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

April 28, 2017
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.


A small gesture with big results

April 14, 2017
cheer squad

Yay you!

Something a little different today.  A humble request from me to you, which will hopefully become a regular thing for you (provided it isn’t already).

I’ve been exceptionally fortunate to have been on the receiving end of compliments and encouragment from my network of fellow writers (thanks, chums!), but have also gotten an immense amount of satisfaction in being the one doing the giving.

Nothing too gushing or overly effusive; simply words along the lines of “Way to go!” or “You can do it!” Maybe a little more if I know the writer and/or the project.

It may not seem like a lot, but that sort of thing can be much more effective than you’d imagine. Any writer appreciates knowing there’s someone out there rooting for them.

So what does this have to do with you? Easy. Take it upon yourself to do that for other writers you know; probably would take you all of ten seconds. And I bet you can think of least a dozen people for whom you could do this.

I’m not necessarily a big believer in “good deeds build good karma”, but there’s nothing wrong with just being a nice person, right?

And speaking of being nice to people, a couple of items added to the bulletin board this week:

-Author Cali Gilbert is happy to announce the release of her 8th book, the historical fiction Timing the Tides. The book is available for pre-order in both hard copy and Kindle versions.

-Writer/webcomic creator Gordon McAlpin has launched a crowdfunding campaign to create an animated short based on his webcomic Multiplex, which recently wrapped up a very entertaining 12-year run. Donate if you can!


Lattes, lunches & kindred spirits

August 12, 2016
coffee

“And then he actually asked, “But what’s your Save the Cat moment?””

It’s been a busy week around here, and not just in terms of writing.

I’ve had some great in-person meet-ups with three other local writers over the past couple of days. Two were first-timers, the third was someone I’ve known for a couple of years. Each one was great in its own way. This really is one of my favorite parts of networking – actually meeting somebody else and getting to know them.

Because of my work schedule, lunch or early afternoon coffee are ideal. I prefer a nice little cafe because it always makes for a better one-on-one environment: quiet, sociable, pleasant. Larger networking events, usually at bars, tend to be pretty crowded and noisy, which makes it tough to establish a solid rapport. I’m not too keen on having to continuously shout and not be entirely sure either of us can hear the other.

The first meeting usually involves the exchanging of “here’s my story” mini-bios, and then moves on to what’s going on for both parties. Over the course of about an hour, we’ll share and discuss our individual journeys as writers. Everybody’s journey is different, and I always find each one quite fascinating.

We often share many similarities: our constantly working in the hopes of eventually succeeding as a writer (or filmmaker), the noticeable excitement while discussing our latest project(s), wondering how it’ll go and how it’ll be received.

We are also allowed free rein to vent our frustration about whatever’s currently sticking in our respective craws. Bad experiences, lack of funds for a project, feeling stuck with developing a story, dealing with lousy notes, and so on. One of my new connections even stated, “It’s nice to know I’m not the only one this has happened to!”

That may be what’s at the heart of all of this: knowing you’re not the only one trying to do this, and that somebody else totally understands what it is you’re going through. Simply being able to chat about it in a casual social setting can do wonders; one might even call it therapeutic.

I also make a point of offering to help out in any capacity I can, which tends to usually be either giving script notes or suggesting potential contacts and strategies, and just about everybody is more than happy to reciprocate. Who can’t use a little help?

If you haven’t done so already, I heartily recommend reaching out and connecting with somebody in your area, especially if both of you are within close proximity to each other. Chances are they’re seeking to do the exact same thing.

You know the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”? Well, this not only applies to breaking in, but also to helping you work your way towards that. Building up your personal network of fellow creatives is easy, won’t cost you that much (just what you’d spend on a cup of coffee or a meal), and is a definite plus for all involved.


Make Emily Post proud

July 26, 2016
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.


Q & A with Rick Ramage of The Screenplay Show

June 17, 2016

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.


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