Monday, December 16, 2013

The 2013 Black List Revealed

Deadline Hollywood is live updating its announcement of the 2013 Black List selected screenplays. The Black List is a yearly list that recognizes the best unproduced screenplays of the past twelve months. Initially, the list was meant to showcase new work by emerging talent, and placement on the list often led to representation, sales, production deals, and the like. More recently, the List has experienced some controversy, since many well-known writers with projects that have already been set up feature heavily in the ranking. Technically, their featured screenplays are still unproduced, though when Tarantino's DJANGO UNCHAINED made the list a couple years back, for example, many felt the nature of the list had been besmirched. Still, kudos to all who have made it on, especially those who are new to the industry.

Check out the 2013 Black List Screenplays here

UPDATED 12/17

You can now read the loglines and representation and production/financing info for all Black List screenplays on the Black List's official site 

Writing Opportunity Alert - Nickelodeon Writing Program

The annual Nickelodeon Writing Program application dates have been announced. The program is designed to usher in a new crop of talented writers each year, who are selected based off the strength of a spec television script they submit for a show currently on air. Selected writers are then offered a year's placement as a salaried writing staff member.

As always with any fellowship, competition, or submission, be sure to read the guidelines carefully before submitting. I've regretted forgetting to take, say, my name off a title page when instructions clearly indicated that I had to, and you never want something like that to be the difference between placement and a form rejection.

Good luck!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 283 - Outlining (Again)

It has been 22 months since I first began collaborating with actor turned director-writer, W.A., on our sci-fi project. I have since lost track of the number of drafts of the outline and script that I've written, but it's up there. A few months ago, we sent the script to our representatives for their feedback, hoping they would be on board to start shopping the material around. Unfortunately, they didn't think the script was ready yet. After my initial disappointment at their qualms with it, I came to see the points and understand the flaws they had picked up on. I then went back to the drawing board. 

The major problem with the script, as pointed out to us, was that the first half (and especially the first half of Act Two) failed to excite. A lot happens exposition-wise, and there is a strong science component that the characters focus on. However, as my agent said, we created a heightened other world that the story is set in, but then just have characters sit around in a room for a long time. While an exaggeration, it's not too far off the mark. The more I reread the notes, the more clearly I saw the weaknesses of the first half. Yes, things happen, but it's not riveting, nor is it visually compelling - at least, it's not as aesthetically exciting as a story set in the world we've devised should be. Something big happens at the midpoint that both elevates the emotional resonance and capitalizes on the world and action potential established early on, but the 50 pages before that barely scratch the surface. Our big obstacle in rewriting, therefore, was to make better use of the first half of the script.

W.A. and I got on the phone (a few times) to hammer out ideas. I pitched him one that actually struck me as we spoke. I didn't know if it would be too out there or too disruptive, but the great thing about working with W.A. is that he's always totally game for whatever idea, as long as he thinks it could work. He thought this radical one would be the perfect way to address the first half shortcomings, so we started spitballing using that as our base. I since went back to outlining, as neither of us wanted to spend any time writing before we were positive we had the new direction firmly set. It took me a while to crack the first half of the revised second act, but after a call on Monday with W.A., I think we're there. 

The change I proposed ups the emotional impact of the script very early on, moving a major reveal from page 70 to page 10. IT catapults the characters and story in a way that the inciting incident hadn't yet before, and (we hope) it buys us a little more time before we need a major action beat. We still push the action up, but in really looking at the rules of the world that we've established, it became apparent that certain things simply cannot happen - at least, not organically - and therefore limit how and when we can have a tentpole, edge of your seat scene. Still, with the new incarnation, the major first half of act two action sequence moves up from page 42 to somewhere around 32, which is great.

So, now, after months off, I am about to dive back into pages for the script in what's almost (but not quite entirely) a page one rewrite. In the meantime, I've had additional reviews go up on Under the Radar. You can read my two latest online exclusives there, for Last Days on Mars and Expecting. Suffice it to say, I was underwhelmed by both films I saw.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Spec Script Analysis Infographic

 Former Leaguer King Suckerman, (aka Alex Segura, whose debut detective novel, Silent City, you can buy here) recently tipped us off to an incredibly interesting infographic on spec script coverage. 

About a week and a half ago, a Reddit user named profound_whatever analyzed and compiled comparative data on 300 screenplays s/he had covered as a reader for five different film companies. (Readers are the first point of entry to getting your script repped or sold. They are the people - sometimes in-house, like interns, which I did for two companies during college; sometimes hired externally and paid on a script by script basis - who read most if not all incoming material for a production company, agency, or studio. They are then tasked with writing coverage, which consists of a brief synopsis of the script, followed by an evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses. They are then asked whether to recommend, consider, or pass on a script - and let me tell you, they are encouraged not to recommend, as each recommendation could lead to many staggering expenses, including buying a script and making a movie, which could lose the company a lot of money. The whole point is to get the muck out of the way, so that the higher ups can be spared the trash and focus solely on promising material. In short, you want a reader to like your script.)

The reader on Reddit assembled stats on the 300 screenplays to provide a broad, and sometimes quite detailed, snapshot of the kind of material assigned to him/her. Of the 300 scripts, they averaged 107.22 pages (which should give you an idea of where your script should land), but ranged from 79 to 147. As a former reader, I can tell you that the shorter script will always be read first, though too short a script is an immediate red flag. The most popular genre was horror/slasher, with 49 script. More than 1 out of 7 scripts (43) was set in New York City. The scripts were male dominated (270 male writers and 137 scripts that featured both a male protagonist and antagonist). 

Perhaps most importantly, of the 300 script, the reader recommended only 8. Yes, 8 out of 300, or just under 3% of script were considered worthy of recommending outright. The reader "considered" (or considered with reservations, which means s/he didn't want to be the one to say no, when it might be worth looking at a bit further) a further 89 scripts. That's a good stat, but most considers get a second read by someone else, and then a pass. A total of 203 (more than 66%) of scripts received a straight up pass. Someone higher up at the company will read coverage on a pass and might read the script if it sounds interesting enough, but generally, a pass is where a script's life ends at that company. (You should also be aware that coverage is archived, so if you rewrite your script and resubmit it, the company will go through the files, see that they have a script of the same name by the same writer that they already passed on, and they won't read you again. A pass, friends, is a pass for good.)

Check out the image below - or click here for the original link and access to a higher resolution version - to see the above stats and countless others. It is super helpful info, so major thanks to Reddit user profound_whatever for compiling it. 


Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 282 - Back in the Saddle

Surprising as it might seem, the fact that I've not been writing blog updates doesn't actually mean that I haven't been writing. In fact, I finally began diving into a new project, which has been both fun and paint-drying slow, as new projects often are at first. League member Onyx (Jon) has for a while now encouraged me to take a time out from writing action scripts to work on something of a different genre. His idea, which I fully subscribe to, is that working on alternative material will clear the dust off of other writing tools and muscles. Sci-fi and action specs don't always have room for deep character cathartic moments or heartbreaking losses or reversals, so making time to write something that does can be invaluable - not that they are definitively devoid of them as a rule, either; many great sci-fi or action screenplays have truly tender and touching moments.

