Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 207 - 2011 Year in Review

It still seems hard to believe, but 2011 is coming to a close very quickly. Even more surprising to me, is that the close of this year marks my fourth full year of Writing Week entries. Absolutely incredible; that means that I've been seriously pursuing the wring for about five years since I left NYU (I began the Writing Weeks a year after graduating). In those years, I've managed to achieve many things, some small, some a little more monumental. My final Writing Week of 2011 seems a great opportunity to look back on this year and see where 2011 brought me that 2010 hadn't.

When 2010 ended, I had an agent at UTA, a lawyer, a manager, and a team of two producers working together as independents shopping around my post-Apocalyptic script. Since then, the spec market has done little in terms of rebounding from a slump - at least, that is, in terms of any immediate benefit to me. I still have the representation team and the duo of active producers, but the script remains unsold. We're still pursuing the feature film route, but the team has decided to add another option and have begun exploring setting the  project up for television, as well. So far, no one has jumped on it yet, but we're hoping that some of the showrunners and talent freed up by end of the year cancellations will come on board sometime next month. 

By mid year, I was getting a little nervous about my lack of new material. My agent was told I could produce a couple scripts a year - an ambitious promise no matter how long a writer's been in the industry, I think - and I had (have) yet to make good on that. I devoted a good few months to a Medieval revenge spec, but after two drafts - only one of which my manager saw - my manager decided that was not the right direction to go at the moment. Period pieces can be a tough sale, and this one just wasn't quite clicking yet. Rather than devote more time to it, I decided to shelve it for the moment and approach another.

Back to the drawing board I went. I tossed a couple ideas out to the writers group, but none really got me too excited. Jon and I then came up with one we wanted to collaborate on, and though we got some good excitement about it from my manager, the amount of work we were going to have to do to get it to a place where it would be viable exceeded our ability to also work on other projects independently. More importantly, though, we were going to have to compromise on a couple key points about it, which we both liked, and we were not prepared to do that yet. 

Finally, I came up with a new idea that I liked, the group liked, and which the manager also liked; this is my demon thriller. I did a barebones two page synopsis of it, which raised a lot of questions about the script (for both me and my manager). At present, I haven't done much more work on it, which - you don't have to say it - is no bueno. That's the chore for this break, but I've yet to really dig into it. Don't ask me why.

Other than that, I'm putting more ideas down on paper for potential graphic novels, a field that my manager might help me break into. Again, like the above demon idea, that's about all they are. An idea. So, I have to get cracking on those, too.

My writing year might not have been the most eventful, but the year itself was pretty good, for the most part, which leads to my growth as a writer. I was - and still am - getting restless at work. I told my boss, and after much deliberation, she let me take the summer to work remotely. I did some domestic traveling and took an international trip (not on company time), which was a great recharger. I'm still unsure how much longer I will be in New York. It might be a few months; it might be a year and a few months. If I do decide to stay, I'll set out to make my (quite possibly) final year in the city a big one - big, New York year as one would imagine life in New York is displayed in movies and on tv. 

Who knows where I'll wind up at the end of 2012, but I'm determined to go as far as I can in my writing during the year. I hope you'll continue to join me for the ride.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Logline Central - The World is Ending

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.

The Mayas aren't the only ones who seem to predict that the world is coming to an end. A glance at the following five loglines indicates that Hollywood (and novelists) seems to think it's about to be over soon, too. (Full disclosure - I sincerely wish my post-Apocalyptic spec was among these and can only hope that these acquisitions represent a new trend toward end-of-the-world scripts, which will boost chances for the sale of mine.)

Title: Eden
Logline: Set in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity is on the brink of extinction and the robots that were created to serve humans have turned against them, a teenage girl struggles to fight the Fallen and help her friends find safety. She must choose between a boy she has always trusted and one who holds the secrets to her past. Writer: Keary Taylor (author)Genre: Science Fiction Action Thriller More: Novel. Mark Morgan, Kami Garcia, Brett Hudson and Michael
Title: Wither
Logline: Set in a future, the world is in a state of panic due to a failed effort to create a perfect race that's left women with a lifespan of 20 years while men die at 25. A kidnapped girl attempts to escape from a forced polygamous marriage designed to keep the population from dying out. Writer: Lauren DeStefano (author)
Genre: Science Fiction Fantasy
More: Novel, which is the first of three in a series. Prospect Park's Jeff Kwatinetz & Rob Carliner and Violet's Aly & AJ Michalka will produce.
Title: Rosa
Logline: Set in a post-apocalyptic world where all natural life has disappeared, Rosa, a cyborg deployed from the Kernel project, mankind’s last attempt to restore the earth’s ecosystem, learns that she is not the only entity that has awakened and must fight for her survival.
Genre: Science Fiction Action
More: To be based on the short film by Jesus Orellana. Genre's Simon Kinberg will produce and I AM's Scott Glassgold & Raymond Brothers will produce. Orellana will direct. No writer is attached as yet.
Title: Break My Heart 1000 Times
Logline: Set nine years after an apocalyptic event that killed millions and left the world inhabited by ghosts, a teen girl attempts to navigate through ordinary life as she’s haunted by the ghosts of her dead father and a teen boy she never met but who might hold the key to changing everything.
Writer: Jason Fuchs
Genre: Teen Supernatural Thriller More: Assignment. To be adapted from the Daniel Waters novel that will be published by Hyperion Books. Gold Circle's Paul Brooks will produce.
Title: The Last First Time
Logline: A college student learns the world will end and sets out on a quest to lose his virginity before it does.
Writer: Jason Fuchs
Genre: Comedy
More: Option. David Brooks and Dan Clifton will produce. Jason Fuchs will also star.
So, what's your take? A lot sound pretty similar, no? I'll admit, I think I like the two attributed to Jason Fuchs the most. (Is that a type on Done Deal's part? Beats me.) 

Eden sounds pretty hackneyed at this point. Robots and humans at war. Yadda yadda yadda. Might be a great execution, but based on those few sentences alone, I don't see anything special or new. Sure, it's a book. Fine. Maybe a great one even. But I haven't read it, and so far, I'm unimpressed.

