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Friday, September 19, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – Development Hell – Part III (P.J. McNeill) - posted by wonkavite

Welcome to Development Hell

Part III: Game over, man. Game over!

Over the last 10 years, I have optioned nearly every single script I have written. And outside of a few short scripts, I have NEVER seen a feature script make it to production. I have watched each script painstakingly go through the development process, only to fall apart with little to no warning. That means that I’ve done years of re-writes multiple times for multiple scripts, with next to nothing to show for it.

Thankfully, as mentioned several posts ago, I no longer work for free (and you shouldn’t either). My last option that collapsed lasted for THREE YEARS. And think about it honestly: would you do ANY job for three years with absolutely no pay? Sure, I could go on a tangent about how it’s my passion and the joy of writing should be good enough for me, but screw that, I have a family, and three years is a long time. I can’t imagine if I looked back on the entirety of that time and realized I literally had nothing to show for it.

And THAT’S why they’re paying you. Not only for your time (and the time the script is off the market), but for the off-chance that NOTHING happens with your script. If nothing happens with your script and you have no money to show for it, what can you actually say about the last three years (give or take) of work you’ve done? I’ve done $0 options before, and when the years have passed and the project collapses, you look back and realize that is time you can’t get back. And worse, your idea might be outdated by that time. Several years ago, the three year option script was original and had a unique selling point. Now, when I try to pitch it, I get responses like “I’ve had two people try to pitch a script like this in the past couple months.”

The biggest thing independent filmmakers love to fall back on are points, instead of pay. The very first option I had was for one dollar, but man, oh man, did I have lot of points on the back end. I remember feeling pretty damn proud of myself, negotiating the percentage of my points higher than what was originally offered. Unfortunately, the filmmaker held onto the script for a couple years and eventually gave it back to me, thus making my points completely and utterly worthless. You can have a million percentage points, but it’s pointless (heh.) if you don’t end up with a film. (Add that to the fact that even if you DO get a film, those points are probably worthless. Seriously, get cash up front.)

It’s going to be hard to tell people your option fell apart. You know how I said, in the last entry, that you’ve probably told your friends and family, and they’re most likely always asking for updates? Well, now you get to tell those same skeptical people that your project fell apart.   It will come to the point, if you’re like me and have had several options that didn’t work out, that the people you know will become skeptical of optioning/development. It’s like how people get less and less excited with each kid you have. Everyone’s pumped with the first one – sending you congrats and what not – but by the forth, it’s like “Alright already, you can have kids. Hooray. Let me know when they do something worthwhile.” Same thing with optioning. I can see it in people’s eyes now. I tell them I optioned something, but all I see is “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Let me know when it’s a movie.”

The biggest fear you will have is people thinking your script didn’t get made because it isn’t good. That YOU’RE the problem. Let me just say: that’s bullshit. It’s not your fault if your script doesn’t get made. There are so many factors at play in securing funding for a film, that it is horribly simplistic to blame it entirely on the quality of the script. It’s not just the good scripts that make it to production. Don’t believe me? Take a look at ANY section on Netflix Instant. If it WAS your script, odds are it was because your script didn’t fit a particular mold. Your script isn’t the type of script you can point to and say “THIS is why it will make money.” And when you’re trying to secure funding, it’s all about finding out what is “sellable” about your script. Your script being “good” sadly isn’t enough. My last story session with the director concentrated more on “what would sell” than what would make for a good story. (Spoiler alert: any scene over two pages – doesn’t sell)

I’m more confident about my current project in development than I have been about any project before it. I would be shocked if I received an e-mail telling me they were pulling the plug. I fully expect it to go into production. Which is great, because they told me I could have 125% of the film’s profits. Suckers.

About the writer: A talented writer and 10 year veteran of the industry, “P.J. McNeill” has seen it all (and he’s ready to kiss and tell.) Got a question, a comment or just general bile /praise you want to spew?  Email PJ at pjscriptblog@gmail.com.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – Development Hell – Part Two (P.J. McNeill) - posted by wonkavite

Welcome to Development Hell

Part II: The Waiting Game Sucks, Let’s Play Hungry, Hungry Hippos

The production company I’m currently working with has (at least) 12 other projects in development; ranging from television to feature films. And only one – count ‘em – one development executive. Granted, he has a slew of interns working for him, but the bulk of the work rests solely on his already heavily weighed down shoulders. So what does that mean for me? It means, when I send in the latest draft of my script, I have to get in line. It might be days, weeks or even months before I hear back. And you, as a writer, have to really become OK with that: the waiting.

One time, I turned in the latest draft of my script, and started the process of waiting. Two weeks later, I received an e-mail from the executive apologizing and telling me it would be awhile before they would get a chance to read it because they just entered production on another film. Production time: TWO MONTHS. That meant, for two months, I was being pushed to the back of the line. (NOTE: So think about THAT when you’re waiting for a production company to get back to you while querying. You know how I’m at the back of the line? Well, you’re not even IN the line.)

Most companies won’t talk in depth about what they have in development, and it is certainly not your place to ask (unless you’ve developed a good relationship with them). You’ll start to wonder where your project ranks. And even if you had the gall to ask them (which you shouldn’t), they’d most likely tell you that ALL their projects are equally important. Which is BS, just like when your parents say they love you all equally. (Spoiler alert: they love your sister more.)

The worst part is that you’ve most likely told your friends and family that you’ve optioned a script. And what do they want? Updates. And why wouldn’t they? It’s exciting, and they’re excited FOR you. But what they don’t understand is that development is a slow-going process every step of the way. Even in the studio system, most films spend YEARS in development, unless they’re the lucky few to be on the “fast track”.

