Notes

01Jun12

I just had a week full of notes, and while I suppose that should be great news, because it means people are reading your writing, I can’t help but feel a little exposed. Especially when very few of the notes were “This is super great and you can stop working on this script right now.”

To start off positively, I did get some “greats” and such. I know that you’re not supposed to want those. Writers are supposed to want the kinds of hard, harsh notes that make their story better. And I’ve appreciated every harsh note I’ve gotten. I’d just love to hear some less harsh ones.

I realize this is an unprofessional thing to write about, since this blog is essentially my Internet Face, and it sends out a message to anyone in the world trolling for info about me, but it’s on my mind, and I’m the boss, so here goes. 

Tuesday I have my writers group meeting, and I had two things going up — 20+ pages of the second act of “Acting Coach” and a story treatment for another movie. It’s a bit unusual to have the same writer go up twice in the same week, but it happened this week because I traded another guy and the scheduling is weird. So rather than expose the group (and expose myself to their exposure, I guess) to 50 pages of the same movie, I decided to divide my time between projects. Economically speaking, this makes sense, because if there were major things to fix in those 50 pages that could have been discovered within 20 pages (which it most likely could), then why waste the energy on polishing off the back 30? Additionally, I get a little booster rocket on the other project, which will hopefully give me incredible momentum to do amazing things with it.

I DO NO MEAN THAT WRITING THOSE 30 PAGES WOULD BE A WASTE. I just mean that — considering the notes I got on the pages I did put up — I would have had to fix things in those pages AND down the road. Better to take little steps.

The trickiest part about notes (obviously) is which ones to take. Ultimately, the writer is in charge, but one can get bombarded with so many different notes, that to take them all may end up in a mess. Even if the notes are good, they might not gel perfectly with each other. The thing to look for, of course, is commonality. When you get one note about a lack of B-Plot, for example, then you write it down. When several people give you that note, you schedule work time.

I sometimes write ahead of myself, which hurts the clarity of my work. I want to get to the next thing and move the story along that I end up jumping too far ahead of everyone. There’s dumbing-it-down, there’s hand-holding, and then there’s being clear. I’m aiming for the last one, I swear.

The most public notes I got this week came Thursday night (and kind of Friday morning) as part of Scriptshadow’s Twit-Pitch contest. A few months back, there was a challenge to send in a logline via Twitter, and the best ones would get to send in the first 10 pages of his or her script. I was one of them with my “Acting Coach” logline, which was:

Acting Coach:a hi-school drama teacher becomes coach of the varsity basketball team, forcing his theater philosophies on the jocks.

Just under 140 characters.

I really believe in this idea. It seems commercially viable, ripe with comedic potential and I like making basketball jokes. Despite a lack of ass-kissing back slaps, I’m seeing this through.

Way back when, after seeing I’d made the cut, I worked really hard on my first 10 pages, trying to make the deadline and polish it up to really impress this guy. I sent it in right at 11:58PM for the midnight deadline and waited. And waited. And waited.

And waited.

And he never reviewed my stuff.

In the meantime, I had sent those very same 10 pages — the “10 Pages of Pure Gold,” in my mind — to both my writing group and a few trusted friends, and the results were the same: “Huh?”

I seem to get a lot of “Huh?” I think it’s from that getting-ahead-of-matters bit I mentioned earlier. Whatever the case, I went back and re-wrote and came up with an opening scene that has been universally well received.

When Scriptshadow asked if there were any scripts he’d missed, I said, “Mine!”

… and then I cheated.

I sent in the revised pages, not the original ones that would have surely* been trashed.

I didn’t watch the “Live Tweet” live, but waited till the morning. My breakfast started out great with the following lines, which I will translate as to why they’re good:

Talk about sparse writing!

OK, right off the bat, I’m translating. The big thing with screenwriting — and with Carson, the guy who runs Scriptshadow — is not writing a block of words. You want “lots of white,” and that’s what I had.

So this was a complement.

He goes on…

“THE ACADEMY AWARDS Hollywood royalty in attendance, primped and primed. On stage, A BIG TIME ACTRESS poses.”

This is my line. He’s quoting me. He quotes a lot.

Then we go into the dialogue. I like it. Writing also feels self-assured right away.

Why, thank you.

