Monday, September 28, 2009

Lupus Moon Update #1

Now that I'm back down to working on my stuff exclusively (see my last blog if you don't know what I'm talking about), I've decided to get back to work on Lupus Moon, my werewolf/horror/action script. As it stands, I'm in the middle of Act I - page 16 to be exact. This script has gone through so many changes in story that I'm in a limbo of sorts when it comes to constructing the story.

Even though I've been writing screenplays for 9 3/4 years now, sadly enough, I'm still struggling with finding my style and process. Of the 14 or 15 features I've written, I've used several different methods for putting them together. I've written from just an outline, written from a treatment, composed the screenplay longhand and typed it wholesale into my software, set up my scenes with index cards, worked with beat sheets - on and on. My biggest problem is instead of just doing what comes naturally, I find myself trying to do things the "right way" - i.e., what some produced screenwriter or scripting guru suggests. Many of these methods are helpful, but when I use one and I get stuck and another technique comes along that sounds good, I tend to jump ship to the new technique, and often that requires retreading the same plot points as I build the existing story on the framework of a new system.

My current method consists of plotting out the story on index cards, then taking it to the software to write the script. I do a little more than outline the script with the cards, though. They tend to be pretty detailed; dialogue, descriptions - whatever comes to mind. I always envied the writers who just sit at their keyboard and work out the script on the computer. I HATE staring at that screen without knowing exactly what comes next. It's just excruciating. I've considered using the index card function on my software (still pushing Movie Magic Screenwriter 2000), but I prefer being able to see my entire story laid out - not just what the computer screen shows me. But with Lupus Moon, I'm going to try something different.

Due to the fact that I've rewritten the story so many times, my index cards - and all their scratch-outs, tiny wording crammed into margins and notes going up the sides - have become barely legible, confusing even to me. I'm too lazy to just write new cards with the same information, so now I'm wanting to just get to the computer and sort out the mess there. But the story isn't complete. What am I going to do at the keyboard?

Simple. I'm going to use the index card function on my software. Yeah, I know I said I didn't like it, but check it: I can plot the rest of my story while simultaneously cleaning up the mess on my index cards (rewriting on the keyboard is quicker and less hand-intensive than going freehand), and I can satisfy that hunger to get to the computer and make progress on the script itself. Call it a mental trick or whatever, but there's something fulfilling about churning out actual pages that makes me feel like I'm really getting something done. You can tell folks all you want that you're writing a script; until you can put pages in their face, they pretty much think you're bullshitting (maybe that's just my paranoia speaking).

So that's where I am in the script. The heroine, Alexandria, has been introduced, we've gotten a taste of her surroundings, and now I'm introducing the minor characters and setting up the first act climax. The first four pages were really good; the rest so-so. But I'm not deterred. That's where rewriting will come in.

And there will be rewriting.

STAY TUNED...

And Then There Were Three...

I've decided to drop the Outline project.

After reading the... well... I'm not really sure what it was... I was given that was used to make the trailer for the film, I decided I didn't want to work on the project. I just didn't think the idea, in addition to what the producer/director wanted to add, would work as a feature. It would need major structural changes (in my opinion) and in the end, it was going to be a much longer process than I anticipated and not worth the amount I was to be paid. So I respectfully declined... by email.

Sure, it was a bit of a punk move, but hey, it was easier than calling the producer up and having to explain why I was stepping off and having to potentially deal with him trying to convince me otherwise. So now I'm back to just Lupus Moon, Hardwired and Jillted, and to be honest, I'm happy about that. They aren't paid projects (at least yet, hopefully), but I can also change whatever I want and not have to worry about pissing someone off.

So I guess this means I can't use the "professional screenwriter" tag just yet. Oh well, my time will come. I believe that. I HAVE to. In the meantime, let this be a lesson to any aspiring screenwriter - if you're hired on to turn existing material into a screenplay, make sure you read said material first before indicating your interest. It could save you some time and even embarrassment.

At least I got a free lunch out of it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Juggling Projects

I've got 4 scripts in the works right now.

Traditionally, I'm very linear - only working on one script at a time. But sometimes I get stuck on a script while creatively, I want to keep working. I never thought I'd be one of those writers I read about who had several different scripts in development, but I finally got it through my concrete-thick skull that if I wanted to keep the juices flowing, even through a block, that there was nothing wrong in pulling out another idea and doing some work on it. It didn't mean that I'd given up and surrendered to the evil writer's block monster - it just meant I was giving my brain some time to relax and find a workaround - which normally happens when I take some time away. Which also explains my current situation.

