When I was in college, one of my favorite books was Sex Tips for Girls by the sublime Cynthia Heimel. She is as explicitly informative as she is wickedly funny. Her pointers on dating, love, and sex range from the utterly practical to the downright devilish.
Not that I’m shallow, but would you have bothered to read “Tragic Tips for Unhappy Russian Writers?”
The Perils of Obsession
Who among us can say we have never fallen prey to obsession? That unquenchable longing for someone we cannot have. You can’t get them out of your mind, your dreams, your every waking moment. They seem so… perfect. Sadly, that obsession could lead you to miss out on a perfectly wonderful, obtainable person right there in front of you, or waiting in line behind you, or giving you the once over from across the room.
For writers, the most dangerous obsession is first love. Falling head over heels for your first screenplay is understandable. What’s tragic is failing to recognize when the romance is over and it’s time to move on.
Many aspiring writers devote years to rewriting the script that has captured their heart. It’s a direct path to heartbreak. How many people are married to the first person they ever kissed? Show of hands?
No one’s first script is great. Ever. Learning how to write a screenplay means mastering a new and foreign medium. First ideas are seldom brilliant and marketable. And yet, writers plug away; rewriting and rewriting and rewriting but never making a good script great, as that might require abandoning creations they adore or a complete teardown forcing a fresh start from a blank page. They are merely making it “more better.” And, in the process, they fail to create and develop new ideas, the successful writer’s true love.
Move on! Even if this first love is the best screenplay since Casablanca, there’s no point in being a one-hit wonder. If it is good and gets you through some doors, the first question is apt to be, “What else to you have?” Or, “This one’s not for me; what are you working on?”
Many agents have an ironclad rule that they won’t get in bed with a new writer who doesn’t have two good scripts under their belt.
That’s “Agent Speak” for two scripts that they think they can sell – well-executed, commercial concepts. Accept that it may take you 10 scripts to get there, and start flirting with your next idea.
How to Be Good On the Page
Be easy on the eyes. Having been around the block a time or two, we know our type. We’re well aware of what an attractive page of script looks like. Not too much dialogue, not too much description. Just right.
Be good between the sheets. You’re no fumbling virgin.You’ve got skills. You’ve got experience. You’ve learned your craft. You’ve honed it over time. You know what we want because you’ve dedicated yourself to understanding the marketplace.
No bells and whistles. Strut your stuff with impressive writing and engaging storytelling. Concise and compelling. Fresh not fancy.
Spoon-feed us. Never make us have to work for it. “Wait! Who’s that character?” “Where are we now?” “Did I miss something?” If we have to skim back through your script to figure out what’s going on, you’re sunk. You’ve taken us out of the story. The moment is ruined.
Be a turn on. Arouse us. Drama, comedy, romance, thriller – we want to feel it. Whatever you are setting out to do, move us with your story.
Seduce us. We’re looking for a story that effortlessly draws us in, keeps us riveted and ultimately sweeps us off our feet.
How to Find Someone to Fall in Love With Your Script
As they say, “You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet the handsome prince.”
Be slutty. Put it out there, baby. Talk about your story to anyone and everyone who will listen. Move past your fears of idea theft and find out if your idea is a turn on or a turn off. Spread it around. You may find that someone you know, knows someone in the industry who may just flip for your script.
Vie for attention. While it may feel like competing in a beauty pageant, the top, most reputable contests will make some folks in the industry sit up and take notice. It’s like a nice push up bra for your query, showing off your assets.
Dip into Internet dating. There are many online services these days where you can pay to have your query read or your pitch heard. Sure, you may get turned down flat, but you are guaranteed a look and prompt reply.
Hit the clubs. Show up, join in, drop by. You aren’t going to meet the love of your life sitting at home, unless you get lucky with the mailman. Join a writer’s group. Nothing in your area? Start your own. Networking groups and Meet Ups abound. Attend conferences and film festivals and mingle. No good at the “meet and greet?” Realize you aren’t the only one, and make the first move. Stumped for a conversation starter? Spot one interesting thing within your line of vision, and you’ve got a great opening line. “Wow! That’s quite the pyramid of bagels on that buffet.”
