Looking back, glimpsing ahead, and a minor adjustment

new year's eve
Just one more glass of champagne, then it’s back to work. Promise.

As 2017 wraps up, it’s only natural to engage in a little self-evaluation.

How many of your writing goals were you able to check off this year? Most of them? Some? A small-but-decent fraction? Hopefully you don’t need to mark the box labeled “None”.

One of mine was to complete at least three scripts. I managed two drafts, a revised outline, and one and a half rewrite/polishes (one still a WIP). Pretty solid results. A very hearty thanks to everybody who devoted the time and effort to give me notes. I hope my notes for yours were just as helpful.

Using those notes and the results of a few conversations, I think I’ve been able to up the quality of my writing a few notches. It still has a few levels to go, but it definitely seems better than it was. The next round of drafts should be really interesting,  both in terms of working on them and how the end results turn out.

I wanted to read more scripts, which actually happened, but not entirely in the way I expected. I didn’t do as much reading of scripts for the purpose of entertainment or gleaning some helpful guidance because I ended up reading over 100 scripts for several contests. Don’t know if I’ll do it again, but still glad I did it.

On the gaining representation front, lots of query emails were sent. Maybe one response out of ten expressed interest in reading the script, with each ending with a “thanks but no thanks” or “just not what I’m looking for”. A bit disappointing, but not totally unexpected. Along the way, I also worked on being more strategic about the process, researching potential recipients and re-drafting the query to (in theory) really sell the concept of the script.

And what would an ambitious screenwriter’s year be without contests? My western made it to the seminfinals of a few smaller contests and the top 20 percent for the Nicholl (not too shabby), but once again whiffed it for PAGE. I’ve become somewhat disillusioned regarding contests, so will most likely really cut back on them. Maybe just stick to the big three.

There was the most pleasant experience of going to Los Angeles to attend a table read for one of my scripts. I like the idea of doing one or two of them locally, so looking into that for 2018.

I hosted two screenwriting networking events, which connected me with some very talented writers from right here in the Bay Area. Definitely plan on doing that again at least once this year. Highly recommended, especially if you’re not in Los Angeles and want to expand your own personal network.

On the half-marathon front, I ran five races this year – the most ever in one year for me. Still averaging about two hours, which isn’t bad – for me, but the quest for 1:55 continues. Already signed up for three next year, with maybe one or two more expected to be added into the mix. Like with screenwriting, improvement takes time, effort and dedication. A good pair of socks and strong knees also come in handy, and that applies to both.

Finally, this blog. As always, a great experience doing what I can to offer advice to help other writers, recounting my experiences and the lessons I got out of it, and presenting some interviews with some truly interesting and amazing creative folks. I am truly grateful to everybody who’s stopped by to take a look, like a post and make a comment.

But it’s also been exhausting. Producing posts twice a week on top of dedicating time to write and make a career out of it has simply gotten to be too much. I still enjoy doing the blog, but want to refocus my energies. So as of January 1st, I’ll be reducing my weekly output to Fridays only, and sometimes even that might be iffy. It’ll most likely be on a week-by-week basis.

I hope you had a most productive 2017 and wish you all the best for an even better 2018.

See you in seven.

The (much) tougher part

ali hit
99% of the time, you’re George Foreman

In this week’s previous post, I wrote about the necessity of how a writer needs to enjoy the actual writing part of being a writer.

A few colleagues piped in, saying while that part of it holds true, they also find the business aspect (i.e. the marketing of YOU) to be significantly harder and much more challenging. Taking it one step further, lack of progress on that front adds to their frustration.

I can’t argue with any of that. I’ve experienced it firsthand many times.

Friend of the blog Phil Hardy had this to say:

“…this should resonate with most of us that are doing the same thing as you are. However, one of the keys in trying to be a successful writer is spending a fair amount of time crafting query letters, answering ads or attempting to make contact with industry people anyway you can. Many writers fall flat in this area. One should definitely spend as much time as they can trying to promote and sell their work, as well as taking joy in the act of writing it.”

Simply put, marketing and promoting oneself is a necessary evil that a writer has to be willing to undergo and endure as many times as it takes if they want to succeed. Sucks, but it’s the truth.

After working on a couple of scripts and building up my arsenal of materal, I’ve decided to take the plunge again.

I’ve put together what I consider to be a pretty effective new draft of the query letter. Gone through the list of managers, agents and production companies, researching who might a good match for each script.

A few queries have been sent, so the waiting and hoping for a positive response begins yet again. All the while, working on more scripts. It’s all I can do.

