Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The League Interviews - Jennifer Arzt, Script Frenzy

April is Script Frenzy month, and to help kick it off and spread the word, The League recently had the chance to ask Program Director Jennifer Arzt about the month long challenge. For any of our readers who are new to Script Frenzy, the Frenzy is a writing challenge issued to any and all writers who wish to participate. Entrants are asked to try to meet a goal of writing 100 pages of original scripted material in 30 days - screenplays, stage plays, TV shows, short films, and graphic novels are all welcome. There is no fee to enter Script Frenzy, nor is there any penalty for not hitting the 100 page mark. The goal is to motivate people to write, and here at The League, we think that's just the bee's knees. 

Hi Jennifer, thanks so much for taking a moment to speak with The Screenwriters League about Script Frenzy. What a great program! Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for this event - whose idea was it and how did it first come about?
Thank you for having me!

In 1999, Chris Baty started National Novel Writing Month, which has since grown into the largest writing competition in the world. Chris founded the nonprofit Office of Letters and Light in 2006 to run National Novel Writing Month and launch new events. In 2007, the curtains rose on the very first Script Frenzy.

I'm very excited for our fourth year! We already have thousands more writers signed up this year than in 2009, and the registrations are still going strong.

This is a really unique program compared to all other competitions and contests. Script Frenzy is so much more about a writer's challenge with him or her self than with other entrants. How has the response been from writers so far (both this year compared to others and in general)? Do you find that the program has helped a lot of writers get words on the page?
It is unique especially when compared to a competition or contest because there are no prizes per se. It is a challenge. The competition is between the deadline and the writer.

As far as I know, most participants' response to this is very positive. I think folks like having the deadline to keep them motivated. It also works as a great excuse to skip out on other events, cleaning, and errand running.

I've seen it really inspire first-time scriptwriters to fall in love with the form. And, I've seen it rekindle a love of writing in Hollywood professionals who had become burned out by working on scripts for other people.

Thousands of writers win the challenge every year. Even those who don't win report writing more during Script Frenzy than they otherwise would have.

So, 100 pages in a month. What a great challenge. How did you settle on that, and do you find that most participants accomplish that goal (or at least something close to it)?
100 pages is the average length of the typical feature screenplay.

In Script Frenzy's first year, the goal was 20,000 words. The idea was pulled from our sister event, National Novel Writing Month. It was quickly apparent that counting words just didn't fit the screenplay format, so we changed the measurement to pages.

Each year about ten percent of participants cross the 100-page mark and thousands come close.

We have a total-page counter on the website (it appears on April 1). It is really exciting to see that number start exploding upward. This year, there are already more folks signed up to take part a few days before April 1 than at the end of last year's event! I'm excited to see how many total pages are written this April!

How does Script Frenzy track writers' progress throughout that month? Do you ever get to see the finished products that people submit?
Every person who signs up gets a profile page. Each day writers track their progress and can keep track of how consistent their writing has been by checking their chart.

They can also check the status of their writing buddies. It is amazing how motivating it can be to see a buddy jump ahead of you.

I get addicted to the page-count bar on my profile. I keep the website up when I'm writing just to see how far I've both come and have to go.

We never read what gets submitted for verification at the end. Participants upload a PDF, a supercomputer robot counts the pages, verifies the total pages, then deletes them. Because there are no “best scripts” singled out, we don't need to do anything other than count. With two exceptions...

There is a place in every profile for a script excerpt, but this is completely optional.

Also, at the Headquarters wrap party, we string up clothes lines and folks pin up a few pages that they want to share. The grand finale of the party involves a few members from the very funny improv group Killing My Lobster performing a page or two (with no rehearsals!). It is side-splittingly funny and not to be missed! This year our wrap party will be in San Francisco on May 8.

Is there anything else you want people who are considering participating to know?
You have nothing to lose. Honestly. Script Frenzy is free and is designed to get you writing. That's it.

Script Frenzy starts on April 1 and ends on April 30.

