This Week in Screenwriting

rollercoasterLook, I get it.  All things considered, “it doesn’t take much to see my problems don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”   I don’t watch the news anymore because I want to fix everything; I want to find the woman crouched in a refugee camp beside a torn cardboard box that is home to her child and their meager possessions and bring her home to live with me.
syria
I want to adopt a heartbroken chihuahua in a pink sweater left at an animal shelter by her owners because she’s “too much trouble.” I’d like nothing more than being able to pay the school lunch bill in Madison County out of my own pocket, and make sure every family requesting Christmas gifts for their kids through our local Toys for Tots drive gets to wake up Christmas morning knowing there are presents and food and a community that cares about them.
I’ve been a bleeding heart since the day I was born and the older I get the more I realize that if I could have just one job for the rest of my life, I would chose Fairy Godmother complete with magic wand and gossamer wings.
In the meantime, I write, hoping the stories I tell will uplift and inspire, that somehow, some day, I will be in a position financially to do some of the things I long to do, that bringing attention to rhino poaching in the Eastern Cape, celebrating the lives of the women who helped win World War Two, or just making people laugh for a few hours is enough for now.
Instead, I often find myself holding on for dear life to the subjective rollercoaster of a career in the film business for all I’m worth. So for anyone following this journey who thinks I’m either out of my mind or out of my depth,  you are right on both accounts.
A few weeks ago I reached out to the largest agency in the film business to ask about representation.  Much to my surprise, the person I approached agreed to put me in touch with two junior agents who read my scripts that same weekend and wrote to ask if we could have a “meeting” over the phone about my work.  I was elated.  The “non answer” is the typical Hollywood go-to when it comes to saying no to just about anything.  No one in the film business wants to be the person who came right out and rejected someone in case the person they said no to becomes a huge star one day, so if they don’t like your work, they just don’t respond.
phoneAsking for a meeting with me, even one over the phone, was HUGE.
It was also one of the most disappointing phone calls of my life. These agents were calling to tell me they just didn’t see why anything about my work screamed “this film needs to be made right this instant.”  As a carrot, they offered that one of the loglines I’d sent sounded the most promising in terms of commercial appeal and was the one they felt I should definitely write.  When I said I had a completed draft and asked to send it, there was an awkward silence on the other end of the phone.  I jumped in to tell them more about it, and suddenly, they had a project “just like it” but would keep me in mind.
That script is currently a quarterfinalist for the Screencraft Action/Adventure screenplay competition.
freefall pitch deck
Last week, I got reader notes on the TV pilot I sent to the Austin Film Festival.  This particular festival reads submissions in “rounds”.  If you make it to the “second round” but not the quarterfinals, your work is still better than thousands of other submissions.
Here are the comments on the script I sent.  It didn’t make it to the second round.
Script Title: The Dark Of Night
Category: AMC Drama Pilot
Comments:  A fun period piece read that showcases the writer’s ability to craft compelling, multi-dimensional characters, intriguing plot lines, and a vivid world that leaps off the page.What works? So much. The pacing is on point. The dialogue is reminiscent of the time-period without falling into difficult to read colloquialisms. The plotting is intricate yet easy to follow. The relationship between Sylvia and Madeline is a strong point. A very strong effort by a clearly talented writer.As far as what needs work, it’s difficult to put a finger on. There are moments of dialogue with supporting characters that seem stiff, but it never becomes a major issue. There are also a few moments where the story relies on violence when other choices may feel more original and less repetitive. An example of an area where this happens is p 23-25.Overall, this is a fine sample that showcases a writer capable of working at the highest level. Though the flaws are minor, the story may benefit from more risk taking with plotting and polishing the supporting characters’ dialogue. Very worthy of consideration to advance.
Leslie Bibb and Michael Godere
I have a brand new script about rhino poaching in the Eastern Cape based on a true story called EVERYTHING AND NOTHING.  I haven’t sent the script out much because I thought I would try a new approach this time.  Instead of approaching “the usual suspects” who read my work and often love it but rarely take me seriously as a writer because I still haven’t “made it” I would wait until LUCKY 13 gained more momentum.  A few days ago, when the submission period for the Black List Feature Lab, the Black List Writers Lab for Women and the Sloan Foundation Grant Lab opened, I decided to send EVERYTHING AND NOTHING in and bought two reviews to increase my chances of advancing.
This is the first review:
EVERYTHING AND NOTHING presents a fairly engaging and decently characterized exercise in adventure drama that definitely warrants a degree of recognition for the cultural and social relevance of its subject matter. Too few scripts nowadays tend to focus on the illegal wildlife trade, particularly with regard to the poaching of rhinos for their horns, so that fact this script demonstrates a willingness to tackle such a critical issue head-on definitely testifies to the vitality of its premise. Its South African setting feels lovingly realized and brimming with environmental and cultural detail, especially in terms of the vibrant wildlife that ROXANE encounters along her journey, or the local
traditions of Amakhala Village and its surrounding reserve. Into that framework, this script largely succeeds in illustrating how Roxane’s experiences in South Africa effectively catalyze her character’s personal evolution over the course of the story… particularly with regard to her charged and turbulent relationship with the red mare. The script also excels at developing a mature and nuanced cast of personalities, especially with regard to the strong women it builds in Roxane, LINDA, JULIE, and
ANNIE.
This is the second review:
“Everything and Nothing” is a harrowing and powerful adventure drama with a topical subject matter and an incredible heroine. With an effective blend of facts and drama, the script shows us the urgency and importance of this issue. The stakes are high and the odds don’t always look good, but Roxane is a woman willing and capable to rise to the demands of the cause. She has an interesting backstory, going from jockey to zookeeper before this new position. At times she seems strong as steel, but the script does show her vulnerability as well. In a crucial, telling scene, she opens up to Michael about all
her frustrations, and we can see a woman still wounded in more ways than one. Showcasing the humanity, in such a raw, unfiltered way, of the people trying to save these animals makes for a powerful and engaging experience.
The Black List sends an email blast every Monday morning to executives and producers who pay to see what’s new and how those scripts ranked.  Any script that receives an eight or higher is automatically put on that list.
The first reviewer gave me a six.
The second reviewer gave me a seven.
roxane with rhinos
I love telling stories and I hope my stories will change the world one day.  But after watching a four part series called THE MOVIES THAT MADE US on Netflix I’m less certain than ever that will happen.
In just one example, the writers and producers of DIE HARD  talked about how that film came together.  Jeb Stuart was a tennis pro who wrote the script on a lark.  He had a client who was a producer, and even though the script wasn’t finished, it still got a greenlight despite the fact that nearly every actor in Hollywood turned it down.  Steven de Souza was brought in to punch the story up as they were shooting and now emerging screenwriters are expected to write the perfect script AND answer the question of “why this movie, and why now?” and even though the demand for content is greater than its ever been, fewer and fewer opportunities for new writers exist.  The prevailing wisdom has always been that “good scripts will always rise to the top” but I know more writers with excellent scripts and awards a mile high still working their day jobs because they just cannot seem to get their foot in the door.
A friend of mine recently did a presentation on this very subject and if you haven’t seen it yet I encourage you very strongly to have a look. This is a BRILLIANT insight into what it means to work in this business.
denise hewitt
I’ve come to the conclusion that Hollywood doesn’t lead, it follows.  As someone who loves to tell stories, I’m not sure what to do about that.
That’s not true. I know what I want to do about it. I’m just not sure how to go about making that happen.
In the meantime, I’m taking a break from the rollercoaster to work some new magic on the latest draft of LUCKY 13 and hope that maybe this time, my own story will change.

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