Your Baby Is Ugly

April 16, 2013

Just a had a guest post on editing published on the Book Elves blog. This is probably one of my favorite blog posts I’ve written. Enjoy.


The #1 Mistake When Meeting a Producer for a Potential Writing Assignment

August 20, 2012

Okay, the title of this post may be somewhat of an exaggeration. But given the veritable cornucopia of information out there on how not to act like a complete a-hole when you meet a producer, I’ll give you enough credit to assume that you’re at a slightly higher level of competence, that you’re actually able to maintain reasonable relationships in the film industry, even if you haven’t sold anything just yet.

Thus beginneth my tale:

Last October I met with a producer/director who was looking for a writer on his newest project. I’d actually met him for the first time a year earlier, and he had mentioned the kind of projects he was interested in pursuing. I didn’t really have anything to show him at the time, but we connected on Facebook, and I’d sent him a writing sample many months later, and although he remembered none of that by the October in question, I was very polite and understanding about it, remembered the kind of projects he was interested in, and asked him how they were going. So far, so good.

He told me that he now had a premise for the story he wanted to do, though it was very rough, and he was actively looking for a writer to develop the project with him. Again, so far, so good.

I re-sent him my sample, and he read the first thirty pages of it on his iPad that evening, and liked it enough that we set up a meeting for the following day. So far, so very good.

We met for well over an hour. He talked about the idea that he had, and I bounced some thoughts off of him. He wasn’t crazy about anything I said, but he felt that I had a good sense of what he was looking for, so I said I’d work on it some, and I’d send him a treatment when I got the chance. I was working on a bunch of other projects at the time, so I told him it would be at least a few weeks, or maybe a month, before I got the chance to look into this and send it to him.

He was fine with that. But here’s where it went south.

I don’t remember how long it actually took me to look at my notes from our meeting. What I do remember is that by the time I was done working on those projects that had held me over in the first place, I had other projects in the works. And then others. And the couple of times I did look at my two pages of notes on this particular project,  I was completely uninspired to work on it, and had neither the time nor the ideas to develop the concept any further.

Thus beginneth the lesson: assuming, as I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post, that you’re not a complete a-hole, the number one mistake you can make when meeting a producer who’s interested in working with you on a writing assignment is waiting.

There will always be other projects to work on. And when you’ve got a system in place to get daily writing done and hard deadlines in place to work on those other projects, those other projects will likely get done. But when someone pitches you a new project, take the very first opportunity you have to work on it and get something into him. Not because he’s expecting it straight away, and not because you’ll be damaging the relationship if you don’t, but because that’s the best way to ensure that the work actually gets done.

Unfortunately, I didn’t learn this lesson six months ago, I just learned it today, when I realized I’d made this mistake for the second time on a completely different meeting with a completely different producer. Granted, this time the offense wasn’t nearly so egregious: the meeting was not 9 months ago but 5 weeks ago, and I walked away with three-and-a-half hours of interview footage, as well as stacks of books, court documents, letters, and other material relating to the subject in question, all of which can (and has) helped me to get back into the mindset of the project as I’m trying to wrap my head around it. But the fact remains, when I left that all-day meeting 5 weeks ago I had the beginning of the film in my head, as well as the ending, and it would’ve taken only a few hours of work to come up with a pretty solid middle that would’ve gotten us at least moving in the right direction. Instead, I worked on other things, and now I’m having to play catch up, spending hours or even days re-familiarizing myself with the material so I can get back to where I was.

So don’t wait. If you’re meeting with someone for a potential writing assignment, carve out the rest of the day and night to get some writing done. Otherwise, plan on carving out the next several months.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Fifty Shades, Showing v. Telling, and Gay Characters – Random Things for this Week

July 30, 2012

A few random things for this week:

  • Clinical psychologist rips Fifty Shades a new one – This article, Fifty Shades of Grey Giving Bondage a Bad Name,” is an opinion piece written by a clinical psychologist and published in the Sydney Morning Herald. In a nutshell, the author, who in 2006 published what at the time was the largest empirical psychological study on people in the BDSM community, doesn’t have a lot of great things to say about the book. While I agree with her on most counts — that the sex is “boring, repetitive, and leads women to aspire to undesirable and frankly unattainable goals,” that “in BDSM terms, Grey is a lightweight,” and that “Fifty Shades is just another bodice ripper,” I disagree that it demonizes BDSM and the people who practice it. Although I haven’t read all three books (I’ve skimmed most of the first two), from what I’ve read, it’s the protagonist who thinks it’s terrible (or odd, or unusual) at first, not the author. The protagonist becomes a convert, at least to an extent.

