A few people worried I wouldn’t be able to finish writing Movement and Location because I started over so many times. But once I got to draft seventeen, I didn’t touch it again. I changed nothing on set. It felt completely done to me.
When I revise, I work my way through the entirety of the script, as fast as possible, skipping whatever I can’t figure out, and I aim to clear 10-20 pages a day. I call that a pass. Between 3-9 passes gets me a draft, which is the best that I can make it. A draft is what I share with people for notes.
Right now I have a new feature script called Behave, which I began writing in January of 2015 and began again from scratch in January of 2016. I finished my page one rewrite this afternoon. It’s draft nine.
I don’t love that my process involves starting over, but with Movement and Location, my many rewrites made the story better and easier to film. I’m hopeful that the same thing happens with this new one. It’s a hard mental adjustment to make, thinking that I’m done and then the cold shower of realizing I’m wrong. But once I get over that, it’s freeing to delete whatever I want. There were things in Behave I felt married to because I thought of them first and there were dynamics and locations I found boring but they were too baked into the existing structure to remove. I kept the most basic one-sentence premise and most of the primary characters. Everything else is new.
So what’s to keep me from rewriting forever? An excellent question, although one I’d like to be asked less often.
When I’m working on something, I know I don’t need any more passes if I left nothing undone in the pass that came before. For instance, summaries of complicated scenes have been replaced with the scenes themselves. All the placeholder dialogue is out. I’ve cut down my overwritten action lines. I think of how water carves rock, by rushing past it again and again. I do passes until I can get through the whole thing and nothing snags. I hunt for moments that make me think, if I were watching this as a movie, here’s where I’d glance at my phone.
At the end of that process I have a draft, and I finish each draft in good faith that I’m done writing. I am wrong about this until I’m not. Dan Savage says: Every relationship in your life will fail, until one doesn’t. I would add: Same with drafts.
With the last draft of the script for Movement and Location, the feedback I got from readers changed. It was more positive in general, although some people still had problems with it. But their negative feedback didn’t make me defensive or inspire new ideas. I just didn’t agree with it, which is how I knew I didn’t need to listen.
This brand new ninth draft of Behave just went out to a group of people I trust. I’m typing these words in the surreality that precedes receiving any kind of feedback at all. Maybe I made it worse. I might have gotten rid of everything that made the story interesting. It’s really, really different from draft eight. I don’t think I made it worse, but if I did, I hope someone tells me. I’d rather know while it’s words on paper and not video in an edit suite.
So I might be done. I feel done. I feel great, actually. I put an enormous amount of effort into this draft and had a ball writing it (not true for prior drafts) and I think those things come across. But everything will fail until it doesn’t. The trick is having faith that I can get it to that point, whether that’s this draft or takes me ten more tries.
I do have faith. I know I have it in me to hack at the thing until it’s worth the five years of my life to make.
But fingers crossed someone reads it soon.
When people ask me where I got the idea for Movement and Location – the most frequently asked question at film festival Q&As – I think often what they really want to know is how to make a project idea occur to them, bang, fully formed.
Movement and Location came out of the collision of many tiny bad ideas, followed by an absurd amount of from-scratch, start-over revising, where I tried out different versions of a similar story, always centered on different iterations of (mostly) the same characters. I backed, haphazardly, into the final plot.
Some people do find ideas fully formed. Stephen King, for example. In his wonderful memoir On Writing, which I frequently recommend to people who want to write, King explains how a plot is a thing he uncovers. He describes it like he’s digging out an artifact, gently chipping away until the shape is revealed, never planning too far in advance, letting the story find him. But Stephen King is a genius and has worked a billion hours on his craft. I would give up so quickly if I used this approach. I outline and then revise and revise that outline before I transfer it to a screenplay formatted draft and then I revise and revise and revise that draft. I need to work out a lot of bad ideas before I land on a good one.
