Monday, January 25, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 108 - Get an Outside Perspective

For the past seven months and change, I've been working with an independent producer and manager (and since October, a production company, as well) on my post-Apocalyptic spec. However, for the first year and a half that I've been developing this project, the League's feedback has been invaluable. I've consulted various Leaguers about different elements of the script on and off since June, but for the most part, they haven't been actively involved in fleshing out ideas with me for a while now. Last week, though, in order to bring them up to speed on things and (more importantly for me, at least) get the opinions of people who haven't had their head deeply in this material for two years, I brought the script back to the League.

Before I go any further, let me just reiterate something that is at the heart of the League; in our opinion, writers groups are an invaluable asset for aspiring writers. The importance of having people whose opinions you value and trust to be consistently honest and critical cannot be stressed enough. It is really only with the help of the League that I was able to get my script to a point where it attracted managers and producers. Because the feedback has been so valuable thus far, I knew that the first place I had to turn when wanting an outside perspective on the newest draft was my fellow Leaguers. 

Ask any writer and they will (probably) tell you - the more time you spend in the world of a script, the harder it can be to make sure that the readers and audience have all of the information that they need to follow the story. At this point, I've been working on this particlar script on and off for over two years, and while I've kept a close eye on it with help from my manager and producers, I know that we might be missing something valuable that, at this point, is elemental knowledge to us. 

The League met on Friday after work (a good end to the week/beginning of the weekend), and it was one of the more helpful meetings I've had in a while. My fellow Leaguers opened my eyes to a couple important aspects of the script. Not to give too much away, but over the course of the script, the protagonist's views on a couple groups operating within his world shift. The League made me realize that, while I'd done a solid job illuminating one group, I had failed to really offer much about the other, thinking that the first shift would cover both. Additionally, they helped me realize that my midpoint of Act Two scene, while functional, is not yet playing the crucial role that it can and is positioned to really achieve a lot for both the story and the main character. 

There were other things that the League helped me realize about the script, and now I feel like I'm either on the edge of a breakthrough epiphany, or will have to go back and re-work a lot of the script that will reveal itself to be flawed. Either way, my friends here at League HQ have proved themselves an incredibly important tool in my writer's toolbox and have served as the outside perspective I so badly needed to push through the final stages of this round of rewrites.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Creative Screenwriting Gets It Right

I've been a Creative Screenwriting magazine subscriber for just about a year now, though I've been an on and off reader for longer than that. While CS can be a pretty valuable resource for writers, I've also found it to be frequently disappointing. The first issue of 2010, though, I have to say, got it right. Creative Screenwriting finally went editorial (at least just this once).

A magazine like Creative Screenwriting, I have to assume, walks a fine line between what it can and can't do while trying to reach a niche market. I say this because, while there are some great segments in the bi-monthly periodical, there are also some parts that are clearly hesitant to be critical.

Let's start with what the magazine does right. the Agent's Hot Sheet is a great piece that polls agents and managers once every two months on a certain subject. Topics can be anything from tent-pole films to the state of the spec market. The advisory panel of go-to managers/agents contribute their thoughts and opinions for the benefit of readers, acknowledging that most of the readers are unproduced writers. Some of the info might be pretty basic, but there are often great little tidbits in there for even more accomplished writers.

The writer profiles that kick off each issue are also usually pretty worthwhile reads. These articles spotlight newly successful writers and detail a bit of their rise to becoming writers with a sale under their belts. Granted, when the headlines try to spin the profile as that of an overnight success, you have to be a little skeptical; often, the "overnight" writer spent ten years as a reader, assistant, and producer first. Still, these are worth reading and are always - at the very least - a good reminder that hard work can pay off.

There are other featured segments on craft and interviews with established writers are that usually worth a read. But throw all of the above together, and I'd say that leaves only about 33% of a typical Creative Screenwriting issues accounted for. The vast majority of the articles are interviews with writers of films currently or soon to be in theaters. These are interesting - often more so if you've seen the film(s) in question - but really not as useful as they could - read: should - be.

