of sitcoms and Saints

This is how it happens with me …

I’m bee-bopping along, quite enjoying myself as I fill page after electronic page with magic and blood, evil and Saints, everything wrapped in the suspicion-driven world of 5th Century Constantinople as the Church declares war on itself, Old Rome under attack from the upstart New Rome, Christianity splitting in two, all of it seen through the eyes of my tortured, trapped immortal Martuk.

And then I stop and slam out a Network-friendly sitcom pilot.

Wait, what?

Yeah, I know, right?  Even surprised myself with that one.  But there it was, a half-hour sitcom.  And a damn funny one at that.  Had the idea on a Thursday, wrote it on Saturday, rewrites on Sunday, Pitch Doc including future episodes and Season One Arc on Monday, in the hands of my attorney on Tuesday, a conference call with WME (William Morris Endeavor) coming up after the 4th.

It’s just, like, what?  How did I go from flesh being peeled from a screaming Priest to yukking it up with four friends in Austin, TX?

Hell, even I don’t know how my brain works sometimes.  (^~^)

 

Is there a Why to your What?

I have a nasty habit of not listening to people.

Let me explain …

I love collaboration.  Nothing excites me more as a writer than getting notes, reading other’s thoughts and suggestions, seeing my work through someone else’s eye and discovering how much more it can be.  The rewrite process is much better when you have people to bounce your ideas off of.  So, when it comes to working with others, I play nice.

It’s only when someone tells me what I CAN’T do that I tend to tune them out.

For example, when I wrote my first screenplay in 2004, well-meaning friends familiar with the Business of Show told me that’s what I’d be for the rest of my career:  a screenwriter.  So imagine their surprise when I decided to write a play!  Well, they said, you can write features and maybe a play or two, but that’s really your limit.  That’s all you’re supposed to do.  Features, plays, that’s it.  Be happy with that, okay?  Okay.

Then I wrote my full-length novel, Martuk … the Holy.  And The Martuk Series, an ongoing collection of Short Fiction based on Martuk … the Holy (currently being adapted into graphic novels)after that.

By now, these well-meaning friends — who really are sincerely lovely people I truly adore — weren’t quite sure what box to place me in.  Was I a screenwriter, a playwright, an author of Literary Horror?  Some Frankenstein-like amalgamation of all of them?  Which was it, really, because all this hopscotching across literary borders was getting annoying.

Well, I asked, why can’t I be EVERYTHING all rolled into ONE?

It was a reality they had to accept.  And with the industry changing so rapidly over the last several years, my dog-eared passport to the Land of Many Genres is nothing new, my journeys now more often than not spent standing shoulder -to-shoulder with a veritable mob of Writers as we move between features, edgy cable series, plays, fiction, non-fiction, more features, and advertiser-friendly Network sitcoms.

Which brings me to my next stop:  a sitcom.

Something I truly thought I’d never do, to be honest, most of my work testing the limits of human experience, my characters often hitting rock bottom before tunneling even further into the dark.  But there it is!  A happy, funny, sweet, sincere sitcom any Network would be lucky to get its hands on.

(Hey, Relentless Optimism, it’s good to see you!)

So if you write, write.  Don’t let form or convention or anyone with a half-assed opinion hinder how you decide to express yourself.  You may have to shift gears quickly — I’ll spend the morning writing and rewriting snappy sitcom dialogue only to take a quick lunch break before seeing the afternoon disappear in a prose-heavy recreation of 5th century views of religion in Constantinople for the bloody, violent sequel to Martuk.

But hey, unless you can give me a Why to the Whats you decide I can and can’t do, I’ll continue translating the insanity my imagination insists on throwing at me.

Doin’ it

Just stumbled across an interesting conversation that set my own mind a’thinkin’ (always a dangerous thing). And since I wasn’t asked to share what MY process is on said blog — truth be told, they don’t even know I exist, so who can blame ‘em? –, I thought I’d bee-bop on over to my little corner of the Universe and share it anyway.

So, how do I write?

It all begins in my head.

Okay, that’s kinda not true. It starts in my head, yes, but it’s more a story I’m hearing rather than a story I’m “making up”, if that makes sense.

Martuk from Martuk … The Holy introduced himself to me one day in March of 2008. Out of the blue. You know, kind of one of those Hey, how are ya, and do I have a story for you-type of deals. And once I understood and accepted that I could be THAT kind of writer as well as a screenwriter and playwright, I found the first draft of the book flying onto the page with relative ease.

But as to HOW that happened, this is what I’ve found works for me:

I type myself emails. Short and not-so-short thoughts working through the plot. Hashing it out. Working it through. Seeing if it squares up, makes sense, could maybe be an interesting read. You know, making sure it all fits before I type Chapter One.

Unlike some, I don’t really plot out people to be met or character flaws to surmount or any of that stuff. Maybe I should. But I find if I have a general map — my Chapter Map –, the people Martuk needs to meet end up introducing themselves when need be.

And many of the characters in Martuk couldn’t have been plotted out because I wasn’t in that world yet, the palace in ancient Uruk, the altar, the priests in red and gold. I needed to get there to discover who was waiting. And I was smart enough to sit back and let them introduce who they were and what they were dealing with. Instead of assigning them wounds, I allowed them to lift up their sleeves and show me the cuts and scrapes and slices themselves.

But, still, I’m following that map.

If I find a character wants to go deeper into his or her story — and stray further from Martuk’s narrative –, I now make a note for The Martuk Series and promise them they’ll get their own book. Short Fiction, of course, but still … it seems to placate them for the time being.

