Peggy Bechko: Are You Living in Screenwriting Fantasyland?

by Peggy Bechko

Screenwriters, novel writers, pretty much ant writers have hopes and expectations…and then there are realities.

Here’s the thing. The process itself of writing pretty much anything is not bliss or anything close to it. It is, quite simply hard work. There are good days and bad days, but it still boils down to sit yourself in the chair and do the work.

So much for the happy belief that writing is the easiest job ever. That one just sits around in the perfect writing space, cup of coffee (or is that a beer?) in hand, ideas whirling through one’s head until the writer plucks one out of the firmament, jots it down, and it becomes the next blockbuster movie, hit TV show or bestselling novel.

Uh, no.

Then, early in one’s writing career it’s easy to visualize a life where we get paid big bucks just come come up with a great idea, write with complete freedom and move on to the next project.

Um, no.

Reality, kids, is writing can be, and usually is, a damn hard job. If you’re writing whatever you want and hoping for the best, that is one thing, but if you’re writing to a career, it’s another.

Novelist? Aside from getting a feel of what’s selling and where what you write might fit in, there’s editors, critics, delays and even at time cancelled contracts. But in this post I’m focusing mostly on screenwriting.

Screenwriter? There’s writing on spec and then there’s writing on assignment. Spec is a REALLY GREAT IDEA and carrying it out. But, on assignment is a different animal. Suddenly you’re not in your fantasy world of freedom. There are notes from producers and executives, deadlines, stories determined by others than you.

But wait a minute, let’s circle back and think about that spec script again. It’s yours, right? Wellllll, no doubt you’ll need to do rewrites because your original script lacks elements that would help make it more marketable, and that’s probably from your agent. Then development execs and the like will demand rewrites for pretty much any reason you can think of and a lot you can’t.

So you’ll have to come up with a way of applying your own way to tell a story while you balance it with dealing with the wants and demands of others who can actually get your script to production. And, if you’ve paid attention at all you know you can’t just say no…because that will be their answer as well and you’ll sprout a reputation of being difficult to work with.

Then there’s the theory that your first screenplay isn’t ready to market. By that it’s meant that your first script won’t be your best. Well, duh. Your first novel won’t be your best either. Your first anything probably won’t be your best and most people actually want to improve steadily.

Anyway, whatever happens with your first, it is a firm truth that you do need to have more than one script ready because presuming your work is liked, maybe you get a meeting or notes on it, you’re going to be asked that ‘age old’ question, “What else you got?”

With that in mind, it’s a very good idea to have more than one script complete and ready to go. Who knows, you might be pitching your third script and end up selling your first on the basis of just that question.

And, frankly, humans being what they are, if you don’t have a second and/or third or fourth script ready to fill in that empty space when the question is asked, they’ll probably lose interest and that’s the last you’ll hear from them. Few are interested in a ‘one-script-wonder’.

So, might I suggest entering a few legit contests (emphasis on legit) like TV Writer’s PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018 or for a film script maybe the Nicholl Fellowship for Screenwriting with that first script while busying yourself with writing numbers two, three, four, etc.

Once there are several scripts in your quiver, that’s the time to really hit the agents, producers, etc. The reality is, despite those hopes and expectations very few writers hit it on the first script. There’s a lot to learn about writing and the movie industry. And, the only way to learn is to try, fail, correct course, try again, fail again… and on and on.

Another hard truth to jolt script writers from their soft fantasy land is the simple fact that most spec scripts are never sold. They’re usually a sample of what a writer can do and hopefully lead to writing assignments.

Now, I, personally, optioned a script to a German production company and a couple to companies in LA for which I got paid, but did not reach production. I also wrote a couple of things under contract but be advised that receiving a screenwriting paycheck is not like winning a lottery.

We read all the time that so-and-so got $2 million or $3 million dollars for a script or Netflix or someone else commits huge bucks for a script. While it does happen occasionally don’t hold your breath. Something much more modest is likely to come your way.

So, the take-away from all this is simple. Strive for the top and be willing to take the steps along the way. This is the real world. You want Fantasyland head over to Disneyland.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.

John Ostrander: Art vs the Artist

by John Ostrander

Last column I talked about James Gunn and how he was fired by Disney from the third Guardians installment for some really stupid tweets he published about a decade ago. They were appalling, no questions about it, but I wondered if Disney really needed to fire him for it. Gunn himself has renounced them and apologized. I was further aggravated by the fact that it was a right wing troll who engineered the whole reveal basically to punish Gunn for being anti-Trump.

