I’m one of the interviewees in Maximum Z’s latest article. If you’re unfamiliar, Max Z is an aspiring screenwriter (and a darn good one) who takes time out of his busy schedule to encourage and inform other writers. While he does focus a lot on screenwriting, he broadens his scope to authors and other writers, too, as is the case in today’s post, which discusses marketing. And a lot of what he says applies to all writers and creatives. Definitely worth checking his site out, bookmarking, reading regularly.
Much of the posts aimed at writers (and creatives in general) are bent toward one thing: encouragement. “Don’t give up!” and “Follow your dreams!” and all that. Which is good. Sometimes. But just as important is knowing when to accept reality, when to adjust your sails, or just plain quit.
A year or so ago, a young man wanted to meet to talk about screenwriting. Over Panera, I had to gently break the news that, no, Sony was not going to read his Sonic script. His only interest was in how to get it to them; naturally, he did not want to hear that it was fruitless. And sure, I suppose if he made the right connections and met the right people… But to do that, he needed to either get an internship or write something original that got attention before he could then make a play for a known property. That’s a lot of work, and there’s no instant gratification in that scenario, so he wasn’t interested.
Nor was he interested in anything but his one script. I see this sometimes—writers with “passion projects” that they focus on. A good writer needs passion in order for his or her work to have impact, but having only one script or manuscript is the same as buying only one lottery ticket. You might win, but your chances are better if you buy several. I’m not advocating gambling, but writing is a gamble. You put time and effort into something that may never get published or produced. You’re betting your time will be worth it but, sadly, sometimes it comes to naught.
Your odds get better, though, if (a) you work on more than one thing, and (b) you’re realistic about your chances, the market, etc. That young man with the Sonic script had reduced his odds to nil by having only one script, and that being based on a copyrighted property. At best it might be a good spec sample for people to see his writing ability. But these days specs are less in demand; it’s better to have original content and ideas.
And sometimes you just have to stop chasing the white rabbit. No one wants to hear that they should set a project aside, “trunk” it as some writers call it. That maybe it’s not ready for prime time. That maybe wait for the market to change or… *ahem*… maybe it’s just not that good. Which doesn’t mean the time was wasted! No time spent writing is wasted because practice is so important. But not everything you write is going to be worthy of publication or production. That’s the thing people don’t want to hear or believe. That sometimes you just need to quit and move on.
A long time ago, I wrote a screenplay titled 20 August. It did well in competitions and had a number of indie directors show interest in it. I had several verbal agreements, but of course they came to nothing. Such is the way of the biz.
Most indie directors, I’ve found, want to write their own material. I’ve been told as a writer that I should just direct my own movies. If you want something done right, as the saying goes. But I’m old-fashioned enough not to want to direct a movie. I’ve worked on film sets; I’ve witnessed the hassle. I just want to write and let someone else do the rest.
20 August was designed to be fairly low budget with limited locations. It’s a small drama that examines how the pressure to be successful by society’s standards can lead to misery. I’ll admit that for every two or three people who love the screenplay, I’ve found one who hates it. The subject matter appears to be somewhat divisive. That actually makes me happy because it means the content is striking a chord somewhere. It has impact.
For a couple of indie director friends, I did a short form version at their request. I thought for sure that a short could at least get made. Alas, so far no joy.
I haven’t written anything for screen in years now. Books are easier; movies require a lot of people to say “yes,” but I’m the only one who has to green light a book [assuming I self-publish]. Anyway, my computer won’t run my old Final Draft 8 anymore, and I’m too cheap to upgrade to a newer version. Why should I if my screenwriting goes nowhere?
It’s amazing to me, though, that a script can get so much great feedback, be inexpensive to make, and still get passed over in favor of… whatever else. Someone on Quora asked me whether quality was all that matters in the success of books. I said no to that, and that’s true for movies too. Neither publishing nor filmmaking are meritocracies. The good doesn’t automatically rise to the top. It’s all about connections and being able to sell yourself as well as your work. I guess I’m not so great at that bit.
Still, every 20th of August I find myself thinking about it…
The year is almost over, and my birthday is coming, which means it’s time for me to get introspective or retrospective or something.