Once the book is finished, I save it in PDF and send it to my iPad where I open it anew and, stylus in hand, start covering the page in red. Call me weird, but I love this phase. And for some reason, I notice things a lot more when I move away from the laptop screen to a PDF on an iPad. Glaring mistakes. I mean, huge doozies. I don’t see them until I open that PDF on my iPad.

Strange, isn’t it?

But it’s during this process where the book really comes to life. Marked up PDF in one hand, my laptop open in the other, headphones firmly in place as the story shifts and changes shape. Becomes tighter, leaner, meaner. All that red scribbling and circling and question marking and WTF-ing necessary in creating a great read.

Depending on how sloppy I’ve been, I’ll sometimes go through three or four edited PDFs before the book is ready.

And then, AMSchultz cover in hand, book published, and new chapter map on deck, I find myself typing Chapter One. Again.

God, I love what I do.

Welcome to Suckyville, population You

If you’re familiar with this blog, you already know my thoughts on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing.

If you’re not, it’s boils down to my suspicion that for most writers walking the self-pub route hooking up with a traditional publisher doesn’t really make sense.

But what if I’m wrong?

I’m gonna do the Devil’s Advocate thing here and try to figure out why oh why I, a writer who still does a happy dance when he sells a book, would want to cuddle up NOW on that Publishing love seat with a Major. By the way, notice the singular “a” and the lack of an “s” on “book”? Yeah, Majors are knocking down my door, I tell ya.

Any-hoo, there are several reasons to consider a Major, some of which I might cover in future Posts.

The selling of film rights is my focus today.

I’m a screenwriter. I’m also lucky enough to have longtime friends who are neck deep in that world, be they actors, producers, directors, etc. I know the desperation Hollywood has for new source material and the lengths they’ll go to find it. And I also know what it’s like for writers who find their books being optioned into films.

In most cases, it really sucks.

Yeah. It sucks.

Once you’re past the initial excitement of a movie producer actually LOVING your work and being wined and dined by Big Names in LA and then signing a contract (!!!!!!!!) with Celebrity Superstars (OMG!) being bandied about as possible Leads and, of course, having to seriously consider those Oscar nods coming everyone’s way (deep breath), the process kinda goes downhill.

What?

Yep. Immediate hard left into Suckyville, population You.

Because the reality is it takes a … long … time … to … get … anything … done … in … Holly … wood.

Years.

Anne Rice’s book “Interview with a Vampire” was optioned by Paramount before it was published in 1976. They sat on it for ten years and did absolutely nothing. For ten years. Once the option expired, the Rights reverted back to her — smart move, Rice’s Attorney — and she took it to Lorimar Productions/Warner Bros. who scooped them up before flipping them to David Geffen a couple years later. Co-writing the script with the uncredited assistance of Neil Jordan, Rice finally got her film made in 1993/1994.

And it only took eighteen years. From the first selling of the Rights to Red Carpet Premiere, eighteen years.

You see? Forever.

But she’s a big fish. And, remember, she infamously had NO say on casting even if she is Anne f’ing Rice.

So, what’s it like for us?

Let me put it this way: make sure your contract gives you tickets to the Film Premiere.

Truth of the matter is, once you sign away the Rights, whoever’s brought in to adapt your work into a screenplay has license to change whatever they like at the Studio or Production Company’s behest. No longer OWNING the story or the characters as it pertains to the Film, all you, the Author, can do is sit back and watch. That’s if you’re lucky enough to be kept in the loop.

And it can get worse from there. I could write a thousand or more words about how Hollywood conveniently forgets you exist once you sign away your Rights with an excited flourish. Months and months going by without a word from anyone about anything as your new BFFs suddenly go all MIA.

Which brings me back to why oh why would we sign with a Major.

Their Legal Department could — COULD — walk you through this. Their lawyers might — MIGHT — have a good relationship with Studio A and perhaps you won’t get screwed too badly. And the Major has stood in this room a million times before (perhaps) whereas you, Newbie Author #54, are stuck doing the I-can’t-see-a-fucking-thing tango with a chair while searching for the light switch.

And let’s not forget the Major knows EVERYONE in Hollywood. You know where Julia Roberts lives, if this Map of Celebrity Homes is correct. (it’s not)

In other words, it’s still up to you to know what you can and can’t get and what you can and can’t ask for.

Reversion of Rights? Sole Separated Rights? Derivative Works and Passive Payments? How about Freezing your Reserve Rights? What Credit are you getting? Is there a Production Bonus? What’s the formula for Residuals? Will there be Box-Office Bonuses? Will you be attending screenings, festivals, premieres?

Granted, the above questions might be more from a screenwriter perspective. But that’s another question that should be on your mind: what access will you have to the screenwriting process? Will they even consider letting you anywhere near the script AT ALL to offer notes or thoughts or WTFs or you-gotta-be-kiddings?

You know, if you’re a screenwriter as well, try and negotiate the writing of a First Draft with two or three rewrites. I mean, hell, you’ll be one of many, many, many writers brought onboard to make this “perfect”, so you might as well stamp your stank on that puppy and hopefully line yourself up for a Written By credit.

Why the hell not?

What I’m trying to say is one of the pluses of signing with a Major is the hand-holding you might get should Hollywood come a’callin’.

But first you gotta write a book — preferably a series — Hollywood will want to buy and build a readership the Studios know without a doubt will put their butts in the seats in a movie theater.

And that’s a whole different kettle of fish.