My brain’s helping hands are ready to go

 

vintage handyman
No job too small! (schedule permitting)

Thanks to my ever-expanding network of savvy creative types, I get lots of chances to be on both the giving and receiving ends when it comes to reading scripts.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to get exceptionally helpful notes from a lot of really talented folks. All this feedback has somehow managed to influence my writing for the better, and for that I am overflowing with gratitude.

So the least I can do when somebody asks me “Will you read my script?” or “Can I pick your brain about this idea?” is to say “Of course.”* Maybe I can offer up a few scraps of advice that might somehow work to their advantage. If anything, I can at least point out where a fix in spelling or punctuation is needed. For a script, anyway. That counts, right?

*caveat – it’s taken a lot of work spread over a long time for me to build up my network and establish connections, so I don’t mind if somebody I actually know drops me a note with such a request. If our only connection is being connected on social media and we’ve never interacted – at all, you’re little more than a total stranger to me. So heed that one word and be social. It makes a difference.

I had the pleasure of such an experience this week. I’d connected with another Bay Area creative, and we’d been trying for a while to arrange a face-to-face meeting. After much scheduling, cancelling and rescheduling, we finally made it happen.

This person had an idea for a project, wanted to talk about it, and see if I was interested in being involved. I stated at the outset that I had enough work on my own for now, but would be open to giving notes – time permitting.

After the initial introductions and our thumbnail backstories, we focused on their project. I won’t go into specifics or details about it, because those aren’t the important parts.

What was important was:

-this was a story they’d had inside them for a while, and even though they knew it needed A LOT of work, they were still happy with simply having written it all out

-they were totally open and willing to listen to my suggestions. Some they liked, some they didn’t. Totally fine.

But the more we talked, the more the seeds of ideas were planted in their head. Even though a lot of the details we came up with, including possible paths the story could take, ended up being totally different from their original incarnation, it was easy to see that spark of excitement reignite inside them.

Seeing that happen with somebody you’re trying to help is more satisfying than you can possibly imagine.

We parted ways, with them really rarin’ to go and start developing the latest draft. They added that they really appreciated me being so willing to help out.

I just like doing that sort of thing. I never had that kind of person-to-person help when I was starting out, so why not do what I can for others? Granted, the internet and social media didn’t even exist then, so it’s a lot easier now.

I got a few emails from them the next day showing me what they’d come up with since our meeting. Same concept, but a totally new approach (and, in my opinion, provided the opportunity for a lot of new possibilities). This also included a more thorough write-up of “what happened before the story starts”.

Even though it can be tough to read emotion in text, it was easy to see the spark was still burning strong within them. The way they talked about their plans for what comes next, I could tell they were actually looking forward to working on this.

It was nice knowing I had a little something to do with it.

We exchanged a few more emails (mostly me asking questions about story and characters and them providing sufficient answers), and I wrapped up with “Keep me posted.”

Their response: “Definitely. Thanks again. You’re a good dude.”

That was nice too.

I see what you did there, Mr. Kasdan

Marion Ravenwood
A handful of lines + a solid right hook = insight into 2 key characters

Of all the notes I’ve received about my western, the ones that really stood out the most were about developing the characters a little more – especially the titular protagonist.

I’ve also been spending some time reading, watching and analyzing the scripts and films that influenced it. Namely, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (along with its sequels) and a few others involving female leads who kick ass.

It’s a great opportunity to explore what makes a character tick. A lot’s been written about the “exposition without being blatantly expository” scene in RAIDERS with Indy and the government men, but I’ve been paying more attention to other scenes; the ones that offer up a bit more about what kind of person Dr Jones is as seen through his interactions with other characters.

-Indy discussing with Marcus the implications of finding the Ark.

-The reunion with Marion (see photo above)

-The encounter with Belloq in the cafe in Cairo.

All of these (and a few more) present an aspect of Indy’s character WHILE ALSO advancing the plot. It takes a lot of effort to do that and do it well.

I’ve also been working my way through the infamous story conference transcript, where Spielberg, Lucas, and Kasdan work out the story based on Lucas’ idea of a “swashbuckling archaeologist”. While you can easily find the memo itself, check out this phenomenal post that also analyzes some key points of what’s being discussed.

A lot of this is what I’ve been focusing on during this rewrite. More than a few of my notes highlight certain scenes and say something like “This would be a great place to show us more about her.” So that’s part of what I’ve been trying to do.

I originally thought it would be really tough to implement those kinds of changes, but using RAIDERS et al as guidelines and knowing my objectives for each scene, it actually hasn’t been as challenging. Sometimes all it requires is a few extra lines of dialogue or a modified action line. It’s not always easy, but it definitely feels a little less daunting. Also helping – working on one scene at a time.

In the meantime, progress on the rewrite/polish continues at a healthy pace and I really like how this new draft is shaping up. I suspect the end result will be a little more than just slightly different from previous ones, and hopefully the changes will really take the script to the next level.

What’s in your peritia scripturae*?

mailroom
This is just the resume pile. You should see the submitted spec script room.

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.

*Latin for “writing experience”.

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.

You can count ’em on one hand (plus an extra finger)

six fingers
This many

In years gone by, when I was seeking feedback on a script, I would ask just about any writer I knew if they’d be interested (along with an offer to reciprocate, of course).

At first that number was in single-digit territory, but eventually crossed into low double-digits.

Definitely way too many. But I was still learning and trying to get as much feedback as I could.

That in itself soon became a double-edged sword. As much as I appreciated everybody’s notes, the amount of conflicting opinions (Person A: Do this! Person B: Don’t do this!) kept getting bigger and bigger.

It got to the point where I couldn’t stop second-guessing myself, which was definitely not helping.

So after the last set of notes came in on the latest draft, I decided on taking a different approach next time. For my own sake.

Taking a look at my list of names, I evaluated each person on it. How were their notes? Insightful? Just okay? Even if I didn’t agree with everything they said, did their notes have merit?

Doing all those reciprocal reads also played a big factor. Does their writing indicate they have a solid grasp on the craft? Simply put – do they know what they’re talking about?

The number of names was soon whittled down to a respectable half-dozen; six writers I think are very talented and who have each made good headway developing their own careers. The notes each one has provided me have been extremely helpful in improving both my writing skills and my material.

It’s also gotten to the point where it’s not an uncommon thing for one of them to ask me for notes on their latest project before they send it out.

When I wrapped up the first draft of the pulp spec this past weekend, my first instinct was to immediately contact the group. But time and experience has taught me that patience pays off. I opted to go through it again, editing and making appropriate fixes. This way, I’m sending them a better draft, which means less work for them. Their time is valuable, and I want to respect that.

I’ve seen writers on forum groups asking the community if anybody would be interested in reading their latest draft. That’s fine, but I think it’s a little too risky. Without knowing how much experience the other person has, you might end up hindering your progress, rather than advancing it.

I can’t stress it enough: take the time to build up you network. Establish your own core group of writers you think are exceptionally good. Be more than willing to read their stuff. Take their notes to heart. In turn, both of you will be better writers for it, each creating better material.