A Case For NOT Reading…
A Case For NOT Reading… When You’re a Writer!
Oh that’s a title that will tick off a lot of people. Don’t read? You’re a writer! You need to be reading all the time. You’ve been schooled on this, right? By everyone. You need to read everything—from novels and poetry to classics and nonfiction and… stop. Just, please, for the love of all things in The Craft, stop!
I can’t read another article about reading. Seriously.
I just read a Blogger’s post who went on endlessly, criticizing not just another Blogger’s writing style, but speculating that the Blogger didn’t read. And certainly didn’t read enough. First of all, how does he know if the Blogger reads or doesn’t, or what she does or doesn’t read? And secondly, her voice is her own. We all acquire one as a writer. Mine is perhaps similar to yours, or completely different. (Does it really matter?) As long as you’re engaged and your syntax is fairly adequate, we typically go to Bloggers to learn something, or to at least feel like you’re not alone in all of this.
So why stop all the reading? Simple. So, you have more time to write. And to pitch your stories. And to talk on the phone with agents and studio executives, and perhaps even hop a plane—and watch content, because it’s really hard to write on a plane—and meet with someone who can change your life.
Do you really need to read To Kill a Mockingbird to be a good writer? Probably not. And it’s distracting you and you know it. But, you’ve been told, even by the gods like Stephen King, if you don’t read, you’ll never be a good writer, and certainly not good enough to make a living at it.
So, to the Blogger who suggested that every writer should be reading all day—and he references magazines and periodicals—I’d like to suggest something else. Write. That’s why there’s a little saying, “Writers write.” It’s what we do, it’s who we are.
Here’s where I’ll back-pedal just a little, before Aaron Sorkin sends out a bunch of witch hunters with burning torches and puts me up on a stake, you do need to research. And, yes, that involves a lot of reading. You need to put your hands on anything you can get when you’re writing nonfiction books and biopics, you’ll have to learn what a bank teller does for a living in order for your character to come alive, you’ll have to know what the weather was like on that fateful day in 1967 when the real-life kidnapper snatched a baby. Yes, you do have to read. But, save it for what you need to read.
If you’re in the middle of Moby Dick because someone told you that in order to be the author or screenwriter you’ve always dreamed of, you need to read everything—and let’s not forget the periodicals (Big Sigh Here)—put it down. It’s okay. You don’t have to do it. Just go ahead, sit down and write your story. Try to achieve flow—you know, that thing that puts you in the moment when your fingers can’t type as fast as your mind can create.
And, don’t take advice from anyone else on reading. You don’t even have to take mine. If you happen to be on a beach and on vacation reading that really cool new novel by, well, it could be me, go ahead. But, don’t force it. I give you permission to do your thing and write.
Please stop reading this Blog post now.
5 Screenwriting Tips
5 Screenwriting Tips You Need to Know…
To Be Successful!
Let’s get right down to it. You’re staring at your computer screen with one of two emotions—you’re so excited by your new idea you can barely keep your fingers off the keys, or your terrified and feel like it’s a ridiculous premise, and you already want to throw in the towel.
Whatever your emotions are about the craft, we’ve all felt them. The super highs, the lowest lows—you’re a creative person and emotions go with the territory.
Now kick your emotions to the curb, and get writing.
1. Keep it to Yourself
You’re bursting with a good idea, or you’re unsure of whether it’s something that is actually commercially viable. There’s an immediate need to talk about it with a friend, your mother, your business partner. I get it. You want buy-in.
Suddenly, you find yourself prattling about your main premise, the big idea of your story to… someone. Maybe you’ve decided to tell a complete stranger, thinking that’s a good way to save yourself the embarrassment of talking to a friend who laughs in your face. (Or an industry professional who might steal your idea.)
Don’t do it. Don’t talk about it—not to anyone. It’s the fastest way to kill an idea, possibly the best one you’ve ever come up with. There’s something magical about storytelling, so you want to share your thoughts, and that’s natural. But, you take the steam right out of it. If you’ve done this before, you know what I mean—once you’ve explained this great idea to someone it dies a little inside you.
