Meet Joe Cool(er)

humor, summer, heatwave, Maine, Modern PhilospherIn all the excitement about my screenplay news on Tuesday (He Said Yes To The Screenplay), I forgot to tell you about the other life altering event that occurred on the very same day, Modern Philosophers.

After fifteen years at The House on the Hill, I finally caved and bought an air conditioner!

Before you mock me for not holding to my convictions (It costs so much to heat this house in the winter, I refuse to pay to cool it, too!), please keep in mind that it has been brutally hot in Maine for the past week.

It was so bad, that I didn’t even leave the house last weekend after my morning runs.  My neighbors actually asked if I was sick because I’m always out walking.  I confessed that my health was fine, my step count had to suffer because there was no way I could handle the heat and humidity.

I could not sleep, and that was the real tipping point for me.  I don’t mind taking it easier on the physical fitness front, and I can deal with it being a little uncomfortable when I’m on the first floor eating and watching TV, but to spend the night tossing and turning because it’s too damn hot is unacceptable.

Usually, the tower fan in the bedroom is enough to lull me to sleep, but this recent heatwave was Heat Miser at his finest.  Clearly, he’s grown tired of his brother getting all the headlines in Maine, and decided to show that he can be a royal pain in the ass, too.

The temperature upstairs in The House in the Hill was about the same as what my Sunday guest is used to on a daily basis in his home office.  In fact, I was so delirious from the heat that I was certain The Devil was sitting at the foot of the bed, counting sheep as they jumped through rings of Hellfire.

humor, summer, heatwave, Maine, Modern PhilospherOn Monday night, I went next door to talk to Mark about air conditioning options.  We looked at several brands online, and once he promised that he would be around after work on Tuesday to help me install my new purchase, Operation Joe Cooler was a go!

As with all big life changes, it did not go according to plan.  Which is why I hate change.

I drove straight to Walmart after work.  I could not find any of the air conditioners that had been advertised on the store’s website.  Nor could I find a single associate to help me locate them.

Apparently, the employees had all melted in the heat and humidity, and that puddle I’d stepped in back in aisle 7 was actually Louis from the Hardware Department.

Finally, I found an associate stacking cans of cat food.  He was pretty sure they were sold out, but he did wander around with me until he found someone who could state, with certainty, that there were no more air conditioners to be found in the store.

I nearly lost my cool at that point, but I was too exhausted to have a tantrum.  I just stormed out of the store (slowly, though, because it was so damn hot) and drove down the road to Lowe’s.

At Lowe’s, I discovered an associate guarding a stack of six air conditioners near the front door.  They had just been delivered, and were the only ones in stock.  They were larger and more expensive than what I had planned on buying, but the sweat pouring down my back convinced me to just do it.

I reasoned that I’d gone fifteen years without one, so I’d saved enough money over that time to spring for something other than the $99 Walmart special.

Mark helped me to install it.  And by “help”, I mean that Mark did most of the work while I asked stupid questions and stood around sweating.

Now I have this in the bedroom window…

humor, summer, heatwave, Maine, Modern PhilospherThe thermostat on my new weapon against Heat Miser registered 85 degrees when we first turned it on, but it quickly cooled the room to a more comfortable temperature.

I fell asleep to the machine’s reassuring hum for the last three nights of the heatwave.  I ended up waking up around 4:30 each of the next mornings and turning it off because the bedroom had achieved a late autumn feel by that time.

Obviously, I slept much better.  It still took me a little time to unwind and relax because my body temperature was so high, but once asleep, I dreamed of building snowmen and hanging out with Santa Claus.  It was delightful.

Yesterday, Heat Miser finally decided to take a break.  We had torrential downpours all day and then powerful winds rattled the windows all night.  The temperature plummeted into the 50s overnight, and there was no need to turn on the air conditioner.

I’m writing this out on the porch now, and again the temperature is very tolerable.  But even if it does decide to become mostly boiling with a chance of Hellfire again, I know I will be okay.

Because The House on the Hill is now wired to chill, and I’m Joe Cool(er).

How have you been beating the heat?

