Last few days before Maximum Z HQ relocates to its new space, so not much writing going on.
Well, no actual writing, that is. Which isn’t to say I haven’t been busy with items of a writing-adjacent nature, which included:
-tinkering with some outline revision for previous projects. Got some great notes from very reliable writing associates, so really looking forward to jumping back in to each one once all the dust settles.
-plenty of reading of scripts, ranging from notes on friends’ specs and just reading for the hell of it. One of the latter was an earlier draft of CRAWL, which was one of the fastest and leanest reads I can recall. Can’t wait to see the actual movie.
-set up the NorCal Screenwriters Winter Networking Shindig for 8 December in San Francisco, so if you’re a screenwriter, filmmaker, or are affiliated with either in any capacity in the Bay Area/northern California region, and want to meet other folks just like you, take a look. I hope to see you there. Plus – great sandwiches.
Hope you have a great weekend, and make sure you write something.
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 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.
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?
For the most part, working towards making it as a screenwriter is a solitary effort. You’re the one who has to write the script and get it out there. It’s a tough journey, but you don’t have to go it alone.
Hence – networking.
Making that initial contact is great, but you should also strive to make it worth the other person’s while as much as you are for yourself.
Once you start to build up your own personal community of Other Writers, and those relationships gradually develop beyond the “Hi. Nice to meet you” stage, you’ll naturally seek out some help in the form of feedback – your latest draft, a query, a logline, what have you.
And that’s all well and good, but it’s equally important, if not more so, for you to return the favor. Rather than just popping up and saying “Hey, would you read my script?”, try “Hey, we’ve known each other a while, and you seem to know what you’re talking about, so would you be open to reading my script? And I’d be more than happy to reading one of yours.”
Helpful tip #1 – don’t be the person who asks for notes but isn’t willing to give them.
Helpful tip #2 – even if you don’t like what their notes say, you still need to hold up your end of the bargain and give them notes – especially if you’re the one who asked in the first place.
Sometimes the best kind of help is when it’s unexpected – either from you or from somebody you know.
A few years ago, a producer friend of a friend was looking for a certain kind of project. I didn’t have anything that met their criteria, but offered to post the listing on a few social media platforms. At least 20 writers responded. I sent their info to the producer, who then contacted a few of them (as far as I know).
What did I get out of it? Just being happy to help and the appreciation from all the writers – even the ones the producer didn’t follow up with.
I’ve also been fortunate to be on the receiving end, with friends sending me emails and messages about listings seeking scripts like mine.
A little effort really does go a long way – anything from forwarding a script or job listing to a few words of encouragement, or even offering congratulations for somebody acheiving some kind of accomplishment. Don’t you like when somebody does that sort of thing for you?
As much as we’re all working towards our own individual success, we’re also part of a community; one where each member should help support the others in whatever way they can.
-Speaking of helping out… Veteran screenwriter Carole A. Parker is offering a reduced rate of $250 for her 4-week screenwriting course. This includes a script evaluation, weekly writing exercises (for newer writers) or friendly-but-detailed notes on your script (for more experienced writers), career guidance, and if she thinks your script is commercially viable, some help in getting it in front of the right people. Here’s a great article she wrote about staying determined. For more details, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here it is, a few days into July, which means it’s time to ask that all-important question:
How was the first half of 2019 for you as a screenwriter?
Completed a latest draft? Started a new script? Revised an old one?
Hit a wall? Had a breakthrough?
Entered, and potentially placed, in a contest or three?
Got representation? Lost representation?
Made a short? For the lucky select few – made a feature?
Working with a producer? A director? Taken on both roles yourself? Had a script optioned?
Something important to keep in mind – don’t compare your success or progress to that of others. We all have our own individual path. Find the route and pace that work best for you.
No matter how your year’s been, I sincerely hope you’ve continued to derive a little bit of joy out of this topsy-turvy creative process.
FYI – mine’s been pretty good. Some nice developments here and there. Nothing earth-shattering, but pleasantly encouraging on several fronts. Plus, as is usually the case, lots and lots of writing, editing and rewriting.