Learn more about monthly Black List Happy Hours in 18 cities!

August 26th, 2016 by

As I approach the 5th anniversary of this humble site becoming the official screenwriting blog of the Black List, I am reminded — yet again — of why I’m stoked by my association with Franklin Leonard and his cohorts. To wit: The monthly Black List Happy Hour events have expanded to 18 cities:

Denver, CO | The Living Room at 6:00PM
Montreal, QC | Brutopia at 7:00PM
Philadelphia, PA | Jon’s Bar & Grille at 6:00PM
Portland, OR | Produce Row Cafe at 5:30PM

These four to go along with existing Happy Hour communities:

Albuquerque, NM | Draft Station @ 7PM
Atlanta, GA | Smith’s Olde Bar @ 5:30PM
Austin, TX | The Mohawk @ 6PM
Brooklyn, NY | The Rookery @ 7PM
Chicago, IL | Chuck’s: A Kerry Simon Kitchen @ 6PM
London, GB | Stephen Street Kitchen @ 7PM
Los Angeles, CA | Melrose Umbrella Co @ 6PM
Manhattan, NY | Metrograph Lobby Bar @ 7PM
Minneapolis, MN | Uptown VFW @ 5:30PM
New Orleans, LA | Barrel Proof @ 6PM
San Francisco, CA | Stookey’s Club Moderne @ 6PM
Seattle, WA | The Rendezvous @ 7:30PM
Toronto, ON | The Hideout @ 6PM
Washington, DC | Dirty Martini @ 4PM

To give you more of a sense of the what you can expect at these events and the type of writers with whom you may expect to intersect, I forwarded some questions to Shelley Gustavson who is the point person for the Chicago event:

How did you find your way into screenwriting as an interest and how have you gone about learning the craft?

I was a college and post-college theater geek. I had an anthro degree, but 90% of my time was spent acting, working on tech builds and lighting, and working as the Production Manager for my university’s theater department. Like most drama queens, theater and film were part of my romantic DNA from childhood. I come from a very small rural community in Iowa, and the Gatsby-like desire to transform and remake oneself was strong… But flash-forward to the pragmatic of adult life. Marriage. Kids. Acting was part of the past.

By then I had babies and quit working in museums. Like many stay-at-home parents, you come up out of this fog, fearful you’ve spent your life doing nothing but pick up toys, referee fights, and empty the dehumidifier tray. So once my youngest was out of infant stage I began to reexamine my creative life.

I make stuff. I knit. I love remodeling our vintage home. I garden. I work on exhibits for friends. I always have to be creating. Plus, I think like many film lovers, there was a fear that my personal hobby was always going to be just that.

Fear and regret are powerful motivators.

I started with my personal desire to tell a very, very specific story. I coupled it with my first love—Shakespeare—and my adaptation of King Lear was born. Yes, it was a spoiler-alert 400 years in the making, but it was messy, and mine, and my first every Blacklist read scored my dialogue and characterizations in the 9s. It’s come a long way since then and still is on my revision queue, but…

That was all I needed. Proof I wasn’t a moron. I began building from there—your Go Into The Story blog, chatrooms, twitter. I was sponge, and still am. Through your core and craft classes—plus Tom Benedek’s—I’ve been able to step back, focus on a particular issue I need to improve, build, and move on.

I have an army of dearly-loved fellow-writers I am honored to call my friends. They’re blunt, honest, but always supportive. They help me workshop the weak bits, praise the stuff I’m antsy on, and give me encouragement. Again, like exhibits, the curiosity and intellectual support network has to be in place. If it’s positive, you seek out growth and improve. If you’re only met with negativity, you shut down.

I’m humbled to say I have the best squad of female creatives behind me.

…Plus, your GITS screenplay archive kills my paper supply, and clutters my nightstand, but reading movies is the best education I could ask for. (As with kids, I rarely get to watch them in a theater. God bless scripts and Netflix.)

How did you discover the Black List and what has it meant to you in terms of your development as a writer?

When I first gave myself permission to call myself a “screenwriter” (which I kept to myself for nearly 6 months), I reached out to college acquaintances who had been working successfully in Hollywood—cringing, I should add, as I was sure they were inundated with “Hey, I’m a screenwriter!” emails. I made it clear I didn’t want a read or an “in,” just advice on how to not look like an idiot.

A dear friend David Ortiz responded immediately. David is one of the hardest working humans I have every had the privilege of knowing in my life, hands-down. And as I was hemming and hawing over the phone, articulating my ideas (horribly), the first thing out of his mouth was Franklin’s name and The Black List. From there it was as simple as Google…

As for my development as a writer? It’s pretty easy to say I’d be lost if it hadn’t been for The Black Board and your Go Into The Story blog. Terrified I’d be laughed from the virtual chat room I hovered, I observed, and then recognized that all I was sensing was the primordial surge we get when we first step into a room of strangers, or a class at the beginning of semester. It’s scary, but the potential to make yourself better can be felt everywhere you turn. As a result of those online chats, shared articles, and kind words of guidance I began building an amazing collection of friends and mentors via twitter. It was all about community.

