For the last eight months, I’ve been sleeping with James Franco (a.k.a. writing a screenplay in which I envisioned him at the antagonist.) Writing is an intimate, personal process. Just you and the computer. And so it felt like I was in bed with James Franco for 8 months. Keep reading, it gets better 🙂
That being said, with writing, there are times where I would rather eat glass. Or jump off a 100-story building. Writing is one of the most confronting things out there. So much more than acting in my opinion. I have decided to take numerous “power naps” when confronted with the arduous task of starting a writing project. The mere action of starting a new story with the famous/infamous words, “Fade In”, have led me to become an expert in many areas of life.
For example, I am now an expert chef. I am now an expert mechanic (although I still want to give a HUGE shout out to Sam and his crew over at Express Auto Shop on the corner of Pico Blvd. & La Peer Drive in Los Angeles!) I sit on the boards of 17 charities and I have raised millions of dollars in one year for various causes I believe in (Bill Gates has nothing on me) I have figured out complex mathematical equations for fun and read a book about the Higgs Particle in the area of particle physics FIVE times. This is one Latino who is definitely not mowing your lawns or cleaning out your pools.
Okay, okay, I embellished above…
…well, not really though, because it’s amazing how many things would actually “come up” for me to tackle or how often I would get engrossed in many other things the second the computer beckoned me to write on it.
Cut to (Get it? Cut to…) November 2014. Richard Lawson challenged us in his Professional Development Program 2.0 class to create a feature film treatment in two weeks and to use Jeffery Schecter’s amazing “My Story Can Beat Up Your Story” as our guide. This is a book that clearly breaks down how to write a screenplay from start to finish, from Fade In to Fade Out. Jeffrey uses plain old English and humor to explain things in a very clear and direct way. I love people like that. Richard gave us this assignment because writing is one of the dynamics taught at his studio. Understanding the structure of writing not only helps us to become better actors because we understand our function and purpose when playing a particular archetype within a story, but it also empowers us to create our own evidence and product in the form of short films, feature films, TV series, web series, etc. Richard’s assignment would push us to continue developing and growing as writers.
However, the first reaction I had when Richard gave us the assignment was to throw myself out of a window. The last thing I wanted to do was to create an entire feature film treatment. But a few seconds later, I got over my initial reaction and I was excited to tackle the assignment. It was an opportunity to create a story from scratch. When I got home that day and started going through Jeffrey’s book, I started to hate the assignment again: “I can’t believe I have to create a whole treatment from scratch. This is so much work!” Ahhhhh, there’s that beautiful word again, “work”. “Fine. Fine! FINE! I’ll continue moving forward with this assignment.” Although, to be honest, I did so with some hostility and a “whatever” attitude attached to it. The premise I created for the treatment was ridiculous because I just wanted to fulfill the assignment and return to my life.
At the time of my treatment, I had a crush on James Franco. And so I made him the antagonist. God honest truth. I wish I had a more profound reason for my casting choice, but again, I was just throwing in these arbitrary elements just to fulfill the assignment. I was blasé and had no attachment to it. “More explosions! We need more explosions!”
But ironically enough, this attitude allowed me to construct a fully-realized treatment in a few days time. Because I wasn’t precious with it, I wrote out the following components with ease: The four stages the protagonist goes through (orphan, wanderer, warrior, martyr), the formula/log line, the four questions and the central question for the protagonist, other character archetypes and 44 plot points. In a few days, I completed a treatment for a horror comedy. And when I looked it over, I realized I had something potentially viable and delicious over here.
Two weeks later, I presented my treatment to class and they loved it. They loved how it was a departure from the dramatic, edgier stories I normally write about. The loved the premise and the fun of it. They loved that I had James Franco as the antagonist. And they loved WHY I made him the antagonist. They loved that a WOMAN was the protagonist. Fueled and inspired by their support, I started writing the dialogue for Act 1. I was on a roll. I was on fire. The dialogue flowed very easily. I posted updates on Facebook and Twitter. My affair with James Franco began and it was hot and sexy. I knew a lot of people were jealous of our explosive relationship and I didn’t care.
However, by the time the holidays rolled around in December, I stopped writing. 2014 was a very challenging year for me and by the time December rolled around, I was burnt out. I spent the last two weeks of December not wanting to do anything for my career. I had no desire to act. I had no desire to write. I had no desire to dance. I had no desire to create. James would call me to join him in bed and I would always say, “No”. I felt awful because I knew we had incredible chemistry. We even talked about remaking the television series, “Moonlighting”. He would reprise the Bruce Willis character and I would reprise the Cybill Shepherd character. But I had to be strong. I did not want to be an artist anymore for the rest of 2014 and beyond. So I walked away from James Franco.
Even when I watched his film, “The Interview”, on Christmas Eve 2014 at my best friend’s place, I could feel him staring at me from the computer screen. I could see him looking into my eyes and begging me to get back to my script. Even when he sang “Firework” by Katy Perry in “The Interview”, he was singing to me. I mean, come on, read the lyrics and tell me he wasn’t singing about me:
“Do you ever feel like a plastic bag
Drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?
Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin
Like a house of cards, one blow from caving in?
Do you ever feel already buried deep six feet under?
Screams but no one seems to hear a thing
Do you know that there’s still a chance for you
‘Cause there’s a spark in you?
