Make Emily Post proud

manners
White gloves are, of course, optional

A few months ago, after connecting with another writer on a networking site, I asked my usual get-to-know-you question – “How are your latest projects coming along?”

Their response: “Good. You can read these (2) copyrighted scripts HERE (link). Also looking into setting up some table reads.”

Sometimes this happens. I ask somebody how it’s going, they give a brief, no-nonsense answer, and that’s it. No “How about you?” Hey, it’s cool. I understand. You’re not interested in being social. No big deal. (Although it does defeat the purpose of this whole “networking” thing.)

My standard procedure after that is to let things drop, which I did.

Until a month later.

This same person sent me a boilerplate notice regarding something else, so I decided to try again.

“How’d the table reads go?”

“Still waiting for funding. Still haven’t read my screenplays yet, have you?”

Um, was I supposed to?

I looked over our previous exchange. Nope. No request to “please read my screenplays”. Just “this is where you can read them”, plus the emphasis on them being copyrighted, to no doubt put the kibosh on any potential IP theft on my part.

This was also just after I’d started my 10-day writing marathon, so I had absolutely no time to read anything. I said I hadn’t read them, and was currently involved with some really big projects.

That did not sit well with them, at least from their perspective.

“Figured this is the pat response I always get when I try to start a conversation here. If you ever join OTHER NETWORKING SITE, let me now (sic). That’s where I network the most and actually find fellow creatives to work with. Here, not so much.”

And that was that.

Huh? Did I miss something? They were starting a conversation with me? Apparently I was the latest in a long line of someone giving what they considered to be a lame excuse as to why I hadn’t read their material, which I supposedly said I would.

I considered responding with some kind of harshly-worded retort, but opted not to. It simply wasn’t worth the time or effort. In fact, up until I started writing this post, I hadn’t even thought about them since, and will have most likely forgotten about them by this time tomorrow.

I’ve covered this subject before, and am compelled to do so again.

A big part of this industry is establishing and maintaining relationships.

It is extremely important for you to be a nice person. To everybody.

Granted, not everybody is going to reciprocate, but you’re much more likely to make a good impression if you’re friendly, polite, and professional. Both in person and online. People will remember that.

And they will also remember it if you’re not. Establish a reputation for being a pompous, know-it-all jerk, then that’s how people will perceive you, which will severely reduce your chances of somebody wanting to work with you a second time (providing they survive the first).

When you initially connect with somebody and a conversation develops, take the initiative  and make it about them. Ask how their projects are going. In theory, they’ll answer and ask about yours. Be friendly, inquisitive, and encouraging. I’ve made a lot of good contacts and gotten to know a lot of extremely talented writers that way.

Added bonus  – Your network of writing associates has the potential to be a virtual support team. Part of why my writing’s improved over the past few years is a direct result of receiving quality notes from many of these writers, and I’ve always been totally willing to return the favor.

And they’re also there for you in the rough times. If I announce some disappointing news, I can always rely on receiving a lot of sympathetic and encouraging comments to remind me I’m not alone in this, and that a lot of folks (none of whom I’m related to) believe in my abilities.

All of this from being a nice person!

But, as exemplified in my little anecdote from earlier, sometimes a connection just doesn’t happen. If somebody doesn’t seem interested, don’t push it. Wish them the best and move on. There are a lot of other writers out there for you to meet.

And they’ll probably think you’re just as fantastic as I do.

Time very well spent

finish line
Yeah. It felt just like that.

And…I’m back. Didja miss me?

To say the past week and a half has been a little hectic would be a slight understatement*. And of course, it involves writing and the opportunities that come with it.

Long story short – Somebody wanted to read one of my scripts. But I hadn’t finished writing it yet. So I wrote, edited and polished it. In ten days. Without taking time off from work.

As you can probably guess, I’m equal parts exhausted and exhilarated at having done it.

