is two guys collaborating to write on writing and collaboration.

January 2009 Archives

Jan 31, 2009

Movie Marketing posted by Martin


The New Yorker ran a great article by Tad Friend profiling Tim Palen, Lionsgate’s co-president of theatrical marketing.

While most artists find the idea of marketing reprehensible, there would be no films to market if they couldn’t occasionally sell them to the audience. Film marketing is no less sophisticated than the marketing of any other product. Starting, of course, with identifying who they are going to sell to.

Marketers segment the audience in a variety of ways, but the most common form of partition is the four quadrants: men under twenty-five; older men; women under twenty-five; older women. A studio rarely makes a film that it doesn’t expect will succeed with at least two quadrants, and a film’s budget is usually directly related to the number of quadrants it is anticipated to reach.

The list of qualities that each segment responds to looks for was really interesting as well.

The collective wisdom is that young males like explosions, blood, cars flying through the air, pratfalls, poop jokes, ‘you’re so gay’ banter, and sex — but not romance. Young women like friendship, pop music, fashion, sarcasm, sensitive boys who think with their hearts, and romance — but not sex.

What’s the segment of death? You might expect older women. You’d be wrong.

Particularly once they reach thirty, these women are the most “review-sensitive”: a chorus of critical praise for a movie aimed at older women can increase the opening weekend’s gross by five million dollars.

Nope. It’s the lazy older guys.

“Guys only get off their couches twice a year, to go to ‘Wild Hogs’ or ‘3:10 to Yuma,’” the marketing consultant Terry Press says. “If all you have is older males, it’s time to take a pill.”

Since I’m in that demographic, but obviously see more films than two a year, we know that these things are generalizations. But, cliché’s come from somewhere. I now know I’m more likely to respond to marketing of a film if it has Clint Eastwood in it.

Comments (0) — Category: movies

Jan 30, 2009

Charlie Kaufman on avoiding movie tropes posted by Martin

When Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind came out, Charlie Kaufman sat down with Charlie Rose for a rare interview. The interview is great, and his honesty and straightforwardness are admirable, and very possibly why he doesn’t give more interviews.

The money quote in this is when he’s talking about his approach to writing a romance (at 5:21 in the video):

I have this adverse reaction to Hollywood romances. They’ve been very damaging to me growing up, I feel. And I had these expectations in the world of what my life was going to be like and what my romantic life was going to be like. And as I got older and I realized my life wasn’t like that that, you know, it became depressing, and then I thought that real life was more interesting and maybe I should try to explore that and not put more damaging stuff into the world.

I’m always sort of trying to think “What is true?” — I mean, true to me, which is all I know — and try to reject ideas which come from other movies. Which is a very hard to do — because you often don’t know that your ideas of a scene or relationship come from movies not from your real life. You have to sit down and go “Wait a minute. Why are these two people people acting like this? It doesn’t have to do anything with what I understand.” And so I try to sort of find those things, take them out, and put in things I understand.

Here’s Part 1:

Part 2, which doesn’t allow embedding, is available here.

Comments (1) — Category: inspiration

Jan 30, 2009

Re: What Now? posted by Martin

What now indeed. Mr. Beeson brought up a number of thoughts in his last post, which I will attempt to address here:

If it’s okay with Martin, I feel comfortable with talking about the projects we’re working on, or at least certain parts or aspects of them.

Sure, that’s fine. I trust you, sir, to judge what info should be public and what shouldn’t be. I’ll do the same.

And the link to execution-as-multiplier post on Spitball! is here.

To the next story writing competition, The Big Game, I say yes. I loved that process, and it worked well online. As the kids say, bring it.

Now then, how often will I post to the site? Remains to be seen. I’m not going to set goals for myself, since my schedule is unpredictable and inevitably something will get in the way, but my goal is fairly often. Subscribe to our feed and let it tell you when something new is on Spitball!

Comments (0) — Category: About

Jan 29, 2009

What Now? posted by kza

So yeah, what now? What does Spitball! mean in 2009?

First, my personal goal is to put up three posts a week. That’s probably not a lot by most blog’s standards, but that’s about what I can do and still have time for other work. If Martin could do the same, that’d be a post for every day except, say, Sunday. That’s good enough for me, but I’ll let Martin decide what’s doable for him.

Now — what is Spitball! 2.0 going to be about?

I’d like to talk more about our writing process — how we work together, how we build our screenplays and novels and short stories, why we’re juggling three screenplay ideas at once instead of focusing on one, why we make certain choices in our stories, that kind of thing. But only if the readers — y’all — are interested.

One thing we need to talk about is Todd Alcott and wadpaw. Martin and I are recent Alco-lytes in the church of Wadpaw, and what we’ve learned from him has completely revolutionized our thinking about screenplays and, seriously, made us better writers overnight. If you’ve never read his blog, What Does The Protagonist Want?, then please start doing that now. (This is especially true if you’re a fan of The Venture Bros.)

