Monday, May 31, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 126 - (Hopefully) Nearing the End

The week kicked off with a conference call between my producer, the executive at the production company we're working with, and myself. It was time for another round of notes, this time dealing with the most recent draft that I submitted just before going on vacation. To be honest, I more or less knew what to expect from the call, as the exec called me while I was on vacation to give me the short version. This call was just time for some more specifics.

All in all, the notes were pretty small. That's not to say that there are no changes to be made - in fact, there are some key scenes that I have to re-address. As I was taking notes during the call, I started to feel as though I was being sent back into another long period of rewrites. However, as I reread my scribbles later in the week, the scale diminished quickly. In fact, I had to call my producer at one point to get her take on the notes again; it was becoming fairly apparent to me that the structure, dialogue, and events would remain pretty much the same. The printed final script wouldn't look much different than the current version. My producer agreed, concluding that the re-writes would be more akin to tweaks (with the exception of one scene), and that we should be nearing the end. For the first time, I'd be making revisions and tracking them all with an * on the right-side margin, rather than presenting a whole new draft.

As encouraging as that was, for me, one of the highlights of the conference call was a discussion on what would likely happen next with the script. Since we're working with an exec at the production company, but not the head producer, there was always a chance in my mind that we could do all this work, only to have the head producer decide he wasn't on board. Of course, that's still a reality. However, the exec informed us that she does not want to spur on another huge round of development once the company head gets it. He can and might have notes, but she hopes that development - as far as its concerned before any studios get on board, at least - will more or less be done when I turn in the next draft. 

My manager wants to get the script back out in about a week and a half or so. Deep breaths, Cake Man. Now go write.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 125 - Be A Patient Newbie

Sometimes it seems that the development process can take a lifetime. At least, that's what I'm finding out first hand. Of course, despite how it may seem, that statement is in no way an outright complaint at this time. Rather, it's an honest impression of the industry, especially an unproduced, unknown writer's position in it. 

It was almost a year ago to the day that I signed a one-year option agreement with Gretchen, the independent producer who wanted to work with me on my post-Apocalyptic spec. By the time the ink had dried, I had already been working on and off on that script for a year and a half. In the year since we made our agreement, we've partnered with a notable production company in LA to develop the script further. It's gone through a few monumental changes in that time (as you know if you've been reading my weekly posts). Last Thursday, while on vacation, I got a call from the executive at the production company.

She read the latest draft and really liked it. That was the good news. She did, however, have some notes that she wanted to set up a call for. That was the expected news. So, tomorrow, we're hopping back on the phone - hopefully for one of the last times before we move ahead with it - to hash out a few things. I got a preview of the notes, but tomorrow will involve more detail and specificity.

Granted, this is my first real foray into the industry (not counting a manager that I parted ways with over a year ago). The kind of no-money development deal that I'm working under is supposedly surprisingly common practice these days. Of course, it'd be ideal to be paid for the two major drafts I've done since linking up with the production company in October. But that's the dream, not the reality, and I know I can't complain. Everything I've read indicates that the trend is toward holding off paying for work for as long as possible, and as new scribes, we have little to no bargaining power. So I am happy to wait, develop my work, gain the appreciation of producers and executives I'm working with, and ease my way into the industry.

There has been one, big surprise discovery to come from all of this. It's been over a year since I really tried to write a new idea (as most of my time's been devoted to polishing, re-writing, and re-imagining this one). The effect has been that I've had to re-acclimate myself with writing first acts again. I used to dive in and bang out the first ten pages in a writing frenzy. Now, things feel a bit slower. Then again, that could just be a product of having been on vacation, where the most important thing I had to do each day was wake up in time to catch breakfast.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 124 - The Evolution of a Script

Last week was quite the busy one. By midnight on Sunday, I had gotten a revised draft of my post-Apocalyptic spec to my producer, incorporating notes that she had from reading it earlier in the week. By Tuesday night, I had more notes from her - primarily edits in an attempt to bring the page count down from 117. Oddly enough, the final page count for the current draft wound up being 112, the original target goal I had a few weeks ago after bringing the draft in at 122 originally. 

