I am now two days post POWER-UP workshop (not postal, just POST, you know after) and I am still going like a house on fire. I am so glad I did this workshop and, I am realizing, that reading about the workshops so pales in comparison to actually attending the workshop. It’s the difference between having a thimble full of water versus a gallon of water when you’re trying to cross the desert. It’s the illusion of survival versus actually thriving. If you are really committed to being successful, you need to get your butt into the chair, your name onto the list, your face into the crowd. It’s just what’s so.
Don’t get me wrong, the event was FLIPPIN’ FANTASTIC. I took 21 pages of notes. That’s right, twenty one pages of notes. And I didn’t capture everything but I sure as heck tried. (I wish the event had been recorded but that’s another story). I’ve summarized a lot of the key points in the previous posts but, as you can imagine, it isn’t close to 21 pages of content. I just don’t want to type that long and I don’t think most of you will really read it.
BUT, even if I did write it all, even if I wrote everything I thought I heard or remembered, it wouldn’t be the same as you being there. You just can’t network in abstentia. You have to get into the room. Prior to the workshop, I sent POWER-UP co-founder Stacy Codikow an email asking if this workshop was going to give us “real information AND real access.” She was polite in her reply (I might have ripped me a new one). “You’ll get out of it what you put into it, she said, “It’s up to you.” And she pushed everyone all weekend to get to know not only the presenters but the other people in the room.
Stacy was funny. Half mother hen and half drill sergeant, pushing, prodding, driving us on. She was also the “closed captioning for the new-to-the-industry-impaired.” The presenters would be talking about a pivotal moment in their career and Stacy would point to the important (and often obscure underpinnings) of the interaction. We learned how to handle a general meeting, a pitch meeting and a dinner party (never, ever pitch at a party). She also had the delicate job of pulling a couple of “guard dog” attendees off everyone. There were a few folks that, I swear, attacked any potential connection with such ferocity that they were destroying every chance they might have to succeed. Stacy delicately tried to rein them in, help them succeed in spite of themselves.
I was so delighted to hear Stacy had worked on CAGNEY AND LACEY. I so loved that show and writer Barbara Avedon was one of the first screenwriters to ever read my scripts seriously and help me along. Not only that, when Heather was pregnant with Alec, we were watching Cagney and Lacey when the contractions started. It’s always near and dear to our hearts. And I loved PROFILER and D.E.B.S. (I actually paid $50 for a ticket at Sundance to go to the premiere AND Alec got the final DEBS trading card from director Angela Robinson on a shuttle bus for me.) Weird little touchpoints.
During the course of the seminar, a woman kept standing up to comment on copyright and legal issues. I thought, who is this buzz saw in the back corner? Turns out that POWER-UP co-founder Lisa Thrasher used to work for FOX (as I recall) in the legal department. This chick knows her stuff. Apparently she does a producing workshop that focuses on making sure you get your film made and avoid as many legal pitfalls as possible. I’ll probably go to that and you are sure welcome to read about it but, if you’re smart and committed to your success, you really should get your butt in the chair. I’ll post when I know the dates.
So, now that you’ve probably read THREE blog posts on the POWER-UP event, why am I telling you NOT to do it? Because you’ll get a heck of a lot more out of it if you attend them personally instead.
On my Facebook account, I’ve been updating my status frequently with the comments about my work on “the Emily and Susan” story. I’m always a bit obtuse about it because, like all writers, I have this basic fear that someone else will see the story and decide to do something similar. And I think this is a really good, really amazing story.
A bit more than two years ago, I was “in a poetry phase.” I’d recently re-watched SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE and was enamored of the written word. I started messing around with sonnets … again … almost with the same enthusiasm as when I was in college. Soon, the rigor of the form dampened creativity and the sonnet lost its appeal. So I started playing with free verse and, for inspiration, I spent time re-reading my favorite poets. I stumbled back into Emily Dickinson. Her biography was well-known to me. Unmarried, probably agoraphobic, woman dies with only ten (10!) poems published. Following her death, over 1700 (that’s one thousand, seven hundred) poems are discovered in her home in bound books she called “fasicles.” One thousand, seven hundred.
I started writing a poem a day using Dickinson as my standard bearer. I loved her imagery, her cadence, her style.
Her breast is fit for pearls,
But I was not a “Diver”–
Her brow is fit for thrones
But I have not a crest.
Her heart is fit for home–
I–a Sparrow–built there
Sweet of twigs and twine
My perennial nest.
I started noticing the tenderness and longing and eroticism in her writing. So, how does a reputed agoraphobe have these sorts of thoughts? Did she have relationships in her adolescence of which I was unaware? So, I started reading more. More on her biography and more of her poetry.
WILD nights! Wild nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
Futile the winds
To a heart in port,—
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart.
Rowing in Eden!
Ah! the sea!
Might I but moor
To-night in thee!
Who the heck is she mooring in? Wild nights with whom? Whose breasts? Doesn’t sound much like a (male) editor that she’s pining for, does it? And then I find information on Susan Gilbert Dickinson, her sister-in-law. A woman she knew from school, a woman who married her brother, Austin, and lived next door to family home for Emily’s entire adult life. About half of Emily’s correspondence was to Susan and many poems were written TO her or ABOUT her (in spite of efforts by others to obliterate Susan from Emily’s writings.
Scholar Martha Nell Smith‘s wonderful books OPEN ME CAREFULLY and ROWING IN EDEN offered a more complete, richer biography of Emily. Using the poetry and correspondence of both Emily and Susan, Professor Smith brought an entirely new understanding of Emily Dickinson and her work.
Tomorrow, more about the mistress of Austin Dickinson and the writings of Susan Dickinson. If you haven’t figured it out, I’m working on a screenplay about the Dickinsons.
Script Doctor John Truby offers the following ten mistakes that screenwriters make:
Great Mistake 1: The story idea isn’t original.
Great Mistake 2: Writers often use the wrong genre to develop the idea, or they impose the pre-determined genre beats onto the idea instead of finding events that are original to the idea.
Great Mistake 3: They think a hit movie script is all about finding the high concept premise. But they don’t know how to extend the premise, from the two or three scenes suggested by the high concept to a 110-page script.
Great Mistake 4: They don’t know how to hang the story on the seven major story structure steps, so the plot fails to come out of character and the main character does not change.
Great Mistake 5: They think of the hero as a separate individual with a list of superficial character traits instead of as part of a web of characters, each character structurally different from the others.
Great Mistake 6: They try to create their plot using the three-act structure, which doesn’t work and causes a weak middle, instead of using the 22 building blocks of every great story that builds the plot steadily from beginning to end.
Great Mistake 7: They fail to give their hero a moral as well as an emotional weakness at the beginning of the story.
Great Mistake 8: They don’t know how to create the story world or how to connect it to the hero.
Great Mistake 9: They think the story is carried in the dialogue, or they force the dialogue to do the work that structure should do.
Great Mistake 10: They don’t know that rewriting is a set of skills, just like plot and character. So they rewrite in the wrong order, and their second draft is worse than their first.
If you’re a filmmaker and want to improve your films, you should get Truby’s Great Screenwriting: The Foundation Course … even if you DON’T want to write, you will understand the story structure sooooo much better and build a better film. Go check out the website and see what you think. There are some media links you can check out.
Interviews with John Truby about
The Anatomy of Story
|Writer’s Digest Article|
|KCUR (NPR station in Kansas City)|
|Part 1 and 2, Premise and Seven Steps|
|Part 3, Plot|
|Part 4, Opposition|