is two guys collaborating to write on writing and collaboration.

Fastball! for April 2009

Apr 30, 2009

William Goldman — Martin Ball

What’s that? You’re in need of a fashionable writer’s picture to inspire you? Print this out, my friend, and hang it proudly on your wall. Invite Bill Goldman into your studio, and remember his adage that nobody in Hollywood knows anything. If that doesn’t make you feel better, maybe this quote will:

Life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.

Apr 24, 2009

Lisa Gold's Research for Writers class — Martin Ball

Seattle writer and researcher Lisa Gold is teaching a cool class titled Research for Writers at Hugo House May 9th.

Research is an important part of the creative process for writers of fiction and nonfiction. Research can help with inspiration, storytelling and world building whether you are writing about the past, present or future, about life on earth or an imaginary world. The instructor will share advice about research, discuss the kinds of research writers may need to do and help students find useful sources of information in print, on the Web, in libraries and in unexpected places.

Her bona fides? She helped Neil Stephenson research his Baroque trilogy, for one.

Her blog is worth subscribing to. Great stuff.

(via BoingBoing)

Apr 22, 2009

Style Yourself Like William Faulkner — Martin Ball

Or many other dapper men, on the devilishly good Nerd Boyfriend.

Apr 17, 2009

The Reality of a Times Bestseller — Martin Ball

Writer Lynn Viehl’s book Twilight Fall made the New York Times Bestsellers list. And Lynn Viehl is a woman of her word:

A few years ago I made a promise to my writer friends that if I ever had a novel hit the top twenty of the New York Times mass market bestseller list that I would share all the information I was given about the book so writers could really see what it takes to get there. Today I’m going to keep that promise…

And she did, in spades, by publishing a JPG of her actual royalty statement. If you’ve wondered about the money part of publishing from the author’s perspective, this is a great post to read.

Apr 17, 2009

#queryday on Twitter — Martin Ball

What started as #queryfail, with agents posting terrible queries as a learning opportunity for writers, is now the more positive #queryday. 1

And beyond mocking queries, the agents this time are taking questions. If you’re on Twitter, ask away with the hash tag. More details on agent Colleen Lindsay’s blog.

Please note: we have handily deleted “retweets” for your viewing pleasure in the above link.

  1. Really? Must everything be positive? Earnest people may not see the value in ironic humor, but that doesn’t mean we always have to kowtow to them. #queryfail was a much better, and more apt, descriptor of the issue. And it was funny. And referenced an internet meme. Stupid earnest people.

Apr 16, 2009

Bad Guy Plots: Not Just A Problem for Screenwriters — kza Ball

Greg Tannahill’s amazing (and on-going) critical examination of Keep on the Shadowfell, the first adventure for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition.

[The villain Kalarel] gives off the impression of someone who’s read a wide selection of magazines on being an evil mastermind, and finally decided he had to give it a try in person. Everything he does could come straight from a textbook, from such staples as “hiring goblin mercenaries” and “raiding local villages” through to “lairing in crumbling ruins”. If he was on the internet, he would have a villainy-themed MySpace page.

It gets even better.

Apr 16, 2009

The Substance of Style — kza Ball

Matt Zoller Seitz (former film critic and now a filmmaker in his own right) has made five terrific video essays for the Museum of the Moving Image about the influences on Wes Anderson’s style. The link above leads to part 5, an annotation of The Royal Tenenbaums’ opening minutes, which includes the following bit of truth:

More captioned frames: Anderson introduced this signature in RUSHMORE, and now he owns it; anybody who does it the same way looks pathetic.

Apr 16, 2009

Twister: How Tony Gilroy surprises jaded moviegoers — Martin Ball

Great New Yorker profile by D. T. Max on screenwriter and director Tony Gilroy, that gives a glimpse into his process and feelings on screenwriting.

Gilroy writes in spurts. “Dolores Claiborne” and “Duplicity” were each written in about twelve weeks. “He feels fucked up and blocked and crazy for a long time,” [Steven] Schiff says. “He tortures himself. Then, as it’s coalescing, he sits down to outline, and when he’s outlining he insists on doing it very, very fast — the whole movie he sketches out in, like, four days. I’m sure that during those four days his wife doesn’t see him and no one talks to him. And the reason he does that, he says, is it’s a movie and it has to move fast. ‘I have to write fast. I have to think fast. My fingers have to move fast.’ ”

It goes into some depth about the ideas of reversals, and how they are changing audience expectations.

