is two guys collaborating to write on writing and collaboration.

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Monday
Mar 16, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Spitball! posted by Martin

Welcome to sptbll.com, the new home of Spitball!

For those of you who followed us in our old digs, this is a whole new bag. New look, new structure, new content. For those of you who didn’t follow us, welcome. There’s lots of old stuff to dig through if you find it interesting, although not all of it is relevant anymore. Look up the “about” section for a quick overview.

One question you may have: “Hey! Are you guys all retro web 2.0 by removing the vowels in your URL?” Answer: No. We just couldn’t think of a better one. So, the url is disemvoweled, but the name is still Spitball!

You’re still going to find areas where the finish of the old site peek through, or you might find errors or issues. We’d kindly ask you to report them. I’m tweaking as we go, and there is always more to do.

The new system is essentially two blogs: Spitball!, our longer, digression focused pieces, and Fastball! our new link blog. They’re integrated for your pleasure on the homepage and the rss feed. Please abuse them.

Also, we’ll be opening comments on the Spitball! posts. We hope to generate some conversations around the ideas of collaboration and authorship, creativity and writing, technique and focus. You’re welcome to join in at any time. We hope you do.

Comments (2) — Category: About

Friday
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

Thursday
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

Wednesday
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

Tuesday
Jan 31, 2006

State of the Blog: January posted by Martin

Tomorrow we have our one-month Anniversary. Spitball! was officially launched on January 1, 2006. How do we feel about that? What have we been doing?

We started by feeling around in the dark. Shockah’s process is much different than mine, appropriately, because I think our talents and weaknesses conveniently dovetail. As he plans to elaborate in a post on the subject, his process is very much from the inside out—from a small picture to the big one. I tend to work in the opposite way, thinking about the big picture and then zeroing in on the topic from outer space.

But, he stumbled on a great way to break through my initial meaderings about the two words we had picked to define or spark our mission: Prison Planet. Shockah penned a post about some ideas for Prison Planet movies based on the cheesy ubiquitous announcer saying “In a World…”. This started an all out plot bonanza, with each of us giving 25 to the cause, from which we picked 8 each that we’re arguing pros and cons for. In the end, we’ll have one plot to rule the blog, and focus our energy rays of writing on.

This month could be considered the beta month—we only told a few people about us, to shake out some of our systems. We’re happy with the response when we talk to people directly, but so far only one person has joined us in the forums (I call you out in thanks, gdd, and gratuitously link to your fine blog in gratitude). If you don’t know us, please come on into the forums and join us. We’re kind of fun if you interact with us, not unlike wind-up tin toys. If you do know us, where the hell are you? Get yer ASCII in there.

So, what does the world think of us? In a decidedly unscientific poll, Google ranks us 51st if you search for “spitball”, and an atrocious 131st if you search for “prison planet.” Hopefully that will improve over time. Links to us would help, for those of you with the power, will and graciousness to do so.

We will continue whittling down our plots to the top one, and arguing back and forth. Please give us feedback, let us know what you think—about our ideas, the whole thing, and even the design of the site.

To sum up: The state of the Blog is strong, optimistic, and looking forward to a good year. We hope you’ll be part of it.

Comments (0) — Category: About

Tuesday
Jan 10, 2006

Re: what's a Spitball? posted by Martin

I too learned this term from William Goldman, but I didn’t think the term originated with him. After a handy search of the online OED (thanks SPL!), my suspicions were confirmed.

And actually, the use of the term to mean a transfer of information pre-date use as a baseball term by quite a few years. In 1888, the OED attributes the following to Judge 10 Nov. 68/1 “All statements to the opposite are spit-balls at the moon.” The baseball use starts in 1905, in J.J. McGraw’s Official Baseball Guide.

The OED winds up the definition page with our current use: Spitball: “To throw out suggestions for discussion”

The first reference to the movie industry is from 1955, attributed to H. Kurnitz, from his Invasion of Privacy. “I’m just thinking out loud… Spitballing we call it in the movie business.” So, it sounds as if it’s an old Hollywood term.

Other good quotes included C. Larson, in 1976’s Muir’s Blood “‘Are you serious?’ Blixen asked. ‘I’m spitballing,’ Schreiber replied.’” Most curiously, though, we find a quote in the New Yorker from May 1977: “The spitballer won’t grow into his father’s jacket.”

Please note that none of the following have included a mandatory exclamation point with the term, thus leaving us to break what small new ground we can.