Wither - yay! Teenage girls as protagonists! Eh, for whatever reason, this one just doesn't grab me. They die young, but they're beautiful or perfect, etc. Didn't Justin Timberlake just do something like this? And the girl is trying to escape a marriage, which would save mankind? Take one for the team, sister.

Rosa; shouldn't this one really be called Eden or Wither? Both titles seem more appropriate, given the subject matter. I'll admit I glossed over this one, too, until I reread the part about reviving the ecosystem. That's kind of cool. But I refer you back to the Eden analysis: robots (or cyborgs, whatever) and humans. Pass.

Break My Heart 1000 Times is probably my favorite of the group. For one, it's a post-Apocalyptic world, but it's as fully inhabited as one before the world comes to an end. Everyone who died (presumably) is still lingering as a ghost. So, theoretically, we won't get the typical post-Apocalyptic stereotypes - the roving bands, the loner men and women on a mission, the heroic parents trying to keep it all together. Talk of "holding the key" or "changing things forever" always makes me a little wary, but my interest is definitely piqued by this one.

The Last First Time - bet that one seems like a surprise favorite to you. What I like about it is that it takes a tried and true story (the virginal young man trying to do away with his V-card) and places it in a new setting (Armageddon). Something about it generates a sense of promise in the premise for me. It might suck. I certainly don't need to see a dude hump a pie as an asteroid races toward Earth. And I hope they don't skimp out and make it a "close call" situation in the end where the planet isn't destroyed. But I just like the idea. "The world is ending. I need to get laid before I die." Who can't relate. Amiright?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 206 - Reassured

Though this week did not see a lot of writing from me - I'm still working on the paintings I reference last week, which have been a great artistic outpouring, but not so productive in terms of writing - I was able to achieve two primary things in it. Both of them relate to my manager.

For one, I was able to speak with him about my demon thriller project. All in all, he liked the idea, but he had some big questions about it. Unfortunately, those are some of the very same questions I still have on it, which I know I have yet to answer. When I submitted the synopsis to him, it was still pretty loosely detailed, even at two pages long. That said, I should have been able to answer more of his questions about the rules of the world when we spoke than I did. All I had planned out was on the page. That was my (rookie) mistake. Even though the outline was barebones, I should have been able to discuss the project in greater detail with him when we talked a couple weeks later. 

Many of his questions were on the rudimentary rules regulating the characters' interactions and abilities, especially since there's an obvious paranormal element involved. The nature of the outline and action also raised some questions as to what the overall tone of the piece would be. At one point, t gets very sci-fi, and I can see where his concern that it might be a divergence from the rest of the piece would be. Suffice it to say, I have my work cut out for me over the holiday week ahead.

The main question I have for my manager, though, and point that I was quite happy to address, was what - if anything - I had missed out on by not being in LA. Recently, I've been beginning to doubt my decision to remain in New York, especially when my script is (slowly) circulating. When we spoke, I flat out asked my manager if I had missed potentially major opportunities and meetings by being on the east coast when my post-Apocalyptic spec first made the rounds in Hollywood. He emphatically said, "no. You missed the chance to shake a couple hands, but we can get you all of those meetings next time you're out here. And there aren't really any (writing) jobs to be had at the moment (for younger writers), so you didn't miss out on any work, either." 

Whether that statement is true or not - and whether you agree with it or not - the effect was one of pure relief. In short, he told me that I didn't have to come to LA until it was time; that time had not yet passed, and neither did my opportunity to break in. 2012 can still be my year.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

2011 Screenwriting Black List Revealed

It's that time of year! No, not Santa and presents. Rather, it's the release of the annual Black List - Hollywood's ranking of over 300 film executives favorite scripts written in or attributed to 2011, which have yet to begin principle photography. 

In the earlier history of the Black List, this is where unproduced scripts by more commonly unknown or nascent writers were discovered. From their appearance on the list, a writer would gain recognition, representation, and - ideally - a sale and, hopefully, a production. Now, it has the likes of Quentin Tarantino. (OK, I'll back off; not all the writers on it are nearly as recognizable names as he is. Still, his presence on the list corrupts its purpose for me a bit.) Either way, kudos to all the writers whose talents earned them a spot on the 2011 Black List!

You can view it here.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 205 - Which Notes to Heed

Receiving feedback (or criticism, notes, input, thoughts, whatever else you want to call it) on a piece of writing can be hard. It's great when someone absolutely loves what you're doing, but be wary of such glowing feedback. The last thing you want when trying to shore up your piece is a misleading, gushing but disingenuous response. Rather, it is all the more common to receive notes that are far less than wholly flattering. At times, they can be downright difficult to hear and ingest. That's why a thick skin is one of the most important tools in a writer's arsenal.

Fortunately, when I submitted the synopsis for my demon thriller to the League recently, their responses didn't necessitate the densest of hides. However, the feedback that I got raised some interesting (internal) questions, the primary one being "when should I pay close attention to a note, and when is it more opinion-based?" By that, I mean, say someone hates my protagonist; he's not supposed to be likable, and I achieve that. But they still flat out do not like him. Well, if other people enjoy not liking him and enjoy the story despite his off-putting personality, that's one thing. But if the entire writers group loathed my protagonist to such a degree that they abandoned the plot and didn't bother to focus on the material... well, that's another thing all together.

Take, as another example, my idea. It involves demons and souls. A character is supposed to be corrupted at a certain point. One of the group members felt adamantly about the fact that her corruption did not equate to sin in his mind. He fell off-board with it there and then, and very firmly believed that I was doing a disservice by posing it as I was. Well, maybe that was a larger theological debate than the script engendered. However, another Leaguer had the exact same reaction. Then, too, did a third.

When certain notes reappear again and again, it's time to take notice of them. I might disagree with the point they're making, but the fact of the matter is, three of the five people who I showed it to brought up the corruption without prompting, and they found it detracted from their reading experience, because they so disagreed with it. Even if I don't see it the way they do, I have to recognize where they're coming from. As a writer, I don't want to alienate my readers. A common readers' problem becomes my problem. Other things might be up to opinion, but something so agreed upon is a big, flashing warning sign. 

