Thursday, May 29, 2008

First Draft of Constant State of Panic

I finished a first draft of Constant State of Panic this morning. The second act now comes in around 27 pages handwritten, which I think will run about 40 pages typewritten (I’ll find out on Monday, at my Rhombus playwrights group meeting). I have a feeling that there’s a bit of expansion yet to go, and I can’t say that I really understand the ending completely. It could be that the whole thing feels too forced. I’m not sure. It did end up falling within the parameters I set up, at least some of them—four actors, unit set, mostly unit time and place. Maybe that’s too limiting. I’m not sure.

My goal was to complete the second act in May, and it feels awfully satisfying to have gotten there. Sure it’s (very) rough, and it could be that this last ten pages is complete crap and I throw it out. I just can’t know for sure yet, but I needed to get to this point, and plugging away for an hour or two every day did the trick. This is a script that I started four years ago and could never really get together. Now at least I've got something to pick apart and rewrite and attempt to figure out.

(Who knows, maybe I'll get a new version of my new novel done this year after all. What a concept.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Got My Camera (a Canon ZR930)

I bought my new digital video camera a little more than a week ago. I got a Canon ZR 930. I've only had a little time to check it out, but I like it so far. It's tiny, but it has the features that I needed--records on mini-DV, has a jack for an external jack (I'm going to order an inexpensive shotgun mic tomorrow), and isn't too tough to use in manual focus and exposure mode. It has a 10x optical zoom, which is plenty fine for me. It's not super in very low light situations, but it's not a very expensive camera. I can supplement lights if necessary. It'll be great for playing, which is exactly what I wanted.

I bought Adobe Premiere Elements 4 for editing, mostly because it fit in my budget. I guess the pros all use Final Cut, but they also all have Macs, and I've got an older Dell laptop. To be honest, I only need the most basic editing features. I cut my teeth making films in super 8 and 16mm film, so I'm used to having to physically cut the medium I'm using. Time code and digital effects will be a real treat for me. (I haven't actually had the time to install the software yet, but I'm sure it's great.)

Noah (who is 8) and I already have plans to make our first "Super Noah" movie--this is the super hero about whom I tell a story every day on the way to school. We actually storyboarded a quick version of the film on the blackboard at the pediatrician's office the other day. I'm glad to have an enthusiastic actor and co-writer already on ready to go.

I'm working hard on freeing up more time, so I can start playing with my new toy. Soon. Soon.

Friday, May 16, 2008

progress report--mini writing binge, back on the wagon

I fell off the wagon for my little writing binge last weekend. Noah was home sick on Friday and Tracy was out of town, so I just didn't have the time or energy to write anything. The good news is that I've done a good job making time for writing all this week. I've got at least a dozen pages written on a new version of Act II. It's coming slowly, but at least I'm making steady progress. I don't know that I'll finish the act by the end of the month, but I might not be that far off.

This play has come much slower than my others, but I've just had to accept that and try not to get too frustrated. In the past, I might write four pages an hour on a first draft, but now I'm lucky to get one or two pages in an hour. I hope that soon something will suddenly click and it'll all come pouring out. But I'll get it written either way.

The last two weeks have been pretty full of other stuff, but I think the rest of May will offer me more writing time. (If I can stay disciplined.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Boston Theatre Marathon: Counting Rita and more

Counting Rita was produced on Sunday, as part of the Boston Theatre Marathon. Normally, the Marathon is one of my big events of the year--I try to sit through as many plays as my butt can survive (the Marathon runs from noon to 10pm and features fifty plays, by fifty writers, produced by different fifty theatres). However, this year Tracy was out of town, and I didn't want Kira to have to babysit Noah for an entire day, so I only watched two hours of the Marathon.

Counting Rita came across very well. We had two talented and experienced actresses--Elaine Theodore and Julie Jarousek. Their sense of comic timing went well with the script, and they got a lot of laughs. For our hour, the Wimberly Theatre, which seats 360, was full, and the crowd was really with us. It's not often that I get to see my work in a sparkling new 360-seat theatre (with very comfy seats), so I savored it. I normally get a good tinge of nervousness right before one of my plays begins, but this time I was confident in our cast and hardly even had a flicker of nerves.

I was definitely left thinking that this is a piece that I should send out a lot more. We made a few changes in rehearsal that helped, too.

In my hour, John Shanahan's piece, First Time for Everything, also got a lot of laughs. (John is a fellow Binge member.)

Leslie Dillen's (fellow Rhombus member) play, Benji 53, was one of my favorites. It used sound and the entire stage in a powerful, highly theatrical way. So much of the Marathon tends to be similar in staging--desk, cafe table, bed, couch, in fairly realistic settings. Leslie's play used minimal staging to show a catastrophic fighter jet explosion in a way that was very powerful. We'd read the script at Rhombus before, but this was one that was tough to fully comprehend until it was fully staged.

At the moment, I don't have any productions lined up, which always produces a bit of nervous vertigo. I know something will come up soon.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

advice needed on video camera purchase

I've been talking a bit about getting back into making short films again. For my birthday, Tracy and my family pooled money together, and I've got a little bit of other money I can spare, to buy an inexpensive digital video camera and editing software. I've got a budget of about $500 total.

