Script? Boomerang? Bad penny? All of the above?

 

boomerang

I was recently reading a column that was about something like “what makes a writer a WRITER.”

It involved a lot of questions to ask yourself, like “are you somebody who just talks about writing, or somebody who actually writes?” or “do you write only when you feel like it, or do you write no matter how you’re feeling?” That sort of thing.

Another was “Are you a writer who keeps working on the same project over and over again, or are you constantly working on something new?”

That one really stuck out for me. I couldn’t help but wonder if I fell into that category – from both perspectives, with a somewhat concerned eye towards the first part.

In case you weren’t aware, I have a script I’ve been working on for the past few years. It’s gone through several significant rewrites, and garnered some moderate recognition along the way.

But here’s the thing. Every time I complete a draft of it, I say “Okay. That’s it. No more.”

And of course, a few months later, I get some notes on it from some very savvy writers and industry folks, and then go about figuring out which of those notes might work best in the next draft.

Full disclosure – I seek out notes because I want to improve the script’s chances as both a calling card and in the big contests. Placing higher than I have in the past would hopefully improve my chances of making some industry connections.

I could legitimately say the script is finished, but on the other hand, it could also stand a little more work. Just a little.

This is the basis for my line of thinking. Have I spent too much time on it? Sometimes it feels that way, but there are also the times I think “Just a few more little tweaks would really work.”

A possible counter-argument to this is the fact that this most definitely has not been the only script I’ve been working on this entire time. I’ve written four others, along with outlines for another two, not to mention the half dozen or so individual pages that consist mostly of loglines and a handful of ideas for scenes and sequences.

So although a lot of attention has been given to the original script, I’ve gotten in the habit of finishing a draft, and then working on one to two others before I come back to it.

“But why don’t you just stop working on that script entirely? Too much tinkering usually has the opposite effect,” some might say, and some have. I won’t argue that, but I can honestly say that by being very, very selective about which notes to use from each new batch, each new draft of the script has been noticeably better than the previous one. Problem is, it’s a slow and gradual process of improvement.

After this most recent batch of notes, there are a few spots in the script I plan on working on, but that won’t happen anytime soon. Current focus is fleshing out and fine-tuning the horror-comedy outline, followed by a rewrite of a sci-fi spec, and maybe then I’ll consider diving back into this one.

But the inevitable rewrite or two is still going to happen.

And hopefully that’ll be it – emphasis on hopefully.

Results may vary

crystal ball

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been involved in a few online discussions about posting and pitching one’s material via script-hosting and pitching sites (The Black List, InkTip, Virtual PitchFest, etc). I even featured a Q&A about it last year with a trusted colleague who also happens to be a very savvy writer (and had some moderate success in this area).

The primary question: are any of them worth it?

As you’d expect, there’s no easy answer, and everybody’s experience is going to be different. I can only speak for what’s happened to me.

A few years ago, I posted my fantasy-swashbuckler on The Black List, and paid for a review. Based on their comments, I was convinced the reader got to around page 22 or so, had no interest in reading any further, and then skipped to the last page. Biggest clue – no mention at all about anything that happened in the second act.

I griped about it on Twitter, which somebody at the Black List then responded with “You can’t make those kinds of accusations without any evidence to back it up!” (I love the idea that it was Franklin Leonard himself, but doubt he would have been spending his Sunday morning checking the Black List Twitter feed). Skittish newb I was, I backed down.

However, it wasn’t all bad. Through a series of interesting events, the script did get some positive reviews, which actually got me a manager. That was nice, but it didn’t work out, and the relationship soon ended. Since the script wasn’t getting much traction (read: any) on the Black List anymore, that subscription also came to a close.

I’ve also heard from other writers who got a 2 on one review and a 9 on another, or who’ve paid for reviews and heard nothing back. Then after asking about it, managed to get a refund; sometimes they’ll also throw in a credit for a free review as a form of apology. Are these commonplace or rare occurrences? Beats me.

I also signed up for the batch of pitches from Virtual PitchFest, and have so far only pitched to two production companies. While I felt my script was a solid match for the criteria they were seeking, each yielded the same response – “Nothing personal. It just didn’t grab us.” No doubt this is the generic rejection everybody gets.

I still have something like 10 or 11 pitches remaining, and if I opt to actually use them, will probably still be very selective about it. But I also suspect I’ll get the same boilerplate response.

I’ve written before about my experiences with pitching to Stage 32, so I’ll just leave this link here. I believe a lot of the points I make still apply. And at the time, I wouldn’t mention them by name. Things change.

Finally, there’s InkTip. I signed up and posted three scripts. Each subscription period is four months, and I did it two consecutive times. During those eight months, the loglines got constant views, which really doesn’t mean much, one script got downloaded once, and another had the synopsis downloaded twice – amazingly, on the same day, which was also two days before the hosting would expire.

*Interesting side note – If your synopsis or script gets downloaded, InkTip doesn’t want you to follow up with the company until at least three weeks later, and then ONLY by regular mail. I’ve always found that a bit odd, but I guess it’s to discourage bombarding them with constant emails. A follow-up to the prodco that downloaded the script yielded no response at all. A little disheartening at the time, but I got over it pretty quickly.