However, lurking beneath that question is a bigger problem – can you separate the art from the artist? SHOULD you? 

I am of so many different minds about this it makes my own head spin. Oscar Wilde was tossed into prison for being gay and pretty flamboyant about it; today his The Importance of Being Earnest is performed almost continuously around the world. I can’t watch an episode of The Cosby Show since it was revealed just what a slime Fat Albert’s daddy really is. Then again, I also haven’t been able to watch one of Robin Williams’ comedy specials since learning just how much pain he was in.

One of the things I’ve always admired about Shakespeare’s plays is that we know very little about Will himself. Oh, there certainly are some biographical tidbits but mostly we know Shakespeare’s mind – what he thought and felt – from his plays and poems. And it was a remarkable mind and could cover a host of different thoughts, even on the same subject. Check out Measure for Measure, Act 3, Scene 1 for two very different meditations on death.

(BTW, we’re not going to get into whether or not Shakespeare actually wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Yes, I have listened to the theories – which is all they are – and, so far as I’m concerned, they are codswallop. You can argue the point all you want; just don’t bother doing it with me.)

What could we possibly learn about Shakespeare’s life that would add to our understanding of his plays? The work exists and is its own justification.

If that’s true, shouldn’t that apply to others? Yet, I don’t want to see a film by Roman Polanski; I did see one (The Ghost Writer) before I knew Polanski had directed it and it was a powerful piece of work. My Mary has no use for Woody Allen (whom she regards as a pedophile) and no desire to see any film he’s made. D.W. Griffith pioneered many of the film techniques still used in cinema today but Birth of a Nation (originally titled The Clansman) glorifies the Ku Klux Klan and is undeniably racist. So is a musical number in A Day At The Races where the Marx Brothers (who I adore) put on blackface to hide among them singin’ and dancin’ darkies in order to escape the law. It’s damn uncomfortable to watch but I haven’t sworn off Groucho, Chico, and Harpo or that film.

Perhaps it’s a matter of degree? I was raised a Roman Catholic (these days I term myself a Recovering Catholic) and there is one thing the Church really knows how to do to parse sin – you had mortal sins, you had venal sins, you had an occasion of sin and even a near occasion of sin.  You needed to hit the confessional box if you were even THINKING of sin (and, as a young teen-age boy in the 60s, I did a lot of thinking about sin). Maybe we could consider the degree of culpability in each case. James Gunn’s tweets were stupid and offensive but surely they don’t rise to the level of a guy whipping out his Johnson and masturbating into the potted plants.

Then again – who am I to say? I’m an aging old white fart and, to some, that might invalidate my opinion on the matter. Then again – maybe a generation or two down the line they maybe be able to watch Cosby or Spacey or any of the others whose acts taint what they’ve done. The work will stand as the work, independent of its creator and their foibles. Picasso treated the women in his life pretty badly and yet his work stands as a testament to the man’s genius.

Picasso exemplifies that people are not all one thing or the other. Having great talent, great ability, does not means you are going to be a role model; often, far from it. It is that messy humanity that becomes distilled in the work and the work, I think, justifies itself because it gives a great deal to our own messy humanity.

I think, ultimately, the work must be considered apart from the life of its creator. It must have a life of its own if it is to last. And should be considered apart from the life of its creator.

Just don’t ask me to watch reruns of The Cosby Show any time soon.


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. It’s been awhile since he’s been here, but now John’s back with a new column at a new blog, PopCultureSquad, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his many masterworks HERE

Chaos, Kindness & The Flood of Garlic

LB’s NOTE: I don’t like to analyze other people’s writing. I read it – or watch it – and I feel it and that’s that. But when I read this poem I felt something new.

I felt like I was reading and watching our entire world. Volume after volume after episode after episode of human life, in just a shade over a thousand words.

What does it say to you?


by Leslie Coff

To write this, I wrote it five times — and then a sixth. It was still a mess.

I printed it out and with my green pen.

I scratched out everything.

Well, almost everything — so I could start again.

I haven’t been able to think straight – too much on my mind. I needed a little something.

Then I woke this morning thinking of garlic.

If you use a little garlic it is amazing. It adds that special something to everything you eat. It is almost magical the way it transforms a dish.

For some, garlic is their favorite thing. Like water, they can’t live without it. It gives our food – depth. It makes things interesting.

But too much – indigestible. It keeps vampires, friends and even lovers at a distance.

(although, I read once that it’s okay if you both have it….)

If you use too much garlic it masks the flavors of everything else. It tastes like chaos. Your senses became flooded – they are only aware of the garlic.

I haven’t been able to write because my brain is flooded. I have a lot of worries – like my father and his mother before him, I am a worrier.

There, I said it.

You will probably tell me that I am irrational —

— but it is my birthright.

I could make a list.

In no particular order…

my broken pipe

my patients.

the coming winter.

The Middle East

School shootings.

I have a bathtub in my doorway. Don’t ask.

I worry that my house will not be organized.

That my house will not be clean.

That I won’t have time and energy to do it all.

That I will forget my Italian

That I will forget Hebrew.

That I will forget what I just said.

That I will forget what I just said.

Er…that I will forget what I just said.

That I will use too much garlic.

But I worry that I am eating too much salt — too much sugar.

I worry about gluten.

I worry that I will say something to offend someone.

Yes, it seems that I am very self-involved. In fact, I worry that I am too self-involved.

But I do worry about hunger.

I worry about homelessness.

I worry that I am worrying too much.

Sometimes it is all – too much.

I used to be a super straight thinker. Now, it’s all a mess.

I am too much garlic. Chaos.

I need whiskey.

There was another time when everything became a bit too much.

God told Noah – build an ark. Something big is coming. A flood – a Mabul – is coming.

Mabul – chaos, confusion, cataclysm. Deluge.

Mess.

Way Back when God created the world, everything was in chaos.

When it was time to start to make a world, God made a list –

(God was awesome at creating — lists.)

one: separate order from chaos.

two: separate dark from light.

three: more garlic.

Now, Chaos is returning.

Winter is coming.

Back In the time of Noah, God gave blessings freely.

Blessings come down from heaven – in the same way that water is a blessing because it rains down from heaven.

Oh how the blessings flowed!: kosher dill pickles, pesto, hummus, moussaka, baba ganoush, chicken with 40 cloves of…garlic.)

The blessings gave life depth. Made life good.

But people took advantage. They became selfish. They gorged themselves.

They became violent – fighting over the pastrami.

And they didn’t even bother brushing their teeth.

God was horrified at their behavior.

You like my blessings? You like my garlic? You like depth?

Sure, I’ll give you depthGo ahead and drown in it.

When it began, it was too much, Flooding, chaos, confusion.

DELUGE.

The very same thing which had nourished us was now killing us.

Like the dish of an overambitious cook, everything was too much.

The world was drowning.

It was as though God took out a big green pen and scratched out everything — well, almost everything – to start again.

Chaos, Noah. There will be Chaos.

And before those fragrant cloves begin to fall from the sky,

Come into the ark. Bring the animals, bring your family.

Bring Tums.

Build me this ark, Noah, this teyva – this boat, this box.

It will be, God says, almost magical in the way it will transform you. It will protect you. I will protect you. I will give you a taste of Utopia.

I will give you whiskey.

You will see how a lamb will be safe from a lion…

Where there will be no predators.

Where even people will not prey on each other — for a corned beef sandwich –

Or even if only for the pickle.

When there is chaos, when there is deluge, when there is too much worry, when things fall apart, when it is all much too much and when you are drowning — it can house your souls and keep you safe.

When the world falls apart I will keep you safe.

I will keep you safe.

Chaos and flood are not just about marinara sauce.

It feels like chaos and flood when the waves of trouble in your life are rising – when you lose your job, your health, your safety and your home.

Grace, shelter, the ark are about saving us from the storm that will always come – no matter who you are and your place in life.

There is too much out there.

There is too much to taste.

Too much to stomach,

There is too much to feel.

Man, we are under water.

Our senses are flooded. Our hearts are flooded.

We have too much to think about.

Too much to do.

Too much to feel.

Too much worry.

I could make a list!

You know what I need?

I need an ark.

I need a place which can shield me from the chaos.

I need protection from confusion.

I need protection from myself.

I need a place where I can begin again.

I need a place where I can think straight.

I need a place where I can be with my family.

Where no one fights over the food.

Into every life a little rain will fall.

Most of the time a lot more than a little rain.

And sometimes a lot more than a little garlic.

Sometimes there will be heartburn.

Sometimes there will be fire.

There will always be illness & there will always be death.

But it is ok – not to be ok.

We will need shelter.

We will need alka-seltzer.