Save yourself the death of the promise of a great movie, and keep it to yourself until you’re done writing it!
2. Write The Premise First
Instead of talking about it, get into the habit of writing about it. Start with a logline and the simple premise of your story.
Spend the time you were going to use calling someone, and sit down and really work on the details of your story. You’ll thank yourself later, trust me. There’s a lot of energy that goes into writing, and it has to sustain you not only until you’re done writing it, but long afterwards when you’re working on rewrites, editing, and even putting your marketing material together and pitching. This is a long road, so gear up, get excited, and write. Save all that vigor for the race ahead of you.
3. Take DIY Homework Seriously
This is like fifth grade again, when your teacher tells you how important homework is. People think screenwriting is easy. I was a novelist long before I became a screenwriter, so I get it. (Look at all those pages in a novel!) Screenwriting must be easier! It’s only 90 to 100 pages!
You’ve read this quote before, right?
“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”
With books, you have more canvas to work with. Screenwriting isn’t easier than writing a book, it’s simply different. It takes A LOT of work to become good at it. One rule of thumb—if you’ve never written a script before, never give your first screenplay to an an agent, a producer or a studio.
Screenwriting is a nuanced talent. Hollywood has a million scripts, and a million ways to get them. So make sure you have “gold on every page,” as one executive producer told me. Every scene should move the narrative along so quickly, it gives new meaning to “page-turner.”
Read scripts. This is the single best thing you can do. Read lots and lots of movie scripts and analyze them. But read ones that are current (in the last 5 years). The movie industry changes dramatically from year to year, so to keep up to date with the latest style and content in the marketplace, so do your homework, and read! You can find some good scripts here: IMSDB
Watch movies. I’ve talked with more writers than I can even count who don’t watch films. Does that sound outrageous? It is, if you want to be a screenwriter. You need to be a cinephile—a consumer of great films. I’m talking about variety, not just the big budget summer blockbusters, but indie, art-house and foreign films. Go back to the classics. Watching films is different from movie scripts, because every good story has key elements laid out in a specific way with plot points (or beats), that are essential. It really makes a difference when you watch films. You are educating yourself and no one school, or single person can do that for you.
4. Walk Away from Your Writing
I don’t want to interrupt your flow—that magical thing that happens when you’re on a roll and ideas are pouring out of you. But, once that flow stops, and eventually there’s a lull, keep writing—just do something else.
Go back to writing your marketing material: summaries (in varying lengths), hone your logline, write your treatment, work on a look book, or update your blog.
Even when you’re writing fiction, there’s always research along the way. I spent four days online researching, and even went to my local bank, just to understand what a bankteller does. It boiled down to three sentences in my movie script. Seems like too much work? It isn’t. You need to know your material, so there’s always work to be done. And when you’ve stared at your movie script for far too long, take a break and do something else. You’ll come back with fresh eyes.
5. Polish and Get Feedback
Now you can talk about your great idea. Here’s what I hear a lot: Do I send my script out for coverage? From Wikipedia: Coverage is a filmmaking term for the analysis and grading of screenplays. Often, we’re talking about someone you pay who gives you a report that analyzes your script.
The short answer is no, don’t send it out for coverage. It’s a lot of money, and it’s often wasted with people who simply want to capitalize on your fear that it’s not good enough.
Spend the time to edit your own work and polish it. Give it to people you know, or friends in the industry, and ask for constructive criticism. You’d be surprised what you get back, even with people who are unfamiliar with movie scripts. If you do decide you need coverage, and are willing to pay for it, make sure the person has signed an NDA (a nondisclosure agreement.) Even if your script is copyrighted material, you want this extra step to ensure that no one will steal your idea—or even your entire screenplay. Think this can’t happen to you? Look up Walk of Shame and follow the lawsuit trail. (Hint: No, the writer didn’t win.)
Even though there are no hard and fast screenwriting rules, there is some conventional wisdom you should take to heart before you write: “Fade In.” Get writing and go for gold!
Jennifer B. White is an award-winning director, writer and Hollywood copywriter and tagline writer. All her opinions and photos are her own.
Is Your Treatment…
Is Your Treatment Less of a Treat?
