Complications Ensue: The Crafty Game, TV and Screenwriting Blog
Complications Ensue:
The Crafty Screenwriting, TV and Game Writing Blog


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Sunday, February 26, 2012

I've been relearning Movie Magic Scheduling. Lisa and I are applying for production financing for a dark drama of ours with the federal and provincial agencies, and our line producer needs to know how much time we're shooting in each location. So I'm trying to work up a budget.

This is really another post about Movie Magic Screenwriter vs. Final Draft. I've always preferred Final Draft. It works intuitively on a Mac. I've always found Movie Magic Screenwriter to behave like a PC program ported over to the Mac. The reason people keep telling me to use Screenwriter is that production managers like the way it integrates with Scheduling.

Guess what? It doesn't. When I try to import my MMSW file into MMS, very little information makes it through, and a lot of that is wrong. For example, if I have a slugline like NOVAK HOUSE - FRONT ENTRY, it will only import the NOVAK HOUSE part. For example, if a character is mentioned in the action, it assumes that character is actually in the scene. Often, they are not. So I just spent a day going through manually entering all the missing data into Scheduling.

Moreover, Scheduling now imports from Final Draft files. So there is no reason to suffer with Screenwriter if you prefer Final Draft.



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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I'm working on my fifth screenplay and while I am still improving as a writer, the pace with which I write is too slow. I want to crank out three perfect spec pages every day, but it takes me all day just to write two pages and many times I get stuck. I tend to get bogged down trying to make the right choices. I could never write for TV with its fast pace. Could you shed some light on how you improved as a writer over time in quality but also in speed? Thanks!

I'd love to help, but I was always fast. If anything, I'd say I've had to learn to slow down.

I think I write fast mostly because I plan ahead, and then I don't overthink.

Planning ahead means making sure in advance that I know what the scene has to do. I have a beat sheet that tells me what has to happen by the end of the scene. So the only hard part about writing the scene from the outline is figuring out how to get into the scene.

Not overthinking it means I am not trying to write three perfect pages a day. If I'm writing a feature, I am trying to write at least five pages a day, and on a good day, maybe up to twelve. If I'm writing TV, I could easily hit fifteen pages a day, and I've written an entire half hour script in a day. (TV is faster because I know the characters and the template; there's less to invent.) Some of those pages may be what I hoped for. Some may not. But I'm probably not going to go back and even read them until I've written the whole script. Once I've written a scene, I won't go back and fuss with it unless something I write down the road specifically makes me think I need to add something.

I think it's inefficient to rewrite pages before you've written the whole script. Only once you've written the whole script do you know how the pieces fit. You may realize that a scene that was just not working is just not working because of something you didn't do right earlier. Or you may realize you don't actually need that scene. Why fuss with it until you can see it in context?

I would say that probably the shortest period of time I spend writing a script is writing the first draft. I spend more time thinking up the concept and creating the outline. And then I tweak.

Stop worrying and just write.



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Monday, February 13, 2012

Congrats to Charles Hall, whose short film script, CIGAR STORE INDIAN, my buddy Maarten Kroonenburg just finished.

Maarten is looking for a new short film script, 4-6 pages. If you've got one, and you are Canadian, please contact his assistant, Patrick Greatbatch, at




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Sunday, February 12, 2012

A reader asked me to evaluate her query letter, a service I sometimes provide. A couple of general thoughts:

  • I've said repeatedly that queries should be short. People nonetheless ask me to evaluate their page-long or two-page query letters.

    An exec is going to make a decision based on the first three sentences of your query letter. If that decision is "no," then she's not going to read the rest of the query. If the decision is "yes," why would you give her more data? You can't improve on "yes." All you can do is change her mind.

    The point of a query letter is to get the exec to read your stuff. The actual development conversation starts once they read your material. You want to minimize friction in between these two steps.

  • This particular query letter asked if the exec wanted to read a book the person had optioned. The querier said the adaptation could go in several directions.

    Never be wishy-washy. If you're not sure which direction to go creatively, then figure it out before you send a query letter.

    It's almost impossible to get an exec to take on a book project, unless you happen to have the rights to the next John Grisham novel. Why option a story when people send you dozens of finished screenplays every week? Adapting a book is a huge chore. (I know, I've done it.) It's only worth it if the project is truly unique, and if the exec is buying a built-in audience.

