A long (train) ride comes to an end

March 3, 2017
caboose

Fittingly apropos

A good number of years ago, I came up with an idea for a script.

“Write something you would want to see.” This definitely fell into that category.

There were so many angles and aspects to it I found appealing. The concept kept drawing me in, compelling me to tell the story in the most entertaining way possible.

To say I’ve really thrown myself into it during all this time would be an absolute understatement.

I couldn’t even tell you how many iterations and drafts this story has gone through; let’s just say a whole freakin’ lot.

Notes? I’ve probably received enough to make two books, or at least a really long pdf. Some were good, some weren’t, and some seemed to exist in an alternate dimension where opposites are the norm.

I’d finish a draft, thinking, “Okay. This is IT.” And if you’ve been following this saga, you know how it turned out each time.

There were lots of times of feeling totally burned out, thinking there was nothing else to do. Or receiving comments like “Why keep messing with it? It’s good enough as it is.”

But something kept nagging at me, saying “This can still be better. Keep going.”

So I did. My faith in the story was still strong. I knew I could make this work.

The tweaking/fine-tuning continued, aided by a few more sets of notes courtesy of very qualified readers. My red pen was working on overdrive. Cut this. Move this. Switch these around. Expand on this. Changes and fixes were made, until…

“The End” had once again been reached. But this time it felt different. I won’t say “complete”, but you get the idea.

I’ve been extremely fortunate in connecting with a lot of exceptionally talented writers over the years, and there’s one whose critiquing ability I hold in very high regard. I asked them to look over the script, adding that this was for the most prestigious screenwriting contest of them all.

The last time they read it was two years ago, so there was some extra intrigue regarding what they’d think of this draft. Approval from one’s peers plays a bigger-than-expected part in helping a writer develop.

They liked it.

A lot.

I’ve been writing screenplays for quite a while, always striving to improve both my skills and the quality of my material, all as part of the effort to become a working writer. Reading their notes helped solidify my belief that this could actually happen.

Final preparations are being made to submit the script to the aforementioned prestigious screenwriting contest. Is this draft better than previous ones? Definitely. Has its chances for this contest improved? God, I hope so.

Even if nothing happens with this or the other high-profile contests, I still have a script I consider well-written and exceptionally entertaining. At this point in time, I don’t think there’s any reason to do any more work on it. So now it enters into that category of “calling card scripts”, ready to be sent out at a moment’s notice.

In the meantime, my attention is currently being split between several other projects in various stages of development. And based on how much my writing improved working on this script, I’ll speculate that the quality of these newer ones might just end up being pretty darned good.

 


Expiration date: NEVER!

April 15, 2016
arthur dent

Don’t throw in the towel just yet, Arthur

A friend emailed me earlier this week to vent his frustration regarding the latest development for pitching his TV pilot. Suffice to say, it didn’t go the way he’d hoped.

“Writing is hard work for me, and to have a project like this dismissed completely deflates me. I think I need to set a deadline (end of 2016?), and if I haven’t gotten a sale or at least representation by then, exit, stage left.”

I can totally sympathize. Who hasn’t been in that boat before? You try and try, feel like you’re making no headway and going nowhere fast.

But setting up a deadline of when you’ll stop once and for all?

Um, no.

As we all know, this is not an easy thing to do. The odds are already stacked against us, and it takes an extraordinary amount of effort, determination and perseverance to keep moving forward. And that’s just to get your first break.

I of all people can attest to feeling like nothing good is ever going to happen for me, and why again am I putting myself through the agony of all of this?

Because we’re writers. WE WRITE BECAUSE WE LOVE DOING IT.

For a writer willing to give up writing is, to quote the late, great Vizzini, inconceivable. As crazy as it sounds, I’d rather write and continue to fail than not write at all. (But in theory would be improving after each failure, thereby resulting in an inevitable success.)

DON’T GIVE UP. You never know when things will work out for you, so continuously having at it will always increase your odds.

Continue to work on getting better. Even if only a handful of people read your stuff and like it, that’s still a victory. And they do add up.

