Before The Year Ends — Some Writing News

A couple of 2020 bright spots as we round out the year.

I think it’s okay to mention, as rumors of Season 3 have been public since June. Paul and I got to do this:

Title page from the official “shooting script!”

We wrote in the fall and have heard that the shoot actually happened in December in Atlanta, making this our first-ever produced writing for TV! It’s not for Season 2, which is currently on the air, but for the hoped-for (knock wood) Season 3. I’ll post when they announce any dates!

Also my short story, “Shell,” was selected to be in Volume 3 of this anthology series.

The folks at Kandisha Press are aiming to publish in early spring. I’m starting to hear about fun stuff like Q & A articles and author round-tables, so I’ll share any details I get about those in future posts!

My New Volunteer Gig (brought to you by My Zombie Parents)

Things I don’t love to do:
1) Social Media in general
2) Twitter.

I happily collaborate on clients’ blogs, products, website content — but, thus far, I’ve drawn the line at posts for social media platforms. There are a lot of benefits to using social media, but as everyone who has seen The Social Dilemma (i.e. everyone) knows, there are also a lot of drawbacks to using it. As a writer, I particularly resent the way it pulls my mind away from a project for just a minute that turns into much longer than a minute. A study at UC Irvine (cited by almost any article you read on the topic) showed that it generally takes more than 23 minutes to get your flow back after an interruption like, say, scrolling through a SM feed.

I’m barely surviving my personal social media use: making social media part of my job seems much worse! I once worked on a screenplay for several hours a day for two years and came out strong — but after the screenplay was finished, simply maintaining the social media for our fund-raising campaign contributed to a moment of burnout that caused me to distance myself from the entire project. Last month, I had an opportunity to pitch my services to a client I would have loved to work with, but because her main goals were social media oriented, I ended up referring her to another writer.

So how did I just volunteer to manage a company’s Twitter account? Like this:

During the first week of November, I did my bi-monthly Instagram check and saw I’d been tagged in a post announcing that MY ZOMBIE PARENTS was a November “staff pick of the month” on Scriptd.com.

This was cool! Also, a complete surprise, as I had uploaded the script to the site in 2015. At the time, I’d been asked to upload some scripts by friend of the founder of the site. I don’t have much faith in any database sites. I had recently experimented with the much-touted blcklst.com and later tried Inktip. Both left me under-impressed with pay-to-play listing services. But, it was a friend of a friend, and it was FREE. I uploaded. Then I forgot about it…

Until November 2020 when MY ZOMBIE PARENTS was named a Staff Pick of the Month. That was cool. I’ve always had a soft spot for this screenplay — the first one Paul and I ever worked on together. I would be proud to share/ retweet any accolades it receives on Facebook — which, problematic as it is, is where my IRL friends are because I am old — or Twitter — where the screenwriting community hangs out.

But when I looked, I noticed Scriptd hadn’t tweeted since February. A screenplay database with Instagram, but no Facebook or Twitter? It seemed an odd choice!

Curious, I did some internet research. And came across this talk by the founder of Scriptd, (and my aforementioned friend’s friend) Denise Hewitt.

Watching this, of course, it started to make sense. Social media is time and labor consuming, and judging from this, Scriptd was likely underfunded and under-resourced. Which is a shame, because it’s VERY HARD to get your work seen in Hollywood by those who might help your project or career. Myriad contests and sites that offer to help — but always for a price. Those who have read this blog over time know that I don’t have a lot of love for the profit-making side-industry that has grown up on the backs of writers and their dreams. Not to disparage the good intentions of the blcklst.coms and inktip.coms of the world to connect people — but the fact is that they are money-making ventures and they make money from writers whether or not they help them. Last week screenwriting Twitter was a-twit with bigger writers “gifting” a month of blcklst hosting ($30/month) and reader evals ($75 / feature or one-hour script or $50 / half-hour script to smaller (poorer) writers. I’m not being sarcastic when I say it was heartwarming, which is why I feel like a Scrooge that I have to point out that that blcklst is making their money either way, and that we are all complicit in normalizing the idea that aspiring writers need to make these often out-of-reach monetary investments.

I am skeptical about how often “industry” people (i.e. managers, agents, producers) use any of these databases. Blcklst.com and Inktip are both fairly coy in how they present their accounting, and when I experimented with them a few years back, my investments resulted in description page views in the single digits and zero unpaid script views.

Can Scriptd offer better exposure than these paid platforms? I honestly don’t see how, especially without more marketing to raise awareness. But can it do as well? Given my experience, it *literally* cannot do worse. So, why not?

Because, again… Scriptd is FREE.

FREE. FREE. FREE. For writers and for readers.

As a woman, Denise’s video made me frustrated and mad for all the usual reasons. It made me feel like writing to her and volunteering to tweet for her site, even though I don’t like tweeting

So I did.