While I catch my second wind, here’s the extended version:

A little over three weeks ago, I connected with somebody who works for a production company. They mostly do TV, but are looking at expanding into features.

Emails and pleasantries were exchanged. They took a look at the blog, liked what they saw, and asked for a list of my loglines “to see if my boss might be interested.” So I sent it. This was on a Friday afternoon.

A vital piece of the puzzle to keep in mind – just before all of this occurred, I’d gotten the outline of a long-dormant comedy spec to the point where I felt ready to start on pages. Which is what I was doing while all of this interaction was occurring.

The following Monday morning, the response came in. “Do you have scripts for X and Y? Would love to request if so.”

Naturally, X was the long-dormant comedy spec that so far I had written all of 8 pages, and Y was still in outline form (which I’d already been considering producing in another medium).

My initial thought was panic. Neither script was available, but I didn’t want to blow the opportunity; I wanted to be able to send them SOMETHING. Sooner, rather than later. What to do, what to do?

After a little evaluation and weighing all my options, I wrote back that I was still working on the latest draft of X (which was true), and could have it for them the following week. I’d considered saying a few weeks or a month, but that seemed too long. Regarding Y, I said pretty much what I mentioned above – it was an outline, but they could take a look at it if they wanted to.

They were cool with both options, and were looking forward to reading them.

I’d just thrown the gauntlet in my own face. What had I gotten myself into? Was I totally insane for thinking I could pull this off? Would I be able to pull it off?

Only one way to find out.

I had a script to write, and had to do it faster than I’d ever done it before. I had no intention of sending them a first draft, so I had to crank that out and do a major polish on it. In about a week and a half. Taking time off of work was not an option, so I’d have to be as productive as possible in the off-hours that didn’t involve sleeping.

I explained my plan to my understanding family and got to work.

I produced as many pages as I could per day, averaging 8-10. Those would then be edited & polished during all available downtime at work (it being summer vacation season was a godsend – traffic’s much lighter, so that really helped). I’d get home, incorporate the changes, then move on to the next set.

Write, edit/polish, rewrite, repeat. A seemingly never-ending cycle.

A few things I discovered during all of this:

-Having a solid outline made it so much easier. I knew exactly what had to happen in each scene, and how I wanted it to happen, so there was no time wasted trying to figure it out.

-I sincerely think my joke-writing’s gotten better.

-I’ve gotten much more proficient at coming up with solutions to last-minute script-related problems.

-I seriously wondered if this is what it would be like if I were doing this for a living. I’d actually be pretty cool with it.

After ten days of non-stop effort, I had what I considered a somewhat decent 97-page comedy script. Both it and the outline have been sent.

Of course, they may not like either one. But at this point, I don’t care. Simply having accomplished this is my victory. I set an intense short-term goal and did it.

The script could definitely benefit from at least another rewrite, but that’s not a priority at this juncture. I wrote it in the time I said I would, and that’s the important thing.

Others may scoff at my feeling of accomplishment, claiming it’s no big deal or that they’ve done it or even done it in less time. But their words will fall on deaf ears because it’s a big deal to me. This is something I did, and am extremely proud of having done it.

So what now? I’m taking the weekend off, which will include going for a much-missed and much-needed training run.

But come Monday, I’ll be right back at it, hard at work on whatever project I opt to do next.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to take my time with it.

*I really appreciate everybody’s patience, and hope you enjoyed the throwback posts. And K wanted to thank everybody for the kind comments about her guest post. Yes, I am a very lucky guy to have somebody like her.

Q & A with Rick Ramage of The Screenplay Show

Rick Ramage

Rick Ramage is a writer, director and producer with numerous credits on major motion pictures and television shows. During his 25-year career as a screenwriter, he has set up or sold over 40 scripts in Hollywood.

Rick’s latest project is The Screenplay Show, a new 10-part online series to educate about the art, craft and business of screenwriting and storytelling.

What is The Screenplay Show, and what inspired you to do it?

