Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Film Courage Plus: How To Be Productive

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 2015... and that's 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?



HOW TO BE PRODUCTIVE
Writers write.

Sounds simple, right?

The problem is that it’s not about writing that one great screenplay that changes everything, it’s about writing for a living. Writing screenplay after screenplay after screenplay. Being a professional writer means writing every day (like any other job), writing on a deadline, writing screenplay after screenplay after screenplay. If you are looking for a Manager or Agent, they represent *writers* not screenplays. Once they send your screenplay out into the world and nobody buys it, it is a “busted spec” - a dead script. And that means you need to have another script to send out into the world, then another, then another, then another... until you sell a screenplay or land an assignment. Heck, to get that Agent or Manager you need to keep sending out query after query (each for a new screenplay) to Managers and Agents on your target list until they read one that makes them sign you. This probably sounds like a lot of work... and it is.

So, how do you do that? How do you keep writing screenplays until you land an Agent or Manager and then keep writing screenplays for them until you land a paying gig, and then keep landing paying gigs for the rest of your life?

That’s a very good question.

Complicated by, you know, life. You have a mortgage or rent to pay. You have a family. You have a job that eats up a minimum of 40 hours or your week (add in commute time and those extra hours you worked and all of the other parts of real life). How do you find any time at all to write all of those screenplays, and how do you find the will to stick with it? You barely have time to relax after work, let alone crank out screenplays. Well, here’s a ten point plan to help you get something done...

1) Don't depend on inspiration - it's a trap! At the end of the day, it's always going to be you and the blank page. So you have to figure out how to get yourself motivated. It's always going to be from the inside instead of the outside. You can’t depend on anyone else - motivation is *your* job. This is a business where, when they love your work and buy your work, the first thing they do is tell you everything they hate about it and want changed right away... instead of how much they like what you've written. So looking for or depending on external motivations aren't going to help you in the long run - you have to figure out how to keep writing through the crap that life hands out.

2) Set aside a specific time every day to write - can be as little as 15 minutes, but that is the time that anyone who bothers you gets punched in the face as hard as you can. There are plenty of success stories about people who wrote on their lunch hours or wrote on their commute to work (though most of those involve people who take a train or subway - if you drive to work, probably best not to have the laptop open). Find a half hour or an hour every day that is just for writing - and make sure everyone who might bother you understands that it’s your writing time and you *will* punch them in the face as hard as you can if they bother you.

3) If all you do in that 15 minutes (or half hour or hour) is just stare at the blank screen, it's a win...

4) But you'd rather write, right?

5) So be prepared to write! Outline your screenplay. A step outline is easiest - just bullet point scene-by-scene. The great part about an outline is that you can play around with it and solve all your story problems while it's just a page or two of outline... instead of 110 pages of screenplay. Less writing for the garbage can.

I think of screenwriting as “creative steps”, because that’s how things are done professionally. When you land an assignment, they don’t just cut you a check and send you off to write the screenplay, there are “steps”. In fact, it’s called a “Step Deal”. You do one step at a time, and are paid for each step. There are “reading periods” where the producer (or their intern) reads each step and then gives you notes and tells you what they want you to do in the next step. One of those steps is always a *Treatment* - a scene-by-scene version of the screenplay. Since you are going to have to work that way as a professional screenwriter anyway, might as well train yourself now. Work in creative steps. My first creative step is to get the overall story under control. I write an outline, and then rework the outline until the story part of the script works. That gives me a roadmap that gets me from the beginning to the end by the very best possible route. Now to the next creative step which is writing each of those scenes in my bullet point outline - and I know that Mary and John break up... but *how* do they break up? The outline may give me the basics of what happens, but not *how* it happens or any of the hundreds of possible details about how that scene plays out. That’s the fun part of the next creative step - once you have the outline, you still have all kinds of fun things to figure out during the “writing step”.

6) The other great thing about an outline is that it breaks your story down into bite sized pieces which are easier to write. You don't have to write a whole screenplay, just this one scene. A scene is about 2 pages, so you can knock that out in a day or two... but if it takes you a week, you are still making progress. Some scenes are easy, some are more difficult. What matters is that you make a little progress every day.

And that is the key to getting things done. You can become overwhelmed at having to write a 110 page screenplay (or a 100,000 word novel), and that may lead to you “choking” and writing nothing at all. But a scene? A couple of pages? Heck, even if you only write half of that scene - *one* page a day - you can handle that, right? And all of those pages add up. Slow and steady wins the race, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and any other cliches you can come up with - all true.

7) If you end up with only 15 minutes a day, it may make sense to outline the scene itself. This also works if you ever get stuck (and you will). Just start by writing down all of the things the scene needs to do for the story. Then figure out the most interesting ways those things can happen. Then figure out the most interesting order for those things to happen. Now you have a scene that is broken down int bite-sized pieces. If you only have 15 minutes, you can write one of those little pieces, right? Or at least part of one of those pieces. The key is to make progress every day, even if it's just a little progress. In the Film Courage clip I talk about how I wrote 3 screenplays a year while working a full time job by just writing one page a day. Hey, there are days when I was on a roll and wrote more than one page a day, but my goal was to write one page on *bad days* (and you will have plenty of those, every writer does).

8) "Nothing succeeds like success!" That may not make much sense, but if you write half a page, a quarter of a page, a sentence - you are making progress, and that will make you feel good and keep you "self-inspired" to write the next day. Momentum is everything, and if you write a page every day it becomes easier to write that page (or half a page or quarter of a page or sentence) as time goes on. You build up momentum. Today’s writing leads to tomorrow’s writing.

But sooner or later something will happen and you will miss a couple of days and all of that momentum will be lost. It will be hard as heck to get it rolling again - but that is what you have to do. If you fall off the horse, the best thing to do is get back on and ride again, and all of those cliches - which are also true. The next thing on our little list will help you to get back on the horse or dust yourself off or whatever cliche you have selected that best illustrates this...

9) Most important thing: Your Doorway Into The Story. Make sure your screenplay is personal. A piece of you. That way you won't want to abandon it. It would be like abandoning your arm or leg or head. "What right does my head have to call itself me?" I write action and thrillers and horror - and even if it is an assignment, my first step is to find that piece of me in the story. Most of my screenplays are just cheap therapy - and I either begin with the personal emotional conflict I want to work though in fiction form or I search for it and find it within whatever story idea I've come up with (or assignment I have accepted). We look at this in the Ideas Blue Book.