"Change this now, or be faced with changing it later once the project is in script state. Worse, be faced with a pass because you never bothered to change it at all."

Monday, December 05, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 204 - A Resolution

As we come into the final month of the year, already at full-steam, I can't help but to look backward - and forward. Even though it is only December 5th, and the time for New Years plans is almost a full month away, I make myself a resolution.

2012 will be my year.
  • In 2012, I will push myself to write more than I did in 2011.
  • I will break the streak of little to no productivity that began in August, or earlier.
  • I will not only generate scripts, but I will generate market-ready scripts. 
  • I will broaden my horizons to include more creative outlets: painting, learning the harmonica, whittling, whatever else might come up; I will pursue it. 
  • The moment I begin to feel that I'm stagnating, I will change things up, shake up my surroundings.
  • This includes my job.
  • I will travel even more than I did in 2011. 
  • I will see the world, for how else can I write about it?
  • I will attempt a play for the first time in a few years. 
  • I might get on stage and act again, if the opportunity presents itself. 
  • While my post-Apocalyptic spec is still circulating around Hollywood - albeit more for consideration for television than for film now - I will not sit on my hands idly.
  • I will seek out resources.
  • I will seek out resources for others, as well.
  • I will read more scripts.
  • I will watch more movies than I did in 2011, which has been a particularly slow year.
  • If I decide to stay in New York for the entirety of 2012, I will make it a year to remember, filled with glamorous views of the city, nights spent at museums, restaurants, and galleries. I will fully embrace this city for a year, before I leave it perhaps forever.
  • If I do leave, I will leave and not look back.
  • I will not permit myself to dwell too much on what if - what if I moved to LA a couple years ago? What if I move there now? What if I had pursued a different career all along?
  • I will temper myself and my emotions, and when I feel myself starting to sag, I will do an about-face and imbue my life with something or someone new. 
  • I will seriously pursue a relationship (the absence of which, at times, consumes as much of my mental power as y creative output does). 
  • I will not be immobile, nor will I permit myself to backtrack. 
  • I will give 2012 my all and see what comes of it.
And if nothing does?

Ask me in a year. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 203 - Two Page Synopsis

In order to be at all productive during a holiday, when I'm not currently in the pages stage of a script, I have to set a goal for myself. This Thanksgiving, I did just that. I wanted to finish the synopsis of my demon thriller spec, so that I could finally send it out to my manager. I am proud to say that I did just that, wrapping it up in the last hour of my bus ride back from Arlington, VA to New York. 

Initially, I wanted to get a solid page-long synopsis done. When I began it, I didn't have a whole lot. I knew a bit about the protagonist and his friend, but I knew next to nothing about the other characters. The love interest was a major question mark, as were most of the plot points. Half way through outlining (I already had a page and was well into the second by that point), I decided that I needed more antagonists, in addition to the one I already accounted for. In came some demon hunters. Though I was hesitant to use them in the beginning, their presence really makes sense (at least on paper) and adds some great and worthwhile elements to the story. I think they have the promise of adding a lot of fun and great action, too - not in a gratuitous or tacked on way, either. 

The love interest's back story became prohibitively important, preventing me from moving any further with the outline until I figured that out. She's supposed to have some large flaw, but not so monumental that we cannot connect with her in the end. I worked hard at it, and managed to solve that one. Same with the protagonist's agenda. I did a lot of research about demons and demonology and that sort of thing, and his story naturally flowed from my findings. 

By the time all was said and done, I'd hammered out a full two=page synopsis. Sure, there are some big questions in there, as well as gaps or jumps in the narrative. The characters don't come across as fully fleshed out yet - I focused mainly on the big beats. But the bones of the story are undeniably there. They might change in an outline, but I have a lot more going into this week than I did seven days ago. For that, I am thankful.

In Loving Memory
Lottie Ziemba

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 202 - It Takes Time

I was speaking with a friend the other day. Like me, he is trying to get a production in motion. Unlike me, his is a play (one he's optioned, not written). Our experiences, though, have been quite similar.

He has some talent attached to the show and some people on his team who are working hard to make it happen. I have a lawyer, agent, and manager package, as well as two dedicated producers who are working hard to bring it to fruition. He's had a few readings of it, which have garnered some interest. My script has circulated around the industry and gotten some attention and positive feedback. Despite the readings and interest from a larger organization, he is back to square one (quote unquote), since the larger theatre passed in the end. And though I've gotten some good word of mouth and interest from producers and directors, none have actually bitten.

In short, neither of us is where we would like to be yet. We've had some steps forward and the corresponding steps backwards. Each small success seems to be met with a larger disappointment (larger, if for no other reason than we allow ourselves to anticipate that the minor success will be the first step toward fulfillment of the project). In my case, we've started looking into setting the project up for television instead of film, and that's still not earned us much traction. With his play, he has a recognizable star attached, and his wheels are still spinning. I recently read Down and Dirty Pictures, and in it, Peter Biskind discusses how even Martin Scorsese couldn't get Gangs of New York off the ground for many years. If guys like him have trouble, it's no wonder that unknowns like me face an uphill battle in getting their movies made.

Still, it only takes one "yes." My hope is that, by this time next year, I will have that "yes" to be thankful for as I wolf down my turkey. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

2012 Oscar Predictions

We're in the home stretch of the year, which means that most Hollywood heavy-hitting Oscar contenders are either out, or just about to come out (with a few notables that have already come and gone - to DVD). So, out of curiosity, and because I'm really not overwhelmingly excited about anything slated to debut in the next month and a half (nor was I too jazzed about anything in the ten and a half months before now), I decided to do some research, test the waters, and take the temperature of the current Oscar race. I did some googling and came up with a list - from various sources - of which movies are likely contenders, which might be upsets, and what movies are worth watching before the Oscars.