The Screenplay Show is an actual show about writing, presented in a fun, narrative style. It’s a ten-part webseries that will focus on the trade secrets I’ve developed (and learned) from Hollywood’s most talented writers, directors and producers during my 25-year career.

As to what inspired it, a few years ago, a buddy of mine started a writer/actor group called, “Write to Act” and he asked me to put on a seminar for his people in Denver. I was reluctant to say the least. For the last 25 years, my only job has been writing and producing film and television. Speaking in public? Not so much. He kept twisting my arm and after about a year of hounding me, I finally gave in and promised him I would do a one-day seminar. Then reality hit me: What could I possibly say for six hours that would interest other writers and actors? In an effort to alleviate the poor souls who would be stuck looking at my ugly mug all day, I pulled in my editor and we put together a long list of writing samples and clips covering every element of screenwriting so they could actually SEE what I was talking about – instead of listening to me pontificate as I clumsily tried to explain it.

For instance, using stills from The Shining, I put every moment of Jack’s character arc into a still photo sequence. You can actually visually track his descent into madness. I then put the page number from the script beside each expression. The audience literally gasped, because it was the first time they had actually seen a character arc moment by moment. I did the same thing for all the other elements of storytelling. As screenwriters, we have to write visually – so I figured it would work for seminars, too. But one thing really surprised me: the audience had as many questions about the writing experience as they did about the nuts and bolts. Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by the methods of actors, athletes, and other writers, so I guess it’s fair that they wanted to know about my method – and how a life and career in the film business actually works.

What sets The Screenplay Show apart from other online seminars?

One look at the teasers we’re putting out there will let people know this isn’t your father’s seminar. I can’t honestly say I had an epiphany and The Screenplay Show was suddenly born. But doing the seminars over the next year or two, it definitely evolved into a rolling narrative; my personal Hollywood experience merged into describing actual methods that have worked for me and many of my colleagues. So far, I’ve set up or sold over 40 scripts. But I have to give credit where credit is due: I didn’t learn how to survive the biz, or sell scripts from books. I learned from working closely with tremendously gracious agents, managers, producers, directors, executives and actors who were generous enough to share their knowledge with me for one purpose – to get the story right.

My goal with The Screenplay Show is to share what they’ve taught me with other writers and storytellers. And when I say storytellers, I mean anybody involved in the film and television business. Directors, actors, producers, cinematographers, and even executives. They are storytellers because they impact the script and help bring it to life.

Tell us a little about your writing background. How did you get started?

I didn’t finish my degree. Instead I went into business with my dad, selling tractors. But I wanted to be well-read and well-spoken, so I sat down with 100 of the great novels and voraciously read them back-to-back. In the process, I began to see how the authors worked the elements. The storytelling process fascinated me. So when I was out covering my sales territory, I began to daydream about becoming a writer. Eventually, I tried to write a novel. Long story short – it sucked. But the person who told me it wasn’t very good also told me I was a good writer. That seemed like a contradiction, but it wasn’t. He told me I had a very visual style, and suggested I write a screenplay. So I turned my bad novel into a bad screenplay! (But that process lit a fuse in me, and I’ve never looked back.)

What have you recently read or watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?

When I’m deep into writing one of my own scripts, I don’t usually watch or read much. By the end of the day, more words and plot lines are the last thing I need to relax. But two shows I try not to miss are Game of Thrones and House of Cards. From their production values, to the great characters, to the tight, well structured scripts, I admire them both a great deal. In fact that’s how I can tell when I’m in the hands of great storytellers – they make me forget I’m a writer. I become a fan.

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

Definitely. Recognizing good writing can and certainly should be taught and learned. I’ve known some executives who were by no means writers, yet they learned to identify good writing and write smart notes. Their jobs depend on it. I’ve learned to recognize good writing by the way it makes me disappear into it.

What do you consider the components of a good script?

For me, the single most important component of a good script is simply this: It must have soul. I need to feel what the writer is trying to say through his or her characters. If that happens, I know the other elements are working.

