02 April 2009

1 Page = 1 Minute

One of the oldest adages in modern day cinema is the simple formula which is the ratio between the number of pages in a screenplay and the number of minutes the final production is likely to end up running.  This ratio, for simplicity, is set to 1 (ONE).  That being the ratio, this ratio being the number 1, one half be not enough and one and three fourths is right out!  The way this ratio can be ensured is by very specific formatting of the text of the script and proven statistical probability that for a given number of lines with a given line width and a fixed point size that a minute of final screen time shall be realized.  Thanks to this basic rule, a production company reader can quickly and simply count pages in a submitted script to estimate its approximate running time.  Thus, the key to achieving this ratio is proper, meticulous formatting of the potential script.

When I started writing scripts for Project KronoSphere, I decided to use the reStructured Text mark-up language for its simplicity and raw legibility.  As reStructured Text does not explicitly define specific screenplay elements such as Act, Scene Number, Scene Heading, Slug, Action, Dialog or Parenthetical, I am forced to use more generic elements when writing and formatting my raw script.  The basic approach I currently use is as follows:

  • Title is underlined and overlined with number signs (#)
  • Story Name is underlined and overlined with asterisks (*)
  • Story Sequence is underlined and overlined with equals signs (=)
  • Acts are underlined and overlined with hyphens(-)
  • Scenes Numbers are underlined with circumflexes / carets (^)
  • Scene Headings and Slug Lines are underlined with tildes (~)
  • Action is straight paragraphical text, unjustified and without indent in 72 columns
  • Speaker is a field name, without indent, on a line by itself and followed immediately by the corresponding Dialog
  • Dialog is a field value, indented by 3 columns, unjustified and extending not past column 72 in paragraphical form
  • Parenthetical is on a line by itself, interspersed with the Dialog elements, with a custom role assignment of action over the entire line of text

Specifically, a raw script may look something like this:

As you can see, such formatting is rather easy to read, which is why I chose it.  The part that reads *various script headings* is an italicized placeholder for where things like character lists and descriptions would go. Here, the single asterisk (*) around the placeholder makes the phrase italicized, where as the double asterisk (**) around the phrase Goodbye causes this to be rendered in boldface. One important idiosyncrasy to notice is that on the third line of Voice's dialog we begin with a backslash (\) character to inform the text parser to treat that line as text and not as a comment since all comments begin a line with two periods (..). Because the parentheticals are marked as action, the document needs to know what the role action means. I thus have a comment (..) after the title blocks to define the role action as the generic character class action. Also, for the sake of editing and spell checking, there are a number of lines I always put at the tail end of my documents which appear as comments (starting with ..) so that they can be read by the editor but are ignored by the parser. Although the editor and spell checking parameters can occur at the end of the document, the role definition needs to appear at the beginning, which I find annoying to the point where I am looking into the docutils code to see if I can change how role definitions are matched with their uses.

Initially, and still in some of my older script, the dialog elements all bunched up as one continuous line following the Speaker's name, as well as the Action elements being continuous without breaks. Also, I didn't have a markup for Acts originally, and the markup currently used for Act was then used for Scene Number instead. Also, back then, the Scene Heading and Slug Lines were originally both underlined and overlined but are now just underlined. However, such differences do not change how the parser reads the script; the line length and line breaks within a text element are ignored by the parser. However, one serious difference is that parentheticals are now specifically marked up as action, where as before they were treated as normal dialog text. Also, I incorrectly used pause instead of the industry standard beat, for example:

When I find the time I will reconfigure these older scripts to better match the format as outlined previously as well as make some other consistency formatting changes. Specifically, a lot of my initial scripts contained foley notes which I am planning to hide with some specific formatting techniques as yet to be determined.

After I settled on a uniform formatting for my scripts within the reStructured Text guidelines, the next step that I faced was a way to turn that flat text file into something prettier.  Specifically, I found a small web server written in Python by Mr. Jon Berg and modified it to use the docutils publish_string function to transform my reStructured Text into colourful HTML.  This turned the above template into:

The colour is achieved with a GET Query by setting a character name to a colour, such as "Voice=red". Although non-standard, this is meant to give any potential actors an easier time identifying their lines. The main flaw, however, with this script is that in an early run-through of an early draft of Episode 01, we found the average run time of a page of dialog to be 1 minutes, 45 seconds, which, as I said before, was right out! Another annoyance, as you can see, is that the dialog between Voice and Joyce B Foist is not aligned: the indent of Voice is much less than that for Joyce's dialog.

