Pitched Over -Part 1

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As many of you know, I have spent the beginning of June networking and visiting friends in Los Angeles. I am exhausted but had a great time.  These posts about my trip will be part tips and part jibber jabber. Met many of my screenwriting friends from twitter in person. I was surprised at how easily our twitter relationships transferred to real life.  Those with who I have a more networking relationship, felt that way in real life as well. Same with the more playful vibe I have towards others.  Once again, I’m going to stress the importance of joining and being active on twitter.  If you are a screenwriter and are not using twitter as a networking and learning tool you are really missing out.

On June 2nd, I spent the majority of the day at The Great American Pitchfest (GAPF) in Burbank.  The night before I was still struggling to decide which of the free classes I was going to attend.* When Danny Manus posted a plea on twitter for people to help at his No Bullscript booth.  So, I attended Danny’s morning class on the first 10 pages of a script, and then went to tend his booth.  Most people who came to the booth were pleasant and had good questions. Others concerned me.  I met someone planning to pitch the next day without knowing what Final Draft was.  If you do not know what one of the main tools of screenwriting is you are not ready to be part of the business of screenwriting.  It would be like someone saying they are ready to perform surgery but have never heard of a scalpel.  You say the steak knife you used on your cat last winter worked just fine, but trust me a scalpel is better.  I know it’s hard, but calm down.  Don’t be in such a rush.  The only way it’s going to happen overnight is if you film it all by yourself in your granny’s private studio overnight.

The other strange question I got asked was if Danny got paid enough money so that he wasn’t just at GAPF to steal other people’s ideas. Now, I haven’t seen any of Danny’s financial statements but I’m sure he doesn’t go home after the Pitchfest, glue on his mustache, and laugh maniacally as he writes down everything he heard.  No matter how many times you  say no one can steal your idea, just the execution thereof, people still freak out. Even if someone did want to “steal” ideas, a place filled with mostly new writers is not the place to do it. Most of you stink at execution and ideas. That’s right. Most of you could not pay someone to steal your idea or your script. Yes, it is just that bad.  Check out the article Danny Manus wrote about GAPF to learn more about what kind of ideas were pitched.

I was lucky enough to sit with him for two hours of pitching the next day which I will go into in Part 2.

*The ability to attend multiple classes for free at GAPF is an awesome service for new writers but many of the classes were below my current skill level. I still would have attended the whole day of classes because even if 99% of the information is stuff I already know there is always something new to take away from any class.

One Fish Always Breaks the First Night

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The longer I’m on twitter the more screenwriters I meet, both established and brand new.  Sometimes it astounds me how little the newbies know.  Instead of doling out resources 140 characters at a time I’m going to send them to this post.  I will update this post whenever there is something else I think they should look at.

NONE OF THE FOLLOWING IS GOING TO MAKE YOU A WRITE A GREAT SCREENPLAY but hopefully they will make you better.  If you read, pay attention, and practice they will help you understand screenplays and screenwriting better.

For more experienced screenwriters reading this, please let me know if there is something I should add.

Internet Resources

http://screenwriting.io/ is a search engine just for basic questions about screenwriting.

http://johnaugust.com/ has a ton of information about screenwriting from a current working screenwriter’s perspective.

http://www.deadline.com/hollywood/ is an online news magazine on what’s happening in the business of film and television.

http://www.scriptmag.com/ has information, advice, news and listings of events, all geared toward  screenwriters.

http://www.wga.org/ to learn about the union you will have to join if you become successful.

http://gointothestory.blcklst.com/ By far my favorite internet resource is Go Into the Story which is the official blog of The Black List. (If you don’t know what The Black List is you must go to their website and click the about button.) Lessons on everything from dialogue to taking meetings can be found in the archives of this blog.  Start with this post and go on from there.

One of the greatest things I ever did for my screenwriting career is taking Jeanne Veillette Bowerman’s  Breaking in Outside of Hollywood webinar.  She opened the world of internet networking to me.

For Scripts

http://www.imsdb.com/

http://www.mypdfscripts.com/

https://www.wgfoundation.org/screenwriting-library for info on visiting the Writer’s Guild Foundation script library

Networking Sites

On twitter, I would recommend following a mix of established screenwriters and struggling artists like yourself.  Also screenwriting information feeds are great.