There are times when I've been offered paid writing jobs and turned them down because I couldn't find my story within their story. Better to wait until something comes along that I can find a "doorway" into than write something that I don't give a crap about. Here's one of my script tips about finding that doorway on a script of mine that got filmed *twice*: Writing BLACK THUNDER - Sibling rivalry is something I completely understand. I am not the favorite son. I'm the guy who has to work harder just to get noticed, and that's an issue I'm still working through... so I pitched a story dealing with that subject and ended up getting paid to write the screenplay.

Everything I've written has a "personal core" that keeps me from abandoning it, because it may be about fighter pilots and explosions - but it is still really about me. There will come a time when writing your screenplay that you want to abandon it. You hate it. You want to write something else instead. Don’t give in to this! There are people who have a dozen half written screenplays and not a single one that’s *finished*. You can’t do anything with a half written screenplay (okay, you can train puppies and line birdcages). So you want to get all the way to FADE OUT with your script! The best way to do that is have a personal connection to the story so that it’s difficult to let go of. Find your “doorway” into the story - that thing that makes it *part of you*. That not only makes it more difficult to abandon when the going gets rough, it also makes it a better story.

10) Now just write a little bit every day, and the pages add up. I used to write 1 hour a day before work, but really all I required myself to write was one page a day. That's it. One page. And 1 page times 365 days is 3 rough draft screenplays a year. Look, if you write a third of a page a day in 15 minutes, that a screenplay a year - and that puts you ahead of most people who would rather talk about writing than actually write every day and get progressively better and eventually sell something or land an assignment and have a handful of credits on IMDB that represents about a tenth of what they've been paid to do (only about 10% of stuff you sell or are hired to write ever makes it to the screen). (Which is another reason why you have to keep turning out new screenplays - when one project gets shelved you need a new screenplay to keep your *career momentum* going!)

When you are being productive, it helps keep you productive. Momentum. When you lose momentum, you need to push yourself to start moving again. It's not easy at first, but when you start rolling at 5mph it's much easier to roll to 10mph and keep increasing speed than it is from a cold start. Starting's a bitch!

And this may be what you are facing now - so just push yourself a little at first (even force yourself) and it gets easier. Forced writing can be rewritten, smoothed out, improved. But you can’t rewrite what isn’t written. So write! One Writers Block Breaker is to just write nonsense that doesn't matter to get started. That gets things rolling. Then just keep it rolling. Not easy... but possible. All of this is building good habits of regular writing, which comes in handy when you have a career and deadlines and need to write a certain number of pages a day to turn in your assignment on time.

Good luck, and keep writing!

- Bill



NEXT WEEK: THRILLER Thursday Season 2 - an episode directed by the awesome Ida Lupino!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Thriller Thursday: Knock Three One Two.

Knock Three One Two.

The spider web fills the screen, it's Boris Karloff's THRILLER!



Season: 1, Episode: 13.
Airdate: Dec. 13, 1960


Director: Herman Hoffman
Writer: John Kneubuhl based on the novel by Frederick Brown.
Cast: Joe Maross, Beverly Garland, Charles Aikman, Warren Oates, Meade Martin.
Music: Pete Rugolo.
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline.
Producer: Maxwell Shane.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “A compulsive killer of women stalks a town. This man has seen the killer. He doesn’t know it yet, but as sure as my name is Boris Karloff he will meet the killer again and will recognize him. You or I would turn him in, but this man uses the murderer for a most bizarre purpose. Knock three one two, that’s the name of our story. And our principle players are, Mr. Joe Maross, Miss Beverly Garland, Mr. Charles Aikman, and Mr. Warren Oates. Knock three one two. That friendly knock will cause a lovely woman to open the door with terrifying consequences. Let me warn you ladies, if you hear that knock in the next hour, do not open your door. Just sit there and enjoy the tingling suspense of this thriller.”

Synopsis: This overly convoluted tale begins with gambling addict Ray (Joe Maross) making calls from a corner phone booth, trying to find *someone* to loan him the money to pay back the mob so that they don’t break his legs... with no luck. When he walks back to his car, a preoccupied MAN (Meade Martin) bumps into him, then continues on without an apology. Ray grumbles something, gets into his car and drives away... just as a dead woman is found in the apartment the Man just left! That Man was the Silk Stocking Strangler, the killer everyone in the city is afraid of... so afraid that Ray and his wife Ruth (Beverly Garland) have put extra locks on the door and have a knock code: 3, 1, 2 to make sure she only unbolts the door to her husband and not the crazed killer.



After Ray knocks the code, Ruth lets him in... and he begs her to give him the money to pay off his bets. He’s afraid this time they will really hurt him. She says last time she gave him money from her savings account he just gambled it away. She tells him never again, her $8k savings account went down to $6k, and now she has to work harder to bring it back up to where it was. Ruth is a waitress on the night shift, Ray is a liquor salesman. Ray keeps asking for money, says they might even kill him this time, she says no and goes to work...

On the way she bumps into Benny (Warren Oates) who is mentally challenged and runs the local newsstand, a friend of both Ruth and Ray’s. Benny tells Ruth that he’s done it again... killed another woman. He thinks he is the Silk Stocking Strangler. Ruth asks him where he was at the time of the last murder and Benny says he was working. Ruth tells him he *couldn’t* be the killer... and the last time he confessed to the police they said he couldn’t be the killer. Benny still wants to be punished for these crimes. Ruth tells Benny to forget about this nonsense, and that they both need to get to work.



Ray can’t find anyone to give him the money, accosts Ruth at work... and her nice guy boss George (Charles Aidman) breaks it up and comforts Ruth. Along with the Benny character, the George character is another somewhat pointless complication. George is in love with Ruth and wants her to leave Ray, but Ruth is still in love with Ray.

When Ray leaves the restaurant he’s followed down a dark alley by the mob guys he owes money to: they beat the crap out of him and give him 24 hours to get the cash... or they’ll kill him. By some amazing coincidence, Benny walks down that same dark alley later and sees beat up Ray, takes him to his little apartment where he takes care of his wounds and offers him some soup with pieces of chicken in it. Benny tries to convince Ray that he’s the Silk Stocking Killer, but Ray also does not believe him. Benny tells Ray about the latest killing... and Ray realizes he was *right there* and that the Man who bumped into him had to be the killer. He knows what the killer looks like! Once Ray is okay, he leaves to try and find the money again.

Ray ends up in a bar asking the owner for an advance on his order, gets shot down... and then notices the Man who bumped into him sitting at the bar... the Silk Stocking Killer! Ray sits next to him, strikes up a conversation... and now we’re in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN territory. This is the great part of the story, which is kind of lost in the all of the subplots. Highsmith’s third novel, THE BLUNDERER, is about a man who attempts to make his wife’s death appear as if it is the work of a serial killer... only to have the serial killer confront him. Here we get a similar story, as Ray shows the Silk Stocking Killer a picture of Ruth in a bathing suit to get his interest, then tells him their address and the knock code for the front door... and that his wife will be home alone all night.



When the Silk Stocking Killer leaves (to murder Ruth) Ray asks the bartender to pour him another drink. The bartender mentions they will be closing at midnight tonight instead of 2am... because the place is empty. Oh no, there goes Ray’s alibi! He begs the bartender to stay open later, the bartender gives him a funny look. He’s the only customer in the place!

So Ray calls Benny and tells him if he goes to the police *right now* and turns himself in for the murders, and has the police call him *right away* at this bar pay phone, he will come down and tell the police that Benny is the killer. Benny says “sure” and Ray goes back to the bar waiting for the phone to ring.



Meanwhile, the Silk Stocking Killer watches as George pulls up in front of the apartment and then walks Ruth to the door. They almost kiss. The George gets back in his car and drives away... and the Silk Stocking Killer comes out of hiding to kill Ruth. He knocks the code on the door, she unbolts and unlocks the door and opens in wide... then screams when he attacks her.

Ray gets the call from Benny, goes to the police station where he tells the two detectives that Benny *didn’t* do it (which pisses off Benny) and Benny needs mental help and can the police institutionalize him? Ray drags it out as long as possible to make sure he has an alibi: in the police station with the two detectives investigating the murders. He’ll be free and clear, Ruth will be dead, and he’ll be able to get the money from her savings account right away. The perfect crime!

George decides to turn around and go back to Ruth’s place for no apparent reason, and ends up finding the door open and the Silk Stocking Killer attacking her. George kicks some psycho ass, then calls the police.



When the detectives leave the room to take the call, Benny gets mad at Ray for betraying him... and *murders* Ray. When the detectives find out the name of the woman being attacked by the Silk Stocking Killer when he was captured, they realize it’s the wife of the man they have in their interrogation room, go in and find him dead. The end!



Review: Another episode based on a novel, and I suspect the novel did some fancy footwork to remove all of the coincidences. Compressed into less than fifty minutes, all of these strange coincidences stick out like a sore thumb! Plus, there are some things that the writer should have caught: Benny couldn’t have done the killings because he works every night until 2am... yet Ray calls him *at home* and needs him to be at the police station from 12 to 2am... how is that possible? The super locked apartment door that requires that knock code? George kicks it down in street shoes! There are a bunch of things like this in the episode that just make no sense at all.

There is a nice little conversation about Gambling Addiction, a public service message in the middle of the episode; and I think that’s a good thing. This was a genre show, and they managed to include a real social issue in the story without it seeming forced onto the story... it’s Ray’s motivation for needing the money bad enough to have his wife killed. No matter what your genre, you *can* have a serious issue in there... genre movies don’t need to be stupid.

Beverly Garland was beautiful, and played a blue collar waitress well. Though she had been a B movie star, she spent most of her career on the small screen... then retired to run a hotel a couple of blocks from where I live now. I did my 2 day classes there for a while, in the cinema decorated with posters from all of her movies.



Warren Oates is freakin’ Warren Oates! He did two episodes of THRILLER, and so many TV shows that I’m sure he couldn’t remember the number. Mostly westerns like THE RIFLEMAN ands RAWHIDE and THE VIRGINIAN and HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, but he did every other genre and pops up in THE TWILIGHT ZONE and OUTER LIMITS. Shows like this is where a young actor could earn a living while working on their craft, and Oates is completely convincing as this mentally challenged newsstand employee.

Charles Aidman is another actor you’d instantly recognize as “that guy from every TV show in the 70s”, but here it’s kind of strange casting since the character has an ethnic last name... and this isn’t an ethnic guy. I wonder if that was even a plot element in the story originally, Ruth and George’s romance would be forbidden... but this serial killer brings them together. That’s not in the episode.

The actor who plays the Silk Stocking Killer is some pretty boy in a leather jacket, unlike any serial killer I have ever seen. He’s more of a juvenile delinquent from a fifties film! Truly odd casting.

The other problem is Ray sending the Silk Stocking Killer after Ruth in the first place... how can he know that the psycho will go there and kill her? What if she isn’t his type? Again, coincidences kill this episode. It does have some suspense, but the story is not well plotted. Not one of the good episodes, but not the worst. Next week’s episode stars Mort Sahl as a TV writer who knows too much... and talks too much.

Bill

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Film Courage Plus: Writing On Deadline

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. As they have been releasing the interview segments from 2015 every week or so, I have dug back into their archives and tweeted some of the segments from 2014... so they won't be forgotten. There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 2015... and that's 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

So here is the fifth one. I'm still not sure whether the article should come before or after the clip, so this time around it's *before* the clip - you can tell me which way you think would work best in the comments section.

Screenwriting means working on a deadline... sometimes an insane deadline:

I know you don’t want to hear this, but most spec scripts (screenplays written to sell) are never sold... they are “job applications” for paid writing assignments. You know, adapting some comic book or novel or board game or toy or whatever into a movie script. The *job* of writing. And like every job, there are deadlines.

Writers like to fantasize about quitting the day job and just sitting at home in their Pjs writing whenever the inspiration strikes. Being an artist. But reality is completely different - for a professional writer, writing becomes their day job and they have all of those things they hated from the old day job. Idiot bosses? Yeah, there are producers I’ve worked for who make my old day job bosses look like geniuses. Catty co-workers who blame you for their mistakes? You will encounter those, too - true story: on one of my films for a cable network the director came up with a scene that was so expensive it would bust the budget. I told him there was no way the producer would keep this scene in the script, because it not only served no story purpose it would cost as much as every other scene in the script combined. I suspected it was just come power play on the part of the director - to see how far he could push the producer, to see if he could get his way - but I told him I didn’t want to write the scene. He insisted. I wrote the scene. The next story meeting, the producer turned to me and said he was surprised that I would write a scene like that into the script; didn’t I know this was a cable film not a summer blockbuster? Before I could say it was the director’s idea, that director turned to the producer and said, “I told Bill it was a budget buster, but he didn’t listen and wrote it anyway.” And you thought your day job was bad! But the other thing from your day job you will have to deal with are deadlines. You can’t just write when inspiration strikes, you have to write to get things finished on time.

