God I love this short:
It’s like when people say “shorts should really be under 15 minutes, unless…”
This is the unless.
The cut back to the guys struggling with the mannequin is magic.
Blessed without a day job I’ve had hours upon hours to sit with my movie and polish the cut. The days blend together. I think I was sick a few weeks ago. Or was that last week? My birthday was a month ago and I’m not sure what I did that day or night.
I was thinking today, why does it get harder as you get closer to being done? There’s the sort of obvious answer, which is that it’s scary to ship stuff. It’s scary to say “here, this is it.” Much easier to say “this is the rough cut, what do you think?”
But I think there’s a practical (and unavoidable) reason why the last 20% takes 80% of the time.
It’s like when you go to the ophthalmologist1 and she’s flipping back and forth, number one or number two, how about four, that’s four, now five, etc.
It gets harder with each level because the difference is more noticeable, she’s tacking in from a wide chasm to a narrow one so each step gets progressively harder to detect a difference. When you can’t tell the difference anymore, that’s your prescription.
So movies. At the beginning, there’s lots of fast progress. You start the day and you have no scene and then a few hours later you have a scene. It’s not done necessarily but you took it from 0 to 0.8 in a day.
And then as you get deeper in, the changes become finer. It’s harder to tell the difference. Is it better this way or that way? How can I tell, I’ve been looking at this for days, maybe I’ll send it to a friend to see what they think.
All of this and the quality approaches a local maxima, an asymptote, as close as necessary to perfect.
And as you reach the asymptote, you start to question: are we really there? Is it done or do I just want it to be done?
just realized I’ve been misspelling that as “opthamologist” my whole life ↩
From somewhere over the North Atlantic, I’m on my way home to Chicago after a month in Berlin.
I took the trip in part for family reasons but I extended it to get a better feel for the city, but I was writing, editing, and working throughout. I stayed there for just over a month (leaving for a long weekend in Spain in the middle) in a one-bedroom AirBnB apartment in Graefekiez, a gentrifying neighborhood in Kreuzberg. These thoughts are gleaned from many conversations with people here, Germans and non-Germans, as I consider moving to a new city or staying in Chicago.
I arrived on December 18 and quickly remembered how cities change drastically during the holiday time from Christmas to New Year’s Day. I usually don’t like the way the rhythm of cities slows down during holiday times, but I felt it double being in a new city. Things changed drastically once January hit and I felt a lot more life in the city, and had a much easier time meeting people.
I mostly avoided touristy things, except for two walking tours of Kreuzberg, including a tour of street art, something Kreuzberg is well known for.
When viewed from the street, much of the city is ugly to me. In Kreuzberg, almost every building surface within reach of spray paint is covered in graffiti.
There’s more trash on streets and the energy often feels messy — during our tour, a man stopped to pee on a tree about 15 feet from us, in the middle of the afternoon. I saw many other men pissing on the street during the month, including on a building in the middle of Alexanderplatz on New Year’s Eve, and none seem concerned that the police would give them a citation (or that everyone was shooting off fireworks, mostly into the air).
I love the street art.
This last one is one of my favorites, the Berlin wall turning into a wall of Euros. Anti-capitalist slogans are everywhere in the city. There also a lot of griping about gentrification and rising rents (which are still very cheap for a major city) and a feeling that the “cool Berlin” is gone or quickly fading. I hear this just about everywhere I go, whether in Berlin or the U.S. — it’s gentrifying, rents are going up, this place used to be cool 5/10/15/25 years ago.
Still, grassroots movements to keep the city unique have had some success. Google wanted to build a large office here and decided to back down after protests. “Fuck Google” stickers and graffiti can be seen around town.
The bigger art pieces are commissioned or done with permission. Some of the graffiti, like these ornate tags by the Berlin Kidz are also beautiful, at least to me.
That spells “paradox”.
While much of the exterior in the city is ugly, the interior spaces are often beautiful and unique. Stores, cafes, and apartments often have colorful interiors with ornate flowers painted on the walls, impeccable lighting, and many plants. It’s the opposite of Chicago, where the architecture is consistently beautiful but the interior of everyone’s apartment looks the same.
I wonder if Berliners feel that when they come inside, they want to come into warm, welcoming, cozy spaces, oases from the ugly exterior world.
There’s a similar phenomenon with the people too, who are generally attractive but dress in unflattering or, well, aesthetically unconventional ways. I’m not sure if it’s just the current fashion or what.
All of this amounts to a massive amount of texture. The city feels lived in, real, and human in a way that the grid of Chicago often feels dehumanizing and alienating to me.
