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

You can. It’s not always easy. But you can.

As much as I’ve said more than once in my Blogs that no one is the exception, that everyone’s scripts get changed and they always bring in other writers (Hey... I’ve BEEN that other writer on many occasions), it still hurts when it happens to you, especially completely unexpectedly on a project I’ve been working on for 10 years. Not that it wasn’t completely explained in a very nice way by someone who was clearly unhappy to be doing it, it stung a lot. I do get it. I do understand, but... damn.

And yet, as a script I was hired to rewrite goes out to the original writer today, I can’t help feeling like a hypocrite. He’s going to read a script that was based on his, but isn’t his. I did try my hardest to write it with his intent at the front of my mind at all times. As I told my wife, “They bought HIS script, not mine.”

So I strove to make his characters true to what he had intended for the most part. Yes, I did change a couple of them radically. One from a comic relief spectator to a very important cog in the story wheel. Another just to make her more interesting and less like the other female lead. But these changes, in my opinion and of the producers who’ve already read it (thank You, God), I believe have made this story a fully arcing compelling, funny, tale. With weaving subplots that all come together for a satisfying end. Plus stuff for the audience to talk about as they walk out and over coffee. That’s not too bad.

I hope he likes it. I’ll understand if he doesn’t. I changed a lot of dialogue. There are whole scenes he didn’t write. I took out a huge subplot and replaced it with... nothing. It’s just gone. And so are the three characters that populated that subplot. I took that space to meaningfully build the main story and main characters.

And now... or soon anyway, someone will be doing the same thing to my script.  It’s just what happens when you decide to try and be a screenwriter.

Of the seven produced films I have out there, I’m happy to say that two are 95% of what I wrote for my final draft. Two are probably at 75%. One at about 50%. One at maybe 35%. And one at about .01% and have no idea why my name is still on it. Plus, it’s irredeemably bad.

I think I’ve actually been luckier that way than most, talking to some of my friends. And I like all the films, except the THAT ONE. Whoever wrote the percentages I didn’t write (except THAT ONE) did well enough to make the film as good, or in some cases, better than I had written them. Just in a different way.

If you get to the point of having something produced, you’ll go through the same things. And even though I understand intellectually that this IS the business I chose and the way it works, I still spent a lot of yesterday wanting to punch something. Ok, and maybe actually punching some helpless inanimate objects.

Today? Not so much. I’ve erased the project from my white board and for now, am moving on to other projects I am actively writing or involved in. Including the rewrite that went out today, which may be one the best I’ve ever done, or at least I feel that way right now.

I’m getting paid to do the thing I dreamed about all my life.  I look at it and it’s a dream come true.

I have a super supportive wife, super supportive kids, supportive friends who mean the world to me, a kick ass dog who gets me, a manager who has been true to his word and puts up with my bullshit, and when I think about all those things, I realize what I was upset about yesterday has happened for a reason. What that reason is has eluded me thus far, but if I sit in a corner and dwell on it, the only loser is me.

Being a screenwriter this day and age is as close to being a masochist as you can get. You do get beat up a lot. You hear NO (in more inventive ways than you can count) more than a lot. You get soooo close soooo many times and then, poof, it’s gone a lot. You have to be tough. You have to be resilient. You have to have a good supply of stuff soft enough to punch and not get hurt. And at the end of the day, you have to be able to sit back and, as clichéd as it is, count your Blessings.

I think about my set visits to films I wrote and wonder if they were real because they were so amazing. I think about watching director’s cuts of my films with my wife and trying not to cry when something I know I wrote works so damn well on screen. I think about the production meetings. The conference calls. The exhilaration when I write something I know works. The high of finishing a script. Of polishing a script. The discovery of something you never dreamed of for a script while writing it and having it make everything work better. Those are the things you LIVE for professionally. Of working with someone, whether it’s a partner, producer, director, or development exec on a script and having it hit on all cylinders. It’s those things that bring you back. It’s those things that move you forward.

Wow. My amazing wife just brought me some hot tea with honey. Rocket the dog is here at my feet and I have another writing assignment due this month. I don’t have time to think about what’s past.

A smart screenwriter looks forward, only looking back to learn from mistakes, not looking back at what could have been. That accomplishes nothing. So I thank you... for letting me use my Blog this month as therapy. And my hope is that you can learn from this and be prepared for how wonderful and painful this screenwriting thing can be at the same time.

It’s that time of year when all screenwriting thoughts are directed towards snowflakes and candycanes and Reindeer and Santa... yeah right. Nope, if I remember correctly it’s about this time of year a lot of screenwriters look back on the year past and wonder why they still don’t have a damn agent or manager.

