UNWINDING PRODUCER DEALS

QUESTION

I have a script, which my agent had us attach a producer to. My agent and the producer are very good friends, and in our initial talks he had some good ideas. Well, after 3+ months of back and forth rewriting (the producer changed his mind on several points 3-4 times over) we finally had what he considered a final draft. The thing is my co-writer and I thought it was much better 3+ months before.

So, after it went out wide, no one picked it up, but we got meetings, we had several people (producers, execs., etc.) tell us what they loved about the story. Of course, it was the stuff we now only hinted at, as the producer attached had us cut lots of it out.

Anyway, I’m rambling. We now have our draft that went out, and our draft before the producer came on board. We’d like to revert back to our original draft and part ways with the producer, as his ideas, thoughts, and plans are all not at all onboard with ours.

So, what is the proper way of parting ways with the producer, who was attached via our agent, but NOTHING was ever signed, and no money ever exchanged hands. So how do we do it?

Chris from Los Angeles

The big question is, revert back to the original script for what purpose? It went out wide and was passed on by everyone. Who will you shop it to? Most specs end up as calling cards for their writers. This one was a calling card for you. Focus on the people you met as a result, nurture those relationships and get the next script in front of your new fans as soon as possible.

The next big question is, why now? How is the fact that this producer may or may not be attached for certain purposes stopping you from doing whatever you have in mind? Continue reading “UNWINDING PRODUCER DEALS”

READER PREJUDICE

Here is the preamble to a question I have for you:

Some people criticize story analysts/readers as being overly harsh on all material because they are frustrated writers bitter about their own lack of career. I have never bought that excuse for getting poor coverage, but that is just my opinion. In another post, the subject arose of submitting your script directly to buyers, for example through a direct contact inside the buyer, versus submitting through a producer. A variety of differing and conflicting opinions emerged regarding the best way to submit. Being strategic is important, but there are obviously different ideas about how to do that. In addition, story analysts are not uniform in their attitudes or prejudices. About the only thing they are uniform in is that flawed or poorly executed scripts get uniformly hammered. That’s what readers do – look for storytelling flaws and poor execution. However, well-executed scripts often get hammered, too, by various readers for various reasons.

So, today, here is my question for you. What are your experiences with readers? If you’ve seen coverage of your own material (which is usually a brutal experience), tell me, did you see any reader prejudice?

A FEW SCENE CONSTRUCTION BASICS

STORY CUBE GIFSteve from Los Angeles asks:

So I’m going to the big screenwriting expo this weekend. I just signed up for it a few days back with no intentions other than checking out a lot of seminars. This morning, I was perusing the site and took a gander at the screenwriting tournament. You probably know that they give you a scenario and then you have 90 minutes to pen a 2-3 page scene. I LOVE working on deadline. I got excited. Really excited. I read some of the scenarios from past contests and felt the ideas come. Even more exciting. Then, I took a deep breath and realized, these are premises for a SINGLE scene.… In the past, I’ve tried to do too much in too small a space. I don’t want to do that again. Since the contest is on deadline, there’s no time for wasted minutes. Any suggestions as to how to approach a contest like this?

I can only suggest you remember a few basics of scene construction:

1. Get into the scene as late as possible. It’s usually later than you think. Chop off the first part and see if the scene still works.

2. Get out as early as possible. It’s usually earlier than you think. As soon as you have accomplished what you intended, get out.

3. Unless it is the last scene in the picture, make sure it leaves something incomplete. The reader should want to know what is next. One way to do this, is to have characters talk around an issue between them, unable to talk about it directly, and move on with the thing still hanging in the air.

4. Scenes also have a beginning, middle and end. They should have movement. No wasted action – everything directly in service of the movement.

5. Clean professional dialogue. See this column on dialogue to understand how I approach dialogue. For me, this approach tends to generate reasonable dialogue fairly quickly.

Good luck. Let us know how it goes.

WHAT IS CHARACTER CHANGE?

