When I was three or four, I was so squirmy and restless falling asleep that my dad would lie down and wrap his comparatively huge arm around my comparatively tiny torso to keep me still and point me towards sleep. Because I couldn’t physically move with this tree branch on top of me, I was forced to slow down. It worked. I got still and dozed off.
This year I caught the screenwriting bug and have been feeling similarly squirmy—excited squirmy, eager squirmy, physically squirmy, really-clueless-how-to-do-this-but-giddy-to-fill-the-blank-page squirmy. The last few weeks, I’ve been sorting through real-life character inspiration (high school friends; my barber, Elena; my good pal, Olga, who’s 75, swipes me into the dining hall, and gave me a personalized Christmas card; any cute girl I was too scared to talk to circa 2008), diagraming story arcs and three-act structures on huge pieces of paper, and figuring out how to fictionalize my own teenage experiences that felt mortifying then but thankfully feel hilarious now with enough emotional distance almost 10 years later. Screenwriting (and fiction in general) feels scary and foreign, but I love it and want to learn by doing.
Without saying too much, it’s about an awkward, anxious 17-year-old dude who makes goofy videos and keeps failing his driving test. A super cute girl asks him out while he’s making a goofy video—and then asks him if he can pick her up later that night. But because he’s too embarrassed to admit that he still doesn’t have his license, he spends the entire day at the DMV—with his mom, a friend, and a camera.
I think this screenwriting joy and curiosity has always been there for me. But it wasn’t until this year when I saw The Big Sick, Brigsby Bear, and Lady Bird that I really started writing. They’re three movies, in the words of Austin Kleon, that I “truly loved [and that felt like] a kind of permission, a permission to bring forth what I felt was already inside of me.” I loved The Big Sick for its deadpan humor and how it was truly a rom-com in the most literal, refreshing, rare sense: wonderfully romantic and wildly funny. I loved Brigsby Bear as a love-letter to filmmaking (and its last scene hit me harder than anything I’ve seen in a theater since Inside Out). And I loved Lady Bird for all things Greta Gerwig:
Like Greta Gerwig, I’ve also found enormous writing inspiration with music: it helps me discover the mood and tone I’m going for (and then helps shape and magnify that mood). I’ll blast stadium anthems like Under Pressure by Queen or Heroes by David Bowie or Lonely Boy by The Black Keys, and then I’ll see our 17-year-old dweeb and his upbeat restlessness more clearly and more resoundingly. I’ll listen to Shake by The Head and the Heart or Man On Fire by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes and feel his urgency to express himself creatively with those around him. I’ll rock out to Kiwi by Harry Styles and be transported to teenage angst and girl headaches. I’ll listen to Patience by The Lumineers and see all the people at the DMV. And I’ll listen to Werewolves Of London by Warren Zevon and see a dance party at the DMV (Thanks, Kevin, for that suggestion.)
I’m considering using his camera as a way to break the Fourth Wall. But I really don’t know. I really have no idea what I’m doing. Or where this is going. Or what this will look like. So naturally, I’ve turned to Greta Gerwig for guidance: