6 Comments

There’s a lot of talk out there about a WGA writer’s strike. The WGA and the producers are talking. They're not talking. Then talking again. The Union has asked for a strike authorization vote, something they NEED to have at the negotiation table by the way. It doesn’t mean they want a strike, it means the membership is standing together. A good thing.

I’ve never made it a secret, nor should I have, that I am NOT in the WGA yet. Everything I’ve done, I have done non-union. It’s just what’s been offered and what I’ve done. Will I join when I finally get a Union job? Damn skippy. Until then, I’m not there yet. And I’ve had a great career so far doing non-union jobs, I’m not going to hide that, but again I’ve also never been offered a Union job or sold a script to a Union shop.

I also believe in Union protection. And have since I became a member of SAG/Aftra over 20 years ago.

That said I want to give my personal perspective on a potential WGA writer’s strike as a non-member.

I completely support it if that’s what they vote for after negotiations fail. And if I’m in LA while it’s on, I’ll probably march with my friends who are members.

I also fervently hope it doesn’t happen at all. That cool heads will prevail on every side and a fair contract is pounded out.

The point, however, of this particular blog is not about whether a strike happens or not, but about non-union writers reaction to it. I want to be clear about this because for any writer you need to hear it:

This strike is NOT the way for you to break in. Period. To try and use the backs of the writers who blazed the way for you is the height of disrespect, first of all, and to think you can scab your way to success, secondly, is downright short sided and stupid.

Yes, you can maybe get something out of it for yourself in the short term, but long term? You’ve painted, rightfully, a big ass target on your back. And if you don’t think the Union won’t notice or know, you live in Fantasyland. Or remember? Yes, they will. As they should.

The WGA exists because of all the writers out there who’d write for free if they were given the chance. It exists because writers were taken advantage of in the infancy of the film and TV business and writers needed a way to collectively bargain for their rights. Otherwise, those big paydays you dream about as an unproduced screen or television writer? They wouldn’t exist at all. You need to thank and support these writers and the Union, not think of it as an opportunity.

Every writer, union or not, needs to make their own decisions on how they’d handle a work stoppage. I’ve made mine. I stand with my friends and the Union I am not yet a part of but fully expect to be in at some point in the future. As should you. Greed and selfishness for your own gain in a situation like this hurts everyone and in the long run, even you.

I get the producer’s side, too. They aren’t the enemy. Without them none of us have a job, union or not. And I understand any contract negotiation has to include a lot of posturing on both sides. My wish is no one is so intractable as to not come to an mutually agreed upon settlement.

Yep. I really hope there’s not a strike. I don’t want to see my friends suffer financially. I don’t want the industry to suffer. I don’t want my friends who are producers to go through this again. I don’t want to see the long term animosity the last strike caused. But if it happens?

Solidarity, baby.

Follow me on Twitter @BobSnz

Reject: a :  to refuse to accept, consider, submit to, take for some purpose, or use <rejected the suggestion> <reject a manuscript>

The official Miriam Webster definition of Reject actually includes “reject a manuscript”. It’s  part of the official definition of the word. Holy crap.

I actually laughed. But when you think about it, it makes all the sense in the world. Rejection is the one constant in any screenwriter’s life. It haunts us daily. Whether we’re dreading it or mourning it or anticipating it, it lives with us, taunting us.

Am I making it seem like more than it is? I don’t think so. Most non-writers wouldn’t understand how personal it feels when someone says, “We’re going to pass on your incredibly hard work that’s probably perfect for us but we don’t realize it.”

Well, they don’t actually ever say exactly that, but that’s what writers hear. And the thing about these rejections is that they’re not personal even though writers take them that way. Honest. It’s a titanic waste of energy to take them personally. And the sooner you get there the better.

When it comes to rejection, producers, agents, managers or production company execs really don’t care how hard you worked or how much you care, only that your script doesn’t work for them. They think about your script until they don’t have to anymore. Then it’s gone. You as a person are not even part of the thought process until they like it and want to talk to you about it.

A few days ago, there was an internet post by a young woman who talked emotionally about how she’d poured her heart and soul into her first script. How she’d struggled over every single perfect word. And right off the bat... a Producer wanted to read it.

To her, it was now a foregone conclusion that said Producer would buy and make her script. It was now down to a choice of dresses to wear on the red carpet.

Then the producer got back to her and said, “Pass”. Thus unleashing an onslaught of rage that can only be defined as:

o·ver·re·ac·tion

ˈˌōvə(r)rēˈakSHən/

noun

a more emotional or forcible response than is justified.

Yep. And after the rage, she publically announced she was quitting being a screenwriter altogether. She was done. He unfairly squashed her dreams and kept the world from her amazing script. So she’s taking her ball and going home.

It was sad and unnecessary because REJECTION is what you should be ready for. It’s not something that you want, but it is part of screenwriting every day. Anticipate it, then be surprised when it’s not. That’s a lot easier than getting stomped on every time it happens.

I could start a list right now of all the wonderful successful scripts that spent years being rejected before someone took a chance on them. Including a couple of mine. But you’ve read all those stories time and again.

Screenwriting isn’t about anything but the LONG game. You need to bear the weight of each rejection. Learn from them, then slough them off. Letting them go. Moving on to the next read. The next submission. The next chance. Not easy. But better than going crazy.

