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Life Has a Funny Way

After a fun and informative trip to the Austin Film Festival, I was returning with renewed motivation to get to work on STILL, a desire I’ve expressed sporadically for the past, oh, 15 months or so.  I attended a number of panels on independent filmmaking, and I was excited to get back to my own, but I was admittedly a little unsure of the logistics, what with NaNoWriMo just around the corner and my ever-heavy freelance load. Not to mention that whole, preparing-for-a-baby thing.

But then I got a phone call at the airport.  And it turns out I’ll have a lot more free time on my hands for a while.

The downside of doing the bulk of your freelance work through one client is that, when they decide to hire two in-house writers and inform you they won’t be needing you to write those 30-4o blog posts a month anymore, you’re kind of SOL.  I’m lucky since the freelance work was on top of my day job, and I’ll still have projects here and there, but I’m essentially looking at an extra one to three hours on my hands every single night.

Which is to say, if you have any copywriting, editing, proofreading, document formatting (including screenplays), ebook formatting or direct-sale navigable PDF creation needs, I’m for hire!

While I’m obviously disappointed not to be pulling in that steady cash, I’m actually pretty excited to have that time back to work on my own, horribly neglected projects.  I took yesterday to catch up on everything you have to catch up on when you go out of town for 5 days, but tonight I hopped right back in.

A still from STILL, a short film by Elizabeth Ditty

Even after something like 14 hours of shooting, both my amazing trooper of a human statue, Mike Burgess, and my fabulously talented DP, Amy Elrod, were still pulling off gorgeous shots like this.

I can’t quite say I’m finished with the rough cut because I’ve got to do some tweaking and rewriting of the voiceover, but I do have every single image that’s going into the film in the film (sans credits).  And that’s been a long time coming.  We’re getting there, slowly but surely, and now the biggest remaining task is to find someone to do the voiceover.

Like this guy (the one on the left).

Neil Gaiman marrying his own human statue, Amanda Palmer

Consider this the beginning of my campaign to convince Neil Gaiman, who has his own love affair with a certain human statue, to voice my short film. (Image courtesy of Amanda Palmer, credited to Kyle Cassidy.)

In all seriousness, while I’d obviously love that to happen since I’ve always heard Mr. Gaiman’s voice in my head when envisioning the final film, I know he’s obviously a super busy guy, so I’ll be pursuing more traditional channels in the meantime.

So, all this to say, sometimes life has a funny way of redefining your priorities when you’re having trouble finding a way to do it yourself.  When that happens, remember it’s OK to have yourself a bit of a cry (even in a totally awkward place like in line to board a plane) and that sometimes there are forces at work that simply know better than we do. Mourn, then move on to the adventures ahead.

Existential Crises and Pregnancy-Induced Mania

Can I be honest with you?  After completely zeroing out on all the contests this year (the first time that’s EVER happened since I started this whole screenwriting pursuit), I was ready to totally give up on writing.  I had excuses.  I have a full-time day job.  I spend another 10-15 hours a week (sometimes more) on freelance work.  And there’s that little item about getting ready to have a kiddo in 5 months.  It would have been easy to justify giving up on writing for myself and my own dreams.

Except when it is your dream, what you feel put here to do, you just can’t.  Not without sacrificing a part of who you are.

And so after a good eight hours of teary-eyed existential crisis and a good talking down by my boyfriend, I started thinking about what to do next. I definitely wasn’t ready to start anything new.  I knew I could reach out to a few people for notes and thoughts on scripts I’d already written.  And I knew I could focus some energy on finishing my short film that’s been in post-production for something terribly embarrassing like a year and half now.

And then LEON stumbled into my life by way of a link to an open writing assignment for Amazon Studios.  I’ve historically had mixed feelings (like much of the screenwriting community) about Amazon Studios’ spec opportunities, but the terms of the OWA looked inviting, and it was a relief to be able to focus on a story that didn’t come directly from my own heart and soul.  And I figured, if nothing comes of it, it’s good practice in writing a treatment and learning how to respond to OWAs, in case I ever do make it anywhere in the industry.

Ditty Writes a Treatment

An actual scene from Ditty Writes a Treatment. Because writing treatments (just like screenplays) includes taking breaks to take instagram photos of your coffee and iPad and notebook. (And if you’re wondering, that is a Venti Decaf Nonfat Half-Pumpkin Spice, Half-Sugar-Free-Cinnamon Dolce Latte, which I’ve earned the privilege of ordering without enduring massive barista hate by ordering plain coffee for something like 700 days out of the past two years. Pay your dues, folks. Pay your dues.)

I’ve never been a fan of treatments for my own specs.  It always seemed like my time would be better spent outlining and then actually writing the thing.  But I did enjoy the process of creating a narrative version of my take on the script, and I think it’s a nice way to work out a story you don’t really know too well yet, as well as a story you’re not quite sure how to fix at first glance.  So now that’s submitted, and I’m back to staring at my own projects.

So, here are my goals for now through the arrival of the stork.

NaNoWriMo in November. – It’ll be Year 8 for me, which is ridiculous, and also makes me feel like I can’t quit now despite everything going on. Besides, the No. 1 rule of NaNo is there’s always someone busier than you.  Plus I’ve got a story up my sleeve I’ve always thought would make an excellent screenplay (in fact, I’m baffled it’s not been done before), so it’s a good chance to do a super thorough treatment version of that.

Finish post-production on STILL. – If I don’t finish this thing before the baby is born, then I just don’t know, guys. Post-production is hard. I’m really not a fan of it. But it’s kind of a necessary evil if you actually want to show people your film, which I do.  I’m hoping the Independent Filmmaker Track at the Austin Film Festival will both give me some inspiration as well as some practical tactics on how to make this process go more smoothly in the future.  (Tip No. 1: If you don’t like doing post-production, maybe recruit someone who actually does.)

Choose a script to write whilst on maternity leave. – Now, this may seem kind of nuts, and it may be kind of nuts, but I’m going to have 8 to 9 more hours in the day than I’m used to having. If even three-quarters of that is taken up by the kiddo, then I’m still coming out ahead.  I know folks who have done it and more, so I’m going to do what I can.  (Alternate goal: Plan and shoot another short film, which I think is the crazier option of the two.)

And that’s it. Not so bad. Leaves plenty of time for the pregnancy-induced mania* that’s starting to hit. I’m not going to admit how much time I spent on Pinterest today. But I also spent a couple of hours on a screenwriting project today, and I’m going to call that a triumph, my friends.

*I am not a bird and thus refuse to call it “nesting.” Come on, people.

Juggling & Creative Juju

Lately I’ve been learning to juggle. {Maybe I should learn to actually juggle. That’d be a neat party trick. If I ever got invited to parties.}

Here are my balls. {Get your minds out of the gutters, you saucy sillies.}

  • I work your typical, 40-hours-a-week, non-creative, cubicle job. And full disclosure, it can be, well, emotionally challenging.
  • I recently took on what I think can be called a load of freelance writing work.
  • I’m still pursuing the whole crazy screenwriting dream.
  • I’m supposed to be finishing a short film.
  • I’m trying to keep in shape & to lose approximately 7 pounds in order to fit into the bridesmaid dress I ordered for my sister’s wedding because I’m silly & stubborn & demanded the size I thought I should have rather than the one I measured for post-holiday-binges-and-Melting-Pot.
  • I like to see movies and watch a handful of TV shows as well as read a variety of books, in my efforts to be culturally aware, artistically fulfilled, and to just effing relax from time to time.  Sometimes these activities are combined with one of my favorite pastimes of Hanging Out With My Boyfriend.
  • And then there’s the effort to maintain some semblance of a social life by seeing Other Human Beings in a non-work environment from time to time.

And what I’m finding is that’s quite a lot of balls. {Out. Of. Gutters!}

For a while, I was trying to make myself adhere to the brilliant GITS 1, 2, 7, 14 Method, but it just became too much, and I’d often find myself staring at my computer screen pretending to work but really accomplishing nothing or giving in and mainlining episodes of How I Met Your Mother on Netflix Instant. Once I’m out from under the pressure of the major contest deadlines, I’d like to implement it again, either in its original form or in a modified-for-me version. But right now, it just wasn’t working.

So last week I finally gave in and gave myself permission to focus my creative endeavors on One Thing. And right now, that’s rewriting SoS until it’s in ship-shape for Nicholl and Austin.  The other script I’ve got in the pipeline will wait, an

Sometimes you just have to give yourself a break and take the pups for a walk.

d it will be better for it when I can throw all my creative juju at it instead of parceling it out.  Same goes on the short film. Once the contest deadlines are out of the way, I’ll be able to breathe and dedicate creative energy to finishing post-production and taking whatever next step I feel is appropriate when the product is final.

