I think I’ve always had a problem with looking ahead.
On the surface, “looking ahead” sounds like a good thing, an ambitious thing. But it can actually be quite problematic.
The problem being that when you spend all your time looking ahead, you’re not quite being where you are. Not being in the here and now.
What does this have to do with writing you may wonder? Plenty, I respond (why are we talking like this?).
It’s no secret that getting writing work is difficult. So if you are fortunate enough to get some, don’t let yourself get completely consumed by the notes and deadlines.
Find the time to mentally step back and relish the moment. Be tickled. Be thrilled. Be proud.
Years ago, while on a series abroad, I had a lot of responsibilities. We were far away from home, working a six day week for six months straight, and that stress weighed on me. I think we did a great job and produced a great show. But it’s hard to say I enjoyed it.
Obviously, these things are easier said than done, but looking back now, I don’t think I spent enough (any?) time feeling excitement or satisfaction. That was a mistake.
In these situations, it’s critical to appreciate exactly where you are, not where you want to be next. It doesn’t make you lazy, or unambitious, or stagnant. It’s just essential to your soul to embrace the experience as it happens.
In the entertainment business, a lot of things that seem promising don’t actually come together. Potential work doesn’t materialize, doesn’t get bought, or doesn’t get produced.
Which is why you can’t wait until the cameras start rolling on a project before you get thrilled about it.
If you advance in a writing competition, feel the validation. If you get optioned, celebrate the victory. You never know if you’ll get to experience something like that again.
The buzzword you hear a lot these days is Mindfulness. Being Mindful. Mindful meditation.
According to mindful.org, Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
This applies to life, relationships, and of course, work.
As we roll into the official month of thanks, don’t miss out on fully experiencing your own life and appreciating where you are. Wherever you are. Always remind yourself to be mindful, thoughtful, and grateful.
Entertainment comes in so many forms. Today, more than ever (though I think they might’ve finally phased out wax cylinders and 8 tracks).
So, while I understand that it’s important for writers to create a brand for themselves, I think it’s also important to branch out occasionally.
I speak from experience. A wide array.
Although I’d made short films in high school and took a sketch comedy class in college, I graduated with the intention of becoming a feature film writer.
But despite my growing pile of specs, one of my first opportunities to write professionally was on a syndicated detective show called High Tide. Was I going to turn my nose up at an hour-long run time?
Hell no, I wasn’t. I was thrilled.
If you get an offer to do something outside your brand, don’t reject it out of hand. That thing may end up being what you like writing the most.
Or not. But you should flex those creative muscles anyway. Take some chances. Especially if someone is going to pay you to do it.
The interesting thing about working in broadcast television is crafting drama to peak at a commercial break. It’s a challenge to shape your story to build to a cliffhanger strong enough to make viewers stick around to see what happens next.
It was a shorter duration, obviously. And needed to be geared for a younger audience. The most unexpected obstacle, though, was writing for real animals that are only able to perform very specific actions.
We learned very early in production that any sequence where we wrote that Baloo dramatically charged onto the scene was not going to work. The bear did not “charge” anywhere. Lumber, stroll, sit, sure. All day long. But charge? Not so much.
So, once we knew what we were working with, we got busy writing stories that would work.
Most aspiring screenwriters are very familiar with the feature paradigm, and probably have several specs sitting in their computers. They’re raring to go when this kind of opportunity comes along.
Extreme Team was a television movie, so the classic three act structure gets modified to accommodate those dramatic breaks for commercials.
HALF HOUR KIDS ANIMATION
With animated half hours, you don’t need to worry about the limitations of real life bears, but that doesn’t quite mean anything goes. There’s only so many backgrounds, guest characters, and vehicles in a show’s budget. Someone gets paid to design and draw every one of those things, so dollars and schedule dictate just how much you can dream up.
Rhonda Smiley and I have reached the end of seasons on shows and have been asked to write episodes that take place in settings, or used characters, that had originally been generated for previous episodes.
Recycling is good for the planet, as well as the studio.
Learn to create great stories despite these kinds of restrictions, and you may become a go-to hire for show runners and production companies alike.
HALF OF HALF HOUR ANIMATION
One type of animated half hour consists of two different 11 minute segments (a broadcast half hour is typically 22 minutes of content).
This structure is frequently targeted toward younger viewers or preschoolers, which can come with the challenge of E/I rules. These are requirements to educate or inform. E/I series are staffed with an educational consultant to make sure writers are properly weaving age-appropriate lessons in their stories.
Entertaining and educating? A noble format indeed.
BITS AND BYTES
During my run on Kuu Kuu Harajuku, I was asked if I wanted to also write bonus streaming content for the show. That translated to creating stories that were a mere 3 to 4 minutes long. You can’t even finish microwaving a Stouffer’s Mac and Cheese in that kind of time!
With the Kuu Kuu Close-Up, the assignment was to essentially write a monologue. This would keep new animation to a minimum, while providing action by cutting in existing moments from the show.
In the other duration direction, you have mini-series, limited series, and lest we forget, the classic open-ended television series. Unique writing challenges there include things like character arcs over the course of an episode, season, and even an entire series run.
So don’t let yourself get stuck in just one kind of storytelling. Flex those creative muscles and take on new things, unfamiliar things, different things.
Despite their differences, all these formats still require a compelling narrative with a beginning, middle and end. If you can imagine and convey a good story, then it shouldn’t matter how long it is, or how big a screen it will reach an audience on.
Entertain. Enlighten. Move.
Keep your options open. You never know where opportunities may arise!
There’s an aspect – the glamourous aspect – of writing that’s all about the magical alchemy of creation. Tapping into your muse and dreaming up rich characters, dynamic relationships, and deep dramatic conflict.
Sure that’s part of it. But there’s another side of professional writing that’s less about the art, and more about the craft. The nuts and bolts. The – to quote Tim Gunn – “make it work” moments.
This is when you have to use logic and critical thinking to effectively (and deftly) sew back up a script that’s been torn apart, while still keeping all the good bits intact.
Notes are frequently a trigger for these times. But there are a host of other causes too. Budget constraints, bad weather, prop failure. Even retconning. This skill set is especially crucial mid-production, when locations may already be reserved, actors cast, and even scenes shot.
Ian Rickett, a writer on 3Below: Tales of Arcadia and Wizards mentioned once that he actually enjoyed solving these kinds of problems. Working in the room to fuse pages, scenes, and plots can be quite a challenge. But if done well, the results can be even better than the original.
Thanks in part to the addition of three DeLoreans, the budget for the movie had ballooned to over 18 million dollars, and the studio decided that savings had to be found before production could begin.
The easiest answer was to cut the expensive atomic bomb test that had originally provided nuclear energy for the jump back though time.
But what would happen in its place? With mere weeks to go before cameras started rolling, writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale had to come up with an answer. Checking out the Hill Valley set at Universal Studios, inspiration struck.
Maybe, if they added a clock to the top of the courthouse, they could have it hit by lightning and know exactly the time the DeLorean could get a charge of that critical 1.21 gigawatts.
Not only was that idea incorporated at that key moment in the film, it was also carefully woven into the entire story, all the way back to the beginning and that seemingly innocuous flyer about saving the broken clock tower. That’s the craft of writing in full effect. Perfection.
When I was working on the syndicated series, Born Free, there was an episode that ran long in post production. To help it hit the required runtime, the B story was edited out.
Ever thrifty, though, the production company didn’t want to just throw those precious scenes away.
Instead, to save both schedule and budget, I was tasked with incorporating that unused footage into the subsequent episode I was writing.
To do so effectively, I had to do more than just randomly drop those scenes into a new script. I needed to account for the existing attitudes, energy, and – most importantly of all – the dialogue and story as I folded it into mine.
In the end, it was as if it was designed to be there the whole time. Seamless.
Again, thanks to super tight schedules and budgets, we weren’t in a position to merely reshoot those same scenes with a new actor. Instead, we had to scramble to rewrite the parts of the episode not yet filmed to explain his absence and give their remaining role in the story to an entirely different character.
