Writing is Rewriting

There is a really good reason for clichés like writing is rewriting. They are usually correct. Kinda like stereotypes. This week has been rewrite week. I’m on rewrite number 6 or maybe 7 on my Rom Com. As this is the first time I’ve dealt with “Hollywood” I don’t know that this is typical or unusual, but the working writers I’ve talked to tell me this is how it is.

Originally, this story started out as a comedy with a female lead. I sent it to my story reader and she said it needed romance.  I put in a little side arc for two of the characters as a romance.

When it went to the manager he said, “No, no, no. The lead needs the romance.”

Rom Coms have to have the lead in the romance. When I tried to explain that it wasn’t a Rom Com, just a Com, I was told that if I want to sell it, with a female lead, it needs to be a Rom Com. Rewrite three – add more romance. And wrap it around a holiday.

Then it went to the Producer. Still needs more romance. Amp it up he said. Use a different holiday.

Here’s the rub. I’m about as romantic as a tree. Ask my wife. The last time I brought home flowers was … well, neither of us remembers. I’ve never read a romance novel, never knowingly even watched a Romantic Comedy – Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan would have starved if they waited on me to buy a ticket.

This quandary led to two revelations – One, thank the Good Lord for Netflix; and Two, how do people watch this crap? I watched a couple. I’ll not name names but Diane Keaton and Reese Witherspoon have made better films. Not a single explosion in 240 minutes of movies. I did not know they could do that.

I sit here rewriting in a genre I don’t know, going with my gut and wishing for a car chase, a bomb plot or a mystery shooter. But I want to sell this. So now it’s a romance, it happens during a holiday that’s not the same holiday as every other Rom Com and I’ve got a solid 30 pages of notes recommendations and suggestions.

I’m rewriting and rewriting and I guess something good is coming of it. I did get my wife some flowers. Who knew? Christmas Poinsettias are only five bucks at Home Depot.

The Golden Quarter

We are right in the middle of the most important marketing time of the year for retailers. So why is the advertising so dang dull? This should be the time to break through. Ads should be slashing through the clutter like a hot knife through gingerbread.

I just did a quick mental rundown of TV commercials I’ve seen this year that make me stop and say, “Wow! Wish I’d done that.”

This year, I’ve got nothing.

Car companies usually do something – I mean I kinda like the Chevrolet campaign with Santa’s day job as a car salesman. They are funny and the guy playing Nick the salesman is dead-on. But there’s something sad at its core about Father Christmas hawking pick-ups at the Chevy dealer. Acura has a different kind of spooky going on – Celebrities driving like maniacs. In these spots, celebs like Dr. Phil, Suze Orman and Santa (he’s an equal opportunity car guy – he also shills for Mercedes) kidnap unsuspecting shoppers and take them for a spin in an new Acura. But they drive like a Jason Stratham chase scene. I guess we’re trying to show a real world confident sports sedan, but it comes off as wonderful holiday panic of distracted driving meets road rage.

Through the years there have been some classic Christmas ads – Santa riding a Norleco shaver, Lexus started a big trend with the giant bow on the car as a conspicuous consumption gift and beer companies usually do nice things. The Bud Clydesdales in the snow are impressive. I always liked the Miller ad with the one horse sleigh to a class version of “I’ll be home for Christmas.” Some of these ads are 30 years old. I don’t see anything this season that deserves to be running next week much, less next decade.

I know how hard it is to create a breakthrough campaign, but retailers must demand this of their agencies at this time of year. The next year of survival might just depend on it working right now.

Chasing Stingrays

Every 5 or 10 years a marketing event comes along that I really enjoy. It’s the introduction of a new model of Corvette. January of 2013 will be such an occasion. The seventh generation (C7 to those of us in the community) will bow on January 13th at 9:00am Eastern, to be exact. But who’s counting?

