Looking back (and a peek ahead)

Me around 10:30 on New Year’s Eve

As the end of the year gets closer, one can’t help but be a little reflective of how the past 12 months have gone, and in this context, it’s all about the screenwriting and its related subjects.

-My western. A labor of love finally put to bed once and for all. This script has gone through A LOT of changes, and both I and it could not have gotten to this point without the sage feedback received from many of my trusted colleagues.

-Other scripts. Over the course of this year, I completed a first draft and two outlines (with a third in its final stages), all for separate scripts. I may not be as productive as I’d like, but think this is still pretty good. I’m hoping that at least two of these will be completed scripts by this time next year.

-Establishing a career. I’ve always said that each draft of every script gets me a little closer to accomplishing that dream of being a working writer. 2015 saw some strong progress on that front. My writing’s getting better, I discovered I’m pretty good at pitching, and found out the hard way what should and shouldn’t go into a query letter. It’s an ongoing learning process, but I’m getting there. Hopes are high of moving to the next level or two in 2016.

-Networking. The number of writers I’ve connected and interacted with has definitely grown by leaps and bounds. Some have been in person, while most have been via social media, but the benefits have been tremendous all around. From exchanging script notes to being a sounding board for ideas to plain old moral support, you couldn’t ask for a more helpful bunch of folks. Hopefully they got as much out of it as I did. Highly recommended.

-Running. After involuntarily taking a year off, I got back into the habit of going for runs and took part in four half-marathons this year. Didn’t set any new records, but stayed within my realm of expectatins. Really glad I did them and already looking forward to the ones next year. How does this relate to screenwriting? Well, apart from the standard quote of “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon (or half-marathon, in my case)”, it’s about determination, endurance, perseverance, and setting a goal and working towards achieving it. All necessary elements involved in writing a script.

-The blog. This year saw the wrap-up of my series of interviews with scripts readers and consultants. I still keep in touch with a lot of them, and happy to say that a lot of those posts continue to get hits. Thanks to all of you for that. In the meantime, no big changes planned for what you read around here, but I’ve got a few ideas.

Thanks for reading, happy new year, and may we all get some kickass writing done in 2016.


Still flying, still buttressing

Helping support writers since 2009!

The post from earlier this week was all about my excitement about my new story idea. Little did I realize what kind of effect that would have on some readers.

“The enthusiasm oozing from your blog post is contagious. I have a story line that is brewing, too! Thanks for the encouragement here!”

Shucks, folks. I’m speechless. (“Oozing”? “Contagious”? Makes me feel like I require medical attention.)

It kind of reminded me of this post from 2 1/2 years ago.

Those that have been following this blog for a while know what a big proponent I am about networking and supporting those within your network.

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have not only established solid relationships with several writers of considerable talent, but been the fortunate recipient of their advice and guidance in helping me hone my writing skills. In turn, I don’t hesitate when one of them asks me for my two cents about their latest project.

Hard as this might be for some to believe, being nice to people actually has its benefits, and isn’t that difficult.

Or is it?

As has been well documented here, I’ve had several online encounters with those who make comments of an overly negative nature (which, a majority of the time, don’t include anything that actually helps).

It truly amazes me when somebody I’ve never met, and most likely never will meet, has no problem spitting out harsh and condescending answers to what are generally simple questions, or somebody just seeking some helpful insight or advice.

Whatever their reason, what exactly is the point of acting like this? If anything, it makes me want to avoid you at all costs. I’m already doing a bang-up job being full of self-doubt. I don’t need your help.

I strive to be the opposite of that, and help people out when I can. It’s in my nature.

And if you’re reading this, I sincerely hope it’s in yours as well.

A workload on steroids

Man drowning in stacks of paperwork
All I need to do is cut out the non-essentials. Who needs food, sleep or oxygen anyway?

I’m in the home stretch for the November writing project. I got into Act 3 over the weekend, and think there about 10-12 pages left before I can call it a day. No reason I can’t wrap things up in the next couple of days. Estimated final page count should be somewhere in the mid-90s, so pretty much where I was hoping it would be.

My original intent was to put that on the back burner once it was done and shift my focus to another script, but something else has developed that definitely requires my attention: other people’s work.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been very fortunate to have gotten some fantastic feedback from friends and trusted colleagues. Now it’s my turn to return the favor.

Actually, make that favors. Plural.

Every time I’ve asked someone if they’d be willing to read and give me notes, I always offer to do the same for them. And several have taken me up on the offer.

Which is totally fine. I just didn’t expect all of them to happen within such a short timeframe.  But it’s cool. Just requires a little planning.

Some script-related items, two scripts requiring special attention (with a bit of a time limitation), and at least 4-5 others getting straight-up notes. Yeah, that’s a lot, but I’d feel pretty shitty if I didn’t reciprocate the kindness all of these folks extended to me.

While I’d love to keep the 2-pages-a-day momentum going clear through to the end of December and have at least part of a draft of another script, taking care of these is now top priority.

It may take me a little longer than I expect, but I always strive to honor my commitments. I said I’d do something for you, and by gosh, I’ll do it.

It’s the least I can do.

Ask a Nicholl-winning Script Reader!


