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Life is Messy, Just Like a Rough Draft

By Tony LaScala · August 13, 2012


It’s been a long couple of weeks my fellow Odd-Jobbers…

1.)  Notes compiled on Musical play going into production in Spring.

2.)  Rough draft of new Screenplay commenced.

3.) Elimination from prestigious Screenplay competition.

4.) Prepping for upcoming week in Florida.

5.) Rough draft of new Screenplay completed.

6.) Oh yeah, and I’ve worked over 100 hours.

Let me start by saying I’m not complaining. I much prefer being busy to stagnantly wallowing on the couch, flipping through a bunch of TV shows I don’t really care about and trying to will myself to get up and write something of consequence. That being said, it’s time for the Summer to be over.

My notes session with the theatre production company went well because I shut up and took the notes. Nod your head, smile, and agree = Free dinner. I don’t defend my choices, or explain my blah blah blah’s. Notes aren’t an attack on me, they are an attack on my piece of crap draft with the sole purpose of making it better. Besides, the notes I really hate I ignore, they’ll probably forget they gave them anyway. (Unless it’s one of those big notes like “change everything and make everything good instead of bad.”) The good notes resonate for a reason; they’re right. I’m very careful about not letting my ego get in the way of hearing what another person is saying and realizing that their idea for a scene transition, bit of dialogue, etc may be better than what I currently have. With a stomach full of gourmet Napoli style pizza and a digital notepad full of somewhat vague notes in hand, I plopped down at my computer and immediately came to the conclusion that it was not time to redraft my theatrical Musical yet. (The new draft isn’t due until October anyway) I moved on to the elusive Screenplay that I have been outlining for the better part of this year.

Starting a new Screenplay is a lot like diving into an icy pool. You know it’s going to suck at first, but eventually you’ll warm up to it. It’s the diving in we Odd-Jobbers are afraid of. Is this the right story? Have I worked out enough of the kinks in the outline? Who is Keyser Soze?

A first draft seems to always sounds better in the noggin’ than it appears on paper. There are things worked out in the outline that make sense in short form, that do not quite work out when “real” characters in the scene say all of the hoopity-doo you thought they were going to say and wibbidy-dibbity you thought they were going to do. I sometimes forget that people aren’t in my head, and that in order for them to understand some of what I am saying, I have to explain it. In a screenplay, you have to be able to explain IT by showing IT; and if you can’t, you had better explain IT very quickly, because nobody wants to watch a character ramble for five minutes. (Unless you’re Quentin Tarantino or Kevin Smith… we accept their ramblings because… well, they’re Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith).

And let’s call a spade a spade, a first draft isn’t really a first draft: it’s a rough draft. If you’ve been around the block a few times, odds are you’re not turning in your first draft to potential prospective producers, you’re turning in your third draft and saying it’s your first draft so that you look brilliant.

A few days in and just about to type through my mid-point, I got an email from The Nicholl Fellowship. With my heart palpitating, I clicked….

Dear Tony,

Over the past four months, we have posted dozens and dozens of excerpts from reader comments regarding the highest scoring scripts in the competition on the Nicholl Facebook page. If you have seen the excerpts you have a feeling for the quality of the scripts entered in this year’s Nicholl Fellowships competition. With scores now tallied for all 7,197 entries, we have to inform too many writers of scripts featuring intriguing stories, engaging characters and exceptional craft that they have not advanced into the next round. Regrettably A Boy with Stories in His Pocketswas not one of the 368 entries selected as a Quarterfinalist in the 2012 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.

At the bottom of the email informing me of my demise, there was a little P.S. that said that my script almost advanced. In theory, I should feel proud about that (AS EVERYONE KEEPS TELLING ME), but being told you’ve almost advanced is a lot like being the Olympian that trained their bottom off through infancy and adolescence, fought through setbacks to finally reach the Olympics, struggled through the nerves and competed in top form, giving the performance of their lifetime… and got fourth place. Sure it’s an honor just to be there, but you can’t help looking at that podium with the gold medalist and thinking that your life’s work has culminated in three others standing just above you with a better performance. There is no second place in Screenwriting. Second place is just another 96 pages dropped in the recycling bin by some studio reader with a big “Pass” written across your carefully selected title.

I gave myself one day to mourn.

At the prospect of returning to my day job on Monday, I told my wife Sarah that I “needed a drink.” Her look of surprise would really only be a surprise among us, because it was the first time in my life I had seriously uttered the phrase. With the fear of turning into my grandfather coursing its way through my cerebellum, I dulled the thoughts with a Cadillac margarita at a local Mexican eatery and cheerily skipped home to finish my film review of 360. I’m a fairly easy drunk, as I rarely indulge. I sometimes open a bottle of wine but its mostly around my parents, not because my parents make me feel the need to drink (despite my frequent feelings of disappointing them with tales of my unsold Screenplays and failure to launch novel). I drink wine around my parents because the wine they possess is worth drinking. Unlike the $10 bottle of swill I have clinging to my IKEA wine rack, my parents have a few finely crafted bottles I usually can’t pronounce correctly. (Like many my age, I received my wine education from Sideways by writer and twitter aficionado @RexPickett).