So here's where I put on my disgruntled subscriber cap and vent. Here at the League, we periodically review films. We're pretty up front about whether we think something's worked or not, and to the best of our abilities, we try to analyze a picture through the writing behind it. Creative Screenwriting, however, spotlights writers and their films, yet hardly ever offers any analysis of the script in question. For example, the article on SURROGATES, which you might remember we did not like, touted the accomplishment of getting the film made and detailed the writers' process and some of their experiences with the project. Fine. Dandy. But that's the same thing that the piece on BOOK OF ELI did. It's the same thing that the segment on DAYBREAKERS did. It's the same thing that the segment on THE MESSENGER did.

After a certain point, reading about a writer's process and their excitement about seeing their film made ceases to be helpful if it has no discussion of the quality of the film and script. Every writer interviewed will likely be thrilled that they sold something and got it onto the big screen. What readers need is an analysis of why something worked and why it didn't. Had I never seen Surrogates, I would think it was just as strong a film as every other one profiled in the magazine.

I'm aware that a periodical like Creative Screenwriting has to be careful not to alienate the writers it interviews, especially since it will most likely try to interview those people about their next project. No one wants to be interviewed by a magazine that slammed their last script. However, this cautionary approach results in a very finite amount of usefulness to readers. Unproduced writers - and I know this from personal experience - are looking for guidance in the form of lessons learned about what makes a script strong and what omissions can greatly weaken a script. With little to no analysis like this, the magazine becomes little more than a written commercial for the next two months' releases.

Ok, you might be wondering, what did I like about this issue? (If you're wondering why I still subscribe... stop. I do. That's all on that.) This issue, Creative Screenwriting kicked off the year with essays on different genres, how the films of the past decade influenced them, and why certain films stuck out as stellar examples of their genre. In short, this issue was not afraid to be more critical. Not every film referenced was praised. The columnists this issue weren't afraid to refer to scripts that failed to work, and they were equally unafraid to praise the hell out of ones that did. First time readers were introduced to an unfortunately uncommon level of analysis that actually did something to guide new and aspiring writers toward examples of strong and unsuccessful scripts. More than any other issue I've read, this one was a valuable and consistent learning tool. Perhaps the editors in charge will determine a way to get more bang for the readers' buck in the future, while still refraining from alienating or overly criticizing the screenwriters that they rely on for interviews.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 107 - Writing in Chunks

For the past week and change, I've been struggling with the second half of Act Two. Yes, my friends, it looks like the first League villain that's squared off against me this year is the Dreaded Act Two. 

Just under a week ago at this point, I turned in a revised (though incomplete) draft of the second half of Act Two for my post-Apocalyptic spec to my producer. It was an odd time to submit to her, since I knew that the pages weren't quite working. On the other hand, I also knew I was stuck. They weren't working, but I needed a kick to help me get them rolling. Hence, what we called a "vomit" draft. 
In short, the pages sort of sucked. Luckily, Gretchen (my producer) and I have a solid enough relationship that I could turn in what I knew to be flawed pages. There were a couple key lines that just weren't strong enough yet to bring about a twist we were hoping to work into the script. To be honest, they're still not there, but by submitting the pages, at least I gave us a framework to try and make them work in. 

Pages or not, this is definitely not a time to sit idly by and hope for the epiphany that will clear things up. Though I'm not writing on any official deadline, I want to move as quickly as possible in order to stay immediately relevant. Because of that, I worked on Act Three while stuck on Act Two. Normally, I wouldn't advocate an approach like this - certainly not on a first draft. However, I know what the end of Act Two and this damn twist I'm trying to iron out lead to. I know what has to happen in Act Three. And I know what has to come before all that, too. So, in a slightly nontraditional approach (for me), I'm attacking the re-writes as a series of chunks. Act One is a chunk, in my mind. The next ten pages are another chunk. The remaining pages from Act Two are divided into two more chunks. Finally, Act Three is also two chunks. I guess you could also use the term "sequence" in place of chunk, but it's not necessarily that cut and dry.

