The 2015 Austin Film Festival!

AFFWhile I may have missed last year’s Austin Film Festival (AFF) due to having a baby, I consider myself an annual attendee. Well this year is special for me, because I will be a panelist. I look forward to seeing you all there, and especially at the barbecue! To see my panels, click here. 
Here are some highlights I’m seeing for this year’s festival:

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How to Kill a Giant

giant_burger1

Maybe you’re writing a screenplay or novel.  Maybe you’re trying to get in shape for the first time in years.  Maybe you’re sifting through thousands of Google Images of “giant burgers” to try and find the right one to put at the top of your blog post.

Huge projects always feel overwhelming, daunting, and exhausting, but there are easy ways to trick your brain into believing you’ll reach your goal…

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A Screenwriter’s Five Stages of Grief: Contest Edition

sad writer

Ah, the screenwriting contest. There are so many out there, and may be the key to breaking in and starting a career.

Once you decide to take the plunge and submit, your brain fills up with visions of your script claiming first prize and all the goodies that come with it – cash and prizes, prestige, connections.

But the sad truth really is that while many will enter, only a select few will advance and even fewer will win. The odds are already against you, so you do the best you can.

The latest rounds in several prestigious screenwriting contests were recently announced. A very high number of scripts will not be moving forward. Chances are if yours was among them, this could be what you’re currently experiencing.

1. DENIAL
This can’t be right. My script should be right there. Something must be wrong. Wait. Maybe I just didn’t see it. Let me look again. Are these listed by author’s first name, last name, or by title? Why am I not seeing it? Maybe they just forgot to include me. That happens, right?

2. ANGER
Aaugh! I can’t believe I didn’t make it! All that hard work shot straight to hell! How could they not like this? I’m never entering another contest again!

3. BARGAINING
Please let this be a mistake. I promise I’ll try harder and do better next time. I’ll write every day. Honest.

4. DEPRESSION
I’m the worst writer ever. I’ve got no talent. The judges probably read this and laughed their heads off at how bad it was. How could I even think I had a shot at this? Why did I even bother? I should just give up now.

5. ACCEPTANCE
It’s all subjective. You never know what someone going’s to like or not like. Somebody else’s script that advanced last year didn’t even make it past the first round this year. Maybe my script wasn’t as perfect as I thought. I should probably work on it some more, get some feedback on it from my more experienced writer friends, maybe even shell out the bucks for some professional notes. It’s not like this is the only contest out there, and there’s always next year.

So what now?

After a little self-comforting (and offering congratulations to any writers you know who did advance), you sit yourself down and keep writing.

You’ve got a contest deadline to prepare for.

The Up and Down Emotional Beats of Scenes

storyI am a multitasker. I love to work on my next author interview, paint, or outline story ideas while I watch a movie or great television show (which really only means Game of Thrones, after I’ve seen the episode once or twice). But there are some movies that demand our full attention, no matter how skilled we are at multitasking.

One such film, which started as a book equally as intriguing, is The Fault in Our Stars.

But let’s not discuss the merits of the movie or the book. Instead let’s consider an idea that such writing books as Robert McKee’s Story mention, namely scenes having up and down emotional beats (or positive and negative charges), and how this concept is used in The Fault in Our Stars as a case study.  Continue reading

Why so hostile?

Angry voice!

Angry voice!

This is a repost of a post that originally appeared on June 27, 2014 on the Maximum Z blog.

I’ve been making an effort over the past few weeks to build my network of writing acquaintances, which has involved connecting on assorted social media networks.

Several of these include groups of like-minded people that offer up the opportunity to ask questions, get feedback, etc.

One of them was about loglines.

Feeling fairly confident but open to suggestions about the one for my western, I typed it in, hoping somebody might have some helpful comments.

Within minutes, the response came in: “…or? What’s at stake? What are the consequences?”

Hmm. Well, her train’s been stolen, which…puts her livelihood at stake?  And it’s going to be used in a major heist, so the consequences are…widespread? I’ve always hated this part. Maybe I’m not giving enough information?

I wrote back: “open to suggestions.”

Past experience with logline feedback via online forums, while occasionally frustrating, has sometimes yielded positive results.

Sometimes.

A few minutes later: “I’m a producer and script consultant, not a psychic. If I knew what the story was about, knew the protagonist’s motives, knew what the antagonist was doing and why, and knew what was at stake and the consequences of certain actions, I would make a suggestion. However, with so little on offer, there’s little I can do other repeat what I’ve already said.

I’m not arguing anything after the word ‘psychic’. It’s not easy to get all of that across in a logline. It’s much harder than most writers realize.

(Side note – I love it when somebody backs up their comments with the proclamation of their qualifications. As expected, a quick internet search of this person’s “producer and script consultant” credentials yielded both jack and squat. It took a lot of effort to not ask them for more details.)

Desperately seeking resolution, I offered: “Would you be willing to take a look at the 1-page synopsis to get a better understanding of the story?

Soon afterward: “based on your logline, no”

And that was that.

While I didn’t have a problem with the actual advice, there just seemed to be this overall tone of angry condescension in their text. “Grr! I know what I’m talking about! My advice is infallible and you’re an idiot if you don’t listen to me! Grr! Argh!” Maybe I was just reading too much into it?

Honestly, it kind of nagged at me for the rest of the day. I always thought the point of these groups was to help each other. Sure, sometimes people just don’t get it, but I’m more likely to appreciate your comments if you seem willing/interested in actually helping me.

Later in the day, somebody with no connection to me whatsoever called this person out for being unnecessarily cruel (a bit harsh, but I understood where they were coming from). I made a point of staying totally out of what soon became a snippy back-and-forth of “I’m right, you’re wrong”.

So much for taking part in that group again.

Still seeking some kind of help, I tried again on a different forum, but approached it from a different angle.

I listed the logline plus some key story details that might help, adding how I was seeking some bolstering in terms of including stakes and consequences. (The original responder may have come across as an asshole, but I didn’t think their advice was wrong.)

There was a significant difference in the responses. A lot were not only helpful, but practical and encouraging, including this gem – “I love this logline. If I were a producer I’d want to read it. Hell, I still want to read it, just because it sounds like fun.”

I felt a little better, had what I felt was a stronger logline, and a few requests to read the script. Nice.

As part of that aforementioned back-and-forth, my original responder said they were just preparing new writers for the kinds of responses they should expect from the industry if they submit “subpar material”.

While I can understand that kind of thinking, it seems that people are more likely to heed your advice or suggestions if you actually come across as helpful, rather than sound like we’re wasting your time and the last thing you want to deal with right now.

But then again, I’m just a nice guy to begin with, so what do I know?