COFFEEHOUSE SCREENWRITING 102: Caffeinated Writing on a Budget


If you’re looking for how to make passive characters active or how to cram writing in between day jobs and kids, then you’re in the wrong place.  For help with that, I recommend a great book with a title similar to this article — The Coffee Break Screenwriter by Pilar Alessandra.

This article isn’t about how to write.  This article is about where to write, particularly when public libraries keep bankers’ hours and you can’t afford to rent an office.  What’s left?  Coffee shops.

How do you find the best ones?  When are they the least crowded?  Is withholding a pee break a good motivator for finishing your work? (We’ll find out since that’s what I’m doing right now.)  Questions like these and more are answered in Coffeehouse Screenwriting 101.  Here in 102 we’ll discuss how to do all of this on a low/no budget.  Just like indie filmmaking.



Once you use up the Dunkin’ Donuts gift card that you got for your birthday (thanks again, Auntie Fran), you’ll have to make purchases with your own money.  Coffee shop etiquette suggests that you buy something once an hour and tip a dollar each time.  That’s admirable if you’re an A-list screenwriter like Joss Whedon (The Avengers) or David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Angels & Demons), both of whom are known to make Hollywood java houses their natural scripting habitat.

However, you’re not wealthy like those guys.  Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this article.  You don’t have to be Daddy Starbucks, but you also don’t want to be the take-up-space-without-buying-anything d-bag currently sitting two tables away from me.



Check out the day-old desserts and sandwiches.  They’re typically half-price, but they go fast.  If you’re present at closing time, some places will give away the snacks that didn’t sell.  The least expensive drinks are basic tea and a cup o’ Joe.  Some establishments (mostly non-franchises) even offer free refills.



To avoid the how-long-has-he-been-here stares from the staff, sip your drink slowly but frequently.  Two hours later, get your refill and leave a tip.  Or, if you didn’t get the free refill option, buy a snack and don’t leave a tip.  It’s one or the other.  Not both.  You’re on a budget, remember?



Always order to-go because some places will charge a dine-in fee without telling you, which in a perfect world would be illegal but, as evident by the success of Miley Cyrus, the world is far from perfect.

The dine-in fee is minimal (16 cents on a $1.75 iced tea at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf for example), but after a while it adds up.  And when it comes right down to it, it’s the principle, damn it!  Whatever you end up buying, make sure to keep the receipt so you can expense it during tax season.



Movies and television are all about illusion and so too is the art of making yourself seem like a big spender.

When no one’s looking, swipe a dirty dish from a recently vacated table before it’s cleaned.  Crumple up a napkin, open a mini-creamer, and you’ll blend right in with paying customers.  Unleash your inner set designer!  (*Ahem, Ahem.*  It goes without saying of course that I’ve only heard of people doing this.  *Ahem.*)

What do these Tarentino car trunks have in common? Discarded coffee cups.

What do these Tarantino car trunks have in common? Discarded coffee cups.


For advanced students, there’s the ol’ shell game.  Buy an iced tea in a to-go cup, ideally one with the shop’s logo.  Take the cup home, wash it out, and bring it next time along with an affordable Snapple from wholesale stores like Costco.  Stuff both in your laptop bag and fill one with the other when no one’s looking.

In lieu of large bottles, small flasks work well, like the personalized kind you get for being a groomsman.  While you’re at it, replace the Snapple with whiskey. It worked for Hemingway.  Or add weight to the empty cup with sugar packets and pretend it’s full.  Unleash your inner actor!

Not sure where you’re going to write until inspiration strikes?  Then stuff your car trunk with cups from the major coffee chains (or from under your seat).  Don’t make a habit of it, though, because even greedy, Trenta-sized, caffeine corporations need to turn a profit.

On second thought, just don’t make a habit of it in mom ‘n’ pop shops.



One last thing — dental care.  My dentist has asked several times if I smoke.  Nope.  Never.  I’m not that stupid. (Tobacco causes cancer, donchaknow.)  Yet my teeth were stained like I had.

The culprit: My new affinity for brown-hued caffeine beverages.  The solution: Sip through a straw so that high-fructose refreshments don’t touch your molars.  It may look ridiculous, but it’ll lower your dental bill, which you can’t afford until you hit it big like Whedon or Koepp.


And thus concludes today’s lesson in Coffeehouse Screenwriting.  There’s more to learn, but it’ll have to wait until 103 because my bladder is about to explode.


COMING SOON: A retconned summer hiatus, followed by a bout of Sequel-title-itis.




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