Gilroy believes that the writer and the moviegoing public are engaged in a cognitive arms race. As the audience grows savvier, the screenwriter has to invent new reversals — madder music and stronger wine. Perhaps the most famous reversal in film was written by William Goldman, originally in his 1974 novel “Marathon Man,” then honed for the movie version. Laurence Olivier, a sadistic Nazi dentist, is drilling into Dustin Hoffman’s mouth, trying to force him to disclose the location of a stash of diamonds. “Is it safe?” he keeps asking. Suddenly, William Devane sweeps in to rescue him and spirits Hoffman away. In the subsequent car ride, Devane starts asking questions; he wants to know where the diamonds are. After a few minutes, Hoffman’s eyes grow wide: Devane and Olivier are in league! “Thirty years ago, when Bill Goldman wrote it, the reversal in ‘Marathon Man’ was fresh,” Gilroy says. “But it must have been used now four thousand times.”

Apr 16, 2009

Creative Screenwriting Podcast — Martin Ball

An amazing collection of interviews with screenwriters done by Creative Screenwriting Senior Editor Jeff Goldsmith. The link above goes to their webpage. Here’s a direct iTunes link.

(via Andy Ihnatko, on MacBreak Weekly)

Apr 15, 2009

Be An Agent for a Day — Martin Ball

Nathan Bransford is a blogging literary agent working out of the San Francisco office of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

He’s doing an interesting thing this week. On Monday, he posted 50 book queries. Readers can respond in the comments to either reject the query or request the manuscript for up to five of them. In the pile of fifty are five books that were actually purchased. If you pick the correct ones, you may just win a prize.

Or, as I think Mr. Bransford is getting at, you’ll have a better sense of what it means to be an agent and what you are faced with in your day-to-day work.

If you’re interested, you have until Saturday to look at the entries and respond. Full rules are here. Good luck.

Apr 15, 2009

Go Ahead, Steal Me — Martin Ball

Article in Forbes about Jonathan Lethem and how he works untraditionally to get his books made into movies.

First, he’s offering the rights to his short stories for $1.00 on his website. Second, with his latest novel, You Don’t Love Me Yet, he:

…all but gave away film rights to Greg Marcks, a Los Angeles indie filmmaker, whose last film, 11:14, starred Oscar winner Hilary Swank. Lethem is requiring a fee of 2% of the film’s total budget once Marcks lands a distributor. And this time the option expires in five years. If the movie doesn’t get made, Lethem can go elsewhere. The author, surprisingly, also required that five years after the book and movie come out, they must enter the public domain to become available, free of charge, to anyone; copyright protection usually lasts 70 years after the death of the author.

Good on him for trying something different. I hope it pays off. And, aspiring writers — go snag a story for $1.00 to write and produce.

(via SVN)

Apr 15, 2009

ScreenFonts: Watchmen, Sunshine Cleaning, Slumdog Millionaire, Duplicity, The Great Buck Howard — Martin Ball

Yves Peters looks at typefaces on recent movie posters. I love the whole ScreenFonts series. It reminds us that not all movie designers use Trajan.

Apr 13, 2009

TV Scripts and Bibles — Martin Ball

Badass collection of all things TV. Especially interesting to me are the series bibles, like this pdf from The Wire.

(via John “Best motherfucking screenwriting resource on the internet” August).

Apr 08, 2009

The Unfinished — Martin Ball

While I was sick with the flu last week, I finally had time to catch up on my New Yorker back issues, and read D. T. Max’s great profile of David Foster Wallace.

“One of the great pleasures in reading Wallace is to watch him struggle to give the reader her due.” He writes, and an indication of whether you will find the article rewarding is if you agree with him.

It strikes me that Wallace’s largest struggle was that he couldn’t quiet himself. That all the high-concept issues he was fascinated with and so documented were heavily filtered through his factory of examination, testing for and extraction of irony, and reconstituting into a coherent whole with his individual stamp. Fascinating to read, but obviously unbearable to live. Like a child who does something wrong, but you cannot punish because they’ve not only already punished themselves, but presented you with an essay on the history of punishment and its application.

Apr 04, 2009

Nicholl Fellowships — Martin Ball

Run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, it’s the most respectable screenwriting competition around. Five winners or so are granted $30,000 to write a screenplay within a year. Submissions are due May 1st.

Apr 04, 2009

Script Frenzy — Martin Ball

Another April, another month to write an epic screenplay. From the folks who bring you the ever-popular NaNoWriMo. What have you got to lose?

Apr 01, 2009

This Things I Believe #5: The Gap — kza Ball

Mark Waid, writing at Kung-Fu Monkey, talks about surprise; more specifically, characters making surprising choices. He uses Se7en as an example:

Up to that moment, we in the audience kind of knew where the story was ultimately headed. We didn’t know how it would happen, but we knew the cops would eventually catch and punish the criminal, the end, because that’s what happens in a procedural. And, suddenly, boom, one character kicks the game board over, and now, for the first time since the opening credits, no one in the audience has the slightest clue where this story is going.

This is the same thing as The Gap, as defined by Robert McKee and stated economically by Todd Alcott:

The Gap is simply the distance between what the protagonist thinks is going to happen and what actually happens. The wider The Gap is, the more interesting your story will be.

Fastball! Archives

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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.