What are the three most important rules a writer should know?

-Dialogue:  When to shut up and let the subtext play.

-Action:  When not to overwrite. (more often than not, you’ll lose your reader.)

-Characters:  We write in search of ourselves. (makes them real.)

How can people find out more about The Screenplay Show?

We’re really encouraging people to go to their most comfortable social media site and follow us. Also, we’re really hoping they go to www.thescreenplayshow.com and sign our landing page. We won’t bombard you with trivial junk, but we do want to build a steady audience so we can let people know about events and new material.

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

My grandmother made the best pie I’ve ever had. Golden, flaky crust made from scratch, crisp green apples sliced thin, and lots of cinnamon! I do miss that woman.

A support staff of one

multitasking
At least you’re a shoo-in for Employee of the Month

When it all comes down to it, you know who’s going to do the most to help you and your career?

That’s right. You. Nobody else.

Sure, there will be others who might be able to give you a helping hand now and then, but the responsibility of getting stuff done falls squarely on your shoulders.

This goes beyond just writing and honing your craft. You need to build up your network. Establish connections. Get to know people. Chances are a majority of these will be online and via social media.

Seeking representation or someone who might be receptive to your script? Do your research. Find out who’s looking for what. (And for crying out loud, DO NOT take the “Does somebody have a list I could use?” route.)

“But I’ve got no time to do all that!” you might protest.

Of course you do.

The key element here is time management. You already set aside time to write, don’t you? Well, you have to do the same for everything else. If you can devote part of your day to work on your script, then there’s no reason you can’t dedicate a few minutes to focus on your career.

A surefire way to give yourself more time – stay away from casual websurfing, or at least ration it. So much online material is nothing but a big time-sucking rabbit hole. “Just five more minutes” can easily turn into “Where’d that hour go?” Funny videos are all well and good, but probably won’t do much to help you get your career going.

On Twitter? Connect with 5 people a day. Interact with them. Ask about their projects. Make it about them, not you. If they ask about you and yours, keep it simple. Don’t overwhelm them with details.

Part of some online community forums? Take part. Ask questions. Start discussions. Get to know the other members. A lot of these folks will probably have more experience than you, so learn as much as you can. Very important – don’t be a troll.

Is there a professional writer out there whose work you admire? Send them a note saying just that. DO NOT ask for any favors right out of the gate. Establish a relationship. You’ll eventually know if they’re open to helping you. Sometimes they might even offer it without you asking. It happens.

All of these are going to take time to not only accomplish, but also to develop. Be patient. It will take time. You wouldn’t rush through getting your script done, so apply that same logic to developing and advancing your career.

It’s all on you, so make the most of it.

 

Is it that time already?

pocket watch
Land sakes. Where has the time gone?

Yes, that’s right. Because you demanded it.

Well, not really, but it has been a while.

So without further ado, time once again for the much-heralded and talked-about Project Status Update Time!

For those unfamiliar with the concept, which I would imagine is pretty clear from the name alone, this is your opportunity to give a quick mention regarding the latest on your latest project, no matter what it is.

Doesn’t have to go into too much detail. Just what you’re currently working on, and how it’s going.

Hit your page quota for today? Got to a pivotal scene or significant plot point? Finished that rewrite? Feeling stuck? Seeking the right wording for that logline?

In search of help/guidance/suggestions of any sort? All you gotta do is ask.

Did a little networking and connected with another writer? Signed a deal? Had a good meeting? Packing up the car and heading for LA?

Got something to crow about? Want to vent any pent-up frustration?

Don’t hold back. You’re among friends here.

Real quick for me. Just about done with the 2nd draft of the low-budget comedy. One sequence needs revising, followed by maybe one more quick polish, and then it’s off to some of my reliable readers.

Also have some reciprocal reading to do for some of those aforementioned readers. Quite excited about diving into these.

How about you?