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He Said Yes To The Screenplay!

screenwriting, movies, humor, Modern PhilosopherEight words can really change your mood and the flow of your week, Modern Philosophers.

As I was leaving work last night, I discovered a message from my producer, who had just read my screenplay adaptation of two of my short stories.

Great work on the screenplay.  I love it.

It had been a long, hot, humid, exhausting week with very little sleep and I was feeling overwhelmed and run down.

After reading that message, I was elated.

And all it took was eight simple words.

Of course, there was much more to our conversation than that, but I was overjoyed not only that he had liked the screenplay, but also that he had gotten back to me so quickly.

A screenwriter’s life is a lot of hurry up and wait.

I’d busted my butt to complete that first draft in one week, but I had prepared myself for a long wait before my producer would even have time to read it.

Alas, he surprised me with a message on Monday night, just a day after I’d told him the draft was done, asking to read it.

Then a day later, he sent me the eight magic words.

That kind of turnaround is nothing short of a Hollywood miracle.

There will definitely be some waiting now, but he did mention the plan was to start production in September.  That’s only two months away!

Now that I know he likes the screenplay, I can tell you a little more about my process.  As you know, I was adapting two of the short stories from this blog: The Blind Date and The Bookstore Attraction Conundrum.

screenwriting, movies, humor, Modern PhilosopherThe short stories were written three and a half years apart, and had nothing that linked them other than that they were both about first dates.  They also totaled about nine pages, and my producer asked me to turn in a screenplay of at least thirty pages.

Adding The Bookstore tale to The Blind Date was my first idea to increase page length and add characters to the film.  Once my producer signed off on that, I had to come up with a thread to turn two totally separate stories into one movie.

What I ended up doing was taking a character introduced on the very last page of The Bookstore Conundrum, and making her the co-protagonist in the screenplay.  Then I concocted a creative way to bring her into the world of The Blind Date’s main character.

I also took a character who is only mentioned in conversation in The Blind Date, and made him an actual character in the screenplay.

As a result, the first scene of the screenplay focuses on the main character of The Blind Date and two characters who barely existed in the short stories.

I went on to add one more character because my new co-protagonist needed a sidekick.  My producer had asked for more characters, and I had given him exactly that.

Since I knew we would be looking to keep the budget small, I made sure to minimize the locations.  Aside from the bookstore and the restaurant bar, which are the settings for the original short stories, I only added a scene inside an apartment, and another on the street outside of that apartment.

Those are two locations very easy to find cheaply in Los Angeles.  Pretty much everyone working on the movie will have an apartment that could be commandeered for the shoot, and there are empty streets everywhere in that town.

screenwriting, movies, humor, Modern PhilosopherI also set the story over the course of just a couple of hours.  That means no costume changes, and no real worries about continuity.  It’s a romantic comedy, so it’s all about the characters and dialogue, which means no action scenes or special effects.

Once I figured out the hook to link the stories, it was a very easy screenplay to write.  Almost everything I write is based on my personal experiences, and borrows from elements in my life.  For this one, I thought it would be a nice touch to add some of my family background, namely losing both my parents at an early age.

It’s surprising how something so sad can add just the right amount of heart to a romantic comedy about the perils of a first date.

I wasn’t sure if I was just going to copy the short stories line for line into the screenplay, but I ended up bringing over almost every line of dialogue.  I also added new dialogue, and used screen direction to breathe more life into the scenes.

The finished product is thirty-two pages, and while you can see both distinct short stories in the screenplay, it is a much larger and well-rounded story now.

screenwriting, movies, humor, Modern PhilosopherI can’t wait to have more news to share about the production, and I look forward to sharing behind the scenes information and pics here on the blog.

Maybe when the short film is completed, we’ll have a viewing party for blog followers at The House on Hill.  If you attend that gala, don’t forget to bring Snapple!

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First Drafts Can Be Hell

short story, screenwriting, The Devil, humor, Modern PhilosopherThe Devil burst into my living room like he was being propelled by a burst of eternal Hellfire.

“I hear we need to celebrate!” Lucifer declared excitedly.

As always, he was well dressed in an impeccably tailored suit, but this time, he was also carrying an enormous, three foot tall, green glass bottle.

