Sunday, February 26, 2017

New Year New Projects. Sort of... (Updated)

A month has past since the last update, but I have one snippet of newer news to post. The pilot episode of the series I've been obsessed with has garnered a semifinalist status in the 2017 Scriptapalooza TV competition in addition to the quarterfinals nod from The Shore Scripts  competition that I mentioned last month. I discovered this information while cleaning out my SPAM folder, so it pays to do some email house cleaning once in a while.
In other news, I just finished a draft of the 19th episode of the same series, with the beginnings of at least two more episodes in progress. Another month, another copyright to register. I also updated my competition win listings at Moviebytes.com and was surprised to see that three of my short scripts were listed among the top ten of the categories listed on the site. Those scripts are Roadside Picnic, The Body and Blood and Pwned. It's always nice to get a little reminder that your writing doesn't suck.

I continue to look forward to the new year as I continue to expand on the historical drama series I started almost two years ago. I've completed nineteen episodes since starting the pilot in April of 2015. That's a solid two seasons worth of material for those executives who passed on the idea because they couldn't see it sustaining a single season. Yes, I'm a sole, novice writer who is pushing out an average of one episode a month. It makes sense to worry that the quality isn't there. But if I can single handedly carry two seasons worth of material over the course of two years, then maybe this project is a development goldmine! Maybe…

Regardless of the lack of industry movers knocking at my door, I continue to write them. Always keep writing. The practice is good for you.

That's it. I'm out. And again, I wish you all the best of luck in your writing endeavors.



The Chain - Francisco Pizarro

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

New Year New Projects. Sort of...

Hello, everyone and Happy New Year!

When I last took time to post anything, it was about the pitching process and the headaches that writers experience because of it. Well, I'm still pitching, and you should be too! Keep a bottle of Excedrin handy.

But that's old news. I'm looking forward to the new year as I continue to expand on the historical drama series I started almost two years ago. I was able to garner a quarterfinalist nod for the pilot episode in 2016 from The Shore Scripts competition. Any competition placement is a good thing in my opinion, and the notes I received from their evaluation were mostly favorable.

I've completed seventeen episodes since starting the pilot in April of 2015, and I've got a solid start on three additional episodes as we speak. That's a solid two seasons worth of material for those executives who passed on the idea because they couldn't see it sustaining a single season. Yes, I'm a sole, novice writer who is pushing out an average of one hour long episode a month. It makes sense to worry that the quality isn't there. But if I can single handedly carry two seasons worth of material over the course of two years, then maybe this project is a development goldmine! Maybe…

Regardless of the lack of industry movers knocking at my door, I continue to write them. Always keep writing. The practice is good for you.

That's it. I'm out. I wish you all the best of luck in your writing endeavors.


The Chain - Francisco Pizarro

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Art of Receiving Pitch Feedback II - The Sequel

Alright. Okay. Audible sigh. The struggle is real, people. The struggle is real.

I just got feedback on another pitch to another company via Stage 32 that I would like to share with you as a reminder of what we as writers are up against. This is a pitch to convince the industry insider to read your script. You pay that insider to critique the pitch - not the script, which is really just a way to prove that they did indeed read it, in my opinion, therefore justifying their fee.

Because I increasingly get the feeling that they don't really read them. Not really. Oh sure, they skim. Skimming could loosely be defined as reading. The point is that if all they do is skim when you're paying for them to read, imagine the effort they put into it when you don't use a service… You can't imagine it? Exactly.

So here's what I'm sharing. It's a TV series idea that I've written fifteen episodes for within the course of fifteen months. They're probably a little rough and in need of some polish or rewrite, but that's beside the point because I'm pitching the pilot and subsequent idea. I've edited down elements of the actual pitch here so as to protect the idea in case it ever does get picked up, but even the edited examples beg the question, "how can the reader miss this?"

So here's the industry insider critique. In pieces:

"I would add a section discussing characters and sample episodes since each one seems to be entirely different from the other.."