Fewer than 50% of the residents are from Berlin. There are many many immigrants, expats, and refugees (notably Turks, Syrians, and Spaniards). And the city has also attracted droves of young professionals, artists, designers, coders, and entrepreneurs from all over the world.
This creates a feeling of constant energy and excitement. It feels like people really want to be here. On the other hand, I got the feeling from talking to people that it’s a bit of a transitional city, a waypoint on the way to somewhere else for many people. Several people told me it was hard to maintain friendships for more than a year because people come and then move on. Sometimes people come and then change completely as they discover some new way to live or new thing they’re into and join a different milieu or social group. That’s what makes it exciting – people can come and be free to find themselves, but it can also make it difficult.
The thing that I wonder though is — how much is substance and how much is hype? How much is just cool vs. impactful art? I have no way to answer these questions.
The city is incredibly international. There are people here from all over the world. It’s striking how uninternational Chicago feels in comparison. If you speak more than one language, then it’s common to have a little dance at the beginning of every conversation where you try to figure out which language is Pareto optimal for the conversation.
It was common for me to start with German (of which I know very little), have the other person switch to decent English, and then after a few minutes I would realize that they were from Spain or Colombia and we would switch to Spanish.
There are many Spaniards and Latin Americans there and Spanish is a pretty useful language to have in the city, although English is widespread. Almost everywhere you go, someone speaks at least some broken English. And some locals are upset because they have gone to restaurants or cafes where none of the staff spoke German. Many of the expats never bother to learn any German.
Now, some sentences about the fucking weather.
I’ve been to Berlin in the summer, when it was sunny and warm (but not hot) and it’s similar to Chicago — everyone is happier, everyone is outside, the sun is up until late, everything feels more beautiful, and there is much merriment had by all. In Berlin, you can drink in public and you’re either unemployed or have six weeks of vacation a year and so obviously you can enjoy the summer even more, drinking by the river with your eight friends, each from a different country.
Berlin in the winter is the opposite of that. It’s extremely gray. Like no sun for weeks at a time. My brother (who has lived there for seven years) tells me that a few years ago ago they had a winter with only 40 hours of sunlight the entire winter. I didn’t see pure unbroken sunlight for more than a five-minute stretch until… three days ago, or after being there for almost a month.1 The sun rises late (around 8am) and sets early (around 4pm).
I think it’s hard to underestimate the impact of living without sunlight for so long. Chicago winters are also depressing to me, mainly because they don’t end until April or May and also because they are also very gray. But Berlin felt depressing in a way that Chicago doesn’t.
My theory is that the Chicago winter is so extremely cold and harsh and the wind so terribly biting that it all creates a sometimes dire sense of hardship and suffering, which on the one hand is about as enjoyable as any other hardship and suffering but on the other hand has the pleasant side effect of creating a feeling of camaraderie with your fellow Chicagoans because we’re all in this together and goddammit we might not have much to live for but we will make it to see the summer, so help me God.2
Berlin’s weather felt less like a desperate struggle against mother nature and more like “well, this is just how things are, sorry, maybe try some Lexapro?”
I don’t know if it’s the city or the weather or the fact that the sun doesn’t rise until 8am, but my schedule shifted. I’ve been waking up at about 8am like clockwork for the past year and all of a sudden I found myself sleeping until 9am or 10am without any problem and naturally falling asleep around 1am or 2am. On a few nights, I went out to a bar or a party only to realize that it was 4:30am or 6:00am. There’s no way I’m just accidentally staying out until 6am in Chicago.
Film and Work
I wanted to meet up with more filmmakers but the weird time of year conspired against me.
I did get to one film event this week and met some interesting filmmakers. There was a pitch session where people could talk about their project and try to enlist collaborators. My sense was that most indie projects here are zero budget. I’m not sure if that’s better or not than Chicago – in Chicago, most indie projects have some funding, although never a lot of funding. Probably some projects would be better off going zero budget but it’s also nice that people get a little bit of money.
Another thing I noticed was that most of the people pitching were looking for writers to collaborate with. In Chicago, it feels like everyone is a writer. I don’t know any directors in Chicago that don’t also write their own material. Almost every comedian/improviser I know is also a writer or has written their own material at some point. I don’t know if everyone writing for themself is optimal, and I don’t want to draw conclusions from just meeting a handful of filmmakers in Berlin.
My hunch is that while Berlin may be more creative or inspiring than Chicago, it’s also harder to ship your work because there are so many shiny fun things going on, so many interesting people to meet, etc.
Berlin felt like it was telling me to not miss out, to come out and play and be weird and stay out late and party and meet people. During the winter in Chicago, I feel like the city is telling me to stay home, edit and write and watch Netflix and occasionally go to a bar with my friends to complain about the weather.