(How to Make it Sell for You)
The function of a treatment is to sell your screenplay. There are no right or wrong ways to write a treatment—just more effective ways.
For the record, I’ve only been asked for a treatment a handful of times, although, along with all my marketing material, I always have one written up. Typically, if your pitch goes well, you deliver a completed movie script. (This isn’t a reason not to write one, it’s simply an observation.)
If you haven’t written your movie script yet, this is a great way to draw up a draft of your story. I’ve written treatments too lengthy to hand out to studios, and then kept them as a plot outline that helped guide me in writing the full screenplay.
What is a Treatment?
A treatment can be considered a prose narrative. It presents the main story idea, characters and conflict in a way that helps the reader to understand, quickly, what the movie script is about. If a screenplay is the blueprint for a film, the treatment is the blueprint for a screenplay.
What Goes Into a Treatment?
A treatment can be anywhere from one to thirty pages. But, let’s face it, if you’re writing up to 30 pages for a treatment, it should start to look more like a film deck (more on that later), rather than a treatment, and realistically no one wants to read that many pages. So, go for brevity.
Here’s What it Should Include:
- This should go without saying, but include your name and information on the first page, make sure your phone number and email are correct. (You’d be surprised how many people go through so much effort to find out their phone number or email is wrong!)
- If you WGA registered your screenplay, put the registration number with your information. If your script hasn’t been written yet, register your treatment with WGA. (Yes, you can register a treatment!) Go here: https://www.wgawregistry.org/
- Start with your logline at the top of your page
- Write out each main character and key side characters; give a brief, but exciting, description of each one. Stay away from things like the color of their hair, instead focus on what it is that makes them unique
- In paragraph form, clearly state the premise of your film
- Get to the heart of the story right away
- Keep it succinct, and relatively brief; it’s a loose narrative pitch of your movie script, so it should not be comprehensive
- Make it engaging right away—after all, you’re selling something meant for entertainment purposes, even if this is a documentary. It needs to grab the reader’s attention
- Write to be emotionally engaging. It may be worth pushing your script aside as you make this a creative, appealing piece—otherwise you may be tempted to write a blow by blow of your screenplay when you want to write about is the main characters and the central plot
- Formatting is crucial. It should be easy on the eyes, that means user-friendly and straightforward
- Make headings, the way you would in a blog. It breaks up the chunks of information, so it’s easier to read
- Shorter is better because, and I’ll be straightforward here, you’ll be leaving it behind, or sending it to people with short attention spans (and who are inundated with content)
- Try to use any kind of artwork, photos or illustrations to catch the reader’s attention; we’re dealing with humans here, and people are attracted to visually attractive documents. Don’t steal things off the web—take your own photos, have a friend illustrate, or buy stock photos
After you’ve written your first draft, go back and shorten it. You don’t want to summarize each scene, or even convey the exposition. Let the movie script do that for you. The treatment is vivid and dramatic. Ultimately, it’s the short story of what your movie script is about.
Jennifer B. White is an award-winning director, writer and Hollywood copywriter and tagline writer. All her opinions and photos are her own.
Show Me Your Goods.
(Don’t Tell Me How Sexy They Are)
You know I’m not talking about what’s below the belt, don’t you? If you’ve seen my Twitter handle @nakedhollywood it’s possible that’s where your mind wandered—and you probably don’t get the metaphor. If you’re a writer, you’ll understand that I’m referring to what you’ve put down on paper, and why you need to let your words speak for themselves—not you.
On a weekly basis, I get unsolicited movie scripts. They’re sent to me for a number of reasons: to consider working on them as a producer, for general feedback, or for coverage by a production company. (Coverage is a filmmaking term for analysis and revisions in the development process, before pre-production begins.)
When I talk with writers about their completed scripts, I often get, “It needs some explaining, and so let me tell you a little bit about the story…”
Stop right there.
Don’t Say it, Write it
You shouldn’t have to tell me anything—not the premise of the movie, not why the characters are well-developed, not the main plot, and certainly not why it’s a great story.
