Many authors dream of seeing their stories on the screen—whether that turns out to be an original Netflix series, a major motion picture, or a Hallmark Christmas movie. Author and screenwriter Gregg McBride has seen that dream turn to reality, and he’s sharing how it happened!
Gregg McBride is a film and television writer/producer living in Los Angeles, where he works for entities including BET, Disney, Paramount, Sony, Hallmark, FreeForm, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, MTV and others. His Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, A Heavenly Christmas, premiered to the highest ratings for an original movie in the history of the Hallmark Channel. Gregg has made multiple appearances on the Today show and is the author of the books Weightless and Just Stop Eating So Much. He is also a featured blogger for Psychology Today and The Huffington Post.
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Hey, everybody, thank you for tuning in to another Self-Publishing Insiders from Draft2Digital, and we are really excited today. This is someone who’s basically become a good friend of mine, albeit mostly virtually. I had him on my show, the Wordslinger Podcast, years ago, we realized. Quite a few years now, I need to go back and do the math, man.
When we were in kindergarten. That’s as much math as you need to know, Kevin.
We were just young souls back then.
That’s true, we were optimistic and positive and were sure that social media was just wonderful. And here we are, and just be glad we’re not smoking bitterly, like, “Ah, the good old days.”
So I’m talking to Gregg McBride. Among other things, he is an author. He’s got a couple of very popular books out there. I’ve read one of them, I need to read the other. And he has written for such folks as the, did you say The New York Times? See, your bio is not in front of me now. I know it’s Huffpost …
The New York Times will not even publish a letter from me. Yeah, the Huffington Post and Psychology Today.
I’ve made it into The New York Times once, but it was mostly to outline my criminal charges.
Have you seen this man?
Yes, exactly. So, but among other achievements, though, you’ve actually, you’re a producer living in LA. You’ve actually gotten stories on the screen. So that’s what we want to talk about today, man. So why don’t you give a little bit about how you got into that side of things?
Well, um, you know, I’ve always been a writer by trade. And always, that was always a goal, even as a youngster. And my first foray into writing was novels. And I would usually rip off whatever I had just seen. So one of my first novels was called The Third Encounter, instead of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. And I would always get about three chapters in and then just be done with it. It was too much work. So when I discovered that screenplays were double-spaced, and had lots of whitespace and only about 100 pages, I’m like, I’m in. Even from an early age. And so I started doing a lot of home movies and student films. My poor sister, you know, was usually cast in anything. Like, I remember one time we were on vacation in Spain—I should add that we weren’t yachting there or anything, my dad was in the military, so we were stationed in Europe. So one summer, we’re in Spain, and I found this old rickety elevator and I’m like, that’s a good horror movie. And so my poor sister who just like wanting to go to the beach, I was like, come on, you’re gonna die in an elevator. So I was always doing student films and that sort of thing. Again, ripping everything off. Like, one of my high school movies was about Charlie’s Angels in high school, which is not a bad concept, even now, I will say.
It has legs actually.
Yeah, yeah. Six of them. And I did have to think about that. I was like, one, two … So it was always creating. And then when I went to college, I wrote and directed two horror movies, which actually did very well, played at local theaters there. So that was very exciting. And then went into advertising, because I was too chicken to move to Hollywood right away. I was still writing though, you know, I moved to New York City, I was working in fashion. It was very interesting at the time, because anyone who’s read my books might remember that I used to be very heavy. When I graduated from college, I weighed about 450 pounds. So to be working at that, I was the original Ugly Betty. But I guess I was Ugly Bert or something. So that was a very interesting experience, but fun and exciting as well. You know, I was writing ads for Seventeen magazine. And actually, oh, I take back my earlier comment. My ads were in The New York Timestoo. So take that, Kevin Tumlinson. But was still writing scripts, was still just always, like that was my dream. And so finally moved out to Los Angeles, having realized like, I really needed to be on the ground here to try and get stuff read. And, you know, finally was lucky enough to sell my first script. And I was still, you know, I was still dabbling in books. At this point, I had lost my excess weight, and was keeping it off. And I knew that I wanted to write about that, only because I feel like the diet industry sells a lot of mistruths about how to lose weight. And so I was always sort of dabbling in that. But the main thrust was screenwriting. And shortly after moving to LA, actually, I sold my first script. It was a disaster movie called Epicenter. And I had written it with Jennifer Lopez in mind, but the B movie company that bought it saw fit to cast Traci Lords. And for those of