Sticking to a bare-bones minimum

Start with this, add all the messy complicated stuff later
Start with this, add all the messy complicated stuff later

The semi-regular routine of working my way through the first draft has resumed, with some slight readjustments.

The original practice of fine-tuning the story in the outline stage still stands, and is one I heartily recommend.  But there’s only so much you can do here, and then it’s onto typing actual pages. This is where things start to get more complicated, and you have to be ready to handle it.

A lot of scenes in my outline are very basic in describing what happens, almost to the point of just saying what the purpose of the scene is. Then when it’s time to write the scene in the script, I have to figure out the best way to present it.

It’s a given the scene has to be fleshed out. There are always going to be necessary details to take care of, and it’s easy to lose your focus and concentration. Then you get frustrated, which is totally counter-productive.

So rather than worry about whether what you’re writing is perfect, remind yourself this is just a first (or early) draft. Nothing is written in stone. It doesn’t have to be perfect; just written.

It’s all about being patient and working your way through the stages. First there was the outline. Then the first draft. When that’s done, the next draft, then the next and so on and so on.

Besides, writing is rewriting, remember?

What I’ve tried to do is be very basic about what transpires in the scene based on how it’s described in the outline. As much as I’d like to spend time making it absolutely perfect, once I have something that works for now, I move on, knowing I’ll be back again soon for another try.

Put your best joke forward

Go ahead. Make me laugh.
Go ahead. Make me laugh.

Rather than my usual dispensing of invaluable screenwriting wisdom, I’d like to head into the weekend on a slightly more humorous note.

In the comments below, tell me your favorite go-to joke.  The one you automatically think of.

Doesn’t matter if it’s corny or just plain bad. As long as it’s funny.

Here are two of mine. You’ve probably heard them before, but I still like them.

-Three morons start out across the desert. The first one carries a canteen.

“What do you need that for?” the other two ask.

“In case I get thirsty, I can drink some water.”

The second one carries a bag of food.

“What do you need that for?” the other two ask.

“In case I get hungry, I can eat.”

The third one carries a car door.

“What do you need that for? the other two ask.

“In case I get too hot, I can roll down the window.”

-Two fish are in a tank.

One says to the other, “You know how to drive this thing?”

-Now it’s your turn. Come on. Don’t be shy.

X + Y = you(r script)

Two individual great things combine to make a new great thing
Two individual great things combine to make a new great thing

Scenario time! You find yourself in the mythical elevator with the even more mythical open-minded Hollywood exec. Their attention is all yours for the next 30 seconds. Your moment to shine is at hand!

You give ’em your honed-to-perfection logline. They react with raised eyebrows, a slight tilt of the head and an intrigued “Hmm.” The fish is nibbling at that hook, but the deal ain’t sealed yet.

“How would you pitch that?” they ask. “What’s your X meets Y?”

In other words, what two movies does your script incorporate elements from while telling a unique and original story?

I’ve read arguments both for and against doing this. Personally, I don’t have anything against doing it, but usually try to avoid it, preferring to let the logline do the selling.

But sometimes you’re going to need those two points of reference to offer up a stronger idea of what somebody can expect from your story.

It’s also important to name films that are well-known, successful or both. Avoid box office flops and the obscure at all costs! There’s also the question of timeliness, but I’ll get into that in a second.

Case in point: The folks at the Tracking Board Launchpad gave each semifinalist script it’s own landing page, featuring a thumbnail sketch of details (logline, genre, contact info, etc.)

Part of what they wanted from the writers was their “X meets Y” pitch.

Since I couldn’t go with the phrase that served as my mantra during the writing process (retro sci-fi steampunk pirates), I thought “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN meets STAR WARS” summed it up nicely.

The response was that this was just “okay”, but the story didn’t seem as reminiscent of STAR WARS. Maybe there was another film that was more similar?

Fortunately for me, K was right there next to me during this exchange and suggested “How about ‘PIRATES meets THE LAST STARFIGHTER?'”

Yeah, that works. Definitely a stronger connection with my script on several levels.

Maybe my only nit to pick is that it’s not the most recent of films. 1984, to be precise. Almost 30 years old(!). But it’s still pretty well-known and is usually mentioned as part of “they don’t make ’em like that anymore”, so 2 points in my favor. If you’ve never seen it, you should really make a point to do so.

(And just to put it in perspective, STAR WARS is over 35 years old, but is probably a little more in the public eye.)

