Making the Leap to Follow Our Passions

 

Military Veterans in Creative Careers - Justin SloanEven the best of us have looked at our dream careers and thought they were unattainable. That there’s no way we could pursue screenwriting or acting or what-have-you while being able to pay the rent. And that’s unfortunate.

The lucky few of us hit a point in our careers where we look back at the dreams of our youth and realize that it’s never too late to reach for the stars, and we find a way.

That was me not long ago, and if not for a very emotionally supportive wife I may still be working as an Asia analyst at the Federal Reserve. Instead, I’m writing on the video game version of Game of Thrones at Telltale Games (called the HBO of gaming). I am also a published author and optioned screenwriter, and feel my career is at its infancy and will only get better from here.  Continue reading

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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?

Your Script is Terrible.

penutsimage

Why is the night never bright and calm?

Was that mean? I’m sorry to say, it’s true.

It’s a lousy script. The characters, they’re flat boring and predictable. The plot!? Trite! Your script has second act problems, sooo many second act problems. Your protagonist is obviously just you, only doing things and saying things you’re unwilling and afraid to actually do or say in real life. And your ending? Don’t even get me started on your ending.

Yes, I’m being overly harsh. But, I’m making a point. My simple point is that you should give up on that script and move on to writing a new one. And here’s why:

If you’re lucky, some day you’ll end up in a room pitching your idea to some executive, or someone else with a lot of money who can make your idea a reality. You’ll pitch your heart out, you’ll give it everything you have, and you’ll nail it. That person will look up at you, nod, and they’ll say…

“So, what else do you got?”

I know it will happen to you, because it’s happened to me. They didn’t like your first idea. Maybe they HATED it. Still, they’re willing to hear another one, see another one… you do have another one ready, right? RIGHT?!

Now, I will admit, if you’ve finished a script you should be proud. Most people don’t do that. Most people let it sit unfinished on their computer for years. Something they’ll always get around to. Yet, now that it’s done, it seems no matter what you do, the important things – fame and glory, money and jobs, wine and immortalitydon’t seem to be happening. No one wants to buy your script!

Why is it not selling? Why are they not beating down your door? Maybe you’re just not lucky, maybe you don’t have the right friends and connections, or maybe… the script is bad.

That can’t be! It’s your love, your one true plot. The only good idea you’ve ever had and will ever have!

If you’re only going to ever have one good idea, why do you want to write? If it was just to get that one good idea out, bam, done, good work! You did it! If you want to write for a living you need to be able to churn ideas out. Not like some writing mill, but a new one every now and then may be required of you.

Relax. Take a deep breath. Just try this. Stop putting all your time into trying to sell your script. Let it sit in the back drawer. Let it get some dust. Let it just be done for a while.

I’ll say it again, start a new script. Think about what you didn’t like with the last one, think about what could be better. Think about what things you love in fiction and what things you hate. Write something that surprises you. Write in a genre you’ve never considered writing in before. Finish THAT script.

It will probably suck as well, but when you’ve finished two lousy scripts, you can finish three. When you’ve finished three, you can finish five. When you’ve finished five, you can finish ten.

When you’ve got ten scripts, well, one of those is probably decent isn’t it? Now when you DO get that moment and someone that matters is willing to look at your work, you don’t just have your one desperate cry in the dark, you have a grand ocean of writing. You can show them all sorts of things. Maybe even something they’ll like.

The point I’m trying to make is that good writing comes from dedicated editing. Great writing comes from practice, and a willingness to keep trying.

Now the less harsh truth:  your script probably isn’t that bad, but if you’re hung up on trying to get it produced, you’re focused on that and you’re not writing. Move on to the next piece. That’s the great thing about writing, you can always come back to something later.

So go, write so many terrible scripts that one is accidentally amazing. Unless you’re much more talented than me (and you might be) that’s the only way to ever actually make something great.

Scene by Scene: Setting Up Your Screenplay

The PrestigeOne thing that working in games has taught me is the real importance of every single scene, and how they each have to matter in very specific ways. This is of course true in the world of screenwriting, and maybe novel writing as well (though I would argue that many authors get away with being sloppier, and that’s fine).

Today I would like to talk about how each scene should be tied into the larger picture, all there to setup the climax. Yes, scenes should have the ‘This happened, and then because of that this happened, etc.’ and rising stakes and conflict and all that, but what I am talking about here is a scene’s ability to play to the rest of the film, and namely the film’s ending (as that’s where it all leads). It seems like magic in the hands of a skilled screenwriter, and for that reason I would point you to the great film The Prestige, by Johnathan and Christopher Nolan.  Continue reading