I’m here, but need to be up there

mountain climber
Onward and upward! (snappy hat optional)

I’ve been writing screenplays for quite a number of years, but only in the past, say five to six have I shown some significant improvement.

More than a few readers who’ve read my last three scripts have commented that each one displays a step up in quality a compared to its predecessor. Which is very nice to hear.

Feeling pretty confident in my skills and material, I submitted some of them to a few of the high-profile contests (or at least the ones that really matter). The results were less than encouraging. Don’t get me wrong. Top 15 percent in the Nicholl is nice, but it’s still falling short of expectations.

You can have the most incredible script you’ve ever written, enter it in a contest, and chances are it might still go nowhere. Contests are just one way in.

But I digress.

I figured there was nothing more that could be done with the scripts, so I might as well file them away and move on, using them for occasional query letters.

However.

While my scripts may not be similar to those that win contests (can you imagine me writing a coming-of-age story set in 70s Reno?), they’re still fun, entertaining reads, and my passion and enthusiasm for them continue to burn strong and bright.

Like with my writing skills, they’re good, but can still be better.

That’s why I’ve decided to do what I can to make that actually happen. I’ve already gotten several sets of notes on some of my scripts, and most mention the same issues, along with some potential fixes.

As always, I have the luxury of picking and choosing which suggestions to implement, and I sincerely hope the end result is a collection of scripts of decidedly higher quality.

It’s been quite an effort for me to get my writing to get to the level it is now, and spending a little more time on trying to make it better will be definitely worth the effort.

I speak from experience

SF running
Exercise, a view, and lots of time to think about your script

“Writing a screenplay is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Bet you’ve heard that one before, right?

It’s true. Learning how to write a screenplay takes time, let alone how to do it well. It might come easier for some, but no matter what your skill level is, it always remains a struggle.

And that feeling when you’re done (at least with the latest draft)? Euphoric sums it up quite nicely.

So that whole running metaphor is pretty apropros. Especially for me.

For those not in the know, I enjoy running half-marathons. Seriously.

I’ve run about a dozen or so the past few years. Like with the writing, it’s a self-imposed challenge and pushes you to keep moving forward. Believe me, there are definitely times during those races I just want to stop and catch my breath, but I don’t because I want to keep going and see what I’m capable of.

I usually finish somewhere just under 2 hours, which isn’t bad.

A few weeks ago, I ran a race in San Francisco and finished with a time of 2:02:56, which some might think is great, but I still considered a little disappointing.

This past weekend was another race – across the Bay in Oakland. The results of the previous race really shook me up. Was I once again going to fall short of my goal?

Only one way to find out.

I did my best to maintain a steady pace and continuously reminded myself that even though it was a challenge, I felt I had a pretty good handle on it. Oakland’s also a lot flatter than San Francisco, which probably helped.

The home stretch for this race is an 8-block-long straight line through downtown Oakland. At the finish line, there’s always a big digital timer. As I got closer, the numbers came into view.

1:54:30? Wow! And just a handful of blocks to go!

You know that feeling when you’re writing the last page of your script and FADE OUT is coming up fast and you get that sudden rush of adrenaline and you can’t believe the end is finally in sight?

Even though you’re exhausted and feeling totally spent, you can always find that hidden reserve of energy, which is just enough to get you to that goal.

Giving it everything I had, I poured on the speed (or at least as much as I could muster) and ran like a madman to that finish line.

End result – 1:54:59. Not only did I break the 2-hour mark,  but I just squeaked by my other personal objective of breaking 1:55.

All that self-doubt from before had been erased. I had given myself a goal and set out to accomplish it.

Notice all those comparisons to screenwriting that could be made?

Every script is your own personal challenge. Sometimes it’ll be easy, and sometimes it’ll feel like nothing is happening, but the important thing is for you to keep at it and not stop trying to reach that finish line.

Like with training for these runs, it requires a lot of work. You find the time to do it when you can, hoping each session yields a slightly better result than the previous one.

My current work on the comedy spec coincides with this latest round of training for my next race – early November, and again in San Francisco. Both script and race will be a little more on the challenging side, but by engaging in regular training, I’m fairly confident I can achieve the results I seek.

A little stretching, a few deep breaths, and off I go.

Let’s get moving, chums.

Good. Better. Getting there.

