Monday, October 23, 2006

Notes Coming Out My Ears

First up, thanks to Will for the link on your blog and the advice -- I'm putting it to use already! I reoutlined the feature spec and found some good holes, so I think if I can figure out a more concrete objective for my protagonist, one that is thematically linked to his internal conflict, then I'm golden.... Until the next draft anyhow. :)

In other news, Saturday I went to a get together and ran into a few television writers. Last year, a friend got me into a table read-thru and the writers' room during a taping day and I was able to watch them solve a few last minute problems and break a story that played later in the season. Very cool stuff. It was nice to see those folks and catch up with them and feel like an insider while they dished.

My experience working as an executive doesn't really help me in situations like that, not directly, anyway. No one cares which directors I've worked for, or what credits I have, or what studio was paying my car allowance. These are writers who are, generally speaking, well-paid, they are at the top of their game industry-wise, and for the most part, only looking up. I mean nothing to them. I do have basic social skills from giving and taking pitches for the last ten years, so I didn't embarrass myself or nothing.

Then, tonight, this manager I've been chatting with called me about the spec pilot. He liked it, feels like it will get me work (yippee!) and gave me notes. Ugh. Nothing crazy, I don't need to reconceive the pilot, or the structure, just deepen some things that I had sketched in, make a bit more of a meal out of the basic character conflicts/objectives, and clarify some plot points. So, tonight I'm typing up what he and I talked about (after this post...), then tomorrow morning I'm off to Starbucks for a few hours to see what I can get done. I want to get the pilot out to a couple of drama writers I met at the party who've agreed to read it and give me pointers. I want a nice polished piece before I hand it over to the agent. Then, I have to write a current sample. This never ends, does it? Luckily, I'm hyperactive.

Chris: I've been asking around, but I don't really talk to the production company contacts I used to have, and studios use union readers. I'll keep you posted if I hear of anything. My suggestion to you is to dust off your resume, put the non-Hollywood stuff at the bottom, and at the top put a section that details your writing related/story training stuff. E.g. Robert McKee's story structure class, that part-time MFA in Screenwriting you've pursued, or the festivals you placed in -- I can write a longer post about what folks look for in a reader if you want, but there's an excellent book called READING FOR A LIVING that I highly recommend. It is dated, but for the most part that job hasn't changed since it was invented. Once you've got the resume reconfigured, go ahead and start sending it out along with a copy of sample coverage. Sample coverage should be for a script that is out in the world, but unproduced. For example, THE TRUMAN SHOW was the first script that I did coverage on (How old am I?! Yikes!). At that time, it was well-known as a solid, but flawed screenplay, something that everyone agreed should be made, but no one could seem to pull it together. That is, of course, until Jim Carrey came along.

I was never able to get work as a reader because I'm far to literal to write summary, fortunately for me I was able to hustle my way into an executive job. I always looked for readers who had some formal training, either in screenwriting or literary analysis. I didn't like to use readers who read for too many folks, but always wanted readers who had experience. My main criteria were: good grammar (cuz I need all the help I can get), objective analysis (meaning, I didn't want a reader who felt that their job was to pass or recommend material to me, but rather someone who understood dramatic structure well enough to know if a screenplay worked and why or why not), and consistency (both in terms of their taste in material and their work habits). I employed about 5-7 readers in addition to reading myself and aside from my core group, used about 2-3 readers on a rotating basis. Every production company is different, and generally it is the story editor who hires the reader, so directing your queries to that person, or his/her assistant is a safe bet.

Good luck with all of that, I don't think the reader route is for everyone, and certainly don't think it's the only (or the best) way to learn story structure. Actually making the scripts you've written is the most effective teacher, especially if you can find filmmakers who meet or exceed your own skill level. That's my advice, anywho, worth what you payed for it minus depreciation.... :-)

1 comment:

Chris said...

Thanks for the tips! Yes, Reading for a Living was one of the first books I bought when I got here, so now I just have to sit down and start pounding the pavement.