In my ScriptMag.com article, “The Tortoise and The Hare: A Tale of Two Writers,” I told the story of two screenwriters, one behaving like The Tortoise in oft told proverb and the other more comparable to The Hare. But in this story, unlike the fable, The Hare seems poised to win the race.
In my story, The Tortoise is a screenwriter who dragged out the rewrite process and burned himself out, ignored notes, and ultimately just wanted to get his spec out into the world. His agents and I reluctantly sent his high-concept spec into the marketplace. It was ably written, but fell far short of delivering the promise of the premise.
And that’s what the Internet tracking boards reported, essentially saying, “Don’t bother.”
Since then, we’ve had a conference call with the agent.
It was painful for everyone involved.
She filled us in on the feedback she had received on the script. Again and again she heard, “Great concept, be we don’t connect with the characters.” “Great concept, but it wasn’t there.” People loved the idea but the characters didn’t engage readers and the script failed to deliver on the promise of the premise.
“The town has spoken,” she said. “We have to listen.”
She won’t make any more submissions until there is a major rewrite. And even then, that tracking board bad rap won’t go away. Even if we could change the title, which we can’t in this case, people will see that it is the same writer and the same premise.
We are all damaged by going out with a script that isn’t ready. We’ve burned the script, burned the writer, burned the producer, burned the agent.
BREAKING & ENTERING LESSON: The town has a long memory. Always has. The Internet made the exchange of information rapid and permanent, but we’ve always kept records. Each studio has a Story Department, with coverage on every piece of material ever submitted. When I worked for a producer with a deal at Disney, the first thing we did when we got a submission was to call the Story Department to see if they had coverage on the script. Nothing under that title? What about the writer? If we found coverage on the writer, we would look at character names to see if it was simply the same script with a new title, which was the case more than a few times. I pulled coverage from the Disney Story Department on projects that had been submitted to Walt. WALT DISNEY!
After the call, The Tortoise was in shock.
I spoke to him for a few minutes, and he clearly needed time to process what he’d heard.
We’re now set to talk at then end of the week. I’ll see where he is at now, discuss options with him, and can only hope that he is open to really tearing this down and reworking the script. Even then, we will have to have a new strategy for bringing the script into the marketplace, likely by packaging it with an actor or actress.
As for The Hare, after pushing herself to meet the contest deadline, she rewrote the script to incorporate some of the minor changes from my notes. I read the new draft, and I liked it a great deal – but I didn’t love it. Not enough to commit to producing it. The characters were not as gritty as her concept, nor the dark world she had created, and the tone of the story. And character-driven material – combined with a big concept – is where my heart lies.
We had a lengthy conversation beginning with some key logic points. There is a fantasy element here against a real world backdrop. Those must always be perfectly defined with clearly spelled out rules. We were able to quickly resolve the issues here.
Then we dug into the characters. There’s a hero and a love interest, and both need to be more fully developed characters, become more dimensional and edgy, and finally, their romance can’t fall into place so easily and be believable.
This writer just gets it. It was a productive discussion. She is eager to dig in and add an entire new dimension to the script. I think this is the step that will elevate the entire piece and ensure that the story delivers, and the execution is flawless.
In the interim, The Hare had won a small contest and someone involved with the contest wanted to share it with producers who were looking for material. What to do? My advice was to compose a very polite reply, enthusiastic yet authentic. “You’re delighted that they are enthusiastic about your script, you appreciate their support but, you are in the midst of a major rewrite – as in no one can see it. And then mention that a manager who is a fan of your work is expecting the new draft. And you will be happy to keep them posted.”
BREAKING & ENTERING LESSON: As I’ve said before, as Orson Welles promised in the Paul Masson commercials, “We will sell no wine before its time.” If someone is enthusiastic now, then consider it an open door. Don’t rush through before your material is ready and have it slammed in your face.
There’s still more to be written here about The Tortoise and The Hare. But the lessons for screenwriters hoping to break into the business are plentiful.
I’ll keep you posted as the story unfolds.
Meanwhile, remember the moral of the story – to succeed as a screenwriter, you must be both The Tortoise and The Hare.
Take your time learning how to write a screenplay, but never stop moving forward as fast as you can.
Be steadfast in your vision for the story, but don’t hesitate to consider insight and input from others with a fresh perspective and experienced eyes.
Don’t focus only on the finish line, but when opportunity comes leap!