Comments (0) — Category: About

Tuesday
Jan 10, 2006

What's a Spitball? posted by kza

Just realized there might be people out there unfamiliar with the term “spitball”, which makes a lot of our in-jokes (well, maybe only the funny names) incomprehensible.

“Spitballing” is a term invented by William Goldman (author and screenwriter of such classics as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All The President’s Men) as kind of synonym for brainstorming. If you’ve read any of his books (particularly “Which Lie Did I Tell? More Adventures in the Screen Trade”), then you know that Goldman loooves to spitball — sit around with other writers and throw out ideas for plots and characters, and, most importantly, taking them to their logical conclusions.

I’d like to think the relevance to our little project goes without saying.

Comments (0) — Category: About

Monday
Jan 09, 2006

How To Use This Site posted by kza

(The following is intended for those new to the site as well as co-administrators who are still trying to wrap their feeble minds around the vast, intimidating thing they’ve helped birth.)

Welcome to Spitball! (Exclamation point is mandatory.)

The point of the site is to write a screenplay, from start to finish, from germinal ideas to 120 pages of dramatic goodness. Although the authors of this site, Burley Grymz and Urban Shockah, are ultimately the authors of the screenplay, we invite everyone on the Blog-o-Web to contribute. That creates some sticky conundrums, so, before you do that, you may want to peruse this and this.

Okay, so you’ve decided to contribute — what now?

Well, first thing, read the entries. Burley and I will, in all likelihood, have a running conversation about the screenplay via blog entries, kinda like how those goofs over at SLOG discuss Brokeback Mountain and threaten to post pictures of nude men and women at each other.

(I say “in all likelihood” because, this being the beginning stages of this site, I have no idea how it will evolve. Stay tuned.)

Anyway, so you’ve read about our ideas and still want to contribute. You’ll notice that instead of blog comments, we have a link that reads, “Comment on this post in the forum”. Because this project is potentially huge and unwieldy, the forum is our home base, our Death Star if you will, where all the ideas will be collected and the real work will be done. Each and every blog post will have an accompanying forum topic, so there should be a place for every idea and every thought. But if not, we also have the “Ideas and Critique” board and the “Plot” board — and I presume some of the heavy lifting (collating relevant posts and debuting drafts of scenes) will occur here as well. And while you’re in the forum, why not visit some of the other boards? We’ve got places to discuss movies, books, and TV, as well as a place to talk about your own work, and other specialized boards. Want to bitch about the look and organization of this site? Go here.

(Remember to register to access the forum!)

So that’s kinda how Spitball! is going to roll: Burley and I will post ideas about the screenplay (and eventually, completed pages), and you can provide feedback in the forums, and we’ll listen to your feedback and fold it into the ideas and pages, and you’ll provide more feedback, and so on and so on, and maybe, eventually, we’ll have a completed screenplay at the end of the tunnel.

A screenplay that anyone is welcome to use.

Comments (0) — Category: About

Monday
Jan 09, 2006

Are we Open Source? posted by Martin

This is to clarify—or at least talk about—the idea that we are open source. Are we?

The open source movement started in an effort to develop free software, at a time when commercial software, with proprietary code, was becoming commonplace. The commonly heard refrain is that the software should be free-as-in-speech, not free-as-in-free-beer. That is, the code itself should always be open, even if the software is commercial in nature.

An impressive infrastructure has been grown to promote, grow and release free software. The concept is usually that somebody gets an idea, does some coding and then puts the code into a repository where others can download it and work on it, if they’re interested. Those other coders can submit their code back to the originators, and if the originators like the work done by the submitters, they’ll commit it to the code base.

I’ve often thought that writers could learn a lot about organization from software developers—especially using version control, but that said, we’re not really open source. We’re not writing a screenplay for you to work on and contribute scenes to, which will get added if we like them.

Most free software is released under a number of licenses (GNU, Berkely, etc) with the intention that the creators are retaining the copyright to the works, but that you are free to take that work and modify it for your needs, or to modify it and submit it back to the community.

So, how are we different?

We’re releasing our work into the Public Domain. That means that NOBODY owns it. At all. Zip. You don’t even have to credit us if you take it and use it.

Why? Why do this instead of license it open source, with a more restrictive license? Simple: screenplays are potentially worth a lot of money. If we just went with an open source model, you wouldn’t get the benefit of “using” (i.e. selling) the screenplay if it was really fantastic. This is unlike a coder who adds to an open source project, and gets to use the software she helped write. Unless we had an infrastructure in place of filmmakers ready to produce open-source projects, the incentive for the contributer is low. Besides, would you ever shake the feeling that you’re just helping these two guys on a website with a funny name? Wouldn’t you be suspicious that your good work might be the thing that made the deal for these two guys? Heck, what if it was the bit that really made the screenplay amazing. And then we sold it. And you got nothing.