The screenwriting boards light up in Holiday multicolored complaints from writers who talk of how stupid agents are for not recognizing the brilliance of their scripts. Others lament how they query just like they’re supposed to but the damn managers won’t even respond or have the bad taste to pass on them.

That’s when the “You don’t need an agent, they just profit off of your hard work” and “They don’t do anything anyway.” comments spring to life. Or worse “You can sell a script to a studio without an agent or manager. Just buy my book.” offers spring up like ugly uncontrollable kudzu.

So in the spirit of the time of year I’m going to offer my thoughts on this topic.

First of all, Agents and Managers are looking for writers who will have careers, not one trick ponies. You aren’t going to get one from your first script unless it’s so groundshatteringly good that people read it and faint from ecstasy. This is not likely. In fact let’s be honest, it isn’t going to happen. Honestly, it might not happen for your first ten scripts.

For sure, it is about quality, but quantity counts, too. You have to have an answer to the age old question, “What else do you have?” besides, “Well, I got some ideas.” or “Isn’t this one enough?”

Most new writers have the wrong idea about agents and managers anyway. They think that once they have one the heavens will open and manna in the form of instant sales and produced films and writing jobs will shower over them.

A good example of this kind of thinking is from something I actually witnessed in a different aspect of this business. I was sitting in my acting agent’s office one afternoon shooting the breeze (this was when I had occasion to actually make use of my acting agent, unlike now) and there was a commotion in the outer office. My agent, who although she’s about 5’1” and pretty petite but could probably throw someone through a wall, went to see what was going on. I followed.

In the outer office, as her assistant and the office manager stood between a young man and my agent’s office door, he waved something in the air. “I have my SAG card and I’ve CHOSEN you to be my agent.” My first reaction to this statement was to wish I was anywhere but there as I watched my agent’s blood pressure increase so much you could feel it in the air.

Then she wound up and delivered. “Get the hell out of my office! Now!” He looked like she’d shot him, which I believed she would have if she could get away with it. He slunk out. I think I started laughing until she gave me a look.

We went back in her office and she regaled me on how stupid wannabe actors can be. I guessed correctly that this was not the first time this had happened. She finally laughed, although it may have been an ironic one, and told me that most all of them were extras who got a SAG card by Taft-Hartley vouchers, not by actually acting in anything and believe once they are visited by the SAG Fairy they will instantly be cast in all varieties of film and TV, mostly as the star, and are blessing her by choosing her to represent them. She called it Psycho-SAG-cosis.

This is what a lot of screenwriters think is going to happen when they get an agent or manager. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you are good enough to get a good manager or agent all they can do is open some doors for you and advise you how to handle it. This IS quite important for sure, but you have to do the rest. They DO NOT GET YOU JOBS. You get you jobs by being great in a room, having what the people who you meet with want, and impressing the hell out of them with your personality and talent. If you can do this, then you get to keep your agent or manager to go out and do it again, keeping in mind that the person waiting in the outer office when you finish is there to do the same thing.

Yes, with an agent or manager the Opportunity Fairy can visit a lot more often and that’s a very good thing. But you as a writer have to be just as ready for an agent or manager as they are for you. Confident in yourself and your work, not ridiculous big ego confident, but sincerely there and humble confident. You have to be honest and tell the truth, not just say what you think people want to hear because that always bites you on the ass eventually. And to have enough faith in yourself to answer a question with “I don’t know, but I can find out.” if that’s the real answer.

These are the things, besides having some great scripts, that will keep you in good stead with any agent or manager. That and a real work ethic.

Writing one script doesn’t make YOU ready. Being desperate doesn’t make you ready. Everything is this business takes time, as I have said dozens of times before. You HAVE to be patient. There is no Agent Fairy to instantly make you a screenwriting star. Agents and managers are there to work with you in building a career one block at a time. You can’t sit back and wait for them to perform miracles, because that’s not their job. And you’re not their only client either. There’s nothing magical about it.

So if you think you’re ready, query managers and agents. They ARE looking for new talent all the time. And keep networking. I got my manager through a referral from a director. He had to read my work first and talk to me and do all those things they do before agreeing to represent you, but the referral got me through the door.

Getting an agent or manager is just another stepping stone in managing your own business as a screenwriter. A big one, but one that needs to come at the right time. Knowing that this is a long game, don’t be so anxious that you try before you or they are ready.

And Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from me and my family.

Follow Me on Twitter… @bobsnz

Welcome to my Annual Thanksgiving Edition where I give thanks. Or sometimes complain a little. But mostly gives thanks.

First up... My Wife. Number one. My kids. Right there. Spectacular. Thank you.