If it’s okay with Martin, I feel comfortable with talking about the projects we’re working on, or at least certain parts or aspects of them. We’re firm believers in the Execution-as-Multiplier Theory of Good Ideas (I’ll let Martin post the link, since I have no idea who the author is), so the notion that someone could steal our ideas doesn’t trouble us — if you can take one of our ideas, put the work into it to make it successful, then a) you deserve your good fortune and b) the result would be completely different than what we’d do with the idea, so it’s not like it’s the same thing anyway. But lemme check with Martin on that.

Speaking of ideas, another thing I’d like to do — not immediately, maybe in a few months or so, when this blog settles into its new voice — but what I’d like to do is have another March Madness-style Story Idea competition. The first one was incredibly fun, and successful to boot — we got a bunch of great ideas out of it, and three of them are Official Spitball! Projects (tm). That aint half bad in my opinion. Not to mention, the non-winning ideas are always there, either to be promoted to a working project or exist as spare parts for another story. It’s just a good thing for Martin and I to do anyway, so why not put it on the blog?

I even have an idea for this year’s Genre/Theme/Organizing Principle. If you recall, the first one was “prison planet” — all of the stories had to be about or take place on a prison planet. We ended up with a lot of SF ideas, of course, but what was important about the theme was that it could be interpreted metaphorically as well (which was reflected in some of the entries). So I wanted something like that, something where the first ideas would be obvious, and that’s okay, but open enough for some interesting interpretation. And I think I have it. And I think (based on what Martin has said in the past, and a few of the ideas we’ve worked on in the past year) he’ll approve.

I submit that this year’s Big Idea for a Story Competition be:

The Big Game.

What do you think, sir?

Comments (0) — Category: About

Jan 29, 2009

17 Months Off posted by kza

Wow -- we're really doing this, huh? I really have to learn how to use Ecto again?

Actually, I'm very excited to restart Spitball!, or as I think of it, Spitball! 2.0. The original Spitball! had a great premise, but one that simply wasn't going to live up to its potential, at least not with me. Or more accurately, not that me at that time. As Martin said earlier, in 2006 and 2007 we were still learning how to work together, and one thing we learned definitively is that I (and maybe Martin, but definitely I) need to work face-to-face. The written word is a great form of communication, but there's still too much ambiguity and too much time delay this way, causing problems that are easily solved (or wouldn't exist) when talking directly to my writing partner. So fuck this wack experiment in my opinion. (Apologies to the Cinemasters crew.)

So here's what's been happening lately.

Martin and I meet every weekend to go over our projects, something we've been doing for ... I don't know how long, but certainly since the last Spitball! post, maybe earlier. So about a year and a half. Technically, we don't live very far from each other, but getting together can be difficult, so this standing meeting time ensures contact with each other. I really think our writing, our communication and our work in general have increased ten-fold in quality since we started doing that.

But what have we been working on? Right now, we have three screenplay projects we're juggling, and one of them is the Spitball! Story Idea 2nd Place winner, known at the time as Black Little Stray, now known as Stray. That's right, not unlike Clay Aiken, winner of American Idol's second season, the runner-up has eclipsed the winner (in this case, Time to Die.) Time to Die is on the back burner -- it hasn't been forgotten, simply put on pause until we deal with these other three that, in our parlance, have "the energy" about them. In fact, Time to Die is next on deck as soon as we finish one of the other three (or if one of the three is shelved for intractable structural problems, which is always a possibility).

Along with screenplays, Martin and I have also jumped into the dark deep waters of prose fiction writing. (Martin moreso, but I'll let him talk about that.) I've started my first novel, which, wouldja know it, is based on one of our Story Idea contest entrants, The Atmospherist. (I'm gonna make it work, dammit.) I suspect that, despite this site's usual focus on screenwriting, we'll talk about the fiction side of things as well.

So basically, 2009 is all about the writing. Early last year, I was hired by the comic book website ComiXology to pen a column about comic book movies called The Watchman. It was a tremendous opportunity, and I think I did some of my best non-fiction writing ever there. But after doing it for almost a year, and finding more and more of time devoted to it (meaning more and more of time sucked away from screenplays and fiction), I had to make a hard decision. I decided to give up The Watchman. It hurt to do it, and it depressed me for a bit, but ultimately I think it was the right move. I have a kid now, Laura, who's almost two (!), so my time and my priorities are different. Everything that isn't about her has to go to, oh let's just call it all "storytelling". That's what I am now -- a storyteller.

And maybe one day, one day soon, I'll get paid for the privilege. But until then, I gotta keep practicing.

Comments (0) — Category:

Jan 29, 2009

The Collection at the Beginning of Creative Process posted by Martin

I’m always fascinated with the process of creative types. Because, of course, it might teach me something about my own process which has been doggedly formed from ignorant persistence. I long for some sort of validation that I’m doing it “right” (make of that what you will, psychology buffs).

Merlin Mann has been digging into process, and I think his Macworld presentation Towards Patterns for Creativity was interesting beyond his charismatic manitude.

