Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sunday, March 13, 2016

ParaTruth Radio Interview with Yours Truly

Wanna see a long, Skye interview with me about writing, Christian films, my book and tons of other stuff?  Justin Cancilliere of ParaTruth Radio just made it happen.   Here it is:

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Writing Tip #14: No Means No!

No means no isn't just for dating anymore.  It's for screenwriters, too.

Screenwriters without agents are totally dependent upon the good graces of producers, directors and development people in order to ply our craft.  (Truth be told, so are screenwriters with agents.)  It is essential to remain in their good graces.  The best way to do that is to understand that no means no.

When someone at a production company requests to read your script after receiving your query, they are paying you a great compliment.  They delete hundreds of queries for every one to which they reply.  When they request your script, they are treating you like a professional screenwriter.  Don't prove them wrong.  Avoid the temptation to make obvious mistakes that hurt all your fellow writers chancing of being read.

1).  Do not send the script itself with the query.  Bad idea on a number of levels.  It is considered rude.  It is a slap in the face of companies that might have read your script if you signed their legal release first.  It's also likely to have your email diverted directly to the spam folder because of internet security concerns.  It also throws off your metrics.  Say you send out a blind query to 100 companies with the script attached.  You have no idea who is actually reading it.  One of them?  Twenty?  All one hundred?  You have no way of knowing,  That's why I want them to request the script.  I want to know which emails are active, and who is actually reading.

Once I send it, I....

2).  Do not check on the status of the script.  I don't care if it's been one day, one week, one month or one year.  Never ever.  Here's the bottom line, if they don't like the script, you will never hear from them.  Silence means they didn't like it.  Period.  Some people can't accept that.  They think it is rude.  Oh well, that's life.  Learn to deal with it.  Pestering them will only get your future queries sent to the spam folder.  The last thing any thinking writer wants to do is alienate a production company person willing to consider unsolicited queries by bugging them.  That's just crazy.

However, if they do bother to send you a rejection....

3).  Do not ask why they didn't like the script.  Usually, most people will only send a rejection if they feel you deserve professional courtesy.  Sometimes, if they really liked the script, they will say encouraging words about it.  Sometimes, if you really impressed them, they will ask if you have any other scripts they'd be interested in.  However, if you write back and ask them why they didn't like it, they will immediately realize you didn't deserve the professional courtesy they offered you.  Why?  Because you are not giving them proper professional courtesy.

Development people tend to be buried under a deluge of work.  They spend all day fulfilling the mercurial whims of their bosses, then they have to carry a stack of scripts home with them every night and on the weekends.  They don't have time to walk you through your second act mishap.  There are multitudes of professional script reading services available.  Asking the development people to do it for free is simply insulting.  Bam!  Guess who has been relegated to the spam folder?

The only proper response when someone read your script is:  "Thank you for your consideration."

Feel free to pitch them your next script, but, whatever you do....

4).  Don't ask them to read the rewrite of the script they already read.  You only get one chance with a producer or a production company.  That's why you have to make sure it's perfect the first time.  And, in all honesty, your rewrite probably wouldn't change the script enough to overcome their problems with it anyway.  Let's talk writer to writer.  When we make revisions on our own, we tweak a scene here, a character there, etc.  We think those changes are significant, but, a jaded producer probably wouldn't even notice them.  Plus, irrregardless of the changes you make, they will not ask to read it again.

Let me give you an example.  I wrote a comedy mystery called Judy with director Lee Bonner.  I pitched it to a producer.  He said he liked the script, but felt we had missed some great opportunities.  He left the door open for me to call him so I did.  (A very rare occurrence on my part. I am a writer.  I prefer to be judged by my words on paper rather than my sparkling repartee and Baltimore accent.)  The producer gave me his thoughts on how to improve the script.  He had some very good ideas -- but they entailed fundamentally changing the script.  I called Lee afterwards.  He liked the producer's ideas, too.  So we took a week and completely rewrote the script, top to bottom.  Afterwards, I called the producer again.  I told him we had made all of his changes.  I asked him if he was interested in reading the new script.  He said nope.