A quick long overdue thank you to Jeff Lowell. Who a few years ago said this in a DoneDealPro posting: “As for Bob, I don't think that, given his resume, he should be handing out advice that contradicts actual industry pros.” This said in reaction to some BAD advice I gave on an IMDb Screenwriting Board because at the time, I thought I knew it all. I didn’t. Not even close.

I had optioned a couple of scripts (never made) and had a couple of small independent film rewrites (made, but never distributed), nothing big. So... of course, I thought I knew everything about screenwriting.

Then someone told me about the DDP thread and I read it. I also looked Jeff up. He’s the real deal, but then most of you know that. To have someone of that stature saying that about me by name was an eye opener. Made me look at myself and realize my ego was much bigger than my knowledge by a long shot. Made me take a BIG step back. I realized having a couple of optioned scripts, of which there are hundreds out there, does not make you an expert. Yet here I was offering black and white advice about screenwriting when I had no business doing it. I hadn’t been in a production meeting, I hadn’t ever worked with a development exec, I had barely ever worked with producers, I didn’t even have a rep. Idiot. Was talking when I should have been listening and learning.

And I'm still learning, 6 produced films later. I just had a two week rewrite session with a director (Thank you Jay) on one of my spec films that goes next year and the amount I learned from that session alone is staggering.

Do I give advice now? Yes. Hey, I have a blog. But now I give it from a background as a produced writer who makes a pretty good living at it. I also rightly label it as my OPINION based on experience and not like I walked down off some mountain with Gold Tablets. If you learn one thing from this: One unmade optioned script to your name? Look for advice, don’t give it.

So thank you to all the writing pros who took me under their wings and to executives, both at the production company and cable network level, and to producers and directors who have let me suck the knowledge from their brains over the years. You’ve all made me a smarter better writer. I hope to never stop learning.

Thank you to my Manager, John. Not with one of those big management companies. An independent guy. We’re having a pretty special year so far. And next year looks even better. Which goes to prove that, yes, even though you often strive toward a big name manager, sometimes it’s better to find one who just believes in you even if he’s not a household name. Something I think new writers need to consider when they’re looking down their nose at a person they’ve never heard of who wants to work with them, waiting for a better offer from a bigger rep that may never come.

THANK YOU to the execs and producers that believe in and support my work. There aren’t enough words to express my gratitude.

Thank you Jay Lowi. Ten years. TEN YEARS. Let’s go make a movie.

Thank you to my real life writing pals. All of you. The people who come and drink with me when I’m in LA. The writers who want to, but can’t make it. The writers I talk to on the phone and trade scripts with. The writers who I want to be successful in the biggest way. Your friendship is one of the things that makes this journey so much fun. Just know how much you mean to me. The writers on Twitter, who make me laugh and who make me happy when they share their successes.

I walked up to my wife 23 years ago and told her I was quitting my pretty successful day job to become a film actor and a screenwriter. Also maybe a radio DJ. She could have said, “Hell no.” Instead she said, “You gotta follow your dreams. But only if it takes you a couple of years.” (See why I always thank her first?)

That was enough for me. So I ventured out KNOWING NOTHING about any of these things or how damn hard it was to even be a part of them, let alone succeed. And in those first two years, I got my SAG card, did some movies and commercials, I was an actor was on a successful TV show (for 6 seasons in a microscopic part, but I was there getting paid to learn how to make movies and TV, Thank you Don Johnson), I optioned the first script I ever wrote to a production company at Warner Bros (never got made, and BOY is that a sad story), and I was on the air as a DJ on KYCY, a country music station in San Francisco. AGAIN, I KNEW NOTHING. I didn’t know how hard these things were to do so I went and did them.

I’ve had a Forrest Gump kind of life. Right place, right time. (Thank You God) Got to work for directors like Coppola, Eastwood, Fincher, Ron Howard, even Michael Bay in blink and you’ll miss me parts. But I got to watch them work. I’ve met and talked with acting heroes of mine I couldn’t have imagined meeting. They wouldn’t remember me, but I’ll always remember them. I’ve gotten walk around movie studios, and not as a tourist (although I’m sure I looked like one). The list of the amazing things I have lucked my way into is too long and boring to list. But damn... my grateful quotient is off the chart.

Finally, thank you to the readers of this Blog. The numbers who read it constantly amaze me. I appreciate you, too.

And everybody have a Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

 

Formula. Food for babies so they get all the nutrients they need. A blending of chemicals to make a drug. A specific path to follow to make beer or wine. A way of rating race cars. In Mathematics, a rule or principle, frequently expressed in algebraic symbols. A formal statement of religious doctrine.

A way to write a successful spec script? Not so much.

I know this may rub some writers or some script gurus the wrong way, but in my opinion a spec script written to a formula is never going to be anything special. How do you write a creative story that lets your own unique writing voice sing out if you have to write it according to some formula? If the story reads like everyone else who’s used the same formula, it most likely can’t.

I’m not talking about format. You need to follow that.

The reason for this Blog is a couple of emails I got and an advertisement I read online all touting to have the secret of getting your script sold and made. All by people who’d never had a screenplay produced, or if they did it was in 1986. They were pushing their formulas. Not unlike Save the Cat, which personally I also think stifles creativity and good storytelling.

Now. There are people who will tell you certain genres have Formulas you have to follow. Where did these formulas come from? From writers who went out of the box to begin with to find success. And when it worked, others followed. Thus becoming formula. Does that mean other new things in that genre won’t or don’t work? Hell no. This is about going out of the box or being a follower with your own spec scripts.

When you get to the point of doing some writing for hire for producers, or studios, or networks, some will have you follow their formulas, their rules for what they want in a script. Some cable networks actually have them written down. Most every TV show has them in stone.

The problem with actually getting these jobs is that you have to get noticed for your own spec work to get them. And believe me, the people who would rep you or hire you are NOT looking for formula from new writers. They’re looking for exciting great stories they haven’t read before told with a unique voice. Your voice. Not a Tarantino clone. Not a Shane Black or Tony Gilroy clone. The one you’ve developed by writing and writing and writing and letting go of preconceived ideas and releasing your own creative voice. One of the best compliments I ever got about a spec script I wrote was from a producer who said she knew I’d written it about five pages in by the voice and style. She also optioned it.

Then there’s my spec script that’s responsible for EVERY job I’ve ever gotten, EVERY room I’ve ever been in, got me my Rep, and is in some way responsible for everything else good that has happened to me in this business. What about it? Readers have trouble deciding who exactly the Protagonist is. When they finally decide it’s one person, that person dies. The main character, who may or may not be the Protagonist or may be the Antagonist, has NO ARC. He doesn’t change or grow or learn a damn thing. In fact, in his last line of dialogue he tells the audience that in so many words. Did I write it that way on purpose?

No, not really. I’m also not sad it turned out that way. I just wanted to write a great story that would be great on screen. Something I’d never seen before. And I came up with something I believed in, something if it worked that would make people pay attention to me as a writer. Does it follow any formula at all? Well, I guess it has three acts. Inciting incident? Page 37. Oh… it has specific music cues in it. An opening scene where the first characters introduced never say a single word for their entire time on screen in the film. Are they important characters? Yes.

And guess what? No one has cared. No one. It’s been optioned 8 times over the last 16 years by 8 different producers or production companies, including a studio. In the past, I’ve had producers in line waiting for an option with another producer to lapse so they could option it. I got a call a month ago asking if it was available. (it's not) And it’s never been made. No one made it because... well... the story itself is a wee bit controversial too.

Something else I did on purpose. I really never meant for it to get made. I meant for it to get me noticed. It did. The fact that it’s getting made next year, by the 8th production company, is a bonus.

A spec script these days has a very slim chance of getting made. Just the way it is right now and for the foreseeable future. Yes, there are some that get produced. Hell, I’ve had some produced. But selling specs is a very very tough road to go down. What you want from a spec is to show people, people who could hire you for writing jobs, that you have skill, imagination, a unique voice, and the strength to go out of that formula box, even though they may put you back into it to work for them. I know, it’s weird. But true. Ask any writer who’s broken out lately if they didn’t throw some formula to the wind to make the spec that got them noticed something different and special.

Formula has a place. You will be asked to use it for writing jobs. So you should know it before you ignore all or parts of it for your spec. It’s there to make familiar things happen that audiences are used to in certain kinds of films. Things everyone has seen before. It’s there because some people think it has to be there for your story to work cinematically. I personally don’t believe that.

But if you stick to it in your specs, trying to mold your story around it, Producers and Reps probably have nothing special to notice.

Follow me on Twitter @bobsnz

Again, I’ve been ignoring my blog not because I don’t have anything to say but because I have a film going into production early next year and the director wanted one more rewrite for casting that takes place this month. That one more rewrite ended up becoming a five week “let’s vet every single word” rewrite.

Is the script better? Yes. Did he let me do ALL the writing and listen to me? YES. Did I win some arguments? Yes. Did I lose some? Yes. Did he let me take those notes and put my spin on them so I could maintain the integrity of the story and characters? Yes again. Have I been the only writer on this from when it was originally my spec until now? Yes. Am I spoiled on this one? You bet your ass.

He did have last say, but then he’s the director. I’m not. I get it. He’s also smart and knows what he’s doing and I completely trust him. I did get frustrated and I am sure that I frustrated the hell out of him at times. I thought it would never end and feared it wouldn’t at the same time. This is a big one for me. A spec I wrote 16 years ago that has been responsible in some way for every writing job I have ever gotten and every room I’ve ever gotten into. So it’s very meaningful. And to have this kind of experience, I’m certain, is a fortune I will never have again in this business. So I am thankful and grateful.

I have written reams in my blogs about script notes. How you will get them. How there's a 100% certainty your script will change. How you can cooperate or be tossed away like yesterday’s garbage from the project.

But I’ve never written about how much you can LEARN from the experience if you open your mind to other experienced people with a different point of view and understand why they want to do the things they want to do with your work. This director was very clear he loved my spec and understood my themes, my story, and the characters, but also clear when he said, “This film will be my interpretation of your script.” There was no waffling or beating around the bush.

But in giving me the notes he had and the notes he got from our new producer, who has only produced some of my favorite films, he talked about density and specificity, and then proceeded to show me what he meant.

We took characters and scenes that worked and proceeded to layer them with meaning I never thought about. To give conversations I thought were great much more depth and subtext. To give the multiple subplots more dimension and meaning as they reflect on the main storyline. And every time we did these things, I learned something new that will make me, I think, a better writer in the future. It was like a doctoral degree writing lesson. For hours and hours every day. My brain hurt every night because all I could think about was this story and these characters and how they related to each other as the story progressed, even after we stopped for the day. In my dreams, even after I was asleep.

The funny thing was, as we wrapped up the rewrite last night and the director sends it out today to the producers and the casting company, I knew this wasn’t the end. I knew we’d be back at it as soon as we got more notes from producers and actors that were cast. And that’s fine with me. Bring it on.

As a screenwriter, no matter where you are on the pecking order, it’s incumbent on you to always be learning. To suck knowledge from those who know more. And believe me, there are ALWAYS people who know more. They’re also easy to mistakenly dismiss if you are so wedded to your work that you can’t open your mind to them. And that can be harmful to you as a writer in the long run.

In the middle of all of this, I also had the joy of being a judge in a short film writing contest put on by a national screenwriting group made up of and for teens (with one 11 year old) who want nothing more than to do this for a living and are WORKING hard at it to learn, grow, and get better. (There needs to be an applause button here) They, like me, decided early in life that this is what they want to do. Only they, unlike me, are starting now rather than just dreaming about it for the first 35 years before doing anything about it like I did.

So they sent me the finalists in their contest. 7 short scripts that averaged about 8 pages each. The 11 year old’s was 20 pages, but we’ll get into that in a minute.

First, second, and third place winners got some nice prizes and Final Draft (good for you) was awarding the winners free software, which is pretty cool since all the scripts were all obviously written in Word.

I decided to read all the scripts in one sitting to be fair. To be honest I wasn’t expecting much, but then whenever I read a script by any new writer I’m not expecting much.

Four of the scripts were what I expected from teen writers. Stories about high schoolers that went nowhere and didn’t have any theme or purpose. They were still well written with a basic knowledge of what dialogue should and can be. Not as bad as some adult written dialogue I’ve read for sure. Those were easy to put in the “Honorable Mention” category. But I also don't want to ignore the fact these writers had obviously learned a lot and were on the right track.

The 11 year old took third with the only script NOT about school age kids. Amazingly enough, he wrote a 20 page script about two adult men having a “My Dinner with Andre” philosophical discussion while each sat in their respective cars stuck in a traffic jam before going their own ways. It was too long and repetitive, but wow, I loved the thought process that brought this about. He/she was already out of their comfort zone trying this at 11. Impressive. I’d help this kid anytime they asked.

Second place went to a 17 year old who wrote a five page piece about how two different high school kids specifically see each other from each kid’s point of view and how even though they both think they’re so different, they aren’t. Clear theme. Fairly good dialogue. Super thought process. Thought this one might be the winner.

Until I read the first place script. Also by a 17 year old. It started out for the first few pages like a boring selfish high schoolers day and ended up with this high school girl discovering that her preconceived notions about people and situations were not what she thought at all and learning and growing from it. In 6 pages. A whole character arc well thought out. Easy winner. Again, impressive. You could tell this writer had studied and learned and retained and was putting the education into practice.

No way any of these 7 finalists just threw these together. They were serious about this. They want to learn. They want to grow as writers.

You, as a writer, can learn from them. There is always an education in writing to be had out there if you want it and see it and are open to it. Sometimes it might hurt, but it’s always worth it.

