From the archives: That’s me – the human flying buttress

Just offering what little support I can

Even though screenwriting (and writing in general) is a solitary activity, a lot of us experience the same ups, downs, and everything in between. While one of the great benefits of networking is how it can help you on a professional level, don’t underestimate the effectiveness of the personal aspect.

Being part of the writing community offers up what is more or less a built-in support team. Other writers have been through just about all the same things you have, so they know how to respond and react to whatever’s going on with you. Count me as one of the many who’s been on both sides of the equation.

The past few weeks have seen a lot of announcements from some of the big contests, and lots of writers have posted their good or not-so-good news. Whenever I see that sort of thing, I try to be as encouraging or sympathetic as I can. This brought up thoughts of a post from way back in 2013 about this sort of thing.

Thought you might enjoy it.

When another writer follows me on Twitter, I’ll send a thank-you DM when applicable and ask how their latest project is coming along. The responses are usually pretty enthusiastic, and it’s great to see such a wide spectrum of material and how each person’s path is developing.

(What writer doesn’t like to talk about their work? I’m no exception either.)

Or maybe they’ve hit a bump in the road. “I’m stuck in Act Two,” “This rewrite’s killing me!” or “I’ve been dragging my feet on getting this draft done.”  Happens to all of us.

Based on how they’re doing, I’ll usually write something like “That’s awesome!” or “Hang in there!”, followed by the ubiquitous “Best of/Good luck!”

And I actually mean it.

Honest.

So it was a little surprising when I got this response during a recent DM chat – “You have a special gift of encouragement. WHO does that these days?”

Really? Nice, supportive people are now considered a rarity?

I’m not an idiot. This is a savage business a lot of us are trying to break into. It’s extremely competitive, and the odds are definitely not in our favor.  It’s extremely easy to get disenhearted and want to throw in the towel after receiving that 97th rejection letter.

A few words of support are never the wrong thing to say, even if it’s something as simple as “Good luck.” That may be just the extra push you need to get yourself to keep going, start again, or what have you.  If you’re lucky, you have loved ones, friends and trusted colleagues who support your efforts, regardless of how long it takes.

And consider me part of that group as well.

-Movie of the Moment – STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013). Nice to look at, but is it really asking too much for an original story and characters – again? I didn’t like the Leonard Nimoy/Spock part of the 2009 movie, and was disappointed at the way this one played out.

For a funnier, NSFW spoiler-filled review, click here.

It bothers me that Orci, Kurtzman and Lindelof have become the go-to guys for pop culture sci-fi flicks. Yes, they’ve got talent (to a certain extent), but their work just feels like something’s missing. Maybe too much relying on flashy spectacle and not enough smart storytelling?  The effects should enhance the story, not the other way around.

As much as I enjoy a good fanboy film, I’ll take a solid story over gee-whiz special effects every time.  I suspect a lot of people also feel this way, or at least hope they do.

Trust your audience to be able to follow along; they’ll appreciate it.

From the archives: My brain’s helping hands are ready to go

No job too small! (schedule permitting)

There’s been a slight uptick in my recent coffee chats with connections new and not-so-new. A majority of them have been of a more “just catching up”-type nature, but a few have included the exchanging of script notes and related items. That prompted the re-posting of this gem from July 2018. Enjoy.

Thanks to my ever-expanding network of savvy creative types, I get lots of chances to be on both the giving and receiving ends when it comes to reading scripts.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to get exceptionally helpful notes from a lot of really talented folks. All this feedback has somehow managed to influence my writing for the better, and for that I am overflowing with gratitude.

So the least I can do when somebody asks me “Will you read my script?” or “Can I pick your brain about this idea?” is to say “Of course.”* Maybe I can offer up a few scraps of advice that might somehow work to their advantage. If anything, I can at least point out where a fix in spelling or punctuation is needed. For a script, anyway. That counts, right?

*caveat – it’s taken a lot of work spread over a long time for me to build up my network and establish connections, so I don’t mind if somebody I actually know drops me a note with such a request. If our only connection is being connected on social media and we’ve never interacted – at all, you’re little more than a total stranger to me. So heed that one word and be social. It makes a difference.

I had the pleasure of such an experience this week. I’d connected with another Bay Area creative, and we’d been trying for a while to arrange a face-to-face meeting. After much scheduling, cancelling and rescheduling, we finally made it happen.

This person had an idea for a project, wanted to talk about it, and see if I was interested in being involved. I stated at the outset that I had enough work on my own for now, but would be open to giving notes – time permitting.

After the initial introductions and our thumbnail backstories, we focused on their project. I won’t go into specifics or details about it, because those aren’t the important parts.

What was important was:

-this was a story they’d had inside them for a while, and even though they knew it needed A LOT of work, they were still happy with simply having written it all out

-they were totally open and willing to listen to my suggestions. Some they liked, some they didn’t. Totally fine.

But the more we talked, the more the seeds of ideas were planted in their head. Even though a lot of the details we came up with, including possible paths the story could take, ended up being totally different from their original incarnation, it was easy to see that spark of excitement reignite inside them.

Seeing that happen with somebody you’re trying to help is more satisfying than you can possibly imagine.

We parted ways, with them really rarin’ to go and start developing the latest draft. They added that they really appreciated me being so willing to help out.

I just like doing that sort of thing. I never had that kind of person-to-person help when I was starting out, so why not do what I can for others? Granted, the internet and social media didn’t even exist then, so it’s a lot easier now.

I got a few emails from them the next day showing me what they’d come up with since our meeting. Same concept, but a totally new approach (and, in my opinion, provided the opportunity for a lot of new possibilities). This also included a more thorough write-up of “what happened before the story starts”.

Even though it can be tough to read emotion in text, it was easy to see the spark was still burning strong within them. The way they talked about their plans for what comes next, I could tell they were actually looking forward to working on this.

It was nice knowing I had a little something to do with it.

We exchanged a few more emails (mostly me asking questions about story and characters and them providing sufficient answers), and I wrapped up with “Keep me posted.”

Their response: “Definitely. Thanks again. You’re a good dude.”

That was nice too.

Reading: good and good for you

Wrapped up reading for a contest earlier this week. Happy to have helped, but it was exhausting.

And a good percentage of the writers could really benefit from this recent post.

Now that that’s out of the way, I can return to devoting more time on a few of my own projects, as well as start getting to the scripts in my “to read” queue.

I’m really looking forward to both, and especially the latter.

Some were sent with a request for notes, others were “thought you might enjoy this”, and the rest were ones that got my attention with the logline or the concept.

I’m extremely fortunate to have a professional relationship with a lot of these writers, and many of them are great writers to begin with, so it’s a pretty sure bet their scripts will also be of exceptional quality. And those are always great to read.

It can’t be stressed enough that reading scripts helps a writer become a better writer. So take it upon yourself to start making that a regular practice.

You’ll be glad you did.

And speaking of reading, my new book GO AHEAD AND ASK! INTERVIEWS ABOUT SCREENWRITING (AND PIE) VOLUME 2 is now available in paperback and ebook here and here. It makes a great companion piece to Volume 1, and Volume 3 will roll out a little later this year.

From the archives: My two cents on giving my two cents

Plus an extra cent to cover expenses

After the whirlwind of the last few weeks organizing the Maximum Z Summer ’22 Script Showcase, putting together Volume 2 of my book series Go Ahead and Ask! (officially published on July 21, and Volume 1 still available here and here), reading for a contest, and working on my own stuff, I think I’ve earned a brief respite.

But never fear. I wouldn’t want you to go without a post for this week.

During the occasional break between all that stuff I just mentioned, I’ve also been able to do enjoy some just-for-the-hell-of-it reading of friends’ scripts. Each one has been a great read, and even better – no notes necessary.

