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.

I hope this really registers with you

courtroom
Take the appropriate steps, and this kind of result can be easily avoided

Pop quiz!

You’ve just finished the latest draft of your script. Not the first draft; maybe a few later. Exactly which one is irrelevant.

But you’ve got what you consider a pretty solid script, to the point that you think it’s ready to start sending out. Queries, contests, what have you.

What important step should you take before anything else?

And…pencils down.

For a more thorough explanation than I could ever provide, here’s a post from the apparently defunct cinemoose.com that all screenwriters should read and heed – especially those of you still in the starting-out stage.

(Author’s note – this is just one of the numerous posts about this topic from the screenwriting-based internet, but the info and advice is more or less the same)

“So you’ve finished your new script and you’re ready to send it out to producers and production companies. How do you protect your work?

Registering your script with the Library Of Congress costs $35. The WGA (Writers Guild of America) offers a similar service for $10 for WGA members and $20 for non-members. So which one is better? Or should you do both? And what about the “poor man’s copyright”?

The Library of Congress

The Library Of Congress is the organization within the United States that deals with copyrights. What is a copyright? According the Library of Congress website, copyrights are a part of intellectual property law that protects “original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.”

Copyrights do not protect names, titles or ideas. This last point is an important one. Just because you have a great idea for a movie about a disaster movie involving earthquakes does not mean that you copyright that idea and prevent someone else from making a disaster movie about earthquakes. Copyrights only protect the way an idea is specifically expressed. What this means in plain English is that copyrights may only protect the characters, dialogue and story elements that make your specific telling of the story unique.

Technically speaking, your script is copyrighted from the moment you finish it. However, it is a good idea to register your screenplay with the Library of Congress to establish a legal record that may be used in court if you are unfortunate enough to be involved in a copyright infringement lawsuit as a plaintiff or defendant. Registering your screenplay costs $35 and is a relatively simple and straightforward process. Note: screenplays fall under the category of performing arts, not literary works. You can visit the Library Of Congress’s copyright site for more information or download the forms for copyright application here: Copyright Registration Form PA.

The WGA Script Registry

The WGA also maintains a script registry service for screenwriters to register their works. Their service costs $10 for WGA members and $20 for non-members and is valid for five years. The WGA claims that while their service does not replace registering your work with the Library Of Congress, the WGA script registry offers an additional layer of legal protection for your work.

Hogwash. Registering with the WGA does not offer any legal protection for your script. It is, in fact, a money-making scheme of the WGA. The only thing you can do to legally protect your work that will hold up in a court of law is to register with the Library of Congress. The WGA script registry is a waste of money and is not recommended unless you have money to spare and just wish to support the WGA.

(Author’s note – the WGA registration has to be renewed every five years, whereas the Library of Congress copyright is good for the life of the author, plus another 70 years.)

Poor Man’s Copyright

I’m sure that many of you out there have heard of the poor man’s copyright. This process involves mailing a copy of your work to yourself and keeping the sealed envelope with the certified mailing stamp as evidence of your copyright. The poor man’s copyright is little more than an old wives’s tale as there is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection. It’s about as useless as the WGA’s script registry.”

A subject worth discussing

soapbox
Listen up, and listen good

Stepping onto my proverbial soapbox to utter a few thoughts on something that needs to be said.

If you’re part of an online forum, and you post your material in that forum seeking feedback from other members, you will get all kinds of responses. Some will be positive, and some will be negative – maybe to point of being outright condescending.

How do you respond to the positive ones?

“Thanks. I appreciate it.” Maybe elaborate a little, or a follow-up question or two. Possibly even ask to communicate with the person in private.

The negative and/or condescending ones?

“Thanks.”

That’s it. No matter how much you feel the urge to respond with a stinging retort written in ALL CAPS and a lot of exclamation points, just don’t. You asked for comments and you got ’em.

A thick skin is a necessity in this business. Arguing or getting angry because you don’t like what somebody said won’t help you or your writing, and it makes you look petty and unprofessional.

Now let’s address the other side.

Somebody asks you for notes, and based on the quality of the material, you do the best you can, trying to be as helpful as possible. Be honest with your suggestions of what needs to be fixed.

Does it have potential? Mention that. Are there problems? Identify them and how they could be fixed.

If the writing reflects an amateur, or a poorly constructed idea, point out how and why in a constructive manner. There’s no need to be insulting or talk down to them. Chances are they’re still learning, so they don’t know as much as you do.

They may not like what you have to say, maybe even going so far as to insult you and your experience, or deride your comments. But that’s on them. You’ve done your part.

So let’s review.

You want help? Take what you get, even if you don’t like it. After your temper cools down, take a serious look at what was said. There may be something in there worth using.

Somebody asks you for help? Be professional and as helpful as you can. Don’t hold their lack of experience against them.

No matter whether you’re giving or receiving, be patient, tolerant, and open-minded.

Keep that in mind, okay?

Thanks. The soapbox is now available.

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.