Follow me on Twitter. @BobSnz

I’ve been ignoring my Blog the last few weeks. Not because I had nothing to write about, but because it’s been kind of a whirlwind last six weeks. Busy doesn’t begin to describe it. I am thankful and grateful for the work (a massive last minute rewrite job) and the amazing opportunities whose timing, without them all knowing it, couldn’t be better right now for a lot of reasons. So thank You God and let’s hope it keeps up.

Today I want to talk about understanding what it’s like to be a screenwriter. I know that sounds simple and you all probably know or have an idea what it means anyway, but damn, lately I’ve watched some good people give themselves some self inflicted wounds they didn’t have to because they didn’t understand how movies and TV happen and the writer’s role in it.

Let me be clear. Yes, a writer writes. That’s the primary role. But in order to get to the place where your role is writing for money by optioning or selling or getting an assignment job, there are some non self-destructive things you need to think about.

If you want all control over your intellectual property from start to finish, make the films yourself. And finance them yourself. That’s the only way. Otherwise, don’t look like someone who doesn’t understand the process and ask for control or approval of any script changes. No matter how good your script is, producers will walk away and not return your calls if you do this. Development of your work is going to happen and more than one person is going to have a voice and none of them is you.

Just this week I heard more than a few stories from some Producers about writers who just don’t understand. It’s not a rare thing.

There’s a guy I know who is just about to find out how this works. He’s said he’s going to hold out for creative control over his script. Script approval. The people who want to produce this film couldn’t care less what he wants. They know in the real world of filmmaking this is a deal breaker. I’m not sure he understands they are completely prepared to walk away and put their money into another project tomorrow if he insists on this today. And they will. And they won’t look back. Unless you’ve written another Harry Potter with millions of built in fans, you aren’t getting any kind of script approval.

I hear writers on forums talking about how unfair this is and how stupid this is and how writers should band together to stop the practice, but the fact is there are too many factors to list here as to why scripts need to change in order to get made and they’re not always easy to understand. It’s different for every project, but as I have said before, every script gets changed before it hits the screen. Every single one of them. And the people who put up the money and hire the director (and give him or HER power to change it along with them) get to make the decisions.

Listen, it can be hard to take. Some of my films are almost exactly how I wrote the last version (that I got notes from directors and producers on) and a couple, well, I don’t understand why my name is on them because nothing, as in ZERO, I wrote is on the screen. That’s the lot of a screenwriter. It happens to everyone. Did I like the films? One of them is ok and one of them is so bad it’s kind of embarrassing. Mystery Science Theater 3000 bad.

I was at a meeting and one of the people I was meeting with had watched that film to get an idea of what I do. Why they chose that one is beyond me. I could see in their face they were wondering why the hell I was in the room if my work was so putrid. Why they just didn’t read the writing samples I sent is another question I ask myself, but I’m glad the others did.

I also explained to the group that I actually didn’t write the film it ended up being. Every single one of them understood because it happens every day. Hey, they were looking for someone to rewrite a film for them. But I didn’t get that job.

The job I just finished was a rewrite of another writer’s script. I think I may have been the 5th or 6th writer on this project. I never even saw the original writer’s script at all. I worked off of the last version written. And using notes from all kinds of executives (five, to be exact) and my own, I rewrote the script and changed 95% of the dialogue (killing the mounds of exposition), eliminated characters, changed character’s personalities, jobs, and relationships. I eliminated subplots, added different subplots, layered and added depth to character. My guess is the only thing standing from the original is some character names and the premise, which is quite good.

Do I feel badly for the original writer? Sure. I’ve been there. I’ve been rewritten. It’s what happens. But his name is going to be on it as the writer and everybody involved thinks it’s going to be pretty good. Including me. Doesn’t mean it will be, because there are so many factors still to come by the time it hits a screen. But I think this one has a chance of being very good and I mean that. It’s nice because you don’t always feel that way.

Part of this profession is the understanding of your role in the much bigger machine. Not that it isn’t important, because hey, try making a film without a writer, but that machine has so many more moving parts that need to fit and work together and need to be oiled that what you wrote, that they optioned or bought, is always going to need to be modified or changed to make it work as a whole. And it’s self destructive to not acknowledge that, understand that, and get yourself into a mindset where you’ll be happy to try to work under those conditions.

Knowing these things going in helps in being able to listen to and comprehend the notes you WILL be given to change your script and to blunt the pain sometimes of having to kill things in your script you love. But know that if you can’t or won’t do these things they’ll hire people like me or many of my friends to do it.

Don’t be self-destructive when trying to option/sell a script. Don’t ask for things that they can’t or won’t give you or they would have no problem walking away from you forever because of. Don’t ask for creative control. Don’t ask for casting approval. Don’t ask for an acting role. That’s NOT what they want from you. They want your script, so they can use it to build a film. If during the process you develop a relationship with them based on your cooperation and their trust and reliance on you to be a team player, there’s no telling what decisions or opportunities you could be in on. I’ve been there and it’s fun. But not until it’s clear you understand how it all works.