Now the reader services and hosting? That’s a different side of the equation. Community is one thing, but growth and feedback is another. Some writers use The Blacklist as a hosting service and networking tool. Others? They use the reader evaluations, make their scores public, and then use it as a networking tool. Me? I’ve always used reads as a development tool to test-run a script concept. When I think a draft is somewhat ready I get 2 reads. Not statistically valid, I realize, but I get feedback, keep it private, and then take my draft down to analyze the notes.

A quick aside about Readers—and I won’t be as articulate as many other mentors. Readers are there to give you the experience of being vetted for an Exec’s desk. Some are writers and worship at the altar of pacing and character. Others are marketing folks. And yes, many will be a hell of a lot younger than you and are reading to cover their bills—we’ve all been there, don’t judge. But all have experience—their life, film, and artistic experiences just may be different from yours. It is a subjective exercise. I’ve had readers give nuanced, detailed thoughts on improving the pacing or development of my subplots, whereas others speak harsh words about feasibility in today’s marketplace. Some are supportive. Others sound like Walter Matthau in Grumpy Old Men. But, the real world of being a writer and being vetted by strangers is often harsh. My past work in exhibit label writing was identical—it has to be faced. And you need that experience.

I’m Miss Slow-Burn-Indie-Arthouse-Drama. Not really high concept or tent-pole. And I have had readers disagree wildly on my work. But, to reassure? It’s all data, and data is never a bad thing.

You calm your mind, look for trends in what’s not working, and trust your heart where you know something things just aren’t their “thing.” Data is your ammunition to become better. You are given an opportunity to hear how you’re doing. Egos are strong, I get it. But self-awareness is the best attribute I could have asked for. I’m an experienced qualitative researcher and focus-group moderator…. But I don’t have the luxury of interviewing all my readers. I get two pages of paper, if I’m lucky, to try and unpack their meaning and listen between their words.

(And if you feel you’re truly dealing with an asshat from a customer service perspective? You speak up. Kate at The Blacklist is great at responding in flash if you feel there’s been a problem with the quality of a read.)

As with any skillset or art form, you have to view your personal growth and development as if you were crawling up a ladder with staggered rungs. One side? That’s your insecurities, fears; the “I know nothing” modesty rung. The other? That’s your “I’ve got this, I have a voice and a story to tell,” ballsy rock star side. You must use them in tandem. Be brave, tell yourself you have a right to be at the table—but then reach over and say, “What are my weaknesses?” You seek out honest advice and assess where you need to go. Then you pull up your bravery pants and put yourself out there again. Back and forth. Back and forth. Confidence in what you do well, tempered with self-awareness of where you’re weak. Karma rewards those who don’t act like jerks. A community remembers jerks. A community loves cheerleading one of its own. The Blacklist is a really great community.

You’ve taken the lead on the monthly Chicago Black List Happy Hour events. What may writers expect when they show up for a Black List Happy Hour?

Short answer? A casual bar, a chance to smile, shake hands, and be at ease with like-minded folks who do what you love.

Not sold yet? Okay, here’s the pitch:

I think it’s too easy for writers—or creatives in general—to walk into networking situations dreading the more extreme end of the professional spectrum: pitching, posturing, judgement, etc. I’d like to make it as clear as possible—and this is when my maternal, den-mother instinct kicks in—Blacklist Happy Hours are not like that at all. It’s simply a drink, or a snack, and meeting other folks in similar boats as you… just boats you may have never bumped into before.

Look, all of us are some crazed combination of introverted-extroverts. We observe human nature. We pour our souls onto paper. We geek-out over lighting and nuanced, emotionally-laden moments of silence—those aren’t the qualities that cause one to do tequila shots, brag about one’s portfolio, or make it rain with business cards.

As Franklin stressed once during a host Skype session—Black List Happy Hours simply encourage people to step away from the keyboard and make connections. Writing can be a liberating process, but a lonely one. We’re here to remind people that we’re all in it together—from newbies looking for growth and resources, to “transitioners” like myself (you write, but the industry-specific terminology and “rules” are still a little daunting,) to pros that want to expand their social network and seek-out creative partners.

Black List Happy Hour

Do people have to RSVP or can they just show up?

RSVP’ing is nice, as it gives the Blacklist Hosts and the venue a heads-up on how many to expect. It’s incredibly easy via Eventbrite—and we don’t even finalize our body count until right before the event. Plus, as we’re adding new cities to our community meet-ups every month, if you’re traveling or new in town, it’s easy to check the Events page on the main Blacklist site to see who’s hosting, and make new friends.

The more the merrier—drag along your friends, bring business cards (or paper to jot-down names and numbers), and leave your insecurities at the door.

Give me one good reason why writers in Chicago or any of the other 17 cities which host Black List Happy Hours should participate in these events.

I’ve met entertainment lawyers, actors, fellow screenwriters, producers, casting agents, and directors all within the past 6 months who I would now consider my friends. And they want to read your stuff. It pays to be nice, folks.

Mark the date for the next Black List Happy Hour: September 7. And for those of you in and around Chicago, I will be making my first appearance at the next session and plan to be a regular fixture at the events.

For more information, go here.

Zero Draft Thirty: The Despair of the Blank Page

August 26th, 2016 by

It all started with this blog post in October 2015: Who’s with me to pound out a script in November?

That led to this: Zero Draft Thirty: Write a Script in a Month Challenge.