Stressful, no doubt. But the kind of creative adversity that provides a real sense of achievement when you finally triumph over it.
If you find yourself working on a production – maybe even your own – expect to use all aspects of your creative skills, both artful and practical. Problems are unavoidable, but an open mind and the ability to keep your eyes on the big picture can help you navigate every kind of script obstacle.
Maybe, like Ian, you’ll even look forward to the challenge.
Watching television over the years, you begin to notice things. Familiar storylines, tropes, set ups and payoffs.
But the one thing that’s fascinated me as both a writer and viewer is the characters who aren’t there. And not just occasionally.
They’re not there a lot.
I’m talking about significant recurring characters on shows who are rarely – if ever – seen on screen. A lot of times, not even heard.
It’s definitely a gimmick, but an interesting one at that.
Here’s my personal take on a Field Guide…
These are characters that are talked about frequently, but never show up on screen.
On Frasier, Nile’s first wife, Maris, was often the subject of conversation. None of it flattering.
But as vivid as the descriptions of her were, she never made an appearance.
This is the pure version.
A hybrid offshoot comes courtesy of Cheers, the show Frasier spun off from. There it was Norm’s wife, Vera, who Norm talked about regularly but (almost) never showed up.
Researching this post, I learned that Vera was heard offscreen on a handful of episodes and made one “appearance” with her face covered by pie (when more than a reference, she was played by George Wendt‘s real-life wife, Bernadette Birkett).
Back on the original Charlie’s Angels series, the show’s namesake primarily made his presence known courtesy of a speaker phone.
(If you wanted to see the actor himself on your TV screen every week, you had to wait until the season after this show wrapped, when John Forsythe, landed the role of Dynasty patriarch, Blake Carrington.)
A more recent example of this audio-only character was on The Big Bang Theory. There, Howard’s mom, Debbie Wolowitz, made a strong impression via Howard’s stories, as well as her booming offscreen voice.
But other than a couple of fleeting glimpses behind a partially closed door and a bird’s-eye view on a nighttime rooftop, that’s the most you’d ever see.
On Home Improvement, neighbor, Wilson, was always heard, but never fully seen. He gave all his reliable advice partially obscured by a fence or some other artfully placed obstacle.
Back in the early seasons of Happy Days, Joanie Cunningham would frequently tell stories about her boy-crazy friend, Jenny Piccolo.
It wasn’t until season eight, when much of the original cast had left, that a flesh and blood Jenny Piccolo finally showed up.
I find this particular case to be a brilliant way of replacing cast members on a show. Jenny’s first onscreen appearance played out to a certain degree as someone audiences had been following for years.
Twin Peaks: The Return did something similar with Dale Cooper’s assistant, Diane. But the less said about that, the better.
A few decades earlier, on the show, Rhoda, there was Carlton the Doorman, who would only be heard via the intercom in her apartment (and once in a gorilla mask).
After the end of Rhoda’s run, Carlton briefly returned to television via his own animated special. And as more than just a voice.
I have a million ideas. Most writers do. But unless you’re already a sought-after creator with a track record of success, an idea itself isn’t going to get you very far.
In other words, you can’t sell a spec that doesn’t exist.
You need to get those ideas written down for them to get you anywhere. That’s not easy, of course, but nevertheless mandatory.
I get it, I really do. It can be intimidating to think about what it’ll take to crank out an entire script. Paralyzing, even.
So, for god’s sake, don’t think about that.
Much like a literal marathon, the journey here begins with the first step. Focus on page one and let page one-hundred-and-one come when it comes.
For me, I’ve struggled with getting my ideas down because I’d try to make every sentence be the final polished version of that sentence before I wrote the next one. I needed every line of dialogue to be absolutely perfect before I wrote the absolutely perfect response.
This is a recipe for never finishing. Or avoiding starting in the first place. Perfection is actually the enemy of this stage of writing.
Relax on the self criticism for now and focus on being prolific and judgement-free instead. At least judgement-light.
