Word Count 2: Getting back on the horse, insights from George Miller, and guest cat Cassie

by Suw on May 24, 2022

Hi there,

I honestly didn’t mean to write another themed newsletter, but the universe threw a bunch of stuff at me about perseverance this week, so who am I to argue? In a similar vein, I didn’t mean to make this newsletter weekly, but I had stuff to say, so here we are!

Suw’s news: Getting back on that damn horse

I talked last week about my fantasy TV script which got rejected by the BBC Studios Screenwriter’s Academy. It also got rejected by Wildseed Studios last year and soon it’ll have the opportunity to get rejected by Coverfly’s Writers Lab UK & Ireland and Scriptnotes’ Three Page Challenge!

It’s always hard to know how many rejections are enough to nail down the lid on the coffin of a project. For novels, one can easily rack up fifty rejections, but the fifty first agent will love it. With scripts, I really don’t know at what point you set it aside, because there just aren’t fifty places to send it. And, of course, there’s opportunity cost. Whilst I’m working on this project, I’m not working on another one that might have better luck. That said, I do know that two submissions isn’t enough, so here we go with two more.

Scriptnotes is an awesome podcast that I’ve been listening to intensively for the last couple of months. They occasionally do a Three Page Challenge, where they ask listeners to send in the first three pages (natch) of a screenplay or teleplay and pick a few to critique on their podcast.

Strangely, submitting my script to this is more terrifying than submitting it to the BBC, because there’s a very small chance that they might actually talk about it on their podcast and the idea of that makes me want to hide in the cupboard under the stairs. The best case scenario is that I get some good, actionable feedback, but the most likely scenario is that I’m not even featured. There’s nothing to lose, so off it goes.

Coverfly’s Writers Lab UK & Ireland is a slightly different kettle of fish. It’s a “six-month script development programme for features/pilots by women screenwriters 40+ in the UK & Ireland”, so there’s a bit more at stake. There are twelve places available, the course is virtual, and there’s a small stipend for participants.

I didn’t have the time or wherewithal to do a major overall of the script, so I have just submitted what I’ve got and will hope for the best. Coverfly charge $35 for the honour, which is about £28. I feel a bit icky about paying to enter a competition, not least because it feels like money straight down the shitter. Still, what’s the worst that can happen?

Deadline is 30 May, so if you’re interested, get cracking.

Read this: George Miller on perseverance

Joe Utichi’s interview with filmmaker George Miller is a fascinating read. Miller’s new film, Three Thousand Years of Longing, is the story of “a scholar on a trip to a speaking engagement in Istanbul inadvertently summons a Djinn who details his long journey through fantasy and history as he endeavors to tempt this scholar — who claims she wants for nothing — to make her three wishes.”

It sounds awesome. But it could have easily been called Over Twenty Years Of Trying To Get This Made.

Much of the interview is about how it can take time for projects to come together, and how ideas can linger for years, decades even, before the circumstances are right. Three Thousand Years is based on an AS Byatt short story from 1994, but it’s a project Miller had to work on between other projects.

“That [short story] was the starting-off point, and then during the making of the other films, it was always around, and we kept working on it. Kept coming back to it,” he says.

So is a project really ever dead? Or is it just biding its time? We’re encouraged to conceptualise writing – both novels and for screen – as a continuous process from writing to publication/production and thence to release. But frequently that’s just not how it works. Maybe we should stop trying to shoehorn our creative lives into that unrealistic template. And by “we”, I obviously mean me.

Stop, look, and listen: Scriptnotes Episode 548

John August and Aline Brosh McKenna talk to writing team Dan Gregor and Doug Mand about making movies for streaming services, and how the rise of streamers has changed what kind of stories get turned into movies. Ostensibly. Actually they, too, are talking about perseverance, about how sometimes the time just isn’t right for a particular story to be told and you have to wait until the mood changes. Aline in particular talks about how she drags stories around like a “dead horse” until she gets the opportunity to make them.

The fashion for stories waxes and wanes. Sometimes it’s musicals on the rise, sometimes musicals are the last thing anyone wants. Sometimes it’s disaster movies, sometimes people don’t want to hear about another bloody global pandemic. (Not now, monkeypox.) The trick is to submit the right story at the right time and sometimes, perhaps, to just be patient.

Writing women (and girls): Give girls STEM hobbies

We know that children’s understanding of gender stereotypes starts young and that by age 4, they are already internalising the idea that some things are “for boys” and others are “for girls”. But we don’t just need to teach children that such stereotypes are wrong, we also need to teach their parents that girls can be and are interested in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

A quick and easy way to help is to give your young female characters an interest in something STEM-y. Maybe she likes collecting fossils, building things out of Meccano, playing with her chemistry set, or making a robot.

It feels like a trivial detail to include: “Molly came downstairs to see her daughter’s Meccano set spread out over the lounge carpet, her daughter engrossed in building a tall, slender tower.” But these aren’t little throwaway lines. Every time someone comes across a statement like this, especially in fiction that isn’t otherwise about STEM, it reinforces the idea that girls can indeed enjoy such things. And if parents come to believe that it’s normal for their daughters to enjoy STEM, they’ll be less likely to steer their daughters away from it, whether consciously or subconsciously.

Obligatory cat photo

Grabbity showing her bellyWho am I kidding? This is the best bit of the newsletter!

Welcome to guest cat, Cassie, who’s looking a bit cross because I stopped petting her in order to take a photo and that is, of course, not allowed.

Cassie is 16 years old, lives with my Mum, and has lost all her fangs bar one. She is an extremely talkative cat and I have frequently had a chat with her down the phone over the last eight years, so it has been really nice to see her in person.

That’s it for this week! But to wrap up, here’s an inspiring tweet from Nathalie Antonia that just re-emphasises my point above:

To my writer friends. Just keep going. I was rejected over 48 times before I got my 49th rejection.

Somewhere, there’s a 50th rejection out there, just waiting for you. Go get it, tiger!

All the best,

Suw

PS Thankfully, monkeypox is extremely unlikely to become a pandemic.

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