the emergency room psychiatrist looks up from his clipboard
with eyes paid to care
and asks me if I see people who aren’t really there
I say, “I see people…
how the hell am I supposed to know
if they’re real or not?”
He doesn’t laugh
neither do I.
The math’s not on my side
ten stitches and one lie..
I swear i wasn’t trying to die
I just wanted to see what my pulse looked like from the inside.
So, starting a dialogue —-
With eBook conversion peeps to put the new edition of The Screenwriter’s Survival Guide out electronically. Here’s a question. See I’m thinking go electronic first, wait on hard copy. But how many people are going to be annoyed they cannot get the book hard copy? People have told me they are saving space on a shelf for the new edition. What if there is no hard copy, what if it is electronic or bust? Let’s test the waters here. When the new edition of The Screenwriter’s Survival Guide comes out, if you are planning on getting it, how were you planning on getting it? Kindle? iBook? Paperback? Hard cover? Which is your preference?
:::hit the poll:::
I had this sick twisted bastard of a yoga instructor tonight. I swear this guy used to reign over the Fifth Circle of Hell but he was too rough on people so they cast him out and he ended up at my yoga studio. He didn’t just make us do terrible hard things, he made jokes while he was doing it and laughed because he knew how hard the things he was making us do were.
After I limped home and was licking my wounds thinking how damn hard that session was, and thinking, Yeah, but you’ll go back to that guy’s class, damn him, because no matter how hard it was, it was good —
It occurred to me that is quite possibly how my students think about me. I’m not easy. My classes are hard. Some of them extremely hard. I know it. And I make jokes. They are not mean or derogatory jokes, they are basically saying, Yeah, I feel your pain, but you still have to get that knee over that left ear so let’s go. But they are still jokes.
There is a shirt, “I Survived Max Adams’ Structural Writing.” That shirt totally started out as a joke. Except —
People who finish Structural Writing buy that shirt. It’s not a joke any more. That shirt has turned into some sort of medal of honor.
My students come back. But after tonight, I wonder if it is maybe for a different reason than I used to think. Damn. I’m the sick twisted bastard instructor.
How did THAT happen?
Excuse me now, I have to go soak in a tub of hot water.
*Structural Writing is only open to people who have taken previous AFW classes so don’t get all het up and try to jump in there first — I won’t let you — go look at other classes. Like High Concept Writing and The Art of the Pitch. Those are both coming up in a week and are good precursors.
There is this great moment in The Last Boy Scout. This car’s trunk is wired up with explosives and these two guys have to leap over a freeway embankment to escape the exploding car. And they make it, whew!
The blowing up car is blown over the side of the freeway embankment and they have to run for their lives from the spiraling churning burning blown up car.
That’s taking something to the next level. Shane Black is a master of that. It’s not enough to just out jump the exploding car and collapse, all safe from the explosion. Then you have to outrun the blown up car’s flaming carcass when it chases you down the freeway embankment.
Concept is a lot like that. And not to get all metaphoric but I am in that sort of mood, it’s not enough to just have an explosive concept that is great. You want that concept to not just explode, but chase someone down that fucking freeway embankment.
Then if you’re ready to get serious about concept, come sign up for High Concept Writing. We flip cars pretty hard in there.
So here is how this is going to go down.
[It always goes down like this.]
I have these two online classes opening September 18th.
One is The Art of the Pitch. That’s about learning how to pitch a story so you don’t soil yourself in front of a crowd of spectators.
The other is High Concept Writing. That’s how to work on a story concept so it isn’t the first thing that popped into your head that felt clever at 2 AM on a Friday night with a few beers in you — and you just never got around to maybe bringing it up a notch — before tossing months of your life into the sand pit with it.
Both those classes start September 18th and run through October. Right about the time people start showing up at the Austin Film Festival and pitching ideas in the big pitch rally at Austin Film Festival that sounds like a gauntlet to me but I have never watched it in person because it is just too painful to me to watch people crash and burn like that.
What will invariably happen is right about the time these classes are coming to an end, someone [or several someone’s] will email me in a panic, getting geared up for the pitch event at AFF, and want me to drop everything and leap to help [with no time to do it in] with a pitch –- most likely on a concept that wasn’t thought out all that well before starting the script in the first place.
And I’ll say, Look, I teach a class on this, Why didn’t you take the class? That would have given you five to six weeks to work on the pitch with me before this came up. Or better yet, to work on the story so you had a story worth pitching here? Now you’ve got three days, who do you think I am, Anne Sullivan?
[Even Anne Sullivan got more than three days.]
And they won’t have a good answer.
Don’t be one of those people. Go register for the pitch class.
This thing happens with people in my workshop. They start getting lax. Turning in minimums the last day of the month. Phoning in assignments. Like instead of pages, they post a partially thought out loglines [often seriously not thought out loglines] just to get something in by the last day of the month. “Hey, just something I have been kicking around in my head, give me your thoughts.” It can be an escalating situation, this last day of the month thing. But here is how that works.
It doesn’t work.
I have been in the trenches and in this industry a long time. And I can go back in my head through that time and remember everyone who made it.
Jeff Lowell, writer/director. He and I were back in the Genie workshop together. I’d feel all sanguine, “I just sent out 50 queries.” Freaking Jeff would turn around with, “I just sent out 100.” I’d think, “Oh fuck that!” And I’d send out 150. And then Jeff would turn around, “Ha ha! 200!” We weren’t doing minimum. We were pushing each other. And not just in query letters. We one upped each other on reviews, on works posted for review, we were shoving envelopes and the envelopes we saw were each other so that’s what we fought to beat. Every day. Jeff’s worked on more TV shows than I can count on one hand.
Betsy Morris, writer producer. She was in Left Door. Betsy turned in more reviews, regularly, than anyone else in workshop. She helped me with stats. [And stats are the nastiest part of running a workshop, that’s doing math.] She also agreed to be one of the reviewers when I got exhausted reading application submissions. So she was reading, doing math, reviewing, and doing more than about anyone else in that workshop. She’s produced.
Lee Patterson, writer. You know, Lee wasn’t the best at hitting above average minimums. But here is what Lee was freaking doing just to participate in the workshop. His computer was down. His internet connection was down. He was taking a train miles and miles and then breaking into the campus to use the freaking library computers to keep going. Lee won the Nicholl and is on a fast track working at a studio.
Are you seeing a pattern here?
I am leaving off names. It’s late. I could also name off some of my crazy novelists. Toni McGee Causey, [Left Door], Nancy Bilyeau, , Gwenda Bond, [Left Door]. My point is, the people who make it? They’re the people who go above and beyond the call of duty. Every time. In workshops. Writing. Reviewing. Pushing every edge of the writing envelope at every opportunity. And they make it.
When you’re writing in a fictional world your readers do not know, you can get away with making a lot of stuff up. A colony on Planet Saturn in the year 2072? No problem. Wing it. Who’s going to know the difference?
The place you can’t get away with just making stuff up is in non-fictitious worlds your readers do know – and know well. For example, Hollywood or the New York publishing world.
This trips up a lot of beginning writers who write protagonists who are successful authors or successful Hollywood players. (Do not ask me why, new writers are compelled by some law of physics to as some point early in the career write a successful writer character. It’s like animation artists being compelled to as some point animate an evolution sequence. Everyone has to do it at least once and no one knows why.)
If you don’t intimately know the inner workings of the film industry, the publishing industry, or the locations New York or Los Angeles, and try to set a story in these worlds, this is going to kill you dead when you try to fake it because people in the film industry and publishing industry know these worlds intimately and every error you make “winging it” will stand out like a neon red elephant standing ankle deep in a kiddie wading pool.