So while I think it would be more creatively stimulating to live there, I also think it would require more discipline to work and write.
There’s something about Berlin that truly feels free, like I actually felt more free there. I can’t quite describe it, it’s something cultural, something in the air.
And I’m not exactly oppressed in Chicago. I can’t really put my finger on it, but you just get the sense that anything goes — you can be anyone you want in Berlin and people won’t judge you (as long as you’re not judgmental).
Then there are things like the fact that you can drink in public. And urinate in public, if that’s your thing. And there’s the drug dealers at the Gorlitzer Park U-Bahn station (I never bought from them, but it’s nice to know you can buy drugs if you want them).
Smoking is still allowed in many bars, and regulations seem easy to skirt or laws are ignored or not enforced. And smoking is much more common.
Three days before New Year’s eve, tons of pop-up fireworks stores open up and people buy massive amounts of fireworks. The entire city is lit up by nonstop fireworks for hours after midnight on New Year’s Eve. It can’t be safe… I had fireworks exploding near me multiple times as I walked around or drank a beer on the sidewalk. It’s insane how many people were shooting off fireworks, including children.
Even the dogs are free — most dogs are walking around with their owners, unleashed.
And it almost always felt civil. I never felt in danger. Many of the smaller streets are dark at night but crime is much lower than in a major U.S. city.
And while raving drunks are tolerated on the train platforms, people will publicly yell at and scold people who are having ‘adult’ conversations or talking crudely in the presence of children.
Nobody asked me about Trump. When I traveled to Europe in the Bush years, everyone made comments about Bush.
I talked to a Russian who had no idea about any sort of Russian interference with U.S. elections. I told her it was a huge debate in the U.S. and she thought the very idea was preposterous. So, it seems that one of us is being lied to.
One of my favorite things was drinking tea, which was served with freshly-sliced ginger or mint leaves.
It’s feels safe in a way that a U.S. city never feels.
Reading Jane Jacobs has helped me understand why I much prefer living on mixed-use streets and why these streets feel better to walk on and live on.
There aren’t so many, uh, basic people.
It’s probably one of the best deals for geo-arbitrage for someone that wants a major international city. Cost of living is rising but still much lower than London, Paris, NY, SF, Chicago, LA.
Anti-racist and anti-sexist graffiti and signage are all over the place. The city is aggressively intolerant of intolerance.
This isn’t meant to be an in-depth review of every single feature. I’m going to share some of the things that I love about Highland 2 (just going to call it Highland from here on out) and a few things that I don’t love.
As background: I’ve been using Final Draft since 2011. Last year, I upgraded from version ~71 to version 10. Final Draft was never a joy to use, but it got the job done and I could ignore all the clutter and work around the idiosyncrasies and get my writing done.
And while I am pretty critical of Final Draft, I should say that it has been a big part of my life and work since I started using it. It helped me write hundreds of pages of scripts, including all of my films, several plays, and many many sketches. I’ve used it for over a thousand hours (maybe a few thousand?) and it has served me very well. I hope they can improve the user interface and modernize the software, because I want there to be multiple great choices in the marketplace.
For the past week, I’ve been using Highland every day, working two-three hours per day on the first draft of a comedy screenplay. I’m using the Pro version but the free version includes most of the features of the Pro version.(more…)
I honestly can’t remember what version I was using. ↩
Reposted from today’s newsletter:
It’s December and for most Chicagoans that means turning inward to look deep inside ourselves and ask the age-old question: am I really going to do this fucking winter thing again?
“No! No, I am not!” I declared to myself while waiting for Amazon autoplay to kick in the next episode of Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
I am going somewhere that is two degrees warmer on average, slightly less windy, but even grayer and rainier. That place is Berlin and I hear that it is NOT lovely this time of year. I don’t care. Coffee tastes better in the winter. And it’s a great time to GET STUFF DONE.
Anyway, I’m going for a month.
// still-untitled feature film update
I spent a weekend in November in NYC with Anna, the editor. The movie is like almost there. I screened a rough cut for some friends this week and the consensus was “it’s like almost there, but here’s 20 things you should think about or change.”
So, back to editing. ETA is still TBD but looking at Q2 FY2019.
Also, I’m really proud of this movie! It’s really weird! I’m still very shocked but eternally grateful that my friends read the script and said “we should make this.” I think half of doing anything big is just having friends who will shrug their shoulders and say “yeah, why not?”
Here’s a picture of the production from when it was summer:
(photo by Jeanne Donegan)
Have you seen The Favourite yet? It’s so so funny. And good.