Here is a short list of @’s that regularly post advice or news to follow.

@Gointothestory @Jeannevb @Stage32online @johnaugust @thescriptlab @screenwritingU @theblcklst @scriptshadow

@scriptquack @LaFamiliaFilm @FluideyeFilms @onthepage @networkISA @writersguildF @scriptmag @bittrscrptreadr

@dannymanus @xanderbennett @unkscreenwriter

Books to Read

The Save the Cat books focus on making marketable Hollywood movies. Personally, I think Save the Cat is interesting but it doesn’t give the specificity and practical applications of its two sequels.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_12?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=save+the+cat&sprefix=save+the+cat%2Caps%2C193

The Syd Field books are older but still talked about because of their focus on three act structure. The Screenwriter’s Workbook was my very first screenwriting book and did help me understand what all the other books were talking about.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_12?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=save+the+cat&sprefix=save+the+cat%2Caps%2C193#/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=syd+field&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Asyd+field

Robert McKee’s Story is another staple in the industry.  Though most of the examples in the book are from movies Story is a book that does not focus on screenwriting exclusively but storytelling of every kind.  There is a lot of controversy over Robert McKee’s Story Seminar.  It’s a very expensive four day lecture with some audience participation.  I say if you have the money go.  I have attended and liked it very much. The first day is a  review of the concepts in the book and the following days are lots of knowledge.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_12?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=save+the+cat&sprefix=save+the+cat%2Caps%2C193#/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_3_11?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=robert+mckee+story&sprefix=robert+mcke%2Caps%2C220&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Arobert+mckee+story

 

Writers as Real as their Characters

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This week, there’s been a flurry of writers who have shown that they are not lost in the facades that Hollywood is so great at creating.

I’m only going to highlight three of these writers ’cause I’m stingy that way.

Much like a kid, it usually takes about eight years before aspiring screenwriters really have a grasp on something of the industry world and their place in it.  We need advice. We need guidance. We need to know that there are people out there who believe in us and want us to do our best.

First, as the 2012 Newhouse Convocation Speaker, Danny Zuker, Executive Producer and writer on Modern Family, lays down Seven Rules from the Writer’s Room.

Listen to his entire speech here.   When in doubt about how to be successful or at least how not to stand out in a bad way apply these simple rules to all Hollywood jobs and life in general.

  1. Smell Pleasant (have good hygiene)
  2. Don’t be a Jerk
  3. Be The Hero (volunteer to go the extra mile)
  4. Don’t Pitch Problems without Pitching Solutions.
  5. Sometimes it’s OK to be Silent (take time to listen if you’re not contributing)
  6. Don’t get Married to Your Own Ideas
  7. No Clams Ever (have original ideas/take risks)

Second, Aaron Sorkin was the speaker at Syracuse University’s commencement.  His speech, which you can find here, was a little bit harder to summarize.

  • He teaches that you are just at the beginning.  You will fail but you must get back up again.  Even if you have strayed a long time, you can have a fresh start if you are not afraid to try.
  • Your life experiences are precious and you will use lessons from those experiences throughout your life.
  • Take risks, dare to fail.
  • Lift the human spirit by tolerance, kindness, and respect.
  • How you live matters.

Both of these writers hit on some of the same points.  Take risks.  Be a nice person.  The third writer I’m going to talk about is doing just that.

Scott Myers made an announcement this week that you can read here.  The Quest is a 24-week Screenwriting Master Class intensive in which four lucky aspiring screenwriters will get to attend for free.  This is an amazing thing for screenwriters as he is teaching and becoming a mentor and intermediary to the industry to four people.  He is risking his time, his connections, and his finances.  Why? Because he wanted to give more people an opportunity to succeed.  He’s being a good person.

To fully comprehend what The Quest could mean to the aspiring screenwriting community please take a look at the article that Bitter Script Reader wrote about it.

There are relatively few people who make it in this industry.  To have those that do share their knowledge is a great thing.  We thank you.

****UPDATE: ANOTHER WRITER WITH ANOTHER ADDRESS WITH A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE****

Neil Gaiman’s Commencement address to the University of the Arts is a little different perspective for students of all kinds.

http://gointothestory.blcklst.com/2012/05/neil-gaiman-commencement-address.html

It Only Hurts as Much as Childbirth

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No, I haven’t had any kids but the faces the women make on those TLC shows look about right.  National Autoimmune Arthritis Day is this Sunday, May 20th.  So I thought I’d annoy you all with tales from the hurt locker.  I know that’s combat lingo and I’m legally 4F (at least according to my understanding from It’s a Wonderful Life) but I think it’s appropriate.

