Indians and Screenplays and Research, Oh My!

Just a quick update. Right now I’m just doing simple Internet research on Native American tribes in the Washington area. The producer who optioned my script lives in Los Angeles but she grew up in Washington state so she thought WA might be a good place to start to try to get some Indian funding for my Native American-themed script.

It’s really exciting to actually be working on getting one of my films made. Who know if it will ever really happen but it sure is fun to think about – especially with this script. This one was actually the first script I ever wrote – 15 years ago – and it’s been through a lot of changes since then. One thing that has always been the same is that it is about an ancient, magic cave that grants wishes.

I went to the Museum of Natural History last week and they had an exhibit where you could essentially walk inside a pretend cave and look at the carvings and painting of ancient man. It gave me chills just to stand there and look at this cave. It was almost like being on a movie set. MY movie. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to walk onto a movie set and see my creations come to life. I would probably just stand there and cry.

I am really proud of the fact that I never cared about making money or becoming famous as I writer. I really don’t even think about that very much. It really is the sheer love of doing what I’m doing. And that really does make every day a dream come true for me.
Gotta go. My characters are waiting.

Success When You Least Expect It

I have found that success rarely happens when you want it the most. So often, it happens when you’re not even thinking about it.

I think all of us Wannabes have days where we feel down. We feel like “it” will never happen. I’ll never see my screenplay produced. I’ll never sell a novel. I’ll never get the chance to perform in front of a big audience. Whatever your dream might be. Those days are tough. Those times when you just think “What if it never happens?” What if my dream just doesn’t come true? Those days are hard, but we slog through them and soon we get to better days where, sometimes for no reason at all, we feel better. We feel more optimistic. Right now I have a few nonfiction proposals for the Wannabe book submitted to agents, a novel submitted to a publisher, and a few screenplays under review. Something could happen with any one of those things at any time, right? Right??

I finished a screenplay last summer, a sort of adventure story for 9-12 year olds about an ancient magic cave and the ghost of an Indian boy. The script was called RAIN ON THE WATER. When I finish a script, after I’ve had it reviewed / revised a bunch of times and I feel it’s ready, I send a query letter out to as many producers as I can find – most of them from the Hollywood Creative Directory (HCD). It’s a big directory, but still a finite list. After I’ve exhausted the list, that’s about all I can do with the script. If no one bites, I move on to the next script. If I send out 300 queries, I will get about 30-50 responses. About 45 of them will be NO. Last summer, about 6 companies asked to read the script. One or two wrote back and said they liked the script, but not enough to do anything with it. The others I never heard back from. If you don’t hear back for 3-4 months, it’s a pretty safe bet they’re not interested.

Or so I thought.

Eight months later, in the middle of an ordinary, boring day, I get a phone call from a producer in Los Angeles from Runaway Productions. She wants to option RAIN IN THE WATER to try to get the movie made. Though I wouldn’t call this my Big Break, it’s a big deal. Right now, the producer is trying to get funding to see if we can make this thing happen. The script is now under contract until July 1, unless she extends the option longer.

Sometimes things like that happen when you least expect it. When you’ve all but forgotten about a particular submission or you feel it’s been too long – you should have heard back from that audition by now so you figure you didn’t get it.

You might just get a break when you least expect it.

Don’t Give Up.

Stay Tuned.

The Best is Yet to Come.

When the Real World Intrudes

I wrote the following entry a few months ago. It was before the Wannabe website was up and running, but I wrote it because I needed to vent and I knew it would be posted as a blog entry eventually. Thanks for reading!

Today is not starting out well. I woke up at 3am and couldn’t go back to sleep. I seriously considered going down to my office in the basement to get some writing done, but thought the better of it and just lay there for a long time until I fell asleep. I woke up at 5:45 am, which is later than usual. I got up and ate breakfast and worked for less than 20 minutes when my five year old son woke up. I can just feel the frustration building and building inside of me. I never do get used to that feeling. When the kids were younger, it was even worse because they woke up even earlier and were even more demanding. The second they woke up, it was GAME OVER. I had to stop whatever I was doing and change diapers, try to quiet a colicky baby, feed my son, dress my daughter. How I hated being torn away from my writing. It was awful. It’s still awful. After sleeping until 7am or 7:30 for a long time, my son has been waking up at 6:30am again. I swear to God, I don’t care if it’s 2am. The next time I wake up in the middle of the night, I’m coming down here to write in goddamn peace and quiet. On days like this, I feel like I have to get up at 2am just to get any time to myself. I love my kids. I really do. I hate that no one really understand how desperate my need is to write. No one I know personally, anyway. This morning I was working on drafting the overview of the proposal for the Wannabe book. It’s a fairly emotional piece as I try to describe what it’s really like to be a Wannabe and how we Wannabes need and deserve a book like this. I need to think. I need to feel. My son is adorable in his pajamas as he keeps running in and out of my office. I love him so much, but it hurts not to have this time to myself. I mean I can physically feel the pain of being ripped away from my computer. That will sound stupid to a lot of people. But I have a feeling that many of you understand. I spend most of my time doing things that are not writing. I work a day job five days a week. when I’m not at work, I’m doing laundry, helping with homework, paying the bills, cleaning the house, making dinner, making lunches, doing dishes, and a million other things. That’s why I get up at 5am just have some time to do what I really want to do. What I need to do. But it doesn’t work. 5am isn’t early enough. The real world still finds me there. There is nowhere to run.