It is one month out of the year that you get to devote to your writing. I look forward to it every year, panic when it is just around the corner because I'm not ready, and then dive in anyway on April 1.

There's really no downside to a challenge like this. And the great thing is that Script Frenzy is run by people who are all also writers, correct? Have you learned anything about your own writing and cinematic pursuits from running Script Frenzy?
You're right! There is no downside.

I am a filmmaker and a writer. I fell into writing by accident when I was trying to make movies. I found that it is hard to direct something that isn't there, so I started writing. It is mostly free and doesn't require a crew, a distributor, or an audience–yet.

Even though I was fully committed to writing, I was still having a hard time getting to the end of the first draft. I would find a plot hole in the middle of Act 2 and go back to fix it. When I returned to the middle of Act 2, I would see that a character would have been better set up a different way. So, I'd head back and rewrite. I just could not arrive at the end. But when I finished my very first full-length, beautifully flawed script with Script Frenzy, I learned that all first drafts are meant to be first drafts. They are meant to get done, be read by friends for feedback, and rewritten. I knew that “writing is rewriting” but it took me actually getting there to really understand it.

So as you know, The League is dedicated to helping other aspiring writers launch their careers by sharing our experiences while trying to start our own. Is there anything else you want to say about Script Frenzy or writing in general, that our readers might like to know? Any advice?
(I'm also still trying to get something huge, wonderful, and career-launching off the ground, so take my advice with a grain of salt.)

In a nutshell, my advice is: Write until it's done, then celebrate what you've done before starting the next thing.

Once you've started a story, spend time with it every day. Every. Single. Day. Don't let it slip out of your hands, or out of your subconscious. Creativity works in funny ways. I'm not doctor, but I can tell you that your subconscious works to puzzle out what it's currently involved with. So, let it work for you. I can always tell how good of a job I'm doing by how many awesome ideas pop into my head while I'm in the shower. If I've been away from the story for a few days, those moments just don't happen.

In an industry where so much is dependent on things that have nothing to do with the quality of your script (who you know, did a similar story just get picked up, did the economic climate hit the next ice age), take time to celebrate getting a script done–no matter what happens to it next. Finishing a screenplay is a huge accomplishment. A lot of people set out to do it and never cross FADE OUT. Just getting to the end of your story is worthy of champagne, confetti, and a high-fives.

Thanks Jennifer. This is a tremendous program. Kudos to you and everyone on the Script Frenzy team from everyone here at The League!

To join Script Frenzy or for more information, go to www.scriptfrenzy.org. Happy writing!

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 117 - Completed A New Outline

A few weeks ago, I learned that I'd be diving back into more re-writes on my post-Apocalyptic spec after working for a couple months on a draft that we had turned into the Production Company we're working with. Of course, I was disappointed that my time and effort went without the reward of a sale - or at least a big move forward - and that was no surprise to my manager, producer, and the exec at the production company. In order to ward off any other undesired pages, we all agreed that I wouldn't write another page until I produced an outline that we were all in agreement on. 

Last Thursday, I sent that outline off to my manager for his approval after working on it with my producer for some time. I am pretty happy with how it turned out, in no small part because I think it's much closer to what the production company executive wanted. Still, I have no idea whether this will be the final outline that they greenlight for me to write a script off of or not. In fact, I would put money on having to make at least some small changes (I would do this for no other reason than that I've learned to be at best cautiously optimistic about everything; were I not, I'd have gone completely mad by now). 

I know that writers sometimes debate the merits of outlining. When I was still in school - and thought that a sale would instantly follow the completion of a script - I tried to convince myself and my professors that I didn't outline, because I didn't need to. It wasn't my "process." I liked to find out where the story went and allow it to take me along for the ride. As I got older, I realized that's a bit crap. Sure, I don't always outline. However, I do not universally brush off the merits of it. Outlining can be a great process and (had I shared the outline with the production company back in December) a time-saving one. at least with this go-around, I know that the structure will be agreed upon before I set out to put one more word down on paper, and then I can just focus on producing pages as quickly as possible.

