105ish pages down to 1

vintage gym
Not that kind of reduction process

With the page-producing phase of the horror-comedy spec now underway, I’m also finding the occasional need to do a little side work on it. In this case, it’s the 1-page synopsis for said script.

Summarizing your entire story on one solitary page (or one and a half, according to some of my associates) is, as many writers already know, not as easy as it sounds. Yours truly being no exception.

Past 1-pagers for past scripts were the usual challenge, but I managed. Somehow. Part of that challenge has always been inadvertently including too much of the story. As much as I’d like to put all of it in there, that just won’t work.

The key is to focus on the main character and what they go through to achieve their goal, with a strong emphasis on conflict. I’ve also found it very helpful to break each act down into its core components – especially key events and plot points.

Trying to include subplots and supporting characters was just clogging the whole thing up, so those quickly fell by the wayside, which really helped streamline the whole thing.

This time is a little different, probably due to having multiple protagonists. Well, at least it starts that way. This is a horror story, so as you’d expect, people are gonna die.

Not being as familiar with the horror genre, I wasn’t sure of the most effective way to put together a 1-pager for this kind of story. Is there more emphasis on the horror part? Or the story with some horror elements thrown in? “The learning never stops” indeed.

Feeling a bit stumped, I did like all smart writers do, and asked my network of savvy creatives for whatever assistance and guidance they could provide.

Glad I did.

(Hearty shoutout to everybody who reposnded and got in touch – I really appreciate it)

More than one said to focus on the one character the reader/audience would consider the heart of the story, and follow what happens to them. That I can do.

Others, who’ve also written stories starting with several protagonists and see their numbers reduced along the way, suggested listing them all at the outset, so as they’re gradually eliminated, there’s no sense of “Who’s that again?” I might give that a try.

There was the smart reminder to “keep things simple”. Don’t fall into the trap of making it too cluttered or complicated. Just tell the story in a clear and straightforward manner.That might take a little editing and revising, but I think I can also do that.

Based on all of these comments, plus my own experience, having a solid 1-pager in my possession seems definitely achievable.

Cave scriptor, indeed*

vintage teacher
*Latin for “Writer, beware”. Ain’t that the truth?

Settle yourself into a comfy chair with your refreshing beverage of choice at the ready, because have I got quite a story for you. Hopefully one from which everybody can benefit.

I belong to a few screenwriting-oriented networking sites, and do what I can to engage with other members. I do what I can to be friendly, outgoing, and supportive with each connection.

Back in mid-July, I got an email from one such person. Their bio lists them as a “producer, screenwriter, and script consultant”. Would I be interested in a script swap? Despite having a few other reads already lined up, I’m always up for such a thing and agreed, telling them I’d try to get to it soon. Turns out they were in a similar situation.

They sent their script, and I sent mine. After a few days, I’d worked my way through the other projects and started in on their script.

Oh boy.

I won’t say it was awful, but I’d have to say in all honesty it simply wasn’t good. I’d also add that it made me seriously question their credentials.

Among the details:

-a passive protagonist I really didn’t care for, and who didn’t give me any reason to want to see them achieve their goal.

-a weak antagonist with a cartoonish goal

-underdeveloped story/bad structure, including several unresolved subplots and a big letdown of an ending

-unrealistic dialogue

-flat supporting characters

I pointed out what didn’t work for me and why, and offered suggestions of potential fixes. (I always make a point of never ever saying “this is how I’d do it”.) I’d estimate it was around 2 pages worth of notes, and they were free to use or ignore whatever they wanted.

I sent it out Friday afternoon.

Saturday morning, this was the email I got.

“Thanks, Paul.”

Seriously. That was it.

I came to two potential conclusions:

-I was an ignorant know-nothing boob to the nth degree with zero appreciation for their extraordinary skills (“How dare you not recognize my genius!”), and they were just saying “thanks” to be polite

-My notes were so cruel and inhuman, and if that was how we were going to play that game, then they’d be just as ruthless and grind my script into a bloody mess

Hyperbole on my part? Maybe, but check out their response again and think about what your reaction would be.

