there’s no such thing as “writing a screenplay.” There’s only not writing a screenplay or having already written one. Everything else is make believe.

My friend Allison and I had decided to write a screenplay. So she came over after work, and first we had to buy a bottle of wine, because it had been a long Monday. In order to do so we had to find a wine store. I actually knew exactly where a wine store was, and I told her, but since she was the one buying the wine—a housewarming gift—she had to be the one to go to the store, so while I could relate to her where the wine store was, and did, it obviously took longer than if I had just gone with her, which didn’t seem like an option at the time and still doesn’t.

When she returned with the wine, we set up shop by pouring it into glasses and positioning ourselves around the living room. I sprawled on the floor and she sat on the couch with the computer sitting next to her at a more jaunty angle than one would have used if one were actually going to type something, but luckily we were not going to type at that moment because we needed to discuss our weekends. She had gone to the lake with some friends of our mutual friend, and I wondered why I hadn’t been invited but didn’t ask, because there were almost certainly a myriad of reasons, the first being I wouldn’t have gone. My weekend had consisted of moving into my new apartment, staying up all night, and then sleeping for 24 hours straight, which is maybe the reason people don’t invite me to their lake houses, but who’s to say, or ask? Not me.

We had previously decided on the subject matter of our screenplay, which would be one night in the lives of a pair of completely ineffective MDMA dealers. Once we had typed that sentence into a Google.doc, we were able to relax a little and bat around some ideas and Allison had a frankly brilliant idea for the pre-credits sequence, which either is or isn’t film speak for “before the credits start.” We were so pleased with this small but important breakthrough that we decided to order pizza from the place down the street.

The pizza was to take 45 minutes, and we decided that we would work for the duration of that time, which would almost certainly have worked, had not the pizza shown up after only 20 minutes, that came right on the heels of a 20 minute conversation about whether we should use bitcoins to order drugs from India. It was at the moment that we were about to start working in earnest that the doorbell rang, putting a stop to everything. I went to get the pizza while Allison texted her friend Grace in LA to ask her how to write a screenplay. Next, we spent a not inconsequential amount of time getting situated: trying to find plates and napkins (there were none), me admonishing Allison to not get grease on my couch, her realizing she hadn’t really been that hungry to begin with, me devouring three pieces of pizza in quick succession, since as long as I was actively eating I could put off trying to figure out how to write a screenplay, and just repeat over and over again, “But how do you actually WRITE it?” I had also started to wonder why we were doing this at all. Was this a story that needed to be told? But I didn’t say anything about my creeping doubts since I didn’t want to sap the momentum that we were surely about to gain. The pizza gone, we decided to block out the first scene during which our protagonist dealers (one sweet and responsible, the other unpredictable and mean) would arrive at the McKibbon Lofts to sell drugs to drunk 23-year-olds.

“So they go inside right?” Me.

“Yeah, I think so,” Allison.

“So they walk in the door, then they walk another door, and then I guess they’re there?” Me.

One scene completed, we decided to brainstorm how we would pitch it to the people in L.A. who we would meet in elevators and have 30-seconds to say, “Breaking Bad meets Frances Ha meets Jawbreaker meets your mom on a dark corner. LOL BYEEEE.” Finally her “friend” Grace (as much as any screenwriting rival can be a friend) texted her back to say that the key to writing a screenplay is to outline the acts (3) and then sit down and don’t stop writing until you’re done. I had a panic inducing flash of sitting hunched over a typewriter for three days, but then remembered about computers and felt somewhat better. We were both so heartened by this straightforward advice—make a plan and then execute it quickly—that we decided to end the night on a high note and reconvene in a week to pick up where we had left off. After all, Good Will Hunting wasn’t built in a day. 


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One Response to there’s no such thing as “writing a screenplay.” There’s only not writing a screenplay or having already written one. Everything else is make believe.

  1. Rob in Vacaville says:

    I wouldn’t have gone either. Ha, ha, typewriter! Herb Caen, I’m telling you…


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