Write on Wednesday: Hiring a Script Consultant

When Laura Ambler and I finished our movie script for The Santa Diaries, we knew we wanted to hire Dara Marks to help us polish it. Laura had used her in the past on a couple of screen plays. We consulted our checkbooks, took a deep breath and called Dara. We booked an appointment and sent her a copy of the script which was ultimately called Santa, Flawed.

Santa Flawed

Laura and I have used writing consultants in the past. We hired two different editors to look at Big Skye Ranch. It was a better book because of the money we spent and went on to be a quarter finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest. It won international awards at the London and Paris Book Festivals and an IPPY award.

A week ago we had our four hour telephone conference call with Dara. We were nervous. What would her reaction to the script be?  It was a somewhat fitful start because the email outline she sent us got hijacked by some virus scrubber on her computer which decided to scrub at precisely the moment she was emailing us. And her dogs went bananas when the UPS man came calling, but after a few minutes of sorting things out, we got to work.

By the end we were exhausted, but exhilarated. Dara told us our script was “highly marketable, it’s got everything, a really good piece, the writing is terrific, there is a strong structure in the script.”  She really said all those things. I took notes! …and then she told us the plot needed strengthening and we could be clearer about the theme. She said the first 25 pages needed to be totally rewritten. Well, that’s what we were paying her for – brutal honesty.

The theme thing is tricky. It’s the universal denominator and the theme drives the characters, the dialog, the setting. Theme should underscore everything in the script. It’s a little hard to wrap your head around because in the past our writing has been more character or plot driven. That’s not to say there wasn’t an underlying theme, but we didn’t spend time really trying to get that down to the bones.

In this telephone consultation we spent at least half an hour sorting out the theme. Turns out the theme is more elemental than Christmas, finding your inner Santa, nostalgia for small town life, or reconnecting with a lost love. The theme of The Santa Diaries script is “we’re all in this together.” We had not known that! Of course, the flip side of that theme is “we are alone” and that is Will’s fatal flaw. If he doesn’t change, he will be alone.

Will is isolated because he has sold out to Hollywood. He has lots of people around him, but they all want a piece of him. His business manager, Josh, whom Will calls his best friend, is a suck-up. Even his girlfriend has her own career agenda. If Will doesn’t find his authentic self (as opposed to his inner Santa) he will never be happy or fulfilled.

There were a couple of times when Dara pointed out that we were still thinking play, not movie. She was right. In the play we couldn’t have Sandy in the hospital with a broken leg. Heck, we couldn’t even get him staged in a bed in traction which is the way we wrote the original script. Sandy in a wheel chair with his leg propped up on a stool had to do. In the movie script he gets to be in a hospital.

Dara suggested that we start with a clean slate for the rewrite and we did. We are now 22 pages into the first 25 (Act 1 up to the First Turning Point). After that it will be more tweaking than a total rewrite as we make sure any changes in the beginning are reflected in rest of the script. All the characters are slightly different than they were in the original play and the script we sent Dara. We hope that gives them more depth.

Will Hawes is a little softer, more redeemable. His father, Sandy, is no longer the paragon of virtue. We’ve roughed up his edges a bit. Brandeee is smarter and shrewder. We haven’t decided if Brandeee and Will are engaged anymore. It always bothered me that Will broke up with Brandeee and moved on to Jessica so quickly.

The point is, do these changes drive the theme to its logical conclusion? We hope to have that figured out in the next month. Then the script will go back to Dara for notes. After that it should be ready to pitch. We think/hope the investment in using a script consultant will be well worth the cost.

Note: This blog was first published June 14, 2013. Gosh, almost five years ago. The script was eventually titled Santa, Flawed. No one bought it, but you can buy it on Amazon formatted for Kindle for $3.99. Using a script consultant was a great learning experience. In reading this post again, I am struck by the importance of theme. Whatever kind of fiction you are writing, figuring out your theme is paramount.

At Christmas We Believe

I have a Santa decoration that lives in my kitchen year round.

At Christmas I Believe

The wine cork ornament was a gift from the mother of the little boy who played Timmy in The Santa Diaries premier in Easton, Maryland in 2012. For Christmas last year Laura gave me the Believe ornament which I immediately hung on Santa’s hand. We believed that our movie script would get bought in 2014. Didn’t happen, but we continue to believe that it will happen at some point. Einstein told us time is fluid… in Hollywood.

When we went to Faribault, MN to see the third production of The Santa Diaries I came home with several additions to hang on my Santa.

Santa I Believe for blog

The red ball was a handmade ornament by Stephanie Weiss who played Martha in the Merlin Players production. The Santa riding a reindeer hanging below the red ball was a gift from the local thrift shop. Laura and I were perusing their wares and the gal at the counter was so thrilled to meet us she asked us each to choose an ornament to take home as a remembrance. The big Santa hanging on the right was in the large basket of Minnesota goodies that the Merlin Players Board of Directors had put in our room at The Loft.

The only problem now is that it is getting difficult to open the cupboard to the right of the Santa. It’s where the plates and bowls are stored so I am in it several times a day.

Any inconvenience is worth it, however, as I see these reminders every day and remember the joy of each production of our play. It’s a way of celebrating every day of the year.

As Josh Shankman says in our play, “Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Feliz Navidad, Happy Kwanza or whatever politically correct holiday you people celebrate. It’s all good!”

