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What I Learned From ScriptFest/GAPF 2017

This year I have been making a hard leap forward in my screenwriting career, such as it is, by submitting my pilot to almost any screenwriting competition that was accepting original television pilot screenplays. In addition to the pilot I co-created with my long-time writing cohort Alex, I wrote up a draft of a one-hour sci-fi drama pilot as part of building up my creative portfolio (currently plotting out a historical fiction feature and another pilot) and have been submitting it to competitions. After receiving positive notes from Finish Line (a competition that focuses on rewriting and gives entrants pages of notes; an invaluable resource for screenwriters), I was spurred to rewriting and submitting where I could.

Still, it came as a surprise to me the other week when I was notified by email that my pilot had placed in the top ten for the ScriptFest Screenplay Contest, allowing me to attend the annual ScriptFest/Great American PitchFest located in Burbank. Usually these kinds of writers’ conventions are too pricy for my blood and when you’re going up against hundreds of other writers just as thirsty and hard-working as you, it feels like that money and time can be better used to advance in other ways. However, attending the convention with the boon of having placed in a competition was too good an opportunity to pass up, and after some last minute finagling with my work schedule I packed and ready for a weekend in Burbank.

While I’ve attended a few similar events in the past, notably the last two years at Story Expo in Los Angeles, ScriptFest was an incredible experience for me. In addition to getting to attend classes and a private consultation with acclaimed script consultant Pilar Alessandra (whose classes I have attended in the past before with my friend Alex), I attended a class led by industry veteran Carole Kirschner before spending Sunday enjoying a luncheon with industry executives and the fervor of the Great American Pitchfest. After a morning of dealing with anxiety and heavily reworking my pitch approaching, I was able to pitch my work to a few companies and walked away from each 5-minute session feeling very positive about the experience.

While the event was a great success for me and is helping to spur me back into writing mode (after all, this is my first blog update in forever), I left having learned quite a few things that I feel many aspiring writers like myself should heed for events like these.


Go Over Your Pitch Relentlessly

One of the biggest difficulties of screenwriting is taking the world that exists in your head and effectively communicating that to the audience. Sure, every plot point and detail right down to the cereal that background character on page 13 is eating, but the reader can only glimpse your story through what’s on the page. The pitch is similar- your screenplay could be the greatest story in the world, but a garbage pitch is going to make the listener imagine a garbage story. My original logline for my sci-fi pilot was vague and when I described it to Pilar, she pointed out that it sounded essentially like a rework of The 100, a series I have not personally watched but am familiar with.

Of course, the usual writer protests pop up in my mind- “My story is nothing like The 100! The 100 is a post-apocalyptic dystopia story! My story is almost the spiritual antithesis of that!” But the fact of the matter is that if that’s the case, then something’s getting lost in translation; a fact that was reinforced when I pitched the logline to a partner at Carole Kirschner’s class that evening and he got the impression it was a Lord of the Flies-style set-up. I was able to get a few minutes with Carole after the class ended who gave me the advice to focus the logline and pitch on the characters, as that what would best make my story stand apart.

Loglines are something that seem fairly simple but can be deceptively difficult to do well, as not only do you have to describe the premise but do so in a way that doesn’t have people hearing it go “Oh, I’ve heard this one before.” Which leads me to the next lesson….

Pitch From The Heart

I’ve always had difficulty with trying to communicate in unfamiliar situations (I dropped out of public speaking a couple weeks into the semester back in college), and I was extremely anxious about my first time pitching to the point where I considered just forgetting it and maybe trying another time after I’ve rewritten my drafts and built up my portfolio more. Ultimately, I ended up going ahead with it, figuring that powering through it was the best way to go and it would be, at worst, practice to improve myself for future opportunities.

I knew that trying to stick to a pre-made speech or formula would be just asking for trouble- one of my biggest problems with any kind of pitching is that if I fall off the practiced speech in any way, I get thrown off completely and it becomes a mess. Instead, after constantly practicing my loglines to myself (and probably looking nuts to anyone watching), I just decided to go with it and speak from the heart about how and why I came up with my pilot and why the story is so important to me. Anybody can put a story together from a collection of tropes and ideas, but a story that comes from a personal level is impossible to duplicate.

Pitch Yourself, Not Your Product

Pretty much the biggest unspoken question in any job interview, and not just story pitch, is “Do I wanna work with this guy?” When you’re pitching, you’re doing more than just trying to sell a product – you’re building a connection, and in the entertainment industry connections are everything. Cover your loglines and story, but don’t get hung up on plot points or character arcs; focus on why you feel this story matters enough to pitch in the first place. There’s also a very pragmatic reason to veer towards pitching yourself- even if your story may not fit with what they’re looking for, they may see you and decide you’re exactly who they need.

Have A Feature Script In Your Portfolio

Granted, I’m aiming to be a television writer and if you are, too, then you’re probably wondering why to even bother. If you want to write only television, then by all means churn out original pilots and spec scripts like there’s no tomorrow. However, I have heard in the past it’s a smart idea to diversify your portfolio with something else like a novel or play, and if you’re trying to get noticed in Hollywood then a feature-length screenplay may be a wise move. At the Great American Pitchfest, I was pitching to a very niche market with some sci-fi television pilots, but with some rare exceptions just about everyone was looking for feature film scripts. If you’re looking to reach out to the most people possible (almost a necessity in this business), then it may be a good idea to add a feature to that TV portfolio you’re building.
As for me, I’m going to continue building my portfolio and submitting my work where I can. ScriptFest/GAPF 2017 was a fantastic experience for me and I feel it’s kicked off a new phase for my writing career.

‘Til next time!

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Autumn Tidings

I haven’t really had any follow-up in a while, but just to bring everyone up to speed, here’s what’s happened starting with October 1st.