Thanks to capitalist competition, Withoutabox has shuttered. Withoutabox was awful to use (although it had improved in the last couple of years).
I too cheer the success of FilmFreeway. I love the platform.
But I do wonder, in all the rejoicing, if anyone has stopped to think that…
FilmFreeway is now a monopoly.
Let’s hope they stay filmmaker-friendly.
Screenwriting, as a professional fascination, is built on desires for personal approval that can be as fruitless and full of wish-thinking as gambling-addiction. Screenwriting is not filmmaking, it’s a part of filmmaking, it’s one of the blueprints, but it is not a good litmus test for the quality of a movie, clearly; Studios sign huge checks to great screenplays to then receive the worst Rotten Tomatoes scores in history. The Thunder Road Screenplay received multiple 3/10 ratings on The Blacklist. Yesterday, The Academy’s screenplay library reached out to have it added to their collection. The screenplay for Dunkirk is 70 pages. The only thing (Academy Award Winning Screenwriter) Diablo Cody knew about screenwriting when she wrote Juno was that “the dialogue is in the middle.” It’s ok to suck at writing screenplays if you know what will make a great movie and if you want to understand how people engage with movies in 2018, don’t study the script for Seabiscuit, get a Reddit Account like a normal person.– Jim Cummings
Shout it from the rooftops!
I really like what Jim has to say about independent filmmaking. It’s refreshing and intelligent.
Another gem I picked up at Austin Film Festival: the crap +1 fallacy.
The fallacy is that you see a bad movie and think that all you have to do to succeed is write something a little better.
It’s a fallacy because you can’t see the myriad reasons why the movie didn’t end up well–the missteps, the studio interference, actor problems, mistakes, and concessions that made a bad movie out of a good script. Your screenplay isn’t competing with the crappy final version of a movie — it’s competing with the good script that got mangled after it was purchased.
I get this completely, but I have seen films at festivals where I thought “oh, I can make something better than this” and that has been an effective motivator for me at times.
The Not Actually Crap corollary: the movie was bad but made a ton of money. Sure, to your refined taste it was an artistic failure, but to the fat cat investors it was a resounding success.
Also known as You Are Not the Audience (YANTA). Hint: the audience is probably teenage boys or Chinese moviegoers.
i hate grants
i hate writing grant applications.
does anyone enjoy this?
did you like my thing?
are my artistic goals good enough?
do I have a good purpose?
do you like my carer trajectory?
is my art too safe or too risky?
am i saying the right things?
what are you looking for?
can I have some money? i would really like some money.
i hate grants
One thing I noticed at AFF was that a LOT of people are writing TV pilots. It seems like every aspiring-to-be-professional writer I met had entered a pilot into the screenwriting contest or was working on a pilot or was trying to break into TV with their pilot.
I had a conversation with a woman who was developing a pilot for a show that was an autobiographical story of how she found love later in life. I liked the story. I think it would be a good rom-com.
I asked her if it wouldn’t be better as a movie. As someone who lives in Austin, she has virtually no chance of that pilot getting made. First it has to be a great concept. I like the idea but it’s not like earth-shattering and the audience is somewhat limited.
Second, she has to get the idea into the hands of people that can make it a reality, which is basically a few different studios or Netflix or Amazon or Apple.
She doesn’t really have connections there. And it’s very rare that a first-time writer just gets a show made like that.
I told her that it would be much easier to make as a movie. You just have to find a producer that wants to make it. It’s much easier to find an indie producer than a willing TV executive, especially since there are so many possible budget ranges. You could do her idea for $200k, $500k, $1 million, or $20 million.
It’s still hard; it’s still a longshot. I just see a better path there. And it’s her story. She wants it to be told. You can make a movie through sheer force of will. You cannot make a TV show that way. There are just too many factors outside of your control.
She could also write a play, a really funny play. All of these strategies hinge on the material being really good, although honestly, the indie feature route has the least reliance on having a good script.
A lot of the people with pilots in Austin were people that lived in not Los Angeles. It’s pretty damn hard to break into TV if you’re not in Los Angeles. I’m not really sure what their career strategy is. Maybe it’s submitting to contests, hoping to win one that gets them a manager? There are many ways in but I know that if my main goal in life was to write for television that I would have moved to L.A. years ago.
I went to a panel with the director of filmmaker labs at Film Independent. She said that comedy features are very much underrepresented in their submissions for the screenwriting lab.
I think everyone who wants to write comedy went over to the pilot side, which in one way makes sense because there are more writing jobs in TV, but then again, there’s only a loose connection between the jobs and what gets you the job.
Why not zig when others are zagging?