Gosh, what a full plate!

primanti bros
It’ll take time, but feeling confident I’ll accomplish that which I set out to do. (In the meantime, anybody up for Primanti Brothers? (Pittsburgh shout-out!))

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.

Sums it up succinctly

bttf1
“Spaceman from Pluto”?*

While taking a break from working on the comedy spec this weekend, I took an unexpected dip into my file of “ideas in development” – scripts I plan on eventually writing.

One had more details to the bare-bones outline than I remember. In fact, I barely recall even writing it. Still, pretty impressive.

Another was just a logline and three potential titles. While the story really adheres to my ongoing attempt at trying to write material of a smaller nature (i.e. not as big-budget), what really stood out was those three titles and how different they were from each other.

The first stirred up a kind of noble nostalgia, and in retrospect might be better suited for another story.

The second was pretty generic; almost like something you’d see on a VHS copy of a mid-90s B-movie gathering dust on a lower shelf at your local video rental store. If you’re of a certain age, you totally get that reference.

The third was very reminscent of a certain genre and style of older films, and the final word in the title tells you what kind of story to expect. Such was the case here, but as much as I like the word, it wasn’t exactly the right fit for the story I wanted to tell.

Fortunately, the word in question has a lot of synonyms, and one in particular really jumped out at me. Some might consider it of a vulgar nature, but wow did it fit. In fact, as soon as it popped into my head, I actually laughed out loud, thinking “oh my gosh, this is PERFECT.”

Because not only is the new word an ideal fit for the story, but it really drives home the tone.

Although work on this script goes into the ever-growing pool of “future projects”, at least now the concept and story are a little more developed than they were. And any progress is good progress.

There can’t be enough emphasis on the importance of a strong title for your script. It’s the entry point for your reader. You want them to know what kind of story they’re getting, what to potentially expect, and most importantly, you want them to be excited about reading it.

Sometimes your initial title is good, but there’s nothing wrong with a little tinkering to find an even better one. Like your script, it can always do with a little rewriting.

*Universal Studios head Sid Sheinberg didn’t like the title “Back to the Future,” claiming nobody would see a movie with “future” in the title. In a memo to Zemeckis, Sheinberg suggested the title be changed to “Spaceman from Pluto,” and the title reference be worked into the film.

In response, Spielberg sent a memo back to Sheinberg, thanking him for sending his wonderful “joke memo” and that the office “got a kick out of it.” Embarrassed, Sheinberg let Zemeckis and Spielberg keep the film’s original title.

Drastic, possibly foolhardy, but definitely beneficial

Window Cleaner
Sometimes extreme measures must be taken, no matter how challenging

Work on the outline of the comedy spec continues – with a most interesting development.

But first, a little backstory…

When I first approached this rewrite, I knew it needed a lot of work. A LOT. So I decided not to call it a rewrite, because it was much more than that.

“Overhaul” seemed perfectly appropriate. So that’s what I was calling it.

Problem was, that even with some quality notes, I wasn’t sure how to go about it. When I take on a rewrite, I’ll usually refer to the previous outline and see what I can do to change things around.

But that wasn’t working this time. Quite the opposite, actually. I was feeling stuck, making zero progress, which in turn was making me feel annoyed and frustrated. I was more and more in desperate need of some kind of solution.

I had a solid concept, but it was the execution that was giving me trouble. I knew where I wanted to go, but was having trouble getting there.

When I provide notes on a script, if I read something that feels flat or unoriginal, I’ll suggest “Try a totally different approach that gets us to the same point. Do a 180, or make a hard left – anything to really shake it up!”

It’s worked for other writers, so why not apply that sage wisdom to myself?

So I did.

It’s a lot easier to suggest “Wipe the slate clean and start over!” than it is to do the wiping and starting over.

But so far it appears to be just the solution I was seeking.

Although somewhat intimidating at first, the blank page soon became filled with new ideas and variations on old ones. Certain details remain the same, plus a few odds and ends, but for the most part, it’s become a much different journey to the original destination.

It was also surprising how easily the new material popped up. By not keeping myself chained to the previous draft, I was allowing myself the freedom to just try new stuff.

There’s still a lot of work to do, but it’s a most satisfying start.

The appeal of appealing to a younger demographic

kids
Multiple generations, engaged and enraptured. Fine by me.

During a recent phone conversation with another writer, I’d mentioned having wrapped up work on the pulp sci-fi spec.

“What’s it about?” they asked. I proceeded to give them my 10-second elevator pitch, plus the “THIS meets THAT” combo.

“Huh,” was the response. “It sounds cool, but it also sounds like it would be a kids’ movie.”

I suppose that’s one way to look at it. My preference is “a rollercoaster ride of a story, fun for anybody from 8 to 88”. That’s always been my approach when I set out to spin a ripping yarn.

Was I supposed to view their comment as some kind of insult? As if there’s something negative or shameful about writing material that appeals to kids? Because that hasn’t worked at all for Disney or Pixar.

PIxar especially has a reputation for producing films that appeal to all ages. There’s been a lot written about the immense amount of time they spend on making sure the story is rock-solid. One of the most-read articles for screenwriting is based on part of their process, and those don’t just apply to animation; they’re for ALL screenwriting.

Let me also throw a couple of “kids movies” out there. You might have heard of them.

Star Wars. Harry Potter.

One’s been around for 40 years, with no sign of letting up, while the other just celebrated 20 years of entertaining readers and moviegoers.

On the surface, both are solid, simplistic stories about the fight of good versus evil. But is that all they are? Heavens no! There’s universal appeal, engaging characters who grow and change, themes being explored, conflict like you wouldn’t believe – all told through a filter of imagination. Don’t let the presence of lightsabers, magic wands, or animated, talking animals distract you from what’s really going on.

And let’s be honest. Both of those series have done more than okay at the box office.

Not too shabby for “kids movies”.

Now, I’m not saying any of my scripts are in the same arena as those, but a good story is a good story, no matter who its target audience is. And if it appeals to a younger generation as well as my own, what’s wrong with that?

And you know what else works with kids movies? Kids grow up, and eventually have kids of their own. What do they watch? The movies the parents enjoyed as kids.

Who wouldn’t want to write something that leaves a lasting impression on a young mind, and then see them pass their love of that story to later generations?

For me, that’s what it all comes down to – writing a script that tells a fun and exciting story that anybody could enjoy. And if that includes kids, that’s fine by me.

That’s not the question you should be asking

classroom
Class, who can tell me what “familiar, but different” means?

I see variations on this question a lot throughout many online forums:

What kind of script should I write?

Seriously?

And I say that in the least condescendingly way possible.

It amazes me that somebody who wants to write a script has to ask what they should write. Shouldn’t you already know? Isn’t that why you’re doing this in the first place?

Then again, I’ve always been a writer, so it was never a question of “What do I write?”, but more of “Which one do I write now?” and “How do I write this so it’s good?”

But back to the topic at hand…

My immediate response to the question in question is “Write something you would want to see.” But that’s my approach. Others may take a different stance.

One caveat – make sure whatever you write is as original a story as you can come up with that contains original characters and situations. Do whatever you can to make it your own. Readers will instantly recognize if you’ve “borrowed” something.

I recently read a script that was a blatant rip-off of a well-known franchise. Did the writer know this when they wrote it? I don’t know, but the actual concept behind their story seemed unique unto itself, with lots of possibilities, so it was actually kind of surprising and disappointing to see them follow that well-trod path instead of seeking out something new.

Something else to keep in mind – using well-known characters not created by you is a very, very bad idea. A writer friend has a connection at Marvel Studios who handles the non-stop influx of unsolicited spec scripts. No doubt your Spidey spec is brilliant, but you’re seriously fooling yourself and wasting your time.

Wouldn’t you rather your script be known for offering up something new and unique?

A lot of newer writers see what’s hot at the box office and think “I can crank out something like that in no time!” Also a waste of time. Trends come and go very quickly. What’s hot today could be ice-cold tomorrow. And you probably think you’re the only one to come up with some variation on that current big idea.

You’re not. It’s even money deals involving clones of that idea will be announced in the near future, all while you’re still churning out pages.

DON’T CHASE TRENDS. You’ll never catch up.

A writer I’ve exchanged notes with concluded our most recent email conversation with “Also wanted to pick your brain. I want to write a script about ____ . It’s an idea I’ve had for several years, but I don’t know if anyone would want to see it.”

Their concept seemed good with lots of potential, but also sounds very similar to a recent series on Netflix, which I thought increased the chances of inevitable comparisons between the two. But if it’s a story that’s been percolating for that long and they feel really passionate about it, then by all means, have at it.

As a spec writer, you have the freedom to write whatever you want. I suspect a lot of us are inspired by the films we grew up watching up to the ones we enjoy now.  Start there and see where it takes you.

Strive for originality, chums.