So take a look at your script. Put some thought into what best makes up your “X meets Y”.

That way, the next time someone asks “How would you pitch that?”, you’re ready to go.

One good turn

No problem. I'm happy to help.
No problem. I’m happy to help.

An incredibly amazing thing happened to me in a remarkably short timeframe.

My script DREAMSHIP is on the Black List’s public site. You have to pay every month to keep it on there, and if you want a professional reader to review it, you have to pay for that too.

My family’s currently involved in the ongoing economic recovery, so we have to be careful about where we spend money.

I was content paying the monthly fee, but reluctant to spring for a review or two.

Then came the results of the Tracking Board Launchpad contest. The whole manager thing. I liked how everything was developing.

I wanted to know more about some of the other scripts in the contest, so I checked out loglines and the pitch for each (“X meets Y”, which will probably be the subject of a post next week). Some of them sounded very intriguing, so I wrote to the writers asking to read their scripts.

One declined, wanting to wait until they signed. No problem.

Another was flattered, sent it, and asked to read mine. Again, no problem.

But this writer also noticed my script was on the Black List with an 8/10 score from one rating. Why didn’t I get a second review, which would make it more visible and raise its profile?

Two reasons: I was reluctant to spend the money, and even though I did well in a high-profile contest, I was still nervous about getting a bad review. The fear of rejection never goes away.

But I said I’d probably eventually bite the bullet and do it. Maybe the overtime from working July 4th & 5th would help.

So while I was working on the 4th, I got a very interesting email from someone at the Black List (who apparently was also working on the 4th).

Apparently this writer who had encouraged me to spring for a second review took matters into their own hands and offered to pay for my second review.


And the Black List folks thought this was so nice, they decided to give me the second review for free.

Double gasp.

Somebody I only know through a handful of emails did something extremely nice and generous that has the potential to make a significant positive impact on my career.

What can you possibly say to this? I was sincerely and honestly touched by such an act of generosity, and sent my thanks to both.

Hopefully someday I can return the favor to this writer in one way or another, and if things work out, try to help out others in a similar fashion.

Despite what you may think, not every writer is out to steal your ideas, or play dirty and step all over you just to advance their own agenda.

There are still nice people willing to help you out, sometimes when you’re not even expecting it. I’m all about helping others when I can, and an act like this just makes me want to do it more.

Destination: uncharted territory

And my journey continues…

First and foremost, thanks to everybody for the hearty congrats. Words of encouragement from one’s peers are always nice, doubly so when it’s from people you know are good writers.

I’ll also admit to sending updates of my recent accomplishments to my old writing group, more with the intent of “Hey kids, ain’t this swell?” rather than “Suck on it, losers!”

And a big mazel tov to the 24 other semifinalists, 10 finalists and the top 3 winners of the Tracking Board Launchpad contest. Best of luck to all of you on your future endeavors! Celebrate in your desired appropriate style. I find pie to always be a solid viable option.

Speaking of which (the writing stuff, not the pie), these are exciting times. I don’t think I’ve ever been this close to something potentially happening with one of my scripts before – he said with fingers firmly crossed.

There isn’t a writer out there, including yours truly, who doesn’t daydream about achieving some kind of success while they hammer away at their latest project.

But things are different for me now, and a new learning curve is underway.  I’m a bit nervous, but still quite psyched about it.

This is exactly what I’ve been working towards, and feel very fortunate to have even made it this far. I hope everybody can experience this kind of sensation at least once.

So all I can do now is keep writing and maintain a positive attitude while staying reasonably sane and level-headed.

I’m a huge fan of tales from the trenches, so any anecdotes of early-in-my-career experiences and such are more than welcome in the comments below.

-Movie of the Moment: MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (2013). I didn’t think there was really a demand for this; the first one seemed more than enough. Despite it’s box office success, I wouldn’t call this another home run for Pixar. A triple, maybe. And kudos to them for making the college experience as G-rated/Disney-safe as possible.

V was interested in seeing it, but she didn’t laugh that much. There were chuckles from both of us, but not as many as you would expect.

Still, glad we saw it, especially in 2-D, and at one of SF’s remaining single-screen theatres. We’re always happy to send them business.

-It’s heartbreaking on several levels to read how much THE LONE RANGER is sounding more and more like a train wreck (no pun intended). Hopefully this won’t be yet another death knell for westerns in 21st century, such as the one I’m working on.  I’m discouraged, but not defeated.