Whatever terminology you subscribe to, the fact stands - by breaking up what I know I have to do this way, I'm order to make progress in one place while stuck in another. It's sort of a time saving technique. More than that, by smoothing out where my characters have to get to, perhaps I'll better be able to understand how they get there. At any rate, I'm sticking with this method until I work out the end of Act Two kinks.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A funny thing happened Monday night

Well, Tuesday morning, close to 2am.

What happened? I finished my draft of SILENT CITY. It was a bit of a surprise. I was working on it in my room -- had been for a few hours -- when I realized I was entering the final, climactic scene. I figured I'd finish the scene and go to bed. But once I closed out the main chunk of the story, the next thing I knew I was writing the epilogue I'd planned to add to the end. No spoilers here. By 2, I was done, and it was weird, exciting, nerve-wracking and pretty damn cool.

Now, this doesn't mean I'm done, DONE. Far from it. This draft needs revisions -- lots of 'em. But I always saw the first draft as really a hyper-detailed outline. A solid framework and road map that I could then add some colors and detail to. And I think that's what I have. The characters and scenery need more compelling detail and description of the world they live in, but overall, I'm pleased with the structure and pacing.

Does that mean the plot is without error? Far from it. There are a few scenes I'm on the fence about. But, as with the initial outline that became the novel, there's enough room to tinker with that I'm confident that with proper revision, I may reach my goal.

I always envisioned SILENT CITY as a fun, compact little detective novel, very much like Pelecanos' A FIRING OFFENSE, Lippman's THE SUGAR HOUSE or Lehane's A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR. Not overly pretentious or trying to be something it isn't. A solid read you could get through in a few days and possibly leave you wanting more from these characters.

Still, that doesn't mean I went in with no literary aspirations. One of the things I feel like the draft is missing -- and I'd like to remedy and beef up on revision -- is the setting. Miami is such a unique and vibrant town, and while you get snippets of that in reading the first draft, I'd love to paint a stronger picture of the place I called home for most of my life.

But, again, I'm not concerned about this. Novel writing is a lot like building a house. You need a strong foundation and framework first, then you can talk about what drapes to put in the guest room, you know?

So, my plan for the next few weeks is just that: to kick the walls a bit, test the doors and tighten the screws. Once I feel happy with the first draft -- well, happy enough to let someone else read it -- I'll pass it on to the League and see what they think. After those revisions are made, I have a short list of talented friends that I'll past the draft on to. Some are published authors or journalists, some are just really smart and well-read. All of them will bring valuable input to the process. After all that is done -- and pinch me when it is -- this irregular feature will become more about query letters and contacting agencies than the actual writing. But that's exciting, too, in its own way. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

EW's 25 To Watch Before the 2010 Oscars

Right around this time, I do a big push to try to catch all well-received, powerful looking films I can before they disappear for theaters, only to reappear on DVD after awards season has ended. At the very least, I like to have seen all five (now ten) Best Picture nominated films before the Academy Awards. Top 10, 25, and 50 lists from across the web always help me keep track of what I feel I should (and want) to see.
In case you missed it, Entertainment Weekly released their list of 25 movies to watch before the Oscars. The thinking - these are the ones likely to nab award consideration, so if you want to be in the loop, check them out. (I'm well on my way with 12/25 down - though, apologies to all talent and crew involved, I think I'll be skipping a few on the list.)

(500) Days of Summer
A Serious Man
A Single Man
An Education
The Blind Side
Bright Star
Crazy Heart
District 9
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Hurt Locker
The Informant!
Inglorious Basterds
It's Complicated
Julie & Julia
The Last Station
The Lovely Bones
The Messenger
Star Trek
Up in the Air
The Young Victoria

Oddly absent from the list:

Broken Embraces
The Road
Where the Wild Things Are
The White Ribbon

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 106 – Developing a New World, and Reassurances

Friday evening was a good end to a long first week back at work. Gretchen, my producer, was on the east coast for the week, and we had a conference call at the end of the work day with the production company that’s developing my script with us. I invited Gretchen to take the call with me at my office, since it would be quieter, and as we had made tentative plans to meet up anyway, it would give us more face time.