I feel sorry for that young lady. But if that’s how she’s going to react to ONE rejection, she’s not ready for number 100. Or number 200.

Rejection is also realizing sometimes you need to move on to your next script. That the one you thought you had, wasn’t exactly what you thought you had. That’s just as hard to realize as anything. But you need to realize it and move to the next one. And the next one. And the next one.

I had 3 rejections last week. 3 Passes. Each one different. 3 different scripts. One was “Pass” with no explanation, which is fine, at least I heard. One was a no response at all after a reasonable amount of time (months), which is absolutely a Pass. One was a really really beautifully written Email that was very complimentary of the script and my writing, but guess what? It was just a really really beautifully written Pass.

I also got a script back that has been optioned and reoptioned for the last three years. The Producer, again, was very respectful as he told me, “We tried. Just couldn’t get it made.” Another rejection. I thanked him for believing in it, hoped we could work together on something else in the future, and went about doing a rewrite/polish on the script so I could get it back out there.

The funny thing is... my wife takes these rejections way more personally than I do, which I appreciate. She gets incensed. Then annoyed sometimes at me because I tell her it’s not personal.

The thing to keep in your mind all the time as you try and do this screenwriting thing is that all it takes is one person... one... who believes in your script to make it happen. To give you the success you’ve worked so hard for.

Those moments happen. I’ve been fortunate enough to have them happen to me. I’m thankful for them every day. I’m working hard so they happen again. But I also know there will be a lot of rejection before it does.

You want to do this? Live with rejection. Learn from it. Let it go. It does make life a lot easier.

Follow me on Twitter - @bobsnz

What’s a Spec Script? I’ll tell you what I think it is.

It isn’t what's going to be shot, that’s for sure.

A friend of mine who is an exec at a big production company was telling me the other day how hard it was lately to even get through a lot of scripts to find the story.

And I’ve been hearing a lot of bad advice lately about what should or shouldn’t be in a spec script when only one thing should be in it.

STORY.

A story a reader can see. I didn’t say audience. I said reader. If you write specs you hope will eventually get made this is very important. The first people you need to get through to option a script are even called “READERS”. That’s why you need a slick fast reading script that’s not bogged down with all the crap you’ve been told by some people you need.

You don’t need overly long physical descriptions of your characters. Blonde hair? Blue eyes? Brown eyes? Red nail polish? I’ve seen it all. Waste of space. No one cares. Unless it has to do with the story, it doesn’t matter. In fact, these days the less you say is better. Why is this? Because as the READER is getting into the story, they get to picture the character the way they want to and that helps with the ease of the read. If there is a physical characteristic that is a story point, then by all means get it in there. Otherwise, let the words spoken and the actions, the story, define who the character is.

I just read a script where every female character was described with some flourish to be as sexy or beautiful as she could be. It took me right out of the story. Why? First, I hate it. Lots of people who read scripts hate it because it’s unrealistic and cheap (and sexist) and if you look around you wherever you are, you aren’t going to see a lot of supermodels, so why populate your script with them. You want to write a story that resonates with real people? Write about real people. Real women. Real men. You can put them in unique and other worldly situations, but they still need to be real. Let the reader decide who your characters are inside and out by the dialogue and action and what they feel and see in their heads as they read.

You don’t need descriptions of what everyone is wearing unless it’s part of the plot. I just wrote a scene where a woman had a wedding dress on. Why? She was getting married as part of the plot. In every other scene she’s in? Not a word about her wardrobe. Why? It has nothing to do with story. It takes up valuable story space and it takes the reader... you guessed it... out of the story.

Capitalizing sounds? BAM. BOOM. Capitalizing props? CAR. BEER BOTTLE. SANDWICH.

I had one writer tell me those things need to be there for the Sound and Prop departments so they know what they are in the film. I hate to tell you this... but there are no Sound or Prop departments in a spec script. There are no departments at all. You only have those if the script sells and they go to a shooting script.

That goes to my next point... Spec scripts never ever ever never ever ever never get made the way you wrote it anyway. Never. Ever. By the time a Sound or Prop department sees the script it’s been rewritten so many times it often doesn’t resemble what you wrote in the first place. So ALL those WORDS capitalized in YOUR script JUST look RIDICULOUS and... yes... take the reader out of the story.

Don’t use character names that are unpronounceable. Don’t use words that the average reader will have to look up. I see these all the time. It’s not about impressing someone with clever names or vocabulary. They don’t care. Honest.

The purpose of a Spec script is for the reader to see and experience your story through your words. To see it in their head as a film or TV show. That’s it. It’s not anything more difficult to understand than that. It’s not easy to do, but that’s what gets you noticed and your script noticed. Lean and clean. Uncluttered.

You want a script they don’t put down. One that they want and need to keep reading. You clutter it up and make the read difficult and it’s too easy for them to put it down. Maybe to never pick up again. When they can read your script in an hour because it READS well, you stand a much better chance of moving it to a different level.

Leaving all this crap out is liberating. It actually sets you free to just concentrate on what’s important.

Story.

That's what they option. That's what they buy. That's what they want to see from a screenwriter.

