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Tales From The Script: Part 6 (Here Goes Nothing…literally)

Through comedy I know a few people.  Through her work, Lesley knows a few people as well.  In my mind, here’s basically how I thought this would work.

Lesley and I wrote a really good screenplay.  We let some people read it and give us feedback.  We wrote a better second draft.  We had some funny people over to read through it and we took notes on the comedy beats and how the words flowed.  We wrote an even better third draft.  We registered the script with the WGA.  Then we started contacting people.

Our script is basically Bridesmaids meets The Social Network.   It’s really funny.  Paul Feig, the director of Bridesmaids, was a stand up comedian in Detroit, just like me.  A mutual friend gave me his e-mail address a long time ago and we wrote back and forth a couple times.  He was super nice and supportive.  So, with this third draft in hand, I wrote him and asked him if he could point me towards someone who could read it.  I know there are all sorts of legal issues with asking him to read it himself.  I waited for a response.  And waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been in LA to do some comedy stuff.  I always had a couple thumb drives in my pocket with copies of the script in case I ran into someone that could do something with it.  I ended up performing on Comedy Bang Bang at the UCB Theater.  It’s a show produced by the great Scott Aukerman, who in addition to creating Comedy Bang Bang, has been making a living as a writer since about 1994.   I got to pick his brain for a little bit after the show.

He told me that a response from Paul would be a long shot because even though I worded my e-mail carefully, the potential for lawsuits would be too risky.  Even if he did write back, it was unlikely that he’d feel comfortable passing on a thing he hasn’t read himself.  Yeah, that’s a big Catch 22.  He can’t read it because of legal issues.  He can’t pass it on because it’s good because he can’t read it.  Scott said the way to get it out there is to basically treat the script like I treat my stand up and let the work speak for itself.  I need to let people in Hollywood read it and generate a buzz.  Eventually the buzz will get around and someone will take interest.   There’s a part in the script that would be perfect for TJ Miller.  I know him a little, so maybe I’ll try to get it in his hands.

The more likely scenario Scott said was that someone will notice me from my stand up and want to be my agent.  They’ll ask if I have a script and when I tell them about this thing that Lesley and I created, it’ll make me 20 times more valuable.   Great.  Well, as good as I feel I am as a stand up, no one in nine and a half years has asked to be my agent yet.

Discouraging?  Yeah.  A long time ago and older comedian asked to take me out to lunch so he could pick my brain.  He was retired now and wanted to make a run of it as a comedian.  He was a nice guy who had been public speaking for longer than I’ve been alive.  He was comfortable on stage, but every joke he told came straight from a book.  I told him that the only way he could make a go of it as a comedian was to write his own material.  He didn’t want to hear that and got angry.  I couldn’t tell him what he wanted to hear.  I told him what he needed to hear.  Scott Aukerman didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear.  There is no secret backdoor into the writing pool of Hollywood.  He told me what I needed to hear.  There is no secret backdoor into the writing pool of Hollywood.

So where does that leave us?  Lesley has a couple connections too, but they feel like really long shots.  To make the script speak for itself, I think the plan is to do what I would do with my comedy.  For comedy, a lot of people enter festivals so our peers from all over take notice of us and hopefully spread the word.  I think Lesley and I are going to start entering the script into different script writing contests and see what happens.  Maybe it isn’t as good as we think it is.  I really like it.  When I pitch it to people, they seem to like it.  They laugh.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned in nine and a half years in comedy it’s the difference between a kind and a genuine laugh.  I think they laugh genuinely.

So that’s it for now.  You’re up to speed.  I’ll let you know when something happens.  If something happens.

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Tales From the Script: Part 5 (Voices Carry)

When Lesley and I initially started writing our script, we were writing it with the intent to find a local production company to shoot it for us with us in the leads.  Once we changed our minds on that, we dream cast it so that we’d both be writing towards the same vision.

I know a lot of writers say they don’t do this, but it helped me a lot.   Like with writing jokes, most of it happens for me while I’m lying in bed at night unable to sleep.  I’ll just lay there with ideas racing through my head until I have to jump up and find a notebook.  Sometimes ideas hit me first thing in the morning, which honestly, beating the alarm to jump out of bed with some creative inspiration is a great way to start the day!

Writing with someone in mind helped me find the character’s voice fairly easily.  Final Draft has a profile on Facebook where every day they have some sort of writing tip or question.  Recently they posed a question asking if you were to block out the names of the characters in your script, would you still be able to tell who they are?

Once we hammered out our first draft, we assigned each other characters and we went through the script focusing on each piece of those lines trying to make sure there was a flow.    One thing that came from this that I liked was I had one of the characters often times refer to another by a nickname.  I think this was a nice little touch to show that they had some sort of history.   The unfortunately short lived television show The Middle Man did this too.  The lead was named Wendy Watson.  Her partner called her Dub Dub.   A little touch like that was nice because it not only showed a little bit of familiarity, but it was so out of character for the straight laced Middle Man to use a nickname that it really humanized him.  It gave his character a little more depth.

Another thing Lesley and I did that helped was we had our friends over to read through the script assigning them different roles.  Some lines didn’t flow as smoothly out of other mouths, so as we did the readthru I took notes on how the actor initially wanted to read a line.

I tend to flip sentences.  Not like Yoda, but a little bit like that.  Right now, I’m totally blanking on an example.  Hmm.  I guess that was an example in itself.  Where a lot of people may have said “I’m totally blanking on an example right now.”  I lead with the “right now”.   I think I’m better at that now.   A long time ago a friend asked me where I originally hail from because he found my sentence structure so foreign.

So there you go.  That’s a little insight in our process in trying to give our characters unique voices.  Does anyone else have any tips?