I also subscribe to the InkTip newsletter because a lot of the time there’s at least one or two listings on it that I can send to. That’s yielded a few read requests, but each of those has ended with “Thanks, but it’s just not for us.”

Between the two, I think the newsletter is the better choice. More options, more possibilities; especially compareed to the extremely low return for just having your scripts hosted on the site. I’ve since let those expire, with no immediate plans to return.

I’m sure there are those who think posting or pitching this way is their way in, and for some it probably is, but it can get a bit exhausting to keep shelling out bucks on a monthly basis and getting nothing in return. I’ve had better results with contests and query letters, and you know what longshots those can be.

What if you did this for a few years and still got nothing? Would you still think it was worth it? Sometimes on the InkTip newsletter, they’ll list “success stories”, which mention how long the writer has been a member. Some of them go back 10 to 12 years. That’s A LOT of money invested.

There’s spending money to make money, and there’s reaching the conclusion you’re just throwing money away. Despite the controversy surrounding the practice, I’d rather spend that money on quality notes, which in the end helps me become a better writer.

Like I said, all of this is stuff that’s happened to me. Your experience might be the total opposite. For all I know, you’re one of those “WRITER SELLS SCRIPT THANKS TO OUR SERVICES!” people. If so, great. You beat the odds and I’m glad it worked out for you.

But for the rest of us, how’s it been for you? Good? Bad? Somewhere in that nebulous middle? Have you had similar experiences with any of these companies, or any who aren’t listed? Did you get a read request? A writing assignment? Connect with a filmmaker or production company? Get representation? Can you point to an actual completed film and say “I wrote that!”?

Like I said way back at the beginning, it’s different for everybody. Is subscribing to any of these sites something you’d recommend, or would you deliberately steer people away from them?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Much ado about…you know

angry writer
Nope. Not that either. How about…?
That’s it. I’m stumped. I honestly have no idea what to write about today.

It’s not necessarily writer’s block; more of a “want to try something new, but not sure what.”

Sure, I could once again bore you to tears with the latest update on how the pulp spec is going, but that implies a lack of originality (along with feeling stuck in a bit of a rut), and I definitely don’t want that.

Or I could regale you with a written account of my latest encounter, virtual or face-to-face, and the events that transpired, followed by the lessons learned. But my social calendar on both fronts has been on the quiet side lately, which subsequently has given me more time to write, so there is that.

Yet another alternative is to share the latest developments for that ongoing goal/dream of “someday I’m gonna be a working writer”. Not exactly a tired old chestnut, but there’s no denying it’s provided me with a lot of material over the years. One might even go so far as to say it’s inspired others to forge their own path. But then again, that’s not for me to say. I’m too busy trying to come up with an interesting topic.

I’ve been working on this blog for quite a while now, so thinking of new material can occasionally be a challenge. There are admittedly times I feel like I’ve covered as much as I can, and I don’t want to bore anybody with a dip into the pool of well-trod screenwriting topics. Seriously, how many times can you read me extolling the values of networking, analyzing the elements of a logline, or discussing what should and shouldn’t go in a query letter?

But counter to all of that, there are days where inspiration comes in and whacks me upside the head, resulting in a few paragraphs of pleasing prose/advice/assorted folderol about something affiliated with screenwriting, or at least how I stumbled onto the point I’m trying to make. That’s when the words flow like you wouldn’t believe. Before I know it, I’ve cranked out a post that could inexplicably be helpful to somebody. Without sounding too egotistical, even I’m impressed when I can pull that off.

While there are numerous other bloggers with significantly more experience than me, it’s rather surprising to see so many readers take a look at my latest offering, possibly make a comment or send me an email, and then keep coming back for more. I can’t possibly imagine what it is about me and/or my writing that would motivate anybody to read something here and then, of their own free will, return for more. Especially on a regular basis.

And then to take it one step further, they enjoy a particular post or two to the point of being so motivated as to then dig through the years of archived material in the hopes of finding anything else I’ve written that they’d consider worth reading.

Dare I even suggest that coming up with new material for this blog is in itself comparable to screenwriting? The ability to create some original material that would be considered professional, informative, and entertaining using nothing but the thoughts in my head and a moderately decent typing speed?

I don’t know if I’d go that far. But since you’re here, you can probably relate to my frustration of trying to write something when you can’t think of what to write.

That can be tough when it happens, but somehow we find it within ourselves to rise to the challenge we’ve given ourselves and actually figure out a way to come up with something and put some words down on the page.

Give me time. I’m sure I’ll think of something.

Time very well spent

finish line
Yeah. It felt just like that.

And…I’m back. Didja miss me?

To say the past week and a half has been a little hectic would be a slight understatement*. And of course, it involves writing and the opportunities that come with it.

Long story short – Somebody wanted to read one of my scripts. But I hadn’t finished writing it yet. So I wrote, edited and polished it. In ten days. Without taking time off from work.

