Writers’ Block – and when you get new ideas
by Doug Shiloh
I used to have bouts of writer’s block.
I started writing at the age of 7, with horror and syfy stories. I even won an honorable mention in Scholastic Magazine contest at my elementary school in Iowa. As a sixth grader I wrote a parody called “The Six Million Pound Man” and a King Kong parody titled “The Fuzzy Guy Returns.”
At age 12 I began writing poems and song lyrics. I’ve lost count but it’s close to 2,000. In college I wrote 70 short stories and two unfinished novels.
I attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference as a 22 year old (while still in college) and was put in an arena of working writers – the future Poet Laureate of the United States, a Newberry winner, National Book Award, Book of the Month Club authors, and acclaimed poets. For a “kid” from a medium town in the Midwest, this was dizzying. I left Bread Loaf with the strongest desire to write well. I’d always been able to write a lot but wanted to bring up my quality. But I didn’t write much over the next 3-4 years. I had a self-imposed writer’s block because I sought perfection in my work.
That seeking perfection almost killed a lifelong passion before it really got going. I’d forgotten that Revision is where Writing is made – yes, first drafts are great but writers should allow themselves leeway to, like Nike says, “just do it.”
In the late 80s/early 90s, after living in Chicago, I wrote what would be my first novel POOKOO and self-published it in 2007. Over 7,000 people downloaded it or bought it. POOKOO is getting a 10th anniversary 2nd edition later this year.
Between raising a family and working as a proofreader and newspaperman I wrote…and developed stories. I wrote songs as well. I occasionally try to get an agent for my literary fiction, but the genre is not what it was in the 70s and 80s; other genres are “what’s hot.” (Which explains finally putting POOKOO out there by myself.)
I also got in the mode of thinking of ideas – all the time.
My wife says I “think all the time” and I guess I do. I come up with ideas every day – whether a plot point or even new story ideas. A far cry from those years I was “stuck.”
Today I counted the finished scripts and ideas I have for movies or TV series.
I don’t know whether to feel like Rocky Balboa or Willy Lohman.
My takeaway is that I guess I was so compelled to avoid a mental desert that I allowed myself to daydream and to be aware of my environment that I was receptive to turn things into a story.
With new sports movies of golf, soccer and football developed in 2017 – with the goal of producing these low budget films in 2018 and beyond, I have now realized I have “enough ideas” to last a lifetime. Include a 5-10 year run of DEAD EXIT (yes, I figured out how it can run a long, long time) and a limited series (say 6-10 episodes) of POOKOO, and if a movie a year can be made…I have enough work for the rest of my life.
So what do I do with this Pike’s Peak pile of ideas?
Maybe even “worse” – what do I do with NEW ideas? I have opened the gates and new ideas continue to come in. During the winter of ’18-’19, besides battling the common cold, a touch of flu, and bronchitis (which I’m over, thank God), I was faced by so many ideas it was driving me bonkers.
If you have the happy problem of turning the switch on to new ideas, it makes sense to prioritize them. As far as making them producible, which ones:
- Can obtain funding ‘faster’?
- Which have ‘easy’ shooting schedules?
- Do I submit to writing contests such as The Nicholl Fellowship, Austin Film Festival and The Blacklist? (I have.)
- Do I try again to get an agent?
- Should I create a Go Fund Me page for gear?
I seriously doubt I will seek an agent ever again for my literary fiction. Will I for my scripts and graphic novel ideas? You bet.
My ideas for those arenas fit – dystopian or quirky comedy/drama works in the movies.
This past week I heard about a survey about obtaining goals and the bottom line was to make gains by small steps…while I’m waiting for the cosmic tumblers to click into place and get DEAD EXIT off the ground (funding), I’m asking myself what I can do in the meantime.
I have a very viable plan for 3 low, low budget feature shoots for soccer, football and golf movies which can be made in 2018. I’ve reworked budgets and researched camcorder/4K gear like crazy…and now just need to raise funds for gear. I have casts and available locations.
Then it’s a go.
