Lattes, lunches & kindred spirits

coffee
“And then he actually asked, “But what’s your Save the Cat moment?””

It’s been a busy week around here, and not just in terms of writing.

I’ve had some great in-person meet-ups with three other local writers over the past couple of days. Two were first-timers, the third was someone I’ve known for a couple of years. Each one was great in its own way. This really is one of my favorite parts of networking – actually meeting somebody else and getting to know them.

Because of my work schedule, lunch or early afternoon coffee are ideal. I prefer a nice little cafe because it always makes for a better one-on-one environment: quiet, sociable, pleasant. Larger networking events, usually at bars, tend to be pretty crowded and noisy, which makes it tough to establish a solid rapport. I’m not too keen on having to continuously shout and not be entirely sure either of us can hear the other.

The first meeting usually involves the exchanging of “here’s my story” mini-bios, and then moves on to what’s going on for both parties. Over the course of about an hour, we’ll share and discuss our individual journeys as writers. Everybody’s journey is different, and I always find each one quite fascinating.

We often share many similarities: our constantly working in the hopes of eventually succeeding as a writer (or filmmaker), the noticeable excitement while discussing our latest project(s), wondering how it’ll go and how it’ll be received.

We are also allowed free rein to vent our frustration about whatever’s currently sticking in our respective craws. Bad experiences, lack of funds for a project, feeling stuck with developing a story, dealing with lousy notes, and so on. One of my new connections even stated, “It’s nice to know I’m not the only one this has happened to!”

That may be what’s at the heart of all of this: knowing you’re not the only one trying to do this, and that somebody else totally understands what it is you’re going through. Simply being able to chat about it in a casual social setting can do wonders; one might even call it therapeutic.

I also make a point of offering to help out in any capacity I can, which tends to usually be either giving script notes or suggesting potential contacts and strategies, and just about everybody is more than happy to reciprocate. Who can’t use a little help?

If you haven’t done so already, I heartily recommend reaching out and connecting with somebody in your area, especially if both of you are within close proximity to each other. Chances are they’re seeking to do the exact same thing.

You know the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”? Well, this not only applies to breaking in, but also to helping you work your way towards that. Building up your personal network of fellow creatives is easy, won’t cost you that much (just what you’d spend on a cup of coffee or a meal), and is a definite plus for all involved.

Leaving an indelible impression

footprint
Not expecting it to last millions of years, but wouldn’t complain about it either

As an avid fan of summer movies, this year has been one big disappointment after another. Granted, I haven’t seen a few of the latest releases yet (STAR TREK BEYOND, SUICIDE SQUAD), but barely remember anything since CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, and that came out in early May.

Remember all the hoopla preceding the GHOSTBUSTERS reboot? Kind of died off quickly, didn’t it? We saw it opening weekend, mostly because V wanted to, and it was…okay. I don’t attribute it’s lack of success to angry fans of the original, but because it just wasn’t that great a movie.

Was anything from this summer truly memorable? So far, not really (although I’m still holding out hope for the exquisite-looking KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS).

It honestly seemed like everything simply wasn’t up to standard. Despite what the various marketing assaults might indicate, the end products felt too slapdash and that too many projects were focused on being ready for the release date rather than making sure the script was rock-solid.

Based on this and almost-daily reports of forthcoming reboots, remakes, and overall more of the same-ness, breaking in as a writer of original material suddenly seems significantly harder. Not only does your script have to really wow ’em, but it better pack a significant wallop on several levels.

A great, new story with phenomenal characters, all told in the most captivating way possible. Simple, no? I realize that a lot of films start with great scripts, but the process that leads up to the film being unleashed on the public can drastically affect it – too many times not for the better.

I’ve always seen my objective as to not only tell you a story that hasn’t been told before (or at least tell an old one in a totally new way), but to tell it in the most entertaining way possible. I want you to not be able to get those images out of your head (in a good way, as opposed to a dear-God-please-make-the-nightmares-stop kind of way).

I’ll be the first to admit that I’d love for one of my scripts to be one of the surprise hits of a summer season, but if recent releases are typical of what kind of material I’m up against, my work is more than cut out for me, if not potentially impossible.

It wouldn’t surprise me if somewhere down the line, my script got turned down because it was deemed “too original”.

A scary, sobering, and all-too-possible thought.

 

One scene, three points

trident
Careful not to get stuck on any of them

After some thorough self-imposed analysis, the revising of the comedy spec is underway. It’s getting easier to spot trouble spots.

There’s one scene in particular that’s giving me some trouble. It’s a pivotal scene involving the main character and offers a revealing glimpse into his backstory. The problem was in figuring out how to best do that.

After much drumming of fingers, rubbing of chin, and a whole lot of attempts, a potential solution may have presented itself. It’s still in the development phase, but for now, quite workable.

One of the first things I learned about screenwriting was what each scene needs to accomplish:  advance the plot, the character, and the theme.

Regarding plot, does the scene move things forward? Does it fall neatly into place in terms of how the overall sequence of events plays out? If you took it out, would it totally mess things up?

I’ve read a lot of scripts where something happens and I don’t know why. Maybe it’ll pay off later? Sometimes it does. Other times, well…

Another handy tip when it comes to advancing the plot in a scene: do it quickly. Get to the point of the scene as fast as you can, then get out. Don’t wait around. Just get out now. Too many times I’ve seen a scene drag on much, much longer than it needs to.

Regarding character, does each scene show them changing a little bit more from when they were first introduced? This doesn’t just apply to the main character. Every character needs to grow/develop. Wouldn’t it be kind of boring to read a story where nobody changes?

And tying it into the advancement of plot, every situation the character experiences should help move their own development along.

Which brings us to theme. The message of your story. This can be a little tricky.

Each scene should tie into the theme, or have it on display in some manner. I recently worked with a writer having trouble tying everything together. We discussed the story and the main character’s internal and external goals. What was the message they wanted to convey? Based on those discussions, we were able to come up with a theme that worked for both the story and as it applied to all of the characters.

One of my favorite examples of a theme in use is BACK TO THE FUTURE. Early on, Marty says “History’s going to change.” And boy, does it. We get a ton of set-up in the first act, and then everything does indeed change in the second act as all of those setups are paid off. Amazing.

Take a look at your latest draft. Does each scene advance the topics in question? If not, do you have a way to fix that so it does? The more you get in the habit of doing this, the easier it’ll get and the faster it’ll become second nature to do it all the time.

In it for the long haul

ahab
A somewhat extreme example, but you get the idea

Some days this is quite the struggle. You slave away on a script, send it out (contest, query, what have you) and hope for the best.

Unfortunately, a lot of the time, the best isn’t what happens. There will be rejection. A lot of it.

But every defeat is temporary, and a chance to regroup and try again.

In the beginning, when somebody tells you “no”, you take it personally. But you eventually grasp the concept that they’re addressing the writing, not the writer. You hunker down and keep going, continuously striving to improve.

The “no”s will still come, but eventually you get to the point where you simply shrug it off.

“Why even bother?” some might say. “Why keep doing this to yourself?”

Because the longer and harder you work at it, the closer you get to reaching that goal.

Because we feel this is a goal worth pursuing.

Because we’re compelled to.

Because we believe in our abilities.

Because we love doing it.

Success, especially when it applies to screenwriting, does not come easy. Or quickly. You will need an unlimited amount of patience and perseverance. This is going to be a long, perilous journey.

I’ve started walking. Who wants to come with me?

And I think this is a pretty good way to get things started.