Silly Little Rules
As a screenwriter in charge of my own destiny, I must survive by any means possible out here in movie land.
And part of that survival is: I have to know what the tea leaves say; I gotta know how I’m doing in a world full to the brim with invisible signals, unspoken truths, and a sophisication of symbols worthy of a geisha and her fan. Every gesture tells a story! But what are the gestures telling me?
So once I send my script out, pitch my story, or go in to the studio to make a sale and am waiting for an answer, how do I know how I am doing?
Here are some of my silly little rules that help me cope:
1. All Good News Happens Before Noon! I don’t know why this is, but it is. Whenever I am waiting for an answer, I only have to wait until 1:00 p.m. If the phone hasn’t rung by the time they’ve gone to lunch — it’s a “no.”
2. Two Weeks Is Too Long. If you are still reading my script two weeks from now and have not called me, you are not interested. I don’t get mad, I don’t get upset, but I do get on with my life.
3. “We’ll talk about this among ourselves and get back to you.” If you hear this statement by a studio executive after you have gone in to his/her office and pitched your movie idea, this is a “pass” — even if it’s accompanied by “It’s great!”, “We love it!”, or “We want to be in business with you.”
(And by the way, God bless ’em! What else can they say? It’s so much nicer than being thrown out with: “And never darken our towels again!!!”)
4. The sudden doctor’s appointment. Picture this: You are on your way to the meeting, you have prepared your pitch, you’ve sweated bullets all night getting ready — and your cell phone rings: The exec is canceling! He’s gone to the doctor. No, he hasn’t.
5. Silence Is Not Golden. “Just tell me the condition of my airplane!” said John Glenn (Ed Harris ) in The Right Stuff. But when you have gone in to pitch your idea, and they say they’ll call back but they don’t, and seasons change, and you’re still waiting to hear, well, you have heard.
6. “As soon as we get back from Cannes…” aka “As soon as we get back from Telluride…” aka “As soon as we get back from lunch…” They never come back. Say goodbye and God love ya! And thanks for the Evian!
7. “We have something like that in development” = “Good idea!”
8. “I loved your movie!” = “I just Imdb’d you.”
9. “I just have to check with my partner.” (see Rule 6)
10. “I’ll call business affairs. Would you like them to call your agent or your manager?” Congratulations! You can now reassess Rules 1-9
All of this, of course, is about the most important thing: moving forward. When I get hung up waiting for someone else, odds are I’m not doing what I’ve been put on this earth to do: write! The tryanny of not knowing is mostly what it does to my spirit — and my attitude. Well, forget it, and get back to work. Write, query six new potential buyers, make contacts, help others. That takes my mind off the things that are out of my control, and back onto the fun of doing this job. And that’s what it ‘s really about.
- Blake Snyder
That’s easy, Jacqueline, you just keep trying! Pitch one thing at a time, to one place at a time. But I find that waiting for a response is a waste — and why I wrote this blog. The bigger question is: What can I do to be more proactive in my career today? I can write, and query, and make contacts and continue the process in many different ways. There are so many opportunites and ways to sell our stories! But when I pin my hopes on one phone call or response, and forget what I’m supposed to be doing, I’m putting my career in the hands of others. Thank you for posting, you’re such a great inspiration to me in your work!
- Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Thank you for the compliment!
And yes, of course, that’s what I habitually do, send stuff out and go on. Long ago got over waiting. I’ve always got a number of projects in the works. But customs in different industries are different — and they change with time! So I wanted to double-check that.
Robert Heinlein made up a set of rules for writers that works I think today — and would work in the modern film industry.
1) write it
2) finish it
3) send it out
4) keep sending it out till it sells
We’ve lost him — (his Centennial Birthday celebration is in his hometown, Kansas City, 7/7/07) — and yesterday we lost Jim Baen, founder of the renowned publisher Baen Books.
In the announcement of Jim Baen’s death, one writer casually noted that Baen started his company before SF was popular!
I just got back from seeing SUPERMAN RETURNS — modern, edgy, and delivering everything (I mean everything!) that a lifelong Superman fan would want.
It seems to me, this film would not have been allowed (nevermind the FX weren’t possible), before Jim Baen started Baen Books. SF just didn’t deal with this kind of dynamic relationship material.
And I LEARNED SOMETHING about Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet posted on this website while watching that movie.
I’ve been messing around with the beat sheet and a screenplay idea (based on a comment made on Amazon about one of my Vampire novels asking for a backstory tidbit. )
So after noodling with arranging a story just so onto the Blake Snyder beat sheet, I saw very clearly — because it was such a well written script (except for one point) exactly where the timing placed the tension-release points.
In particular, the scene where the “gun-moll” of Lex Luther’s finally takes action — they played that silently behind everything, how she was petrified but emotionally engaged and opposed to Luther.
They used the actor’s abilities, not dialog or set or costumes, just ACTING for pure subtext. Gorgeous piece of work, especially post-production editing. The timing was exquisite.
