Saturday, June 23, 2007

Getting Traction

As a fellow writer, you know that getting those ideas on paper really makes you feel like a million bucks. That being said, I'm feeling pretty damn rich right about now. I've finally completed the outline for this story which, until recently, I've been messing around with only in my head. So far it looks pretty solid, but then again, I haven't set it aside for a few days to ferment and allow the nasty bits to rise to the top. Normally, I would think that the next step would be to write out the scenes on index cards and shuffle them around a bit. But I think I've done all the shuffling I can do for now in the outline. It really just needs to sit for a couple of days.

After that, my next planned step after double checking the outline again, is to start cranking out a first draft. Just writing it out, getting it on paper. I'm not really concerned with massive amounts of quality here. Just words on paper. I mean, I'll gut-check myself as I write, but not too much.

Now, one of my previous posts mentioned Alex Epstein's excellent advice about coming up with a story premise with a great hook, querying the logline to some people, and actually writing it only if it garners any interest.

And it is great advice. Just not for this script.

This script doesn't have one of those mind-bending hooks that makes studios go nuts and dream of merchandising offers. It's just a simple finding-your-true-self story.

But if it turns out the way I have in mind, it's a script that could be shot for next to nothing. No special effects. No exotic locations. No weapon or animal wranglers required. Just a simple character piece that takes place in a North Carolina college town.

The only thing I can see standing in the way of it getting produced is music rights. Let's just say there's a LOT of music in this story. Music that mostly isn't heard much anymore, but is recorded and owned by record labels nonetheless. But it's crucial to the story. In fact the story literally revolves around it.

This is exactly the issue faced by the recent DVD release of WKRP In Cincinnati's first season. There's a great scene in which Mr. Carlson walks in on Johnny zoning out listening to Pink Floyd's Dogs. Unfortunately, it was cut from the DVD release because of music rights issues. Damn, I love that show.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Crafty Writers Query First

I just finished reading Alex Epstein's book Crafty Screenwriting and I have to say it's very different from other screenwriting "bibles". First, he presents his advice from a real-world, this-is-what-works perspective. Thankfully he doesn't dwell too much on proper structure or voice-over hating or his own personal act break philosophies. It's more along the lines of "if there's only three things you remember about dialogue, it's this..." Of course, there are more than three things he talks about on the topic of dialogue, but you get the picture.

Lots of great basic knowledge there. But, the one thing that seemed unusual to me was his advice to come up with the story's hook and a tasty logline, send out query letters, then wait for responses.

But don't actually write the screenplay yet.

Instead, base your decision to write what you have in mind on the kind of response you get from your letters. If you didn't get any bites, it could be that your story idea isn't compelling enough, so why waste time writing something that doesn't gather any interest?

Now, I know this contradicts what most of us know of the screenwriting process. You write something, then try to sell it, right? But, my big question about this was how long is an agent or producer who has shown interest in your story idea going to wait for you to write the darned thing?

I asked Alex this and here's what he said.

When I sat back and thought about it, the advice sounded pretty logical. If they wanted to see it when you sent the query letter, they'll still want to see it when you're done writing it. In fact, they probably won't even remember responding to your query letter, so when you finish writing and tell them, "here's the script you requested on March 12th", they most likely won't bother to second-guess you.

So, I think I'll try this for a couple of ideas I've been knocking around. Maybe that's the acid test I need to know which story to start writing.

Be sure to check out Alex's excellent blog, Complications Ensue!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Creative Screenwriting Magazine Podcast

Creative Screenwriting Magazine's Senior Editor, Jeff Goldsmith, is the most likable guy I've never met.

In his (usually) weekly podcast, he kinda comes across as the college buddy you used to hang out and down a few cold ones with. And his laid back demeanor definitely rubs off on the writers, directors, writer/directors, and producers he hosts in CS's post-screening Q&A sessions.

Take the recent Luc Besson Q&A, for example. Now, I don't know if Luc is naturally this witty and hilarious, but he was an absolute riot during Jeff's interview with him. That episode alone is worth subscribing.

The podcast focuses on the writing process -- everything from getting the initial idea on paper, to polishing the final draft, to getting your script seen, and finally into production. Working screenwriters tell their own stories of how they got started, as well as the stumbles they've had along the way. And the magazine has even more great stuff!

Soon, Jeff will give listeners another great reason to subscribe to the podcast. According to a recent email from him:
"Keep an eye out for [magazine] subscription discounts - I'll have a code for podcasters - it's definitely a good way to get the magazine and much, much cheaper - I'll be announcing it soon."
Can't wait, Jeff. If you haven't subscribed to the free (yeah, free) podcast yet, subscribe now through iTunes so you don't miss out on the magazine discount. To make sure you get new episodes automagically, click on the "Subscribe" button when iTunes comes up.

Creative Screenwriting
really is a great magazine and podcast, so don't miss out!