A very hands-on Q&A with Geoffrey Calhoun

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Geoffrey D. Calhoun of wefixyourscript.com is listed as a Top 100 Indie Writer in the World. He has optioned several screenplays and has worked as a writer on two features coming out in 2017: The Little Girl and Studio 5. His multi-award-winning thriller Pink Bunny is scheduled for a 2018 release. Geoffrey has won multiple screenwriting awards and has worked as a producer, an assistant director, and director on indie film productions. He has been sought out by studios as a script consultant and a re-writer for various stages of development and production.

1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?

The last thing I watched I couldn’t stop thinking about was Arrival. I loved this film. It had depth and really explored her character. I loved how they played around with the structure of the film in creative ways that really built up to a climax. It was fantastic. I could see how Eric Heisserer did over 100 drafts to make that story perfect.

2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?

I actually began writing on a bet. A friend of mine was an editor for a local kids show. He wanted to push himself to write a script so he challenged me to see who could write better. Personally, I wasn’t interested because I have dyslexia. I agreed to do it, and ended up really enjoying the process. Since then it became more than a passion, almost like a volition. I wanted to be the best screenwriter I could possible be, so I started studying and learning from the greats such as Syd Field, Robert McKee, Viki King and reading screenplays by modern legends as well like David Goyer, Jonathan Nolan, and Christopher McQuarrie.

3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?

I think it can be learned. It comes with time. The average movie attendee can recognize a bad film. Now, some people prefer bad films, but that’s a whole different form of self- torture (wink). I like this question. It reminds me of the debate about raw talent vs. learned skill. Some teachers out there believe if you don’t have a modicum of innate talent with writing, then you’ll never be a good writer. I completely disagree with this. Their defense is that this is an art, and thus you must have a certain amount of “taste” in order to know the difference between what’s good and bad. I think what we do is more than an art. It’s a craft; a learned skill plain and simple. Something that can be mastered with just two things, time and practice. That’s all you need. We are craftsmen, like the blacksmiths of old. At first creating something small and simple like a horseshoe, then with time we master our skill and create compelling stories and works of art like the ornate armors of old.

4. What are the components of a good script?

It all starts with having something to say in your script. What are we trying to pass off to the audience? What do we want to tell them about life? Something that will open their eyes and help them see things from a new perspective? Or something that will reassure them and speak to the struggles they are going through? When we have a theme like this and we pair it with a sympathetic character, then we create a compelling story that’s unforgettable and emotionally moving. Take Arrival. It’s about a woman’s struggle with loss. That’s something that speaks to everyone, which is why it resonated so well with people.

5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?

Wow, that’s a tough one. I see mistakes of all kinds from new screenwriters to professionals. One mistake I often see is having underdeveloped characters. They’re superficial and are around just to be a face. Sometimes they’re even described as pretty or handsome, which reinforces this. When I get hired for a rewrite, the first thing I do is take the characters and layer in depth to make them more human and sympathetic; give them reasons to do what they’re doing and why they make the choices they do. I create depth by adding to them traits that we all suffer from but never talk about such as secretly insecure, lonely, or lost, etc.

6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?

This is more a genre thing for me but I’m sick of the false ending in horror films. Here we spend at least 90 minutes emotionally involved with a character. If it’s a good one – Dawn of the Dead is a good example – then you’ll have me on my seat the entire film. Then at the end, the lucky few characters that have survived finally make it…until there’s a surprise jump scare right before the credits roll and we discover the characters we’d been rooting for this whole time never make it. I’m so frustrated by this. For me it feels like a waste of my time to discover they all die because of a dirty trope in the end.

7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?

1) STEAL: Steal everything from everyone. Writers are the best thieves in the world. I’m not saying plagiarize, but when you find a technique or scene that really works for you, break it down and make it your own so you can add it to your toolbox.

2) STUDY: This goes with stealing. Learn from the masters. Writers like John August have a blog that you should be following. Don’t stop there. Learn from the masters that taught the master such as Aristotle. If you pay attention, all the great screenwriters will quote Aristotle. There’s a reason for that.

3) IGNORE THE BS: There’s a lot of flack out there towards aspiring screenwriters. I recently read an article where a Hollywood writer was bragging about telling screenwriters they’ll never make it. He tells them they should just give up because they aren’t talented. It’s BS. You can make it, but it takes time. A long time. If a dyslexic from Detroit can make it, then you can too. One of the reasons I founded wefixyourscript.com was exactly for that purpose: to give screenwriters that extra helping hand to not just  improve upon their screenplays, but to help them become better screenwriters. That’s why we include the one-on-one consultation.

8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?

