Tuesday Night on the Board

IMG_1543.jpgMy life is pretty amazing, when I really step back and take a look at it.

Last night Jamie came over to participate in a project for the Toronto Cold Reads Series. Afterwards, he just kind of lingered. We drank beer and shot the shit. It seemed like he had something on his mind.

And then he began talking about a script he’s been working on for some time. He brought an early draft to the writers group a year ago, and he’s been pecking away at it ever since. And he’s stuck.

So there we were, talking about his script, staring the whole time at the big, blank, cork board I have in my writing studio. I suggested we break the story together. He hesitated. Then he went upstairs, grabbed another beer, came back down and said, “Fuck it. Let’s do it.”

He pulled out his own stack of 3×5 cards, and started writing key scenes down on these cards. We began pinning them to the board, when Sean and Maeve – my AirBnB guests from England – came home. I invited them to join us – and so they did.

We brainstormed ideas for the inciting incident, act breaks, turns, and climaxes for his 5 storylines. Jamie had most of the answers already, but there were some gaps to contemplate.

Two hours later, we had the majority of Jamie’s screenplay up on the board – 33 key scenes in all. He kept talking about how complicated his story is, but when it’s up on a board like that, broken down to 5 storylines – each with 6 key scenes – it’s pretty simple.

We could have sat on the couch and watched a movie together, but instead, we helped to write a movie together.

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Beating Out the Story

The problem with being too comfortable, is it gets in the way of getting things done. No fire in my belly. Ambitions simmer on the back burner while procrastinations in the form of computer games, Facebook, and petty arguments with the Romanian Syndicate about the sorry state of the Roughriders are manifested.

I’m totally right about the Roughriders by the way. Chris Jones needs to be fired.

Grama hand-wrote pages and pages of stories from her childhood on the farm in Wood Mountain. I began the process of digging deeper into these stories, to see how I can craft them into a TV Pilot. I think I have some good ideas.

I’m scheduling a table read for this pilot, for the end of March. Nothing like a hard deadline to motivate me to git-er-done.

Unfortunately, I only have a vague clue as to what my story is. I’ve been staring at a blank beat-sheet – a line by line synopsis of each scene – and have jotted down some key moments in the A, B, C, and D plots. If I can figure out how to weave them together, I’m really going to have something special.

Star Wars

forceI watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens again last night with Nadia at the IMAX Theatre. It’s even better the second time around! Dialogue is good. Characters are good. The plot is good. Action is good. It’s a really good movie. It might even be one of the best of all the Star Wars movies.

The other cultural thing I did yesterday was read the pilot to The West Wing. I binged on the entire series last year on Netflix. This time around, it was great to curl up with an Aaron Sorkin penned script and study it intensely. I actually reread it again this morning.

The pilot feature four story-lines. It’s also much funnier that I remember – every other line was a barb or zinger between the characters. Conflict between characters was subdued – but it remained ever present. Like crew members on a star ship, they were all up against the conflict communally. What one felt, the others also felt.

Sorkin also packed his characters with idiosyncrasies that were both subtle and apt. The smallest little quirk – such as Leo’s crossword puzzle – would be spread over a couple of scenes. These quirks served the dual function of being both funny, and bridging story lines. I made notes on the script and saved it.

I spent most of my day yesterday, writing a one page description of my Christmas script. It’s almost easier to write the whole screenplay, than it is to come up with a compelling one-page description of the plot.

I’m going to give the document another pass today, then send it off to the production companies that requested it.

2016 Culture Tally;

Feature Scripts Read: 1
TV Scripts Read: 1
Movies Watched: 3
Documentaries Watched: 1

The Great Rewrite of 2015

IMG_01412015 feels overwhelmingly like ‘unfinished business’ to me. I accomplished a lot, but fell short just enough to leave me feeling unsatisfied with the year that was.

My resolution for 2016, is to feel the opposite of what I feel today. In one year’s time, I wish to take a few minutes to myself, with a pint at my side, writing about how grateful I am for the year that was.

And so what needs to happen?

Stability for one. The career has had many ups and downs over recent years. I think back to who I was before I left Regina, and I feel like I lost a skip in my step. A confidence. I felt like I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. Somewhere along the way, that feeling became something closer to ‘troubled optimism’.

Perhaps it was all an illusion to begin with, and I’m only just seeing reality now. I left the pond that was the Regina film industry, and jumped into the ocean that is Toronto. Never bothered to draw up a plan or pick a direction. I figured I could just show up and things would work out.

So many worthy and talented artists struggle in Toronto. Who am I to think I could just show up and expect it to all just fall in my lap?

The first three years of my time in Toronto were spent learning some hard lessons. My fourth year – 2015 – is the year I began to put all those hard lessons to good use.

