Tag Archives: screenwriting

So I signed up for this screenwriting class…

It seems like every day since I turned three I’ve had a midlife crisis. I envy people who knew what they wanted to be since they were dressing up in the role for kindergarten Halloween, but I’m not one of those people. Our childhood shapes our hopes and dreams early on by how our parents reward or criticize us by even the slightest creasing of their eyebrow. I imagine in most families parents are happy with their kids doing fairly basic things — hitting the ball in a baseball game, coming home with a “B” on their report card, getting their first job. Other parents aren’t impressed by standard success metrics. Parents like mine expect more. They raise you to feel special and then your life is spent trying to be special or giving up and feeling let down. You officially have a parental-induced complex that even the best cognitive behavioral therapist can not eradicate.

Different cultures have different measures of success. While every family is unique, there is some truth to how particular groups fuck up their children in fairly standard ways. Asian parents teach their children that they must not feel special, only be better than everyone else, and being better than everyone else is not about innate intelligence or specialness but instead about working hard. Creativity is less valued – however, any talent that requires a lot of repetitive practice is considered high value (i.e. playing an instrument.) Jewish parents, meanwhile, put pressure on their children to be special and successful. Working hard is important but more important is some superhuman talent – we are the “chosen people” after all. Being good at something is not enough. We end up with such complex of hating ourselves while also desiring to be special that many of us develop biting senses of self-deprecating humor (Seinfeld, Woody Allen, Jon Stewart, Mel Brooks, Billy Crystal, the Marx Brothers, Sarah Silverman, Joan Rivers, Ben Stiller, Howard Stern, Adam Sandler, Larry David, Carl Reiner, George Burns, Milton Berle, Howie Mandel, et al.) There is a humor than one must have when they are incapable of achieving equal parts success and fame for their unique, novel contributions to society. Such complexes can be hilarious as comedy is the intersection of feeling bad for someone and relating to their situation just enough to laugh with them at the same time.

So. Here I am – this 32 year old Jewish girl who’s actually now a woman who lives in a one bedroom apartment with her new husband and a job which, despite paying well, is one where success is based on being practically a machine and not unique or special or creative or whatnot. Here I am, still dealing with the complexes my parents gave me and still feeling like life is meaningless if I don’t do something more special than save enough to retire on. I don’t exactly long for fame anymore – I used to want to be a famous actress but then I realized my face did not fare well on film or in any medium that would capture it from an angle other than slightly to the side and from above (not to mention my non-existent acting skills.) What’s changed, however, is that while I still want to create, I feel more comfortable with my ideas and my talents. I acknowledge now that most successful people weren’t successful from day one – they worked at it and they failed a lot and then they had a lucky break – and they certainly didn’t try to please someone else in order to achieve success. A lot of people took risks because that’s what their heart told them to do and for everyone that made it a few thousand didn’t or did to some extent but you never heard of them. There’s a heck of a lot of television writers in LA who you’d never recognize when you happen to be in line behind them at In-N-Out. But they get to write on a daily basis and get paid for it and their ideas come to life and that’s all sorts of cool. At the end of the day it’s just a job, like any other job, but I can’t help but feel like doing that would be a bit more fulfilling than waking up every morning to come up with a new way to promote the newest upgrade to business software.

With that, I signed up for a screenwriting class online that starts on Wednesday this week. I figure I’ll be a horrible screenwriter (dialogue is not my forte) but it could be fun to write a script even if it will undoubtedly suck. I have a lot to say about the world and people and the psychology of people and maybe writing is a way to accomplish that. Screenplays at least have a beginning, middle, and end, and can become more than just a self-published book that collects virtual dust on a Kindle shelf, if it even makes it that far. I look at the lists of comedic screenwriters and women are few and far between. In one list Lena Dunham was recognized at a top 10 comic screenwriter and Tina Fey is listed as well – but the majority on the list are men. (For the record I don’t find Tina Fey’s comedy very funny outside of old-school weekend update and Lena Dunham is too young/hipster for me and makes me feel like an old lady.) Jenji Kohan is listed as a comedic writer with a vag but she writes for television not film – not a bad thing, but still I’m looking for female comic screenwriters, not TV writers. Todd Phillips of the Hangover series has a dick, Adam McKay has a dick, Mike Judge has a dick, The Farrelly Brothers have two dicks, Seth MacFarlane (who, tangent, I saw singing karaoke in LA once and it was magical) has a dick, Wes Anderson has a dick I imagine he admires in the mirror nightly, and Judd Apatow has a dick that he uses to inspire his screenplays (40 Year Old Virgin, This is 40, Knocked Up.) Ok, so where are the female comedic screenplay writers?

