Posted by: steveonfilm | October 30, 2009

On Progress

I’ve had a nice e-mail exchange with a reader by the name Peter who had some questions on my 56 points post from last week. And with his permission, I’m going to write a bit about what we talked about since I think it might help some other people out.

The conversation has been about how to know when you’re making progress, and how you can identify positive progress. My view is that the concept, or definition, of progress is subjective. What I consider progress might not be what he considers progress. And ultimately, concentrating on measuring progress isn’t going to help.

Any time I can move a project forward I consider that progress. Identifying progress, or even more specifically quantifying it, isn’t something that fits into rigid set of rules. I can’t quantify progress by saying, “Good progress writing three pages a night.” What if I’m not at the writing stage? Does that mean I’m not progressing? What if I’m brainstorming and I don’t to any writing at all? Does that mean I’m not progressing?

In my opinion, concentrating on measuring progress is an exercise in futility. You know if your project is working. You have to be the judge of that and trust your instincts. But just because something seems hard doesn’t mean that it’s not working. It just means it’s hard. It’s important not to confuse the two.

I explained to Peter that I’ve been sitting at the same spot in my 56 points for the past three nights. I haven’t gotten a new point down. But that doesn’t mean the project isn’t working. It just means I’ve hit a hard point in the story.

Just to give readers an idea of what I’m dealing with, here is, unedited, the 56 points I have as they stand on October 30th, 2009:

Act One

1. Kyle takes out two goons driving a truck full of drugs, then blows the truck up.

2. Patricia in a heated Senate hearing about “tensions in Warez”, gets a text from Kyle as she exits.

3. Kyle changing his appearance from shaggy mountain man to clean cut professional.

4. Kyle meets Diego at a bar, Diego gives him a briefcase, which is a surprise to Kyle. Kyle takes him outside to show him “his stuff” and kidnaps him.

5. Kyle assassinates Diego in a junkyard and gets airlifted out.

6. Patricia gets another text from Kyle while in her office about being successful.

7. Kyle at home, the senate hearing in the back ground. Opens the briefcase and finds pictures of Patricia and a man. He watches the DVD, which is some sort of handoff at an airstrip between them.

8. Patricia and Hector walking through the CIA lobby. She spots The Commodore, who tells her Kyle is on to her.

9. Patricia gives Kyle his next assignment, it’s an old friend named Duane.

10. Kyle calls up then meets his FBI friend. Gives him the pictures of Patricia and a copy of the DVD.

11. We meet Duane and Michele as they leave for lunch.

12. Unbeknownst to Duane, Kyle saves his life after Ceccini tries to kill him.

13. Arnone snags Duane as he returns from lunch and takes him to the loading bay where Kyle saves him.

14. PLOT POINT ONE — Kyle realizes he’s being set up as Duane’s targeted as an Enemy of the State, and Kyle is helping him escape painting him as a co-conspirator.

Act Two A

1. FLASHBACK: Martin looking over some paper work. Three bodies tied up and shot execution style. Kyle pokes his head in, a few more dead in the back, one in the hallway. Martin stuffs

Kyle and Martin walking through an office complex in Mexico, but everyone is already dead, including their targets. Martin leaves Kyle behind, tell him he’s done, and when he needs help, he’ll know where to call.

2. Kyle calls a number from a pay phone, jots down the address and maps out directions to Seattle.

3. Patricia in her office. Gets confronted by someone higher up in her chain of command about Kyle.

4. The Commodore meets Hector in front of the Lincoln memorial. Agrees to take out Kyle. After thirty years, he’s still cleaning up Patricia’s mess.

5. Duane filling up the car. Kyle on a pay phone. He talks to Mark who says the main in the pictures is Carlos Rivera. Kyle knew he’d recognized him. Mark says there’s buzz some CIA agent went rogue, and to be careful.

6. Kyle and Duane arrive at Rachel’s. She’s less than happy to see then and Kyle finds out he’s a dad.

7. PINCH ONE — Arnone finds Kyle and Duane at Rachel’s. Kyle kills Arnone.

8. Kyle tells Rachel to take Stephanie and head to her sister’s. He and Duane dump Arnone’s body, but are unaware of the tracer on their car. Kyle tosses Duane’s wallet out the window.

9. Patricia with several people in a “tracking room,” they’re working an angle out of the FBI, but nothing yet. Someone flags Patricia. They’ve got a signal on I-70 west. She tells Ceccini to take whatever he needs to take Kyle down.