I wrote a dynamic and marketable TV Pilot in Machiavelli & Tymes. I backed that up with a rich and well-researched spec script for The Blacklist. I took sole credit for three episodes, and made significant contributions to three other episodes of The Riderville Radio Sitcom. I was hired to write a pitch bible and TV pilot for an animated SciFi series. I completed two drafts of a TV Movie. Taken together, that’s over seven hours of content – three of which has been produced!

In 2016 I want to see my TV movie go into production. I would like to direct that movie. In addition, I aim to research the market a bit more thoroughly, then write two more TV movies for that market. I have a couple good ideas for TV pilots as well.

It’s an ambitious set of goals I admit. Possibly even a bit naive to express in writing. Putting a show into production requires the help of many others, and it’s a goal that even more wish for their own scripts. Still, if one doesn’t commit, one doesn’t really have a direction.

In times past, I’ve expressed the notion that life is a river – that we are leaves floating upon that river, and with great awareness and a pinky flick’s worth of effort, we can ride that river right up to where we’re supposed to land.

I continue to believe there’s something to that idea, but I may have been delusional in the balance between effort and awareness.

While production is a collaborative effort, requiring the commitment of many others, I need no one’s help to write a script. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than crafting a great scene.

If I am to feel great about the year ahead, then I simply need to go out and write that ending.

Longing for Christmas

IMG_0313I’ve been home for Christmas for a week now. Feels different from past Christmases, because I was just here for over three months, three months ago. That longing to be home isn’t the same as it was last year, when it was my first without Dad. It had also been eight months since I last saw the place, so definitely, that longing was a long time in coming.

That said, it’s good to be home.

I spent the weekend on the farm celebrating an early Christmas. Of course it was great to see everyone, but I find myself walking around the place seeing – not the present – but the memories and ghosts of all those times that came before.

I spent a lot of time with my nose in my computer, or lost somewhere in my own little world. The rest of the time I was switch on, engaging with everyone, and saying mostly funny, sometimes inappropriate shit. On the final day, I gathered everyone around the table and we read through my Christmas script together.

IMG_0317Jazzy’s in Vancouver for Christmas. Mom and Dave are out running errands, so at present it’s just me and the dogs. Peaceful. A good time for sitting in silence with my thoughts.

My career as a writer is important to me. Something clicked for me shortly after completing the ZERO DRAFT Thirty Challenge. Write. Everyday day or so. That big intimidating literary mountain ain’t so ornery to climb when taken one small step at a time.

I’ve spent all this time pitching myself. Pitching ideas. Why not just write the ideas? It’s so much easier to set up meetings and send off ideas, when the ideas are actually written. That’s certainly been the case with my Christmas script.

I completed the rewrite last week and promptly sent queries to a dozen or more production companies. A third have gotten back to me, requesting the script. In nearly every case, I had previously reached out to these production companies for other projects. It made pitching so much easier.

I haven’t done much over the past couple of days, and I plan to continue that tread for at least the next forty-eight hours or so. After that, I have ideas I want to get to.

In the meantime, a driveway full of snow awaits my attention.

Writing Up a Habit

In the last two-and-a-half months, I’ve written two pitch bibles for TV series, a TV pilot, and a screenplay. Inside my head, it doesn’t feel like I’ve  been that productive, but clearly the work does speak for itself. I feel good about that. Really good.

I invited a houseful of actor/writer colleagues over last Sunday and we read through my screenplay together. The feedback was positive. Structurally the piece felt solid. It felt like a story.

I’m on page 90 of the rewrite for that screenplay. I’ve been focusing on developing some of my characters to a greater extent. There are also details of the story that left some confused in the table read, so I’m addressing that as well.

I’ll be finishing up today, and then I start sending it off to a number of production companies that I’ve been in touch with. It’s a Christmas script, so time is of the essence if we’re going to put it in production this year.

Tomorrow I fly back to Regina. I look forward to seeing everyone – and to continue my writing habit.

The Good, The Bad, and the Obvious

ZeroDraft30Feels like a good time to check in.

Last night, the second draft of a TV Pilot I’m writing was read before a live audience at Toronto Cold Reads. The audience loved it! I need to clean up some things in Act III, and I await notes from the producers who hired me, but I’m really excited about it.

In the meantime, I’m frantically working to finish a screenplay before the end of the month. I took the Zero Draft 30 challenge – an international community of writers (accomplished and emerging) dedicated to supporting each other, as we strive to write a screenplay in 30 days. With seven days to go, I’m on page 50. I’d like to land at around page 95-100, so I need to hit… [Jarrett does some quick math] …7 pages a day!

