The next mountain awaits

Wrapped up the latest draft of the animated fantasy-comedy earlier this week and sent it to a few readers.

Notes have begun trickling in.

Overall responses: very positive, but could still use some tweaking. Points were awarded for creativity, originality, dialogue, and the jokes.

I appreciate all of those very much.

But…it can still be better.

I’d estimate it’s maybe one to two drafts away from being where it needs to. Waiting for a few more notes to come in before diving into that.

What’s also helped is that a lot of the changes don’t seem to be of a major overhaul type, but I suspect it won’t be a few minor changes here and there either. Somewhere in that nebulous middle.

It’s been quite encouraging how fast and effectively things are playing out for this one. It’s taken a while to get to this point, but all the time spent writing, rewriting and constantly trying to make previous scripts better are yielding the desired results for this one in a more timely manner.

Another thing that’s different about this time around is that confidence levels were already pretty high about the script, and getting comments about what still needs work hasn’t diminished them. Many times in the past I would get notes and think what a terrible writer I must have been, which was not the case.

I’m quite psyched about this one, and can’t wait to get back to work on it.

**SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION!!**

I was the featured guest on some recent podcasts:

What Are You Watching? with Chris Mancini (who has a q&a on this blog)

The Successful Screenwriter with Geoffrey Calhoun (a 2-time q&a on this blog – here & here)

Struck out in contests, but…

A lot of the major screenwriting contests have wrapped up, or are in the process of, and once again, yours truly did not achieve the desired results.

A big fat goose egg on all fronts.

Disappointing? Very much so.

Frustrating? You betcha.

Making me wonder if my writing must be ridiculously bad? Without a doubt.

I wasn’t just in a hole of depression. I’d felt like I’d fallen into the deepest hole ever dug on Earth.

Fortunately, I wouldn’t be there long.

Encouragement from K and more than a few members of the screenwriting community reminded me of several very important things:

First – CONTESTS ARE ENTIRELY SUBJECTIVE. Sometimes your script clicks with readers, sometimes it doesn’t.

Second – CONTEST SUCCESS IS NOT A GUARANTEE FOR INDUSTRY SUCCESS. You can claim the top prize, but that doesn’t mean you should quit your day job. The road to an ongoing career is long, twisty, and loaded with uncertainty.

Third – THEY ACTUALLY MAKE FILMS FROM SCRIPTS THAT HAVEN’T DONE WELL IN CONTESTS. If a producer likes your script and wants to get it made, they’re not going to be as worried about how it placed in a contest.

Fourth (and this one really hit home for me) – SCREENWRITERS SHOULD NOT LIVE BY CONTESTS ALONE. Doing well in a contest is a potential boost to help you establish a career, but that’s it – potential. It’s only one of numerous paths.

As was pointed out to me, I may not have done well in contests, but I should also consider:

-I’m currently writing the script for a microbudget feature. The producer really likes how it’s all coming along, and has been completely ego-free since we began.

-I self-published 3 books about screenwriting this year (a great gift for screenwriters, yourself, or both. I got a kid in college, so anything helps).

-I continue to be the co-host of a podcast that’s all about writing. Fortunately, both my co-host and I know A LOT of writers, so there’s always somebody interesting to interview.

-I got to be on the other end of the microphone by being interviewed on a few screenwriting podcasts.

-I took part in a few panels about screenwriting at a writing conference, which led to being invited to give a lecture about screenwriting next month. (more on that another time)

-I still get the occasional email asking me to give script notes. It might take me a little longer to get to it than expected, but I enjoy doing it, and the writers seem to really appreciate what I have to say.

-there’s been progress, albeit the really slow kind, in making my short film. I was hoping to film it before the year was over, but looks like early next year might be more realistic. It’ll happen yet.

So my losing streak in contests may continue, I’ve got a decent number of other irons in the proverbial fire. And a few other fires, for that matter.

I may get knocked down, but I get up again (and again, and again), and they’re never gonna keep me down.

Consider me in this for the long haul.

The journey continues…

Hope you have an excellent pre-Halloween weekend. I will happily lay claim to any leftover plain M&Ms and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups that manage to stay out of the grubby little hands of trick-or-treaters.

Enjoying it – while it lasts

Slight shorty today.

The latest draft of the animated fantasy-comedy spec is in the hands of some beta readers.