You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July
‘Cause, baby, you’re a firework
Come on, show ’em what you’re worth
Make ’em go, "Aah, aah, aah”
As you shoot across the sky-y-y"
And right as I was about to join him in an orgasmic-filled second verse, I exclaimed, “No!! Now hurry up and kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-un!” When the movie ended, I walked back home. It was a chilly, windy night and not a soul was around. Just a white plastic bag being blown around in the distance. Wait, are we still talking about Katy Perry’s “Firework” or the white bag in “American Beauty”?
Cut to January 2015. Class was back in session from the holiday hiatus and I was re-injected with a new fever to create…on the acting side. Fuck writing. I was done with writing. However, by May 2015, I had amassed and completed a series of wins on the acting side and I was hungry for James’ big white–errr, to write again. I was hungry to WRITE again.
So, I located the latest Final Draft copy of the script and immediately got back to work again. I had stopped near the end of Act 1 and had to create dialogue for two or three more plot points before I would launch into Act 2. I could hear James speak my words and I became a giddy school girl again. James and I were back and our relationship was re-kindled.
I wrote with intention and focus. I became an ambulance in emergency mode again, cutting through traffic with direct precision. Chasing The Ambulance. Chasing The George! Nothing stopped me from writing! For example:
**I didn’t have a computer anymore by the time I returned to my script. Luckily, one of my best friends bought me an iPad and I wrote on that…with one finger…agonizingly typing each word one. letter. at. a. time. Then I discovered that my iPad had a dictation function. Sometimes the dictation worked accurately, other times it didn’t. Either way, it forced me to speak much more clearly LOL. I even went to the App Store and found the app for Final Draft, but the less-than-stellar reviews did not leave me with the confidence to purchase it. So, I copied what I typed into my iPad and pasted it into the body of an email that was addressed to me. The following morning, I would arrive an hour early at Richard’s studio so I could copy the content in my email and paste it into Final Draft. Then, I would spend that time formatting the content according to industry screenwriting standards. I did this process NUMEROUS times. Every single time I came early to the studio to format new scenes, I wanted to pull out the little hair I had left because I was basically doing twice the amount of work. And formatting can take a while depending on how much I’ve written…and I tend to write a lot as you can see from this blog entry LOL. I sometimes joke that I’m from the school of Quentin Tarantino. However, sans my own computer, I still wrote.
**When I would take the train AND the bus to work on days I didn’t want to drive, I still wrote.
**When I came down with a fever that started on a Wednesday night and lasted till Tuesday night, I still wrote. Even at 11:30pm on Saturday night, at the height of my fever, with me nodding off in front of my iPad, I still wrote.
**After my required periodontal flap surgery and frenectomy, which left me with stitches in my top left gums, pain, occasional slight bleeding and a swollen upper lip that made me look like a reductive Kim Kardashian, I still wrote. Reductive Kim Kardashian? Isn’t that redundant or an oxymoron? English majors, where are you?
I kept writing because I felt I had something great and fun on my hands.
When I started writing Act 2, I studied specific trailers and films in the horror comedy genre in order to find the two films I could compare my film to. In this way, I could say, “It’s this meets that.” In my research, I stumbled upon the genius of Edgar Wright and fell in love with Simon Pegg’s character in “Shaun of the Dead”. My research list of films was specific to what I was writing about and the tone of humor I was using. I borrowed and integrated a few story devices that these films all used into my own script like voice overs, set up and pay off, and most importantly, their unapologetic sense of IMAGINATION. The writers of these films created their own worlds and rules within the horror comedy genre. Each writer had their own voice and take within this particular genre.
Doing this research, I loved how grand, how preposterous and how ridiculous my story was. As long as I created the rules of my world and the logic of what was going on, my premise was plausible. And by following the structure laid out in “My Story Can Beat Up Your Story”, it would keep me on track while also enhancing my insanely wonderful ideas and voice. I had the freedom to create the rules of my very own world.
By July 5th, I had completed the first draft of my screenplay at 109 pages. When I typed “Fade Out” on the iPad, I exhaled deeply and I felt lighter. A big smiled formed over my face and I did a dance of joy…naked. It’s better when you’re naked. For anyone who has written anything, you know what I’m talking about and how I felt.
Some things to leave you with:
**Write about things that interest you or that you have a passion about. And just write. Let it all out like vomit. Don’t get stuck in “it has to be perfect”. You can always go back and edit.
**Structure helps me to play, to have fun and to experiment within it so that I can enhance my own voice. Structure gives me freedom. By doing all the work in “My Story Can Beat Up Your Story”, I wrote with more confidence because I knew what had to be fulfilled and achieved every step of the way in my story.
**This is a first draft. A few scenes are not great and would make me question my abilities as a writer. But the most important thing was that I was on “go” and didn’t allow judgment or perfection syndrome to stop me and my creative flow. Instead, I created placeholder scenes that I knew I could come back to and flesh out later. In other words, I knew what I wanted to say and/or see happen in those particular placeholder scenes, but I just couldn’t articulate them at that specific point in time. So, I just regurgitated everything I could and will come back to them later and make them more crystal clear. And that being said, there are a several scenes that are really well-written!! Like “Hot damn! That’s good!”
**Yes, I wrote a part for myself and…spoiler alert…he lives!
**And yes, James and I make amazing lovers and are still very much in love.
“Moonlighting” reboot, here we come!