Feature-length Screenplay in 10 Weeks

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Yesterday, I got my 90+ page feature script submitted.

It was my first attempt to submit a full length script within 10 weeks at the program. (*Last quarter it was a 30-page First Act.)

I began to get the knack of the neck-breaking pace of the program. And to my surprise, I enjoyed it — looking back now. I can shout at the top of my lungs —

“I did it. My script may be shit, but I survived.”

What did we cover in the 10-week writing workshop?

  • The first week was the pitch week. We shopped for instructors in hope of getting picked by one.
  • The second week we came up with a treatment. (A treatment is a 2-page double-spaced story flow.)
  • The third was the beat sheet (aka. Step Outline) that covers the three acts.
  • From the fourth week and on, we attended workshops that critique 6–10 pages of 10 screenwriters.

I feel so much more confident after this whole nerve-wrecking quarter. I like “The show must go on” mentality. It is never finished, it can always improve.

Right after the submission, I began the “script exchange” with two of my screenwriting cohorts — Two guys. I have a better rapport with the guys in the program. In the artistic arena, I need reason to balance feeling. A nice girl in the program cried the other day, saying she was afraid of the future. I don’t know what just happened to her. And I don’t want to judge. But from her explanation, she was overwhelmed. I joked that I am the foreigner (native-born Chinese) writing in my second language. I am the definition of “Underdog.” How much worse can that be? I hoped that cheered her up.

I also realized why I prefer hanging out with the lads more. They are more focused on the work itself. They are more thick-skinned.

Writing needs that mentality. Focus on how to get better rather than how am I ever gonna be as good.

In a way, I now feel better about being a foreigner — not as an excuse, but leaving no room for excuses. I can do nothing but hone my craft. There is no “but.” I already start late and practise less than the native students. And I don’t intend to compare. It will damage my morale. But this is what I am invested in — Practise more, it will be show in the result. Whether I will win some awards? It’s not my current-stage concern.

At the beginning of this quarter, I thought I might be overwhelmed by the size of the task. So I took three classes instead of four. I could have done more.

For the Spring Quarter, I might take 2–3 writing classes (feature-90+pages, comedy spec-30 pages, sketch comedy), and then another class. Or just three writing classes.

Quit dreading and write.

iMessage: Ye insensitive bastard

Picture Credit: imore.com

Dear iMessage,

Does it ever occur to you that you are hmm, insensitive?

I mean, you gave me detailed information about whether the message is delivered, whether the person who got my message click and read it. Creepiest of all creeps, if me and the textee happen to be online at the same time with the expertise of your Master Sir iPhone, OBE, I can see the Ellipsis “…” when the person on the other end is typing.

Too much information. Way too much.

The only status I need —

Delivery failed. Try again. Por Favor.

Don’t you think it’s violating me and the textee’s privacies? Sure, I am thankful that you take my well-being into consideration regarding how many people with zilch texting etiquette never respond my texts even though the status says — “Read.”, “PS. More Than A Week Ago.”

But you know what, in the texting world, I’d rather have a grain of salt than you spying and reporting on the me and textee’s whereabouts and our kinks on texting.

You disgust me.

I miss the good old days when I can just sit back and relax. If there is a letter at the doorstep, cheerios. If not, I carry on with my life without worrying about my Signal, WIFI or China’s Internet Firewall to intercept my carefully crafted message.

I know you are doing fine. Your Insta, Twitter and Facebook have billions of followers. But if you ever want a change, an overhaul. You might want to check WeChat.

Yes, ye hear me — WeChat, your Chinese pal. She is the most thoughtful person I’ve known, at least on the outside. (*Leave me alone on the Watergate stuff.)

Yes, she went to the dark side once — like you. But you know what she did? She listens. Now you won’t see those Gossip-Girl statuses on the textees. Ever.

Truth is, most of the time, I have a complicated relationship with me phone already. I don’t what to see me phone when I write. When I spot him somewhere, I feel like he’s trying to lure me, that bastard. Then after a tug of war, I give in. I turn off the Flight Mode (Yes, I tell my friends that most of the time I am up in the air like George Clooney), his sidekick, yes, you iMessage (this letter’s addressee), shove all those messages in my face. My clumsy thumbsy clicks on those texts make them all “Read.” Shit. Now, I would be a jerk if I don’t reply.

[A hour later…]

Finally replied all those iMessages. I now can restore my clear conscience. No, of course it didn’t take that long. I am not that popular as Mister Trump. I just decided to hang around with me phone for a while. What? An hour has passed? Shit.