“Is that champagne?” I asked in total confusion.

It was hot.  And disgustingly humid.  To be honest, I was in no mood for his nonsense, but I was interested in a three foot tall beverage because dehydration was becoming a factor.

Unfortunately, I hated champagne.

“Actually, it’s Snapple  in a giant champagne bottle,” The Prince of Darkness revealed.  “That way, it will be both celebratory and delicious.

My eyes lit up at that unexpected twist.  “Let me get some glasses,” I offered.

“No need,” Satan informed me.

He snapped his fingers as he walked over to the couch.  Two champagne flutes magically appeared on the table.

“What are we celebrating?” I asked, even though I didn’t need a reason to enjoy three feet of my favorite beverage.

The Devil popped the cork and filled my glass.

“Rumor has it you completed the first draft of the screenplay for the short film,” he explained as he poured himself a drink, and then stuck the giant bottle into an even larger ice bucket that he produced with another snap of his fingers.

short story, screenwriting, The Devil, humor, Modern Philosopher“That is true,” I downplayed the accomplishment.  “The creative juices were really flowing last night, so I just kept typing, and it was done before I knew it.”

Lucifer raised his glass in toast.  “To first drafts!  They are only the start of the work that needs to be done, but at least they offer a temporary sense of accomplishment!”

“I will drink to that,” I agreed and tapped his glass.

Then I chugged its entire contents.  Like I said, it was hotter than Hell and I was very thirsty.  Plus, I’d used up all my creative juices and desperately needed to re-hydrate.

“Why aren’t you more excited?” The Prince of Darkness dared ask only after he gave me a refill.  “You churned out that draft in less than a week.”

“But like you said, it’s only the start of more work,” I replied.  “I am going to keep rewriting that script until I think it’s perfect.  Which it never is.  So I’m just constantly tinkering.”

“Are you happy with the first draft?” Satan asked like he genuinely cared.

I shrugged because that was a difficult question to answer.

“I guess,” I tried to explain how I felt.  “I read it, and I was happy.  The thing is, though, writers are never more insecure than after they finish a first draft.  In my mind, the screenplay is very good.  I mean, I wouldn’t have written what I did if I thought it sucked. But my opinion doesn’t matter.  I need to know if other people like it.”

“That is tough,” The Devil conceded as he sipped his Snapple.  “Hopefully, you can get some feedback from Matthias soon.  He must be thrilled that you’ve finished a first draft so quickly.”

“He did send me a thumbs up emoji via Facebook Messenger in the middle of the night in reply to my message that the draft was done,” I told him and made no effort to hide the disappointment in my voice.

“You turned a five page short story into a thirty-two page screenplay,” Lucifer reminded me.  “That alone is an accomplishment worth celebrating.”

“Thanks,” I mumbled and enjoyed more Snapple.

short story, screenwriting, The Devil, humor, Modern Philosopher“Which, of course, begs the question: When will you be turning our weekly blog posts into a feature length screenplay?” The Prince of Darkness demanded with a raised eyebrow.  “I have plenty of ideas.”

“I just thought of something I need to add to the screenplay,” I lied and grabbed the ice bucket.  “I better work on it immediately, and it might take a while…”

I ran off as quickly as I could with the heavy bottle of Snapple and ice bucket in my arms.

“Don’t worry,” Satan called after me.  “I will be right here waiting for you!”

The story of my life…

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A Lesson In Humidity

running, health, fitness, Maine, humor, Modern PhilosopherI learned a couple of important lessons on this last day of June, Modern Philosophers:

I’m not a fan of engaging in strenuous physical activity when it’s severely humid.

I didn’t learn anything from that first lesson.

Let me clarify a little because if I don’t, it might leave you somewhat confused, and it would certainly leave this blog post far too short for publication.

I can’t allow either thing to happen on my watch.

I awakened this morning, well aware that it was going to be a scorcher.  With that in mind, I decided to get out early for my run so that I could take advantage of temperatures that weren’t quite yet hot enough to melt human flesh.

