Monday, September 27, 2010

How to survive when you're not working for money

I've dealt with some options that writers do when they aren't writing for $$, which is most of the time, at least for feature writers and TV movie writers. Episodic is a whole other story as you actually can get paid not only for a script but if you're lucky enough or know the head writer (aka showrunner) you can get a weekly paycheck by being a story editor, working at the studio with hours almost like a normal job.

But if you're not one of the fortunate ones, you wake up every Monday morning and dread having to open the computer to that famous "blank screen" that challenges you to do something.

This is where you separate the pros from the wannabes. At least most of the time.

Right now, I'm not really making money on any of my ideas so I'm in that category that when someone asks me what I'm doing, I use the classic unemployed writer answer;

"Oh, I'm developing a few things".

What does that mean? It means I'm not earning money.

I can check emails, do some internet shopping, clean the fridge or vacuum the living room. I even bought a carpet shampoo cleaner which is an excellent excuse to not turn the laptop on. 

But I have one trait that is essential to writers who are serious about their work. 

I am curious.

You've heard me say this before but I really believe that a writer should want to know about almost everything. I want to know how things work, why people argue in public, is Highway 50 in Nevada really the loneliest highway in America?  You see the photo at the top of the blog? It's Highway 50.

And the biggest problem with this is that I find something new at least once a day, sometimes more.

But 90% of the time I do start work promptly at 9am. I keep regular office hours 9/5 because it's a self discipline I have trained my brain to do; otherwise I'd sleep in, hang around in pj's and find an excuse to do something tomorrow. Sometimes I start at 8am, particularly with blogs.

Although I sometimes think this blog is just an excuse to not write something I can sell.

Having said that, here's what I have on my big whiteboard, not in any particular sequence; 

Likely Scenario is a 3-page proposal I made for a "procedural TV series", meaning something in the line of the CSI's and Law&Order. I had a lunch with a friend of mine who's a development exec at a production company and she said their company was looking for something in that line.  I wrote the 3 pages in 4 days, reworking it until I felt it was smooth. It's kind of like CSI but is about spies. I'll send that out in a day or two. 

Casualties of Love - which I've told you three blogs ago, is something I hope to make before the end of the year. To this end I have created a short description of the 5 characters which my actor friend will post on, a website for actors looking for jobs.

From this we hope to find 5 actors who are really good and willing to do a reading of the script for gas money, coffee and lunch. I will also video it on DV to study later. I want to hear how the screenplay reads and sounds, make notes for changes and see how the actors are and how they interact with each other.

Since this is a 5-hander in a single location, it's relatively easy to stage, most likely sitting around a table.  I hope to do this before the end of October. 

Emperor of Mars - You know this project also, I'm starting to contact funding people for funding in summer 2011. This means phone calls and emails to anyone I think who can fund it or who knows someone who can fund it. Or might fund it. 

Annie's Calendars - My recently deceased mom left me a huge stack of calendars, the kind you get for free at drug stores or supermarkets. She would fill in each little box with a few words like "saw doctor" or "Jim called from Montana".

The calendars go back to 1971.

Annie dropped out in Grade 8 to work the farm, she didn't know about diaries; instead she used calendars. These are her diaries. And I am going to go through all of them to see if there's a book there. Response from my friends has been great, even from some of my former employers. But I will wait and see. 

Lewis and Clark today - I am totally obsessed with Lewis & Clark, who were the first Americans to travel across what would be the U.S. in 1803. And naturally it started with a movie I saw as a kid; The Far Horizon with Charlton Heston and Fred MacMurray.

I want to film a documentary that follows their route up the Missouri today and try to define how it and America has changed in the last 217 years. I was too late for their 200th anniversary but this will have to do.

Makichuk Lake - Yes, there actually is a Makichuk lake way up north in Manitoba, 15 miles north of a tiny Indian settlement called Brochet. Turns out one of my 2nd uncles died on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day in 1944 and Canada names lakes after it's fallen soldiers. Most of these lakes, if not all, are in the far north, inaccessible to vehicles. You gotta fly in a float plane or ice roads. Seriously.

What I want to do it fly there and explore it, put up a "No Trespassing Sign" (joking!), and get a small container of water. Then I want to fly to France where he's buried and pour it on his grave. I don't quite know what it all means but documentaries are always vague at the beginning. I will interview his closer relatives and maybe it's about them, or me or all of us. 

Potential Director interest - I recently met a very nice director who has some interest in my scripts, we had a long discussion about what we've done and what we want to do and she is reading several of my screenplays with the intention of possibly setting them up somewhere. Unlike some people I've met in the last year, she strikes me as genuine and confident, traits I admire.

The projects I describe above are ones that some interest has been shown by legitimate entities as well as dream projects like Annie's Calendars and Lewis/Clark which I would fund myself. It helps I have connections and they go back to 1990 and without them I would be sitting around watching Jerry Springer or Judge Judy.

In addition I have a handful of producers who are desperate to find a project that someone would finance who show some of my 34scripts to a list of potential money that includes everyone from A-List to F-List. And  you never know who will come up with money.

All of this isn't about bragging; I am dead serious about developing new ideas every day, as you saw with the Christmas script in the last blog, half of selling a script is craft, the other half is luck. I, like other writers, am looking for a new job every day.
(Thurs: News about Casualties reading)