As I worked on the first few scripts, I worried less about formatting and more about getting the story out. However, soon after attending my first Washington Screenwriters Meetup, as well as completing a first draft of Episode 04a, I decided it was time to get the formatting finally right. The first thing I did was to add the proper margins to the HTML page format. This was not easy, and I'll save the details for another post, but eventually I got the various page elements, such as paragraphs and table entries to align — the most recent change was actually a few days ago, so this is pretty cutting edge! I also set the page rendered font uniformly to the industry standard of Courier, 12 point. This, however, caused its own problems because most browsers render Courier as Courier New, which is a thinner font than Courier and is a sure sign of an amateurish script. Thus, you need to explicitly set your browser to render Courier as Courier and not Courier New to see these pages correctly. Finally, before tackling the problem of Character and Dialog elements being displayed horizontally instead of properly vertically, I used CSS to fix the dialog spacing so that Voice and Joyce B Foist's dialog would appear aligned, as can be seen below:

Although that looks much more realistic, and is actually a good hybrid between scripts for Radio plays and those for Television, Cinema and Animation, I wanted to get the Dialog elements to properly render vertically, as you see in the visual media formats since this would finally bring me in line with the 1 page = 1 minute rule. Since I used reStructured Text field lists to specify the Character and Dialog elements, the default docutils rendering is in an HTML table and thus always horizontal. In order to change this behaviour, I needed to add a series of Regular Expression replacements in the rendered HTML before displaying it — turning the table elements into div elements — before transmitting the HTML to the client browser. It's handy being able to role your own web server, isn't it? So, without further a dieu, here is the current version of my near Hollywood perfect screenplay format:

One final note: the boxes where you see each page rendered are made small to fit in this blog, and in fact the only way to make the page look like a true Hollywood script at this point is to view it in a browser window that is exactly 8 ½ inches at 72 dots per inch (DPI). However, when printed, the script should come out properly, all be it with the minor nit that a page break can currently occur in the middle of Dialog or Action lines. It will take a more robust document language, like LaTeX, to provide that level of perfection.

I hope you've enjoyed my first tutorial on how to turn reStructured Text into a screenplay formatted using Hollywood guidelines. This also concludes my posts referring to the events of my writing life which occurred during the month of February. I finished the first draft of Episode 04a and most of these formatting edits by the second week of March when the next Make a Video meetup was scheduled, but to find out what happened then, you'll just have to read my next post...

31 March 2009

Meeting up for Fun and Profit à la French

The next step in my tales of adventure is my subsequent attendance of the regular Digital Video, Audio & Animation for Profit and Networking meetup.  These meetups were at the time held on a Tuesday at the Reston, VA La Madeline French Bakery and Restaurant which suited me superbly.  Indeed, although the idea of profiting from the Project KronoSphere concept has long been one of my lowest priorities, the fact that this meeting was taking place within 10 minutes drive of my house, at a place with which I am quite familiar and on a day where I allow myself to stay up a bit later than most made this meetup an almost certainty for me to attend.

So I get to the restaurant 5 minutes early and wander around, looking for our inspirational leader, Ayda or hoping at least to spot someone from our prior meeting at the Fairfax Public Access studios 10 days prior.  Spotting no-one I recognize, I proceed to wander around, looking again for someone I could recognize.  On my third go around, Ayda signalled me, and invited me to join her little group.  So, that I did.  Ayda, I should warn, does not look quite like her meetup profile picture, whence the confusion.  So I settled in, weary but curious.  I introduced myself in French, desiring to show off one of my few talents and then sat quietly listening to the meetings proceedings.

Here, the only people I seem to recognize or recognize me are the enigmatic David and Gino.  Gino is someone trained in medicine who wishes to break into voiceover work.  The day of this meeting, he recalled my brief story description from the Fairfax Public Access orientation and thus recognized me right away.  Good to know my concept is at least memorable, especially to an aspiring voice actor.  David, on the other hand, did not recognize me, but for some reason I had this visceral feeling I had seen him somewhere before.  I knew not where, but it did not matter since the recognition was not mutual.