All your marketing material should do that for you, and once again, it should be in writing. A logline, one sentence, will give anyone enough information to know exactly what they’re getting into when they read the script, or watch the movie. If you need more words, a short summary will suffice. If you have to tell me anything about the script, and I know you’re itching to do that, go back to your computer and write it down.
Save all that energy for writing, and save your passion for talking about it for a pitch.
Movies are a visual storytelling experience. You don’t explain to your audience what the story is about, even if you use the device of voice overs, you show them. You reveal, through your writing, the action cinematically.
That means you need to think cinematically, even when it comes to dialogue. The quick way, and the wrong way, to reveal the exposition is to have your characters explain what’s happening. This is static, and not only will bore your audience to death, but won’t move the film along in any way. It’s a lifeless story and it won’t translate to the screen.
Slip into Immersion
What you’re looking to do is write in a way that immerses your audiences quickly. Let’s say you need to enlighten what the antagonist has done wrong. It’s a critical part of the movie that shows him to be a bad guy. If you’re watching two people talk about what he’s done—at the office, he goes through women’s purses and desk drawers and steals everyone blind—you’ve just passed up a thousand different ways to make the story more interesting.
Instead, you show the antagonist, perhaps with a twist, simply looking for something he needs for work, like a stapler. He opens a co-worker’s desk drawer. Maybe you don’t even show him stealing anything at first. You continue to inform your audience, little by little, that in actuality, he is a thief. When everyone is at lunch, eventually he takes the petty cash in the manager’s drawer. There’s no dialogue, and you’re now assuming, rightly so, that your audience is smart and will come to the conclusion that this is a bad dude, someone not to be trusted.
It takes a little patience and thoughtful plotting. Even when you’re writing a character-driven drama, remind yourself that plot comes from character. I want to watch what the character does to define his or her personality, rather than have someone tell me.
Jennifer B. White is an award-winning director, writer and Hollywood copywriter and tagline writer. All her opinions and photos are her own.
The Single Sentence…
That will SELL Your Script
If you’ve already written your movie script, you might want to scroll back up to the very beginning and start re-reading that masterpiece. (Go ahead, I’ll wait while you weep and cut open another vein. I’ve been there, too.)
If you haven’t written anything yet, good! Now you can start the right way—with one single sentence. If you absolutely have to, maybe two sentences. (But, for God’s sake, stop there!)
We’re talking about the main idea of your story, or what we call a logline. You’ll the word is LOGLINE, not loglines. It’s one sentence.
I know what you’re thinking—there’s no way I can pack all the twists and turns, all the great characters I wrote, all that meaty goodness into one sentence.
You Must Get Pithy!
A logline describes a movie in one sentence. It is the complete premise of your story.
One of the major reasons most writers fail with their screenplay is because they don’t (really) know the premise of their story. If you’re thinking, “I do know! But, there’s a bunch of things this story is about…” I understand. Your story has an intricate plot, maybe even a subplot or two, characters with villains, heroes and maybe even an antihero, and so forth.
It’s far too complicated to write one sentence that describes it all.
And you’re wrong.
It boils down to this—your logline is the foundation of your entire story. It’s the promise of what we can expect to see when it becomes a movie. And yes, it can be narrowed down to one single sentence.
It’s also the single most important selling device you have when it comes to your screenplay. Producers and studios won’t listen to you—they want to read a logline.
The Technique of Being Pithy
If you’ve gone back to the beginning of your story, and are trying to write your logline, think about what it was, the general idea of your story, at the time you started writing it. If you haven’t written it yet, start exploring the main ideas of what makes this story unique and exciting for you.
The technique is the same no matter where you are in the process. I’ve read scripts, watched completed films, and movies still in post-production when the film was up to 4 ½ hours long—all in the effort to write one sentence.
Start with a series of ideas that lay out the central challenge to solve in the story. This is the most important part. If you need some practice, or get frustrated, take the summaries of feature films that have already been completed, and try to narrow down the premise to one sentence. It gets you into the practice of writing pithy.
Let the Idea Blossom
Write as many ideas as you can. Put it aside and come back to it later with fresh eyes. Explore where the story might go, how it might blossom, and summarize with one sentence (or two) that provides attention-grabbing verbiage.
The real difficulty isn’t simply crafting the sentence; it’s making it clear, finite, succinct. It also doesn’t lead to questions about what your movie is about. The logline should sell itself. It’s as simple—and difficult—as that. The difference between taglines and loglines is that a tagline is meant to tease an audience, whereas a logline is a clear idea of what your story is (or will be) about.
As you work through ideas, the logline should provide the following:
- A quick sense of the main character (do NOT use names)
- What the conflict or goal is
- The type of movie it is (This comes within the body of the logline, not stated outright)
Here are some good examples of loglines taken from Shortlist.com “Honest loglines for Famous Scripts.” You might recognize the movie based on the logline, but if you don’t, the answers are below.
- “In the distant future a desperate war is ripping apart an endangered alien planet until a battle-hardened hero fights to preserve the twinkling beauty of the rainforest and the lucrative future of stereoscopic 3D glasses.”
- “A band of mis-matched labourers are called up to board a space shuttle, fly it into space, land it on a moving rock (roughly the size of Texas), drill a hole on the moving rock and blow it up before it collides with Earth, all to a soft-rock soundtrack. The title will be something end-of-the-world based.”
- “One man’s compelling struggle against poverty, poorly tended public toilets and India’s answer to Chris Tarrant.”
- “An intergalactic saga which begins as a simple tale of one boy’s destiny, an ancient religion and infuriating computer generated sidekicks.”
- “An unassuming US Navy chef and a band of vicious mercenaries. Essentially, Die Hard on a boat.”
- “On an infamous doomed vessel, a street-wise hustler crosses paths with a stifled aristocratic dreamer to create an unsinkable love story. And a suspiciously accurate erotic drawing.”
- “A high-octane action adventure that offers a dizzying glimpse into the thrills, adrenaline-fuelled battles and elongated volleyball montages that characterise the world of elite Naval aviators.”
- “Vietnam, Sixties counterculture, Watergate. A Southern simpleton has a bumbling hand in some of the 20th century’s biggest events in this touching story of love, courage over adversity and snappily-named shrimp chains.”
1. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 2. Under Siege 3. Slumdog Millionaire 4. Titanic 5. Armageddon 6. Top Gun 7. Avatar 8. Forrest Gump
Readers Listen Up
Great writers have always intrigued their readers. As a kid, I adored fantasy and science fiction books. Piers Anthony was, in my adolescent heart, a superstar. After reading A Spell for Chameleon, I remember trying to find out anything about him—where he lived, what he ate for breakfast. I would have gobbled up anything I could find, but I think all I came up with was that he lived in England.
This, of course, was life before the Internet and Wikipedia. Later on, I couldn’t find out much about Anne Rice either. On the paperback version of The Mummy, I was given the tiny nugget, “Anne Rice was born in New Orleans, where she now lives with her husband, the poet Stan Rice, and their son, Christopher.”
One time Stephen King stepped out from behind his typewriter, and was interviewed by Writer’s Digest. I remember reading, and re-reading, an article about how he described The Craft. I practically memorized his take on being a writer. He’s not much different today. He advises that all writers be voracious readers, and I tend to agree.
As an author, a screenwriter, and Hollywood tagline writer, I’m sometimes surprised how many times I’m asked the same questions. But, as a reader, I understand that yearning to find out. Readers want to know how writers create characters, and what inspired the story. (And there’s always a back-story to the story. That goes for movies, as well.) Readers want details on how the plot was constructed because it left them turning pages late into the night.
This isn’t a spoiler alert, but I was asked by a woman at my literary agency, Dupree/Miller, why a dog had to die in one of my books. And was the dog really dead? It wasn’t so much a question as a demand. She demanded to know!
I’m also asked about the writing process—do I map out the story, or write off-the-cuff? Do I use the same technique every time? What are the similarities and differences in writing a screenplay versus a novel? And what about those taglines? How do you come up with them? Personally, I wondered about Peter Straub’s Ghosts’ tagline: “What you can’t see can scare you to death.” It bugged me for years. And what’s a tagline doing on the cover of a book?
