a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Monday, August 21, 2006

Back In The Groove

So I had one of the best weekends I've had in a long, long time.

I wrote. A lot.

Ironically, the thing that kicked it off was the return of the low-pay rewrite that I keep doing for my producer friend; I've probably done 4 drafts now, and the little checks he sends me still only add up to the three digits.

But I'm not complaining, because I enjoy it, and it's a great experience, for the following reasons:

-- As has been talked about before, because it's someone else's script, I can be merciless in losing the things that don't work, and revving up the things that do. It's a freeing experience (which makes it easier to do to your own script), while there's no question that it has improved the script immensely.

-- The core storyline of the script is the original writer's, and it is solid enough to where the bulk of the writing is just coming up with new setpieces to hang on it, and better characters and character moments. The premise lends itself to imaginative ideas, and I've been coming up with a lot of them.

-- This is the first time I've ever worked with a producer in shaping something, and it has been a great experience. We talk on the phone, hash out ideas, then I bang stuff out, and he generally likes it -- and when he doesn't, his objections are usually right. Plus I find that turning stuff around for someone else makes me more disciplined, something that I'm hoping will translate easier to my own stuff.

Plus I've been elevated to a "revised by" credit on the screenplay itself, probably the first step toward actually getting credit on the damn thing. But at this point, I'm unconcerned (I probably should be, but I'm not). If it ever sells, great. If it doesn't fine.

Because it has gotten me off my ass and writing again.

So after doing phone calls with the producer all week, and reworking some of the first act, I buckled down on Friday night/Saturday and did a cover-to-cover polish, working in changes we had talking about, tightening down some incredibly fatty scenes, and adding two fairly major setpieces along the way.

The climax still needs to be figured out, but that's for the next phone call. At this point he's reading the rest of it, in preparation for the final polish.

Then Sunday, with that off my desk, the wife out with a friend for the day and little paying work to do (ah, those good-old summer doldrums), I tackled my supernatural thriller, which for the moment is still called "Hiding Billy", because A) Everyone seems to remember the title, and B) No one has come up with one I like better yet, at least none that have stuck.

I've been frozen in mid-rewrite for a few weeks, so I printed everything out, took it to a Starbucks, and just spent the afternoon going through it with a pen, cutting what needed to be cut, moving some exposition around, chopping out two entire subplots that never really worked and fixing the last (hopefully) batch of stubborn typos.

Then I came home, curled up with the laptop, and stayed up until after midnight, making all the changes, until I was left with a complete draft. Rough, but not-that-rough; hopefully it's in the get-a-few-notes-from-friends-before-the-final-polish zone, and I sent it out to a few.

If I smoked cigars, I would have smoked one.

So, amazingly enough, my comical treatment for "Alligators in the Helicopter" was only the third-best bit of writing I did all weekend.

It's become clear to me that this needs to be my time; this needs to be my push. I've been noodling around as a writer for two long; spent too much time licking my wounds after I couldn't get an agent in the big push of 5-6 years ago.

Suddenly, the window of opportunity is opening for me, and I have to seize it. Turns out becoming a Nicholl quarterfinalist is huge for someone like me who deals with people in the business, because suddenly I'm not just a reader who, like everyone else in town, has written some screenplays. Now I'm a writer who has been annointed capable of writing (though I acknowledge the crapshoot of it all -- I personally read a half-dozen scripts that didn't make the Nicholl cut that were as well-written as mine).

Suddenly I have people offering to get my scripts to agents -- people who actually know agents. And between my Nicholl script, my supernatural thriller and my frozen-time script, I actually have three solid scripts to go out with, plus the thing I rewrote for the producer, which nothing might ever happen with but it's out there too, and who knows.

It's all coming together. 15 years of screenwriting, about a dozen scripts (many of which suck and have been properly relegated to the bottom shelf), and a monster education in screenplays by being a fulltime reader for 15 years. On the downside, I'm 43, and if I don't do it now, when?