When I tell people I have arthritis they don’t understand what that means.  Many minds conjure up images of their grandma’s osteoarthritis with swollen fingers or knees worn down from years of usage.  Unfortunately, autoimmune arthritis is not your granny’s arthritis.

When I was 16 years old, I was at a  six-week math/science summer camp staying in a dorm at a community college not far away from my home.  One day, we took a break from classes and went to an amusement park for the entire day.  I had a great time walking around the park, riding the rides.  Happy from a day of sun and fun I strolled into my dorm room with my five roommates and closed the door.  Laughing on my way to put my things on my bed, a spear was suddenly trust down the line of my spine.  I screamed and I fell to the floor.  I was being sliced in half.  “Help me.”  The other kids just continued their conversation in full view of me.   I pleaded, explaining that I couldn’t move and they all said I was fine.  As I clawed and dragged my way to the bed, I wondered why no one was helping me and if this is what it felt like to die.   Minutes later, I had made it to the bed and did what has saved me a great amount of pain in my life.  I fell asleep.

They pain was on and off.  At the end of the camp, my evaluation concluded that I faked illnesses for attention and to get out of work.  I argued but it was put in that elusive permanent record anyway.  A few months, and just as many doctors later, I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and Spondoloarthropathy.  My body had decided that the fluid in my joints were a foreign body trying to invade.  It attacked those joints with the same force, and as much success, as the Ebola virus.   One half of my junior year and three-fourths of my senior year were spent in bed using my super power of sleeping through pain.

As an adult, I lived in remission for ten years.  Then, the joy of not noticing my body stopped.  When the remission first ended I was desperate to regain my independence and continue working.  I tried drug after drug.  When I was young the best thing they had was small doses of chemo therapy that I injected once a week.  Now, biologics are the rage.  Petri dish concoctions made of mice cells and drug companies profit margins.  Hours of sitting in a room hooked up to an IV getting an infusion that cost thousands of dollars an ounce.  My insurance was paying 10 to 20 thousand dollars a month for those drugs that healed my body but attacked my mind.

For months, I couldn’t read, write, or drive.  My mom had to be with me when I took a shower to make sure the dizziness didn’t land me ass up, sucking on the drain.  Facing these severe side effects, I became suicidal and was forced to choose between my mind and my body.  I chose my mind.

It took me months to accept that I wouldn’t be able to go back to work.  During the three years it took for my social security “government safety net” to kick in, I lived off my mom’s retirement fund.  After catching my mom crying over finances, I swallowed my shame and embarrassment about accepting food stamps.  I loved the freedom to buy food but I hated it as well.  My inability to move had contributed to me gaining 80 lbs.  I was thrust into the stereotype of a fat young black woman with no job on welfare.  I was angry.  I had always been a person who changed my situation if I didn’t like it.  But I had lost control.  Arthritis had taken it away from me. Took me almost four years and countless therapy appointments to accept where I am now.

I write and I sleep.  I try not to worry about not having any real arthritis meds to stop my body’s attack.  I try not to think of it spreading to my lungs, to my heart, to my eyes, like it has for other people with uncontrolled autoimmune arthritis.  I try to be grateful for getting pass the times when I didn’t want to go on.  The autoimmune arthritis online community has a couple of people each year that don’t make it through one or the other.  We mourn these people we only knew through pain and pray that things will get better for us all.

This is not your grandmother’s arthritis.  This is a disease with no cure.

I am 34.  My diagnosis is the dual arthritis of Rheumatoid Arthritis and Ankylosing Spondylitis.  My dream is screenwriting, and my hope is understanding.

I’m the Pink Pineapple in the Relationship

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I once went to a WGAF event where the speaker asked if anyone had ever felt like they were from an alien planet.  I raised my hand.  Surprisingly, so did a lot of other people.  Writers are weird.  I have accepted my weirdness as  part of me and embraced it.  I am convinced that a lot of my weirdness comes from having to grow up so fast ’cause I was smack dab in the middle of so many social issues.   The biggest area that this infection of weirdness has broken out on me is in my ability to make friends.