Instead, we’re stripping away the financial incentive for us, and for you, but making the work public domain. This means it belongs to everybody (at least in the U.S., I’m not sure about other countries—and actually, here’s a disclaimer that I’m not a lawyer, etc, etc), so essentially nobody can sell it. Or, everybody can sell it. Maybe you can sell it. You can take the final work that you hated, and insert your bits of magic and then sell that. You can re-incorporate our dialogue or plot points into your work, just like artists and painters have done for the thousands of years, without worrying about us suing you.

In a best case scenario, we have people who are interested and writing, uploading bits and pieces to add to a screenplay that we started, but that everybody refines and owns. We’ll control our version of the “trunk” (as the main software development line is called), and you can control any “branch” you want. We sincerely hope that you’ll be interested in the community aspect, and hang out on our forums to talk about these things.

Comments (0) — Category: About

Wednesday
Jan 04, 2006

Just What The Hell Do We Think We're Doing? (And How Do You Fit In?) posted by kza

Good question. I’m not entirely sure, either.

Again, the Big Idea, as Burley posted below in “Statement of Purpose” is to write a screenplay completely through this newfangled medium called the InterWeb. Every idea, every outline, every piece of communication between the Mic Rockah and B-to-the-G, will be posted here.

(This will be slightly harder than it seems, since we’ve been known to talk on the phone and hang out every once in a while. I believe we decided that if — horrorz! — we should accidentally talk about the screenplay in a non-Spitball!-approved medium, we’ll post the contents of said dialogue here. That should be interesting.)

So far, so good. But what about you, Dear Reader? It would be fine and dandy if this site was just a collection tank for our Bob Loblaw, but would anyone care? If we built a screenplay on the Web and no one read it, would it exist?

(OT: If a bear shits in the woods, does Timothy Treadwell videotape it? A: Yes.)

In other words, as interesting as this project is to us personally, it would be more interesting to us if it was interesting to you. So towards that, we’ve decided to allow you, yes you, that guy in North Carolina, to contribute to the screenplay. And by contribute, we mean anything you want: ideas, characters, dialogue, whole freakin’ scenes, if you wish. It should also go without saying that we crave feedback — what works and what doesn’t — on all levels of the screenplay’s construction, and I was taught that the best way to criticize a piece of art is with another piece of art.

But here’s the catch: This is not, repeat not, a screenplay-by-committee thang. Ultimately, we, the two dudes with the funny names, decide what the screenplay is, and what goes in it and what doesn’t. And our names (probably not the funny ones) go on the cover page.

But waitafrickin’minute, you say. Why the hell should I bother contributing to your shitty-ass screenplay? What’s in it for me, the guy from North Carolina?

Another good point. Normally, absolutely nothing.

Except.

We’ve decided to make this screenplay, as the computer geeks call it, “open source”. What this means — as I understand it — is that the screenplay is public domain. Grymz has the full low-down on that; but the long and short of it is that everyone owns the screenplay. (And thus, no one does. Note to self: The Incredibles’ Syndrome as open source advocate. Must think on.)

So whatever you write for this project, you can use in whatever way you want. You can also use anything we write for this project. You can use the whole damn screenplay if you want. I think there are issues about giving credit, but otherwise, it’s all fair game. Think our first thirty pages are super-keen, but the rest sucks? Take it and write your own second and third act. Like one of the characters but find the rest to be toilet paper? Do it to it, man. As the Wu-Tang Clan once opined, it’s yourz.

Will any of this work? (And what exactly does “work” mean in this context?) I dunno. But if there wasn’t a chance of failure, it wouldn’t be an experiment. One day, Burley and I hope to be working at this professionally, clockin’ lots of dollars. And when that day comes, a funny little idea like this won’t be possible for us to execute — Disney or Paramount or Mark Cuban or whoever the hell would certainly frown on it. But we aint there yet, so while we’re still young, we’re going to do something that hasn’t been done before.

And if you want to join us, all the sweeter.