And the closer the project gets to production, the more those deadlines become etched in stone.

One of the production companies I wrote HBO World Premiere Movies for was Royal Oaks (no longer with us) and they were a factory for cable movies. At one point they were making 36 movies a year for a variety of cable networks. That was in the mid-1990s when every new start up network had their own movies, and when established networks like USA Network had 48 original movies a year. Add in Lifetime and all of the rest and there was this insane need to MOWs, and Royal Oaks supplied a chunk of them. Oh, and they also made movies for Studio’s Home Entertainment Divisions (direct to video). There was a “big board” on the wall that showed all of the projects and where they were at on the road from idea to finished film delivered to the network or studio. 36 films with 36 deadlines. And within each large deadline (delivery) were smaller deadlines - like the treatment and each draft of the screenplay. As I’ve said before, on a movie for HBO like STEEL SHARKS before I even pitched the story there was an airdate. A time slot at HBO that the movie would fill. If I didn’t get the screenplay finished in time, they wouldn’t finish making the movie in time... and HBO would be showing a test pattern or something on March 26th at 9pm.

You may not want to think of making movies as if it’s a factory, but at a production company or a studio that’s exactly what it is. They make movies as a consumer product just like some other company makes shoes... in fact, there was a point in time where a shoe company owned a studio! If you think that big studios don’t have big boards like Royal Oaks did, tell me - what are the release dates for the next ten Marvel movies? How about the next five STAR WARS movies? Okay, how about the next three FAST & FURIOUS movies? All of those deadlines! Most of those projects don’t have screenplays or writers or even story ideas! But they already have deadlines. That’s the film business! It is a business!

So you will need to get used to working on a deadline.

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work,” Stephen King

“If you wait for inspiration to write; you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter,” Dan Poynter


LAZY WRITERS!


I have self imposed deadlines on my spec screenplays, and try to treat them as if they were any other (real world) deadline. The reason why is that without a deadline I wouldn’t get anything done... I have to be my own boss and crack the whip on myself. Just as my protagonists wouldn’t be rushing to disarm a bomb if that big red LED cliche timer was set for five years from now, I wouldn’t have any real reason to finish a script if there was no deadline and my natural laziness would take over. And I am naturally lazy. I think most of us are. Our default mode is - check out Facebook and then maybe get lost reading articles on something you find mildly interesting and then maybe watch a little TV and then... hey, time for bed! I can do nothing like a pro! But a pro writer needs to write - so I have deadlines and page quotas and write as if it’s my job, because it *is* my job.

And even if it is not your job now, you *want* it to be your job, right?

That means you will need to be able to write quality material on a deadline.

There are folks on message boards who think being forced to write on a deadline results in bad writing. They are probably not going to make it as a professional. Actually, they *could* make it as a professional if they quit fighting the idea of deadlines and just accept that is part of the job and they’ll have to learn how to incorporate deadlines into their writing. People always fight against what they fear - they proclaim that “X is the downfall of creativity!” because they know they are not good at X and they fear X so they want to avoid doing X at all costs. Hey, the world isn’t going to bend to you, you will have to bend to the world. You will have to grow and learn and figure out how to deal with X like everyone else has. Just the way things are. In real life there are deadlines, and fighting against the idea of deadlines is not going to make them vanish. There are still those big boards at production companies and studios listing the release dates for movies that have yet to be written, and when you land one of those jobs you will have to make the deadline no matter what Douglas Adams may have said.

TWO METHODS


There are two methods to make deadlines - Slow & Steady and Holy Crap This Is Due Tomorrow! You know these two methods from when you were in school and had homework. Slow & Steady is the recommended method - what your mom and teachers told you to do - and what I will tell you is the best way to do things. Not that you will listen... but it makes me feel better to know that I’ve told you.

Slow & Steady: In another of the Film Courage segments I talk about How To Be Productive (Even If You Have A Life) and talk about how I managed to write 3 screenplays a year while working a day job (and having a life) by writing one good page a day. Just one. Because those single pages add up to 3 screenplays by the end of the year. Once I “went pro” I used the same method, just upped the number of pages per day to 5. Five pages a day is a screenplay in a month. Yeah - a first draft, but still a screenplay. And that will result in you making almost every deadline you will encounter as a professional screenwriter. In the BREAKING IN Blue Book we look at assignments and deadlines, and how you will often “stack” assignments (take more than one job, because you never know if anyone will ever hire you again) and being able to do a draft in a month will cover you even if you stack a couple of assignments. You will make your deadlines. Slow & Steady wins the race.

The other method - the one your mom and teachers warned you about - is Holy Crap This Is Due Tomorrow! and you know how that works when you pulled those all nighters after procrastinating for a couple of weeks and not doing your homework. You didn’t use the Slow & Steady method, so the only thing left is to just drink a whole pot of coffee or a six pack of Mountain Dews and write the damned thing. There are people who prefer this method to Slow & Steady, but I’m always afraid I’m going to end up with 30 pages to write and 5 minutes to write it in... and I’m just not that fast. I’m also afraid that I’ll burn out halfway through or that some unforseen event will sidetrack me. Heck, when I stacked a couple of projects with tight deadlines once, I ended up with walking pneumonia afterwards. I’d worked myself into exhaustion. What if that exhausting and pneumonia had struck when I was only halfway done with the script? I’d have missed the deadline!

One of the things that helps me on tight deadlines is that the Slow & Steady method creates a confidence that the Holy Crap method does not. If I know I can write 5 pages a day, every day, and not suffer burn out... I can adjust that up to 10 pages a day if need be. And I’ve had those crazy deadlines where I needed to turn out 10 great pages a day to make my deadline because there was a Start Shooting date on the big board. I think I talk about some of these deadlines in this Film Courage segment.

But in the real world of screenwriting, you will need to know how to use both methods. Because even though Slow & Steady is preferable, you may end up with some insane real world production deadline like I had on GRID RUNNERS when they had to scrap the Act 3 I had written due to a change in location and I had to write a brand new Act 3 *overnight*. There was literally a production crew sleeping while I was writing, and when they woke up in the morning and went to the set to shoot that day’s scenes? Well, I had to have finished writing them, get them to the production office so that they could make copies, and then those copies had to be sent to the set so that they could film them. The closer your project gets to production, the more important making those deadlines becomes! When the project is *in production* missing a deadline means the cast and crew have nothing to do (but are still being paid) and the film may crash and burn as a result. Yes, movies get shut down when the screenwriter misses a deadline. You may cost the production company tens of millions of dollars! Do you think they’re going to hire you again after that? That *anyone* is going to hire you again? So you need to be able to use both the Slow & Steady method and the Holy Crap method as a professional screenwriter, and I really think that using the Slow & Steady helps a lot when you need to do the Holy Crap method. But maybe that’s just me. No one really cares which method you use, as long as you make the deadlines.