If you’ve got an outline in hand (you do, don’t you?), you’ve already done the hard work of crafting your story. Now it’s time to execute it. Plow through those pages without overthinking, and without getting hung up.
Screenwriter and novelist, Rhonda Smiley, calls this initial pass, Words on Paper. It’s the perfect description. You’re not going to win an Academy Award with your first draft. Just get it down.
If you notice yourself loitering around a scene, going over it again and again, changing an “a” to a “the” and then back again, it’s time to stop for a moment and regroup.
Recognize the delay, and push forward once more. Rinse and repeat. Before you know it, you’ll have reached your “Fade Out” after all. Triumph.
You might end up with scenes that are on-the-nose. You might end up with dialogue that sounds unnatural.
There might even be bits that don’t go anywhere or jokes that don’t land.
Nothing wrong with that. No writer is going to submit their first draft to a buyer anyway (seriously, don’t do that).
The key here is that you have a first draft, and that’s a huge achievement. This is a step in the process and an essential one. You don’t get to a polished gem without getting here first.
Most importantly, a really rough draft beats a perfect script that’s only in your head. Every time.
Now take a break and then come back with fresh eyes. The real work begins with the rewrite…
As a writer, self promotion didn’t used to be important.
Most writers are more of the self-doubting introvert types as it is. Who would we promote ourselves to? The dog?
Well, things have changed. A lot.
Thanks in a large part to social media, promoting yourself and your work is now a generally unavoidable aspect of the writing business.
So, although the writing itself will always be the prime task and where most of your time is devoted, you should still set aside a little to let the world know you’re around.
For the most part that translates to an online presence, so that potential buyers, employers, collaborators, or fans can find out more about you. At the bare minimum, this can be done on most social media sites, which are generally free. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, even LinkedIn.
Ideally, though, you should create a personal website, to serve as a digital resume and showcase. Although you might have produced credits listed on IMDb, your own website is where you can add details, images, work for non-traditional venues, and even unproduced projects or works-in-progress.
The site should also serve as the central location for any other things you have out there on the internet – links to your social media accounts, official websites for projects you were/are involved in, possibly even sites for friends and collaborators.
You probably shouldn’t put your email address on there for everyone to spam, but a contact form is helpful if people don’t know how else to reach you. It would suck to miss out on an opportunity due to lack of access.
Finally, there should be a section or page where you can post news – press, a job, an award, a newly finished spec, or produced project. Even a work-in-progress if the progress might be interesting to followers.
I don’t know much about SEO (Search Engine Optimization), but making the most of it can help drive people to the website you’ve worked so hard on. If you’re interested in taking a deeper dive, check out this article from Indie Comix Dispatch. It’s tailored for comic creators, but most of it can be applied to creatives across the board.
All that said, don’t be overwhelmed by this list. You don’t have to do it all at once. Or all ever. You can just pick and choose the bits that work for you.
PROMOTE YOUR PROJECT
When you have a freshly finished project – from a short to a feature, a webisode to a series episode, a book, short story, or graphic novel – make sure you shout about it from the highest digital rooftop.
Obviously, you highlight it on your site and socials, but also beyond…
Consider the genre and audience that might be interested. Then seek out the sites that cater to the same types of material.
Many sites have contact information or forms you can fill out. Pitch your project and see if they’d be open to doing a story or announcement. Maybe a review. Maybe an interview.
Sometimes, websites actively seek out contributors. See if you can find an angle that allows you to write about your project in a way that would be entertaining or informative to their audience.
Beyond the sites that match your project, think about the places that match you. Is the paper that covers where you grew up open to doing a piece on the local done good? How about the neighborhood paper where you live now?
Schools like to highlight alumni that are working in the field they studied. Pitch them a feature story about what makes your journey or project special or interesting to students or prospective students. At the bare minimum, you can usually post a short bit about what you’re up to on the school’s website.
There are also an infinite number of podcasts out there. Seek out one that matches your project and determine if they have guests. Contact them to explain why you’d be an amazing addition to their show.
