ALLIGATORS IN A HELICOPTER

a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Protection, and the Page

My wife mentioned the fact that I'm a script reader to a woman at her job, who shared the story of her own husband. Apparently he'd spent two years writing a screenplay, then through a computer glitch he lost it all.

Every last word.

Do I feel bad for him? No. To me this just sounds stupid.

Because I worry about losing one day's work -- much less two years' worth.

Previously, whenever I wrote on my computer, I'd save everything on a disk at the end of the day. Not even the same disk every day -- I'd have 4 or 5 that I'd rotate through, just in case one was bad (or 2, or 3).

Since I've gotten the laptop, where I do all my writing now, at the end of every writing day I e-mail a copy of the script to myself.

Anal? Over-cautious? Maybe. But it takes a minute or two, and saves what could be hours of work.

But the main reason I'd never lose two years worth of work?

Every few weeks, I print out whatever I'm working on.

I've found that reading a script on the page is entirely different from reading it off the screen. And that there is nothing to jumpstart your writing -- and really seeing how it is going -- than just printing out what you have, and spending a chunk of time just curled up with the pages.

The process of disappearing into the pages just feels different than disappearing into the screen. Scenes will look differently, and read differently. Things will jump out -- scenes that are playing too long, dialogue that is dragging on and on.

More importantly, I can take a pen, and I mark the hell out of it. Jot ideas for dialogue changes, which I may or may not actually use, when I revisit it later - so it's not something I'm just impulsively changing in the computer, and then forgetting about. Tighten scenes down, pick up on repetitive bits.

I'm getting better about judiciously doing the whole editing thing too, particularly once I feel that the storyline is finally there (a place I feel I've finally gotten to with my supernatural thriller) and that the real polishing can begin.

If nothing else, the flexibility of holding the whole draft in your hand, so you can flip back and forth between scenes and lay them side by side, rather than scrolling through a draft on the screen, is invaluable.

So I have endless drafts of works-in-progress crammed into boxes in my closet, because not only do I not want to lose anything, but because I think that actually getting words onto paper, even in this computer age, is important to getting your script to work.

Writing a script for two years, and never letting the script out of your computer? On one level, ouch. But on a more basic level, to me it's a sign that he just wasn't taking it all seriously enough.

22 Comments:

At 12:35 PM, Blogger s.warren said...

Those kinds of stories scare the crap out of me. I can't imagine losing two years worth of work and, more importantly, being in a position to do so.

I e-mail whatever I'm working on to myself, too. Sometimes more than once a day. Then when I reach what I consider a "final" draft (ie. I'm done working on it, for now) I print out a copy and e-mail the file to multiple e-mail accounts. Oh, yeah. I also store all my files on two separate machines.

I'm pretty sure there's sickness, there. I just don't know what kind.

 
At 12:46 PM, Blogger deepstructure said...

i agree with much of what you said - it's great to sit with your script in your hand, to be able to mark it up with your pen.

however equating never letting your screenplay out of your computer to not taking it seriously enough is being short-sighted.

you're probably right about this particular individual - but not because he didn't print out his script. because he didn't take basic precautions against a glitch.

i rarely print my scripts out. for one i hate wasting paper. but two, in many ways for me working on a computer is more much efficient and organic than printing out paper and marking it up.

as our software tools get better i see this becoming more and more true. im always looking for better visualization, organization and brain-storming software tools. it's slow, but they're coming.

so by your estimation i wouldn't be that serious because i have very little printed material sitting around me.

 
At 1:03 PM, Anonymous Insight said...

It's perfectly possible to feel sympathy for someone who's undergoing adversity, even though they might have brought it on themselves.

If this story is not apocryphal (which I suspect it is in order to kick off your article) then yes, the guy behaved stupidly, but are you so perfect?

 
At 1:14 PM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

I've never heard of anyone else doing this - I've been emailing my scripts to myself since I began screenwriting.

 
At 1:15 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Nah, I didn't make it up. Sadly.

And no, I'm not perfect. I feel plenty of scorn for things I do too :-)

 
At 2:15 PM, Anonymous Anil Khedun said...

I feel sorry for the guy not backing up, but that's life. I think he learnt a valuable lesson there. Myself I use .Mac daily to automatically backup my work to my online disk. Plus I use an external harddrive for monthly backups which are burned to DVD on a regular basis too. I like to be cautious (and precious!) about my work. :-)

As for the printed stuff, yeah, I do it. I like to just sit in my favourite chair and read my work editing with a red pen. I don't like staring at a screen for hours on end, no matter how good the tools are. Besides, for me it's easier to catch the grammatical errors. I recycle my printed paper and use the other side when I'm done. We all work differently to suit us I guess.

 
At 2:23 PM, Blogger S. A. Petrich said...

2 years, says you? How much did I write in the last two years... lemme see, six screenplays, and several drafts of each. Which accounts to, roughly, a bit over 200 000 words.

When I lose ONE PAGE, I feel like comitting murder. If I lost ALL THAT, I's comit genocide.

I don't like printing stuff either. As a matter of fact, I actually prefer reading everything on my PC - news, scripts, novels, whatever. I dunno. It feels better for me.

I do have a couple kilos worth of CDs with my scripts, graphics and other stuff burnt on.

BTW, that e-mailing technique sounds interesting. I might try it out.

 
At 2:29 PM, Blogger S. A. Petrich said...

Off-topic, Scott, but how do you post videos on your blog?

I'd appreciate some hints... the Help section doesn't want to help me.

 
At 2:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I completely agree. He probably never would have finished it anyway...

- Allen

 
At 3:56 PM, Blogger Chesher Cat said...

Maybe the husband was watching porn for two years and when his wife finally asked to read his script...

 
At 4:29 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

chesher -- LOL. Probably.

s.a. -- the only time I post videos is from YouTube, which has a thing on their site that just sort of does it for you.

 
At 5:02 PM, Blogger mernitman said...

I'll risk sounding like an old fogey and second those who like to read hard copy; in my opinion, there is NOTHING more effective in terms of line-editing and correcting -- often something I've deemed "perfect" on screen turns out to have a typo or word snafu when printed out... or merely the aesthetic look of something on the printed page requires tinkering.

It's also the format with which -- in spite of technology -- 90% of the industry still looks at material. So do you want to see what you like to see (on the laptop screen), or what your potential readers will be looking at?

In terms of the "computer ate my script" issue, I think everyone has one horror story of this sort... and then they back-up, via whatever method, for the rest of their lives.

 
At 5:46 PM, Anonymous Laura Reyna said...

I like to print out copies & do my correcting/reading on paper, too. You really do get a different effect on paper. & doing so much reading on screen tires my eyes out.

I'm just about finished w/ a detailed outline of my latest script, so thanks, Scott, for this little reminder. I need to back that puppy up!

We have several external hard drives for our reg comp stuff, but i want something seperate for my sceenwriting files. I'm thinking about borrowing my husband's thumb drive & using that. Maybe i'll experiment w/ different methods. But whatever method i use, i probably won't be as OCD about it as you, Scott. ;-)

 
At 6:33 PM, Blogger Brett said...

I try to email backups to myself on a regular basis, but I'll admit to not doing it daily.

I also love the little USB thumbdrives-- I can drag a copy to that in seconds if ever I leave the house for an overnighter, and know that even if a meteor hits my home (and computer), I'll have a recent copy of my babies with me.

And nothing works better for marking up a script than a hard copy, a pair of good color gel pens (one red, one blue!), and a quiet park bench with a fountain whooshing somewhere nearby.
.
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B

 
At 6:33 AM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

USB Thumb Drive is my best friend. Every time I shut down Movie Magic, it makes a backup on it. I don't really take the the drive out of the USB socket, so I'm not protected against meteors.

E-mailing is good. Just make sure you are e-mailing to an outside, web-based e-mail host or you could be just putting the files back onto your PC (unless you have your server instructed to keep all e-mail on the host).

I'm sure everyone here, knows that but I don't want anyone getting the wrong idea.

 
At 7:13 AM, Blogger Milehimama said...

Wow. I e-mail everything to myself, including story ideas, script pages, articles that pertain to "research" or character. I thought I was just anal and weird, but truly, if it's in the computer I won't lose it. If it's on a scrap of paper, I'll lose it, the 5 year old will draw on it, or the baby will eat it. She ate my last Creative Screenwriting magazine.
I do this because I don't just work on one computer. We have desktop and a laptop; when I was working, I might want to jot something down during lunch or come across something I could use while I was in my office. Or I might be at my mom's house and find myself with time to kill.
Right now I'm using a jump drive, because I work on the desktop mostly, but sometimes I go to Applebee's or Denny's where it is quiet and no one will talk to me. So I take the laptop. And of course, save it to each computer as well as the jump.

 
At 7:55 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

My PC is DSL (SBC Global), but when I'm on the laptop in the living room I'm accessing my old AOL account over the phone line, so I'm essentially e-mailing it from one account to another.

 
At 3:35 PM, Blogger Piers said...

The real problem is that he was lucky enough to not have a problem for two years.

Then when the inevitable finally happened...

Seconding mernitman - once you lose everything once, you never forget to backup again.

And having said that, it's been more than a week. Guess what I'm off to do?

 
At 7:05 PM, Blogger The Moviequill said...

Gmail gave me all this space for a reason, so I email myself FD and PDF backups... good method

 
At 5:49 AM, Blogger BD said...

I have suffered that, so stepping on the side of caution isn't so bad...

 
At 10:39 PM, Blogger Dave said...

I backup nightly to a different hard drive in the same pc. Have a thumb drive with a recent copy and a laptop with a copy that I sync when I boot up the laptop.

I'm thinking of backing up to an online place too (if it's free)... just can't have too many backups.

Backup software is cheap, can be scheduled and is then a no-brainer.

If only the writing was as easy.

 
At 1:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My day job is in IT.

There are 2 types of folk in this world:
1. Those who have lost data.
2. Those who are just about to lose data.

 

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