Follow me on Twitter @BobSnz

 

Ok. Yes. I have been away from this Blog for about 6 months. Not exactly a vacation, but kinda. I did have an awful lot of work last year and it was the best year by far I’ve ever had as a writer, but that’s no excuse. I just got away from it. So, hopefully you’ll let me weasel my way back into your good graces.

The Art of Backtracking. Some history...

Last year sometime in the fall when I was back in LA, I was lucky enough to find myself sitting across a conference table from the head of a pretty big production company. His development exec had brought me in to pitch a couple of things she liked. In the room were the development exec, a sofa full of interns, the head of the production company, his assistant, and a well known actress that came with me because... well, it made sense since one of the pitches was with her in mind and she’s a good friend so it couldn’t hurt, plus she’s great to be with. They weren’t unhappy she came with me.

After some introductions, mostly the interns, and some idle chatter, I got down to business and pitched the movie idea I had with this actress in mind. I got about a minute into it and the boss turned to his assistant and said, “We’re buying this, let the business office know.”

Yes, my jaw dropped. The actress’s jaw dropped. Afterward, she said she’d never seen this happen in 25 years in the business. But there it was. They also asked for a synopsis they could approve before I started writing. At that point I probably would have agreed to anything because shock. So I went home and wrote one. Did I like it? Absolutely. To me, it worked. It worked for them, too. They said, “Get going on it.” I said, “Where’s the contract?” and unleashed my Rep to make a deal. Which after an extended time period, he did. And... a week and a half ago, after a lot of planning, I started on the draft.

Was really happy with the first 10 pages. It flowed. My female protagonist was sharply drawn, I thought. So far the supporting characters worked well, too. I had an ending that worked for what I wanted to do based on the synopsis and my bullet points.

But... and this is a big but... when I got to my male protagonist on page 13 and began to work on the meat of the story with the both of them, I hated him and what was happening to the story. A story I had well planned out. He was a nothing burger. They had zero chemistry. My fault, because I set him up to fail in the synopsis but didn’t realize it. And yet, I wrote on and was painting myself into a story corner because this guy was so lame. Dilemma? You bet. The deadline clock was running and they approved this storyline based on my premise which I still believed was rock solid, so I forced myself forward. As I did this I found it harder and harder to motivate myself to write. The lure of the internet, playing with Rocket the Dog, little chores around the house, screeners to watch. Anything but writing. Guilt? You bet. Admitting I was wrong? Not yet.

So yesterday I forced myself to open the file. To waste more time, I decided to reread what I’d written so far. And there... on page 7, it was. My “what if” moment. A three line minor character I put there to help establish a location greeted me waving his arms wildly and yelling, “Look at me!! What about me!!” And I said, “What if this guy was the male protagonist?”

I sat, my brain finally fully engaged in this writing process I’d been avoiding, and thought about the possibilities. And like a beautiful lightning strike (are there beautiful lightning  strikes?), the whole story opened up. A new much more meaningful emotional ending. A way to build this relationship surprisingly and with intelligence. The whole Magilla. It was all there. Zowie.

It also meant deleting 36 pages of script completely. Gone. Deleting 36 pages of hard struggle. Of hours and hours of work. And completely new story points to work out.

Took me about 30 seconds to think about it and do it. I hit the key. (I still had a backup) Victory was mine. Then I thought... “Uh oh.”

I needed to make the call to the producer to explain I was keeping the premise, the theme, and was completely changing direction in story and would you please let me. She was totally receptive as I explained exactly where it needed to go to work well, asked a couple of excellent questions as she always does, and then said, “I like it. Go and do it.”

I know it’s unfathomable to realize that writers, no matter how much they prepare themselves, can be completely wrong about their story after they’re into a second act. Sarcasm aside, you as a writer owe it to yourself, your characters, your story, to listen to that little voice that says “This is NOT working” when it happens instead of plowing ahead thinking you can write your way out of it. The delete key is your friend. “What if” is your friend. Don’t fear using them liberally if you have to.

This is not the first time this has happened to me, but never on this big a level or circumstances. I find new stuff and get new ideas, not just from me but from my characters, all the time in scripts as I write and go back and adjust. This time it was major. But after my Ah Ha moment I didn’t hesitate because you have to service your story before your ego. If I had kept going with my original storyline, the script wouldn’t have worked. And any rewrites would be based on a script that didn’t work. Plus I’m NOT going to turn in a script that doesn’t work. Neither should you.

Among all the other stuff you have to do as a screenwriter is question the honesty of your work as you go along. Be truthful with yourself. It’s not easy and it hurts a lot sometimes. But it also makes the big picture of what you’re trying to do better, healthier. If you see a character obviously not working, stop and fix it, even if it means radical change. Relationships in the story or conflict not working? Stop. If you force these things it kills good story and killing good story kills scripts, essentially wasting your time.

So, with a renewed sense of purpose I will plow new ground in this script, but this time won’t hesitate to zig in another direction if I think it gets off track again.

Glad to be back. Follow me on Twitter @bobsnz.

Yes. It’s been too long since I last blogged but I have a good excuse. I’ve been in LA for more than a month and writing like a fiend before that. I shall be writing like a fiend again until the end of the year, too. Thank You God.