One of the main things I’ve been curious to know is how writers get a producer credit on their films. One of the writers Gretchen’s worked with in the past managed that, and he didn’t have a ton of previous credits to his name. Apparently, it’s easier than I would have thought, with the main deciding factor being a commonly added clause in a writer’s contract, as negotiated by his/her lawyer. That’s probably putting it in layman’s terms, but it was reassuring to think that this is doable, even for rookie writers. (I’m getting way ahead of myself, I know.)

Anyway, we jumped on the call, which was really one of the most painless ones I’ve had. There were very few notes coming from the production company, and a lot more enthusiasm about the script. The executive developing it is really stoked to see more pages, which I hope to have soon. Gretchen had some issues with the second half of my Act Two revisions, but we hashed out a couple solutions, which I think are helping a lot. I was wondering if the excitement levels surrounding the project had cooled off over the holidays (and before), since it had been nearly a month since our last call. Friday’s chat was incredibly reassuring, even invigorating, in how much enthusiasm there was.

During the call, one of the main things we discussed was the world that I had created. Obviously, since the entire concept calls for a massive, Armageddon sized disaster, the setting has to be quite different from normal, everyday life. For the most part, the executive was pleased with what I’d done. Still, during these ongoing rewrites, I continue to think about how best to establish a new world. The classic way to convey necessary information about a new reality is through newspaper clippings or footage. This can be done really well, at times, but it can also be out of place. In my story, it’d be out of place. Exposition can also be great; yet this, too, runs the risk of failure if it’s too on the nose or basic. As much as I love CHILDREN OF MEN, I can’t deny that some of the dialogue is too explanatory for people who have been living in those conditions for 18 years. That info is clearly just for the audience, and therefore not as well delivered as it could otherwise have been.

This weekend, King Suckerman and I went and saw DAYBREAKERS, which I used as a bit of a learning tool. While it won’t go down in history as one of the best vampire movies ever made, I do have to give credit to the Spierig Brothers for adding a lot of creative elements into the world they created and for giving us the info we needed easily right up front. The film reminded me a lot of what Gretchen kept telling me – “put yourself in the world and try to think of how people (including yourself) would react.” Daybreakers has a lot of great little tidbits that make the scenario (vampires comprising the majority of the population and human blood running out) fun and grounded. Even examples such as UV warnings in cars and day-driving capabilities that tint out windows completely enrich the world and help root you to it. This is what I have to do with my film (or make sure I am continuing to do), and it’s what any writer has to be aware of when creating a new world.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Netflix - Warner Bros Deal

If you haven't heard about it yet, Netflix has entered into an agreement with Warner Bros. that delays mailing out any of the studio's new releases for 4 weeks after the DVD release date. This means, if you're hoping to catch something on Netflix that you missed in theaters, and it's a WB release, you'll have to wait nearly a month longer to get it in the mail.The flip side of this is that, by agreeing to wait 4 weeks (and potentially lose some subscribers and give Blockbuster an initial upper hand - currently there doesn't seem to be any expectation that Blockbuster will enter into a similar agreement), WB is going to grant Netflix access to a lot more of its library for Instawatch streaming. (Warner Bros. has agreed to give Netflix a large discount on DVDs to mail out and will significantly increase the instant viewing catalog, including adding many more recent releases - films released to DVD in the past three to eight months.)

The basic reasoning behind this is twofold (and benefits both companies). WB - and most DVD distributors - make the bulk of their DVD sales within the first month of a DVD's release, with nearly 75% of sales being made in that time frame. By waiting 28 days to send something through Netflix, they increase their sale revenue, as opposed to losing it to rentals that they can't really cash in on. Netflix, on the other hand, saves on postage by upping the amount of instant video streaming they do. Currently, about 30% of Netflix rentals are new releases, but Netflix heads don't believe the new business plan will negatively affect the company.

John August recently posted his take on the new agreement between Warner Bros. and Netflix. If you're a Netflix subscriber, you might not like the plan. If you're a writer, though, check out John's take on why this might actually be a good thing for you. The increased sales and increased instant viewing selection both benefit writers, who earn residuals from sales and online streaming. Writers do not make money off of discs mailed out as subscription rentals.

