My scripts won’t win Oscars

Nate D. Sanders Auctions Collection Of Academy Award Oscar Statuettes Set To Be Auctioned
“And the Oscar goes to…not me”

The Academy Awards are this weekend, and as is our usual custom, we’ll be watching it on TV while enjoying Chinese takeout from the place up the street.

Naturally, as a writer, the categories that interest me the most are about the screenplays; Best Original and Best Adapted. No slight against the rest of it, but let’s be honest. Movies start with an idea written down on paper.

What aspirational screenwriter doesn’t imagine that scenario where their script is the one they announce as taking the top prize? No doubt the number is legion of those who have given their acceptance speech to the imaginary crowd represented by the bathroom mirror.

Oscar-winning scripts are often held up as examples of HOW IT SHOULD BE DONE, so those are the ones we devour, studying them, picking them over, straining to get every ounce of help for our writing out of them as we can.

As entertaining and informative as these scripts are, I’ve also come to the conclusion that the kind of stuff I write – escapist adventure fare – isn’t exactly on the same wavelength as what the Academy appreciates.

Some writers want to write compelling tales about the human condition. Me, I want to spin ripping yarns involving the amazing and fantastic. Last I checked, those kinds of stories don’t usually win a statue of a little gold man.

And that’s quite okay by me. I just really like telling these kinds of stories. They may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but play to your strengths, right? You can’t please everybody.

Don’t get me wrong, being forever known as an “Academy Award-winning screenwriter” would be utterly amazing (and finally give me a good reason to want to go to my high school reunion), but that’s not what this is all about.

If I ever have the incredibly good fortune to establish a career as a working screenwriter who’s even more fortunate in being able to see their work up on the big screen, then just that in itself I would consider winning the biggest prize of them all.



Caveat emptor, baby

Step right up, friends! Have I got a deal for you!
Step right up, friends! Have I got a deal for you!

I knew going into this round of sending out query letters that my chances of success were slim at best (which could also be said about trying to establish a career in screenwriting in general).

No big results to report so far, but there’s been a very interesting development. One that all writers should pay attention to.

I’d sent the query out, and a few hours later received this email (details deleted so as to ensure privacy)

“Dear Paul,

My friend and business associate XX (the manager) forwarded to me your query (SCRIPT TITLE) in case you might be interested in my consulting service (website).  XX and I worked together (I as a studio executive at XX, XX as the producer) on the film XX, starring XX.  My service offers you my experience having worked with countless writers during my 35 years as a studio executive.  Here’s what I do:  I analyze what you have written – in this case your screenplay – from a creative standpoint to start with, and if I feel its quality and potential are apparent and strong, I will try to attract for you an agent or manager.  I will also develop a strategy to sell your work and will offer it to producers, a director or cast in order to position the material for acquisition by a financing entity such as a studio.  My fee for this is modest by industry standards, and it will depend on how much time I judge it will take to do my job.
Please let me know if this triggers any interest on your part.

Trigger interest it does, but probably not how you intended.

There’s a lot in here that just feels…awkward, and maybe a little predatory?

-“I analyze what you have written from a creative standpoint“. Checking out this person’s IMDB page, not counting some current in-development TV work, their last credit was in 1998, and the rest were in the early 80s. Checking the website, their bio touts some high-profile work, including being a member of the Academy’s judging committee and “a high level evaluator of screenplays” for one of the top-tier contests. Giving them the benefit of the doubt on this one.

-“and if I feel its quality and potential are apparent and strong“. With opinions about scripts being so extremely subjective, this person could like something that nobody else does, and vice versa. And if the script still needs work, the website claims they’ll “assist in giving you creative direction.” I can kind of accept that.

-“I will try to attract for you an agent or manager.” Which is how this whole thing started. Is there any chance it might be the manager I originally sent to? Also note they will “try”, so it’s not guaranteed.

-“I will also develop a strategy to sell your work and will offer it to producers, a director or cast in order to position the material for acquisition by a financing entity such as a studio.” So…you’d put a package together? I’m still learning the business aspects, but this sounds like what an agent would do, which makes me wonder if you get a percentage. This comes across as very pie-in-the-sky, make-your-dreams-come-true.

