Monthly Archives: June 2015

Let’s get something out of the way first... What networking is NOT.

Networking is NOT meeting someone in the industry and instantly asking or expecting them to help you succeed. That’s trying to USE someone. And surprise!!! No one has the deep secret desire to be used that way. No one.

Networking is NOT going to an industry get together or party or screening with a script under your arm to give out. Or with business cards to give out (unless someone specifically ASKS).

Networking is NOT going on some screenwriting board or twitter and after having a known writer answer your question or comment on something you said, using his/her name to as a reference to try to get your script read. (This has happened way more than once and again, SURPRISE, producers, agents, and managers check references.)

Networking is NOT expecting anybody to do ANYTHING for you.

It IS all about building relationships and your skill as a writer. Period.

We’ve all, in our lives, built relationships with people. Emphasis on “built”. Friends who are lifetime relationships. Friends who for any number of reasons end up being temporary relationships. Friends you make and lose touch with, but still have meaning to you. You can quantify every one of these. You care about them. If it’s a true relationship, they care about you. Even business relationships work this way. You know the person you’re dealing with and trust them because that trust has been BUILT. It’s not instant. It’s a bond that takes time and effort and sincerity.

And that’s where I lose a LOT of screenwriters. TIME? I don’t have time. I want my script sold now. My mom loves it and thinks it should get made. Have you seen the crap that gets made? My time is now. EFFORT? Hey! I just spent a good part of maybe a month writing this script. You have no idea how much effort that was. Effort to get someone to help me? No way. They should want to help me because they’re already there and I’m not. SINCERITY? I don’t have the time and I don’t care about them. What about ME???

I’ve been to the industry gatherings and parties and screenings. I’ve seen the best and worst of networking. I’m not surprised that the best networkers and most sincere people are usually the best writers. They have made the effort to understand what it takes to be successful beyond having written great scripts. They are at these things to foster good relationships within the industry. To meet people, not to USE them. To get to KNOW people as people, not as things who can help them. And if that ends with them getting some mutual business benefit from it at some point, great. If not, great too because you’ve still got maybe a friend out of it.

When you network correctly, you have to throw your ambition out the door for a while. Not in a calculated way either. Really toss it. Network to learn. Network to grow. Network to build your circle of friends.

Again. You need to get to know people as people. I know this sounds ridiculous on the face of it because you’re thinking, well... duh. But a lot of writers forget that successful writers and producers and agents (well, some agents) and managers are just people. With lives and interests outside the industry. Nobody just wants to talk business all the time. Nobody. And nobody in the industry is dying to help you. They just aren’t.

Successful producers and writers and directors and agents and managers all have their radar on, watching for people who would try and use them. They have to. It happens more than you could ever imagine. The second they even get a whiff of that you can see it in their eyes as they glaze over with the thought, “Not again”. I’ve seen it. Hell, I’ve experienced it both ways. Don’t think I didn’t make some horrendous networking mistakes in my young career when in my stupid ego induced state I thought some people were living their lives just to help me. It wasn’t until someone who loved my writing pulled me aside and set me straight about making an ass out of myself. And luckily, I listened instead of letting my ego rule (and ruin) everything.

And my eyes have glazed over when I've been confronted by writers who wanted my list of contacts the first time I met them. And no, I didn’t give it to them.

Networking is a slow dance. With someone who doesn’t want to dance with you at first. They’ve seen it all and they don’t like what they’ve seen. So you don’t walk up and grab their ass and pull them on the dance floor to dance to YOUR song. That never works and can hurt you in ways that can kill a career. You sincerely get to know them over time so that when their song comes on they don’t mind when you ask them to dance.

Oh… and you still have to have a great script at the end of the dance.

Follow me on Twitter. @bobsnz

I go out to breakfast with bunch of guys occasionally, friends who are not in the Film or TV business. They’re always interested in what I’m doing because as my friend Chris says, “Nobody else we know does what you do.” My question back was, “What do you think I do?”

Before I reveal their answers, I’ll pass on an experience that I had not long ago. We were out at a social gathering, again not an industry gathering, and an older woman my wife and I have met before but don’t really know that well came up and asked me, “Are you still writing your skits?” I told her I was and she smiled and said, “That’s nice. What do you do for a job?” I thought about my standard answer “A jockey at the dog races” and decided not to be a smart ass and tell her the truth. “I am constantly looking for new jobs.” She looked confused, smiled, and said, “I had no idea. I hope you find one.” and probably went off to gossip about how I was an unemployed bum. Which at the moment is true. So ok...