The deal, which was just announced yesterday, goes into effect almost immediately, with Ricky Gervais' THE INVENTION OF LYING being one of the first titles delayed. MSNBC has a more in-depth look at the deal.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 105 – The Second Half of Act Two and How Drinking Affects Writing

Last week, with little else to do besides watch movies, drink, eat, and scour the internet, I got a lot of writing done. For probably the first time, I was writing multiple hours per day, multiple days per week. All told, over the course of about a week, I churned out over 40 pages of a revised second act. After all that work – which I spoke about last week – I was left feeling very comfortable with pages 60-84, but less so with the new pages 43-60. A call from my producer last night changed all that.

Gretchen, my producer, called me yesterday night to say she’d read the pages I sent her. She had been quite excited about the first half of them, and then found that they ground to a halt – a typical second half of Act Two problem. My main concern had been a lack of concrete information in the first half of the act. Often, when setting things up, we allow ourselves to be overly cryptic, and then later try to fill the audience in by being too expositional. I think that’s what I was guilty of, as Gretchen thought that pages 60-70 were out of place. The action built and built (and the details were clearer to her than I thought they would come across as), and then I inserted the expositional scene and slowed everything down. Of course, I still have to go back and re-read everything, but those pages are extremely difficult and can kill a script if not done right.

Still, regardless of how much work there’s still to be done, I have to admit that I’m eager to get back to it. Like a child who excitedly wakes up to continue building his brand new Lego castle, I’m anxious to get back to the toy I abandoned last night when bedtime finally came around. Part of me is actually relieved there’s more work to be done, which I can only take as a good sign, both about this project and about my decision to pursue a writing career.

Changing pace a little bit, I don’t normally like to share too much about my non-writing life on here, but as I get older and deeper into what I hope will become my screenwriting career, the line between what’s writing-related and what’s not begins to blur more often. Since I was back with my hometown friends over break, enjoying a number of nights out at the bar – including the ever popular New Year’s Eve – I got to thinking about writing and drinking. It’s easy to look back through history and find wildly successful writers who drank excessively every day. And while I enjoy a good drink, I’ve decided that I have to come out as saying that I disagree that drinking heavily makes you a better writer.

When you’re trying to launch your career, so much hangs on those initial relationships and working experiences that one too many mistakes, drunk dials, or missed meetings due to too much drinking can ruin you before you start. Mind you, I’m not speaking from personal experience here, but I think that many people carry a notion that drinking and writing are romantically linked, and I think that the first can destroy the latter. People my generation have such instant and easy access to communication, that a night at the bar can lead to unremembered calls, texts, and emails. Ideally, these are all harmful and received only by friends, because the last thing you want is for one of those to go out to someone you’re working on your first big project with. You don’t want to lose a day of writing due to a hangover, especially if you’re on a deadline. Nor do you want to read what you wrote the night before, only to realize you have to erase all that “progress” because it was hardly coherent.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had more to drink some nights than I should. I also know that if I’m serious about my career, it will wind up being crucial to be able to comport myself when drinking in a professional environment and to maintain an active writing schedule. As the year rolled over into 2010, I realized that control is one of the most important tools a writer has, and that extends beyond the page. I’m going to cut down on my drinking, not because it’s affected my writing career yet, but because I never want it to.

SuckerFlix: Up in the Air

A friend and I caught Up in the Air on Saturday afternoon. I went in with mid-level expectations. I really enjoyed Jason Reitman's Juno, but was lukewarm about Thank You For Smoking. Still, the cast seemed strong and Reitman's pedigree was mostly good.

The movie tells the story of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a man who travels the US doing the dirty work for major corporations -- mainly, firing people. Ryan has become so good -- and fond -- of his life in the air that he's disconnected from any semblance of a life back home in Nebraska, or with his family. Then he meets Alex (Vera Farmiga), a sexy corporate traveler who has almost as many hotel and airline discount cards as he does. After hooking up, the pair swap schedules and continue to meet on their respective travels when said calendars overlap geographically.

Clouds start to appear in the form of Anna Kendrick, who plays a youthful, recent college grad at Bingham's company. She's come up with a firing method that doesn't require personal contact -- just a T1 connection and two monitors. Bingham, of course, want nothing to do with settling down or this new method. He takes Kendrick on the road with him to teach her "the ropes."

Up in the Air was a very pleasant surprise. It avoided trite plot twists and overt melodrama and instead focused on its three main characters and how they play off each other. There were a few moments I preemptively cringed while watching, half-expecting Reitman to take the tried and true route and wrap the plot up in a nice bow. Instead, we get a realistic and modern look at life in the 21st century. Where relationships sustain themselves on Blackberry Messenger conversations and getting fired via video conference is a potential reality.

Clooney and Farmiga are kinetic together, less so in the few scenes they have apart. Farmiga is so charming in her role that you end up surprised near the end of the film when you realize you've fallen for her, too, which then plays right into the film's third and best act.

Kendrick comes off as a bit of a nuisance at first, both as a character and as an actress. But after a while she smartly steps back and lets the leads do the heavy lifting, making her performance passable and solid if not spectacular.

Overall, Up in the Air was a great way to kick off the cinematic year. Though painfully depressing at times on a number of levels -- romantically, socially, etc. -- it only strays into cliche and predictable territory a handful of times, which is fairly forgivable. Worth a look.

Friday, January 01, 2010

The Writing Year - Year Two: Managers, Lawyers, Producers, Option Agreements, and Giving Someone the Ax

Happy new year!

If for no other reason than we have to throw out our calendars and open new ones to January once again, New Years celebrations tend to go hand in hand with evaluation (or re-evaluation) of one's life. As far as my writing life went, 2009 was a pretty interesting (and sometimes frustrating) year. Actually, you could say the same thing for my personal life, too. I really learned a lot about the business in 2009, and though I didn't find "success" in terms of a major sale, I continued to fight my way toward Hollywood's door. Hopefully what I went through will help shed some light on your situation or reassure you that you're not the only aspiring screenwriter fighting an uphill battle.

It was just over a year ago that I officially signed with my first manager. I pitched him ideas for follow-up projects to my post-Apocalyptic spec when we met in late December of '08, and I spent my holidays working on the one we settled on. By February, he was transitioning out from the company he was with when I signed with him, and he was making the move to someplace else. Agents and managers hop companies all the time, so that wasn't a red flag for me. I did, however, grow suspicious when he had me emailing his private email because he couldn't tell me where he was going or what the situation was. At the same time, a manager at his former company was embroiled in controversy regarding slander and a lawsuit. I quietly (and not so quietly to The League) hoped that this was why my manager was leaving.

At that point - two months into our manager/client relationship - I didn't have anywhere else to go. My manager had contacts I certainly didn't, and I wasn't an in demand writer. So, when he asked if I would go with him to his new company, I quickly said yes. I had to officially fire the first company, which I did via email (as per my manager's instructions). I hated the place that put me in; after sending the email, his former colleague told me that I had to inform them which projects he had repped me on, where they had been submitted, and that any sale made on them would mean 10% for the old agency. My manager's response when I worriedly asked him how to deal with that - "ignore it."

Things got more and more unsettling. March came, and still no word about where he had transitioned to. In fact, I had very little word from him at all. I enquired about the status of my script a month after he supposedly submitted it nine places, and he said he would check in a week. Finally, a mutual friend who we had submitted my script to emailed me; she'd received an eblast from my manager informing his friends and professional contacts of his new home. Right then, I did two things. I emailed my manager to see if he would finally tell me what was up, and at the same time I googled the new place. The new agency - primarily a literary one - very clearly said "we are not the right place for screenwriters" on its homepage. They repped writers for almost every other medium, but were adamant about that. When my manager did get back to me, he did so with no explanation. All he said was that I should email him at his new address from that point on.

