Monthly Archives: November 2013

Maybe You’re Not Really a Writer

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t’s a double whammy holiday weekend. A kick off to the season. Not for me personally, but when the great republic to the south is on holiday, we feel it up here.

International business grinds to a momentary halt. Weekly TV programming skips a beat. Social media banality goes through the roof.

For me it’s an extra great time for writing. In fact even holidays in which I participate, are great times for writing.

There’s something conducive in the chaos. The upset of our daily routine. And when it’s someone else’s holiday so much the better. So much more spare time. Time for writing.

The very concept of taking time off from writing is a hard one for me.

I know, this goes against a commonly held preconception about writers. That writers are lazy. That we have to be pushed or pulled to do any work at all. Never understood where that notion originated. Probably because, until recently, I didn’t know many writers.

But now I get it. I’ve seen the lethargic layabouts. Heard them whine about not being able to, y’know, get into it, man. It’s just so hard to get started…

No, it’s not. And maybe, if it is, you’re not really a writer.

I’m throwing down the gauntlet. I’m reclaiming the word.

The term artist once conjured images of Michelangelo and Van Gogh. In the last 70 years however it’s been co-opted. Corrupted by grubby hipster slackers who’s only talent is writing counter-culture manifestos and collecting grants to go dumpster diving for things to hang on gallery walls. By today’s standard the word “artist” could not be applied to Michelangelo. He’d be laughed off as a mere mural painter. A tradesmen working on commission for the establishment. The church no less. Alive today, Michelangelo would be painting snowmen on supermarket windows.

Alive five hundred years ago, the hipster “artist” would be shoveling out stables.

I don’t want the word “writer” to succumb to the same fate. This is the digital age. The keyboard age. So everybody writes. But not everybody is a writer. And sadly it’s still the lazy drunks who are being award the term.

No. We can do better than this, my fellow scribes.

Celebrate your holidays. Then celebrate this opportunity. The opportunity to write. Hone your skill. Tradesman? Sure. Proudly.

It beats shoveling horseshit.

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Where’s The Ticking Clock?

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he results are in. On the whole, positive.

I think.

At least Manager’s feedback on Script #2 didn’t start with: Are we sure we want to pursue this story? Or anything to that effect. In fact, he still seemed really amped about the concept.

It’s a pretty frightening concept. Relatable yet wildly adventurous. I could have approached it many different ways.

So, concept: Good. Characters: Good. All told there wasn’t a lot said. Weren’t a lot of notes. Just one big one…

Stakes. Motivation. Where is it?

I knew it before he said it. Knew where the weakness lay.

My last few runs at the action thriller genre – including Script #1 – have had a common element. A ticking clock. World ending stakes on a timer that the protag has to overcome.

Standard fare for the genre.

But with Script #2, I was admittedly a little anxious. Eager to impress. Didn’t want to rehash the same formula for my sophomore effort. So I got a little nebulous with the ticking clock. Lost sight of the stakes.

It didn’t go unnoticed.

Which is good. Great, actually. That’s the kind of relationship I need with Manager.

So I’ve been rewriting. Not the entire script. Been doing a rewrite outline instead. Proposed changes to run by Manager. So that we don’t spend a lot of time needlessly going over an entire screenplay to get the structure down. Already got some fixes in place that will hopefully get the clock ticking again.

There are sure to be more notes after that. I think we just have to get this big one out of the way first.

It’s a new dynamic for me. Every session a first step. Having the patience to wait for the latest draft to be read remains my greatest challenge however… Kind of a drag… Easy to see why a ticking clock is so appealing. In the movies, as in life.

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The First Thing We Do, Let’s Hurt All The Lawyers’ Feelings

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eeling a tad ambivalent.

Spoke to an entertainment attorney today. Los Angeles based. Recommended by my management co. A hotshot. Rising star. To my surprise, there are star lawyers. And that’s sort of how our first conversation felt. Like he was interviewing me. I’m new to this world. The novice. So I expect to feel evaluated by managers and agents, but lawyers?

He’d even read my script. Approved, I guess. Don’t think he would’ve even taken my call if not. Hadn’t thought of it before, but it makes sense. These Hollywood lawyers don’t charge hourly rates. They work on commission. Same as managers and agents (though lawyers take 5% not ten). That kind of flips things. These guys are invested. So yeah, they want to evaluate the goods.

Lawyer seems like a great guy. Young. Aggressive. Tapped in to the changing state of the business. Addressed my first questions before I even asked them. We agreed to move forward together. To hash out the option agreement for Script #1.

What I’m feeling a tad ambivalent about concerns another entertainment lawyer. A local lawyer buddy of mine. We met years ago. I his client. He moonlights as a writer, so we became social. Have coffee periodically. Talk writing. I’ve done some script reviewing for him, he’s done some contract reviewing for me. Free of charge. On both our parts; though admittedly, I was probably getting the longer end of that stick.

