Archive for the ‘Guest Columns’ category

Matt’s Column – “How Do I Write a Script that Attracts an Agent?”

November 4, 2008

Here’s something that will hopefully happen fairly regularly in the future — a guest column from reader Matt. Unlike my previous guest, he didn’t even have to sleep with me to land this gig. He only had to achieve what I and many of you reading this blog dream of: breaking through and making a living in the screen trade. Take it away, Matt…

WD offered me some space to detail the last year of my life when I went from writing my fourth spec (the first three went nowhere) to getting an agent and my first work as a professional screenwriter. This column will be the stuff I wish someone had told me before I was signed and in the first few months of my career. If there’s anything specific you’d like me to address please make note of it in the Comments. Schedule permitting, we’d like to do a couple times a month. Here we go.

The question I am asked with the most frequency is HOW DO I GET AN AGENT? There is no helpful answer to this question. You either get an agent from a connection passing the script along or a manager passing the script along. You get a manager through a very witty query letter or the recommendation of a connection. If you live in Los Angeles and are reasonably extroverted, it isn’t too hard to find someone young and hungry to take a look at your script.

The real question should be HOW DO I WRITE A SCRIPT THAT ATTRACTS AN AGENT? To be honest, 95% of that answer lies within your own talent. You’re either good or you’re not, and no amount of blogs, books, or practice will change that. But many writers, myself included, are probably good enough to achieve some success, but are going about things ass-backwards. So here is my step-by-step guide (with digressions) to writing the script that will get you an agent.

Wait. There’s just one step.

Mark Twain once said something to the effect that the tragedy of most lives is people never do what they’re best at. And it’s the same with most writers, I’m afraid. I believe that most writers are simply writing the wrong script. Maybe it’s because they’re writing for the marketplace. Maybe they’re just scared. But unless you write from the basic, essential core of your writing DNA, a long career just isn’t going to be in the cards.

What is your writing DNA? Thankfully, you can process your own genome with one simple answer:

What is the most important movie in your life? Not your favorite movie, not even the movie you’ve seen the most — I mean what is the one movie that you saw and decided I Want To Make Movies! For Kevin Smith, it was SLACKER. For Martin Scorsese it was FACES. And with both of their first movies, they made stuff heavily influenced by that — Smith with CLERKS, Scorsese with WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR (writing in your favorite genre is something Scorsese sticks to — his next movie, MEAN STREETS, was a re-telling of his favorite Italian movie, I VITELLONI).

Now that you have that movie in your mind, drop whatever you’re working on and write a movie like that. I can’t tell you how many amateur writers — myself included — don’t write a movie like their most important movie. I wrote a kid’s comedy, a romantic comedy and an action comedy until I realized that my most Important Movie was A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. “But wait,” my brain said, “There is no chance anyone would ever buy an ultra-violent satirical fantasia in this day and age.” I was right: no one bought the fucker. But there was so much passion — Kubrick had been so encoded into my writing DNA — and originality (we are most original when we are grounded in the past and ourselves) that it got me an agent and my first job.

Moral of the story: don’t write broad comedies if your Most Important Movie is STAR WARS. Don’t write thrillers if it’s JERRY MAGUIRE. Stop writing what you think will sell. Stop writing what you think people want. Write the exact movie YOU are dying to see.

If you do that, and if you have talent, you will have a career. Because the point of that first script — and by first I mean the one that gets you attention — is not to sell. It’s to attract attention and get you work. And the only way that’s going to happen is to nurture your voice. Go forth!


The Better Half Speaks

October 25, 2008

This is great — I have a blog that I don’t even have to write for anymore!  Okay, maybe not, but as I deal with various issues on the writing and dadding fronts, the wife asked if she could contribute in my absence.  It turns out that she was only joking, but I made her do it anyway.  Take it away, honey…

Hello, it’s the Missus here. WriterDad has been too busy being a Dad and a writer to write about being a Dad and a writer, so I’m stepping in with a guest blog entry.

Of course, once I started writing this, WriterDad stepped in with suggestions. “Tell them about how becoming a dad changed my writing.” Or, “Write about how hard it is for me to find time to get anything done.” Well, WriterDad, that’s why you have a blog — so you can write about this stuff. 🙂 As for me, I’m no writer — my experience is limited to boring memos and captions for our various photo galleries of the Peanut. But today, I’ll be writing about this little star:

So, WriterDad and I are not the most outgoing people you’ll ever meet. You know those people who can just strike up a conversation anywhere they go? Yeah, that’s not us at all. But three and a half months ago, we were graced with the presence of our little rock star, who attracts attention wherever we go. As we left a fine dinner at Chili’s last night, we were stared at, smiled at, and even stopped by a random person, just to look at our little Peanut. It was enough to make the introvert in me want to drop my head and run screaming from the restaurant.

Everywhere we go, we hear comments about the cute baby. Even single young men, ones at an age when they’d rather be nailed to a wall and forced to watch an endless replay of Sex and the City than touch a baby, will smile in the presence of the Peanut. Older ladies have stopped us in the supermarket to look at our little one. Not that I blame them. Who can resist this?

Anyway, the Peanut loves the attention. She doesn’t pass up an opportunity to return a smile to a stranger (just ask the lady at the bar at Chili’s who had a good buzz going on and tickled the Peanut’s arm with her acrylic nails that were desperately in need of a fill). She’ll happily let anyone hold her. (And no, I’ve never let a stranger hold her. I’m not that crazy.)

It’s been challenging at times to have such a little social butterfly. Occasionally I feel a bit like I’m the baby’s entourage, while she’s out conquering the world. But I’m actually getting to a point where (with the exception of the occasional buzzed middle-aged woman in need of a manicure) I enjoy stopping to talk to people about the Peanut. I’m always amazed that people genuinely seem to want to meet her, or say hello to her. I mean, I think she’s the cutest baby in the world, but that doesn’t mean everyone else does, you know?