Billy Wilder
Never hurts to have a good role model*

Notes continue to come in for the pulp sci-fi spec, some contrary, many encouraging, and all chock-full of notable suggestions. With some coming from my trusted core of reliably savvy readers, there’s been one statement more than a few have included.

The gist of it is:

“This is the third script of yours I’ve read, and each one has shown a definite improvement over the previous one.”

It warms this writer’s soul to hear that sort of thing. And these are writers who pull no punches. They won’t hesitate to say something doesn’t work.

I’ve been working at this for a while, but it really feels like just the past few years have seen the most significant progress. Just goes to show what constant hard work can do, right?

Nor do I have any intention of slowing down. Doing my best to maintain a dedicated block of time and/or pages on a daily basis. The more you do it, the easier it gets (but is still tough).

The three scripts in question were all adventure-based, which enabled me to exercise a certain set of writing skills. With work now commencing on overhauling a comedy, an entirely new set will get the workout they deserve.

Crafting a sequence involving a train heist in the Old West, or a team of adventurers taking on a mad scientist? Piece of cake.

Writing a story involving everyday people in relatively normal (but funny) situations, peppered with smart (and funny) dialogue, all without the benefit of using special effects to enhance the story?

That is truly the next challenge to yours truly. It initially feels very daunting, but I’ve made it this far, and there’s no reason to think I can’t continue to push my way forward.

Should be a very interesting journey.

*Billy Wilder’s 10 Rules for Good Filmmaking (also applicable to screenwriting)
1: The audience is fickle.
2: Grab ’em by the throat and never let ’em go.
3: Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
4: Know where you’re going.
5: The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
6: If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
7: A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
8: In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.
9: The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
10: The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then — that’s it. Don’t hang around.

One curtain falls, another rises

stage
Don’t go far, folks. Next show is on the way!

Among the sizable slew of ongoing projects of which I’m currently undertaking, finishing the edit/polish/rewrite of the pulp sci-fi spec was pretty high up near the top of the list.

Mostly because it was something I felt I absolutely had to do; sort of a “get it out of my system” thing.

And for now, it is. Finished. At least until the next sets of notes come in and the whole process starts all over again. No big deal. Par for the course.

Overall, I like how it turned out. As has been the case before, it was also simply just fun to write. That helped. And some of my readers from the previous draft were quite enthusiastic about what a fun read it is. That also helped.

Even though the story’s pretty much set in place, every once in a while inspiration would strike, or a suggestion would be made, and I’d come up with a way to potentially improve a particular moment, scene or sequence.

So off it goes to some very savvy readers, and my attention redirects to the much-interrupted overhaul of one of my low-budget comedies, which has been a sizable challenge on its own.

Creating amazing tales of thrills, excitement, and heart-pounding fantastic-ness? No problem. Trying to craft a smart, funny story? A challenge, to say the least.

Then again, I do loves me a good challenge.

I refuse to be complacent

runner
The road gets tougher, you run harder

First-round results for two of the biggest, high-profile screenwriting contests have been released within the past week, and the pattern for my western’s performance in both has once again repeated itself.

Total whiff for PAGE, and top 20 percent for the Nicholl. (I’m not doing Austin this year)

I didn’t get notes from the former, and based on the ones I got last year for the latter, am not that curious as to why it placed where it did.

My initial reaction was, naturally, disappointment, but this year is markedly different in what came immediately after.

There’ve been days where the agony, frustration and just plain shittiness of things not working out was so strong I’d seriously contemplate just walking away. After all, that would be one less member of the competition, right?

But that’s simply not an option – for any of us. Our desire to succeed as writers burns too bright.

I may not have done as well as I’d hoped with these contests, so instead of shrugging my shoulders and saying “Oh well. Better luck next year,” I plan on doing whatever I can to increase my chances. With a vengeance.

Gone is the wallowing in a blessedly brief mindset of “poor, poor pitiful me”.

In its place – a reinvigorated drive to buckle down, work even harder and write scripts so fucking amazing those readers won’t know what hit them.

I don’t think I can. I KNOW I CAN.

Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead, chums.

-A new addition and a return appearance on the bulletin board this week:

-Filmmakers Caitlin Stedman and Kayla Ditlefsen have launched a crowdfunding project for their short film Unattainable. They’re around the 60 percent mark, so donate if you can!

-The crowdfunding for filmmaker Steve Davis’s No Glory continues, with about a month to go. Steve’s a talented guy, and this sounds like a fantastic project. Donate if you can!