So... what did I do on my summer vacation. I was in LA.  And what did I see? I did and saw a lot. I learned a lot. I had two spectacular producer meetings that have the potential to change my professional life for the better. Whether they do remains to be seen, but it’s nice to hear from influential people that they are fans of what I do.

But the main part of my trip? Culmination of a dream. I’ve had produced films from scripts I’ve written before. Seven, to be exact. Each one was good, except one, in their own way. All have been successful, even the one I hate, unfortunately. I got a fan Email just yesterday about the one I hate saying they loved it. The fact that the film doesn’t have one single thing I wrote on the screen and that it’s kind of an embarrassment to have my name on it notwithstanding.

Back to Summer Vacation. Our first stop.  A script I did a complete page one rewrite on that was NOT my idea nor my original script, but one that I did LOVE the premise and basic story for and a lot of the people who were involved, went into production. I got to spend a couple of days on the set, including playing a small part in the film they were kind enough to offer. I even got to play guitar on screen, another dream fulfilled. Wait, I got to play guitar while Joey Fatone danced to it. Not bad for an old guy like me. Even if my scenes end up on the cutting room floor it was a wonderful experience, so my profound thanks to all involved. But beyond that I also think this could be a very good and maybe groundbreaking film in a genre that’s not known for its groundbreaking films. I hope so. Thank you, John McGalliard, Stephen Baldwin, Christopher Shawn Shaw, and Thor Ramsey.

The rest of my six weeks of vacation, minus the things I’ve mentioned? Ok... this is where it gets really good.

One of my original spec scripts shot at the same time as the other film. Yes, I had two films in production at the same time, something that probably will never happen again. The fact that I’m still under embargo not to mention the specifics of this second project because it hasn’t been announced yet makes this part of the blog post a little tricky, but I shall try to be as vague as possible while still telling you how incredibly damned wonderful and exciting and spectacular it was.

Let’s start with casting, and holy crap what a CAST. Better than I could have ever imagined down to the smallest character, all of those filled with fabulous very recognizable talented character actors... and the leads, forget about it, just remarkable. Only one sore thumb in the cast. Me. Once again these wonderful people asked me to play a small on camera role, which was mega fun. I never write roles for myself when I write a script because... well, I never write roles for any actor. I write CHARACTERS who fit the story I’m trying to tell and hope actors want to play them. It’s worked out well. They offered me a role that surprised me, though. Which if you think about it, is damn cool. And I’m crazy about the casting agent who did this, too. She was wonderful, sweet, smart, innovative and yes, I will name everyone when the embargo is lifted.

The director. Can I say I love him without it sounding pervy? No? Then I don’t care. And even though he is now my lifelong friend, I’ve never worked with anyone I was so on the same page with. Watching him work to bring my story alive was so amazing that I did cry sitting there on set on a few occasions. Watching characters come alive the way I wrote and pictured them was something I hope every writer gets to experience.

The producers. More love. The one on set everyday worked harder than I’ve ever seen a producer work and got more done than I thought possible.

The crew. The best. THE. BEST. In every department. The best.

And every time I was there and there were a lot of extras (some days a whole lot) I went and sat down with them. That’s where I started in this business. Right there in extra’s holding. Right there with the people who get to eat last. And I talked to them and I told them to never give up on their dreams. That I didn’t and even though it took 18 years of not giving up, my dreams were now seeing the light of day in ways I never could have imagined.

I got to share some of it with my wife and daughters. My wife was with me most of the time, except the days I acted (or attempted to act) and was, as she always is, one of the most popular people on the set. The fact that she baked piles of homemade cookies for everybody helped. Two of the stars came up to her separately after the first batch to ask for more please. Immensely satisfying to her... and me. She’s been at my side for this whole journey and I couldn’t have made it without her. I can never repay her for all she’s done. The greatest wife ever.

My daughters came for one night of filming each and that was also wonderful. Not only so they could share it with me, but to see the scope of the production, which in both cases surprised them. Hey, I’m Dad. They’ve lived with this dream and all the failure and hard work and rejection and been uber-supportive. I wanted them to see that it all paid off in a big way.

Now I’m off to write the first of three paid jobs I need to get done. Two movies and a second episode of my series I hope to tell you about soon. Everything moves so slow in Hollywood and everything can blow up and disappear at any time too. So that’s why I am careful about specifics until a project is really real.

Or announced. Damn it.

Follow me on Twitter @BobSnz

Not completely true. Here’s the thing. Writers respect writers. Directors, for the most part, respect writers. Producers love and respect good cooperative creative writers, know who they are, and remember them. Entertainment Executives like writers who know what they are doing and appreciate them. They also know and understand the necessity of the writer. Industry people from all walks pay attention to who writes what. They know. Serious film buffs know who some writers are, especially the A List ones.

A small percentage of the public will see something based on who wrote it. And by small, I mean, very very small. Bordering on microscopic when you take the population into consideration.

The public at large?

Not so much. They know SOMEBODY probably wrote it, but man, did you see those Dinosaurs? Or that explosion? Or how the actors in that scene made you cry? Or how cool the film looked? And how did they drive that car out of that plane?

They do notice writers when the film sucks. “Who wrote that shit?” But even then they don’t actually look and see who did.

