Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dinner and Criticism

I haven't actually started writing my next spec because for the last few weeks I've been sending out my short script, getting notes and re-writing it. The most help, even more than my writing group, was my cousin Kevin. He works in the industry as an assistant to a prominent Toronto producer, and so he reads a ton of scripts. I asked him to take a look at mine and we sat down for dinner the other night.

Kevin told me that there are two things he does when he gets a script: 1) he looks at the title and 2) he looks at the final page to see how long it is. That gives him an idea of whether or not he's going to enjoy reading it and sets his mood about it. Well, I didn't pass his litmus test as he told me that he didn't like my title, The Hunt, (it's boring) and the "short" script is too long. It's currently 17 pages, and he suggests that I cut it down to 10.

After that, he gives the script about 5 pages to hook him. If it doesn't, it goes directly into the recycling box. 5 pages? I thought it was 10. Fortunately I passed that test, as he said I kept him interested all the way through. He did say that the idea was really strong and original, and could make a great short film, but that it needed work. For example, my characters need to be fleshed out and made 3 dimensional. He also didn't like my opening and thought I revealed too much exposition through dialogue. However, he was crazy about my ending, so that's really good. So, I'm back to re-writing, but I have a definite idea of where I'm going.

Interestingly Kevin told about the difference between the Canadian and US relationships between screenwriters and production companies. With his production company (and apparently most Canadian companies) they don't option a script until they know it's ready. So they'll develop a relationship with a screenwriter, give them notes and guide them through re-writing, and months later when it's ready, they'll option the script. The idea is that we have more limited money in Canada so if they option a script for a year and it takes a year to re-write then they've wasted that money. However they still give the screenwriter money if he needs it, so I'm not entirely sure why they don't just option it (or how agents fit in here?). Apparently this doesn't always work out, which isn't that surprising. Kevin told me about a recent case where he was helping a screenwriter with development notes and over a year helped the writer to craft the story into something really good and got his bosses interested in it, however Kevin's prod co never optioned it. To complicate things, since the writer was an actor, he wanted to have it in his contract that he would also be an actor in the film. Kevin told me that they couldn't promise that - how can you bring on a director and then tell them that you've already casted his film? So the writer took the finished script to a different production company who optioned it immediately and would promise the writer that he'd be in it. Apparently this was a bad decision on the writer's part as Kevin's prod co is one of the biggest in T.O. and now holds a grudge against the writer as a writer and an actor.

Bringing this back to me (me me always me), I've realized that I probably shouldn't write a spec pilot just yet. I'm going to keep writing TV specs (of existing shows) until I can write any spec for any show in 2 months. Then I'll write my own pilot. So for my next spec I'm trying to decide between Terminator: SCC or Mad Men. I realize these are drastically different shows, and that Mad Men is definitely more difficult/complex to write, but if I can nail a Mad Men I think that would be more impressive than a Terminator. And I think I just answered my own question there.

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