Every day for 30 days in November, I did a Zero Draft Thirty post with inspirational writing quotes, videos, and handed out a daily Award to the person deemed worthy for their efforts in supporting our collective cause.

A Facebook group emerged from the process, now with over 1000 members. The Challenge was written up in Indiewire. Translated into Spanish. Got its own hashtag on Twitter: #ZD30SCRIPT.

Eventually over a thousand writers joined up for the Challenge. Via Facebook, Twitter, or email, nearly 200 writers let me know they had finished their Zero Drafts.

So we decided to make the Zero Draft Challenge a twice a year thing: Every March, like we did here, and every September. Here we are, just about a month out from the Zero Draft Thirty 2016 Autumn Challenge.

It’s simple. Pick a script-writing project. Type FADE IN on September 1. Type FADE OUT on September 30.

And you are cordially invited.

In the days leading up to ZDT, I figured we could spend some time talking about story prep as well as psychological prep for our collective writing effort.

Today: The Despair of the Blank Page.

It beckons you with a daunting whisper. It mocks you with its dull emptiness. It freezes your soul with its ice cold whiteness.

It is – the blank page!

How can a mere 8 1/2 x 11 inch piece of white paper provoke such anxiety, such horror, such despair?

The despair of the blank page – the writer’s bane!

Laying eyes upon the blank page provokes a catch in your breath, a twitch in you muscles, that special tightening in your sphincter.

Fear. But fear of what?

Fear of the not knowing. Not knowing what words will appear… or won’t appear. Not knowing if the words will make sense. Not knowing if the sentences will be good. Not knowing if the story will work.

I could lay a little “power of positive thinking” on you. You know…

Imagine the possibilities!

My experience with those positive thinking platitudes is that when your blank page remains blank, the writer’s life becomes about the power of positive drinking. And look where that got Hemingway!

Thus, instead of behavioral modification, let me suggest a more philosophical, even, dare I say, spiritual approach.

I ask you to consider the possibility that your story already exists.

It is already there… all 120 pages. From FADE IN to FADE OUT. Written. Rewritten. Edited. Spell-checked. Properly formatted. And ready to go.

The story concept exists already.

The characters exist already.

The plot exists already.

The dialogue exists already.

The themes exist already.

It is there, waiting for you to find, uncover and reveal it.

Okay, Myers, if it’s waiting for me, then where is it hiding out ‘coz I sure as hell can’t find it!!!

Your story’s right there… on your blank page.

“The despair of the blank page: it is so full.”

That’s right, your challenge isn’t the emptiness of your blank page, it’s that there is so much there already. All you need to do is see it…

And you’ll see it when you believe it.

You can choose to stare at that blank page. Sometimes that is quite valuable – clear the mind, focus your thoughts, go into a state of deep concentration. But in general, the best way to find your story on the blank page… is to start writing.

Believe it… then you’ll see it.

Start writing. And watch the magic of your story reveal itself to you… as your blank pages becomes full.

The Zero Draft Challenge is all about this: Believing is Seeing. And Hearing. When you work on a Zero Draft, you extend your hand to your characters and say…

Help me write your story, you glorious bastards!

Even if you feel like you are alone, you aren’t. The story’s characters want you to tell their story. That blank page? It’s already full. Just believe it. And you’ll see it.

September 1: Type FADE IN.
September 30: Type FADE OUT.

30 days. A first draft of an original screenplay. TV pilot. Or a rewrite of an existing script.

For background on the Zero Draft Thirty challenge, go here.

Don’t forget the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group. A terrific collection of folks who post things every day, even when we’re not in a challenge.

So calling all Zeronauts, Outlaws, Scamperers, and Writing Warriors. Who’s up for pounding out a Zero Draft in September? LET’S DO THIS THING!

Hashtag: #ZD30SCRIPT.

The Spirit of the Spec (Part 5): And if it doesn’t sell…

August 26th, 2016 by

I had a conversation recently with a former studio executive turned producer in which I found myself talking about the “spirit of the spec,” essentially when a person chooses to pursue a project or goal entirely on speculation with the hopes of some eventual payoff. Not everybody would make that choice. To many, with the odds so long against success, doing something on spec is not only illogical, it’s also seemingly inane.

And yet almost all screenwriters, TV writers, novelists, short story writers, playwrights, and poets have as some part of their creative self the spirit of the spec.

After my conversation with the producer, it occurred to me this is a subject we should discuss here at GITS because it speaks to the very core of why we’re here and what we’re about as people driven by creative impulses. So today through Friday, I will post something each day exploring what it means for a writer to have the spirit of the spec.

And If It Doesn’t Sell…

You write another one.

I hope you have enjoyed this Spirit of the Spec series. I may add some thoughts of a personal nature in a post this weekend because as I have been writing this series, I realized something: My entire adult life has been based on this philosophy.

Part 1: You Have An Idea

Part 2: You Act On Your Idea

Part 3: You Write Your Story

Part 4: You Put It Out There

Zero Draft Thirty: What Are You Afraid Of?

August 25th, 2016 by

It all started with this blog post in October 2015: Who’s with me to pound out a script in November?

That led to this: Zero Draft Thirty: Write a Script in a Month Challenge.

Every day for 30 days in November, I did a Zero Draft Thirty post with inspirational writing quotes, videos, and handed out a daily Award to the person deemed worthy for their efforts in supporting our collective cause.