And now I’m tweeting for Scriptd!

I don’t know if this will change much — except that I will finally choose and learn to use a social media manager (like Hootsuite or similar), which is useful. And maybe I can help a few writers and actors have more visibility. I’d love it if some of those writers will be chosen for a live-read, or a staff pick, or someone will read their work and give them a boost in some way. That’s pretty much all this business is about.

So, if you have a script, put it up (for free!) on Scriptd.com.

(And if you have money or applicable skills and want to become part of making a MY ZOMBIE PARENTS graphic novel in the next couple years — let me know!)

Some context: My out-of-date Blcklst.com reviews from 2014: Parts One, Two and Three
An AFF review of My Zombie Parents circa 2015.

Who My Third Party Voting Friend Would Be in a TV Writers Room (the Logic Police)

I’m from the Midwest – so my social media feeds are not entirely void of Trump supporters. Their posts can scald, but I have developed a protective layer that prevents me from exploding when I rub up against them. The algorithms must have figured this out, because now I’m being fed more posts from my progressive lefty friend (we’ll call him Stan, which either is or is not his real name) whose feed, as we approach the one-month-til-E-Day at this writing, has become a barrage of doom-forecasting about America’s fate under Biden/Harris rule.

If you have a Stan-like-person in your life, then I don’t need to overexplain the philosophical stance. The gist is that while Trump is a “Capital D” Devil, moderate Democrats are—at the very least—“Small d” devils, and that far too few people have noticed this. Posts from Stan are intended to educate by citing examples of Democrats’ historical sneakiness, posturing, failures and hypocrisy.

These observations are not untrue.

What they are (especially if delivered with enough snark and given wide airplay) is a decelerating force leveled against a group of people who need to move en-masse toward a goal.

What if our political situation was a TV Show?  One of the first things you have to do at the outset of creating a show is break story. Breaking story is charting your map of where you’re going story-wise, and planning the stops—plot points and emotional beats – you need to hit along the way. This is a balancing act, because of course it’s impossible to predict exactly where you’re going to end up, or if every stop is going to work like you’re hoping – but even with these uncertainties in play, in order to start moving you have to drum up the faith that the destination you’ve chosen is worthwhile and that your chosen direction is something that is bringing you closer to it.

Recently I was listening to a TV showrunner, Glen Mazzara, talk about the dynamics of a writers room during this stage.* He says, I understand the scene isn’t working – that it’s cliché, or reminiscent of something, or it makes no sense. I don’t need you in my writers’ room to tell me it’s not working – I want you to help me make it work. The worst thing you can do in the room is be “the logic police” – you’re saying no, you’re creating a negative feeling.**

My friend Stan is the logic police – and I can say first hand, it’s not only a negative feeling, it’s a tangible obstacle. In this case, the time I spent on social media engaging with his arguments and attempting amateur-level cognitive behavioral therapy was time spent at a stand-still –and time that I could have spent writing postcards or phone banking or doing anything else positive or forward moving.

Mazzara also says, I have a rule. That is “do not knock something off the table without putting something else there.

I pressed Stan to say what, exactly, he was suggesting that people should do as they approached the ballot box, given there are no perfect answers. He danced and dodged, until finally, pinned down, he recommended voting for a third party candidate. Which third party candidate? I asked.  He responded, Anything lefty. Probably Green.  He was not proposing any solution, merely a way to “send a message” to the Democratic party.***

Believe me, I have all kinds of rebuttals to this that I’m tempted to provide here, but I’m going assume you’ve seen different versions of most of them on your Twitter and try to stay on track with my analogy.

From the time I first contemplated writing for screen, teachers, writers, and agents have told me, you’re not going to love every opportunity that comes your way, but you have find something in a project that resonates with you. And, I’ve always strongly felt that when you join a team, you have a responsibility to add value that is both energetic and tangible. The network and the studio have bought the Biden / Harris show. That’s the job. Sure, there was a time when I dreamed a Warren show would become a reality, but now is not the time to cry about that. Now is time to beat out the most compelling Biden / Harris season we can imagine and promote the hell out of the pilot to get the numbers we need November 3rd for a four-season pickup.****

Footnotes:

*A cool thing that has come out of the pandemic is that Sundance Collab is temporarily offering a free membership with access to a lot of educational content including the Glen Mazzara masterclass where I sourced his quotes.

**When I heard this, I thought of my friend, writer Dave Metzger, saying something similar at an AMA. He added that another reason logic-policing often receives tepid reception in a room is that, in a group of seasoned writers, everybody already knows there’s a problem. Pointing out the obvious is not a move forward.

***Notably, Stan seems to assume that despite his nay-saying, the Biden / Harris ticket will prevail – i.e. he’s depending on people to disregard his logic and supply him with an improved Little-d devil system that he can criticize . He’s basically that guy on your school group project who maligns you for being an authority-smitten grade-grubber instead of doing any work because he knows you’ll carry him to the “A.”

