July 3


THE EXPLODING SCRIBOSPHERE (Classic Post)

(Ed. Note: Entry originally entitled “The Exploding Blogosphere”. Changed to “Scribosphere” courtesy of Craig Mazin. See below.)

BOMBNobody knows nothing. When I started The Thinking Writer about four years ago, I coded each page in HTML and recoded the home page every time I added an article. It was time consuming and it had no ability for reader comments. I had never heard of a blog. A few years later, I discovered blogging software. Poof – the new Thinking Writer was born. When I first put up this blog, I located only one other screenwriting blog, johnaugust.com. If there were more, they were pretty well hidden.

Flash-forward to today and the screenwriting blogosphere is exploding. From A-list writers (like the folks at Artful Writer) to a guy who read a hack book on how to write “Screenplays That Sell” and is about to start his first draft of his first idea (link omitted) to those in between (including me), everyone has something to say about screenwriting. It seems that it’s much easier to “be a screenwriter” on your blog than to actually make a living writing movies.

And everyone is offering advice….

Do these people (including me) know anything? Well, not really. Even at the A-lister level, they can’t agree on much. At least they’ve proven they can write and build a career. But they haven’t proven they can show you how to do it. Then there are those with a modicum of experience (like me) who sound like we know a lot. It’s just a writing trick, really. None of us has any magic answers. Then there are the complete amateurs who’ve never worked in Hollywood, never sold a script, sometimes never even really written a script. Still, they have a lot of advice to give, too. And they are more certain than any of us of the right answers.

So is any of this noise worth anything?

Well…sure it is. Listen to everything and everyone. Stay inside the conversation of screenwriting. Pick up ideas wherever you can. You never know when someone will say something that makes a difference. (I heard something from Craig Mazin just the other day that made a difference for me. He said that he considers the job to be writing movies, not writing screenplays. Nice distinction.)

But here’s the kicker. If you’re not writing, the advice means nothing because none of it translates directly into execution. You can’t tell a damn in the thinking about writing. It’s not like computer programming, where you learn a principle and simply use logic to apply it later. No, writing is like playing piano. You must do it to learn it. In the doing, you find out if the advice held any benefit.

So next time you read some great advice here or on any writing blog, just know, we don’t know. We only think we know. And we only think we know what works for us. The only way for you to know what works for you is to do. Look, learn, then do…and do and do and do….

Got it? Good. Now go write.

November 23


Who Wrote The King’s Speech? (Classic Post)

King George VI
flikr|steve greer
The Jewish Journal has a fascinating article about screenwriter David Seidler, who escaped from Nazi’s, was almost torpedoed on his way to America, and grew up escaping into writing as a refuge from his own speech impediment, then later drew from these experiences to write the screenplay for The King’s Speech. It is worth a read.

November 6


NO FREE LUNCH II (Classic Post)

Karen from Atlanta recently commented on this previous post about the pitfalls of giving away free or almost free options with the following:

I wish I had run across this site before trying to renegotiate my expired option with a producer. The 18 month option ($1000 1st day of filming plus 3% net) expired but my script was still prominently featured on the company website and on other sites associated with it. I was pretty brave about what I wanted by email but then he wanted to talk on the phone. He barely got a few words out as to why he didn’t want to pay more to continue developing the script when I totally caved, allowing him to keep it for 90 more days for just a $100. I can barely look at myself in the mirror. I’m almost hoping he can’t get financing in time so I can just take my script and go elsewhere. (almost) I realize now that because I wasn’t willing to walk away (and he obviously could tell) I was really in no position to negotiate anything. Boy, do I need to grow a thicker hide and find an agent. He mentioned that he wanted to pay me out at the end of the extension – the now $700 left – and keep the script. No way would I consider doing that. So, I’m taking the next few months to get myself mentally prepared to let go and start all over. I don’t want to, but I’d feel like an idiot just letting him keep my script forever.

She followed up with the following question:

I thought my comment in the “no free lunch” section would get some type of response, even if it was only, “There, there Karen. You’re not the first writer to choke in this kind of situation . . .” An actual question would be this: after extension expires, would it be (un)ethical of me to let the producers keep working on developing my script so I could keep “script in pre-production with such & such production company” on my very sparse resume. And market the script under a different title until I got another buyer interested? Then, because the option will have expired just tell current producers to take my stuff off their websites so I can sell to new buyer? Experience tells me that the current producers aren’t going to call me when the option expires; they’ll just keep working until I call them.

