The Story of a Screenwriter: Script 1, Part 1
This is where the bad words start coming in.
Everyone’s got three to five bad scripts in them before the good scripts come out. Mine was three or four. We’re still undecided on the final count. Three for sure. Including and especially this second one.
Just to explain this whole concept of bad words. It’s like this — and it’s funny because, I only really learned this to be true after the fact. So in a way, I ended up doing things the easy way and not so much the hard way. The hard way would be actually showing it to people and having them be like, “Yeah, uh — it’s, good,” meanwhile it’s fucking terrible. Or they tell you its terrible, and you go through months of trying to defend it and and slave over it, trying to make it as good as it can be (Note: I’m going through this exact situation right now with someone else and their “baby”), when really you should just cut and run and move onto the next thing. The easy way is more, I wrote it, figured out, on my own, fairly quickly that they were shit, and still ended up slaving over them, but not so long that it was embarrassing, just as soon as I learned from them and could move on. This, of course, is a hindsight argument, but, in all fairness, no one did have to read any of these scripts. Consider that a blessing.
This was the first script I ever wrote. The first real, feature length screenplay. And looking at it now, it had all the earmarks of “bad script written by someone just starting out.” For instance, I started it in January of 2006. I had a couple of notes that I’d written in November that I thought would be funny for “something,” that nebulous notion that may one day come to pass, and set them aside. Then, on a day of inspiration in December, I wrote several pages of other things that just came to me. That’s how it works with me. I have a dozen ideas at once, write them down, give them their own little cubbyhole, and one random day I’ll think up something good for one of them, go and write it down, and suddenly, maybe, I’ll get several pages worth of stuff. Then it sits there until I’m ready to actually start writing it. So, that happened with this. Then, in January, once Macbeth was done, I said, “I need something good to follow this up with.” And this, being really the only substantial idea I had in my young, fertile brain, this by default became 1-A.
I started it in January, nailed down a “story,” and I remember the script itself was up and running by March or April or something. I remember writing it by hand, because in those days, I was all about “fuck technology.” This mostly stemmed from my classmates pulling out calculators even to do the most simple multiplication problem. Like, if it’s 28 x 6, you can do that by hand. It’s not fucking rocket science. So, I made it a point to never use a calculator unless it was for high end stuff. Like, calculus. And I guess the writing thing factored into that. Plus I think I’d read someone who wrote a 500 page book and had written the whole thing by hand, notes-style, and was taken with the idea, thinking that it was a mark of authenticity, to write stuff by hand and then type it. I guess it was a good system, since I would essentially be writing and editing at the same time, as I’d have my outline, which had some words of dialogue or whatever in it, and then write it out by hand as a script, and then start typing it, and in those three iterations stuff would change, things would be rewritten or I’d think of something even better and work that in. So, it was beneficial, but, after the first script, it really just became a waste of time. I can type much faster than I write, and that is a very handy skill to have at the rate I come up with stuff. Those of you who’ve seen me in an online chat situation have seen how quickly I come up with stuff, and how quickly it gets thrown out there. The quicker I can get it on paper, the quicker I can move on to the next thing and let the idea train keep rolling. It’s almost a hinderance when I’m without a computer now, because, if I’m writing down the ideas by hand there irrevocably comes a point where I just can’t get all the ideas down quickly enough, and I have to then try to remember whole sequences until I can get to my laptop and write them down. Which, chances are, if I’m in a situation without a laptop, other shit is going on, so my attention is focused in multiple directions. But, back when this second script was written, my brain wasn’t trained enough as a writer to necessitate the need to write things down quickly.
So I started writing around March or something, wrote during class (because what the hell else was I gonna do, learn?), and after the AP exams were done in May, I had two whole months to sit in school all day and write — because once you take an AP exam, which is around the week college classes end (in my case, it was May 2-7, that week), you don’t end the semester like college, you go through til June. So I had to sit through two months of classes in which we did nothing. We literally sat there and fucked around, talked about what colleges we were going to, watched movies, shit like that. I sat in the corner and wrote. And the script got finished the script in June or July. Something like that. In all, the entire script was slaved over about ten months. I think October 2006 was really the time when it was set aside. But, the real clue as to how bad this script was — the first draft was 176 pages.
For clarification purposes, because this comes as second-hand to me, but some people may not yet know this, one page of a screenplay is considered approximately one minute of screen time. Of course this varies, since if you have a lot of dialogue, it’ll go faster than a minute, and if you have a lot of descriptions if could go slower — it all depends on what’s written and how that will play. So, the overall rule is, one page, one minute. The first thing anyone reading scripts will do is open up and flip to the back page. Because, scripts today are generally supposed to be anywhere between 90 and 110 pages. 120 is okay, but even that would be considered pushing it. 115 is kind of the limit. A 110 page script is equivalent to 1 hour 50 minutes of screen time. That’s about the length of a movie. My script was 176 pages. That’s three hours. Anyone reading that would have tossed it aside based on that alone.