As of now, we're waiting on notes from the production company. They got the script on Friday morning, and I'm hoping to hear from them some time this week. Waiting to hear back regarding a draft can be difficult, unnerving. Do I expect them to call us up and say that they think the new draft is absolutely perfect and they want to buy it as is? No, of course I don't. I anticipate receiving some notes from them. Do I think they'll be monumental notes? I certainly hope not.

I gave Onyx the script to read over this weekend, and he had a few notes. Most of them would be easy to incorporate without altering too much of the existing structure. Other notes might make things a bit clearer for the reader - at this point, my producer and I have been dealing with the material for so long that it's easy to see what's not there (and forget that others won't). 

It's been really interesting to think about the evolution of a script. In the nearly two and a half years that I've been working on this project, so many different elements have come and gone that at times it seems like I've written four different movies. Characters that were integral to the plot for over two years just vanished on this most recent go-around. The world has shifted considerably as certain events have been pushed up in time. New characters, relationships, and personality traits have been brought in. As the script has evolved (and, at times, devolved), there have always been a few core elements that stayed in place, too. Perhaps that's the most interesting thing about it - what has remained from draft to draft. The protagonist's motives and status quo have held this entire time, which I suppose is perhaps the most important thing to hold onto as a script changes (at least, it was in this instance for me). The reveal at the end has stayed the same, also. And, certainly, there are things about the world that have not changed.

One day, if this sells, I think it would be interesting to plot the course of the script by taking a look at a few key drafts and tracking their trajectory. I wouldn't be surprised if they seemed like multiple writers' take on the same logline. And I know they will be different enough that many movies could be pulled from them (though those key similarities mentioned above would certainly be apparent). For now, though, I wait as patiently as I can for notes. Luckily, I'm off to Florida for vacation, so at least I get to wait by the beach this time. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Logline Central - Monsterpocalypse

Logline Central is an irregular segment that takes a deeper look at loglines of scripts or projects that have just been purchased, as listed on DoneDealPro.

Title: Monsterpocalypse
Logline: Set in a metropolis filled with buildings, monsters brawl, blast or make devastating power attacks against the enemy monster. Units can attack a monster as well, but they typically need to work together in order to deal damage. The most damage comes from using the monster exclusive power attacks that deal damage by, for example, sending the opposing monster crashing into one or more buildings on the map.
Was this written by a third grader?
More: Board game, which is published by Privateer Press. Game creator Matt Wilson will co-produce. 
Oh, there it is. No writer yet attached to a movie based on another toy, this time a board game. 

You know, there was a time not too long ago when writers were encouraged to adapt their unsold spec script into a comic book or a novel if they were having trouble getting it made. The thought was that studios, reluctant to buy up some new material, would be much more comfortable paying for the rights to adapt a script from source material. The lucky writer, then, might essentially make the same sale twice, getting paid for the rights to his/her novel, and then cashing in a second time on a script that has already been written. (I heard that Larry McMurtry did this with Lonesome Dove.)

Now, perhaps it's we should start making our ideas into toys and/or board games if we hope to turn them into script sales.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 123 - Fears Abated

Last week, I was nervous as hell about having sent the most recent draft of my script to my producer. Sure, I'd hashed out an outline that everyone gave the thumbs up to before I sat down to write any pages. Still, I couldn't shake the feeling that something was off with it. On Wednesday, I decided that it was time to get another set of eyes on the pages, and off it went.

On Friday, I got a call from my manager. He was checking in, seeing how the pages were coming and what my time line was. I let him know that the pages were off to the producer. We started talking about ideas for other scripts I could work on in the meantime, when we were interrupted by an incoming call he was getting from the production company we've been working with.

