I believe “The Muse” rewards effort, but not in the way you might expect. Once again, a few months ago, I found myself working on a script – a spec comedy feature – but the more I worked on it, the more it seemed to get away from me. Undaunted, I still sat down every day and faced it, some days making no progress, some days even losing ground, but I refused to give up. This went on for weeks (ok, months.) Anyone who actually is a writer will tell you the same thing: You have to sit down every day and have at it. Nothing attracts inspiration or The Muse better than the sound a keyboard makes when you’re typing.
… and it eventually came to me. I woke up one morning with a nearly complete story that felt like it had been downloaded into my head while I slept, but it had nothing to do with the spec comedy I was struggling with. It wasn’t even in the comedy genre. It was a horror movie. I’m not saying I woke up from a nightmare and wrote it down, I’m saying I woke up from a horror movie I was watching in my sleep and wrote it down.
I never expected my gift from the Muses to be a horror movie idea, but I’ve learned to pay attention when something like this happens because it has happened to me a few times in the past. I’ve woken up with two spec sitcom pilots downloaded into my head. In both cases, they arrived when I was struggling mightily with some other, completely unrelated project.
So in just a few weeks, I had a solid first draft completed. I sent it out for notes to a few trusted writer friends, including one who knows a lot more about the horror genre than I do. I took in their notes and with little effort turned out a much better and tighter second draft. Wanting to see where I really stood with this 2nd draft in a more public way, I did what I tell my friends & students to do: I submitted the script to a couple of Horror-specific writing contests and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the results: I submitted to two contests and the script popped to the “Quarterfinals” in both of them. I’m certain the latest draft is even better.
Thank you mysterious muses. I really think this script could go places.
In spite of the resurgence of the pandemic, which is both a national tragedy and a national disgrace, the creative wheels continue to turn and this week has already brought an few unexpected doses of good news.
As the image above tips off, all three of the scripts I submitted to this year’s Final Draft screenwriting competition have made it through to the Quarter-finals. Two features and a sitcom pilot. This means that for 2020, I went eight-for-eight with my script submissions. ALL of them placed somewhere in every competition I entered. As I tell writers all the time, even established writers much more successful than I am, the legit contests are one of the very very few places you can get a real evaluation of your scripts at a low cost. Let’s face it, your friends are going to be too nice, and those “script reading” services can cost hundreds of dollars. But a $25-$40 “entry fee” is a small investment in a script you believe in and think might be “good enough” to put out into the world. True, great, sellable scripts get rejected by contests all the time, but if you submit a script to 3 or 4 competitions, if it really is as great as you think it is, it is going to eventually ‘pop’ in competition.
Now the anticipation builds while I wait for them to announce the Semi-finalists. lol.
I received an email yesterday from an editor at the Los Angeles Times. They are putting together a book of “Greatest Hits” from their LA Affairs column and they want to include my 2012 submission in the collection. That, plain and simple, is pretty thrilling.
Good news of any sort has been in short supply this year – for me, for everyone I know, and probably for you too. So I am both thrilled and grateful for these bits of blue sky.
Stay Strong & Stay Safe Everyone.
I have been typing a lot lately. Luckily it is something that I enjoy doing. Even when “the writing” itself isn’t going well, I get a certain, specific pleasure from sitting down, staring at the screen and typing; my fingers can pretty much keep up with the speed of my thoughts, which is pretty handy because, believe me when I tell you, even on my best day, my left-handed pen scratchings are slow, uncomfortable to do, and painful to try to read. What I’m saying is: If you want to be a writer, take a few weeks/months and really learn how to type. No matter what kind of writer you are, it’ll help to speed up and streamline your “process.” I learned how to type back in High School, in a three month class designed for college-bound Seniors. It is the one thing I learned in High School that I still use every day. Sometimes I think my 65+wpm typing ability is my most marketable skill.
Why am I telling you all this? Because today I finished yet another first draft. This time it was a low-budget “thriller” feature that no one asked me to write, except for the nagging voice in my head that demanded I do it. Where does this urge come from? I’m not always sure. I just know I start feeling a special kind of miserable when I’m not actively writing on something. Let me put that another way, not just writing on “something,” but actively plowing through confusion, self-doubt, dead ends and ennui to actually complete drafts of these projects. Finishing things is important. I know because I have digital folders full of started projects that couldn’t hold my interest, or lost their luster when a shiny “new idea” floated into my head. New ideas are easy to come by. Finishing your work is what separates writers from people who think they would be good writers. That idea that is still “in your head” might be better than Chinatown, or even The Great Gatsby, maybe, but as long as it exists only in your head then it isn’t nearly as good as my completed first draft of ANYthing. You don’t need a new computer. You don’t need $300 worth of “writer’s software.” You don’t need an office. You just have to start stringing words together. Prove me wrong Silent Bob.
…but I often wish I did. Especially when I’m doing a “script adapting” job like the one I did last week. When I tell people I’m working on something like this “adapting an animated feature from Korea” into English, they assume I’m some sort of multi-lingual genius.
What happens is this: I get a copy of the film in the original language (with ‘visible timecode’ burned into the picture) along with a script (actually a huge Excel document) that includes the dialogue in usually poorly translated English, along with the ‘in’ and ‘out’ points of each line of dialogue. I have to make sure those in & out points are accurate (to within one frame ) and then I have to re-write what the character is saying so that it matches the ‘lip flap’ seen on the screen AND makes sense plot-wise and character-wise… all while ‘American-izing’ slang and metaphors and whatever else might not make sense to a Western audience. If it sounds tedious to you, I can promise you that it is not. At least not to me. It does, however, require patience and a whole lot of time. It often takes an hour to ‘adapt’ just one or two minutes of dialogue, but for some reason I find it to be enjoyable work – rewriting not just by the line or word, but by the syllable… and of course trying to slip in some good jokes along the way.
I’m thrilled to report the latest great news: The good people at the Austin Film Festival’s screenwriting competition just informed me that not one, but TWO of my spec sitcom pilot scripts advanced in their annual competition… so it looks like I will be visiting that sweet, weird city again this October.
Regular PlanetOC readers will recall that I attended the 2011 festival because one of my scripts (also a spec sitcom pilot) called “Mass MoCA” made it into the top 5%-10% of submissions last year. I had a great time at the festival, met some interesting and creative people and learned an awful lot, so I’m really looking forward to attending the festival again.
For anyone who isn’t a regular reader and doesn’t know what a big deal this is (to me, anyway,) let me explain. The screenwriting contest that the AFF puts on every year is considered the second biggest & most influential writing contest of its kind (it is generally agreed that the Nicholl Writer’s Fellowship competition is #1.) This year’s Austin contest drew nearly 7,000 entries, so having both of the scripts I entered land in the top 5-10% (again) is a pretty solid accomplishment… and when you couple that with last year’s strong showing, it demonstrates a certain level of consistent quality in my comedy writing – especially when it comes to sitcom pilots. As I said, I couldn’t be more thrilled.
Here are the quick loglines for both of the scripts. I might post them on this site for downloading at a later date, but for now I’m keeping control of the material and only sending it out to specific industry folks etc.
“‘Arrested Development meets ‘Game of Thrones’ in a sitcom of Epic proportions.”
I <3 YOU, LULU
“In the tradition of ‘I Love Lucy,’ a successful young musician and his totally loose-cannon of a wife, both madly in love with each other, take on the world.”
…now if you’ll excuse me, I have to continue my preparations for this Thursday’s big “Don’t Tell My Mother” show… and I have to book my flight to Austin.