One of the great things about being a reader in this day and age is that you can find out about your favorite author online. Dig a little deeper and you’ll probably find your author interviewed on Youtube, a Vlog or Blog, or a radio podcast.
I gave a radio interview the other day. (One of many I’ve been doing lately.) Click HERE to listen to the interview on Culture Wars, a radio program out of New York/New Jersey.
I actually like talking shop with interviewers. Maybe it’s all those years spent in public relations. Among some of the things readers want to know wasn’t just the details of my work, and how I do my work, but they want to know about me. The way I wanted to know what kind of dog Piers Anthony had… if he, in fact, had a dog. Or if Anne Rice had ever met a vampire.
Okay, I don’t really want to know that.
Yes, I do.
Interview not Conversation
On Get Published, you can hear me talk about screenwriting, novels and Hollywood tagline writing.
During my career, I’ve been interviewed hundreds of times on practically every media outlet: radio, podcasts, TV programs, magazines and newspapers. I’m an extrovert who writes, so I rather like being interviewed. (I know this is a strange combination: prolific writer who loves to gab.) My friends in L.A. think I’m an odd glitch in an otherwise well-designed universe. They also want to come up with a new word that describes people like me.
Talking shop about movies, novels and stories in general is enjoyable because I’m passionate about it. I keep up-to-date on everything new in my industry (Hollywood and the literary world), and I like imparting what I know, or have learned, to anyone who’s interested in the subject.
But, there’s a big difference between having a conversation and being interviewed. In a conversation, there’s a tendency to talk over someone else, express yourself animatedly, raise your voice, or even intentionally interrupt to get your point across. Okay, maybe that’s just me and the fall-out from my mother’s Midwestern genes.
In an interview, while you’re trying to remain conversational—after all, no one wants to listen to someone reading prepared answers (yawn!)—you have to consciously make an effort to slow down and speak clearly.
It sounds easier than it is.
If you’re a writer who gets an opportunity—and it really is a great opportunity—to give an interview, try to do as much as you can to prep before it takes place. Impromptu is great if you’re good at winging it, but most people get nervous, and there’s nothing worse than dead air. (That “nothingness” that you hear every so often on the radio.)
Do some research and find out about the radio station or podcast—listen carefully to previous interviews and what the interviewer’s style is like. Ask if they can provide you with questions before hand, or even offer ideas of what you’d like to be asked. Review your questions; write out the answers if it helps you formulate your responses. But, try not to “read” them on air. It sounds unnatural and stilted. Instead, practice your interview with a trusted friend or family member. There are loads of tips and good advice online, too.
Remember to stop, breathe, listen to the questions carefully (sometimes the interviewer changes direction). I tend to pepper my interviews with “um.” (Don’t do that!) It’s my way of thinking and taking a breath, but it’s much better to simply stop for a moment, think and then answer.
After you’ve given your interview, listen to it carefully. A lot of people don’t like the sound of their own voice, or cringe at their replies because they think they’ve blown it, but usually you’re your worst critic. Listening to yourself will give you ideas on what to do differently next time, what things to improve upon, or even to cheer because, hey, you got through it and lived!
Hollywood & the Lit World
A Love Story.
Last night, I gave a very lengthy pod cast interview. The questions were thought-provoking, and that got me all tingly, so I drank a double espresso, turned on Skype, and babbled my way through a fun one-hour conversation about books and movies.
Later, after the coffee buzz wore off, I realized I get asked a similar question all the time. When I’m on the east coast, it’s about Hollywood. When I’m in L.A., they want to know about my novels. It suddenly occurred to me that Hollywood is in love with the Literary World. And the Literary World is enamored with Hollywood!
Alright, this may not be news to anyone, but there are things going on right now between the two that a lot of people might not know about. The publishing industry is going through significant changes—writers are now self-publishing at a clip faster than George Clooney is going through women and Kardashians are endorsing products. And Hollywood is looking for content because “Content is King.” That just means good stories delivered via various forms of media.