It’s a numbers game and you need to know going in that far more venues will ignore you than agree to cover your project. Don’t let it get you down. Just keep going until you run out of places to pitch. Form relationships and then promote their coverage of you.
Sell, sell, sell!
With my current project, Blowback, I’m doing as many of these things as I can right now.
I’ve even been fortunate enough to get an interview on the VoyageLA digital magazine.
So I know it can be done.
Sometimes, when you’re self-promoting – no, most of the time – it’ll feel like you’re shouting into the abyss. No one’s listening, no one cares. Other times, you might find your shout is being drowned out by all the other shouts from your fellow creators. It’s just a whole lot of white noise.
Maybe, maybe not.
Regardless, you still need to put in the effort and stake a claim on a little bit of that internet real estate. In the new millennium, it’s part of the writers’ job. Don’t fight it.
Back when I was in college, last century or so ago, Tower Records, well… they still existed to start with.
And while existing, they also put out a free monthly music magazine called Pulse! In addition to the interesting words inside, it was a good place to procure cool covers of your favorite bands for your dorm room wall.
One of their regular features was called Desert Island Discs.
Basically, it posed the question: if you were stranded on a desert island, and you could have only ten albums to listen to (possibly forever), what would they be?
It’s tough. How do you narrow down all the music you love to just ten discs? I choose to add the additional layer of difficulty that you can’t include “greatest hits” albums or box sets. Let’s keep it pure, people.
Much like I mentioned in my favorite movies list, I suspect most people’s album faves center around the music they listened to in their high school and college years.
That’s extremely true for me, as – other than one exception – all my choices are from a mere six year period. Although… that’s also a bit deceiving.
One of the realizations I’ve had here is that I’ve consumed a lot of music over the years in small increments. 45s, mix tapes, and – more recently – downloads and playlists. In the case of a lot of bands that I love, I’ve never even owned any of their complete albums. Singles and greatest hits, sure, but never a full LP.
I was already a lover of the rap / rock hybrid thanks to RUN-D.M.C., and this album just absolutely put it over the top. It was perpetually playing from the moment I got it.
The Boys were keeping it classy in those days with the mirrored “EAT ME” next to the Def Jam logo on the cover. Saw them live at the Universal Amphitheatre on their 1992 Check Your Head tour. Think they had sort of grown beyond any affection for most of this album at that point, but I was (and still am) all-in.
Appetite for Destruction (1987) – Guns N’ Roses
Hard, gritty, driving music by a volatile bunch of guys that have yet to come close to duplicating this album’s seedy alchemy. Sure, G N’ R Lies and Use Your IllusionI (and II) had high points, but there’s not a dud to be found here. A virtual Greatest Hits.
I spent a good chunk of time throwing up in a Great Western Forum bathroom during a show of theirs in 1991. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have pre-gamed so hard in the parking lot beforehand. Know your limits, people!
Vivid (1988) – Living Colour
Vernon Reid‘s virtuoso guitar and Corey Glover‘s soaring vocals are a one-two punch that lift this debut to dizzying heights. With a grab bag of styles that go from hard rock to hip hop, there’s no chance of losing interest. Cult of Personality and Glamour Boys are the cream of the crop for me (though the entire crop is pretty creamy from start to finish).
A Living Colour show at a NYC club called The Academy was the first and only time I’ve ever crowd surfed. It didn’t end well, but was pretty wild while it lasted.
Van Halen (1978) – Van Halen
My god, what a debut. A classic introducing a genre-defining talent. Eddie Van Halen reinvented how an electric guitar could be played, and the resulting songs remain as tight and rocking all these years later. A flamboyant front man might be problematic for band chemistry, but it’s gold for an audience.
Lucky to have seen the entire original line-up live… albeit split across two shows and three decades.
Kick (1987) – INXS
They’re quoted as wanting to make “an album where all the songs were possibly singles,” and they absolutely delivered. Another endless string of hooky hit music.
Their next album, X, wasn’t nearly as consistent, in my opinion, but it continued the musical direction established here and generated several more memorable tracks.