I read, a lot.  I used to choose what I read by what grade I was in.  If I was in fourth grade and your book was titled Tales of the Fourth Grade So and So, or The Fourth Grade Blank I devoured it off the shelves of my local library.  No matter what books I read, even the outcast kids always had a best friend. (Well, with the exception of Robert Cormier.  Compelling writer but that guy’s a downer.)  I never had a friend that came over to my place and vise versa until I was in college.

The first Friday night of Freshman year, I went into the hallway of my dorm and it was deserted.  The quiet was startling.  Because of my disability I had a single handicap accessible room and no one was forced to talk to me because they were my roommate.  I was so out of the loop that I had no clue as to where everyone went.  As I stood in the hallway contemplating the likelihood of a mass alien abduction where the gimps were left behind, another head popped out of a room far down the hall.  A tall blonde woman with a crooked nose (which I love that she loves) came out lamenting how she was surprised how many people went out to drink at house parties.  Of course, she had been invited but she was a “good girl” who didn’t believe in drinking before 21.  So that night, we went to the brand new dry dance club on campus and that’s where we were every weekend night (running the place since we were the only ones there) until they shut it down for low attendance.  Our senior year, we became roommates and continued to hang out after college.  For a short time anyway.

I don’t know what happened but a weird distance that had started to grow between us when we turned 21 became too much.  She started to drink socially on a regular basis and I was still dry, mostly because I can’t dance well when not sober.  A few months after graduation she stopped calling me back.  It hurt but I was used to being alone.  All these years later, I finally figured out it must have been because she thought I judged her drinking.  I didn’t care that she drank.  I just didn’t want to.  The one night I did decide to get drunk, I ended up crying on the bathroom floor of the club.  As I’ve noted before, ending up on a public bathroom floor is never a good thing.

When I moved to Los Angeles I left my family behind, knowing no one but a dude from my acting class who I drove across country with (a story of epic proportions that I will tell at a later date.) Being in LA I thought what the hell, I’ll change from writing prose to screenwriting.  Should be easy.  Yeah, I was stupid.  By the time I wrote my first screenplay, I was working as a courier on a studio lot.  I asked around about who I should give it to.  Unknown to me at the time, they sent me to the VP of film development’s assistant.

I gave her my screenplay and about a week later we met for lunch and she handed me back notes from a studio reader.  She had changed my name on it so I wouldn’t be passed on for life, which I am eternally grateful for.  The notes were three single-spaced pages telling me how much my screenplay sucked.  When I finished reading them I laughed.   The rage that came out in the writing of that reader because she had to read my crappy crap was hilarious to me (sorry reader, wherever you are.)  I had thought I was so great, but having my ego throughly pounded into the ground was a good experience.  She looked confused and relieved at the weird girl sitting across from her that was so jolly about getting a trouncing.  We ate lunch and talked about things I could do better.  I visited her office more and more during my lunch breaks.  I don’t remember exactly when I wanted her for a friend or when we started hanging out outside of the office, but I counted myself very lucky and wanted very badly not to screw it up.

Not being great at making real friends, I constantly worried that I would do something to get her to abandon me.   At work, I hid in the corner trying to be invisible when her boss was around, and almost got into a fight at Starbucks over a drink that she asked me to get for Leonardo DiCaprio.  (Ahhhh! That woman is stealing Leo’s drink! Doesn’t she know it’s Leo’s drink?!)  Outside of work, I monitored my phone calls and visits to her, constantly worrying if they were too much or too little.  When she caught me at it, it cracked her up.  She told me to relax and I did.

She has so many friends from all periods of her life that I didn’t think it would make a big difference in her life when I left LA headed home.  Then one night when I was crashing at her place on a visit she told me that she had been devastated that I had left her at that time.  I thought, What?  Me?  I’m weird, awkward and don’t know how to be a friend like the ones you’ve had for years. It made me feel super good that she was still my friend after I messed up so bad.  Also, I liked that she missed me even though I wish she had told me sooner.  I might have stayed.   Even though I still worry every once in a while that I will lose her, I feel blessed that she calls me her friend and I call her mine.

So if you’re weird, and awkward, and lonely, don’t worry.  There is someone out there who will take all that in and still think you’re pretty neat.

