A support staff of one

multitasking
At least you’re a shoo-in for Employee of the Month

When it all comes down to it, you know who’s going to do the most to help you and your career?

That’s right. You. Nobody else.

Sure, there will be others who might be able to give you a helping hand now and then, but the responsibility of getting stuff done falls squarely on your shoulders.

This goes beyond just writing and honing your craft. You need to build up your network. Establish connections. Get to know people. Chances are a majority of these will be online and via social media.

Seeking representation or someone who might be receptive to your script? Do your research. Find out who’s looking for what. (And for crying out loud, DO NOT take the “Does somebody have a list I could use?” route.)

“But I’ve got no time to do all that!” you might protest.

Of course you do.

The key element here is time management. You already set aside time to write, don’t you? Well, you have to do the same for everything else. If you can devote part of your day to work on your script, then there’s no reason you can’t dedicate a few minutes to focus on your career.

A surefire way to give yourself more time – stay away from casual websurfing, or at least ration it. So much online material is nothing but a big time-sucking rabbit hole. “Just five more minutes” can easily turn into “Where’d that hour go?” Funny videos are all well and good, but probably won’t do much to help you get your career going.

On Twitter? Connect with 5 people a day. Interact with them. Ask about their projects. Make it about them, not you. If they ask about you and yours, keep it simple. Don’t overwhelm them with details.

Part of some online community forums? Take part. Ask questions. Start discussions. Get to know the other members. A lot of these folks will probably have more experience than you, so learn as much as you can. Very important – don’t be a troll.

Is there a professional writer out there whose work you admire? Send them a note saying just that. DO NOT ask for any favors right out of the gate. Establish a relationship. You’ll eventually know if they’re open to helping you. Sometimes they might even offer it without you asking. It happens.

All of these are going to take time to not only accomplish, but also to develop. Be patient. It will take time. You wouldn’t rush through getting your script done, so apply that same logic to developing and advancing your career.

It’s all on you, so make the most of it.

 

A tentpole frame of mind

 

kids-movies
My objective. Every single time.

Here in the US, we are heading into what’s known as Memorial Day weekend, where we honor those who have given their lives in the service of our country. It’s also considered the kickoff of the summer season, even though summer doesn’t officially start for a few weeks.

Once upon a time, Memorial Day weekend was when the summer movie season kicked into high gear, with each weekend seeing the release of a potential blockbuster. It has since crashed through the barrier of time limitation, with some summer-appropriate fare being released as early as late March.

I was fortunate enough to have come of age when each summer saw its fair share of films that could be categorized as prime examples of not only filmmaking, but also of storytelling.

Definitely storytelling.

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. GHOSTBUSTERS. BACK TO THE FUTURE. ALIENS. ROBOCOP. DIE HARD.

Each one has made its indelible mark on me, making quite the impact on my psyche and personality, and severely influencing the way I write. I make no secret about loving to write these kinds of stories.

(Author’s note – I’m no fool. Nobody’s going to take a chance on a mega-budget script from an unknown. Hopefully once I establish a foothold with my smaller scripts, I can eventually bring out the bigger ones.)

Some may see a summer release as Big Dumb Fun, which admittedly some of them are, but I make a point of treating the audience as intelligent people and want to give them a story that goes beyond simplistic expectations.

I strive to write material that entertains more than just the eyes and ears; I go for the brain, too. It takes a lot of effort to put together a story that stimulates the viewer on more than just a sensory level, but when it’s done in a smart and efficient way, the satisfaction of seeing it pay off is well worth it.

Will I ever get paid to write these kinds of stories? I like to think so. It doesn’t hurt to at least daydream about it.

Imagining that sometime in the relatively near future, a trailer will come up that features snippets of characters and dialogue, all of my creation, all culminating with those words laden with the excitement of anticipation:

“Coming this summer to a theatre near you”

A big smile and chills up my spine, believe you me.

Do you know what you don’t know?

scarecrow
I’m no ThD (Doctor of Thinkology), but I try

Throughout the online writing community, among the many forums and networking groups, there will always be someone, most likely just starting out, who asks a question along the lines of:

“How do I go about accomplishing THIS?”

The variations on this are endless (as are the number of possible answers, but that’s another subject for another time).

A lot of the time, the question stems from a simple lack of knowledge; they just don’t know. Most likely, it’s about a subject which the more seasoned of us have an answer, probably having lived through it ourselves. Hoping to pass on the benefit of your experience, you provide an answer.

Is it what they were expecting to hear? Maybe. Maybe not. But you are giving them THE TRUTH.