I think I'm going to buy Adobe Premier Elements, because it's cheap and sounds like it'll do what I want. I just need something pretty basic. (I'm on a PC and use XP.)

I need help on trying to choose a camera. And I need advice as to what to buy, that fits in my budget. I can either go new or used (Craigslist).

Here's what I want to do:
  • Make short films for fun.
  • Make some low budget art that can amuse, move, and entertain.
  • Post these films online (Youtube) where it can reach an audience (at least my family and friends).
  • Burn DVDs for friends, family, and fans.
  • Have fun working with fun and interesting people
  • Learn and refresh my understanding of how storytelling works on film/video.
  • Possibly create film versions of some of my stage plays (especially Pieces of Whitey)
  • Make some films with the kids, for fun.
  • Develop my eye and my ability to edit.
I don't need to create something (now) that will be broadcast via the airwaves or will be projected in theatres.

So, I have about $350 to buy a camera. I know it's not going to be fancy, but that's what I can afford. Here are features that I think it needs:
  • it should record to mini-DV tapes. (that seems to be the standard, still)
  • easy manual focus access (autofocus can be problematic)
  • ability to do manual aperture/exposure control
  • an external microphone jack
  • decent resolution (but it doesn't need to be high def). (I'm not sure how to define what resolution I need.)
So... please help me out--What features am I missing? Do you have any suggestions for models? I've seen a used JVC GR-DVL300 that I could afford. I also saw a new Canon ZR930 today that was in my price range.

If anyone out there has any suggestions, I'm very interested. I'm starting to look over review sites and getting some ideas. I think getting a camera and software in hand and making stuff is better than waiting forever for the perfect deal. But I don't want to get stuck with something that won't do what I need.

Lateset Addiction: Lost

Tracy and I have new addiction. We're working our way through the entire TV series, Lost. I'd never been that interested until we borrowed the first season on DVD from my in-laws. Now we're totally hooked.

We even bought a little converter gadget, so we can visit the ABC web site on our computer and play the shows on our computer (bypassing the need to wait forNetflix). We're at the beginning of season 3 now. I continue to be fascinated by dramatic series like this and this whole long-form narrative that's been created.

Lost is particularly interesting because they've done a good job setting up their world in such a way that they can make some really bizarre events happen to help them work their way out of corners. And they've written a show that pays dividends to careful viewers--little details are important in this show.

I confess to often knocking television, sometimes unfairly. But one thing I haven't really thought about is the social aspect of it. My sense is that television is seen as an antisocial, isolating medium, but that seems so far from the truth. I much prefer to watch the show with Tracy, and half the fun is offering theories back and forth about what's going to happen next. The way the show is structured encourages this, and which seems very smart to me.

I think we'll be relieved when we finally do catch up to the current episodes, so we can actually watch a movie every once in a while. But for now, we're lost in Lost.

writing binge: still making progress on Constant State of Panic

I've been doing a good job sticking to my own personal writing binge so far (I only started on May 1st, with a goal of a page a day). By yesterday's Rhombus meeting, I had 11 pages of the second act of Constant State of Panic. When I heard it read by our actors, I could see that I wasn't quite on the right track, but I was very glad to have something to bring to the group and to have made progress.

That said, I'm curious to see if I'll get in my page today. I'm doing some thinking and planning for how to attack the second act. So, I did write a full page of notes and questions, so if I want to cheat, I could just say that will do for today. Otherwise, I'll have to do it after the garden tonight (and an episode of Lost), while I'm half asleep. I still might.

Friday, May 2, 2008

new writing binge/plan

I've decided that I really, really, really want to have a first draft of Constant State of Panic sooner rather than later. The first act is written, but there's no second act. So this month, I'm going to try to write some of the second act, at least one page a day, every day. I started yesterday, came up with a page, and wrote another three today. I might not keep any of it, but it's a start. It helps that I need something to bring to my Rhombus playwrights group on Monday, and on the 19th, too. The weekends are the hardest for me, but I just need to write one page, and I just have to allow myself to write it and have it be total crap.

As an added bonus, I think this'll also build up some pent-up desire to work on my new novel. I have a pretty strong urge to work on it right now, but I don't have the time (or energy) to do both, so it'll have to wait until June. Sometimes there's something to be said for suppressed writing energy coming out all at once. We'll see.

In what is probably part of my standard cycle, I'm feeling that I need to start getting better at saying "no" to meetings and other things that take my time, and try to make sure I spend more time focused on writing every day (weekdays, at least). I might just force myself to get out of the house, to the library or cafe, for 2-3 hours a day. (I figure I spend at least 10 hours a week coaching Kira's soccer team right now--it might be smart to spend at least that much a week on actual writing time, too, huh?)

We'll see how it goes. I seem to come up with new plans and strategies all the time. Some really do work for a while. But then again, my life can require a certain amount of flexibility, fluidity, like anyone's, I suppose--so plans have to change. This one will only work for 6-7 weeks, until school is out. Then it'll be time to find a new one.