Friday, November 14, 2014

Ranting from the Creative Mind (part two)

As a writer or any kind of creative person for that matter, you're constantly searching around in the dark for that next idea. By the dark I mean that void of imagination that you teleport your mind into… Whether it's a daydream, a nightmare, or a form of meditation… 

I literally play out countless imaginary scenes in my head… Some takes are better than others… You keep the ones you like, ignore the ones you don't. I say ignore instead of forget because you never really forget even the bad ideas… but even a bad idea can be useful from time to time. It's all about context. And what a lot of people don't understand is this is the job... not the sitting down at the keyboard and typing out page after page. That's just the end result. 

People would always ask me why aren't you writing, but what they didn't realize was… I was writing all along… in my head!

At least that's my process. I'm not one of these writers that can sit down and just start writing ten pages a day from scratch. If I did that, I would just be writing ten pages of shit. For me, it would be a total waste of time. 

Instead, I'll sometimes spend hours of laying around with my eyes closed imagining every possible scenario before committing it to words. Sometimes I admit, i even feel a little guilty for it, because I feel like I should be doing more, but what no one sees is that the mind is constantly working… and it can be draining. I mean, it's constantly working… Whether you're driving down the road, talking to a neighbor or picking up groceries, a part of your brain is still trying to solve that puzzle called a story.

And even when I think I finally figured it out, those ideas get tested before I ever hit a single keystroke. To my advantage, I have a writing/directing partner that I've been working with for years now. Gregory J. Bradley and I have what I believe is a rare collaboration. 

Both of us have a lot in common. Both of us loved comic books and drew our own stories growing up. Both of us were actors. Both of us made short films. Both of us were DJs who loved music. Both of us were into Martial Arts and Hong Kong Cinema… You get the picture… We both have very similar likes and dislikes, but we also have different strengths that play well off each other. 

People are always curious about how a writing/filmmaking team works without the ego getting in the way. Evidently, this is a big issue with a lot of creative types and I have to admit I've had my fair share as well, especially when I was younger, but I believe the trick is you have to check your ego at the door… 

But not your talent. 

Even though I've never been married, I would hazard to guess that a creative partnership is very similar.

The common denominator is trust. You have to respect each others ideas even if you don't always agree with the execution. And that's where the real collaboration comes in. If the both of you consider an idea to be valid, you have to make sure you develop it in such a way that every beat works for the both of you. 

That's the challenge, because it's a process of checks and balances. You have to be honest with yourself. You have to recognize the good and you have to weed out the bad. And you can't worry about who came up with what. That's where the ego can get in the way. 

A great idea is a great idea. What the hell do you care who came up with it? Both of your names are going on it anyway. And I guarantee you that if you embrace that attitude, it will open up all kinds of opportunities for you to add your own spin to it as well. I compare it to a great session of Jazz. You riff off the other guy's notes and you build on it. 

You see, execution is everything. You can have a terrific idea, but if you fail to execute it in a provocative way, you just pissed it away. And God knows we've all seen a lot of great ideas go down the shitter in a lot of movies… 

Like anything, we've had our good and bad experiences during the development process and unfortunately, I've seen many of our ideas go horribly wrong. The worst thing that can happen is you get a producer or director on board that doesn't understand story structure or subtext or even the basic point of your script. And you might be surprised, but it's more common than you think. 

Back in the day, I used to put a lot of the blame on the screenwriter for a bad movie. I used to say, "Who the hell wrote this shit?" But I'm telling you right now… a high percentage of the time… "IT'S NOT THE WRITER'S FAULT!" 

I bet you, he or she was more than likely forced to change what was really a cool idea at first.

I can't tell you how many times we've had to change things that we just didn't believe in because the director or producer demanded it. Not that they don't come up with good ideas, many of them do. It's just that a lot of times they want to throw out the baby with the bath water… Sorry, I'm from the south… I just love using those old colloquialisms sometimes. But think about it. What if you had a baby? You carried it for nine months, gave birth and raised it for a couple years, then somebody comes along and says, "Hey, Beautiful Baby! Love to help you send it to college, but we need to chop off its arms and legs and replace them with these really cool wooden limbs instead. It's the latest thing!"

Okay, I know, sometimes I get a little morose and over dramatic, but if you're a good writer who knows your craft and not some hack, this is something that you've probably spent months or even years nurturing and developing.

You've already gone down every road and you've already seen every dead end and you know - at least from a story perspective - what works and what doesn't. So it's a little disconcerting when someone glances over your script once and thinks they know how to fix everything - and many times without even taking the time to consult with you as to why you chose to do the things you did. Because sometimes you may have a great idea that's just not coming across - perhaps it just needs to be clarified, not dismissed.

