Prepare yourself for an abstract literary journey that is this post. Ok, that’s just a fancy way of saying that what you’re about to engage in may be a bit scatterbrained. Nevertheless, priceless nukes of intel are going to be fired your way. Excuse any false Emergency Alerts that may blow up your phones.
Without further ado…
You finish watching, oh, I don’t know, say, Mindhunters or Narcos or The Grand Budapest Hotel or Goodfellas and you think to yourself, “boy, I could write better than that”.
Two things. First. You probably can’t and more sad is that the odds are you probably won’t. Second.
THAT IS NOT WHAT INSPIRED ME TO WRITE A 150 PAGE SCREENPLAY IN 40 DAYS!
For those couch jockeys that think your script will write itself though divine intervention or osmosis or some shit, it ain’t gonna happen. But but but there’s still hope.
Inspiration can come in many shapes or forms so who the hell am I to judge?
Slowly but surely people began to question why was Michael Anthony Murphy, photographer (motion and still) and blogger, writing a feature length film?
I began a self audit.
I was shooting back in 2007 or 2008 with a Canon Rebel 400d, AKA Rebel Xti. I had some prime lenses and the kit zoom. It was a great entry level camera. I earned my chops and my keep with it for that matter.
That camera and it may sound like hogwash to some younger bucks, did not record video. Fuck me sideways, it didn’t even have a live view option. But it got the job done.
Along came the Nikon D90 and Canon 5d Mark ii, announced August and September 2008, respectively. With the capabilities to record HD video with absolute cinema quality (using similar optics) at a fraction of the cost of the likes of ARRI or Panavision and other industry rigs, the game was not only changed but flipped on its head.
And I didn’t give a shit.
Without the extra dough for those new bodies, I kept my focus on cranking up my clout in the stills world.
That was until 2012. I was booked to do some documentary and portraiture for Karol Escobar’s award winning short film, All Hallow’s Eve.
Literally living on that set for a week changed everything. It was like one of my commercial photoshoots on steroids. So much gear. So much light. So much light. It was the RED Epic and throngs of ARRI 650, 2K, 8K and 12K watters (not a real word). There were enough C-stands to build a fucking Roman Empire.
When it wrapped It was then and there I decided to work on motion. By then I had my Nikon D4 anyway. The first of its kind to be able to record clean uncompressed RAW footage.
Collaborations for some short film projects were conceived. Not all born but the energy that I was experiencing by sharing ideas with those like minded people in the film world was like crack. I needed more and more.
Note :: Being a headshot photographer and working on a film set has grown that creative network exponentially. Therefore you grow your own filmmaking ecosystems as a result. Pure synergy.
::need was my first completed short film. And ironically don’t think I ever announced it publicly until now. And that was like 5 years ago.
Basically, I wanted to write but felt I didn’t know dick about screenwriting. Sure, I could write a decent blog but thought that screenplays were such different animals.
I began to focus on shorts with minimal dialogue and even stuff that didn’t require a script; just me a camera and an actor. Don’t get confused. I still have a couple of these in the pipeline and I think they can be super powerful. Think Robert Redford in All is Lost. Brilliant.
Every excuse entered my brain as to why I couldn’t write a screenplay. Fuck. At the end of the day I was a commercial still photographer, right? Wrong.
Close enough anyway.
It was just a few months ago when I sat down and read Steven Pressfield’s, THE WAR OF ART.
When I read “The End” and closed the book, I opened Final Draft and began to type.
40 days later I have a completed first draft. And after a first read through, aside from some tweaks, there won’t really be a second draft.
How’d A Photographer Who’d Never Written A Screenplay Do So In 40 Days?
That fucking book.
THE WAR OF ART answered so many questions about myself that really, I already knew the answers to. Strange right?
From 2012 until 2017 it was what Pressfield calls RESISTANCE, that kept me from banging out that picture.
Resistance comes in many familiar forms: procrastination, sleep, fear of success, fear of failure, exercise, eating, you name it and so many of these “normal” daily activities keep us from going after those things that light our internal fires; our passions, our dreams.