you that aren’t quick on the Google, she was an underage porn star back in her day. So that was exciting. But you know, she had at that point done some acting on Melrose Place and had done a small little role in the movie Blade, and she was playing a mom. So that was exciting. But then also another fun little memory from my first sale was, they called up and they said, oh, guess what? The role of Nick is being played by the international kickboxing champion of the world. And I should tell you that the role of Nick in the script was a banker. Like a, you know, an uptight banker. And I was like, oh, wow, where is this headed? So cut to the premiere of the movie, and I’m sitting there in the theater, and it’s all very exciting. And they misspelled my name in the credits. So that’s my first screen … And apparently, that happens quite a bit. Like, you know, if you talk to anyone in the business, they’re like, yeah, that happens all the time. Not to me, it doesn’t! So you know, I often liken myself to Mario from the Donkey Kong video games, or Super Mario Brothers or whatever. And then I just sort of keep going, and I’m just always, you know, I’m a creative guy, I’m always coming up with new ideas, and that led to the books, and it’s led to more script sales, a lot of which doesn’t get made, some of which does. I had a Christmas movie a couple years ago that actually starred Shirley MacLaine. So that was like, insane. And then, you know, wrote some books in the meantime. So yeah, it’s a roller coaster ride. But you know, as I’m sure a lot of people tuning in can relate to, like, when you’re a creator, it just bubbles up. You can’t keep it in. And so you’re like, oh, is this a book? Is this a screenplay? Is this something to tell somebody about on the phone? You know, whatever it is, it’s creativity, man.
Right. Now, is this your full-time gig now, is storytelling?
Yeah, it is my full-time gig.
That’s the dream for so many creatives out there. So what do you credit with … You gave us your whole story, but what do you figure is the one thing that led to you being able to do that kind of work full time?
I would say one of the biggest things that I would recommend is just having tenacity. I mean, we as creatives, even if you’re self-publishing, you are so used to people just saying no, or giving you criticism, or you know, it’s so subjective. And, you know, I relate this a little bit more to screenplays, just because that’s been my experience with, you know, mostly writing, aside from my books. But, you know, somebody could have an argument with their significant other and then sit down and read your script, or even your manuscript, and be like, “This sucks,” you know, just because they’re in a bad mood. Or, you know, another thing people love to do is, “Oh, that sounds a lot like blah, blah, blah.” And you’re like, okay, a little, but did you read it? So, you know, everybody’s got an opinion. And as creatives we have sensitive skin, that is very shiny. And, you know, so that’s tough, right? That can shut you down. But it really is tenacity that I think keeps anyone going. And the fact is, like, when I was very, very young, I left this out of my biographical chapter just now, I used to put on plays in the backyard, right? Like, when you’re going to create, you’re going to create. It’s not something that is a choice. And I think, and I have not been paid to say this, but I think now like in the world of self-publishing, and one of my books I should point out was self-published, and one was through a legit publishing company. And both were fantastic experiences. With self-publishing now, there’s no excuses, you know? I mean, you have to work hard. And it’s got to be right when it’s first out of the gate. But there are real opportunities for you to bring your voice to the world. And it’s exciting. You know, the payoff is amazing, and it never gets old. It never gets old to like, hold your book in your hands, or even see it on your iPad, you know, and flip through or be able to touch the chapter and go right to the chapter. Or to have Shirley MacLaine saying your dialogue. Like that’s, I would have never guessed in a million years that something would happen like that. And by the way, she was such a great kind person and so complimentary of the script. And she used to tell people in interviews that she thought the role of Pearl, which she played, was written for her. Which, don’t tell her, but it was not written for her. So you know …
It was obviously written for Rue McClanahan. I can’t even pronounce her name now, the Golden Girl.
I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m very young. Oh yeah, that was a great episode. But you know, she’s a great example though, right? She’s in her 80s, she’s won Oscars, she’s, you know, done all this body of work that is just incredible. And she works out of a passion to work, you know? She’s still acting and brings everything to whatever project she’s involved with. Kristen Davis, who you might know from Sex in the City, was also in the movie. And she used to talk about that between takes, Shirley MacLaine would give her some direction quietly, aside from what the director was saying. So I mean, that’s how much she cared about what she was doing. And so, again, that all goes back to tenacity. And just like, you know what, we’re creative beings. We can’t contain it. So how are we going to let it out?
Yeah. Now, you mentioned that you had actually written a part with someone in mind. Do you often do that? Like, do you mentally cast people when you’re writing?