Tales From the Script: Part 4 (The Book is better…)

I mentioned before that Final Draft is the most important tool and screenwriter can use.  Another, almost as important, tool is this great book called Writing Movies for Fun and Profit.

I’ve read a lot…a few…books on writing scripts.  This one by far is my favorite.  It’s written by Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon who are most visibly known for Reno 911.  What you may not know is that they’ve also written pretty much ever third comedy made since 2000.  They don’t write giant award winning masterpieces, but they do write extremely marketable and successful comedies like the Night at the Museum movies and Herbie Fully Loaded.  They’ve also done a literal shit ton of punch ups on movies they’re not credited for.

In their book, Ben and Thomas take you through every step of the career as a screenwriter.  They go in depth about the different kinds of writing jobs you can get and really dive into the business side of writing.  It’s also a really practical writing guide too.   They cover everything form pitching your script to dealing with the Hollywood powers that be once it’s in development.

It’s a really quick and light read that’s full of humor and really great information.  I can’t recommend this book enough.  In fact, if you’re a screen writer and you don’t own this….then you’re probably and asshole.

I’m in LA right now as you’re reading this.  Unless of course you’re reading this sometime other than August 2012.  Chapter 22 will tell me what I need to know now that I’m here.   Okay, I’m not supposed to write in public because everyone will assume I’m a douchebag.   Okay, there’s a list of all the In-N-Out Burger locations as well as a guide to their secret menu. I’m going to grab a bite to eat and go write in private.

Tales From the Script: Part 2 (Storytime)

In our last episode, after a few attempts at screenwriting, I found a great writing partner in Lesley Braden.

Lesley’s idea (and the script is already registered with the WGA so just try and steal it, buster) was about a woman in her mid to late 30s who was tired of people either harassing her or taking advantage of her time because she was single.  She creates a fake guy on Facebook and puts herself in a relationship with said guy.  It’s Bridesmaids meets The Social Network.  Both movies just came out.  Both movies were successful.  Kristen Wiig changed Hollywood overnight and showed the women can open a comedy and make a ton of money.  Lesley’s idea was original, fun and hugely marketable.  I was hooked!

Initially we started writing it with the two of us in mind to play the lead character and her slacker roommate.  I have friends who have production companies in Michigan, so it seemed like something we could potentially try to raise money and make.  As it went on, we realized how this script would be a really great calling card for us if we wanted to try to get writing jobs.  So we stopped limiting ourselves with set pieces that we could possibly pull off if we were to raise enough money through a Kickstarter campaign of whatever and we decided to shoot for the stars.

When we cracked the story, we didn’t do a traditional outline.  We knew key comedy moments that we wanted to happen and then from there we figured out how to get there.  Using a basic three act structure, we knew too when certain beats had to happen.    As we fleshed out the secondary characters more, our secondary story lines and conflicts started to become clearer too.  We were both on the same page that we didn’t want this to necessarily be a joke based comedy.  We wanted the humor to come from the characters.  We both do comedy though, so naturally the jokes found their way into it.

The crazy thing was that every idea either of us had, the other either found a way to build on it or tweak it into something different.  We never pitched a story element to have the other one say, “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard”.  I think that’s the key to a strong writing partnership.  You can’t shoot down someone else’s idea without anything of your own to add.   I’m sure it helps that from the beginning we were both really on the same page.

Okay, I’m going to jump ahead in time to the present day.  We’re going to start working on a spec script for a television show.  It’s an idea that I had rattling in my brain for awhile.  I bounced it off of Lesley the other night and instead of shooting down my idea, she said, “That’s great, we could do that or maybe make it this slightly different thing too.”  Okay, that’s not technically a quote, but you know what I mean.  While her idea was slightly different than mine, it also opened itself up for a neat spin on the ideas I already had.  I think the most exciting part of writing a story is not knowing what’s going to happen next.  Changing a small detail, or even a large one, can definitely do that!  I’m looking forward to cracking another story with her.

Tales from the Script: Part 1 (Partnering Up)

I’m at a pivotal point in the screenwriting process.  I thought for my own piece of mind I’d share the journey it took to get here.  I don’t know where this story will end.  I certainly hope it has a happy ending.  Let’s start from the beginning.

I’ve written a lot of screenplays.  Most of them were through my twenties.  I burned all my bridges in radio and television, moved back to Michigan and had the first “real” job of my life working in a Toys R Us.  Over the next few years I went through my Kevin Smith phase.  I first wrote my “Clerks” about a guy who was working in a big box toy store cleverly called We B Toys.

Next when I was in an unhappy relationship and feeling like I was hundreds of miles from where I wanted to be, I wrote my “Dogma” about a couple in an unhappy relationship who die and get stuck in Purgatory…which happens to be a small town in the middle of nowhere.

After that, the unhappy relationship ended so I wrote my “Chasing Amy” about a guy who ends his unhappy relationship and starts a non-romantic relationship.  I guess it was also my “When Harry Met Sally”.  The main character in that one was a struggling stand up comedian.  At the time, I hadn’t stepped foot on the comedy stage yet, so it was just a way for me to get out the material I wrote without having to actually perform it.  Coincidentally, the arc of that character kind of mirrored what I ended up doing creatively in real life years later.

So, after those first few attempts at screenwriting I started doing stand up and seemed to have a knack for it.  Most of my creative juices flowed into that outlet.  Friends asked me if I wanted to partner up with them on scripts, but for one reason or another it never really worked out.

Last year a fellow performer named Lesley Braden and I met with some other performers about starting a sketch comedy group.  That didn’t work out, but Lesley and I found that we worked really well together.  She pitched me her idea for the story we ended up writing and I loved it.   It’s like what they say about love.  You find it when you’re not looking for it.  I wasn’t looking for the perfect screenwriting partner, I just happened upon her!

Next time, I’ll talk about the story.