Movement and Location was my first screenplay, and I began writing it because I wanted to act in another feature. I had a fairly shitty idea for a science fiction story but thought it was at least a place to begin. I talked to a friend from college about it, and he suggested a much better idea for a science fiction premise, which I then ran with instead. Thank you, Pitr. This help and initial idea were invaluable, and why he and I share a “story by” credit on the film.
It’s pretty amazing to remember my first draft. Mostly it’s humbling. I didn’t know what I was doing so just barreled through until I had something that felt complete-ish and appeared to be formatted correctly. I was so proud of myself for finishing it, but it was also the worst. And I gave it to people to read and then had to look in their faces when they told me what they’d honestly thought. But wanting to act in it turned out to be a much stronger motivation than I gave it credit for being at the time. So I kept working on it. Over and over, for a year and a half.
During that process I read some books that were really transformative. Story by Robert McKee is a very famous one, and I found it intimidating but useful. It taught me what it meant to have a midpoint, and that every scene should have an arc. Basic stuff that I just didn’t know. Then a friend in LA recommended Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, and that book completely changed everything. Snyder has a “beat sheet” format that I still use. It helps with structuring key moments like the opening image, statement of theme, the catalyst, the midpoint, everything, and has corresponding page numbers for when they should occur. My outlines are modeled after the Snyder beat sheet, because then I know I have enough of a story. I think the parameters of the structure contain a lot of freedom, while also keeping a thing from meandering too much, as something interesting really does have to happen every five to ten pages. I think the trick is to hit these beats but hide them, and stories that do this well are so, so satisfying to watch.
Writing a screenplay taught me how to write a screenplay. Now I have tactics for generating ideas and getting unstuck. I’m also way better at not taking criticism personally, even when it’s someone making me realize that a project I thought was done is nowhere near done. I enjoy the process of writing now, and feel lucky when I sit down to do it. This is the ideal, I think. To come at the work with a sense of appreciating the luck that you get to do it at all. This gets me through a lot of frustration.
I was at dinner with some friends recently, and someone mentioned that she can only write when she’s miserable, which made me sad. Misery is not the most interesting catalyst for creativity. Habit can get you there, too. Try sitting down every day to think about the same project, and then write down what’s on your mind. Repeating this every day will teach you how to do it, and how to learn to like doing it. You’ll be helpless against improvement.
A relevant quote from King’s On Writing:
“Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”
“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”
In honor of “Back to the Future Day,” we’ve compiled a short list of lessons gleaned from the trials and tribulations of time travelers in the classic Back to the Future films and our own Movement + Location. Marty McFly is on a never-ending (read: mindbogglingly frustrating) quest, mostly to clean up mistakes made as he hops from 1985 to 1955, back to 1985, then to 2015 and round again. Kim Getty is firmly planted in her one-way destination year of 2014, just trying to build a life that’s fulfilling… but they’d both do well to take these lessons to heart.
Remember how Marty and Doc Brown meet up in an abandoned parking lot at 1:15am to time travel for the first time in Back to the Future? …Remember how they hop in the DeLorean in broad daylight at the end of the first movie/beginning of the second to head to 2015, and Biff figures it out and ruins literally everything? It seems like a stretch that such a brilliant scientist would allow such an oversight, but how else would this sequel hold our attention!?
As for Kim, in Movement + Location, the consequences of her new contemporaries finding out the truth about her are pretty dire, too. In her world, unlike in Back to the Future, she doesn’t have the ability to time-hop more than once, and telling the truth wouldn’t enable others to access time travel, but it could very well get her institutionalized.
Using time travel to get rich quick? Not cool, man. Even though the Doc is somehow okay with altering the space time continuum to improve Marty’s future family life, he is pretty clear about his position on using the DeLorean time machine to make some lucrative, risk-free bets and investments. Marty is totally jealous that Biff steals his idea to use the 1950-2000 sports almanac to make a fortune, but Doc Brown shuts. him. down. Also, it just seems a little weird that Biff would be called the “Luckiest Man On Earth” instead of being pegged for a con artist after all of his big payouts… and, hey, how many times have you heard about the lottery winners who end up going bankrupt?