Comments (0) — Category: About

Sunday
Jan 01, 2006

Statement of Purpose posted by Martin

To listen to the stereotype, all that one needs to break into the exciting and lucrative world of Hollywood screenwriting is an idea. After all, you’ll only get that one chance to wheedle up to some cigar-puffing exec and say in your midwestern white-boy (Screenwriting is still tragically overrun by white guys. Like us.) voice-just-breaking drawl “It’s a sci-fi story about time travel starring Martin Luther transported to the American Revolution—he pins the Declaration of Independence on Hitler’s ass!” Or, maybe you’ll squeal through the studio gates in your 1970s beat-to-shit Range Rover, with a day pass won by seducing a secretary with your manly Testeszterhaus swagger. You’ll slap the big guy on the back—already looking ahead to that weekend in Acapulco with him and some hookers—and say “Rejected teenage fat chick turns into Femme Fatale and seeks revenge by detonating a nuclear suitcase bomb at her class reunion. Only, she didn’t know that little Jimmy Parson, who was always nice to her ungrateful ass, grew up to be the fucking head of the F.B.I. Bamm! Bitch gets what’s coming—but not without three acts and lots of tits.” Rube and Joe here get contracts, big pads in the Hollywood Hills, and more blow than they can snort.

We believe those stereotypes are categorical bullshit. Movies might begin as a pitch, or a logline or an idea, but movies really start as a script. The writing is what separates the stereotypes from the writers who might have a chance. The true value of success in Hollywood will not be won by clever ideas, but good writing, character development, and emotional resolution to problems that audience members actually care about.

To think that ideas are the engine of movies is to devalue the incredibly talented screenwriters that have come before. It’s a medium every bit as difficult as novel writing, with smart and dedicated competition—probably younger and better dressed than you—all wanting to grab some golden ring. Luckily media is expanding daily, and the one thing that media needs if it wants to make a splash with the public is a story. Nothing is exempt.

So we’ve decided to perform an experiment in public here—this is screenwriting without a net. We are going to conceive, develop and write a screenplay completely on this blog. Every conversation we have about it will be broadcast here. Every word we write—in preparation or actual drafting, will be published here. Even more, we are publishing this work into the public domain. If you don’t like what we’re doing, take the damn thing and write it yourself. Re-write it—post comments that tell us what we’re doing wrong.

There are no restrictions on your use of the material, although we certainly hope that you’ll turn around and put your variations back into the public domain. Even better, we hope you’ll post in our forums and tell people what you’ve done, and how to get it.

We’re hoping that people just starting to write can learn something here. We’re hoping that more experienced writers will pipe in and tell us what we’re doing wrong. Maybe things will go well. Maybe they’ll descend into chaos. Maybe it will be a mistake.

But if it ends up being a mistake, it will be a mistake in execution. No one succeeded without putting themselves on the line a bit and trying something public. Or, as Beckett so eloquently put it: No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Comments (0) — Category: About

Sunday
Jan 01, 2006

Bio - Kent M. Beeson posted by kza

Kent M. Beeson (aka Urban Shockah the Mic Rocka) Urban ShockerHow many aliases does a non-rhyming white boy from Modesto need? According to Kent M. Beeson (a.k.a. Urban Shockah, a.k.a. Kza), a minimum of two. Kent graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in Theater Arts, and then proceeded to walk away from theater forever for the “life” of a cinephile. He spends most of his time locked away in his apartment with his wife and cat, looking out the window and idly wondering if that Flexcar that was in the church parking lot across the street is ever coming back. His credits include writing the short film The Somnambulist (2004, Mary Agnes Krell), Saint Callistus (2002, 2nd place, The Underexposed Screenwriting Contest) and Yellow (Project Greenlight Top 100, 2003) and appearing in Kent Beeson is a Classic and an Absolutely New Thing (2001, Tim Etchells) and Untitled Ty Huffer Project a.k.a. Douglas (2005, Ty Huffer). You can sometimes catch him writing film reviews over at his other blog, he loved him some movies.

Comments (0) — Category: About

Sunday
Jan 01, 2006

Bio - Martin McClellan posted by Martin

Martin McClellan (aka Burley Grymz) Urban Shocker Martin was born on April 1st, and takes his birthright as a fool very seriously. He�s a graphic designer living in Seattle, with a BFA in graphic design from Cornish College of the Arts. He studied writing at Seattle Central Community College, where he was co-editor of the Ark, the school�s yearly literary magazine, and holds a certificate in creative fiction writing from the University of Washington extension.

His screenwriting credits include the short Lost in Time (1999), YELLOW (Project Greenlight top 100, 2003), and the soon to be filmed sci-fi short Q-DASH-1. He journals about movies at http://www.hellbox.org/movies, and about lots of other things at http://www.hellbox.org/.

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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.