But it was 176 pages. And after I wrote it, I read it. And reread it. And read it again. and again. I edited that script so many fucking times you’d think I’d memorized it. I probably did. And I loved it. Loved every word. I thought it was the best thing anyone (my age, I’m not that naive) had ever written (which will make reading the synopsis of it down there much more enjoyable). I think I ended up cutting it down to a manageable size, but, I can’t remember. The script was dismantled and/or lost long ago (Too bad).
Anyway, I started college in September of ’06, and the script was put away from the end of August until October since the first month of college is always top priority. Meet people, learn shit, get acclimated. Drink. The usual stuff. Then I remember — for some reason I even remember the date — October 12th. I must have filed away the date as the date the “final draft” of the script, the one that I was never going to change again. Cut to a year later, the script is completely gone and no part of it remains except about three lines of dialogue I thought were worth saving to possibly include in something else.
So, October 12th, a friend of mine says she’s going to the library to do work (that’s you Anna. Hi.) — those of you who know me are about to get another one of those “Mike’s Little Moments” — see what I did there? Substituted “Mike” for “Life”? Cute, right? I know, sometimes I just sleigh me. (That will be funny when you learn the script is about Santa. And because it ties into that whole other Santa thing too. That’s just coincidental. The irony wasn’t lost on me when I started the second one though.) — so she asks if I want to go.
Now, keep in mind — I use this as a mark of pride, but most students would be like, “You fucking idiot.” Which, is very fitting with who I am as a person, so, I remain proud. You’ll never take my pride. Do something.
I had, until this point, entered the campus’s library twice. First on a tour during orientation week (I want to study abroad in Asia just so I can make jokes throughout that entire week, where we didn’t even (but seriously, China controls what their people think) go inside — it was just in the lobby. I ultimately never counted being in the lobby as going into the library, as I would attend several of friends’ a cappella concerts in the lobby, wander drunkenly into the lobby, meet someone for dinner there, stuff like that — entering the lobby is the equivalent of “just the tip.” Some might count it, but I say go in or go home. It’s not like the library was telling me it had a yeast infection.
The only other time I’d entered the library before that day was one random Saturday in September, under the guise of “doing work.” I was never one that had to go places other than my room to do work, as everything I needed was right there. I have no concentration to begin with, so I was always taking breaks every fifteen minutes (seriously, people who lived with me, how many times would you see me walking up the halls while writing a paper? More than I actually wrote the paper, right?). I never got into the whole Christian values thing — depriving yourself of pleasure just so you can appease the overlords. Plus there’s that middle man taking your money. But, that’s what the library felt like to me. Some people need it, I was content with doing my own thing. I think better in my own environment. But, it felt like “the thing” to do. You know, in the movies, all the kids are in the library studying together, getting books, throwing paper airplanes, stopping by after class with their backpack on over their denim jacket, asking Jerry and Mary Sue if they want to get together for milkshakes after class later. I just felt like I needed to try it. It was purely coincidental that a football game just happened to be going on outside and that I sat perfectly positioned to both do my work on a library computer and also see what was going on during the game outside the huge glass windows out the back.
I got about, five, maybe six minutes in, mostly just reading the assignment and checking my email and seeing what I could do on the computer (not, work-wise, I mean, what kind of games and shit they had programmed on there. What printers I could phantom print from across the room, that sort of shit), before I gave up and started watching the game instead. And then maybe ten minutes after that I went outside and watched the game in person. Because fuck work. I mean, really?
The point of that story was, in my four years of college, I entered the school library a total of about — ten times. The actual count is lost on me, but going into senior year the count was definitely five or less. (Again, we’re not counting the “just the tip.”) Once for sure I had to go look at microfilm for an assignment, and another time I had to get a tutorial from the librarians on how to look up shit because I had no idea how to find books or do any kind of research (I was a senior too, which makes that story so great. She was looking at me like, “Shouldn’t you know how to do this by now?” and I’m like, “Bitch, I watch movies for a living. Give me the barebones and go help that CSS douchebag over there act a little more pretentious.” — Note: CSS is the College of Social Studies, a major only Wesleyan has. It’s a combination of Econ, History and Government. It has some stupid amount of reading and slightly more work (mostly self-inflicted) and it enables 90% of the students in the major to act like elitist assholes who look down on the rest of the population because “no one works as hard as we do.” I don’t like the major, and like the students even less. Though admittedly, I have like three friends in the major, and they’re cool. Though they are very aware of my feelings for their lifestyle choices). I forget what the other times were, but, going into senior year, I was very certain that I’d only been inside the library like five or six times, max. Oh, once was for a scavenger hunt in the stacks. Clearly I used my educational resources to their fullest potential. Oh, and another time was to play Pokémon. And another time was to sit and hang around with friends while they did work, which amounted to the four of us, sitting at a table, texting one another individually and carrying on conversations while sitting less than a foot away from one another. Once again, #winning.
