To read or to write…that is the question

It’s been a while since I wrote.  Not only here but on a screenplay.  Sure I wrote 3 quick shorts on vacation just for something to do on the plane/train…but I didn’t work.

Lots of excuses and ways to procrastinate.  Choices really.

In my writing group we’ve been discussing structure, well mostly books on structure.  Funny, today there was quite a bit of advice about screenwriting books on Twitter. @GoIntoTheStory and @BittrScrptReadr had a nice exchange and what I thought were a few good suggestions.  It got me thinking (and I posted a sarcastic response, sorry).

What books are essential for me?  Syd Field, Blake Snyder, on the shelf and on my nightstand is Lajos Egri.  I think those three suffice really, I know I have others but can’t honestly tell you which ones.

So I thought some more. 

My advice on the topic is that you find the three books that are useful for you.  Read them.  Write.  When you are stuck, read them again, again, and again.  As much as you have to so you can get back to writing.  Don’t pick out something new, that’s just procrastinating.  You have what you need, your three books. Now write.

I thought some more, this is getting dangerous…

I realized too though that even with this strict diet of suggestions, outlines, styles, structure, (whatever it is those three books have), when I am reading them I am not writing.  I am making a choice, and I try to remind myself of it so that it is a conscious one.

There are a lot of shitty “how-to” books out there no doubt. 

Back to the choice, that I made a conscious one.

Should I read a shitty book, or write a shitty screenplay? (remember everyone’s first draft is shit, no exceptions)

For me the strategy needs to be writing a shitty screenplay. I learn from doing (btw: most people do) and I decided today to use my three books to give me the kick in the ass to write, when I need it. 

That’s what any kind of advice is really the most useful for anyway isn’t it?  Making us make a deliberate choice.

-The Two Cheeks



Throw Yourself Into the World with Reckless Abandon!

Commencement speeches.  This time of year they are all over the headlines. Politics, humor, boycotts and protests. Hopefully inspiration.

I venture to say thousands of graduates couldn’t really care less about the speaker or their speech.  I don’t blame them. It’s been my experience that the speaker was chosen by someone more interested in “cultivation” than inspiration.  I admit, I’m guilty as charged, but for good reason.

There is a very good chance that all those bored graduates have had their education subsidized in one way or another (yes you too Biff/Tiff) by the state, foundations, and private donors.  The fact is it is only on rare occasions that tuition covers all the costs, and that asking someone to be a commencement speaker is perhaps the best tool the development office has in their arsenal (they may be cultivating someone other than the speaker them-self, but make no mistake, they are cultivating someone). I digress.

So the point.  If you are lucky, you might get an inspirational speech by someone interesting to you.  Unlikely though.

I’m here to help.  To any graduate who may find this (again unlikely); here is who SHOULD have been your commencement speaker.

I realize this is a few years old by now, but whenever I’m in need of inspiration I watch it, plus it’s a great song!

Know your story, but don’t be tied to it.

my story

I’m currently enrolled in the UCLA TFT Professional Program for Screenwriters (Online) and our third term is devoted to pounding out a complete screenplay in just 10 weeks. Well less actually, since we spent the first two classes on logline, synopsis, and beat sheet.

Everyone in my class is struggling at the halfway point, although probably by design.

The primary issue is this: Lack of preparation.

Most of us have very little idea of where we are headed. We thought out the basics, had an idea of a beginning, middle, and end, but as the process unfolded and we learned more about our characters and story as we wrote, we all find ourselves in the dreaded second act doldrums.

To be quite honest I have never been an outliner.  Throughout my educational experience (and beyond) I have just sat down and written first drafts. Maybe a few times I would do a very simple outline but it was rare.

Writing a screenplay though is much more complex and difficult than anything I have ever undertaken as far a writing goes. I’m learning that a solid outline and plan is important for such complicated projects.  But not in the way I would have thought.

While in the end I doubt my story would be any different had I done a thorough outline, I do believe it would be easier to write. I also know that no matter what my intent was in that outline I would stray from it, perhaps even drastically. That’s O.K. though.

My point is this, use the outlining process (snowplow, index cards, beat sheets, step outlines, etc.) and the results themselves as a guide to push you though the tough times, but be true to the characters and story and let things go where they naturally should. That little voice in your head will be telling you that you are wasting all that work on the outline if you deviate too far but don’t listen to it. Stray. Explore. Create as you go.

I guess that’s a lot like life. Have a plan, be committed, but don’t let that plan get in the way of creating a really good and fulfilling story, that is your life.


Why The Two Cheeks



At an old antique barn-wood kitchen table, Brian (45) unshaven, ragged Polo t-shirt and shorts, drinks a double espresso.  His WIFE (34)  a petite blonde with bright blue eyes, works on her laptop prior to leaving for the day ahead.

Why The Two Cheeks?

Good question.

Choosing the title of this Blog to be a play on the title of the long-awaited sequel to Chinatown was an accident.  I have to be honest.  I thought it was funny and catchy, that’s all.

I never really liked Chinatown that much, and The Two Jakes is about the same for me.  I know, I know, blasphemy for a screenwriter.  Both movies have grown on me though since I started writing.

But then I started to think about it carefully, and the The Two Cheeks seems appropriate for this blog in many ways.

Roger Ebert in his review of The Two Jakes wrote:  “The movie really is about the values that people have, and about the things that mean more to them than life and freedom.”  I like that.

My scripts are very similar.  I write stories about people torn between their values, love, and their past or future.

Heavenly Betrayal: a man whose passion is at odds with his calling, and must choose between his faith, his country, and his love.

Fool’s Heist: a man who risks his friendship and freedom to try and fill a void, one he eventually  learns can only be filled with love.

Vengeance Beloved: a man who lost it all and now must choose between a positive future or revenge for the past, but is blinded by passion.

My movies are about men like Jake Gittes, someone who we can all relate to at some point in our lives.

So that’s one reason I’m keeping the title.  Hope you enjoy the Blog.