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.