I figured it was one or the other, but all I could do now was wait (while working on other scripts, naturally).

Quick reminder – this was the end of July.

August passes. No response.

September. Still nothing. (but I did finish the outline of another script, so…yay)

Hmm. Several possibilities now.

-they still haven’t read it

-they read it, but haven’t gotten around to sending the notes

-they forgot. It happens.

-because of what I said about their script, they were deliberately not reading it OR sending the notes. To punish me, I guess?

September came to a close, and I figured I’d been patient enough.

I sent an email – “Know it’s been a while, and I’m sure you’ve been busy, but wanted to check in and see if you’ve had a chance to take a look at my script. Thanks.”

Five days later…

“Best script I ever read.”

Again, that was it.

I asked if they could elaborate. (note – this is my comedy)

Were there any parts you felt could use more work?
“Nope.  Perfect.”

What did you think of the characters?
“Outstanding.”

Your thoughts on the jokes?
“I was rolling on the floor laughing.”

Anybody else find this just a tad suspicious, and, oh, total and utter bullshit?

No apology. No remorse. No attempt to make amends. Just a handful of “ain’t I hilarious?” bare minimum answers.

I really wanted to say something in response. Call them out for it. Tell them what an incredibly brazen dick move that was. I even came up with several scenarios to trap them in their sinister web of lies and deceit.

But in the end, I was getting all worked up for nothing. And this person is most definitely NOT worth it. All I’d lost was two hours of reading and writing notes, as well as severing our connection on that networking site. No skin off my nose.

I can only surmise they didn’t like what I had to say, so for whatever reason, decided to not read my script, and after being asked (reminded?) to uphold their end of the deal, took it one step further and opted to not even bother.

I don’t really mind that they didn’t read the script – especially after seeing their writing “skills” in action – but if you’re going to claim you’re a “professional”, then you damned well better act like it. No matter what.

Bet they wouldn’t have done this if I’d been a paying client. Thank goodness it never came to that.

Present yourself as someone who supposedly knows what they’re doing, but then show that’s not the case, and you’re just screwing yourself. Sometimes all you’ve got going for you is your reputation, and once that’s tarnished, you might never be able to restore it.

And let me also add that YOU CAME TO ME.  You wanted MY help. And this is how you react because I didn’t like your script? Too fucking bad. Is this how you’re going to treat  others who make similar comments? I may not be the most talented or analytical of writers, but at least I treat everybody with respect, even when they don’t deserve it.

When we read another writer’s script, we don’t want it to just be good. We want it to be so phenomenal we can’t believe we had the privilege of being able to read it.

Notes are about the script, not the writer. Of course you’re going to take criticism personally. But you can’t. I have no idea how much work you put into it, but are you more interested in making your script better, or getting a pat on the head and told “Good job”?

I hope this little incident doesn’t deter other writers from taking part in a script swap, including with me. Schedule permitting, I’m always happy to do so. Fortunately, most of my other script-swapping experiences have been of a significantly more positive nature. This was just one of those rare negative exceptions.

Hopefully you have a strong sense of  what kind of writer/note-giver the other person is, and once those scripts are swapped, definitely make sure both of you hold up your respective ends of the bargain.

Because the last thing you want is to get on a writer’s bad side.

You don’t know me, but can you help me?

the-stranger
Let’s not complicate things with petty details like who I am

So this email arrived yesterday.

“Hi, Paul, Do you know any past or current Executive Producers that might be eager to engage in a new multi-billion dollar franchise that could be as good as “Harry Potter” or “Star Wars”?”

Immediate smartass answer: Well, of course I do, person-I’ve-never-communicated-with-before! I like the cut of your jib, especially with that totally unsolicited request for help! I’ll pass your info along straightaway! Even though I think smoking is a totally unhealthy thing, I’m going to learn how just to be able to literally light cigars with hundred-dollar bills which I’ll be grabbing out of the huge bags o’cash which will no doubt be continuously rolling in once Hollywood gets its mitts on this!

Secondary upon-reflection answer: Do you really think this is the best approach?

