Someone recently messaged me and asked: What's your advice to someone with fic/story ideas but has no talent/experience with writing?
Okay, well let’s see here. First of all, and this is completely corny, you have to want to write. Do you want to do it? Do you love it? Do you feel passionate about it? Like if writing itself were personified, you would totally want to make out with it? If you don’t write, do you feel antsy/angry/like something is off? If your answer is yes, then all right – you have the passion and fire in your system. So that’s good!
Write All the Time. Exercise Your Writing Muscle.
Now, writing like any other thing requires consistent dedication. And by that I mean that you have to write all the time. You can’t write once a month and expect to improve. Writing is a constant thing, and the more you write the better you will become.
Share Your Work with Others. Get Feedback.
“But how do I become better, Alex?” You ask? Well, you have to share your work with others. Find people whose opinion you respect – not just Yes Men who will say, “I like it!” even if you just wrote something that was a turd on wheels. No, you have to find people who will be brutal with you, who will be honest, people who will tell you what they think. Which leads me to…
Talk with Other Writers. They are Your People.
Writers are a very special kind of human being. We’re egotistic, yet highly sensitive. We are filled with bravado, yet highly insecure. (Most of us, anyway. Not all of us, however. Some are just talented mother effers who are basically like, “I am the shit, and I know I rock.” And they do! Bless!) Become friends with other writers, talk about your work, talk about your writing process. Other writers will speak your language, they will share feedback in a way other people can’t. They are also your best cheerleaders and comrades. You have writer’s block? They will sit and commiserate with you. You have a character breakthrough, they will serve you a drink.
Read Anything. Read Everything.
Expose yourself to the writing of others as much as you can. Read, read, read. Rinse, lather, repeat. Even if it’s a genre you may not like, read. Read canonical literature, read graphic novels, read biographies, read poetry, read about history, art, music – all of this will help you become more aware of the world, of the thought processes of others, and will expose you to good writing and bad writing.
This also touches on a big aspect of my writing process. Research. RESEARCH. To make something believable (even if it is in a fantasy or magical realism story) you have to have some truthful foundation to it. You have to write as though you know what you are talking about, what your characters are doing. My character lives in Baltimore? Then I will definitely research Baltimore. What neighborhood would they live in? Where would they go for dinner? I Google restaurants, then Google their menu. My character and his partner are looking for a surrogate to start a family? Then I will research what that entails as if it were me looking for the surrogate. You just can’t be like, “Oh, I don’t know anything about XYZ” and leave it at that. You’re better than that shit. You owe it to your readers – and yourself – to be thorough. Research, I stand by it. Always.
What About School, Alex?
My degree is in English with a creative writing concentration and I loved it. Do you need a degree in English/creative writing? No necessarily. Does it help? Sure. The writing workshops, the seminars, the readings – all wonderful, but to be a more fully fleshed out writer, I think a degree in the humanities is also lovely. For my graduate studies, I'll be persuing a degree in the humanities. (I'm currently in love with this program. We'll see.) Again, it’s about learning more about the world and people around us. All of this helps. The broader your general knowledge is, the richer your storytelling will be.
People Watch. Just Don’t Be Creepy.
I love sitting and watching people. You can learn so much about human nature just by being still and watching. Humans are the ultimate story prompt. I remember I was sitting at a restaurant one time, and a woman at the table next to me told her companion, “That’s when I realized my entire life was a lie.” I was leaning over thinking, Oh, shiiiiit. Tell me more. That became the basis for a short story I wrote. When you become a writer, all of your friends and family know that everything they say is up for grabs in your work. I know mine do.
Books on Writing? Sure, Why Not?
There have been several books on writing, punctuation, etc. Here are some of my favorites. There are many, many more.
I hope this helps and I’m open to any other questions from anyone.
Another fan fic, this one inspired by the first glimpse of Mads Mikkelsen as Galen Erso. What can I say? I am a total and utter dork, and have no regrets.
Galen Erso’s days began in very much the same way they ended: entrenched in his mind and his work. Even after all these years, he wrote, he thought, he obsessed. The eternal Why and Why Not his steady companions. His need to work out vast equations in his mind was constant. It was all he knew, really.
