Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A weekend with ideas.

I get asked often how I get my ideas. I've done a blog or two on this before but thought I'd update it a little more. First of all, I can't speak for all writers, probably even most of them as everyone would say something different.

But in the end it's all about one thing; a good story. Hopefully a good story.

Most of my screenplays are based on real events, either happening to me or to someone else. I learned a long time ago that real stories and real people are far more interesting than making them up, as some screenwriting books suggest.

I could never make up the stories I hear.

In June I went to visit my 98-year old aunt in Michigan. While there I visited my ex-wife, whom I hadn't seen in 26 years and we had a great evening talking about the good times we had. I realized afterwards that a lot of us boomers are at that age now when spouses are beginning to pass away, and I think we're going to see a lot of movies about that.

I even used it in my Christmas Carole script, which is being considered by two prodcos.

I also saw a cousin who, at 71, still doesn't know who her father was. Her mother died 6 days after she was born and that bit of closure, knowing who her father was, remains open,even though he would be long gone. That little bit of mystery remains.

This week-end I went to San Francisco to see a friend of mine who wrote a good book on how movies are made. She and her daughter who's 12, are going to Shanghai for a year, maybe too as her daughter is genius level and experts suggested she learn languages to slow her down a bit so she wouldn't end up in University at 15 or 16.

Her daughter now speaks fluent Chinese and both are looking forward to the adventure, and an adventure it is, my friend will also be teaching English for Chinese students. 

Later in the day I drove west of San Francisco to Half Moon Bay in search of the legendary "Maverick" surf site, known for it's breath-taking and dangerous breaks. There were two aged wood crosses there, surfers who lost their lives. There already is a movie in the works.

The irony of "looking" at Maverick is that it's 2 miles offshore. So the only way an audience can see it is with binoculars or telescopes.

After that I had asked locals for a good breakfast cafe and was given bad directions but ended up at a little cafe on the side of the road. Several people were inside the tiny cafe and Stephanie, the owner, came out smiling, immediately I began asking about her place and she was only too happy to talk. That's her place above.

Turns out this is her 3rd restaurant, having left another cafe further south for her ex-husband and some family. Her smile and determination was contagious, I felt she could weather any storm, rain or life.

Later that same day I ended up at Clint Eastwood's Mission Ranch a hotel of sorts with several houses and a bed & breakfast feeling. At the bar I met a corporate pilot who was the same age as me, divorced and enjoying his lifetime job. The bar overlooks a pasture where sheep graze.

He began talking about living in Nashville and having musical friends, some of whom had encounters with fame and some who still searched for it. His stories didn't dwell with flying but rather with the demands of musical artists and the goals and failures.

So right there are a handful of stories, from my cousin to a pilot in Clint's bar (where, occasionally he comes in to play the piano now and then). Each of those stories could, with the right writer, or even me, be developed into a full screenplay.

The thing with it is, you need to be responsive to people, some pseudo writers sit in cafes in the corner working at a screenplay (I call that performance art) and shutting out the world. You never get a good story by shutting out the world.

If there was a secret to writing, it's that you watch and listen. Does this mean you're stealing ideas? Maybe. I like to think it's borrowing, it isn't their whole life, maybe just a piece of it. William Faulkner said he found all the characters in the world in his little Mississippi town, and his books translated all over that world.

One thing that is essential in this is that I am very unconfrontational, if that's a word, people feel at ease around me and that is something I worked on very hard. People tell me their stories and it all revolves around one thing;

I listen.

We all want the same things, the only difference I think is our point-of-view. I like this movie and you like that. Otherwise we reveal ourselves to everyone we come into contact with... especially writers.