[Standard disclaimer – this is not legal advice, but just thoughts on a blog.]

Before you hang yourself, consider the plus side of your circumstance. You have the interest of producers who paid at least something to work on turning your script into a movie. They are interested enough to try to keep control of it and keep trying to get it made into a movie. All of this suggests you have some writing ability and that is critical to building a career. The usual experience of writers is that the producers talk a good game when they get the free or virtually free option from the writer, but do next to nothing to move the project forward. At least your producers seem to be making an effort.

Your comment and question raise several important issues:

1. Can a producer keep your script if they option it? The answer is, if they meet the conditions for exercising the option (e.g. pay you the money), then – yes – ordinarily they can. However, sometimes making the movie is a condition of exercising the option. In your case, you indicate they agreed to pay you $1000 “on the first day of filming” plus 3% net. Depending upon the language of the rest of your option, it is possible they cannot simply pay you $1000 and keep your script forever without producing the movie. This result is not typical, but the producers may not fully understand how to write an option and may have left themselves open to this. Also, in some cases, the option agreement provides for reversionary or “turnaround” rights even if the option is exercised, in which case you get your script back after a certain amount of time if they do not produce a movie. The exact conditions of turnaround differ and can involve you repaying money they spent on development. As to both issues, you will need to review your option contract plus any subsequent agreements or addendums to see what the language says. Before you agree to anything else at all, you may wish to consult an entertainment attorney.

2. How do you avoid “caving” when a producer asks for an extension? That is what agents or lawyers are for. It is very difficult for the writer, who is attempting to build a creative relationship with the producer, to also negotiate his or her own deal and, in some cases, take a very hard line. Remember, the producer’s job is to cut deals. That’s what he or she does all day long. You were outgunned from before you got on the telephone. In general, unless you happen to also be a used car salesman on the side, I strongly recommend you use a professional to negotiate your deals. Writers’ attorneys often work for a percentage (5-10%) so you do not need to come out of pocket up front.

3. Can you ethically rename your script and shop it even while these producers are working on it? Your ethics are a matter of personal judgment and tolerance. However, as a practical matter, you don’t really need to do that. Unless your option contract forbids it, you can present the script elsewhere anyway and tell others that the option is about to expire, which is true. If other interest develops, the new producers will need to wait and see if the old option gets exercised. You can also present the script as a writing sample for the purpose of getting hired on assignment (as in paid) to write a script for someone else. As for your resume, resumes are not particularly important in writing. The script is what counts. In any event, you can truthfully say on your resume that you have an optioned project.

The writing business is filled with complications. You are not alone in your frustration. Over the course of your career, you will have many more difficult, problem deals than pictures produced. It is the nature of the beast. Just keep writing quality scripts, surround yourself with knowledgeable people, and keep the faith.

February 19


TWO BOOKS ON DIALOGUE (Classic Post)

Writing Dialogue
by Tom Chiarella, Story Press

The book is perfect for both novice writers and more experienced writers who have simply never specifically studied dialogue. It is a wonderfully clear treatise that will provide the committed screenwriter with many new tools for crafting effective, engaging dialogue. Tom Chiarella breaks down dialogue into a number of basic concepts essential to crafting effective speech. These elemental concepts are well explained, with clear examples throughout. Although the work is written for fiction writers generally, and not speciifcally attuned to screenwriters, it is worth studying and keeping on your shelf.

Writing Dialogue for Scripts
by Rib Davis

Although not as clear as Tom Chiarella’s book, this book is also worth reading and keeping on the shelf. Davis surveys many of the pitfalls of bad dialogue (including what Davis calls “Ping-Pong” dialogue, which is one of the most common dialogue killers) and also discusses the driving forces behind dialogue. The reader will quickly see how the form of dialogue can and must be coupled with the deeper purpose of the dialogue and the underlying “agenda” of each character . Through clear examples, the reader can easily grasp the basic concepts that elevate dialogue from purely expositional to dramatic.

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