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

GettyImages-169270640-1024x683

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.

1-Studio-set-film-Catering

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!

 

Advertisements

Fraturday

exhaustedwoman_illussmaller1In the film and TV industry, there exists a thing of pure evil. A word that makes grown men shudder. An event that chills even the stoutest of hearts. This thing is called Fraturday.

Crew members are accustomed to working long hours, sometimes upwards of seventy or more in a week (I’ve done days over 25 hours, and weeks over 80, and boy-howdy it sucked!), but despite that hardiness of spirit, when it gets later and later towards the end of the week, we all hope to avoid the horror of Fraturday.

What is Fraturday? That terrible mingling of Friday and Saturday. The loss of your entire weekend to a work schedule that sees you beginning your day on Friday, and getting off work early Saturday, sometimes after the sun comes up.fraturday_rectangle_sticker

As you can imagine, this leaves you a shell of yourself, only wanting to sleep and recover over your briefest of weekends. Social life? Forget it. Maybe you’re somewhat rested by Sunday. Then on Monday you start over again… at 6am. Yes, you heard the madness right. You get off work at 6am Saturday and start work at 6am Monday. Some shows even do this multiple weekends in a row (and occasionally have a crew mutiny).

So the next time you find yourself miserable at the prospect of another eight or nine hour day in a non-industry job, just take a deep breath and remember, at least you don’t have the misery of Fraturday.

kevin-kline-sleeping-on-the-set-of

Pitfalls of Shooting Digital

Digital-Cinema-INDIE

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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 1.16.23 PM

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.

your-money-down-the-toilet

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.”

Marx Bros editors

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: 

ProperPlanning

Talking Underpants Make the Semi-Finals!

nashville_fest

A little while back a short script collaboration with my dear Scottish friend Gillian Hay was a quarter finalist in the Shore Scripts Shorts Competition. Adding to that happy event, we just learned we were semi-finalists in the Nashville Film Festival Screenwriting Competition.

To the wonderfully quirky Ms. Hay I must give hearty thanks for springing such an unusual and fun story from her bonny noggin. ‘Twas a pleasure to write and I’m thrilled the judges enjoyed the read.

After all, who wouldn’t want talking knickers?

ts-7107

If you’d care to give our little tale of talking underpants a read, here’s a link.Audrey’s Knickers

Short Script Collaboration: Audrey’s Knickers

Shore Scripts Laurel

Knickers: (N) \nikərz\

Def: A woman’s or girl’s underpants (which may or may not have magical properties).

So recently my dear friend Gillian Hay  (link to her Spotlight page)

a bloody amusing Scottish actress, songwriter and all-around great gal, shared a short story of hers with me. It was a funny little tale she had whipped up about a girl with an abundance of hope but also an abundance of bad luck when it comes to men. That is, until she is visited by a pair of mysterious, talking underpants.

It was absurd and amazing, so needless to say, I was hooked. We laughed excessively at the madness that tends to spring from her mind (even moreso than most Scottish people, and that’s saying a lot), and after the revelry finally diminished, we decided to collaborate and see what would come of it. Ultimately we made some tweaks and additions here and there, fleshed certain parts of the story a bit more, and then I sat down and banged out a short screenplay adaptation of her brain-child, which got us all the way to the quarter finals in the Shore Scripts Screenplay Competition (yay us!) Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 6.13.15 PM

If you’d care to give our little tale of talking underpants a read, here’s a link. Audrey’s Knickers

Don’t Be A Boring Shirt

I was at the laundromat and noticed something that I thought was an interesting parallel to screenplays these days.

The preponderance of boring shirts.

Oh there were blue striped ones, blue plaid ones, and of course various shades of good old blue, but as I scanned the racks it really struck me just how many variations of the same plain shirt people were having cleaned. Of course there were also beige and white shirts, gray and black coats, but near everyone, it seems, has “safe” blue shirts. What also stood out was that as the electric conveyer rack spun by, once in a while a shirt with color would pass, catching the eye and standing out. With so many trying to play safe & by the rules, the different one was easy to pick out. With thousands of screenplays written every year, the parallel is clear. Make yours the one that catches the eye.

Screenwriters often follow templates and guidelines when crafting their works, which is fine, but in a world where seemingly 99% are following the Save the Cat or similar formula (a bit too strictly for many), those who can work with structure yet offer something different, something that makes a reader pause and say, “wait, that’s unique” are the ones who stand out from the pack. Sometimes it’s a bright red shirt, but sometimes it’s just a thread of color that turns an otherwise plain piece of cloth into a fascinating design. Strive for fascinating, keep readers entertained.

Now obviously this doesn’t mean go write a script with charcoal and crayon on the hides of animals you killed with nothing but a fountain pen. That’s different alright (and pretty awesome if you actually used only a pen), but not what we’re talking about. The thing is to create a story that fits in the basic rules yet doesn’t plod along predictably from a-z. Everyone will have a different way to do this, but when reviewing your draft, look at it as though you were a reader tasked with slogging through 200 scripts a year. Are you more or less writing what everyone else is (within your own story naturally) or are you writing outside the box? What makes yours stand out? Ask yourself that question on a regular basis and you may just find yourself rising above the cookie-cutter mire of uninspiring scripts.

Tax Benefits Shooting Film in the UK

Everyone is looking for a deal, an incentive, a tax credit, something to help them get their project made, be it in the swamps of Louisiana or the wilderness of New Zealand. For those filming in the UK, the incentives currently available there seem quite attractive.

Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme, aka SEIS

The SEIS is designed to help small production investors realize tax savings. £100k or less in shares can have 50% deducted. Additionally if you hold the shares for 3 or more years and have made a profit, that profit will be free from Capital Gains tax. It’s a fantastic way to fund a project and immediately cut your risk in half.

Enterprise Investment Scheme, aka EIS

The EIS is the big brother of the SEIS, and investors can realize tax savings of 30% on amounts up to £1,000,000 in shares. As with the SEIS, if Capital Gains are realized after a minimum of 3 years, they will be tax free. While tax savings are 30% rather than 50%, you can invest up to 10x the amount as SEIS and still receive a tax write-off.

UK Cultural Tax Rebates

For culturally UK films a tax rebate is available for up to 25% of the production budget, up to £20 million, to qualifying production companies. What this means is when the production company files its tax return, it can claim a cash refund of up to 25% of qualifying expenditures (such as pre-production, principal photography, and post-production). Development and marketing are not included as qualifying expenses.

With incentives like these, the UK saw a 35% increase in overall film/tv spending in 2014.

Obviously there is a tremendous amount of information not covered here, and this is not intended as legal or tax advice. Seek out investment counsel or tax professionals before making any financial decisions.