Back to my friends at breakfast. When I asked, “What do you think I do?” I was met with some interesting answers from all them.

“You get to hang out with movie and TV stars.” Uhhh. NO. I’ve met some. I’ve worked with some. Because of the TV series I did I’ve remained good friends with some. But that’s not my job.

“You write movies, so I guess... you write what they say?” No. I write the whole story. I write everything they do and say.

“Doesn’t the director come up with what they do?” No. I write what they do and the director films it the way he or she wants to. True, most of the time the director can change any of it. But to start with, I write the whole story.

“Wow. I thought the actors made up a lot of what they said.” No. They don’t. That’s why there are writers. For most TV series there’s a room full of writers mapping out everything that happens on the show including everything they say.

“Ok. But like for your Christmas movie, all the magic stuff like her book and the purse that made money and her ears changing (at least he watched it), you made all that up?” I did.

“That must be hard.” It isn’t easy to do it well.

“So you write everything they say and do. I never knew that.” That’s ok. Most people don’t. In our insulated world we like to think they do, but in reality, they don’t. Not a clue. And to be honest, most don’t care. They just want to be entertained and the writer is last person that comes to mind.

On my way home, that exchange got me thinking. What do I do? I came up with an answer I think is true and scary at the same time.

You really want to know what I do? I ride a rollercoaster. That’s my job. A business and emotional rollercoaster that can never stop, because if it does, I’m through.

You want to be writer? Grab your ticket and come aboard. This rollercoaster goes higher and dips lower than any amusement park ride ever. It corkscrews longer and when you get to the upside down loop it sometimes stops and leaves you hanging, making you sick on occasion. And if you’re not ready for it, it can toss you out on your ass. Or... you have the ability stop it and walk away. Not many do that because once you get to one of those high parts, you want to get there again.

New writers are anxious to hop on, in the front seat if they can, anticipating that rise, their arms thrust up high, thinking the exhilarating ride with be nothing but joy with bags of money tossed on board as the ride takes them on red carpets with cameras flashing.

Wow. Does that sound bitter? I hope not. I don’t want it to.

I’ve had some pretty great highs. Wind rushing through what’s left of my hair. A feeling like no other. I want it again. And again. I look at the stack of DVDs on my desk of the films I wrote or wrote on and I still have to pinch myself sometimes. It is the best part of the ride.

I’m sitting on the edge of a few more highs right now. Not there yet and because it’s screenwriting it’s NOT on my timetable. Yes, it’s frustrating. Kinda like the slow ride up that first climb and never getting to the top. Or hanging upside down. Or both at the same time.

I also experienced an unexpected huge dip in the ride last week which left me uncharacteristically angry and depressed. This is the part of the ride my wife hates because she can’t make it better. Not that I haven’t been there before, because every successful writer has been there and will be again, but this was so unexpected and so disappointing that it made me think, just for a split second, “Do I need to get off?” or worse “Am I being thrown off?”

No. I’m not getting off. I’m sitting down today and starting a new script. I’m riding the climb from the bottom back up and I’m reaching out for new gold rings and having faith that the old gold rings that have been promised will be there. I’m been on the ride too long to do anything else.

You want to be a screenwriter? This is the ride. This is what you get on. And it’s powered by your creativity, your hard work, your determination, endless patience, luck, skill, networking, and your ability to endure a wide array of emotion. How you handle the highs with humility knowing they don’t last and your ability to survive the subterranean valleys. And your determination to grab onto the ride and swing yourself back on after you’ve been thrown off if you have to.

And it’s a ride that’s operated by people who control all of it and none of those people is you. You do have some control over the quality of the ride however. How you conduct yourself on it. The quality of your work. How you interact with the ride supervisors as you pass them by, reaching for that golden ring they hold out.

And the movie going and TV watching public? They have no idea you’re even on it.