I’ve been a Corvette fan my whole life. Literally. My Uncle Phil has had Corvettes since before I was born and he took me riding before I could walk. I was hooked. Power. Speed. Noise. Strangely, this same thing didn’t happen in my Dad’s Studebaker Lark.

I watch these introductions as a fan, an owner and as a marketing guy. GM has had a rough time of it over the last few years, but they still know how to introduce a Corvette. This time there’s the expected long lead to the North American Auto Show in Detroit and the marketing wonks have unleashed a fantastic teaser campaign with a website countdown clock, YouTube videos that show snippets of the car blanketed in camouflage. There’s a camoed prototype C7 in the Gran Turismo 5 video game, so gamers can run it on all the great tracks of the world before the intro.

There’s always a game of cat and mouse as spy photographers try and capture every nuance of the car. They chase it through the mountains in cold weather and altitude testing. They camp out near the proving grounds. This has gotten really tough for the GM engineers since every phone in the world now takes HD video and high rez photos. The PR generated by this game of tag is huge with the slightest sighting generating ripples of buzz across the internet.

The Corvette brand managers trickle out information – here’s the logo. A few weeks later – here’s the info on the engine. Then the gauges… It’s a textbook case of product striptease. And the fans go wild.

So I comb through the web, looking for the new images, the dropped hint, the reporting of a casual conversation with a “GM insider who might lose his job if this gets out.” I know I’m being manipulated. I really don’t mind. Because at the end of this there will be a whole new product that’s more everything than the one in my garage. Cooler, hipper, faster… if I could just see it now.

I wonder if Uncle Phil has ordered his yet?

The Game Changer

One of the biggest things to impact screenwriters in the last several years is the new Black List 2.0. The original Black List is the brainchild of Franklin Leonard, a producer in Hollywood who saw a number of really good scripts that hadn’t been produced as films. He polled his colleagues for their favorites and that list became the annual end-of-the-year Black List of unmade movies. It was a cool idea and has given deserving scripts buzz through the holidays when managers, agents and producers catch up on their script reading. It also gave Franklin a load of credibility in the business.

Last month he introduced the Black List 2.0. BL2 is a list of scripts that also haven’t been made into movies. But they are raw scripts, coming straight from writers submitting them, not people discovering them. To filter these, Mr. Leonard has contracted script readers to rate those films and compile a list of the best of the bunch. For $25 a month to join the site and another fee to pay the readers, writers have a conduit straight into the Hollywood studio system.

This is a Herculean task. Every bartender, waiter and busboy in the greater Los Angeles Southland has a script waiting to be discovered. If your script sucks they tell you and the world. You can rewrite it or go back to pouring that Margarita for table number 6. If your script is great… well a couple of talented writers have already signed with agents, and at least one script has been optioned for a movie.

Now for the Law of Unintended Consequences. I see two industries that are going to be heavily impacted by this. First, are all the screenplay readers and consultants in the world. There are a lot of these folks who charge way more than $125 to read, rate and give coverage on scripts. They are about to see business dry up and blow away as writers look to BL2 as a means to be seen and a shot at the big time in one move. 95% of independent script readers can’t offer this because they don’t have the pull the Black List does.

The second group will be more interesting to watch – Screenwriting contests. For years, the best way to be seen was to win or place well in a contest. The Academy’s Nichol Fellowships, the PAGE awards, the Austin Screenwriters Conference and a few others; do well in those, the right people saw your name and recognized the quality of your work. This only happens three or four times a year with a huge run-up and writers sweating blood at the deadline. Pay your entry fees and wait weeks or months for the results.

Not anymore. BL2 means those same scripts get seen everyday. They get rated on a daily basis in an ongoing contest of the best work. Now there’s only one contest. And the winner doesn’t get a trophy, they get a career. Why waste your time trying to be the best amateur out there when BL2 makes you a professional? Last year the large contests received 6-7000 entries each. I bet that number drops to a fraction as writers figure the return on investment.

