Friday, February 24, 2006

Zach Helm

There's a great article in this month's Vanity Fair about screewriter/playwright/director Zach Helm. He and I share an agency - CAA - but more importantly, a professional philosophy. Evidently, Zach's career, while successful, wasn't going where he wanted it to. So he sat down and wrote a Manifesto - the ethics and rules that should govern his creativity. Since he's abided his Manifesto, his career has really taken off.

As I've learned - you have to respect your creativity or it'll get tired of you and move on.

A few points that he emphasized I believe make for important lessons for young writers.

1. Write what interests you. Don't get penned into one genre or field. This year, I've worked on a new thriller novel, a historical sports drama screenplay, and a six-man play that tackles social issues. Each one, oddly, informs the other and allows me to approach all my writing with a freshness that I wouldn't have if I focused on, say, crime fiction alone.
2. When placing your work, don't decide merely based on immediate financial gain. Money works in odd ways - sometimes, if you take more cash up front, it's a short-sighted proposition. Better to place your screenplay with the right producer or director, for example - someone who gets the project and respects you. You'll be happier if you're demanding that your work is treated with respect - and to get that, you have to treat your own work with respect. Plus, you never know when or how something is going to pay off - either in a financial or creative windfall.
3. Don't take crap jobs for money. Rewriting gigs can pay a lot of money in Hollywood, but they can also drain you. Likewise with other projects that sail down the pipeline. The first question should always be: Is this a stimulating, challenging project? When you're focusing on your own writing, why do anything except what is of the highest interest for you? For the money? If you're after that, you'd do much better to go into commercial real estate or investment banking. If you're going to tackle the trials and tribulations of a writing life, follow your passions. Take risks. Go out on limbs. It's a field where - at least for me - playing it safe means creative stagnation.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Peter Benchley

I was quite saddened yesterday to hear that Peter Benchley had died.

Jaws was the first adult book I read. As a fourth grader, I was drawn in by the cover, which is my favorite of all time. I shoved a chair over to my parents' bookshelf so I could reach the book, which they kept on the top shelf beside Valley of the Horses (which would provide an entirely different kind of education for me a few months later). I absolutely loved Jaws, and went on to read all of Benchley's work. I wrote him a letter saying how much I liked Jaws, Jaws II, The Island and The Deep, and he wrote back thanking me, but saying he couldn't take credit for Jaws II, as he didn't write it. So much for my impressing him with my precociousness. I kept a written correspondence with him through high school and college, telling him I wanted to be a writer, and I sent him an ARC of The Tower when it was published. He wrote me a very kind congratulatory note.

He was a very bright man with an abiding love of the ocean. The water has never been the same....

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Sleepless in Seattle

This is the best recut trailer since The Shining one I posted a few months ago (which recut The Shining trailer to make the film appear to be a feel-good family comedy).

Check this out:

I never cease being amazed by how much of an impact music and editing have on our emotions. We have very easy buttons to push....

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Starting Out

I got a great email today from a devoted reader - and an aspiring writer. He asked advice on how to get started, and on what to do with his book once he's done with it. My response, I hope, could be helpful to other writers out there:

My advice is simple: write, write, and write some more. At this point, I wouldn’t focus on the end game – you’ve got a long ways to go before you have to worry about getting a book noticed. That’s sort of like a freshman in college asking about job recruitment after graduation. Right now, your focus should be honing your craft, and spending as many hours as possible in that chair. The market will have shifted so much by the time you’re ready to send out your manuscript that planning for it now would be a waste of time. Plus, you’ll need to get in touch with writing as its own process – as an end in itself. Only when you focus on the actual work – rather than the marketing to come - will you be able to enjoy yourself and grow as a writer.

All best of luck – and keep writing.