Can’t We All…

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Damn it.  Almost reached 100 followers on twitter then I have to go and write something like this.  The mass exodus will begin at the end of this post.

Sometimes I wonder why we all can’t get along.  I know it’s been 20 years since the LA riots when Rodney King called for peace with those words but I think it’s as true now as ever.  Being part of the Internet screenwriting community has been a blessing for me.  I’ve learned so much and laughed pretty darn hard. It’s amazing how funny professional writer’s can be in 140 characters.  But people can use that same small space to be cruel and vicious.  I’m not saying not to disagree with people but even on Deadwood they never said cunt this much.

Now, I understand anger.  As a non-religious, poor, black, bisexual, disabled, woman, I am hated on and/or misunderstood by someone or a groups of someones at all times.  I’ve gotten so angry at things said I’ve screamed and cried and yelled until I’ve locked myself in my room hoping for the world to go away. I’ve learned over the years, and with a lot of therapy, that most of that anger stems from hurt.  We lash out at people because they hurt us.

Increasingly, Americans don’t listen to or converse with people who have differing opinions, perspectives, or socioeconomic backgrounds than themselves.  News stations and websites have been created so we can continue to consume the world through the skewed lens through which we already look.  There are studies that say that when we debate with people who have differing views from our own we become smarter, more productive and more articulate people.  Yet we only fill our social circles with people who share our views and not only shun, but mock those who do not.

During my first year of college, I took a rhetoric class.  I didn’t have a clue what the class was going to be like when I signed up for it the summer before.  It turned out to be one of the things that defined my freshman year.  Almost every discussion commenced with a woman, we’ll call Kathy, (not because I’m trying to protect her identity I just don’t remember) and I on opposite political sides.  I enjoyed debating her.  We never would change the other’s mind, but the conversations were stimulating and respectful.  Then near the end of the year we were talking about something, (don’t remember that either ’cause after Kathy’s next sentence my head exploded) and she said that the reason black people don’t make anything of themselves is because they don’t work to do anything with their lives.  Like I said, my head exploded.  I told her that I was sitting across from her at the same school, in the same class, participating just as much as her, how dare she say I wasn’t trying to do anything.  Well, I yelled it, then stormed out of the room.  I was so hurt and angry that this woman who I had spent all this time respecting as an intellectual opponent had been dismissing me because of my race.  Despite days of broken heartedness I went back to the next scheduled class.  I kept my mouth shut for most of it, but I went back.  Out of the four black students that started at my college I was the only one that survived after that first year.  I graduated from that same college, the darkest one to walk across the stage.

I’ve chosen and had no choice but to go back into uncomfortable situations my entire life.  Too many of us do not and hurt ourselves by not being willing to be uncomfortable.  Risk an argument, risk being hurt, risk learning from someone you have nothing in common with.  Risk being a better you.

Imagination Infestation

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I have a problem that I believe is one of the reasons I have no choice but to write.  I have an extremely active imagination. The other night, I was laying in bed reading when I heard a baby crying.  I put down the book to listen to the anguished wails.  Was it coming from outside my open window? It stopped for a few seconds then started again. I became worried. Jumping from the bed I ran to our front door.  Opening it, my eyes were glued to the doorstep. Nothing was there.  I stuck my head out and  concentrated on the sounds of the night.  No baby.  I closed the door. Did the mother change her mind and retrieve the baby before I untangled myself from the sheets?  Had I heard the baby on the neighbor’s door step?  I headed down the hallway back to my room.  Suddenly, it hits me.  The TV is on in the other room.  “Was there a baby crying on your TV?” I ask.  Now I ask you, what kind of person would literally check their doorstep for an abandoned baby before considering the noise came from a TV in an adjacent room?  A person with an imagination problem that’s who.

People wonder how I can write the borderline horror thrillers I write and not be able to watch a horror movie without loosing a nights sleep to increasingly disturbing nightmares.  Right now, as I sit here at my Panera office I want to scream, “Help! The man next to me is clipping his nails.”  All I can think of is a nail popping up to stab me in the eye.  I can just see it.  Half of it lodged in my eye and the other half sticking out like an arrow in a target.  Curved and hard like an eyelash white coral reef in a sea of black reeds.  I’d be driven to the hospital, trying not to squeeze or rub my eye as I yell for my mommy.  Stop it!  This is not darts, man!  You will NOT get a bullseye score if you hit my pupil. I swear if you even scrape me I’m suing like a gold digging mama looking for child support from a famous athlete.