Yeah, sometimes I do. For this particular role … like, a lot of times, if I’m writing a script, I will cast the actors, just because it helps me form the characters a little bit in my head, because it’s, you know, it’s all about visualization. Nine times out of ten, the actor will fall away from it. Scripts, feature scripts are usually in three acts. And so by the time you get to the middle of the second act, the character is so full that I’m no longer necessarily, you know, picturing somebody playing it. In the case of the role of Pearl, I did keep the actor in mind the whole time. But again, like when I found out, I was super excited that Eric McCormack and Kristen Davis were in the movie. And when I found out that Shirley MacLaine was in it, I was like, holy crap, that’s just amazing. So, you know, those moments are few and far between, of like, oh my gosh, this is it. And then the universe quickly reminds you, it is not it. The cat just pooped outside the litter box, clean it up. Reality comes crashing in. But again, it’s like, getting stuff out there. Or, you know, it’s funny, having written a Christmas movie, it plays every Christmas, and sometimes in July, and people will reach out on Twitter that I don’t know, and they’ll just say how the movie has maybe touched their life. And again, as a creative person, your voice is affecting other people. I remember when I was in college, and the movies were playing in the movie theaters, and I would be in the back of the audience. And, you know, people would all react to a scary thing, or if people would laugh at something that was intentionally funny, or whatever it was, it’s like, oh my gosh, I’m touching people’s lives. Like, it’s crazy. It’s so fun. And that’s what we want to do, right? Whether it’s through the written word, or a script that then becomes visual, whatever it is, it’s exciting.
So what is, just as a rough start, I know you can’t really get into the weeds on this. But like, if someone wanted to get into your line of work, where would they start?
Well, first of all, I would say that … never take no for an answer. It doesn’t matter … First of all, if you live out of LA—second of all, I keep saying first of all. If you live outside of Los Angeles, that’s actually a plus for you, if you want to write scripts. Because in Los Angeles, they think we’re all jaded, that we have this perspective of Hollywood. And so they’re always looking for fresh voices. So that’s an advantage to you. Another thing that’s an advantage now is, you will more likely get read for something that speaks to your perspective. So let’s say you’re a grandmother. Ten years ago, they might not have been so quick to read a script by somebody of that age, but now they’re going to be, you know, we’re paying more attention to that. And so I would say, first of all, choose a project that is something that you should be writing. So if I were starting out, I might think, okay, what kind of story could I tell maybe about somebody that’s overweight, or somebody that’s trying to lose weight? Like that’s … having been 450 pounds, that’s a story that I can tell. And like, if somebody just read about that in a query letter or email, they’d be like, oh, wow, that’s interesting. Like, look at that guy’s before picture. And he’s writing me about a script he wrote. So you want to find something that makes you unique. I mean, we all have these great ideas for these summer blockbusters, but that’s sort of a contained universe now, right? If it doesn’t have Marvel, or some other entity like Spielberg attached to it, they’re not going to necessarily take a chance on something like that. So write a story that’s personal, even if it is science fiction.Make there be a reason that you are writing it. Because that’s going to get the attention. And then the next thing you have to do is write it. Like, before you reach out to people, before you … you know, people don’t want to hear about an idea. Um, you know, I’ve been lucky enough to sell some pitches. But honestly, with as intricate as a pitch needs to be, you might as well go ahead and write the script. And it’s the same thing when doing a book, right? You can’t, you know, even if you’re working, if you’re trying to sell a fiction novel to a publisher, you’ve got to have the whole thing before you can sell it. And obviously, even if you’re self-publishing, you got to have the whole thing. So really, really, really take the time to write it, take the time to give it to people, get some good critique, people that you know are honest with you. Take some time to just let it sit on the shelf for a while, and then pick it up and read it again and think, oh my gosh, why did I do this, I should change this. Because when you … I always say that it’s a matter of lucky breaks. Like even if, you know, I’ve been somebody that’s been lucky enough to be working in this business now for several years. But it’s still lucky breaks that happen. And I’ll give you a good example, is my Christmas movie, A Heavenly Christmas, which I sold to Hallmark. And I was going in to have just a general meeting. And they kept canceling the meeting. Which happens, right? Like, it’s just a general, if something more important than me comes up, which everything in LA is more important than me, then the meeting is going to get cancelled. Well, on the day I went into Hallmark, they had just had another project fall out of production. Like for whatever reason, it wasn’t going to move forward. So they were desperate to find something to fill that slot. And it just so happened that it was a Hallmark Hall of Fame slot, which meant that it had a bigger budget, bigger cast, than their normal movies. And so I was in there spitballing a couple ideas and was at the right place at the right time. But I was prepared for it. And so, life is a matter of lucky breaks, but you’ve got to be prepared for it. And so you want to have the kind of script that, when people read it, they’re like, oh my gosh, this is amazing. I’ve got to talk to this writer.
