O, the joy of a southernly jaunt

gable colbert
Fortunately, I didn’t have to resort to this

The suitcase is put away. The dirty clothes laundered. The thank-you notes sent.

All the result following your humble blogger’s recent trip to the land of potential future employment, aka Los Angeles, which continues to yield results and, hopefully, keep on doing so.

“Los Angeles? How in the world did that come that about?” you may ask, and probably just did.

I was invited. At the behest of a new media company (as in “new media” i.e. online content, not “a media company that is new”) called AfterBuzz TV that produces a myriad of programs about an even wider variety of topics – all entertainment-based.

This one in particular is called The Unproduced Table Read. As the title implies, after finding a heretofore unproduced script they deem appropriate, they assemble members of their core group of actors and do a table read of the script – first as livestream video, then viewable on Youtube. Following the read, there’s a brief q&a with the writer. Sometimes the writer’s there in person, or if they can’t make it in, done via Skype.

Seeing as how the City of Angels is an hour-long plane ride away, I opted to attend.

They’d found my fantasy-swashbuckler in the archives of the Black List website and thought it fit the bill. The producer contacted me earlier this year, and after some informative back-and-forth emails, it was all set.

Seizing the opportunity of being in town, I also went about setting up meetings of both personal and professional natures. Although the scheduling didn’t work out with a couple of potential representatives, I was able to have some very productive conversations with some exceptionally talented professional contacts.

Networking, people. Establish and maintain those contacts! SO worth it.

But getting back to the table read. It was great. And fun. The actors did a fantastic job, and as a bonus – they really, really liked the script on several levels. I’m quite thrilled with how it turned out.

Was it worth doing? I’d say so, and not just because it got an enthusiastic reception from the people involved. It’s probably a little early to see if it’ll contribute to the career-building aspect, but it definitely makes for a strong marketing tool.

If you ever get the chance for a table read to be done for one of your scripts, take it. You can even put it together yourself. It’s a great way to evaluate the material, plus the actors might provide some unexpected insight. All you need is a workable space and the ability and willingness to feed your performers.

While talking afterwards with the show’s producer and some of the actors, somebody asked what other scripts I had. I mentioned the western. “We haven’t done one of those,” was the reply. Thus raises the possibility of a return trip. Time will tell.

Digging towards the emotional core

I don’t think you’ll need that much gear

Due to both of our busy schedules, my daughter and I go for some quality father-daughter time when we can. Sometimes that means we’ll watch something together.

It might be a movie or a TV show. We’re not picky. No shame in admitting she’s picked up my enjoyment of superhero- and fantasy-based (LOTR, Hobbit, etc) material.

Despite her occasionally sullen and blase teen exterior, V is, at heart, an empathetic and sensitive soul, so no matter what we’re watching, if there’s any kind of hint of emotional resonance in a particular scene, she will feel the full brunt of whatever emotion the film/program is conveying.

Almost any kind of a joke (the sillier the better), and she laughs her head off. Something scary and she hides under the blanket. Something sad and she immediately tears up. Even after years of me saying, “You do know this is just a movie/TV show, right?”, her emotional receptors remain cranked up to 11 (and the teenager reappears with the immediate response, “Will you stop saying that?”)

Looking at these from the writer’s perspective, I can’t help but examine how the writers were able to do that. How did they get to the emotional core of the scene? Jokes and scares aren’t hard to figure out, even though each is pretty subjective, but a good, solid tug at the heartstrings, when done effectively, can be some pretty intense stuff.

A key part is making it relatable. Love. Joy. Heartbreak. Loss. All are universal. Everyone’s experienced them in some form or another. As the writer, you want to convey that emotion so anybody reading or watching your story will not only immediately identify it, but also connect with it on a personal level.

Like this. One of the most effective emotional sequences ever. And not a single word spoken. If you don’t feel anything as a result of watching it, you have no soul.

Even though we may not have gone through the same things as Carl and Ellie, we can relate to a lot, if not all of it.

This isn’t saying that every scene has to be a major tearjerker, but you want to really let us know how the characters are feeling in that particular moment. They’re human, so they feel the exact same things we do. Make us feel how they’re feeling.

Each scene serves three purposes: to advance the story, the characters, and the theme. Let the emotions come through via the best way you envision them enhancing the scene (making sure not to overdo it). It might take a few tries, but the deeper you venture into the emotional level, the easier it’ll get for you to show it, and it’ll also be easier for us to identify it and relate to it.

Being a blast from their past

Hi. Remember me?

Earlier this year, I attended the Great American PitchFest, where in addition to fine-tuning my pitching skills, made some great personal and professional contacts.

Among the latter was a production company who was very interested in my fantasy-adventure. They ultimately passed, not because the script wasn’t for them, but because they’d found another project.

At the end of that email, they included the offer for me to stay in touch. This was in June.