Now, don't think that we're so precious with every little syllable that we can't change anything. Like I said before, a good idea is a good idea. You give us something better, we'll run with it. In fact, we get excited when someone gives us a new way of looking at a scene or a character that adds more depth to the story we're telling. That's what you pray for!

But a lot of times, it has nothing to do with the story you wrote, it's more about the story the producer or director wants to tell. And it may have nothing to do what you created. They just happened to get attached to your project, so now they need to change everything in order to fit their agenda. And when that happens, they will be blind to anything you show them that's outside of that box, no matter how good it is.

The true art in the development process is to be able to take other people's ideas and make what you have even stronger, which can be overwhelming sometimes. Especially when you have seven development execs in the room and they're all giving you notes, and a lot of them are conflicting with each other. And you're trying to figure out a way to explain as nicely as possible that those ideas are going to totally f**k everything up!

It's one of the few jobs where you're hired because of your skills, but then everybody ignores you when you try to do your job. It's like hiring an experienced surgeon, but then telling them how to operate.

Perfect example…

We sold a script a few years back and we did our obligatory rewrites with a couple directors they brought on during the development process. After we did our rewrites, we left and went our own way. Time marched on and while we worked on other material, we would sometimes hear that other directors had come on board, but to no avail. 

Then after a few years and the script was about to go into turnaround, we got a call from the production company. They explained that they really wanted to do the project, but they felt that maybe too much time had passed and that the script didn't feel as fresh anymore - that it had become a little stale and dated. And they explained that they had other writers and directors come in but that no one had been able to crack it yet. So they were wondering, since we created the material, if we wanted a shot at it? Of course we said, "Sure! You bet your sweet patootie we would!" 

Well, we get the latest draft the next day. I'm reading this thing and… From page one nothing looked familiar. Even the character's names were changed - which confused the hell out of me because these new names were really lame. Then I found out that it was an old trick some screenwriters and directors will use to make it look like they did more work than they did on a script so that they can get more credit… "Oh, you motherf**kers!"

Anyhow, I'm about twenty pages in this thing… this bastardization that used to be our story! I call up Greg and said, "Are you reading this?" 

He comes back after taking a beat to catch his breath… "Yeah! What the f**k?!! 

I come back, "I know! What the f**k?" 

This thing was unrecognizable. Forget the cool characters we created. They were dead! Or even the coherent story structure, that was now a maze lost inside a dark forest surrounded by the Himalayan Mountains. But even the coolest set pieces - those great moments that you just know is going to wind up in the trailer - those gems we figured no one would ever be stupid enough to get rid of… were gone! 

So we finish it. And we're sitting' there thinking…"Wow, no wonder why this movie isn't getting made…"So after a long discussion, we came to the conclusion that there wasn't anything worth salvaging in this latest draft, so now what do we do?… This project was way too important to just let die this way… So what do we do?… What do we do?… Finally… 

"Screw it! Let's hand them back our original draft." -- 

"I know!... Bold move, right?!" 

But we figured if we got busted, we would just explain ourselves later. So, Bam! We roll the dice! We give them back the original draft without saying a damn thing.

A few days go by and we get the call… 

"Oh, my God! You guys are geniuses! You answered every problem we had with the material. It's so fresh and lively! It reads like butter! So glad we reached out to you!" 

Greg and I just sat there relieved that we didn't just commit career suicide. "Thank God, our hunch had paid off." 

But the fact of the matter was this thing had gone through so many rewrites, so many egos putting in their two cents and got so cluttered with so many other ideas that didn't belong… They had forgotten what they liked about the script in the first place. 

The original draft was really what they wanted all along, but they felt the need to cater to every other director, writer and producer who felt they had to put their stamp on it. It wasn't until a few weeks later that we owned up to what we had done, but by that time, they were so grateful they didn't seem to mind that we pulled a fast one on them. Unfortunately though, the company had waited too long and they went out of business, so the script eventually came back to us anyway.

So now you get an idea of why we chose to do something as crazy as producing our own movie. It gives us a chance to test our theories… To explore our vision, not a committee's… And better yet, to get another movie actually made.

But don't misunderstand us. We don't hate studio films, we love them when they're done right. We're not out to make some existential-hard-to-understand-artsy-fartsy piece - not that there's anything wrong with that - But that's just not our style. We make genre-driven, popcorn movies. This is what we're making. We just feel that the bar needs to be raised…

(To be continued… Next, more collaboration and taking it to the next level…)

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