Apprenticeship 101

Jana Kinsman worked as an apprentice beekeeper and goat-tender, but a lot of her advice applies well to anyone in their first job:

This isn’t your chance to prove yourself in a grandiose way. Your mentor isn’t expecting you to suddenly make their lives easier, they’re not looking for a hero or someone to throw themselves over the puddle where they’re about to walk.

This is not your opportunity to change their system or their workspace or their routine. I’ve worked with many mentors whose way of doing things was an absolute trainwreck. Inefficiencies galore, messes, unfinished projects EVERYWHERE. But it was never my responsibility to point it out to them.

When I started working in Hollywood — first as a reader, later as an assistant — I didn’t know what I was doing. I observed and tried to figure out what needed to be done, and asked as many questions as I needed to.

I quietly watched how my bosses worked, not because I wanted to become them, but because I wanted to understand how they made decisions, and how they fit into the bigger picture of the industry.

Kinsman concurs:

I tell people that some of the most valuable things I learned from working with mentors have been examples of how I don’t want to do things. It’s not about forcing yourself into thinking your mentor is a flawless human with a perfect way of doing things, it’s seeing their flaws and their inefficient systems and accepting them for who they are.

Often times this will give you a chance to put yourself in their shoes and look at your own future realistically: If you were doing what they were doing for as long as they’ve been doing it, would you be perfect?

You eventually realize that everyone is doing the best they can, just like you. The difference is experience, and the only way to get it is to do the work.

Writers Rooms, Taxes, and Fat Hamlet

Scriptnotes: Ep. 220

John and Craig discuss the trend of hiring multiple writers to work concurrently on tentpole features. Can movies be written like television, and should they?

Then it’s a look at tax bills that LA-based writers may find themselves facing, and why you shouldn’t be afraid of a portly Hamlet.

Also this week, a strange French plagiarism case, and John considers writing a book in November.

Reminder that John is interviewing Drew Goddard for a special Writers Guild Foundation event on October 28th. Tickets available through the link below.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 10-22-15: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

What went right and what could have gone better with Writer Emergency Pack

This week is the one year anniversary of Writer Emergency Pack. I wrote about it at our newly-redesigned site:

It was a test deck, full of typos and formatting errors, but it felt like something worth pursuing.

I showed the prototype to screenwriter friends, soliciting their feedback. I took several decks to the Austin Film Festival, passing them around during the live Scriptnotes session.

On November 3rd, we launched our Kickstarter campaign for Writer Emergency Pack. Within an hour, we were fully funded. Within days, it was clear we were onto something big.

We ended up with 5,714 backers, making us the most-backed card project in Kickstarter history.1

I originally wrote up the blog post as a look-how-far-we’ve-come retrospective, charting how in 12 months we went from an idea to shipping thousands of decks to writers and schools around the world. Basically, “Hooray for us!”

But writing is a process of discovery, and sometimes it forces you to question your central thesis.

Yes, things went well. But they could have gone better.

It’s easy to imagine an alternate history in which Writer Emergency Pack reached a bigger post-Kickstarter audience through better marketing and retail partnerships:

Every time I’m in a bookstore, I see a spot where Writer Emergency Pack would fit. Sometimes it’s on a shelf near the writing books. Other times, it’s near the register. But we’re not there, because we simply haven’t committed the time and resources to figuring it out.

We’ve had conversations with some smart retail folks, and even a tentative discussion with a potential publisher/distributor. But we’ve never gotten past talking.

The good thing about missed opportunities is that most of them are still out there. We can improve our marketing, retail and international distribution. The question is how. I’ve outlined some of what we’re thinking, but I’d encourage you to offer your own suggestions.

More than anything, I’d recommend writing up honest recaps of how things are going in your life. The process is cathartic and useful.

So often, we’re presenting sanitized versions of events in Christmas letters, or context-less status updates on Facebook. Writing up the longer version helps make sense of recent history, and offers suggestions for where you want to head next. Even if you never share what you write, putting words to these thoughts helps focus your attention in useful ways.

You can take a look at my full write-up on Writer Emergency Pack here.

  1. Oh, yeah: Exploding Kittens. That happened later.

The One Where Aline’s Show Debuts

Scriptnotes: Ep. 219

Aline Brosh McKenna joins us to talk through the launch of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and what she’s learned since she introduced us to the show nearly a year ago. Brian Lowry of Variety raves that it is “one of the fall’s most promising hours.” We’re not surprised at all.

Then it’s a look at three pages from writer-director Scott Frank’s THE LOOKOUT, examining how a two-character dialogue scene works both on paper and on the screen.

Also this week: Indian screenwriters go on strike, Craig goes to Canters, and a French train hero gets stabbed in the second act.

If you got your new Scriptnotes shirt, show the world with the hashtag #scriptnotes or #scripnotesT.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 10-16-15: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Switching from Final Draft to Highland

The Other Sam Cooke writes about switching from Final Draft to Highland:

After about 10 months of using the application, I can honestly say that Highland is not merely an affordable screenwriting application; it’s actually my favorite screenwriting application.

Cooke likes that he can write on the go using any plain-text editor (he prefers Editorial). When he’s back on his Mac, Highland stays out of his way and lets him focus on the words:

Most screenwriting apps, like Final Draft, have you build a document that looks like [the finished version] as you go along. So I constantly have to hit Tab a certain number of times, or Enter a certain number of times, or type in a little shortcut throughout the writing process to get my script to look like that, and because it requires such constant attention, I find myself devoting too much thought to the formatting of my document.

It’s not particularly difficult to learn Final Draft, and I imagine plenty of people don’t find it as distracting as I do, but I feel like formatting should be an after-the-fact concern. I don’t want to have to think about it while I’m creating.

One other advantage Cooke cites: Final Draft is $250, while Highland is $30 on the Mac App Store.

The Martian, or Making Things Going Wrong Well

Next month, I’ll be chatting with Drew Goddard, screenwriter of The Martian, for a Writers Guild Foundation event.

One of the things I want to talk about is how cleverly The Martian sets expectations and then defeats them in surprising ways. The film is marketed as a story of survival and ingenuity, but on a screenwriting level it’s a series of carefully-structured hopes denied.

As The Bitter Script Reader points out:

A good rule of thumb in film is that if we’re explained a plan in painstaking detail, […] things will not go to plan. The way things NEED to happen is laid out for us so that when we’re in the thick of it, we’ll have that “oh shit!” reaction as things come apart.

On today’s Scriptnotes, Craig and I talk about on why this kind of constant denial engine — and the life-or-death stakes it helps feed — makes The Martian a movie idea rather than a TV idea. It’s a journey this character can only take once. And it’s Goddard and Scott’s terrific execution that makes it such an enjoyable ride.

If you want to join me for the conversation with Goddard, tickets are available now.