Kim doesn’t really have such an opportunity to take advantage of her knowledge of the future. In her situation, with no way back to the future and no identity to safely start anew when she arrives in contemporary Brooklyn, homelessness is a more realistic bet for her and others from her time.
More time travelers = more chances to make a huge, time-altering mistake. Between Marty, Doc Brown, Jennifer, and Biff, there are far too many paths that nearly cross in the Back to the Future installments, and because future-Biff has the foresight to tell 50’s-Biff what to do if he encounters a “wild-eyed scientist or a kid” in Part II, when he finally comes across Marty it escalates to a life-or-death matter.
Kim lives an incredibly private life, and is very resistant to making herself vulnerable to other people for fear of being found out. However, privacy and safety start to unravel for her, too, when she encounters Rachel, a teenager who turns out to also be from the future.
Let’s be real… Marty wouldn’t have a clue what to do without Doc Brown, hairbrained as his plans may be.
Likewise, Rachel probably wouldn’t be able to survive for very long without help from Kim and Paul. For them, time travel is a difficult, one-way trip of isolation.
Time travel starts out as an exciting prospect to Marty and the Doc, but as they make changes and leap across time to rectify them, it becomes clear that you just can’t control the future. Who knew?
Kim also has to confront the fact that life doesn’t get easier when she travels through time to escape the unseen dystopian future that she came from. Instead, she loses the life she once had and damages all of her relationships, new and old… but we won’t spoil all of the details.
Enjoy your Back to the Future binge this week (if that’s what you’re into), then be sure to check out Movement + Location on iTunes, Verizon FiOS On Demand, or — if you like bonus footage — right over here on VHX!
The movie is coming out. THE MOVIE IS COMING OUT.
September 18-24, we’ll be screening (5x a day!) at Cinema Village in Manhattan. You can buy tickets here! There will be a Q&A at every day’s 7:05pm screening. Alexis and I will be there, and we’ll be joined by a rotating line-up of crew and cast and musicians. There will definitely be a party on Sept 18 – details coming soon.
Then September 22nd, the film is available on iTunes and Verizon FiOS VOD in millions of homes. MILLIONS OF HOMES, you guys. MILLIONS OF HOMES.
But okay this whole thing is stopping my heart a little bit. Cinema Village is the theater where I went on my first date with Alexis, more than eleven years ago. I was a few weeks out of college and we’d met at a networking event for advertising. I asked him to go see Born Into This and he showed up late with another woman (a friend, who ended up signing as witness on our marriage license). Movement and Location is playing on the very same screen.
This movie has shaped the look and direction of my life since I started writing it in July of 2011. That’s a long time of repeating the synopsis at parties and people saying “cool, how can I see it?” and me saying “I don’t know! ahhh! I don’t know!” because FINALLY I can say: “come watch it in a theater with me.” Oh what a beautiful sentence. Finally I get to toss this bird out of the nest.
Alexis and I are so lucky to have the incomparable women behind Vault Collective helping us get the word out. They also redesigned this website, which, holy shit is this site beautiful. Huge shout out as well to Maura McNamara, who is worth several times her weight in gold. Movies take an army at so many stages and we’ve got such a smart group around us.
So. Save the date. September 18th, we premiere at Cinema Village in New York City.
See you at the movies.
A feature film by Alexis & Bodine Boling
Trailer edited by Connor Kalista & sound designed by R. Hollis Smith
featuring original score from the film by Dan Tepfer
with “Glowing Heart” by Aoife O’Donovan
and “Don’t Skip A Beat” by Imani Coppola
Alexis, Serena and I all went to the Atlanta Film Festival and had one of our best screenings so far. Huge crowd and everyone laughed! Made my day. A huge grateful thanks to everyone at ATLFF but especially Chris Holland and Cameron McAllister. Thanks also to my beloved father-in-law, Bill Boling, who threw us an awesome after party. I was only in Georgia for 48 hours, but believe we squeezed in karaoke.