You're probably aware that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences earlier this year yet again changed the nomination voting system for Best Picture. Now, rather than a hard and fast 5 or 10 nominees, depending on the number of first place votes a film gets in the nomination round (it must receive at least 5% of the first place votes), it will be listed as a Best Picture Contender. Among the sites I read, the common consensus seems to be that we should expect seven (7) Best Picture nominees. So, I went with that.

I read - and actually put together a little spread sheet of contenders - the top picks list from Indie Wire, Reelz,  the Awards Prophets, Entertainment Weekly, and the LA Times' blog The Insider. (It is worth noting that these lists will likely all change as more reviews come out and the climate evolves for each film. Not all articles were written around the same time, either; for example, the EW one is from August. But let's play along anyway.) With the exception of Entertainment Weekly's contributor's picks, the lists were ranked in order of most likely to take the top prize. Because so many focused on seve real competitors, I looked at the top seven from each of those to determine if there were any unanimously agreed upon choices. There were three:

The Descendants
War Horse
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I will make it a point to see each of those. Among other notable contenders, Moneyball, Midnight in ParisThe Artist, and The Help were in the top seven for all but one of the four lists. So those goes up there. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo made two top seven lists.

When calling in the top ten, Tree of Life, appears three times, while J. Edgar and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy garner two votes each (J. Edgar was lower on many lists, just FYI). Other notables include: Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Ides of March, A Dangerous Method, Young Adult, Hugo, and occasional shout-outs for The Iron Lady, Carnage, and We Bought a Zoo. Tin Tin is looking like the potential front runner for animated, assuming it qualifies for that category.

So what are the take-aways from this little project? First, I have to eat my words with the League, because I as convinced that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 would earn a Lord of the Rings style nomination, yet it wasn't on any of the lists I looked at. Therefore, if you're trying to assemble your list of what to see before the 84th Academy Awards, as I am, then these are likely the fifteen you will want to focus on:

The Descendants
War Horse
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Midnight in Paris
The Artist
The Help
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Tree of Life
J. Edgar
A Dangerous Method
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Young Adult
The Ides of March

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 201 - Is It Blasphemous?

Something's been weighing on my mind this past week. Call it a concern. Call it a question. Call it... guilt? either way, the newest idea I've come up with, one that I am actually very excited about and that my manager has responded quite positively toward, is causing me a bit of angst. The idea has to do with religion. My concern, is whether my treatment of it is sacrilegious. 

Now, to preface, a bit of background on me. I'm not what you'd call the most religious person. By that, I mean that I didn't growing up going to church on a regular basis. (If the grandparents were in town, particularly for Christmas or Easter, then you better believe we were there looking our best, not to mention confused and bored.) Religion wasn't really discussed in my house; I can't quote any scripture, nor can I really paint a very vivid picture of the seminal Biblical events. That said, I also consider myself a believer. (Many of the Leaguers reading this are probably rereading that last sentence at this very moment - the image I bet they have of me is more likely that of an Agnostic, to be honest, if not Atheistic.) I do believe in a higher power, with reciprocal afterlife situations depending on one's behavior and actions. I don't want to get into the meat of what I believe and don't believe here, who I think gets "damned" and who doesn't. Suffice it to say, I am respectful and aware of the basic tenets of Christian theology and associate myself with at least some of them.

The new idea in question, then, invokes certain Biblical ideas. There's no direct naming of important figures; Jesus and God and the Devil will not appear on screen. We don't see angels. There's no talk of miracles or outward attempt to prove or comment on religion, Heaven, or any doctrinal debates. Rather, conceive of the idea more along the lines of Legion or Priest (admittedly, I have seen neither, nor do I envision Paul Bettany in my project, but hopefully that sheds some light on the overall integration of religion into the idea). Demons factor in, but not in the winged, pitchfork-wielding sense. Hell and souls are real in the world of the script, but dealt with in a more action, almost comic-book way. In short, I am invoking religion to create an action piece, and my concern - warranted or not - is whether that is a blasphemous act.

I could go further into depth about why I'm thinking about the nature of the script itself, but I won't. Whether that concern is inward (i.e., mine, regarding me) or not (i.e., dealing with the wider audience's reception to religious elements being treated in this manner) also seems a moot point now. Am I asking for an answer? I don't even know. I suppose the ultimate answer is that, if I am comfortable writing it, I should go forward with this idea. If not, then no. Yet I am excited by the concept. I feel it will offer me the opportunity to write some very interesting characters and quick, stimulating dialogue. I would be lying if I said I was not looking forward to working on this script.

So what is my take away? (What is yours?) Do I go ahead with this idea? Is it, in some way, blasphemous? The Bible has been a source of inspiration for a lot of pieces of art over the years - from paintings to prose to film to plays to sculptures and everything else imaginable. Should I be concerned that my usage of it is any different?

Monday, November 07, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 200 - Drawing the Line

At a certain point, we as writers must draw a line in the sand. Where do we scrap an idea? Where do we turn to ourselves (inwardly, in the mirror, however), and acknowledge that we don't want to work on a certain project, that we're just not invested in it?

A couple weeks ago, I sent my manager a few (four, actually) ideas that I was thinking of working on. Of the four, one was a re-hash of an earlier period piece that I had spent a bit of time on (my horror spec). The other three were new. I was really stoked about one of them - a mystery/thriller set during World War 2 - before another idea came along that surpassed it - a murder mystery set in a unique hotel. The fourth was kind of a tossup, not something I was extremely gung-ho about, but something I could potentially get behind if need be.

My manager liked idea number four the best.

Admittedly, there are some issues with the others. Namely, the first two a period pieces; while one of them is relatively recent (my manager thought it sounded better suited to television, but we didn't discuss it further, so I don't know exactly where he's coming from - I'm curious to hear, though), it's still tough to get studios to sign off on non-contemporary scripts. The horror thriller is centuries old setting-wise, so that would be an even greater stretch. 

This brings us to idea number four. It's sort of a revenge idea, but with a bit of a mystery and a bit of a twist. I still have an incredible amount of detail to figure out about it - in reality, the idea is quite nascent, so even if I wanted to, I wouldn't be able to go into greater specifics here. I just don't have them. 