You KNEW it was coming — and waited and waited — and knew — and waited — all behind the actual plot-developing scenes and Superman’s stunts. (this isn’t a spoiler – trust me, you’ll KNOW she’s gonna do something from the very first moment you see her).
She’s Lois Lane’s foil. She has to be in this movie, and has to have a plot-driving deed. The minute you see her, you KNOW exactly why she’s in the movie, and what she’ll do with the arrogrant trust Luther lavashes on her. To him, she’s nobody. A convenience. Nothing more.
That’s part of Luthor’s characterization too.
And then she DID IT — she acted against Luther! Bam! The tension broke — but the timing was such that other matters picked up and sent tension soaring.
Hitting that SPOT with a bit of subtext like that is what scriptwriting is all about — you can’t DO that in narrative because you have no actors to do the work.
In narrative, you can only engage the reader’s mind with foreshadowing, and that’s just a tiny bit different because you have to rely on the reader to remember it all. With visuals, the memory can’t deny the image. With words, it can.
Actors do amazing things!
Now for the one flaw — I don’t know if this was in the script and got lost in post-production, but to me it’s a glaring error.
They go to some lengths to establish what Lois knows about Superman from all the years of writing about him. And they establish clearly — both by what Lois says and what Superman does, that he gets his power from our Sun.
We all know that anyway, so re-establishing it in this movie makes it a plot-point.
THEN — at the very moment when it is most needed — where the little boy should go over and OPEN the drapes on the window to let sunlight fall on Superman — they leave out the Sunlight — and Lois doesn’t notice. They have the window placed wrong, and it’s open but the light isn’t on Superman. And Lois doesn’t notice.
Stuff like that (background inconsistencies) makes me crazy, especially when it wouldn’t have added 1 second to the playing time of the scene to have the little boy open the drapes.
I would LOVE to know the whole background story of how that error crept into such a fabulous piece of work.
As I always do, I sat through the credits to find out where and who did the FX, the animation and CG and all these various tech crews — it always fascinates me to read the names.
(more and more women turning up in tech jobs these days — love this new world!)
The whole thing struck me as having a slightly Japanimation look to it — and the credits sited Sony for FX. A lot of the shooting was done in Australia. And there were a number of companies involved that I haven’t seen on every other film.
Most glaring omission was Industrial Light and Magic — but this film didn’t have an ILM look to it at all. Which was refreshing!
I shouldn’t go on and on — but the film really STRUCK me with an insight. I would dearly love to hear you analyze it.
- Mike Rinaldi
“All Good News Happens Before Noon!”
Writers are expected to be up before Noon? When did that happen? Boy, it’s hard to keep up with all these changes in Hollywood.
superman had a japanimation look? really…the art deco feel stuck out more than anything.
most of the FX studios involved in the film are top notch. Sony Imageworks is doing some of the best stuff these days along with WETA. Honestly ILM is a shell of its old self, most of my friends have long left the studio, most wanting to work on better projects.
as for continuity errors…happens all the time.
I thought Superman Returns was good, not great. It was too long, scenes were seriously drawn out and Parker Posey’s character was a waste of screen time
- Sarah Beach
I was discussing the omission of “and the American Way” with some comic book friends. It’s a pure Hollywood choice made with eyes on the global market. (The friends were contending it was driven by anti-American feelings on the part of the filmmakers.)
The fact is, the American box-office is not quite the controller for studio decisions that it used to be. The global box-office is where the real money comes in. And studios consider that in their choices.
At this time in the world, in a film that’s talking about “why the world needs a Superman”, the implications of Superman fighting for “the American Way” are that other “national ways” are unworthy of him. And that’s not an implication a studio would want out there, no matter how famous the phrase is.
Leaving out that part of the phrase doesn’t cancel it. Even international fans know how it went. But not saying “American way” doesn’t rub their faces in it.
At least that’s my take on it. Which is certainly influenced by discussions friends have had with their agents regarding their high-action spec script. “It’ll play well overseas, and the studios will like that.” It’s a definite consideration these days – how it will play overseas.
Actually, I would guess the omission was an intentional choice by a conservative writer. It was actually a shot at liberal newspapers that tend to be anti-American. Notice it was a big newspaper editor who said, “Truth… justice… and all that other stuff.” I interpreted it differently than the ladies, apparently.
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So, when silence brings your answer, what do you do next?
In book publishing, it’s career-death to double-submit, unless you say so before submitting. So until your agent gets the actual rejection (verbally is usual), you can’t submit elsewhere.
What do you do with a script that seems to have been shelved but you have no official word?
Can you then pitch another script to the same company?
And if they do get back to you, they’ll only be going for an option so nobody else can have your script while they consider matters.
If you option to one company, you have to wait the option out. What else can you do while you’re waiting?
Will your agent pitch more ideas to the same company that’s already killing one project?
How do you tell if it’s your writing or this particular concept that’s bored them out of the deal if the “answer” is silence?