In the next blog I’ll discuss “seat time” and what I do to make time for your passion or hobbies in life. The day is 24 hours long, but I have some ideas for finding more time in your day – and it doesn’t include building a time machine.
CGI vs. Old School Stunts and a view on the Absurd
by Doug Shiloh
February 7, 2018
When I had my first in-person meeting with the stellar actor Rich Graff, he spoke about wanting to avoid the green screen of CGI that’s flooded Hollywood productions. It’s simple: the cost bloats budgets. Graff also likes the idea of going Old School with stunts. I agree.
I will continue to blog about these hot topics many times…and once we are greenlit and in production, we’ll give you some exclusive behind-the-scenes looks into what we’re doing on-set and in the Writers’ Room.
Old school stunts began long ago. Errol Flynn, the iconic stagecoach scene in the John Ford/John Wayne classic western Stagecoach. Even Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton put on film some timeless stunts.
Here’s Google’s page for famous stunts: https://www.google.com/search?source=hp&ei=zSR7Wt-7DoTUjwTz_bqwDA&q=famous+hollywood+stunts&oq=famous+Hollywood+stunt&gs_l=psy-ab.3.2.0l2j0i22i30k1l2.1312.7654.0.118126.96.36.199.188.8.131.52.1108.14j1.15.0….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..0.22.1212…0i131k1.0.ZHXghLU2FkA.
Stunt work has its perils. UK camera operator Mark Milsome died in November 2017 while working on the Netflix show The Forgiving Earth.
If we will keep CGI to a minimum, Dead Exit will rely on stunts and special effects makeup to compliment the story. I’m writing some spectacular action sequences. What I’m not writing is absurd scenes.
I suppose I can blame it on my Dad.
My Dad was an engineer. The former Navy man and two-sport high school athlete was highly pragmatic. When I was a kid watching The Six Million Dollar Man, my brother Mike and I loved watching Steve Austin (Lee Majors) run at 60 MPH, lift cars and everything else a Bionic Man could do. I think I recall Austin lifting a car engine with one arm.
“That couldn’t happen,” Dad would say whenever an episode was on. “He has bionic limbs but his back would break.”
And thus the balloon of fantasy was broken. Still, I loved the show.
But Dad was right. (Now that he’s passed, it’s unbelievable how much he was right. But that’s another blog.)
Today, wild feats of action boggle the mind. I also think the unreality of the high-powered action has numbed the audience into what a human can and cannot do, and probably inspired a nation of clueless doofuses to recreate what only can be done in the movies.
Now I’ve seen some actual video of people leaping up the sides of buildings and all that, but in most cases, no one is going to be able to hang on the wing of a speeding plane. Well, except Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise can because…well, he’s Tom Cruise.
Along with a lot of action movies while growing up, we watched James Bond. But once again, James Bond could do those unbelievable things because he is James Bond. Maybe Tom Cruise is James Bond.
I know ‘popcorn movies’ and TV shows are just that – a good ol’ escape where gravity and reason can be defied. When we go to the movies, we not only pay our $12 but also carry in our willing suspension of disbelief. I want to see Superman fly and stop a locomotive. I want to see Batman use his gadgets and wits. But he is Superman. He is Batman. Maybe Tom Cruise is Batman.
A side note: The Avenger movies are huge. The problem I have with the ultra-cool Iron Man is that I wonder if despite his super suit, could Tony Stark survive all the concussions? What saves the role for me is Robert Downey Jr.’s acting – the quips, the presence of a great actor, even the camp. Stark would need more than Tylenol – he’d need a skull transplant.
I think about these things whenever I pass a tall building or structure and start seeing a scene unfold in my mind’s eye. I imagine Ernesto Nodal (who’s attached to portraying “Dakota” in Dead Exit) scaling a building or navigating a maze filled with danger. Kind of like that ‘redonkulous’ chompers scene in Tim Allen’s Galaxy Quest. Ernesto, are you ready for that???
But don’t let me deter you from enjoying a truly blockbuster summer of 2018 – Avengers, Han Solo and more will thrill audiences and ring up cash registers. Save a good seat for me.
The Shape of Things to Come – Sci-fi roots for Dead Exit
Dead Exit creator
by Doug Shiloh
Dead Exit creator
As a kid, I was heavily influenced by H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and War of the Worlds and I am a big fan of The Twilight Zone, and the 70s movie classics such as Soylent Green, Rollerball, Logan’s Run and Planet of The Apes. Orwell’s 1984 is also an inspiration.
These stories mashed-up reality and threw in a wild fantastic (using Wells’ use of the word) element that bent the mind. As the 20th century progressed, those unrealities seemed more possible. Nowadays? Right around the corner.
In no way am I trying to be Nostradamus by predicting the future – as a storyteller I’m just looking at trends and into the past and mashing up with things that ought to make a good story.
There are a couple of 007 Bond-like gizmos in Dead Exit, but not enough to strain a budget. No light sabers, no flying cars. The world of Dead Exit is set in the near future. It doesn’t look too different from Today. The constant is human behavior and as a whole that never changes. That’s one reason guys like Shakespeare will never fade away.
I’ve said the backdrop of the series is Hollywood, Politics and Murder. Last Fall I read several old books on the Golden Age of Hollywood. The technology has changed but in essence it seems to be the same: the smell of dreams and money, power, sex, opulence, the unreal…all stuff to be explored in Dead Exit.
One of the new additions created just this winter is the character of Senator Grace Sullivan. It’ll be one of the lead roles. In a mad world, Sullivan is a voice of sanity. She’ll go toe-to-toe with Senator Warren (played by Rich Graff) and John Brandt (played by Tony Denison). The role asks for an actor who can have great range. I’d like to announce who will take on this challenging role…but as I’ve said…I can’t predict the future.
Hollywood…it’s a marathon, not a 100M dash
By Doug Shiloh
Dead Exit creator
The Winter Olympic Games will happen soon and there’s a parallel to athletes and writers and actors gunning for gold. It’s one thing to write a script in X amount of time. It’s another to see that script on the screen. Getting things “to Hollywood” is a marathon, not a sprint. I heard on a recent podcast that 1 in 10 films bought ever actually get made – and that doesn’t count the stories written.
The factors (such as available funding, network and studio choices, serendipity) are many. Money is the big thing.
A word to the wise: to anyone with a goal, having patience is a must. It’s a delay that seems like a Langston Hughes ‘dream deferred.’
But that Hollywood delay of going through very common hurdles of getting the story to the screen does help me to do my best V-ger. I am soaking things in and expanding the world of the story. The intent is, after all, a long running series. My experience as a novelist helps me with that.
I developed the idea for Dead Exit back when I was in college. The dystopian short story is about a prima donna actor named “Fitzgerald” (in homage to the Gatsby author.) Fitzgerald was looking for his 15 minutes of fame. He killed someone to get “the part. Only at the end of the story we find a twist where he was being executed on film. As the maxim goes, he’d kill to get a part.
Years later I was in the process of writing my first novel (Pookoo). I took a break and sat down for 6 weeks and knocked out the first draft of Dead Exit. I introduced many new characters – Senator Warren, Brandt, Dakota and Vanessa, Cineguards, Xavier. The era of the all-out blockbuster movie was in full swing: Con Air, Armageddon, etc. Dead Exit “The Feature” is a mix of stunts, snappy dialogue, characters with brains and motives.
For the TV show, I’m going even into more depth, obviously. Warren’s backstory, for example. I can’t divulge where I’ll be going with the series but “all the world’s a stage”, so a society that is messed up means grist for the word processor. In it includes views of faith and sin.
In further blog updates I’ll explore this and that. As we finally secure funding and shoot the pilot, I will continue updates.
I’m confident that nothing like this has ever been on TV. Edgy? Yes. Surprising? You bet.
We already have extraordinary actors like Tony Denison and Rich Graff in our corner. And I want you to have the insider’s look into the whole process, this journey to what I hope will be one of your favorite shows.
At times the blog might be text, audio or video. We’ll interview cast members, people in departments such as special effects, stunts, make-up and costumes, review software and gear, and agents and studio execs.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. And I’m welcoming you to join me in this journey.
- Doug Shiloh