Asking for these things going in also make it easier for them to make a decision to jettison you from the project faster if you do end up optioning your script (without your demands).

Believe me, the more you understand how film production operates at every level and your role, the better a writer you’ll be and the more valuable you’ll become to production companies.

This question was posed on Twitter last week: Do you think you are a better writer because you started out as an actor?

Hmmm. Well, I have spent many more years as an actor (or trying to be an actor) than I ever have writing. In fact, I’m headed out next week to be an actor again after my first audition for a film in over two years actually netted me the part and caused me clear the cobwebs and dust off my SAG card.

It’s not a big part by anyone’s definition, but a funny little part in what I think could be a very funny film. I made the camera operator laugh in the audition and I believe that helped because his laugh had to be heard in the background. Couldn’t have hurt.

And it’s a nice situation for me. No other responsibilities except learn my lines, hit my marks, and make it real. I know my limitations and this part doesn’t get near them, so I’m just gonna have some fun.

But switching back to actor mode, and believe me it is a switch, got me thinking about the question. How much has my acting experience helped me as a writer?

I'll tell you. A whole lot. Maybe more than a whole lot.

Has it helped me write better dialogue? You bet. You still have to maintain the character you’re trying to write, it just makes it easier putting the right words together in the right order if you look at it from an actor’s (who is still playing your character) standpoint.

No actor wants wooden dialogue. No actor wants dialogue that no human would say. Yet I see it all the time in spec scripts. Dialogue so unreal it’s like space aliens wrote it. I’ve auditioned in the past for independent films or TV where I got the sides, (actor’s audition lines in script form as scenes or parts of scenes), and I've cringed at having to say what was on the page. Sometimes you just can’t. There’s no way to make it come out right because of the way it’s written. How then, you ask, did such bad dialogue get as far as an audition? Beats the hell out of me. Tell me you haven’t seen films or TV with dialogue like this. You just don’t want to be the one who writes it.

Actors LOVE great words. It makes them happy. When I was on the set of the film Jeff Willis and I wrote, “The Right Girl”, it made my year when all three leads told me, unprompted, that they loved the dialogue in completely separate conversations. They didn’t have to do that. They could have just ignored me, but they didn’t. The female lead hugged me out of the blue when we met and thanked me for such a great script. (See what you missed Jeff?) And one of the male leads remembered when we worked together as actors on a TV series episode. That was cool, considering I had a flea sized part compared to his. But it was an acting, then a writing connection. We talked about my transition to writer and he had a lot of questions because he's trying to do it too.

Acting experience has also helped me with constructing character in my scripts. Knowing how to define my characters better on the page. Giving characters more of what I think a good actor might look for in the writing to help them understand who they are. I don’t change story for what an actor might like, I just think it helps me build more life into my characters an actor can relate to.

I’ve always thought that writers should take acting and improv classes anyway. I’ve encouraged my writing friends to do it on more than one occasion. There are community classes everywhere. In LA you can’t walk (sorry, it’s LA, I mean drive) by a strip mall without seeing someplace that has acting classes.

I’ve also encouraged writers to get their butts on a film set as an extra sometime. Extras are the lowest of the low on the film production food chain. The guy that waters the plants on the set is higher. You should do it anyway. You’re on a set. You’re watching how films get made. You watch the people in the director’s chairs looking at the monitors and you can see yourself there someday. I did that. I started as an extra on films and worked my ass off to network, to get an agent, to get auditions, to improve my craft as an actor, basically the same route I eventually took as a writer. But I learned what making a film really entailed. I learned what goes on. How sets work. How films get shot. How BIG ASS 100 million dollar films get shot.

And when as a writer I’ve gotten to sit in director’s chairs at the monitors for films I’ve written, it’s a feeling you cannot describe. It’s a place I dreamed about... It’s... Stop it Bob... get back on track.

I’ve worked with actors who devoted their craft to learning everything they could about their characters to get them right. To do them justice. Watched and learned from them as they searched out even the littlest thing in the script to help them with backstory to bring a little more reality to their character. I've put those things into action myself as an actor. You don’t think this helped me writing scripts? Think again.

Every writer is always looking for an edge. That one thing more that can take them to another level. I think going to some acting classes and taking them seriously is one of those things. And you may well stink. Lots of people do. Acting, or acting well, is a very hard thing to do. Acting in front of a camera with all those people standing around waiting for lunch is even harder. But I don’t know a writer who wouldn’t grow from the experience. Gain insight. It’s all part of investing in your career.

And who knows, maybe someday you’ll beat me out for a part or we’ll be acting on the same project. Stay away from the breakfast burritos at craft service though... not a good idea.

 

Follow me on Twitter. @bobsnz

Fear. Fear you’ll never make it. Fear, if you’ve had success and then get a lull, that you’ll never ever work again. Fear that the script you’re halfway through sucks like crazy. Fear that the script you’re halfway through and LOVE is already being made someplace. Fear that you’ve been pigeonholed in your career and now all anyone wants from you is a narrow scope of one genre. Fear of rejection. Fear your manager isn’t brave enough to tell you that NOBODY wants to see you and that you should take that job at Home Depot.

Loathing. Loathing the empty page that’s been sitting in front of you for three days. Loathing social media because it’s a time suck you can never get back, but you just can’t stay away because you might miss something good. Loathing that your moods about all these things will affect the people you love and care about. Loathing looking in the mirror for fear of seeing a fraud.

How do I know all of this? Because I’ve experienced all of them. Sometimes all at once. It’s not fun. And even though I know when this happens, and it will happen to you or already has, that the only person it hurts is me, I still fall into it.

Welcome to the world of creative arts. It’s not just screenwriting that this affects. My story isn’t different than anyone else that has the need and desire to create.

Film and TV is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do with my life. From the time I was about ten years old, I knew it. I obsessed about it. I wanted to be an actor and I set about doing something about it. I worked at it. I didn’t wait for it to happen. I was proactive. It wasn’t until I found some success at it, I realized I wasn’t destined to make at living at it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in a bunch of films and TV shows and just got cast in a pretty good film this week. (My first acting job in a couple of years.) But it's not my strength.

Don't misunderstand, I’m really comfortable on a set and in front of cameras. I mean, I enjoy the hell out of it. And in a small range of characters I’m not too bad, but I’m never going to be a world beater as an actor. It was a sad, but liberating thing to realize. It got me looking in other directions.

It was then I found out I got more joy from writing. And even more fortunate that I seemed to be somewhat good at it. Much better than I was as an actor.

I still have the same desire I had when I was ten years old. All I want to do is make movies or TV. Every time I step onto a set as an actor or a writer it’s magic. I shed a tear of happiness in private on every set I’ve ever been on. It’s a dream come true every time. I am so grateful for everyone who’s helped me on my way, too. But I’m also very aware I’m always one lonely step away from that ledge.

When you want to do something creative for a living, it’s like walking a tightrope without a net. You’re out there alone with nothing to catch you.

You are on your own until you establish yourself one way or another. Even then, the only person you can count on in the long run professionally is you.

Therefore, fearing and loathing can become your daily companions. And it’s up to you to fight the hell out of them. And you do it by putting your head down and plowing through it. If a blank page is taunting you, write. It doesn’t matter what you write. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or not. You can’t let that damn blank page beat you. You do that to every fear. Knock it on its ass.

And I’m the biggest criminal. I was in the grips of the great fear I’d never work again in this business when I got the acting job. Couple of days later a producer sent me the galley of a novel that’s coming out late this year for my take on the adaptation. (GREAT novel, by the way, so far.) And a director called to say the film based on a script I wrote 17 years ago (you read that right) is still on track for shooting early next year. My manager set a meeting with a big production company that’s very interested in a limited series I did with another writer. The light at the end of the tunnel was not an oncoming train. All the effort and time I wasted on fear and self-loathing was just that. WASTED TIME. And I knew it at the time and still I let it color my life.

Thus, I hit myself in the head and say, “Idiot.”

You can’t get anything constructive done when you’re paralyzed with this kind of fear and loathing. You can’t. But boy do you get to make excuses. Tons of them. All of them lame.

You are going to experience this. You do experience this. You’re experiencing this now. Well then... Wake up! Stop it! I know it’s easy for me to say now, but damn it, I need to write this because I need this advice myself. I need to listen to it and put it into action.

You need to tell fear to get screwed. You don’t have time for it. I’ve written before about how you need to be fearless to do this screenwriting thing, but it’s more than that. You need to dispel self doubt. You need to believe. In yourself. In what you do.

Doesn’t mean you don’t have to do the work. The hours and hours of all kinds of research and all kinds of reading and writing and rewriting. The hours and hours of work to get it out there. The hours and hours of work marketing yourself and what you do.

You can choose though whether it’s painful or a joy. You can choose how you react to the setbacks and rejection. And there will be plenty of both. You can choose to let it paralyze you or you can use it as a motivator. As a learning curve. To use it to make your scripts better. Because it can be all that if you choose it.

Now if I can only be smart enough to take my own advice.

 

Follow me on Twitter. @bobsnz

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