However, I tend to be a bit of a morning run procrastinator on weekends.  I’m never quite in the mood to hit the road, and everything on the internet is exponentially more enticing when playing with it keeps me from running.

By the time I finally got my lazy butt outside, the temps had risen well into the seventies, and the humidity was something like 250%.

But since I am a total running bad ass these days, I did not back down from the challenge awaiting me.  I just told myself to take it slow and steady because of all the ways there were to die, kicking the bucket from heat stroke at the side of the road was definitely not one of the more glamorous options.

I tried to distract myself by mentally outlining the next scene in my screenplay.  That worked for a while, but I soon got stuck at a point where all my characters were sweating profusely and could no longer speak because they were chugging water.

That was when the Deep Thoughts started to flood my overheating brain.  That, in turn, inspired me to stop and take this photo…

running, health, fitness, Maine, humor, Modern PhilosopherThe Deep Thought that inspired this photo was something along of lines of: I’m not sure what the future holds for me, but judging from this view of the road ahead, it seems very welcoming and peaceful.

That’s what happens when the humidity penetrates my skull and seeps into my brain.  My Deep Thoughts become so mushy that even Hallmark would reject them.

Despite the horrible effects of the weather on my mind, body, and soul, I managed to make it back to The House on the Hill alive.

I’d manage to run five miles in a pretty decent time.

Somewhere along the line, probably after mile four when the heat was really working me over and everything became a bit of a blur, I stopped to pose for a photo with a boat.

Seriously.  Why would I make up something like that?

You still don’t believe me?

Fine.

running, health, fitness, Maine, humor, Modern PhilosopherDo you believe me now???

I told you I wasn’t lying.

As I said earlier, I learned nothing from my five mile jaunt across the great Maine desert because I decided to mow the lawn.

As you can see from the first photo in this post, that did not end well.

I was absolutely soaked in sweat.  I have no idea how my body managed to produce so much perspiration.  All I can theorize is that it sent out an emergency call to borrow sweat from other bodies.  So if you’re a little short on sweat today, it’s probably my fault.

Don’t worry.  I will pay you back.

Someday.  When my body is finally able to produce fluids again.

And the humidity isn’t life threatening.

Needless to say, I won’t be doing much for the rest of the day other than writing out here on the shady porch.

I might not have learned my lesson in humidity the first time around, but I can assure you I have mastered it by now…

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The Big Turnaround

screenwriting, writing, short stories, making a movie, Modern PhilosopherI posted a photo of this tree on Facebook the other day, Modern Philosophers, and explained that I think of this as my Turnaround Tree.

Whenever I arrive at this landmark on my morning run, I know it’s time to turn around and head back to The House on the Hill.

All week, I’ve been forming Deep Thoughts about how I’d like to turn around my life.  There are several things on the agenda for change, but right at the top of the list is Making Writing A Priority.

I’ve been stupidly sitting around, waiting for my writing career to bloom.  Now I realize I need to set things in motion to give myself any sort of fair chance at writing full time.

That was why I went to my producer with the proposal of turning my short stories into a short film that we could then use to raise interest in my feature length screenplays.

All week long, I have been hard at work adapting The Blind Date and The Bookstore Attraction Conundrum into a screenplay.  If you haven’t read those short stories yet, they are on the blog any time you want the check them out.

I’ve spent many hours out on the porch, with my legs up on the railing, churning out pages.  Just like I’m doing right now to produce this blog post.

By making this screenplay a priority, I feel like I’ve put my life into turnaround (to borrow a term from the movie world).  I’m still running every day and going to work, but now my days have a new, sharper focus.

It seems to be working.

screenwriting, writing, short stories, making a movie, Modern PhilosopherI feel much better about myself, I’m excited to get up every morning and tackle the day so that I can get to my writing time, and my confidence is growing as my Inner Screenwriter takes control of the rewrite of my life.

I’ve written 22 pages so far, and I’m pleased with how the two stories are coming together to form one narrative.  Even though The Blind Date is the main focus of the screenplay, I’m sensing that a character from The Bookstore Attraction Conundrum who I’ve inserted into that story is my true protagonist.

