21 March 2008 - 19:28The Pancake God (or what to write first)

Listening to a podcast the other day. (On The Page — a good talk show style screenwriting show, available on iTunes.) A listener wrote in to ask an important question. He has a passion project that he’d like to write, but he’s a complete beginner and doesn’t want to screw it up. He seemed intimidated by it. He asked if he should maybe write something else to learn his craft first.

I was surprised when the hosts of the show said, “NO! Write the passion project.” Which is not bad advice. What surprised me was their reasons: a beginner shouldn’t waste time trying to write something more commercial because it will be out of date by the time it is done anyway. I realized they were making an “insider leap”. Instead of listening to the question, they imagined their own most common reason to put aside a passion project - that’s when your agent tells you to write something easier to sell.

But this guy didn’t ask about easier to sell. He asked about whether he should do something easier to WRITE. And by golly, there are kinds of stories that are easier to write. Unfortunately, those kinds of stories are are most certainly not easier to sell, which could be why the hosts didn’t think of it. Pretty much everything easy has already been done. (Which is a clue to what it is….)

Write a cliché.

Go ahead. Don’t be scared. Sit down and figure out what formula-type story is your worst guilty pleasure, and write one of those. Just pure trash, but something that’s fun. It can be a cheezy romance, or a bloody horror, or a 1940s tough guy adventure. Go ahead and write something that no one in their right mind would produce today.

My first novel was a swashbuckler. My first screenplay was a western. (And not one of your gritty realistic nouvelle westerns either. Straight old-fashioned Gunsmoke type.) I learned a heck of a lot writing both of them. And here’s the kicker — even though neither of them have been published or produced, they have both got much more attention than a first work ever should have got. (The western got me a “just missed the quarters” note in the Nicholl a couple of years ago.)

Why? Because they were fun. By not bogging myself down in difficult writing chores, I could concentrate on figuring out what was appealing about the genres and the ideas involved, and I could work on THAT.

Nobody’s first script is going to be great. It’s always awkward and misconceived, and really hard to fix. It’s like making pancakes. The first one is misshapen, and the pan was either too cold or two hot. We always called those the “sacrifice to the pancake god” and tossed it to the dog. (The dog, Molly, was high priestess to the pancake god.)

So, while you certainly can work on your passion project while you are learning your craft, it is perfectly reasonable to do a project or two as sacrifices to the pancake god.

No Comments | Tags: Craft, podcasts, productivity

10 December 2007 - 19:47Podcast: KCRW The Business

I’ve really gotten into podcasts lately. They’re downloadable (and free) audio and video shows for your iPod or other media player. Anything from Joke of the Day to a rebroadcast of the NBC Nightly News (often posted as soon as it hits the airwaves or sooner!). There are a lot of cool little shows, like “Feed Me Bubbe” - a kosher cooking show featuring the producer’s grandmother, who shows you how to make latkes and tsimis and chicken soup.

And there are a lot of great shows for screenwriters and others in Show Biz. Including a weekly half-hour news show from KCRW called “The Business“. Claude Roedesser-Ackner reports the news, makes wry commentary, and interviews various people in entertainment. If you don’t already listen to this on the radio, you really should subscribe to the podcast.

You can get this through the KCRW podcast site, which has links to directly download each individual show as an MP3, or to a subscription through iTunes. It’s a free resource. Make use of it!

ADDED NOTE: Right now, “The Business” has some great posts on the history and background of the strike. iTunes only keeps five of these episodes online at a time, and the first of a great two part episode is now at the bottom of the list: Interview with Mark Norman, author of “What Happens Next: A History of American Screenwriting” (You can get older episodes directly through the KCRW site above.)

No Comments | Tags: podcasts