One of the things that has become increasingly jaw-dropping to me is how different the script has become in the two and a half years of its existence. I'd always heard stories about how drastically a project can change during development (and had joked accordingly that some studio head would one day try to make my post-Apocalyptic thriller a romantic comedy), but this is the first time I've experienced that for myself. Of course, this is the first time I've actually gotten some major interest in a project. Without a doubt, this is at least the fourth major incarnation of the draft (by that, I mean different characters, plot, and story structure). I've been happy - in varying degrees - with each version, and I enjoy this one just as well. Still, it's undeniable that this script would not make the same movie as my first draft (or second, or third). The project has evolved, not always for the best. I just really want to cement the draft that we shop around and try to make some bigger waves with it soon.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A brief history of NC-17

Cinematical's posted a great story this week celebrating the 20th anniversary of the MPAA's NC-17 rating. For readers not familiar with the ratings background (or our readers outside of the USA) of the uncommon rating, Cinematical summarizes:
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the MPAA's notorious NC-17 rating, a designation whose checkered history continues. It all began when, for some reason, the MPAA failed to copyright its "X" rating, which recommended that no children under the age of 17 be admitted. Regular, even prestigious movies could earn an X rating, like Midnight Cowboy and A Clockwork Orange, and no one would blink an eye. But then the porn industry (legally) stole the X and started using it as a marketing ploy, even going so far as to invent the "XXX" rating, for (presumably) extra-naughty movies. Years later film critics like Siskel & Ebert, recommended an "A" rating for "Adult," which would come somewhere between the "R" and the "X," but the MPAA -- in their infinite wisdom -- came up with the NC-17 (no children under 17), which was the equivalent of the "X."

The full article is quite interesting, and breaks down a list of the most notable NC-17 films of the last two decades. (Tanking at the box office is a commonality most of the films share.)

I feel that most of my own spec scripts would just graze a light R-rating, were they to be produced. Maybe. What do you think the hardest rating a piece of your writing would garner?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The League Interviews - Gordy Hoffman

The Screenwriters League recently had the privilege of interviewing screenwriter Gordy Hoffman (Love Liza) about his writing and his work founding the BlueCat Screenplay Competition. Founded in 1998, BlueCat has grown tremendously in over a decade. In addition to boasting a top prize of $10,000 and four Finalist prizes of $1,500, BlueCat offers something extremely valuable (and unique, as far as competitions go) to every person who enters - written screenplay analysis! Whether a writer takes home the top prize or not, screenplay analysis is an incredibly useful benefit (and well worth it - many professional consulting services charge more than the cost of entering this competition).

Gordy had a lot of great information for writers about entering screenplay competitions, the BlueCat Competition and his goals to help emerging writers, and about pursuing screenwriting as a career.

Thank you for agreeing to speak to The Screenwriters League about your writing and the BlueCat Screenplay Competition. As you know, our site is dedicated to chronicling the journey from unknown to produced screenwriters, so to start things off, can you tell us a little bit about how you got into writing? Did you have any training in it when you wrote your first play? How did you break in professionally?

I did not have any training in writing plays. I wrote poems and stories from my first memories, and my experience acting since I was a child oriented me towards plays. I did write and direct and star in a short film when I was eleven! Shot on Super 8. So the impulses have always been there.

I started mounting my own work when I lived in Chicago in my 20's, but I did not get paid until I moved to Los Angeles and someone gave me a few thousand dollars to write a script. Then came LOVE LIZA.

Can you talk a little bit about Love Liza (DVD Alert for all you readers who haven't seen it)? What inspired you to write it and what was your process while doing so? When did your brother become involved?

I was a cab driver in Chicago for 3 1/2 years. I saw many things and wrote down many ideas. One of these was "normal guy huffs gas." So one summer, I started to write this story, imagining what might propel a man to do such a thing. After I wrote the first draft, I was home on Labor Day weekend 1996, and my brother was home as well. I thought I had written something special so I showed it to him. He told me he wanted to play the part of the man. This was the start of our process towards what you see today.