Sure, we’ve been connected on a networking site for several years, but as far as I can recall, have had absolutely no interaction during that time. No emails. No comments on a post. Not even a single “Hey, how’s it going?” And then, totally out of the blue, you come to me and ask for help.

I’m more than happy to help somebody out when I can, but it has to be somebody I know, somebody I’ve communicated with, and somebody I think is worth helping. Apart from this nebulous “connection” we have, to me you’re little more than a total stranger.

And you’re not asking for just any kind of help. You have what you proclaim to be “the next big thing”. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard or read that about a script/story/idea, I’d be able to fund my own franchise.

It’s great that you have a high opinion of your material, as you should, but keep in mind you might be the only one who does. You can prognosticate all you want, but that’s not going to impact anything. You can’t say something’s going to be a hit because you want it to be.

I’m still a little fuzzy on the details, but I think the title “Executive Producer” depends on the extent of that person’s involvement with the project. Until then, I believe “producer” is the appropriate title. Feel free to enlighten the rest of us in the comment section.

Let’s also discuss the fact that you sent this to me. Me. Why? I’m not exactly Mr Industry Insider. In fact, I’m more likely in the same boat as you; a nobody busting his ass trying to establish a career. Did you know that? Did you do any research, or are you just sending this to as many people as possible, hoping one of them works out?

I never responded to the email in question, simply because I don’t think it’s worth it. I suspect anything short of “Here are those names you asked for” would not be welcome, let alone “This is a really unprofessional email, and here’s why”. As always, I wish them the best of luck.

I’ll admit I’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years, but each one has been a learning experience unto itself. I’ve learned how to network, how to communicate, and how to interact. I know how to seek out help and how to offer it. I’m a firm believer in researching and finding out everything I can about whatever it is I’m working on.

I always strive to be as professional as I can when it comes to this sort of thing. Everybody’s a potential future partner/connection/resource, but I don’t take it for granted.

I’ll treat you with respect provided you do the same.

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.

 

Expiration date: NEVER!

arthur dent
Don’t throw in the towel just yet, Arthur

A friend emailed me earlier this week to vent his frustration regarding the latest development for pitching his TV pilot. Suffice to say, it didn’t go the way he’d hoped.

“Writing is hard work for me, and to have a project like this dismissed completely deflates me. I think I need to set a deadline (end of 2016?), and if I haven’t gotten a sale or at least representation by then, exit, stage left.”

I can totally sympathize. Who hasn’t been in that boat before? You try and try, feel like you’re making no headway and going nowhere fast.

But setting up a deadline of when you’ll stop once and for all?

Um, no.

As we all know, this is not an easy thing to do. The odds are already stacked against us, and it takes an extraordinary amount of effort, determination and perseverance to keep moving forward. And that’s just to get your first break.

I of all people can attest to feeling like nothing good is ever going to happen for me, and why again am I putting myself through the agony of all of this?

Because we’re writers. WE WRITE BECAUSE WE LOVE DOING IT.

For a writer willing to give up writing is, to quote the late, great Vizzini, inconceivable. As crazy as it sounds, I’d rather write and continue to fail than not write at all. (But in theory would be improving after each failure, thereby resulting in an inevitable success.)

DON’T GIVE UP. You never know when things will work out for you, so continuously having at it will always increase your odds.

Continue to work on getting better. Even if only a handful of people read your stuff and like it, that’s still a victory. And they do add up.

IT’S A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT. It takes a very, very long time to get to the finish line, let alone at your desired pace. And even then, you’re always striving to improve on it. Take this from someone who writes screenplays AND does half-marathons.

Believe me, there will be shitty days. Lots of them. You will be angry and frustrated. You will see others succeed while you feel like you’re going nowhere. It happens. But that’s the price you pay for setting off on this seemingly impossible journey.

But also keep in mind that you’re not alone. There are lots of us out on a similar path. Feel free to make the occasional turn so your path intersects with somebody else’s. It can help make the journey a bit easier.

My friend responded with a note of thanks and gratitude, which included “I’m ultimately a storyteller, a writer. This is what I exist to do, even if my audience is a small one. I will work hard to find it and share my stories.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Hang in there, chums.