Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Chat with "Girl in Progress" Screenwriter: Hiram Martinez
by Janet Lawler
May 22, 2012

1. Hi Hiram, thanks for stopping by The NY Screenwriting Blog and congratulations on "Girl in Progress". What inspired you to write this coming-of-age script?
Thanks for the congratulations, Janet. Greatly appreciated! I wish I had a sexier answer for what inspired the script, but the truth is the idea of a kid coming of age while orchestrating her own coming-of-age story was just really funny to me. Plus it felt like a fresh way to approach a very familiar genre. But the thing that finally got me to sit down and write the script (which I find is often separate from the inspiration) was the opportunity to explore the notion of “slowing down” when you’re a kid; when I was little all I wanted to do was grow up, but now that I’m (somewhat) grown up, I would kill to have those sunny days back, when the only thing on my agenda was running around the backyard without a care in the world. My Dad always told me to treasure those early years more and I wish I’d had the smarts at the time to listen.

2. In 2009 you were a finalist in the Nicholl Fellowship for your script "Ansiedad", is that the script that evolved into "Girl in Progress"? How many drafts did you do and what changed overall?
“Ansiedad” is in fact the script that became “Girl In Progress” (now in theaters!). The biggest overall change is that the script went from being an “R” rated story about a kid for adults, to a “PG13” story about a teen for teens, so a lot of darker elements had to go to accommodate that. There were several small rewrites along the way, and then one major one right before production with me in a hotel room for a week turning the script into what the director wanted/needed it to be.

Eva Mendes and Cierra Ramirez
 A Teen Blooms
3. You have other writing credits - for the feature Four Dead Batteries, CBS's "Life with Girls" and working on a script for Jon Hamm & Jennifer Westfeldt's production company. What were those experiences like?
“Four Dead Batteries” I wrote and directed years ago so I could experience what it’s like to make a feature. It was made for very little money on DV, but it showed me what the process of translating words into images was like. The things I learned still help my writing today. One example? Don’t be precious -- the edit room is brutal and you can save yourself a great deal of pain if you drop an unnecessary scene or two at the script stage rather than during the shoot or in post. Better still, don’t write unnecessary scenes!
The CBS project never got past the studio level, unfortunately, but it was my first experience pitching to a roomful of executives (slight exaggeration, there were two, and they were lovely). For Jon and Jennifer I did my first adaptation work, turning Cusi Cram’s play “Dusty and the Big Bad World” into a screenplay. It was also my first time working for someone other than myself at the writing stage, but Jennifer and Jon are just about the loveliest people you could hope to collaborate with. And they’re both decent looking.

4. How excited were you to hear Eva Mendes would be cast as the co-lead in your script? What was the table read like on the first day?
Put it this way, I was so excited when I heard Eva was onboard I literally can’t remember what I did or where I was when I got the news. Total blank! It’s possible I was at work at MSNBC at the time and if I was I probably ran down the hall hyperventilating on the phone or hid in a bathroom stall silently screaming. Alas, I was not at the first table read as I felt that’s the director’s time to make the movie his or her own and I didn’t want to be “in the way” in any way.

Screenwriter Hiram Martinez
5. How would you describe your writing process?
Five pages a day. That’s what I aim for. Sometimes that’ll happen in one sitting, sometimes multiple short sittings throughout the day broken up by errands. Either way, my target is five pages minimum when I’m writing a first draft, with weekends off. The time off is actually incredibly important, as I find it keeps me from getting myopic! I keep a calendar nearby and check off “5” every day I’ve made my page count; if by some miracle I’ve done more than 5, then I happily note that as well. Small triumphs are integral! If I haven’t made my pages ... well, part of being a professional is you always make your pages, so even if I’m up late into the night, gotta reach “5”. Then between scripts I’m incredibly lazy until the next idea hits.

6. Do you plan to direct your screenplays? Which is more your primary passion, writing or directing?
I got into writing so I could one day direct. Which takes time. People are paying me to write and that’s an incredible thing I wanna appreciate, but when the climate’s right, making another feature, with a real budget this time, is my ultimate goal.

7. Do you recommend screenwriters enter contests? It obviously worked out well for you.
I can’t speak to contests, plural, because I only entered one -- the Nicholl Fellowship. It’s run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and it’s incredibly well organized. I was a finalist in 2009; they put me on a plane, got me a wonderful hotel room, handed me a cash envelope (no lie), and booked panel after panel of amazing industry insiders, from high-powered agents to producers to working screenwriters. But more importantly, Nicholls is THE contest Hollywood monitors. If your name is announced among the 10 finalists, expect calls or emails from most agencies, many managers, and a train-load of producers. Being on that list puts your name in front of the people you want your name in front of.

