by Philip Moscovitch
Speed Demons: Surviving Multiple Projects
Either by design or by accident, most writers at some point find themselves wrapped up in several projects at once. Keeping on top of them and staying sane can be a challenge.
John Fasano says he’s “as busy as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.”
Fasano got his start directing and producing low-budget horror flicks in Toronto and Montreal. He moved to Hollywood from New York in November 1988 and sold a spec script for half a million dollars three months later (the film was never produced). Since then, he’s pumped out an astounding number of screenplays–six during his first year in LA, and 10 in the last two years.
And it’s not like Fasano is cranking out specs that sit in his drawer. Most of his work is done on assignment. Five of his TV movies hit the screen in the next few months.
One of Fasano’s tricks is to make sure he knows exactly where a film is going before he starts writing. “I see the whole movie in my head as if it’s been shot, acted, directed, edited and the effects have been put in,” he says. Fasano then takes that film and turns it into a 10-page outline. “Once I’ve got that, I can go into it and expand it and write any scene.” On a day when he’s not feeling inspired to tackle anything major, he can always do a car chase.
He works on two computers, depending on what he’s doing. “I have the email on when I’m rewriting or jotting down notes,” he says. “I actually write on a second Mac desktop that uses the same 22-inch cinema screen monitor, and only has Final Draft and no Internet connection… When I’m on that computer, I will only answer the phone.”
Fasano doesn’t think there’s a trade-off between writing quickly and writing well. He says the opposite is true: the more you write, the better you become, and that the energy of writing quickly and intensely clearly translates onto the page. “The energy of your first draft is very important. If it takes you a year to write your first draft, there’s something going on that’s wrong.”
Inevitably, Fasano winds up simultaneously working on two or three projects (and sometimes four or five). Instead of constantly switching back and forth, he clearly blocks out time for each one.
A few years back he was working on Universal Soldier: The Return, Mean Streak and a TV movie called Six that never got made. “The director of the TV movie would come into my office at 9:00 and sit with me ’til lunch and we’d talk about what needed to be written,” Fasano recalls. “We’d have lunch, he’d go home, and the director of the feature would come in after lunch and we’d work ’til three or four o’clock… At night I’d go home and write Universal Soldier. When I was with each director, all I was doing was their film. I can concentrate on that film when I’m with that person and there’s no overlap.”
Peterborough-based Ann Douglas has written 27 books–all published since 1997. She manages by working intensely, then taking short breaks between projects (though she took 2004 almost completely off). Like Fasano, she blocks out time for each project.
Douglas says, “I tend to focus on one big project at a time–either for multiple days in a given week or (at a minimum) in a given day. For example, she’ll decide that “Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will be devoted to Project A, Thursday will be devoted to Project B, and Friday will be devoted to Project C.” But with four children, Douglas also makes sure to never cut a deadline too close, because emergencies do come up. “If I don’t allow some extra slack in my schedule, my entire schedule gets thrown out of whack and I’m forever in catch-up mode–a very stressful feeling.”
It’s easy to get so caught up in your writing that you forget to take care of yourself. The irony is that the busier you are, the more important it becomes. But the consequences of ignoring your physical and mental health can be dire.
Fasano’s never had carpal tunnel, in part, he says, because he never learned to touch-type. He used to follow a regimen of walking and weight-training, until he was thrown from a
speeding car on the set of Universal Soldier: The Return and broke his neck, back, ribs, hip and shoulder blade. He still walks, though less, and, he says, tries “to meditate, rather than medicate.”
In order to stay sane, Douglas makes sure that she eats and sleeps well. “I make a point of eating three meals a day (including a real lunch as opposed to lunch in front of my computer),” she says. “I make sure that I get seven hours of sleep each night… and I’ve learned how to clearly differentiate between work time and non-work time, as opposed to allowing the two to blur together in my head.”
Despite his breakneck pace, Fasano also makes sure to keep time for himself and his family. “I build my writing schedule around my kids,” he says. “I wake up at six, get them breakfast, take them to school, then write write write write until they come home.” After they go to sleep, “I go back to work.”