So whenever you’re at a party or a family function and every-single-person opens with “So, what’s going on with (insert script name here)?” and you have NOTHING to tell them, it’ll start to nag at you after awhile; especially as the months go by. And every time you talk to that person, and have no updates to give, you’ll start to see their interest fade and give way to good ol’ skepticism. You’ll try to think of things you can tell them that put a positive spin on it all, but if someone doesn’t understand development, it just sounds like a lot of nothing.

Because of this all, you’ll be tempted to contact the company. Don’t. If they have something to tell you (about your script drafts, the state of financing, actors attached, etc), they’ll tell you. You don’t want to become the needy writer they quickly become sick of working with. Because REMEMBER: you want to keep a good working relationship with them. They just might make your next film. But they won’t if they remember you as that writer who wouldn’t leave them the hell alone. If you do e-mail them, make it short and sweet and only do it EVERY SEVERAL MONTHS. But I really would advise against this, unless you have the type of relationship that merits it.

The best thing you can do – and the thing I even have a problem with – is to throw yourself into something else, like another script. It’s tough though. Having your script in development IS exciting. You want to know what’s going on with it. After all, this could be your big break, and the “green light” could happen any day…in a couple years.

About the writer: A talented writer and 10 year veteran of the industry, “P.J. McNeill” has seen it all (and he’s ready to kiss and tell.) Got a question, a comment or just general bile/praise you want to spew?  Email PJ at pjscriptblog@gmail.com. New to P.J. readership?  Click here for more articles!

Monday, September 8, 2014

No BullScript Consulting – Danny Manus Introduction and Script Review (Static Town) - posted by wonkavite

No-Bullscript-Web-Banner-160x85-Final

One week ago, we reviewed Kevin Revie’s Static Town – our third (but far from final) feature showcase. As readers of Shootin’ the Shorts are aware, our goal at STS is to find new and promising writers, and provide them with the platform they need to get their work seen (then hopefully optioned, and produced!)

One of our not-so-secret weapons in this quest is Danny Manus of No BullScript Consulting. Having worked as a development executive in Hollywood, Danny is an in-demand script consultant, named by Creative Screenwriting Magazine at one of the “Top 15” consultants in their “Cream of the Crop” list. Partnered with STS, Danny provides wonderfully detailed and helpful notes for the monthly STS feature script.This coverage is provided free to the writer, and can be posted our site or kept confidential – at the writer’s discretion. But wait – there’s more!Any script that gets a coveted “recommend” from tough but eminently fair Danny will be featured in his monthly newsletter and may also receive further exposure to his production contacts…

Below, please find Danny’s notes/coverage for Static Town. Read, learn, comment…. and don’t forget to submit your best work for possible review!

**To submit a script, please visit STS at the page listed HERE. Danny can also be contacted directly via the No BullScript Consulting website at http://www.nobullscript.net/contact/. Or on Twitter @DannyManus.

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NO BULLSCRIPT ANALYSIS

Title: Static Town

Type of Material: Screenplay

Author: Kevin Revie

Number of Pages: 84

Submitted To: Simply Scripts

Circa: Present

Location: Linden Mills, Suburbia

Genre:Comedy/Teen

Coverage Date: 8/22/14

Budget Range: Low

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COMMENTS:Kevin, thank you for submitting your script, “Static Town” to Simply Scripts. The following notes and comments will go through what works well and what still needs to be worked on or changed in order to make this a more viable and commercial script.

I think overall the writing is strong and there is definitely a voice and a timely message that comes through the pages, and it’s a generally enjoyable and fast, easy read. A quirky comedy about a teen who is so sick of the disconnection that exists between people these days due to technology that he causes a severe blackout in his town, is a strong set up and premise. It’s not an insanely original theme or message but it shines an LED-Screen on our society and how tech-obsessed we’ve become and how we have suffered for it in a fun way, and certainly this is a theme we can relate to these days. It presents a strong question of what would happen if a town was suddenly without power and had to start reconnecting on a personal level.

Your characters are largely likable and I think there are a number of strong lines and very funny moments within the script. That being said, I think there are some ways to make this feel like the story has a bit more depth and MEAT to it, perhaps flesh it out the plot a bit more. For me, what’s missing most in the story is conflict. And because conflict is generally really what drives plot, the lack of conflict equals a lack of plot and stakes. I think the voice and tone feel like a nice mix of Juno, Safety Not Guaranteed and Perks of Being a Wallflower, but without the major stakes, twists and drama those projects had

Your concept could lend itself to a more satirical feel, and I wonder if there’s some more comedy that could be mined from that. This town is without power and computers and cell phone towers – but we never really see what happens to the people in this town other than Wyatt and his close group of friends. Yes, we see people go outside and play and start enjoying each other’s company later in the story – but that probably wouldn’t be the immediate reaction. There should be a larger downside and a level of chaos before the people begin to embrace it. I think you could take the level of satire up a bit by showing some funny extremes or people reacting or what people in this town resort to, to try to get power. Right now, the only moment we get of that is on page 24-25 when people try to get water and duct tape. I think you could have this type of panic last a little longer. Even without power, you figure you have 18-24 hours before everyone’s phone battery goes dead. So when that happens, it could be like a countdown to phonemageddon.

There’s a totally different version of this story where it is full-on satire and you have people becoming almost cannibals and zombies because they can’t text, and just looting and murdering for batteries while this kid did it just to try to get the new girl to notice him. I think then you could go even more over the top with the message and the comedy if it was wrapped in more satire. But that is a different tone and story..

With quirkier small comedies and dramedies, it’s really about three things – character, voice, and a situation or hook that presents enough opportunities to bring out character and voice through plot. I think you have these, but I do think Wyatt’s character, while likable, could be just a bit stronger and more consistent in his set up and the things he does (or discovers) throughout the story could also be a bit stronger to add more plot.