What’s Better Than a Beer Buzz?

Good buzz about my blog and website, or course! Mailing out flyers to professors, etc. is pretty expensive so I have taken to emailing people instead. I will only attach the flyer at their request so as not to trigger the spam alarm. Anyway, I found that emailing works much better and I’m getting a much better response. I am going through all 50 states – choosing a college and finding an individual English professor to email about this website. After all, professors teach an awful lot of Wannabes and I’m hoping they will pass on the information to their students. I would love to see Wannabes use this forum as a place to discuss their experiences and realize they are not alone in their struggles. To me, even the most supportive non-Wannabes never quite understand the pain of rejection and never quite get as excited about the little victories as I would like. Other Wannabes understand that you can work a long time with very little progress, so when you get a nibble, it’s a big deal!
I had a victory already this morning. I sent out about 10 emails yesterday about the site and so far got 2 responses back. One is from professor and mystery author Carolyn Haines who told me that she likes to support Wannabes and she will put the information on her personal facebook as well as a fiction writing website. Score! Win! The other response was from another professor who asked me to send her the flyer as she is a Wannabe herself. Double Score!
Like any project, writing or otherwise, it can take a long time for success. This website and project has been months in the making, and it’s exciting to see it starting to grow, one day at a time.
P.S – Just got word that my FAVORITE comic/ musician is coming to the area in 3 weeks and I just got tickets. Saw him in November and can’t wait to see him again. Wahoo! In preparation for my Wannabe book, I have been collecting success stories from former Wannabes. This is his story: Stephen Lynch worked for years playing his music in small clubs in and around New York City. He was working in a temp agency, making photocopies and getting coffee, when he got a phone call from Comedy Central. They asked him if he wanted his own half hour comedy special. To date, he has released four musical comedy albums and tours internationally to sellout crowds.

Starbucks Hates Me

As I continue with this blog, I’m sure I will write a lot about the rejection that comes with the territory of being a Wannabe anything. I suppose writing a blog that no one reads is a form of rejection…right? To be fair, this site is still fairly new. I’ve done what I can to promote it and I hope to do more. I’ve sent out 50 cover letters with Wannabe Pride flyers to 50 college professors (one in every state). They are mostly theater and drama professors – I figure they deal with actor Wannabes on a daily basis. I asked if they would please share the website name and maybe put up the flyer on their department bulletin board. I’ve sent press releases to 50 newspapers, but I doubt any of them will print anything. I’ve sent some information to 50 arts councils throughout the U.S. And finally, I’ve hung up flyers on several community bulletin boards.
Speaking of rejection, Starbucks took the flyer down. It made me laugh because I knew that was something I could use in my blog – but Starbucks? Really? They like to think of themselves as this uber-trendy, hemp-wearing, avant-garde joint where you can hang out, bring your laptop and work on your novel, participate in pretentious meetings to discuss art, have an after-theatre-performance party wearing all black leotards….and they took down my artist support group flyer.
The honest truth is that I don’t mind if people don’t read my blog (my thinking is – who am I and why should you care??) What I really want is to see other Wannabes use the message forum on this site. I want it to be a place where you can rant and rave and celebrate and bitch to other people who totally understand what you are going through. Only another Wannabe can understand what drives us, how hard we work for success, how much it hurts when we fail, and how goddamn brave we are for going into the fire over and over again. We put ourselves out there – in the form of submitting our writing or auditioning or whatever – knowing full well we are going to get rejected a lot more often than we get accepted. It’s like going into a boxing ring and knowing you are going to get knocked down, but you charge forward anyway. It sounds melodramatic to put it like that, but real Wannabes know that’s exactly what the experience is like.
So if you’re a Wannabe – don’t give up. There are plenty of people out there like you, and it isn’t any easier for them than it is for you.
P.S. If you’re a Wannabe, Starbucks hates you. Hey, why should I be the only one to suffer rejection?

Scary How-to Books

Though I try to read as many How-To books as I can, I find it very stressful sometimes. I want to make sure I come across as a professional, so I read lots of books about screenwriting and novel writing so I know what to do and what not to do. I find these books stressful to read because sometimes they tell me more than I want to know. Things I would rather not think about. Though it’s not really the conventional wisdom anymore, experts used to warn you that you absolutely had to live in Los Angeles to make it as a screenwriter. Once in a while, people still argue that it’s still true, even with the advent of the Internet, faxes, and all the other newfangled stuff out there. I hate that argument. It scares me. I’m always afraid that it’s true. I can’t move to L.A. I won’t move to L.A. Can’t because I have a husband and kids here, plus a claustrophobic mother who wouldn’t be able to get a plane to come visit. I wouldn’t move anyway. I’ve heard too many horror stories. Everyone says people there really are plastic surgery-enhanced walking Barbie dolls who are so coked up and drunk that it’s a wonder they can even speak, let alone act or write. I’m still convinced that a big earthquake is going to hit one day and the whole state of California is going to break off and float away into the ocean. (Seriously, people! Nobody seems to heed these warnings about CA, even with the recent tragedy of epic proportions in Haiti. Noooo, it can’t happen here. This is Hollywood!).
There are also plenty of stories about people who DO move to L.A. – then move back. Moving to the West Coast might get you more connected to the right people. Or it might not. You can move there, get a job, and then it’s kind of like….now what. I’m here! So….ummm…You’re there with about a million other people who moved out there for the same reason you did. There are only so many studio jobs that are available. And to get THOSE jobs, you have to know people, too. I’ve always felt that if I’m not going to make it as a screenwriter, I’m going to not make it right here on the East Coast. Here where I have family and friends and support and a life outside of the harsh world of screenwriting. Still, it scares me when people say moving is a must.
Those how-to books either offer harsh truths or sometimes sugarcoat things so much that I don’t know what to believe anymore. Screenwriting books like to harp on Passion. If you are just Passionate enough about what you are writing, it will shine through and everyone will fall in love with your work. If you love it, other people will too. They also like to say that Hollywood is always looking for fresh new ideas. However, everyone knows that many of the movies that come out are old, recycled ideas with very little passion. It’s hard to imagine anybody feeling a deep passion stirring within their soul to the point where they simply had to write that story about putting The Rock in a tooth fairy dress….
Screenwriting books also like to convince you that 99.98% percent of the scripts written are truly rotten, so yours is sure to shine, right? They say that at least 80% of screenplays submitted to contests are pure garbage, so naturally yours will have a great shot! No so, in my experience. A perfect example – the Slamdance screenplay competition had this to say about my script “This is a very well written script. I thought it was interesting and entertaining. The structure of the script is well planned and carefully carried out. The writer does a very good job of interluding upcoming plot points, having them unfold in a truthful and consistent manner, not comprising her characters. I can’t see that there is very much room for improvement.” Not much room for improvement should mean it’s pretty damn good, right? The script was not in the Top 50 Finalists, so clearly at least 50 were better than my pretty damn good script. I have also gotten letters and emails from producers telling me that they really enjoyed my script. Some of them even provide some specifics on what they really liked (as opposed to form letters), yet somehow they still passed on the script. Seems to me that they must be reading a lot of scripts that are even better than my “pretty good” scripts.
I write with plenty of passion with ideas, at least in my opinion, are original or at least have not been done too many times before. So far, no dice. I guess it’s best to keep in mind that these how-to books are out to sell more books. They have to tell you some harsh truths, yet not make it seem so impossible to break in that you want to kill yourself. It’s their job to tell you – “You, too, can make it!” Those books like to build you up to the point where you think that you’re the exception. Most of the other writers out there are no good, but you! You’re different.
It’s been my experience that there are plenty of good writers out there. More than they claim. More than you think. There are about 50,000 screenplays registered with the Writer’s Guild. Sometimes I think I have to be better than all of them or I will never, ever make it.
I don’t want to end this entry on such a down note. There are plenty of things those books are wrong about. They tell you that your first screenplay will never be any good. You won’t get anywhere with it – that one’s just for practice. I optioned the first screenplay I wrote when I was 19 years old. True, it was just a “free” option, but it was with a real production company in Los Angeles. They sent the script to Disney TV and Showtime and a few others.
The books will tell you that you will never get anywhere without an agent. I didn’t have an agent when I optioned my script and I still don’t.
The books also tell you that agents won’t bother with you until you’ve written a stack of scripts, if even then. I have found this mostly to be true. However…when I sent out my very first batch of query letters to agents, I bought a brand new picture frame. I was all ready to frame my first rejection letter. The very first letter I ever got was a YES. Sure, Ms. 18-year-old first time writer with only one screenplay under her belt, go on and send it! We’d love to read it! Things don’t always go the way they’re supposed to. Nobody who was ever diagnosed with cancer, got hit by a bus, or won the lottery, ever really thought it would happen to them.
I think it’s like William Goldman says “Nobody knows anything.” Who know why a screenplay sells? Who knows why it doesn’t place in a contest? You can’t predict these things. So I don’t try. I’m gonna write what I want to write with all the passion that I can muster. That way, at least I will be happy while I’m writing. That part is a guarantee. That part I have control over. The rest is up to chance. Success doesn’t happen too often to Wannabes, but you never do know when it will strike. I have the following quote hanging up in my office, just above the box where I put my acceptance letters:

But once in a while, the odd thing happens
Once in a while, the dream comes true
And the whole pattern of life is altered
Once in a while, the moon turns blue.
– Arden