Rising from his bed, Galen wearily made his way to the kitchen as calculations made their way into his thoughts.
When Jynea was born, Galen would often stare at her for hours on end as she slept. Wondering, picturing, dreaming of all the particles that made up her being. The human body is made up of something near 37 trillion cells. The number of atoms in each of those cells is around 100 trillion. The calculations could be endless. She was beautiful. Something so beautiful.
Still, Galen spent most of Jynea’s childhood working in his lab.
“Papa, can you play with me?”
“Not right now, Jynea. Perhaps later. I have work to do.”
On occasion she would accompany him there. Watching her father work, write, think, obsess. Galen was on the verge of creating something new. The eternal Why and Why Not cheerleading his endeavors.
“Papa, can you read to me?”
“Not right now, Jynea. Perhaps later. I have work to do.”
And when his dreams became reality and the equations aligned perfectly within the walls of his lab, he knew right then and there what it must feel like to be one of the gods.
“Galen, could you sit and talk?”
“Not right now, Jynea. Perhaps later. I have work to do.”
He looked at his work and smiled.
“So beautiful,” Galen said to himself alone, for you see by then he was alone. His wife was gone. His daughter was gone. Such was the price of godliness.
But the beautiful can never be ignored for long, and Galen’s work garnered attention, good and bad. However, the bad always had a lovelier siren song (“It really will benefit mankind greatly. Your work will benefit mankind greatly.”)
And so now, years later in hiding, Galen finds himself alone with his calculations, his thoughts, his regret. His work taken and used for death and destruction. How does one live with that? Not easily.
Staring out into the horizon, he thinks of Jyn -- as she now prefers to be called -- and how to reach her. How to mend. How to rebuild. The equations for that beginning to form.
As a production design enthusiast, Ferris Bueller’s bedroom still continues to give me life. It was effortlessly cool -- although clearly obvious that a lot of planning was attention to detail was given to it. This was my dream bedroom when I was teen, mainly because I believed it was a teen's room. It spoke of Ferris' character and what he wanted to surround himself with.
One of the films I worked on featured a teen girl’s bedroom, and my approach to it was somewhat influenced by Ferris’ room.
Of course, one must also take into consideration the story, the characters, the look of the entire film -- what is it trying to say?
A teen bedroom can be tricky because while it is a teen's room it is ultimately the parents who are paying for the furniture, who are painting the walls, buying the bedding, etc. So certain expectations are still to be met.
The lived in details are often the hardest to achieve without having it look too staged.
It’s a process…
He had no choice. Not really.
The life he had, the one he had known was behind him of his own volition. So in that moment, the decision was made with the full understanding that it would be irreversibly gone.
Would she continue to love him? Yes, he was certain of it, but would she ever forgive him? No. Understand his actions, perhaps. But forgiveness? Never.
So in that brief moment, he gave a eulogy for himself and a eulogy for the hugs she had given, the rare moments of laughter he had shared with him, the memories of conflict and pain from early on that were soothed by her voice as she gently stroked his head. A final eulogy for him, for the one that stood there -- the last person in the way of his complete rebirth. This is how it had to be: betrayal and death in order for his self design to live.
So you see, he really had no choice.
And when his father said, "Yes, anything," Kylo knew Han truly meant it.
Kylo gave thanks and a strong farewell to himself, and his family forever, as he watched Han fall.
"There are Worse Ways to Go"
It is in the early mornings when he awakens, before the sun even thinks of coming out, that he turns on his side to watch his lover sleep.
Curls, eyes, lips, chest…
His lover's rising and lowering breath, a metronome keeping his heart in step within the quiet of their bedroom.
It is in these moments,
these very still moments,
he whispers to him (who is none the wiser) “I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you”;
a mantra that both fills him with adoration and threatens to destroy all that he is.
Yama, Shiva, Freyja, Anhur -- please take pity.
But if that destruction were to come, he thinks there are worse ways to go.
I love you
I love you
I love you
I love you
A dog at the foot of the bed is the only witness to this quiet confession.
A while back, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion on the filmmaking process. One of the questions that came up during the panel was the importance of the table read for a short film. Someone on the panel didn’t feel it was necessary, and explained they maintained a more guerrilla-style approach when shooting. I can appreciate that, but for me good rapport between cast and crew begins with the table read – regardless of how short a film is.