Wyatt says things like “I’ve never been able to really express how I feel” on page 7 – but that’s not really evidenced in the plot. If that’s one of his flaws, we need to see how that actually affects his life.

With Wyatt, while I think he is relatable and sweet, his place within the world of his high school hierarchy is a bit unclear. He doesn’t seem like an outcast, and I’m guess since this is a TINY town his graduating class all knows each other and has since birth. So, it’s not clear where he ranks in the popularity/clique levels. He’s already slept with the hot slutty girl in school, so that tells me he’s not a total loser. But I think it’s odd that he is nervous about going up to Jennie on page 7 and talking to her, even though he’s already slept with her and has been hanging out with her, and he already knows she’s seeing other people. Clearly her boyfriend Barry is not really an obstacle for her sleeping with other guys, but I didn’t quite get the connection between Wyatt and Jennie and what he actually wants from her.

It’s also odd that he sees the new girl on page 6, seems to be enchanted and attracted, but then totally forgets about her and goes back to sighing over Jennie and her boyfriend on the next page. I might suggest switching those two scenes so that we actually meet Sophie a couple pages later but his reaction will make more sense because he’s already been turned down by Jennie and all the sighing over her is over. It would also give a bit more meaning to the scene of Wyatt, Geordie and Dale talking on pages 8-9 if it lead to seeing Sophie for the first time.

I also was curious what video Sam posted of him last year that scarred him so badly. What did he do? Did it go viral? Is that why he doesn’t like technology much anymore? I was waiting for a bigger reveal on that.

Wyatt’s reasoning for wanting to stay off of social media needs to connect more to his character and what’s going on in the story. He tells Dale he’s going to stay off social media because they don’t take chances or risks anymore and he’s lacking spontaneity. But that really has nothing to do with social media or cell phones. Then he says everyone is just living through screens and not looking around them and people are just advertising themselves as they want to be seen. But that’s a totally different issue. Not taking risks and lacking spontaneity is different from people living their lives through technology and putting out or creating false senses of selves. And this is why his true motivation for knocking down the power lines is unclear.

While I love that Wyatt knocks down the power lines, I feel like there needs to be a stronger catalyst or motivation for him to do so. There’s no specific PROBLEM that Wyatt is facing or situation he needs to fix or deal with that would inspire him to do this.

For instance, if he couldn’t get the attention of the girl of his dreams because everyone else was trying to get to her thru social media and texting and he was more of an old school romantic, then it might make more sense. Or if there was a video sent out about him that went viral and ruined his social life or his chances with the girl he loved, then that would be a great reason. I just don’t think it should feel like an off-the-cuff, spur of the moment decision without some catalyst or reason for knocking the power lines down.

Seconds before he does it, he sees a montage of “tech” things – kids glued to phones, Sophie dismissing him for a text message, his mother driving off with a man she met on the internet, no one paying attention at graduation, etc. – but only a COUPLE of these things actually happened and the rest are fantasies and projections of what COULD happen. I think these things he thinks of should be what actually happened to him that inspire him to do this. Let him give a speech at school where everyone is on their phone or replaying the viral video of him doing something stupid, let Sophie (or Jenny) totally dismiss him for a text and not pay attention to the guy actually talking to her in person, have his mom actually meet a guy off the net – these are strong motivations. Right now, though, they are all hypothetical. And so there’s not really a catalyst to make him do this. Whatever that catalyst is could be the inciting incident.

Sophie’s character is strong and she has a great introduction when she talks with Wyatt the first time. Her line “Somewhere in between get me out of here and maybe I can stay sane for like a year, max” is a great way to show her mindset about this town and a strong inciting incident for Wyatt.

I really like the twist that Sophie goes for Dale instead of the predictable Wyatt, though it does seem to be a bit of a bro-code violation. It’s a good reveal on page 58 that she’s there with him. It’s a heart-wrenching little twist on the love story, but also adds irony in that even without the power and the social media, he still can’t get the girl. Their scene together on page 64 is a bit harsh from both of them only because I don’t think there’s enough build-up to really earn those feelings. A couple more instances where she might have seemed to be leading him on would help.

The point Sophie makes in this scene is also the major issue with the second act. She asks Wyatt – ‘Okay, the power’s out but what have you done differently?’ And drawing this to light makes the reader realize – she’s right, Wyatt hasn’t actually done anything in 40 pages. It makes us realize we’re just watching things happen thru Wyatt instead of really experiencing things happen with Wyatt. And I would suggest that’s the biggest issue with the second act. Other than being sad about Sophie, there hasn’t been any conflict for him to face. He pretty much gives up on his goal of winning Sophie’s heart, so what else is left for him to accomplish the rest of the story? Maybe his lack of taking chances could be set up a bit more and this becomes his other goal, but it’s not really connecting enough currently.

Sophie gives him his cell phone back on page 67, which is great, but would be even more important if you were tracking the police investigation to finding out who was responsible. He didn’t seem worried about the phone until she gives it to him.

I like the subplot of Wyatt’s parents being pulled apart and then coming back together. It’s sweet, but is it really technology’s fault they’ve pulled apart? Also, on page 23, it’s odd that Karolyn doesn’t mention the blackout but only the car.

Turning to the story and structure, the other general issue for me with the script is that some of the scenes themselves are a bit lacking in purpose or are unnecessary. I think some of the scenes could feel like they have a stronger purpose in regards to progressing the plot or characters or revealing some new information.

For instance, even the opening party scene. It has a couple funny moments and we meet Jennie, but nothing actually happens at this party and it’s unclear what Wyatt’s struggle actually is if he’s already slept with the hot girl in school. I think this scene could show us a bit more about just how transfixed everyone is to their devices, and that people aren’t even talking to each other at the party – they’re just texting each other and snapchatting each other.

The scene with Wyatt and his buddies after they leave school on page 33-34 also doesn’t have much purpose. It’s just hanging out and mentioning the party, which they could do anywhere, and feels more like a filler scene to lead to the grandparent’s scene. The scene with Wyatt and his grandparents is nice, but I think it might actually be stronger in the FIRST act before he knocks the power out. He sees how they are without using technology, and looking at pictures and writing letters – that could be more inspiration for him to do it in the first place. Otherwise, I’m not sure it serves much of a purpose here and we never see his grandparents again, so they don’t really have any effect on the story if not as inspiration to go back to that simpler time.

Structurally, the first act I think could be a bit stronger. Right now, the inciting incident is really Wyatt meeting Sophie and realizing people are tech-obsessed. But if there was more set up and an actual catalyst as to why Wyatt rams the power lines, that could be the inciting incident. Then Wyatt rams the lines, and the first act basically ends on page 24, which is a bit early even for a short script. But I think there are a couple scenes you could move to the first act, as stated, that would beef it up a bit more.

The investigation into what caused this power outage might be an interesting subplot you could work into the story a bit more. It might add some tension and higher stakes and a bit more worry and conflict for Wyatt, who is hoping not to get busted for what he did. The cops come talk to him the morning after, but then we don’t hear from them again.

The third act, much like the first act, is quite short and not that much happens. The kids going exploring into the abandoned house is cute, but it has nothing to do with the rest of the story and nothing important really happens within the scene. There’s no real point to it other than giving them a quick nostalgic adventure to go on. This is what I mean by the scenes need more purpose and connection to the plot. It’s great that they go there, but how does that affect or change anything.

Generally, I think the dialogue is quite strong. There are some very smart and funny lines throughout the script that showcase the change in how people think because of technology. When Wyatt asks Dale if he wants to go play catch and Dale says “I have Wii? If you want,” that’s a great moment. Natalie’s response to experiencing a black out on page 27 (and the teacher’s comment) is hilarious. Same on pg 33 with the hashtag daddy issues lines. Wyatt’s VO lines on page 55 are not making new points, but they are very well-expressed in a funny way. Even Dale’s stoner thoughts and dialogue made me laugh out loud. And the line on pg 74, “I feel like I just watched a Mythbusters episode of my own childhood” is such an insightful and clever line, I really enjoyed it.

That being said, I do think there are a few scenes or lines that could feel a bit fresher and genuine to teens. It’s really small things, like Geordie’s line “All right, let’s get out of this place” could easily be a bit quippier – “All right, let’s bounce this bitch.” It’s just about bringing different characters voices to their dialogue.

On page 28, I like the idea of this ice breaker, but these kids have been going to school with each other for 12 years and if it’s one thing social media does, it makes you know everything about a person without even knowing them, so I’m not sure they need an icebreaker. It’s a small class in a small school in a small town – they probably know everything there is to know. And if any of the kids had ridden an elephant, they would’ve posted pics of it on Facebook, so everyone would already know the answers based on people’s timelines. The question of eating Octopus – they would’ve Instagrammed the food pics. Geordie’s point about no calls home and no emails is well-taken though and pretty funny.

There is an odd line on page 38 that stands out, I think it needs rewording or there are typos – the wine cooler description line.

On page 76, Dale fears what would’ve happened if YouTube was around when they were kids – they’re 17. YouTube WAS around when they were kids. The internet and cell phones were already a thing by the time they were in 2nd grade. Facebook started getting popular in 2006/2007 – they were 10. So, they’ve already grown up with it.

SUMMARY: I think this is a well-written, fun read with a strong, relatable, timely message and some smart, funny dialogue. It has a voice, but I think if the actual plot and conflict were a bit stronger, and the stakes a bit higher, it would bring the voice out even more. I think there are other things you can work into the story to flesh it out a bit and create a stronger catalyst and clearer motivation for Wyatt to do this, and stronger consequences from doing so. He needs a specific problem, goal or issue he thinks this might solve. Some of the scenes could have a bit more purpose and progress the plot/character arcs more, there needs to be more conflict throughout the script, and the first act could have a bit more set up. The second act could have a bit more satire, and the action of the third act could have a bit more to do with the rest of the story. But I think there are some great moments and with a bit more work, it could be a very strong writing sample for you and the low budget will definitely make it more produce-able. Stick with it! Keep writing! And best of luck! Thanks again Kevin for submitting your script “Static Town” to Simply Scripts, and congratulations on being the featured script of the month.

NO BULLSCRIPT 20 POINT GRADING SHEET AND RECOMMENDATION:

PROJECT:CONSIDER

Elements Excellent Solid Needs Work Poor
Concept/Premise X
Story X
Structure X
Conflict/Drama X
Consistent Tone X
Pacing X
Stakes X
Climax
Resolution X
Overall Characters X
Protagonist X
Antagonist X
Dialogue X
Transitions X
Format, Spelling, Grammar, Pg Count X
Well Defined Theme X
Commercial Appeal/Hook X
Overall Originality X
Production Value X
International Appeal X

Friday, September 5, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – Development Hell – Part One (P.J. McNeill) - posted by wonkavite

Development Hell

Part I: Your Script is Never Locked

                A month or so ago, a reader wrote me with a question pertaining to a production company’s interest in his script. He told me that a company liked the script, but didn’t feel it was quite there yet. The development executive said that she felt it was about 70% there, and that she was willing to work with him to get his script to 100%. (First off, how do you even arrive at 70% as a figure to throw out? What separates a 65% script from a 70% script? Or 70 to 75?) Obviously, she wanted money; for “consulting”. About $500, to be exact. Then maybe, just maybe, they could start shopping the script around. This surprised me, because what she was describing was known as development, and here’s the thing: it shouldn’t cost you a goddamn thing. (Sorry to be crass, but I’m tired of all the blood-suckers, trying to bilk innocent writers out of their most likely already limited supply of money.)

You see, no company is ever 100% when they option your script. There are always going to be changes. They may like your script….they may LOVE your script…but guess what? They want to change it. And don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t make them evil or unable to “see your vision”, this is just how it goes. Some changes will be better than others, some will be much, much worse, but your script will change. And you have to be ready to walk the line. You have to be willing to accept criticism and new suggestions, but also fight for what you think is right. But you have to do this without coming across as “the stereotype” of a writer.

And what stereotype is that, you ask? The writer who is “overprotective of his/her baby.” Get ready to hear that word a lot. Your “baby”. “I know this is your baby, but…” or “You have to be willing to slaughter your baby.” (There’s going to be a lot of graphic, violent imagery associated with your “baby”.)   Every time you speak up, you’re going to have to work extra hard to choose your words carefully, so you don’t sound like a mother looking at their ugly child through rose colored glasses. Because of this you have to make concessions and pick your battles; you can’t defend everything.

When I used to work in copy, my mentor gave me some great advice on dealing with bad advice. Say an executive is giving you a note you don’t particularly like, and you just flat-out don’t see how it can work. His advice: Show them why it doesn’t work…and then have a back-up ready. The back-up being what you really want. It’s not always going to work, but if it is bad enough advice, once it’s put to paper, it just might show through. And if it does, you want something good on stand-by.

But back to the original point: your script is never locked. Let me give you an example: I’m currently in development on a script (hence my month-long hiatus). I optioned the script over two years ago, and once the ink dried on the contract, we immediately began re-writes. I was originally told that the re-write would consist of small changes; a tweak here, a tweak there. One year later, I had a “locked” script. During that year, the script had been passed off to interns, producers, and veteran executives for their impressions. With each impression came more notes. I changed the script a lot during that time, including hacking off the last 50 pages and re-writing them in their entirety. But finally, the “lock”. Everyone at the company was happy. Now it was time to look for a director. But once we got the director on-board…he had notes. And these notes spawned more notes from the producers at the company; because once one person starts commenting, it’s hard to not add something. So it was time for another re-write. And here’s the kicker: during our meetings, the director was flipping through the script and said “And of course, once we get the actors attached, they’ll all have their notes.” And it was then that I realized that this is never really going to stop. I’ll probably be making changes to the script on set if we ever get there.

And you, as the writer, have to be OK with this. You have to approach every re-write as an opportunity to tighten and tune the script. Do I like every change I made in the new draft? No. But I can appreciate that many of the changes I made are solid and have, in the end, benefited the script immensely. I worked with the company/director, not against them. And because of this, I have a new, beautiful baby…that I’m going to have to kill in about two months.

About the writer: A talented writer and 10 year veteran of the industry, “P.J. McNeill” has seen it all (and he’s ready to kiss and tell.) Got a question, a comment or just general bile /praise you want to spew?  Email PJ at pjscriptblog@gmail.com. New to P.J. readership?  Click here for more articles!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

You’ve Finished the Damned Script – Now What? (Anthony Cawood Primers for a Networked World) - posted by wonkavite

Us writers tend to obsess over the details of our chosen craft.  Creating memorable characters, story arcs, and grab ‘em by their short and curly concepts.  Screenwriters specialize even more – spending god-knows how many hours mastering formatting, structure, and the painstaking art of hyper-streamlined prose.  In other words – we deal with writing. It’s our raison d’etre. Our whole world.

So much so that we become blinded to other aspects of the industry.  You see, it’s not enough to write the perfect script. You gotta market the damned thing.

Which raises the question – where to start?  Never fear: for we at STS have some answers….

Over the next few months, STS will be publishing a series of articles on what to do after Fade Out.  Conceived as primers for newbies (and some veterans), we’ll be covering topics such as discussion boards, contests, and copyrights.

Today, we’ll be publishing the first in our series (presented by Anthony Cawood): tips on establishing an internet presence and maximizing exposure – both for you AND your script.

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So – you’ve finally done it; you’ve completed your first short script. Congratulations! Great feeling, isn’t it?

Now what? Well re-write, re-write and re-write…. Until the final version really shines.

But once you’ve gotten to that blessed point, how the heck do you get it filmed?

Now what? That was the question that confronted me in August 2013, when I finished my first short, Prototype. (A dark serial killer script… available again after a lapsed option. Hint, hint, hint…)

Now what? Over the last twelve months, I’ve wrestled with that question every day, on some level or another. And I’ve discovered there’s no one answer, or quick unravel of this Gordian knot. Believe me on this. I’ve looked and tried.

What I have discovered in my research is a wealth of information scattered around the net: resources, writing communities willing to help – and a bunch of places to connect with potential filmmakers. (Including STS: Shootin’ the Shorts, of course!)

In the interest of paying it forward, I’ll be using this series of articles to share what I’ve personally learned, including topics such as:

  1. Marketing yourself
  2. Where to list and publicize your work
  3. Where to share works in progress, and learn more about your craft
  4. Where to find Directors/Producers looking for scripts and new writers
  5. Competitions
  6. General Resources for the new (and not-so-new writer)

A quick editorial note: I write shorts, so that’s where my articles focus. But many of the resources I’ll be mentioning can be used for Features and TV, too.

But first things first. Forget for a moment about the script. You have to be ready to market you.

Marketing Yourself

Let’s be honest. To some, “Marketing” is a dirty word. But it’s best seen as a great opportunity – a chance to showcase your writing. With the right approach and attitude, you can use the tools of marketing to share:

  • News on your newest scripts and their availability
  • Your growing success when things get produced, wins in competitions, etc.
  • Your thoughts and ramblings on writing and film making
  • Your own tips and info on how to get those darned scripts made

In other words, you have to “get yourself out there.” It’s a horrible, over-used expression – but important if you want to get your scripts actually filmed. And get them made regularly.

I was lucky. For me, marketing came naturally. You see, I work in marketing (please don’t hate me or throw things!) But for others, it might not be as easy. So here’s a quick guide to some of the tools you can use to “enhance your profile”:

Websites

A website’s essential. It provides you with somewhere to refer potential film makers to – a place they can look beyond the pat logline, and find details of what you have available. It’s a place to compile and showcase scripts that you’ve had filmed, and show that you take writing seriously. In other words, it’s the hub of you.

Mine, incidentally, is www.anthonycawood.co.uk. When you step into the world of web design, btw, you should seriously consider getting your own domain. (That’s the bit after www.) If so, have a look at domain companies like http://www.123-reg.co.uk/ or www.hostgator.com. If you’re proficient in building websites, you can even consider a do-it-yourself option, and place it with a dedicated hosting service. Check out http://web-hosting-review.toptenreviews.com/ for a few examples.

Mine you, building your own site can be daunting. Chances are, you’re not an IT programmer! But, it can be easier than you think. There are tons of services out there that take IT out of the process… providing templates, drag and drop functionality, etc. Check out Top 10 Website Builders 2014 for a good selection of options. Most of these throw in a domain as part of the process, too.

But what about content? That can vary according to your style. Here are just a few examples of writer websites I personally know about from the Simplyscripts and Moviepoet community:

Rustom Irani: www.planetrusty.com

Marnie Mitchell Lister: http://brainfluffs.com/

Breanne Matson: www.breannemattson.com

Mark Lyons (Rc1007): Facebook page for The Ephesian – https://www.facebook.com/TheEphesian

Rendevous: http://rendevous.yolasite.com/

Alex Sarris: http://www.alexsarris.com/

Dena McKinnon: http://www.denamckinnon.com/

Wonkavite: http://www.philclarkejr.com/jec.html

Dogglebe: www.philclarkejr.com

Dustin Bowcott: www.dustinbowcott.com

Quite a diverse bunch! But as you look them over, you’ll see some reoccurring themes and topics, such as:

  • Scripts with loglines and additional script details
  • News of their latest scripts and any developments in various projects
  • Details of produced scripts (with links to videos)
  • Contact details (email, phone, etc.)

And websites have added benefits: they make you more visible in Google and other search engines, and are also a convenient place to store your scripts (in case of that future devasting hard-drive blow-out.) I have a hidden page on mine that holds PDFs of all my scripts. That way, if I get a script request when I’m away from home, I can just send people the relevant link. You can of course use Dropbox, Google Docs and similar services for the same purpose. Or email yourself updates of scripts just in case.

And then there’s the fringe benefits. I’ve had numerous occasions where a potential film maker has asked to see Script A, checked out my website and saw a logline that they liked… then asked to see Scripts D and F too!

Facebook

Like most people out there, I already had a Facebook (FB) page for personal reasons. But it can be used for industry purposes as well. Many film makers create specific pages/sites for their film projects. They serve the same sort of purpose as a dedicated website, but tend to be more project specific. And also are slightly easier to set up and share. FB pages are terrific for news, networking with people who share your interests and creating communities for your work. And when it comes to connecting – don’t forget LinkedIn as well. Because knowing people is the name of this game!

Twitter

When it comes to internet tools, Twitter’s more of a two way street. Not only can you share your news, views and general rants – but you can also get feedback from fellow writers, producers and directors. As with Facebook, it’s a great way to keep people posted on your writing developments… Just make sure you don’t end up using it as a writing diversion! I’m @anthonycawood11, by the way….

Other Stuff

Admitted, Facebook and Twitter are my two main marketing weapons of choice. But don’t forget to explore other noteworthy options:

  • Dedicated Blogs. Service providers include Tumblr, WordPress and others…
  • Instagram – great for sharing stills from films made from your scripts.
  • Vine – good for posting short clips
  • Youtube/Vimeo – also great for getting your videos seen by the masses
  • Pinterest – I’m sure there’s something useful here. But I don’t quite have a handle on this one. Yet.

One Last Tip

Don’t forget synergy! (You’re a writer – you know what that means…) Combining the power of these tools are a great strategy for marketing. Forget any hesitation, and mention them at every opportunity. For instance, Facebook and Twitter are both prominent on my website. And my email footer has my web address listed.

I know and you know that you’re a great screenwriter. But make sure everyone else finds out, too! :)

About Anthony: Anthony Cawood is a new(ish) screenwriter from the UK with two produced short films, two in post production and another seven sold/optioned. His script, A Certain Romance, recently won in the Nashville Film Festival Screenwriting Competition (short script category), and two other scripts have recently placed 2nd and 3rd in the FilmQuest Screenwriting Competition and Reel Writers Screenwriting Competition respectively. Links to his films and details of all his scripts can be found at www.anthonycawood.co.uk

Friday, August 29, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – How Do You Do It? (P.J. McNeill) - posted by wonkavite

How do you do it?

Don’t worry, we’ll get to “Development Hell”. But this is something I’ve been meaning to write about for awhile, and after getting a few e-mails on the subject, I thought it was worth exploring (sooner, rather than later).