I won't go into a ton of detail on each script (I'll cover each in detail in their own series of update blogs), but here's the lineup that's spread out on index cards in my office now:

Jillted is a slasher script about a nerdy girl who snaps after finally being pushed too far. Everyone in her life treats her like shit - the kids at school, her stepfather - even one of her teachers does her wrong. One night, after being gang-raped by a group of boys, one of whom she is attracted to, the lead, JILLIAN, decides she's had enough and it's time for payback against everyone who torments her. It's a scenario we've seen before, but I'm hoping to add enough freshness to it to make it somewhat new again (I mean, what in horror hasn't been done already).

Hardwired is a action piece I built out of a concept given me by an actor friend. He basically said, "I have an idea for a movie about a guy who's a family man by day and a hitman by night," and then turned me loose to create the rest. I finished a draft a few years ago and it came out pretty good, but it had some real weaknesses that needed to be addressed. This script was initially designed to be shot independently on a low budget (with my actor friend starring), but I decided to rewrite it without budget constraints and shop it around Hollywood when I'm done. My friend gave his blessing to the idea and I told him we'd split the money 50/50 if I could sell it. My friend tried to act like I'd done all the work, but c'mon - it was his idea that got me going in the first place. he should get at least half.

With the remake of The Wolf Man coming soon, I thought the time was right for me to dust off Lupus Moon, a werewolf action concept I came up with in '99. It takes place in a small Colorado town and features a female werewolf hunter who shows up after hearing stories of strange attacks happening. I thought I had Acts I and III down and only needed to flesh out the second act, but this thing has gone through so many changes in villains, plots, relationships, and even the heroine's back story that I'm finding myself starting over for the 1,235,846th time. I was using the technique of laying the story out on index cards, but after so many scratch-outs due to all the changes in story I decided to say, "fuck it" and just start on the actual script. I'm just hoping the final product comes out good.

I just got hired to write the fourth script this past week. That's right - hired. It's the first time I'm going to get paid for my writing (barring two negative experiences with options I will not go into), which finally allows me to call myself "professional." It's not much money, but it's for an independent producer here in Houston who has a track record of getting things done which means that not only can I proclaim my "pro card," but I'm very likely to also become a produced writer, something I can use to market myself for other paid gigs. The project is called Outline, and it's already been made as a trailer from a 29-page script. My job is to turn it into a feature. I've had the script for a couple days now and have yet to read it (partially because I was getting this blog launched), but I plan to get to work on it tonight or tomorrow.

So there you have it. 3 scripts in various stages of writing/rewriting and one brand new project. But since that new project is the one that's actually paying, guess which one is going to be my main focus for the foreseeable future?

Stay tuned for updates on all my projects...

"I've Written a Screenplay. Now What?"

"I've written my first screenplay and I want to sell it. How do I do it?"

A fellow Writer recently asked me this and it is indeed the proverbial million-dollar question. To wit, my advice...

The first thing is to get your script covered. It does cost money, but having someone professional read over your work and give you tips and ideas can help you see things you might have missed, even if you think the script is airtight. It just helps because we as writers are often too close to the work to be objective. There are cheaper services out there (one company, called Screenplay Readers, will give you coverage for $59), but I'd also advise you to take a look at some of the larger companies like Script PIMPor Script Shark. They're a lot more expensive (up to $250 per script), but if your script scores a "Consider" or "Recommend," they'll help you market your script to their connections. And they have some really nice big-name contacts.

After getting your script covered and making sure it's the best it can be, the next thing I suggest is registering your script with the Writers Guild of America. You can do it online for $20 and immediately get your registration number (your actual certificate will show up in about a week). Some companies might require that your script be copyrighted or WGA-registered before they look at it. But even if they don't, this registration protects your work from possible theft (if you need to take someone to court, the registration proves the idea was registered by you on a certain date).

The next step is to try and get an agent, someone who can get your script into major studios that you won't have access to. First, go to the WGA site and print out a copy of their agency list. This list is made up of agencies who've agreed to abide by the WGA's minimum payment guidelines - in other words, they're regulated and much less likely to screw or bullshit you. When you have the list (it's free), call each agency and ask them what their submission policy for literary work is. The VAST majority of them will say that either they "don't take unsolicited material" or they "only go by referral," meaning someone they know recommends the script to them. However, there are several who will tell you to either write and send a query letter or to go to their website and submit a logline and synopsis for your script, and if they are interested, they'll ask for your script.