When I was new to writing and, a little later, new to NYU, I loved character-driven material. Plays, screenplays - I didn't care. I was in love with the idea of exploring characters through their reactions to heightened emotional circumstances. I wanted to root for the underdog and relate to people trapped in one of life's ruts and find a way to explain and explore love and the great emotions of the human experience. Most of my early work dealt with the "average" person in recognizable, day to day situations. Then, I wrote  a post-Apocalyptic spec that landed me an agent, manager, lawyer, and two producers, and the game changed. I was encouraged to develop multiple specs per year of a similar genre. Though no sale resulted from my new-found connections, I was brought on to write the sci-fi spec I've been working on for going on two years now. Still, the result has been a deep saturation in the sci-fi and action genres, with few outlets for any other type of emotional expression.

Not long ago, I had an idea for a film about two teenagers falling in love. The theme of young love is by no means new or unexplored - if anything, we're almost drowning in it on an indie level. But the concept I had threw it into an unconventional setting, which (to me at least) elevated the situation and themes I would explore. Still, I had a nagging sense that, no matter what I did with the film, I wouldn't be able to flex my dialogue muscles the way I did when I used to write plays in school. Taking Jon's suggestion, I decided to table development of additional action ideas I have, and instead to focus on the teen love idea, but as a play. Different muscles indeed. Progress has been slow and limited to date, but I have a working document that grows a bit each day I sit down in front of the computer, and I'm excited to be able to unburden myself of an experience certain emotions vicariously through the characters in the play.

In a similar vein, I also began a new venture - thanks to Austin Trunick, aka Zombie, aka the Cinema Editor at Under The Radar magazine - that of movie reviewer. So far, I've had the opportunity to review two films, Mr. Nobody and Casting By. While the cinephile in me loves having access to movies ahead of time and the platform to weigh in on their strengths and weaknesses, the writer in me loves the challenge of a succinct assignment. Tasked with delivering no more than a few hundred words, I find my creative delivery muscles being flexed - how do I say what I want to convey in a captivating, yet short-lipped (typed) way? Every word becomes an element necessitating evaluation. Does I need this "that" there? Can I consolidate these two sentences? Can I cut this train of thought? We're taught as screenwriters to keep action and description brief and moving; writing short articles is a great way to beef up those skills while also developing deeper analytical tools to bolster my own writing.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Article Alert - Joe Eszterhas Speaks

"My basic message is: believe in what you do and put your heart and soul into it, and then be willing to fight for it."

Legendary, or perhaps legendarily controversial, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas opens up about writing, writing gurus, and Hollywood feuds in a recent article in The Guardian

Regardless of what you feel about his body of work, the man's a successful writer and commands (at least a little) attention when he shares his views on writing for the big screen. Check it out and leave your thoughts below. What do you think of Joe's insights?  

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 281 - The Query Campaign

I'd be lying if I said that my primary focus the past month has been on writing. Frankly, I've really not done any writing at all to speak of in a while. It's not that I'm done with writing or out of ideas - I just haven't really been able to get motivated for a while. That happens. It's an accepted (though perhaps not entirely acceptable) facet of being a writer. Sometimes, you hit a bit of a slump. When that happens, you just have to do what it takes to pull yourself out of it, and for me, that's been the process of querying my children's book.

Over the summer, I wrote a 1,670(ish) word children's picture story book. Think Dr. Seuss, only I can't draw well enough to do the illustrations in addition to the text. I since cut it down to about 1,270 words. I had two people tell me that's still probably too long back in September, and as they were both much deeper in the world of children's literature than I am, I should probably take what they say as truth - at the very least, as a very solid suggestion.

I put out a couple feelers and landed a few leads. Two colleagues at the theatre companies I work with had connections to children's book agents that they said they could introduce me to. One said I could use her name in my query; that agent gave me the fastest rejection I have ever received. HOWEVER, that's actually far more positive than it sounds. (I'm serious.) For anyone who has ever queried an agent or manager or producer, you know that it can take months to hear back - and that's if you hear at all. To know within a couple hours that the agent you have reached out to is definitively not your person is actually a relief. With the waiting game over, you can immediately move on. And, what was especially positive in this case, is that the agent let me know why she was not representing me. In addition to being overloaded, she also just doesn't handle the particular type of children's material that I had submitted (not that I knew that based on the information about her online). Agents can be very particular about what they rep, and your project, no matter how incredible, will not find a home with every agent. If it's not their cup of tea, thank them and move onto the next. You won't change their mind (and probably don't want to). I have yet to hear back from the second colleague.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, I have a friend who worked in publishing. She has been very generous with her time, reading a few drafts of the story, weighing in with very lengthy notes, and has agreed to help me get it to agents that she knows personally. She's the one who advised that I write a query letter, and she has provided feedback on that, too. I just have to finish tweaking it, and the hope is that we'll go out to agents before the end of the month.

My writing partner on the sci-fi collaboration has connections in the animated film industry. Those connections have contacts in the children's book world, and he has offered to forward it along. Any potential in can help. (Speaking of agents, we got feedback from my agent for that one; it looks like we will be embarking on a potentially not-insignificant rewrite in the coming weeks.) I also reached out to another friend in publishing on Facebook, but I've not yet heard back. 

Finally - and most unexpectedly - I wound up meeting an Assistant Editor at a major children's book publisher at an event this week. She has taken a look at the material and was quite supportive. Like the two people earlier this year, she also recommended that I shorten the book by up to half if possible. That's an almost daunting amount of editing, but she knows her stuff and is a great contact and potential in to have. If she says cut, then cut I will. 

If all leads take me to a dead end, then at least I'll have a solid query letter and a product I believe in. I'll then start the blind query submission.  

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Article Alert - Diablo Cody's Advice for Screenwriters

Like her, love her, or loathe her, it's hard to deny that Diablo Cody (Juno, Jennifer's Body, Young Adult) has had a career that any young screenwriter could lust after. In the six years since Juno's come out, she's kept busy, been a rising star, and earned some solid bank. Deadline recently posted an article wherein Cody talks about seven things that nobody tells successful screenwriters. It's worth the quick read. Whether you put any stock in what she says is up to you.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Video Alert - Check out Our Friends' Short Films

Two of our classmates from NYU's Dramatic Writing Department at Tisch School of the Arts recently had videos uploaded at Funny Or Die. 

The League's own Axel A (Adrienne Sterman) brings us BROS, about two bros trying to sniff out love.

League classmate, Amanda Smith, is getting great traction with Dunhaming, a look at a Lena Dunham inspired existence.

Check out our friends' work and show them some 'funny' love!

Thursday, October 03, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 280 - Prey to Patience

Patience is said to be a virtue, and for writers, it is a necessity. Nothing happens overnight. Even "overnight sensations" have taken years to develop and achieve success. When we had our freshman orientation at NYU, the League's instructors told us not to plan on selling anything until we were at least 35. I didn't know it at the time, but they were planting the all important seed - patience, my friends; it's all about patience.