All this I thought of before he even finished his first finger.  I’m telling you I got problems.

That real time look at my wacky stream of conscienceness was such a better example of my issues then the one I was going to tell you about my cat yelping.  ‘Cause even though I know it’s much more probable that she got her tail caught on something or saw a bug she didn’t like, I refused to acknowledge the cry in any way because she could have been fighting to the death with a rodent of heretofore unknown size and species.  Also an option, a serial killer who silenced her by crushing her skull beneath his boot.

I said I got issues.

Anyway,  to all of you who have a similar problem to me, I sympathize.  We never learned to fully quell the infinite possibilities with the science of probability.  Go forth my brethren and channel all that crazy into an art of your choice.  The art consumers of the world love you for it.

Power Don’t Come from a Penis

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Deutsch: Symbol der Frauenpower (Geballte Faus...

This isn’t my regular post for the week but I wanted to post the comment that I made on Go Into the Story’s Blog on Part Two of Heroine’s in film.  Heck, I took so much time on it I gotta post it here.  It makes me feel like I was working that way. (Part One and Part Three are also attached.)

jwindh- I’d have to disagree with your comment: “[I’d] say that Alien’s Ripley and SOTL’s Clarice are very much “male” hero stories where the protagonist is female. I would say mostly the same with Katniss, too – although the maternal feelings she has for her sister are very “feminine” (but still not really any different from any tough male hero who still has a soft spot for protecting “women and children”).”

I don’t believe that being an action hero as opposed to a social hero makes a woman’s journey a male one. One of the things I loved about Katniss in the books is she had absolutely no desire to have a child.  That did not make her a male personality but someone who recognizes the limitations of the world around them.  She loves kids so much she would not bring one into that world.  Everything she does is either based in caring or on surviving.  She’s spent her life doing both so she has an extremely clear perspective of what those things mean and how best to do them.

Noting Clarice’s journey as an example of a male hero’s story is a shock to me.  Picture a man relating the major thematic monologue explaining what happened to the lambs on the farm.  In our culture, a man imparting a tear filled childhood memory like that would be thought of differently.  Would Hannibal even be interested in that story from a man?  Wouldn’t it make him dismiss the man as weak instead of as an intimate exchange that makes him feel closer to Clarice?

As to Ripley, I spent my senior paper in college analyzing the first three Alien movies as different stages of womanhood.  I have 15 pages to argue that Ripley is a woman and those movies can be seen as a vehicle for a woman. It bothers me when people say that when someone out of the mainstream vision of that thing (i.e. a white male) is taking over a positive characteristic they are emulating the representation of that characteristic, instead of that characteristic. Even if I speak the King’s English and listen to Tyler Swift I am still going to be black.  In no way, shape, or form, does that change my skin color or the experiences I have had as a black person.  If I beat up a bunch of guys and jump off a building that does not make me a man.  All the things and experiences that make me a woman will still be there.

Think of Trinity in The Matrix. She’s been through just as much as Neo has.  She’s even kicked more butt than Neo.  With the exception of the last minutes she is the major bad ass.  Yet we do not say she has a male story because in the end she is deferential to and in love with a man.  Is that what it takes for a bad ass woman to keep people seeing her story as female one?  I hope not.

I’m Gonna Knock the Listening Into Ya

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Hello, fellow aspiring screenwriters!  I want to save you.  You may say, “Save me? I’m not stuck in a well. Lassie is sitting right next to me happily licking his balls.” (I know Lassie’s a girl, work with me.)  I’m going to save your writing from yourself.  Too many of us don’t listen.  We’re too busy defending our feelings, or vision, or self-esteem about our very existence as a creative being.  Stop it!  This is not your baby.  It did not come out of your cooch or the cooch you stuck yourself in for a minute.  You don’t sell your baby to have other people put their DNA in it, raise it, then decide when and if it gets to live a full and complete life.  If you do, you should be reported to social services immediately.

First things first.  You are a screenwriter.  The very definition says your script ain’t yours.  If you sell it, you no longer own it.  The decisions about it won’t be yours anymore.  They could pay you for it, then sit on it so it never sees the light of day.  Or rush it through production in a half ass way to make sure they don’t miss out on what’s hot now.  If you are lucky enough to get your script produced through a major studio it’s going to go through so many hands you might not recognize it when it finally shows up at your local multiplex.  So relax!  Enjoy the freedom of this time of infinite possibilities.

