2017 Goal #1: Finish my feature screenplay spec BARTENDER OF THE YEAR and submit it to the Nicholl Fellowship in April.
Goal achieved? NO
Not only did I blow past the Nicholl Fellowship and every other contest deadline this past year, I am nicely on-track to miss a bunch of 2018 deadlines too. I’m currently 100+ pages into a terrible, no good, very bad first draft. Writers sometimes call the first draft the “vomit draft,” the goal being getting it done, not making it good. But rather than a full-throated purge, progress on BARTENDER OF THE YEAR has advanced in a series of minuscule puke-belches.
BARTENDER is a comedy-drama about a popular local mixologist who runs for office in his small town. It’s also my challenge to myself to write a movie outside my comfort zone: one with no science fiction elements or high-concept gimmicks to propel the story. And it’s propulsion, sure enough, that has been lacking. In my darkest moments of plotting this thing I’m convinced I know nothing about writing, human nature, normal human speech, or how the everyday affairs of human beings are conducted. I feel as if I’m bluffing my way through everything.
And then other days… it’s better. A lot better. Experience has taught me the only way out is through. Push, work, WRITE until the work becomes the thing that occupies your mind instead of the fear.
Goal #2: Search for material
Goal achieved? YES
Itching to get a project into prep, this year I decided to put on my producer hat and start looking for screenplays. I didn’t find anything I wanted to option, but I made the effort and read a pile of scripts. (I’m still itchy. If you’re interested in sending me something, please read this to learn more.)
Goal #3: AFX training
Goal achieved? NO
This year I bought myself a nifty (and pricey) new MacBook with the intention of updating my knowledge of Adobe After Effects. The ability to create pro-level motion graphics and visual effects “in-house” would hugely expand the range of projects I can execute DIY-style. And, it’s never a bad thing to have more marketable skills. But I had an ambitious list of goals for 2017 and something had to give, so this one resides on the back-burner. I needed a new computer anyway, honey. Really.
Goal #4. Take a beginning improv class
Goal achieved? YES
Every Monday for 10 weeks this past year I stood up with a group of strangers, playing silly improv games with them and making up scenes on the spot. I said and did the first stupid-ass thing that came into my mind. Something different, to maybe blow some cobwebs out of the brain. Not as embarrassing as anticipated. Signing up for the intermediate class in January.
Goal #5. Other writing
Goal achieved? YES
OK, admittedly “other writing” is a pretty nebulous goal, so it’s easy to call this one a win. I did work on things besides BARTENDER OF THE YEAR in 2017… and even finished some of them. For instance, an 8-page short called FROG, which I’m pretty happy with. It’s a two-hander about a disabled intern who befriends the super-intelligent frog she meets one night in a university computer lab. It was written expressly for the Jameson First Shot contest and if it had won, the script would have been produced with actor Dominic West providing the voice of the frog. Alas, that didn’t happen, but FROG did quarter-final in the ScreenCraft Short Screenplay contest in September.
One of the best writing experiences I had this past year happened at the day job, imagine that: Armstrong Creates, the agency I’ve worked at for mumble-mumble years now. I’m a generalist there, which means I might be retouching photos one day and cooking up an ad campaign the next. When a client (a manufacturer of corks for the wine industry) decided they wanted a concepts for a promotional video, I whipped up a script for a comedy sketch that takes place entirely inside a wine bottle. The wine and the cork are personified (think the Fruit of the Loom guys), best buddies who’ve grown very close over the years as the wine ages. They even sing a duet together. Like so many concepts, this pitch never made it out of the conference room. Too bad: I think it would have turned out well. Would have been an absolute blast to shoot, too. Given that, what exactly made this a good writing experience? Well, I got paid, for one thing. But more to the point: starting from zero I cranked out a completed script – one I was really happy with – in the matter of a couple of hours. It was exhilarating, and a welcome reminder that I don’t really need inspiration. I just need a deadline. So sure, my concept got rejected, but I went home happy that day. And the experience helped me shake off the torpor I’d been fighting much of the year.
Back at home and re-energized, I finally wrote up a first draft of ANAESTHESIA, another short film idea that I’d been kicking around for too many years. I’m also compiling notes for a new feature script, the one I’ll write once BARTENDER is in the bag. I don’t know the title yet. But it’s a sci-fi comedy about an alien invasion. Yeah, back to the comfort zone. I gotta be me, I guess.
I’ve been thinking about this drawing I want to do. It’s going to be awesome. It would be a house, with a door, two windows, and a chimney. There will be a line of smoke coming up out of the chimney, spiraling up like a bedspring. Next to the house, there will be a big green tree, and me, playing with a ball. There will be one puffy cloud in the sky. And right up in the corner of the picture I will put a yellow semi-circle with lines coming out. That’s the sun.
I’ve got some good paper, and some crayons. I spent some time researching what crayons to get. I read reviews online and talked to my friends. The Crayola 64-pack was clearly the only choice. My mom got me the 24 box. That’s okay. You’ll see; I’m gonna work it! I’ll make these 24 colors sing.
My mom has really enjoyed drawings I’ve done in the past, so, there is some pressure on me. This new one has to measure up, you know? In fact, ideally it should be at least a little bit better than the last thing I drew. (It was a horse. I drew two horse pictures yesterday. I don’t want her to think that’s all I can do, is draw horses. I’m not a one-trick-pony. Hah! Get it?)
I’m gonna start my drawing now.
OK, before I start, I think I’ll have a juice box and walk around in the backyard a little, just to clear my head.
I’m back. I’m gonna start drawing the house.
You know what? You can’t rush things like this. There’s a lot to think about. This is not *just* a picture of a house. This drawing could open doors for me. Mom might put it on the refrigerator. If she’s really impressed, she might get me that 64-pack. Man!
I wish I had the 64-pack. Then I could really draw the picture I have in my head. It sucks I have to make do with the 24. Billy Johnson has the 64-pack. He’s a really good artist. I am too, but nobody is going to say, “this isn’t as good as Billy’s house, but then again, Johnny didn’t have 64 colors to choose from.” Nobody cuts you any slack; nobody cares what you had to overcome. Billy’s an ass anyway. He traces.
OK, time to get started. With my 24 shitty crayons. If this stupid house picture thing crashes and burns it’s all mom’s fault, really. She’s denying me tools I need to express my inner vision.
She’d find a way to get me that 64-pack, if she really loved me.
You know what? I can’t draw this house today. I am just in the wrong head space altogether. Plus I’m just not prepared. I’ll draw the house tomorrow.