That fact excites me because the character only appears briefly in that short story, so I’ve really had to turn her from a one dimensional bit player into a fully realized lead.

Yes, strange things get my juices flowing me when I’m in full writer mode.  This is a big deal, Modern Philosophers, because I needed this change, this spark of creativity and feeling like I have more control over what the future holds for me.

Sometimes, my life feels like a very boring retelling of Groundhog Day, only my version has to settle for me, rather than the brilliant Billy Murray, as its star.

This turnaround, much like the screenplay, is still in the very early stages.  However, I see great promise in both projects, and I’m going to ride that positive feeling to get even more writing done this weekend.

Hope you all have a great weekend.  I’ll be here on the porch, typing away like a man possessed, if anyone needs me…

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Adapting On The Porch

screenwriting, The Blind Date, humor, Modern PhilosopherI spent all day yesterday out on the porch, adapting my short stories into a screenplay, Modern Philosophers.

This was a whole new kind of writing challenge for me, and I absolutely loved it.

I’ve never adapted my own work.  I have lots of experience rewriting the screenplays of others, but crafting my own work into a screenplay is totally new.

Rewriting someone’s screenplay can be difficult.  The characters are not mine, the story isn’t mine, and I have no idea what the original writer had in mind.

When I was hired to rewrite the screenplay that would eventually become the feature film A Perfect Life, I was given two wildly confusing screenplays and tasked with coming up with one screenplay’s worth of a coherent plot.

If that wasn’t enough pressure, shooting was scheduled to begin in six weeks, the locations were locked, and the actors had already been hired.

So that meant I could not change a single location, even if I had the coolest idea to improve the script.  I also couldn’t add or delete any characters because the actors were already under contract.

It was strange to know who had been cast in the movie.  When I write, I purposely keep the character descriptions vague so that anyone can play the role.  Usually, the protagonist is some version of me, and the other characters have traits of people I know.

Jesse Bradford, screenwriting, humor, Modern Philosopher, A Perfect LifeIn the case of A Perfect Life, I knew the lead was being played by Jesse Bradford, who I’d seen on the big screen in Bring It On and Swimfan.  Definitely a step up from me as the main guy!  Now I had to write with a specific actor in mind.

The above still if from A Perfect Life, by the way.  If you want to see the trailer for the movie, it is on this blog’s About page.

Up to this point, that rewriting gig has been the most challenging of my career.  I cranked out six drafts in six weeks.

Jesse and the producers signed off on my final draft, and that became the shooting script.  I continued to rewrite scenes during filming, and the movie got made and I was very happy with the finished product.

But now I have an even greater challenge.

It’s difficult to explain, but there is a huge difference between the writing I do for a screenplay, and what I post on my blog.

Screenplay ideas percolate in my brain for months as I slowly build a story, figure out the twist and turns, and create complex characters who can drive the plot forward.  When I finally start a screenplay, I am constantly rewriting it.  In fact, a finished first draft, which takes months to complete, is really more like a third or fourth draft because of all the rewriting I do along the way.

writing, screenwriting, blogging, humor, Modern PhilosopherA short story for this blog is an explosion of ideas from my brain.  I sit down with no outline, just a vague idea.  I type without notes, and it’s all done in about ten minutes.  What gets published is basically a first draft.  I just read it over once to check for typos.

I really love the freedom of writing a short story.  There’s no chance to overthink it, and I often get excellent feedback on the finished product from you guys.  It’s also a great way to perfect my dialogue writing skills, which are so important in a screenplay.

Nothing against the short story characters, but they are simply not as three dimensional as those who live in my screenplays.  The plots are pretty basic, with usually a single setting.

Essentially, while a fun read, my short stories are not screenplay material.

But now, they suddenly are.  Hence the greatest challenge of my writing career.

Somehow, I had to take two unrelated short stories, and find a way to combine their plots into a story that allowed the characters to play together on the big screen.

I also had to turn ten pages of material into at least thirty screenplay pages.

After yesterday’s writing binge out on the porch, I find myself with fifteen script pages, and a plot that has characters from both short stories interacting in the very first scene.

