Ready to Start

Filming on Christmas Eve 2001

Lilly’s is closed Monday, so I can finally go to “Monday’s Writing Group” with Kyle. He meets me outside Dane’s apartment in West Hollywood and we walk in together. (Since the last time we hung out, Kyle’s moved to Long Beach and definitely seems much happier about life, which makes me happy.) We are the first to arrive. The front door is open and we walk into the main area where we’ll have the meeting. It’s a small space, with plenty of over-sized couches and fans (he doesn’t have air conditioning and it’s very hot…I wore shorts but I should not have worn this long-sleeved thin sweater). Dane chats it up with us, making fun of me when I say that I’m much older than Kyle (well I am – four years). He’s probably in his mid-late 30’s…early 40’s? I’m not good with ages. Dane is happy to have a girl here – apparently I’m the only one.

Four others arrive and our group makes seven. Kevin is probably the youngest in his striped polo shirt. He immediately unwraps snacks and sets cupcakes out – it’s very cute. Ray arrives next – the oldest in the group. He seems quiet and almost shy at first but then talks a mile a minute when anything about film is brought up in conversation. He’s one of those nervous, awkward people I love – and he’s brought a bottle of wine. Hmm, I didn’t bring anything. I didn’t know I was supposed to bring something, I’m sorry. Dane jumps at my apology to let me know that it’s not OK. He’s quite the jokester. Then Blaine walks in. I don’t notice it at first, but as the night goes on, I realize he sounds just like Woody Harrelson. And actually, he looks a little bit like him, too. “It’s my curse and my blessing.” I guess he’s heard this a few times. Casey is the last to arrive – a little late because we’ve already gone around and done introductions. (It was really only for my benefit since everyone here knows each other.) I learn that all these guys – even young Kevin – are very experienced and knowledgeable in the writing field. The more I hear, the more intimidated I feel.

Dane has his laptop connected to the TV for us all to see, so he first plays a short film. He had Casey in mind when he decided to show it because it somehow reminded Dane of a project Casey is working on. He prefaces the viewing by explaining to Casey that he’s not comparing the two, only that Casey might like to see it. Alright, Dane, just play the thing.

It’s really good. Mike and I watch it again a few days later and I enjoy it even more the second time. It’s sad and relate-able and the score and narration are awesome. It’s beautifully shot, too – something Mike notices more than me. I wish he was here. I thought this was for writing in general, but it’s really geared towards screenplays. These guys don’t just write – they make movies – exactly what Mike wants to do. We talk about the film, and I’m glad I feel confident about giving my opinion. They all have a lot to say – but they all want to listen, too. It’s definitely a safe place.

Or is it? Now we’re going to read the script Mike and I wrote together. Yup, I brought copies with me. It’s a short – about 15 pages – and we wrote it three or four years ago and haven’t looked at it since.

Mike filming at Rehoboth 2006

I’m suddenly nervous and almost don’t want them to read it. I pass around the script and assign everyone roles – three roles and one narrator. A reading of my stuff, and I have to just sit here and listen. Ugh. I’ll have that glass of wine now, please. As they get into it, I find myself cringing. When it’s over, no one says anything, like they’re waiting for permission from Dane. He first asks me how it felt to hear it out loud. Well, it’s not as good as I thought it was when I first wrote it. I was getting embarrassed.

And then they let me have it. One by one, they go around the room and give me feedback. I can tell they are being very careful with what they say to me, like they’re walking on eggshells because they don’t want me to cry – or just never come back. I’m actually loving it. I mean, yes it’s hard to hear some of it, but I agree with pretty much everything they’re saying. One thing they keep repeating, is that it’s too on the nose. I’m not giving the actor or the viewer any credit. I hate hearing this because it’s the last thing I want to do. I hate when I’m watching something and it’s spelled out for me, like I couldn’t have figured it out. And now I’ve written a piece that does exactly that. I also haven’t given my actors any credit. Mike and I have spelled out their actions and their feelings. It’s not up to us. We have to leave it to them to decide what to do with the words on the page. It makes sense; I know this, but knowing it and writing it are two different things.

It’s Casey’s turn. He starts going through the script page by page to let me know what doesn’t work, and in some cases how to make it better. Dane interrupts him to check in on me. “Hold on, how are you hearing all this? Are you OK with it?” Now I’m beginning to suspect that this isn’t because I’m the new person, but because I’m a girl. Yea, I’m great with it. I’m an athlete, I’m used to constructive criticism. I appreciate everything you guys are saying. Casey continues. Collectively, they all agree on most points, but they each have a little something different to contribute. I can’t believe everyone is thinking so much about something I wrote and trying so hard to help me with it. It feels kind of awesome. They’re all long-winded, and I notice one person is always trying to interrupt and give his two cents. Please, by all means, don’t fight over helping me!

We spend a lot of time on my script. When it’s over, I have a new feeling about my script. It’s crap. There’s either a lot of work to do, or we should just start over. Now it’s Kyle’s turn. He’s written a short piece for tonight’s session. He actually wrote the 5-page script earlier today. Afterwards, everyone is giving him feedback. I realize it’s not because I’m a girl – they’re talking to Kyle the same careful way as they did with me. I have an opinion, but it’s not the nicest thing to say, so I keep my mouth shut. But then Kyle asks the question. “I really just want to know what you guys think of the story. Do you like the story?” And I can’t help myself. I tell him. I don’t care that she died. And I don’t care that he killed himself.

I feel everyone’s eyes on me and Casey starts laughing. “Wow, after I was so careful about what I said to you!” I innocently shrug my shoulders like it was perfectly nice, honest feedback. But I guess it was a little harsh. Kyle doesn’t mind. I didn’t think he would (or maybe he did and just didn’t show it, but no, I really don’t think so).

The meeting is over. It was nice meeting you guys! Hopefully I can start coming in September when I have a new schedule. I drive home pumped and motivated to write, to read screenplays (that’s my homework), and to come up with new ideas. For now I’ll just turn up the volume, roll down the windows, and enjoy the palm trees.

*Arcade Fire

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