Good or fast? Pick one.

December 2, 2016
hurdles

Careful! All too easy to end up flat on your face.

As some of you may recall, earlier this year I had to get a script done in order to send it to somebody who’d requested to read it. Seeing as how I had all of eight pages written, I wanted to finish it and sent it out as soon as possible.

It took a grueling 10-day writing marathon, but somehow I managed to do it. I got a draft written, polished it up and sent it out.

It was quite an experience, and the end result could best be described as…adequate. I’ll be the first to admit the script still needs a ton of work.

My sole objective was simply to get it done to the best of my ability in as short a time as possible. Would I have benefited from more time? Of course, but at the time, it wasn’t an option.

Fast forward to the beginning of November. My goal: have a completed draft of the latest project by the end of the month. Sadly, I wasn’t able to get as much writing done as I’d hoped, so I’m heading into December with a script that’s right at the halfway point and the intention to have the whole thing done by the end of the year.

Sure, I could push myself through that exhausting process of cranking it out just to get it done, but by working with a slightly longer timeframe, I can take it slow and spend more time fine-tuning the script. In theory, this increases the likelihood the end result will be more acceptable and not require as much extensive follow-up (i.e. rewrites).

Would I love to be done with this draft sooner rather than later? Again, of course. But I’m also willing to be patient and focus on a few pages at a time. If that means it takes me until the end of the month/year to have a quality script ready to go, so be it.

Everybody writes at their own pace. Some are extremely prolific, some aren’t. It doesn’t matter how many pages you write. The important thing is that you’re actually writing.

This whole process can seem excruciatingly long at times, and we all want to produce lots and lots of quality work. But it already takes time to learn how to do it properly, let alone effectively. Patience is one of those things that gets easier the more you work on it.

There’s nothing wrong with churning out a draft in record time, but be aware that focusing on quantity rather than quality will definitely be reflected in those pages. I went through this firsthand, and definitely see it as a positive learning experience. I know I can write something quickly, but also know it’ll require a lot of cleanup work.

But given my druthers, I prefer to take my time. It’s less exhausting.


Cole Porter had it right*

November 29, 2016

 

Way back when I was first starting out and learning the basics of writing a script, one of the initial lessons was all about what went into a slugline.

I was told the following:

INT. or EXT. LOCATION – DAY or NIGHT

And that’s it. Pretty straightforward. While the first two are pretty much set in stone, some writers opt to modify the last one a bit. “AFTERNOON” or “EVENING”. Seems alright.

Some, myself included, take it one step further – “LATER” or “MOMENTS LATER”. I’ve encountered a few writers who have issue with these. “How MUCH later?” “How many moments?” Understandable.

All that being said, lately I’ve seen more than a few scripts that have a mix of the standards as listed above, along with an assortment of the totally unexpected. Such as “20 MINUTES LATER” or “SAME”.

Oh, come on. Really?

I’m sure these writers have their reasons for doing this, but to me it says “Rules be damned! I’m doing it my way! No matter how wrong it looks!” Maybe they’re planning on filming it themselves? Even if that’s the case, wouldn’t you want the script to look as professional as possible?

To me, this is just wrong.

I don’t see how they think this can possibly work. If you want to intentionally show the passage of time, then it needs to be SHOWN within the context of the scene. A clock face, Xs on a calendar, a cavalcade of holiday decorations.

The way I understand it, the slugline is all about WHERE and WHEN a scene takes place. It involves setting the scene as part of telling the story, along with what the production crew needs to help show it. I don’t believe the WHEN has to be that specific. But again, it’s all about showing.

I’m very intrigued to see if other writers have seen this, and your thoughts about it. Yes? No? It’s their script, so they can do what they want?

*If you actually understand this, I suspect you’re of a certain age, or at least appreciate certain types of music.

 


For crying out loud, DO SOMETHING!

November 26, 2016

bored

Is THIS how you want your audience to react?

While the November writing project moves forward at a pleasant pace (but now appears to be more of a November-December thing), part of my time has also been spent giving notes on some friends’ scripts.

One in particular had a few problems, some of which were easily fixed, but what really stood out was how it committed a cardinal sin of screenwriting by having a lot of scenes where the characters talk repeatedly about something “important” they want to do, but by the end, they end up not doing anything. And I mean that literally. These were some of the most passive characters I’ve experienced.

It didn’t help that the characters also had no arc. They were exactly the same from beginning to end (with maybe the exception of one who might have been arrested, but even the circumstances involved with that are still somewhat unclear).

Let’s face it. A main character who’s all talk, no action, and doesn’t change is the death knell for your script. Why would somebody be interested in seeing what happens to them, especially if they don’t do anything?

One of the most frequent problems I’ve seen is when the main character isn’t the one driving the story forward. They just kind of hang around and watch stuff happen.

Bo. Ring.

Remember, you’re trying to get your main character to their goal over the course of the story. They have to be the one making things happen in order to achieve that, or at least react to what happens in such a way that it helps them. The way these characters were written, I honestly had no idea what their individual goals were.