Really, the best way to sale a script is to land an agent. It's also the hardest thing to do, 'cause agents tend to want to only deal with people who've sold a script. See the catch-22? The trick is to find an agent who's actually willing to look at new material from a new writer. When you get that chance, you want to make sure you've put the best possible foot forward (which is why I suggest coverage). If you're lucky and talented enough to sign with an agent, things get a helluva lot easier, since it's their job to sell the script (which, if you didn't know, is how they get paid - 10%, usually). Your job then is to get to work on your next script. One last tip: when you've made contact with an agent willing to read you, it's best to at least have a couple of other script ideas in mind. That way, when they inevitably ask you "What else do you have?" you can say, "Well, there's this horror idea I'm kicking around..."

Another helpful tactic is putting your script on a listing service. There's several out there, but I like InkTip and So You Wanna Sell A Script. They have services where you can include your logline and synopsis in their monthly newsletters that goes out to their agency and production contacts, as well as services that allow you to list the same information on their website, where producers come and see what interests them. As for InkTip (I'd try them first), they've had many scripts optioned from their site, and several produced into movies. But to be honest, most of the companies that check out the site are not major prodcos, so I wouldn't expect the big-money paydays if they optioned or purchased your script. HOWEVER, it is a sale/option that you can use when pitching yourself to agents. Like I said before, agents are much more receptive when you can say you've optioned or sold something. To them, that means you're money - for them.

Another option (though not one I like) is entering your script into a screenplay contest. Many offer the winners exposure to, or meetings with, big-name agencies or production companies with the chance to promote your script. The problem (or my problem, anyway) is that these contests are highly subjective. You might have a great script, but if the judges aren't feeling your story or don't think it's commercial enough, you don't have a fair chance of winning. Another knock on contests is that everyone and their mother's sister's cat's best friend enters them, which creates huge competition. So you're spending anywhere from $35-$65 per contest, where the odds of winning are steep at best. With this option, know going in that you could very well wind up spending a lot of money and come out with absolutely nothing.

So, to break it down:

1. Get your finished script covered (not necessary, but really helpful in perfecting your draft)

2. Register with the WGA (you can copyright it through the Library of Congress as well - www.copyright.gov - but it's not necessary and costs more - $35 currently)

3. Print out WGA agency list and call each one for their submission policies. Send queries/loglines/synopses to those who allow them

4. Consider listing your script information on a marketing site, i.e.: inktip.com or sellascript.com (costs money)

5. Enter screenplay contests if you choose.

With all that said, it's still not easy to get your work out there. But with talent, luck, persistence and a great idea, you can do it.

Good luck!

Complete List of Written Works

Screenplays - Features
Sistas Ain't Havin' It! (2000)
Sistas Still Ain't Havin' It! (2000)
Deuce (2000)
Brother's Keeper (2000)
Thief of Hearts (2001) Heart of Film Screenplay Competition Second Rounder; Scriptapalooza Screenwriting Competition Quarterfinalist
Valentine's Day (2001)
You Want Butter With That? (2001)
Straight Ballin' (2001) WriteSafe.com Quarterly Screenplay Contest Finalist
Repo's Proxy (2002) Heart of Film Screenplay Competition Second Rounder
Charity (2002) Film Expo Texas Screenplay Contest Finalist
The Nubian Queen (2002)
Rampart (2003) (script doctor)
The Hill (2005)
A Mile In My Shoes (2006)
Hardwired (2007)
The Old Ladies Club (2008) (script doctor)
Citizen Zane (2008) (based on existing material)

Screenplays - Shorts
Randi's Birthday (2000) (produced in 2005)
The Party (2000) (produced in 2005)
Blood Moon (2001)
Texas Backwater (2001)
The Attucks Three: Leaders of the New School (2001)
Nigger! (2003)
Ice Cream Man (2003)
The Company Man (2003)
The Return of The Company Man (2003)
The Company Man's Christmas Party (2003)
Rail Riders (2003)
Nisa's Solo (2003)
Revelation (2004) (original draft)
The Late Shift (2004)
Killing Me Softly (2006) (script doctor) (produced in 2006)

Stageplays
Sistas Ain't Havin' It! (1993) (produced in 1998)
The Barber Shop (1993) (re-named "Leonard's Place circa 1998)
Old Jones (1993)
I Am A Good Man (1997) (produced in 1999)
Hip Hop 101 (1998) (produced in 1998)
The Gary Stringer Show - Episode 305 (1999)
The Producer's Scout (1999)
The Fashion Freak (1999)
Where Do We Go From Here? (2000)
I Am The Black Man! (2000)