There we are, though. Idea number four. The contemporary revenge thriller with a twist. At this point, I feel like my best option - or, at the very least, my option until I come up with an idea I like better - is to flesh it out a bit more. Why not, right? I came up with it. I sent it to my manager. At some level, I must be interested in working on it.

At a certain point, we as writers must draw a line in the sand. Where do we scrap an idea? Where do we turn to ourselves (inwardly, in the mirror, however), and acknowledge that we don't want to work on a certain project, that we're just not invested in it?

More importantly, can we become invested in something that presents itself lukewarm at first? I'll let you know next week, after I work on developing the revenge spec for seven days. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 199 - The Silence Is Deafening

All new writers (at least those that I have met) look forward to landing representation. We want an agent. We want a manager. We want a lawyer. We want the access and presumed instant success that all of those pledge.

The reality, for any of you hoping to land a combination of the above representatives, can paint a very different picture. For one, you feel compelled to run ideas - even just a kernel of an idea - past them. Something that's already in the works or too "out there" might not be worth their time. If it ain't worth their time, it most likely ain't worth yours (skip the part about it being inappropriate for the market; if they're not behind it, how hard do you think they will try to push it?). 

Then, there's the whole process of - once you've gotten the idea approved - moving forward. Your rep might want to see a synopsis. Then an outline. Then pages. Only then, unfortunately, might he or she decide it's not as viable a spec as originally presented. Or something else is out there like it. Or they don't dig it. Granted, this can happen with anybody weighing in on your pages, from producers to writers group members, but it is somehow more frustrating, in my opinion, when it happens with your rep. 

None of the above takes into account the fact that it can be difficult getting a response back from your representative. You might recall from earlier posts that I fired my first manager, because he would go months without getting in touch about whatever I had asked him. My current rep is better, though I feel like my project is cooling, and the response time is dragging out a bit. The only thing I can do is choose an idea and go forward with it; however, I'm reluctant to get too far into it, lest he say "oh, Universal's acquiring something just like it," thereby undoing all my progress. At the end of the day, progress undone is probably better than no progress at all, so I will sally forth.

I write the above not to be pessimistic or discourage any of you from getting/seeking representation. I hope you find it when you're in need and wish you a very healthy relationship with your agent/lawyer/manager/whoever. I also just urge caution, patience, and the knowledge that landing a rep doe not equal landing a sale, and that the battle is still uphill after that fortuitous day.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 198 - Self-Evaluation

We writers are introspective creatures. We're observers. We note mannerisms on the micro level and human behavior on a macro one. Our eyes are trained to pick up signals, behaviors, and subtext. Regardless of whether we're writing giant, blow-em-up action specs or small living room dramas, our true practice is that of recording the quirks and subtleties of mankind. It fails to surprise, then, when our discerning eyes fall upon ourselves. 

I have recently been doing a lot of self-reflection, observation, and analysis. It seems imperative that I ask myself certain big questions, to get the inner dialogue rolling so that I might answer them in a timely fashion. They seem monumental, because they are. Do I want to stay in New York? Should I change careers (or at least jobs, if not industries)? How long will I keep writing?

That last one is the true biggie, the Everest of questions a writer can ask him/her self. But the other two directly feed into that. The truth of the matter, which I've accepted for a while now, is that I'm not wedded to this city, and I do not believe that I will be here for years to come. A half a year to year and a half, tops. I think. A change in career or employment scenery is probably a guarantee (economy providing) too, if I can make it happen. All of that, naturally, goes to reinvigorate the writing juices, which if I am being completely honest, have frozen over a bit in the past few months.

Writing is no easy feat, especially when other things in your life seem trite. For me, the fact that the ideas I have strike my manager as not exactly commercially viable at the moment is a hard blow to my creative drive, also. He comes from a point of reason and logic when assessing whether something is worth the time to write now or not (from an industry point of view). So I am forced to ask myself yet another question; do I write against his advice, because that's the story I want to tell? As much as maybe I shouldn't be, I am torn on this point. Part of me thinks, "yes," because that is what true artists do. They say what they must. Yet, on the other hand, I think, "no," I am too young to work against the current yet, that while I still have people on my team who are going to try and put their neck out there for me as long as the product warrants it, then I should do us both the favor of matching my scripts to the industry's pulse. 

Naturally, the common ground is to find an idea that I like, which is within the scope of what my manager thinks can sell now. That's tough, but that's what I'm doing. I'd like to get him three ideas. So far, I've come up with two. The last one's on me.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Event Alert - Free Writers Workshop with Richard Walter

A while back, we reviewed UCLA Screenwriting Chairman Richard Walter's book, Essentials of Screenwriting. Well, now we're happy to let you know that we've found out that the man himself, Richard Walter, will be here in the city tomorrow (!) to give a free talk and workshop to all those interested. I'm even told that he has also offered to read the scripts of writers who purchase a copy of his book at the event.

The talk is free and open to the public. It will take place from 7:00 to 8:00PM on Friday, October 21, 2011 at the Barnes and Noble Bookstore located at 86th and Lexington Avenue.

To guarantee priority seating, it is recommended to RSVP on the event's Facebook page and to purchase a copy of his book at Barnes and Noble. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 197 - When do you Concede on an Idea?

Ideas are not flexible. They are set in stone. That gem of a thought that will lead to the (your) next best screenplay is priceless and incorruptible. It comes as is, or it ceases to be. You won't budge on it, because you shouldn't. And anyone who fails to see the genius that it is clearly just doesn't get it. They never will, so you can forget about trying to show them the light. It's their loss if they ask you to change something. Their loss, and their admission of simple-mindedness. 

My manager called me last week to discuss an idea I had emailed him about, which Jon (known here as Onyx) and I are working on. He was interested in what I sent him, but yet he had a few concerns about it. Mainly, he felt as though there were too many components to it. We were compounding three movies into one, with disparate elements that - while they might function fine together - could be separated and reduced to streamline plot and efficiency. He didn't outright say no to anything, but he wasn't overwhelmingly sold on the complete package yet, either. 