Because, like any other job, this one has deadlines. Often hard deadlines where a cast and crew is waiting for you to finish so that they can start. So start training for those deadlines *now*!

Good luck and keep writing!

Oh, and instead of a tip jar... if you liked this why not buy a book over there? Thanks! -->

- Bill

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Elitism & Experience

From the beginning of 2011...

A few weeks ago John August had a post on his blog that got a rise out of me.

John wondered if the blog had become too advanced for a beginning writer, so he decided to read through his mail to see if he was too “inside baseball”... and printed a note from a writer that asked all kinds of stupid questions and then made fun of the writer. Ridiculed the dude. I posted in the comments section that I thought that even though many of the guy's questions could have been answered by spending some time searching John's site – at least the guy was asking questions, right?

And on Done Deal Pro I said basically the same thing: Lots of new writers don't know where to begin, they Google “How do I write a screenplay” and find a website and don't know the first thing about screenwriting so they don't know what to search for – they don't even know what a screenplay consists of.




In one of my favorite films IN A LONELY PLACE, a screenwriter played by Humphrey Bogart says that people don't know screenwriters exist – they think actors just make up their lines... and when they become stars, they do. And that's where a lot of new writers are – what's on the page? Everything? If you just have a great idea – can you sell that? If you need an agent, can you tell me where to find one? On Done Deal Pro we regularly see new writers ask these questions and many more. And people on DDP ridicule them and make fun of how naive they are... but they also answer the questions and point them to places where they can read real screenplays and explain how the whole agent thing works. My theory is help them... then make fun of them.

Here's the thing – to me all of these questions sound silly. They sound like things people should just be able to figure out on their own, right? Things they could just find online, right? But when they land at someplace like John's site or DDP – they *have* looked online and ended up there asking questions. Things that we see as obvious. But that's because we forgot when we were them. Now that we know stuff, we think everyone else does!

Plus, there's that pecking order thing – I did a blog entry on that, and I think it's going to come up in this one, too. Nobody knows everything, and all of us are still learning and have things that we need to learn. Now, we can look at those who know less than us and make fun of them, or we can give them the information they need and send them in the right direction.

Or both.

The thing about writers is that many of us are smart asses and are just waiting for someone to say something that's a set up for our joke. I know I am. Yes, this makes me a partial asshole, but I also answer the questions so I figure I kind of earn my assholiness. But, if you just trash the person without helping them, you're building up some negative karma and eventually you will be the person who doesn't know something and someone will make fun of you. All of us are stupid about something.

AM I AN ELITIST?




One of the interesting things in life is how various different things happen at the same time... and all seem to add up to something larger. These random things are connected – which is just plain weird. Plate of shrimp. If I were crazy, I would imagine a giant conspiracy out to get me. But instead, it's just life.

Before the John August blog post, two other things happened back-to-back that connect to the concept of know-it-alls and know-nothings and screenwriting.

There's a message board I frequent that is filled with new writers – and many of them suffer from being overly artsie. This is a common thing. Many new writers think that Hollywood makes all of those remakes and sequels and comic books movies because there is a shortage of quality original screenplays... and *they* have the ability to write those brilliant screenplays!

In fact, when they compare the kind of crap Hollywood makes to what they are capable of, it's obvious that they are geniuses and the people who work in Hollywood now are all morons. Many of these folks believe that film is art, and Hollywood would make nothing but art movies if they had enough great artsie screenplays. Every film would be TREE OF LIFE, if they had a couple hundred similar (genius) (artistic) screenplays.

This is not true.

Hollywood makes movies that will attract a mass audience. That mass audience is more interested in being entertained than seeing some great piece of art... check out the grosses for this year's Oscar winner... and TREE OF LIFE while you're at it. There was a recent article on how the general public no longer goes to see the Best Picture Winner – they don't care about it and don't relate to it anymore. The “Oscar bounce” is gone! They've worked all week long and this film is their escape from all of the crap of real life – they may want to laugh so hard they pass out. What makes them laugh that hard may be the bathroom scene from DUMB & DUMBER.




That makes that bathroom scene from DUMB & DUMBER great screenwriting. I know that makes some of you think I'm crazy or a massive hack – but do you know how hard it is to find something that makes 60 million people around the world laugh? That is the art of screenwriting – making 60 million people around the world feel something. Some emotion. That may be fear from a horror movie or love from a romance or excitement from an action film – but finding that universal thing... and 110 minutes of those universal things – is so difficult that Hollywood pays great money if you can do that. They pay lots of money if you can entertain lots of people. The fewer people you entertain, the less money you get. Kind of trickle down.

Now, that doesn't mean that art films are bad, or TREE OF LIFE is bad, or THE ARTIST or HURT LOCKER are bad... just that they may be really tough screenplays to get anyone to read, let alone buy and produce.

Well, on this message board full of artsie new writers a few people posted some stuff that was completely naive... and someone posted a well thought out reasoned response explaining why their theory of how Hollywood worked was incorrect and something an outsider might believe. Here's the amazing thing – this guy who posted has been nominated for awards, wrote a great critically acclaimed film which you have all seen, that got him a gig writing a couple of big Hollywood films you have also seen, and recently wrote critically acclaimed film that I really love and own on DVD. Dude is a great writer. He was lurking. He de-lurked to help this writer...

And got crapped on.
And argued with.

Nobody knew who he was. They thought he was just some other idiot hack like me who was defending Hollywood films. They trashed whatever he said. Now, I knew who he was from another board, but none of these jokers even tried to figure out who he was... or just respect what he said. The guy was using logic and reason and the people fighting him were defending their position without ever acutally *thinking*. They were too busy arguing with him.

For me, the amusing thing about this was that this guy *was* a legitimate artist as a screenwriter. And he was explaining that *in his experience* commerce was still a major issue and you will have to find the way to sell your screenplay. To businessmen. Who want to make money.