It’s not like we have a commitment to one another. Not formally. I’m pretty sure not informally either. In fact I always felt crappy about asking him to take a look at contracts for me. Because I knew he wouldn’t bill me. And because he’s so busy– Incessantly busy.

So I don’t think there’s an unspoken protocol to offer him this option negotiation. To offer him the real work. Billable work. I’m just hoping he would agree with that.

Manager made a solid case for LA based Lawyer. Said he’d have skills an attorney from outside Los Angeles just wouldn’t have. Relationships. A shorthand. Someone that sees writer’s agreements everyday. It’s true, Lawyer Buddy doesn’t mainly deal with writers. So Lawyer is who I’m calling up on this one. By far the largest step in my career.

What I’m waffling around in my brain is how to divulge my new relationship to Lawyer Buddy. Do I make a point of calling? Or do I just play catch up when it inevitably comes up? I figured you’d be pretty busy, buddy. Nothing personal.

The last time we met, he told me he was too busy to do a rewrite on this script of his. Needed a ghostwriter. Here it comes, I thought, payback for all the times he’d done me favors. But he’d already selected another writer. I didn’t feel slighted. And that’s the same sort of situation.

Isn’t it?

Are we friends because he’s been banking on me getting to this point? So that one day he could collect on a negotiation like this? On my future career? Or are we friends because we offer one another mutually beneficial skills?

Or are we just friends?

This is not my world. I don’t do human relationships. I only write them. Not sure how to proceed. I tend to overthink this sort of thing. I’ve underthought it enough times in the past not to.

If this were a script I’d have us meet for coffee. Then just blow up the café.

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I think that may have been my final post on the subject of querying. I decided to pursue this repository of querying tips (permanent link in right column) because when asked about it by other writers I realized I had a lot of experiences to impart. Should questions keep coming that haven’t already been answered, I’ll make sure to add them. Til then, if I never have to write another query letter, it’ll be too soon!

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November 19, 2013 · 4:01 pm

Querying – Don’t Query Until Your Script is Ready

Don’t query until your script is ready. Sounds logical. But how do you know when it’s ready. Hold on– Things might get real patronizing real quick around here.

But really, who am I to talk? I’ve gotten read, yes. I’ve gotten repped. I’ve written probably two dozen screenplays but I’m no pro. I learn from trial and error. Maybe you do too.

So here are some questions that have come to form the rough checklist I used on my own spec scripts before pitching them in query letters:

  • Does your script adhere to industry formatting standards?
  • Is your script 90 to 95 pages long?
  • Does it read like other professional scripts widely available to download on the internet?
  • Does it have a three act structure?
  • Will I be able to put it down after the first ten pages?
  • Have a defining moment around page 20 where the protagonist makes a decision to either accept or to reject his journey?
  • Does your writing have a consistent and distinct voice?
  • Have you read your dialogue out loud?
  • Have you re-read the entire script word for word at least two or three times just to check for typos?
  • Have you had your script read by everybody you know?
  • By the people who are able to tell you the truth without you getting all testy?
  • Have you had it read by the closest thing you can find to an accomplished screenwriter?
  • Is this literally your first screenplay? Like literally, literally?
  • If so have you considered putting it aside of at least six months working on tons of other things, forgetting about it entirely then re-reading it with the fresh eyes of a newborn child?
  • Is this your first draft? Have you considered throwing that away and starting over?

I’m certain there are more questions. It’s a long checklist. And always evolving. I guess my point is, there’s writing your script and then there’s making sure it’s ready to be read.

And that goes well beyond the realm of querying tips.

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The Canadian Producer: Revenge (part 3/3)

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espite having broken our gentlemen’s agreement to co-produce my movie, The Canadian Producer (TCP) had a legally binding option on my script. He’d taken on a new writer. Applied for additional government financing. And been approved. I also partially blamed him for that raccoon I hit with my car.

(Continued from part 2 of 3)

I’d been quiet too long. He was destroying me in the community. Slandering me before the financing agencies.

I called the agency that had agreed to give him and his hellspawn scab writer more funding. Asked how they could do this. They said his legal agreements were in order. Understood that it was a messy situation but that their hands were tied. He had a winning script– Dagger in— And they wanted to be a part of making it into a film– And twist.

I was in tears by the end of the call. I don’t think they could tell. Maybe they could. What did it matter? My reputation had been smeared. My script taken away. I was gutted. Hollow. Like nothing I’d ever felt before. Powerless. Violated.

I wanted blood. Literally. I had fantasies about stalking him. Attacking him. Getting into his apartment. Stealing back that option agreement. Destroying it. Really doing some bad shit to his teeth.