Ideas are malleable. They are fluid, and they evolve based on the needs of the script at hand. A character might not be working, his intentions unclear and ultimately detracting from the script. A plot point might not make sense. The decision to kill off the protagonist will prove itself unmerited, and the result is a grim screenplay without a sense of hope (and therefore, higher sale potential) that comes from allowing your hero to live. The genius idea that birthed the story might falter, but the supporting elements around it can carry the weight, rendering the golden nugget tarnished and unnecessary. Not everything works, and as much as you might love a line or scene or character or other part o an idea, knowing when to let the weak link go is essential to your job as a writer.

Jon and I discussed my manager's feedback briefly (we'll have a longer chat about it later when not both so busy). The main trouble with the outline we presented was the key aspect of the story Jon brought to me - a setup for the overall story, which fades from the setting about halfway through the script. As much as we liked it, as much as we both felt that the foundation for the script was unique and interesting, we both acknowledged that it also added elements to the story that we could remove, without losing much later. Something happens to our protagonist, and he finds himself in undesirable circumstances. The particulars of those circumstances, however, can change. We went one way to start with, but though we both liked it, we know we're not wedded to it. 

It's hard to let an idea go sometimes. Others, the kernel that got the ball rolling can be sufficient as just that; once the idea is more fully formed, you're free to move away from it and to let the project evolve as it needs to. Still, there are other instances in which deciphering that line - when do you hang tight, versus when do you drop something - can be extremely, agonizingly difficult. What do you think? When do you concede on an idea?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 196 - Developing (More) Ideas (Again)

Another week, another set of experiences and work. following a recent discussion I had with my manager, in which he told me that - due to the fastidious state of the spec market industry now - I should consider developing some more ideas to pitch as my next script. Unfortunately, that means temporarily casting aside the Medieval spec, which I already did two drafts of. C'est la vie. 

He gave me some guidance for going forward with crafting these new loglines. The short of it is that I should come up with something tried and true (i.e. a hitman on his final job), but with a unique twist (his targets are monsters). [Aside: this probably isn't unique - I can almost guarantee it isn't - but hopefully you get the idea.] The theory behind this notion is that Hollywood is particularly finicky now, and that the only way to really break in with a spec is to do so with something that's been seen, but is a new angle for the premise. My post-Apocalyptic spec fits this criteria (though, that wasn't intentional on my part); it's a post-Apocalyptic detective story. So far, though, that hasn't amounted to a sale or even really any glowing interest. Again, c'est la vie. 

Now, I can imagine that there are a lot of detractor out there who feel that this sort of advice is a corruption of a writer's "artistic integrity." You're probably right. I probably agree with you. But we have to keep a couple things in mind when discussing this holistic approach to writing a spec. First, the compound ideas that I'm talking about relate more to giant blockbuster tentpole ideas (summer action or horror flicks) than to smaller indie ones. If you write smaller scale character dramas, you needn't concern yourself with the above. Secondly, as much as it might seem like selling out to some people, I feel you have to ask yourself; "would I rather break in with something I'm not quite as keen on than not break in at all?" 

That's an oversimplification of the issue. Let's look at it this way: Sure, mashing two ideas together to create something commercial and "new" as your inaugural script might seem like a less inviting way to explore your writing skills. However, these projects can still be a Hell of a lot of fun to write. More so, if they take off and you nail that major sale, then soon enough, with a few more projects under your belt, not only will you be able to support yourself as a writer for a bit, but you will gain the coveted and necessary power to pitch your dream project. And, quite likely, to get it made. Now isn't that a fair trade off?

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 195 - Slight Frustrations

You know, the screenwriting market is a fickle thing. One day, something's a good idea, and the next, it's decidedly not. On paper, in logline format, and idea sounds great, promising even. In reality, the full script presents marketing issues. Unfortunately, it can be tough to tell what the case is going to be, until the pages are all there to be read and judged.

This, sadly, is something I recently experienced. I had turned in a copy of my Medieval spec to my manager. He gave me a ring late last week. While he liked it as a first draft (I knew it needed a lot of work, and sent him an email to that effect when he indicated that he wanted to set up a call about it), he didn't think it was the kind of script the market would really take to right now. Not that it's a bad idea - in fact, we had both agreed on it as the idea I should most ardently pursue a few months back. Rather, it just doesn't offer enough of a hook to set itself apart in the industry right now. And, there's little that can be done about that without altering the entire story, which neither of us want to do and is a bit beyond the point anyway. 

Does that mean the idea will never be a valid one? No, of course not. However, right now, after reading the draft, my manager just didn't feel as though it has the necessary components to work in a very competitive market right now. What are those components? It's becoming increasingly difficult to tell. But this is a pretty straightforward revenge story set in the Middle Ages. Knight and king stories haven't done remarkably well recently, so despite the fact that the logline was promising, the more full execution proves itself difficult from a marketing point of view.

Whether this is the end all and be all answer remains debatable. You might disagree. Other representatives might disagree. Even I have the right to disagree. At the end of the day, though, if this isn't material my manager feels very strongly about - and he has his reasons and insider knowledge - then it's probably not one I should pursue. At least not right now. (A quick aside before I go much farther - I don't advocate sending material out when you know it needs a lot of work; I did this, because I was confident that the second draft I presented to the League was strong. It was, well, stronger than the first, at least. When they pointed out some things I hadn't previously seen about it, I sent a follow up to my manager letting him know I would be doing another overhaul of the script.)

My main concern these days is my lack of production. By that, I don't mean not having a movie produced. Rather, it's almost a year to the day since I landed my agent at UTA. When that happened, my manager promised him I would deliver two scripts a year. To date, he has seen nothing new from me. I've developed a lot of material and did two drafts of the Medieval spec. But nothing completed has gone out. I have that - and the sense that my "one shot" might have peaked - hanging over my head. The only thing I can do about it, though? Keep writing. I have to develop new ideas, ones that my manager will take to again, and push through with them. To the end. To my agent. To, hopefully, a sale.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 194 - Minor Updates

The screenwriting business is an exercise in patience. If I haven't said that now (I have... many times), then I'll say it again now. When trying to become a screenwriter, be prepared to wait. When things happen, so I'm told, they happen very quickly. But until they do, things can drag. And drag. And draaaaaaaaaag. 

