Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Writing Roundup

A selection of articles and postings from Leaguers that have appeared in other corners of the internet recently.

Austin (aka Zombie)
Chromatics - Kill For Love album review, Under the Radar Magazine:

Eddie Hazel - Game, Dames and Guitar Thangs reissue review, Under the Radar Magazine

Marthas & Arthurs - The Hit World of... Marthas & Arthurs album review, Consequence of Sound

Mariee Sioux - Gift for the End album review, Consequence of Sound

Zach (aka Cake Man)
"There's More Than One Right Answer", ScreenwritersUtopia

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 224 - The Agent Syndrome

When should I get an agent?

What writer hasn't asked this question? It's probably one of the first things I asked (myself, my professors, countless message boards and blogs about screenwriting). I was eager for an agent; an agent would launch my career seemingly overnight. Step one: write script. Step two: land agent. Step three: $$$. Right?

I now have an agent. I've had an agent since October 2010. I have yet to sell a screenplay.

This is not my agent's fault. I was actually quite fortunate to land a well-known agent at UTA in my one and only agent meeting. Far as I know, the producers who set up that meeting for me had essentially orchestrated a done-deal. As long as I was personable and could hold my own in the meeting, then it was a shoo-in. At that time, we all had high hopes that my post-Apocalyptic spec - the one I was taking the meeting about - was on the verge of selling, so it was looking like an easy and mutually beneficial relationship all around. The day after the meeting, which went well, my manager told me that the agent had agreed to take me on, and that my manager had agreed in turn that I could and would deliver two scripts a year going forward. It seemed a lofty but doable goal. 

I've kept writing in the 18 months that have followed, but my agent hasn't seen a word from me (other than a few loglines early on). Due to what might seem a large period of inactivity, I worry that I've missed my chance. My manager never fails to try to console me, saying that no, the agent will read whenever I next present a script to him. When that day comes, we can tell him that I've been working on other things since we met, but that they just weren't right for one reason or the other. The chance to get him to read my next script is still there, though, and theoretically will be for quite some time. 

Yet, this fear that I've missed an opportunity to get new material in front of my agent isn't the only concern that's come from the situation. I feel as though my access to my agent is incredibly limited, almost to the point on nonexistence, until I have something new to show him. And there's good reason to this. It's been a year and a half. How does it look if my first email to him - seemingly out of the blue - is about the one and only project he knows me from? What will his impression of me and my work in the long run be? Will it seem as though I'm still a promising young, new client, or will I be that writer who only has one thing under his belt and, years later, still wants that to be his ticket in? I'm working on new things, but the older I get, the more I've done this, the more I know that "hey, I am working on something else, but you can't see it yet" emails aren't just a waste of time, they can actually serve to discredit you. It's that basic writing 101 mantra - show me, don't tell me. 

Right before I graduated NYU, the head of my department told me it wasn't worth my time going to LA until I had a script, a treatment, and a pitch - three things for three separate projects. Until that point, I'd be ill-prepared to answer the inevitable question, "so what else do you have?" I had ideas when I met my agent. I had a full script, which unfortunately he didn't like the idea for. On paper, I was prepared. In reality, I wonder if I had enough going for me at the time. 

We're all compelled to seek validation and entry to the industry through an agent. It's intrinsic to being a writer. When you decide that it's time for you to go that route, to send your query emails or ask your friend to pass something along, please have another script ready to go. Have two. Your ability to jump in with both feet and turn securing representation into an actual career will be all the more bolstered for it. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday Writing Roundup

A selection of articles and postings from Leaguers that have appeared in other corners of the internet recently. 

Cake Man talks about The Happy Family Curse, and how it can make a show or film laborious to watch when poorly executed, but how it can elevate a story immensely when done well.

The Name Game, or how often you should use a character's name in spoken dialogue (another of Cake Man's posts on Screenwriters Utopia).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 223 - The Rock and the Hard Place

I feel there's a nebulous, viscid mire writers can become entrenched in, which lies at a very finite point somewhere between having made it (i.e., selling a script) and still being unknown and unrepresented in the industry. This point is one where a scribe has achieved a modicum of success, namely having attained an agent or a manager or other representative, but has not yet sold anything. Having landed that rep or those reps, however, in a funny way closes as many doors to that particular writer as it opens, if not more.

I inhabit this middle swamp ground.