Senior year, however, I realized, “Really? What does it matter?” I think it dawned on me that — as long as I wasn’t using the library to actually do work (which, the amount of times I did that in my college career was certainly five or less, two of which were mandated by either the assignment or me not knowing what the fuck I was doing), it didn’t matter how many times I went inside the library. Plus I went in like three times trying to get a thesis carrel. Which, they refused to give me until late senior year, like a week or two before theses were due. And even that I only used to just sit in because it was mine, be drunk inside, or for sex-related stuff (because, you just have to. Also, that whole library as religious/church is so much more appropriate now that you know the only reasons I enter the library — pokémon, when I’m drunk, sex-related, or scavenger hunts — “We’re looking for Jesus!”).
So I’m in the library — this is October 12th, we’re back to that — friend (Hi, Anna!) is doing work next to me. Another friend may or may not have been there, I don’t remember. I don’t think so, though. Whatever. Irrelevant. Four tangents is enough. So, I’m there, and I’m literally just sitting in the library, reading my printed out script, checking for grammar mistakes. It’s like that. And I’m like, “This is awesome, it’s perfect, there’s nothing wrong with it.” But, also, in the back of my mind, I’m like, “On some level, I do know that this is shit.” And I think that’s what benefitted me in the long run. Because I never did have the urge to show anyone that script (or the next two), aside from one friend who just gets shown everything. And I think that’s why I always felt ahead of the curve. Before I even knew about the whole, “bad words before good words” concept (which is totally true), I was self-aware enough to be like, “Yeah, this isn’t very good (despite absolutely loving it, the way all young writers do), perhaps I shouldn’t show this to people.” Whereas now I’m routinely looking for any opportunity to be like, “Hey, you wanna read this?” Though even now I still won’t directly ask people unless they mention it first. I hate those people that awkwardly force things onto others. But still, it’s like me and movies. I’m just waiting to talk about them. All you have to do is bring up the topic, boom, get your barrels (that’s my new shorthand for “It’s on like Donkey Kong”). Now I’m scarily willing to let people read my shit, because I’m very confident in it. But, then, I did realize that the script wasn’t very good. And that was a big unintentional step. Because I was both aware enough to not make an embarrassment of myself but also willing to let go enough to just be my age and enjoy being a young writer (I think I may have just discovered why I wrote my most recent script. Hmm. You realize so much shit after you do it).
That was all prologue. Now we’re getting to the actual script.
This second script was essentially a continuation of what I did the first time — take something and parody it in a clever way. At least, that’s what the idea was. It had already worked once, so I figured, “Hell, let’s go for broke.” Plus, like I said, it was the only idea that made it past the fallopian tubes. What’s great about it is that you can see a clear pattern of development from one thing to the next. I have a whole long ass story about me in middle school and high school before I even wanted or thought to become a writer that so clearly predicts what would happen (as well as a lot of the other shit I do) that it’s strange that no one saw it coming. So, anyway, Twe12ve.
The idea was this: Let’s take Santa Claus and turn him into a sadistic, master criminal jewel thief, who started Christmas with his former partner, the Grinch, turned on him, and is now ruling the north pole like tony Montana. Not what you were thinking from the title, right?
The twelve is like the twelve days of…and the number is like…yeah, you get it.
Also, know that the synopsis I gave you up there, is not the synopsis I had when I started. This is what it ended up being. And before you think it might be somewhat interesting — maybe — if I weren’t young. But, what I started with were three scenes —
The first scene I got from a news story on Yahoo. I used to search for weird and fucked up news stories because regular news just didn’t interest me. And I found one that said something like, the mayor of Topeka, Kansas got upset at a guy who either created a greeting card or a Christmas card or maybe even a cartoon in the newspaper that was going to become either of those things, and it was a picture of a dude, lying dead in the middle of an empty field, nothing around for miles. And it just said — it was a card, because on the front it said — CSI: Topeka. And when you opened the card it said, “Looks like he was bored to death.” And the mayor got his panties up in a snatch. But I thought it was hilarious. And, because it was November, and Christmas was just round the corner, I thought up a little one line joke that was, “CSI: North Pole — looks like Grandma got run over by a reindeer.” (Cue the theme music.) I thought that was funny. Still is cute in a certain kind of way. But, there was that. And you can see where I was like, “This would make a great transition to the next one. It’s the dot to connect to the next dot!” I like patterns like that. Which just explained all the shit I was writing on this blog for the past week. Also explains — so hysterically, too — how simple it is to get an idea for a Santa story from the most unlikely of origins. And have that story be your pride and joy when you’re too stupid to realize how shitty it really is. The only difference is — some of us grow.