There are two types of waiting that befall writers. There's waiting on one's self (waiting to develop that next project or complete that draft or edit the script). This waiting is conquerable; all you need to do to overcome it is write, work, drive yourself to finish. Writer's block is a part of this waiting, a threat to productivity, but it can be vanquished. Self-waiting (also called "procrastinating") is sometimes necessary, in the case of taking a breather between projects or in order to gear up for a major rewrite. Sometimes, it stems from being dry or in a rut or simply unmotivated. Whatever the cause, self-waiting is something we writers control. We can turn the switch on and off when we want. 

The second form of waiting, the waiting that I loathe, is waiting on others. If you've ever asked a friend or colleague to read a script, you know this waiting. If you've sent out query letters (read: emails), you may have knows this waiting for three or six month increments. And, if you've been fortunate enough to get notice from an agent/producer/manager, you have further experienced this type of waiting. With my post-Apocalyptic spec, I waited about four months between my initial querying and landing a manager. I then waited another four months for that manager to get his crap together as he jumped jobs (twice) and neglected to inform me of where he'd gone. Then, I got a new team, and collectively, we re-worked the script and waited another six months to attract a bigger producer. More rewrites followed (for a year), and then we waited for a mega-producer to attach him/her self to the project. When that didn't happen, we waited for buyers to cough up money. I'm still waiting on that (though, with zero expectations that script will ever sell.)

In the midst of all that waiting - and I certainly don't mean to sound bitter; I'm actually not at all, mind you - I remained productive. I churned out the first drafts of a couple scripts that weren't quite right or weren't working. Then, about a year and a half ago, the producer we had attached after the six month waiting stint called and offered me a spec writing job. I jumped on it, and it has since become known here as the sci-fi collaboration. For eighteen months, I worked and reworked it with my writing partner. Finally, about a month ago, we settled on a draft both of us liked a lot. We sent it to his manager, who also liked it, but who had concerned that it was becoming too similar to something already in development. Unfortunately for us, the potentially competing picture is shrouded in secrecy, so - for the pas three weeks - we have been waiting to see if anyone can find out any more about it. More waiting, and not the self-driven kind.

Yesterday, I decided to be proactive when waiting on others. I emailed my collaborator and asked him if he thought it was worth me reaching out to my agent about the script. I haven't been in touch with my agent in nearly three years, because I haven't had a product ready for him. I'll admit that part of my desire to reach out was to plant myself back on his radar. Part, obviously, is to further our script and see if he has connections and insight that my collaborator's team doesn't yet. He responded, and I have sent him the script. Sure, I'm still waiting, but with another possible opportunity on the table.

Speaking of waiting, a couple months back, I wrote a children's picture story book. A friend in publishing took a look, loved it, and gave me notes. I shortened it, per her suggestions, reworked it a bit, and made it even more visually stimulating. I sent it back to her... and waited. Unfortunately, my friend got intermittently ill and busy, and my book slid to the back burner. (I can't fault her at all, as I've done this with others' work in the past, too, as much as I am disappointed to admit it.) Still, I was waiting. She had told me she could connect me with literary agents, and yet, the ball wasn't rolling. Through my work in theatre here in NYC, I had access to children's theatre makers with contacts at agencies repping the exact kind of work I had produced. After deciding I was done idly waiting, I became proactive again. I sent my other connection an email, and by that afternoon (far as I know), my book was off via email to his agent contact. I'm waiting on a response from that, but at least I have another ball up in the air and can dispense with the wringing unease of another potential in falling by the wayside.

My friends, you, too, will find yourself waiting while playing this game. It's all about how you spend your time that counts. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 279 - The Collaborative Writing Experiment

For over a month now, we've been conducting a little experiment here at League Headquarters. We're trying to see if, as a group and without discussing or outlining, we can write a coherent, well-structured screenplay. There are six of us participating. We take turns (based on the roll of a die) to assign placement each round of six pages and then, when each writer is up, he or she adds one and only one page to the script. There's no discussion about what should come next, what's off limits, or what the direction of the script it. In short, it falls to each individual writer to follow the tone, guide the plot, introduce characters and elements, and adhere to the rules already established by the previous writers. The goal: a completed script, with each of us having taken 16 or 17 pages over the course of the project.

The experiment has been pretty fascinating so far. In the first couple pages, two of us established a particular tone and characters' voices, but we left the direction of the script very ambiguous and open for the next four writers. On page three, the third writer really took the reins and very clearly pointed the script in a clear, perhaps a bit extreme, direction. In all honesty, the rest of us were a bit shocked, but in the spirit of the game, we knew we had to honor the genre and story that had been determined. Page four saw a very well-written wrangling of the scene, reverting a bit to the previous tone, while still adhering to the new reality of the project. 

From then on, the group has pretty much operated as one. Sure, there are temptations we succumb to. As individual writers, we all have ideas and objectives for the piece. However, since we'll only write one sixth of the material (at best), we sometimes feel compelled to cram a lot into our own page to further our individual agendas. I'd be lying if I said there were no pages where this happened; on the contrary, there have been a few instances of one writer (beyond the third page) essentially saying, "This is what I want to do" and doing that, regardless of how well it honors what precedes it. Still, we've sallied forth.

I, myself, have been guilty of another error that's popped up a few times throughout the fifteen or so pages we have to date. Because we're writing so piecemeal without a treatment and with only a fraction of the direct knowledge for why certain things have been introduced, it is too easy to loose sight of minor elements. For example, in the page directly before my third installment, characters disarmed. I inadvertently overlooked/neglected that as I continued the scene into my page, which resulted in a shootout. Guns (that shouldn't have been there) were a-blazing. Opps, my bad. Hopefully, minor inconsistencies like this one will be removed in the collective editing process, which is still TBD.

One of the major take-aways for the project, though, I think will be the ability to write a filler page. No page should ever be boring, but as we all know, there are certain beats within a screenplay that serve as a cooling off period after a major reveal, action beat, or dramatic moment. These in-between scenes further the plot, but they might not be the heart-pounding scenes that surround them. When writing a script as an individual, these scenes are no cause for worry, because one has just had the enjoyment of writing a major beat. However, when writing only a fraction of a script, it becomes easy to fall into the trap of wanting to force a scene to be more than it should, so as to get the full effect of one's turn at the helm. The six of us will each inevitably write a few of these softer, quieter pages. Hell, my second page was muted, compared to the ones that came directly before it. For the sake of the script, though, I know I have to suck it up and write an in-between scene. 

By and large, the group has handled these in-between scenes deftly. In fact, I think the beats and pages in question have become more intriguing in the group project than they might be in a script written by a single writer, because the person responsible still wants to imbue some flare where possible. When I write an in-between scene in my script, I might do so quickly and with less enthusiasm than with other scenes, so that I can advance to the next big beat. When I write the in-between scene in the group project, though, I accept my task, but I take extra effort to make that scene more engaging than it might otherwise be. This drive to instill even the less riveting pages with a sense of excitement has paid off in the league project so far, and I hope it is something I am able to bring to my own writing going forward. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Spring Breakers - A Party Worth Skipping

Driven by desperation at not having the financial means to get themselves to spring break, three girls (Vanessa Hudgeons, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine) rob a cafe. Their idoneously named religious friend, Faith (Selena Gomez), rounds out the quartet post-larceny, and the girls board a bus for some beach-based bacchanalia. A hotel bust (completely unrelated to the inciting burglary) lands them in jail and, subsequently, in the company of amateur rapper and all-around bad news dude, Alien (James Franco). 

