Defiance: Friend or Foe?

DEFIANCE: friend or foe?

I’ve always been defiant. Even when I was a little girl, my parents knew that the last way to get me to do something was to tell me to do it. I could be reasoned with, cajoled, asked or bribed, but never ordered.

Through the years, my defiance has gotten me into a lot of trouble. It’s put me at odds with supervisors, clients and friends. It has definitely caused some fights between my husband and me.

When it comes to my writing, though, I can use my defiance to my advantage. True, I often rebel against my own action plans and schedules. That’s okay, as long as things get done in a reasonable time frame, and deadlines are met.

So where does all this defiance help out? It helps when no one but me really cares whether I write or not; when no one thinks I will ever get anywhere as a screenwriter. I’m too old to start, the jobs are too hard to get, and I don’t know the right people. Sometimes the messages come from family and friends, and sometimes from inside me. My defiance says “I’ll prove you wrong.” Sometimes it says “That may be true for the rest of the world, but not for me.”

You can call it tenacity, fortitude, persistence, dedication or self-discipline. All of those words are applicable to my pursuit of a screenwriting career.  But when I’m sitting in front of my computer writing a screenplay, it doesn’t feel like any of those words apply. It feels like I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing. It feels like home.

That’s where my good friend Defiance steps up and says, “I will do this for a living, because I’m good at it. Nothing anyone says can stop me.”


Why I’d rather write for TV

The topic in the forefront of my mind lately has been the TV vs. Movie-writing debate. At a Christmas party last month, I met several new people, one of whom instantly called me a sellout when I mentioned I want to work in TV.
It wasn’t the first time that had happened, either. In the Big Apple, screenwriters are all about their indie features and much too sophisticated to ever sit down in front of the small screen (unless it’s to watch “Mad Men,” which is politically acceptable). It might be different in LA, but New Yorkers seem to still consider the world of TV beneath them.
Since my blog is called karenlovestv, you won’t be surprised that I don’t feel that way. In fact, I think that it’s very difficult to find an indie feature (or any movie in the theater, for that matter) as enjoyable and well-written as a good TV drama. My current favorites are “American Horror Story” and “Sons of Anarchy.” I’m also a huge fan of “Shameless,” “Game of Thrones,” and am getting into “How to Make it in America.”
Since the casts of those shows include big-name movie stars, I have to assume that much of the world agrees with me that TV is the best entertainment available today. As a writer, I can’t imagine that anyone would prefer to write movies!
I can hear the screams from here. But hear me out…
1. Screenwriting is about saying a lot in a few words, and there is no way that can be done more effectively than in a 45 minute episode. Generally there are three or four story lines, each thematically linked (if it’s good) and emotionally satisfying on its own, telling each of those stories in an entertaining way with a beginning, middle and an end. In and out, quick and dirty. Amazing.
2. All of those individual episodes combine over a season or several seasons to tell your story in its fullest and most satisfying and indulgent way. The writer is the first to fall in love with the characters, and then week by week, gets to see millions of people fall in love with them, too.
3. Writing in a team ensures that the vision of the series is respected, the quality stays good, and no one person is responsible for the brilliance of any particular episode. That means that if you have a good team, the end result is better than any one person could come up with. It’s simultaneously humbling and a great relief. You can roll up your sleeves and check your ego at the door.
4. The better the writing is, the more the director, actors and everyone else involved have to work with. That means, they can see things happening and bring new layers to the story that the writers didn’t even know were there. By doing their jobs, they make you look good. I can’t imagine anything more exciting than hearing dialogue I wrote come out of a gifted actor’s mouth, conveying something better than I intended. To have that happen on a weekly basis?… priceless.
5. To write for a living with a steady paycheck, benefits and great money is something most filmmakers don’t get to experience often. For me, it will be a dream come true. And it will be fun to work with other people who feel the same.
6. What a great example it would be for my kids to have a mom who went after her dreams and used her talents and hard work to achieve them. I believe that just going after them has a huge impact on their lives, not to mention the sense of fulfillment I get from using my talents every day. Way better than Prozac.
So the next time someone accuses me of selling out, I can smile to myself. I know the truth. TV is where I’d rather be.

Victories and Goals

December 31, 2011

It’s been a relaxing week off, but I’ve still managed to get my writing hours in. True, I haven’t had to get up at five to do it. It’s crazy when sleeping until 6am feels like slacking! Reality check, Karen. Yet taking a nap at 2pm feels completely justified. Ah, well…

It’s New Years Eve, which is the perfect time to examine the past and plan for the future. You may notice I have a thing for the number nine.

Victories of 2010:

1. The first six months were spent slogging through several drafts of the still unfinished “Salai’s Secret.” That’s the current title of the original pilot I’ve been working on for two years. It has a nickname – SS.

2. Over the summer I took a break from SS to work on my spec for “The Vampire Diaries.” It was hard work, a lot of fun, and by September I finally had a finished script. Yes, it’s my first one, with three or four others in various stages of rewriting.

