Filmmaking, The Days Never Know, Writing

The Blind Leading the Blind

Hank over at Write To Reel asked if I would give him a testimonial to use on his site, and after finishing it last night, I thought I’d put it here as well in case there are other writers out there looking for some great insight on their work.

How better to learn a new craft than to study it judiciously? To disassemble, remark upon, and appreciate the work of others who have labored over their craft as much as you have yours?

Step into any creative writing classroom, lecture, or seminar, and one of the first and lasting assignments you’ll be given will be to read. Read everything, as though the world is ending and the only way to spare it is by absorbing as much of its literature as you can.

It can be a daunting task, especially when all you want to do is sit down and write the next great American…whatever, but the importance of absorbing as much as you can from other artists cannot be stressed enough.

I didn’t care about reading when I was a kid. I liked it, sure, but only when it was able to hold my interest for more than two sentences. Unfortunately, that habit of skipping past great pieces of work carried on into adulthood, even when I was reaching the point when, ironically, I needed someone to sit down and read my work; to tell me whether or not I was kidding myself.

Hypocrisy notwithstanding, I sought out to find other writers who shared the same passion, but had the patience to guide me in the right direction. I knew I had something of value, even if it was buried beneath pages of unnecessary scenes and characters, and I just needed the right readers, who could see where I was taking the story, even if the draft they read wasn’t worth their time.

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Development, Filmmaking, The Days Never Know, Writing

The Kids Stay in the Picture

Back in 2002, my good friend let me borrow two books that firmly placed the possibilities of true independent (see: no budget) filmmaking in my mind: Robert Rodriguez‘s Rebel Without a Crew, and Bruce Campbell‘s If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor. While Campbell’s autobiography was more about his entire career up to that point, he went into great (and hilarious) detail about the events and struggles involved in getting The Evil Dead made. Combined, these two icons of independent filmmaking not only explained their own experiences in great detail, they also showed how possible it was for a group of dedicated people, with very little or no money, to actually pull off producing a feature-length film.

The problem I had in 2002, though, was that I was only sixteen, and my friends and I (in spite of how talented they were — and, thankfully, still are) had even less money and experience that could go towards such an ambitious project. We tried, mind you, but not very hard. The technology at the time wasn’t anywhere close to where it is today, nor as cheap. Our only real options at the time were to shoot digitally (which we couldn’t afford), shoot on film (which we definitely couldn’t afford), or really go for broke and shoot on Hi-8. While I had very little experience then, even I had good enough sense not to go that route.

So we put those ambitions and ideas on the backburner, telling ourselves that one day we’d come back, though I don’t think most really believed that. Despite what we told ourselves, the entire process seemed too overwhelming that I really didn’t think it was possible for us until the cost and technology changed. Fortunately, however, I took away two very important things from that experience: one, that someday I’d come back and try again, and, two, if I was going to make another attempt, we’d better have something solid to shoot.

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Characters, Development, The Days Never Know, Writing

Write What You Know

After a marathon, caffeine-and-tobacco-fueled writing session yesterday, I finally finished what I am now considering the final draft of The Days Never Know. Down the road, there may be a few changes necessary, but for all intents and purposes, I am considering it finished. Once I was done, and after finally eating, I began thinking about just how much the story grew and changed in only six months, so I went back to the old drafts to see those changes first-hand.

Those early drafts were exceptionally long-winded, and had far too many characters. So one of the first changes I made was dropping nearly every character, and starting from scratch. I either combined multiple aspects of characters into one, or just removed them altogether. As I began working on a new draft back in November, I noticed a major shift in the overall mood of the story. The earlier drafts were more about the events these characters shared, but this new version was focused more on the aftermath; on how each were was affected by this one event.

However, another important aspect of the story began taking shape as well. I had unintentionally started basing these characters, not on other people as before, but aspects of myself; the certain flaws and defects that I see. That’s not say each character is a thinly-veiled version of me, but that I infused one defining characteristic of myself into each character. As soon as I realized I was doing this, I had to stop and ask myself if this was the way to go; doing so could easily result in cut-and-paste characters that lack any kind of depth or personality. However, I decided to let this new development ride for the time being; I could change it in later drafts if need be.

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