So I go on a great deal about querying; about what to say to production companies, managers, etc. There’s a lot of blogs that do that: talk about how to query or how not to query. But few talk about how to contact those you’re supposed to query. These blogs all assume that you just “know” how to do it, and I apologize because I have been no different.

When I got out of film school, I had no idea what to do with my first feature script. They sure as hell didn’t teach it in school, and when I tried Googling it, the results were vague. Why? Why don’t people like to talk about HOW to get ahold of these people? I have a theory: if you tell people your “tricks of the trade”, there will be just that many more sharks in the water. And who wants that? This field is already so damn competitive. So go figure it out yourself. (Or buy their list of production companies, for the low, low price of $100!! *Don’t do that.*)

Truth is, I should tell you. Querying is so damn hard already, and that’s just when you actually get ahold of them. Who cares if you get a slight leg up on finding out how to contact them?

So, here goes. You’ve got a brand spankin’ new script. What do you do? (After you’ve bugged your friends and family for a series of critiques, of course.)

First off, figure out what type of movie your script is and then make a list of others like it. Then, do some research and find all the people involved in making that movie: producers, production companies, agents, whoever. If they made a movie similar to yours (in tone or genre), odds are they’ll be more likely to give your script a shot. But how do you do this? Simple. GET A 2 WEEK FREE TRIAL TO IMDB PRO. I’ve done this on multiple credit cards with multiple e-mail accounts over the years. (Sorry, but that membership is too damn expensive for the small number of times I use it every year.) **NOTE: Remember to cancel it. I’ve forgotten a couple times, and it stings having to pay that membership fee.**

So, you start digging, and you make a list. But now you need to actually contact these people. **NOTE: Leave the big fish alone. Don’t go for studio or large production companies. Go for the mid-to-low level companies. They’re more likely to respond.** Problem is, most of them don’t list their contact information; just an info@companyname.com address. You can use this though. There is a pretty standard structure you can try out to most companies. Let’s say the person you’re trying to reach is John Smith (I’m a writer!). Here’s a few variations to try out:

Smith@companyname.com

JSmith@companyname.com

 John@companyname.com

JohnSmith@companyname.com

                You get the point. Just keep trying until something sticks. You can also try Googling “@companyname e-mail John smith” and see what bounces back. There are ENTIRE THREADS devoted to this on the Done Deal Message Boards. You can also use Done Deal to find out if the person you’re contacting is reputable, so you don’t waste your time.

Once you exhaust your list, you can broaden your search and start querying other companies, managers and agents. Keep it short and sweet. No big paragraphs. Don’t try to be cute and market your film either: “It’s (blank) meets (blank) and will make 52 million”. They just want to hear your logline and maybe a couple other enticing bits. Did you place in a reputable contest? Put that in there. And like I’ve said in previous entries: keep your query blasts small. Only do about 20 a day (if that). This way, you can see what works and what doesn’t. If you’re not getting a hit, maybe you need to change your subject. Or maybe your logline needs work. Don’t blow it by doing 500 in one day.

It’s tough, it’s rarely rewarding, and sometimes it feels downright stalkery. (Not a word.) But for a lot of us, it’s all we have. And most importantly: it works. I promise.

About the writer: A talented writer and 10 year veteran of the industry, “P.J. McNeill” has seen it all (and he’s ready to kiss and tell.) Got a question, a comment or just general bile /praise you want to spew?  Email PJ at pjscriptblog@gmail.com. New to P.J. readership?  Click here for more articles!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – My Dinner with a Development Executive (P.J. McNeill) - posted by wonkavite

My Dinner with a Development Executive

So, you’ve sent your script off to a production company, crossed your fingers, and now you spend your days religiously checking your e-mail, hoping for a response. (First off, stop that. Forget you even sent it. It can sometimes take MONTHS before you get a response.) Odds are, your script is going to be read by an assistant or unpaid intern. Someone like you. Probably even the same age as you. In fact, they’re probably a writer just like you, with their very own script. (Spoiler alert: they think their script is better than yours.)

If the assistant likes your script, they’ll pass it on to their boss. Who’s their boss? Odds are, it’s a producer or development executive. And their time is precious. They only have time to read the best of the best. (In fact, you might have to make it through a couple readers to get to them.) But when you do, that’s your shot. Wow them, and you’re golden…until they have to show it to their boss: the head of the company. They have to like it too. (The take-away here: your script goes through MANY hands when you submit it to a production company. It can’t just impress one person. It has to be so good that multiple people feel compelled to pass it on.)

But the development executive is your best cheerleader. Odds are, they know what the head of the company likes. They probably wouldn’t have their job if they didn’t. And once you get them on your side, you’re odds of snagging that sweet, sweet option increase ten-fold.

I’m currently in development on my latest script and had the opportunity to sit down to dinner with the development executive from the production company that optioned my script. He was kind of enough to talk a bit about the querying process.

For starters, they are a mid-level production company, making films with budgets ranging from 3-10 million dollars, with theatrical distribution at the studio level. They receive roughly 100 queries a week; so think about that when you draft your query letter. As I’ve said before, making even the smallest attempt to stand out does wonders.

He told me that the worst thing you can do is badger them. Don’t ask them too many questions, what the status of your script read is, or why you were rejected. You’re lucky that they’re even taking the time to write you about your rejection (most don’t), so don’t try and get coverage out of them. He told me the story of one person who just would not let their rejection go and absolutely had to know why he was rejected. The executive gave in and gave the guy a fair critique of his screenplay. The writer flipped out and sent the executive an angry response, cursing him out. The crazy thing was, several months later, the writer actually queried them AGAIN with a different script. Obviously, he didn’t get a read. The exec’s overall advice: a courteous reply goes a long way towards possibly getting another read. Remember: they don’t owe you anything.

