beth schacter

Who are you and what do you write?

My name is Beth Schacter. I wrote and directed an indie called Normal Adolescent Behavior. My next film is called A Virgin Mary and stars Abigail Breslin.

I’ve written for TV and theater and recently adapted my Popcorn Fiction story “Break Up 5000” for producer Lynda Obst. On Twitter, I’m @bethshax where I rarely tweet about anything professional.

Where and when do you write?

workspaceOur office is downstairs, in a space I share with my husband, Ben, when he is working from his edit bay at home. When he’s not I have the space to myself — which isn’t good when you need to be shamed into concentrating. I have a narrow wooden desk made from reclaimed wood that discourages clutter — in theory.

My work day hopefully starts between 8:30 and 9:30. I get up early and try and get out for at least a 40-minute walk with the dog (for both our sakes) and then eat breakfast because you have to eat breakfast. That whole “most important meal of the day” thing is no joke.

The first thing I do is open whatever I have to work on. I may not touch it for an hour but at least it is there, nagging me, reminding me that it needs attention. I’ll check emails, deal with production things that need to be dealt with and probably spend a little too much time on social networks. You know you are in trouble when people greet you at parties with “I love your Facebook status updates!”

On days when I write in my office I usually play NPR on a volume a little too low for me to actually hear it. I just need a little white noise. I have music sometimes, but for some reason I find music more distracting.

I also leave my phone upstairs and turn on Freedom as much as I can.

But honestly, when a draft needs to get churned out I need to be anywhere else but in the office. I need to forget the dog, the house, the laundry, the six recipes I’m dying to make.

I usually head to a library (Silverlake is great) for the first couple of drafts and then I’ll lock myself in a hotel room for 24-48 hours, sit on the bed, order inappropriate amounts of room service and gut it out. And usually I have to change locations three or four times a draft; sometimes I write in bed, sometimes on the couch, sometimes in a coffee shop.

If a place has been unproductive I change the place; it’s not superstition, it actually works.

Because I run at least five times a week, a lot of days I have to pack up by 5:30 or so (that’s also when the dog starts his campaigning, an endearing and annoying series of cute maneuvers that includes sighing, laying down dramatically and sighing some more). So my writing day is really 10 to 5.

Once or twice a year we go someplace completely off the grid and work for at least a week. Someplace with no TV, no cell phone reception, no internet. Our favorite place is Sheep Dung Estates in Boonville, CA. Don’t let the name fool you. It’s heaven on earth.

What hardware do you use?

I do all my notes, ideas and brainstorming in graph-ruled composition books. I use black ball point pens because I do…habit I guess.

I shot-list and storyboard in them as well. My shot list/storyboards are pretty sad, but they work for me. I describe the scene and then either sketch the frame for proportion or floor plan the sequence. I tried fancy notebooks but I felt like I was ruining them with mediocre ideas and bad sketches. Cheap quadrilles never judge me.

I have a Mac Mini that absolutely cannot run any sort of game or play movies and a large Dell monitor I inherited when Ben upgraded to HD monitors. I use the standard keyboard and sit in a knock-off Aeron chair.

I use a footstool because I’m super short and my feet don’t exactly touch the ground. And I use a Logitech gamer mouse that has a trackball that I love.

For middle of the night ideas I use my iPhone’s notepad feature. However terrible my text input is on the phone it is far more legible than my scribbles in the dark.

I have a MacBook that I use when I’m not at my office. Don’t tell the MacBook, but he’s getting replaced by an Air later this year.

What software do you use?

I write on Movie Magic. I hate Final Draft because I don’t know how to use Final Draft. Most times I outline in Movie Magic, syncing everything using Dropbox. Dropbox is a miracle. I have a redundancy with a 1TB hard drive (LaCie usually) where I dump drafts once every few days.

I also rewrite everything in revision mode. Once you get used to the asterisks you really grow to love them.

I am a Post-It note user when I have to do a pitch. I put all the cues for the pitch on Post-Its, stand in front of them and practice while walking around. And then I type it up and drive around practicing. My carbon footprint for pitching is relatively big.

I used to use Scrivener, but I found it was too easy to spend my time resizing cards and reformatting the outline, so low tech is the way I go. Also I like to write inside my outline document, re-dating it every day, so that I can keep the first draft as loose as possible. I take notes inside drafts as well.

My one complaint about Movie Magic is that it doesn’t have a graveyard function, or at least I can’t figure it out. I send a lot of stuff to a graveyard using TITLEMOVIE_GYARD but that’s cut and paste and I’d like to be able to reference it — it’s an editing habit that I wish was more easily translatable to screenwriting software. I suppose I could drag and drop the scenes to the end of the script and tag them a different color, but that feels like way too much work. Plus it will give you a false sense of page-accomplishment.

What would you change?

I would turn on Freedom more. Maybe get a fancier chair.

When we buy a house and move we will probably put together a RAID drive with 2 or 3 TB that we can access over the network, but I’ll still use Dropbox. I’d finally settle on a keyboard upgrade.

I’m amazed by how many different ways there are to work. I know teams that work off of IM, people who only write in public, people who only write in longhand, people who can have the internet on all day. You find what works for you and you stick with it until it stops working. So far this method works, but if it ever stops, I’ll change almost everything.