Take a look at your latest draft. Which character is moving the story forward? Is your main character active or passive? Are they making things happen? If not, can you see what you’d need to change in order to do that?

You definitely want your characters to come across as believably three-dimensional. Having them do little or next-to-nothing throughout the story is doing you no favors. Character motivation and actions are some of those key elements that simply cannot be left out. Audiences can forgive certain things, but a dull, passive main character isn’t one of them.


You don’t know me, but can you help me?

November 22, 2016
the-stranger

Let’s not complicate things with petty details like who I am

So this email arrived yesterday.

“Hi, Paul, Do you know any past or current Executive Producers that might be eager to engage in a new multi-billion dollar franchise that could be as good as “Harry Potter” or “Star Wars”?”

Immediate smartass answer: Well, of course I do, person-I’ve-never-communicated-with-before! I like the cut of your jib, especially with that totally unsolicited request for help! I’ll pass your info along straightaway! Even though I think smoking is a totally unhealthy thing, I’m going to learn how just to be able to literally light cigars with hundred-dollar bills which I’ll be grabbing out of the huge bags o’cash which will no doubt be continuously rolling in once Hollywood gets its mitts on this!

Secondary upon-reflection answer: Do you really think this is the best approach?

Sure, we’ve been connected on a networking site for several years, but as far as I can recall, have had absolutely no interaction during that time. No emails. No comments on a post. Not even a single “Hey, how’s it going?” And then, totally out of the blue, you come to me and ask for help.

I’m more than happy to help somebody out when I can, but it has to be somebody I know, somebody I’ve communicated with, and somebody I think is worth helping. Apart from this nebulous “connection” we have, to me you’re little more than a total stranger.

And you’re not asking for just any kind of help. You have what you proclaim to be “the next big thing”. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard or read that about a script/story/idea, I’d be able to fund my own franchise.

It’s great that you have a high opinion of your material, as you should, but keep in mind you might be the only one who does. You can prognosticate all you want, but that’s not going to impact anything. You can’t say something’s going to be a hit because you want it to be.

I’m still a little fuzzy on the details, but I think the title “Executive Producer” depends on the extent of that person’s involvement with the project. Until then, I believe “producer” is the appropriate title. Feel free to enlighten the rest of us in the comment section.

Let’s also discuss the fact that you sent this to me. Me. Why? I’m not exactly Mr Industry Insider. In fact, I’m more likely in the same boat as you; a nobody busting his ass trying to establish a career. Did you know that? Did you do any research, or are you just sending this to as many people as possible, hoping one of them works out?

I never responded to the email in question, simply because I don’t think it’s worth it. I suspect anything short of “Here are those names you asked for” would not be welcome, let alone “This is a really unprofessional email, and here’s why”. As always, I wish them the best of luck.

I’ll admit I’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years, but each one has been a learning experience unto itself. I’ve learned how to network, how to communicate, and how to interact. I know how to seek out help and how to offer it. I’m a firm believer in researching and finding out everything I can about whatever it is I’m working on.

I always strive to be as professional as I can when it comes to this sort of thing. Everybody’s a potential future partner/connection/resource, but I don’t take it for granted.

I’ll treat you with respect provided you do the same.


Hopefully not too seldomly heard

November 18, 2016
callahan

Thanks, Harry! I’m glad you liked it.

So how’s your November writing project coming along?

Mine’s not too bad.

I’m a few scenes into Act 2, and things seem to be progressing smoothly, including coming up with a strong and slightly expository scene at the spur of the moment. Daily page output is fluctuating, but relatively steady; not sure if I’ll have a completed draft by month’s end, but think I’ll at least be mighty close.

This script is actually part of a collaborative effort (more on how that came about another time), so I sent the first ten pages to the other person, just to let them know how it was going.

Their response arrived the following morning.

“Fucking amazing! You are definitely on the right path. Amazing job!”

There was more to it, but I believe that accurately sums it up. They like what I’ve done so far, which in turn buoys my confidence, thereby inspiring me to keep charging ahead. Encouragement combined with enthusiasm is contagious.

Added bonus – several voicemails since then mentioning how they’re been reading those pages a couple of times a day and can’t help but feel a thrilled sense of anticipation about the rest of the script, along with its potential.

No complaints from yours truly about dealing with a case of the warm fuzzies.

A writer always hopes people like what they’ve written. True, not everybody will, but if some positive comments come from another writer whose opinion you value, wouldn’t that give you a little boost?

Who doesn’t appreciate a little vindication for all the hours put into getting to this point? We all know how much effort it takes to write something, let alone something that garners a positive response.

When I’m asked to read something, I’ll be honest with my thoughts on it. I’ll make appropriate suggestions of how it could be improved (which is usually the reason we’re being asked to read in the first place). But if I think it’s good, I won’t hesitate to say so. I will gladly point out what I liked and why I liked it.

Your readers are more than happy to give you positive feedback and words of encouragement, but they won’t do it because they like you or you’re their friend. They will do it because the material you wrote earned it.

And they’ll want you to keep doing it. And you’ll want to too.

 


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