A Facebook group emerged from the process, now with over 1000 members. The Challenge was written up in Indiewire. Translated into Spanish. Got its own hashtag on Twitter: #ZD30SCRIPT.

Eventually over a thousand writers joined up for the Challenge. Via Facebook, Twitter, or email, nearly 200 writers let me know they had finished their Zero Drafts.

So we decided to make the Zero Draft Challenge a twice a year thing: Every March, like we did here, and every September. Here we are, just about a month out from the Zero Draft Thirty 2016 Autumn Challenge.

It’s simple. Pick a script-writing project. Type FADE IN on September 1. Type FADE OUT on September 30.

And you are cordially invited.

In the days leading up to ZDT, I figured we could spend some time talking about story prep as well as psychological prep for our collective writing effort.

Today: What are you afraid of?

The single greatest inhibitor to creativity is fear. Do you recognize any of these voices?

I am afraid of typing FADE IN.

I am afraid I won’t be able to finish this script.

I am afraid I don’t have enough talent.

I am afraid the words won’t come.

I am afraid my characters won’t feel real.

I am afraid people won’t like my writing.

I am afraid people won’t like my story.

I am afraid I won’t get an agent.

I am afraid I am wasting my time.

I am afraid I don’t know enough about the craft.

I am afraid people will laugh at me.

I am afraid I won’t make any money writing.

I am afraid of not succeeding.

I’m not a psychologist, but I know enough about the writing process to understand that if you allow these and other like-minded voices to dominate your thoughts, you will have a hard time nurturing your creative self.

So the question on the table is, How to deal with fear? I don’t think there’s any right or wrong approach – a writer will do what they need to do to vanquish or, at least, manage their apprehensions. Some times you may be able to ignore the voice, the doubts, the insecurities – a good way to do that is to go so deeply into your story, your experience in that ‘world’ shuts out your negative thoughts.

Other times, you can use fear as a motivator: If, for example, you make a commitment, to friends and family, whereby you guarantee you will finish this script, your fear of public humiliation can spur you all the way to FADE OUT.

The simple fact is that whatever you do, you must do something, or else fear can devour your creativity.

Two of the greatest American novelists, William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald, wound their way to Hollywood, and worked as screenwriters. Read these quotes below, and see if you can grasp the palpable sense of fear in their words:

“I think I have had about all of Hollywood I can stand, I feel bad, depressed, dreadful sense of wasting time. I imagine most of the symptoms of blow-up or collapse. I may be able to come back later, but I think I will finish this present job and return home. Feeling as I do, I am actually afraid to stay here much longer.”

— William Faulkner

“My only hope is that you will have a moment of clear thinking. That you’ll ask some intelligent and disinterested person to look at the two scripts. Some honest thinking would be much more valuable to the enterprise right now than an effort to convince people you’ve improved it. I am utterly miserable at seeing months of work and thought negated in one hasty week. I hope you’re big enough to take this letter as it’s meant—a desperate plea to restore the dialogue to its former quality…all those touches that were both natural and new. Oh, Joe, can’t producers ever be wrong? I’m a good writer–honest. I thought you were going to play fair.”

— F. Scott Fitzgerald in a letter to producer Joseph Mankiewicz

Faulkner? Fitzgerald? Reduced to “I’m actually afraid to stay here much longer,” and “I’m a good writer—-honest?”

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!

This is what fear can do. Strangle creativity. Squash talent. And in Hollywood, a city built on dreams, but run by fear, it can eat you alive.

So my advice? Don’t avoid your fear. Don’t run from it. Rather, acknowledge it.

Feel it. Let it be. Let it breathe. Let it take you deeper into the core of your emotional self. You will discover things there you can learn in no other place. Emotions, memories, experiences have collected in that inner place for years, untouched because most people never go there. If you can get curious about why you are afraid, what are the particular animating elements behind your fears, you will discover a deep reservoir of personal insight and, almost assuredly, great story “stuff” as well.

Once you know that you can go there, acknowledge and experience your fears, and survive that process – which you will because fear is nothing more than an emotion state – what you will unveil over time in going there and coming back is… courage.

The courage to give yourself…
To your creativity…
To your stories…
Each one a great unknown…
Waiting for what you will find in your creative journey.

Zero Draft Thirty is constructed to mitigate the power of fear. That’s why it’s called ‘zero draft’. We are consciously lowering our individual and collective expectations. It’s not even a first draft we might show anyone else. It’s a Zero Draft! We have nothing to fear insofar as words on page because the quality of the words is not the point. It’s the quantity. Getting from “once upon a time” to “and they lived happily ever after.” Or “their dry corpses left rotting in the blazing sun. The end.” However you conclude your draft, that’s the point. Get something down in writing. Then you have something tangible you can rewrite.

September 1: Type FADE IN.
September 30: Type FADE OUT.

30 days. A first draft of an original screenplay. TV pilot. Or a rewrite of an existing script.

For background on the Zero Draft Thirty challenge, go here.

Don’t forget the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group. A terrific collection of folks who post things every day, even when we’re not in a challenge.

So calling all Zeronauts, Outlaws, Scamperers, and Writing Warriors. Who’s up for pounding out a Zero Draft in September? LET’S DO THIS THING!