So even if I don't make the Nicholl semis, this is my time. This is my push.

Stay tuned.


At 10:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey, Scott...
i'm a quarterfinalist as well this year, and i just wanted to know if you think that it's worth it to send out any query letters just yet, with that info, and for that specific script?

i'd pay to see ALLIGATORS IN A HELICOPTER, by the way.

At 10:48 AM, Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

got get 'em scott. i'll be hoping there's a spot for me on the soundtrack somewhere. if not, i'll still be buying me a ticket for sure.

At 10:59 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Anonymous -- Having never been on the receiving end of a query letter, I speak from absolutely no experience at all.

But it seems to me that at this point, it could be a plus; currently being a Nicholl quarterfinalist feels like an ongoing thing that could even get better, while in three months "It was a Nicholl quarterfinalist this year" (if you don't make the semis) doesn't have quite the same zing.

On the downside, the town is dead right now, probably until after Labor Day, while if you do become a Finalist, you may not have wanted to commit to anything, even an agent, beforehand.

Still, no reason to put querying on hold for two months.

Anyone have any other advice for him?

At 11:47 AM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

Great to hear about your renewed determination. Ride the wave (and hope it doesn't crest for a long time).

As for queries. Over on Artful Writer someone who seems to be knowledgable about the goings on in agent offices and such had this to say (paraphrasing):

Query letters are next to worthless. In one particular office, the receptionist, would open query letters, throw out the contents and use the SASE to mail out her bills. The prodcos and such don't want to even endure any kind of liability and discard anything unsolicited.

The thought is that if you are serious you will call and try to get something going by attempting to talk to directly to an agent or producer.

Seems to me that query letters are a safe and secure way to get rejected.

As a general rule you should send anything through the mail that hasn't been asked for. That seems to ring true on my end.

Also getting to know the agent's assistants is a good idea as many assistants are looking for new talent so that they can get noticed.

At 12:15 PM, Blogger Piers said...

Keeping my fingers crossed for you over here.

Knock 'em dead.

At 1:06 PM, Anonymous Joseph said...

Best of luck. I hope this is your time!

At 3:46 PM, Blogger EllieTee said...


I'm rooting for you big time. With your positive energy (and all of ours), goodness knows you'll do it. In my own writing, I know I just have to keep plugging away. That and pure positivity HAS to be the key to success, no?


At 6:34 PM, Blogger Chris said...


At 7:01 PM, Blogger Peter said...

Good Luck, Scott.

Sounds like you're ready, willing and able to squeeze through the crack in the doorway.

I hear hinges creakin'. 15 years of "do-it, do-it's with the oil can will pay off.


At 7:51 PM, Blogger PJ McIlvaine said...

Good luck! I'm rooting for ya'!

At 7:53 PM, Blogger Brett said...

Why not succeed? Often it takes very little additional effort compared to failing-- it only takes that effort more effectively directed and channeled.

Go get 'em, kid.

At 12:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for the response. i guess i'll wait until Labor Day, anyway, since then i'll know if i made it to the next phase.

i'm feeling it, too, right now. i've been writing for twelve years, making my own films for five. i feel like i've been knocking on the door long enough that something's bound to crack open.

keep up the good work, Scott. if i'm ever sitting next to you at the Oscars, i'll be sure to lean over and whisper, "i've had it with these motherfuckin alligators on this motherfuckin helicopter".

At 5:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wouldn't it be cool to get paid by the word? what a concept

At 10:19 AM, Blogger Scribe LA said...

How fabulous... I'm completely stoked for you... and you know what, once you make it to the big time (or bigger time) you will know that you deserve to be there and will rock the house. A lot of times people gain success too quickly and it ends up stalling them in the end... 15 years sounds like a good amount of time to have put in your dues, but not so long that you're totally jaded to everything, too.

At 1:59 PM, Anonymous Jason Looney said...

The fear of failure is a powerful thing. It can stop you in your tracks, or drive you, every day, to get better. The choice is yours.

Good luck. And keep us posted.


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