David, who arrived a bit late given his long commute from his studio in Silver Spring, MD, demonstrated a plethora of his prior œvres on his Apple laptop.  We were all quite suitable impressed by this and Ayda gushed how happy she was to have David on the team.  David is our script writer and overall initial presentation co-ordinator, I found.  My chief goal being scriptwriter, this pretty much precluded me from any obvious service to the group, or so I believed.

As the hour progressed, we discussed a brief outline of goals.  Specifically, the Digital Video, Audio & Animation for Profit and Networking was set up by Ayda as a small-business collective where by we would each showcase our talents through computer based training videos.  The idea would be that we would each have one or more filmed segment that would be presented on our official web page, designed by Ayda, that would help educate people in the uses of modern digital video, audio & animation filming and editing techniques.  Then, once the web page was up and contained some eye-catching, self-produced content, it would then serve as a personal work portfolio for each of the members such that we could each be hired out for our service anyone wishing to commission the organization for work.  The business would handle commissions as an agency would, taking a percent off the top for administration and as a kitty for the member who have yet to receive a commission, and with the rest going as direct payment to the artist(s) and content producer(s).  Overall, not an unreasonable plan and I look forward to seeing it in play.

Anyway, back to the first of thus far 2 meetings, this one on Tuesday, 24 February 2009.  We settled into discussion rather quickly while a number of members munched on decadent French cuisine and piping-hot French beverages.  I, personally, am well sated, and thus order nothing.  The only contribution I was personally able to make here was to offer my personal experience with Adobe Creative Suite (CS) version 2, when most everyone else was already using Adobe Premier versions from CS3 and CS4.  I learned from The DC Podcasters Alliance meetup that some features in Adobe Premier CS3 were removed from CS4, but would likely be added back in CS5, so I am hesitant to upgrade at this time.  Having not a Macintosh computer built in the 21st century, I could certainly not contribute to any software tutorials or editing with Apple's Final Cut product either.  Therefore, I still saw my self as of little if any use to this society by the end of the meeting, but I none the less decided I would be back next month to try again.

27 March 2009

Public Broadcasting, Private Thoughts

The next instalment of my recounting of the last month of events in my life takes us to the Fairfax Public Access studio tour, and what an exciting and interesting adventure this was!

I know what you're thing, and just don't say it!  I know the reputation that Public Access has and I'm hear to tell you that you are quite mistaken when you think that production at a public access facility is the one-way ticket to nowheresville.  Case in point, when I was in middle school I was friends with a clever, funny and creative classmate by the name of Josh Cagan and at that time he had a small, cottage production interview programme on West Hartford Community Television.  Today, Josh has a his first feature film coming out this summer, Bandslam!  Public Access to Hollywood feature film can't be all that bad, even if it did take about 25 years.  And, need I mention Mystery Science Theater 3000?

Anyway, I first joined the Digital Video, Audio & Animation for Profit and Networking with some trepidation.  As I've already said, my goal here isn't to become rich or famous and although I'd like to make a bit of money for my work, in some ways I feel that Project KronoSphere should be produced completely as a non-profit endeavour.  Obviously, this does not fit well with the idea behind a group explicitly geared toward profit.  None the less, this group is the closest meetup to my house and the idea of touring an actual studio was quite exciting.

The meetup directions stated that it was to occur on Saturday, 14 February 2009: Saint Valentine's Day.  Yes, I would have to spend Valentine's Day with strangers whom I'd never met, but only really the afternoon and the important thing was I was there to learn.  So I dithered.  I considered.  I contemplated.  And finally, on the morning of the 14th, I decided: I was going.  So I reread the instructions more carefully now committed to the meetup.

Apparently, I'm supposed to pre-register.  D'oh!  Well, registration can be sent via e-mail, and e-mail is pretty fast, so I decided to just shoot off a quick message to someone named Meena expressing my interest in attending.  After all, 3 hours notice should be sufficient when using e-mail, shouldn't it?  So I use my iPhone to direct me to the Fairfax Public Access studio straight from the Leesburg Outlet Mall and arrive less than 10 minutes late.  I park around the side, hastily finish my Roy Rogers large roast beef sandwich and look for the front door.  Around the corner, I find the unassuming entrance and cross the threshold.