Flood (1990) – They Might Be Giants
While building sets for a student film at NYU, I was introduced to this album playing in the workshop. So weird and wonderful. There aren’t a lot of successful alternative bands with an accordion as a centerpiece, but there’s not a lot of bands like They Might Be Giants.
It was touch and go between Flood and follow-up, Apollo 18, but this is ultimately the right choice. I’ve seen TMBG live three times and once on film, in their documentary Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns).
Surprisingly for a group from Santa Barbara with such an offbeat name, their lyrics lean kind of melancholy. Cheer up, guys, you’re rock stars.
Hysteria (1987) – Def Leppard
After a prolonged delay owing to drummer Rick Allen‘s recovery from losing his left arm after a car accident, Def Leppard came back strong. Like, crazy strong. Dense soundscapes and vocal melodies, all on top of super slick guitars and crashing drums make this album shine.
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988) – Public Enemy
I don’t remember what initially turned me onto Public Enemy, but I suspect it was hearing Fight the Power in Spike Lee‘s incendiary Do the Right Thing. Whatever the impetus, I’m glad it led me here. Thundering samples and beats with a message to boot. Angry, thoughtful, and relentless.
Slade is definitely not well known in the States, beside their late-career hit, Run Runaway, a few years prior. Nevertheless my friends got their hands on this album and it became the soundtrack to our summer.
I understand Slade purists aren’t really fond of this one, but I just love it all. Sadly it was the final studio album by the band. They had a good run.
That being said, they aren’t generally the model of originality, and are mostly motivated by capitalizing on the financial success of an earlier movie. Which is not unreasonable. Studios are big businesses, after all, and originality is inherently risky.
Familiar actors, familiar franchises, and even just familiar concepts are safer bets for returning on investments. It’s good business. And most of these companies still fund and produce original ideas as well. One could argue that the profit from “retreads” is what allows companies to take more risks on new ideas. Maybe on a smaller scale, but still.
From an audience standpoint, sequels allow us to see characters we’ve come to know and love in new stories, new settings, and new adventures.
Certainly right now, with all the new streaming services cropping up like weeds, familiar names making a comeback seem to be an essential ingredient for attempts at success. It’s possible we’ve passed the saturation point.
So, what’s the difference between them all? Here’s my personal take on a Field Guide…
According to Wikipedia – the source of all potentially true information – a Reboot is a new start to an established fictional universe.
This would apply to successive generations of James Bond, Robin Hood, and nearly every superhero franchise.
While researching some information for this post, I learned that the 1994 computer animated series ReBoot, was actually rebooted in 2018 as ReBoot: The Guardian Code, for maximum meta magic.
SEQUELS AND PREQUELS
These pretty much speak for themselves. Another chapter in an ongoing franchise. They primarily take place after the events of the preceding chapter, but they can also take place before.
In some cases, prequels can be seen as soft reboots, depending on how far back they go. If the new time period requires an entirely different cast, I’d personally lean toward calling that a reboot.
Although… If they remain true to the events and history in the source movie, I might still be willing to label that a prequel. X-Men: First Class sort of follows that line of thinking by including Hugh Jackman‘s Wolverine, while 2009’s Star Trek does the same by incorporating Leonard Nimoy‘s Spock.
These are more one-off stories, rather than franchises that have widespread developed universes.
Some Remakes like to change things up, sliding into “Reimagining” territory. In the original Overboard, the spoiled rich lead was Goldie Hawn. The genders were swapped in the 2018 update, however, casting Eugenio Derbez as the upper class jerk.
Then there’s The Longest Yard, the movie that sort of does it all. Burt Reynolds‘ 1974 original was remade as Adam Sandler‘s 2005 version, but also reimagined a few years earlier with the British Mean Machine, where soccer took the place of football.
Talk about a Hollywood hyphenate!
Although these are more commonly associated with television series, movie also like to spread the wealth when they can. Bruce Almighty generated a spinoff when Steve Carrell‘s star rose to the point that his supporting character could take center stage for Evan Almighty.