Insane, right?  Why would he spend over a half an hour on the phone telling me how to improve the script and then not read it?  Because you only get one shot.  Those are the rules.  What did I do?  Well, I certainly didn't try to guilt trip him into rereading the script.  Why?  Because now I had an open door to pitch him future scripts.  And that's worth a lot.  Over the years I have slowly accumulated a number of emails of people who actually read.  They are a very valuable resource!

As an addendum to this rule, I do want to say that I have no problem querying a person more than once about a script -- provided they hadn't actually read it.  If I come up with a better logline, or if the subject matter somehow becomes topical, I do not hesitate to re-pitch people six months to a year later.  I've gotten some good reads that way.

I know many of you will find these rules frustrating.  Personally, I don't.  I expect the "no"s and the silences.  They don't bother me.  Why?  Because a "no" can't hurt you.  Your life is not materially changed when someone says "No!"  Only a "yes" can change your life.  But don't expect it to change it too much.  Remember, you'll still be the same person after you sell your script that you were before you did!

Also, I have to admit that the "no"s can be fun.  Over the years, I have sent email queries to the producer Don Murphy.  He's a genuine Hollywood big shot who has produced a ton of blockbusters.  He also has a reputation for being difficult.  That doesn't bother me.  I say let he who is without sin throw the first stone.

You might think it would be difficult to get his email, but you'd be wrong.  It is readily available.  So a couple of years ago I sent him an unsolicited query.  He wrote back:  "This is NOT how it's done."  Okay.  I get it, Donnie.  A few years later I queried him about another script, and got a smarmy response back.  Okay.  I'm fine with that.  I recently queried him with my script Life-Like, and I was treated to the volcanic mother of all rejections.  He laid into my query letter the way the boys from Mystery Science Theater 3000 laid into Gamera movies.  He gave it a scathing line-by-line critique.  It was hilarious.  I only stopped laughing long enough to wonder why the producer of the Transformers series would take so much time responding to a nobody.

Needless to say, he didn't request the script.

Am I going to query him about my next script?

You betcha!  Wouldn't miss it for the world.

Other Tips:

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

God Told Me To Write It

Since the bulk of my work has been in the faith-based market, I am often approached by other writers trying to succeed in the same field.  It is not unusual for them to excitedly announce to me that God told them to write something.  Then, a year or two later, they approach me again to express profound disillusionment because their creative enterprise was not produced or published.  How could that be?  God told them to write it...

I'm actually a good person to discuss this issue with.  I believe in God, and I firmly believe God still communicates with people.   In fact, I wrote a book, "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God," about something God told me would happen that didn't.  How can that be?  God cannot lie.  Right?  Right. Therefore, the error must be found elsewhere.

Before we go any further, I first recommend that you endeavor to find out whether that still small voice you are hearing is indeed God.  I am not going to go into all of the Biblical passages, but be a good Berean and test the spirit against the word of God.  Let's just leave it at this:  If the voice is telling you to do something wrong, it's definitely not God.  If the voice is encouraging you to do something you've always wanted to do, it's probably not God either.  That's probably just you.  God doesn't need to break the fourth wall, as it were, to tell us to do something we're already dead set on doing.  From my own experience, I can say that God has never encouraged me to follow my own desires.  More often than not, He's the voice that says no.  Or beware.  And, when He did send me on a path I was happy to travel, He did so by pointing me in a direction I never would have taken myself.

Back on point.  Do I believe God told me to write something?  Sure.  In fact, I credit my entire screenwriting career to His will.  To explain how, here's an excerpt from my memoir, "The Promise or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God."