We will need an ark.

We may need the Divine….

We will need a little whiskey.

We may also need a green pen to scratch things out and start again.

We will need kindness.

And we will need each other.


This post first appeared on one of the most honest places on the interwebs – Leslie’s blog

Diana Black: TV Writing Checklist Part 5

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you haven’t already read Part 1,  Part 2Part 3, and Part 4, now would be a good time.


by Diana Black

You’ve done it!

You’ve completed the Script in probably half the time you’d normally take. (You might take even less if you employ LB’s GDD – see his article on “Writing the Dreaded Outline.”)

And what’s more, the IP you now proudly own is yours and it’s unique; no one can take this accomplishment away from you. Register your work and ensure that you have multiple electronic copies stored on external hard drives and on the Cloud.

Think of this hard work as a solid investment in your future career as a screenwriter. If you’ve worked through all these steps, you ARE a screenwriter and one who’s wisely adopted professional standards; you simply haven’t got paid yet.

Now do individual Passes – one at a time the whole way through the Script.

For each Character, is he/she consistent across the narrative arc in terms of their dialogue? Do another pass for that same Character in terms of their action. ‘Rinse and repeat’ for every Character.

Check ‘your voice’ – have you made it strong and discernible in terms of style across the entire narrative arc? The next pass (in no strict order) is to tighten the ‘big print’ – shorten descriptions and actions, ensure there’s not an adverb in sight and everything is in active, present tense e.g. “He walks…” not, “He walked…” etc.

Next pass, you’re a formatting Nazi. The beauty of that Tabled Outline is that you can ensure that the Slug-line for the same location is consistent throughout.

Have you done a Scene Analysis for each scene? Is each flat or superfluous, or are they all totally necessary, intermeshed elements of a script that’s a real roller coaster ride, and serious actor, director, and producer-bait?

If the scenes still have problems, now’s a good time for one more rewrite. If they don’t have any you can find, then now’s a good time to conduct a Table Read with REAL actors.

Feed your actors well and after the read, ask for anonymous feedback – have scrap paper and pens on the table between the dip, carrot sticks and chocolate. Have someone who’s not reading record the proceedings so you can re-listen to the energy levels across the narrative, sometime later.

Have someone else listen for culturally inappropriate word usage. This may not be a problem for you, but I’m an Aussie by birth and upbringing, so even being married to an American for a very long time and living on US soil doesn’t guarantee that I won’t stuff-up occasionally.

If you can, instead of sitting at the table with the actors, sit across the room, script in hand, and just listen; although mark aspects needing attention on your Script.

You’ll hear/sense slow spots and others where the actors are ‘lifting it off the page’ – evidence that the pace and action are awesome – you’ll literally sense the ‘energy in the room’.

Afterwards, refer to the anonymous ‘notes’ they did for you. Be honest, brave and know when to follow your instincts… ONLY adjust/rewrite if a comment resonates with you. Your script is not a punching bag. Does the comment make logical sense; is it in keeping with the narrative arc?

If you have the $$, send it out for professional Coverage. If it comes back with a “Recommend” get it off to market asap; they may even offer to ‘open doors’.

You could also put it into Competition but be mindful that there are biases out there amongst Competition hosts and amongst the Readers they employ, so take a win or loss with a grain of salt.

However, if it does well, put it into another competition and if it does well again, add that positive feedback to your calling card when you begin seriously marketing.

For stories in ‘pitch mode’ you must develop a Strategic Plan. The mission objective to generate interest and make a sale.

Do your research and take a systematic approach – don’t just throw your work against the proverbial wall to see what sticks.

Develop your data base of prospective Producers and do your homework – is the potential ‘suit/s’ currently or recently working with this genre, does it fit within their budget range, are they open to reading material coming from an unrepresented, unpublished writer?

Is your Query Letter (QL) well crafted, grammatically correct and using simple language? You do have one, right?

Even with a well-crafted QL, many recipients will refuse. Expect greater than a 95% rejection rate, but by the same token, don’t necessarily take that first “No/Pass” as the final answer – they may be testing your determination and whether you believe in the IP enough to put your neck out on its behalf – so be brave.

Your story and the Characters therein are counting on you. If rejected, offer to present them with something else – they’ll then know you’re not a ‘one-show pony’. Those of you who are actors know that the ‘job’ is to audition, not necessarily ‘book’ the job. Same applies here – our job as emerging screenwriters, is to create quality material and pitch away.