Jump ahead a few months to last week. Sorting through old emails, I’d found that one and figured now was as good a time as any to reconnect. I sent a brief note reminding them who I was, asking about that other project, and if they were still interested in my script.

They remembered me, the other one was progressing nicely, and they definitely were.

A few days later, I had a very pleasant hour-long phone call with one of the partners (the other had a last-minute scheduling problem). We discussed my script, some of their other projects and a few related and not-related topics.

The call ended with them wanting to continue the conversation after the holidays, making sure the other partner would be on hand.

Will anything come of this? I don’t know, but for now, it’s very encouraging. Am I glad I sent that follow-up email? Damn straight.

Sometimes it feels as if the door gets totally slammed shut in your face, but there’s a chance they might leave it open for you just a little bit – enough for you to take advantage of it somewhere down the line.

Who wouldn’t rather have someone say “It’s not for us, but stay in touch” instead of just “Thanks, but no thanks”?

If you do get that open invitation, make the most of that time by working on something else. Your initial project may have gotten their attention or piqued their interest, so this way you can redirect all that nervous energy into your writing and be ready if they ask “What else have you got?” in that second go-round.

Be patient. And courteous. And respectful. A lot of these folks are working just as hard on their own projects as you are on yours. The last thing they need is dealing with a pushy writer bombarding them with emails.

What makes the muskrat guard his musk?

My medal is metaphorical
My medal is metaphorical, yet still bulky

The rewrite’s done, and all of a sudden, I’m nervous. Like, ridiculously so.

I’ve sent scripts out before, but this time something is making it a lot different.

A fear of failure.  Of rejection.

What if nobody likes it?

What writer hasn’t gone through this?

But as I tell K every once in a while – the only way I could fail is if I stopped trying, and I don’t plan on doing that either.

It may be that after all this time, the idea of possibly being that much closer to actually achieving my goal is kind of overwhelming.  This is where that internal voice kicks in.

Do I have what it takes? Is the script just about ready to be sent out?

Damn straight. I’ve got a lot of confidence in this script and my writing ability.

I can and will do what it takes to make this work.

I wrote this a little over 3 years ago after finishing the final draft of my fantasy-adventure. That script went on to some moderate contest success and got me a manager.

Now I’m getting ready to repeat the whole thing with the western. I like to think my writing’s improved since then, but every word still applies today.

The fear never really goes away. I’ll always be nervous when I send out a script, but I’d be rather be nervous sending out a script than not even trying.

I’ve been doing this for quite a while, and each draft gets me a little bit closer to reaching that goal. Is this the time that it finally happens? I certainly hope so, and if not, I’ll just keep trying.

For all the fear and trepidation I feel during this part of the process, it’s my drive to want to succeed that always wins out and keeps me going.

And a very hearty thanks to everybody who’s helped me along the way to tell this story about a girl and her train.

Can’t wait to show you what comes next.

A moment of evaluation and introspective

Certainly a lot of things to...ponder
Certainly a lot of things to…ponder

Whoo! What a week this has been. Lots of goings-on on several fronts. Big picture stuff first.

-The semifinalists were announced earlier this week for this year’s Nicholl. 149 in total, out of somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,500 initial entries. Turns out I know at least 7 of those writers on a somewhat personal level, whether it be through social media or from actual physical contact.

I am equal parts thrilled for and jealous of all of them, but also made sure to send each a note of congratulations. They definitely earned it. And several of them have made it to this point before, and probably will do so again in the future, so that means the rest of us have to really step up our game.

Watching this as a non-participant definitely puts things in perspective. I didn’t enter any contests this year, so I can’t even begin to speculate how my script might have fared. It’s been a major effort to work on improving it to the point that I like to think it’s good, possibly even really good (he said, trying not to sound totally biased), but how would it do in a contest, especially one of this magnitude? There are no delusions of grandeur, but who doesn’t daydream about grabbing the top prize? Jittery nerves and lofty ambitions all at the same time. Only way to find out is enter it next year and hope for the best.

-Operation ManagerQuest continues. Fingers firmly crossed that all the research, fact-checking and list-assembling will result in something positive. Thanks to everybody who’s offered their good wishes and support.

Although this time is all about the western, I put together and sent out a handful of queries for the fantasy-adventure. Since those were sent to places that might be more interested in that kind of thing, each letter was customized for its designated recipient. Queries about the western will go out next week.

-As things continue to wrap up for the western, focus is shifting to what’s quickly evolving into a total rewrite of the outline of the mystery-comedy. Not gonna lie. This is the one that grabs people’s interest and attention, so we’ll see what I can do with it.

While the overall plot and concept remain the same, several new ideas, angles and approaches are being developed that I sincerely hope will make it better.

Not a bad week. Hope it was equally, if not more productive for you.