Dear iMessage, you see? That’s an hour of my life that you and I can’t get back — just because you thoughtless ego-maniac master Sir iPhone, OBE puts that status as your feature highlight.

Yes, I know I can switch it off in the Settings — not to imply that I am a geek of some sort. But why don’t you just tell your Sir OBE to make “No Status” as Default?

Shame on you. And I rest my case.


Life is complicated. Don’t make it worse.  —  YZ

The Simplicity quote above is from Leonardo da Vinci. But Steve loved it and made it his mission making Apple products. Don’t ever forget that, Buster.


Yours truly,

Flash Forward: A Word from My 80-Year-Old Self

A sage professor asks us to face the worse-case scenario as film students — What if you didn’t “make it”? What would you do then?

It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you’ve lived so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all.

It is one of my favorite quotes, from J.K. Rowling.

True, I ended up quitting making films and leaving the film industry altogether.

Everyone in the program set his mind trying to “make it” at the very beginning. It became quite black and white that if you didn’t, you lost the only reason you were here. But in truth, “it’s not the end of the world,” a sage told us at a class. Understanding that is a huge revelation.

Would I choose not to study film if I knew I was not going to “make it” as a filmmaker? I still would. My chapter at UCLA taught me things which I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

I thought I was brave ‘enough’ landing in LA knowing nobody. Not nearly. You should see my face when our writings got read at the first group gathering. I felt stark naked. I could not breathe. I must be dying. I didn’t. My writing even got a few laughs. For the next three years, I had attended hundreds of writing workshops. I remember my humiliation seeing everybody else got minor notes while mine was major. The instructor killed more than half of my ten pages. It was hard not to compare yourself with the others. But then I substituted “Why on earth?” to “Why?” Now I could then hear my real problems. Over time, I got better.

I learned that the worst pain is not seeing your best work get rejected, but having your work rejected and knowing you could have scored better. But you were too much a coward to submit your best art. In your wonderland, you know you had room for improvement. You say to yourself, “Wait till I give my 100%.” But then I asked the what-if — What if I did give my best shot? Would I have a better shot? I knew what I had to do — Do my damnedest. The feedback I then received was a more precise understanding of my “status quo.” That in turn propelled me to become better. With that mindset, I grew muscles.

So you must accept your imperfect self to make better art every day. I admit my work sucks, but I am going to do my best to improve. A screenwriting instructor once told me after a brutal session, “Be patient with yourself.” Overnight success stories that media loves make us forget the real trajectory of learning new things. It takes time.

One of the definitions of the word “Courage*” is —

The ability to do something that frightens one.

I go where my fear is. Writing English screenplays at UCLA as the only Chinese is on my “Top Five Scariest Things I’ve done” list. Even if you do fail by society’s definition of failure, they can’t take away your experiences nor the things you’ve learned.

Dumbledore once said to Harry —

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.

Would you beat yourself up if you dream doesn’t come true? Would you add another chip on your shoulder? Or would you keep living to find something else to do with your life?

Chasing dreams is courageous. To admit the dream you hold dearly to isn’t the one for you takes more courage. Do you cut off from friends and family and live in denial? Or admit it’s time to move on? Granted, this is not a hero line in a movie. But in real life, it is for me.

So, you did lose. I see where you are heading. You see, life is not a zero-sum game. We set our minds to follow our original plan. It’s marvelous if success follows suit. It’s also important to know it’s okay if it doesn’t. You’ve got to be a big enough person to see through your own reality distortion field. Accept that with grace and live on. I did.

Even though I was no longer in the film industry, I became a much stronger storyteller. I felt so much more connected with my words and thoughts. I knew I had many ideas. And I could execute them on the page. Before film school, it was a mere fantasy. Now all these became my new skills. It helped as I consulted brands on storytelling. Or writing columns for bilingual magazines. A publisher in China learned about my experiences at UCLA and signed me a book contract. My book sold well. Reading notes from the young film students made me the happiest of men. It triggered more writing projects. I am still a writer after all. Now, does it sound intriguing to see your own life stories influencing other human beings and not the fiction version?

I once read a book called “Dying to Be Me.” It is about the author Anita Moorjani’s surreal healing journey through the Near Death Experience. When she was “up there,” she described the indescribable landscape — her tapestry of life interweaving with each other making it the most radiant color she had ever seen. Most of us are social beings at the mercy of others’ opinions. But how do you define a fulfilled and happy life? Money? Fame? Car? House? Or this — having a fulfilled lifelong relationship, seeing your work produce meaningful changes in other people’s life? It all depends on your definition towards a good life. Earthly things don’t carry on beyond this realm of life. What we hold dear to is not that precious after all.

