My projects over the next couple of months are shaping up nicely.
-Finish overhauling the outline for the comedy spec and convert it into pages
-Some more fine-tuning on the pulp sci-fi (courtesy of a steady influx of good notes)
-Maybe one more pass on the western. Yeah, I know. But I recently got some keen insight on a few parts which could do with a little improvement.
The potential is still strong for all three, both in terms of contests and queries.
I have to say that this time around, my analytical and editing/proofreading abilities feel a bit stronger. Not that they’re the pinnacle of perfection, but at least slightly more developed than, say, a few years ago. That’s a definite plus. Nor would I hesitate to take full advantage of the sage advice of my squadron of savvy readers.
I feel a bit more prepared now, as well as a little more confident about ending up with a triad of really solid scripts.
That’s the hope, anyway.
Another part of my enthusiasm comes from seeing the results of some of the major screenwriting contests, some of which I entered and didn’t fare as well as I’d hoped. I’ll work on these scripts, send ’em out and hope for the best.
On a brief side note, I recently read the comment on an online forum – “Waiting for notes. What should I do to occupy my time?”
I suggested “Start working on your next project.” It’s what I would do. Can’t think of a better way to get your mind off a finished script than starting a new one or digging into the archives and touching up an older one. Gets the creativeness pumped up and really does help pass the time.
Anything that lets you flex your writing muscles while adding to your arsenal of material can only be seen as a good thing.
Stepping onto my proverbial soapbox to utter a few thoughts on something that needs to be said.
If you’re part of an online forum, and you post your material in that forum seeking feedback from other members, you will get all kinds of responses. Some will be positive, and some will be negative – maybe to point of being outright condescending.
How do you respond to the positive ones?
“Thanks. I appreciate it.” Maybe elaborate a little, or a follow-up question or two. Possibly even ask to communicate with the person in private.
The negative and/or condescending ones?
That’s it. No matter how much you feel the urge to respond with a stinging retort written in ALL CAPS and a lot of exclamation points, just don’t. You asked for comments and you got ’em.
A thick skin is a necessity in this business. Arguing or getting angry because you don’t like what somebody said won’t help you or your writing, and it makes you look petty and unprofessional.
Now let’s address the other side.
Somebody asks you for notes, and based on the quality of the material, you do the best you can, trying to be as helpful as possible. Be honest with your suggestions of what needs to be fixed.
Does it have potential? Mention that. Are there problems? Identify them and how they could be fixed.
If the writing reflects an amateur, or a poorly constructed idea, point out how and why in a constructive manner. There’s no need to be insulting or talk down to them. Chances are they’re still learning, so they don’t know as much as you do.
They may not like what you have to say, maybe even going so far as to insult you and your experience, or deride your comments. But that’s on them. You’ve done your part.
So let’s review.
You want help? Take what you get, even if you don’t like it. After your temper cools down, take a serious look at what was said. There may be something in there worth using.
Somebody asks you for help? Be professional and as helpful as you can. Don’t hold their lack of experience against them.
No matter whether you’re giving or receiving, be patient, tolerant, and open-minded.
Notes continue to come in for the pulp sci-fi spec, some contrary, many encouraging, and all chock-full of notable suggestions. With some coming from my trusted core of reliably savvy readers, there’s been one statement more than a few have included.
The gist of it is:
“This is the third script of yours I’ve read, and each one has shown a definite improvement over the previous one.”
It warms this writer’s soul to hear that sort of thing. And these are writers who pull no punches. They won’t hesitate to say something doesn’t work.
I’ve been working at this for a while, but it really feels like just the past few years have seen the most significant progress. Just goes to show what constant hard work can do, right?
Nor do I have any intention of slowing down. Doing my best to maintain a dedicated block of time and/or pages on a daily basis. The more you do it, the easier it gets (but is still tough).
The three scripts in question were all adventure-based, which enabled me to exercise a certain set of writing skills. With work now commencing on overhauling a comedy, an entirely new set will get the workout they deserve.
Crafting a sequence involving a train heist in the Old West, or a team of adventurers taking on a mad scientist? Piece of cake.
Writing a story involving everyday people in relatively normal (but funny) situations, peppered with smart (and funny) dialogue, all without the benefit of using special effects to enhance the story?
That is truly the next challenge to yours truly. It initially feels very daunting, but I’ve made it this far, and there’s no reason to think I can’t continue to push my way forward.
Should be a very interesting journey.
*Billy Wilder’s 10 Rules for Good Filmmaking (also applicable to screenwriting) 1: The audience is fickle. 2: Grab ’em by the throat and never let ’em go. 3: Develop a clean line of action for your leading character. 4: Know where you’re going. 5: The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer. 6: If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act. 7: A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever. 8: In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing. 9: The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie. 10: The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then — that’s it. Don’t hang around.
An acquaintance recently told me about a small production company seeking material, and they (the acquaintance) thought one of my scripts might be a good match for it.
“Great!” I responded. “What do they need?”
“Your synopsis (with a logline), along with your writing resume. If they like what they see, they’ll ask for the script.”
Hold on one second. I had the synopsis, but a writing resume? Never heard of that before, let alone including it with the script material. Did such a thing even exist? What would it even look like? Was this some new trend of which I was unaware?