From the get-go, Spring Breakers seems unsure whether it wants to glorify spring break rowdiness, or condemn it. The only foil for the trio of ne'er-do-wells is Faith with her overt religiousness. As her compatriots are drawing pictures of dongs and robbing people at gunpoint (in that order, with about that much time between them), she is singing hymns with other Christian coeds. The contrast couldn't be more on-the-nose, and in fact, is representative of a larger weakness of the film. Subtext, one of the defining traits of engaging cinema, seems as much a priority to writer/director, Harmony Korine (Rachel's real life husband), as modesty does to the spring breakers.


The two-dimensional characters are frustratingly ambivalent about their malevolent deeds. Perhaps if we had a better sense of who the trio of robbers are as individuals - as opposed to sex and booze hungry coeds with little more depth than that - we could better buy their rash decision to hold up a restaurant for bus fare. As it stands, we don't get to know them and, as such, don't have enough of a foundation to be able to decide whether we're supposed to feel for them and the mess they get themselves into, or if we're supposed to look down on them with disdain. 

If Korine's reluctance to offer some sense of viewer relationship to his quartet of coeds was its only shortcoming, Spring Breakers might be a fun ride. However, a nagging voiceover, inconsistent tone, and repetitive editing all conspire to weigh the film down further. Frequent repetition of dialogue, shots, and scenes from different angles makes one wonder by the 20 minute mark how much actual story there is to the movie. Ninety minutes later, the answer is, very little. When not much is happening anyway, the decision to show scenes time and again works against the finished product. 

More grating, though, are Faith's frequent voiceovers. Perhaps Korine's attempt at infusing the film with depth and his characters with dimensionality, he has Faith question aloud their actions, overlays phone calls between her and her grandmother with the immoral behavior of the other three girls, and try to reconcile her religious beliefs with the crimes she and her friends are rapidly becoming involved in. The existential voice overs are at odds with the near incessant shots of bare-chested coeds, beer bongs, and coke lines. They belong in a deeper film, one that knows whether it wants to condemn or tout such behavior.  In a film where not until 50 minutes in do the girls even have more in their wardrobe than bikinis, it is hard to take any of the characters or their dilemmas seriously. Korine seems to believe (as one would hope he would) that such actions are shameful, but his unwillingness to take a firm stance fails to mesh with Faith's verbal musings. The greater failure, though, is the inability to make the viewer care about any of it. 

Sure, I like a scantily clad woman just as the next guy, but the film blurs the line between trash, porn, and an actual story for 90 minutes straight, and nearly the entire first hour is proof of where the director's priorities lie. If you want to see topless college girls and don't care much for plot or depth, then Spring Breakers will be right up your alley. Of course, you could also just go down to Florida in March and experience it for yourself; it would certainly be more fun.

Friday, September 06, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 278 - Never Delete an Old Draft

It has been a crazy couple of weeks. The children's book went out to my friend in publishing last weekend. Then, early this week, I got another round of notes from my writing partner on our sci-fi collaboration, which I had to turn around. He gave me final thoughts on Wednesday night, the grand total of which were six minor edits (literally, folks, we're talking about cutting a sentence or changing a couple words here and there). We jumped on a quick call yesterday morning, and after 43 minutes of work, I had the revised draft out to him. We have sent it to his manager for a read. Pending notes from the manager (who was a development exec before becoming a rep), we'll get our producer's notes and, fingers crossed, be that much closer to looping in our agents and developigng a strategy to bring it out.  

Yes, I know that sounds crazy. I said six edits, right? Correct. And it took 43 minutes? That's an average of over seven minutes an edit, and all I was doing was changing a word here and cutting a line there? Well... basically. At this stage, every word counts, so I had to choose them carefully. Sure, the cuts happen in the blink of an eye. Find the page, highlight the text, and hit delete. Problem solved. 

When it comes to dialogue, though, you want to be more circumspect. For example, we were altering one small bit of dialogue - perhaps about six lines in total - that describes the enterprises and roles of an underworld character. The existing dialogue hinted at a reason why the character (and his wares) is so important, but it was too vague. The character's role in the world played a major factor in something that was to payoff later, so we had to get it just right. I spent the most time of all the edits on that section, writing and then revising it, wording and re-wording until it felt right. I was happy that my collaborator was pleased with the results. 

I also had to go back and re-incorporate something that had been cut from the current draft, but which was present in earlier incarnations of it. The ability to go back to old drafts and look at what you had, potentially to lift it and re-insert it, is invaluable. It is because of this that I make it a practice of not simply saving over an old draft when editing. I always create a copy of the file and save it as the current version (usually by date). Even if I'm just making relatively small edits in revision mode, I want to preserve the earlier work. Sure, at some point, after the script it made, I can purge the files if I need the space. Until then, though, there's no reason to overwrite an existing file. Script files don't take up that much room on your hard drive, and they can prove valuable (as evidenced in the example above). I suggest that you try to retain all previous versisons, too - you never know when they might come in handy.  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 277 - A Shorter, Streamlined Script

Last night, I submitted a revised draft of my sci-fi spec to my writing partner. The past couple months have born witness to an incredible transformation in that script. By roughly mid-April, we had a really solid idea of the story we wanted to tell. From about mid-May through mid-July, my collaborator and I were going back and forth on the script with each other, as well as with our producer. A lot of notes passed from one mind to the other via email and phone calls, all with the goal of distilling the story down to its most streamlined, concise, and riveting version possible.

Just shy of a month ago, I sent my partner a 108 page draft, which was the culmination of edits driven by the aforementioned notes and discussions. He got back to me about a week later with another round of notes. He asked me to do a major dialogue and action pass through as I edited, looking for anywhere I could cut. I did him one better - I made my edits, and then I did the dialogue and action pass. After that, I did another dialogue only pass, reading for cohesiveness, redundancies, and consistency. I sent him back a 98 page draft.

Not long later, about a week and a half ago, my collaborator came back with more notes. For the most part, his suggestions this last time were cosmetic. He pointed out a few areas that could be further truncated, multiple scenes that could be collapsed into one, and lines of dialogue that could be shortened or cut entirely. Still, he had some larger thoughts. 

One character we meet right around the midpoint wasn't quite working, because he required a lot of back story that a) we didn't have the means to easily convey and b) really affected a lot of the other characters and necessitated a lot more to be directly stated about them and their histories. More so, his presence created a double beat with a pair of characters we meet later in the script (more about them anon). We came up with a smart and easily workable solution - the character remains necessary, but his story was malleable. So, we completely rewrote who he was in the world. He lost his affiliation and history with the others, which solved the back story hurdles, and because he became so different, we didn't have to worry about the double beat any more. In changing him, we crafted a much more interesting character unbound by lengthy exposition. 

As for the duo, we had to spice them up a bit and give them a reason for their current situation in life. With the double beat worry off the table, I was free to take a closer look at what role they had to serve in the story, and the solution I came up with also made them much more compelling and lamentable. 

My writing partner's astute observations for where to collapse scenes all proved right on. I did more edits, consolidating and merging and further streamlining dialogue, for an end result of an additional four pages chopped off, bringing the script to a lean and mean 94. The cuts and reworkings of the characters have worked together to make this the strongest draft of the script yet. Hopefully, my partner agrees that it is strong enough to show our agents next.         