The first in a series of interviews with some script readers who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape.

Today’s spotlight on: Doug Davidson!

Not only is Doug Davidson a Nicholl Fellow, but his script LETTER QUEST has the distinction of being the only animation script to ever achieve that honor.

1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. The most compelling character to hit the movies in a while is an ape. Caesar is a textbook protagonist. An extraordinary individual doing extraordinary things under extraordinary pressure. When you can end a movie by zooming in on the lead character’s face, and not have it feel cheesy, you know you’ve done something right.

2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?

I started in a screenwriting group, a large group that lasted several years. Early on, we agreed on always giving each other formal written feedback, because if you don’t have to write your feedback down, then you don’t think nearly as hard about it. When you put your feedback in paragraph form, you realize you have to make sense, you have to be consistent and you have to justify what you say. It gave me the discipline to write constructive, reasoned feedback instead of just tossing out opinions.

3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?

Recognizing perfect writing is easy and intuitive. Anyone can do it. Recognizing the potential in a promising script that isn’t quite working yet, that takes more experience. And it takes a writer’s mentality. You need to study the craft for years. There are rules that are easy to memorize, but how to apply them, that’s much more difficult. Blindly applying the rules doesn’t lead to good writing, or good feedback.

4. What are the components of a good script?

The craft has to be there, and then there has to something else, a plus one. It could be funny comedy. It could be insight. It could be a new idea. That’s the “talent” part. You might think it’s this “plus one” that’s missing from most scripts, but I find the opposite to be true a lot of the time. Often a script has this amazing unique element, but the nuts and bolts of the story just aren’t in place yet. That’s when making the extra effort to put all the craft elements together really pays off.

5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?

One of the most common mistakes I see is writers thinking a plot point (or character trait or thematic element) is clear on the page when in actuality it’s really not. At least not clear enough. It happens all the time, even to seasoned writers. That’s why feedback is so important. It’s not about saying your vision is wrong. It’s about saying your vision isn’t quite visible. Yet. The trick is to make sure everyone can see it.

6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?

Just about any story idea could work with the right execution. That said, I’ve come across a surprising number of scripts about screenwriters writing screenplays. Autobiography finds its way into most scripts, but it really helps to disguise it just a little.

7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?

(1) Don’t (2) Give (3) Up.

8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?

Nothing is absolute, but I’ve read more than a dozen really excellent unproduced scripts that I would recommend. I won’t go into the loglines here, but they’ve spanned just about every genre. I love to stay in the loop with the scripts I’ve read, especially the great ones. Several are optioned, several have placed very well in major contests and two have well known actors attached. Many of the writers of these scripts have secured representation as well. It requires some grit, but first-rate work will eventually get you places in this industry.

9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?

Screenwriting contests are absolutely worth it. It’s not the only path to success or a guarantee of success, but I know a fair amount of writers who have benefited greatly from contest placements. If you get an opportunity to read for a contest, I recommend that too. I’ve done it and learned a lot from the experience.

10. How can people can get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?

My website is www.fourstarfeedback.com. I have a screenwriting blog there based on my experiences in the industry (and the numerous mistakes I’ve made). I’m also happy to answer specific questions via the email listed on my site.

11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

I love pie too! I like to bake my own key lime pies. They’re pretty easy to do. I also love coconut custard, blueberry and anything with peanut butter. But my favorite would have to be . . . pecan. A great pecan pie has a sludgy quality – an intensely sweet sludge – balanced by a nutty crunch. Thanks for thinking of me, Paul! We’ll have to get together sometime for some coffee, and pie.

Constructive criticism – a force for good

If I can't hear you, then it's not true
If I can’t hear you, then it must not be true

If you met someone who does the same thing you do, but has been doing it longer and with more success, wouldn’t you ask them for advice on how you could get to their level, and more importantly, heed that advice?

While I’m not a professional writer (yet), others, mostly on the newer side, will ask me for feedback on their script.  If I have the time, I’ll do it, and offer up what guidance and suggestions I can.

My notes are sent with the reminder that these are just my opinions to do with as they see fit. Fortunately, most of the responses have been positive and appreciative.

But once in a while, somebody will disagree with what I’ve said or totally ignore it. That’s their choice. They came to me seeking help, and I guess didn’t like what I had to say.

I once asked somebody what kind of material it was, and the answer was long-winded and very academic. While they were droning on, I couldn’t help but think “If they tried to pitch this to a producer, that meeting would probably be over right about now.”

Asking another writer for their logline, I got what sounded more like the short paragraph you’d see on the back of a novel. I tried a few different approaches, each time hoping to point them in the right direction as well as coax out some of the creativity they claimed to have. No such luck. After offering up what you do and don’t want to have in a logline, the response was a curt “Got it. Thanks.”  Can’t say I didn’t try.

Part of me wonders if my advice would be taken more seriously if I charged for it.

You came to me for help, remember? Just because you don’t like the answer doesn’t mean it’s not true.

I’m not trying to be mean. Quite the opposite. There are hard truths about this business that some people just refuse to acknowledge. All of us who came before you learned them the hard way, and if you want to make it, then you’re going to have to do the same.