Jeanne Veillette Bowerman is the Editor of Script Magazine and a screenwriter, having written the narrative feature adaptation as well as the limited series of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Slavery by Another Name, which was honored in the Top 25 Tracking Board Launch Pad Features Competition. Follow Jeanne on Twitter @jeannevb.
Every once in a while, I need to have an editor rant. Perhaps I’ll call it “clarification” instead of a rant, because rant implies anger, and I’m not an angry person.
A few things happened this past week I feel need… clarification.
I’ve been mulling over how people approach life and their careers. Some people grab life by the throat and go after what they want, making changes along the way to grow and improve. Others are only open to hearing what they want to hear, not what they need to hear.
People are so odd sometimes, fighting evolution and staying stuck in old patterns that don’t work.
One of our columnists, Kevin Delin, wrote an article about tossing the famous and much-loved structure of Save the Cat!, and instead, writing in a way that is uniquely intuitive to you personally. The reactions were many, but what I found fascinating was how they varied widely on Twitter versus Facebook. Our Facebook readers were aghast that I would post such an article. Yet the Twitter audience applauded Kevin’s out-of-the box thinking.
There’s a lot we could analyze about why those two platforms reacted so differently, of which I have an opinion, but that’s a discussion for another day.
What I also found interesting was how some people attacked me personally for posting it. Then again, people also email me expletives that are so raw and vulgar, if I happen to miss correcting typos in an article, they’d make my Sicilian grandfather blush. You haven’t lived until you go through an editor’s inbox. Some days, it takes a tougher skin than sitting with a Hollywood exec.
Again, not “ranting,” just… clarifying.
Maybe I should clarify my overall philosophy on why I post what I post on ScriptMag. We now have over 70 contributors, for whom I have great respect. Do I personally agree with every post I publish? Hell no. Nor do I want to. I’m sure a few of them don’t agree with some of my Balls of Steel articles.
We all write our columns based on our opinions and our personal experiences in the industry, hoping the information we express enlightens our readers in some way.
I’m not a censor. I’m here to bring you as many professional viewpoints as I can to help you find the one that speaks to you personally, which in turn, will help you achieve your dreams. I don’t have to agree with every article. You don’t have to agree with every article.
After all, you’re an adult, and I assume you all wear your big girl and boy panties and can handle hearing opposing views. It’s not my place to censor what you read. It’s your job to decide what you agree with and what you don’t. If I filtered what I published and only gave you the unicorn and leprechaun, rose-colored glasses view, how would that be serving you?
It wouldn’t. No executive is going to filter his/her opinion of your script. This industry isn’t exactly known for its kindness.
There are no rules in screenwriting that fit every writer every time for every script. Period. We all have different ways of going about our work and creating our art. No two of us are alike. While ten of you may hate something I have allowed to go live, one of you may have a revelation by reading a viewpoint you hadn’t heard of before. It might speak to you in a way that inspires you to keep at it another day, or try to write a script with a totally different approach.
That’s my job – to educate and open your minds to other ways of approaching screenwriting. Because if you’re only going to continue with the one way you are writing at this very moment, then what’s the point of reading articles? Just to hear what you want to hear? Just to be told, “Go ahead, keep at it just the way you’re doing it now”?
How’s that working for you? Getting anywhere? If you are, fantastic! I applaud you. But if you aren’t, then maybe try a new approach. Try something you never thought you’d do before, and see if it works better for you.
I do it all the time. I’ll read an article and at first say, “Meh… that’s dumb.” And then I’ll try it and happily eat crow when that new angle actually works.
Which brings me to my second… clarification.
I was at a tire shop the other day painfully waiting for new tires, brake pads and a gigantic bill when a man next to me saw me typing away and just had to have a conversation despite my being fully engaged in my work. Me being me, I couldn't help but use this moment for character research, so I bit the bullet and talked to him.
I quickly discovered he’s a successful single father of a young daughter, very positive attitude, and overall happy-go-lucky personality. But there was something off. Something that didn’t quite seem like he was living in reality. He actually was so euphoric, he made Mr. Rogers seem like the Grouch on Sesame Street, if you can imagine that.