Okay, everyone on this board knows who I am – I do not lurk. I jump in to the discussion, with a different side than the famous writer. Based on my actual experience in the business – I used some real examples both from my stuff and some other well known and easy to Google examples. And my experiences lead me to very similar conclusions as the other writer. Because that's kind of the way things are. From the outside you might think "If only Hollywood had 200 TREE OF LIFE scripts they would make 200 films like TREE OF LIFE." From the inside, you know that a film like TREE OF LIFE is hell to get off the ground... and no one in Hollywood really wants a screenplay like that. In fact, TREE OF LIFE was not made by Hollywood!

If you were to take a hundred professional writers, we would all have similar experiences with slight differences. If you take 100 people who have gone to the DMV and taken a driving test, the main points will all be the same but there may be some individual differences due to that handful of variables there are. So I jump in and basically agree with the other writer – and so do the handful of other pros on the boards...

THEM AND US




And now we have an interesting dichotomy – those who earn a living writing screenplays vs. those who do not. Those with experience in the business and those who do not have experience in the business. The working writers are saying “this is the way it really works” and the new writers are saying “no – it doesn't work that way”. When I say, “Hey, I've been doing this for a while, that really is the way it works.” And the professionals are branded “elitists” for saying that “our way” is the one that works and “their way” doesn't work.

This confused me.

I thought elitists were all about having power over others and excluding them... when the reason we were there giving this advice was to *include* these folks – to show them the secret way into the business. To help them. “You know that wall? There's a doorway through it over here!” But it seems that knowing what you are talking about, having actual experience, is a big negative thing.

Who knew?

The issue becomes facts vs. opinions – and that's crazy. But this seems to be something that isn't just on screenwriting messageboards, the whole country seems to think that a fact is the same as an opinion. That they are equal. If 99% of scientists think the world is round and 1% think it's flat – those 1% are “equal” to the 99%. Crazy! That 1% are the lunatic fringe. In science as in anything else there are always a couple of nutjobs... but the *majority* of people who know what they are talking about agree with each other... and 1% is *not* equal to 99%. Those are *not* two equally valid viewpoints – because at the end of the day the majority rules.

Except, when you are in that 1% you'd much rather believe that it's equally valid to believe the Earth is flat and the space program is a conspiracy and they put something in our milk as children to make us see that curve on the horizon...

And that's *science* - when you're discussing screenwriting and there's an art component and as many different definitions of “good movie” as there are people? More difficult to even agree on what is a “fact”!

But add to this – screenwriting is strange in that it is both art and commerce wrapped into one. Sure – there are arthouse indie films, but even those get some form of distribution because someone thinks they will make money. They are more of a niche thing – and aimed at being popular with that niche. If you plan on *selling* a screenplay then it is a commercial endeavor – not just for you but for who you sell the screenplay to... and for the screenplay itself. There are so many elements of the *craft* of writing that tie into the commercial aspects that you can't really talk art and craft without at least touching on the commercial part. And, on a messageboard filled with artsie types, bringing up the money part brands you a sell out.

On another board there is an intelligent, articulate, artsie screenwriter guy who makes great arguments in favor of seeing screenwriting as an art. I often argue with him, but I also encourage him to keep making his case - because he isn't one of those just fighting for his point - he also *thinks* and *considers the other side* and argues using facts rather than opinions. I like this guy. We need this guy in teh business. The funny thing about my art vs. commerce arguments is that if you drop me in a room full of artists I argue on the commerce side... but if you drop me in a room full of mercanaries I fight for art. Screenwriting is both.




The problem is – two people can write screenplays of equal artistic quality, but if one is about a farm boy in Ohio who dreams of moving to Cleveland and getting a job in a shoe store, and the other is about a farm boy on Tatooine who dreams of being a Jedi Knight and starfighter pilot and rescuing a hot Princess from an evil Black Knight... well, you can guess which screenplay is going to have an easier chance of selling.

There are commercial considerations involved with every screenplay that is bought – and that becomes part of the conversation on the experienced screenwriter side. It's not elitism, it's another danged lesson that most of learned the hard way – and we're trying to help others. Though everyone learns at their own rate, the biggest problem with many of these debates is that some people DO NOT WANT TO LEARN. Not just the commercial stuff (I mean, who really wants to learn that? I fought it) but much of the story stuff that's important. The artsie folks don't want there to be any elements that they can be judged by – so the concept of one script being better *even artistically* than another is some form of elitism.

Huh?

The real problem with this whole “Elitist” thing is that it makes people with experience and actual knowledge, and brands them with a negative for *trying to help*. That does not make them want to stick around on some messageboard and continue helping when they really should be writing. It also demonizes education and intelligence and experience – which seems crazy to me. It guarantees that those folks on messageboards will stay exactly where they are – because the *do not want to learn*. Knowledge is a negative - ignorance is bliss - stupidity is art.

They often seem to think they know everything – which I don't think this famous writer or myself or any of the other working pros who these folks argued against believe about themselves. I believe there are tons of things that I don't know – and a large part of my life and my website and my blog are trying to figure out how things work and share that knowledge... but mostly trying to figure it out because there are things I don't know.

Do you think you know everything?

WINO THEORY




I think for most of us, the more we know the more we realize we don't know... and need to learn. Writing screenplays is incredibly complicated, and requires that you get a bunch of different ingredients in the proper mix.

The problem on some messageboards (and with some executives) is they think that one 110 pages of typing is the same as another 110 pages of typing. That writing the pages is the hard part. And there are plenty of screenplays that get so damaged in development that their 110 pages of writing *is* equal to just about any other 110 pages of typing. But those scripts die a quick death – and if they are made into films due to some mistake, the films die a quick death.

The key is to write something that people think about a decade later... because it will be good (art!) *and* because a decade later you'll want them to call you and hire you for some project. If they read your 110 pages of typing and instantly forget it, you have a problem. Though scripts can be developed into crap, you don't want them to start out that way. My belief (hope) is that even when a script gets mangled there's enough good stuff left to hint that there was a great version they bought. Though, I have no idea what that good stuff might be in the filmed version of CROOKED.

Of course, even if they screw up your screenplay on the way to the screen, your actual screenplay still exists as a sample - and I get all kinds of calls years later based on someone reading a screenplay before it got ruined. I have also used those screenplays as samples. In fact, I have some people interested in hiring me now based on a screenplay they read in the past... which they remembered.




