An update

Before departing for Turkeyland via Stuffing Heights, Potato Prairie, and Mt. Cranberry, I wanted to make a quick update. A few weeks ago I posted the entry Chasing Rejection where I dove into the sexy world of statistics regarding my submissions. Well, I’m happy to report that because of the reading series last week, my success percentage has jumped north of 14%, up from 13.79%.

So, in a week where little progress is happening with any of my scripts, I will take this small victory in stride and be thankful. Maybe by the end of the year I will be over 15%. As long as I keep submitting and keep writing, then I will be continually moving forward.

Enjoy the long weekend. I will remember to enjoy the time I spend away from work. We’ve all earned it.

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Critiquing the Critique

This week there was a staged reading of my play America’s Brightest Star at Play Club West, a group of dedicated actors who meet once a week to read scripts out loud to an audience in a small theater in North Hollywood. They read well known plays, movie and TV scripts, but often try out unproven works. All of their readings are cold, without any advance rehearsal. This is the first time this script has been heard out loud since a full production at Railroad Playhouse in Newburgh, New York over a year ago. It was refreshing to hear it with a completely different group of actors, and being that it was a cold reading, there was no pressure to tweak the script or rehearse. Just pick it up and go.

10 brave actors and 1 satisfied writer

10 brave actors and 1 satisfied writer

The reading generally went well.  The small audience, as well as much of the cast, laughed throughout, which is good since it is a comedy. Some of the actors were not great, but there were some who were extremely talented and brought a lot of depth to a cold reading. Then, the post show discussion began.

Critique sessions can be very informative, especially once you are able to determine what is good feedback, and what is not. After a reading, people are entitled to offer their opinions. An outside eye is always good. It’s crucial; eventually all work is seen by outside eye exclusively. Critique sessions can be overwhelming, but over time I’ve learned how to immediately recognize what is helpful, and what is not. There are roughly three different types of feedback respondents.

Ignorant commenters, or those unable to see the forest for the trees. Readings can be dull, and certainly hard to visualize. It’s just people talking. Some script details can be easily overlooked. A good portion of feedback are in the form of questions that have already been answered in the text, or in stage direction, but ignored. For example, at this feedback session one person commented that the play needed a moment when the protagonist and her love interest reveal to the audience their desire for each other. In fact, that moment already exists. But it’s unspoken, and the person commenting couldn’t visual it from words on a page. But it most certainly was there, and audiences who saw the show last year had no doubt about the spark between the characters.

The rewriter. This person can be dangerous, unless you recognize it right away. They may like or dislike your script, but they wish it was slightly different and are not afraid to tell you what they would rather see. These people are basically saying “if this was my script, I’d…” Anything said after that point can be ignored…unless you really like where they are taking the script. In that case, have them sign a waiver saying they won’t sue you for a co-writer credit, and make the changes. But generally, those notes aren’t helpful. This isn’t their script. Their idea might be fine, but it’s not mine. One example: a commenter said that all characters other than the three leads should be eliminated. Why? Because that’s the play they would rather see. Well, they can go write that play. It’s not what I want to write.

The dramaturg. These people are why you do readings. Good script dramaturgs at readings can be actors, directors, designers, or…well, actual dramaturgs. Someone makes an insightful comment that makes you look at the script differently. These notes are the ones you need to take to heart when rewriting. A few people commented that the lead character was not invested in her town, the setting of the play. Right on. This is something that I ignored or couldn’t put a finger on throughout the entire production process last year, but to hear a person give this note in a particular way opened my eyes. They didn’t give me the solution and tell me what to write, only pointed out what was missing. Hearing notes like this one proves that the reading process works.

So thanks, Play Club West! You opened my eyes and improved my script. And that’s what this was all about.

A Terrifying and Inspiring Fact

Sitting down to revise my script Closure, and the usual demons creep up my back, perch on my shoulder, and whisper in my ear:

  • The script isn’t good enough.
  • Who would want to watch this?
  • Where are you going to get the money to make this movie?
  • If you get the money, are you ready for weeks and months of 14 to 16 hour days?
  • If you finish the movie, what if you get rejected from every film festival?
  • What if you don’t get a distributor?
  • Are you ready to let everyone down?

Yes, my demon’s speak to me in bullet points. They are very anal retentive and organized.

So to distract myself, I troll the internet and find an article on the new Jack Nicholson unauthorized biography. I’ve always been a fan of Jack Nicholson. We have a lot in common: we are both from the east coast, we share a birthday (albeit 35 years apart), and we’ve both had a torrid relationship with Anjelica Houston. Okay, only two of those things are true.