As you can probably guess, I’m equal parts exhausted and exhilarated at having done it.

While I catch my second wind, here’s the extended version:

A little over three weeks ago, I connected with somebody who works for a production company. They mostly do TV, but are looking at expanding into features.

Emails and pleasantries were exchanged. They took a look at the blog, liked what they saw, and asked for a list of my loglines “to see if my boss might be interested.” So I sent it. This was on a Friday afternoon.

A vital piece of the puzzle to keep in mind – just before all of this occurred, I’d gotten the outline of a long-dormant comedy spec to the point where I felt ready to start on pages. Which is what I was doing while all of this interaction was occurring.

The following Monday morning, the response came in. “Do you have scripts for X and Y? Would love to request if so.”

Naturally, X was the long-dormant comedy spec that so far I had written all of 8 pages, and Y was still in outline form (which I’d already been considering producing in another medium).

My initial thought was panic. Neither script was available, but I didn’t want to blow the opportunity; I wanted to be able to send them SOMETHING. Sooner, rather than later. What to do, what to do?

After a little evaluation and weighing all my options, I wrote back that I was still working on the latest draft of X (which was true), and could have it for them the following week. I’d considered saying a few weeks or a month, but that seemed too long. Regarding Y, I said pretty much what I mentioned above – it was an outline, but they could take a look at it if they wanted to.

They were cool with both options, and were looking forward to reading them.

I’d just thrown the gauntlet in my own face. What had I gotten myself into? Was I totally insane for thinking I could pull this off? Would I be able to pull it off?

Only one way to find out.

I had a script to write, and had to do it faster than I’d ever done it before. I had no intention of sending them a first draft, so I had to crank that out and do a major polish on it. In about a week and a half. Taking time off of work was not an option, so I’d have to be as productive as possible in the off-hours that didn’t involve sleeping.

I explained my plan to my understanding family and got to work.

I produced as many pages as I could per day, averaging 8-10. Those would then be edited & polished during all available downtime at work (it being summer vacation season was a godsend – traffic’s much lighter, so that really helped). I’d get home, incorporate the changes, then move on to the next set.

Write, edit/polish, rewrite, repeat. A seemingly never-ending cycle.

A few things I discovered during all of this:

-Having a solid outline made it so much easier. I knew exactly what had to happen in each scene, and how I wanted it to happen, so there was no time wasted trying to figure it out.

-I sincerely think my joke-writing’s gotten better.

-I’ve gotten much more proficient at coming up with solutions to last-minute script-related problems.

-I seriously wondered if this is what it would be like if I were doing this for a living. I’d actually be pretty cool with it.

After ten days of non-stop effort, I had what I considered a somewhat decent 97-page comedy script. Both it and the outline have been sent.

Of course, they may not like either one. But at this point, I don’t care. Simply having accomplished this is my victory. I set an intense short-term goal and did it.

The script could definitely benefit from at least another rewrite, but that’s not a priority at this juncture. I wrote it in the time I said I would, and that’s the important thing.

Others may scoff at my feeling of accomplishment, claiming it’s no big deal or that they’ve done it or even done it in less time. But their words will fall on deaf ears because it’s a big deal to me. This is something I did, and am extremely proud of having done it.

So what now? I’m taking the weekend off, which will include going for a much-missed and much-needed training run.

But come Monday, I’ll be right back at it, hard at work on whatever project I opt to do next.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to take my time with it.

*I really appreciate everybody’s patience, and hope you enjoyed the throwback posts. And K wanted to thank everybody for the kind comments about her guest post. Yes, I am a very lucky guy to have somebody like her.

The great exchanging of 2 cents

team vs wall
Sometimes you’re doing the lifting or pulling up, and sometimes you’re the one to whom it’s being done

One of the greatest benefits I’ve found from developing and interacting with my network of fellow writers is the mutual willingness to help out when that help is requested.

Just within the past month, I’ve had three requests for script notes and two for logline feedback. (Although I’ll be the first to admit my timing could use a little improvement. It always takes me longer than I think. But I make a point of doing it. That counts, right?)

And during this same time, I’ve contacted several associates, asking “If you have the time, what do you think of this?”

The advantage of this kind of arrangement cannot be understressed. While I’ve gotten a lot out of using professional feedback, I’ve also been extremely fortunate to have received some very insightful and helpful comments from other writers. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how much their suggestions have contributed to the improvement of my scripts and loglines.

Since politeness actually does count (and people will remember it, or the lack thereof), I make sure to send them a thank-you note, which includes “More than happy to return the favor.” Which I am. I enjoy reading and commenting on other people’s stuff. And I’ve yet to have one person say my notes weren’t helpful. To my face, anyway.

One of those written-in-stone tenets of screenwriting is “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” While this primarily applies to people working in the industry, it can also work for those of us trying to break in.

Take a look at your own personal network. How many of them would you be willing to contact and ask for a little help? And how willing would you be to help them if they came to you? Being helpful and supportive goes a long way for both parties.