You’d think working on a comedy would be a fun-filled, joke-laden romp.
As you may have heard, comedy’s a tough row to hoe. Everybody has a different take on what they consider funny, so it takes a lot of work.
One of my current endeavors is overhauling a low-budget comedy spec. It’s been a long, slow process – with a lot of moments of frustration and aggravation.
When I write, sometimes I just overthink things, which makes feeling stuck seem that much bigger and insurmountable. Not uncommon.
It probably also doesn’t help that writing comedy is a totally different world than writing a rollercoaster ride-type adventure. The latter has definitely gotten easier for me, while the former…
Let’s just say I’m still on a bit of a learning curve.
Despite all the obstacles, there’s still one powerful positive about this – I think it’s a fun concept with a new and unique approach and, if executed properly, would be a really good script.
So I do what I can to work my way through.
K could see the toll the stress was taking on me, and suggested I hit the metaphoric pause button and simply take a couple of deep breaths to help clear my head.
And wouldn’t you know? It did help.
After that last exhalation, the problems don’t seem as huge. Sure, they’re still there, but what originally seemed like “How in the world am I going to do that?” has now turned into “There is a solution here, and I shall find it.”
A little calm and rational thinking can do wonders to help you regain and maintain your footing after a little stumbling. I heartily recommend it.
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.
Let’s face it. This is a business of severe ups and downs, and given our druthers, we all prefer the ups.
But it doesn’t always work out that way, hence the downs. Which also significantly outnumber the ups. By a lot.
Who among us doesn’t have a story where something seemed like a sure thing, and you’re thinking “This is it! My big break is just around the corner!”, only to find out that that break is actually forty blocks away, there’s a transit strike and the Indian food you had for lunch is drop-kicking your lower digestive tract?
Yep, been there.
But I’ve also been fortunate to have had a pretty good share of ups.
Some moderate contest success. Management come and gone. The ultimate goal getting a little closer each time, always seemingly just out of reach with no sign of changing.
Used to be I would get all upset and distraught, and filled with self-doubt.
I’ve become that dangerous combo of talented, patient and determined.
My writing’s improved, so I’m very confident about the quality of my scripts and the skills I’ve developed to get here. My scripts may not be the absolute best, but if anything, they’re damned entertaining.
There are going to be bad days. There are going to be shitty days. Accept it.
But there will also be good days. There may even be phenomenal days. Days where you feel invincible and unstoppable. These will be few and far between, so enjoy them. Hold onto that feeling and feed off it for as long as you can. It’s definitely not easy to maintain a positive attitude, especially when everything around you feels so negative.
This is just part of the neverending obstacle course we all have to work our way through. At first, it seems impossible, but the more you do it, you’ll find it gets a little easier each time after that.
The Chinese restaurant script got the standard “Just isn’t what I’m looking for” response from a producer.
Years of experience has taught me how to properly respond to this kind of situation.
“Well, that sucks. Okay. Moving on.”
Thus the struggle continues to gain a new foothold on this constant uphill climb. But I’m in it for the long haul.
Sure, it’s frustrating to get yet another “no” about a script, but getting upset about it won’t do me any good.
And what better way to get over it than by working on something else with the intent of making this one that much better? And there are plenty of something elses to keep me occupied.
A revamping of the outline of an older script continues, with pleasantly productive results (along with some phenomenal feedback on the logline). More insightful notes have come in for the comedy spec. Setting up a few more get-to-know-you meetings with other local writers*.
(*A meeting last week with one writer about her current project resulted in me being able to offer up some suggestions to another writer feeling frustrated about his. He, in turn, felt very encouraged with a renewed sense of hope, and was excited about some possible new avenues to try. I’m just happy to help.)
Hearing “thanks, but no thanks” still stings, but only for the briefest of moments. It’s taken a very long time for me to get to this point.
A few months ago, all that pressure I’d been putting on myself just went away. And I’m a lot better for it now.
Success will happen when it happens.
But having it happen sooner rather than later would still be much appreciated.
A friend emailed me earlier this week to vent his frustration regarding the latest development for pitching his TV pilot. Suffice to say, it didn’t go the way he’d hoped.
“Writing is hard work for me, and to have a project like this dismissed completely deflates me. I think I need to set a deadline (end of 2016?), and if I haven’t gotten a sale or at least representation by then, exit, stage left.”
I can totally sympathize. Who hasn’t been in that boat before? You try and try, feel like you’re making no headway and going nowhere fast.
But setting up a deadline of when you’ll stop once and for all?
As we all know, this is not an easy thing to do. The odds are already stacked against us, and it takes an extraordinary amount of effort, determination and perseverance to keep moving forward. And that’s just to get your first break.
I of all people can attest to feeling like nothing good is ever going to happen for me, and why again am I putting myself through the agony of all of this?
Because we’re writers. WE WRITE BECAUSE WE LOVE DOING IT.
For a writer willing to give up writing is, to quote the late, great Vizzini, inconceivable. As crazy as it sounds, I’d rather write and continue to fail than not write at all. (But in theory would be improving after each failure, thereby resulting in an inevitable success.)
DON’T GIVE UP. You never know when things will work out for you, so continuously having at it will always increase your odds.
Continue to work on getting better. Even if only a handful of people read your stuff and like it, that’s still a victory. And they do add up.
IT’S A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT. It takes a very, very long time to get to the finish line, let alone at your desired pace. And even then, you’re always striving to improve on it. Take this from someone who writes screenplays AND does half-marathons.
Believe me, there will be shitty days. Lots of them. You will be angry and frustrated. You will see others succeed while you feel like you’re going nowhere. It happens. But that’s the price you pay for setting off on this seemingly impossible journey.
But also keep in mind that you’re not alone. There are lots of us out on a similar path. Feel free to make the occasional turn so your path intersects with somebody else’s. It can help make the journey a bit easier.
My friend responded with a note of thanks and gratitude, which included “I’m ultimately a storyteller, a writer. This is what I exist to do, even if my audience is a small one. I will work hard to find it and share my stories.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself. Hang in there, chums.