You see - art is involved in screenwriting. Even in popular screenwriting. It's not just "write a 110 page action script", it's writing a 110 page action script that is better than the other hundreds of scripts they have read and will turn out an okay movie once it goes through the meatgrinder. If anything, a popular commercial film really needs to be *artistic* and great more than the art film - since if the art film ever gets made it is most likely to be written and directed and produced by the same person (no meatgrinder). The martial arts star lead isn't going to rewrite all of his lines... so that the actions end up being the thing that carries the story and theme and emotional conflict.

There are great commercial scripts and stinkers. Some screenplays are better than others. Some writers have learned more than others - and that is reflected in the quality of their writing. Doesn't mean those other writers can't learn as much and write scripts of equal quality eventually. Just means *at this point in time* the more experienced writer is, well, more experienced. They've done it many more times and learned more.

I think one of the issues with those who think all 110 pages are equal is what I call the WINO THEORY. I once dated a woman who worked in the wine biz, and know some people in the biz (one guy who gets paid to drink!) and a sommelier – and wrote a script called ROUGH FINISH that was James Bond as a wine taster.

Wine ends up being a lot like screenwriting.

The average person can drink two different glasses of wine and think one tastes good and the other does not – but that's about it. If you give that average person two different glasses of *good* wine, they may not be able to tell which is better. Both are equal to them.




But “educate their palates” and teach them a little about wine, and they can easily tell a cabernet from a merlot from a zinfandel from a pinot noir. They may prefer one over the other. They also know what a cabernet is supposed to taste like (basically) and whether it tastes strange or even has been cut with some other grape. At this stage they can also probably tell you whether the wine was fermented in oak or steel or even redwood or acacia or pine.

The next step might be to refine their palates so that they can tell which region the grapes were grown in – each soil leaves a mark. And maybe even make a good guess at the year due to the amount of tanic acid in the wine. Now they can take a dozen “good” glasses of wine and tell you more about each one – and maybe even taste minor defects in some wine that the average drinker never knew were there. They “have better taste”.

And with each increase in education, with each piece of knowledge, they can taste little details that the average drinker may not even know exist.

My character in ROUGH FINISH was a “private palate” who would break into a winery and taste the wine “before its time” to help investors and wine connoisseurs know which Bordeauxs to buy. He tastes something in the wine that only a handful of people in the world would even notice – and becomes the man who knows too much. Fun idea for a chase action script – but it's based on the (real) idea that an expert wine taster would be able to denote things no one else could... is that Elitism or Experience and Education?

My theory is that the new screenwriter might think the difficult part is getting to FADE OUT – and that *is* difficult. But a hundred thousand people a year get to FADE OUT... and the more you know, the more you can see what is just a bit off on one script and right on the money in another – and the more you know how to write that better screenplay.

You don't just give every character a unique voice and vocabulary and world view and attitude... you realize that all of those different elements are connected in some way to theme... and theme is connected to universal truths that connect to the audience. It just gets more and more complicated! And I don't think you ever reach some point where you know it all. There is always something to learn.

But if you think just writing 110 pages is all there is to it, you have failed.

If you think you don't need to learn anything more, you have failed.

If you think that the 1% who believe the Earth is flat are just as correct as the 99% who believe it is round, you aren't thinking and are not trying to learn and better yourself.

If you think someone who has learned more than you know at this point in time and is trying to help you is an elitist, you have failed.

And, if you know more than someone else – help them. Costs you nothing.

I've found that most established screenwriters want to help new writers – they empathize. They were that new writer at one time, and want to help you avoid all of the pitfalls they stumbled through. So, on a messageboard or in person or whatever – thank them for the help and don't fight them until they just give up on *everybody* and leave. I think it's all about learning - and continuing to learn. Any writer who is giving you advice - even if you don't like what they are saying - is trying to help you. they don't have to do that. They don't get paid to do that. They have many other things they can do that either pay more or are more enjoyable.

Experience and knowledge are not elitism.

If people are trying to *help you* - that's the opposite of elitism.

And DAYS OF HEAVEN is one of my favorite movies... along with AIRPLANE!

- Bill

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Film Courage Plus: Spec or Contest?

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. As they have been releasing the interview segments from 2015 every week or so, I have dug back into their archives and tweeted some of the segments from 2014... so they won't be forgotten. There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 2015... and that's 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

So here is the seventh one about having a great high concept spec *or* a high quality script that wins or places in a contest like the Nicholl. After doing all of my classes they grabbed me and interrogated me when I really wanted to just go home and take a nap.



In the clip I note two of the common ways to get into screenwriting - through spec scripts going out to market and through winning or being a finalist in one of the major contests. Spec scripts tend to get read due to their interesting concepts (“What’s it about?”) and contests are often more focused on the quality of the writing rather than the concept. Of course, there are a million spec screenplays in circulation in any given year and maybe 100 of those sell, so quality of writing is a massive component in spec screenplays as well. But whichever way gets you in, all roads lead to Hollywood... and Hollywood movies. You might write the awesome high concept screenplay which leads to an assignment writing that summer tentpole movie, or you might win a contest and land an assignment working on a summer tentpole movie. These days Hollywood is pretty much all tentpole all the time, so if you are a contest winner - be prepared!

There was a time - only about a decade ago - when Hollywood still made a certain number of mid-range movies, some of which were “prestige” films or dramas, but these days those films are made independently. Outside of the system, and usually written-directed-produced by the same person. They find the funding and make the film - no screenplay is actually sold (the film is funded). A movie like SPOTLIGHT doesn’t come from a studio, but from a filmmaker - Tom McCarthy, who co-wrote the screenplay and directed the film and secured the funding through his THE VISITOR producer Jeff Skoll. If you read my daily Script Tips you know that I've been a big fan of McCarthy since his first film THE STATION AGENT (which he found funding for). If you want to work outside the system and do your own thing, it has never been easier to do that. You can make a film for pocket change these days... and many people do. If you don’t want to write tentpoles and don’t want to make your own films, there are still some options available: TV is expanding right now, and even though many shows are high concept and similar to tentpole films (check out anything on the CW) there are still shows that are more low key and dramatic oriented like SHADES OF BLUE. The other option is to head to film festivals and find a director who needs a writing partner - some of my favorite genre films lately are the work of the director & writer team of Nick Damici and Jim Mickle. If you are a great writer there is a place somewhere for you in the business - studio or indie or TV or YouTube or whatever they come up with next. Every entertainment media needs *stories*, and that’s *us*. Finding your home will require that you open your eyes a little wider - if you are not writing the kinds of movies that are being made (and don’t want to write them), you’ll have to find the place where your type of writing is needed. Wait, how many ways to break in is that now?