And on the films or TV where they were entertained? Don’t kid yourself. They may look at the name, but it’s gone by the time they get home.

But Bob, there are screenwriting podcasts. And books. And websites. And seminars.

And blogs.

Those are all for those select few thousand (out of millions and millions) who care.

So why don’t people care who the writers are?

How do I count the ways. Writers are invisible. You never see them onscreen. Their names are on the film once, as the audience is walking in or walking out. The audience didn’t come to see the writer. They may have come to see the story the writer created but they never consider who wrote it. Or they go to see the stars, or the hype. The writer is never on Jimmy Kimmel to promote the film. You never see the writer walk the red carpet either. They do, but when that happens, it’s time to cut to commercial.

Writers do get to be on panels at Film Festivals, but those are for the small percentage of people who actually care who the writer is and want to hear from them. And mostly it’s people who want to be writers, too.

Do I sound bitter? Absolutely not. I started out as an actor. When I decided to try writing, I knew what the bottom line was. I knew where the writer was on the public’s food chain. I knew if I succeeded, I would have to be content having the industry know who I was as a pinnacle. I’m still working on that.

You don’t get into the screenwriting business to get famous. I got into it because I wasn’t that good an actor so I thought I’d try it because I LOVE movies and don’t want to do anything but work on them. What I found out was that I loved writing. I loved creating story. I loved fitting all the story elements together like puzzle pieces. And the first time I saw my script, my story, my characters, my dialogue on a screen, I was hooked. A junkie. I want it again and again and again.

Everyone has their own reasons why they write for film or TV. Getting famous shouldn’t be one of them. And being famous isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway. I’ve been out to dinner, played golf, and had drinks with some very famous people and I wouldn’t want that kind of public attention for anything. It might be fun for a while, but for me it would wear very thin.

So, for that group of writers, or would be writers out there who think it’s not fair that writers aren’t as publicly valued as actors and directors... Don’t blame the industry.

It’s the public. They don’t care. They just want to be entertained and thrilled and to laugh or cry or be frightened. No more. No less. And if you as a writer accomplish that and can sit in the theater or a home or a screening room with people watching something YOU wrote and they react to your work in any of those ways..... you’ve gotten everything you need from them.

You don’t need to be stopped in the grocery store or walking your dog for autographs because, well, it’s not going to happen.

And, to be honest... I’ve also noticed that most of the people who complain the loudest about no public recognition of screenwriters are the ones who’ve never sold anything or had anything produced.

Having the respect of industry peers beats the hell out of anyone recognizing you in Costco anyway.

 

Follow me on Twitter. @bobsnz

Yep. The dreaded “M” word. The word that splits the writers who consider themselves artists from the ones they see as sellout commercial screenwriters.

Money.

Now, let me get something straight right from the start, screenwriters who write commercial scripts are not sellouts in any way shape or form in my humble opinion. You can come up with a great commercial idea for a film and feel the same passion for it as a writer as you can any script you write. In fact, you need to if you want it resonate with an audience.

This all comes from a post on a screenwriting board where a writer decried the fact the money going to into superhero films was ruining the film business. That commercial films were making it hard for serious “message” films to get made. Films that raised awareness and educated and allowed a writer expression. Not so surprisingly, films like the ones he writes.

There’s a whole group of people who think all film should be art. To improve mankind and to inform and educate. That pure entertainment for entertainment’s sake in film is a waste. Superhero films, remakes, TV adaptations, sequels, best seller adaptations... all these things are ruining the film business and shouldn’t happen. Film as art. And that’s what the studios should be making.

I know it’s not a black or white thing. I love film as art as much as anyone. But I’ve seen some great commercial films I thought were art. And... I’ve seen “art” films that were so pretentious and full of themselves there was really no art to be found. No one person or group can define it for another. And that’s the problem. There are writers that would like to define it for everyone.

Would I love to see studios taking a flier on some real spec scripts and make something different? You bet. Name me a writer who wouldn’t. But reality says that’s not going to happen. Maybe ever again.

Studios and even some of the bigger Production Companies these days are so risk averse they don’t want to take a chance on losing any money on anything that they don’t think already has a built in audience.

Money.

It’s an ugly word that some of these writers think should be low on the list of why films get made. Well, except when it comes to what they expect to be paid. But that’s a whole other blog.

A world they live in where money, other people’s money, not theirs, shouldn’t matter to the artistic filmmaking process. That the reason they haven’t sold their art is based purely on the stupidity of the studios and big Production Companies and what they think are the purposefully dumbed down audiences. Audiences who would be so much smarter if they just watched their films. That all these studio people think about is Money, not art.

And you know what? They're right. That's what studios think about. So do independent producers. So do production companies. And the sooner you as a writer who wants to see your work made and on screens for the public someplace recognize this truth the more it will make you think about what you write. And that’s a good thing.

I’m not saying you need to chase trends. I’m completely against that. I’m also not saying that you shouldn’t write something that moves you. More than a few writers have written films strictly as writing samples. Something out of the box and exciting or controversial or completely different for a genre, just to get noticed. The difference is that they knew the films probably wouldn’t get made, but might get them an agent or manager or writing assignments. It’s worked for quite a few of my friends, and actually, me.