So here's a segment of the two page pitch they're commenting on:

 "Matt, at the core of the first season, struggles with the aftermath of [what he started]. It comes back to haunt him with every new [guest character] he encounters… He struggles with his place in [a new society] ruled by power hungry people… He develops from a lowly servant… to an equal partner… to an important member of [a rebellion]. Throughout the series, he manipulates the truth about his knowledge of [something specific in the original pitch] in order to survive among the power hungry people who try to manipulate him."

"Each episode focuses on a new [guest character] and how Matt influences their ultimate future. The second episode involves [insert character and detail]… Other episodes focus on [insert characters and detail on five more episodes]…"

How does this not qualify as "a section discussing characters and sample episodes?" The reader began her critique with "The document is well formatted, but poorly structured to pitch a TV pilot," then poses her question which is clearly answered at the start of the first paragraph that describes the series…

She then poses a series of questions she has about the idea that could well be answered beyond the limitations of a two page pitch. And lets be clear about this, the rules of using the Stage 32 service state that if your pitch runs longer than two pages, those pages won't get read. Still, the questions that the reader wants answered involve detail. Lots of detail. "What is the mythology behind [this element of the series]?" How does it carry over from character to character? How does it affect each character?  Oh, and here's a response to that last question taken directly from my two page written pitch.

"The characters struggle with their beliefs in religion and superstition, and with the importance of fortune... and power in their lives."

And here's a little something about the main character Matt that the reader apparently missed… "Matt… winds up… helping - and often times hurting - the oppressed masses that he identifies with, because [what he started] follows him at every turn, making him believe that he is cursed for having started it."

There's actually more detail in the two page pitch that I don't want to share here, but you get the idea. I went back to my letter and was able to find the answer to every question she asked right there on the page.

Some of you may read this and decide that I'm just bitching and moaning because it's a pass on reading the pilot. And I say, probably. I will also repeat what I have said before. Industry professionals are inundated with ideas and they are conditioned to say no. I will also point out that two pitches I made prior to this through Stage 32 for the same series idea were received with stronger feedback that makes me believe that the elements that this reader couldn't see are understood by others. But there is one element of the series that I can't share here that most of the people reading the pitch can't seem to grasp, and it's not necessarily that they don't understand that element. It's more about the fact that they don't believe in the concept of how it passes hands from one person to the next. And you'll have to trust me on this, that is insanely laughable in an industry where movies like The Grudge and The Ring exist.

The struggle is real, writers. Keep writing anyway.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Art of Receiving Pitch Feedback

So, I've spent the last few months (since March) working on this TV series idea that has gotten me so excited because I've been able to bang out 8 episodes in 7 months with more episode ideas just piling up in my head. But that's not the point of this post. The point is that, for me, it's time to get serious about pitching which is something I haven't engaged in for a long time. So feeling rusty, and being the typical reclusive writer type that I am, I have resorted to taking advantage of the Stage32.com pitch sessions that the organization offers.

Stage32.com is a great access hub for writers who don't otherwise have an in to get people to consider their material, but the focus of this post isn't about them. It's about readers in general, and why every writer should listen to a reader's feedback but also take it with a grain of salt. I have submitted essentially the same written pitch to several industry gatekeepers, and without giving away my concept, or giving away the names of those gatekeepers, I'm going to share what all pitching writers must come to terms with, and that's the diversity of what readers take away from the same pitch. You can't get away from it. You'll even want to point out why your reader is absolutely and totally wrong. But you'll have to take it in stride and learn how to move on.

Reader one:  Saw a lot of merit in the potential longevity of my series and in the complexities of the main character arc. BUT the pitch reader didn't think it was a good fit for their company because of its religious/faith inspired concept.

I really appreciate the positive approach that this reader took the time to focus on. But here's the thing. This reader made the assumption that my idea  is religious/faith inspired when it isn't... At least not in the way that s/he seems to infer. Religion factors into the series because of the historical setting when   people of the time relied on their beliefs to justify their actions. Still, this reader found it easy to lump this pitch into the faith based genre based on the fact that religion in general was mentioned in the pitch. S/he therefore passed.