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Breaking Bad, Or Why I'm Underwhelmed

Let me just start by saying that I love Breaking Bad. I think it is possibly the best T.V. show I have seen, and that's no exaggeration. The transformation of the characters, the A+ caliber of the writing, and the show's uncanny ability to craft edge-of-your-seat cliffhangers on a weekly basis blow my mind. I am perpetually awed and floored by the show. 

Except, I haven't been for the past two episodes, and I will tell you why. 

SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT

As pretty much anyone with either a television set or an internet connection knows, we're in the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad. (Technically, this is Season Five part 2, but let's get real - eight episodes more than constitutes a season these days, and since it was over a year since the "first half" ended, we might as well just call this Season Six. But I digress...) Because the end is so unfortunately near, I have become overly critical of the show, perhaps a bit to the detriment of my enjoyment of the past two episodes.

My biggest gripe has to do with the frequent rehashing of previous scenes and seasons. Take a look at the three examples below to get a sense of what I mean. I know that all of these conversations had to happen in some form or other, but to me, many of them played as almost wasteful uses of what precious screen time the show as left.

1) Marie confronts Skyler, asking her when she first knew about Walt's criminal activities. This scene was four and a half years in the making (as, to a similar degree, was Hank's sit down with Skyler). As the sisters sit on the bed, Skyler chokes back tears, and Marie slowly begins to realize the length of her sister's complicity in Heisenberg's crimes. Marie says, to paraphrase, "Hank thinks you knew when you jumped in the pool, but it was sooner than that. Was it before Gus Fring? Was it when you bought the car wash? Skyler, did you know before Hank was shot?"

What follows is an incredibly powerful moment that irreparably tears the sisters apart and cements Marie's desire to see Walt taken down. After all, he was directly responsible for Hank's nearly fatal shooting. But did we need Marie to recap over two seasons of events for us? It felt a little bit like the "remember what happened last issue" dialogue that opens every monthly comic book.

2) Todd recaps the train robbery for his uncle. The train robbery was awesome. Todd would totally gloat about it. Would he do so this long after the events of it, though? His uncle surely knows the story by now (in which case, repeating it for us and taking up a few minutes of dialogue is gratuitous). Further, relaying the story in such a public place as a diner is just plain dumb. I expect, for that reason, that this will have greater implications. But still, Todd (aka Meth Damon - thank you, internet) robbed us of golden Breaking Bad screen time. Those of us who saw the train robbery episode distinctly remember it, so unless the uncle or his friend are going to turn state's witness, all that jibber-jabber could have been replaced with new, unfamiliar jibber-jabber.

3) Walt "confesses" to his crimes for Hank. Ok, I'll admit this one is me being a dick. Walt provides Hank with a DVD that provides a confession about his meth cooking, though certainly not the one Hanks wants to go public. Walt frames Hank, saying that his brother-in-law forced him to cook, pinning Heisenberg's activities on Hank. It's devious and evil and perfect reminder of just how smart and dangerous Walter White is. It is also a refresher course on the past few seasons of Walt's most nefarious activities. Granted, Walt's video deftly threatens Hank into silence, but for those of us who have seen every episode, it works in tandem with Marie's previous episode dialogue and Todd's recantations to reiterate stuff we've already seen.

The confession serves a purpose, for sure, but when we only have 220 minutes of Breaking Bad left (five episodes, minus commercials), do we really want to hear the characters talk about what's come already? Personally, I want them to focus more on where they're going.

Beyond the repetitious dialogue, I was starting to grow tired of the characters' paralysis. In the brilliant garage scene of the first episode this half season, Hank confronted Walt, laying out in no uncertain terms that he is onto him. Since then, though, he's been unable to act, unsure what the best course of action would be - and for good reason. Ratting on Walt will mean the end of the family life, the end of Hank's career, the end of so many things. This has left Hank frozen, not unlike how Jesse has been frozen. Jesse's stagnation stems not from being overwhelmed by an earth-shattering revelation, but by depression and guilt over his past crimes. Blank stares gave way only to tears, before leaving his face blank again. Jesse, I feel for you, man, but you are stuck. And with Hank stuck, too, I couldn't shake the feeling that Breaking Bad itself was spinning its wheels a bit, unsure quite how to get to the explosive climax we all know is coming.  It seems that Jesse finally broke, so at least his paralysis is over.  

I know I'm being nitpicky here, but I'm doing so out of love. I love the show and I am dying to know what's next. As much as I can't wait to see how everything wraps up, I dread the notion that we only have five more episodes before it is done forever. I just wish that Vince Gilligan and his team would use the time a little differently in the home stretch. I know what's come before. Why else would I be so hooked?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Article Alert - Are Sequels Statistically Worse?

Nerd Wallet recently released an interesting (and controversial) article that attempts to prove what many of us believe subjectively: movie sequels are almost always worse than their original.

The article makes use of Rotten Tomatoes data to show the drop in both critical and audience response to the subsequent offerings in a film franchise. A staggering number of sample franchises are used in the study - from Batman (not clear whether this is the Keaton or the Bale dark knight), Conan, Men in Black, and basically every slasher film ever made, since they're all part of a series. Take, for example, the Pirates of the Caribbean series. According to the data, the first four films earned, respectively, a 79%, 54%, 44%, and a 33% on the Tomato Meter. (Editor's note: I've seen the first two, and I heartily agree that two was far inferior. I actively avoided three and four.)

However, the study goes further, trying to also prove a direct correlation between the ratings, longevity of a franchise, and its earning potential. In the above Pirates of the Caribbean example, the first film earned $413,295,000 (domestic); the second spiked to $527,367,500, and the final two brought in, respectively, under $370M and under $250M. (Editor's note: boo hoo.) My guess is that a box office spike for the second film in a franchise is not an infrequent occurrence at all - it might even be common (cough Dark Knight cough).


But can we really draw this kind of connection? Sure, some franchises wear themselves out. They become more about money than product (I know, I know... they all are). Dark Knight Rises wasn't as good as Dark Knight, and it didn't earn as much, but there were special circumstances surrounding the second film in that series. The most recent Indiana Jones was, well, if you saw it, I don't need to say anything more. In neither of those instances, but in many franchise examples, the original talent, writer(s), and director leave the series, and new elements come on with a different approach. The X-Men trilogy is a perfect example. 

Still, can we say for sure that they will make less money (mind you, we're not really talking about losing money here)? They just announced that Avatar will will be a tetralogy. The Fast and Furious franchise is zooming ahead, with the sixth offering being the most successful at the box office of the bunch. 

What do you think? Is there truth in the numbers? Should I stop writing Leaving Las Vegas 2?    

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 276 - That WHAM Moment

Ah, rewrites. How you are necessary. How you are exhausting.

It's been a long haul on my sci-fi spec (over 18 months now). For the most part, it has been a wonderful process. My writing partner is great and offers a superb learning opportunity (he has decades of industry experience and work). We (I) have churned out draft after draft, first of the treatment (at least seven major versions), and then the script (I've lost track - maybe five primary drafts with smaller edits in between). Now, we're just about there. 