Here’s what I accomplished this year:
- Put Brynnde out as an audiobook
- Finished and published Faebourne (in ebook & paperback formats)
- Put Brynnde out as a paperback
- Presented at the public library
- Had 20 August finish in the Top 20 in the Film Empire Fempire Screenwriting Contest
Here is what I didn’t manage to do:
- Find an agent or publisher for Hamlette
- Get any of my screenwriting optioned or produced (not that I was actively looking)
- Finish Changers 2 (which at this rate may never be completed)
- Get accepted to any conferences or conventions
I’m sad about Hamlette, though I’ve since started a rewrite of it based on the overwhelming feedback I received. I don’t know what to do or think about Changers. Or my screenwriting for that matter. Maybe I’ll adapt all my screenplays to prose and publish them.
Aside from my writing life, I had a fairly good year that included trips to Paris and New York. I saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which was a treat. (It’s better on stage than reading it, and Scorpius steals the show.)
Later, in another post, I’ll look ahead to 2019 and what might be on the horizon. For now it’s enough to say that, while 2018 didn’t really set my world ablaze, it was steady and not terrible. Sales were decent, and I’m very excited about my paperbacks, which are beautiful!
How about you? How was your 2018?
Yesterday evening I found out my screenplay 20 August made the Top 20 in the Fempire Screenplay Contest. The news came in a rather surprising way, actually:
Oops! From our Top 20 Fempire Screenwriting Contests, apologies as we left out 20 August by Manda Pepper!
Apologies for the mistake & congrats on making the top 20!
— The Film Empire (@the_film_empire) April 30, 2018
So that was fun.
I’ve been trying to get 20 August made for years now. I’ve had indie directors pick it up and then wander off to do other stuff, which is a bit frustrating. I’ve been told I should just make the movie myself, which is also frustrating. If I could—and if I really wanted to—I would. But I’m a writer. And yet, in the indie world, it seems that’s not enough any more. Indie directors mostly write their own material now and aren’t looking for outside content.
The Good News: 20 August has been recognized yet again as a good screenplay.
The Bad News: I’m not any closer to getting it made.
I’ve often heard, “If you wanted it badly enough, you’d figure out a way.” But life doesn’t work like that. We can want things badly—need them, even—and there’s sometimes no way. People who say there is always a way are the same people who say that if you work hard enough you’ll succeed. And that simply isn’t true. You can work your ass off and still fail. That’s life.
I’m not even sure why I still send 20 August into competition. I guess I keep hoping someone will see its potential and magically pass it up to someone able to make it happen. With the rise of indie Oscar winners like Moonlight, I fantasize that my little movie could also be a winner. But the truth is, I write very few screenplays any more. It’s too difficult to get a “yes” from all the people required to say “yes.” Hell, it’s too difficult to get the damn thing in front of the people who have to say “yes.” Books are simpler.
Still, I had an indie director contact me the other day asking me to write a script for a specific location. Um . . . I’ve written stuff for this director before and he has yet to do anything with it. So is it a waste of my time? I’ll probably never see any money for all the work I’ve already done, not only on stuff for this director, but any of my screenwriting. It’s a losing proposition.
Yet I won’t rule out writing something. Hope springs infernal, after all.
I saw this post on another blog (sorry but I don’t remember which one), and it got me thinking: Which book-to-film translations have I enjoyed? Sure, we all [usually] think the book is better, most likely because there’s a lot you can do with words that is difficult, if not impossible, to film. Inner dialogue, for example. But some books have translated pretty well to the screen anyway.
One I see on many lists—and yes, it’s on mine too—is Pride and Prejudice, in particular the BBC miniseries. Yeah, I love that one, too. Though it took me a while to warm to it because I had a college roommate that watched it over and over again. At that point I was avoiding her and the series, so when I finally did sit down to watching some years later, I found it was quite charming. And I do love Jane Austen.
Another book whose movie I enjoyed is Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. I saw the movie first, though, and then felt compelled to read the book, which was wonderful as well. There is a prequel I’d like to read as well, though I always hesitate when an author revisits a scene after a long break. (See: Anne Rice’s most recent vampire novels, which I just could not get into.)
I’ll admit I liked Interview with the Vampire, too. I have no excuse for why except that maybe it came out at a time when I was receptive to Tom Cruise as an overacting blonde and boy does Brad Pitt look pretty in that movie.
