Friday, April 17, 2009

Hello again

I thought I'd shock anyone still out there and post again. A second post in ten days! How can that be?

Well, see, the script is just about finished. I can't believe it. We had a reading in Los Angeles and tweaked, sent it out to friends to have them read and tweaked some more. Today we sent it to our rep at the Tribeca Film Fest, and that's about it. We can still tweak, of course, but now our business turns to trying to sell the thing.

Oh, the humanity.

Selling a screenplay is a tricky business. There's the "option," which is essentially getting paid to sit on the script and not send it to anyone else, as the optioner considers what s/he would like to do with it. Often an option comes with an extension clause, where you have to sit on it for six months, and then the optioner decides whether or not s/he wants it for another six months. So you can spend a year just wondering if your optioner wants the script or not. Granted, it's not bad to get paid to do nothing, but you're not getting paid a lot. Certainly not enough to quit a day job or anything like that. Not enough to establish a career as a writer. And it's not as prestigious as actually selling a script, so you can't go around bragging to potential industry partners, "I optioned a script." They'll say, yeah, so what? My dog can option a script. (This is not true, by the way. Just thought I'd make that clear.)

The next step up is selling the script. This is good. If you sell it to a Writer's Guild signatory, you become a member of the Writer's Guild, which is also good. WGA membership means you get the WGA minimum for the script (a lot of money, a heck of a lot more than an option -- not retire-on-this money by any stretch, but a lot to me) and you now qualify for WGA-sponsored health insurance and you have a say in union negotiations (albeit a tiny one), a vote, etc. You also have the WGA behind you in your negotiations, and can call on them for help if need be. This is valuable.

And the step after that is actually getting the movie made. This does not automatically follow a sale, sadly. You have to find the right cast, the right director, additional producers. They will sometimes demand rewrites. One of my writing teachers at NYU said, "There's nothing so depressing as going into a meeting with your sixteenth draft--you've given your life to this thing, labored on it--and having the producer say, 'Well, the script is just a first draft.'" I can imagine this quite vivivdly, having worked on this for a while. And all kinds of things can go wrong. A friend of mine had a script optioned and a director and actress attached. They were set to begin filming in a few months. But the actress demanded a new ending. Not just any new ending, but one she dictated. The director said he'd walk if they rewrote to that ending. The actress said she'd walk if they didn't. Time went by, the director's window of availability closed, and the director quit. Then the actress quit. Then the option expired. The script remains in limbo.

That's only one of the many, many things that can go wrong. I won't go into all of them here, not wanting to jinx myself.

Now on to good news about my book. Yes, my book! Remember that? The thing I started this blog for?

I qualify for the Star program, in which they can place my book in bookstores, "regionally and perhaps nationally." It won't happen any time soon -- it takes at least six months, possibly a year -- and meanwhile I have to fill out some extensive forms talking about what kind of publicity plans I have. It's odd and difficult to shift focus back to Jennifer and Henry, my old friends. I may have to do some rewriting of the book, too. Interesting.

Meanwhile, a short story I wrote, "Secret Combinations and the 7-Eleven," got accepted for publication in a literary journal: Weber, the Contemporary West. Better than that, they are submitting it as their entry for a best-of compilation, called Best of the West. An acceptance for that would be incredibly cool. Don't count your chickens, I know. But it still would be cool.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Oh, the shame

It's been almost six months since my last post. What have I been doing for six months, dear reader? Why, writing a screenplay. In my last post I had just won a screenplay development grant from the Sloan Foudnation, through the Tribeca Film Institute. Well, they wanted a rewrite (it's a screenplay development grant, after all) and so I wrote one. And another. And another. But FINALLY I can say...well, not that we're done, but we're literally a couple of weeks away from being done. Which is a good thing, since the Tribeca Film Festival is at the end of this month and they're having an awards ceremony and everything.

(I have the dress...I bought it even before I knew I'd gotten the award. I saw it in June at Lord and Taylor as I was shopping for a dress for my brother's wedding. It was beautiful...and way too expensive. So I watched it. It wasn't going anywhere; it was a dry summer for sales. I waited. I stalked the dress. I visited it weekly. Sometimes they changed location to try to sell more of the dresses and I would panic, thinking it was gone, and run through the floors to find it again. Always there, and never on sale. Until October, when it was about half off. I opened a Lord & Taylor account to get an additional 15% off (I know, such bad financial sense!) and got another 15% off because I told the saleslady my summerlong stalking story. So it was affordable. And two weeks later I got the news. It was as if the universe had said, "If you buy it, you will get the fellowship!" And now I need to lose 10 pounds. I've been telling myself this since February. Hmm. Maybe this will just be an opportunity to purchase Spanx.)

Anyway. Marie Curie has occupied me since then, just about exclusively. Every so often I get ideas for future stories--both screenplays and books--and say, okay, jot that down for later. When is "later"? After Marie Curie sells! Optimistically speaking, of course; one never knows what will happen. I remain optimistic, just because it's a darn good script (if I do say so myself) and we've gotten such great feedback from so many people.

I actually just got back from a trip to LA, where we had a reading. We got 8 professional theater actors to donate their time (we paid them in sandwiches, literally) and we had one rehearsal and one performance. A "reading" is different from a real performance, fyi: actors sit in chairs and don't actually walk around or do anything they're supposed to do; they just read the lines from the script (no memorization) and put the proper vocal inflection in. But if someone slaps Marie (as does happen...juicy science stories!), the actor doesn't actually get slapped; the narrator literally says, "Jeanne slaps Marie." So there's some imagination involved for the audience, but it's so great for the writers to hear their words aloud. See, it always works in the writer's head; the eternal question is, does it work for anyone else?

So. I apologize if anyone has checked this blog in the last six months and not gotten anything. I've been busy -- you know, writing.

Just read and highly recommend: THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE