STEPHEN KING: The desk
Think about this: Stephen King has been releasing one, sometimes two books a year pretty much every year since his first novel, Carrie, was published in 1974. That’s 43 freakin’ years of consistent output! He’s become such a mainstay of our culture that it’s easy to take his genius for granted.
King’s been writing since he was 7 years-old, when he would copy and rearrange the stories out of his favourite comic books. Impressed by her son’s talent, King’s mother urged him to write an original story. He began submitting short stories to horror and sci-fi magazines at age 12 and would use a nail hammered into the wall above his typewriter to hold all his rejection letters. By the time he was 14, the nail wouldn’t hold the weight of the letters anymore and King had to replace it with a larger spike. By the time he was 16, King was still getting rejection letters, although at least now there were hand-written notes of encouragement from editors scribbled on them. By his mid 20s, King was selling the occasional short story to pulp and mens magazines but not nearly enough to make a living. He was working in an industrial laundry, cleaning maggot-infested restaurant and hospital sheets, while his wife Tabitha, also a writer, worked at Dunkin’ Donuts. They had two young children, were living in a trailer and although King managed to find better work as an English teacher, he was starting to despair that his writing career would never take off.
“Good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognise them when they show up.”
King chanced upon the idea for Carrie when he recalled working as a high school janitor. While he was cleaning the female locker room he paid special attention to the shower curtains since he knew the boys lockers didn’t have them. He imagined an opening scene (NSFW) in which a girls locker room didn’t have the curtains and students were forced to shower in front of each other. What if a girl had her period in the shower but didn’t know what it was, and all the other girls laughed and threw tampons at her? How would that girl retaliate? Then King remembered reading an article about telekenisis and how there was evidence that it was prevalent in young girls, especially around the time of their first period. Boom, that’s when two unrelated ideas came together to create something new. King knew he had found an idea for a book and wrote three pages of a first draft while working his teaching job. He hated it and threw it in the trash. It was King’s wife Tabitha who found the pages while emptying the bin and encouraged her husband to finish it. Carrie was published in 1974 and was King’s breakthrough novel. King finished off the decade with a string of bestsellers including ‘Salem’s Lot and The Shining.
By the ’80s King and his family were living in a beautiful house in Bangor, Maine, and King was writing at his dream, massive oak desk. However, he was also an alcoholic and a drug addict. He would write all hours of the day strung out on cocaine and medicate at night with a whole case of 16-ounce beers. In 1985 and at risk of losing his family, Tabitha held an intervention and gave King an ultimatum: get help or get out of the house. Thankfully, King managed to get clean and put his family life back together. And thankfully for us, through it all, he never stopped writing.
I tried to find a picture of the actual massive oak desk King mentions. The best I could do was this brief glimpse into King’s office in an interview from the mid ’80s. You can see it at the 2.40min mark. The newer, smaller desk I’m guessing is this one. I could be wrong about both.
Ex Machina — The Control of Information
by Lessons from the Screenplay
How Louis CK Tells A Joke
In 1932-1933, while working on what would become his first published novel, Tropic of Cancer, Miller devised and adhered to a stringent daily routine to propel his writing. Among it was this list of eleven commandments, found in Henry Miller on Writing
01. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
02. Start no more new books, add no more new material to ‘Black Spring.’
03. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
04. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
05. When you can’t create you can work.
06. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
07. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
08. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
09. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.
Under a part titled Daily Program, his routine also featured the following wonderful blueprint for productivity, inspiration, and mental health:
If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus.
If in fine fettle, write.
Work of section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.
See friends. Read in cafés.
Explore unfamiliar sections — on foot if wet, on bicycle if dry.
Write, if in mood, but only on Minor program.
Paint if empty or tired.
Make Notes. Make Charts, Plans. Make corrections of MS.
Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occasional sketch or an occasional bike ride. Sketch in cafés and trains and streets. Cut the movies! Library for references once a week.
By Chris O'Falt | Indiewire
Joe Swanberg’s keynote today at SXSW was not unlike one of his movies: Unscripted, personally revealing and brutally honest. As Swanberg worked his way chronologically through his career, he kept pointing out how he wasn’t some trailblazer, but rather that his career had just intersected with tremendous advances in technology that changed how films were made and distributed. The reality, however, is that Swanberg has consistently been at the forefront of experimenting with how to be an uncompromised filmmaker, while still carving out a career and living for himself.
Using examples from his career, the director provided plenty of filmmaking principles and advice with the many aspiring DYI filmmakers in the audience.
“We Need To Share Information”
“If we just talked to each other we’d fuck shit up,” explained Swanberg. Using an example from when he was making a the web series “Young Hard Bodies” for IFC and Nerve, Swanberg said that he was happy to just get paid anything to make the series. That was until his good friend Ti West (who is at SXWS this year with “In a Valley of Violence”) told him he was getting paid $5,000 a episode. Swanberg had started making his series for $500 to $1,000 an episode.
“If I didn’t know Ti, I would have been happy with [getting a raise] to $3,000,” but instead IFC, didn’t blink when he asked for $5,000.
Joe Swanberg at a Nitehawk, Brooklyn screening of Magnolia Pictures’ “Drinking Buddies.”
“Marriage is Also a Business Partnership”
Swanberg credits his marriage to fellow filmmaker Kris Swanberg (“Unexpected”) as being vital to allowing them both filmmakers ability to experiment and create. Although he was honest about how the couple spent a decade barely making ends meet, that having two potential income earners — and as long as one of them was working and able to pay the bills — has allowed them to both continue to make art and start a family.
“No One Reads Anything”
“No press is bad press,” Swanberg joked. His larger point here was that simply being written about in major publications, especially The New York Times, gave Swanberg’s early ventures into micro budget filmmaking and VOD the credibility he needed. He said that biggest lesson came when a number of people would congratulate him on reviews he knew said “god awful” things about his films. It was at this point he realized that being important enough to be written about was what would be vital to him being able to make films for $10,000 to $15,000.
“Digging for Fire”
“You Can Shoot A Good Movie in Four Days”
Swanberg spent a great deal of time during his keynote highlighting the key role that his friend and collaborator Adam Wingard (also at SXSW with the TV show “Outcast”) has played in his career. When the two directors first met each other in Birmingham, where Wingard lived, Swanberg thought he was “the weirdest and most memorable dude ever,” but he didn’t take him seriously. When Wingard asked Swanberg to come to Alabama to act in two segments of his four-segment feature about date rape, Swanberg joked, “that was literally the last thing I ever wanted to do.”
After watching the first two segments, however, Swanberg was impressed, but when he learned that Wingard had shot each segment in a day, his mind was blown. He went to Alabama to see how Wingard could possibly shoot a quarter of a movie in a day and for it to still be good. He was so impressed by Wingard, he hired him to be his cinematographer and mirrored his process in shooting “Autoerotic.” The film went on to be Swanberg’s first project to make a major profit (it sold for $70,000 and cost only $15,000) and set into motion Swanberg making seven films in one year.
Swanberg encouraged the young filmmakers in the audience to attempt to making a four-day feature themselves, highlighting that it’s great for performances and it really sharpens and focuses you as a director.
Movie Stars Are Important
In discussing “Drinking Buddies,” Swanberg insists he did nothing different in the way he made the film, except that he worked with stars like Anna Kendrick and Jake Johnson, and that results were career- and life-changing.
“It’s this weird thing that when we see famous people do things it feels real [to us],” explained Swanberg. He admitted that while he dreams of going back to the days of living with his cast and crew for a month while improvising a movie like “Hannah Takes The Stairs,” the reality is he’s fallen in love with working with Hollywood stars. This has meant that he now needs to write a script, so that he can have a real plan to accommodate busy actors’ schedules.
“Invest in Your Own Movies”
Swanberg revealed today that since “Drinking Buddies,” he has rolled his income from one movie right into his next one, owning an increasing larger percentage of his work with each new project. He realizes this is counter to every piece of advice filmmakers are told, but he insists that gambling on yourself is the only way you will ever make any real money in this business.
“Three Truths About Money”
1. According Swanberg, when making a movie, “it is better to have no money, than some money.” He insists having some money causes major headaches because everybody is going to want a piece of it and there’s not enough to go around. He stated that he’s had much better success paying people more money after the film has been sold.
2. The less you need money, the more they want to give you money, but when you are struggling, the smell of desperation means no one will give you a dime. Swanberg discussed how this truth is infuriating, but that advices filmmakers to take meetings like you don’t need funds.
3. Time and happiness are money. If you don’t factor your happiness into what it is you do for money as filmmaker you will not succeed. He added, “People don’t like bad movies and never have I seen a filmmaker hate something they made, that makes money.”
Hyperrealism, Mumblecore, & “Togetherness” - VICE Meets the Duplass Brothers
‘When you make a movie, when you make a television show, you kind of create a Frankenstein. It’s way bigger than you and it is terrifying. And that movie or that TV show is threatening to destroy your life and your happiness at all times.’ - Jay Duplass