Casablanca GifA note you are likely to receive in the course of your writing is that “your character needs to change” by the end of the story. Sometimes, you will be told the character needs to “learn” something or needs to “grow”. Too often, the writer is tempted to include a superficial “change” to meet this note. Doing so usually destroys the story. Here are some observations on how to avoid this pitfall and what is at the heart of character change.

How a character is transformed is different for each story. More importantly, the creative process through which a writer discovers and then creates this character change is likely different for each writer. There is no formula or magic process. However, while you are working through these issues, there are some key questions to ask yourself in order to test whether your conception of the character and of the story itself will ultimately lead you to a story with “character change”.

I use the following questions as departure points to create not only the character but the very bones of the story to support that character. By conceiving of the story through these types of questions, I force myself to create a storyline that comes from character change. Here are the key questions (for me):

    1. What fact defines the character’s identity that he or she comes to see differently by the end of the story?

    2. What does the character find out that makes him or her see the world differently?

    3. What aspect of the character’s core identity does he or she learn something new about which makes him or her a different person at the end of the story?

These are not superficial questions. They involve and have implications for every aspect of your story. Each of these questions involves the very core identity of your character and they all assume that this core changes by the end of the story. The best way to understand this is to see it in action. Here are several examples:

CASABLANCA = The core of Rick’s character is angry bitterness because he was stood up without explanation by the woman he loved. By the end of the story, he finds out why she left him and that she still loves him. It transforms him into a different character (in this case, restoring him to the man he once was). Notice, he literally learns a new external fact that goes to the very heart of his being and changes it.

THE SIXTH SENSE = The core of Malcolm’s character is his belief that he is a phony, not a good doctor to these children. Eventually, he has an insight, namely that Cole might be telling the truth when he says he sees ghosts, and through helping the boy, Malcolm comes to learn that he is not a phony. He ends the story with a great sense of self-worth that he did not have at the beginning. Notice, what he “learns” is an instantaneous insight – namely that he should listen to the Cole instead of judging him. The insight itself does not change Malcolm’s sense of self-worth. Rather, the act of successfully helping Cole gives Malcolm his new sense of being. This is different than Casablanca, where the new fact itself transforms Rick and everything that follows is just a reveal to us that the character has truly changed.

IN THE LINE OF FIRE = Frank thinks he is a coward and that because of his cowardice, the world is a worse place. He is driven by his feeling of cowardice and his need to prove himself. He learns he is no coward when he takes a bullet for the president. He is no longer driven to prove anything. In this case, there is no external fact learned and no instantaneous insight. Rather, his very act of courage transforms him.

UNFORGIVEN
= Munny lives a hard life, a cursed man suffering for his sins of the past. Ultimately, he is changed by having to use the same tools he used as a drunken, valueless, murderer to enforce some sense of values and honor. He leaves a changed man with some sense of redemption, clouded though it be.

DIE HARD = McLane thinks he is too dumb and unsophisticated to keep the interest of his wife. He learns he is smart enough to save her life. This is the weakest change of all the examples, but it is still present and important to driving the story forward. This picture was elevated from a B-movie to an A-movie in large part because the change McClane had to go through resonated with the audience.

In each case, the “change” is the character discovering what is already inside of him. Each of these stories leads that character to this discovery in a different way. However, all of them share something in common. The story is conceived in terms of character change. In Casablanca, Rick must become a different man in order to do the right thing. In Die Hard, McClane must actually be that smart person to save his wife. In In The Line Of Fire, Frank must be courageous to save the president. Notice that the stronger the story conception in terms of character change, the stronger the story. In Casablanca, perhaps the strongest of all of these, the change that is required is the enormous. Rick must go from selfish, bitter man to selfless, understanding hero. The person at the end is the polar opposite of the person at the beginning (but, importantly, the person at the end was really there all along; Rick just had to discover him again).