Directly inside, there is a counter where equipment can be checked out where a man stands chatting with some other visitors.  Desiring to know where to go from here, I wait patiently for the conversation to finish.  After about 5 minutes of staring at ceiling tiles I abandon this hopeless quest for directions and proceed to enter deeper into the bowels of the studio.  There I notice a placard with various event times, one of which announces an orientation and introduction to the studio.  I continue to wander until I come upon a large group of people sitting around in front of a large desk where a kindly woman of south asian decent is speaking.  This, I later learn, is Meena.

Since I did not register properly and was a few minutes late, I just stood in the hall looking in upon the beginning of the orientation.  As Meena asks everyone attending to introduce themselves, she spots me standing in the back and invites me to sit.  Eventually, I find a seat next to a nice fellow who has moved down from Boston and a pretty woman in front of me who wishes to start a cooking show.  Alas, I have since forgotten the names of these kind people and although I left them my e-mail address they haven't written me either.  None the less, I wish them well in all of their endeavours and hope that the experience we shared brings them much success!

Eventually, I am called upon to announce my goals, and I introduce the group to the basic concept.  Well, very basic, as I don't think I even called Project KronoSphere by name, but rather referred to it as a serial drama that could be live-action television or made for radio.  Like at The Washington Screenwriters Meetup a week before, Meena is quite keen with my idea to produce an all-new, original radio drama series.  After the introductions, Meena leads us into the depths of the studio.

First, we see Studio A, which has a full kitchenette ready-made for a variety of cooking programmes as well as storing an interview desk and chairs.  This room has 3 cameras and good lighting and thus is perfect for interviewing with one camera on the interviewer, one on the interviewee and the third as a wide shot.  Next to Studio A is a control room filled with equipment for sound and video editing.

Next we enter Studio B, which is mostly empty and has a screen which can be drawn to change between different monochromatic backgrounds.  The bare walls are coloured in the shade of Chromakey Blue and there are screens for Chromakey Green and Black.  This room also has 3 cameras and a lot of lighting equipment.  Because it does not contain any fixed equipment like Studio A, Studio B looks bigger than A.  The Studio B control room, however, is quite similar to that for Studio A though smaller more cramped.

We are then shown the 2 radio studios available.  These are broadcast as WEBR and WRLD and are outfitted very similar to a standard modern radio studio where a disk jockey or call-in show host sits and spins disks or answers the phone.  These studios would not suit recording audio drama, however.  For one thing, they are not big enough to store the full cast and foley artists to record the script like it was done in the classic days of radio.  In fact, as an audio production, the Fairfax Public Access studios don't really supply what is needed in terms of recording actors, then music and foley, with each actor on an isolated channel.  They do, however, have adequate editing facilities which we saw at the end of the tour.  But first, there was one more studio to see.

Studio C is very small.  It's walls are perfect Chromakey Green from floor to ceiling and everything in between except for the large window where the control studio can see the performers.  The lighting is both bright and diffuse with special filters to reduce glare, as well as lighting from behind and above.  There is only 1 camera here, which is computer controlled from the control room.  The control room has a computer with a number of digital backdrops which are then combined with the performers in realtime to give the appearance of a number of exciting recording locations.  Because of Studio C's numerous advanced virtual studio images available, users of Studio C aren't allowed to bring any props into the studio.  This, combined with the fact that the majority of digital backdrops available are for news anchor sets and fairly static, it doesn't seem that even Studio C would be all the appropriate for recording most of a live-action science fiction drama like Project KronoSphere.  At least, not without hours and hours of computer graphics rendering, which is much beyond my abilities at the moment.

Finally, we are ushered back into the conference room where Meena goes into the technical and legal details of using the Fairfax Public Access studios.  The first and most unfortunate of these issues is that, as a DirecTV subscriber, I can't receive any of the transmissions from the Fairfax Public Access stations as they are only available on COX Cablevision and other local cable television networks.  What more, as Meena goes through all the information in the information packet that I was too late to receive, I am partially at a loss since I don't have any of that information in front of me.  Meena is kind enough to leave me her packet after the orientation however.