Thank you, Cameron, for the killer Q&A. Great questions from an engaged audience make me as happy as anything possibly could.
Next up is the Alhambra Film Festival in Evansville, Indiana. I’ll be there representing the film, and I can’t wait. We play Saturday, April 11th at 6:30pm at the Tropicana Casino and Hotel. If you’ll be in Indiana, please come and invite friends!
Oh wow. Indie Memphis, you are a treasure. Thank you for one of the best weekends of my life. If you’re a filmmaker, apply to Indie Memphis, and go, and see some stunning films and meet the nicest people you’re likely to find anywhere. If you’re not a filmmaker, go anyway. And if you’ve never been to Graceland, well then it sounds like you have a number of reasons to get yourself to Memphis.
This is during our first Q&A, led by the hilarious and awesome Laura Jean Hocking.
Our poster, designed by the brilliant and beautiful Mayumi Ando, won the jury and audience award for Best Poster, and the film picked up the Ron Tibbett Excellence in Filmmaking Award. And we even got an encore screening!
Thanks to Emily Best over at Seed&Spark for this shot of me during the awards ceremony, when I was trying hard not to cry. On the far left part of the stage is Erik Jambor, who is both director of the festival and utterly WONDERFUL.
Let it be known also that Craig Brewer, director of Hustle & Flow and president of the Indie Memphis board, throws a mean fucking Halloween party.
Sharing this film is the most rewarding experience of my life so far. Thank you for being part of the journey.
I am so OVER THE MOON to announce that we’ll be joining the unbelievable lineup at the 2014 Indie Memphis Film Festival.
The festival runs over Halloween weekend, and Alexis and I will both be there. Our screening is Saturday, Nov 1st at 4pm. Details and tickets here.
We can’t wait. We really can’t wait. Plus (obviously) we’ll be taking day trips to Graceland and Dollywood, and please let me know any other Memphis recs if you’ve got ’em.
In additionally wonderful news, two of my favorite women also have films in the Indie Memphis competition slate. Summer of Blood stars our own extraordinary Anna Margaret Hollyman. I saw this at Tribeca and it’s funny and dark and smart and weird and I loved it. (It begins with Anna Margaret proposing to someone, so is it any wonder I love it so much? I did recently send her a text that said I wanted to be the Joel Coen to her Frances McDormand, so.)
And then there’s Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, which features the outrageously talented Kristin Slaysman. I saw this movie at BAM a few months ago, and I adored it, and it’s stuck with me in a very big way. Haunting, for sure. Dreamy and tense and utterly beautiful to look at. Astonishing performances abound. It led to the most interesting post-film conversations I’ve had in ages.
See you in Memphis!
Film festivals, you guys. What fun. We have a big one coming up that I can announce next week, and I’m way excited. But so far we’ve had an incredible run. Premiere at Brooklyn Film Festival, which has forever set the bar for how much I can cry with joy in public, where we won the audience award, best screenplay and best original score. Then Woods Hole Fest, where I learned that an audience can be drummed up when you know no one, it just takes four hours of thrusting postcards on strangers and an enthusiastic intern rooting for you in the box office. Then Rome International, in Georgia, where Alexis made the front page of the local paper, and we won the audience award and best feature. Then Chesapeake Film Fest, this past weekend, on the same stage I acted on in high school, in the same theater that held my senior prom. I had family and friends do some real traveling to be there and I was SO NERVOUS but it was awesome. We got a great write up in the local paper there, too.
I’ve met some incredible people at these festivals. Some epically smart, driven women, especially. It’s company that makes me want to step up my game in a lot of life arenas. But watching the film and talking about the process with an almost two year remove from physical production is crazy. It feels so insane that it happened at all. The difficult stuff seems very far away. But then I read this and it gets fresh again.
I’m so proud of myself for getting through it. And here’s what I mean by that: if I could get through it, that means it’s possible, which means (should a big art project be your jam), my money is on anyone being able to do it.
Finishing something is 8% talent, 42% luck, and 50% believing that you can in fact finish something. I believe in you.