Scriptnotes: Knowing what works best for you

November 6, 2014 2 comments

I have sometimes felt that I must stop everything else I am doing in life and simply focus on my writing. When I was writing Big Sister, I would shut out everything and everyone and slip into the world that I created. It was not hard to do because I knew the characters extremely well, and the leads “spoke” to me. “They” wrote it, more so than I did. I loved every minute of the process and without a doubt, of all my creative endeavors, and there have been many, writing a screenplay, especially Big Sister, has given me the greatest joy.

But, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, being a screenwriter is not enough. You also have to tirelessly self-promote, perhaps be aggressive, even obnoxious. You have to hound people. You have to remind people who you are. You have to convince people that what you’ve written is worth 90 minutes of their time to read. And further, you must convince someone that investing a million or more (preferably more) is also worth it for them. None of these come naturally to me. I can pretend and say they do, but they do not.

Perhaps as a result of that, I have created everything on my own. In other words: I have produced my own album (solo piano), published my own book (“Freelancing in Tokyo”) and written and produced my own films. I have learned a lot through these experiences. But I don’t think I ever went into any of them thinking, “Since I am the producer, I am therefore God, and I do not need to rely on others’ opinions.” Far from it. I have always had a team of some sort. To paraphrase Hillary Clinton’s famous quote, it takes a village to raise a creative project. There may be someone who spearheads the event, but without the input and advice and opinions of respected peers, it isn’t going to happen… at least that is how I feel.

I’ve been fortunate to meet so many talented and smart people in my journeys to put together my projects. I’ve been amazed at their input… but then again… when someone is removed emotionally from a project, it is sometimes easy for them (assuming they have the ability and perhaps some qualifications) to offer a fresh perspective on what you, the creator, thinks is so glorious and perfect.

Fortunately, I learned a long time ago that criticism, if constructive, is gold. I have been lucky enough to interact with two top television writers over the years. Both of them were unsparing in their criticism. I would call their comments harsh, brutal and sometimes cruel. But because I knew they knew more than I did, I did not flinch (okay, maybe I did once or twice). I “took it,” and I rethought my projects, and all of them were improved because I applied what I learned from them.

In the same way, there are times I will receive notes from highly intelligent, creative people… whether they be peers, colleagues or the nameless, faceless reader from a high-profile contest, and I’ll think: These people really put their heart and soul into these notes, and I really value them… even if I disagree with them.

Recently, on Big Sister, we received what I can only call extremely well-written notes. The reader thoroughly invested his or her time in our script and I was amazed, actually, at the detailed observations. Nonetheless, the reader believed we would have a stronger script if we had what they considered to be more of a “happy ending.” They wanted further participation from minor characters in ways that I found to be completely at odds with what Blake and I had written, and they wanted “justice” for the antagonist (one of the two in the script). And yet… I completely disagreed. Sometimes characters get off “scot-free” (their term) for things we, the audience, know are wrong. Sometimes the protagonist suffers and learns lessons in harsh ways… and most times, in real life, there are no happy endings.

Big Sister is far, far from a dark story. There are harsh lessons for Lynn, our main character, to learn. But there is a reunion of sorts between her and Suzanne, her younger sister… a reunion which hints at a fresh start. I find this very effective and powerful. I understand the desire to have happy endings, but the more films I watch, the more I know that often times they are fabricated to give the audience what they want. I feel Blake and I made an intelligent compromise with the hint of a new beginning for Lynn… and we definitely end on a positive note, with lessons learned all around.

The point I want to make is, and forgive me for using a cliched expression: “Take what you get.” In other words: extract from notes what has value for you and be grateful for the other ones, as well. Someone took the time to invest in your project, and that is half the battle.

 

Moving forward

September 11, 2014 0 comments

I understand the idea of a blog is to keep it going and update frequently, but sometimes life gets in the way. I feel like I have been on a runaway train, trying to figure out how to jump off it, just temporarily, before I have to jump back on.

Where things are at: “Big Sister” garnered its third “finalist” nod from Creative World Awards. This is of course gratifying and exciting, and I hope it will be of benefit to the screenplay as we soldier on in efforts to sell it. But some people have told me that unless the script wins “Grand Prize” that a “finalist” mention is just that… a mention, not a prize. Be that as it may, someone at some competition liked our script enough to move it through four categories: preliminary, quarterfinalists, semifinalists and then finalists. I think that’s a positive thing, don’t you?

I used to live in Los Angeles, and at this moment in time, it seems to me that possibly living there would be helpful in order to connect with industry people, but until I can live there again, I have to find a way to get “Big Sister” into the right hands. This remains my struggle. When something has “heat,” people will get behind it. If they do not perceive it to be “hot,” then it’s a much bigger challenge.

I have no doubt that every screenplay that gets produced has followed a unique path. I wish I had further answers and insights, but I don’t. What I have learned is that it’s simply not enough to have written a great screenplay; you must also be a salesperson, a great “pitch” person, and, essentially, relentless. None of those personality traits come easily to me. I have to constantly push myself out of my comfort zone.

I am certain I am not alone in this struggle to get my script from page to screen, and I know there are a lot of communities, classes, organizations, mentors and more. It’s massive, it’s never-ending, it’s a maze and it’s mind-boggling. But if nothing else, one really has to be on one’s game, and one really has to push the envelope, if I dare to use such a dated phrase, on every single page.

I am encouraged, in a way, that the finalist nods we received on Big Sister were given on earlier versions of the script. I feel that now, after having received notes from the Black List and Spec Scout, and after having a reading with professional actors, that we have knocked up the script several notches.

