Wish I'd known that...

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring;

- Pope

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Screenwriter's whine. (or, why is no one paying attention to my greatness?)

I'll admit to knowing exactly two screenwriters who have had works make it to the screen so let me confine this diatribe to fledglings and wish-to-be's.

To employ a seasonal paraphrase, "Why are writers different from all other artists?".

The question begs the opposite - "and how are they similar?". Musicians and visual artists (the ones for whom the term"artist" was once to me the only appropriate use of the word) seem to have a different relationship with their output. I read writers constant bitching that the one script they've managed to complete, and which is more often than not a polished first draft, isn't setting the world on fire or filling their bank account. I can't imagine a musician or painter considering a single example of their art as the one defining achievement they rest their futures upon.

Of all the creative dabblers, painters have the easiest access to an audience in the form of the community art show. My town hall has one and the stuff is uniformly crap. Perhaps one in a thousand will do the necessary continuous study and repeated work to elevate themselves to the next level - the selective local art gallery and then -?

Musicians might slip in an original song during a set of Dave Mathews staples and classic rock retreads but they too at least have some possibility of an audience. I know painters and musicians and it's never been my experience to meet one who played me one song or showed me one drawing or painting and had the attitude "where's the recognition based on this one thing".

Maybe it's because the only audience available to a beginning writer is either the internet echo chamber or Mom. Hey, writers, it may be the 10th script or the 20th or it may never happen. But it sure as heck ain't going to happen after 1. Get comfortable with the reality that it's a long haul. You might get lucky, and isn't that what American Idol is all about? The overnight sensation? But it's a lot more likely that tomorrow's superstars are driving around in a dangerously unroad-worthy van play a series of one-nighter's in dive bars.

Let the hating begin!

Your sometimes pal, ROger

Monday, January 25, 2010

Finding Your Audience

If you sing a silly song and children laugh and clap with delight, you've found an audience.

If the comedic recounting of your first anal experience fails to delight and entertain, you've not found an audience. And if you're trying out on the same audience who went for the song, you are in big trouble.

Your creative impulse is seeking an outlet. As detailed above, that outlet can manifest itself in a variety of forms.  The creative spirit can find issue through divergent channels. One artist maybe seek expression simultaneously in Music, Dance, Pictorial, Writing. Another through different aspects within a single art - playwrite, screenwriter, short fiction,(gasp) poetry. 

My creative impulse periodically asserts a need for an outlet in Performance. And I have unleashed the spirit at various points along the performance continuum - starting close to home by "cracking-myself-up", through being the center of attention/life of the party (acting out) up to performing onstage before a paying audience.

I discovered that your acceptance by an audience, how they embrace you and for what, may not be entirely under your control.

Going back to the earlier two examples, children's song and anal comedy, an audience, even a receptive one, may not accept a particular performance from you. They may be a comedy club audience, who have showed up for "filthy night", your material may be as ribald and naughty as any, yet they don't accept it from you. You prepared, did your homework, worked on the content, the jokes and the delivery but somehow it doesn't work coming from you.
Something about you and the material, the genre just don't click. When you find your material and your VOICE brings it alive for others, you can feel it working and it's a beautiful thing.
Maybe it's the difference between creating for the sheer joy of it and creating on-demand, even if it's on demand for yourself.

If you are creating to a purpose, most likely a commercial purpose, identifying your audience may be a more murky matter. In the example above of the children's song, make it a children's book, who would you the author logically assume your audience to be? Children? More likely an associate editor in her mid-twenties with a master's degreee in Literature and ambitions to shape the culture as a gatekeeper of what reaches and influences little minds.

Finding your audience always starts with you, with what moves you and in the performance thereof what is most authentic to your strongest impulses.