That, of course, reminded me of a post from Jul 26, 2019 that was all about giving and receiving notes.

Enjoy (and happy 4th of July weekend to my American chums).

After a brief hiatus, I’ve started giving notes again. It’s always helpful to step away from your own material and dive into somebody else’s. More often than not, it’s a win-win situation.

Sometimes there are exceptions to that rule, but more on that in a minute.

The quality of the writing has ranged from just-starting-out to seasoned professional, so my notes and comments are provided with the level of feedback most suitable to the writer’s level of expertise. One writer might still be learning about proper formatting, while another might want to consider strengthening up that second subplot.

One of my cardinal rules of giving notes is to not be mean about it. I never talk down to the writer, because I’ve been in their shoes. I do what I can to be supportive and offer some possible solutions, or at least hopefully guide them towards coming up with a new approach to what they’ve already got.

One writer responded by saying they were really upset about what I’d said, but then they went and re-read my notes, and couldn’t argue or disagree with any of them.

I’ve always been fascinated by the expression “This is a reflection on the script, not you (the writer).” In some ways, the script IS a reflection of the writer; it’s their skill, their storytelling, their grasp of what should and shouldn’t be on the page, that are all being analyzed. After spending so much time and effort on a script, of course a writer wants to hear “it’s great!”, but as we all know, that doesn’t always happen.

Sometimes I worry my comments are too harsh, but just about every writer has responded with “These are SO helpful!”

About a year ago, a writer I was connected to via social media asked to do a script swap. Some quick research showed they seemed to be experienced with writing and filmmaking, so it seemed like a good idea.

I read their script, and didn’t like it. I said so in my notes, and offered up what I considered valid reasons why, along with questions raised over the course of the story, along with some suggestions for potential fixes.

What I was most surprised about was that this person presented themselves as a professional, and maybe I was naive in taking all of that at face value and believing the quality of their writing would reflect that and meet my expectations.

It didn’t.

It also didn’t help that they opted to not give me any notes on my script. At all. Just some snarky retorts. Guess my lack of effusive gushing hurt their feelings, and this was their method of retribution.

Oh well.

Interesting follow-up to that: I later saw them refer to my notes in a quite negative way, along with “this script has even gotten a few RECOMMENDS”, which is always a great defense.

Follow-up #2: we’re no longer connected on social media.

Could I have phrased my comments in a more supportive way? I suppose, but I figured this person wanted honesty, not praise. And like I said, I assumed they had a thick skin from having done this for a while.

Guess I was mistaken.

And I’ve been on the receiving end of it as well. A filmmaker friend read one of my scripts and started with “Sorry, but I just didn’t like it,” and explained why. Did I pound my fists in rage and curse them for all eternity? Of course not. Their reasons were perfectly valid.

Or the time a writing colleague could barely muster some tepid words of support for one of my comedies. I was a little disappointed, but after having read some of their scripts,  realized that our senses of humor (sense of humors?) were very different, so something I considered funny they probably wouldn’t, and vice versa.

I’ve no intention of changing how I give notes. If I like something, I’ll say so. If I don’t, I’ll say so. You may not like what I have to say, but please understand that it’s all done with the best of intentions. My notes are there for the sole purpose of helping you make your script better.

Isn’t that why we seek out notes in the first place?

One week!

Just seven days to go until the Maximum Z Summer ’22 Script Showcase is up!

There’s still time to send in your spec screenplay or TV script to be included, preferably by Wednesday June 22nd at the very latest.

Send the following info here with the subject “Maximum Z Summer ’22 Script Showcase”:

Film or TV

Title

Author

Genre(s)

Logline

Awards (up to 5)

Your email

Two caveats:

DO NOT SEND THE SCRIPT

and

ONLY ONE SUBMISSION PER PERSON

Really looking forward to posting this and helping spread the word about so many great-sounding scripts.