Follow me on Twitter. @bobsnz

I read a script the other day. A script a friend of a friend asked me to read. The premise was pretty good. A solid idea.  The execution of the premise? Oh boy. Mostly not there at all with some passable hints of ok here and there. Spelling was atrocious. Dialogue nobody on this planet would say, ever. A LOT of exposition.  People telling people things they would already know to inform the audience. The worst kind of exposition. For a first script it was a pretty standard try.

We spoke. I told the writer the truth, in my eyes, what was wrong with the script. I started by telling the writer how good I thought the idea was. How I wish I’d thought of it. Then I started in, I think gently, to tell the writer how off the mark the script was and why. I didn’t get very far when the writer interrupted and said, “You’re hurting my feelings. Why are you so mean?” I am NOT KIDDING. I may have laughed for a split second. “Seriously?”, I said.


I was flummoxed. Never heard this one before. He went on to explain that all his friends and family thought the script was great and would be a wonderful film. All he had to do was get it to an agent or studio and let the nature take his predetermined course. Why was I being so mean? Just because I was successful, I didn’t have to lord it over him. Why couldn’t I just read it and pass it on. Or NOT read it and pass it on. This was his honest thought process.

I said, “Is this a joke?” I was trying to think of which writer friend of mine would have put him up to this and how I was going to get them back.

He assured me it wasn’t a joke and I said, “You know, I went easy on you. A reader would have just thrown your script in the trash and never said anything to try and help you. A producer wouldn’t have been that nice. This is a tough business and you have to be tough with it.”

He said, and I kid you not, “I understand it’s a tough business, but you’re not a producer and this isn’t business so you could be nicer and more respectful.”

It was about then I started picturing in my head the walls of this young man’s room, lined with participation trophies and ribbons that told him he was a winner no matter where he’d placed in anything he participated in. This person had never been told he’d didn’t win. He expected a participation trophy from me.

He didn’t get one. I told him to grow up. I told him the real world didn’t give out participation trophies. That he’d have to measure up to industry standards or be left behind and that meant listening to honest constructive criticism and leaving his “Feelings” at the door. He honestly didn’t understand. You could hear it in his voice. This isn’t the first time I’ve run into this out there.

I told him I wasn’t sending it anywhere. I told him if he did send it out he was going to hear a lot worse that what I said. And that he didn’t even let me finish and tell him how he could fix it, although I don’t think he has the ability now. I told him I was going to delete his script from my computer and I would take my mean old self as far away from him as I could. I wished him... I don’t think I wished him anything... I just ended the call.

I’ve said this before. I was given a tremendous amount of help and advice when I was first starting. Help from some amazing pros who didn’t have to, especially considering where my stupid ego was after selling my first script out of the box. But they did. And I listened and I learned and I made mistakes and I fixed my mistakes. Because I had that kind of help.

So in this vein, I also visit some screenwriting boards and butt in when I see something I can comment on that I have experience with. Some young person had posted that you HAD to put camera angles and POVs and camera pans in your scripts so the director knew what you wanted to do. This WAS the industry standard and that Syd Field’s book was the way you HAD to do things or you wouldn’t succeed in Hollywood because they knew if you were using Syd’s book or not by the way your script read. He was “the industry’s guru.”

I have a lot of friends who are writers. Most of which who are better than me and have more experience and there wasn’t one of you that wouldn’t have commented on this. I did. I said that wasn't true. I didn't sugarcoat it, but I wasn't nasty about it. And was met with the same kind of crap I got from the writer on the phone. That I thought I was some ego maniac big shot writer who was trying to tell them what to do. And in a mean way. If he was wrong why couldn’t I sweetly tell him with a private message or something instead of embarrassing him. He came back and said some snotty thing like “My Bad”.

So I answered it like this, “No, not at all. You're learning. You're anxious to get going in the industry. You're eager. You're motivated. Those are things that will help you move forward. Don't change that. When I was first starting I also was free in giving out advice because I was excited about what I thought I had learned. I was wrong. And I got shot down because I gave advice without the industry experience or screenwriting work history to back it up. Plus it was erroneous advice because I didn't really know crap. You're just starting. My advice to you? Read scripts from films you like. Read bad scripts to see what people did wrong. Read any scripts you can get your hands on... Then write write write. Learn the business end of screenwriting. If you want to be screenwriter, that means you have to be an independent businessperson. Just writing a script is the beginning. Keep going and I wish you nothing but success.

