Monday, July 22, 2013

Screenwriting Lessons from San Diego Comic-Con 2013

Last weekend I went to Comic-Con in San Diego. If you haven't been, it's a crazy pop-culture circus with both fan and pro components. Among the pro components are panels on industry topics and parties hosted by agencies, studios, and groups like the WGA. Here are a couple of interesting screenwriting-related things I learned/heard during my three days at Comic-Con this year:

What Do You Bring to the Table?

I went to a panel on Pitching Creator Owned Comics that had valuable information for pitching any type of creative project. The main point could be summed up in one line: "Why should a publisher choose your comic over someone else's?" You could transpose that to, "Why should a producer choose your movie idea over someone else's?"

The panel discussed the need to prove your value as an artist. Simply being passionate about the media and your ideas is not enough, yet in creative industries aspiring artists seem to think simply loving something entitles them to create that thing. As one panelist said, "Guess what - everybody is passionate about their idea." The panel chair, Jim Zub, used this analogy about the restaurant business to illustrate (I'm paraphrasing):

Imagine an aspiring chef came into a restaurant and cornered the owner.
Aspiring chef: You should make me the chef of your restaurant!
Owner: Interesting. Why?
Aspiring chef: Because I love to cook! I cook all the time, I eat everything and I love food.
Owner: Have you ever run a restaurant? Or even worked in one?
Aspiring chef: No, but I've wanted to be a chef since I was five, I watch the Food Network all the time and I know the names of all the chefs and I really, really love food!

If you were the restaurant owner, would you give that guy a shot? Probably not. You need to put in the hard work to prove yourself before asking people to give you an opportunity.

Note Giving and Taking

The Writer's Room panel, featuring many TV writers and showrunners, including my friends Javi Grillo-Marxuach and Steve Melching, was fascinating, funny and informative for anyone interested in TV writing. Unfortunately there was too much good stuff for me to recap everything. But there were some particularly good points about giving and taking notes that I'll summarize.

On giving notes, the point was made that people have a limit for receiving criticism. The note-giver should focus on the macro and work toward the micro. If there are big issues, deal with those first and don't comment on specific lines of dialogue or grammar errors. When the big changes are made, much of that stuff will end up being changed anyway. (This came up in discussion about the way showrunners give notes to staff writers.)

On receiving notes, a major point was that you are not hired to be a typist. One panelist said executives live in "ball-shriveling terror" of seeing a line of dialogue they suggested appearing verbatim in a script. Instead, you're supposed to interpret the note and deliver a good version of the idea.

The panelists also discussed the need to dig into the note behind the note, or as one panelist said, "There's a pony in the pile of s**t." So even if the note seems idiotic, the person reading was troubled by something at that point in the script. Try to figure out what it was and fix the underlying problem.


The Hollywood Pitching Bible is now available for purchase in print through Amazon, or as an ebook for Kindle and iTunes. You can learn more about the book at the Screenmaster Books website.

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