In the article I read about his big break, which was in Roger Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors, a b-movie that inspired the musical Phantom of the Opera. Kidding! Anyway, the terrifying and inspiring fact was not that his very memorable scene was improvised, or that decades later he turned down Hannibal Lecter and Tom Cruise’s role in Rain Man, but this nugget about the shooting of Little Shop:

The entire film was shot in two days on a micro budget.

"Two days? That's crazy!"

“Two days? That’s crazy!”

Let that sink in. Two days. And one night. And apparently, a few reshoots weeks later. But still, that’s a weekend. That’s getting started Friday after work and wrapping in time for a leisurely dinner on Sunday evening. Sure, the movie is not great, and looks cheap. If you’ve seen the original Little Shop, you know that it does not rank on anyone’s top ten movie list. But imagine what one can do with better, cheaper technology and even a little more time.

I’m not advocating that I rush through and slap together a movie. But I need to heed a lesson from Roger Corman and many other low budget filmmakers, and those good folks at Nike: Just Do It. If I can spend two days watching a marathon of Louie episodes, I can spend at least two days making a movie.

Stop making excuses for why I shouldn’t bother. Just keep moving forward. One step at a time. Revise the script. Then have another reading. Then see where to go from there. Don’t worry about committing years of time. For now, focus on how to fill two days.

Demons, begone!

Chasing Rejection

It’s one thing to spew out words on the interwebs. Hold a mirror up to myself, navel gaze, and tell the world (the world being the dozens of you who still read this blog). It’s another thing to follow through.

But I did! Take that, haters. As discussed in my previous entry, I continued to pretend that I had pressing deadlines. In fact, I had another big submission to do and finished it earlier today. Now I have another big deadline next week. Even though my chances of getting accepted into these festivals or conferences or workshops are long shots, it still gives me immense satisfaction to finish the job. Putting the big envelope in the mail used to be such a cathartic moment; now, of course, hitting send on the online form almost gives the same feeling. I have kept a log of all my submissions for the past 9 years.  By “submissions,” I consider festivals, publishers, competitions, and theaters with open submissions. I don’t count film and TV scripts to producers and agents, as those submissions fall into a grey area. I also don’t count collaborations, jobs for which I am hired, or other freelance gigs that come from networking (which is a lot).

So how do I measure success? Not necessarily by victories alone. If I apply to a prestigious event, for example the O’Neill Playwrights Conference or the Nicholl Screenplay Fellowship, then I consider it a success if that script makes it to the semifinal level. Or if I make honorable mention or runner-up in a screenplay contest.

I keep these stats in a detailed spreadsheet so I can track and follow up on everything, minimizing what falls through the cracks. So what’s my success rate? Well, that’s private.

Unknown

Oh, who am I kidding, blogging is about revealing all your private details, right? I’m also wearing grey Hanes boxer-briefs right now, FYI. So what is my success rate?

14%.

Technically, 13.79%…but I’m an optimist.

For every 100 scripts I submit (and believe me, that number jumped north of 100 years ago) only 14 times am I successful, by my own definition of success.

That means that for every 100 times I sit down to prepare a submission, which takes anywhere from 15 minutes to days of prep work including writing support essays, getting recommendation letters, and last minute script revisions, I am rejected 86 times.

Got that? I AM REJECTED 86% OF THE TIME. A .140 batting average would not get me to the majors.  Making 14% of my free throws would get me cut from any basketball team in any league. Getting 14% of the vote would certainly not get me elected to any political office, not even Florida in 2000.

But in my world, 14% makes me a success.

Why? Am I delusional? Only my imaginary friend Wallace knows that for sure.  But I know there are many factors in why someone gets rejected, and often it’s luck. A few months ago I got a very nice rejection letter from an artistic director at a theater in Ireland who said they absolutely loved my play Broad Daylight, but already had a similar play slated for their upcoming festival written by a local writer, and they favor local writers. A rejection, right? But not really.

Because I’m putting it out there. I’m putting myself out there.

14% success is better than 0% success. Because only not trying is failing.

So now, with each deadline met, with each application out in the mail (or e-mail), I pat myself on the back FOR A SECOND and say, “what’s the next deadline?” And I start up again.

And that’s how it’s going to go. There is always another festival or competition to enter. There is always another draft to finish. There is always another script to begin.

I have to finish this blog entry now. I have many more rejections to chase.