Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Advanced Screenwriting

Acquiring accurate feedback is an obstacle all aspiring screenwriters face. We need to know if the movie playing in our head is being effectively translated onto paper.

Screenwriters, lucky enough to live near or in metropolitan areas, have a wealth of opportunities and populace from which to choose. Writers groups, college classes, like-minded Starbucks patrons etc.

Those of us living beyond the pale, cope with a different situation. Even though everybody and their brother are writing screenplays, a small town may not offer up enough screenwriters to form a writing group. A writing group made up of three poets, a non-fiction chronicler and a screenwriter will not help the screenwriter.

So, what is the isolated scriptwriter to do?

There’s the Net. Peer feedback forums are all over the place. I post on American Zoetrope. Sometimes a basic –do they GET the story—is all I receive, and that is an important part of the process, but not all of it.

And if they don’t get the story, I always consider that my fault. I’ve developed a minimalist writing style and occasionally I leave out something important.

That doesn’t mean that I never rave to the dog about the pea-brained idiocy of some readers, but
she’ll never tell. And, neither do I.

I haven’t quite reached the point where I’m ready to pay for coverage. Brother, that is a scam-filled tar pit waiting for the unsuspecting. What I do instead is enter contests that offer coverage to all.

This has worked quite well – Slamdance provides excellent feedback – BlueCat does too. A few contests whose directors call to inform the finalists who won (or didn’t) often offer remarks about the “close”* scripts. That’s happened to me a couple of times.

And then, there’s the time, coverage for all, is at best a ploy.

Recently, I received my coverage from a contest where my script finished 62 out of 286. Their feedback was a bar graph.

I was not enlightened or amused.**

Even in my lowest expectations, a bar graph does not represent feedback to me.***

But what really annoyed me. What occasioned a private diatribe about inept, ill-informed, stupidly opinionated readers is the scoring and comments on the Advanced Screenwriting Elements.

According to this contest, Advanced Screenwriting Elements are subtext, visual storytelling, creative presentation of exposition and hooks.

Here I am, finally getting to the point.****

I learned subtext from a Montana literary novelist named Deirdre McNamer. She said you have to trust your readers. Write it in. Trust they’ll get it.

Yeah, okay, but I wanted to point to it in some way to make sure they saw --
  • 1. how clever am I
  • 2. the point.
No, dear. Write it in. Trust they’ll get it. Or it isn’t subtext, it’s badly written exposition.

Now, the bar graph for this portion of the feedback***** was -->

The scene they refer to in the comments section is this:

A young man listens while the old man who raised him, confesses that he (the old man) is going blind and there is nothing doctors can do. He needs help.

The young man doesn’t say anything for a beat, then looks up, sees an old truck in a shed near where they’re standing, says, “You kept the old truck.”

The old man says, “I can’t drive anymore.”

The young man goes to the truck, looks it over and says, “I can fix that.”

The comment was “Jack’s reaction to the news that Will is going blind is a little odd.”

“I can fix THAT.”

Hello. Is this mic on?

Is it subtext if they don’t get it?

Or is it subsubsubsubtext no one sees because, afterall, there is no window into my head. My movie plays to an audience of one. Alas.

Subtle is in the mind of the beholder.

Too subtle is a judgement call.

I still believe that it is my responsibility, if the reader doesn’t get some part of the story, not just because they’re ignoramuses.******

I haven’t decided if I should make the subtext more clear. How clear can it be and remain subtext? Or leave it alone and trust.

Trust. A high wire over a flaming pit.

*close. A level of Hell devoted to screenwriters only.
**ok, that’s not really what it said –“Needs Improvement--Excellent” but you get the drift.
***although, technically, I suppose it is some jackass abbreviated version.
****that minimalist writing style only applies to my scripts.
***** :P

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