10. Morning. Duane passed out in the passenger seat. Kyle walks out of a convenience store, prepaid cell phones in hand. He calls Rachel to check in, then dumps the phone he was using, and tosses the others in the back.

11. Kyle and Duane arrive at Martin’s house.

12. Shootout at house. Martin kills Ceccini. Kyle is shot in the leg.

13. Kyle has the bullet removed by a “doctor.” It’s harsh, Kyle is in a lot of pain.

14. MID POINT — Kyle wakes up, Duane passed out on a medical bed nearby. He joins Martin on the balcony. Gives Martina a quick heads up of what he knows. Martin says now it’s time to take the fight to them.

Act Two B

1. A White Audi A4 pulls over to the side of the road. The Commodore gets out and picks up Duane’s wallet.

2. Martin heads the crew heads south toward Los Angles, to find “The Scheduler.”

3. Mark called into his bosses office. Asked what he knows about this CIA agent missing.

4. Patricia in the “tracking room,” Hector has a call for her. It’s “him.” Patricia on the phone with Rivera. He wants to meet. She doesn’t. He wins. Normal place, two days.

5. Rachel and Stephanie coloring. A knock at the door. It’s Patricia. She shoots Stephanie and grabs Rachel, demanding to know where Kyle is.

6. Just a dream. Kyle checks in with Rachel. Has a bad feeling. Wants her to leave, go somewhere else. Anywhere. She won’t. The call doesn’t end well.

7. PINCH TWO –Kyle and Martin breach an immigrant dentists office. In the back is a room where drugs are being split. Quick gun fight and they capture Alphonso,The Scheduler.

8. Martin takes him into a room. Some screams. Martin emerges and lets them know about the drop tomorrow.

9. The Commodore walking through Rachel’s house. He checks the last calls dialed on her home phone. Locates her address book and finds the number, it’s her sister.

10. Safe House: Kyle and Duane go over what happens after the air strip. Martin tells them of the plan. He heads out to go set some stuff up for tomorrow.

11. Kyle and Martin watch as the hand off goes down.

12. Shootout at airstrip. They miss Patricia but Escobedo’s men take down Rivera’s plane as he tries to fly off.

13. Kyle turns on Martin, realizing he’s using him and he’s working for Escobedo, and kills him. Duane picks him up in the Monte Carlo.

14. PLOT POINT TWO — Back at the safe house Kyle fills in Duane. Kyle calls Rachel, but the Commodore picks up. He’s got Stephanie, Rachel, and her sister.

Act Three

1. Patricia pulls her crapped up car into a run down “repair shop.”

2. We find the shop now “closed.” Patricia on the phone in the “lobby,” a mechanic dead behind the counter. She calls someone. It’s the Commodore. He says he’ll have Kyle soon. He tells her to have a drop and his money ready. SHe needs 72 hours.

3. Kyle leaving Duane at a bus depot in Flagstaff. Duane doesn’t leave.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

11.

12.

13.

14.

You’ll notice a lot of empty space at the end there. I must have written, and rewritten, the end of act two and the start of act three ten times by now. I’ll probably rewrite them, and most of the other points, ten more times. I’m at a hard part in the outlining process. But that doesn’t mean the story isn’t working. Look at all the progress I’ve made! Obviously I’ve got something here, right?

Usually what I do when I get to this point, or maybe I should say what I’ve done when I’ve been in similar predicaments in the past, is one of two things. One, I walk away for a few days and work on something else. For example, working on the story idea that revolves around my uncle making the 1972 Olympic team. Or two, I watch a lot of movies. This just slams my head with stimulus, and a lot of the times something will fire off in my head that splits wide open the problem I’m facing. It doesn’t have to be movies in the genre I’m working on. It could be anything. But somewhere along the line something is going to trigger a thought process that will get me past my problem.

However, one thing I don’t do is give up. I think this is harder for first time writers to understand than it is someone who’s written at least one screenplay. More often than not you think your writing is shit. You think it sucks. The story sucks. Everything you’re doing sucks. Until you’re able to get past that, and look at writing as a long distance race, and not a sprint, you’re not going to progress, on your script or as a writer.

Remember, the goal isn’t to sell your first screenplay, the goal is to become a better writer so you can do this for a living. Don’t confuse the two, and the progress will take care of itself.

Until next time, keep writing!
-Steve

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