The real shocker, though, turns out to be the rights structuring you need to agree to in order use the Fairfax Public Access.  As a writer of a screenplay, you are generally the copyright © holder of your work and all derivative works.  You then sell the rights to this script to a producer who then produces your story and maintains a production copyright ࡅ on the final piece.  When you sell those rights, you sign an agreement which will spell out the terms of what your rights are with the original script versus the studio, which is standard in any production.  What bothers me about the Fairfax Public Access agreement is that you basically agree to give up all rights for a 1 (ONE) year term as well as the rights to any derivative work from time of first broadcast.  This means, if I produce my scripts at the Fairfax Public Access studio, I'd be giving up all rights to produce other Project KronoSphere scripts at a different studio for that 1 year period!  However, the loss of rights isn't complete, since Fairfax Public Access is a non-profit organization, which matches my own goals well.  So, as part of the production agreement, you have the right to request the release of your production on any other non-profit medium, such as other public access stations or on the Internet via YouTube and in podcasts.

The final part of the Fairfax Public Access tour is signing up for courses.  Only by taking the studio courses can you be authorized to use the studio equipment and facilities.  The courses range in price from free to about $500 for some hands-on video editing training with professional software.  There is also a membership fee for the studio.  Since I could not decided then if I even wanted to use this studio, though it remains an option in my mind, I decided to simply pay the membership fee as a donation for the free orientation even though I can never watch their transmissions.  And with that, and a bit more friendly conversation with Meena, the cooking show woman and another kind woman, I left the studio and headed home, wiser and with many more options.

26 March 2009

Meetups, Script Writing and Getting Downtown

Well, it's about bloody well time I has a update already, hadn't I?

When I started this entry originally, I was planning to report how I had finished writing Scene 13 of a planned 16 of Episode 04a.  Now that that script is mostly complete, it seems I should focus instead on the beginnings of the production side of my saga.  So, to that effect, I would like to present a continuation of my series of stories revolving around my experiences with various meetups and social gatherings in and around Washington D.C.

When last you heard from me, I was telling you about my adventures in Green Screen at the The DC Podcaster Alliance.  Man, that was fun and informative.  But, there's more.  Since then I've joined a bunch more Meetups including The Washington Screenwriters Meetup, Digital Video, Audio & Animation for Profit and Networking and the newly resurrected Arlington Screenwriters Meetup, each with its own sets of highs, lows and adventurous experiences.  In this post, I shall be discussing my escapades with the first of these, the Washington Screenwriters Meetup.

On Saturday, 17 February 2009, a bit before noon, I drove my car over to the Herndon-Monroe Park & Ride and waited for the Fairfax Country Connector 950 (pdf) to take me to the metro so I could get downtown to my first meeting of the Washington Screenwriters Meetup.  Strangely enough, the WMATA website suggested I take the metro to McPhearson Square and then take the 52 Metrobus down to the 14th Street Borders Books and Music.  This last step I found to be quite silly because by going one more stop to Metro Center, I'd just have to walk 2 blocks East along G Street and another block along 14th to get where I wanted to go.  I actually did try to get off at McPhearson Square that day and walk down 14th Street NW the 5 short blocks necessary but crossing New York Avenue is a pain, so Metro Center is my preferred stop for this destination.  But enough about my commute.

So, I get to the Borders and assume automatically that the meeting will be in the coffee shop of the store which I spot upstairs.  I order a white hot cocoa from the barista and have a seat next to the nearest electrical outlet so as to give my poor, starving iPhone a bit of extra charge so he can get me safely back to the Metro thanks to his clever GPS.  I sit there, drinking my cocoa and observing the people coming and going, scanning an old Project KronoSphere script draft for the pilot, waiting.  I was a half-hour early; apparently, walking is much faster than taking a bus.  Eventually, the meetup sponsor, Matt, shows up.  I don't recognize him per se and there's no way he can know what I look like, but I have a feeling he's the guy and I introduce myself.  We chat for a bit and he mentions a book that spent years on my Wishlist, The Complete Book of Scriptwriting by one Mr. J. Michael Straczynski -- my hero!  You see, I sometimes imagine my serial as a radio drama and nobody can cover experience in writing radio drama like Joe Straczynski in this book.  And indeed, it's the serial nature of the Great Maker's Babylon 5 television series which first inspired me to create my own rich tapestry of people, cultures, worlds, times and space.  But more on this later.