8. You've seen your script develop through many stages, make it into production and finally premiere. What is that experience like -- seeing your work on the big screen?
Hard to believe. As I write this, I can walk by a theater where a movie I wrote is playing! How crazy is that! It’s a happy feeling I try to hang on to for when the going gets rough (and it does, often). But nothing beats seeing the movie with an audience and hearing them respond. The reason we do this crystallizes in that moment, and all the hard work and stress takes a backseat to a kind of paternal pride. Or maternal, as it were.

9. What filmmakers inspire you to create?
Kubrick, Wes Anderson, David Fincher; Alexander Payne, Woody Allen, Paul Thomas Anderson -- Vince Gilligan, Soderbergh, Spielberg, Matthew Weiner, and JFK-era Oliver Stone. And David Cronenberg when he’s super economic.

10. Any tips for screenwriters looking to get that first script sold?
Move on if it doesn’t sell. Reworking that one script is the quickest way to limit your chances. Work on finding an original voice across a number of scripts rather than putting all your eggs in one place that holds eggs. If you wrote something wonderful once chances are you can do it again, and hopefully again and again and again, which, if things work out, will actually BE your job -- to do something great on cue, again and again and again. Also, get comfortable with rejection; it’ll be the most common thing you experience early on. But all it takes is one “yes” to make everything worth it.
A million thanks, Janet, for your taking the time to talk to me! Greatly appreciated.

Thanks, Hiram, and much success with Girl in Progress.  It's playing in theaters now.  Here is the trailer link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCqzkNl2gXIYou can also follow Girl in Progress on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/GIRLINPROGRESSmovie

Until next time.

Monday, May 14, 2012

by Janet Lawler
May 14, 2012

Oprah & Gaga on creativity
What gets your creative juices flowing?  Your second wind?

I found it fascinating when Lady Gaga discussed her "creative process" with Oprah on OWN recently.  Lady Gaga said she has to go deep -- block out the world -- to find inspiration, to open the doors of her mind, open them, pound on them, hammer them down -- so something fresh (a message, lyrics, inspiration) can come through.

Gaga cancels out the noise around her (and let's face it, right now Lady Gaga creates a lot of noise and buzz).  By being isolated and still -- she taps into whatever has given her two hugely successful albums and many hit songs that resonate with her fans, her little monsters.

Is it a muse?  Divine intervention?  A gift?  What causes creativity in us?  Where does the energy and process come from?

I admire singer-songwriters -- especially Adele, Stevie Nicks, Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morissette, Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow, Rob Thomas, Melissa Etheridge,  Annie Lennox, Pink, Elton John, Billy Joel, Dido, James Taylor, Norah Jones, Tracy Chapman, Tori Amos, and on and on.  Their music, their words, speak to me... and their unique way of presenting it... making it fresh.

How do artists tell a full story through song in only three minutes or more?  Some do it better than others.  Some singer-songwriters reach us emotionally and that song becomes the soundtrack to whatever we're experiencing at that time -- our graduation, a breakup, a new relationship, a new job, moving to a new city, or getting married.

Words.  Lyrics.  Story.  Emotions.

Here are how some of the above artists say they create:

James Taylor
James Taylor:
 "That’s the way it comes out. It’s a cliché, but that’s because it’s true to say I don’t have any real conscious control over what comes out. I just don’t direct it. I wish I could say, “Oh, that would be great to write a song about.” But what I am doing is assembling and minimally directing what is sort of unconsciously coming out. It’s not something I can direct or control. I just end up being the first person to hear these songs. That’s what it feels like, that I don’t feel as though I write them."

Sarah McLachlan
Sarah McLachlan
"It was mainly secluding myself, being away from society and being away from everything. I locked myself up in a cabin in the mountains and stayed there for seven months. It was just an amazing time for me to really focus on a lot of stuff that had sort of been lurking behind the scenes in my brain, but never had the time to come out. Or it kept being put aside, because there were so many distractions. Also I think, I got incredibly in tune with the earth, with nature, like I hadn't before. I couldn't write a thing for three months. My brain was eating itself. It was terribly cold out and I couldn't do anything creative. I was just frozen.