But there’s a big difference between writing something as a sample and writing something with no commercial appeal and getting angry no one wants to buy and produce it because people are too stupid to realize that it’s art that needs to be seen.

If you want to sell a script and make money, you need to think about the audience you’re writing for. And the wider that audience, the more chance you have. My first real chance at a produced film was writing a Christmas Film for Hallmark. Did I worry it was Hallmark and what people would think? Nope. I took that opportunity and gave it everything I had as a writer, heart and soul...

And it’s a film I’m really proud of. I didn’t particularly make a lot of money for it either, but boy did it open doors. And it definitely wasn’t art. But it made people laugh for the right reasons and got incredible ratings. Good enough for me.

I love what I do. I love it every day. I get paid to tell stories. Something I would have to do even if I wasn’t getting paid. If I was a caveman, I’d be the one painting the buffalo pictures on the cave walls. I love creating story. I love the challenge. It’s what I dreamed about doing. Do I feel blessed that I’ve been able to get paid for it? You bet your ass.

So... do I think about money when I write?

Absolutely.

I think, “Is this a script that somebody would invest in?” before I write anything. I think, “Is there a wide enough audience for this?” at the same time. Why? Because I understand any money I might make as a writer depends on my honest answers to these questions. It’s a fact of trying to do this for a living because the word “art” is not a word producers think about when reading your script.

They’re thinking about money. If they like it, they’re thinking about what it will cost them to option or buy it. How much it will cost to make. Where they can go to get the money to make it.

The M word.

Follow me on Twitter. @bobsnz

Short time between Blogs this time... mainly because this one was kind of forced on me. I had to write about this stuff.

Which is good because I’m not really writing anything right now. I came up with what I think are stellar ideas for the second and third episodes of my series... but I’m still waiting for the greenlight on the pilot which the Production Company tells me is going to happen. I will remain healthily skeptical just for my own mental stability until then.

I spend my time working around the house. The skylight on my roof blew off in the last big storm flooding my pool room and ruining my pool table and a TV and some other stuff. Plus I’m working on some other home based projects I neglected during my five month writing marathon. And I’ve been surfing the interweb...

It was on one of these adventures (and a subsequent phone call) that I knew I had another Blog that needed to get out.

So on this episode of Just When You Thought You’ve Heard It All, we’ll be discussing the stupefying things writers sometimes do to try and get into the industry. A warning, again, to all you new writers who think you have a new special idea to procure a short cut. Sorry. Doesn’t work that way. And there’s no idea you can come up with that dozens of desperate writers haven’t tried before you thought of it.

So... Let’s start with Craigslist and work our way to Marvel. I’ll bet that got your attention.

First up: A young writer posted on a screenwriting board how he didn’t understand why he hadn’t gotten any response to his ad on Craigslist for his latest Script. He’d put it up for sale and was wondering what went wrong. He thought it would be snapped up by a studio or at least get some offers. I refuse to make jokes at the expense of this writer and his choices because that would be piling on. But... just for anyone who thought he had a good idea... Craigslist is terrific if you want to buy cheap motorcycle parts or get your stolen bike back (as one of my friends did), but for screenplays? Not optimal.

It amazes me that people who want to do this can spend the time to write a script but can’t spend the time to find out how to correctly get it out there.

So, to that writer who was startled that he got no traction on his Craigslist ad, look up the words... query, screenwriting contest (Nicholl to be exact), literary manager, and networking. The information you glean from these will help you more than Craigslist.

Next candidate was a writer who was on a screenwriting board laying out a strategy of giving their script, that this writer had written with a particular actor in mind, to that actor’s father and asking him to give it to his son. Making sure the father told his son that the script was tailored for him.

Does this writer actually KNOW the actor’s father? Well, no. But somebody the writer does know kind of knows him and this writer was going to ask that friend for an introduction so said writer could give the father the script to give his son. Easy.

This isn’t networking. This is USING people. In the worst way. The chances are the actor’s father will tell the writer he can’t do this because I’m very very certain that this has been tried before, more than a few times, and the father knows better. And knowing some actors with high profiles, I’m also fairly certain that the overwhelming reaction to this would be some pretty righteous anger involving said actor. For USING his father this way.

Yes, Networking is the best way to get your work out. I know this for a fact because it’s how I got my work out originally. But I built friendships and real relationships with people before they ever read anything I wrote. Using people to get your scripts out never works. Ever. And again, it’s a desperate move.

And finally, was a writer who posted on a board he had a Marvel film script he’d written. Based on one of the more prominent characters in the Marvel Universe, he was sure they’d scoop it up if he could just get it to them. It was then that I was surprised that he was told by a large majority of posters that he should go for it and send it because “YOU NEVER KNOW”. He was elated by the support. A couple of writers with a little more experience came on and told him it wasn’t going to work, but they were shouted down as “Bullies” and “Trolls”. Amazing.

So, fascinated by the fact that all these supposed writers on this board were encouraging this writer to send his script to Marvel, I called a very good friend who works at Marvel Studios in the executive offices. You never know? Well, NOW I KNOW.

Marvel gets dozens of unsolicited scripts a week. Dozens a week. They are all routed to the Security Department who return them to the sender with a nice letter saying no one read the script and please don’t send any more.