By the beginning of April, I'd had enough. I felt like I was doing more work for myself than he was. It was also right aorund that time that a family friend - Gretchen Somerfeld - read my script. Gretchen's an LA based producer with recognizable credits to her name, and she was into my script. Smartly (though certainly not advisable in many cases), I slipped her the script wihtout going through my manager. I was growing so displeased with his actions that I didn't want to cut him in on 10% of a potential sale made from my direct contacts. Within the span of just a few weeks, I fired my manager, found out that a production company with a first look at Warner Bros had strongly considered my script but ultimately passed on it, and I agreed to work with Gretchen.

May passed by pretty quickly. I scrambled for a lawyer to take a look at the option agreement Gretchen sent me. The phone calls to entertainment lawyers were all over the place. Some of the larger companies refused to have any sort of conversation without a $15K retainer, while others gave what little advice they could before telling me that I would have to pay $200 to $600 an hour to speak further. One junior at one firm actually agreed to look everything over and take me on at the standard 5% of the sale, then got back in touch a week later and said he would have to do it at 7.5%. Finally, I managed to get some help from a very kind woman at the WGAEast. Though she prefaced that she's not a lawyer, she works closely with contracts and option agreements, and she assurred me that my agreement was one of the more favorable she'd seen.

I went on vacation at the end of May, and I signed the agreement with Gretchen upon returning in early June. By signing with Gretchen, I also acquired a manager in Kevin D. - Gretchen's manager who would rep me for the project (and then potentially longer, based on our work together for the first spec). With that, the re-writes began. The first major change was the title. For the record, I either hate titling my scripts, or I love it. A title can make or break interest in a project (and sometimes a project itself), so unless I get a great one, I'd rather hit myself in the crotch than give my baby an unworthy title. 

After weeks of waffling and tossing while trying to fall asleep, I settled on a new title that Gretchen and Kevin both really liked. Kevin started talking the script up to a few people around town, while I spent the summer re-writing. The script underwent some major changes, finally settling into its second real incarnation by the third week of September. 

We sent it out to a few places, including giving an exclusive to the production company with the Warner Bros deal that passed in the Spring. Since I'm an unknown writer, my "team" and I agreed to try and attach an agent first, and then go wide. Unfortunately, after a long day at work, I found out that the production company passed a second time, and the agents we were hoping to hear from either hadn't read or also passed. 

Finally, in October, a bite! Another production company, this one with a first look at Universal, was interested. The head producer (Oscar nominated) hadn't yet been made aware of the script, but one of his right hand people had read and liked it. She had some notes, which would ultimately send the script into its third major revision, but was offering us an exclusive deal. In a money-less handshake agreement, we agreed that I would do re-writes per her notes. If she liked the new draft (which she has not gotten yet), then it was off to the producer and, fingers crossed, to Universal with an A-list producer attached. I've been working on the new version since, and just about finished the first stab at the revised Act Two today.

So, 2009 has been quite the rollercoaster ride. I don't mean to belabor my first failed management experience, but I do think that it's important for all new writers to know that they don't have to take someone's crap just because they're unproduced. Don't get me wrong - the key to my relationship with Gretchen and Kevin so far has been my willingness to work with them and take their feedback, and I'm sure they'd tell you the same. On the other hand, though, if a working relationship isn't, well, working, then you're not obligated to stay in it. This is your career, so you have to do what's best for that. And for you. 

All in all, though I didn't make a sale and am not yet an in-demand writer, I would say that 2009 was a very good year for me. I got closer than I have ever been to launching my screenwriting career, and I did manager to land on a few people's radar, if only for a few minutes even. I've been working on this post-Apocalyptic spec for two years now, and I know there's still a lot of work to go. 

So please, if you take nothing else away from this post, take these two things: work well with others, but make sure that they're working well for you, and be patient. Some people might have the great fortune of being a legitimate overnight sensation, but if you read between the lines in most articles on "overnight" screenwriters, you'll see that they worked in the industry (as a producer, reader, grip, caterer, etc.) for years and had been writing for more years than that. 

May 2010 be yours and my best Writing Year yet!