Laura and I send our wishes for joy, peace and love in this very special season of the year. Re: selling a movie script…there’s always next year. At Christmas we believe.

Sometimes Life Wins

I know you are supposed to write everyday, but life gets in the way and sometimes life wins.

My garden was on a St. Michaels Woman’s Club garden tour on Friday and I was spending a lot of time weeding, edging, mulching – generally being more obsessive than usual. The day before the tour we had torrential rains which beat up a lot of flowers. But Friday was gorgeous and people loved my garden. This spring gardening has sometimes trumped writing.

backyard garden tour day

Laura runs a business (East Coast Flight Services) and she’s been busy with DOD contracts. A friend of hers has a very ill husband and Laura has been spending time at the hospital in Baltimore. Sometimes friendship should trump writing. It also trumped Laura’s fear of driving over the Bay Bridge.

bay bridge

So Laura and I have been writing in bits and snatches. An hour here and there. Despite everything we are 75 pages into the new Christmas TV movie script. That’s in the last three weeks. This one seems to be writing itself. We’ll write until the end and then go back and fix what needs fixing.

Work on Multiple Projects

Laura and I always have multiple projects going. Some are writing related, some business, and some personal.

We continue to work on the movie script for The Santa Diaries. It will be retitled at some point because Santa’s diary has been eliminated. The play was more about the play the community theater was producing. The movie is more about the characters. It’s a positive shift.

When we finished the most recent draft Laura said we would have been better off starting the movie script from scratch rather than trying to adapt the play. I think she’s right. We are taking a few days off before reading the entire script again to see if scenes are in the right place and what minor tweaks need to be made. It helps to have a little distance and read fresh. I think we are almost there.

Yesterday I met with the group of people who pull together the speakers for the next Bay to Ocean Writers Conference on February 28, 2015. Save the date!

We started by deciding which presenters we’d like to invite back next year. Some of our faculty come back year after year with new topics and we invite them back because they get such good reviews on our evaluations. (This year we had an 80% return on our evaluations.) One of the questions is, “what topics and/or speakers would you like to see next year?”

We had a list of all the presenters and their topics for the last six years and that and the evaluations guided our decisions.  By the end of an hour and a half we had a list of 30 speakers to be invited and topics we want them to present. My task now, as Speaker Liaison. is to invite them.

I came home from that meeting and spent the rest of the afternoon in my garden. Spring has finally arrived and gardening is one of the things I do for my soul. My psychologist husband says I like gardening because it is low conflict. He’s probably right. The  only conflict I had yesterday afternoon was with weeds.

Running to Keep Up

Laura had the brilliant idea of putting an ad for The Santa Diaries in Spotlight, the newsletter published by the American Association of Community Theatre. She designed the color ad and got it in just under the deadline. Darlene DeLorenzo who coordinates AACT Vendor/Festival Services got us a great location in the newsletter.

The newsletter hit people’s mailboxes by the end of February, a few days earlier than we expected. We were barely ready with the tweaks we’d been making to the script when the first emails came in requesting a perusal script. If any of these requests are interested in purchasing the script package we have to be ready; we’re still running, but almost there.

One of the best parts of collaboration is that we get things done. This weekend Laura was in her office putting together information to go with the script. She’d added some photos from both productions. She emailed me that she needed a photo of one of the Christmas parades we’d walked in carrying a Santa Diaries banner. I had one, actually knew where to find it, and emailed it to her. I knew where it was because I’d opened a Pinterest account for Santa Diaries and made a board of the photographs that I had for each production. If you have photos, feel free to add them to the boards.

Pinterest page

We’ll have the sales package together in the next two days and then we can go back to working on The Santa Diaries movie script. We had to set that aside to make sure we were ready when somebody wants to buy the play script. We’ve got our running shoes on.

Santa Diaries’ Playbook

We thought you might be interested in seeing what a revision page of the movie script we’re working on looks like. Maybe it somehow made its way into the Denver Bronco’s playbook and resulted in their spectacular defeat.

script notations

Figuring out how to make your work better is the hard part of writing…and football.

Writing and Knitting

These are the twelve children’s sweaters I knit last year. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to get them boxed up and sent off to World Vision’s Knit for Kids program. Last year people knitted and crocheted 53,728 sweaters, hats and blankets which were given to children living in poverty. These will go in the 2014 count.

IMG_2234

When Laura and I are working on a script, she is the one who is typing it into her computer. Several years ago I decided I could knit while we were working.

These sweaters are very simple and require no counting of rows or stitches.  Essentially just a back and a front that have to be sewn together. My problem is that I don’t like the sewing together part so I tend to put the pieces aside and go on to the next sweater. Eventually I had such a pile I had to force myself to stop knitting and start sewing. Then the sweaters lived in my office for months until I finally packed them up a few days after Christmas and trekked to the post office. Only then did I allow myself to cast on a new sweater.

sweater new

Last week we started rewriting The Santa Diaries script. The original script had a male as the primary character because that’s the way the play was written. Not one of those Christmas movies we watched over the holidays had a male as the lead. A couple had a male and a female as dual main characters. If none of the movies that are being sold and made have a male lead, do we really want to try to change that format? So our rewrite started at the very beginning with new scenes and a couple of new characters. And I started knitting again. I predict that there will be several sweaters to be sewn together before we finish this script rewrite.