Gone with the Wind is a favorite movie of mine as well. I used to lay on the couch and watch it whenever I was home sick from school. My freshman year of high school, we had to read the book. So, again, this is a situation in which I’d seen the movie first. And I know the romanticization of the Antebellum South is problematic, but Scarlett is such a vivid character that I can’t help enjoying both the book and film.
Another book/movie combo that makes my list: The Ghost Writer. Robert Harris both wrote the novel and the screenplay, so that probably goes a long way toward the two hanging together well. And you know I can’t say no to Ewan McGregor.
Finally, an oldie but goldie: The Haunting. I mean the 1963 version. I love, love, love Shirley Jackson’s novella “The Haunting of Hill House,” and this movie did it justice. Of course, maybe that’s because my friends and I stayed up late one night to watch it and scared ourselves silly. Fond memories can color one’s perception of how good a book or movie really is, I suppose.
What book adaptations have you enjoyed? Maybe later I’ll post about some terrible ones. I think it can be tricky to capture a book well on film, which is why good screenwriting is so important. Some day I still hope to see St. Peter in Chains make it to the screen . . . If and when it does, let’s hope it turns out well!
I have an admittedly complex relationship with the Big 3: Golden Globes, Academy Awards, and Emmys. This is because my goal from childhood was to be among those stars, and as I get older that seems less and less likely.
The far-too-late movement to include more minorities in filmmaking doesn’t seem to extend to the likes of me. Despite much wonderful feedback (even a win) for my screenwriting, I can’t get anyone to take me and my work seriously. Is it because I’m a woman? Or because I’ve aged out? Or just because I don’t know anyone?
This is why I resent the overall tenor of things like the Oscars, where they act as though if you just try hard enough you will get recognized. This is patently untrue. Sorry, del Toro, but you can’t just kick the door open. That door is like a bank vault; you need to be able to crack a safe open to get through it.
Some of my sorrow is my own fault, certainly. I made the choice to have a family, and Hollywood is not family friendly. I’ve worked on film sets; I remember the insane schedules and the gnawing worry about what my next job would be. It’s not steady work or a stable environment. Piss off one person and you may never work again.
Still, as a writer you would think I could at least get a script produced. Hollywood needs writers, right? Well, apparently they only need the five guys who write all the Marvel films.
I don’t mean to sound bitter, but I suppose I am a little. For all the talk of being inclusive, what they really mean is including the women (and minorities) who are already there, not anyone new. Those walls are still standing, that vault door is still firmly locked.
Well, my original television pilot Hunting Victor Frankenstein made it as far as the semifinals in the Creative World Awards. Unfortunately, it was eliminated at the finals. I’m still really proud of the script, and hope it can one day find a home somewhere. It’s written more for network television than cable (and Fresh Voices did call it “worthy of network consideration”), but I do think readers and producers are more interested in cable-style scripts these days. Everyone wants a deal with HBO or Netflix or FX or something, which HVF just isn’t that kind of material. So that may have worked against it.
Mostly I’ve been focused on my prose projects these days, but I still harbor tiny hopes that some of my screen work will one day be produced.
I’ve found this to be so true in my writing life. Either I’ve got nothing or there are a dozen projects going on at once.
At the moment I’m working on the second Changers book. I’ve had some eager readers asking for it, which makes me so happy because it means they really did like the first one. (BTW, the latest Amazon review stated that the reviewer would recommend Manifesting Destiny for fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. How flattering is that?!) I’m also keen to finish my Regency romance novel Brynnde which feels as if it’s been very close to done for a long time now yet somehow just keeps going.
And now I’ve been fielding questions about whether there will be a sequel to Peter. I love that book and those characters and that world, but it didn’t sell very well. ::sad face:: I do think I want to write at least one more book, maybe two, maybe more, and I’ve even started on that process, but I can’t prioritize it at the moment. Still, very heartwarming to know at least a few people enjoyed it.
Finally, it also seems that screenwriting stuff is heating up again after being on the back burner for a while. I have fresh interest in a couple of my scripts and another content creator asking if I’d consider helping her write her series. And another screenwriting project is inching closer to pre-production with talks about potential casting. Wow! Always nice, if exhausting, to be in demand. Make hay while the sun shines and all that.
As we get ready to hurdle Hallowe’en and slide toward Thanksgiving, I have much to be grateful for. This is certainly a feast for me, at least in terms of creative work. Thank you, readers and fellows, for all the encouragement! You feed my soul!