With any luck, the question-asker is grateful and appreciative. A win for both sides. They learn something, and you fulfill the mentor role. Even if you just told them “For God’s sake, DON’T DO THAT!!”

And sometimes they don’t like the answer, possibly even getting angry and resenting you for telling them what is, in essence, THE WAY THINGS ARE. How dare you shatter their illusion in which they can do no wrong? They probably don’t realize how petty and thin-skinned they’re acting; two traits which will doom their potential writing career before it  even gets started. Hey, at least you tried to help.

(Side note – this process is a two-way street. If somebody asks you a question straight out of the first day of Screenwriting 101, don’t insult or belittle them for asking it. You were in that exact same situation once too. Plus, it makes you come across as a total dick.)

If you’re among those just starting out, remember that nobody’s first script is at 100 percent. Mistakes will be made. Don’t be afraid of making them. It’s the only way you’re going to learn.

If you’re among those who’ve been down this road many times, be willing to take on the role of patient educator and help when you can.

Even though writing is for the most part a solitary activity, we’re still part of this community, and all in this together.

Ride that positive wave

surfing batman

Let’s face it. This is a business of severe ups and downs, and given our druthers, we all prefer the ups.

But it doesn’t always work out that way, hence the downs. Which also significantly outnumber the ups. By a lot.

Who among us doesn’t have a story where something seemed like a sure thing, and you’re thinking “This is it! My big break is just around the corner!”, only to find out that that break is actually forty blocks away, there’s a transit strike and the Indian food you had for lunch is drop-kicking your lower digestive tract?

Yep, been there.

But I’ve also been fortunate to have had a pretty good share of ups.

Some moderate contest success. Management come and gone. The ultimate goal getting a little closer each time, always seemingly just out of reach with no sign of changing.

Used to be I would get all upset and distraught, and filled with self-doubt.

Not anymore.

I’ve become that dangerous combo of talented, patient and determined.

My writing’s improved, so I’m very confident about the quality of my scripts and the skills I’ve developed to get here. My scripts may not be the absolute best, but if anything, they’re damned entertaining.

There are going to be bad days. There are going to be shitty days. Accept it.

But there will also be good days. There may even be phenomenal days. Days where you feel invincible and unstoppable. These will be few and far between, so enjoy them. Hold onto that feeling and feed off it for as long as you can. It’s definitely not easy to maintain a positive attitude, especially when everything around you feels so negative.

This is just part of the neverending obstacle course we all have to work our way through. At first, it seems impossible, but the more you do it, you’ll find it gets a little easier each time after that.

Surf’s up, chums.

Returning to the sprucing-up stage

painting
It’s going to take just a little bit more than a new coat of paint

It all started with a “Scripts Wanted” listing.

A small prodco with an even smaller budget was looking for a particular kind of script. I felt that one of my earlier efforts was a perfect match, so I sent it in.

A few days later came the response “Just not what I’m looking for.” A bit disappointing, but that’s the way it is. No big deal. I’ve moved on.

It was at this point I realized it had been quite a while since I’d actually read the script. As far as I could remember, it was in good shape.

So I read it.

The result? It’s better than I remember, and a lot of the jokes still work. But what it really needs is just a good, solid edit/polish. There’s definitely some fat in need of trimming, and a lot of that is just extra and/or unnecessary words.

The draft I’d been using for years was 109 pages, which is a little excessive for a comedy. I’ve completed the initial edit, which brought it down to 105. A more thorough red pen edit is underway, and after going through the first third, another page has been cut out, bringing the current total to 104. The hope is to cut out at least another 2-3 pages.

There are at least two sequences (so far) that need rewriting to accommodate some of this editing, and the solution to one of them (a key part of the story) came to me a lot faster than I was expecting. That’s always nice. There’s no reason I couldn’t be done with a much more presentable draft in a week or less, which is also nice.

Since this script is from way back when, it was quite the experience to look at how I used to write with the advantage of having all the knowledge and skill I’ve acquired since then.

Go through your own catalog of completed scripts. Almost-completed and first drafts are allowed. When was the last time you looked at one of your earliest efforts? How does it compare to your most recent project?

I bet it’s super-easy for you to spot the differences between then and now. You might be surprised at how much you’ve improved, or possibly even laugh at how bad you used to be. Happens to everybody.

Whenever I would pass this script along to another writer, I would always precede it with the caveat “This is one of my earlier scripts, so the writing’s not as good.”

After this edit/polish, I don’t think I’ll be saying that anymore.