I had a dream that night. In it I was sitting in my (non-existent…unless you count my withering tomato plant) fresh vegetable garden overlooking the ocean, pine trees at my back. I had a nice glass of Cabernet (White Wine sucks), and I had a rumpled manuscript of a novel I was dabbling with, and a list of telephone numbers of actors who had committed to my next Screenplay. I was incredibly happy, and then I woke up…

Stupid reality.

I did not wake up with the connections to communicate with the list of actors on my dream dossier. Sadly, my bank account is not sufficient enough to just say “F*** It, let’s shoot it ourselves. Call up John C. Reilly, Paul Dano, Zach Galifianakis, Dakota Fanning, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Anna Kendrick, Natalie Portman and Patton Oswalt and pay them whatever they ask, they’re perfect for my film!” (And they are). For those of you who don’t know how “Hollywood” works, here’s a little crash course. You can’t talk to ANYBODY about ANY project unless you have a prior relationship with that person or his or her agent. In order to know these people, you have to know somebody who knows them. Basically, in order to work in the film industry, you have to have already worked in the film industry. It’s all a GIGANTIC CATCH 22…and I’m not sure why I’m still crazy enough to stay with it.

ñ(Ijust answered my own question)

Money always seems to get in the way of everything. As I stare at my student loans, utilities, rent, and overwhelming need for FRESH vegetables from the local farmers market, I am overcome with the feeling that perhaps I’m not cut out for this. Then I think back to previous articles I’ve written, and I remember that Writing IS THE ONLY THING I’M REMOTELY TALENTED AT (Apart from Directing and Stand-Up Comedy… that’s another story for another day, but suffice to say I wasn’t making any money for a lot of late nights).

Again, not complaining but:

I DON’T know anybody of consequence. (Unless you count the Honey Badger guy)

I DON’T have any money. (Well, not enough to make a “watchable” movie)

I DO have drive, work ethic, and cheap wine… Hmm…

(Sort of) To the Tune of Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire” featuring Bruno Mars:


♪I wanna be a thousand-aire so flippin’ bad,

Buy some of the things I need real bad.

I wanna be able to afford print cartridges,

Print out all the pages that are due.

Oh every time I grab my mail,

I see my name on credit debts,

Yeah, a different payment every week,

Oh I swear, my landlord best prepare,

To fix my central air.


♪Yeah, I would have projects like Sorkin,

That I would be in charge of,

And write a bunch of stories,

Before I had breakfast.

Yeah, I’d have at least enough cash to fill up my gas tank.

If I had some change I’d buy a bunch of snacks,

So nobody was hangry.

I’d pay my rent early and maybe go jogging.

I damn sure wouldn’t be sitting here blogging. ♪


♪Oh every time I close my eyes,

I can’t help drifting off to sleep.

I’m so damn tired from work-i-ing all week,

My boss better prepare,

For the day when I’m not there.♪


♪I’d pay off my student loans,

Not afraid to answer my cell phone,

And maybe even take a break to watch T.V.,

Yeah, I’d be writing regular checks,

To all the animal charities,

And adopting a Pit Bull,

So that everybody in L.A.

Could see how sweet that they can be.

I’d take a road trip to Sundance,

And watch all the movies,

But first get four new tires,

‘Cause my treads are getting so bare.♪


♪ I wanna be a thousand-aire so flippin’ bad,

Buy all of the ne-sces-sities,

Oh, I wanna be on the pages of writing magazines,

My scripts next to Goldman’s and Whedon’s,

Oh, every time I close my eyes,

I want to take a power nap,

A financed project twice a year,

Oh, I swear the world better prepare,

For when I’m a thousand-aire,

When I’m a thousand-aire…

I wanna be a thousand-aire so flippin’ bad…♪

That bottle of wine went quick.

I decided post elimination to buck up, and crack down hard on my new screenplay with the goal of finishing a draft before my trip to Florida. Bit by bit, in between work, household chores, and various other time consuming non-writing hindrances; I finished the rough draft yesterday.


Eight months after setting a six-month goal for myself, I sort of marginally completed it. My new screenplay isn’t finished, but the rough draft is. Hey, right now it’s a big turd sandwich. With enough work, it can become a polished turd sandwich… and maybe not a turd sandwich at all, but a beautiful swan…

That metaphor doesn’t work at all. You can’t polish a swan… or a turd.

I’m afraid to read it. I know it’s going to be “rough.” (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA) I’m not touching this monstrosity until I return from Florida next week. I need to let it breathe, like a good glass of wine (Hell, even the mediocre glasses of wine I had at the beginning of this journey)

I suppose I should find a moral to this Cluster-F*** of a posting and wrap the whole thing up in a nice little bow… but I have to pack. It’s 12:30 A.M. and my flight leaves in the morning, and I’ve just rambled on for nine-ish pages. If this were a monologue in a Screenplay, I’d advise myself to cut out all the music stuff and trim down most of those paragraphs significantly. Of course, leave in all the celebrity stuff… nobody wants star power REMOVED from an idea.

Oh, I just thought of another metaphor.

Like these past few weeks, this article has been MESSY. Because sometimes LIFE is MESSY… yeah, let’s go with that. Okay, the moral of this posting is: Life is messy, like a rough draft. And there’s plenty of time left to polish this turd.


Sweet Dreaming,