Yeah, luck happens more frequently when you’re ready for it.
Yeah. And you know, there are ways to reach out to people, even if you don’t have connections in the business, you know. There’s IMDb, and you can subscribe to IMDb Pro. And you know, IMDb Pro is great. Listen, I love it just because when I’m watching a movie, I like to see how old an actor is or something. Um, but there are email addresses on IMDb Pro. And you know, it’s like, back in the day, there was a thing called the creative directory. And they were literally these big books that had production companies’ names, addresses and fax numbers. And that’s how long ago it was. And so I used to tell myself when I first moved to town, I’m going to fax 5 to 10 producers a day, and you usually never hear back. But sometimes you do. And actually, I got contacted by one of the producers of Thelma and Louise, who was interested in one of my scripts. And it eventually went nowhere, but you just never know. And again, there’s a whole art to writing a query letter. And if they happen to want to read something, you’ve got to make sure that it’s ready to be read, that it’s good that it’s not, you’re not handing somebody a first draft. Because it’s that silly old expression, you only get one chance to make a good impression. And one other thing to keep in mind too is, a lot of times in LA, especially if somebody’s just starting out … it might be a receptionist or an assistant, or you know, a security guard at a studio that is reading your script. But trust me, everyone wants to be able to walk into their boss’s office and say, “Oh my gosh, I just found the next great script, you’ve got to read this.” So just, you know, you want as many people to read it as possible.
I think there’s actually some good advice in there for the authors in the audience as well, in terms of marketing, because it’s the exact same concept, right? Do five things a day, and your chances of success go way up. And you never know who’s gonna see an ad or pick up a manuscript or, you know, otherwise give you some attention you might need.
It’s very true. And, you know, books are a passion of mine. I mean, the two books that I wrote, I’m really proud of, and, you know, I probably have a couple more books in me. And you do need to support those. And the thing is, like, creativity is creativity. It used to be, back in the day in Hollywood, you had to choose one track. Either you were going to write for TV, or you were going to write for film. And now it doesn’t matter. It’s all mixed up.
I’m glad to hear that. I’m very happy to hear that.
Yeah, think about how good TV is now, right? Like, you have these A-list people, actors, directors. You know, it used to be just very segregated. And so it’s the same with like, books and stuff. People want to find out what makes you interesting. So you might be selling a script about your parents, something interesting, blah, blah, blah. But you’ve written a science fiction book, you know, and that is a conversation starter. And for people to be able to see, you know, some of that on social media, or whatever it is, it’s getting the word out. And even when you self-, or even when you are with a publishing company, you still gotta hustle to make that PR machine happen. I mean, I had such a great experience with the publisher of my book Weightless, but I still, you know, so much of so much of it was me getting out there. And you know, the book has become one of their best-selling titles. And a lot of that is because I still push it from time to time. And you know, it’s a universal topic. It’s about, my first book, my self-published book, was a little bit more of an actual diet book, although I don’t like to use the word diet. And the second book was more about my mental journey from being so heavy, to then finally getting thin and getting rid of the mental weight. But it’s, you know, that stuff is a perennial thing, just like science fiction or anything else. I mean, you look right now, what’s going on in the world, people have more reading time. So why shouldn’t they be reading your romance? Why shouldn’t they be … And I got to tell you, too, like speaking of books, books could not be more popular in Hollywood, and they do not have to be bestsellers. I’m working on a new project now that I cannot speak about, not even if you torture me, and it’s a project that’s based on a book. And it’s a great book. We’ve really changed a lot of it, but nobody would know the title of this book. I mean, I’m sure it’s got a great audience, the author has such a beautiful voice. But it was never a bestseller on any list. But because it’s a book, because it’s something physical, producers get excited about it. So even if you have written a screenplay based on your book, you’re 10 steps ahead, you really are. Like, having a book is a really good thing right now. Also, by the way, you never know like, you could get a call from Hallmark. Like if you’re, you know, I know a lot of people write romance, which, by the way, is one of the biggest categories in reading. I love to go into bookstores, you know, the four that were left before the end of days. And I would ask them, like, what, what do people come in asking the most for? And it’s romances. And by the way, there’s good romance novels and bad romance novels, just like there’s great science fiction and kind of ho-hum science fiction. Just like there’s diet books that inspire you and diet books that, you know, are ridiculous. So whatever it is, what’s your voice? If you have a book, or if you have aspirations to go into Hollywood, like having a book is really going to help you.