  • My car got worked over by a flatbed, despite being parked and me sitting in it eating breakfast.
  • I managed to smash my small toe on a doorframe and dislocate it, which took weeks to recover.
  • I got bumped down in hours, then finally let go from my job.

All in the span of about 30 days. Needless to say, October 2016 was not a banner month for me. Still, onwards and upwards I suppose. Luckily I’ve been getting myself back into a writing flow with my newfound free time, and have been tackling some creative pursuits to get ready for the 2017 screenwriting season.

Anyway, new stuff coming to Naughty Looks very soon!  Cheers!

 

 

Story Expo 2016

Well, this got pushed back a bit, thanks to still trying to adjust to my new life schedule, but managed to scrape some time together to put some thoughts at my time a couple weekends ago at Story Expo 2016.  For those unaware, Story Expo is an annual event in Los Angeles that focuses on writing and story, and sees attendance from novelists, screenwriters, writers and all types of storytellers (veterans and amateurs alike).  This year was the fourth year of the event, and the second time I attended in consecutive years with my partner-in-crime Alex Willging (follow him over on his WordPress).

While I can still say I’m glad I went, I can’t help but feel the weekend was somewhat lackluster in comparison to the previous year’s whirlwind of activity.  Last year featured many panels, including a few classes by industry veteran Pilar Alessandra, whose On The Page seminar I attended with Alex was extremely helpful in breaking down our original sci-fi pilot.  In addition, the pitch sessions were abuzz with many hopeful screenwriters, all standing in line excitedly supporting each other and practicing their own pitches with each other.

Not only did attendance feel much lower this year, it just lacked the heart of the event I loved in 2015.  No books on sale, no booths out in the hallway, no networking mixers.  I’m not sure what happened that caused attendance to drop or if something happened behind the scenes that cause the event to scale back, but I just can’t help feeling it was a wasted opportunity.  Regardless, I still registered for the event next year, but I’m going to make an effort to attend other events for networking and such as I think Story Expo no long holds the appeal it once did.

Despite all that, there were quite a few panels that made me very satisfied with my decision to attend this year.  The two standouts were a class on nailing the all-too-important first 10 pages of a story with DMA (I caught a class at the Expo last year, and highly recommend her if you get the chance), and a sci-fi genre seminar from long-time script doctor Peter Russell which I enjoyed immensely.  The sci-fi class was in particular of great interest to me, not only for bringing up Battlestar Galactica as an example of great science fiction in modern television but because I’ve co-written a sci-fi pilot with my friend and am aiming to break ground on a new one.

All in all, I had a very good time.  Even if Story Expo itself didn’t impress as much this year, it represents something even more important- a fresh start towards the dream.

Until next time!

Back in Town

So it’s the tail end of an incredible week in Mammoth Lakes with the family, after a drought of a full family vacation for nearly 10 years.  But now we’re back home and everyone’s moving back to their respective homes and lives.  Anyway, I was not able to get to my planned postings before heading out for the week so I’ve been pretty much a non-entity in that regard, which I plan to change.

Keep on eye on my other blog for a piece bearing my thoughts on a certain infamous film I may or may not have caught a viewing of up at the Minaret Cinemas.

Couple of Things

So I’ve gotten my new entertainment blog up and running and I think the new direction has really helped me focus with my writing seeing as how I’ve actually written multiple pieces somewhat regularly, so huzzah.  But good news: I have a new job!  I got a position at a website creation company right in town where I’m working as the new content writer and project coordinator.  It’s a small office, the people are great, and best of all I finally have a job that’s tangentially connected to my career path.

The best part is that even though it’s full time, the short commute gives me time outside to focus on my creative work.  It’s not my dream but it’s what I need right now.

Next week I’ll be going up to Mammoth on vacation for the first time in maybe a decade.  In the meantime I’m planning to schedule a few blog pieces on a couple comic runs done by Geoff Johns, who got promoted to President at DC Comics this week.

Ciao!

New Entertainment Blog!

So I decided to create a new blog to use for all my entertainment-related examinations that should help to give me more focus in creating writing content.  Check it out over at Naughty Looks!

I’ll still be using this blog piece for more general thoughts and life-related stuff, but I’ll be sticking to a much more strict posting schedule over at the new site.  See you there!

In Memoriam: Darwyn Cooke

So I’ve been letting this blog get away from me again but after hearing about Darwyn Cooke’s passing in the last 24 hours, I knew I had to write something about the man who created one of my favorite graphic works.

Back in 2011, when I was just getting into comics and trades, I attended the San Diego Comic-Con for two days after greatly enjoying a day at the event the previous year.  DC’s New 52 project was just getting started and many writers were going to be present at the days I was attending.  I had bought and read both volumes of  DC: The New Frontier and was excited to meet Darwyn Cooke, who created the series as both the writer and the artist.  While most western comics are done as a collaboration between a writer and artist dedicated in their respective fields, Cooke excelled at both and crafted a story that serves as a tribute to DC’s comic lineage.  Cooke was a very gracious person when I met him (anyone willing to put up with me is by default) and I got to speak with him very briefly about the merits of a story like The New Frontier making it easy for a comics-illiterate like me at the time to get into these characters without 60-70 years of history or baggage (I’m a massive casual, so sue me).  He signed both volumes, which I have on my bookshelf behind me as I’m writing this, and I went on about my day.

I’d have never considered that less than five years later, I’d be writing about him in the past tense.

After news broke out that Cooke was going to be starting palliative care for cancer, he passed away overnight less than a day later at the age of 53.  As someone whose family comes with a history and genetic predisposition to cancer, my heart goes out to his family and loved ones in this trying time.