Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A screenplay treatment, writing seminars, and a Deep Space Nine script

Recently a friend sent me a screenplay treatment for a sci-fi movie. The screenplay treatment was written not by my friend, but by another friend of my friend, and I don't know the other friend. So I'm reading a treatment written by a friend of a friend, see? More about that later.

I used to go to sci-fi conventions a lot. Some of them had writing seminars. I didn't get to go to many of them because I didn't have the money. Once J. Michael Straczynski gave one, and I didn't have the money, and I was really not happy about missing that one. So I saved money so that I could go to the next one that sounded like the person giving it knew what he was talking about. I can't remember, but the guy on the next one either worked for Babylon 5 or one of the Star Trek shows for a year or two.

So we got to pick this guy's brain for a few hours. To start of with, he went around the room and asked us why we were all here. One guy held up a script and said that he was here to find out the code, did the little brass bracket go in the first and second holes of a three hole punched script, or did the little brass bracket go in the first hole of a two hole punched script, or did all the holes need little brass brackets, or did we need to switch to another color bracket or staples or a maybe a magic paper clip? And about half of us were laughing, and the other half didn't have clue what he was talking about and moved away from him in case he was contagious.

There is all kinds of stuff that might happen to your script or book or whatever after you submit it. For one thing, you have to be sure you are submitting it in the correct form. If the place you are sending it wants everything with certain margins and double spaced with one staple on the right side, and you send in something with the wrong margins or single spaced or a staple on the left side, all your hard work probably went straight into the trash bin. Nobody read any of it, except for your name and address so they'd know where to send the rejection letter.

There's other stuff you have to know about. Like you might need an agent. If you send a script to certain shows without an agent it is returned unopened, and also some places only read completed scripts and will not read any of your story ideas. Then you probably have to sign a lot of forms before anyone will read your completed script that was properly submitted through an agent, cause they might already have something very much like it, and they don't want to be sued because you think that they stole your idea.

And there's the whole slushpile thing. If you've never been published, your book is going to first be read by someone who doesn't really decide anything important. The only thing that person gets to decide is that you don't deserve to have your book read by anyone else. And most of the time, that is exactly what that person will decide. I have heard that some of these people get paid per book, so they'll get paid more the sooner they decide that your book isn't worth reading.

Anyway, I don't remember what was said about magic paper clips at the writing seminar, other than he confirmed that you need to find out the format that particular place uses and follow it exactly even if you have to go to Kinko's and have the whole thing reprinted every time. And unless you have a personal letter requesting something be sent single spaced, never ever submit something that isn't double spaced. Otherwise, single spaced stuff gets dumped in the trash, completely unread.

At another convention, I met R. R was the guy who came over and asked if his group could sit at the table with us, and his group ended up including the guy in the Vorlon suit. So we were all talking about this and that, and I think that the guy in the Vorlon suit says something to R like maybe, too bad about that whole Deep Space Nine thing.

What Deep Space Nine thing?

So R has to start over at the beginning of the story since I had never heard it before. R had also gone to a number of these writing seminars, and after this one guy kept seeing R over and over again, he says something like, it's time to show me what you've got. So R has been working on a Deep Space Nine script, and the guy giving the writing seminar is someone who either reads Deep Space Nine scripts himself or is in a position to have that person read the script. And they read the script, and they like it, and R gets a check for three thousand dollars and a note saying what changes that they would like, etc....And R says, cool, and then he goes back to his life and thinks about the changes that should be made to the script.

The Deep Space Nine people do not hear from R for a week, then two weeks, and then they continue without him. Whenever R got all the problems with the script worked out, he sent it in, and they weren't interested anymore. R's script dealt mainly with stuff happening to a certain character, and at the time they bought the script that would have worked out, but several weeks later they had read other scripts, and they had decided to do something different with the character. They couldn't film R's script and the other things that they wanted to do, so R's script was never filmed. So R got the three thousand dollars and a lesson learned, and that was that.

I've since lost contact with R and have no idea if he went on to sell more scripts.

Okay, back to the friend of the friend who wanted comments on the sci-fi script treatment.

I assumed that this was one wannabe helping out another wannabe. But that's okay, and I spent about five hours writing out the problems that I saw with the story. And I emailed him my first set of comments and then waited for him to email me back so that I could make some more comments. I think that both my friend and the friend of the friend are (unlike me) professional writers, but I don't think that they have any movie credits. While I'm waiting for the friend of the friend to email me, the friend emails me and tells me not to get upset if it takes the guy a few days to get back to me, cause he gets tons of emails and he's busy with his other writing, etc....

I sent the email on Sunday. It is now Wednesday. I have read a few things that make me think that maybe this isn't just one wannabe helping out another wannabe, that maybe this guy has had a conversation with someone who could actually get this movie made, that maybe another friend of a friend is really interested in this guy's story, or at least is interested in making some sort of story on the subject into a movie.

So now I'm worried that this friend of a friend could really sell a movie script if he would change a few things, but he's going to blow it cause he's taking too long and there are other scripts and treatments to read, etc.... Also, the guy's treatment is typed out singled-spaced. He says that he knows people are supposed to type double-spaced, but he thought that he would save some money and paper and space on the computer and such, and so he typed it single-spaced instead. While I appreciate it being sent to me single-spaced, he'd better know to change it to double-spaced before anyone else reads it, or it will go straight into the trash bin. So that could totally ruin things for him too.

And I think that I've got the answer to the guy's main problem with the story, but for all I know he hasn't even read my first email, so I don't think I'm going to write out anything more until he does.


Rob said...

Omni was a good magazine. I still have a couple issues of it tucked safely away.

Your friend is right. I've read and digested your comments, but I've been busy. Your long list of comments required a long reply. Which I'll send soon.

Yep, I'm a professional writer--but mostly nonfiction articles. No real experience in moviemaking.

I do have one credit on for appearing in a documentary for 30 seconds. For what it's worth.

It's possible but unlikely that a Native actor I know could play the title role in my story. And yes, I'll double-space the treatment if and when I send it to him. ;-)

laughingattheslut said...

You really must do something about this soon.

Also, if you still have your foot in the door, you might want to think up a backup plan if it turns out that they flat out do not want to do a science fiction movie. Chances like this do not grow on trees.

I see that you know all this political Indian stuff, but do you know as much about cultural stuff from different tribes?

Rob said...

The actor I'm talking about is a big science-fiction and comic-book fan. I don't know about his agent, manager, or other handlers, but I think he'll go for my idea.

If he doesn't like this particular story, or is already doing something similar, I can always pitch him with another idea. I'm not sure there's any rush. He's not going anywhere for the foreseeable future, and neither am I.

This particular story doesn't require any cultural knowledge. In fact, it doesn't require the protagonist to be an Indian. If I add a few cultural touches, it'll be more than enough.

I know some "cultural stuff" for a few Southwest tribes. But I wouldn't try to write a serious novel or screenplay about Indians without some help. At a minimum I'd have some Indian advisers review and critique the story. I might seek an Indian co-writer to add enough details to make the story seem authentic.

Anyway, check your inbox for my comments. They should be there now...!