That’s really interesting to hear. Because, you know, we tend to hear the opposite of that. We tend to hear that, you know, there’s no chance. Don’t even dream that your book could be made into something. But I like what you’re pitching, is, we should actually as independents start working on writing screenplays for our own books instead of waiting for Hallmark to do it.
Why not? Or, you know, another option too, is, if you feel like your book should be a script, and for whatever reason, writing a script isn’t for you, you could still do the legwork and try and get your book into other people’s hands. Again, people want to find that exciting thing. Hollywood loves to say no, trust me, they love to say no, but they’re looking for something exciting. They’re looking for something that’s original, they’re looking for stories. You know, I’m fascinated by the zombie stories, and I don’t think I would ever write a zombie story. And I don’t even necessarily like, you know, I’m not religious about zombie stuff. But there have been some movies that have come out recently in South Korea, or even over here, Black Summer on Netflix, and they are taking zombie stories and telling them in new ways. There’s a movie that just came out in South Korea called #Aliveand it’s a zombie story with all the tropes, but it tells the story in a new way. And so if your science fiction novel, if your romance novel … we know the characters are going to get together in the end, we know that. But do I want to take the journey to watch these two people fall in love? And nowadays, you know, the limits are off that it has to be, you know, this guy and this girl. Like if you have alien and human, or guy and guy, or girl and girl, whatever it is, like, these are stories that need to be told. So what excites you? I always think to myself, what do I want to see, what do I want to see when I turn on the TV? Or what would I want to see, what would make me want to go into the theater? And I am a movie-goer so it doesn’t take much but um, what excites me?
Yes, well that’s a big part of it. But um, you know, so get to that passion, because that’s what it should be. Don’t write it for what you think are riches, write it for what gets you excited, because then that’s what people are going to buy into as well. Even if you do have a book, even if you do have a manuscript, I always say, if you’re going to a meeting in Hollywood, they have already decided you can write, they are deciding if they like you, and want to work with you for the next six to 12 months to get something made. So your passion is something that just can’t be faked.
Yeah, yeah. And, you know, if there’s one thing I can say about the indie author world, it’s that passion is definitely here. Like, everyone I know who does this, you have to have passion to do this, because you don’t get paid most of the time, right?
Yeah, and besides, passion is a much nicer word than insanity.
It’s a very gray area, though.
Yeah. You know, it’s interesting, and I would have never expected myself to be a part of this community. But I, you know, I keep mentioning romance. And because of my Christmas movie, on Twitter, I have found myself taken into the vortex of romance authors. And it is such a beautiful, supportive universe. And there’s, again, it runs the gamut, the different kinds of stories people tell, but it really is, like, there’s no better opportunity now to take your voice and express it in a way that kind of tells a story differently. And, I mean, it’s, you know, things are booming in a lot of ways for books and the written word. And so to not take advantage of that, number one, that little bit of extra time that we have right now, at home. But also that people are looking for stuff, you know, they’re looking for new ways to tell stories.
Yeah, exactly. Right.
Nonfiction too, you know, [inaudible] books are nonfiction.
My wife and I have noticed that we tend to watch a lot more nonfiction now than fiction, when we’re watching films, or adaptations of nonfiction. We’re watching a lot more of that. And I think there is a driving need, especially now, as we feel more disconnected from fellow human beings, we’re looking for more ways to connect. And I think that’s one of the ways that we’re looking to connect. We want to hear a real story from a real person.
Yeah, and it can, you know, nonfiction can be interesting too, because it almost serves as a time capsule. I just watched the documentary on the Go-Go’s on Showtime, just as an example. And I was so, like, I was fascinated by the story, and by the journey, and by the talent, and all this stuff. It’s a real underdog story. But I was also fascinated by the 80s of it all. And so some of these non-fiction works can be, you know, just transport you away, just like a good science fiction book does, or a romance or whatever. And so if you can capture that along with, you know, whatever story you’re telling, you win.
Yeah, exactly right. All right, well, we have a couple of couple of questions. At least one question. So we got Charles Harvey on Facebook, who asks, “How do you stay focused? So the internet, social media, so much on streaming TV seems to get in the way for me these days.” So how do you, Mr. McBride, stay focused?
I do not. That’s such a great question. Charles, I feel you on that. I really, I know people that what they’ll do is, they’ll put their phone on airplane mode, so that they don’t even hear the sounds. And that’s really the best way to go, is, you know … And one thing I’ve learned is that if I take a set amount of time, like let’s say I’m going to write for two hours, but be very, very focused, I can get a lot done. It’s all first draft material and will need reworking and editing, but that’s okay. So for me, I’ve got to turn off the noises because even if I’m like, oh, I’m not going to check my email, when I hear those little dings, or, you know, if I notice that, you know, the little red circle is counting up or whatever it is—and it’s probably just junk mail in my case—you really just have to sort of turn it off. Or, you know, if you have a laptop, again, just sort of disconnect it from the internet while you’re writing for whatever amount of time you’re doing, or while you’re creating. Or even while you are, if you’re like creating social media posts to support whatever material you’re doing, maybe even write those offline so that you don’t like go onto Twitter and then fall into a tunnel like, oh my gosh, I got to look at this tweet, I got to dig deeper. And you know, you want to really stay focused. I think focus is the main thing, and in a shorter amount of time, you can still get a lot done. But great question.
William Carter Burke says, “Great info, Gregg.” And he got the two g’s in there and everything. Alright, so, Vicki asks, “As a ‘not young’ woman, is age a factor about getting your script read in Hollywood?”
Um, I think it used to be, quite honestly, but not anymore. Absolutely. Again, it is, why are you telling the story? And I think that any query letter now, to get something read, really needs to visit that. Even if it’s a science fiction set in another universe, like, I have always had a passion as a kid and I own every Star Wars figurine. Like, whatever it is, like, hook us in and tell us why you should be telling the story. Why should it be you? But there’s never been a better time … like, Hollywood is desperate. They want to scream, “Oh my gosh, we found this great script from this woman who lives in Kansas City. And she wrote all these plays,” or whatever it is. I know Vicki, just so you know.
Oh, okay. You got a ringer in the audience today.
I did not know she was going to be listening. But she’s a very, very talented playwright, actually. But anyway, but yeah, it’s never been a better time to be who you are. Be who you are. And own it. And if somebody doesn’t want to read a script, because you’re this, this, or this, then they are not the right person for the project anyway. You need somebody that carries your passion.
Now that, I love that bit of advice, because that’s what I tell people all the time. If you’re getting that kind of pushback from somebody, you don’t want to work with them anyway. So go off and find the people who understand what you’re trying to say.
Yeah, you know, it’s that old joke like, “Oh, they don’t get my genius.” But you know what? They don’t get your genius. They just don’t. And so …
Yeah, not only do they not understand it, but they don’t get to have it if they don’t get it.
Yeah. And you know good and gosh darn well that Shirley MacLaine is gonna want to do your script. So, you know, don’t listen to the naysayers. There’s so many. And a lot of the naysayers are people that didn’t do what you did. And to come up with a book manuscript, to come up with a script, to come up with 12 scripts before you have one that you’re super excited about. I mean, it’s not easy to be creative. We know this. But just because you get a no, it doesn’t mean no. it means it is not the right person.
Yep, yep. I’ve noticed that as soon as you become successful, the naysayers become your biggest fans. We have, Diaz asks, “As a first time writer in short stories, I have entered a few times in a screenwriting contest made finalist four times. Do I keep going in that direction, or should I switch?”
I think screenwriting contests are a double-edged sword. I certainly know of success stories, where people have been discovered, I think they’re good to do if you can afford them. Don’t break your bank. But I think that shouldn’t be your only avenue. You know, I think that the real discoveries are few and far between when it comes to … But listen, if you can, I’ve entered script contests. If you can afford it, then do it. But don’t let that take away from being on social media and tweeting Beyonce that she should read your script. Look, you’re probably never going to hear from her. But you just never know. Or going on, joining IMDb Pro for a year, and finding out the email address for somebody’s production company that you think would be great as a lead role. You may or may not hear back from them. But again, it’s a game of numbers, man. Like, think of me at my fax machine, you know, waiting for it to go through. And oftentimes the replies would be via fax as well, you know, so I would get all excited. And sometimes, the faxes back would be like, please do not use this number again. And sometimes it would be like, hey, the producer of Thelma and Louise wants to meet with you.
You were getting these faxes while you were playing Mario and Donkey Kong.
That’s exactly right.
About the timeframe. Okay, so here’s a question from Yvonne on YouTube. “What inspires your writing the most?”
I think, again, what excites 13-year-old Gregg. Like, I still am the person where, if I see a trailer that’s exciting to me, I get goosebumps. And it’s just, you know, the feeling of being taken away. Or, the same thing with a good book, right? Like sitting down and suddenly you’re not worried about everything going on in the world because you’re just enveloped in what is happening on the page. So for me, I try and write from a place of excitement where I can transport whoever’s watching or reading to a place where maybe for a minute they’re not worried about everything.
Yeah, yeah, that’s a good metric. Faysbook Write On says, “Very helpful! Thank you Gregg and D2D!” There you go.
Rosemary asks, “Hi, Gregg! Do you start with an outline or just start writing and see where it needs to go?”
I’ve done both. And I’m a very lazy writer, I like to just get right to the red carpet. But outline, outline, outline, outline, outline, for sure. And that doesn’t mean you’re going to stick to the outline. You may get into the story and find different things happening. But you really do need to know where you’re going. And it is absolutely worth doing the outline. And as you work more in the industry, everybody wants to see an outline. And there’s a real art to writing an outline. So it will only serve you to write an outline.
What’s your recommendation for people to learn how to do an outline right?
Well, don’t do my method of not doing one sometimes. I would just Google. And, you know, that’s the other great thing, there’s a whole library out there in the world. And, you know, you can find scripts, and it really is important to read whatever it is you’re writing. And there are, believe it or not, there’s outlines out there for TV shows, like the reboot of Battlestar Galactica, years and years ago on Sci Fi. But that outline and Bible is amazing. And when you read it, you’re like, of course they bought this, you know? And by the way, that was, a great creator did that show who already had lots of experience, and he took time to write an outline. So I would really dive in and make it fun. Don’t make it like it’s homework, just see what other people are doing. But for starting your own, just make it a skeleton at first, you know. You don’t have all the ideas, okay, Act One, Act Two, Act Three. So and so does this, so and so does that, something needs to happen here. And then skip down. And then of course, you start putting more flesh on the bones. And it starts to, you know, have a life. And then it’s probably something that you’re gonna work on, even as you go through the script. Like, you might think of something great to happen. A good twist in the middle of Act Two, or whatever it is, or even for your book, but I do think an outline is important.
Yeah, I have to agree with you. Especially when it comes to screenplays. I’m just terrible at outlines right now. All my books are pantsed from beginning to end. So. TheLadyWrites asks, and I don’t think this necessarily applies to you, cuz you’re not converting any of your books into screenplays, but she says, “How often do you turn your books into screenplays?” Here’s the part of the question I think you could help answer: “Is there a guide for doing this?”
I don’t know of one. Again, the Google machine could maybe point you in the right direction. I think …
I should have just interviewed Google, Gregg, come on.
[inaudible] my paid and advertisement people. A lot of times, it is hard for authors to adapt their own work to a script, because you really have to sort of see it from a lengthy point of view and not be too married to anything. And that is really tough, right? Like, we love all of our stuff. And we’re like, oh my gosh, this has got to be in the script. But a book and a script are such different mediums. I’m not saying you can’t do it. And if you want to do it, do it, if you’re the person to do it. But remember, there’s a big difference between a story that’s being read, and a story that’s being viewed. And when you’re doing scripts, remember: show, don’t tell. Show, don’t tell. I was watching a new series this week, I binged it. And I finally got to the last episode, and I was like, wow, it’s just talk, talk, talk. And you know, it’s cute, clever, playful banter. But by the 10th episode, I was thinking to myself, I really want to see some of this stuff. I want to feel it. I want to … So remember that. That’s the difference between a book and a screenplay is, you’re showing more than telling. Great question, though.
That is a great question. This is a long one. Let me read through this. “Does it make sense for a novelist to team up with a script writer? I don’t want to learn to write a whole new method, haha.” I don’t blame you. “I have dozens of sweet romance novels and novellas published and I’m comfortable in that style of writing, so I’d rather team up with someone and get some pitches out.” And, you know, pitches be crazy. I’ve been waiting this whole episode to say that.
Yeah, pitches be crazy. That should be a book.
Should someone team up with a script writer for [inaudible]?