Ok, so there are some. Here’s a list of female screenwriters (not all are comic screenwriters) and many of them have written well-loved films over the years. There are women writing in Hollywood – but just like in tech, women in leadership roles are few and far between. I’m not saying I’m destined to be the next great comic screenwriter (I’m not even funny) BUT there is a lack of comic roles for women to play and it would be quite satisfying to take a stab at resolving that.

Besides specific roles, the type of comedy women write and what men write is quite different. I watched Tina Fey’s “Whiskey Tango FoxTrot” and cringed at how dumb the movie was — while comedies written by men are creative in pushing the limits, everything in this film was just so cliche. It wasn’t funny. At. All. Amy Schumer is the hottest female comedian today – yet her movie Trainwreck was a trainwreck of a comedy. Her standup is ok and I appreciate her shtick, but there was nothing creative or original about her film. And, surprise, surprise, it wasn’t funny.

Then you have movies like Bridesmaids where women writers attempt to do the “Hangover” thing for the ladies — Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo gathered together some of the most popular female comedians and tried to capture the same spirit of the aforementioned film – yet, in the end, they got stuck at poop jokes and nothing as creative as a tiger showing up in their bathroom or ending up at Mike Tyson’s house. You have Melissa McCarthy’s annoying shtick which is hit-or-miss funny if you can forget she’s just doing the same thing she always does in every fucking movie … and Kristin Wiig being Kristin Wiig… and because it’s a female movie it has to be all feel good and let’s be friends forever bullshit bullshit bull.

The last funny-ish film I watched featuring women was “How to be Single” – which was still not that funny but at least it had its moments. Ok, it was god awful horrible but for an airplane movie I did have a few LOL moments when I hoped the people in the seats next to me were really asleep. The movie was written by Abby Kohn (who wrote one other romantic comedy), Marc Silverstein (the dick) and Dana Fox (who seems to cowrite for male comedy writers.) Really, that movie was only funny because of Rebel Wilson, who is almost as annoying as Melissa McCarthy but somehow her shtick is charming and believable which makes her quips laugh-worthy. Without Wilson, the movie would have been god awful.

So where does this get me? I doubt I’ll be writing the script for the next “Room” anytime soon, but perhaps I’d have a shot at writing comedy. There’s a huge gap in screenplays featuring women that are comic but not flat-out dumb or traditional rom-coms written by dicks and the people attached to them. It seems like a good mission to have to write one hilarious movie that isn’t so damn cliche and instead can be like Woody Allen-style funny from a female’s perspective and sans all the child molesting / marry your step daughter stuff because even though I want gender equality in Hollywood I have to draw the line somewhere.

It was just yesterday when my  boss told me he doesn’t want to fire me only he doesn’t want me to be in charge of things like I have been because I suck at being in charge of things and to his surprise I wasn’t upset or pushing back on this I just nodded and agreed and confirmed that he wanted me to stay as long as I focus on the things I do best and completely stop trying to do the many things I can’t do well. He gave me the option to leave if I want but I don’t really want to leave, I want to just focus on being good at something and then being able to leave work at a reasonable time to take classes and try to not be too tired to write. Now that the wedding is over and I’m not pregnant yet I have time. Time to write my first “will never be seen by anyone and will be horrible” screenplay and learn a thing or two about if I have a chance at ever writing for a living. I have a secret little fantasy of this working out extremely well and then going for my MFA at UCLA in screenwriting and getting really good at writing and writing all these hilarious scripts that sell well at the box office but also give female actors some real funny material to cut their teeth on versus the standard bullshit comedy that is written for women.

I might lose my job but I think the best thing to do now is to try to keep it, do my best, limit my responsibilities, do a good job, and give myself a set number of projects to accomplish in a given week so I feel productive, look productive, am productive, and can go home and have a life and focus on my writing / creative projects. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is but at the moment I’m feeling hopeful and like maybe I can make this work. I’m too old to be letting life pass me by. I spent my entire childhood and early adult life dedicated to being creative and suddenly as an adult I cut this huge part of me out of my life. If anything, even if this is just a hobby, maybe I’ll find myself again.

 

Am I a Writer?

I write an awful lot, but unfortunately it’s all redundant non-fiction bullshit about life and admittedly rather benign. If you were to read any of my attempted academic content you would might have a good guffaw over my inability to successfully support a thesis. My college teachers, much like my high school teachers and middle school teachers before them, were vehemently confused over the nonsense I turned in for reports, which would often be rewarded a C at best, and the long musings which poured out of me in opinion essays, which most often received the highest mark, always punctuated with a +.