But now you don’t need to wait for a novel to hit the Best Sellers list before it becomes a movie. (Incidentally, readers aren’t that interested in Best Sellers—about 65% of readers, according to Publisher’s Weekly, are more interested in—here’s that word again—content.) Now, Hollywood is actively seeking out writers who have great manuscripts, taking the manuscript and delivering a movie and a book at the same time.
Yes, this is indeed a good love story.
Hollywood is fascinated by people who not only can craft a great tale, but make it readable on paper. You know what I mean—without being riddled with grammatical errors and typos. And The Literary World can’t get enough of sitting in the dark watching Robert Downey, Jr. beat up bad guys in a heavy red iron suit.
This is already happening. I watched it in real-time in L.A.—in less than 15 minutes, a 350 page manuscript was made into a movie and book deal before I finished my glass of wine.
So, here’s the big question for writers. While you’re writing your book, do you hear a soundtrack? You should.
An interview I gave with Publishing Perspectives about the importance of book covers and how to get it right. Now, more than ever, you should judge a book by its cover. It tells you more about the author (and the story) than you think!
The Noodles & The Tanks
Can you smell it? That’s fear. It’s not coming from me, though. I wear a good deodorant.
I spent the summer in Los Angeles—specifically North Hollywood, right down the street from Universal Pictures. As I do every several weeks, I meet with film companies, pitch stories and leave my material—scripts and film treatments—to be reviewed. A meeting can be anywhere from twenty minutes (that’s my shortest) to several hours. It can also involve food, but more often it’s in an office somewhere in Beverly Hills or Wilshire Blvd.
I typically go into a meeting with at least eight to ten stories under my belt in all stages of development. I’ve pitched everything
from all ten to just one. After every meeting, I’ve been asked to provide a film treatment or completed movie script. (That’s a pretty good average.)
I write in almost every genre—from comedy and chick flicks to young adult and drama—you name it. That’s because I adore a great story, I love writing and I’m prolific. I watch more movies than anyone I know, and I tend to watch them more than once. I read and I admire book lovers, bibliophiles and authors. I write books, too—lots of them. I believe that success comes when you love what you do.
There’s a lot of confusion about what Hollywood is looking for. In fact, that’s the main question not just with writers, but with
film makers themselves. What’s the next best thing?
The answer is: the next best thing is what you believe it is. It’s what you’ve written for a target audience you know intimately. You conjured the story, so it must have bubbled up from that magical place. The one when you get goose bumps not just after you wrote it, but as you’re writing it.
If it’s good, and I assume it is, then trust it will find a home. I do. That’s why I don’t sweat in meetings. Well, that, and my deodorant.
Since I’ve already set forces in motion, I expect that they’ll be realized.
Here’s who I’ve met—people who are fearful. I call them Noodles because they’re slippery, without much substance, and they easily fall through your fingers. They often make sounds like “hmmm,” and “ummm,” without any kind of declaration of what they felt or thought about a story. Their livelihood depends on whether they should take a chance on your work—or someone else’s. Taking a chance means a studio and distributor spend lots of money. If they make the wrong choice and the movie bombs, someone might call them out on it.
Noodles don’t like to take a chance. They want certainty. And we all know what that means.
This is what I like—the people who are fearless. I call them Tanks. Things bounce off of them and they often make comments like, “I hate it, I like it, I’m impressed, I’m offended, I feel, I think…” That’s a good thing. I know where I stand as a writer. Hell, I know where I stand as a human. Tanks move boldly forward.
There’s something to be said about living courageously and passionately. And yes, you’ll hear, “no” from time to time.
Again, I’m not afraid. I’m not worried my story isn’t good. Not every movie script is right for every film company.
By the way, I’m not particularly offended by the Noodles. They simply need someone—that’s you—to ask this question: “What is it you like?” Abruptly, you’ll find the conversation turning into a discussion instead of a pitch. That’s okay. If you listen, you’ll get a story out of it.
Maybe not one you’ve written, but one you’d like to write.
Email me by hitting the Contact Button. I reply to everyone. The Witch and the Devil’s Son is being rereleased with a fancy new book jacket—thanks friends from Universal Pictures—and will be available on Kindle. Cheap. Because that’s the way we like it. If you want to respond, I look forward to your comments.