Apparently they do exist, but based on my experience and research, it sounds like being asked to provide one happens very, very rarely.
You’re probably thinking “Couldn’t they just look you up on IMDB Pro?” They could, but that doesn’t contain all my relevant details and information.
But this place wanted a resume, so I had to put one together. What to put on it?
I looked up what I could for “writer’s resume”, but got a lot of non-screenwriting-related information and examples. This resulted in a lot of tinkering around and adapting the best I could.
It all boils down to listing all of your screenwriting and screenwriting-related experience, along with any applicable accomplishments. Many writers with a personal website or blog have a page featuring some kind of version of it.
I wasn’t a produced writer, except for a writing credit on somebody else’s film school short, so I could mention that. Plus some material I’d written and filmed years ago as part of a freelance assignment which at last check was still available on YouTube.
Some of my scripts have won awards in reputable competitions. I listed the titles and their assorted results.
I included being a reader for a few screenwriting contests. (True!)
Oh yeah. THIS BLOG. Been going strong for years, plus a few accolades along the way. This triggered the realization that I could use some other screenwriting-related materials I’d written.
Turns out I had a somewhat decent amount of material to work with.
A little editing and revising, and off it went, along with the one-pager.
Unfortunately, the prodco passed. Not because of my lack of experience, but the script “just wasn’t what they were looking for.” No big surprise and no big deal.
But now I have a writer’s resume, which I keep updated. Chances are nobody’ll ever ask for it again, but I’m glad I put it together and have it ready to go. Just in case. Stranger things have happened.
There’s no doubt that some follow-up thoughts and comments to this will be of a “this is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard” nature. And in some ways, I totally agree. But I chalk it up to just adding another tool to your arsenal of self-marketing materials. It took all of 15-20 minutes to put it together, so no harm done.
Normally, this would be the end of the post, but part of the reason I wrote about this is there are always writers on assorted online forums seeking feedback from other writers, and they get a lot of volunteers eager to offer up their two cents.
While it’s great that somebody’s so willing to help you out, what if their level of experience isn’t similar to yours? What if you’ve written ten scripts, and they’ve written two? Or still working on their first one? How much value would you give their notes?
It’s not a bad thing to ask somebody about their writing experience. It’s also not the best idea to ask a bunch of strangers to give you notes. You’re much better off building and developing strong professional relationships. Most seasoned writers don’t seem to have a problem discussing their experience.
So the next time somebody you’re not too familiar with says they’d be more than happy to give you notes on your script, don’t feel bad asking them how much experience they’ve had.
Or you could even ask to see their writing resume.
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to meet with some fellow Bay Area writers. Among their number was a writer who had written some small stuff, and was in the middle of working on her first big project – a TV pilot.
Even though I don’t know much about writing for TV, I and another writer offered up what advice we could. The recipient was very appreciative, and one of the things she said later on in the conversation made a very strong impression on me.
“I know the first draft isn’t going to be perfect, but I’m just really loving writing this.”
Truer words could not have been spoken.
Like I told her, I write stuff I would want to see. It’s taken me a long time and many drafts of many scripts to feel like I’ve really come into my own. Each time, the end result is a script for a movie I think would be an absolute blast to see play out on the big screen.
It always astounds me when a writer complains about having to write (or rewrite). If you don’t like doing it, WHY ARE YOU DOING IT?
It was genuinely pleasing to hear this writer who, despite the challenges she knew awaited her, was still excited about working on this project. Sure, she was still nervous about doing a good job and hoped the end result didn’t suck too much. No matter how many scripts you’ve written, that feeling never goes away.
But to simply see her face light up while she described the story (which is a real doozy, believe you me) and hear her talk about what she’s experienced so far, including doing the research involved, and learning what to do and not to do regarding formatting, it was just really, really pleasant.
I’m sure a lot of us do this because the title “storyteller” really suits us to a tee. Are some better at it than others? Sure, but instead of being discouraged about what you perceive as a lack of progress, try seeing every time you write as a chance to learn and improve. Because it is. It’s certainly been that way for me, and I strongly suspect I’m not alone in that.
I got the impression our little chat gave this writer an extra little jolt of encouragement that she wasn’t expecting. She doesn’t know when the pilot script will be ready, but I told her not to worry about that and just keep enjoying writing it.
I suspect she will.
-Friend of the blog Andrew Hilton (aka The Screenplay Mechanic) is offering a special deal as part of his stellar screenplay analysis. (Editor’s note – his notes helped shape my western into what it is today)
If you use any of his services, refer a friend, or write a Facebook review of your experience using his services, you are automatically entered to win a free DVD of the motorcycle documentary WHY WE RIDE (of which Andrew was a co-executive producer).
The winner will be chosen on October 1st. The holidays will be here before you know it, and if you or somebody you know loves motorcycles, this would be an excellent gift (as would purchasing some of Andrew’s script services for that special screenwriter in your life).
-My time in the San Francisco Half-marathon the weekend before last – 2:02:56. Disappointing, but still glad I did it. I blame all those uphill stretches in the second half. And probably not training enough.
Next race is coming up in a few weeks in Oakland. Pleasantly flat Oakland. Training a little harder for it, with the intention once again of hoping to break the 2-hour mark.