There is a musicality to language which I adore. I wouldn’t say I’m a great writer – my vocabulary is limited and often used incorrectly – and any content of mine that has been published in print has been thoroughly edited. But of all the things in the world one can do – if I’m inspired, writing comes the most naturally. I wish I could turn my little writing hobby into an actual career. Well, I have turned my little writing hobby into a career – and unfortunately that career required other talents which I do not have – playing well with others, maneuvering my way through corporate politics, maintaining relentless, unbridled enthusiasm for some product which, based on my experience, I will likely long outlive.

I’m angry at myself for not being able to write anything worthwhile. Even a memoir would be impossible – my life is yawn-inducing with the exception of a few non-memoir-length moments of my youth that shall be reserved for a never-to-be-printed appendix. I haven’t done anything special enough to merit a memoir – and the only illness I suffered through as a child put me in the hospital for a week and then I was fine. My own neurosis aren’t tragic enough to be considered art, they’re just cumbersome.

It seems, if I’m going to be a writer – a novelist, a screenwriter, a short story creator, a playwright – well, I need an imagination. You know those people – who you grew up with, who were just constantly inventing stories and ideas? Yea, I wasn’t one of those people. There was a story about a magical peacock I wrote in third grade, I think that might have been my last dose of sheer inspiration to date.

The challenge is I’m not much of a reader either. I’ve tried to get into fiction and I always return to reading the news. I watch a ridiculous amount of television so perhaps that is my calling, but attempting to generate believable dialogue when I barely interact with humans proved futile in my few attempts.

Maybe I just need to do a shit load of drugs.

Who am I kidding? Getting high leaves me sitting indian style on the floor noshing on a bag of avocados. That’s not quite the right writing nudge.

It’s just all those people out there who have managed to write – who love to write – who just fucking write, I am so envious of them. For their wild imaginations. For being able to close their eyes and envision whole new worlds, new people that never existed in real life – you know, the way they speak, move, and their own fears, hopes and dreams.

I have ideas, of course, but they don’t go anywhere. They’re not plots, they’re themes, concepts, visions of future worlds in which my story might live. I haven’t yet imagined one believable character, and I’m too terrified about pissing of people anyone I know to borrow them for inspiration.

So maybe I’m not a writer. Or, maybe I could be one. Some novelists do start out in their 30s. But how to even get started? I should have written that damn 50 Shades of Grey book. I’ve dabbled in erotica, but my erotica has been much less mainstream, even compared to that. And 90% of it was written before I so much had been to second base. So that’s out of the running.

I would love to write strong female characters for film – because they’re sorely needed. But I’m not sure where to begin. I have this one idea for a romcom – it’s actually a cute idea, one that could be quite mainstream, or indie if the jokes are a bit wittier – I’d like to start with that. Still, I just waste away my little free time writing about how I can’t write here versus actually being productive and churning out a few pages a night.

A few days ago I had an interview for a certificate program I’m considering applying to, and they asked me what is one accomplishment I am most proud of over the last 10 years. I had to stop and think because I’m really not proud of ANYTHING I’ve done over the last 10 years. I managed to talk about a few work projects and then the first show I directed, which was now seven years ago. The only thing I will ever feel proud of is my creative work – my completed creative work. Nothing else – I don’t care about my title or how much money I make or save – feels remotely rewarding.

It might be the outcome of narcissistic parenting, but maybe it’s my truth, and I ought to listen to it.

My hope was that my stock from my prior company would be worth enough to free me up to lead a creative life, but instead that turned into a loss. I’ve saved aggressively but it’s not enough. If I were to hit $1M in my 30s I’d be perfectly satisfied working part-time to break even on a monthly basis and allow my savings to compound while I pursue whatever art I find myself actually getting good at. But that $1M is so far off. Even if I were to keep my current job for the years to come, or one like it that pays as well, assuming an average of $50k savings per year, that will take me another 13 or so years.

That’s not horrible – at 44 I could retire and maybe by then I’d actually have something to write about. But I know I can’t mentally maintain work like this for long. I’m falling apart. I see the schizophrenics wandering all day on the streets of San Francisco, babbling to themselves, screaming at the world, and I think to myself — how far away am I from that, really? I often want to just grab a shredded blanket, wrap myself in it, and wander the streets screaming, maybe even sobbing – I think I’d fit in more with them than the people I work with who are far more civil and far less insane.