  • If I were querying, I'd do it by email, not by letter. Why waste all that paper and postage? Just make sure you have your hook in the subject line, not "Do you want to read my--" .

  • When you state your hook, do so in terms of story structure: who is the hero? what does he or she want to do? why can't they? What will they win if they succeed? What could they lose? Answer ALL these questions in a few words, implicitly or explicitly, and your query has done its job.



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    Monday, February 06, 2012

    The IPA minimums describe two team writers sharing one script fee. Why is that? When a team writer goes to a gas station or store, does he or she fill half a tank of gas? [Snip.]

    What about teams with multiple writers?

    Producers are getting the benefits of two writers for the price of one. Why not pay each writer a full script fee?

    With a team, a producer gets the work of two writers simultaneously, with faster delivery of a script, story editing, etc.

    Bottom line, each writer whether single or in a team should have the right to earn a reasonable fee for a decent living, right?
    Nobody has the right to earn a living writing. Earning a living by writing is an enormous privilege that you earn through getting results.

    So, working in a writing team is the writer's choice. It's not a right. If you can make it work for you, the results can be excellent, but it's not the producer's or the Guild's responsibility to make sure you get paid as much as you would if you were writing on your own. You have to earn it by being better in a writing team than you are on your own.

    Writing teams aren't necessarily faster than single writers. They can be. They can also be much, much slower. I worked with another writer who questioned every creative decision. We had to analyze and discuss everything, endlessly. Hopefully the result was better scripts. But they weren't faster. They were slower.

    On the other hand, I would guess that Lisa and I write about three times as fast as we would write on our own, because we have the other partner to break creative logjams. I couldn't put a number on how much better the scripts are, but oh, let's suppose that Alex & Lisa are two to three times better than Alex or Lisa. So we get many more jobs than she and I would get on our own. On a series, we could take on more episodes. We also have more flexibility. If one of us is staffing a show, or shooting, the other can take point on a screenplay that must be delivered by a certain deadline.

    Typically comedy writers often work in writing teams (or "writhing teams" as they're almost never known) because writing teams are much, much better at generating jokes and evaluating them.

    If your writing team really is better, you will get paid, overall, more. But it's not the individual producer's responsibility to pay you more. He's only getting one script. Why should he care how many of you there are? He's only getting one script to shoot.

    Realistically, if producers had to pay a writing team $100,000 to write a script instead of $50,000, they would just never, ever hire a writing team (except if the writing team was as good as a 100% overscale writer).

    I'm not really sure why writing teams get only one story editing salary, but that's the way it's always been.

    As for multiple writer teams -- I've never heard of those. Two's a writing team. Three's a mess.



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    Saturday, February 04, 2012

    Q. You were saying that any "agent" that is not WGA signatory can't help you and that they may hurt you.

    Can you tell me how is it that they can hurt you?
    First of all, an agent who isn't signatory with the Guild is likely an agent no one in showbiz has ever heard of. That means producers are likely to be uninterested in reading material from them.

    Second, the WGA has a slew of rules about what agents can and can't do, like charge for coverage. (The State of California has other rules about what agents can and can't do, like produce.) If this non-WGA agent isn't willing to sign with the Guild, then I have to wonder: exactly what is it they want to do to you that the Guild agreement wouldn't let them do?



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    Friday, February 03, 2012

    Thanks for the great applications. I've found my Montreal intern.



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    Wednesday, February 01, 2012

    I listened to Fresh Air's podcast of Ira Glass's interview of Philip Glass. 3 great takeaways.

    1. Philip Glass's dad Ben Glass owned a record store. They could return up to 5% of the records for breakage. Philip Glass's first job was jumping up and down on records, breaking them so they could be returned.

    2. Ben Glass started as an auto mechanic. So, he had to learn to fix radios. Then he got rid of the cars and fixed radios. Then someone suggested he sell records in the radio store. Eventually he wound up with a record store with a bench in back for fixing radios.

    3. Ben Glass would take home the records he could sell (and Philip couldn't break, I guess) and listen to them very carefully to try to figure out what was wrong with them. Soon he found he really rather liked Shostakovich. He wound up becoming a champion for difficult classical music, convincing his customers that they should like Shostakovich, too. It's not hard to see how hearing a lot of ground-breaking music -- and a convincing explanation -- allowed Glass to make ground-breaking music himself.



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