So, it will be interesting to see how this new version fares. I hope I can check back in more often.

Meanwhile, I would love to hear from fellow screenwriters on their journey from page to screen.

Rewrite, and rewrite again.

May 5, 2014 0 comments

I have received excellent notes from both The Black List and Spec Scout, as well as the Nantucket Film Festival, Tony Cox Screenplay Competition on my script “Big Sister.” As of April 2014, I really thought we had locked the script in. But after receiving notes from these three sources, I realized there were some weak links and a few scattered lines that didn’t have the punch they needed. It is so essential to get feedback from trusted sources. I cannot say that I started out “trusting” any of the above-named sources. I took a chance and investigated all of them. The Nantucket Film Festival, in particular, gave stellar notes on one of my earlier screenplays, “Mend,” to the extent that my co-writer and I took it from a grade of 20/80 (a grade given by the NFF) to an 85/20 the following year, making “Mend” one of the semi-finalists.

The point of all this is: you get your script to a place where you are happy with it and you start submitting it. Then you start getting feedback. You rewrite, polish, and send it out again. If people are commenting on the same threads (as they did in “Big Sister,” particularly on one of the subplots), then it needs to be addressed.

I am extremely happy with how “Big Sister” has evolved and I’m just going to keep on pushing it forward, keeping in mind the value of having one’s script read and critiqued by professionals. I don’t think readers are given the credit they deserve, so here is a simple shout out to all of them: thank you for your insights and observations. They’ve made a huge difference in helping to shape our scripts.

In the meantime, we have continued to reach out to managers, agents and producers. I suppose I could wait until the script is “perfect,” but I don’t think that would be wise. Each time I do a rewrite, I think it is perfect as it can be.

Valuable resources

April 13, 2014 0 comments

The Internet is awash with sites that have value for filmmakers and screenwriters. It is really quite overwhelming how much information there is, and one could spend days attempting to absorb some of it. I’ve tried that, but alas it is impossible. However, I need to keep track of all that research so I’ve added a new page to my site called “Noted.” I’ll do my best to keep it fresh with what I hope will be of value to anyone who visits this site.

 

Sundance Screenwriting Lab… some thoughts

March 20, 2014 0 comments

Today I applied for the January 2015 Sundance Screenwriting Lab with our project “Big Sister.” Sundance is a prestigious festival and it has been and continues to be a great organization that supports those who create and produce films. While applying for the lab may not be considered “blog-worthy,” I feel it is worth commenting on because the whole process of writing a cover letter, artistic statement, preparing bios and acknowledging that they will only look at the first 5 pages of the script… all of this made me think about our script deeply and what it meant on a larger level.

I also find it fascinating that as a script goes through all the steps that sometimes have to be taken before it can be produced, one continues to see how certain elements of the script can possibly be changed, tweaked, adjusted, etc. It seems to me that a script is not officially “done” until it has been shot and released for people to see it.

I recall an interview with recording artist Natalie Cole in which she reflected on certain songs she had recorded. She would criticize herself, saying, “Why did I sing that note? I should have sang another one.” –and comments of this nature. She said she finally accepted, though, that art is a living thing; it will never be perfect. It was perfect on the day the song was recorded; several years later, a “new” version of “perfect” might rise to the surface.

So it is with scripts, I imagine, and/or any creative work. It seems perfect at a certain moment in time, and it must be floated out to the universe. “Big Sister” is my latest “child” and I want the best for “her” as I release her out into the world, but, as any parent knows, there is only so much they can do.

So, Sundance, I’m glad “Big Sister” has been properly entered, and I hope for the best. In the meantime, I will continue to seek other opportunities for this creative effort that I am so proud of and that I believe deserves to have a real chance with top-notch talent at the helm.

The Black List

March 7, 2014 0 comments

I have heard about The Black List for quite some time and today I decided to join. The first script I uploaded is “Big Sister.” To date we (Blake Pinter and I) have received incredibly good feedback from several competitions and most recently we received notes from Creative World Awards that gave “Big Sister” a rating of 9.66 out of 10. In addition, it was wonderful receiving finalist awards for both “Big Sister” and “Mend” within a week of each other.

Positive notes and awards from competitions are great, but now it is time to get “Big Sister” in to the hands of a professional who can help elevate the script to the screen. I continue to build a dream cast on our Facebook page and welcome any suggestions.

 

A new month

February 3, 2014 0 comments

I love the start of a new month–it always feels like an opportunity to do something new, something fresh. That said, welcome to the latest iteration of my website, built by the brilliant talents at Media Contour. The focus of this site is on screenwriting and filmmaking. For those that have followed me, I am still very involved in musical performances, accompanying and concertizing, but writing for the screen (big or small) is where my heart is now. Currently involved in updates on my “Big Sister” script, finishing up my intensive workshop via the Corey Mandell professional screenwriting workshops, and making sure my film “Keepsake” gets into the festivals.

Will also be hitting up production companies for both “Big Sister” and “Mend.” For more info on my screenwriting adventures, click on the Scripts page. Enjoy the site!

Proof the page

January 26, 2014 0 comments

While everyone else I know is running around, having the time of their lives, I’m spending my Sunday proofing this site prior to launch. I so appreciate, admire and respect anyone who does proofreading work for a living. It takes a unique talent to be able to spot the odd comma or the double word or all the pluperfect plural possessive pronouns and past perfect present punctuation that plagues us all. (Was that too many “p” words?)

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