Having handed my novel to the final proofreader a week ago, I told myself that I'd take severals days off from writing to allow my creative brain to rest, catch up on some reading, watch a few TV shows, maybe watch a movie or two. The next day I started fine-tuning a screenplay that I had written for one of my MFA classes.
On a typical workday, in true Los Angeles form, I wake up at 5:10am. I start the commute at 6am, start working at 7am. I leave work around 3:30pm and get back home around 5pm. If I choose to exercise, I take an hour to do that, shower, cook dinner, and then I have about an hour a night to write before I'm checked out. It's such a valuable, small piece of time, that I feel guilty if I don't use it towards what I love to do most. On my days off I usually write for a few hours, but don't go overboard with it.
I'll be releasing my novel soon, and am excited to do so, not only to get it out to the world, but so I can move on to writing other projects (including novel #2). A short-term goal of mine is to adjust my work situation so that I can get rid of my commute and add a couple more hours to my day. I think if that happens, I'll feel a bit less guilty about taking off a day during the week to do stuff that's not writing-related. I think finally releasing the novel will help with that too.
I'm sure for most fiction writers, characters dance around one's mind throughout most of the day (as is necessary to work out who they are and what their conflict is). At some point you need to write stuff down that you've been working on for fear of forgetting it. When you have a non-writing related day job, getting something down on paper every day after work becomes all the more important. It's almost painful not to write.
Of course the dream of dreams is to one day make a living solely of one's writing. At that point the guilt of not writing every day has to weaken because the precious hours of being able to write have become more available. For all of the wonderful things that Los Angeles offers writers (could there be any place on Earth that give writers more to pull from?), the daily time lost to the inherent commute is definitely a downside. It significantly takes away from what you enjoy the most.
I know some writers worry about making a daily word count. 500 words, 1,000, 3,000. None of that bothers me. If I rewrite even a small scene for the better, I've felt like I've accomplished something. My daily goal is done.
Stephen King, who writes every single day, including holidays, famously said: "Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink."
I think King summed it up pretty good. As we writers near completion of a project, we fantasize about how great it will be to take off a bit of time after that project is finished. Then we try to take a break, but it rarely works. For some reason, we continue to create, because we must.
J.D. Salinger spent much of his life in a small shed on his New Hampshire property, pounding away on a keyboard, creating novels that he knew would never be published in his lifetime. That is what fulfilled his life. At times, I can understand why.
About two years ago, I handed in the first draft of my novel, 'The Wicked Trees,' to my MFA thesis advisor. A few months later, it went to an editor. I did take a good chunk of last year off from it to write a horror screenplay, but other than that I've been putting a lot of hours into rewriting it.
I just sent it off to the final proofreader. It should take her about three weeks to do that job. Then I'll approve the changes, import it into Scrivener, and read through it one last time before formatting it for release.
I plan on releasing it for Kindle first, then paperback, followed by iTunes, and finally hardcover. Since it's a summer story, it should be a decent time to release it.
'The Wicked Trees' is a coming-of-age teenage love story that happens in the U.P. in the late '80's. But it's got a very specific horror slant. It's a ghost story (definitely not for young kids) that largely takes place deep in the woods. It plays a lot on the Yooper culture, but also dives deep into universal themes as well.
So it's a matter of weeks before I release my first novel. I'm excited. I hope people enjoy it. It was fun to write, but I'm glad I'm in the final stretch because I'm antsy to get on to the next one. Hopefully it won't take me years to get that one to market.
We're looking at late May/early June for 'The Wicked Trees' Kindle release. I'll keep you all posted.
Twenty years ago, I used to go to the movies about once a week. Currently, I might go 3 or 4 times a year. Part of this change in habit has been due to my current busy schedule. But I think it's part of a larger trend as well.
The number of movie tickets sold has been on a declining trend since 2002. Since the beginning of 2010, domestic box office revenue has been relatively stable. 2014 was down 5.2% from 2013, but it's too early to determine whether or not this is the start of a downward revenue trend. Studios have been trying to make up for declining overall ticket sales by charging more for IMAX and 3D. Huge, loud popcorn movies that can be franchised are all the rage. Spectacle over story is in vogue.
Here are my thoughts:
1. The best writers are skewing towards television. In recent years the studios have not spent the money they once did on specs and rewrites. Television is currently where seasoned writers can earn a steady paycheck to keep their kids fed. This mindless cost-cutting at the studio level has all but ensured that going forward, there will be fewer great and fewer profitable feature films.
2. Studio execs don't take the chances they once did. This results in essentially the same movie being remade continually. If a movie is a hit, order five sequels, do a rush job on each, and suck as much short-term profit out that you can. This approach has led to fewer engaging stories and fewer films worth watching. With studios ultimately being controlled by parent companies, this damaging behavior will most likely continue.
3. There are two costs associated with going to the movies: that of money, and that of time. Both have gone up even though demand hasn't. So while the average ticket price has kept up with inflation ($4.08 in 1994, $8.18 in 2014—the $ tends to halve its value every 20 years, so this is what we would expect), I believe that in urban areas, it's risen faster than inflation. It's $12 to see a matinee in Burbank now. Before the movie you have to sit for 25 minutes of preview stuff. The risk that I'm going to waste my money and time on a poor movie is too great. Because of this risk, in most cases, I choose not to participate. And I love movies.
4. Television has gotten so good (and instant), that it's a better alternative in many cases. Why risk the time and money in taking a cinema risk when I can simply turn on Netflix? If I don't like the show or movie, I just watch another. There's so many great shows that have been produced in the last ten years, it's highly unlikely that anyone will run out of good TV options. Because television sets look and sound fantastic, it's often better to wait until a movie is released for streaming or for rental because you're not facing the high time and money costs of seeing it in a theatre.