****If you enjoyed this post, then tune in for Part 2 of this series, tentatively titled, Here’s Why My Infuriating Third-Party Voting Friend is Not All Wrong wherein I will quote Howard Zinn, Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts,” and Jack Epp’s book Screenwriting is Rewriting. It will be published after the election.

My Journey from Contest to Manager to Agent to Paid Writer… Maybe!

Depending on how long you’ve been exploring the business of being a writer in Hollywood, you’ve probably asked or heard someone ask, “How do I get a writing job?” One of the first answers to this is often, “You need to have an agent.” The following question is, predictably, “How do I get an agent?” To which you’ve probably heard someone say,  “Get a manager and  the manager will get you an agent.” Which of course begets, “How do I get a manager?” And the answer is often, “Win a contest.”

So, if you win a contest you’ll get a manager then get an agent then get a writing job. Is this true? Yeeessss… ish.

Does winning a contest get you a manager? In 2011, not long after I graduated from school,  I  won a pretty big contest. It was sponsored by Amazon Studios and had a chunk of prize money attached. Amazon ended up optioning the script, twice. Both times, the executive pursuing the option waxed poetic about how they were going to introduce me to agents and get me repped. Once I signed the paperwork, he never mentioned the idea again and any emails where I brought it up the subject went unanswered. I also probably sent a dozen cold queries citing my contest win — (note that this is pretty much NOTHING in a numbers game like cold queries) and also didn’t get a response. Certainly no one ever sought me out based on my contest win. So I did my day job and allocated my extra time to writing. A few YEARS went by…

THEN, about four years later, I was invited to a party by an old USC classmate. At that party, another classmate introduced me to his manager. A couple months after that, the same classmate heard that the manager had a specific opening in his roster.  He wrote to both of us, recommending me.  So at that point there was a combination of things at work. This classmate knew me personally from school, had read my writing and knew it was in the genre the manager was looking for. AND he knew I had won this contest.  I think the contest win helped give him the confidence to make the referral, because it was like having someone else, someone more important, vouch for me. There’s a good chance I wouldn’t have gotten the referral, or the manager’s interest, without the contest win. But the personal connection with someone who had actually worked with me, who was also connected to the manager (enough to know his needs) was also key. The fact that the manager had met me face-to-face among people he already liked probably also worked in my favor. I think if any of those things had been absent, it wouldn’t have happened. So:

  • Contest win  + Degree from Name School + Referrer familiar with work AND personality + Intangible Group approval of having been invited to party + Writing samples = Manager.

Does having a manager get you an agent? Almost a year into my relationship with my manager, I wrote a pilot script that “popped” more than the other scripts I’d been working on. The manager used this to get me read by two agents he knew. The first wasn’t responsive, but the second was. This agent worked at the same company as a senior agent who had taught a class at USC. I had worked hard in the class, and kept in touch in the years since (without agenda, I’ll note. He had promised he would never rep one of his students, and I believed him). So again — it was a confluence of things… an exciting script, the manager’s relationship with the agent PLUS the goodwill of the senior agent based on the effort I had put in to the class and to staying in touch… and I had the good school credentials and the contest win, AND – at this point a script I had been working on while un-repped had won a fancy prize — a fellowship in Switzerland. As a note, I don’t think the agent particularly liked either of my contest-winning scripts,  but he liked that he could tell people it had won because it made me shiny.

  • Manager + Manager’s Agent Relationship + Senior agent as secondary referrer familiar with my work AND personality + Degree from Name School + Hot Script + Other samples + Contest Win + Fellowship Win = Agent.

Does having an agent get you work? My new agent used the exciting script to get me a “water bottle tour” and  some pitches.  Ultimately one of the companies I pitched became attached and entered into the development process to pitch the series. Everything was going according to plan! However, the project ultimately floundered and didn’t move forward. The exec who had loved it never responded to another email. My samples earned me the opportunity to pitch for some open writing assignments, I got to break stories, go to meetings and give my “take.” Though my take was occasionally chosen, the projects ultimately fell through,  I enjoyed the process. I could feel myself becoming a better all-round writer and pitcher.

There was only one problem:

In the four years of being unrepped + year of having a manager + four years of having both manager and agent (= nine years), none of the work I’d done had been PAID.  All this time, I was teaching, editing, consulting, doing random side hustles and admin work — or going deeper into debt — or both.

Today, as I write this, this seems like it might be about to change. Not in a big way. Not even in a “quit my day job” way. But, in a way that at least breaks the almost decade-long cold streak. (Knock wood — send good vibes!)

To say it is to jinx it, so details must wait for a future post , but I can tell you now that the answer to the question “Does having an agent mean paid work” will be an equation containing a number of factors…