5.30.2007

Sloppy Julie's Bar and Grill

When I finish a screenplay, I send it off to a couple of old film school friends for notes. While I know in my head that there's no avoiding this step of the writing process, in my heart I am convinced they won't have any. I picture them writing back at once to report that this is my best sript to date, that it couldn't possibly be a first draft, that it is a heartbreaking work of straggering genius and I should stand my ground from here on in and never, ever allow anyone to change a word no matter how many points they were offering on the back end.

In the interim, I take another pass through the draft myself. Just a light proofread, I tell myself, a spellcheck, really, though I inevitably tweak a line here and there. Eventually I'll happen upon an entire passage that doesn't quite work; I'll combine two minor characters and pair down a bloated scene I ultimately come to view as one belonging in some other movie on some other screen in a totally different multi-plex on the other side of town!

No longer able to accept the existence of the earlier travesty I've released into the universe, I immediately e-mail my friends the perfected version, alerting them in the subject line to "DELETE NOW AND READ THIS ONE!!!" I figure if I use enough exclamation points they might actually do this. My failure to over-punctuate will surely result in their investing time in reading the now irrelevant original draft for the sole purpose of mocking me.

Usually, though, they write back and say no problem, since they hadn't gotten to it anyway, and did I mind if they took a few extra days. Their mom had unexpectdly popped into town, or their kid had come down with another ugly case of head lice, or they had an exciting new project of their own to pitch out of the blue.

I have no choice but to kill time by taking another pass of my own, during which I discover an even more disturbing host of gaping flaws. It turns out that the whole structure is off kilter, and that I've quite possibly delivered the whole ridiculous tale in the wrong genre!

DELETE DELETE DELETE!!!!!!!! I e-mail my friends. READ ATTACHED ROM COM VS. EARLIER POLITICAL THRILLER&#$*%#$@!#%$%$!!!!!

This dance may repeat several more times until the friends carve out some time in their busy, itchy, mother-loving schedules to return a set of backhanded compliments. Oh, their notes might appear to be helpful and positive—the hero, though annoying, is an "original," the dialogue, though confusing, is classically "Julie"—lurking beneath the surface is a clear attack on my unfortunate choice of career. On the heels of nitpicky questions on "surplus characters," "unclear themes" and "fun but redundant" exchanges of dialogue, comes the inevitable introduction of the dreaded "tone problem." Underlying the final reminder that "this is just one person's opinion" lies the blunt suggestion that I trash the entire ill-conceived project before wasting another minute trying to pull it out of the crapper.

I blame the advent of word processing technology for my spectacular artistic failures.

If Ernest Hemingway had wanted to cut, paste and redistribute his lovingly crafted passages, he'd have had to get out an actual pair of scissors. It wouldn't have been a good idea for him to have such a sharp object within reach, given the fact that he was suicidal, quick to anger and drunk every day by noon. Visit the Hemingway House in Key West and the guides will proudly confirm his disciplined working and drinking schedule. He sat down to write every day at dawn, putting in six gut wrenching hours on the nose before retiring to a bar stool across the street at Sloppy Joe's.

Maybe that's what I need. A schedule, I mean, not a descructive alcoholic lifestyle that results in my early death. I need salty air, and a couple of swaying coconut palms keeping time with the sound of waves lapping the shoreline. I need an old Smith Corona with a bell-ringing return bar and keys sticky enough to wear out my hands by lunch. If only my life looked more like that of a literary giant—if I wore more hand-knotted fisherman's sweaters, and had snow white hair and whisky breath—my film school buddies wouldn't dare trifle with my greatness. And I would never again be plagued by the pesky need to write.

11 comments:

  1. I've found that the cruise ship life is particularly conducive to writing. Days as sea for writing - excursion days for everything else. Shame the cruises only last a few days and I have to work six months to pay for them. The math doesn't work. I suck at math.

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  2. Aw, Julie send me your stuff - I'll sit up all night reading and won't do my homework, or my editing, or my own writing, and I'll feel so much better....

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  3. Julie, I love you for this post. You described everything that happens when I send my pages out to my film school boys. It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who noticed the pattern. LOL

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  4. You mean I'm not alone in the universe? I always knew I was at the center, of course, but it's nice to have company. my friend.

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  5. just curious but wanting to channel a bit of Ernest myself, what was his poison of choice? maitais? mezcal? Tanquaray and Gin?

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  6. I actually read a recipe of his for Bloody Mary's once and it was the most butch piece of writing. It was like, then you grab a load of ice with your bare hands and crush it against your pitcher, glass, at least an inch thick...

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  7. Julie, you are right about the film school response. Why can't, just once, someone not give any notes? They know you're going to get notes from other people, so come on. Just shut it.

    That said, read my new blog about notes to working writers. I think they deserve notes the most. They're getting paid to hear them.

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  8. Arvydas4:35 AM

    I get the point, but I'd actually feel dissapointed if a film school friend just worshiped a first draft of mine. I'd celebrate and everything, I'd pay for dinner and all drinks required... and then I would just find myself another reader.

    If I send my draft out it's because I know I need some help.

    Don't we all, always?

    Greetings from Spain

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  9. I know in my heart you are right. You Spaniards are a more levelheaded bunch by nature. I can't believe I just said that. Thanks for writing!
    ;-)

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  10. If Hemingway had to trim a script to satisfy Hollywood decision-makers, he'd have checked out years earlier. The contemporary version: face down at a Starbucks table.

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  11. I can't even imagine a scenario where I'm running into Hemingway in a deep blue funk at Starbucks. I'm good but I'm not that good.

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