Here was my favorite part of the dinner: I asked the executive if he cared if a script started with FADE IN. No. What about parentheticals? No. How about orphans? Do you care about those? No. He said he cares about story. Period. He said he’s waded through some pretty bad scripts, formatting-wise, because the story has shown promise. He said if they like the story enough, they can always option the script from you and fix it up in the development phase. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t try hard to adhere to proper formatting, but it is not the be-all and end-all. Your story is.

If an executive rejects your screenplay but tells you they like your writing, keep that person in mind for future scripts. Drop them a quick e-mail, reminding them who you are, and telling them you’ve got something new. Don’t abuse your relationship with them. If you strike out with the next screenplay, it might be time to move on from them. I know it can be alluring: gaining access to an executive’s personal e-mail (and bypassing the assistant), but know when to walk away.

But maybe, just maybe, you’ll beat the odds, get an option and your script will enter development. From there, it’s all cake. Fluffy, delicious cake. Trust me.

Next week’s article: Welcome to Development Hell

About the writer: A talented writer and 10 year veteran of the industry, “P.J. McNeill” has seen it all (and he’s ready to kiss and tell.) Got a question, a comment or just general bile /praise you want to spew?  Email PJ at pjscriptblog AT gmail.com. New to P.J. readership?  Click here for more articles!

 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Congratulations to writer Dena McKinnon - posted by wonkavite

* A hardy congratulations to writer Dena McKinnon *

Her recently reviewed STS scripts, The Witness and Evanescence, have both been optioned!

For more shorts by Ms. McKinnon, please visit her website via the following link: http://www.denamckinnon.com/

Friday, August 15, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – Know Your Worth (P.J. McNeill) - posted by wonkavite

Yes kiddies, and STS Brethren: P.J. McNeill is BACK. 

(We know you’ve been in mourning, and rightly so…)  :) 

Without further ado or yammering, please tuck into his next article – a rather vital piece entitled….

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Know Your Worth

The first script I ever optioned was for one dollar.

The story behind that option is an entire blog post itself, but in a short summary: the company held onto the script (a feature) for three years, and didn’t do a single thing with it. When the three years was up, I had next to nothing to show for it; just a lot of fake promises and a single dollar. I remember taking the check for the dollar to my bank, and actually feeling like a big shot in front of the teller as I plopped it down on the counter. “Yeah, you see that production company logo in the upper right corner of the check? That means I’ve made it. No, don’t look at how much it’s for, that’s not important.

But, you see, it is important. Several years after moving out to LA, I was sitting in a coffee shop with a professional writer, feeling pretty down. Fed up, I told him “I’m not going to work for free anymore.” He smiled and congratulated me, as if I had achieved some kind of goal/milestone. But, looking back, I think I had. A lot of writers are so eager to get their work produced that they’ll take anything that’s offered and sell themselves short. “Wait a minute, you’ll give me 85% on the backend?!? I’d be stupid not to sign this contract giving away all my rights!” (Ok, now take out a piece of paper and a pen and multiple 85 times zero. That’s what you’ll end up with in the end.)

You have to remember: they want your script. They see value in your writing. And because of this, you should see value in your writing. You need to know your worth as a writer. Know what your time and talent is worth. It’s a question that comes up ALL THE TIME: “A production company/filmmaker/student has contacted me asking to make my script. How much do I ask?” There is no one answer. You personally need to sit down and figure that out for yourself. How much are my shorts worth? How much are my features worth?

The main problem is that people are scared to talk figures. People hate talking about money. So, I’m going to share my figures. Whenever I sell a short, I always ask for a couple hundred dollars. My last short sold for $200. I’m comfortable with that. It was a 10 page short, and $200 (give or take) is reasonable to me for giving up the rights to the script. My last feature that I optioned was for $1500 every year. In the end, the script was given back to me, but I had nearly $5000 to show for it. Not only was it nice to get a check every once in a while, but it constantly re-assured me that they felt serious about the project.

Now, here’s where it gets a little tricky. Remember, many blog posts ago, when I said I hate people who speak in absolutes? That’s why I’m not going to say “NEVER accept a dollar option.” or “NEVER take less than you think you deserve.” You know why? Every situation you approach is going to be different. For example: the last script I optioned was for a dollar up-front. But, I did my research. I looked into the company and saw they were a company with a proven track record of multi-million dollar films (with theatrical releases) dating back over a decade. They were serious about their projects, but because they were in another country, could not offer me money on the initial option (as most of their money came from government grants/funding). However, when you’re taking the dollar option, you can use this as your leverage to negotiate certain terms. For example, I got them to agree to some money if the option was renewed (it was).

Be wary of the people with “credits”. I put that in quotation marks, because they’re credits that can’t really be verified. The first company I took the dollar option from? Their website (which had NO completed films on it) boasted their involvement on Harry Potter, as well as many other multi-million dollar films. The problem was, I couldn’t verify this involvement on IMDB (or anywhere else, for that matter). I’ve seen this a lot since then: producers who talk up all the films they’ve been on/helped on, but have no concrete proof as to their involvement. If you’re going to take the plunge and take the dollar option, really do your research, confirm that it’s someone you want to be working with, and feel good about yourself when you sign that dotted line.

But whatever you do, don’t work for free. At the very least, get the dollar. Then cash it, take it all out in pennies, go home, and roll in it on your bed. Because you’ve made it.

About the writer: A talented writer and 10 year veteran of the industry, “P.J. McNeill” has seen it all (and he’s ready to kiss and tell.) Got a question, a comment or just general bile /praise you want to spew?  Email PJ at pjscriptblog@gmail.com. New to P.J. readership?  Click here for more articles!

 

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