My efforts to improve my networking skills have also paid off. Every once in a while, a colleague will send me a listing that seems tailor-made for one of my scripts. Even though none of them have worked out, it’s made me aware of more opportunities than I would have been able to find on my own.

We all know this is not an easy path. It’s extremely tough and really puts your endurance to the test. The question you have to continually ask yourself is “Am I willing to keep working at this until I get the results I want, no matter how long it takes, how frustrated I get, or how impossible it seems?”

I can only speak for myself.


-You might find these older posts somewhat relevant and worth a read.

The me businsess – a 24/7 operation

A support staff of one

The reason why

Only a slight connection here. I just like referencing this movie.

The busy times never stop around Maximum Z HQ. Among the latest tasks being undertaken:

-Rewrite/overhaul of the low-budget comedy

-Sporadic rewrite work on the pulp sci-fi spec, with initial sets of notes being carefully scrutinized

-Crafting together some pretty solid query letters, along with researching the best places to send them

-Jotting down notes for several future projects, including a comedic take on one of my favorite genres

-Providing scriptnotes to patient writer colleagues

You’d think with all of this going on, plus the non-writing normal life, I’d be exhausted.

Actually, I am, but it’s cool.

The way I see it, keeping busy like this helps me be a better writer; continuously working on something helps me be productive and further develop my skills.

Sure, sometimes the amount of actual writing is bare minimum, or maybe even not at all, but that’s okay too. All work and no play and all that.

Most importantly, I’m just getting a real kick out of doing it. If I wasn’t, I’d be a lot less likely to want to keep going.

And there are also days where it all gets so frustrating that I want to just walk away from it all. But I like doing it to much to even consider that.

Some recent interactions I’ve had with other writers have included more than a few of them expressing frustration about their diminishing hopes of making headway with breaking in and getting a writing career going.

I feel for them. I really do. As just about any writer will attest, this is not an easy undertaking. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” right?

Even though all of our chances are somewhat slim, I suggested they keep at it, if only for the sheer joy of writing. Isn’t that what got us all started?

When I asked one writer how their latest project was going, the response was “Really enjoying working on this, even though I know nobody else will ever see it.”

I totally get that. We all have our reasons for deciding whether or not to put our work out there, but the important thing was that they were having a good time with it. And you can tell if they were by what’s there on the page. It it was a chore for you to write, it’ll be that much more of a chore for us to read. Is that really the route you want to take?

So no matter what it is you’re working on right now, I sincerely hope that it’s bringing you as much joy and pleasure as you’re hoping to provide to your reader/audience.

Looking back, planning ahead

Auld Lang Syne and all that

Well, 2016 is pretty much in the books. I hope it was a good year for you, writing-wise.

Mine was okay.

Among the more noteworthy events:

-I completed the first draft for 3 separate scripts. 2 comedies, 1 sci-fi.

-One of those comedies was written, edited and rewritten/revised over 10 days.

-My western made it to the top 15 percent in the Nicholl and was one of the top 100 in the Emerging Screenwriters competition, but did not advance with PAGE or Austin.

-Several read requests from managers and production companies. Unfortunately, everybody passed with the commonly-used “Just not what I’m looking for.”

-Built up my network of talented writers located all over the world, along with numerous getting-to-know-you in-person chats with those in the immediate geographic vicinity.

-Organized and hosted a very successful and enjoyable networking event for screenwriters. In a deli. A block from the Pacific Ocean.

-Took part in script swaps for somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 scripts.

Not a bad compilation.

As for 2017, the usual objectives:

-Along with the aforementioned rewrites, complete the first draft for at least 2 or 3 new scripts.

-Continue the quest for representation. Already a few potentials on the horizon.

-Based on how my western did in the Big 3 contests, I’m torn between seeking professional feedback for one more polish, or just leaving it as is and trying again next year.

-Continue providing notes and doing script swaps.

-Look into hosting another networking event, probably at a bigger venue.

-More networking and establishing connections with more talented writers.

-More getting-to-know-you in-person chats.

-Watch more movies.

-Read more scripts

-Stay confident. Be patient. Not lose hope, even on the shittiest of days.

-Keep trying to make this work. Eyes on the prize.

And a final note to all you loyal readers – thanks for coming along on this rollercoaster ride of a journey. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about it.

All the best from me to you for a very happy and successful 2017. Fingers remain, as always, firmly crossed that this is The Year It Happens.

Ask an Industry-Powerhouse Script Consultant!

Lee Jessup

The latest in a series of interviews with script readers and consultants who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape. Today’s spotlight is on Lee Jessup.

