That special spark within

roald dahl
Why is this writer smiling? You would too if you came up with the term “Everlasting Gobstopper”.

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).

All the details here.

-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.

Ask a Multi-Award-Winning Script Consultant!

Erik Bork

 

The latest in a series of interviews with script readers and consultants who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape. Today’s spotlight is on Erik Bork, who also runs the website Flying Wrestler.

Erik Bork is best known for his work as a writer-producer on the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers and From the Earth to the Moon – for which he won two Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards. He’s also worked on the writing staff of two primetime dramas, sold multiple original series pitches, and written pilots and features for such companies as Universal, Sony, NBC, Fox, Imagine, Original Film and The Playtone Company. He teaches screenwriting for UCLA Extension and National University’s MFA Program, and has been called one of the Top 10 Most Influential Screenwriting Bloggers.

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

I’m continually impressed with how DOWNTON ABBEY tells interesting, emotional, heartfelt stories that are grounded in the realities of its setting, for the various kinds of people who populate it. I’ve been re-watching the first three seasons lately – and think it’s great model for what makes characters and stories compelling, and easy to invest in.

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

I’d been a professional screenwriter for about a decade and was being asked to speak to writers groups, teach classes, and give feedback on scripts.

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

Absolutely!

4. What are the components of a good script?

An intriguing and original concept about a compelling and high stakes problem for a character most people can relate to (either the character, and/or the problem) – which focuses on that character as they actively try to solve it, which is complicated and difficult for them, and entertaining for us to watch. I think working with the ten genres in the SAVE THE CAT books are a great tool for working on achieving this.

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

Writers jump to script too quickly, without really developing a concept that has the ingredients necessary to have a chance at success. Stories often don’t have a main character that readers understand and have reason to care enough about, and sometimes it’s not told subjectively through that one person’s point-of-view. The main story problem is often not high stakes enough to the main character’s external life situation (as opposed to their internal life of thoughts, emotions and attitudes). It might not be an active enough challenge where they are pushing the story forward, or a problem that is big enough and hard enough, with enough twists and turns to it. Ultimately, it comes down to achieving the audience’s strong caring, and holding onto that – which is not easy to do.

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

I get tired of violent adventure stories with life-and-death stakes and a simplistic good vs. evil approach. It’s easiest to grab an audience with that, but it tends to leave me cold – especially when it’s just about visual spectacle, as opposed to realistic characters going through something relatable.

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

-Basic story concept is the most important thing, and hardest to get right.

-The audience must emotionally become one with your main character, which isn’t easy to achieve.

-It’s hard and rare to write something that REALLY works, even for professionals – so stay open to feedback, lots of rewriting, and a long-term process that requires a lot of persistence and ongoing belief.

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

I don’t really provide coverage-style “recommend”/”consider”/”pass” ratings, and don’t exactly think in those terms. I’m more about helping the writer better their craft and project(s), and never look for or expect a script that comes to me to be something they could instantly do something with in the marketplace.

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

They’re in no way a panacea or golden ticket, and most of them probably won’t do much to advance one’s career – unless you finish really highly in one of the top contests. But it can be a good way to see how you’re doing, and get quality feedback, if you find the price reasonable.

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

You’ll find my script consulting and rates pages on my “Flying Wrestler” blog. You can also e-mail me directly at erik@flyingwrestler.com.

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

Cherry, hands down.

 

Something to tide you over

Not THAT kind of tide
Not that kind of tide

I’m neck-deep in catching up with reads owed on scripts and pilots, as well as trying to finish up the outline for the low-budget comedy, so time is quite a precious commodity at the moment.

But since this blog is all about offering up high-quality material, here are two links definitely worth checking out:

-A cover story from the Nov 1 Los Angeles Times about MARLOWE, a great script written by Louise Ransil. If you like film noir, true crime and hard-boiled detective stories, then take a look here. The script was also a semifinalist in the 2013 Tracking Board Launchpad competition.

-If you’re trying to break into the TV industry, take the time to explore Fighting Broke, a new website that offers up some very helpful advice and insight in doing just that.