    Of course, her argument that the book gives the (false) impression that all people who practice BDSM are psychologically disturbed is not without merit. As a writer, I’m inclined to defend the author, purely from a standpoint of a good story needing good conflict. If Christian Grey was emotionally stable, Fifty Shades couldn’t have sustained a trilogy — nor would it have galvanized a bidding war for the movie rights.

    Regardless, it’s an interesting article. Check it out.

  • 5 Ways to Know If You’re Showing or Telling – Although the section on “dialogue tags” contradicts itself, lots of good suggestions here for improving writing quality.
  • A few weeks ago I was involved in a Facebook discussion about how gay characters are portrayed on screen.

    Then on Sunday I attended a script reading and listened to a script by someone completely unconnected to the community above, who wrote a script where the main character was gay and one of the points of the script is that his gayness was “not the driving force of the movie.” Coincidence or alien plot? You decide.

Making the Reader a Promise (12.05 – Hyperion)

March 21, 2012

The other day I came across this fantastic TED Talk by Andrew Stanton, the writer behind Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Wall-E (and more recently, the critically praised but financially doomed John Carter).

One of the most useful things he discusses is the idea of making the reader a promise. It can be simple or complex, but fundamentally you need to tell the reader, from the beginning that this story will be worth their time.

Then, a few hours later, I finished Hyperion, the first of four books in Dan Simmons’ fantasy/sci-fi Hyperion Cantos about an interplanetary struggle involving a cult deity, the Shrike. The book won the Hugo and Locus awards in 1990, and it’s one of my brother’s favorite books of all time. So it must be good, right?

Except that for all the promises the book offers, the book is mired in exhausting prolixity, all for a payoff of mediocre proportions.

I’ll admit, I am curious to see what will happen in book two. But if book one is anything to go by, the promise the author has made to me is that he’s going to string me along a neverending sea of verbosity in order to get there. I’d almost rather read the cliffnotes.

Hyperion is structured as six individual stories, all from the perspectives of six different characters. (The fact that each has its own unique voice is definitely one of the book’s most redeeming qualities.) There was one story in the whole book that, to me, made a promise and delivered on it: the story of Sol Weintraub and his daughter Rachel. I cared about them from the beginning. I wanted Rachel to succeed. And then, when the story hit its midpoint, I wanted to see its conclusion and find out whether she (they) would ever overcome this strange tragedy that befell them. This one story I read from start to finish in one night, because it grabbed my attention and never let go.

As I work on rewrites of Postville, I’m thinking about what promise I’m making my reader, and whether I deliver. Where’s this story going to take you, and will you care once you get there?

Cool Things I Found This Week

February 20, 2012

#3. Bracing for Impact – The Future of Big Publishing in the New Paradigm – A well-constructed rant about big publishing’s mistakes over the past decade, which made the exact same mistake the music industry made before them, focusing their support on the brick & mortar retailer rather than the service their providing to their end users, therefore allowing other companies to swoop in and capture the inevitable new market. My favorite takeaway from this article: the decline of the b&m bookstore does not hurt new authors. e-Publishing provides the opportunity to take a chance on new authors at a fraction of the cost, and  gives those authors the chance to publicize themselves at a fraction of the cost.

#2. Paul Coelho: How I Write – Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week, contacted this renowned Brazilian author with a series of questions about his writing process, and to his surprise, Coelho responded with a half-hour audio response. “If you want to capture ideas, you’re lost, because you’re not going to live your life. You’re going to be capturing ideas. You’re going to be detached from the emotions you need to live fully. … I strong encourage writers not to think about writing every moment they’re doing something else.” My other favorite quote: “There are only four stories: a love story between two people, a love story between three people, a struggle for power, and a journey.”