When did you decide to launch the BlueCat Competition? What prompted you to spearhead such a large undertaking and what were your goals setting out? What was the attraction to helping writers break into the industry and why did you feel able to help them?

I always had an idea to start a screenplay contest. Maybe I thought it could be profitable, wow, that was wrong! Ha! But very quickly, I got the wonderful rewards of helping other writers. I became a stronger writer in the process, it led me to teaching at USC, and now I'm directing a screenplay written by a writer who submitted ot BlueCat. So it's changed my life, and made me richer, in the best way.

What have been your experiences managing the competition so far? Can you talk a bit about what you have learned about running a competition and other "insider info" about screenplay competitions our readers might find helpful?

Writers need to be themselves and write stories from their own imaginations and lives. If people were able to read submissions to a screenplay contest, they would quickly realize how much borrowing is done from movies already made. If they knew this, they would realize they better follow their own voice, or they're gonna sound like everything else!

The competition has grown tremendously over the years. How do you guarantee that each submission receives equal consideration?

Every screenplay that enters BlueCat receives a written analysis. How do I guarantee my taste will match each and every reader I employ? We cannot. It's all subjective, people. Reactions to your work are simply the opinion of one human being. It doesn't count for much, in the end of the things. But what we do is give you something to think about, and that's why people keep coming back. BlueCat is a pioneer in providing feedback to writers.

BlueCat offers a great service to its entrants in the form of written screenplay analysis, something that is unique among screenwriting competitions. Why was it important to you to offer this extra service?

It's important for us because it supports our mission of helping develop writers and it establishes our integrity as a contest. Our process has yielded very successful results. I hold our alumni up against any other competition! This is due to our commitment to give each and every writer intelligent, challenging notes for every submission to our competition.

When are the submission dates for the next BlueCat Screenwriting Competition? What other advice can you give to people who are contemplating submitting or have submitted but have not yet taken home the grand prize? What are some of the most common red flags that people can easily avoid when submitting this time?

Our Final Deadline is soon, April 1. Make sure the proofread your work very carefully, the readers tend to be distracted by typos. Most importantly, if you don't feel like it's ready, don't send it in. Learn to give yourself notes, and don't submit because it's easy. Submit because you're ready for someone to look at your screenplay.

What – if anything in particular – has set past winning scripts apart from all other entrants, in your experience? You spoke briefly about writers establishing their own voice. Is there anything else that really helps a script stand out?

Trust what you care about when you write. You might not think what you love is going to be good enough for a story, or it won't be commercial, or help your career. Ignore these fears and have emotion for what you create. The winning scripts have always made me cry or laugh out loud. If this doesn't happen for your own work, you're probably not going to win BlueCat.

Looking at the state of the industry for a second, I think that it’s a pretty daunting time to be an emerging writer, just like the Leaguers are, just as people who are submitting to competitions often are. We hear a lot these days about development freezes, giant mergers, and less activity for writers across the board. As someone who is active in the industry, do you have any insight into the situation or advice to people who are hoping that BlueCat (and other avenues) might be their key to breaking in during these difficult times? Is it really that bad a time to try to make it as a screenwriter?

People simply are only buying the best stuff now. I don't think the market's dried up, the standards are simply higher. So okay scripts with great conceits won't sell today, as they might before. The bar has been raised on what will sell, but the great compelling script that sold a few years ago will sell today. In short, we need to write better scripts.

Thanks for all the great advice and information, Gordy. Is there anything else you would like to say about BlueCat, writing, Hollywood, or anything not related to any of the above?

Please stop focusing on getting an agent and write more often. This is the best way to achieve your dreams. Create today.