Reader two: Immediately focused on the fact that a period drama is a hard sell. This is the best kind of feedback to get because whether you like it or not, it gets to the point. This reader is letting you know that s/he isn't in the market for this kind of script regardless of how good it is. But then the reader posed a question that irked me, as all writers probably have had happen. S/he asked if a particular  part of the story had a supernatural element to it.

Let me focus on my written pitch at this point, where I wrote, "This [prop within the story] is not some magical element. Rather, it's a catalyst for [the characters of the episode] to either benefit or suffer from based on their belief in it." In other words, no. It doesn't have a supernatural element. I stated that in the written pitch. The prop within the story is not magical. Still, the reader felt compelled to ask the question. 

What do I take away from this? Readers miss things all the time. They read a huge amount of material and they tend to gloss over things. As a reader myself, I understand this. As a writer, it still irks me that things that are obviously stated can still be overlooked. What have I learned? Get over it and move on.

Reader three: I didn't get feedback from reader three because s/he requested the script. What does that say? First of all, I love this reader... But seriously, this goes to prove that pitching is a hit and miss endeavor. The religious aspect that scared off reader one and the period drama aspect that scared off reader two was not enough to deter reader three from checking this idea out. A pass is a debilitating thing for a writer. Persistence often prevails.

Reader four: I outlined a unique aspect of my series idea in my pitch, where the nature of the series had the potential to cross the baton from one main character to a new main character at any time, basically highlighting the idea that the show could be carried by a new lead whenever the story allowed us to go in a new direction. I tried to promote how this idea could open up the longevity of the series.

The problem here is that reader four just didn't agree. S/he told me that we should always stay with a character long enough to satisfy their story arc. First of all, this reader made the assumption that a character's story arc couldn't be completed within one season even though I pointed out something like True Detective (season one) as a prime example.  Second, this reader based his/her opinion on a particular formula that s/he has seen work and therefore has adhered to that rule in determining salebility. That's alright. That doesn't necessarily make your original take on your material invalid. Readers have opinions. Some of them will mistake opinions for rules. As writers, we need to get past it and move on.

Finally, the biggest thing that I have taken away from  this session of pitching the same material in the same way to four different readers is that none of them agreed as to why they passed (or in the case of reader three, why s/he didn't). This is the biggest lesson to be learned, and Stage32.com gives you one of the best opportunities to learn it because the industry execs that you are pitching to are required to give brief feedback. 

If you pitch your material to several people, and they all tell you that the same thing is wrong, maybe you should consider their advice. But sometimes the problem isn't that your pitch is bad. The problem is that you don't know the recipient's individual taste. And the best thing to do in that situation is to move on and keep pitching.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

2015 Brings New Writing Recognition and New Projects

It is with sadness that I note the date of my last blog post over a year ago. Okay, there's no real sadness to that revelation. But I did note it. A friend of mine recently posted that she was reducing time on Facebook in order to focus more on her life diary via her blog. It made me realize I hadn't updated mine in a while, and that I really should. Here's why:

1. That competition I entered that got me a top 10 finalist ranking.

The competition was the Happy Writers/Stage 32 TV Competition. The script was a spec script for my guilty pleasure show Supernatural, titled I Got You Babe. So there's that. And I don't know. Whenever I do well in a competition, I feel like it's worthy of a look for all the aspiring writers out there. Yes, they chose my script as a finalist, and that warrants any criticism that says I'm biased. But here's the thing about Richard Botto and Stage32.com. It is an active social network designed to help anyone in the entertainment industry (not just writers) connect and bring their projects to realization. Happy Writers also offers reader services and pitching opportunities with executives and producers. There are fees involved, but they're reasonable. And let's face it, executives and producers can be hard to corner if you're not represented by an agent or manager. So if you haven't already, check Stage32.com out. Membership is free.