IT’S A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT. It takes a very, very long time to get to the finish line, let alone at your desired pace. And even then, you’re always striving to improve on it. Take this from someone who writes screenplays AND does half-marathons.

Believe me, there will be shitty days. Lots of them. You will be angry and frustrated. You will see others succeed while you feel like you’re going nowhere. It happens. But that’s the price you pay for setting off on this seemingly impossible journey.

But also keep in mind that you’re not alone. There are lots of us out on a similar path. Feel free to make the occasional turn so your path intersects with somebody else’s. It can help make the journey a bit easier.

My friend responded with a note of thanks and gratitude, which included “I’m ultimately a storyteller, a writer. This is what I exist to do, even if my audience is a small one. I will work hard to find it and share my stories.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Hang in there, chums.


Beware the monsters with green eyes!

March 22, 2016
green eyes

And done without the benefit of contact lenses

Not one, but two, count ’em – TWO, fantastic get-to-know-you chats with some fellow local writers over the past week. (Eight days if you want to get technical about it)

As part of one of these discussions, the topic of dealing with criticism came up. In particular, criticism that seems to come from a harsh, angry place. They go way beyond “This needs work”, and potentially surpass the purpose of notes to the point of simply being downright cruel.

“This is shit. Whoever told you you could write?”

“Any attempt to fix this would be a waste of time. Just give up now.”

Chances are you’ve been on the receiving end of these kinds of notes. I certainly have.

When we’re first starting out, we don’t realize how much we don’t know, and that’s reflected on the page. There’s not one experienced writer who thinks their first script or two was perfect.

So you work at it. You toil away, constantly putting in the effort to improve. And over time, you do. You know you’ve gotten better, and that also comes through on the page. Maybe you’ve even gotten compliments or (gasp!) praise about your work.

But despite your progress, you might still get a note like those above that totally trashes what you’ve written. This has also happened to me. Fairly recently, I might add.

What myself and the other writer discussed was “Where does this anger come from?” We’ve both been doing this for a while, so neither of us is a total noob. We each had more than a few scripts under our respective belts, so what could possibly be the basis for such a mean-spirited rant?

I casually threw out something I’d only read about and heard in the occasional mention: Could the person giving the notes be jealous of the material, and they were venting their anger and frustration about it via their notes?

Let me set one thing straight. I think I’m a good writer, but I will never claim to be the be-all and end-all. In fact, I’d be amazed if somebody was jealous of my work.

When I read somebody else’s script and find it totally amazing, I’ll tell them so. Do I wish I could write something that good? Sure, but it makes me want to work harder so I can. I don’t think “I’ll never be as good as them, so I’ll shit all over their material in order to make myself feel better.”

Taking this kind of negative approach can only result in a lose-lose scenario for you. You make yourself look bad and the other person will most likely not want anything to do with you anymore. And don’t think they’re going to forget you. To them, you’ll always be that angry asshole.

Something else to keep in mind – you never know who’s going to succeed, so the person whose script you just trashed could potentially be the next big thing. Wouldn’t you rather be on their good side, and not their shit list?

I work really hard to establish and maintain my network of connections, and value each one too much to do that. I want everybody to succeed and actually enjoy helping if and when I can.

But then again, I’m just a nice guy to begin with. Even if I do occasionally end sentences with a preposition.

But that’s nothing to be jealous about.


Happy to be done with it

February 5, 2016
jump-for-joy

Yeah, kind of feels like this

Another chapter has closed in my ongoing quest to become a working writer, or at least an annoying wrinkle has been ironed out.

Following the latest but not-surprisingly disappointing results, my involvement with the  “pay to pitch” practice has come to an end. A person can only take so much before totally abandoning the ship in question.

Simply put: I ain’t doin’ it no more.

How did I end up here? Easy. Desperation.

Despite all my efforts on several fronts, nothing was happening with any of my scripts. I got to the point that I’d try anything.

So I tried this. A few times, each with the same result – PASS, accompanied with a few classic chestnuts. “Couldn’t get excited about the story.” “Didn’t really care about the characters.” “No specificity of the throughline.” (This last one will stick with me until the end of time.)

I even went so far as to do one via video streaming, but technical issues really mucked things up. It’s kind of tough to pitch to someone when they can see you, but YOU CAN’T SEE THEM. Did the best I could, but still another PASS.

I got a survey/questionnaire about this one, and didn’t pull any punches in airing my frustration about it, adding how I couldn’t in good conscience recommend the service to anybody.

A representative contacted me soon afterward, expressing their sympathy and understanding, as well as an explanation that “their policies regarding responses were different now”, and offered a free pitch. I considered it, and decided to hold off unless something too irresistible came along. The rep also offered to help me with the pitch so as to get maximum results.

A few months went by, and what seemed like a solid match popped up. I contacted the rep, asking for their help, which they provided in the form of suggested edits. Each subsequent draft had to be uploaded to a file-storing program for the rep to read it, but I didn’t know if each new draft was replacing the old one, or just sitting there next to it. My emails to the rep were going unanswered, and the deadline was drawing near fast. In the end, there was nothing I could do.

The deadline came and went. Days went by, and no response. Days turned to weeks, and still nothing. As it neared the 2-month mark, I’d decided that was a sufficient amount of time and sent an email to the rep asking what had happened (plus a copy to the rep’s supervisor, just in case).

The response was almost immediate – from the supervisor. This was the first they’d heard about my situation, apologies were offered, along with the promise to give my pitch top priority with that company the next time. I said I’d be in touch.

A few hours later, I got an email from the original rep, who informed me they were no longer with the company (their departure most likely around the same time as, if not before, my original deadline).

Jump ahead a few days, and a response to my original pitch arrived from the company in question.

5/5 in every category, save for a 3/5 in Character Obstacles (which was one of the things I’d cut based on the rep’s suggestions).

PASS.

I sent another email to the supervisor, informing them about this (since I’m sure they weren’t even aware of it) and officially calling it quits. I won’t hold my breath waiting for a response.

What bothers me the most about this whole experience is how easily I bought into the false hope that was being sold. Like I said, I was feeling frustrated and desperate, and this seemed like my only option, which of course it wasn’t.

There are very rough days where I get extremely depressed about my lack of progress, and going through something like this doesn’t help – especially when it keeps happening over and over again. You learn real fast how many hits you can endure before wanting to simply give up completely.

But I’m not at that point just yet.

A lot of writer friends have offered up words of encouragement, and a few positive things have happened recently so as to improve my spirits, or at least renew my belief in my writing skills. Things will take a turn for the better.

The marathon continues, one step at a time. But I won’t be paying for it anymore.

 


Don’t open that door!

January 22, 2016

doors

Another busy week around Maximum Z HQ, with a significant part of it involving waiting to hear about the potential future of some of my projects.*

I hate the waiting. It opens the door to allow fear and anxiety to stroll on in.

A friend who’s a director put it very succinctly: It’s all about control. A lot of that stuff is out of your hands now, which makes you nervous about the outcome. You have to redirect your attention to anything and everything for which you can take charge, and do something with it. The sooner the better.

How absolutely true, and it was exactly the reminder I needed.

In my case, that comes down to the work and all things related. It’s easy to forget how many things with which I’m involved. My own stuff (which is a growing category unto itself), giving notes, networking, sending out queries, just to name a few.

Sure, it would be great for everybody to respond quickly, preferably with news of a positive nature, but it doesn’t work that way. These things are known to drag out for excruciatingly long periods of time, and me fretting over it is the last thing I need.

I wouldn’t even be surprised if I get an email in a few months about one of these that I’ll probably have totally forgotten. It’s happened before.

Keeping busy really does help you stay focused and keep the negatives at bay. It might not be easy, but do what you can to slam that door shut, lock it and throw away they key.

 

*heard back from a producer soon after posting this. They passed on my script, which sucks, but will now re-double my efforts with the other projects.

 


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