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Sunday, January 11, 2009

10,000 Hours

So my best buddy ever, Keith*, gave me a copy of Malcolm Gladwell's new book Outliers and I have been most fascinated by it. In chapter two, Gladwell discusses the 10,000 hour theorem: that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice and repetition before a person is truly head and shoulders above others doing the same thing. 10,000 hours of computer programming, cooking, writing, skiing - whatever. Gladwell makes a pretty salient and compelling point that practice does indeed make perfect.

*This is a rarefied status subject to change, bribery** and favoritism. Just FYI.

**Cupcakes and tiny dog sweaters. [--Ed.]

I think we all remember the Great Computer Meltdown of '08. That horrible day when my hard drive failed and I hadn't been backing up and - well - I lost a lot of stuff. One of the things I lost was the curriculum I had prepared for the Learn to be a Reader correspondence course. So I had to either pay a bunch of money to get that and other things retrieved from the hard drive or just write it again. So I wrote it again. That added another several hours to my cume.

There are a number of students taking this nifty correspondence course and as I am grading their synopses, comments and logline generating skills and giving them new homework for the following week, I am amazed at how much more there is to being a reader than I had appreciated. In having to write the entire curriculum - and then rewrite it all again a month or two later, I have put quite a number of hours into breaking down and expressing the ins and outs of story analysis. And though I do some type of story analysis just about every day, it really has made me stand back and think - wow, this really is not something just anybody can do and do well. I am struck by how much I have learned about reading and covering scripts, about the methodology, the politics and the presentation. I think I probably have spent 10,000 hours doing what I do and it's become second nature. That's a good feeling.

For example, in Week Three, the lecture and homework are about synopsizing a script.

Did you know:

Do not ever, ever, EVER comment within the synopsis – this is a story summary and there is absolutely no room here for your opinions. Strictly separate the synopsis (an accurate retelling of what happens) from the commentary (a breakdown of what is and isn’t working by element).

or -

Do NOT synopsize as you go. This will slow you down terribly in completing the coverage and it will also take you out of the read. Just read the script straight through, as you normally would. Use a highlighter or a red pen and read along swiftly but mark those pages, names or moments that you KNOW are significant enough to include in the synopsis.

or -

Very frequently, the script isn’t very entertaining at all. Your job is then not to write a highly entertaining synopsis because that is misrepresenting the script. However, if the script has ANY funny, moving, scary or action-packed moments that stuck with you – really get that feeling and description down in the synopsis. The ability to write a well-crafted synopsis is what separates okay readers from GREAT readers.

I wish I had been able to take this class several years back when I began reading. I knew the basics but I really had to feel my way through finessing my process. The other day, The Script Department received an order to do some coverage from Seed Productions (Hugh Jackman's company). As I prepared to assign the work to a reader, Seed emailed me again. Could you do it personally? Nobody has the thoughtful insight that you do. You have spoiled us. That compliment really made my day. Though now I have to read, synopsize and cover two 100+ page plays by Monday. But it's all good. I always get GREAT stuff from Seed.

So - how many hours are you putting into your writing on a daily, weekly, monthly, annual and cumulative basis? If Gladwell is really onto something - and I think he obviously is - can Wavers understand why, based on the 10,000 hour observation, that it's not super likely you're going to sell your first script? Ten scripts - 100 hours each - that adds up.

So that's all I have to say this Sunday. Tonight I am hosting a Golden Globes party with ballots and the whole nine yards. Be careful, Keith, you could get bumped in the Best Pal category. Do your homework, show up looking pretty and you might retain your status.

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E.C. Henry said...

I so happy for you Julie. To be PERSONALLY singled out by Seed Productions. Does that come a free, complimentary kiss from Hugh Jackman? Too bad he's already spoken for, eh?

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

Julie Gray said...

I have read for Seed for a couple of years now and yes, it does feel very good to be sought out by them. One of these fine days, EC, I'll walk into their offices and Hugh will be there and I'll get my hug and kiss :)

Anthony Peterson said...

Well at least you got to see him bare chested in "Australia". No wonder that movie seriously skewed to 30+ year old women!!!

Julie Gray said...

@Anthony - oh dear, that's right. That WAS a nice shot of Hugh bare chested. My kids think it's cool I work for the Wolverine. *sigh*.

Christina said...

Funny, the person I call my BFF in SF is a Keith too. I have a special place in my heart for those named Keith, primarily because I think Keith Richards is the coolest man on the planet.

David Kassin Fried said...

I read this book a few weeks ago, and that was far and away the best chapter, as far as I was concerned, because it was the only one that really gave me a sense of control over my own destiny. It's a little daunting to think about, but also encouraging.

I've been writing my entire life, so have probably put 10,000 hours in, though I have not been writing screenplays my entire life, which leaves me in a completely different space. I find myself wondering what it is I should be doing now, given that, fact, and it's an exciting inquiry to be in.

Anonymous said...

Hey Julie,

You are really going to rock this industry.

I believe one day you will be a million time better than Scriptapalooza, for example!

Love this comment, thanks for sharing...

"The ability to write a well-crafted synopsis is what separates okay readers from GREAT readers."

I only wish Mark is listening.

I received the worst synopsis from Mark's Reader. Sounded like the coverage and the synopsis was written by a high school student or a 100 year old man. So terrible and disorganized and disrespectful.

Thanks Linda for being so truthful and helpful, with all your heart.

Buck said...

I think the 10,000 hour rule applies to most people, for sure. But Gladwell adds that there's a confluence of events or circumstances that brings people to greatness; that their ability doesn't stand on its own. In other words, there's an element of being at the right place at the right time. I'm sure, Julie, you believe in this notion as well -- especially since it applies to Hollywood in this case.

Seems like this factor might be worth expounding upon as well (but could be daunting, say, if you're hapless and may invest 10,000 hours but may never be at the right place at the right time -- ahem).