If you get a foot in the door via your QL and a, “Let’s talk” interview, know and rehearse how to pitch intelligently by keeping the language simple and direct.

According to Stephanie Palmer’s, Good in a Room, show empathy and interest in them. Have the Leave Behind (TV) or the One page (Feature) on hand – don’t have them hanging/waiting for anything. Show professional awesomeness.

If it looks like an Option Agreement is looming, research what the Producer has produced beforehand (you’ve probably done that already – determining whether to pitch to them).

Think long and hard before allowing a rookie Producer to take your IP ‘off the grid’ for goodness-knows how many months. Have Legal Counsel review any agreement – it’s worth the investment. If this potential Producer respects you and is professionally legit, they’ll expect this. If they baulk/protest, look elsewhere and fast.

By having read this series of articles and taking actionable steps, you’ll have realized that creating a narrative, regardless of the medium, is hard work.

There’s no way around that, so work smarter.

And don’t give up! This venture has kept you off the streets for weeks if not months, it’s saved you a bucketload of money you’d have spent on frivolous outings, and you’ve travelled into an entirely different world for free… no one-way mission to Mars for you – the Universe is yours – enjoy!


Diana Black is an optioned screenwriter who has placed in competitions with features and teleplays.  She’s also a professional actor with a Bachelor of Creative Arts – Drama, Film & TV and a regular contributor to TVWriter™.

John Ostrander: Outrage for Outrageousness Sake

by John Ostrander

As of this writing, James Gunn has been fired as the director of the next Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. The reason? Some tweets he wrote ten years ago where he made light of, among other things, rape and pedophilia. Always good comedy material. (Yes, that’s sarcastic. I don’t want to be Gunned in my first column.) The director says he was trying to be outrageous and provocative and that they no longer represent who he is as a person, which is a good thing because he doesn’t come off as a very nice person. If you really feel the need to read them, you can find them here.

Disney/Marvel have cut all business ties with Gunn, the CEO sniffing, “The offensive attitudes and statements discovered on James’ Twitter feed are indefensible and inconsistent with our studio’s values and we have severed our business relationship with him.”

I have a few problems with all this, not the least are Gunn’s tweets, which are stupid, heinous, and seriously not funny. I have a bigger problem, however, with Gunn’s accuser, Mike Cernovich, an alt-right columnist, blogger, and social media commentator. His own blogs and tweets show he’s made his own nasty comments on rape, pedophilia, and more. Cernovich was also a key figure in Gamergate which coordinated troll attacks on females in the gamer industry. If you feel the deep seated need to know what Cernovich is saying, The Southern Poverty Law Center has a good round-up of the man and his views here.

So I can’t see that Cernovich gives a rat’s ass about Gunn’s comments per se; his own remarks are as bad or worse. He’s targeted Gunn because Gunn is a liberal and has made some comments on the Great Pumpkin, aka President Trump. After the Trump-Putin press conference, Gunn compared Trump unfavorably to Thanos. So he became a target of the alt-right and specifically Cernovich (other targets includes such left wing media heroes as Trevor Noah of The Daily Show).

Ultimately, however, my real problem is not even with Cernovich but with the executives at Disney Corp. They threw Gunn promptly under the bus, claiming his tweets of over ten years ago weren’t consistent with the studio’s values. I’d suggest that values with which they were inconsistent was Disney’s desire to make money; they certainly don’t want a possible boycott against the next Guardians movie or possibly even against all the Marvel movies which make a TON of money for the Mouse.

Shouldn’t Gunn and others be held accountable for their words/actions? After all, Roseanne Barr was fired from her own TV show for comments she made. Fair is fair, right? The difference is that Barr made the comments about a week before she was fired; it was an immediate response to what she said in the same time frame. Gunn’s comments were made over a decade ago. As Gunn said, his comments do not represent who he is now; Barr’s certainly do.

Firing Gunn validates the tactics used by Cernovich and the alt-right. They worked. If they worked once, they probably can work again. And probably will be used again. Despite the moral tone being adopted, Cernovich and his ilk are doing what they’re doing for primarily political reasons, just as I think Disney has done what they’ve done for primarily economic ones.

A far thornier question is whether or not you can or should judge a work based on what you know of the creator. That, however, is a topic of its own and one we may pursue at another time.


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. It’s been awhile since he’s been here, but now John’s back with a new column at a new blog, PopCultureSquad, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his many masterworks HERE