How NOT to Succeed in Screenwriting

First, spend hours each day lurking on screenwriting message boards or engaging in pointless arguments in those forums about stuff that no legitimate producer, agent or manager cares about.

Second, become obsessed with who’s selling what and analyzing box office numbers — as if it has any bearing on what you’re writing (or more likely, not writing since you are reading things like this blog).

Third, burn bridges by treating Hollywood assistants, fellow writers, and ordinary people with disrespect. I personally have dealt with interns and assistants who wound up being high level execs and produced writers. I’ve also been introduced to movie actors through friends of friends, who had nothing to do with the business. It pays to be nice.

I was prompted to dash off these obvious reminders after witnessing an ugly lynching on a screenwriting site that I actually like quite a bit. Someone re-posted a blog entry by Margaux Froley, who has been on staff of a CW television series — no small accomplishment — and who has also been a screenwriting consultant and contest reader. I know her because when my INUGAMI screenplay was a finalist in last year’s Silver Contest, which is run by Julie Gray, it was Margaux who tried to get my script to agents and producers that were part of their network of contacts.

What set off a firestorm in the screenwriting forums was MF’s casual explanation of how she went through 70-some scripts in a couple of hours, and rejected many after reading just a few pages. Even a writer’s address on the title page was enough for her to pass, given the realities of the TV biz she’s in. And that was the problem: she was honest to a fault. Any screenwriter who’s been around knows what she said is basically true: professional gatekeepers often make snap judgments on scripts or pitches because they have to sort through so much crap.

However, I understood why people were upset. If you pay to enter a contest, you expect that your script will be read — not just skimmed or tossed aside after a couple of pages, based on the whims of one person. In fact, that is NOT what happened with Margaux. She was going through scripts that had already been read and scored in the Silver Contest. Julie Gray asked her to take another look at a batch that had very low scores, because readers are human. They have bad days too or personal biases when it comes to genres they like/dislike.

Compounding the problem was that Margaux and Julie didn’t want to directly answer questions and complaints in those forums, which I think made matters worse. People who tried to defend them just wound up arguing in circles. What was lost in all this though, is that there was nothing to gain by ganging up on Margaux or Julie!

You know what? Margaux will continue to work in the TV biz because she’s a pro who has broken through and gotten paid to write for a network television series, unlike 99 percent of the wannabes on the message boards. And Julie is starting her own production company, so why in the world would you publicly diss her, even if it’s under a fake name? She has legit connections because she’s been a professional reader who has written coverage for studios and A-list talent. People like Margaux and Julie WANT to discover the next big writer or project! (Heck, so do I, since producers usually make a lot more than writers.)

Contest update: As previously mentioned in this blog, my DOLL thriller/suspense made the Top 50 quarterfinals cut of Julie’s Silver Contest (about a thousand entries). Last week, the Page Awards announced their second round quarter-finalists (top 10 percent of over 5,000 scripts). DOLL didn’t even make the first cut in that one. But my LEGENDS OF THE MENEHUNE family/adventure spec advanced into the Page quarter-finals.

Quick Netflix recs: MARY AND MAX, kind of a weird, dark animated film from Australia that I liked because it was so un-Disney-like. Not for kids!

Also liked A SINGLE MAN very much. In Hawaii, our governor who is a twice-divorced Jewish Republican woman — oh, the ironies! — vetoed a bill that would have allowed civil unions for gay couples. I wish she would watch this movie. Love is love… and discrimination is discrimination. Shame on Gov. Lingle for denying equal rights to gay people.

TAKING WOODSTOCK is a low-key charmer based on the memoirs of the guy who helped make Woodstock a reality. Critics weren’t kind to Ang Lee’s film, but I think it plays better on a smaller screen. Oh, and the protag is a quiet, thoughtful, caring gay man who is still in the closet at that time. Hello, Gov. Lingle? Some people like her are still living in the past.

For an old school sports-as-inspiration story, see INVICTUS. Completely conventional, predictable, and yet, ultimately still moving because of one scene I’ll remember: when the rugby team visits Mandela’s cell, and you realize he spent over 20 years in prison… but his spirit couldn’t be broken. Talk about courage — another movie Gov. Lingle should see.

Oldie but goodie: SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON. Reminded me of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, combined with a botched kidnapping and a touch of the supernatural. This would be a good movie to remake and update!

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