Definitely. In fact, I just did some coverage on a dramatic short that had a fantastic concept. I helped them tweak it, but only a little. I guarantee it won’t have a dry eye in the audience when it films. Unfortunately, that’s all I can say about it.

9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?

I think they’re great, and I strongly recommend contests in festivals. That’s where you can really make headway as a writer. You need to network and make connections to build up your reputation. You can meet other writers, producers, and directors that will eventually land you in a spot where you’ll be getting work. When you go to these fests you want to be the life of the party. Have fun. Get yourself out there. And make sure you’re handing out business cards. It will get you work.

10. How can people can get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?

They can contact us at info@wefixyourscript.com. They can also sign up for a free 15-minute consultation on our website. With our consultation, we offer ways to help your work or answer any questions about us or the industry in general. We’ve had some great feedback on this service.

11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

I’ve got to go with mom’s pumpkin pie. There is one caveat though: it must be smothered with a big dollop of whipped cream.

Pause. Refresh.

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We’ll get back to working on the script as soon as we’re done. Promise.

After having taken a longer-than-expected break from working on the comedy spec, I’m back at it now.

There were the occasional glimpses and minor touch-ups here and there, but I’d estimate it’s been at least several weeks, if not a little more than a month since I was really able to fully focus on it.

During that time (while working on another script), I kept thinking “what if I can’t think of anything new for this?” I also made a point of not looking at the previous draft of the outline; I didn’t want to unintentionally influence the new one.

But the moment of truth had arrived. The other script was done, or at least as much as it was going to be for the time being, and there was no more delaying the inevitable. I had to confront this monster head-on.

Having avoided looking at the previous draft for a while, some of the details were still there, albeit a little fuzzy. Somehow this enabled me to not automatically revert to thinking they were my only option. Instead, I took those details with the thought of “this is what could happen, but what would be a new and really different way of doing it?”

Applying that thought process, along with not feeling tied down to what it was before has really allowed me to come up with some entirely new ideas and approaches, many of which I would have never even contemplated before. Like chunks of an iceberg, elements of the previous draft are breaking off and drifting away, never to be seen again.

The core concept of the story remains intact, but more and more of how that story takes place are experiencing major changes. As of this writing, it’s somewhere past the halfway mark. As is usually the case for me, some elements that still need work, but a new and pretty solid and foundation is being laid.

Would I have been able to come up with any of this if I had dove right back in after finishing the previous draft? Highly doubtful. The material was still fresh in my mind, so it would have been significantly less likely for me to be able to not automatically go to it.

Taking this break, along with focusing on another project, especially one entirely different in genre, provided me with the opportunity to jump back into this one with a strong sense of revived creativeness. Even though it was still a bit on the daunting side, I came into it with a “You got this” attitude.

It also helped that I wasn’t being so hard on myself for not having every line be pure gold the first time out. This is still a work in progress, so everything remains in an ongoing state of flux.

For now, it’s coming along nicely, and forward progress is holding steady. As much as I would love for that to continue all the way to the end, I’m also a realist, so enjoying every productive day as they come.

I’d always heard the recommendation that after you finish a script, you should put it away, or at least not look at it for at least two weeks. That’s not a bad start, but I’d say a month might be better. That way you can give yourself the choice of going back and looking at what you’ve already done (which can be quite eye-opening in both good and not-so-good ways), or starting anew.

Now that I’ve done both, I can honestly say that both have proven equally effective in their respective ways, and I strongly suspect I’ll continue to go back and forth for future drafts of this as well as future scripts.

Quite the quandary

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I prefer to decide using logic & common sense rather than this

I’d like to discuss something that’s been weighing heavily on my mind for the past couple of weeks, and I sincerely hope you’d be willing to chime in with your thoughts.

But first, a little backstory…

A few years ago, I did some interviews with writers who’d had their scripts featured/reviewed on the script-oriented website Scriptshadow. Those can be read here and here. Based on the correspondence I had with each writer at the time, the result of their script being on the site yielded some positive results. Representation, options, almost the whole shebang – save for an actual completed film, which is probably an important thing to keep in mind.

In the years since, I’ve connected with a few more writers who experienced similar results from having their scripts spotlighted on the site, including one that saw their script purchased. Not too shabby.

Here’s how it works. Readers are invited to submit the basic details about their script – title, genre, logline, and a brief write-up (Why You Should Read). The site’s host selects five from the myriad submitted and posts those details. The one that gets the most votes from the reading public is then reviewed by him, aka Amateur Friday.

So here’s the thing:

Is it worth it to send in a script?