Then came the inevitable conversation one has when another realizes they’re talking to a writer… “I wrote a book too!”
He tells me of a philosophy book he wrote and cast aside after submitting it to one publisher and receiving one rejection.
OK, brace yourselves. This dude had no idea he was talking to Miss Balls of Steel.
I was incredulous someone would only pitch one person and then give up. ONE PERSON! After spending months writing a book, he’d give up after one rejection.
I asked why.
He said, “It was fate. If the book had been any good, they would have said yes. But it must not have been, so I moved on.”
Mind you, as he stated this, he had a Mr. Rogers' smile plastered on his face.
I protest, “Maybe they were wrong. Maybe you just needed notes and could have rewritten it… improved it… and then pitched someone else.”
Completely confident, he stated, “No. That would have been hard. Things that are fate are supposed to happen easily. It’s much easier to go with the flow downstream than to fight the current or go upstream. That only exhausts you. It just wasn’t my fate to be published.”
At this point, my jaw was on the ground, gobsmacked.
I promptly challenged him, “So, I have to assume your ex-wife was the first woman you dated then? The first woman you kissed? You just asked that one woman to marry you and since she said yes, you did… even though maybe waiting for another woman, who was a better fit, instead of marrying the first woman you asked, might have led to a successful union instead of a divorce?”
He regroups, “No, no, she wasn’t my first kiss. Of course not.”
“Then why only pitch one publisher?”
“Like I said, that’s all I needed to pitch. If it was good, they would have taken it. Fate should be easy.”
I stared at him as if he was an alien. I spend my days with people like me, crawling, scraping, doing anything and everything we can to get published, produced, and to break in. We climb mountains and would do it again a thousand times just for the possibility of a “yes.”
So I said it. I just said it. “You’re a pussy.”
His eyes bugged out of his head. “WHAT!?”
I said it again, “You’re a pussy. You didn’t want to be published. You didn’t want to really have your work out there. You just wanted to be able to say to your friends that you wrote a book. Big deal. A lot of people write books. I’m writing a book. But believing in yourself enough to put your words out there… to fight for your dreams… that takes balls. And you don’t have them, so you’re blaming fate.”
Then I leaned in and looked him dead in the eyes, “Fate isn’t easy. Fate doesn’t just fall down upon you like a rainbow. Fate takes belief in oneself. We make our own fate.”
He coughs a nervous cough, “Well, that’s not my philosophy.”
That’s probably why his philosophy book didn’t attract that one publisher. I turned away thinking, maybe he’s right. Being published wasn’t his fate. The publishing world would have eaten him alive.
I guess what I’m saying in all of this “clarification” is for you to examine your own philosophy and how it’s affecting your life and your careers. Do you believe in yourself? Are you willing to try new things to succeed? Can you step outside of your comfort zone and open your mind to a new way of thinking?
If not… how’s that working for you?
While you’re at it, think about your characters. For me, my favorite characters are ones who aren’t pussies. They are characters who have the balls to go after what they want, who will evolve to achieve their goals, and who are fearless when it comes to kicking ass, if necessary. No one wants to watch someone make excuses for their failures for two hours, let alone pay $10 to see them achieve nothing because “fate” didn’t go their way.
I’ll leave you with one image of my favorite female character of all time, The Bride in Kill Bill. That scene where Uma Thurman lies in the back seat of the Pussy Wagon, willing her toe to move is perfection.
She made it happen. She didn’t wait for fate to hand it to her… and it wasn’t easy. Not at all. Which is exactly why we were rooting for her.
If you want to succeed, you need to find an exec who will root for you too. That ain’t gonna happen by only pitching one or by only believing in one way of doing things.
- More Balls of Steel articles by Jeanne Veillette Bowerman
- Balls of Steel: Dear New Screenwriter
- Notes from the Margins: Every Article on Screenwriting You Never Have to Read Again
- Script Angel: Turning Screenwriting Dreams Into Achievable Writing Career Goals
Watch ScriptMag Editor Share Her Advice on Facing Your Writing Fears
Jeanne Veillette Bowerman shares her personal story of facing her fears in order to propel her writing and her career. Click on the image below to watch Jeanne's advice. In just eight minutes, you might have a whole new perspective.