Sure, you could. I mean, listen, there is no rhyme or reason how things happen. But again, I will tell you, like, if you have books, you are armed with it, man. And you know, look at the movies. Like, it doesn’t matter how much a bookhas been adapted, it’s going to be based on a book by your name. Like, that’s going to be there. And I think, and this is just free advice, so you know what that’s worth. But I almost think that a book is stronger than a book and a pitch, unless it’s an established screenwriter, because there’s a million screenwriters to adapt books. But getting a book that somebody is excited about is worth so much more than even a pitch. And so if somebody at a production company, or a TV studio, or a network, gets ahold of a book, and thinks it’s great, they’re not going to be like, oh, I wish there was a pitch, I guess we can’t make it. No, they’re gonna be like, “Oh, blah blah wrote this movie, we should send this book and see how this person …” Or, you know, my agent all the time goes to book shows, and she’ll be like, “Oh, I saw this book, do you want to take a look at it?” So I would really concentrate on the property and getting it into the hands of people that make the type of stuff. You know, don’t send a romance novel to somebody that’s known for police action dramas. Send a romance novel to a production company that does movies for Lifetime at Christmas, or, you know, whatever it is. You got to do your research, you cannot phone this in. And if you do phone it in, it’s going to bite you in the butt, because people are going to be like, wow, this person phoned it in.
Yeah, it becomes very obvious. You can’t just fake your way through it.
No, it does. And, you know, there’s plenty of people that want to find a fresh voice, whether it’s through a script or a book. But if you come off as somebody that has not done the research into a person’s company, or what they’ve done in the past, it leaves a really bad taste in someone’s mouth. So you’ve got to do your homework.
Yeah. All right, we have a couple of minutes left, we’re gonna go to your ringer again. Vicki asks, “Where is the best place to learn how to write a kick ass query letter?”
Well, there’s plenty of books on the subject, but I would think that some of them become as outdated as soon as they’re published. You know, again, I would look online, see what you can find out. Um, you know, the trick is you, you want to just say, it’s pretty basic. “Dear so and so, I’m writing you because I’m a big fan of—insert title that you’re a big fan of—I am a writer who used to weigh 450 pounds, and I just wrote a new script about, you know, blah blah blah, that I think somebody like you could bring to life. Would you be interested in reading the script?” Short and sweet. And remember, a lot of this stuff will be via email. And we all know, because we do it, people scan. And so you got to get right in there. Like, I’m talking, you know, get it down to five sentences, and then send it off and give it to the universe. And then, you know, be like, okay, I’m gonna send out three of these a day, or four a week. But again, make it focused. Don’t splatter it all over the place, because that’s a waste of time, I think.
What about, like, slick marketing materials, like one-sheets and things like that? Should you use those?
I think you don’t need those more often than not, and I love them. Like, if I go in to pitch, a lot of times I’ll have a poster made, you know, and I used to be in advertising. So it looks pretty slick, and I’ll hand them out. And I’ll be like, “This is for your school locker.” Because, you know, I’m so clever. And sometimes people like them. But sometimes people are just like, what’s this? I remember one time, I was meeting with somebody at an unnamed network, MTV, and I went in, and I pitched something. And then I had a one-sheet which had some graphics on it and a little bit about. And so I handed it and I said, “Here’s something I’ll just leave behind to remember.” And the girl goes, “Oh, we have a marketing department.” Like, she thought that I thought that I had to handle MTV’s marketing. So it just landed with a thud. So I think, really what you want is the written word, you know. Make that screenplay or that book manuscript or your book, if you’re sending out a book, make it pop. Make it so, you know when somebody gets it into their hands or onto their iPad or tablet, however they’re going to read it, it’s going to jump off the page at them.
Right. Exactly. All right. Well, we are sadly at the end of the program.
Aw, I was just about to give my modeling tips.
You’re were getting all warmed up, we’ll have to have you on again then.
That would be my pleasure. It’s been great.
People need to go follow you on Instagram and then they can ask you all these questions that they didn’t get to ask you on the air. Go find @GreggMcBride on Instagram. And don’t go looking for D2D on Instagram just yet. We need to clean that up. We need to really improve that. But before we let everybody kind of release and go back to your regular lives, make sure you’re subscribing to us on YouTube. If you go to youtube.com/draft2digital, you can follow us there. Please do because that’s going to help us out, the more followers we have, the more interviews we’ll have. Make sure you hit the little bell so you know when we’ve got new interviews like this one coming up, and you can also follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/draft2digital. And if you want to be kept in the loop on more of this live stuff, go over and bookmark D2Dlive.com, where you’ll see a countdown every time we have one of these. We had a countdown for our good friend Gregg here, so. And of course, check in on selfpublishinginsiders.com, and that’s where you’ll find back episodes of this show. The podcast version, the YouTube version, the transcripts, everything. Mr. McBride, thank you so much. You’re always such a wonderful presence on Twitter. I’m so happy that you and I are still connected after all these years, man. All right, everybody. Thank you so much. Take care of yourselves. We’ll see you all next time on Self-Publishing Insiders with Draft2Digital.