I began this note with a quote from J.K. Rowling. I will end with another —

I would like to be remembered as someone who did the best she could with the talent she had.

And I will add this — On her own terms, in her own way.

Yours truly,

Picture Credit: wallpapercave.com

Fan: Which Hogwarts house would you be in?
J.K. Rowling: Gryffindor, I hope. I value courage beyond almost anything.

That makes me a legit Gryffindor, eh?

To admit you’re wrong

Picture Credit: iStock

Is hard.

I did something that was about to cost me another wrecked friendship.

I saw it coming. I was stiff on the friend. I could have been more friendly. But I wasn’t.

I’ve been contemplating a way to invite the friend for coffee/lunch to talk things out. But I’ve been struggling.

Is it about the ego?

I wish I could say, “ I don’t give a fuck about my ego.” But I do a little bit.

And yet, someone has to initiate the talk to rekindle a fading friendship.

Why always me?

Is another question I often ask. When in such dilemma, I always do the “Years Later” test — Would I regret not salvaging the friendship that could have survived? If the answer is — Yes, hell yes, I would regret. Then I know what to do.

People are complicated. Sometimes they take your gesture the wrong way. But at least you can try and then judge for yourself. If the friend doesn’t appreciate or respond in the same manner, maybe he is not a friend after all. Your move can be a friendship-worthiness test on the friend too.

For a clear conscience, I will do the deed for my own sake.

Mark my word.

A Beautiful Day in LA

Okay, I’ve been bitch and moan these days.

Having lived in California for half a year now, I have higher standard for the weather. Last few days were windy, cloudy and foggy. Then it rained overnight yesterday. Great.

When I got up this morning, the sun was dazzling.

I decided not to stay inside all day. I went to the nearest Mc’Donald’s for breakfast and enjoyed the perks of living in California.

Cue the background music: California Dreamin’.

Getting back in touch with nature makes me feel content.
I feel something that I thought was dead inside is growing again.
I also feel I can be more tolerant towards the people who are just different.
I feel my consciousness expanding.

I will walk more often as this hectic quarter comes to an end.

Thank you, California.


Much love from me,
Whiny Writer

Nobody gives a shit, who will?

The ripples of the ‘No Response’ Response

Picture Credit: popkey.co

It starts with the ‘No Response’ response.

It’s like a ‘No Comment’ comment. But much worse.

No, not the ‘relationship’ scenario here.

It happens when you are involved in a group project when everyone is the potential leader.

We have this inner monologue —

Who will take the lead?

Don’t look at me. I ain’t gonna lead.

It then becomes a game of patience, which I lose every time.

Usually I don’t really mind.

In the scene practices at the acting class, we had a four-people group — two actors, one director and one writer. This time, I got to be the director. I took charge.

But it’s been this way whenever I am in a group project were there no alpha male/female who naturally wants to take charge.

For me, the motive is simple. I hate wasting time. I lunge into the task. I never wait for others to take the lead. I grab it. I hate testing the water. I hate chit-chat during the serious bit of the work. I hate being polite just for the sake of it. Cut to the chase, will ya? I hate being late and hate waiting for the late-comers at work. In my head, I would drive a tank running the late-comers over. Then back my tank, run the tardy bastards over again. Pretty violent, huh?

What did happen with our group was this —

I set up the email train, and a text message group in case people don’t check their emails often. I posted the meeting date, time and place. I then suggested the relationship of the two actors and gave a specific scenario. Then I opened up the floor. I wanted us to settle on the direction and then started coming up with ideas and thoughts during the week. So it would be so much richer than what we could come up with on the set. It was Monday.

On Tuesday, the writer who shared another class with me asked if the rehearsal was on Friday at that time. I nodded. She then scribbled on her notebook like some stenographer hearing the piece of information for the first time. I was incensed.

Are you a retard or dyslexia?
Yesterday I sent you a text and an email. 
Then we had a one-on-one conversation. 
You asked about then the rehearsal time which I was already surprised? Did you not get my text and email? Oh, I did. I just want to make sure.
I was not your babysitter, capisce?

Our Friday rehearsal finally arrived. One actor arrived on time. I was too. Isn’t it the norm? The other actor was late, as always. The writer was late too. The two ladies have a track record of being late — but never at the writing workshop where the instructor made it clear that ‘if you are late, your stuff got read last’. I couldn’t believe I was already keeping scores in my head.