Here's a quote from Emerson:

"The reason why any one refuses his assent to your opinion, or his aid to your design is in you: he refuses to accept you as a bringer of truth, because, though you think you have it, he feels you have not given him the authentic sign".*

I guess wherever your authors voice finds it's truest efflorescence, it'll mean something to someone.

your pal, roger

*Emerson : New England Reformers

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Learnin' the hard way

I started to write in 2007. I haven't received any payment for a word I've ever written. So I don't call myself a writer. As soon as someone is willing to trade money for what I write, Tada: writer.

Until then, this.


I'm eager to get on with my life as a writer for movies. So eager that I'll take any seemingly legit opportunity that I can either scare up or that finds me by whatever channel.

Last May one found me.

I  got hooked up with a TV pilot writing gig last year by a contact from the world of stand-up comedy. It seemed promising but ended up as a total shit storm for which I will never see a dime. I emailed my 30 Rock spec script to the producers and they liked it.  We took a meeting. Two young people who had a mysterious third partner who was never available to meet. These were the “producers”. They had a legit director attached, a guy who has done a lot of Letterman and Conan segments. He was at the first meeting and that was a big draw for me.


I wrote a 36 page pilot based on their bible and they loved it. I never heard back from them for about three months. Then I get a text saying the project is still on and they have a connection at Lionsgate who loved the project but was thinking of it as a 1-hour project for Showtime. So I expanded my 1/2 hour to a 1 hour which now also featured a new lead character which it was said John Turturro was interested in playing.


I hadn't seen the name director at any of the meetings since the first and so I asked about him. As it turns out, the three “producers” had LIED about having funding, there was no money and the director didn't appreciate being lied to and having his time wasted so they had a big blow-up and director-man bolted. It would have been nice if this crucial piece of information has not been kept from me before I re-wrote the 1 hour pilot AND an additional 10 page "teaser" script - which was all they had the money to film now.


But, they maintained that their connection to Lionsgate was legit and they were going forward with casting and filming. I was extremely pissed off as you may well imagine and was just on the verge of telling these kids to go fuck-off. But then, I went to sleep and awoke the next morning with the thought "maybe this is just par for the course. Maybe this is as good as it ever gets in show biz". And so I decided to see it through to the end - whatever would be the outcome.


They announced that the casting and filming would go ahead as planned.


They ran an ad on CRAIGSLIST!!! The ad stated "Major network sitcom casting this Friday" with a character breakout and followed by the phrase, "No compensation available".


Needless to say the ad was flagged and had to be pulled as total bullshit but not before getting a few dozen responses. So CASTING WENT FORWARD! WITH CRAIGSLIST RESPONDEES!!!


I attended the casting session, which was like being in a bad comedy about , well, casting a movie off of Craigslist. Imagine the worst community theater actors that ever appeared in your hometown production of The Music Man. Some of these people couldn't speak English, some were downright scary.

And best of all, the "producers" had not prepared enough copies of the scenes for all the "actors" to read. And since I was the only person with even a shred of experience I was enlisted to read opposite these hams. The “producers” didn't even have enough copies of the scenes printed for me to read from. One of the  "producers" a small woman with ADHD was actually handing out copy for these people to rehearse outside, then would call them into the audition, realize that I didn't have a copy of the scene to read and would simply switch the actor's scene - "I know you just rehearsed this outside but we don't have a copy for Roger so just read something else". Then the other "producer", ADHD's boyfriend announced that his tiny video camera had run out of batteries - he hadn't even brought along a cord to plug it in.


I left that night feeling that I had just been a party to a terrible hoax. The people auditioning must have also felt something was amiss. Many refused to sign a release as they feared the whole sorry mess would end up on Youtube.


Weeks passed and I finally get an email from ADHD telling me that a "rough  cut" is now up on Youtube and would I look at it and see whether I though it was ready to be shown to Lionsgate.


I looked.


They had simply had all the "actors" IMPROV it. Didn't use a word of what I had written. In fact had completely changed the concept and the characters.


The moral of this story? There are many.


First - Know who you are getting into bed with.

Second - Make sure you have protection.

Third - Make sure the money is in place first.


All good advice for either a screenwriter, or a prostitute.

Your pal,