During a table read (and for a short film, only one is necessary) community and trust is built. An open line of communication is established. This is the time when directors can speak about their intentions with the actors. What does the story mean to you? What is this character really about? What do you feel is the essential story that must be communicated?
As a director, you can begin to see the character take shape. The words begin to come to life, and come to life with your actors. During the table read for A MAN OF LIMITED EMOTIONAL MEANS, I went into the characters’ backstories with each actor. Information that wasn’t in the script was shared and provided everyone with an extra nugget they could in turn use to shape their own performances.
At a table read, questions can be posited, answered, and explored. The focus at this time is on the words on the page, not the actions of each individual – there will be time for that during principal photography. For me, the table read becomes the start to a strong relationship between you, your talent, your crew, the characters, and eventually the story. So is a table read necessary for a short film? In short, yes.
Last month, we filmed the final scene for Harrison's Closet which picks up some 20 years later in the early 1970s. A word of advice, if you have the space never get rid of any wardrobe -- even from short films. We ended up repurposing wardrobe from A Man of Limited Emotional Means and dressing Jay Disney (Harrison) in Jackson's infamous blue pants -- or at least they were infamous on set. A total time and money saver!
While it was fantastic to finally wrap Harrison's Closet, what I was most excited about was the prop used in the scene. It was an authentic Goldblatt's shopping bag from the late 1960s. For those not familiar with Goldblatt's, they were a small chain of department stores that went out of business in the early 00s. We had three or four of them in Chicago.
Not to sound like a total granny (Get off my lawn!), but department stores aren't what they used to be. Whenever my mother would take me to Goldblatt's, it was a treat.
My earliest memory of the store was going there when I was 4 or 5. The store had several floors and when you first walked in, you were dwarfed by a huge candy display where you could buy "fancy" candy in bulk. I remember the clear acrylic bins bursting with lemon drops, jelly-filled strawberry candies, light blue mints wrapped in cellophane.
The store didn't have an escalator but it did have an elevator which had an actual elevator operator. He could take you to the furrier on the upper level, or the furniture shop.
One of the things I love most about moving making is the potential nostalgia it can bring you. Really, for me, it's the goofy small details that get me.
The little movie that could. Or at least I hope! It's been a year since we wrapped principal shooting on Harrison's Closet. We finished with much fanfare but something about it still seemed not quite done.
Christopher Barrett, our DP, and I scratched our heads over why this just didn't feel right. We had an editor come in and do some work, and after seeing the results I felt the film was
unsalvageable and a failure. It looked gorgeous, but it was missing a key component in the script to tidy it all together.
So 365 days later (almost to the day), an additional scene came to me. Writing it and thinking about each character gesture and word -- and what that would mean in terms of creating that cohesion was paramount. It all has to mean something in the end. The devil is in the details even if the detail is minute.
I'm happy to say that we'll be picking up one more scene, taking place approximately 15 years after the rest of the movie (you know how much I love dressing everything for a specific era). This one tiny scene, which will be less than 3 minutes in length, is what HC needed to finally move forward.
Filming will take place in February.
When you have nowhere else to go for the next three hours, it only makes sense to either drink a lot or write something. On a recent trip to Jamaica, during a three hour bus ride from Montego Bay to the Nassau Valley, I was able to write a screenplay draft another short. Three characters: a man, woman and boy meet at a laundromat on a weekly basis. It's part love story, part friendship study with a funny dose of deus ex machina.
Even though Harrison's Closet is in the very early stages of post-production, I'm already looking ahead to the next thing. The birth of our newest project came this past New Year's Eve during dinner at La Notte.
A few vodka gimlets, some noise from the peanut gallery (a.k.a. our kid), and a few more gimlets gave way to "The Last Gentleman Magician". Without giving too much away, TLGM will involve a magician, his assistant, a terrible boyfriend and a live puppet named Gary who smokes and drinks. Also, this classic trick will play an important part.
The way I am approaching the script is to write it as a short story first, and then go from there. It's about loyalty, confidence and coming to the aid of the one you love. You know, the important stuff...