Can’t stop writing

questionmarkAll I want to do is write! I write on the bus to and from work, I stayed home last night (Friday night) to write. I hate it and I love it and if I couldn’t write I would probably be in a mental institute. So what’s the problem?

It’s really difficult to strike a balance between this writing addiction and my social life. I even went so far to tell my boyfriend that when I write it is comparable to a junkie shooting up, so he better stay away from me when I am trying to get my fix. I’ve written seven feature screenplays and I’m 23 years old. I can’t stop even though sometimes I feel like I’m possessed by some sort of writing hobgoblin.

My question to you is does this insanity subside a little when you are a professional writer? Have you experienced the write or die phenomenon or am I some sort of freak? I’ve heard about feeding your passion but sometimes it feels like my passion is feeding on me! Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself extremely fortunate.

– Lu

Obviously, I’m not a psychiatrist. Even if I were, it would be improper to diagnose your condition based on an email. But I will anyway.

You have hypergraphia.

It’s an actual, real thing: the overwhelming urge to write. Alice Weaver Flaherty wrote a whole book on it, The Midnight Disease, which is fascinating reading for any writer, because it investigates the uncomfortable intersection between genius and just-plain-crazy. (Note again: I am not a psychiatrist, so I can freely use the term “crazy.”)

To many screenwriters who struggle to get words on paper, what Lu describes sounds like more of a blessing than a curse. Who wouldn’t want to have written seven screenplays at 23? But keep in mind that just because Lu is writing a lot, doesn’t mean she’s writing well. (If she had written in to complain, “I just can’t stop winning awards for my writing,” we could all feel free shunning her.)

The key terms in her email that let us know what she’s encountering is not altogether positive are “mental institute,” “junkie,” and “possessed by [a] hobgoblin.”

Yes, I’ve gone through periods where I can’t put the pen down. My brain gets locked on an idea, and I have to keep scribbling, often into the wee hours of the night. But it’s a now-and-then thing, not a debilitating condition.

While Flaherty leaves open the question of exactly what causes hypergraphia, my strong hunch is that it’s a form of focussed mania. You’re dealing with the buzz of energy by putting pen to paper — and for a while, it seems great. But the pendulum very often swings the other way to depression, which has its obvious negatives.

My advice to you, Lu, is to do a little life assessment. Block out significant hours — and whole days — where you’re not allowed to write, or even think about writing. See how it goes. My suspicion is that you’ll be climbing the walls, and may decide to see an Actual Mental Health Professional for further guidance. The goal isn’t to get you to stop writing, but to control it, rather than it controlling you.

On accents

We’re in the middle of casting the two lead roles for Ops. As I predicted, the audition scenes have now become gibberish to me. The only advantage to having them so fully etched in my brain is that when an actor makes an interesting choice for a line reading, I suddenly snap back and pay attention.

The two roles are written as Americans, but Jordan and I are both more than willing to change the backstories to accommodate Britons, Australians or other nationalities. After all, almost every country has soldiers. So in addition to hiring on New York and Los Angeles casting agents, Fox was generous enough to bring on casting directors in Sydney and London. We’re getting in new tapes every few days.

Unfortunately, the overseas casting agents aren’t taking us at our word. Almost every actor is trying an American accent.

Almost every attempt fails.

Here’s the thing: If you’re an Australian actor, you can probably suppress your give-away twang, just like most Canadians can — with a lot of effort — distinguish between “about” and “a boot.” But just because you don’t sound Australian, doesn’t mean you necessarily sound American. Often, this lack of accent is worse. We can hear that something’s not quite right, but we don’t know what it is. And while we’re wondering what’s wrong, we’ve lost track of your performance.

Now, obviously, there are some cases where an international actor will simply have to try for a specific American accent, just as an American actor may need to hit a certain British dialect. But if a producer or director tells you to use your natural accent, trust him. It’s not because you suck. It’s because you’re better when you can use every part of who you are.

As a side note, two actors we met with yesterday were Americans whom I’ve only seen play British. James Marsters and Alexis Denisof both come from the Buffy/Angel universe. It was jarring hearing them speak, because I kept expecting the same voices I’d heard for eight seasons or so. But even more interesting was recognizing the actors’ own cadences that were the same even without the accent; on a fundamental level, Spike sounds like James Marsters.