TexasSize Packaging

DQ TexaSize Packaging

For all the world’s ventis, grandes, XXLs and super-sizes there’s only one TexaSize. It’s at Dairy Queen. We did this logo and package design, and even worked on the naming of the line extension. It was one tasty assignment.

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La Palmera

La Palmera is a shopping center in Corpus Christi. It was formerly an older, slightly long-in-the-tooth venue. It was redeveloped and we created this re-branding campaign as a vision of how it might roll out.

Writers vs Readers

In an effort to compress my screenwriting education I’ve looked to several resources for input. But what do you do if you get conflicting advice?

Craig Mazin is a respected screenwriter, former WGA board member and, along with John August, he’s half of the excellent Scriptnotes podcast. I listen every week.
Danny Manus
is a script consultant, author, former producer and sells his services as a screenwriter’s resource for everything from how to write a logline, to pitching, to giving notes.
Through the Dallas Screenwriters Association, I had the chance to hear Danny speak. I liked what I heard enough to pony up a few bucks for his one-day seminar on pitching and how to garner interest from agents, managers and producers. It was good stuff. So much good info that I had a hard time taking notes and keeping up. Hey, Danny – would it be that hard to offer handouts? I think I’m supposed to buy the book.

Now, Craig thinks what I’ve done is stupid. He thinks that all script consultants are charlatans. That paying money for professional script readers to give notes is a waste of money. He famously takes umbrage at people who aren’t in the movie writing business trying to tell those working to get in, how to do it. He logically argues that if they could do it, wouldn’t they?
He may be right. There are some who charge a ridiculous amount. A thousand bucks to read my script? Please. But, I’ve listened to his advice and arguments on these screenwriting gurus and it seems he believes that spending money on learning the craft is a bad idea.
Here’s my take – I’ve bought a lot of books – I bought McKee first, and still don’t know what he’s talking about in most of Story. I invested in Cat Saving techniques and a couple of others. I’ve found a couple of really good reasonably priced script readers – ScriptGal and Scott the Reader. Yeah, they don’t promise to waltz my work into studio execs, but they have helped identify plot holes, structure issues, characters that need more depth and what does and doesn’t make sense. It’s been a great, affordable education. I’m doing this to try and get paid to tell a story, not spend the rent. I’m also starting from scratch here.
I went to the Austin Screenwriters Conference this year and thanks to what I learned from Mazin, Manus and the incomparable Stephanie Palmer’s Good In A Room pitching tips, I made the finals of the pitch competition. It really helped that I’d paid some smart people to look at my script and incorporated their significant changes. That lead to a recommendation to a manager. Who has since moved my script on to a prolific producer. Gears are turning. So far it’s been a good investment. Lord willing it will pay off.
This step in my education has taught me that not everybody is always right. Mazin makes good points – buyer beware – there are crooks out there. But then so too do the good folks who are charging a fair price for excellent service and information.

Waters Creeek Grand Opening Ad

Watters Creek Campaign

This new 52-acre project in Allen, Texas incorporates a complete mix of uses, including a large creekside village green, interactive public art, a variety of retail options, restaurants featuring al fresco dining and water views, along with office space and residential lofts. They wanted a non-traditional, upscale look and feel. Fun and fresh and sophisticated. We worked with an illustrator in Miami and her renderings became the centerpiece for the look and feel of the launch.

Watters Creek Directory

We continued the theme, look and feel through the campaign, into the site signage for the directory kiosks – like this art. We did giant banners which were placed on the parking structures fronting the Dallas Central Expressway.

Watters Creek Email Blast

Outreach was a key element of the grand opening and we worked to build an email program. In keeping with the design strategy, we created this email blast template and graphic style. It is easily customizable for placement of new articles, announcements and photos each month. Each article is clickable and links back to the website to provide the customer with more information.

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AO Sight Systems

AO Sight Systems are used by police and law enforcement officers to replace the sights that come with their sidearms. The unique design of the AO Sights lets the shooter see the entire sight picture in all light conditions. Even dark.