The Bookstore Attraction Conundrum, screenwriting, writing, humor, Modern PhilosopherBest of all, I’ve yet to use any of the source material in the script.  All fifteen pages thus far is brand new stuff.  I’ve just arrived at the point where the action in The Blind Date will begin in the screenplay.  Nothing from The Bookstore Attraction Conundrum has been added yet, but that should come with the next scene.

What that means is that I will easily have thirty pages of screenplay.  And what I’ve written to this point, is definitely screenplay quality.

I’m excited to finish the first draft and send it to my producer to read.  I think we’ll definitely have something special to shoot.

I’ve really adapted to this whole adapting my own writing thing…

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Late Nights, Short Films, Alien Moths, and Ferris Bueller

humor, deep thoughts, summer, Modern PhilosopherSummer is finally here, Modern Philosophers, which means long after dinner walks, during which the Deep Thoughts will flow faster than the Penobscot River now that the ice has finally melted.

My plans for tonight were canceled at the last minute, so I thought I’d replace them with an unscheduled blog post.

Since I haven’t allowed you into my mind in a while (which is probably for your own good!), I figured tonight’s post should be of the Thoughts On A Walk variety.

So here’s what bounced around in my brain tonight…

It’s fun being a writer for a late night talk show.  One reason is because it allows me to pester the host with crazy ideas for upcoming episodes.

When you work for a nice, easily approachable guy like Danny, you can actually blast off wild ideas and expect him to get back to you with his take on them.  Even when they are totally ridiculous.

That was what I did tonight as I strolled around the neighborhood.  I pitched my ideas and got almost instant feedback from the host.

Not a bad way to feel creative and appreciated after a long week.

I also continued to plot out the screenplay for my short film.  The ideas are coming to me in bunches now, and I’m almost worried that I’m going to have too much material.

There could be enough for a feature length script if I’m not careful.  Can’t say that’s the worst problem to have, though.  In fact, having a multitude of options to run past the producer beats writer’s block any day.

aliens, moths, humor, summer, Modern PhilosopheI came across an Alien today, Modern Philosophers.

I’m sure it wants us to believe it is a moth, but I’ve never seen a moth that large, or that color in my life.

And it was there all day.  Perched on the wall outside the entrance to my office.

What innocent moth would stay in such a highly populated place for several hours?

But a malicious Alien would have no problem doing that.  Especially if its mission was mind control.

That’s right.  I said mind control.

Here are the facts:

It was Friday.

It was a gorgeous Summer day.

It has been a very long week.

Ferris Bueller would not have allowed himself to be trapped inside on such a beautiful day.

The Alien moth was trying to get me to unleash my inner Ferris.

All day long, I could hear a whisper tickling my brain…

Ferris Bueller, humor, summer, aliens, Modern PhilosopherBueller…Bueller…Bueller…

Abe Froman, the sausage king of Chicago…

Come on and twist a little closer now, and let me know that you’re mine…

It took every ounce of self control to fight the Alien’s enticing messages.  All I wanted to do was jump on a parade float and shake it up, baby.  I just had this feeling gnawing at my brain that life moves pretty fast, and that if I didn’t stop to look around, I might miss it.

As much as I would have loved to play hooky on such a perfect Summer’s day, I couldn’t let the Alien win.  That’s how the human race gets enslaved and our bodies used for batteries necessary for intergalactic travel.

The only one that controls my mind is me.  So nice try, Alien moth, but I’m not going to Wrigley Field today.  So stop trying to make that a thing.

I’m pretty sure that all the wild Deep Thoughts dancing around in my head are the best defense against Alien mind control.  So I have that going for me.

humor, writing, Modern PhilosopherWhen I’m lucky enough, those Deep Thoughts find a cohesive thread and evolve into a well-written screenplay.

At the very least, they make for a very entertaining companion on my long jaunts through the neighborhood.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste, Modern Philosophers, so do your best to always keep yours occupied.

You’re never alone when you have your Deep Thoughts.  But don’t forget that the Alien moths will try to control your mind.  When they do, shake ’em up, baby.  Save your inner Ferris for your personal use.

At least that’s what Ferris Bueller, a true Modern Philosopher, would advise you to do…

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