Hashtag: #ZD30SCRIPT.

The Spirit Of The Spec (Part 4): You Put It Out There

August 25th, 2016 by

I had a conversation recently with a former studio executive turned producer in which I found myself talking about the “spirit of the spec,” essentially when a person chooses to pursue a project or goal entirely on speculation with the hopes of some eventual payoff. Not everybody would make that choice. To many, with the odds so long against success, doing something on spec is not only illogical, it’s also seemingly inane.

And yet almost all screenwriters, TV writers, novelists, short story writers, playwrights, and poets have as some part of their creative self the spirit of the spec.

After my conversation with the producer, it occurred to me this is a subject we should discuss here at GITS because it speaks to the very core of why we’re here and what we’re about as people driven by creative impulses. So today through Friday, I will post something each day exploring what it means for a writer to have the spirit of the spec.

You put it out there.

One might think typing FADE IN, thereby signifying your commitment to writing an original screenplay, is the single act requiring the most courage in the process. But time and time again, I hear from writers who have a problem on the other end of the spectrum: Actually doing something with the script when it’s done.

Some have confessed to me they are petrified to submit a script to an agent or manager.

Others have said they can’t even bring themselves to give their script to a professional reader for coverage.

And there are some writers who have one or more scripts — I’m talking completed drafts — which they have never let anyone read, not even friends or family, let alone somebody in the entertainment industry.

I get it. I think we all get it. As I suggested in yesterday’s post, writing a story is a scary endeavor. And yet the fact is the entire time you work on it — coming up with an idea, acting on that idea, the actual page-writing part of the process — your story only exists in theory. That is until you send your script out into the world. Only then does your story become in any meaningful sense of the word ‘real.’

No matter what fears you have to overcome to write a story, they don’t compare substantively with the type and degree of fear that can arise when you actually hand over your script to someone else to read.

At that point, your story becomes their story, no longer the private experience of you and your characters, but rather your characters and the world.

Talk about courage! Sure, typing FADE IN is a significant moment. But there the stakes are limited. If you don’t write a good story or don’t finish, you have disappointed nobody but yourself. However if you present your story to other people, you are taking a leap of faith they will respond favorably. And if they don’t? It’s no longer just you and those hectoring voices of negativity in your head to deal with. Now you actually have to take into account the feelings, thoughts, impressions and — get ready for it — criticisms of other people.

And yet if this is a fundamental truth — “You can not sell it if you don’t write it” — here is another reality etched in stone: “You can not sell it unless you submit it.”

A buyer is not going to magically read your mind, buy an airplane ticket to your home town, sneak into your house, locate the drawer in which you keep your precious script, read it, then wake you up with a check for a million dollars.

No, you need to put your script out there. Indeed this is where you would do well to embrace the spirit of the spec. And the spirit of the spec provides writers with two incredibly powerful words to help them circumnavigate all their fears, thus enabling them to submit their manuscripts to people who matter.

Those two words: Screw you!

If you are afraid to let your spouse read your script, repeat after me: Screw you!

If you are afraid to let other writers read your script, repeat after me: Screw you!

If you are afraid to let a professional script reader provide coverage of your script, repeat after me: Screw you!

If you are afraid to send out email inquiries to managers about your script, repeat after me: Screw you!

Who is the “you” you are telling to screw? Why fear, of course. If you have any realistic chance of succeeding as a writer, you have to squash your punk-ass fears, give them a big time beat down.

You telling me I don’t have any talent? Screw you!
You telling me people will hate my story? Screw you!
You telling me not to believe in myself? Screw you!

Screw you! Screw you! Screw you!

Here’s another fact to add to your list:

You can’t sell a script unless you write it.
You can’t sell a script unless you submit it.
You can’t sell a script unless you defeat fear.

Now you may consider that to be Coach Myers talking. If you need a confrontational therapy to get you over the hump to put your script out there, go to town. Empowered with those two key words — Screw you! — you should be on your way.

There is another dimension to the spirit of the spec. This message comes from Pastor Myers. For those who are more spiritually inclined.

Do you recall this reference from another spirit of the spec post here:

If there is a path, that presupposes there is an end to the path. So instead of a battle over your story where some random barbarian can spring up out of nowhere and split open your meager confidence with a pole axe, if you are on a journey of discovery, it’s all a matter of taking the time, asking the questions, and walking the steps necessary to get you to that end point, where you do find your story.

I want you to consider this idea: Your story’s path does not end when you type FADE OUT. Rather that is simply a new beginning. The path goes on. The journey goes on.

It goes on as your story gets read by others.
It goes on as your story gets bought.
It goes on as your story gets developed.
It goes on as your story gets a green light.
It goes on as your story gets produced.
It goes on as your story gets edited.
It goes on as your story gets released into theaters.

Your script, while a key component of your story, is but one step in a longer journey. I suppose you can look at the day your movie goes wide into theaters as the end of the path. But that’s not even true. I get emails every week from people who have seen K-9, Alaska, or Trojan War. It’s one of the most endearing and enduring aspects of our movies that they continue to live as long as people will watch them.

Which is to say you, as the writer, are but a player in that larger journey. Your story already exists, its path is already laid out. Whether it sells or not, gets produced or not, while we may work as fiercely as we can — and should — to make it happen, in a very real way, our story’s fate has already been determined.