Before you snicker, you’ll have to read the book to understand how eating and exercising could be blocking the achieving of life goals.
Think of it like, er, um, that depressing song, Cat’s In The Cradle. Both father and son make every excuse to not spend time together. That’s resistance.
Know when you are going to get to work, right after that next cup of coffee? That’s resistance.
Gonna run a few miles to get the blood pumping so that you can think clearer to write some pages? That’s resistance.
I always knew it was there but maybe just didn’t know what to call it. And when reading those pages felt like I was reading a goddamn autobiography, I was awoken.
From that moment on, the pages literally wrote themselves.
One of my biggest fears was not knowing how to drum up a dialogue between two people. But, and maybe it doesn’t happen to all writers and creatives, at each sitting, a few pages in, the characters take on their own lives and my fingers just become vessels through which they are born.
It probably was another form of resistance but before actually writing page 1, I created a detailed outline or Beat Board in Final Draft. Really, really detailed as to how each scene would play out. Lesson learned. Next screenplay (already ready to begin) the outline or beat board will be super short and sweet. Why? The fucking characters did what they wanted to do. They didn’t listen to me!
Many if not most people will find that paragraph a bit on the loco, schizo side. Plausible. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if many writers never experienced this phenomenon. Maybe I am crazy. Do crazy people know they’re crazy? Askew for sure but not certain I’d get 302’ed for any of my actions. Well, maybe a producer or two will change that outcome after reading the script but until then I’m a free bird.
A lot of beating around the bush? Half if not most are skimming for bullet points anyway right? Who reads this stuff?
40 days? Yes. and I have every backup file dated from day one if anyone were to call bullshit.
How so? Ok, here goes nothing but let it be known, like these points or not, it’s what got me to get ‘er done.
Read Stephen Pressfield’s THE WAR OF ART.
Start typing something, anything.
Too busy? Bullshit. Instead of going to the bar after work, or binge watching Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, or gaming, or jerking off. Refer to Step Two. Don’t even get me started on fantasy leagues.
Now that you’ve freed up your wasted most precious asset on this planet, time, use those two to four hours to work; write some pages. Some days I got 10 pages or more and some days not a half.
[NOTE :: <2 be="" can="" challenging.="" getting="" hours="" in="" wired="">4 HOURS LEADS TO DIMINISHING RETURNS AKA BURNOUT.]2>
Let it pour out and don’t worry about what you wrote until the rewrite. Sure, fix something right in your face on that page or the page before from that session but don’t be writing page 77 and thinking about a dialogue change from page 11. You’ll never get done. THIS IS VITAL. Well, they’re all vital but this one will really help you hit that 40 day mark much easier.
Don’t obsess and think about your upcoming or past pages every minute of every day. That’s where meditation becomes very helpful. You may be tempted to think of beats and arcs and and acts and all that shit but STOP. Let if happen however it’s gonna happen. Overthink it and you will get yourself all worked up and into “writer’s block.”
Exercise. Again, not as an evil daughter to resistance.
Eat clean. Aaron Sorkin may love fast food and you may say, “Hey, Aaron Sorkin eats garbage and is one of the best screenwriters in the world, so why can’t I?” My rebuttals are : 1. Would he be even better eating cleaner? 2. You’re not Aaron Sorkin. Eating clean just makes you feel better. Plain and simple. Nothing worse than trying to be creative after having a Roast Beef Combo, Overboard, On The Outs, oh, and a side of Gravy Fries from Nick’s Roast Beef at 20th and Jackson, in South Philadelphia. They are the only real Nick’s in Philly. That one in the Northeast is not related nor does it compare. The real one has another location in Delaware County but that’s it. I DIGRESS. Once in a while is fine but eat stuff like that on a regular and all you wanna do is lay down afterwards. The urge to be productive is much less when compared to having a couple hard boiled eggs and kale and spinach. Sounds like hell but with some carrots and a vinaigrette? Pretty good. Not Nick’s good but EVERYTHING IN MODERATION, EVEN MODERATION.