He popped off the phone for a few minutes to let the exec at the prod. co know that the draft should be in to them in a couple weeks. When my manager called me back, I let him know that I'll be going out of town come this Friday, and will be essentially MIA until the following Friday. With this new timetable, we decided to make an effort to get the script out by this Friday (the 14th). In the meantime, I would begin hashing out some notes for my follow-up project.

Not 45 minutes later, I was on the phone with the producer. She'd just finished reading the draft, and much to my pleasure, was incredibly pleased with the results. Of course, she had a few notes, I was expecting this. She sent them to me that night. Most of what I was concerned about was working for her. On the other hand, she brought up some logic points that hadn't even crossed my mind - mostly small things, mind you, but important points nonetheless.

With the new timetable (i.e. aiming to get "finished" pages out in a month), my plans to begin work on a new idea went out the window. Saturday and Sunday were spent laboring over the re-writes to the post-Apocalyptic spec (I wound up being quite surprised by the note that I got hung up on the most, something I hadn't anticipated at all). In fact, there was one smallish part that I was having so much trouble on, I actually submitted two versions of the sequence to my producer. They're marginally different, but each addresses a logic issue in a unique way.

So what's next? My producer's doing a final read. She'll edit some of the descriptions and look for any gratuitous scenes or beats, then send her markup to me. I'll go through and sign off and actually implement any and all changes. Hopefully, that will all be done come Thursday. Then, as I board a bus for DC (and then later a plane to Florida), the script - ideally - goes out to the production company. I'm on vacation for a week, and will hope to come home to word on where we go from there and any notes the exec has for us. 

Monday, May 03, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 122 – Editing for Content and Page Count

At the top of last week, I’d just printed out my 122 page draft with the hopes of cutting 6 to 10 pages out and targeting beats that were either redundant or needed to be included. I accomplished one of those two things.

To say that I went into my edits with a hint of trepidation would be an understatement. I was convinced that the draft I had printed was rife with plot holes, redundancies, inconsistent character actions and voices, and a number of other structural deficiencies. It was a pleasant surprise, then, when I re-read it (over the course of four days – I spent a lot of my free time preparing to move, which I did this weekend) and discovered that there were not nearly as many missing elements as I feared. Sure, there were definitely beats – there still are- that need some work. For the most part, though, I was much more comfortable with the pages than I expected to be, and that’s always rewarding.

The edits for page count, however, were a little less gratifying. My estimate at having cut an average of two lines per page was way past the mark. Out of a total 122 pages, I only managed to bring the edited version down to 118. Not great, although not too terrible. Modeled much more after films like CHINATOWN or MINORITY REPORT now than something like THE ROAD, the script has a bit more room to grow than the average action spec. Still, 118 is a bit long in today’s market, and I’d ideally like to bring it in at 116, if not closer to 110. To that end, I employed another trick today: the mighty pdf.

By converting the script to a pdf, I could pull it up on my screen and look at each page as a whole. Which – if any – have lines comprised of one single, short word hanging by itself? These sentences should be reworked to nix that roll-over word and bump an entire line out of the script. Going further, which pages seem to end with an extra chunk of white space at the bottom of the page? Movie Magic (which I use) will often keep a sizable chunk of page blank to save from breaking up an extended piece of dialogue or chopping up a new scene oddly. But those unused lines at the bottom of the page are valuable real estate, and a few tweaks to the text above them can bring in a whole piece of text that was held over to the next page. A few edits in this direction can also eliminate a page or two from the final draft. (It’s still amazing to me how using all 57 lines allotted to each page in Movie Magic can make a difference of up to 5 pages over the course of an entire script.)

So, tonight’s goal (besides continuing to unpack my new apartment), is to target the scenes that are still troubling me – it’s no surprise that they occur between pages 60 and 90, the common problem children of any script – and knock a few more pages out, if possible. Either way, I’m hoping of getting this draft off to my producer this week. I am definitely ready for a new set of eyes to look at it (and tell me everything that’s wrong with it).