Obviously, I’m generally pro all these iterations. I typically lean toward more commercial fare as both a writer and viewer, and reboots, remakes, and sequels are most definitely that.
Given a choice, I would mostly take a sequel over a reboot. Even if the sequel has none of the previous actors (or characters), I can still appreciate it if the new version acknowledges those character as canon.
That was my issue with the Melissa McCarthyGhostbusters. It didn’t matter that the leads were women. What I didn’t like was that it was an entirely new origin story.
I would’ve enjoyed it much more if they just existed in the same universe as Venkman, Spengler, Stanz and Zeddemore.
Oh, and if it was funny, that would’ve helped too.
To each, their own, of course. A lot of audiences are attached to the version they discovered originally. It’s the risk you take when you veer onto a different path.
What are your thoughts on these things? Are you pro? Anti? Does it even cross your mind? Pass the popcorn and let me know in the comments.
If you hope to work professionally as a screenwriter, you’re going to become very familiar with notes. I was very familiar very early on and I was not a fan.
As we went through the notes process for the first scripts on Mowgli: The New Adventures of the Jungle Book, fellow writer/creators, Tim Bogart, Guy Toubes, and I, would drive across town to the Fox Kids offices for feedback and discussion.
Back then, I had an unhealthy attachment to what had already been written, and bristled at requested changes. Especially when those changes seemed arbitrary or recklessly tore at the foundation we had so carefully built on throughout the episode.
And for what?
Some writers have a sneaking suspicion that executives feel they’re required to give notes, otherwise, why do they even have a job? The result is that even great scripts are bombarded with needless changes, suggestions, and opinions.
Perhaps that’s just paranoia. Perhaps not. But it can make you second guess how much effort you should put into making everything perfect in the first place, when it’s inevitably going to be ripped apart.
Back to the story…
I didn’t get along well with one of the Fox executives. I didn’t like them, and they didn’t seem too fond of me either. One time, Tim, Guy, and I arrived for a notes meeting and that executive had us sit in the waiting room for around a half hour beyond the meeting time.
My theory is that it was because they hadn’t read the script beforehand, and instead did so while we stood by. Unconfirmed, but you can see where I was coming from, right?
Regardless, when the actual notes meetings inevitably went on, I didn’t have the best poker face and would silently, but clearly, reveal what I thought about the feedback. Understandably, my collaborators were less than thrilled that I was cultivating a hostile relationship with the studio that was financing our show.
For obvious reasons, there was much rejoicing later on when schedules required doing notes via conference call instead. I was able to gesticulate as much as I wanted and we were still able to keep our jobs.
So, is it possible that notes are always superfluous and pointless?
If you’ve seen Seth Rogen’s Green Hornet, you realize that not only can script notes be good and helpful, every so often… not enough are given.
IN A PROFESSIONAL SETTING
Despite the preceding story, I don’t think notes are the enemy. Even if it feels like they are a lot of the time.
And even when it comes to notes I don’t agree with, I’ve managed to mellow over the years to a more productive recipient.
Here’s my core advice: Do the notes and do them well. That script you wrote isn’t just yours anymore. It’s part of a production now and even people whose opinions you might not share, are still trying to facilitate a great result.
Not that that means they necessarily convey them well. Some people are great at giving notes, while others are – for lack of a better word – a**holes.
I find for the most part, that notes from story editors (who are also writers) tend to have an understanding tone of what it took to get where you got. And also an understanding of what it will take to incorporate that note. When they’re passing along executive notes, they also acknowledge when something doesn’t make sense. You feel like you’re in this together.
The second category gives notes (even thoughtful ones) like an attack. Similar to the stereotype, they talk down to the writer with derision or disgust about anything they don’t like.
The thing is, even if a script is lacking, development executives should be trying to get it to where it shines. They don’t have to walk on eggshells, but insulting the person they want to follow their notes isn’t especially productive or collaborative.
That being said, you still have to do the insulting notes. You can vent to your writing partner if you have one, your life partner if you have one, or even a friend (I’ll assume you have one). But once the venting’s done, it’s time to get to work.