Thanks again, Gordy! As he mentioned above, the final deadline for submitting to this year's BlueCat Screenplay Competition is April 1 - just around the corner. To submit, go to http://www.bluecatscreenplay.com/submissions/call_for_entries.php.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 116 – Used Index Cards to Help Outline

There are a lot of tools, tips, and tricks that writers use every day while crafting their stories. People write extensive character back stories – even if none of that info ever makes it onto the screen or into the script – so that they know who they’re writing about. They draw character arcs, maps, and family trees on their wall to help maintain visual on everyone in their script. They outline extensively. Sometimes, writers will even sketch out certain locations of buildings if their architecture plays a key role, and use this to help describe the scenes on the page.

I’ve done all of the above. Once thing I hadn’t done until last week, however, was use index cards to help outline my story. I knew that there were a few key beats that I had to include, some that I wanted to include, and a number of pieces to the puzzle that were necessary, but I had no idea where they fit in. Staring at a blinking cursor wasn’t getting me very far, as there’s only so much visualizing I can do while looking at eight pages of text. So, I decided to try index cards and put the plot together like a puzzle in need of assembly. I found this to be amazingly helpful.

The first thing I did was to decide how I needed to break up the information on my index cards, to determine the elements that I was working with. (As a committed recycler – particularly of paper – and, some would say, a bit frugal, I decided to use the backs of my old Far Side day calendar pages, rather than buy a pack of new index cards for this experiment.) I decided that I was essentially dealing with three major types of information. First, there were the locations and big action beats. I wrote these in big red letters. This way, I could lay out the major beats by what happens in them (never getting too specific) and be able to rearrange the plot through them. For example, at one point, my character goes to Washington D.C., so that card just reads, “Michael gets to DC.” Another would be, “Michael is chased through the trees.” Simple things that to other people might not mean a ton, but to me, carried a lot more implied information. I think I had about 10 or 12 of these.

I lined up the red beats vertically on my bed, rearranging and leaving blanks between them so that I could get a quick overview of the story structure so far and sense where I was missing something. Immediately to the right of the red cards were the blue ones. Blue was for the reveals that come with each scene. For example, if the beat was “Michael arrives in DC,” then the corresponding blue might be “His ex-wife is no longer living there.” The blue represented bits of information that were organically (and often immediately) apparent once the protagonist arrived there. He arrive in X (red) and sees that Y (blue) is the case.

Finally, to the right of all the blue cards were the ones with black text. These were the ones that were trickiest to work into the script and most important to spread out effectively and intelligently. The black notes were the bits of information that the protagonist puts together along the way, the puzzle pieces that are revealed to him through his actions and interactions with other people. For example, “He arrives at a volcano” (red), “The volcano is about to blow” (blue), “Someone is causing the eruption” (black).

Any information that did not immediately fit into the line up, I placed chronologically by color off to the side. If I knew that the five black notes that I hadn’t fit into the script yet had to be revealed in a certain way, I ordered them vertically accordingly, and was then able to see which red beats they corresponded best with. If there weren’t any scenes that naturally would reveal that information or there were scenes that didn’t organically follow one another, then I knew that I had to add another beat.

The visual of lining all of this information out on my bed and seeing what was missing/irrelevant/not yet incorporated was incredibly helpful. I don’t know why I put off this approach for so long. Just seeing everything like that helped me pinpoint what was working and what wasn’t, and – perhaps most importantly – where I was duplicating scenes because I thought that I hadn’t revealed something that was actually already there. If you’re ever stuck outlining, I would suggest using index cards (or some variation thereof) to help you break through. It certainly worked for me.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Justiflat - The Premiere Episode of Justified Is Dead as the Man in Miami

*This post might contain spoilers.

I'm only about half way through the three-season run of DEADWOOD (on borrowed DVDs), but that's been more than enough to hook me. So, naturally, when I saw the first preview for JUSTIFIED, FX's new drama about a quick (and often) shooting U.S. Marshal starring Timothy Olyphant of Deadwood fame, I was more than psyched. Unfortunately, after Tuesday night's series premiere episode, the show quickly fell into the, "I'll give it another few episodes before quitting" category of new shows. 