He also told me that some really desperate writers were faking CAA and WME return addresses on their scripts so Marvel would think the Agencies sent them and read them. Every one of those scripts were also caught by the Security Dept who checks everything. DON’T DO THIS. THIS IS A VERY BAD AND STUPID THING. It won’t work and you will make some lists that you don’t want to be on.

My friend also told me that about 40% of the calls they get every day are from writers, actors, would be directors, and other people looking to work there. They are politely told thanks but no thanks. Unless they get a particularly obnoxious call, which unfortunately is not that rare, then they’re transferred to the Security Dept. My friend says he has no idea how they handle it, but it does get handled.

Marvel doesn’t fool around and neither do any of the big studios or big production companies. You can dream that you’ll be the one exception, but that ain’t happening. Ever.

Thus ends another episode of Just When You Thought You’ve Heard It All. My guess is there will be a few more down the road. But none of them will be original ideas. And none of them will work.

Follow me on Twitter @BobSnz

 

 

Link

THE MOMENT

I did a Podcast last weekend for @FilmReverie with the lovely Mike and Brad, who were a joy to talk to. We mostly talked about my seeming career and my thoughts on writing. It was a lot of fun. I’ll link to it at the bottom of the Blog if you want to give it a listen. But during the hour or so we spoke, something we talked about got me thinking about why some great ideas hit and why some don’t. And most of the time, the randomness of it all.

There was also a post on DoneDealPro that spurred this. A writer who couldn’t understand why, given that everybody loved their pilot ideas and scripts, and even though they were getting in rooms and getting to pitch, they couldn’t sell or option any of them. There was more than an air of frustration in the post. They expected to do better. And as we all know, expectation is the mother of all frustration.

So, let’s get the a few things out of the way first before we get to the meat. In order to get turned down you had to make it a whole lot further that 90% of writers. And that took toil and sweat and damn hard work that paid off with the opportunity. I know that doesn’t help much when the answer is still no, but it means you’re seriously in the game.

And believe me, I understand the frustration. I’ve lived intimately with it, sometimes turned all the way up to 11. Every kind of writer frustration there is. And you know what? It ALL goes away the Moment someone says YES. It’s amazing how years of frustration can vanish when that happens. The problem lies in getting to that MOMENT.

The Moment. That instant where the word YES enters the head of a producer or actor or director or production company exec. The magic moment that can change your life. Or your bank account. The elusive Moment.

You can be spectacular in a room, have the greatest idea ever, a solid script, and you will still probably hear NO 99% of the time. It’s a numbers game. Hundreds of thousands of film and TV scripts in the system and only so many optioned and a lot less greenlit.

So you go into that room uber-prepared and give it your best shot. They’re smiling and asking the right questions... It’s all going like you imagined. And then you walk out empty handed.

What happened? Well... It boils down to what works for producers or network people at that Moment. If you're in there on the right day at the right time with the right idea for them at that exact Moment... you're gold. And you have zero control over it.

They don’t want you to fail. They want you to have an idea/script they love at that Moment. It’s true. But that damn numbers thing keeps rearing its ugly head. The people in the waiting area when you left? There to pitch their script or show. And the people arriving in the parking lot as you leave? There to pitch after them. And so on. The odds just by sheer numbers are against you. I was told over and over what an amazing fresh take my pilot was on the procedural genre. Never sold it. Never got close. Will I save it for down the road? Sure. And maybe somebody remembers it when they're looking for a procedural in 3 years. One can hope. But for now, deader than dead.

Experienced credited writers hear No most of the time. And like all serious writers, at first they look at all rejections as personal. Can't help it.  I know I do until I shake myself out of it, which sometimes takes a while. But the good ones regroup and move on to try again to get to the Moment.

It always helps to realize that there are thousands of writers out there wishing they were where you are. Getting to pitch seriously. But you also need to realize you aren’t the only one they’re saying No to. I know I forget that when I'm feeling sorry for myself. You’re not alone.

Like I said, I thought for sure my procedural would be my in to series TV. It would at least be optioned by someone. Even production companies who I’d worked for and optioned to before said they liked it. But when the Moment came... well... it didn’t come. But that doesn’t mean you don’t put your head down and look for more ways in. Never giving up.

And then... I sold a pilot. One I hadn’t even written. How? By sheer good fortune. God. Right place. Right time. The moment. At lunch with a production company exec I'd worked with who'd just moved to a new company. At the end of the lunch she casually mentioned they'd just signed a deal with a BIG TV star. Household name big. And they already had a cable network on the hook for the show, based on his name alone and the agreed upon genre. Now they needed to come up with the series for him. They had a vague idea of what he wanted. By vague, I mean his 2 required elements. One kinda specific, a dog, and the other a general feeling of tone. That's it. Genre, a dog, and tone.

As the check for lunch came and we were getting ready to part, I asked her if I came up with an idea, could I pitch it? She said sure, they were out to other writers, but ok, send me a one page.

I went home and wrote one. I decided to go outside the box and do something a little weird because I knew other writers would be trying to stay in the box. They responded favorably and the dance started.

Over months and months of back and forth and some serious contract negotiations from my manager (Thank you, John), they bought the idea and I wrote the pilot, on a contract, for money. Now I wait to see what happens next.  And like all projects at this point, there are a million reasons it fails right here, and hundreds of miracles that have to happen for it to move forward. The rug pulled out from under the Moment. I hope not, but man it’s nice to get this far.

