Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Reality of Life as a Professional Writer

Brown Out in Los Angeles prevented my notes from coming in yesterday. I got a brief text which indicated that things were good - I believe it started with "loved it" but I won't post about the next step until I've met with all parties concerned.

In the meantime, I thought I might say a word about the life of a writer. Which since the last strike has been evolving at a rate that would make Darwin flip in the ground.

For a rare handful life as a screenwriter involves foreign sports cars and warm nuts being served on airline flights. For the majority of us it's feast or famine. Your life vacillates between having no money and plenty of time to tons of money and no time at all to enjoy it. Finding a balance and a way to make your fiances stretch through the lean times is as important as knowing how to write. I'm not joking.

Because understanding how to save for a rainy day and invest your money wisely (I was never tempted to buy a sports car) keeps you free to write. Keeps you in the game. And nowadays allows you to diversify.

My current reality is that not only am I taking writing assignments (when they come)and finishing this feature spec I've been blogging about. I'm also writing a novel - in hopes of expanding into a new revenue stream. I've also recently found a directing project - because the reality of the business in good times and in the Great Recession is you must keep as many plates spinning as possible. You have no control over what will take off and what will die - you just have to work on perfecting the juggle.

Here are some tips:

1) You have to do everybody's job. My agent told me this during my last meeting. He actually said, "You know, Jen, you have to do everybody's job." Meaning think through the marketing, the cast appeal factor, etc. You can't ever just write what you have in your heart - unless your heart lines up with something people in the biz will recognize how to sell.

I would add something to "You have to do everybody's job." I would say - You have to do every body's job BUT never forget WHAT YOUR JOB actually is. Yes, it is important to think like a studio, director, marketing VP, producer - but you also have to know how and when to listen to the people that actually have those jobs. You are the writer. Know the game, but then let them teach you the rules.

2) Make everything you put your name on the best it can possibly be. There are no little jobs. Every project should be a passion project. Find a way to fall in love with your work. When you make it fun, it's fun for everyone and things move forward.

3) Read everything people give you right away. Waiting on notes is painful. As a writer you will spend too much of your life waiting by the phone like a teenager with a lust-crush. Don't do this to your fellow writers.

4) Take the time to celebrate the victories. Be them small (a good meeting) or large (a movie premiere). Good things happen few and far between - if you can appreciate them, they will sustain you through the awkward calls and the rejection.

5) Don't let the disappointments define you. Never look back. If a project is meant to happen, it will find its way. When people don't respond to a piece of material - move on. Let "your people" circulate it when they find an opening. Never look back - it will eat up time you could be using to write new stuff.

The script will soon be making its way to the market. And that is simultaneously a fast-paced and stagnate process - I may expand this blog to include the making of the movie I will be directing next year...

Happy writing!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Draft Three

Okay - so I'm on the verge of turning in draft three. This is more of a polish with a new tonal emphasis than a full-fledged draft - but to keep things less confusing for my international readership... let's call it draft three. (Personally it was vomit draft, draft one and now polish, but you see, confusing.)

So, after biting the bullet and stepping well out of my comfort zone, I was reminded by my golden winged manager that my most popular work has been the dramas I've written. So taking the "com" out of my rom-com and making it more of just a woman's journey (hello that was my assignment to begin with) isn't really like stepping out of my comfort zone as it is backing back into it. (Even the people whose English is their first language will have to re-read that sentence a few times.)

So, I'm now nearly the conclusion of that pass. I had a golf tournament (second place in the first flight) and the high holidays to attend (in no order of importance of course) - so it seems like this pass has taken forever. But actually butt-in-the-chair time, it's only been a week and a half.

So, fingers crossed. I hope to get some feedback soon to share. Happy writing!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Notes on Draft Two

Okay - so today I heard back from my beloved managers on Draft Two. I also woke up with a scorcher of sore throat. I usually get sick after I finish a project, but this time it arrived a little early. So, despite my throat closing up and my head feeling like it was on the receiving end of a mallet, the notes session went brilliantly.

I have written romantic comedies for some time. So what we discovered was that I was still leaning on those legs. The script has moved forward and we feel like we're a hefty character polish and some light remodeling away from being finished.

Well, finished enough to hand it to my agent and come up with a plan of attack.

What I need to do is embrace my goal and step out of my comfort zone and embrace the new genre I've attempted. I'm reading some scripts from the genre. I'm watching successful movies from the genre and I'm taking a step back.

When I feel justifiably distanced I will jump back in and knock it out of the park.

Happy writing and for those to whom it applies Shana Tova!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Turned In Draft Two

This last week was a fun and informative week. I had collected all my notes from all my readers and was going through them simultaneously. How I do this is probably just like you all do it. But, just in case you are in a "fixated on the process" place - I'll break it down into Frankenstein Steps. (Frankenstein Steps = Slow and cumbersome.)

First I retrieve my script from my reader and give them a hearty thanks. Then I try to listen very carefully to what their feedback is - if I'm meeting them in person. Most times I just get the script back. So I go through it page by page and read their comments. I always ask my readers to mark what they liked, thought was funny as well as anything that took them out of the story, they didn't buy or they didn't like.

Next I highlight the notes I find helpful whether I like them or not. (It takes years to like notes that you really didn't want to hear. Even after 20 scripts it still smarts, but suck it up - these people are trying to help you!)

When I've collected all my reads I try to find commonality among the notes. Are people getting hung up on the same beats? Maybe they react differently or suggest different ways to deal with it - but if there are consistent areas where people are stumbling it truly behooves you to pay attention.

So then I come up with a list of things to fix. Then I spread out all the scripts around my desk and on the desktop of my computer and I go through page by page.

Happily - once again - the feedback was very consistent. And there were very few issues. I rewrote some key scenes, changed the ending entirely and turned it back in to the managers. It is a long holiday weekend. For everyone else Labor day starts at 3PM on Friday and concludes Monday evening. In Hollywood it starts mentally on Wednesday and physically on Thursday evening.

So until Tuesday - Happy Labor Day. I will be laboring on my novel. Did I tell you that the managers really loved the first four chapters of The Novel? Now they want me to finish it - quickly.

So, I'm today I'm breaking out a plan of action - to finish the rough draft in 6-8 weeks. There are a couple of big Jewish Holidays and two major golf tournaments, a cousin's wedding, so I'm going to be kind to myself and shoot for Halloween. My first draft will be done by Halloween. (Or sooner!)

My son and I planted pumpkin seeds a while ago. So as the pumpkin grows so will my Novel. It's always good to set anchors. Happy Writing and I'll check in when I get the feedback from the managers next week!