My collaborator and I spent about 90 minutes on the phone last night going over his final set of notes on the most recent draft I sent him. For the most part, the notes were miniscule - this is a little confusing here, and I'm not quite sure we need this there. A couple larger notes will be fun to address. We're revising one of the characters from a scientist into more of an underworld entity, because the role he fills as a scientist is a duplicated later in more important scientist characters. He became a redundancy as we spoke, and all redundancies must go. We've also figured out how to further simplify the science, which will be fun if for no other reason that it will eliminate some of the headache of explaining the rulse of the world. 

One note, though, demanded a fair amount of chit chat before we decided we had to bite the bullet and forgo what I like to call the WHAM moment. Every script should have lots of "WHAM moments" - scenes, beats, or revelations that glue you to the edge of your seat. No amount of urgency to refill your popcorn or soda or to take a leak should be able to draw you away from a WHAM moment. These will typically occur around the tentpole scenes (inciting incident, act turns, midpoint, climax, etc.) but can be scattered throughout. Our inciting incident draws the protagonist from the everyday into the sci-fi world he was unaware of. He lands somewhere completely foreign to him, somewhere dangerous and devastating; this should be a WHAM moment. It's a big moment, but due to the rules of the world, we can't thrust him into the heart of the chaos. His emergence into this other realm, while jarring, takes place in a controlled environment, which is heated emotional, but not physical, implications. 

My partner and I went over this scene again and again. How can we get him into the chaos? What can go wrong that forces him there? Can we manipulate in a way that the moment he crosses the plane, he's in danger in a big way? That's what the scene should be. That's how we'll capture the audience and the reader in a big way. That's the WHAM moment. 

Ultimately, the rules of the world won't let it be so. Too many things would have to be fudged; too much would have to be explained (or worse, glossed over later). It just wouldn't work. Yes, we lose our WHAM moment, which is a shame, but we do so in order to preserve the rules we have established. Ultimately, though perhaps a less riveting exposure to this other realm, the rules have to trump the WHAM. We can't unravel the story for the sake of the scene. Who knows, maybe we'll figure out a solution. But for now, we have to suck it up on this one and proceed true to the story. 

On a side note, I've been working on editing my children's book further. For a project that has never been longer than 1,670 words, it is an incredibly difficult process. In fact, it is an incredibly difficult process because the project has never been longer than 1,670 words (and needs to be closer to 1,000). 

A friend who works in publishing suggested that I cut the nearly 1,700 word manuscript down to a thousand or so, since the age group of my targeted readership is low. It's a wise note, but cutting is easier said than done. I have excised some portions and looked for redundancies or areas to combine verses in order to truncate others, but the fewer words I have, the harder it becomes to strip further. I'm down to just under 1,350 words now, which is still probably too long, but I feel like I can't cut much more without eliminating entire parts of the story. What I can do, though (another suggestion from my friend) is to look at the verb choices and words I use. If I can't reduce the word count, I can at least make the existing words more active, imaginative, and magical. The goal is to make every single verse sing, which is a laborious, yet fun process. My goal is to be able to send it to my friend by Labor Day, so that she can put me in touch with agents soon after.   

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6 ) part 275 - Need to Plan Next Projects

Half of your success as a writer will be determined by the strength of the screenplay you are trying to sell. The other half is determined by your ability to pitch and sell your next projects.

No agent/producer/lawyer/manager/studio wants a one-off writer. All those entities, whether they outright say it or not, are in the franchise business, and you, my friend, as a writer are a franchise. To be the most valuable commodity you can be, to get all of those people and buyers and businesses behind you, you need to give them a long-term reason. That reason, naturally, is a series of ideas you can continue to produce for them.

When I took my meeting at UTA (can it really almost have been three years ago already?), my manager worked with me to prepare three pitches for additional specs before I even got in the room with the agent. Sure, I had a strong script that we all thought would be a relatively easy sell (it wasn't - so sad), but that wasn't enough. No matter how great that one project was, my agent's time was more valuable than a single sale. I needed to show him that I'd be around working and earning for years to come. But, let's step back a moment - before UTA was even on the horizon for me, I was settling into a partnership with a pair of producers and a new (to me) manager. One of the very first things my manager asked for was another script of mine. He, too, was testing the waters of my writing; he was relieved when I said that the somewhat inferior script I gave him as a followup (the only other viable one I had on hand at the time) was an earlier script. It wasn't as strong, but I was younger when I wrote it. Similarly, if you recall, when I met with a publishing friend about my children's book, one of the first things she advised me to do was come up with other book ideas I could mention in meetings with potential agents. 

Clearly, having additional ideas is valuable - and it is best to keep them in the same genre as the project that you're gaining attention with, since that is where your strengths are most immediately visible to people who have only minimal, but favorable, exposure to your writing. Sometimes, though, it can be hard to focus on what's next when you're in the middle of a large project, or even when you're coming down onto the tail end of it. I recently got the (hopefully) last draft of the sci-fi collaboration to my partner. He liked it, and aside from a few notes we'll discuss in the coming days, didn't see the need for many more edits. If that's in fact the case, then we'll give it to our producer and representatives next. Barring glaring errors or holes that they might discover, we'll be fast approaching the "try to sell it" stage, which means looping my agent in. Yes, that same guy at UTA and, no, he's not aware I'm working on this yet. There's no reason for him to be until there's a product, since I haven't really been on his radar since the post-Apocalyptic spec failed to sell. But, the moment I call or email him to present him with a spec I wrote for a know director, all that will change. At least, it should. And I will be shooting myself in the foot if I don't have a laundry list of the next specs I want to write ready to give him. So it is time to put on my thinking cap, dust off the old ideas, and determine what projects I want to work on next. 

Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Writing Week (vol. 6) part 274 - Busy, Productive Week

Sunday morning, 10am - I meet with a friend in the publishing industry to ask her about what my next steps and considerations should be for my children's book. She tells me that she's moving upstate in two hours. "What? Do you even have time to do this today?" She says she does, so while we wait in line for our bagels and coffee, I tell her I've decided to pursue getting it out there sooner rather than later, that I'm jazzed about it now and want to see if I can make anything happen with it. I give her the pitch and find myself sounding 100% like the token writer I've always tried to avoid being, "I'm really excited about the book. I believe in it and think that it can be great. No, I haven't thought much about the marketing yet, but I kind of thought that the idea itself would be the big grab."

Oy.

I dial it back a bit. My friend - who, by the way, came to our breakfast meeting with the names of agents she thinks might be a good fit - tells me I should come up with some followup book ideas. Of course! How dumb of me not to have considered this. When in school, the head of our department told my friends and I not to begin pitching to agents and managers until we had at least three projects we could talk about. No rep wants a one-time only client. They want someone who can become a franchise and a more guaranteed sell. D'uh. Silly me. Good to think on.

We part. She - to go move. I immediately head into my apartment and email her the book. That night, she reads it. The following day (her birthday), she texts me that she's read it, that she loves it and thinks it's fantastic. Notes forthcoming. 

Groovy.

