A recent New York Times article talked about a controversial guy who reviews screenplays of produced — and unproduced movies — online. He is one of literally hundreds of people with no screenwriting credits of their own who make a living offering screenwriting advice to others. I’m not saying you have to be Bjorn Borg to teach tennis, but some of the most useful notes I got on scripts were from professionals who had been through the arduous development process themselves and could therefore help me avoid beginner’s mistakes such as giving two characters names that start with the same letter (if your main character is named Paul, his love interest can’t be Polly).
Nobody can really prepare you for the pain of development (my favorite note in a meeting with a producer: “Come up with a name for this character that doesn’t make me want to vomit”), but at least someone who has been through it themselves can help you avoid some of the main pitfalls.
The reason the guy in the article is controversial is not because he makes a living giving people advice on getting a screenplay produced when he has never done it himself, it’s because as some have rightly pointed out, critiquing a script is sort of pointless. A script is just a blueprint — there’s a reason nobody can name more than three screenwriters off the top of their head. The director is the one who gives the film flesh. A bad director can make a bad movie with the best script on earth.
The other reason people are upset is because this guy also wants to be a producer. That’s kind of rich for Hollywood folk to claim that is “unethical” for him to both accept money to read scripts and produce them, when there are probably 500 script “contests” out there that exist almost solely to harvest cash from millions of hopeful wannabes. The “prizes” these contests offer are simply access to producers (who are always hungry for decent scripts anyway). A manager can be a producer (though an agent can’t). Don’t tell me there aren’t managers out there charging to read scripts.
One of my very best writing teachers, Julie Oxendale (if you follow this link you have to scroll down to “O” to read about her), taught me that when you are stuck on your story, you should always return to your characters. I followed her advice and am now able to move forward with that dreaded second act.
Much like a good script, wild rice takes a long time to cook (gotta love that transition! Or not…). Wild and brown rices tend to build up in my cupboards because it’s short attention span theater around here at dinner time. The taste of wild rice is worth the effort though, and once it’s cooked, you can re-purpose it into casseroles later.
When I used to do PR for Mendocino County, I discovered the Potter Valley, one of the tiniest and most unique wine regions in California. That’s where the wild rice for my salad comes from, grown adjacent to one of the vineyards on a family farm that has been there for generations. They also sell beautiful wreaths, made from bay leaves and other greenery that grows locally. Call ahead if you are heading up there for a tasting though, because in Mendocino the actual winemaker and/or farmer is usually the one doing the pouring.
2 1/2 cups of cooked wild rice (Follow the directions — I somehow lost them for my box of wild rice! Just know that you will be cooking the rice for about 40 minutes and not leaving it unattended)
3 tablespoons of good olive oil (cooking without salt demands quality dressing)
1 tablespoon of Balsamic vinegar (see above)
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 – 2 teaspoons each of dill weed and tarragon2 tablespoons dried, chopped onions (make sure they have no salt or use fresh)
1 tablespoon Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute or other sodium-free spice mix
2 stalks of celery, chopped small
1 tablespoon sour cream that is low in sodium, like Green Valley Farms Organic
2 hard boiled eggs (the only other source of sodium)
1 cup walnuts (chopped)
Serves about 3 people (yields almost 4 cups of salad).
Don’t forget to rinse the wild rice a ton before cooking it. The rest of this recipe is fairly self-explanatory. The variety of textures in this salad distracted me from the lack of salt pretty successfully. I didn’t realize that hard boiled eggs were so sodium-rich or I wouldn’t have included them (canned tuna in water is packed with soy and/or salty broth — who knew?). I’m guessing the salt content of the egg depends on who lays it, so I’m going to have to guess, but I think that an average serving of the salad above probably has less than 20 mgs of sodium since the tablespoon of sour cream only added 10 mgs to the entire salad. I have a friend who can’t have any sodium so I wanted to challenge myself to make something tasty without it. Cross your fingers he likes it. I really did.