One has already gotten back to me with some suggestions of minor fixes, but overall very positive comments.

Which is really, really nice.

And they also liked a lot of the jokes, which is definitely nice to hear.

I can’t really explain it, but there’s something about this script that’s giving me a real positive vibe.

It’s been a while since I’ve felt this way about a script this early in the process, so like the title of the post says, I’m riding this wave of positivity as long and as far as it’ll take me.

I’m sure it’ll require at least another pass, maybe two, until it gets to the quality I want it to be, but for now, I really like how it turned out.

Like with each of my scripts, I had fun writing it, and hope the reader has an equally great time reading it. This is something every writer should experience. It really does make a difference.

As the wait for the remaining notes continues, the focus shifts to cranking out pages for the microbudget feature, which is coming along nicely, thanks for asking.

Hope you have an exceptionally productive weekend.

Seeing some shine on that diamond in the rough

Even as I was getting the latest book ready over the past few weeks, I still made an effort to split time among a few other ongoing projects.

On that list: a severe edit of the animated fantasy-comedy spec.

The previous draft had clocked in at 120 pages, which admittedly is kind of long, especially for an animated story.

So it had to not only be tightened up in regards to what’s on the page, but also the actual number of pages. Fifteen to twenty, while seemingly excessive, felt appropriate.

Armed with some exceptional notes and a strong idea of all the issues that needed addressing, I set to it.

The phrase “kill your darlings” played a significant role during this process. Several scenes I loved were, as pointed out by an extremely savvy reader, more of a distraction from the main storyline and were actually slowing down the read.

Highlight, delete, mourn their demise, move on.

A good number of scenes underwent a major overhaul, including severe tightening up, rephrasing of dialogue, and a whole lot of moving stuff around. Sometimes a change would be made that I didn’t realize needed to be made. That’s always a surprise.

All of this combined ended up cutting 14 pages, bringing the grand total down to 106. Not too bad.

From my perspective, what ended up being the biggest accomplishment was that the whole thing seemed stronger than before; more put-together. It’s been a while since I’ve felt this positive about a draft.

It’s been sent to the latest batch of readers, and I’ve no doubt they’ll do a bang-up job in finding faults and spotlighting what needs work. As they should, and that’s fine with me.

It’ll help the next draft be even better.

You win some, you lose (or don’t place in) some

Another screenwriting contest season come and gone, at least for yours truly.

My western’s record with PAGE extended to 0-6, and didn’t make it to the quarterfinals in the Nicholl. After last year’s debacle with Austin, I opted to skip it this year.

(Side note 1 – I don’t pay to get the reader/judge notes, so don’t know why the script fared how it did for either contest. The Nicholl used to offer notes after the top 5 were announced, but not sure if they’re doing that this year or you had to pay upon registering.)

(Side note 2 – A very hearty congrats and good luck to the 359 writers who made it to the Nicholl QFs. I wholeheartedly applaud the Academy’s decision to limit submissions to one script per person. Other contests should follow their lead.)

My initial reaction to the news from both competitions was “I must be a really shitty writer to keep failing like this.”

But as my ever-supportive wife, a few friends who are also consultants, and several other trusted colleagues in my writers’ network reminded me:

It’s a really good script.

You’re not a bad writer.

IT’S ALL SUBJECTIVE.

This script has also done moderately well in some smaller contests, so it can’t be that bad.

I know a writer whose script advanced in the Nicholl after several years of bupkis. I also know another writer who made it to the top 50 one year, then the same script didn’t even make the quarterfinals the following year.

And as a few others pointed out about the prestigious contests and the scripts that do well in them: it may be a good script, but would it be a good movie? I’ve read some contest winners (and some top vote-getters on The Black List); some were very well-written, and some just didn’t do anything for me. One or two even made me question why they did as well in the contest as they did.

Furthermore – did any make me eager to shell out the cost of a ticket if it were available on the big screen?

Not really.

But again, that’s just my take – i.e. SUBJECTIVE.

At the very least, reading these scripts could be helpful in a “developing your craft” kind of way.

So where do I go from here? I’m rewriting a pair of newer scripts, and haven’t decided if either will go the contest route. Possibly, but right now I couldn’t say.

I’d rather focus on getting them in decent shape. If that means skipping contests next year, that’s fine by me.