So I set that pot on the backburner for the time being. Meanwhile, I need to get the current, and hopefully final (before sending to our representatives) draft of the sci-fi spec to my writing partner, W.A. He cautioned me earlier this week to take my time, to make sure that I've done a solid dialogue and action pass before giving it to him. We want to be able to send this incarnation to our producer and representatives soon, to essentially make this version the one we go out with. Sure, we're open to edits still, but we've identified everything we want the movie to be, and our hope is that we'll have nailed all of that in this draft. 

I spend a few weeks doing edits. Along the way, I trim dialogue and descriptions, but the main legwork is done on scenes and sequences, excising the fat, cutting what's no longer relevant, adding in scenes to fill in the gaps, and trimming back gratuitous elements. The script drops five pages. 

Before I send it to W.A., I pull up a PDF of the script on my iPad Mini, open Adobe Reader (a great, free app for editing PDFs), and spend two nights doing a thorough dialogue and action pass. I trim. Boy, how I trim. If there's a block of text that ends with one lone word on its own line, I reword the paragraph to cut that hanging line. Redundant dialogue goes. Description gets pared down, consolidated, clarified, and, when possible, nixed. The script drops four more pages.

Finally, I do a second dialogue-only pass. I use this to find further redundancies and to track the science in the script - how do the characters refer to everything, and where are the anomalies? I find a few instances that need edits. All that remains, now, is one tiny, though important, beat wherein the protagonist has to realize something. I know what he finds out; I just have to plant something that helps him discover it. The options to do this are manifold, yet I haven't settled on the right one. Once I do, the script goes out to W.A. for his approval. Perhaps, just perhaps, we'll get new eyes on it then.  

Monday, August 05, 2013

Should we Beware the New Batman?

Holy CGI Batman! Cartoon Network debuted Beware the Batman last month, an all new, half hour animated show featuring Gotham City's Dark Knight. There have been a slew of Batman shows in the past two decades, the Holy Grail of them still being Batman: The Animated Series (TAS), which debuted in 1992. So how does this latest offering stack up?

Beware the Batman is unique among the Batman television show family in that it's computer animated. The producers went with a novel approach to the show's aesthetic, and, though different, it's not always successful. While some of the character designs are intriguing (and not the similarities in the character design below, despite the different mediums), the show is plagued by vacuous landscapes. All of Gotham seems wide, sprawling, and empty. Whereas in Batman: TAS the streets were cluttered with pedestrians, motorists, and litter, Beware is perpetually devoid of background players (as if worried about the cost of retaining extras for an animated show). Every set piece is barren - little to no art on the walls, expansive, monochromatic rooms and buildings, unbroken, window-less facades on most of Gotham's edifices. Everything just feels empty, which gives the show a ghostly, skeletal feel. Where are all the Gothamites Batman fights to save? So far, we've only seen criminals and allies, very few of anyone else. 


The trimmed down set design is reflected in the costume design, as well. In the most recent episode, a character was woken up in the middle of the night; though he'd been tucked soundly in his bed, he was still wearing his slacks and blazer from when he was first introduced. Sure, most cartoons adopt unchanging looks for each character, but not at the expense of aesthetic variation.  

The animators of Batman: TAS employed an unusual tactic in order to achieve the look of their iconic show - rather than animate it on white paper, they used black paper as the foundation of each illustration, giving the show a dark, menacing, perpetually shadowy feel. It was beautiful. Beware the Batman, while unique, seems to have been deliberately pared back, a decision I'm not sure works in the series' favor.

Out of a desire to achieve a new look, feel, and sound, and to feature a younger, slightly less veteran Batman, the show's producers decided not to cast the formidable Kevin Conroy as Batman. Conroy has been the definitive voice of Batman since 1992, beginning with Batman: The Animated Series and through The New Batman Adventures, Batman Beyond, and the animated Justice League series of the early 2000s. He reprised his role as the Caped Crusader in the Arkham video game series. Antony Ruivivar plays Bruce Wayne/Batman this go around; his big break came in 1999, when he appeared as a series regular as a paramedic in NBC's Third Watch. Since then, Ruivivar has played mostly cops and the like. He's a fine actor, but he's not the authoritative Conroy, and his Batman is a shade below menacing, whereas Conroy's was three shades above.

Tonally, Beware is a bit all over the map. Some moments are played clearly for the younger demographic - slapstick moments and youthful humor. The humor, then, is followed up with a moment of darkness or violence that can't help but seem incongruent. Batman: TAS trusted its viewers to handle darker subject matter with a maturity that modern cartoons seem to feel inappropriate for children. Young viewers will absorb what's at their level, and might or might not question what's not. But they don't need to be catered to - part of their development is contingent upon being exposed to heavier material, and it's a shame that fewer modern cartoons embrace that mentality.

All of the above, however, is not to say that Beware the Batman is intrinsically flawed. One of the greatest aspects of the show, especially for true fans, is that the producers decided to scrap the regular cast of rogues and showcase ones that are rarely if ever taken out of the comics. Professor Pyg, a recent villain, was the antagonist in the premier. He's been followed by Magpie, Anarky (rumored to be the primary villain), and Lady Shiva's League of Assassins. Comics fans will recognize these (and other) antagonists as interesting rogues seldomly offered screen treatment. New takes on uncommon villains are exactly what a Batman show needs to hold its own these days. Perhaps we owe our thanks to Christopher Nolan, whose Batman trilogy brought us The Scarecrow, Ra's and Talia Al Ghul, Carmine Falcone, and other Gotham rogues to the big screen for the first time. Beware's decision to introduce a cadre of villains beyond The Joker, Two-Face, Penguin, and Catwoman is commendable and will keep me coming back each Saturday.

Beware the Batman is fun for fans and a worthy 22-minute foray into Gotham each week, but it's still no Batman: The Animated Series. Of course, maybe I'm just a fanboy who grew up watching what's been hailed as undoubtedly one of the best cartoons ever, Batman or other.

Friday, August 02, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 273 - Back in the Groove

This past week has been good - really good. My creative juices have started flowing again, and the deluge has been fast and fruitful. And I think I have to attribute at least part of that to having multiple project to work on. (The other factor in the equation is a burning drive to move forward on a couple projects quickly and bring them to completion.)

For starters, I've really gotten back into the sci-fi spec. I'd taken some time off to travel, await notes from my producer, and regroup. I'm off an running now, and it feels awesome. I started with linear edits, working my way forward from page one, tackling major revisions first and saving smaller, less readily apparent edits and cuts for a second pass, which I'll do in a few days (I hope). My writing partner, W.A., and I identified five or six primary elements that we wanted to address. There are plenty of smaller issues throughout the script that still need tightening or editing, but the bulk of the work was going to be those half dozen points. To date, I've tackled all but two. I'm really pleased with the progress so far, but it won't be until I do the read-through that I'll really have a good sense of how it's all coming together. (I've abandoned the chronological editing approach and am now doing it piecemeal, which is fine, but can be disorienting and lead to omissions or redundancies.) W.A. and I would like this to be the final draft before we show the script to our reps, and I hope to be able ot get it to him within the next ten days or so.