The episode opened with Olyphant's Raylan Givens sitting across from a suspect at a table beside the pool at a trendy Miami hotel. After some quite, intimidating, tough-guy dialogue that involved a lot of daring one another to shoot, Raylan blasts the man away. Raylan chews the fat with the other marshals outside the hotel later, not in the least bit disturbed by the life he just took. And there began the pattern that repeated for the next hour plus of the first episode.

Raylan gets transferred to his backwoods Kentucky hometown in an attempt to let the dust from the Miami shooting settle, and to catch a childhood acquaintance of his who has been getting the government's attention. In case you miss it the first time Raylan says it, you'll get to hear another 18 times that he and his new target used to mine coal together. In fact, there's more repetition in the first episode than I have ever seen in any show ever. Or any season for that matter. Whether it's "we mined coal together" or "you shot a man in Miami" or some variation of either statement, the writers seem to have run out of unique things to say after each commercial break. Like a comic book that only comes out every other month, so the writers have to remind us what's happened through catch-up dialogue, Justified was so repetitive that I was plain bored. The hour and 11 minute premiere (commercials included) could have been boiled down to a half an hour if all the repeat lines - sometimes seemingly verbatim - were removed. We get it! Raylan shot a man in Miami. Next?

More than repetitive, though, Justified lacked logic. If it didn't, I was either not paying attention or too picky a viewer. I don't believe that a single rocket from a bazooka would blow up an entire building, causing simultaneous fire balls to erupt from the first and second story windows. Maybe I'm wrong there. I could also be wrong that a woman who blasted her husband would be free to continue going about her business. Raylan's love interest, an abused woman played by the beautiful Joelle Carter, aims a shotgun at her husband while he's eating dinner and pulls the trigger. Somehow, though, despite the fact that she did this and that all the cops know she did it, we're first introduced to her as she's going about her daily business, nothing unusual to her. It's only at the tail end of the episode that we see her at the court house (did the writers remember she might, possibly, potentially have to answer for killing an unarmed - albeit abusive - man?). (At one point during the previews for the upcoming episodes, I wondered aloud if all the women cast for the show were sisters. Carter is a tall, gorgeous blond woman. Raylan's ex is a tall, gorgeous blond woman. And a third character we haven't been introduced to yet who Raylan seems to hook up with is - you guessed it - a tall, gorgeous blond woman. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for tall, gorgeous blond women, but it made me wonder - was this a theme, or are the producers just trying to increase the babe factor in light of a weak story?)

The police work seemed as shoddy as the writing. Raylan and his other marshals spent a lot of their time swaggering around, taking shots, speaking in drawls, and talking about the guilty criminals they knew exactly where to find. If they actually did happen to seek out those perps, though, they used guns instead of actual police work to end the day. Not bad for TV, unless, like Raylan, you decide to answer your cell phone in the middle of a shoot out. And I thought answering in the movie theater was bad. 

Justified is no Deadwood. That's more than clear. I shouldn't have expected as much, but I did think it'd be more than just an updated WALKER, TEXAS RANGER. Hopefully, the coming episodes won't be as flat and one-lied as the first, or I'll be Givens this one up.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 115 - Talk it Out

Writing is often viewed as a solitary pursuit, something that people do in the quiet of their apartment, office, or in the hubbub of a coffee shop. Story lines, character arcs, structure, plot, back stories, and all related elements that go into a script are devised by the scribe alone, with no outside help. At the League, we all believe that to be far from the case. And when I was incredibly stuck on the new outline for my post-Apocalyptic spec, I new I needed help in the form of someone that I could talk it out with (because sometimes, instead of writing, I actually make more progress when working my story out verbally).

On Tuesday night, Onyx and I met up after work at what is fast becoming one of our regular (maybe even weekly) haunts. We went to a restaurant just off Broadway down by Houston Street, saddled up to the bar, pulled out our notebooks, and each ordered one on the night's special $2 pints. That night, we had an agenda, so we didn't spend too much time on unrelated chit-chat. There were three things we wanted to discuss.