Arthur Curtains, the acting coach is being thanked at the Oscars for a woman winning an Oscar.

I didn’t write that in the script. He’s just describing what’s happening. This technique has developed over the period of the contest. It didn’t start out quite this way, but by this point he’s read 100 of these 10-page snippets, so maybe he’s just used to it. Either way, it’s a little weird when you think about it, because it’s kind of like going to a movie, phoning someone, and then describing everything happening.

Dialog: “This is Arthur’s fourth Oscar tonight, despite not being officially nominated in any categories…”

“… In fact, I would not have become the voice over person if it weren’t for his help.”

Funny stuff. I’m liking it so far.

I agree! And I do think that’s funny, by the way.

“The crowd chants “ARTHUR! ARTHUR! ARTHUR!” Arthur raises a hand, pleading for sanity. He steps to the microphone.”

“The audience’s hearts stick in their throats. ARTHUR You’re welcome.”

“Pandemonium. Like the Beatles just reunited.”

I’m loving it. This is how comedy should be written.

More quoting followed by his opinion. At this point, I was very excited. It’s what someone like me (a needy glory hound) wants to read: “This is how comedy should be written.”

If this had been a 2-page** script contest, I might have been in contention for the grand prize.

But it wasn’t. He goes on. And so do I. Breakfast was about to be less great, as I will not have to translate:

Hmm, disappointed in second scene. First scene was dream sequence. Now we have a clumsy conversation about basketball vs. math.

I guess.  That seemed clear to… Oh, no…

Conversation isn’t laid out nearly as effortlessly as the first scene. I’m having to read it twice to understand it.

…Thanks?

“Same thing about Mathletics. 10 mathletes, but our average attendance is .43 per kid. Less than half a parent.” Huh?

There’s that blessed “Huh?” I mentioned earlier. So at least I am consistent.

Now we’re cutting to some guy named Cameron – no idea who he is – excited to get into college. Script started out so strong.

OK, here I have a point to make: I clearly set up Cameron in the Academy Awards scene. So we see him first as an accomplished teenaged actor winning an Oscar, and then we go to real life where Cameron is just a regular midwestern teenaged kid. That doesn’t seem too far of a stretch.

I’m not arguing that I did this perfectly by any means. I don’t think you should argue with notes, because you’re criticizing a gut reaction, and people can’t help those. As I continue my own re-writes, I’ll have to make this clearer. Even thinking about it in the abstract Twitter-based form he laid out, I can already see some opportunities for both clarity and fun.

…and now that I look at the script, I see what I did “wrong.” I introduce Cameron on the first page, then I introduce his real-world self on page 3, but I don’t give him a real-world line until middle of page 4. Too far apart. See? I get it!

Now it’s just confusing. What’s going on??

I don’t really have to translate this, though I do kind of wish I knew what point prompted this remark.

wow, everything’s gotten so discombobulated. Scenes are confusing and unclear. Feels like this was written 5 minutes before class started.

Career highlight.

Unfortunately, will have to be a pass. 😦

No kidding.

Half of the notes I got were positive, so if you look at it that way, I hit .500. If you look at it another way, I don’t think he even finished reading the full 10 pages I sent, which in baseball terms is equivalent to striking out against a baseball-pooping goat.

I wasn’t that surprised. I knew it was coming. And I kind of cheated, so I didn’t fully deserve to go on to the next round. It would have been a mad scramble to get the full script in shape in a month anyway, so I’ll take this for what it is: free notes from a guy who reads 1000’s (not a joke — he reads a lot) of scripts.

Of course, like all the notes I get, I wish they’d all been of the “This is how comedy should be written” variety. But I did get one of those. So I’ll continue telling myself that the potential is still inside me and press on.

That’s what makes me a hero.

 

*Maybe not “surely,” but the odds were not in my favor.

**More like 1.75 pages.

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One Response to “Notes”

  1. Dear needy glory hound, I think you’re being way too hard on yourself. The script you’ve been putting up on Tuesdays is improved in leaps and bounds from draft to draft. Do you have a solid ending yet? My personal experience is that working linearly is a waste of sweat and tears because until you have a great ending to steer the ship toward, all you have is a great idea. This script shadow experience sounds fascinating also. I should Google the shit out of that some day. Right now I need to play some PS3.


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