Everything was churning around inside but nothing would come out. Then spring happened and everything totally opened up. I was blossoming as well. Most of the songs—I had written four previous to going to the cabin—were written then, about seven of them, between April and May. The place that I got to in myself of feeling calm and peaceful and also for the first time in my life, feeling I'm happy now. Not 'I would be happy if . . . ' There was always that going on with me. I finally got to a place where I was totally happy and peaceful and living in the present tense instead of in the future, you know and projecting things."

Stevie Nicks
Stevie Nicks:
"I usually see something or hear something. Something inspires me and that causes me to have a little bit of a vision and I try to write it down as quick as I can."

Alanis Morissette
Alanis Morissette (from her website www.alanis.com):
"Regardless of which part of the brain (and heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears n fears :) leads the way, it is usually an intensely focused Short amount of time.
usually a song is written within 20 minutes.
i find that if i need to drag out the process, the process is not fluid enough to be the kind of song i enjoy listening to
i love the combo: effort-full and engaged, but Fast!
i don’t believe in writer’s block.
i simply stop if it’s not coming….seeing it as a sign that i need to distract myself or focus on something else.
usually i need to go get a sandwich or relax with friends and take a break.
100 percent of the time, when i listen to that impulse to take a break, i come back fully inspired.
i also have to make sure i care deeply about the content, or there will not be enough fuel to have the song come through quickly.
in the end, the writing process requires me to be open minded, open hearted, fully engaged and awake, and to take on the role of being the humble scribe…taking dictation, and getting out of the way.
what that means is “no censoring, no editing, until later, if at all.”

Alanis releases a new single "Guardian" on May 15th on iTunes.  Be sure to listen to her latest writing efforts.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCBIG28On0o

Tap into whatever process works best for you to get you to the pen or laptop to create the NEXT big thing.  Go with the flow of your instincts, ideas and hammer open the door like Lady Gaga. 

 Until next time.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Back to Work


The adage goes writing is rewriting. 

That is the painful truth.  My writing partner, Chris Keller, and I finished our second draft of our animated movie script "Hark & Harold: Christmas Crisis".  Yay!  It's a family animated movie.  The ink is barely dry on it, but it's way too long for a screenplay... the script should be about 90 pages and we came in at 131. 

Yikes.  It's not a novel... how did we manage to write so much?

The funny thing is it seems lean and like nothing can possibly go, but of course, that's never the case with screenwriting -- or any writing.  Something can always go.  Lines can be trimmed.  Scenes shortened.  Those precious moments don't hold up on the fifth reading -- so out comes the red pen.

But with feedback due soon from trusted readers, we will slash and delete scenes, dialogue and action descriptions.  The story is solid, the characters memorable, lines funny -- but the overall structure can  be firmed up and plotted more efficiently.

The goal with Hark & Harold is to capture the reader and gets this script sold AND PRODUCED.  It's hard for busy Hollywood folks to sit down and read your stuff -- (I have a ton of unread books, articles and scripts on my desk that I keep meaning to get to -- but time flies by, weeks disappear and the calendar flashes by.  Is that the same with you?)... so imagine some hot shot reader or producer with a stack of scripts, getting yours to add to the pile. 

Is it worth the time?

A first or second draft coming in long is okay, but don't send it out to the pros until it's at its "fighting weight".  Lean.  Fit.  Ready.  Nothing drives agents and Hollywood readers crazier than getting scripts with the writer noting "I know this script needs work, but hey, waste your time and read it anyway."

Don't disrespect the professional willing to open the door for your work.  Be ready.

We have to make sure the script is as ready as it can be.  Of course, once someone wants to buy it -- they will change it or make revisions galore -- but it's still important to present yourself as a professional writer.

You wouldn't sell your house by calling up a top realtor and saying "Come on by, my place is a mess and needs repairs and a new roof, but check it out anyway." 

Good luck on that sale.

Same goes with any writing project.  Present it only when it's ready to be shown.  Not a moment sooner... or we blow the opportunity.

Carolina and I are currently renovating our New York apartment -- and it reminds me of rewriting.  Every time we're finished with one room -- we see where changes can still be done, getting rid of this and that, eliminating clutter, discovering less is more, etc.  It's the same with scripts. 

So spring cleaning continues here at home... and soon, spring cleaning on our Christmas script so that it comes in 30 pages or more less. 

Writing is rewriting.  No kidding.

Until next time.