So I return to my lonely, charging iPhone and allow Matt to continue to set up his meetup table.  As more people arrive, I return to the gathering place, my phone now sufficiently charged.  There I meet many interesting, aspiring screenwriters, most of whom dream about the glamour, fame, glory and riches with the aspiration of having a Hollywood blockbuster hit commissioned based on their script.  But, don't get me wrong, we are all writers and none of us want to sell out.  We each have our stories, our children, that we long to see the light of day and each of them are hard-working and very thoughtful individuals.  The only contrast I can draw with my own goals is that I seek not fame or riches, though would never refuse either.  For me, it's all about the story, and as a story, it's not one you could tell in a mere 90 minutes.  That is why I write for television or radio.

Only by limiting myself to television or radio can I achieve a true serial drama, with ups and downs, highs and lows, trauma, tragedy, joy and elation.  As I've said before, my second lowest rung of productional aspirations is radio but it may be that in terms of financial commitment and potential popularity, radio has the best potential to allow my story to be told.  So, I presented my tale as radio and received a number of accolades for my original approach to story telling.  I don't honestly know how well radio can accept the return of the idea of the serial drama after what seems like a half-century of market loss to television, but the lowest of rungs for me was always podcast and even if I was able to produce my show as radio, I would want to see my story released in that digital format.  None the less, I learned a great deal from these discussions and have a page of notes that I may transcribe here at some point for the edification of others.

Anyway, so the meeting progresses and the thing is, Matt, clever individual and documentarian that he is, has pipe-lined 3 of his related meetups each to follow the other in logical succession.  I, of course, came to the first of these, that for the aspiring Screenwriter.  So, as we are discussing the finer aspects of Hollywood screen plays and productions, a series of editors, filmographers and incidental musicians start to trickle in and I am happy to chat further with each of them.  One fellow, Paul, is an accomplished musician.  Another women, whose name I forgot, was an aspiring cinematographer.  Many of the screenwriters, including myself, continue to socialize and meet all the newcomers as topic shift from writing to production.

Then, an hour later the actors start to stream in.  I didn't have a chance to interact with many of the actors and really only spoke to one woman who is an aspiring voice actress.  Her appearance was fortuitous since she may make a great candidate for a demo production of Project KronoSphere as an audio-only presentation, even though I think I believe her vocal register is a bit high for one of my female regular characters.  None the less, I shall keep her and all that I've learned in mind as I progress in my quest to bring Project KronoSphere out of the dark shadows of my mind and under the lights of a studio production.

Finally, as things wound down, I left the Borders and made my way home, wiser, happier, more fulfilled and in eager anticipation of my next scheduled meetup with the Digital Video, Audio and Animation for Profit and Networking at the Fairfax County Public Access studio on Saturday, 14 February 2009.

26 January 2009

It's not easy being Green... or Blue for that matter

I attended the DC Podcaster Alliance meetup over the weekend and much to my delight, the topic of the day was using Chroma Key (commonly referred to as Green Screen) in your podcast. Although at times it was slow to explain or information too basic or not much use, the talk given by Ray, the author of the Produce Picker podcast (see comments), was excellent and rather enjoyable. The meeting was crammed to the gills as this talk was apparently a very popular topic. I previously attended a meetup in November which was about legal issues with respect to protecting your podcast which has me seriously thinking about designing a trademark for my production company, TimeHorse, Multimedia — as well as simply incorporating, like the folks at Green Dragonfly, LLC.

I do dream of Project KronoSphere being a live-action drama, with real actors and computer generated special effects, and Chroma Key would make that a lot easier. None the less, the Computer Generated Images (CGI) alone are quite beyond me, having cut my chops on POV-Ray many a moon ago only to be completely frustrated with how difficult it is to create even the simplest of landscapes. And POV-Ray would only generate a single frame of video, never mind animating this creature or that monster or even a simple moving table. And then there is the problem that a proper drama should have 3 cameras to switch between close-ups and long shots, and I don't even have one. Finally, I think it will be deathly hard to get simple voice actors to voice Episode 4a, never mind do live-action. It all boils down to who will do it for a proportion of the money I plan to make on this, which is currently $0? I might be able to do all the male voices for a given script, but I'm at a loss when it comes to sounding feminine. I will probably ask folks in the various clubs and associations I belong to, asking for volunteers, but let me finish the script for Episode 4a first, and then worry about actors.