When you’re in that next draft, be conscious of how that change affects the pages that led up to it and the pages that follow. As mentioned earlier, a lot of note-givers don’t consider the collateral damage, so it’s up to you to properly execute. Don’t just shoehorn that change in. Seamlessly integrate it like it was part of the story’s DNA all along.
And for those writers who talk about standing their ground and not making changes? That will more than likely cost you your next job, if not the one you’ve already got. No producer or studio or network wants to work with a “difficult” writer. And nobody wants to work with a writer who can’t or won’t execute notes.
That doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions. Sometimes deciphering a note that doesn’t seem to make sense might take a little analysis and follow-up. This might lead to an understanding that the problem they thought was in one place, actually needs to be fixed somewhere else.
IN A CASUAL SETTING
Notes that come from a fellow writer or maybe a writing group are handled a little different.
Here, everything is voluntary. And how you respond to those notes is entirely up to you.
To start with, though, you should listen with an open mind. Do the notes make sense to you? Do you agree with them? Will addressing them make your script better, or just different?
Sometimes people give notes to steer the script toward the movie or show they’d like to see, but possibly not the one you’re trying to write. Don’t let feedback make you lose track of the story you want to tell.
Even if you don’t like or agree with a specific note, though, if you find yourself getting that same one multiple times from multiple people, you might want to take a closer look. Something’s probably not working somewhere and needs your attention.
Obviously the writer I was early on needed to learn how to play well with others. It’s always good advice. As I’m sure you’ve heard a million times before, this business is primarily a collaborative one.
Work as a team and the results will be something you can all be proud of.
While this isn’t technically my first published comic, it is the first one available worldwide. And the first one that’s professional grade.
It’s a big deal for Rhonda and me, and the culmination of a very, very long journey.
The book first started life as a screenplay. Of the big-budget blockbuster variety.
Although it did win an award for best Sci Fi screenplay under its previous title, Revolution Redux, and garner some industry interest, it didn’t result in a sale.
200 million dollar budgets might be a bit of a deterrent for buyers when it comes to lesser-known scribes.
So, for the chance to see this story come to life, Rhonda and I turned to a different medium. A medium where we’d be the ones with creative control. Where studio executives wouldn’t be sending over notes upon notes upon notes. Where the writers, not the director, would be crafting the final cut.
That last one’s a bit of a mixed metaphor, since we were sort of the directors and writers of Blowback. But I think you get the gist.
Becoming familiar with both the format and style of comics was a big first step.
Although we’d periodically read some of the more iconic books that came out over the years, it had been a long time since either of us were regular consumers. But we wanted to do this right.
Adapting wasn’t simple. Scenes had to be reimagined to take advantage of layout and page turns. Dialogue had to be streamlined to not overwhelm the art. I even felt compelled to do rough sketches of panels just to see if the action we wrote could clearly play out on the page.
But bit by bit, it started coming together.
Once we finally had a draft we liked, we set out to find an artist to bring aboard.
Through a friend who worked both in animation and comics, we were able to connect with Kev Hopgood, an artist who’s style we felt was perfect for the project.
Kev had worked on quite a few titles, but was most well known for co-creating War Machine and the Hulkbuster Armor during his run on Iron Man.
Once Kev had signed on, he recommended colorist, Charlie Kirchoff, who also had an impressive list of credits to his name. From there, the two of them got to work, converting our black and white words to full color images. Giving them life and depth and magic.
A screenplay isn’t really a finished project. It’s essentially a blueprint for a potential film or show.
On the other hand, this graphic novel – any graphic novel – is audience-ready entertainment. I’m thrilled to finally have a direct line between my words and a reader’s eyes, emotions, and imagination.
In Blowback, a present-day U.S. Marine and his unit disappear in the Bermuda Triangle, only to find themselves in the year 1776. There, they battle to maintain the course of history as they face off against a stranded World War Two era Destroyer turned ruthless pirate ship.
To find out more, you can click on over to comiXology or Amazon and check it out for yourself.
I’m not saying that you have to buy a copy, but if you do, it will make you smarter, younger, and better looking*.