Friday, November 7, 2014

This script writing "business"...

It's often been said that the script writer's real work begins once a play or screenplay is written.  And there is more than a smidgen of truth to this.  It's worth taking a look at what kind of "work" this refers to.  

First of all, it's important to realize that once you are absolutely convinced that your script is ready to be released to the world--once you've been through that "final" draft a dozen times and every page is perfect--you have arrived at the threshold of a whole new phase in the project's life.  And this phase has to be handled just as carefully and thoroughly as the writing, rewriting, and early testing of your script.

Of critical importance is that you do your due diligence on the possible places your script could be sent and whose hands you want to get it into.  This is a vast task if it's done right and demands serious research into the various possible venues and people, contests and festivals, theatres and other organizations that are constantly putting out a call for new material.

Every writer--especially those in the early stages of their careers--play the wishing game that all they have to do is land a good literary agent and all their babies can then be handed off to this hard working professional dedicated to finding a home for your brilliant creations.  As all writers realize the longer they are in the business, this could not be further from the truth.  Agents negotiate contracts once serious interest in your work has been obtained.  But with very rare exceptions, they do not find the production opportunities for a writer's work.  And that goes for both the theatre and film/TV.  In other words, it's the writer who finds the interested parties who in turn make an offer.  The agent then becomes activated or a theatrical lawyer is found to deal with that offer.

So that leaves the burden on the writer to shepherd his or her work through its post writing life.  And that means a careful investigation of all possible avenues that that script can be sent down.  It also means developing a realistic strategy or game plan in terms of possible scenarios for the future of each script--from the most modest introduction into the world to the most ambitious and far reaching. For starters, playwrights should join The Dramatists Guild and then carefully investigate their annual Resource Directory (I'd be wary of buying the latest available edition of The Dramatists Sourcebook published by the Theatre Communications Group because it is now seriously out of date).  Screenwriters for starters should scour the Without A Box festival screenplay competition list and investigate every other screenplay competition (a simple Google search will open the door to hundreds of possible opportunities).

The point here is that it's up to you, the writer, to get things going, both for your script and your career.  And you have to be thorough, smart, and assertive.  Believe in your work and be it's biggest supporter--no one else is going to be that for you.

I remember years ago walking into the study for the first time of my friend and successful playwright Richard Nash (The Rainmaker among many others).  It was a small barn on his farm next to his country home and I'd been invited out to work with him on a new play that my theatre was producing.  I noticed that he had a long series of shelves against one wall that held dozens of scripts neatly stacked, one after the other.  I asked him why he had all these different scripts in stacks on shelves.  He said without missing a beat that he was a playwright and this was his business--he had to do this because he was constantly sending work out to theatres and producers.  Then he smiled and said that he was his business.  And it struck me that here was a true professional writer who took himself seriously and who knew that there was only one person that his long career depended on.

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I'm the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Our next residency runs January 3-11, 2015 and we are currently accepting applications for starting the program at the following residency that runs June 19-28, 2015.  I'm also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter), and a professional script consultant.

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