Workshops: An invitiation to idea theft?

questionmarkI was wondering how you feel about workshops. I am an aspiring screenwriter, and am about to enter a workshop of about 20 other writers. My concern was protecting my work. I don’t have a complete treatment yet, and god only knows how much my story outline will change before I really write it. I can register something, but it might be pretty different from the final work. Do I run the risk of as yet unmet peers stealing parts of my idea?

— Frank
Los Angeles

Get over it. No one wants to steal your crappy idea.

Honestly, Frank, your idea might be terrific. But the reality is, none of the other aspiring screenwriters in your workshop are going to realize it’s terrific, because they’re all busy working on their own crappy-slash-terrific ideas. They came into the workshop with the same false confidence in their genius that you did, and it’s this equity of delusion that will protect you.

Had you written in something like this…

I am an aspiring screenwriter, and am about to enter a workshop of about 20 other writers. My concern was protecting other people’s work. I’m unsure of my ethical backbone, and worry that I might poach other aspiring screenwriters’ stories. Do I run the risk of as yet unmet peers realizing that I’m a thief?

…I might be worried. But I’ve been getting a slight variation on your email every week for the last five years. “Idea poachers” are the WMD’s of newbie screenwriter angst. They’re not really there, no matter how hard you look. Just write your script, and do everything you can to help your workshop-mates.

More in the Store

I’ve had the Store sitting in the sidebar for a few months now, with Amazon links for DVDs of movies I’ve written. To my surprise, people do actually buy some of these — I made a whopping $16.43 in referrals last quarter. That almost covers, oh, half of the hosting fees for this site. But still, thanks for shopping.

In particular, I’d like to thank the reader who bought Chemistry: The Central Science (10th Edition), which retails at $145.66, netting me $5.83. Sweet.

Amazon recently started a system called aStore, which allows for much slickness in setting up off-site storefronts, complete with shopping carts. So, looking to avoid the actual work for which I get paid, I set one up to replace the pathetic Store here on the site. You can check it out in the sidebar. Basically, everything in the center of the screen is really a page on Amazon’s servers, embedded inside my own. The shopping cart lives at Amazon.

Mostly, the new version is an opportunity for me to make snarky comments about various books and movies, but if it gets one more reader to check out The God Delusion or The Book of Bunny Suicides, I’ll consider it worth it.

Why isn’t The Nines in competition at Sundance?

questionmark I was wondering if you could explain the difference/reason for competitive and non-competitive categories at Sundance and why you chose the latter?

— Steve
Lakeland, FL

It’s the Festival’s call. They decide whether or not they want to show the movie, then which category they’re going to put it in. They don’t explain their logic, but if you look at the lists, you can sort of see the thought process.

Traditionally, the Premieres have included bigger movies by established directors. There are are a few of those this year — Craig Brewer’s BLACK SNAKE MOAN, Rod Lurie’s RESURRECTING THE CHAMP — but there are also other first-time feature directors, including Sarah Polley and Jake Paltrow. Last year’s LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE was in the Premiere category, with first-time co-directors. (Worked out for them.)

Another difference is name recognition of the actors involved. If you look at the list of films in competition, you’ll see that while some of the films star people you’ve heard of, most of them don’t. Ryan Reynolds and Hope Davis are comparatively name-brand actors, and would attract some attention just because they’re in our movie. Many of the competition movies are relying on the attention and acclaim that “winning at Sundance” would bring. For us, an award would be great, but it wouldn’t be nearly the boost it was to a film like last year’s Quinceanera.

Honestly, you could have put us in either category. I was fine either way. And not having to think about awards will be one relief in what promises to be a very chaotic week.

The Movie is premiering at Sundance

RyanAfter months of vague hints, I can finally reveal information about The Movie I wrote and directed this summer.

  • It’s called The Nines.1
  • It stars Ryan Reynolds, Hope Davis and Melissa McCarthy.
  • It’s a drama. Funny in places, suspenseful in places, but basically a drama.
  • It will be premiering at the Sundance Film Festival.

This last point was the primary reason for secrecy on the first three. I made the film with the goal of debuting at Sundance, where my first film (Go) launched in 1999, and didn’t want to shine too big a spotlight on it until we knew whether the festival would pick it up.

We found out last week that we got in, but the Filmmaker Agreement we signed required us to keep a lid on the public “woo-hoos” until the official announcement came out. Which it did, today. So, woo-hoo!

The film was produced by Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen (American Beauty, Big Fish), along with Dan Etheridge (Veronica Mars and many indies). It was independently financed,2 with the hope of finding the right distributor.

Feel free to ask about the budget. I will whistle and look in the other direction.

In an earlier post, I bemoaned the difficulty of trying to arrange a test audience screening, given the danger that any internet leak could be deadly. I can now tell you that there were two screenings, which were invaluable. The first one helped us figure out what movie we’d actually made. The second one told us which scenes we actually needed.3

What is the movie about? Well, if you got a Sundance catalog, the description would read something like this:

A troubled actor, a television showrunner, and an acclaimed videogame designer find their lives intertwining in mysterious and unsettling ways.

Which is entirely true. There’s also a lot more going on, but there’s no sense in spoiling it now. The movie isn’t The Sixth Sense; it doesn’t hinge on one giant twist. But it rewards paying very careful attention.

So, hey, if you’d like to see it, come to Sundance! In addition to the premiere, there will be at least two more screenings that week. The movie is playing out of competition (that is, it’s not eligible for awards), so I’m honestly not trying to stuff the ballot box. But a friendly audience is always welcome.

For the majority of readers who won’t be able to make it to Park City, I’ll try to keep up with the blogging to give a virtual Sundance experience.

  1. What? There’s a show on ABC called “The Nine”? Oh wait, it was [cancelled](,0,7597771.story). Or put on indefinite hiatus. The truth is, we had just finished clearing the title “The Nines” through the MPAA when ABC decided to retitle their pilot “Nine Lives” as “The Nine.” Guess how happy that made us. We made back-up plans, but I had a hunch that nobody would give a damn about what happened during a bank robbery. For once, America did not disappoint me.
  2. A polite euphemism for “rich people paid for it.”
  3. There was in fact one blogger at the first test screening, but he so rarely posts that even Tyra Banks feels a little neglected.


In doing some research for a project today, I came across a great term I’d never seen: retcon. According to Wikipedia:

Retroactive continuity or retcon is the adding of new information to “historical” material, or deliberately changing previously established facts in a work of serial fiction. The change itself is referred to as a “retcon”, and the act of writing and publishing a retcon is called “retconning”. Retconning can be done either on-purpose, or accidentally, wherein a break in continuity is not noticed until later and is then blessed by later events.

The full article has many examples.

Many of my favorite TV shows and comic books have gone through significant retconning. The first thing that comes to mind is “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which not only gave Buffy a kid sister in the fifth season, but made the reconfiguration of the backstories a key plot point. It was almost a meta-retcon. Which is too much responsibility to pile on a word I’ve only known for about for 15 minutes.

Quick, someone wiki it: [[retcon]]

A Thousand Roads lead to this

About a year ago, I took a Final Cut Pro class at UCLA Extension. It was a mixed success. I already knew too much for a beginner class, but wasn’t proficient enough for a more advanced session. So I ended up having a lot of extra time to fiddle around with the test footage that comes with the FCP tutorial — in this case, from A Thousand Roads, which is apparently a movie about the Native American experience.

One lesson I learned from the first Charlie’s Angels: when characters are speaking in foreign languages, the subtitles can say anything.