This isn't to discourage you. The last thing I want to do is discourage other writers. It's good to be aware of what's to come, if for no other reason than to steel yourself against silence, which can often be mistaken for rejection. Take my post-Apocalyptic spec, for example. It's been over two years since I first signed an option with my producer. We have - in the meantime - renewed it twice. A second producer has joined our team (which also included a manager from the point of union). And an agent. And a lawyer. 

A big producer with the backing of a major production company kind of came on board. Then went away. Then came back. Sort of. Then left. We sent to a (large) handful of other producers. They all passed, some providing general reasons why; others didn't. We're not waiting on another group of contacts, these direct buyers at studios. My producer keeps assuring me that something will come of it, and that all we need is one "yes' in a forest of "no thank yous." This part is very true. One yes, and all things can change. 

Until we get that head nod, though, we wait. There's little we can do in the interim. Not everyone reads immediately - though for a hotter project or in a better spec market, they would probably read more quickly. It might take a week or two to make it to the top of an ever growing read pile on some poor (well, not financially), over-worked, stressed producer's desk. We just have to hope that when it does rise to the summit of that pile, it does so when the reader is in a good mood, his/her studio's latest action or Armageddon flick has done well for them, and he/she hasn't just read something else that is equally (hopefully not more) equipped to fill the necessary action tentpole space in the slate. If all those things come fall into place, and he/she likes the script, and everyone else who has to weigh in likes the script, then maybe, just maybe, we'll get that yes. 

I'll be typing with my fingers crossed until then.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 193 - Slowly Starting to Get Writing Again

It can be quite the long road back to productivity after taking a hiatus from writing. However, I think I made some (small but good) progress this past week. The biggest - though it might also seem most trivial - step is that I finally found that my Medieval script was sneaking its way back into my thoughts. It may seem completely pointless to even mention that, let alone tout it as an accomplishment, but I bet many of you readers would agree that when your mind's not on the work, even allowing an errant thought about it can be a losing battle. To discover that, suddenly the other day, my mind was back on the script... what a great feeling.

Beyond thinking - albeit just briefly - about a script, I actually made some strides in other areas this week, too. I'd say the results are tangible, visible ones, but that only really applies for me. Realizing that I had other things I wanted to say, other stories I wanted to tell that are not suited to the feature scripts I'm writing at this moment, I actually launched another blog. Well, sort of. I created one. I did the design and layout for it. I even began posting. Only, it's not public. Not yet. I want to work out a few kinks in the voice and, to be one hundred percent honest, remove my info from it. I like the idea of it being anonymous. It's not something I plan to advertise. When I click to make it public (I'm even going to disassociate it with my profile here), I'll let it be its own thing. If people find, read, and like it, fine. If not, also just as well. It's for me. It's an outlet for what's on my mind now. Maybe that's all it needs to be. Hell, maybe that's what my scripts are lacking - the "me" element. 

In terms of the post-Apocalyptic spec, we're still waiting to hear back from companies. My producer's going to be in the City later this week, so it will be nice to grab a drink with her. Hopefully, we'll have some good news to toast while she's in. If not, it's just the same waiting game I've grown very used to. All I can do is sit back, wait, watch, and write.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 192 - Back on Schedule

About damn time it happened. The first Monday Writing Week in... months? Scary how quickly time can fly, and at what point that triggers a realization of completely thoroughly a schedule was abandoned. Well, at long last, I'm back on track. With the Writing Weeks. My script is another story, all together. 

Unfortunately, this return to routine has yet to include any progress on the Medieval spec. And, I realized this afternoon while buying deodorant (how the mind does wander), tomorrow is our League meeting for the month of September. My script was reviewed back in August. That means, it's been a solid month since I touched the script. Blame some of that on being out of town (because excuses are one of a writer's best friends), I've already been back two weeks and haven't even thought about the thing.

It's time to get back to work. We're not reviewing any pages tomorrow, so it's all just catching up and dinner and drinks. Even without pages, we find it important to keep meetings on schedule. Ideally, the amount of time I've had away from the material will have set in motion the solution to some of the problems, even if I'm not consciously aware of them yet. Time will tell.

This coming week continues to be busy for me. But I have to write. No more dilatory dawdling. The pages need attention, attention that can only come from me. Set the schedule, Cake Man, and stick to it!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 191 - The Importance of the Routine

The writer's routine. Many of us have one. Some of us don't (and work better without one). As is evidenced by the irregularity of my recent writing weeks, I am not one of the latter group of people. 

Having a regular, anticipated writing time and practice is one of the tools that helps me complete my projects. For example, The Writing Week used to be (read: should again be) a weekly Monday post. Summer travels and - who's going to lie? - laziness threw me off. Even today, on a Tuesday, I'm the closest to posting on time that I've been in months, but I'm still not on time. That will change. Starting next week.

The frequency and timeliness of a blog post is nothing, however, compared to my actual writing. One hour a day after work, or before work, if I know I am going to be home very late one night. How hard is that? On paper, no very. In practice, though, I slacked off on that a lot in the past month, too. Chalk some - or most - of that up to travel if you (I) want, too, but it still has resulted in a net zero pages. I need to get back into the routine.

I'm coming up on the one year anniversary next month of when I signed with UTA (well, no actual paperwork, but you get the idea). At the time, my manager promised my agent two scripts a year. Ambitious, but doable. The sad truth, though, is that I've produced an outline and two drafts of a different script, but nothing worth reading yet. And that two draft script? Needs a major third (and probably fourth) draft. That's what I'm going to start on soon. When I get back to my routine. When I feel that I can conjure up something good again. Only, I can't wait for the mood to strike. I have to get working again. I simply must. Time is ticking. I might not be able to hit the two script benchmark - hell, I know I can't at this point - but I surely can do one, can't I?