And it started an avalanche of comments from a bunch of wannabe writers on another thread dedicated to complaining about how experienced writers thought they knew soooo much. And how they never liked the loglines people posted and were probably stealing them and never said anything positive (meaning what they wanted to hear) and on and on...

What it taught me was... never again. I’m not reading friends of friends scripts anymore. Just not. I’m past done doing that. I’m not visiting that screenwriting board anymore either. Doesn’t mean I’m done giving back, just going to be more careful and selective.

When you write and want honest feedback leave your ego and feelings at the door. Tough to do, but every writer I know that’s successful does it. Why? Because you'll learn something. You'll get better as a writer. But mostly because if you don’t, you won’t survive.

Follow Bob on Twitter @bobsnz

Provoking Emotion. That’s what sets you apart and sets your work apart. It can be joy, anger, glee, fright, sadness, empathy, anxiousness, compassion...

But it had better be something. And it all comes from character.

I read a script this week that laid there like a dead eel. (Ok... Dead Eels can be delicious, but only in Sushi) Not only did I not care at all about what happened to the characters, I didn’t care about who they were, where they came from, or why they were in the situation the writer chose to put them in. Why? Because the writer didn't care enough about them to let me know who they were and why I should care about them. And it's too bad because the premise was pretty good.

The reason audiences choose to watch a particular film or show is to be entertained, period. To escape into another world. To feel with the characters. To experience the character’s lives vicariously. Don’t kid yourself. There’s not a great film out there that you haven’t put yourself into emotionally at some point. To choose to feel what a particular character did.

You need to design your characters and story to evoke emotion and KNOW before you start what emotions you’re going for.

Too many times I read a script where the writer is so fixated on their premise or trying to write too cool characters or twists or action or scares that they forget to build reasons into their characters to care about them.

Premise, in any script, is king. Your logline. In building a great story around that premise however, you have to give the audience characters to love, get scared with, to root for, to hate (and not hate because they’re lame, but because you want the audience to), to... well, anything that makes them CARE. To become emotionally involved with.

One thing that makes audiences NOT care instantly is when you as the writer don’t know your own characters well enough to know what they’d do in a situation. ANY situation. Doing something the audience (or reader) thinks is not in character, but for story convenience. This has killed more scripts than bad spelling.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend time as actor around some pretty amazing actors. The best ones develop biographies about their characters. One very well known actor had a yellow legal pad filled with pages of character notes. Including things not even in the script, but what he gleaned from what the writer built into the character.

Thinking about it, one of the things that helped me a lot in becoming a better writer was my acting experience. It made me look for things that actors (and STORY) need. Consistency of character. As a writer, before you commit your character to doing anything in your story, you need to ask yourself: “Is this something this character as I have built him/her would really do?”

You’d be surprised how many times you’ll have to rethink things. But it could save your scripts from being thrown into the PASS pile. You can’t provoke the emotion you want from characters who aren’t consistent to what you’ve presented earlier. Yes, you can still twist a character. I do it all the time. But I also weave clues all through the script it’s coming. Leaving clues that the reader (or audience) doesn’t see for what they are until after the reveal is the difficulty. It’s work. It’s thought. It’s creativity. It’s not easy. But then, writing a script that evokes the right kinds of emotion is never easy.

For writers trying to break in, the object of your script is for the reader to not be able to put your script down. The ONLY way this happens is if they NEED to know what’s going to happen to the characters you’ve created. That means not only does your story have to be great, but your characters have to be great in it. That means you as the author have to spend the time with each one of them to get to know them intimately. To know their needs and wants and fears. What makes them laugh. What makes them cry. What motivates them as PEOPLE, not just in the situations and conflicts where you’ve placed them.  And not changing it midstream for convenience. To use your well defined characters to evoke the emotion in the reader you need in order for your script to succeed.

I can tell you from experience that I’ve sat in production meetings with development Execs and said, “That character wouldn’t do that” any number of times and explained with complete certainty exactly why. Because I KNOW that character like I know myself. And it’s saved me from having to execute some pretty horrible notes.

Yes, it’s another time consuming and sometimes painstaking thing you need to do before and during writing. So what? Don’t do it and you’ll be wondering why your scripts never get any traction.