First, we talked a bit about a collaboration idea Onyx came up with that we've been talking about working on. He'd sent me an email with some basic thoughts on character, theme, and premise over the weekend, and Tuesday was our first chance to talk about it in person. I'm glad that we began the night with this idea, as I was hoping that beginning some very preliminary talks about one project would help get the wheels turning quickly by the time we moved onto my script. We discussed some of the main characters, tentative relationships they might have with one another, and the general idea of what the script would be. We didn't try to outline anything, nail down any concrete scenes, or even cement who our protagonist would be. Rather, this was a much more basic, building from the ground up type of meeting. I think we made some good progress, too, agreeing on the basics and what our next step would be (some character work and settling on a loose direction based on that).

With the creative juices flowing, we moved on, focusing on my project. As you might recall, I've been asked to attack the second act of my script again. I'd spent the past few days writing a lot of notes down on paper (not something I normally do - I typically make my notes on the computer, since I've found it easier to adhere to my writing schedule when I'm staring at a blinking cursor). Despite all of my notes, some of which were helpful, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was scratching at the surface of the breakthrough I needed to make big strides, but that I wasn't really getting anywhere. There were a few pieces falling into place, but I was feeling far too reluctant to get rid of existing elements from the story without having a really solid reason to do so. There was one character in particular who I was finding difficult to keep in - despite her somewhat large role - but I needed a reason to get rid of her.

While talking with Onyx, he helped me work out the issues I was meeting. Whether he meant to or not, he helped me see a way to take the script in a new direction, one that would make that carry-over character irrelevant. More importantly, though, he helped me ground my character in his setting. My protagonist spends most of the film trying to track somebody down in an unfamiliar land. The problem was, though, he had nowhere to turn when the clues he got led to a dead end. After all, it was unfamiliar land. by talking with Onyx and working on the script out loud, I realized that this lack of familiarity with the setting was one of the big problems I'd been facing, and I figured out how to address it.

With the taste of a big breakthrough in my mouth (and another $2 beer to compliment it), we finally talked a bit about something that Onyx was working on. We threw around a couple more ideas, further proving just how useful it can be to have someone to talk to your scripts about, someone who has read that material and knows what you're trying to do with it. For days, I had been staring at a blank page or blinking cursor, getting nowhere. An evening at a bar after work with someone from the writers group who has been following the project closely proved more valuable than the past few days combined. Granted, those few days of seemingly little progress were integral to me starting to see what I had to lose (or had to prepare to lose) from the old drafts. But that night out talking about the script was the eureka moment I needed to push forward with my work.

Even if you only have one other person to talk to about your writing, I'd highly suggest that any aspiring writer find someone to share every draft of their script with and be able to talk about the project with out loud. It can be such a more productive use of time than watching the seconds tick past as that page in front of you remains untouched.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Site Alert - Circalit

One of the strongest things about being a part of a writers group (and there are many) is the support and knowledge you get from your group mates. You can bounce questions and ideas off of one another, get feedback, and feel that you're a part of a community of other creative people. Of course, there are a lot of people who don't have access to like-minded and talented people, so a writers group might be out of the question. Luckily for anyone for whom this is the case, there's a new social networking site designed just for screenwriters that has recently been brought to our attention. (Standard League disclaimer - while we've perused the site, Leaguers have not yet uploaded material to Circalit.)

Circalit.com is a newly-launched, multiple hat wearing site for screenwriters. On on hand, Circalit is a means for getting unproduced scripts into the hands of industry professionals. Like other sites that do similar work in this regard, Circalit functions as a place for writers to upload their script (from 5% to 100% based on how much they want to reveal), loglines, and associate a genre. Unlike other sites, this service is free to users. Because I'm just as hesitant about putting material out there, I asked the folks at Circalit some basic security questions. They assured me that material posted on the site cannot be copied, selected, printed, or saved. Of course, they want to remind all writers that it's best practice to copyright anything before uploading. 

Additionally, users can rate one anothers' work - this is where that neat remote writers group feature comes in. Highest ranked scripts jump to the top of the page (presumably for those industry insiders to seek out). Users can read other users' scripts - provided it has all been uploaded - and provide feedback, either publicly or privately. For people looking to get reviews from someone other than their mother, this could prove a great feature. 