One thing I’m trying to do this year is to be more forgiving of myself. My mantra is, “Let it be.” I’m ambitious, and I push myself hard — and these are good things when you’re chasing big dreams. But I’m also human, and I deserve to be treated as such — especially by my own self.  Some days, you just need a break. And if you’re working consistently and putting in the effort every day, then allowing those days to be what they are is totally OK.  It’s tough to find the balance between taskmaster and pushover, but I’m working on it.

I’m also working on actually scheduling in downtime on a more regular basis, because when I’m doing that, the burnout days happen less often.  So even though my to-do list seems to grow every day instead of shrink, next week I’m taking a much-needed two days off from everything to go to St. Louis with the boyfriend. No agenda (except going up in the Arch, which is non-negotiable). Just fun. I’m pretty sure I can do that. And I’m also pretty certain my creative brain will be better for it, too.

So that’s what I’m doing. Or trying to do.

The 2011 Austin Film Festival: A Recap

Subtitled: “In Which Ditty Disappoints Everyone By Failing to Find Words to Describe How Amazing It Was.”

Everything that follows can really be summed up in the following bit of advice: If you have the opportunity to attend the Austin Film Festival, DO IT. (Especially if you are a writer.)

If you need more convincing, perhaps this crappy cell phone picture will help.

Five measly rows back from Johnny Depp & Caroline Thompson (AMAZING screenwriter) in the flesh before the retrospective screening of EDWARD SCISSORHANDS at the Paramount Theatre.

Not your type? What’s wrong with you? Fine. What about this?

The gorgeous and gracious Alexis Bledel, flanked by the lovely Jessica von Schramm (who offers wonderful screenwriting advice at jessvs.tumblr.com) and the barely-standing me (having been up more hours in a row than is generally recommended for optimal health) at the Film + Food Gala that kicked off the festival. (Courtesy of incredibly talented photographer Dieter von Schramm -- see more of his work at http://www.overprocessed.com.)

Still not doing it for you? Again, I have to ask, what is wrong with you?!

How about the opportunity to see big-league films like THE RUM DIARY? Sure-to-have-people-talking films like BUTTER? Destined-to-become-a-desperately-adored-cult-hit films like JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME? And that’s not even to mention the hundreds of documentaries, indie-level and local films, and shorts you’ll find very few other places and perhaps nowhere else at all.  It is a cinematic feast of grand eclectic proportions.

“I need more!” you say? Oy vey! But all right! I have more! How about the chance to hobnob with amazingly talented writers, filmmakers, producers, managers, agents and beyond? The opportunity to learn from the best of the best, like Shane Black, Terry Rossio, Michael Arndt, Caroline Thompson to name just a few? The writers’ conference will educate and inspire you in ways you’ve never imagined. And if you have even the smallest smidge of luck on your side, you might find yourself talking to folks who can help you on this slightly insane path we’re on to become working writers.

Hopefully by now I’ve offered some pretty good evidence for why you should attend, but I’m saving the most important bit for last. Are you ready? Here it is: There is no feeling in the world quite like finding yourself in the midst of hundreds of people who get it. The Austin Film Festival is special because it honors the writer, and because of that, writers flock to this festival. And if you’ve ever felt like a bit of a weirdo or an outcast because you’re pursuing this insane dream, you will feel at home at this festival because everyone there is pursuing that dream, or a variation of it, too. You will very likely make friends for life because everyone gets it. Everyone gets you, and you get everyone, and it is a magical and glorious thing.

And then you have to go home, and you will feel really strange not having a gargantuan badge hanging around your neck all the time.

You will be so excited to be there that you will not even care about the typo in your screenplay title on your badge (but you will still feel the need to mention it on occasion, just so people know it's a typo and that it should say 'TIL DEATH PARTS US, thus hopefully proving that you have a fairly decent grasp on most verb conjugations.)

But you’ll have the memories and the business cards to help you foster those connections you made during the rest of the year, and those relationships you cultivate will make subsequent trips to the Austin Film Festival — because I’m pretty sure that once you go, you’ll always want to go back — even more amazing.

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