Friday, February 27, 2009

Cooking with Heat

Heat is good. Internet is good. No longer living like a caveman in our new apartment is also good, in a continuing theme of goodness. The rain and the cold lifted the day after we got our heat, of course, but that hasn't dampened our spirits. The toilet's been fixed (the bowl was cracked), the floor's been fixed (damaged when the toilet was fixed), and we now have a working phone line (and thus, internet) in the office. Truth be told, though, I kind of miss having the computer at the dining room table. Windows all around me, hills in the distance, cats bopping about mesmerized by birds -- that was atmosphere to write in. And it was a productive time. Since last week, I've made major breakthroughs two bottlenecked projects that have had me pulling out what little hair I have left for far too long. These two projects were the wedges under my writer's block, holding that door shut.

The first is Grandmother Clock, a dark children's fantasy I first came up with for my pitching class nearly two years ago. Before this project, my method for writing a feature was to charge forward wildly and crap out a draft as soon as possible, then spend the next few months rewriting. Problem is, I always wound up having to re-outline the thing due to structural flaws and a weak internal journey on the part of the protagonist. So this time, the goal was to spare myself the inevitable restructuring headache by making the story airtight before jumping in. Easy it wasn't. Emotional plotting has always been my weak spot, doubly so in this case -- the themes of this story are forcing me to deal with Karin's death in ways I haven't. But after much pain, many stymied attempts, and actual tears, I finished it. It's only a treatment, of course, but there's a framework in it that I have not had in my work before. It's going to make the scripting of the first draft worlds easier. Many thanks to my partner on the project, Jonah Bekhor, for his patience.

For the last six months, I've had a producer in Seattle waiting to read a treatment of my second hampered project, Sword & Sorcery. And for six months, I've failed to write him one. It doesn't seem like it would be a hard one to outline; the pitch is simple and natural and never fails to get laughs. The premise: we "discover" a long lost fantasy B-movie from the early 1980s, a cinematic turd like Deathstalker or Amazons or Barbarian Queen, and make a documentary about bringing it to the public, interspersed with clips from the terrible movie itself.

Or like Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans.
In which there is no duel, and there are no titans.
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Sounds easy, right? I thought it would be, until I tried. Because I had no idea how to write a mockumentary, let alone summarize one. Standard feature, no problem (unless it's Grandmother Clock); there are beats and arcs to follow while finding your way. Not so in this case. So I solved the problem by going around it. Instead of an event-by-event summary, I wrote a pseudo-newspapery account, a report of everything that went wrong with the film. It was closer to a series bible than an actual treatment, but it was something to show. I sent what I figured was a rough draft of it to the Seattle producer's partner. She flipped out over it, and sent it to the producer that day. So I guess it worked.
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And that leaves me in an odd spot. Because I was expecting either of these projects to take me weeks to crack. Suddenly I'm ahead of my own schedule. Which I haven't been for a long time, and which I find highly awesome. To fill the time, I think I'll start breaking the story on Belly of the Beast for the WMA manager. Should be fun; I haven't written a straight horror before.

1 comment:

emilie said...

Hey Matt! I love reading about your writerly processes... and when i read about your news article workaround for the story that was stuck, I have to say I cheered a little. :) Workarounds--alternative ways of looking at the same dang thing after so long--can be so hard to just say Yes too. I'm so glad you did, and yeah, sounds like it worked! Keep it up, man!