Finally, as a follow-up to yesterday's post, I was thinking of attending The Washington Area Novel Writers' Critique Group this weekend, but was too knackered and decided to bugger it off instead. I'm still pretty bummed out about the incident from a couple weeks ago, so I haven't make any progress on Episode 4a since my last update about it. Finally, for those wondering about the title: on film it is often easier to use blue as the Chroma Key rather than green.

23 January 2009

Writing in a Vacuum

As a writer, I sometimes long for input. I have asked a few friends to take a look at my work, and 2 of them have given fair and valuable critique but I really wish I could find more like-minded, aspiring writers. My wife has always resented my writing; she thinks it is a pointless enterprise as it may never generate revenue and what is the point of my life if not to generate revenue? Well, I love my wife more than words can express, and there is no way I'm going to quit my day job for the life of an aspiring writer, so in that sense she is absolutely right. But I still have a story to tell — this story — and wish I could spend time with others like myself who just need to write. I did have one aspiring writer friend — the one you, good reader, are no doubt getting sick of hearing about at this point — but trying to connect with her on this issue lead to the result I discussed in my last entry, so there is no need to rehash that sad tale. I discussed this issue with someone earlier this week, and that person suggested that I would be better served finding a local writers' group to help spur my creative spirit and hopefully replace my muse.

So this day, a lovely warm Friday in the mid-Atlantic region of the nation the Chinese call beautiful, I decided to go to my local library and ask the kind and friendly librarian whether she knew of any amateur writers' groups that meet in this area. Well, we searched meetup.com and The Virginia Writers Club for information, and both look promising but neither quite hits the mark. The main problem with The Virginia Writers Club is that it costs money to join. As someone starting out, I would have to join as an Associate member, and the cost would be, as far as I can tell, $30 (US) per year. There is also a $100 annual level and a $500 lifetime level to join this 501(c)(3) registered non-profit organization. All in all, The Virginia Writers Club seems like a nice idea, but I think I'm too early in my development to be thinking so big. However, they do have a meeting in a nearby library so if I did join, it would not be too inconvenient.

This leaves me the meetup option. There were 2 groups of interest on meetup.com, The Washington Area Novel Writers' Critique Group, which meets a bit farther than I'd like to travel for such a group, and the Aspiring Women Novelists Meet-up, which meets at an inconvenient time and, well, the other obvious problem. The Washington Area Novel Writers' Critique Group meets on the weekend, making them time-convenient if not for the fact that I prefer spending my weekend with my wife as I don't get to see her much of the week. None the less, I do like their motto and hope to attend a meeting sometime.

As for the Aspiring Women Novelists Meet-up, it meets at a very inconvenient time: 10:00 in the morning on a weekday, which is no doubt chosen to keep males like me away. I do tend to have unusual hours, so for instance I don't like meetings that take place much after 19:00 since I generally have to get up the next day at 03:00 in the morning. However, what I consider convenient, namely 16:00 weekdays, is generally out of reach for most working professionals. So ironically, had this group chosen 16:00 as a time to avoid working professionals — and were it not for the other, obvious reason I would not be allowed to attend — I might find this group the most convenient of the lot. But, then there is that other problem, since last time I checked, through no fault of my own, I am not a woman. Since I really do want to join a society that is positive-reinforcing and goal-oriented, the Aspiring Women Novelists Meet-up does seem like a perfect match for me, but there's no point lamenting what we can't change so alas, they may be for me, but I am clearly not for them.

Finally, I looked into creating my own positive-reinforcing and goal-oriented, free-membership, locally run, 16:00 on a weekday meetup. Meetup.com wanted money. Since a podcast will likely net me $0 per everything, I don't think I can afford this approach. So there you have it, my options to join with my fellow writers for my ambitious writing project are not great, but they exist. And if that's not good enough, there's always Craig's List...