3. September through November saw another draft of SS, and another abandonment of the same.

4. December was for breaking down White Collar for the spec I am writing and learning the series backwards and forwards.

5. I finished a two-year class I was taking, learned a whole lot, and was invited to continue in a more advanced capacity with the school.

6. I learned to Network. Yes, me. I fearlessly marched up to a person I did not know, stuck out my hand and introduced myself. That was the first time I noticed the fear in other people’s eyes. And the relief they felt when someone else made the first move. Everyone is happy to get a chance to talk about themselves, and even happier to have someone listen to them. We all think the world revolves around us, after all. The secret to networking is to let it revolve around someone else for a while. It’s easier than we think.

7. I made some friends, learned that I know quite a few people in the industry, and started Social Networking (finally). I still think it’s a huge time-sucker, but I am willing to play the game. I also overcame my fear of the internet being written in indelible ink, so I could start this blog. I hope it helps someone. I always love to hear about people’s process and the concrete steps they take. I’m very practical, for a screenwriter.

8. Last March or April, I realized that if I were going to get my writing hours in every week, I’d need to get up at five and write before the interruptions and activity of the world took over my day. It’s been a struggle at times, but I’ve come back to it over and over. It’s the best decision I’ve made since I accepted I couldn’t teach myself to write screenplays from books. If I hadn’t taken that class back in 2009, I’d still be in Act One.

9. As a direct result of all of the above, I have let go of any fear or shame about calling myself a screenwriter.  If nothing else, getting up at 5am to write every day has earned me the title. In any company, I can hold my head high. If I met Quentin Tarantino or Nora Ephron tomorrow, I would introduce myself as a screenwriter. There was a time I was too embarrassed to say that to a neighbor.

Writing Goals for 2012:

I know, I already told you my New Year’s Resolutions. This is different.

1. Finish my White Collar spec by March.

2. Find a collaborator to help finish SS, or at least take it to some stage of completion by June.

3. Work on another spec over the summer (or, preferably, work as a writer for money), and finish it by September.

4. For the fall, I’ll choose between the indie feature that was my first script and needs a couple more drafts, or write the pilot for Showtime I’ve been kicking around.

5. Read and evaluate scripts for school, friends, experience and/or money. Learn something from every one of them. Give feedback in a positive, supportive way with honest recommendations about what each script needs to come together (in my opinion).

6. Try collaborating.

7. Meet deadlines, whether set by self, teacher or industry professionals. Show up, and show up some more.  Finish stuff.

8. Keep reading scripts, books, watching movies and TV and soaking up the industry. Make sure to take time out for living life and having new experiences.

9. Apply for Fellowships, jobs, agents, and put myself out there in every way I can think of. This is the year my career as a screenwriter begins.

In the meantime, Happy Writing!

Small Victories

December 29, 2011
The second day of my blog, and I already have a success to report! Okay, it’s not a very big one, but I made it to the quarter-finals of a contest I entered. Since it was my first TV spec, and the first screenplay I actually finished (if there is such a thing), I’m taking it as a good sign that I am on the right track. It’s also valuable feedback because it comes from an impartial source. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the announcement of semi-finals in the end of January.
This morning, my writing time was devoted to outlining and revising the story for the first draft of another TV spec I am writing. It was hard to get started but very productive once I got over that hurdle. Isn’t that always the way? Like I tell my kids, the only thing we can control is how much effort we put in.
Since the kids are on vacation, we’ll be braving the cold to visit some friends in Brooklyn today. It’s difficult to tear myself away from the computer, but we all need some life in our lives. Happy writing!

One Screenwriter’s Goals for the New Year:

Okay, so I won’t bore you with the list of New Year’s Resolutions, including the inevitable “eat healthier and exercise more.”

I’m a screenwriter, and my journey is to go from being a diligent student of the craft to a professional. I have never been paid to write. YET. This is the year.

I will…

1. Write Screenplays: Continue to get up at 4:50 and write from 5 – 7am Monday through Friday, along with additional hours where I can find them. Continue to meet deadlines, and build up my body of work.

2.  Blog: a short entry each day about whatever pops up in the writing process, or any industry-related topic on my mind that might be interesting to others. I WILL NOT use screenplay-writing time for blog entries or social networking.

3. Network: Join groups, show up for events, keep records of contacts, stay in touch and continue to make new contacts.

4. Interview Writers: I will keep a database of successful writers’ and how they got that way. I’m a terrible bowler, but I always knock down more pins if I watch someone get a strike.I may even find a mentor.

5. Writers’ Group: I’ve been talking about it with some people I know, and it is time to get it going.

6. Evaluate scripts for a professional membership I belong to, and anyone else who is willing to pay me for feedback. I’m cheap and thorough, and can usually get it done quickly, while providing clear, pertinent, helpful notes.

7. Read the trades, books, etc. and keep learning.

8. Watch everything I can, even if it’s not my favorite genre.

9. Keep records and monitor progress towards goals, weekly and monthly. Stay accountable.

That’s it; those are my goals to work towards getting paid as a screenwriter in 2012. Am I forgetting anything? It’s plenty to work on for now. Happy writing!

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