5. Money and talent leaving feature films and heading towards television makes cinema product worse, thereby creating a feedback loop that further enhances the resource outflow.
Is there hope for cinema? Yes.
An amazing thing has happened over the last several years. Cinema distribution has transitioned from mailing heavy film reels around the world to shipping hard drives. Soon, films will reach theatres almost exclusively over satellite and via the internet. This is very bad news for the big 5 studios, but it's great news for their competition.
As distribution costs drop to near zero, I believe we're going to enter a new age of film. As the major studios' fiveopoly is busted up, inevitably, there will be a rise of new mini-majors. Some of these new studios will take big risks, and some of those risks will pay off. The big studios will be hampered by their size and the need to make quarter numbers for their parent companies. The new studios will be able to focus on the art of filmmaking.
I feel there's another change coming that will be forced by hedge fund managers. What the film industry needs more than anything else is higher occupancy rates. High ticket prices for big tentpole films and much lower rates for everything else will have to come at some point. Without further price discrimination, reversing the downward trend in attendance will be all but impossible.
What I wish theatres would start doing, is showing previews 15 minutes before the film start time. That way you can start the movie 10 minutes after its scheduled time, and delete 15 minutes of empty moviegoer punishment. If you keep making me sit for half an hour before the movie starts, the odds of me becoming a frequent movie-goer is near zero.
Theatres are moving towards better seating and wider food/drink options. That's all well and good, but in the long-run it's going to be the quality and price of films that's going to determine attendance. If the major studios and theatre chains don't address these issues, their competition surely will,
The way in which we consume film entertainment is changing quickly. I don't see how all five major studios, in their current configurations, survive this. When the dust settles, the landscape will be remarkably different. The one constant that will never change however, is that industry today, like it was 50 years ago, or will be 50 years from now, will always rise and fall on the backs of the creators, and in particular the writers. Big studios or theatre chains may not be needed in 20 years. Great writers will always be essential. The firms that want to be around another 10 or 20 years should invest heavily in talented writers. Everything else will come or go. Writing will always remain the bedrock of filmmed entertainment.
I hope that theatres don't go the way of the dinosaur. It's not an inevitable thing. They will only disappear if executives continue to make bad decisions. I'm confident that as the rise of the new studios continues, there will be firms that will take huge chunks of marketshare. They will do it with quality product, written by quality writers. Going forward, the trend-chasers don't stand a chance. The firms that consistently hire the best writers and other creators will rise to the top. Luring the writers back from TV isn't going to be an inexpensive proposition. Most R&D expenditures aren't. But if the big 5 studios don't start getting smart about their product creation, I assure you, others will. Kingdoms will fall, while others rise through the ash.
The global trend has been to push software from local computers onto various clouds. This was widely foreseen and just makes sense. Instead of reinstalling software on each computer that you buy and paying for upgrades, it's just more efficient to buy a license, and to operate the latest version of that software via a browser.
For years I've been doing this with the screenplays that I write at a place called Scripped.com. It wasn't the most functional website, but it was simple enough to use and made life easier for me. For a long time I wrote on two laptops, a rather powerful one that I kept at home, and a Chromebook which I took with me to coffee shops. Scripped was easy to load on either and since my scripts were stored online I had access to them wherever I happened to be.
Late last week, Scripped.com went down. Its twitter account stated that it was due to a forum upgrade. A lot of writers became nervous when it wasn't back up by the end of the weekend. Another tweet sent out early this week stated that there were unforeseen technical difficulties and they were working to get the site up again as soon as they possibly could.
Then on Wed. (April 1st!) I received an email from Scripped stating that:
'Due to a simultaneous malfunction in our backup services and primary servers, the unthinkable has happened and all recent script content has been lost. We sincerely apologize for this. If you did not download a backup copy of your screenplay, then we regret to inform you that it no longer exists.'
Within a few days, the Scripped facebook page and twitter account were deleted. Needless to say this caused an uproar. Reddit users started to investigate who the current owners of Scripped were. Come to find out, there was a sale of the site in December, which was never publicly disclosed.
Early last year I had backed up all of my script drafts to a thumbdrive. I wrote a new horror script last summer/fall, but fortunately I had the latest draft saved to my laptop desktop. It looks like the only things I lost were ideas that I had jotted down on Scripped.com. It's possible I lost one of the latest drafts of a script, but I certainly didn't lose all the drafts of any of my scripts.
I'm extremely fortunate because I know several people lost years worth of work.
Today, the very popular podcast Scriptnotes, interviewed the current co-owner of Scripped.com, John Rhodes. He all but admitted to misleading people about how the travesty happened, and to a cover-up, as he didn't want the event to harm his company Screencraft Media. After not being able to answer simple questions regarding the number of current subscribers, and after admitting that his company doesn't have the IT knowledge required to run scripped.com in its latest failing state, he even admitted to being negligent. It's truly something to listen to. If only he had been so forthright from the beginning.
Scripped did offer its members a 50% off promo code for a pro-account on Writersduet.com, which is a superior screenwriting wesbsite. I've transferred over all of my scripts to the new site. It did a great job of reading drafts that I just had in PDF. Plus, unlike Scripped, Writersduet has a backup option, where it'll automatically save copies to your GoogleDrive, Dropbox, or hard drive.
Moral of the story: you can't trust having only one save file, even if it's to a cloud service. Store your life's work at three places: two clouds (or one cloud and a hard drive), and to a thumbdrive that you keep on you at all times. You've put too much work into it to potentially lose it all. Don't, like many users of Scripped.com, learn that lesson the hard way. Just because a service claims that it has safe cloud storage, does not mean that it's being operated by knowledgeable people.
Protect your work! Save often to multiple places. In our current world, having one vault just ain't good enough.