Last night, I wrote “THE END” to “FOR BETTER OR ELSE”, my first comedy. It’s based on a true story of a bride that wanted to book me to photograph her wedding but she didn’t have a groom yet!
She had a beautiful wedding planned. She had the venue, the orchestra, the florist and was filling out my contract. I asked her, “so when do I get to meet the groom?”.
“Well, there’s a weird story about that” she replied. Now I’ve seen all kinds of ‘weird stories’ as a wedding photography veteran of over a thousand weddings in twenty years. This one beat all. She was 29 years old, and could not bear the thought of being single at 30. She said that she had no problem getting dates (I believed it) but that she wasn’t serious, or focused enough to make it happen. So she decided to set a firm date, and plan a wedding. That would make one serious, alright!
First date: So, you wear about a size 44 regular tuxedo?
She told me that she had become a success in business by a process of goal setting that included; 1) Putting her goal in writing, 2) Setting a deadline for her goal to be met and 3) Putting leverage against herself so that she would make the goal a reality. No better leverage than the thought of walking down the aisle with your father, with no groom waiting!
I turned the wedding down. I’ve been asked many times if she ever got married, and I don’t know. I have tried to look her up, but unfortunately her name is the same as a fairly popular actor, so the search results are a mess. And, that was her maiden name. But the thought of her has never left my mind.
When it came time to write a new screenplay, I pitched two different stories to my agent. Since he’d never see me do a romcom before, he wanted to see how I would do. So I started flowcharting.
This is called a “high concept” story, which means it can be explain in a very compact explanation. “Die Hard – Terrorists take over a highrise” etc. The nice thing about high concept is that the audience knows what they are about to witness before the movie begins.
I had to ask myself, what drives the main character to do something so ridiculous? What happened on the actual planned wedding date? Was there a groom? Did she cancel it (no, if she canceled it – boring movie!!!). So it becomes a series of flowchart branches not unlike you’d see in software design. If one condition is met, then this result. If it’s not, then that result. I simply flowcharted what brought this girl to this crazy stunt, and what happened afterwards.
I have had to have the most intense education in screenwriting in the history of the world. I bought Celtx screenwriting software in June, so I had to learn that (thanks YouTube), then I had to learn a bigger lesson about containing my extremely cerebral tangents. My tendency is to throw in plot twist after plot twist, multiple character arcs all clanging around a timeline. My awesome agent has been probably banging his head against the wall because early drafts tend to be very meandering. He has sent me example screenplays, given me many suggested movies to watch (Citizen Kane, Vertigo, Rear Window, North By Northwest) to get through to me that I need to have one character, with one defect, who rises above that to become a better person or solve a problem.
Vertigo, a guy has to overcome his fear of heights to solve a crime. North By Northwest, a guy is a victim of mistaken identity. In order to really get this concept down, I’m toying with the idea of writing a screenplay called, “The Guy With The World’s Smallest Penis”. One main character. One deficit. Rises above the obstacle to conquer like a hero. (So my guy has a Ferrari, etc). I’d do it as an exercise, I’m seriously thinking about doing that.
Anyway, so while I had to work through the fog of the structural issues of my second screenplay (Firestone) and decipher comments like, “I didn’t know whose story this was…” etc. I went through my third one (For Better Or Else) and shifted emphasis and wrote in some new scenes that further define what’s wrong with my main character. And, at 92 pages, it worked so far.
I honestly honestly can’t tell you ENOUGH to ignore all of the shit that is on the internet about advice about ANYTHING to do with Hollywood. Everyone will say to you, “don’t show your agent anything until it’s really polished” – so I took that advice and wrote and wrote without checking in with him. Yesterday he told me he wants to see my work in progress, so he can help shape it into something he can pitch effectively.
And that is the thing that I had to figure out. How does it work with your agent? If you show him unpolished work, will he drop you? I DON’T KNOW in your case. I have no advice to give to anybody. But with mine, when he saw my first ever screenplay, he told me right away that he wanted to be my agent. When we met in Beverly Hills, he asked me, straight up, “I know you are a very busy businessman, so I would like to know – is this writing thing a serious commitment for you, or just something that could get lost in all of your other activities?”. I told him that I never knew I could write fiction, and now that I know, I absolutely can’t imagine myself not doing it all the time, forever.
With that, he said, “well then, you and I will enjoy your long and successful career together”.
I have ‘teams’ in my organization. I have my creative content team, I have my marketing team, and I have an implementation team. I have the same thing with my writing. I have an editor, an entertainment attorney and an agent. We are all on the same team collaborating. It’s hard for me to break through my meekness of taking time out of my very busy agent’s day. But he has made it pretty clear to me that he wants to participate in my creative process, and developing and shaping my career.
But that’s not advice. If you have an agent, maybe yours is different. YouTube and ‘screenwriter’ websites all say the same thing. Don’t bug your agent. Submit only when ready.
They also say that it takes years and at least eight screenplays before you will even get representation, or be able to pitch to producers. I’m here to tell you that this clearly is not true in my case, nor is the other stuff I’m reading from screenwriting resources online.
The one piece of advice that I think is true, undoubtedly, is to keep on writing. “Writers keep writing”