2. That competition I entered that got me a semifinalist nod.

I can't say enough good things about Denise Gossett and Shriekfest. She is a tireless advocate of horror movies, and I don't know how she manages her own successful acting career alongside the responsibilities to run this annual Los Angeles festival. My short script Roadside Picnic garnered a semifinalist nod in late 2014. If you write horror -or if you're a fan of indie horror- check out Shriekfest.

3. That feature idea I've been sitting on for years just inspired me to write it as a series pilot.

No, I'm not going to share too many details because every writer fears that if they reveal too much too soon, someone will be inspired to write their own version and thus beat them to the finish line. I am truly at that stage. But the pilot episode is done and submitted to a competition or two. Also, I'm in the middle of writing episode two. The ideas are piling up in the back of my brain, and I can't research fast enough because the fictional element of the story is woven into a pretty complex period in history with real historical figures as characters. It's kind of like Shakespeare in Love in that respect, but with multiple episodes that could span the course of world history. I'm excited, I'm frustrated. But most important, I'm writing.

I've added a couple new links of writer friends who are worth a look. Check them out on the sidebar. And of course, keep writing!


Monday, January 20, 2014

Bringing in 2014

Hello, everyone.

I don't have much to post about this early in the new year, but I want to encourage everyone to come up with an idea and and get started on it. Or, finish an old one that may be sleeping in a drawer.

I have a goal to finish a short that seems to be growing into a feature, and I'm toying with another TV spec for the show Parks and Recreation. That's right, neither is of a horrific nature. but that's okay, horror scripts still lurk deep down in my heart.

Speaking of horror, I am tentatively scheduled to be on Shriekfest Radio on a Thursday night, March 20th at 7pm. What is Shriekfest Radio, you ask? It's an extension of the Shriekfest Film Festival, where winners and finalists get to be interviewed. You can tune in online here. They touch base with Shriekfest alumni throughout the year, so check it out. There are many cool horror writers to listen to and ask questions of. My feature spec A Good Soul was a finalist in 2013, and my short PWNED was a finalist in 2011.


Happy writing, everyone!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Updates on Competition Entries (revised as of September 30, 2013)

Here it is another September, and I'm pleased to announce that I am once again a finalist. My feature spec A Good Soul has made the top 20 finalist list of this year's Shriekfest. This will be the third time the script has been honored as a finalist, once in the California Independent Film Festival, and later in the Long Beach Queen Mary Paranoia Festival.

Speaking of Shriekfest, my short script PWNED had been a finalist there in 2011. This year, the script made the top 100 list of the Table Read My Screenplay Competitions. Where am I leading? I guess I'm trying to say that if different competitions share the same opinions about your script, you might be onto something. I hope so. Either way, I'm proud that both of these scripts have been recognized by these wonderful organizations. (Note: as of September 30, PWNED progressed to the Top 30 Finalists across all categories.)

Needless to say, if you've entered a competition and your script didn't make it to anybody's list, please don't get discouraged! There are so many people attempting to write screenplays that it's easy to fall victim to the notion that you're just not good enough. As a script reader I can honestly attest to reading so much material that is good. The problem is that there is only ten percent of the good that actually gets recognized. And yes, at that point, personal opinion does come into play.

As a finalist, I'm fortunate enough to have something to back up my ability as a writer, but as a reader I'm also painfully aware that  luck is also a factor. Last year I was fortunate enough to score finalist status in The Austin Film Festival and in Scriptapalooza with a Supernatural TV series spec, but I didn't make the cut when I entered the WB Writer's Workshop this year with two that were arguably better based on the opinions of other writer friends. Oh yeah, and one of them, subtitled I Got You Babe, is a quarterfinalist in Final Draft's Big Break competition (had to edit that in since I found out after this original posting - YAY!).

Bottom line, it's a tough business. Persevere by keeping an open mind to criticism, recognizing personal opinion and continuing to write.