I settled for a legal letter. A shot across the bow. A threat that if TCP didn’t sign away his claim to the script, I’d… I don’t know, do some bad legal stuff to him. I asked my lawyer how much extra it would cost to have it delivered to him at an upcoming industry event. In front of all our colleagues. Take back some dignity. Lawyer said it could be done but that it wouldn’t help things. Could even make them worse. To his credit, he talked me down.

The letter had the desired effect. We’d copied the funding agency on it as well. Poisoned the well. Financiers don’t care too much about details. You say you’re gonna make legal trouble for a project and they drop it like infectious waste. His second round of financing would never come.

New reports from my spy in the field said that TCP was buckling. That his lawyer’s bills were already growing beyond his means. Thanks to our initial round of financing, I had plenty of money in my legal fund. I started to get a second wind. My script may never see the light of day again, but at least it wasn’t gonna be molested any further by this dipshit and his troglodytic scribe.

I got a notice in the mail. A letter waiting for me at the post office from you know who. I didn’t pick it up. Let it rot. I knew even the cost of sending a registered letter would hurt him. How many drug trials would he endure to fight back? He emailed. Even called, asking me to pick up the letter. Told me it was a proposal to settle things.

I waited a month.

His emails got progressively more irate. I never replied. Let the financing deadlines for other agencies lapse. Gave him time to consult his lawyer. More billable hours. Let him feel the weight of a completely dead script. Of doors closing all around him. Of his own shortsighted greed and stupidity.

I had my lawyer draft a quitclaim. Finally extended to TCP my terms of surrender. For a sum, he would sign away any claim to the script now and forever.

Let the negotiation begin.

His furious emails were a sight to see. The temper tantrums of a child. He demanded all of the development money granted to me by the financing agency. Over twenty thousand dollars.

I offered him one hundred.

Enraged threats were his reply. Told me that he’d take my script and “sell it to the Americans!”

Every new outburst comforted me. Reminded me that I was in control. That I owned him. Somehow, amidst his blasts, he still kept the negotiation going. Came down to two grand.

It was late in the month. I knew rent would be due. I think he was literally fighting to stay off the street. I debated just letting him twist in the wind for another two weeks. But a man with nothing left to lose is more dangerous than a man hanging by a thread. So I agreed on one thousand dollars. The price of protecting my script from any future threat. Best script I’d ever written.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work with these agreements. You get in a room together. Each sign the other’s copy. Hand over a check and go on your merry way. But I didn’t want to get in a room with TCP. The obvious animosity notwithstanding, I had the morbid desire to test a theory…

I sent him the paperwork. He put up a fuss. Didn’t want to sign anything without getting his check first. I told him it was this or nothing. So he signed. Sent it back to me.

He signed an agreement that read, “by signing this document you hereby acknowledge receipt of payment in full” etc. Legally, he’d just testified to having received my thousand dollars. Without having paid him a single cent, I was off the hook for the entire settlement. And I had my script back. I could walk away clean. It would be his word against mine. The ultimate humiliation. The ultimate payback for everything he had inflicted on me.

I waited for his call.

Knew that when he didn’t receive his check in a couple days he’d start to wonder. Panic. Might even have to get his lawyer back on the phone. Billable hours! On a scale of raccoon killing to ten, this was giving birth to a whole new litter of baby raccoons myself.

When the call finally came. I pointed out to him what he’d signed. Wanted him to know that after all his power-hungry arrogance, his smug grandstanding and childish rage; that I had won. I had taken back what was mine. My script. My dignity. That he would get nothing. I wanted him to see all of that. To think about all of that. To understand that a real man stands by his word.

Through it all, I’d made mistakes. Was arrogant myself. Underestimated him as both a partner and an opponent. But in the end, free and clear as I was, I was still a man of my word.

So I wrote him the check… Farted into the envelope and sent it on its way.

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Querying – Go Away To Come Back

Very rarely was I fortunate enough to get a pass on a script and hear: What else have you got?

The more likely scenario was to get a pass and not get the question. My impetuous mistake in those situations was to volunteer what else I had. When I started querying the US, I had such a stockpile of scripts that my knee-jerk response was always: You didn’t like that? No problem. How about this? Or this? Or this? I’d hammer them with all my great loglines.

I can only surmise that this registered one of two ways with all the execs. Either, one, I just read and passed on this guy’s script, why would I want to read another one of the same caliber? Or two, this writer’s got too many scripts lying around to be any good.

You’ve got to go away to come back. I was coming on too strong. Reeking of desperation. I eventually learned to thank the exec for reading. Told them that I would query them again in the future (told them; never asked – if you ask and receive no response then you’re tortured). And then waited 6 to 8 weeks before querying them again. Even if I had another script ready go then and there.

The unspoken, unconscious subtext here is that you’ve gone away, honed your skills and now you’re back. Better than ever. And hey, maybe you are.

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