Another component of the "remote writers group" as I call it is the forum section. Writers can post questions, start groups, and associate with other people based on interest, location, and other things. Screenwriters from all over can ask one another how to do this or how to format that. I've checked out the forums a bit - they're definitely worth a look. 

There are other features Circalit is building out. Check it out for more info. the opportunity for aspiring writers to have a site dedicated entirely to people like them, striving to make that first sale or gain a few pointers is a great idea. And at no cost to all users, it's certainly easy on the wallet. 

If you've been on Circalit or have any experience with it, we'd love to know - just leave it in the comments section.

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 114 - Oscar Inspiration

Whether you love the Academy Awards or you hate them, I think it's hard to deny that there's something to be said for getting Hollywood's best together for a night celebrating achievements in filmmaking. Of course, I don't mean to imply that I think that all of the films nominated achieved something notable. (Did anyone else get a sense of unintended irony when the 10 Best Picture nominees were stacked next to the 10 Best from 1943 when CASABLANCA won? Many of the "best pictures' these days pale in comparison to truly great films from cinema's past.)

For me, the Oscars - like any award ceremony really - inspire me (at least momentarily) to create something wonderful. I don't mean that in a "I can do better" way. Award ceremonies honoring great work in film (or stage) always give me impetus to write something that could, one day, be similarly revered. How great it would be to hear my name called after someone reads, "And the Oscar goes to..." Certainly, this is a dream many of us share.

 However, I don't think that the hope of someday winning is the only inspiration for the (too often fleeting) creative surge I feel. It might be simpler and less grand than that. Watching people and films get rewarded for their accomplishments is as great a reminder as any that I won't even get a script produced if I don't dedicate myself to working hard and writing daily. Seeing people win often helps pull my head out of the clouds, plant me on my feet, and remind me to stop dreaming and start working.

This weekend, the creative juices weren't flowing, too freely. Perhaps I'm over-complicating what I need to do in my re-writes. Perhaps I just need a few more days away from the project. And as of writing this, I had a 9+ hour day at work and haven't touched my script yet today. I'm hoping that last night's telecast will light the fire under me that I need to re-write my script yet again. 

Monday, March 01, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 113 - Another Round of Rewrites

Patience is a virtue. Or at least a necessity. 

Last week, I had another conference call - this one regarding the most recent draft of my script that was delivered to the production company we're working with. Of course, I was hoping that the call would be to inform me I could quit my job and should fly out to LA instantly to ink a deal and begin taking other meetings. Needless to say, that wasn't the case. 

Unfortunately, after about 2 months of rewrites, I was sent back to the drawing board again. The exec at the production company liked a lot of what I'd done, but wanted to see a tonal shift. After relative flops like THE ROAD and BOOK OF ELI (in a year seemingly inundated with post-Apocalyptic movies), studios are weary and wary of more of the same. The production company we're working with is no different. They like the concept and what I'm trying to achieve, but in order to be more certain that the script will sell, they feel it needs to be more different, less bleak, and stand out from the crowd. No more ash covered forests. No more rusted cars slowly decomposing in the desert. No more mass hysteria causing people to flip out.

I've been asked to set my script apart from all the rest, which is not a bad thing. I don't think it will be the heart-pounding, loud explosion, chaotic adventure I initially set out to write, and that is also not necessarily a bad thing. Truth be told, I'm having a hard time remembering what it is I set out to write in the beginning (apart from a script that takes place in the world I'm still using). Therefore, the changes are not as frustratingly off-goal as they might be in other scenarios. If anything, the script could get better - i.e. smarter, stronger, more intriguing, and more classic. The intrigue and mystery might overshadow the violence and action, which is rare these days. 

Whatever the transformation might be, the fact is that the exec at the production company is still interested and excited, and that's what matters. It's not like we have a ton of other options or interested parties at the moment anyway, so as long as the working relationship is strong, we'll sally forth.