|04-30-2002, 12:57 PM||#1|
Ruined! I'm ruined!
There is a climate of fear in the ranks…
The Agent hated my script because I used a query letter! I’m ruined!
The Reader hated my usage of pronouns! I’m ruined!
The Producer hated my usage of adjectives! I’m ruined!
Okay, mild exaggerations… (and only mild, in some cases), but you get the idea. I want to address the Fear Of Details!!!
In big letters, THE FEAR OF DETAILS!
So what is THE FEAR OF DETAILS? (for full effect, imagine biblical epic music when you say it out loud). Simply, it’s when you trip over every tiny detail trying to second guess what Readers, Producers, Agents might react negatively to.
This is not just something I have seen on this board. I see it on many boards, I see it in seminars, I see it in e-mail questions I get. I never see it with the people who break in and work. I never see it with the people who Read, Produce or Represent writers. It’s one of the things that separates those that want from those that do.
Okay, I’m not very good at explaining these things, I work better by example. Let me give you a few. And all of these were asked of me or other professionals at seminars.
“Do you prefer action to be written out or just implied?”
“Do you prefer character descriptions?”
“Is it okay to use a form query letter?”
“Two brads or three?”
“Should I use a hard cover or just a regular script cover?”
“What’s the format for phone calls?”
“Is it a good idea to write the title of the script on the spine?
Okay, strange questions? Not really. I’ve heard them all more than once. And the brad question always makes people on the panel laugh. But these are serious questions. And what links them together, as I have noticed it, is that the people on the panel always pause and look to each other as if to say “Anyone else have an opinion on that?” And then someone will speak up and give their preference. However, the pause is important. It’s because we know that most of these types of questions are, in fact, just PREFERENCES. They don’t matter as far as evaluating your work.
Now, there’s a difference between “fear” and “concern”. It is good to ask questions and find the basic format of the industry in all areas. You should always pay attention to those in the know and listen for little keys. Read the posts on this board, take notes, ask any question no matter how foolish you think it might be. But, Jesus, people, lighten up on yourselves! I have seen too many people who are so preoccupied with small details that they are afraid they will ruin their career because they didn’t follow strict protocol!
First of all, something for ALL newbies to remember:
You can’t RUIN your career until you HAVE one.
Just starting out, you are given much more leeway than those actually in the Industry. Some of it is because you are forgiven your faults, MOST of it is because no one has time to remember your name. You aren’t important enough (yet) to devote any brain cells to. NO ONE gets faulted for being amateurish when they are starting out.
Here’s what you will be judged by:
Absolutely amazing. Better than the pros. The script should evoke a visual imagery in the mind of the reader that transports her into your world. A world with fully realized characters on every level, a story that is riveting, and emotions that move.
Confident. Responsible. Direct. Reliable. Strong. Ready to say yes at the right moment, but more than willing to say no when necessary. No hint of desperation. Gives respect and demands the same.
That’s it, folks. There are the magic keys. No one cares if you use three brads or two, it’s not going to count against you. No one cares if you use adjectives in your scripts. No one cares if you FAXed a query letter instead of mailing it.
Now, are there limits? Yes, of course. You don’t want a feature script to read like a sit-com script. By the same token, you don’t want a feature script to read like a novel. You don’t want a query letter to read like a gushing fan letter from some wide-eyed teenager desperate to break in. And you don’t want to send ANYTHING that hasn’t been proofread by yourself at least three times. Correct spelling is considered professional.
But wait, you say, there are still boundaries! How do I know if I have exceeded them? Maybe tiny things to YOU are MAJOR things to Speilberg! Good point. They are preferences, as I said. So here are some things to help you out.
First of all, as far as script format is concerned, get as many PRODUCED scripts as you can and READ THEM! (I am still amazed at how many people say they want to be screenwriters and have never read a screenplay). But take a look at how the professionals write their scripts. There are a LOT of differences in style, but a lot MORE similarities in format. After a few reads, you’ll begin to see which things are written in stone and which things have a wide range of leeway. For example, writing out action. I have seen action written out in major detail, choreographed moves with karate terms (I tend to write this way). I have also read scripts where it says “They fight. She wins.” Well, here’s an area with a wide latitude. So what do you do? Find what YOU prefer within that range. Next, you’ll notice that all the screenplays you read have certain things in common. You don’t CAPITALIZE the dialogue or action descriptions, for example. Okay, there’s a rule that you follow, no latitude there.
Secondly, when you attend seminars, or even on these boards, make a note of what certain people prefer. For example, I strongly suggest that everyone have logbook and keep track of the people in the industry you interact with. If you are at a seminar and you hear me say that I prefer a particular thing, but Paul Jackson prefers something else, make a note in your book. Keep a database of our preferences. And, importantly, keep track of those things that we say we don’t really care about one way or another. Then, when you are ready to approach someone, you can look in your logbook and see what their preferences are. (and, by the way, when you do send in something, keep track of what you sent and any response).
Here’s an example of a log entry on me: “Sears runs action adventure shows, but likes to read character scripts. Values character and dialogue more than action in specs. Would read Dawson’s Creek over Relic Hunter. Doesn’t respond to query letters.”
How this helps you is obvious. But, more than that, when you have an agent, imagine how professional and prepared you will look when he asks you what you want to send Sears and you whip out your logbook and tell HIM what Sears wants to see.
Don’t waste time trying to second guess tiny details with us, folks. When you break in and start working, you’ll realize how tiny those details really are. Remember what we are really looking for:
A great script.
A professional Writer.
As my dad was apt to say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff. Just get the job done.”
|04-30-2002, 05:16 PM||#5|
Excellent post. I've just recently stopped doing this to myself. I would write a query letter and then sit there an analyze the damn thing for 20 minutes, making sure everything was perfect.
That's not a good way to live. Look at the guy who wrote American Pie or whatever movie that was. His original title was something like, "A script that the readers will hate but that studio execs will love."
That's a person who doesn't sweat the details.
|05-01-2002, 08:02 PM||#9|
My thanks for such an important post. We aspiring s/ws need to understand that someone's preference is another man's poison and not to fret about it. And to watch our posts too, esp. in the loglines section.