The first thing you need to figure out is what your skill set is. You need to know what you do well, so that you can match that to a media and a method to break in. Heck, I have a book called BREAKING IN with dozens and dozens of ways to break in... but what’s important is what you are breaking in to... Studio films? Indies? Television? What are your skills and how do they match the media? If you want to break in to studio films, know that you will be writing studio films. There are people who want to write indie type stories for studios... and that seldom happens. Even if you win a contest, chances are if a studio based producer hires you it will be to do a rewrite on some high concept tentpole or comic book movie or maybe a board game turned into a script. That’s what Hollywood does - make big expensive mass audience films. No matter how you break in, that’s what you’re in for.

CONTESTS


I look at different contests in the Breaking In Blue Book, and note that the King of all screenwriting contests is The Nicholl fellowship, which is run by those people who give out the Oscars every year. These days the Nicholl pays up to five winners $35,000... but it’s not just about the money, Hollywood producers and agents and managers *fight over* the winners! In fact, even if you don’t win they will fight over you: finalists and even semi-finalists usually get meetings with producers and agents and managers. Of course, there’s a reason *why* semi-finalists are still pretty damned good... there are *thousands* of entries every year (over 7,500 in 2014) and only about 5% advance to the competition quarter-finals, and only about 2% make it to the semi-finals and about ten entries reach the finals.

The Queen of screenwriting contests is probably Austin, and danged if my friend Max Adams didn’t win both the Nicholl and Austin in the same year with two different screenplays! This is probably why you should grab Max Adams’ book (in addition to mine).

The Prince of screenwriting contests is probably TrackingB, because winners and runners up land agents and managers, and the finalist judges are often development people who end up fighting over the winning screenplays. Where Nicholl and Austin just get you on Hollywood’s radar, TrackingB gets you in front of the buyers. The Younger Prince is Tracking Board’s Launch Pad, which is the direct competition to the TrackingB contest... Again finalists are read by people actually in the business who read and buy screenplays for a living, which means if you have a great screenplay this contest will launch your career.

In you win the Final Draft Big Break Contest, you can have a drink with me, since I’m at the big party where they announce the winner every year... along with screenwriters much more famous than I am (last year Max Landis was drinking with my group... so nobody really cared that I was there). So, maybe have a drink with all of the more famous people first.

Other good contests: PAGE, Scriptapalooza, SlamDance, ScriptPipeline, Sundance, BlueCat... and probably some that I’m forgetting, since I’m not a contest guy. Since I was a professional screenwriter before all of these contests began, I’ve been ineligible to enter them.

The thing to watch out for with small contests are the ones which are just money making schemes. Do your research! There have been some interesting scandals in the contest world, including one a few years ago where a small contest run by a script consultant had one of the contest readers admit that they didn’t read all of the screenplays... and I don’t mean they just read the first 10 or 20 pages of each screenplay (which isn’t unusual for first round on small contests, since you can usually tell a really bad screenplay after only a few pages of poorly written sentences), but there were some screenplays that they never read a single page! I discovered that another contest that is part of a small film festival had *no* “celebrity” judges and every screenplay was “read” by the person running the fest/contest and she pocketed all of the entry fees herself. I have no idea if she read all of the screenplays or even if she read any of them! It was all about her making money. The good news about fly-by-night contests like this is that the internet spreads the warnings, so usually all you have to do is Google some contest to find out whether it has had problems in the past. Always do your research!

Since I can’t enter contests, I write and send out spec scripts.

SPEC SCRIPTS


Spec screenplays are the most versatile choice (even the screenplays you enter in contests are specs, right?) because there are so many different ways that you can submit them. In addition to contests, you can submit them directly to production companies (after a query and a request) and to managers (again - query and request) and agents (query and request), plus there are many other ways specs can open a door for you. One thing to keep in mind: the reason why anyone will request your screenplay is that the *concept* sounds interesting. Mangers and Agents and Producers are *business people* who only earn money when a script sells or a writer lands a writing assignment. (Producers are last paid, so they need a screenplay or writer who can create something that gets made if they want to get paid.) Even managers and agents who may be looking for writers they can send out for assignments will be looking for specs with great concepts (unless the writer is one of the handful who wins a contest). The way an Agent or Manager introduces a writer to potential employers is through specs - and the way they get people to read specs screenplays is the same way *we* get people to read our spec screenplays: a killer logline or killer elevator pitch that’s all about the concept. If your concept is dull or mundane or something that doesn’t sound like something millions of people worldwide will be lining up tp pay to see, it will be difficult to get and Agent or Manager to request your screenplay... and then difficult for that Agent or Manager to get reads for you. Yes - there are exceptions. Nothing is an absolute in this business. But you may have noticed that everything in the world is cutting frills and focusing on profit, and Agents and Managers and Producers are no different. Even with referrals, someone is going to ask, “What’s it about?” and then it’s up to the concept to sell them.

This is the reason why there is so much focus on that concept, and why so many new writers fail by writing a script that’s based on a dull or mundane idea. I used to say that TV was the only place where Private Eye and Cop stories were wanted, but if you’ve watched TV of late you may have noticed that the trend for *weird* cops and detectives has gone to extremes - a zombie who eats the brains of victims to solve crimes? So, unless you plan on using the contest method make sure you begin with a great idea! One of these Film Courage Interviews has my “100 Idea Theory” - where you should come up with 100 great ideas and then select the best of them all to script. A well written screenplay with a bland idea is going to be tough to get reads with... and a terribly written script with a great idea isn’t going to get you very far, either! As I’ve said before - there is no “or” in screenwriting. If the question is: which is more important, concept or execution? the answer is: BOTH!

But spec screenplays can also *travel*, and I think that’s come up in one of these Film Courage segments. This is a business of referrals, and there are referrals you know about and ones that you don’t know about. If someone reads your screenplay and thinks it’s great and passes it to someone else in the industry (“You’ve gotta read this!”) that screenplay can travel all over town, from one person to another, and eventually land somewhere that matters. I’ve said before that a great spec script given to the *wrong person* or just left on the street in Beverly Hills has a pretty good chance of being discovered and landing you a gig. There are so few screenplays that get everything right that one which does will go places. People who complain about the gate keepers in Hollywood don’t understand that those gate keepers are *actively* looking for that great screenplay that will earn them points with the boss and further their careers. Everyone wants to be the one who discovered the next big thing!

That next big thing could be *you*!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill
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