Author of the best-selling book Getting It Write: An Insider’s Guide To A Screenwriting Career, Lee Jessup is a career coach for professional and emerging screenwriters, with an exclusive focus on the screenwriter’s professional development. Her clients include WGA members, Golden Globe and Emmy nominated screenwriters, writers who sold screenplays and pitches to major studios and contest winner. An invited speaker at screenwriting conferences and festivals both in the US and Europe, Lee is a regular contributor to Script Magazine and was the interview subject for a number of film-centric television and web programs. To learn more about Lee and her services, visit www.leejessup.com.

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

It’s a cliché, but I always go back to Breaking Bad episodes, which is probably fresh in my mind because I just did that the other night. That’s master craft right there. I’ve been reading a lot of TV scripts lately; one of the best I read recently actually came from a client who wrote a really amazing, intricate pilot with some amazing, innovative character work. Sadly, I’m not allowed to say who. Can’t play favorites!

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

I started reading scripts as a kid – my dad was a film producer, and so we always had scripts lying around the house. I thought everyone read scripts and broke them down for fun – it took me a while to get that some people (like my mother) just can’t wrap their brains around reading that format. After all, a script is not fully realized work – it’s a blueprint made to be elevated by imagination.

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

The more you read, the better you learn to recognize quality. When I send my clients to readers, I am always looking for people who are super-seasoned, who’ve read thousands of scripts, because that foundation really informs the reader about what’s out there and  provides a more solid quality barometer. When someone just starts out reading, they can often find promise in the work, whether or not it’s actually there. It’s after you’ve been reading for a while that you begin really evaluating the script for what’s on the page, rather than the potential your imagination allows you to see in it.

4. What are the components of a good script?

For me it all starts with character, so “must-haves” are things like: wound, stakes, clear goal(s), ample conflict. Michael Hauge has a great saying that a strong screenplay rests at the intersection of story and character. That’s a big one for me. Don’t get me wrong – a strong, clear external journey to take us from act 1 to 3 is a must, but if you don’t have that internal journey, that element of taking a protagonist from living in fear to living courageously, you lose me. At the end of the day, I always look to see what the protagonist’s goal was, whether this was achieved or reversed, and if it was done, whether it was done to satisfaction.

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

Page count is the most obvious one. I am sure you’ve heard this before, but I find it to be one that’s very, very hard to recover from because ultimately it’s your first impression. Second is another one of those: not enough white space on the page. The look of the material itself. I recently interviewed Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, and Scott talked about the fact that script pages are meant to be read from top to bottom, not left to right. When I am unable to read from top to bottom, when the script is overly described, then the writer automatically has a serious strike against him. Other things that drive me crazy are scenes that don’t move the plot along, or ones that repeat information we already know without giving us anything new. Hitchcock was famous for saying that in every scene you have to get at least two new bits of plot-relevant information, specifically once you’re out of the first act. That’s a great rule to go by.

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

I am one of those who believes that anything old can be made new again with a new, different, unexpected take, so in this scenario I am actually open to seeing anything so long as there’s a fresh, interesting voice behind it.

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

1. This is a craft; you get better as you go along (which means: write a lot!)

2. Screenwriting is iterative work. No one gets it right on the first draft. This is why you finish a draft, you get notes, you finish another draft, you get another set of notes, etc. It’s all part of the process.

3. While writing great screenplays is critical to screenwriting success, it’s only part of what it will take to build your screenwriting career. Building a screenwriting career takes consistent industry-facing efforts that will help construct and progress your screenwriting career. As a writer, your job is to consistently stoke and manage both the creative fire and your industry-facing, strategic fire.

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

Gonna have to pass on this one if only for client confidentiality…

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

Winning a big contest is a big deal, which just goes to show that contests are a small-fish/big-pond sort of a game. In order for a win to really work for you, it has to be in one of the biggies, where in truth even high placement goes a long way. For example, every year my clients who place in quarters or semis for the Nicholl Fellowship get multiple read requests from agents, managers and production companies. It’s a way for industry execs to have material vetted for them, and qualified for them to read. In addition, being able to say that you won, were a finalist or a semi-finalist in one of the BIG contests, such as Final Draft’s Big Break or PAGE is generally a door opener. The industry is a bit like the mafia – we need someone to vouch for you. The big contests can certainly help you build that pedigree.

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

Everything anyone ever needs to know about me (and then some!!!) can be found on my website: www.leejessup.com. There’s a full breakdown of how I work, what I do and all the rest of it.

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

Chocolate mousse. Hands down. No question.