He talks about Twyla Tharp and her book The Creative Habit (haven’t read it yet. Definitely on my list). Tharp starts each project with a box that she collects loose items associated with the choreography she’s creating. The box gets filled in a loose association and inspiration gathering, and then when it’s time to work it serves as muse and inspiration.

Compare this technique with Steven Johnson who, on his recent guest gig at Boing Boing wrote a post called DIY: How to write a Book. He captures information into software called DEVONthink, which acts as digital equivalents to Twyla’s Boxes (as Mr. Mann, sans external wink, likes to call them):

The first stage, which is crucial, is a completely disorganized capture of every little snippet of text that seems vaguely interesting. I grab paragraphs from web pages, from digital books, and transcribe pages from printed text — and each little snippet I just drop into Devonthink with no organization other than a citation of where it came from.

DEVONthink has the advantage of, once captured, of connecting text:

It has a very elegant semantic algorithm that can detect relationships between short excerpts of text, so you can use the software as a kind of connection machine, a supplement to your own memory.

Capture — the first step. In thinking back, all of my projects start with a single question “What if we lived in a world that was X instead of Y?” Knowing that question, capturing disparate information about that topic is how I approach it, albeit more loosely than either Ms. Tharp or Mr. Johnson (my process includes folders, Scrivener files, Yojimbo, and lost-to-the-ages software that didn’t stand the test of time).

Tangentially related to this topic is John Gruber’s talk at Macworld which gave us a maxim (Gruber’s Law?) which may or may not bear relationship to Mr. Beeson and my more democratic attempts at working together, but is still relevant to those who collaborate:

The quality of any collaborative creative endeavor tends to approach the level of taste of whoever is in charge.

Comments (0) — Category: technique

Jan 28, 2009

The Resurrection posted by Martin

What does it take to kill an idea? Lack of momentum, for one. Mr. Shockah and I stopped writing on this blog about a year-and-a-half ago. Why?

The answer is long and in depth, but one of us has a kid, the other has a demanding job, and we both felt that we’d rather put our time into actually writing screenplays rather than writing about writing screenplays.

Also, I think we can safely say, the experiment was a failure. By which I mean in the best sense — the Beckett sense of “No Matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

The truth is, we work better in person when we’re bouncing ideas off one another. We’re still experimenting with our process, but I can safely say it will not be by writing to each other about the act of writing. See a pattern here?

So we let Spitball! lay fallow. And, the idea was, that we would shutter it. Put a page here with a “goodbye and thanks for all the fish” message. And I was starting to do just that when I went back and started reading some of our older posts.

Damn if it wasn’t fun. There’s a lot of pedantic peddling here, but there was also some great conversation and some good arguments. And, in the end, we came up with a bunch of ideas that we are currently writing.

We’ve decided, therefore, to forge on, but with a different mission. Now Spitball! will be a blog about writing. A conversation between Mr. Shockah and I, but mostly a conversation with you. We’re planning some changes — comments, for example, instead of the forums (which are shuttered, although still readable), but those might be slow in coming. And the posts may be erratic, smaller and less focused.

What the hell. It’s all good. Spitball! is back, friends. Spitball! is back.

Comments (0) — Category: About

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What is Spitball!?

Spitball! is two guys collaborating to write about writing and collaboration. We're writing partners who have worked together since 2000, and placed in the top 100 in the last Project Greenlight for our script YELLOW.

Currently, we are both working on multiple screenplay, short story, and novel ideas independently and together, and collaborate on this blog.

What Spitball! used to be

Spitball! started as an attempt to collaborate on a screenplay online in real time. From January 2006 to July 2007 we worked on an interactive process to decide the story we were going to make. A full postmortem is coming, but you can find the find all the posts by looking in the category Original Version.

During this period, we affected the personalities of two of the most famous spitball pitchers from the early 20th Century. Look at our brief bios for more info about this, and so as not to be confused as to who is talking when.

We rebooted the franchise in early 2009 in its current form.

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Our Twitter account, where we note when longer articles are posted. While we're at it, here's Kent and Martin's Twitter accounts.

Kent M. Beeson

Urban Shockah pic

Kent M. Beeson (aka Urban Shockah) is a stay-at-home dad and stay-at-home writer, living in Seattle, WA with his wife, 2 year old daughter and an insane cat. In 2007, he was a contributor to the film blog ScreenGrab, where he presciently suggested Jackie Earle Haley to play Rorschach in the Watchmen movie, and in 2008, he wrote a film column for the comic-book site ComiXology called The Watchman. (He's a big fan of the book, if you couldn't tell.) In 2009, he gave up the thrill of freelance writing to focus on screenplays and novels, although he sometimes posts to his blog This Can't End Well, which a continuation of his first blog, he loved him some movies. He's a Pisces, and his favorite movie of all time is Jaws. Coincidence? I think not.

Martin McClellan

Burleigh Grimes pic

Martin (aka Burley Grymz) is a designer and writer. He occasionally blogs at his beloved Hellbox, and keeps a longer ostensibly more interesting bio over here at his eponymous website. You can also find him on Twitter.