So in actuality, you really have nothing to fear. The destiny of your story will play out the way it will play out. Thus when your obnoxious voices of fear would do their best to restrain you from putting your story out there, here are some other words you can use to quiet them:

Let it go.

I am afraid…
Let it go.
I am scared…
Let it go.
I’m not ready…
Let it go.

Afraid or not, your story’s fate is determined. You can not control its destiny, only the story can.

So how to put it out there? Let it go.

Okay, two possible courses of action in confronting fear, one from Coach Myers, the other Pastor Myers. I know for many of you, this is not an issue. You knock off your scripts, you get them out there. That’s being filled with the spirit of the spec. Because there is a baseline of belief undergirding what we do: If you put it out there, something can happen.

But only if you put it out there.

Part 1: You Have An Idea

Part 2: You Act On Your Idea

Part 3: You Write Your Story

Tomorrow the final post in this series: And if it doesn’t sell…

What are YOUR screenwriting Do’s and Don’ts?

August 25th, 2016 by

I occasionally dip into the GITS archive of over 20,000 blog posts to see what items of interest I can resurrect for the benefit of GITS readers which is how I found this April 2009 Business of Screenwriting post: Do’s and Don’ts #1. Some highlights:

Do: Regularly generate story concepts

I was going to write “Generate a story concept a day,” but I thought that might come off as too daunting. However, you should spend a portion of every working day with story concepts. There are three elements to this process:

* Research: Everything from reading obituaries to odd news items, you never know where a great story concept will come from.

* Brainstorm: Take pre-existing movie concepts and genre or gender bend them. Put a job and a location together (“A cop in kindergarten”). And when in doubt, ask yourself, “What if…”, as in “What if the President of the United States had a sudden debilitating medical condition and the Powers That Be substitute a look-alike as the acting President” (the premise to the movie Dave).

* Test: Find a few close associates or friends, people who know something about how Hwood operates, and pitch them your story concepts. If they respond well, put that concept on your Keeper list. If they shrug or say they hate it, put that concept on your Backup list.

Don’t: Tell your story concepts to anybody you don’t trust 100%.

This is especially true in Hwood. Your agent and manager are safe. But unless you’ve got the idea worked up into a formal pitch… or your reps have set up a meeting with you where everyone knows going in that you’ll be throwing out ideas — which means the producers are on notice that your reps know what’s going on — don’t pitch story concepts.

Story concepts are the lifeblood of Hwood. Movies have been greenlit based on the story concept itself. However story concepts are hard to protect. Your best protection is to flesh out your story concept into a completed spec script. The next level of protection is to work up a pitch. The next level of protection is to keep your mouth shut!

You can read the rest of the post here.

Note the title of the post: Do’s and Don’ts #1. Clearly I intended to do more than one, probably an entire series of posts, but evidently I never got around to that.

So let’s see if we can crowd-source advice from GITS readers: What are your screenwriting Do’s and Don’ts? What have you discovered along the way, things to do, things not to do?

I encourage folks to head to comments and offer their observations. Maybe we come up with a post with a lot of helpful tips which can benefit other writers.

Screenwriting do’s and don’ts. What are yours?

Zero Draft Thirty: Story Prep – Script Diary

August 24th, 2016 by

It all started with this blog post in October 2015: Who’s with me to pound out a script in November?

That led to this: Zero Draft Thirty: Write a Script in a Month Challenge.

Every day for 30 days in November, I did a Zero Draft Thirty post with inspirational writing quotes, videos, and handed out a daily Award to the person deemed worthy for their efforts in supporting our collective cause.

A Facebook group emerged from the process, now with over 1000 members. The Challenge was written up in Indiewire. Translated into Spanish. Got its own hashtag on Twitter: #ZD30SCRIPT.

Eventually over a thousand writers joined up for the Challenge. Via Facebook, Twitter, or email, nearly 200 writers let me know they had finished their Zero Drafts.

So we decided to make the Zero Draft Challenge a twice a year thing: Every March, like we did here, and every September. Here we are, just about a month out from the Zero Draft Thirty 2016 Autumn Challenge.

It’s simple. Pick a script-writing project. Type FADE IN on September 1. Type FADE OUT on September 30.

And you are cordially invited.

In the days leading up to ZDT, I figured we could spend some time talking about story prep as well as psychological prep for our collective writing effort.

Today let’s talk about one of the most valuable first draft resources I have discovered: Script Diary.

The last thing I do before I type FADE IN is create yet a Word file, which I call Script Diary.

I come to the diary to start every writing session. I visit it when I get stuck. I return to it when I hit on a story revelation. Day after day, I use my script diary to chronicle the writing of the story.

At the start of a writing session, I note the date and time in the script diary, then get my fingers and brain loosened up by typing up my thoughts about the scene I am about to tackle. I’ll remind myself what type of scene it is, which characters are participating in it, what each of their agendas is, who is playing what story function for that scene, how the scene relates to the overall plot, what the central point of the scene is, and so on. As I’m doing that, normally lines of dialogue pop to mind and I’ll put those down — so in essence I’m pre-drafting the scene, and can take that sketch to my script file and use it to write the actual scene.

I also use the script diary to track my emotional connection to the story. For instance, I may be worried about whether the scene I’m about to write will work or not. I may be concerned that one of the characters doesn’t feel quite right. If I’m stuck, I use the diary as a place to express my fears about the story; in fact, if I’m really stuck, I’ll ‘ask’ the characters, right there in my diary, to talk to me, show me what they want or need.

Now you may think I’m crazy — talking to my characters, asking them for help! But ever since I’ve started using a script diary, my experience of my story’s characters has become that much more… real, I suppose is the best way to describe it.

Whenever I am stuck, I  start writing in my script diary, and invariably I become aware of my characters. Suddenly, one of them will turn and halfway glance at me or motion, and I’ll ‘follow’ them.

What I am saying is that my characters lead me deeper into my story. They show me the way. And the script diary is a crucial part of that experience because, I think, I am opening myself up to my characters, creating a ‘dialogue’ with them on those diary pages.

And there’s something else that’s very cool about a script diary: when you’re done with the project, you’ve got this journal of the entire writing process. You can go back to see and feel the actual moments where you found a breakthrough, where you busted through a story block, where your characters spoke to you.

Like everything else in this succession of posts, a script diary may not work for you. However, I encourage you to try it at least once. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Back to the Zero Draft Thirty Challenge:

September 1: Type FADE IN.
September 30: Type FADE OUT.

30 days. A first draft of an original screenplay. TV pilot. Or a rewrite of an existing script.

For background on the Zero Draft Thirty challenge, go here.

Don’t forget the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group. A terrific collection of folks who post things every day, even when we’re not in a challenge.

So calling all Zeronauts, Outlaws, Scamperers, and Writing Warriors. Who’s up for pounding out a Zero Draft in September? LET’S DO THIS THING!

Hashtag: #ZD30SCRIPT.

The Spirit Of The Spec (Part 3): You Write Your Story

August 24th, 2016 by

I had a conversation recently with a former studio executive turned producer in which I found myself talking about the “spirit of the spec,” essentially when a person chooses to pursue a project or goal entirely on speculation with the hopes of some eventual payoff. Not everybody would make that choice. To many, with the odds so long against success, doing something on spec is not only illogical, it’s also seemingly inane.

And yet almost all screenwriters, TV writers, novelists, short story writers, playwrights, and poets have as some part of their creative self the spirit of the spec.

After my conversation with the producer, it occurred to me this is a subject we should discuss here at GITS because it speaks to the very core of why we’re here and what we’re about as people driven by creative impulses. So today through Friday, I will post something each day exploring what it means for a writer to have the spirit of the spec.

You Write Your Story.

Probably most people imagine that when a writer writes a story, they are seated at their desk, plunking away at their keyboard, hour after hour until they finish their opus.

Yes, there is a good deal of ‘butt on chair’ time involved in writing. But when you are moved by the spirit of the spec, committing yourself wholly to your story, the fact is you are never not writing.

You are writing your story when you drive.
You are writing your story when you eat.
You are writing your story when you shower.
You are writing your story when you fold the laundry.
You are writing your story when you exercise.
You are writing your story when you sleep.
You are writing your story when you are engaged in conversation with others.

This last point can be a particularly vexing condition for your friends, family and loved ones. They know they only have a certain percentage of your attention. That at any minute, you will be there, then not there. Your body present, your mind off with your characters somewhere.

But it’s not just somewhere, is it? No, when we write our story, we create a universe in which that story exists. The characters live and breathe. We may sit and write about them for a few hours at a time, but they go on with their existence, every minute of their every day.

And frankly that’s one of the most damnable aspects of the writing process: Knowing just what to pluck out of that universe to put into our story. To my knowledge, there is only one way to determine that, summed up wonderfully by my then three year-old son when asked his advice about writing: “Go into the story, and find the animals.”

We come up with an idea and test to see if it has merit.

We act on our idea by getting curious and following the path on our journey of discovery.

Then we write our story by going into it [immersing ourselves in that place and with those characters] and finding the animals [everything of substance that prowls there — moments, scenes, dialogue, images, feelings, and so on].

The animal allusion is particularly apt because stories are organic in nature and frankly rather wild, teeming with life which is both great in terms of the vitality that exists there, but also dangerous because there are times when we lose our way… as if in a jungle.

A thick, dark jungle with lots of creepy shadows, a multitude of trailheads — which ones to take?!?! — and a constant chorus of whispered voices: Go back! Who are you kidding? This story sucks! You suck! Why are you wasting your time? You’ll never make it to the end! You’ll be humiliated if you continue! Epic fail dead ahead!

On the whole, writing is not only a daunting task, it is also a frightening one.

But when you have the spirit of the spec, you have a card you can play to trump your fears, a simple and pragmatic one: “If you don’t write it, you can’t sell it.”

There is no way around that. It’s an inescapable fact. Truth with a capital “T”.

Thus when we struggle with our story, even to the point of feeling fear about writing it, the spirit of the spec reminds us we haven’t done squat until we have that finished manuscript in hand. Everything we do is just words vanishing into thin air, an exercise in vainglory… until we type FADE OUT / THE END.

But then a moment of true existential bliss: Printing out that final draft. Feeling the heft of those pages in our hands, their warmth as they slide out of the printer, one by one. We touch them. We hug them. We smell them.

