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Hollywood Screenplay Contest

Monday, September 28, 2009

Do You REALLY Want My Opinion

Over at Modern Day Screenwriter my Twitter buddy Karen describes two very different writers who attended a feedback session of her writer's group. One had a commercial project and was keen to get as much practical advice as he could. He got a few knocks but took them like a trooper. The second writer, well as Karen says: was obvious this writer had come here for very different reasons to the first one.

She had not come to listen to straightforward comments and ruthless questions about her work. She had come for a pat on the back, maybe some validation. The first writer hadn’t required validation. He wanted frank thoughts and got just what he needed.

It was ironic because just a few days ago I had learned much to my disappointment that I had cost myself a good chunk of change by being too frank. Let me back up, in the screenwriting world there is feedback and then there is "feedback." There's feedback for people who want to know the straight truth as ugly as that truth may be. Mostly this is the kind that you write for agencies or production companies. They want the worse case scenario. If I pay money for this guy's script, am I out of job? That's rather vital to know. Some writers seek out this kind of bluntness. They're the ones who are dead serious about their chosen profession. They want to play in the NFL and they want to see if they can take an NFL hit. These are the people who, even if they aren't pros yet have adopted a pro mentality. They don't get too emotionally attached to any one story or story element. They fully embrace that successful writing involves killing your darlings.

Then there is the other set. The ones who live in a perpetual state of denial. The ones who want praise and who are willing to pay total strangers for it. They consider themselves very serious. They spend money. Lots of it. They enter contests, they attend pitchfests and seminars. But it never sinks in. They do everything except make the change that is necessary in themselves. A friend of mine described them as the hopeless wrecks washed up at the gates of Hollywood. And it's this pile of bodies that have spawned a secondary industry. As long as they're willing to pay money for a little bit of hope, even if it is false hope, there will be people willing to give it to them. Some will try and pack real criticism inside their praise, others will just fill in the blanks of a feel-good form letter and send it off.

I used to think I'd never call a turd a truffle. I used to pride myself about how hard I could smack a screenplay. But now I'm not so sure. If I were in the screenwriting guru business, that poor lost writer Karen describes, she'd be my bread and butter. She has almost no chance of breaking through. But if I really told her that it'd be the last I'd see of her, or her money.

Friday, September 11, 2009

What That Guy Should Have Done with Josh Olson

If you haven’t already you must read this piece by Josh Olson the screenwriter of History of Violence. Talk about unloading a Cleveland Steamer! If his former acquaintance didn’t think Olsen was a dick already, he’s certainly going to think that after airing the whole incident in the Village Voice.

Have to say even though I’m with Olson on this one, I understand where the guy was coming from. That’s because there is such a dearth of real roadmaps to navigating Hollywood. Sure you can find a dozen or so books on screenwriting but very few offering actual practical advice on how to achieve your goal. The world of the movies can seem so very far away at times and people sometimes just grasp at the first straw they see. If they have contact with someone who’s actually in the business then they tend to lose all sense of proportion and just go all in. And end up going bust.

Here’s what the young man should have done and what everyone else should do if they somehow land face time with a real screenwriter, actor or producer:

A) Don’t treat them as an employment office. No only do they resent the hell out of it, most of them can’t help you anyway. Despite what you may think people like Josh Olson can’t make or even start a career with the snap of their fingers. There are only a handful of people in Hollywood who can do that, Spielberg, Pitt, those people. Even if Olson actually liked the script or even loved it, there probably wouldn’t be anything he could do shy of maybe, and just maybe giving him a recommendation to an agent.

B) Take care of your career on your own. Take classes an UCLA or USC, get an internship or a job in the mail room. Start out as a PA or even an extra. That way you’ll make connections all by yourself and won’t have to beg semi acquaintances for them. Also guys like Olson will respect you more because they’ve all been there. That’s how they got started. Look at Olson’s IMDB page and the first credits you see are crew credits in the art department back in the 80’s. He’s a guy who worked his way up the ladder. He’d appreciate it if the guy talked to him about working the mail room or crewing for a low budget indie. That might have lead to a longer conversation and an actual friendship because…

C) You do want to cultivate your relationships with the Josh Olson’s of the world even if they can’t help you at least not in the way you may want or crave. Every contact is important and can lead to more contacts. Plus you can never have too many friends. But be or at least try to be a friend not a parasite. People in the business already talk about the business non stop because they have to. They’re usually dying to talk about something else for a change, football, their favorite BBQ sauce, torte reform, anything. A producer I know once called it “doing the human thing.” Be a real human being with them first and forget that it’s your life long dream to sell a screenplay as hard as it may be.

Think about it this way. You wouldn’t go up to the head of Toyota right off the street and ask to design their next car. You wouldn’t approach the Governator and offer to write the new State Legislation for State Parks. Yet people seem to think they’re eminently qualified to jump right to the top of the screenwriting world from no where. That’s what Olson found so distasteful, that people don’t really treat this as a business. And that’s why they fail.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Please No More Scripts about Screenwriting

The one thing you shouldn’t write about?


Specifically screenwriting.

No I’m not contradicting myself. I’ve started reading for another contest and here as with PAGE one of the things that really sets off the alarm bells is a story about a screenplay or a screenwriter. They’re almost all the self indulgent or just wrong. They fall into either the wish fulfillment or revenge/therapy categories. Please for the love of Syd Field, stop writing them.

I’m not sure why this is a trend in contests. One person told me it was because of Adaptation and The Player. People should remember who was behind those pictures.

Writing about screenwriting or the entertainment business in general is always full of hazards because the writer is damned if he gets the screenwriting world right and he’s damned if he gets it wrong. The real business of movie making is boring and slow. Right now it’s really slow and boring because nothing is actually being greenlit. They say an overnight success takes ten years to make. It’s probably gone up to twenty. And success usually means becoming the sixth writer on GI Joe 2: Electric Bugaloo.

Even worse is when a writer tries to tell an “inside Hollywood” story and gets things wrong. For instance one script I read was supposed to be a warts and all look at the television industry. Unfortunately it broke a cardinal rule right off the bat and made use of a well known song, even naming the script after the tune. Any “insider” knows you never count on being able to secure the rights for a particular song because you might not get them. Another big myth is that once the producers say yes it’s a clear route to easy street. I’ve a friend who got his script packaged and ready to lens years ago. He’s still waiting for his payday.

Before any writer wants to spend months on such a script he or she should take a trip down to the nearest Borders and look at movie section. There are rows of inside stories about the movie business and the creative written by famous actors, writers and directors. None of those are being seriously pursued as film material.

What chance does an unknown outsider have?

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