Let me try to explain a bit more clearly. Before I found representation, I was writing for myself - what I wanted, when I wanted. I didn't have access to producers or directors or actors' people. I was an unknown writer trying to make it. Competitions were fair game for me, and when I thought I had something worthwhile, I prepped and sent query emails. Anywhere a new opportunity came up along the way, I pursued if I deemed it applicable. In short, the world was my oyster, and it was up to me how to prepare it.

Now that I have representation, things have changed. I get my ideas approved by my agent or manager before I embark upon them, as those guys have more insider knowledge as to whether something similar is already in the pipeline, or if the market's just not in a good place for it at the moment. I'm supposed to turn in two scripts a year to my agent; unfortunately, in the 18 months since I came on board with him, he's seen zero new script from me. I've written a few, but my manager and I decided to table them for various reasons. Opportunities that I one time would have jumped on - competitions, logline contests, even the revamped Amazon Studios - are no longer really the most viable routes to take. The end goal of so many of those being to secure a writer an agent or a meeting with a producer, they are no longer quite worthwhile. Even that logic is irksome, though, as all writers know that any means by which we can get our names out there are worth pursuing. On the flip side, I do have indirect access to directors and producers that I personally still can't get to yet, and one of the producers I'm working with has helped me get my current co-writing gig, but actual sales have still yet to materialize.

I can't help but wonder what would happen if I move to LA. Should I have been there already? Maybe I lost opportunities for meetings 18 months ago when I was fresh in my agent's mind. (My manager tells me that no, I haven't, but I can't help wondering.) What if a great competition comes along that I know I could place highly in, but it's for writers without representation? What if I fall out with my reps and go back to square one? Have I missed my shot by being three scripts behind for my agent? Would he even know me if I emailed him?

All these questions and more threaten to darken the success I have achieved, which is frankly silly, since I am working on something now with a known writer. I still have producers actively pursuing my post-Apocalyptic spec and even had a sort-of lead come up just last week. I have access to industry professionals I can turn to for help. All of that is great, and nothing I'd want to trade. They just can't mitigate the sensation that I am in that weird, indefinitely binding gray zone between anonymity and greater success. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 222 - A Midpoint Discovered

Ask most screenwriters, and they'll probably tell you that Act Two is the most difficult portion of the script to write. More specifically, the crucial midpoint (of Act Two and of your script as a whole) can be particularly difficult. And the section that comes after that - what I like to call "the 60 to 70 slump" - is traditionally even ore problematic. Those pages (60 through 70, or whatever the ten that immediately follow your midpoint) require both a cool down period to get over the intensity of the midpoint, as well as a continued raising of the stakes; this, in short, makes them onerous to write. 

In Save the Cat, Blake Snyder refers to the first part of Act Two as the fun and games section. We've met our characters and been introduced to their world and situation in Act One. For the first half of Act Two, things are mostly fun for them. They're having fun on their adventure. Things might be daunting, but they're not overwhelming odds yet, nor is the danger really as life threatening as it can (read, will) be. At the midpoint, things come to a head. The midpoint might be the pinnacle of success so far, and it will therefore be followed by a fall from grace. More commonly, perhaps, is the alternative - the midpoint serves as the floor of the valley, the darkest, gloomiest, most devastating moment so far. This might come in the form of a death, a loss (of a crucial object, of a friend to some other fate, of the path to glory), or any number of other devastating blows. After the midpoint, you have to sustain the audience's attention as we work our way toward the climax of the film, but you also offer a minor reprieve from the extremes they've just experienced. If the world has gone to hell, then maybe there's a glimmer of hope at the end of the 60 to 70 slump. Or if all's been stellar so far, then we get a taste of darkness at that point, instead.

Normally, I struggle through Act Two. I'm never quite sure of how well what I've constructed is working or not. It can be particularly difficult to tell when outlining. to my great pleasure, when I met with my co-writer, W.A., this past week, he told me that he loved my second act. Part of the success of it stems from a very wise suggestion he had made previously, which I decided to run with. 

The script contains a number of large reveals. One of them in particular - the identity of the guide turned antagonist - had been a point of contention, as its placement in the script had been in flux for a long time. W.A.'s original outline had this reveal roughly 2/3 of the way through the script. When I took my first stab at the outline, I wound up moving it to the end of Act Two, or about 3/4 of the way through the script. There's a lot of information and material that we can mine from that surprise, though, as well as a lot of character motivation, so W.A. rightly felt that we were losing a handful of opportunities for ratcheting up the conflict by pushing it so far back. Not to mention that the later the reveal comes, the less time we have to address it in the script. And it's something that we have to ensure ample time is devoted to.

