting on film, though some purists will still argue that digital isn’t quite there yet and that film looks better, we see many of the constraints of working with film gone, only to be replaced with problems of a new sort.

Exhausting the actors.

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When mags of film would roll out and require a reload, directors were forced to better plan what they wanted and then do their best to capture it efficiently. Unless you were a big production, the cost of film alone prevented doing massively long takes and shooting a dozen different angles just to have more to play with in the edit. Indecisiveness and lack of clear vision was shunned. Unfortunately now with the leeway of digital, we see dozens of takes from a multitude of angles as clarity of vision is often replaced with a wing-it “let’s try this” approach. Actors love to get to try different things, and many times that produces pure gold, but when this new flexibility is abused, actors can get worn down. An entire day shooting a 3 page scene over and over and over would tire even the most seasoned actor, and performances start to drop off. Then there’s crew. They get far less turnaround between days than actors do (9 hours on stage and 10 hours on location, including drive time home and back to work the next day… Teamsters only get 8) and safety and productivity can suffer greatly as your crew wears out. nap on set

Running up the budget.

Another problem stemming from the overshooting/underplanning issue is one directors often ignore, but one that keeps producers awake at night. Budget.

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Paying an entire crew for those extra few hours tacked on to each day because of a less constrained process can cost tens of thousands of dollars an hour. IATSE film crews get time and a half after 8 hours, which they almost always go past. Once you pass 12 hours your crew goes into double-time. If you go long, you’ve essentially hired an entire second crew (money-wise) for each hour you go over, yet you still get the output of one crew, and that’s an increasingly tired crew at that. Then factor in meal penalties (a union crew must be broken for meals every 6 hours, otherwise they are paid a penalty every half hour, which can really add up) and costs skyrocket. One way to avoid running long is by tacking on additional days to keep the overtime low, but we’ve seen in countless times, if you give an extra few days leeway, the 10 hour days will still often creep up to 14 or 16 hours, and now you’ll just have more of those overtime days rather than actually cutting costs.  Adult Supervision (i.e. a producer with balls to stand up to the director when need be) is vital on a set where money is an issue.

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 1.21.05 PMIf you’re shooting on location, you may have to pay the location, neighbors, traffic control, security, rental bathrooms, and other equipment for extended hours as well. Long story short(ish), if you don’t rein in your director the budget can go out the window.

Those poor editors.

I worked a project recently that shot back-to-back takes of 38 minutes and 42 minutes with two cameras operating. That’s 160 minutes of footage shot in 80 minutes of work. These were unusually long takes, but are indicative of what can happen when a director goes off-book. The five most dangerous words in Hollywood are, “Hey, I have an idea.”

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If a director shoots with two cameras and averages three 10 minute takes per setup, then shoots sixteen setups per day on a 30 day shoot, you’re looking at (roughly) 16 hours of footage a day, or 480 hours of footage at the end of 30 days. That’s a month of non-stop viewing on an 18 hour day schedule, not including the actual act of editing.

Now consider that continuous rolls means no slate to break up the action and mark a moment. Unless the director is very good at telling the script supervisor which moments they really like on the fly as they happen, the director and editor will later have to re-watch all that footage to find what they want to use, searching for that needle in a haystack. Amusingly I’ve heard from several editors that almost always in this situation the director will use the first take that they come across that they like, even if there may have been something amazing further down the line.   needle haystack man

I love digital. I believe digital opens up many opportunities to be creative and efficient, but it is also important to not allow the benefits of shooting digital be erased by poor filming practices. Directors need adult supervision to keep them from shooting 2 hours of insert shots of hands from 7 different angles. I’ve seen a director (who happened to be the showrunner, so he got away with it) shoot multiple masters from different angles. The guy had so little clue how to shoot or what he wanted, he was just getting a master, then closer, then closer, then closer from every angle. no_idea_by_workisnotajobIt was a shit-show and the actors (not to their head honcho’s face of course) were even breaking composure and bitching about it.

Use digital as the amazing tool it is, but plan ahead and use it well. If you treat digital like film and follow at least some of the same production practices (for the most part, after all, flexibility of digital is a big plus) then you should still be quite able to shoot excellent material at a much lower cost in terms of money, time, and frustration, than film.

Lastly, Always Remember the 5 P’s: 

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Indie Psychological Thriller “Old Bill” to Film in London

What if that kindly old man down the road was really a barely reformed sociopath on the verge of relapsing from his decades long “thou shalt not kill” pledge? Falling off that wagon is tough, especially when there’s no 12-step program for serial killers.

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I recently joined the team of writer/director Peter Stylianou, producer Tony Currier, and executive producer Nik stylianou (a team whose previous film “Who Needs Enemies” was theatrically released in the UK and is available on DVD worldwide) to produce their newest project, “Old Bill.”

Old Bill is a bloody psychological thriller with a fascinating and troubled senior citizen protagonist with a brutal past, paired with an unlikely counterpart, a young French woman with a penchant for shoplifting and a wild streak a mile wide.

Old Bill will be shot in London later this year and promises to be a wild ride, one I’m thrilled to be a part of.

        Old Bill’s Slated.Com Page       

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