After the CSI: North Pole joke, I had another two small ideas. Oh dear god, I still have that first page of notes. I’ll be right back —
Holy shit, I have the very first page of notes where I wrote down all my ideas. Maybe I’ll do it like this — I’ll write down what I wrote down then, now, and then tomorrow, I’ll show you what became of them. Here’s what’s written on the paper:
(Note: This is literally a torn of piece of computer paper. Of the 8 1/2 x 11, this is about — the bottom is, on a Macbook Pro, the length of the spacebar, plus the Apple key and the option key, It’s shaped like a right triangle, but instead the hypotenuse, instead of connecting to the far bottom leg, runs to a fourth side that juts out from the far side at the bottom at an obtuse angle jutting out opposite the right angle. And the hypotenuse, instead of being a straight line, is made up of torn paper, so it’s all jagged and shit. And everything is written in tiny paragraphs and either boxed in or has squiggly lines running around its borders like the kind you draw when solving a maze, just to keep each idea separated. Clearly a bigger paper was not an option.)
“CSI: North Pole. — “Looks like Grandma got run over by a reindeer.””
“He’s pretty quick for a fat guy, chief.”
“We got a guy on the inside.” — it’s a reindeer, wearing a wire.
“We got a team set up.” — There’s a guy hiding in the Christmas tree. They put knockout poison in the cookies. Nyquil in the milk. They “neutralize” Dad coming down the chimney to surprise his kid.
“Code blue. Swarm, swarm! Get him.” — Seinfeld joke (Poor Uncle Leo)
“Santa has guns on the sled like Twisted Metal.”
“Scarface — Santa, “say hello to my little friend,” at the top of the stars with an AK.”
“That’s not Santa. That’s an imposter!” “It’s old man Winters who runs the carnival!” “And I would have gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for those kids — and that damn dog!” — this was when I was just going to do it as a CSI episode. Then I said, “I want to write movies, not TV,” and moved on. Sadly, it did not make the final script. Though now I’m thinking it should have just been an episode. Would have been way funnier.
“Santa makes a call — “Can you trace it?” “No, he’s got a scrambler.””
“Santa’s like tony Montana — they shoot him, he falls out of the sleigh, lands on the ground. All the Whos gather round him, hold hands and sing.” — Fa who dorres…
(Side two. Because you really didn’t think there was just one, did you?)
“Santa catches reindeer with wire — “Et tu, Blitzen?”
“We got something from a neighbor across the street. Says she saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus last night.” — Mike Note: “Can we use it in court?” (If only I were smarter then…)
“We heard the suspect was also smoking a pipe. Could be a break in that opium case.”
“Frosty does lines in the snow.”
“Snowman has vibrator nose.” — No idea how the fuck that was gonna fit in, but that’s hysterical — “Hey guys, look what I got for the nose! I found it in Mom’s dresser.”
“Santa escapes like E.T.” — how has no one used that image before? Or have they?
“…looks like Santa Claus is coming to town.” — that would be a commercial break line, since we already have a theme song line.
“ho, ho, ho — hookers.” – that’s all it says. Short, sweet, and to the point. Like elf dick. (See? See how much wittier I am now? I should be living in Whittier, California.)
“They bring the Grinch in for questioning — go over his record — destroyed twelve drummers’ drums, shot the pipers piping, pushed ten lords a-leaping off a cliff, had sex with nine ladies dancing — and I don’t even want to get into the eight maids a milking. You sick bastard — drowned seven swans a-swimming, the geese a-laying can no longer do that anymore, stole five golden rings, taught the calling birds obscenities, ate three french hens, show the two turtle doves, and that pear tree no longer has the partridge in it — not to mention the whole “stealing christmas thing.”” — my favorite part of this whole thing. This is where the title comes from.
So that’s the first page of notes. I think there are more. I’ll see what I can dig up. I’ll continue this story tomorrow. And tomorrow you get to hear how this whole fucking thing got way out of hand.