22 January 2009

Progress at last, Scene 8 version 2 takes shape

Well, after the events of 14 January 1988 — oh, wait, no, we don't want to get into that lamentable tale from my past — I mean the more recent, sad tale from just over a week ago, 14 January 2009. On that day, I broke a month-long writer's block and started writing the second half of the Episode 4a script. After I finished the first part, Scene 8, I decided I should check my latest work into my Subversion repository for safe keeping. Before I check my update in, I wanted to do some final formatting which, long story short, caused all of what I had just written to disappear. (Stupid Aquamacs) So then I went for a walk outside in the cold without a coat to try and cool off because I was in shock that the technology could behave so abominably. As I completed my mile-long trek, I was treated to my body's propensity to bleed through the nose. Maybe one day I will have some surgery to get that fixed, but that's another story. Returning to my desk, I proceeded to add regret to injury by sending out a rueful message to an on-again, off-again, fair-weather friend, whom I ostensibly first met on 14 September 1987: another lamentable 14. This action caused this friend, my muse for the creative spurt, to promptly cease all association with myself. No doubt this was because of my tendency to come across as both needy and arrogant and my unfortunately regrettable habit of phrasing things passive-aggressively, even though I don't mean to. Some people smoke, I write passive-aggressively. Bugger, can someone please invent some passive-aggressivitol?

Anyway, so here I am, sick with another cold thanks to the walk my mother would have advised me not to take if my mother ever paid attention to whatever I was up to on any given day, and I have good news to report! No, my muse and I have not reconciled — that must wait until emotions are less flared and an apology worthy of the wrong can be conceived. No, after stumbling and blundering over what the new first line of Scene 8 should be and who would speak it, I had a breakthrough! I now have the first half of a new version of the lost Scene 8 crafted much to my satisfaction. It even has ideas that I would have added to the original had I though about it again, though I still have the sinking feeling that I may have lost some gems from the original in the retelling. There is still the rest of the scene to write from the part where they sneak past the mid-section of the Red Dragon, but progress is progress and progress has been made!

In some ways, writing is like recovering from an addiction: you can't say the productive streak will last forever, but you just have to take it one day at a time...

17 January 2009


I decided, after writing an e-mail to a dear, dear friend and fellow writer which promptly caused her to delist me from her list of friends and mark me enemy number 1, that I may as well just create a public blog where I could let whoever is interested know how my progress on the Project KronoSphere dream is evolving.

As of today, here is where things stand:
  • The Series Bible is stalled because it is difficult to work out the 500 year genealogy of the main protagonist. This genealogy is dense and may end up containing over 1,000 names when complete, thus making the exercise of generating so many for the most part off-screen characters consistently quite tedious. It is so complex that I wanted to write some software (in python) to try and help manage all the various links (keeping a google spreadsheet as the back-end database). This project is currently languishing, meaning the Bible is also quite stalled. None the less, the first 3 generations have been properly generated and there is a running narative that covers each person from their respective generation.
  • Also working on setting up Script Note files — breaking up the once large file that contains an unstructured list of program notes — for each story and trying to come up with a Production Coding system that I can use for naming Stories. These Codes would be Writers Codes and may not be the same as true Production Codes because when actors are brought in to record the various episodes, they may be produced in a different order.
  • Episode 1 Script is complete with a first draft. Some edits are required, including a few extra minutes of dialog but nothing major.
  • Episode 2 Script [part 1 of 2] is complete, though I need to add another scene to the tag because I think Episode 3 should focus on its events and not focus on off-screen events that may have occurred between the two.
  • Episode 3 Script [part 2 of 2] has been started, but is on hold due to both requiring more research and the desire to get Episode 4a done sooner.
  • Episode 4a Script is half-done. This episode occurs chronologically between Episodes 4 and 5. I have notes for the remaining Scenes which require writing and did have a complete Scene 8, but it was lost due to a calamity with the Aquamacs editor. When Scene 8 was written, my muse and dear friend mentioned above had broken a month-long writer's block; now that I have lost my friend and the text of Scene 8, I am again blocked, fearing that rewriting Scene 8 will never be as good as the first. I milltuppled the undo buffers in Aquamacs and Emacs but too little too late, and that won't bring back my friend! None the less, I want to have this script finished soon -- indeed, I wanted to finish it by 31 December 2008 -- but even finishing it by February seems unlikely at this point. I really miss my friend!
  • No idea yet how I will get [voice] actors to appear in the Project KronoSphere pre-pilot pilot (Episode 4a), but I will face that when Episode 4a is finished.
Well, that just about summarizes the state of the Project KronoSphere concept as of today. I'm not sure how often I will blog here, but if things pick up, expect more posts. As it is, now this blog is all that I can write due to the current block and I've said about all I can say now.

One last caveat is that I may eventually move this blog to the official Project KronoSphere server at project-kronosphere.timehore.com; for now, enjoy it here on Google Blogger.