Don't let the Nos get to you. Easy to say, hard to do. Write more scripts, more pilots. Keep pitching the ones you have. Get to that Moment. And remember, nothing happens when you want it to. Ever. You hear no, punch something, preferably soft, and move on. Move forward. I get the frustration. Believe me.

Quite a few of my friends who are writers have gotten to the Moment lately and it makes me really happy. It can happen. It does happen. But only if you don’t give up.

Here’s the link to the Podcast: http://filmreverie.com/podcast/film-reverie-take-50-bob-saenz/

Follow me on Twitter: @bobsnz

It’s been over a month since my last blog and I apologize. Busy doesn’t cover it. Hopefully I will soon be able to talk publicly about this flurry of work I’ve done on three amazingly different projects, but I’ve learned my hard lessons about talking specifically about a project before it’s actually funded and cast and before cameras. Or announced in the trades, which one or more of these might be. Or not. This business is so strange.

The life of a screenwriter. Always on the edge. Always glancing beyond what’s on the page in front of them and wondering what will be next and where it will come from. Especially if you’re close to finishing something. That’s natural. What isn’t natural is subjecting yourself to endless angst when it comes to submitting your work to anyone... agents, managers, producers, contests, or online to any of the pay to get your script out there sites. As to the worthiness of these pay sites... that’s another blog.

This Blog is brought to you by the writers on screenwriting boards around the world who ask the never ending questions... “Once I’ve submitted something how long do I wait before following up? And can I call? If I submit something, do I wait to hear before submitting to someone else?” The list of this line of questioning goes on, but you get the gist...

After years of making the mistake of sitting by the phone or computer and worrying daily about every submitted script, I finally made the choice to Submit and Forget. It changed my life.

No more worrying about whether a producer likes or doesn’t like my script. No more waiting to hear what one person thinks before sending it to another. If I entered contests, which I don’t and in most cases can't, I wouldn’t be waiting for the results before I queried it to anyone.

No matter how many times you Email or call (don’t call) an agent or manager or producer or director about your script, it isn’t going to make them read it any faster or like it more or less when they do. Well, if you CALL (don’t) or email too much it might make them like it less because they won’t want to work with someone who doesn’t understand how all this works.

If they like it, no matter how long it takes them read it, you will hear from them. They WANT TO LIKE IT. They want great scripts and great innovative writers. If they see that in you, you will hear about it.

If they don’t like it they may never let you know, issuing you the dreaded “Silent Pass”. Not my personal favorite, but much preferable to the “We loved it, but it’s not for us, kill you with kindness” pass, which even with flowery kind words is still a flat out rejection.

Once I realized that there were only two answers and I can’t affect either of them, I felt... well... liberated. I no longer had to sit by the phone or check my email for a note from them all the time. Or email them myself. Or worry whether they liked it or not. Because, and this was the most stunning thing to finally realize,  what I think doesn’t matter to them.

The truth is, it can take six months sometimes for reads. It can take overnight. You never know. I once had a script optioned almost a year after submitting it to a producer because that’s how long it took for him to get to it. I’d forgotten I sent it to him. (BTW, It ever got made and I got the script back.) They aren't going to work on your timeline.

So if you get a read request, Submit and Forget. And keep trying to get that same script out. And write a new one. Or rewrite your old ones. Don’t wait around for answers. Chances are it’s NO anyway, since most of the time that’s the answer. You owe no one an exclusive. You owe yourself the freedom not to drive yourself crazy waiting.

I should have done this long before I did. When I was acting and auditioning a lot, I used to fret about every audition and wait and wait by the phone for the answer (again mostly NO, because all but one who audition hear NO.) And one day, before an audition I really wanted for a film I really wanted to be in for a director really I wanted to work with and for, I realized the chances of me actually getting the part were probably as close to zero as you can get. Again... Liberating. I thought, “If I’m not going to get it, I’m going to just go in there and have fun.” And I did. And I got the part. Revelation. So, the next 8 auditions I went on, I did the same thing... same mindset... I'm not going to get it so relax and have fun. I auditioned 9 times over that period and got 9 parts. My agent said at the time it was a record for her. When I audition now (rarely), I still do the same thing. Had my first audition in almost two years end of 2015 and went in to have fun. Got the part.

Took me longer to realize the same mindset could help relieve the stress of submitting a script. Chances are overwhelming it's going to be a NO, so I’ll send it and forget it. Much healthier.

Was it like my auditions and suddenly I got more Yeses? No. of course not. I have gotten my share of yeses these last few years, but only after years and years of mostly No. I still hear NO a lot more than yes. But NO don’t bother me nearly as much because I know how hard it is to get a yes. And how nothing I can do or say, beyond writing the best script I can, will make anyone do what I want them to.

The people you submit your scripts to are happily living their lives and aren’t worried about what you’re putting yourself through at all. At all. They not only don’t think about it, they actively don’t care and never will. The only one putting stress on you is you. Don’t do it. Don’t spend valuable time you can’t get back worrying about what you have ZERO control over.

Submit it and Forget it.

 

Follow me on Twitter @bobsnz