Someday your Prince will come. They say you fall in love when you least expect it. So don’t spend your time expecting it; spend your time preparing to be Mrs. Awesome Client. Have multiple, polished specs and more ideas up your sleeve. Be industry savvy following box office, sales and deals. Build relationships so when, at last, your object of affection gets down on one knee, you be prepared with a list of your industry connections and fans of your work. If you are doing all the right things, and it’s meant to be, then eventually, an agent, manager, or producer will show up on a white horse and you will be ready to ride off into the sunset.
You can’t hurry love.
Dear Dr. Paige Turner
A writer’s life is rife with uncertainty. Does the size of my screenplay matter? How much should I reveal in a logline? What turns readers on?
You deserve answers. You won’t be satisfied until you get them.
That’s why I’m bringing in an expert, my darling friend, Dr. Paige Turner, to address your most perplexing questions. The ones that keep you up at night.
Dr. Turner has worked her way up to an advanced degree. I have every confidence she will deliver just what you are craving.
The floor is now yours, Dr. P.T.
Dear Dr. Paige Turner,
How long should I wait to follow up with assistants or executives after I’ve submitted a script?
Waiting for Gordo
My Dear W.F.G.,
Not once, but twice, a gentleman has called me after a blind date within mere minutes of my closing my car door and speeding off. One time I was delighted and made a beeline for a second date that very same evening. The other filled me with dread. One fellow had left me hot and the other bothered. So you see sweetie, timing and desire share a unique and twisted relationship.
You pine for a crumb of contact with your beloved reader. Each day stretches from here to eternity. Their life rushes by like the blur of speed dating. You are a mere speck of sand on their vast beach.
Bubbes are renowned for kvetching, “You don’t write. You don’t call...” But instead of a whine, take that as a commandment. Your reader will contact you when they have read your material and if they are interested.
Long before I was The Good Doctor, I was an underpaid, overworked yet ever-so-eager literary agency assistant. I juggled meetings, maintained a steady flow of coffee, stroked the egos of clients and agents alike, and was also expected to answer the phone. I would frequently field calls from newbie writers wanting to know when my boss would be getting back to them about their submission. I would put them on hold and trot down the hall, my spike-heeled ankle boots clacking on the wooden floor, until I arrived at the shelf outside her office. The shelf with the towering stack of scripts, never, ever less than two feet high, that I carefully maintained.
At the top of the stack were the scripts that had been dumped onto her by an agency partner. Meaning her boss. Below that, were the ones that had been recommended by a client or colleague. Crushed under a weight great enough to create diamonds from coal were those that had somehow managed to come in over the proverbial transom. All nicely arranged by me, newest at the bottom of the heap. Simply put: prioritized.
I would return to the phone and inform the writer, without an ounce of sarcasm – I swear by the Hypocritic Oath – that they would be hearing back in about 18 scripts. Even then, I knew that a dose of reality was the best prescription.
These days you are more likely to be sandwiched in a virtual stack. There’s a staggeringly speedy delivery system and no trees were harmed in the making of this would-be movie, but it is a far more precarious position. With nothing to tether you to reality, you are apt to float off into cyberspace like sexy astronaut George Clooney, adrift and out of the picture much too soon.
Once a writer emailed me to follow up on a script he’d sent three months earlier. I was positive that I had read and responded to him – albeit, after about two months. Oddly, we were both right. I had inadvertently clicked the wrong button and emailed a polite rejection to myself.
Short answer: Two months. One polite inquiry after two months. That is all.
Dr. Paige Turner
Thank you Ms. Heimel, for the education and the inspiration.
Longing for more Dr. Paige Turner? Click here.
- More Breaking & Entering articles by Barri Evins
- Ask the Expert: The Do’s and Don’ts of Screenwriting
- Breaking & Entering: 100 Reasons Execs Say No
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