To me, it’s further proof that actors shouldn’t dwell so much on accents, but rather focus on giving the words meaning.

About the Store

Over in the right-hand column, you’ll see a link for the Store. The link has been there for a couple of weeks now, but I neglected to mention it — originally because I didn’t want to seem gross and commercial, and later because I forgot. But if you’re reading this site strictly through the Feeds, you wouldn’t even know it’s there.

So, hey. There’s a Store.

No, I’m not selling bent-brad t-shirts. Rather, the Store is a buncha Amazon links to the stuff I’ve written: the DVDs of the various movies, along with soundtracks and the original books. While some people actually make a living off of Amazon (and Google) referral fees, I certainly don’t expect to make, well, anything. Rather, the joy of the Amazon Associates system is tracking who clicked through to what, and trying to figure out why somebody bought both the Big Fish DVD and XXX2: State of the Union.

Armageddon is bad. Near-Armageddon? Damn entertaining.

Today is Thanksgiving in the U.S., a refreshingly under-commercialized holiday set aside to acknowledge the many things in life for which we’re grateful. I’m home in Colorado with my family, doing the traditional activities: stuffing a turkey, setting a table, and wondering how many minor celebrities they can squeeze into one Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

At the same time, I’m doing research for a movie I may be writing soon, which involves a Very Bad Thing happening to the planet, and its aftermath. You’d think it would be hard to find scholarly (i.e. non-religious) books on the subject, but it’s not. Go into any bookstore and you find whole shelves of hardcovers that chart with considerable detail just how the world will end. Call it Pessimism Porn.

These doom-saying books tend to be bleak. What’s interesting is that movies based on the same ideas tend to have one extra element: hope.

Consider War of the Worlds, or Armageddon, or The Day After Tomorrow. In all three, Very Bad Things happen to the good people of Earth. Cities are destroyed; people are vaporized. Just like we seem hard-wired to love puppies and fear snakes, we want to see the Eiffel tower melt.

For up to 100 minutes of a movie, the entire world and everyone on it can be blown to smithereens. Even in a PG-13 movie, things can get really, really bleak — as long as by the end, things are okay again. Even Deep Impact, which had the balls to actually let the comet hit, still found ways to reassure us that civilization would bounce right back.

Just like a roller-coaster ride, we want the world to spin deliriously out of control, before coming to a safe landing right where we started. Whee! That was fun. Let’s do it again.

Anyone who has read the aforementioned Pessimism Porn recognizes the danger of these movies: most of the things that would destroy us can’t be solved by a courageous hero, a team of dedicated scientists, or a whiz-kid hacker who got beat up in school. Just like we’re more likely to die of heart disease than terrorism, the Very Bad Things that may do us in as a planet tend to be quiet and slow.

So that’s what I’m wrestling with as I think about this movie I may or may not write. How do you dramatize a situation that in real life would end pretty bleakly, but still make a movie that people want to see on a Friday night?

Anyway. I’m thankful to have a job that lets me think about stuff like that.

Shake for less

shakeI recently learned Final Cut Pro, Apple’s editing system, which is complicated but incredibly intuitive. That got me anxious to experiment with the other pro film tools. The full Final Cut Pro Studio package is fairly inexpensive, especially with an educational discount.

Unfortunately, Apple’s Shake 4 compositing software costs $2700 or more, which would tend to discourage anyone from picking up a copy just to learn about it.

However, the Apple Pro Training Series book is only $34 on Amazon, and it includes a 30-day demo version of Shake. It’s a great deal for anyone who wants to learn Shake, which has one of the most bizarrely un-Mac like interfaces of any Apple product.

If you’re a tech-savvy screenwriter looking for a day job in Hollywood, I can’t imagine a much better choice than doing visual effects. Even at the low-end, such as wire removal, I suspect there’s always a need. One $34 course-book won’t teach you all that much, but would let you see if it’s something you enjoy.

And yes, for the record, I realize that I don’t have time to be learning Shake. I haven’t started my 30 days yet.