I’ve had good days and bad days thus far. On my good days, I’m writing nine pages and the scenes are vibrant and dynamic. On my bad days, I play video games and barely look at the script. I wish I could find a way to be a little more consistent. I really don’t know why my bad days happen – and when I have a good day, it seems it comes from making a simple commitment to write. Nothing more to it than that.

In other business, Mom and Jeremy are helping me with Riderville Sitcom, pitching Season Passes to local businesses. Mom called today and she seems to have a big fish on the hook. I wished I would have thought to add them to the team in the summer. I would have been able to focus on doing what I do best, and let them do what they excel at. Sometimes the hardest things to see, are the things we don’t see right in front of our nose.

Well, that’s enough for today. Gonna pound pages now.

Minding The Eras

RidervilleSeasonPassFaceI hired three more writers from Toronto Cold Reads Series to help me with the sitcom. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done on the business and marketing side of the project that requires my attention, so I sought out some people I know. It’s a load off my mind, and it feels good to be collaborating with colleagues who bring a different perspective to the table.

None are Rider fans, nor do they know anything about football, but they are great writers who’ve studied the craft. I’ve said from the beginning that I want this series to be about great stories first, history second, and football third.

With episodes taking place in 1956, 1967, 1973, 1987, 1999, and 2007, there’s a lot that needs to be learned about each era. To this end, I’ve been scanning old newspapers that cover those eras. I then send these archives to the writers, and speak with them individually about what newspaper stories jump out at them. From there, it’s a bit like The Writers’ Challenge at Toronto Cold Reads. Craft a story based on elements drawn from a goodie bag of random artifacts.

We should have all the scripts complete by August 10. We record the episodes at Royal Saskatchewan Museum Auditorium on Aug 23, 24, and 25th.

Characters in Search of a Point

My days have been full of writing – at least with thoughts full of thinking about writing. I’ve committed to delivering a 1st draft of the second episode of the sitcom today. The routine seems to be me procrastinating for a spell, then digging in, writing for a few hours, procrastinating some more, then forcing myself to keep writing. You could say I’m on schedule to meet my target.

This last episode was a tricky one. I had a basic premise, but it took me awhile to flesh it out. I tried breaking it into an outline, and that was helpful, but there remained a lot of holes that I wasn’t quite sure how to fill. I decided to dive in and write the teaser. Then I deleted everything I wrote, and came up with something different. From there I abandoned my second attempt, and rewrote my first attempt. The dialogue was completely different, but the setting remained the same. I also repurposed a few gags from my initial attempt.

It’s like I had to spend time with these characters, improvising different scenes, so I could learn what makes them tick. I worry sometimes their voices blend too much into my previous characters. Thus far, I think I found the handle.

In other news, my distributor sold my documentary series, InJustice, to a broadcaster in the Middle East. I had Jazzy on the phone on Friday, going through my hard drives, tracking down the files they need. They’re paying in US currency, and with the Canadian dollar so low, I appreciate the exchange.

Today has more writing in store. I also need to set up some meetings, while following up on others. Lots to do. Deadlines to meet. Wish me luck.

Researching Around the Stereo Types

  I’m sitting inside Victoria College with a Hot Docs Conference Pass hanging around my neck. I won it at the DGC’s AGM a couple of weeks ago, and I’m somewhat saddened that I won’t get to take full advantage of it.

I start on a movie next week, so while I will have free admittance to all of the documentaries that are screening over the next three weeks in the evenings, the conference itself will be unavailable to me. I think I’m going to get Jazzy to skip a day of school next week so she can go in my place. I’m sure she’ll get a lot out of the panel discussions and other activities.

The spec script is going well. I’ve done so much research on Iran and its nuclear program, that I’m sure I’ve drawn the attention of some clandestine government organization hankering to hook electrodes up to my nipples. The going has been slow because the material is so dense. Also, I procrastinate a lot.

At the Toronto Reference Library yesterday, I sat down for several hours, and kept coming upon niggly little bits of information that I needed to obtain. Things like the names of certain Persian desserts, features of Persian architecture, or the name of a Lebanese photo-journalist who was killed in the most recent Israeli/Hezbollah conflict.

I’m proud of how real the world feels in the script – especially since I started with knowing nothing about any of it. Research allows me to write depth into the characters. It allows me to avoid stereotypes. It makes the story compelling. I almost feel like I’m plagiarizing the 6 o’clock news – from a Persian perspective.

Thus far, I’m half way through Act I. I spent some time cleaning up the first nine pages this afternoon, and I aim to reach Act II by this evening. As I mentioned previously, this script will be five acts plus a teaser.

Well, 5pm doth toll. It’s time to pound more pages.

Later!