Speaking of food. . . Wherever you are writing, try to keep distractions at a minimum. And by distractions I mean the allure of that that resides in your kitchen; chow. Look, you can do what you like and even tell me to fuck off but you’re reading this to be the best and most efficient screenwriter/painter/photographer/designer/whatever that you can be. I find that if you have a bagel, or a bowl of pistachios next to your laptop, that you will not only be mentally distracted by the culinary temptations but also physically distracted. Unless you have a feeding tube then you likely have to take your hands away from whatever it is you need to be doing and using them and all of your senses to focus on this new task. The myth that multitasking is a trait of a more productive person is just that, a myth. Eat before and after the session. During? A large glass of water and an even larger cup of black coffee.
Speaking of coffee. . . Fuck pharmaceuticals. Adderall is for the left brained tasks.
It’s good for recharging the batteries between your ears by stepping away from the computer for a few minutes, a few times, each session, Take a shower. Stare out a window. Take a lap around the office or home or home office.
Have something to say.
Speaking of something to say. . . That very something could be nothing. It’s a fine line. Your life? The one that you always knew would be the next Shawshank, or Raging Bull? Hate to break it to ya, but it ain’t. Nobody cares about your addiction or your sexual abuse or that you got shot and had the bullet been a millimeter closer to your heart, then. . . nobody cares. Besides. It’s all been done before.
Have something to say. I know I just wrote it. It’s for impact.
Your first and last draft of this first screenplay may suck. And as we know, To blow is how we grow. Hey! I just coined that right now. Ha.
Let’s go back to an earlier query and call to self audit, er, myself.
WHY ON EARTH? WHY THE FUCK?! WHAT DOES M.A.M., ME, THINK HE’S DOING WRITING A SCREENPLAY? THE BALLS. RIGHT?!
Inside, every one of us has a creative fire burning. We just have to wake up and find it.
It took me quite some time to discover that I wanted to live a creative life. And when this new bug hit, a few asked, “now your a writer?”
To date the best answer is easy and complex, simultaneously.
Photographer? Or Director? Or Blogger? Or Screenwriter? Or What?
I’M A STORYTELLER.
Now, it all just makes sense.
SO WHAT’S THAT GOTTA DO WITH WRITING THE PICTURE IN 40 DAYS? AND WHY 40 DAYS? SOMETHING TO DO WITH RELIGION, LENT OR SOME SHIT?
If not already, it should’ve been noted earlier in the article that this particular read would be a little messy along the way but all the pieces of the puzzle are here. Promise. It’s up to you to find the corners first and so forth and so on.
At word one, oh wait, OMG. CANNOT BELIEVE I FORGOT TO SHARE THIS MOST IMPORTANT POINT . . .
SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL. SET A GOAL.
I told a very pessimistic friend of mine, shortly after beginning the screenplay, that I’d planned on finishing it by the time Emma Elizabeth Murphy, my second daughter was born. The first draft anyhow. For the sake of context, she was born on December 21st, 2017, just over a month ago at the time of this writing. It was probably some time around Thanksgiving when I shared this little nugget.
Dude laughed and knew 100% that I couldn’t and wouldn’t finish it in that time frame. You know what? He was right. I missed it by like a week. The pessimist laughs as he thinks it’s a failure. The winning optimist sees the other half of that proverbial glass.
Had I just started writing with no goals as to when the first draft would be finished, I’d probably still be on the title page.
Self implication of this tough but attainable goal lit the fire under my ass to get ‘er done.
40 days was just how it happened to end up. Nothing magical or mysterious or superstitious or religious about it.
STAY TUNED FOR WHEN THE FATE OF THE SCREENPLAY IS EXPOSED!
Are you inspired?
Great. There are many inspirational, motivational articles for creatives throughout the pages of this blog. But I’m done for today. Go find ‘em yourself.
Until next time…