This… THIS… is what it’s all about. We have gone into the story, immersed ourselves in that universe and with those characters, given ourselves over to an all-consuming creative process in order to craft something tangible, something real. Creativity incarnate. Our story. Come to life.

And now having written our story, we are ready for the next step on our journey.

Part 1: You Have An Idea

Part 2: You Act On Your Idea.

Tomorrow: You Put It Out There.

Networking Hollywood

August 23rd, 2016 by

A guest post from Tom Benedek, longtime screenwriter (Cocoon) and co-founder of Screenwriting Master Class:

SCRIPT WRITER CASE STUDY #1:

“I am a natural enthusiast. An optimist. I love to imagine out my script projects. I savor my writing time. I enjoy rewriting. I love blank pages. And the smell of warm script pages fresh out of the printer. But when it comes to selling my work — honestly, I would much rather move on to another writing project. And, too often, I don’t ‘feel like’ actively selling my script out there. To anyone. ”

Should this writer spend 15% of their “writing time” on marketing?

Yes.

Should this writer always dream that the person who is willing to hear about their script may lead to a positive outcome somewhere, somehow?

Yes.

Should this writer do research to target the right buyers, managers, producers for their project?

Yes.

Computer Beach

ADVICE FOR CASE STUDY #1:

  • Learn to write about your writing
  • Brainstorm a brief monologue to talk about your script project
  • Consider where your plot and characters fit into the business

A logline and a short pitch are as fundamentally important as your cover page.  This is part of the job of screenwriting.

Use the same skills you exercise as a script writer

  • Create that brief monologue about your characters and story that you can deliver to anyone at any time.  Clearly. Honestly. Not endlessly. With modesty and underlying enthusiasm.
  • Write three lines which describe your movie or TV show. — That logline
  • Go into the databases of managers, agents, producers. (Done Deal, IMDB Pro, etc.) and qualify prospects
  • Make calls
  • Send emails
  • Practice pitch by talking to all kinds of people about your project
  • Enter contests
  • Go to festivals

Give rejection big hugs every day and you will sell scripts. Show some love to the gatekeepers even if they don’t open the door right away. Go to the next door. The next. Keep knocking. Perseverance. Luck. A great script. Finding the right place at the right time.

Remember –  anything is possible. “Nobody knows anything.”

Upcoming one-week class at Screenwritingmasterclass.com will help you move forward with this important 15% of your writing time.

Starting Monday, August 29, Tom’s excellent Network Hollywood course. For more information, go here.

Zero Draft Thirty: Story Prep – Character Development

August 23rd, 2016 by

It all started with this blog post in October 2015: Who’s with me to pound out a script in November?

That led to this: Zero Draft Thirty: Write a Script in a Month Challenge.

Every day for 30 days in November, I did a Zero Draft Thirty post with inspirational writing quotes, videos, and handed out a daily Award to the person deemed worthy for their efforts in supporting our collective cause.

A Facebook group emerged from the process, now with over 1000 members. The Challenge was written up in Indiewire. Translated into Spanish. Got its own hashtag on Twitter: #ZD30SCRIPT.

Eventually over a thousand writers joined up for the Challenge. Via Facebook, Twitter, or email, nearly 200 writers let me know they had finished their Zero Drafts.

So we decided to make the Zero Draft Challenge a twice a year thing: Every March, like we did here, and every September. Here we are, just about a month out from the Zero Draft Thirty 2016 Autumn Challenge.

It’s simple. Pick a script-writing project. Type FADE IN on September 1. Type FADE OUT on September 30.

And you are cordially invited.

In the days leading up to ZDT, I figured we could spend some time talking about story prep as well as psychological prep for our collective writing effort.

In my view, the single most important key to story prep is curiosity. Specifically getting curious about your characters. They are the players in the narrative. They have lived in your story universe 24/7/365. At some fundamental level, it’s their story. So who better to learn about your story than by engaging your characters?

How to do that? Get curious! Ask questions! Reflect on each character’s personal history and backstory:

Personal History: Everything that has happened to a character which has shaped them generally.
Backstory: Only those events and incidents which have a specific bearing on your story.

The idea is to amass as much information, background, and content about each character as you can. It’s all potential narrative material. Then as you focus your story, the most relevant dynamics emerge becoming the character’s backstory, providing important grist for your plotting process.

Here are links to a bunch of character development tools:

Obviously you’re not expected to use all of these. Rather consider them resources from which you can pick and choose when working with your characters.

But notice how so many of them involve asking questions. Again the key is to get curious about your characters. Why are they the way they are? How are they the way they are?

Who. What. Where. When. Why. The journalist’s credo applies as you are digging into each character to uncover their story so that collectively the Story emerges.

Back to the Zero Draft Thirty Challenge:

September 1: Type FADE IN.
September 30: Type FADE OUT.

30 days. A first draft of an original screenplay. TV pilot. Or a rewrite of an existing script.

For background on the Zero Draft Thirty challenge, go here.

Don’t forget the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group. A terrific collection of folks who post things every day, even when we’re not in a challenge.

So calling all Zeronauts, Outlaws, Scamperers, and Writing Warriors. Who’s up for pounding out a Zero Draft in September? LET’S DO THIS THING!

Hashtag: #ZD30SCRIPT.