This is a test for my career. Hopefully, we'll hear something back on the most recent round of submissions from the post-Apocalyptic spec. My producer and agent were going to do some followups this week, now that Labor Day is over. But I can't wait around for that. I need to get writing again. I need to get back into my routine.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 190 - Travel Writing

I am currently stranded in Lima, Peru (with a keyboard on which I cannot figure out how to type an apostrophe, but can do as many ñs as I want), without access to my script - nor really any major desire to put a lot of time into it - so I figure this week, I would write about another type of writing I have been doing. Travel writing. More specifically, travel journal.

I do not know about you, but I have never really been on for keeping a journal. When I was a little kid, I had a Garfield-cover spiral notebook that was to be my "journal," but it served primarily as a doodle book. In high school, I attempted a Live Journal for a little bit, but my fifth and final post was a solicitation to all my friends to keep an eye out for my lost jacket. (It was in the back of my locker.) The only real journal keeping I have done since has been during my travels.

If you are a regular and long time reader of this (perhaps mildly interesting) blog, you might know that I get abroad roughly once a year. On those two to three week excursions, I bring along a little notebook, in which I try to record the events of each day. Photos do a lot, but so does whiskey, and my capacity for memory is not what it once was. Hence, the written records. Generally, even I find the entries to be a little on the dry side, static recordings of events with little anecdotes or personal reflection. This time, though, I tried something different.

If I am to be one hundred percent honest, I was not in the best of moods before flying out of NYC two weeks ago. The journal, while about my experinces in Lima and Cusco, also became a medium for my inner thoughts and emotions. I managed to put my feelings down on paper and, in a somewhat theraputic way, sort them out. Was the writing creative? I tried as best I could to be catchy or interesting. But it really was not about that. It was helpful to me. It was expressive in a different way than creating a world and characters and situations is. But it was writing nonetheless. And it felt good.

Moral of the story - writers write. And it does not always have to be stories. But, generally, it feels good when the words flow.

(Small post-Apocalytpic update while I have you; I got anothe remail from one of my producers. We are still out to a numbe of companies, but we are hoping to get a few responses after Labor Day. My agent is supposed to do a few follow up calls, and there are a few potentially interested producers and companies on our solicitation list. So, as I - hopefuly - make my way back to the States, I will keep my fingers crossed for some good news awaiting me as I enter back through customs.)

Hope all our East Coast readers survived Irene and the earthquake.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 189 - Going Back to Basics

I truly believe it's never to late to give up learning about screenwriting. There are so many books and articles and blogs (ahem) and resources out there about the craft that one could literally devote entire years just to reading about the trade. Maybe decades. I know people feel very differently about the importance and value of reading screenwriting books, but I believe there's a very large difference between how-to books and informative reading. There is also a large argument to be made for, "you can always learn more."

Right now, I'm reading William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade. Somehow, I'd managed to make it this far with having read the sequel, but never this first piece. And if you haven't read it (which I recommend you do), it's not so much a "this is how you write a screenplay" as it is a narrative about what it means to be a screenwriter, both personally and professionally. It's incredibly fascinating, a little gossipy, and a great insider look at Hollywood (albeit the Hollywood of the early 1980s, but still).

To the right of this post, you'll see a whole slew of links to sites, blogs, resources, etc. etc. Check them out. Even though they might state what you already know in the most simplistic ways, sometimes those reminders can be refreshing and useful. If you're stuck on your script, maybe reading something about the craft will get your mind jogging again, or it could be that inspiration you need to get over your block. Whatever the reason is that draws you to these texts - even if it's just to remain as up to date (my case now is not the prime example of this) or conversant in the canonical texts and ideas - it never hurts to go back to the basics. Until you're the one writing said books, as you're struggling to launch that career, it can always be a small boost to read the work of those who have come before. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 188 - Crisis of Confidence

Screenwriters must be tough. I don't mean physically (though being able to land a solid right hook isn't a terrible thing). No, screenwriters need an incredibly thick skin and ability to take a lot of criticism on their work and a lot of rejection in their attempts to get it sold and made. And it can be very difficult to resist all the pessimism and negativism.

I'll be honest, as much as I know how vital that "I am rubber" attitude is essential to an unblemished pursuit of professional screenwriting, I still fall victim to what I dub the "crisis of confidence." I fell victim to it this week. The League met on Wednesday night to review my second draft of the Medieval spec, and I received a very healthy serving of notes, feedback, and thoughts on it. Some of the notes jive really well; others didn't sit as comfortably with me. I have yet to decide which I'll implement and which I won't, but there's a wealth of information for me to sift through now. And the notes all mean I'll be doing undertaking another major overhaul of the script once again.

That feedback (too) easily fed into doubt when I got an update on my post-Apocalyptic spec from my producer. Though we've sent the script out to a number of companies, we are still waiting to hear back from them - and that is frequently not a good sign. Unfortunately, the realization that the script, which I thought was working (the Medieval one), was in need of a lot more work compounded with the non-update update from my producer, and the result was a damning and damaging crisis of confidence that's detrimental to any writer. Will I ever make this script work? That one that's circulating in the industry, which I thought was my strongest, isn't getting traction - will I ever be able to surpass that? If it doesn't sell, what does that mean for me? Will I continue to pursue this path?

These and other questions - or, rather, the answers to them - can be the deciding factor in any writer's pursuit of his or her career. Ideally, they're not asked. But let's be 100% honest with one another and ourselves. It's damn hard not to ask them. It's human to do so. And writers are students of humanity. The trick, though, which I have reminded myself of, is that one has to look at the silver lining in those moments of doubt. My post-Apocalyptic spec isn't gaining much traction at the moment; however, it landed me an agent at UTA, a lawyer at a respected industry firm, and, most importantly, I have two dedicated producers still doing everything they can to get it sold. For a 26 year old, I'm in a pretty good place in that respect. As for the Medieval spec, I know what's not working, and I have a lot of good suggestions for how to strengthen it. While I might have hoped I was going to get the thumbs up from the group, what I got was also positive - feedback on how to make it even stronger. So that's what I have to do. Write. Make it stronger. And bolster my self confidence.