To fix this, W.A. suggested that I take a look at moving the reveal up to the midpoint, coupling it with the death of the protagonist's best friend - the crushing defeat that brings the fun and games portion of the script to a swift and definitive end. As the real world hits, so too does this new bit of information. I went with the earlier reveal, and I must admit - it works really damn well. Not only do we get a lot more time to work with the information, but it makes total sense, since the antagonist is directly responsible for the friend's death. It was sort of a speed bump to do the partial reveal - he's an antagonist - and not come forward with who he actually is until much later. And, by the time we got the information, it was almost too much and too late. 

Now, with this reshuffling of the information, the reveal comes at a point where our characters can do so much more with it, the world crashes down around our protagonist even harder at the midpoint, and the actions of everyone we've been following come to a simultaneous head at that point. The fun and games are over, and we know who is good and who the antagonist is. We don't know the full rationale for the reversal yet, but we know we have half a movie to devote to it. Act One flows into Act Two organically, and the fun and games transition naturally into the devastating blow that is the midpoint; coming out of that loss and the attached reveal, we move organically through the obstacles faced on our way to Act Three and the resolution. 

It is, in a way, almost pretty in how it wound up working. 

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 221 - Strength from Originality

If you're at all like me - and for your sake, I hope you are in as few ways as possible - then you experience a barrage of creativity and ideas and writing followed by listless respites. These can come in months, weeks, or even days. When I'm actively writing a script, I'll write straight through for a month or more, and then experience as long a time off after completing the first draft. Now that I'm working on a collaboration, as well as keeping my demon thriller on the back burner, those draughts are shorter, no more than a few days typically. 

Still, a draught is a draught, and it will be felt. 

Ok, let me partially retract that. I spent a good week working on revising my outline for W.A., my writing partner. He and I met a couple weeks ago and tossed around a lot of good ideas. For the most part, he was (is) very pleased with the progress I'm making and have made so far. For the most part, the notes he had were pretty minimal. Once again, I've gone through and made some large changes to the outline he first presented. And, once again, he has come back with some mainly "cosmetic" suggestions for improvements. I'd be lying if I said that I've had ample time to devote to them this week in preparation for our meeting tomorrow, but I understand fully where he's coming from on all but one of his remaining notes. I'm not too concerned at all about my ability to address the trio, even if I do lack a degree of clarity for one of them. Hey - that's why we're meeting tomorrow. 

In the meantime, I've been planning on getting back to my demon thriller. Time, however, has not been my friend. Though the day job hasn't been overwhelming, commitments after work have seemingly stacked up in the past few weeks. That, and I'm actually exercising again! I know, I know. Lame. Every time I plan on getting down to pumping out some actual pages on the demon thriller, I get waylaid by some other activity. 

In general, I love having two scripts on the table, no matter what state they're in. Actually, the less developed they are, the better sometimes. When I'm stuck on one, I can just go ahead and jump onto the other. Being so versatile in the outlining stage isn't as easy when it comes to actual pages. At that point in my process, I tend to favor extreme concentration on one project, which means the other goes bye-bye for a month or more. With the demon thriller, the wait wound up paying off.

The script involved a fair amount of world creation. To me, that's one of the best part of writing a movie. Sure, it can be fun to write about a cop or a transit worker or a librarian, but how much more fun is it to write about one of those people in a brand new world that you've created? Or even in our world, but in a completely different time? Giving birth to an entirely new setting with new rules and visuals and realities... is anything greater when working on a story? It's hard to think of something. Well, for the demon thriller, my manager made the very astute observation today that I did that for half the script. Half of it is very unique with new rules, new visuals, and a new approach to possibly familiar experiences. The other half graces tv screens every night in a handful of shows. It's basically a Law & Order episode. 

I didn't realize that odd dichotomy until my manager pointed it out, but it makes total sense. The strength of the premise - and, therefore, in the ultimate execution - comes from originality. Part of the script rises up to the challenge. The other half presents a worthy problem that is organic to the nature of the piece, but it does so in an inferior way. The result, according to my manager, is a loss of steam. I see where he's coming from. More than that, if he sees it in the outline alone, I don't want to even fathom what a producer or potential director might have seen in the script. Other, of course, than a pass. Better, obviously, that I fix it before that happens.