I spent a few days in Chicago1 to see the premiere of my friends’ new musical Asphalt Beach, which is workshopping at Northwestern University. The show was terrific, and vindication for my decade of belief in my friends’ talent.

I took advantage of being away from L.A. to start writing something brand new. That’s my modus operandi; I generally barricade myself in a hotel room for a few days to crank through pages when starting a new project. I write longhand and quickly — first a scribble draft of a scene, then a more legible (but still handwritten) version. I fax pages back to Los Angeles and don’t let myself edit.

Since a writer can only stare at the same four walls for so long, I try to pick someplace interesting for my sequestration. Vegas is a good choice. When one doesn’t drink or gamble, it’s basically a giant, noisy food court. That’s where I started both Charlie’s Angels scripts and The Movie. I wrote Fury in San Diego, and Tarzan on a 23-hour train ride from Los Angeles to Seattle. I wrote Fantasy Island and Jurassic Park III in Hawaii, though the latter was more “forced labor” than a writing vacation.

It’s been six months since I’ve written something new, which is my longest hiatus by far. So I was happy to find that I could still string words together in a non-blog environment. After months of dealing with actors and vehicles and visual effects, it’s liberating to deal with only words.

This time, I wrote a play. An honest-to-Baal, curtain-comes-up stage play. The story sort of demanded it: it’s necessarily talky, less about What Happens as much as What It’s About. The lack of easy CUT TO:’s is more than made up for by the luxury of scene length. In a stage play, you can do things that are unwieldy in films:

TOM: Let me make Point One.
MARY: Sure, we’ll talk about Point One.
TOM: Now let me tie that in to Point Two.
MARY: Really? Well, here’s Point Three.
(Steve ENTERS)
STEVE: What are we talking about?
MARY: Point Three.
STEVE: That sounds a lot like Point Four, which Tom and I were talking about in the previous scene, only from the opposite perspective.
TOM: Unlike a movie, we don’t have to simplify arguments down to postage-stamp sized thought nuggets. Ambiguity and uncertainty are a-okay.
MARY: We can also assume a much higher level of audience sophistication, since only rich, educated people bother seeing plays.
STEVE: And no unnecessary car chases!

On the downside, stage play formatting seriously blows. Dialogue stretches from margin to margin, and stage directions are surrounded by completely unnecessary parentheses. But one can’t have everything.

  1. Technically, Evanston, which is north of Chicago. Apparently, confusing the two is annoying to actual Chicagoans, on par with saying “Los Angeles” when one means “Orange County.” My apologies to anyone offended.