This may be helpful; it may just be Monday morning quarterbacking. Or, like Rick in Casablanca, I may be misinformed. You decide.

Enough. Now go write….

THIS IS HOW HARD THE GAME IS, FOLKS

Oklahoma GifI am publishing this entire question from Jack of Oklahoma despite its length because his experience is unique only in his perseverance, not in the difficulty he is having getting a break.

Hi. This is a combination question/remark/plea. I have been writing since the 1980s and have had my share of agents representing me. As of now, I have given up. I have written 30+ original screenplays and 6 (completed) novels. I need help. Lately, I have been posting my scripts on InkTip.com. They are legit, because I’ve seen and read about the results they are receiving. To attempt to make a long story short, is there anyone out there who can lead me to a site that can help me in gaining “real” representation for my scripts? Two years ago, I had two of my scripts pushed all the way to the top of Hallmark Hall of Fame and HBO, by my then-agent, only to be shot down from the top after the scripts being okayed by everyone between here and the words ‘the check is in the mail’ being spoken. Anyway, I have, in the past year, on my own, since my agent and I parted ways, been asked to write a script for an Indie Co. They found me on InkTip.com, liked what I had posted (the entire script) and then asked me to sign a contract to write a script using one of their ideas. I did so, and now I am waiting for word…any word, from them. So, still trying to make a long story short here, I am desperate, to say the least, in my search for a reputable agency to represent me. I used to have those thoughts running in my head, like I’m a hack, and can’t write my name, etc., but now that I know people like HBO and Hallmark, and Indie Co’s., believe my writing doesn’t suck wind, I know now I can send out my original scripts and not be embarrassed by them. So, to end, can someone give me any ideas as where to go to find reputable representation? What to do?I read the previous page from this site and looked over the “paying agents” article. Believe me, I’ve been there…and just recently, paid $79 for a critique of one of my novels, and being asked for another $79 for each and every critique rendered…(I know, I’m stupid for doing this, but desperation doesn’t exactly bring out the best in me)..and these are the same scripts and novels I already have had edited by reputable outfits. So, if this letter is answered, thank you, because I believe I have what it takes to make it, going by what little track record I have, but I need help getting to a WGAw signatory agent. I don’t mind paying for copies of my scripts to be sent out, it is just I don’t like paying for something I am not getting, as in deeper in debt. I can’t afford to be paying for critiques by someone who won’t do anything with it after the job is done…I have two daughters, a wife, a dog, and a bird to feed…besides trying to write while working two jobs. So, if there is anyone out there who can point me in a somewhat right direction, I would truly be grateful. Thank you.

I can’t refer you to an agent, Jack, but I can tell you that many, many writers get their first breaks without an agent. You obviously have a great deal of experience and probably have at least a reasonable personality if you’ve gotten as far as you have. You may want to change tactics and take to the phones yourself to contact producers directly. It will take regular efforts and many, many rejections, but when isn’t that the case in entertainment. A good place to start would be to call the people who liked your writing in the past – the folks at HBO, Hallmark, etc. Writing careers are all about making fans in the industry and you have already made some. Capitalize on it. When you call, pay attention to sounding professional, not desperate. Remember, you are talking your way through receptionists who get yelled at if they waste their boss’s time. Know what you want to say and be ready to pitch your ideas. No matter what you do, do not let lack of an agent stop you.

If anyone out there has any concrete suggestions for Jack, now’s the time to speak up.

SCREENWRITING WIKI

Screenwriting WikiPlease visit and contribute to the Screenwriting Wiki. It takes a little learning to get used to posting and editing wiki posts, but the result is worth it. You will be building a long-term resource for screenwriters, created by and owned by screenwriters. The wiki includes articles on craft and the business, and essays on important produced screenplays from the perspective of the screenwriter.

NOTE: The ads placed on the site are put there by the web-hosting service to pay for hosting the site. Like this website, The Screenwriting Wiki is non-profit for those creating and contributing to it (including me).

Enough. Now go write.