In addition to the screenplay, if you recall, I had been working on a short children's book, which I completed a draft of a couple weeks ago. A few tweaks later, I think it's ready to see the light. I've sent it to the League for our August meeting, as well as to a few other friends. More than that, though, I've reached out to contacts I have in the publishing industry and have asked to take a few of them out for coffee (independently) to pick their brains a bit. Normally, I would advocate that writers, especially screenwriters, get a few rounds of feedback and push through a couple drafts of a script, at least, before contacting people who have the potential to help get the product sold. But, I'm bucking my own advice here; I believe in the product and, though perhaps a poor excuse, given the brevity of the work, feel that I am in a strong enough place with it to at least initiate the conversations I want to have to help bring it into being. The League's feedback will be much appreciated - hopefully they don't turn around and reveal fatal flaws to me or tell me it flat out sucks - but so far, response has been pretty glowing. If I have friends who can point me in the right direction, I want to learn as much as possible about what considerations I ought to take into account to move ahead with the project.

Lastly, a few weeks back, Onyx proposed a writing project to the League. His idea was simple: we each take turns writing one page (and one page only) of a screenplay. No outlining, no group discussion on the type of story we're telling; just writing. He wrote the first page. I took a long time, but finally delivered the second. Now, it's off to the rest of the group for their contributions. Theoretically, we'll each get about 18 turns before the six of us produce a feature-length script. I'm just as curious as anyone to see where this script goes.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Writers Group Alert

New York playwrights, this one's for you! I just saw a posting on Playbill.com for writers to join a weekly writing group. If you have a play you've been working on, or the idea for a play, this could be a great opportunity to get some solid, useful feedback on it. Being in The League has been tremendous for my writing, so I know first-hand the benefits of being in a writers group. 

Just keep in mind a few things if you join/form a writers group:

1) The point of these groups is to share your work and get feedback on it; don't be shy. Produce pages, show them to the group, but...

2) Be open to receiving honest feedback. This means that you might not get 100% praise all the time. Writers group members should be open not only to getting constructive criticism, but also to giving it. Don't shut down or become overly defensive if people start to tell you that your story isn't working or hitting yet. You're there to make your piece as strong as it can be, and sometimes outside readers can more readily tell if something isn't adding up than the author can.

 3) At the same time, keep in mind that you're not competing with the other members, and your jobs isn't to tear their work apart - it's to help them. If someone wrote something that is mind blowingly good, praise them. Good for them. You might be pissed your work isn't at that level yet, but wit your group members' help, it will get there. 

4) Lastly, even if you didn't respond well at all to a play/script, it always helps to try to find something positive to incorporate into your feedback, even if for no other reason than to maintain good relations among the members of the group. The group meetings should be as open and honest as possible, and bad blood makes that difficult to achieve.

Good luck to any who sign up for the group! May it help you produce many beautiful plays. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Writing Week (vol. 6) part 272 - Children's Book Draft Done

Yikes - I've fallen... a bit behind schedule here. I could tell you that, though I haven't posted an update in a while, I've been writing regularly. But that, my friends, would be a fabulation, and because I love you, I don't want to lose your trust, dear readers. 

The truth is, I was in Iceland. Yes, the land of Vikings and Blue Lagoons and fermented rotten shark. It was beautiful, but unproductive as far as my writing is concerned. Now, lest I sound like a total shirker, my writing partner and I were awaiting notes from our producer, which were supposed to come in while I was on vacation. (We got them a few days after I got back, so no worries there.) 

About a week after I touched back down at JFK, W.A. (my collaborator) and I were on the phone going over the notes, picking and choosing the ones we wanted to address. We had a great two-hour discussion in which we recrafted a lot of the weakest parts of the script. W.A.'s really excited to get it out there and see if we can sell it (I'd be lying if I said I wasn't, but after years of near-hits and aggravating misses, I have learned to temper my excitement quite a bit). The work is on me to get it to a place where we can go out by summer's end. Despite the fact that the edits are not unsubstantial, I think it's quite doable.

In the meantime, I decided to pour myself into my inaugural children's book. I attempted some free form writing, but realized that I was rambling and ambling without direction. So, I sat down for a night and outlined the book. It's short - barely two thousand words - and the story is far from the most involved that I have ever worked on. Still, there are about eight main beats to it, and I wanted to get them all down in order and fleshed out. Afterward, the writing came smoothly, and I got it done in about four sessions. I was home in Arlington, VA with my family for the weekend and gave them a preview reading. Reviews were favorable (old saying about not relying on your mom to be your critic aside). I found a few lines I need to edit, but I'm content enough with the draft to set the project aside temporarily, as far as editing goes, and to get back to the sci-fi spec for W.A.

While I work on the sci-fi collaboration, I'd like to see what if any traction I can get with the children's book. I know nothing about the children's book publishing world, but I have a few connections to people that do. I'll ask them and see what they say. More so, I think I probably need to find an illustrator before I show it to the industry. Though this will be a back-burner project for a bit, it will be fun to have something to occupy my mind in addition to the sci-fi spec. And it's a whole new type of writing project for me; that, in and of itself, has been gratifying - and a welcome return to storytelling after my month-plus hiatus.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

2013 Emmy Nominations Announced

The Emmy Nominations have been announced today. It's no surprise that some shows, like the incomparable "Breaking Bad" are on there. Nor is it startling to see so many accolades for the departing "30 Rock." Similarly expected are the praises bestowed upon mini-series American Horror Story - though this season paled compared to the first, in my opinion - or Top of the Lake. (Note that, while in its second season, AMH is dubbed a mini-series, because the character, plot, and scenarios are different each season, hence the full title: American Horror Story: Asylum. Yes, it is a lot of the same cast and crew, but technically, it has nothing to do with the first season and is a whole new set of characters and situations, so it is a mini-series. Like Band of Brothers and The Pacific.)

Check out all the nominations above, and, for our purposes, the writing ones below. What do you think - any snubs?

Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series
“Dead Freight” by George Mastras, Breaking Bad
“Say My Name” by Thomas Schnauz, Breaking Bad
“Episode 4″ by Julian Fellowes, Downton Abbey
“The Rains of Castamere” by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, Game of Thrones
“Q&A” by Henry Bromell, Homeland

Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series
“Episode 209″ by Jeffrey Klarik, Episodes
“Daddy’s Girlfriend (Part 1)” by Louis C.K. and Pamela Adlon, Louie
“Finale” by Greg Daniels, The Office
“Hogcock!” by Jack Burditt and Robert Carlock, 30 Rock
“Last Lunch” by Tina Fey and Tracey Wigfield, 30 Rock

Outstanding Writing For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Dramatic Special
Richard LaGravenese, Behind The Candelabra
Abi Morgan, The Hour
Tom Stoppard, Parade's End
David Mamet, Phil Spector
Jane Campion and Gerard Lee, Top Of The Lake

Outstanding Writing For A Variety Series
The Colbert Report
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
Jimmy Kimmel Live
Portlandia
Real Time With Bill Maher
Saturday Night Live

Outstanding Writing For A Variety Special
The 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards
Louis C.K.: Oh My God
Night Of Too Many Stars: America Comes Together For Autism Programs
Saturday Night Live: Weekend Update Thursday (Part One)
66th Annual Tony Awards

Outstanding Writing For Nonfiction Programming
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown
The Dust Bowl
Ethel
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House Of God
The Men Who Built America • A New War Begins