Now you may be asking why you should listen to me because I’ve never sold a script either.  You forget.  Your colleagues down here in the trenches read the worst scripts in the world.  That’s right, those poor readers who have to read crappy scripts until their eyes bleed still get to read a (presumably) better draft than the one you give your friends and colleagues.   We take time out of our lives and writing to help you.  Be grateful and listen to what we have to say.  I’m not saying you have to use the notes we give, but you do need to listen to them.

I suggest to all screenwriter’s do not defend your script as a response to notes.  Ask questions.  That’s right, make that generous person do more work.  If the person says I hated this line or loved that one ask them why.  If they say they saw something there that wasn’t, ask them why they said that.  Maybe they just wrote the notes in an abbreviated form and they can point you to the exact part of the script that gave them that impression.  If you get the impression that they missed a major plot point in the script ask them if they saw that part in the script.  If they say no, ask them why.  I wrote a short that takes place in a grocery store and it’s parking lot.  Inside the store, the protagonist picks up an item that is the center of the twist and brings the entire script together.  One out of every five people who read it said they didn’t understand where that item came from.  I found out by asking questions that it was buried in the description of the other things in the grocery store and they glazed over it.  I had been worried that if I highlighted this item the surprise of the twist would be ruined, but by not calling attention to it, I lost that moment all together with a great percentage of my readers.  I would have never known that I needed to bring this out if I didn’t ask why they didn’t see it instead of just saying it was in the script and they were stupid to miss it.

People who are reading your scripts may be happy, sad, frustrated, excited, confused, or just plain bored.  They are also generous and want to help you.  If you ask questions, not only will you know why they gave the notes they did, but you will also know how much stock you should put in their notes by their answers.  Above all, even if you don’t use a syllable of their notes, that person will feel like they have been heard and their time was not wasted.  This will lead to them giving you the greatest gift a rising writer can get.  They will be willing to read for you again.

I’d love it for you to tell me your stories about your adventures giving notes and any suggestions you have for the writers getting them.

More Stories than the Empire State Building

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A date once asked me what my favorite thing in life was.  My standard survival tactic for all small talk is to answer and then repeat the question back to the person asking.  As I was hoping he didn’t notice my parrot like tactics, he said his favorite thing was stories.  My world lit up like tin foil in a conventional microwave.  Of course!  I don’t remember what my answer was but it was lame compared to this and I immediately wanted to take it back.  Stories are the only thing that I can remember on a regular basis.  If you asked me to write a history book from memory it would be light on all the names and dates we were supposed to memorize in school but you’d have enough stories to wallow around in ’til the pigs came home.  (Yes, I did say pigs.  As far as I know cows don’t wallow, and since I eat beef, but not pork, the cows might never come home.) I’m not sure I like stories as much as Kristen Bell likes sloths but then again, I’m not sure I like anything as much as that.

Stories have taken a prominent position in my mind this week because I’m taking Scott Myers’ (@GoIntotheStory on Twitter) Prep: From Concept to Outline class.  As I wrestle near infinite possibilities down to a single narrative, I’ve been thinking about how the telling of a story with the same basic facts can change the meaning and message.  I was listening to NPR’s Talk of the Nation interview with Rez Life author, David Treuer, and he said something extraordinary.  What if we don’t talk about Indian reservations in a negative light all the time?  What if instead we talk about reservations as having a surplus of everything?  A surplus of everything from community to poverty.  (See an excerpt from the book and listen to the interview in a tiny link next to his picture here.)  Another book, How to be Black by Baratunde Thurston poses the hypothesis that if blacks in the US had a program, like Greek and Jewish kids have Greek School and Jewish School, where we can celebrate our history we might feel new pride and possibilities in being black.  With my current crusade to give the black kids in my former junior high some hope, (see last weeks post) I realize how I frame the story of African-American history could be the difference between a life of opportunity and one of hopelessness for some of these kids.

As a writer, I am a storyteller.  A storyteller has the power of shaping history, reporting the present, and dreaming the future.  Choose the stories you tell with care fellow storytellers, the telling of them is what makes them real.