     I remember driving to work one day soon after I got the job at Smith Burke & Azzam. I was long gone from Amway, but I maintained some of the goal-oriented mentality. While I was driving, I remember proclaiming to God my five professional goals. Then I heard the voice again. “Now I know your goals,” He said. “Are you interested in mine?”
     He didn’t tell them to me, but after that, I never set goals again. I have tried to live my life on a day-to-day basis, ready to respond to the prompting of the Lord. And such a prompting came rather quickly.
     A couple of months later, I was driving to work praising the Lord. It was a beautiful day, and I was very happy. Then I heard the voice again. He said: “Sean, you’re going to get fired today.”
     That stopped the praise pronto.
     The agency had just lost a major account. The previous week, we went through a Black Friday. Lots of good people were fired. Those of us who remained assumed we were safe. Advertising agencies usually fired everyone at once in those circumstances to calm the rest of the staff. Otherwise, people they intend to keep might get antsy and jump ship. 
     I was crestfallen. I liked having a real job. Real responsibilities. Real money. I didn’t know what I’d do.
     The Lord sensed my mood. He said, “If you’re afraid, I won’t have you fired, but it will be better for you if you are fired.”
     The last time God gave me a choice, I followed my own desires. This time, I was willing to trust him. “Fire me,” I said. 
     Around eleven-thirty, I was paged and told to report to the comptroller. I went to her office smiling. Sure enough, she fired me, but gently and with compassion. I left her office with a smile waiting to see what the future would hold.
     I made no immediate effort to find another job. I spent a day or two watching movies. I don’t remember what film actually inspired me, but at some point I said to myself, “I can do better than that.” I turned off the VHS player and walked upstairs to my typewriter.
     I wrote a police thriller called Forty-Four, about a retiring detective on the hunt for a serial killer on the streets of Baltimore. It was a little short and predictable, but the words came easily. Late Sunday night, I typed: Fade Out. The End. I couldn’t believe it. I wrote an entire feature length screenplay in less than a week. And it wasn’t half bad. It was only about forty-eight percent bad.
     The next morning I awoke to a ringing phone. It was Smith Burke & Azzam. They wanted to hire me back. After only a week. After only as long as it took to write that script…
     Then it struck me. The Lord had given me a forced furlough from my advertising job for that very purpose. He was pointing me in a new direction. He wanted me to write, and I wasn’t going to let Him down.

So do I believe that God wanted me to write the script "Forty-Four?"  Yes, I do.  Granted, the timing could have been a mere coincidence, but given my relationship with the Lord at the time, I don't believe it was one.  My eventual success in the field also confirms my thoughts on the matter.

Therefore, the film got made, right?


Well, it's gonna get made one day, right?  After all, God wanted you to write it....

No, I don't think it will ever get made.

Then why did God want you to write it?

Because He wanted to point me in that direction.  And He wanted me to learn the craft, and, trust me, I had a lot to learn to successfully compete with the professionals in Hollywood.

The second most memorable line I ever heard from the ultimate hyphenate, actor-writer-director-producer David A.R. White, the Tom Cruise of Christian films, was uttered at the Boston Christian Film Festival.  A budding writer came up to him and said, "I want to become a Christian screenwriter.  What should I do?"  David wisely replied, "If you want to become a Christian screenwriter, the first thing you've got to do is learn your craft because God deserves your best."

So true.  After all, if you felt God told you to become a doctor, you wouldn't immediately buy a scalpel and start operating on people the next day.  No.  You would realize that you have to go to medical school.  Then why do you think that your first script will or should be produced?  To think you can succeed as a writer without any training or even practice shows utter contempt for the field you feel inspired to enter.   God deserves your best.  Take the time to learn your craft.

And, while you're at it, learn to gauge your success on God's timetable, not your own.  Did God tell you that your inspired script would sell on a specific day?  If He did, and it didn't sell on that day, then you have a problem.  And that problem is probably that you mistook an inner yearning as the voice of God.  How can I say that?  Easy,  God doesn't lie.

If God didn't give you a date when the script or book would sell, you have no right to complain just because it hasn't happen yet.  If it is truly God's will, He will work it out in His own time.  I just shake my head when someone says their script failed because it's over a year old and that the five people who read it rejected it.  Really?  I don't even begin to think I've given one of my scripts a fair chance until I pitched it to about 900 people.  (That's not an exaggeration.)  As for timing, my script "I, John" was just optioned and will probably be produced this year.  It was written ten-years-ago.  Another one of my scripts, "Then The Judgement," was also recently optioned.  It was written twenty-eight-years-ago.  I'm glad I didn't give up on either of them after a few nos.

My point is that just because God tells you to write a script or a book, it doesn't mean it will be produced or published.  It just means He wanted you to write it for His own purposes.  You might never know why in this lifetime.  However, if you think He wanted you to write that script or book so that you could become rich and famous, then you probably weren't writing it for Him in the first place.  If it is truly God's script or book, He will use it in His way in His time.  Be patient.  Just do the best job you can and move on to the next project.

If you want to learn more about how to respond to the voice of the Lord, read my book:  "The Promise or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God."