I also noticed that all the testimonials on the website are all raves about this person’s help with each person’s script, but not one mention of anything beyond that. Nothing about somebody getting representation, selling a script, getting their script to the studio level, or being produced as a result of working with them. It would be nice to see something that goes beyond the script consulting phase.

-“My fee for this is modest by industry standards, and it will depend on how much time I judge it will take to do my job.” Since I’m not familiar with this aspect of the industry, what exactly does ‘modest’ mean? A few hundred? A thousand? No matter how much, it doesn’t sound cheap. Prices are only available via email. And what about this whole “depends on how much time I judge” part? What if it takes longer than expected? Doesn’t it always? Do I have to keep paying if nothing’s happening? And what if the whole thing falls through in the end?

For all I know, this person is totally legitimate and could be exactly what some writer out there needs. But to me, it just feels weird. You shouldn’t be paying for career help anyway. If your material’s good enough, they’ll find you and be willing to help.

Cue the cartoon Disney animals!

You know that feeling when you come up with a story idea you can’t wait to jump into, and then when you actually do, writing it is even better than you could have possibly imagined?  Almost as if the physical act of writing is no longer a chore-like slog, but has become a thrilling way of putting the excitement of your imagination right there on the page?

That’s exactly what’s happening now as I turn my western outline into a script.

I’ve been doing my best to stick to the at-least-1-page-a-day method, and so far, it’s been working out nicely. Going into yesterday, I was on the verge of getting to page 3, but made it to almost the end of page 4 courtesy of bringing my laptop to V’s soccer practice.  It was also cool to completely revamp the scene’s ending totally on the fly. I like when the creativeness kicks in like that.

(Working in a public space is becoming so much more productive. Good thing there are lots of coffee shops and cafes in our neighborhood.)

It’s really hard to describe how jazzed I am about writing this.  I don’t know if it’s the love of the genre, or letting my enjoyment of pulp-y adventure shine through, or just plain having fun with it. Maybe it’s a little of everything.  Truth be told, I wouldn’t trade this feeling for anything.

How powerful is this positive sensation? Not only am I not even acknowledging that internal voice of self-doubt and naysaying, but if it were possible, I’d send everybody a piece of my homemade pecan pie just to make their day a little brighter.  Trust me. That’s saying something.

Of course, I’m not completely oblivious to reality. This thing is going to need some major work when the first draft is finished. There will most likely be all sorts of details that need to be fixed, ranging from story to characters to historical accuracy.

But I don’t care about any of that right now. I’m really enjoying this and want to keep that feeling going as long as possible.

It’s also my hope that my enthusiasm comes across on the page, which would make it that much more fun a read for somebody else.  Who wouldn’t appreciate becoming engrossed in a rousing tale of adventure?

-The Oscars. Since we have Apple TV, the show wasn’t streamed live (unless we wanted to subscribe to a service we’ll never need or buy a useless product) so we couldn’t watch it, but were able to hear the audio. Hopefully the Academy and the networks will accept that live streaming is an inevitable part of the future and make the appropriate changes. Probably not, but one can hope.

Regarding the awards the awards themselves, nothing too surprising except for how well LIFE OF PI did. Guess I’ll actually have to see it now, along with most of the other BP nominees.

-Movie of the Moment – DREDD (2012). I’m familiar with the comic, and this was a much stronger adaptation of it than the Stallone version. Karl Urban was a great fit for the lead.

In terms of plot, if you enjoyed THE RAID: REDEMPTION, you’ll like this. The same concept, more or less, but with less martial arts and more whiz-bang special effects. Overall, not a bad way to spend 92 minutes.

15 days and dwindling fast

NOT the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences

The deadline for the Nicholl Fellowships is coming up fast – May 1st! – and I keep going back and forth as to whether I want to submit DREAMSHIP.

I like how the rewrite’s been coming along and think it’s pretty solid, but I want to be absolutely sure the end result is what I want it to be, which could mean another pass at it once I finish this rewrite/edit.

A tough choice, actually.

I’ll have more time to write between now and then, so I’m hoping to have a better idea of what I’d like to do near the end of the month.  Either way, I’ll end up with a script I like, and that’s the important part.

If you’ve already sent yours in, good for you. If not, are you and your script ready?