There’s no guarantee my material would be picked in the first place, but I’ve tried many other avenues with little to no success. It’s almost an “I’ve got nothing to lose” approach. And this is no last resort; just something I’ve been contemplating.

While part of my interest in this is the potential for exposure to folks in the industry, there’s also the opposite side of the coin in that my script would be out there in plain sight, losing the chance for first impressions. If it got a negative review, it seems more than likely it would then be seen as damaged goods.

Some of the writers said they were really glad they did it. Others were more or less indifferent about it. Nobody said they regretted it.

To add to that, I’ve read a vareity of mixed reviews about the site and the host. In fact, way back when I would read the site on a daily basis, (which is now more like once or twice a month), I often found myself disagreeing with him regarding his thoughts of why he liked or didn’t like a script.

So the floor is open. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts. Go for it? What have you got to lose? What the hell are you thinking? Turn around and don’t look back?

And no one-word answers please. A little elaboration and the reasoning behind your opinion would be greatly appreciated.

*Chances are the link you took to get here were listed as “Quite the quandry”, which is a total spelling goof on my part, and as you can see, has since been corrected. Thanks, Phil!

99 44/100%, or somewhere thereabouts

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Gotta be really careful when seeking the exact formula

It was quite an undertaking, involving lots of rewriting, editing and reorganizing, including plenty of self-imposed stress, but the latest draft of the pulp sci-fi is complete.

It could definitely benefit from a little more work – another draft or two would make it that much better, but it’s exactly the kind of fun thrill ride I set out to write, and I really like how it turned out. One of my guidelines has always been “Write something you would want to see.” Man oh man, would I want to see this. And based on some of the notes I received from my squadron of trusted colleagues, so would they. Such an encouraging thing to hear.

Quick side note – I absolutely could not have gotten this script to this point of development without those exceptionally helpful notes. Thanks, chums! Each and every one of you has once again proven yourselves invaluable!

Networking. Worth it like you wouldn’t believe.

So for now, I’ll be taking a little break to let that script simmer for a bit as my focus is redirected towards revamping the outline of the comedy spec. Thrilled to say that even that seems to be coming along nicely, including a most productive writing sprint that got me to the next plot point. Always a good thing.

As much as I hate setting up deadlines for myself, I’m really hoping to have a decent first draft done by the end of the year – at the very latest. If I can maintain a pace like I have over the past few days, no reason I wouldn’t be able to type FADE OUT by Thanksgiving.

Totally doable.

Educate thyself

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Quiet, please. Writers at work.

Chances are you came to this blog/post via a link from an online screenwriting group or forum. (If you’re a first-timer – welcome! Feel free to subscribe.)

When time permits, I’ll browse through some of the groups to check out what kinds of subjects and topics are being discussed. There are also questions. A LOT of questions. Those can range from “How do I get an agent?” to “What’s the proper format for this?” to “How do these pages look?”, all of which will yield a wide variety of answers.

I don’t usually comment because most of the time I come into it late and somebody with just as much if not more experience than me has already said what I was going to say.

There was a recent post where somebody asked what the best screenwriting book was. Answers ranged from several well-known titles to “read scripts instead”.

To a certain extent, I think those are both good answers. The books that helped me the most were Dave Trottier’s The Screenwriting Bible, primarily in terms of getting a good handle on formatting and the basics of structure, and Paul Lucey’s Story Sense, which expanded on both (and appears to be out of print, but still worth tracking down a copy.)

While some books might help you get a grasp of the basics, the real learning comes from immersing yourself in reading scripts and working on your own. Another helpful practice is to watch a film with the script in hand, following along with the action onscreen while seeing how it’s written on the page.

Reading a script can really help show you what should and shouldn’t be there, which you can then apply to yours.

This doesn’t just apply if you’re just starting out. I still get a kick out of reading scripts, whether it’s from the Black List, or one somebody recommended, or even when someone asks me for notes. Bonus points if it’s somebody within my network of writing colleagues; I know they can deliver the goods, and that’ll be reflected in their script.

I’ve also seen my fair share of terrible scripts, usually identified as such by the content of the first page. If that’s not good, there’s little hope of improvement for the rest of it. The silver lining here is you will quickly see how NOT to do it, thereby ensuring you won’t duplicate it.

So while you should definitely devote time to writing your script, make sure you set some time aside to read scripts. You’ll be entertained AND learn at the same time.

-Filmmaker/script consultant/friend of the blog Jimmy George is offering a special limited-time discount for first-time clients – 50% off all script services. No matter what you’re working on, whether it’s a feature, a short, or TV, Jimmy’s ready to help you out. But better hurry – the offer’s only good until October 11th.