Tardiness, the new norm.

Stop it. I talked to myself. 
Now everybody is here. Let’s focus on the work.

What do you think of my suggestion? So far we hadn’t seen Mother/Son relationship scenes being presented at the class.

But I have done it before. The tardy actor rebutted.

You mean at this instructor’s class? I was growing impatient. Temper. I reminded myself.

No. But I’ve done it before. How about siblings?

Twins? The punctural actor got excited.

Sounds interesting. But why (the fuck) didn’t you say it when I asked you four days ago in an email plus the group text?

I know I probably should bite my tongue and keep the venom to myself. But I was also sick of this ‘No response’ situation. Then this oh-now-I-do-have-precious-opinions Aha Moment struck them when the time was for rehearsing. I would have called it “Brainstorming” if that’s what you wanted.

True, there was a split second of awkwardness hanging in the air.

We can do several versions of the scenes and see what we lean toward. The punctural actor suggested.

In truth, we did the twins version and it was the only version we did. I green-lighted it. What else could you do when you were outnumbered 1–3?

Of course it is not a zero-sum game. I like the final product. I heard them out. I am willing to change if the stuff is good.

Still, I don’t get it why people don’t respond when it’s their job to respond.

It’s work that we’re talkin’ here, folks. Not some dating tips that ask you not to respond so you get to upstage your love interest.

When it’s work, it’s your responsibility to reply and voice your opinion. If you are too shy to speak up (type) in the email/text message, why bother take acting?

I sometimes interpret this ‘No Response’ as passive-aggressive. You’ve got something to say? Say it in my face.

My much calmer flatmate then said,

Everybody is different. You have to focus on why you do what you do and what would happen what if you didn’t. The ship will sink. Nobody lives. Nobody looks good. Is that what you want?


Then breathe in and breathe out, and acknowledge that you are not the rule, and everyone is not you.

Postscript — 
If you happen to be one of those people (aka. bastards) who don’t respond to the person who initiate the project, you might want to think twice. He already sacrifices his own time doing the heavy-lifting for everyone’s sake. All he needs is a simple ‘Yes, I will be there.’ Or this — ‘
Thank you.’ even though it’s not Thanksgiving today. But, just a thought. It won’t hurt. Or would it?

You don’t have to reply. And you know what, he doesn’t have to lead, either.

If nobody gives a shit, who will?

Water under the Bridge

Definition: Something in the past that cannot be controlled or undone, but must be accepted, forgiven, or forgotten. 
via Wiki

Picture Credit: Luc Coiffait

What are you waiting for?
You never seem to make it through the door
And who are you hiding from?
It ain’t no life to live like you’re on the run
Have I ever asked for much?
The only thing that I want is your love

If you’re gonna let me down, let me down gently
Don’t pretend that you don’t want me
Our love ain’t water under the bridge

It’s the one song I’ve been looping lately, which sort of summarizes my shitty arse relationships.

In their own heads, the following dialogues play this way—

Guy: Uh-huh, but I ain’t gonna say it. I smell trouble.
Gal: Ye bastard, you ain’t say it, huh? I ain’t say it either. Fuck off. 
Guy: Told ye, woman. I wasn’t serious. 
Gal: Always let the lady do the DTR (Define the Relationship) Talk. Fuck you. Ye ain’t gonna trick me to do that.
Guy: Let me be utterly honest with ye, woman. I’m just having too much fun right now. Can we just keep it at that?
Gal: Ye lowlife arsehole.
Guy: Ye started it. You wrestled me. Boy were you strong. 
Gal: Ye kiddin’, eh? Comparing to ye, I’m literally a midget. Ye lying bastard. I’m glad us didn’t work.

When they finally meet, this is what actually happened —

Guy: Hey , how’s your week go?
Gal: Good.

Then either the guy or the gal comes up with an excuse and exits.

Truth is, I don’t even dig the guys that much. But in my head I want to prove something — that I’m worthy of love. If only, if only a guy falls for me. “I really like you.” Then I’ll be complete. (Sorry mate, not the Jerry Maguire ‘You complete me’ bullcrap.) I won’t be the elephant in the room. You see, I don’t even need anyone to say “I love you” (yet). It’s too heavy a word, I know. Lots of responsibilities and etc. And I know, Rome was not built in a day. But I do need to have something to start with, something to work on. Nothing, really? Nothing, again?

Let’s be clear here, I don’t want to be another love cynic to notice the torrential water under the bridge and then get cold feet to refuse crossing the bridge.

I’ll keep my faith. Because I have to.