#1. SMonologue on Failure from Silent Bob Speaks – This is filmmaker Kevin Smith’s blog, I think designed to promote his book Tough Sh*t: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good. This post, presumably an excerpt from the book, is an inspirational monologue designed to lift up one of his fans from the ashes. My favorite quote: “Nobody can hold you back in life as much as your own fear that you’ll fail. I’ll save you some time: you will fail. Sometimes spectacularly.”

Catching Up

December 26, 2011

It’s been a while. My last post was three months ago, and since then a whole lot has happened. With the end of the year coming up, I’ve been thinking about my annual completion of goals/creation for the New Year, but in the meantime there are just so many things I want to talk about.

  • Acting: Went on cast for the Texas Renaissance Festival, and pretty much accomplished everything I set out to do. Created a swordfight that everyone was talking about. Won Performer of the Day on the third weekend, and Best New Character at the end of the season. Made a lot of friends, and had just a ton of fun. And I’m setting myself up to do more with that (hopefully in a way that I can actually make money at it) in the coming year.
  • Books I’ve read: Reading for AFF seems to slow things down on the reading front. Up to a point this year, I was counting the number of books I read, and then I stopped, because it just seems weird that the entire couple of months I’m reading 30+ scripts, I don’t get to count any of that toward my book count. But whatever. I’ve been on a crusade looking for self-published books that have sold well, as a possible avenue to finding property to adapt into movies. To that end, I just got done with Waiting for White Horses by Nathan  Jorgenson. As a storyteller I felt the drama could have been much more consistent; as a screenwriter I felt it could have been much less meandering; as an editor I felt it was way overnarrated; and as a product of the twenty-first century I would have preferred the plot move in a different direction. But the literary fictionist in me could appreciate it for what it was – a product of love, and a deeply personal story to which anyone familiar with rural America can relate.
  • Movies I’ve seen: Been a lot of these. Two of the recent ones – and also two of the best I’ve seen this year – were Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (in IMAX – totally awesome) and Midnight in Paris. Both had really well-written scripts with strong character voices.  Also watched the entire first season of Dexter (and can’t wait to see more), and got to see some amazing stuff at Austin Film Festival – the ones I still think about, and talk about, are The Artist and Butter.
  • Screenwriting: Taking ScreenwritingU’s ProSeries. Although I am, at this point, about three weeks behind, the information and the attitude of the class is really amazing, and I’m hoping to spend the next week or two catching up. Tonight I get to watch The Usual Suspects, starting with the end first. Fun. The script I’m working on is the true story of Ragen Chastain, the world’s only plus-sized professional Country & Western competitive dancer. And I’m continually taking Postville to the next level.

I guess that’s it for now. Catcha in the New Year for completion and goals.

I Finished My Screenplay. Wanh.

June 1, 2011

I’ve finished Postville. Sort of. Since today is the deadline for two of the festivals I’m submitting it to, I’ve submitted it. But I’m still cleaning up a thing or two here, a thing or two there, as the deadlines for several other contests come up over the next couple of months. But I’m suddenly really anxious about it.

Winning a screenwriting contest has slightly better odds than winning the lottery, but not by much. And given that, you’re a fool if that’s your plan for retirement. So what, then?

I have contacts in the industry. Nobody who greenlights tentpole projects, but I do know some working writers, and some agents, and some lawyers, and some indie producers, and I’m terrified that if I send this to them they’re going to tell me I’m a hack. I don’t think that’s going to happen. No one at the reading said it sucked, and this particular group isn’t known for holding back on its criticism. I think at worst they’ll say “You have potential,” or perhaps “It didn’t really grab me in the first few pages,” or “It started off well but . . .”.

But is it really the next great thing? I don’t know.

I recognize this feeling. It’s a lot like the one you get after the end of a play’s run, or the one I got after I was done walking across the Alps. The best thing for it is to hop on another project. Feed the addiction.

It’s time to start another project.

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