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Monday, July 20, 2015

You’ve Finished the Damned Script – Now What? (Anthony Cawood Primers for a Networked World) – Part 7a - posted by wonkavite

You’ve Finished the Damned Script – Now What?

(Anthony Cawood Primers for a Networked World)

Part 7a: Podcasts

Podcasts are a great way to pick up a ton of useful information on screenwriting, scripts and the market for them. Not to mention a terrific tool for filling dead time: driving, commuting and the like. At their best, Podcasts are informative, funny, provocative and quickly become part of your ‘must do’ schedule.

So – without further ado – here are my favorites. In no particular order…except for the first one!

Scriptnotes:

John August (Big Fish, Frankenweenie etc) and Craig Mazin (Hangover 2 & 3 etc) are the real deal. Working Hollywood screenwriters who write for a living… and who pay it forward by putting out a weekly podcast to share their knowledge, opinions and wisdom. Their insights are quite useful, based on their working knowledge and experience of the industry . And they don’t shy away from difficult subjects. There’s now over 200 episodes, so get downloading!

Note: John and Craig are chalk and cheese from a personality point of view, but this dynamic is one of the many things that makes the weekly episodes an absolute highlight of my week.

iTunes linkhttps://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/scriptnotes-podcast/id462495496?mt=2

On the Page:

Pilar Alessandra is a professional script consultant in Hollywood. Her weekly show is based around a succession of guests: almost all of whom are screenwriters, but occasionally show runners and producers are added to the mix. The interviews are wide ranging, funny and informative. Pillar definitely knows her stuff and is a real livewire on the show.

iTunes linkhttps://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/on-the-page-screenwriting/id262077408?mt=2

BAFTA Screenwriters Lecture Series: 

These podcasts consist of records of lectures given by a variety of screenwriters at BAFTA/BFI events. They’re not regular, and tend to come out in a bunch once a year. Currently available are podcasts with Emma Thompson, Richard Curtis, Tony Gilroy, and Charlie Kaufman to name but a few (there’s approx 25 in total).

iTunes linkhttps://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/screenwriters-lecture-series/id524739237?mt=2

Curious About Screenwriting Network:

A great service provided by Network ISA. They have regular Tele Seminars with screenwriters, script consultants etc, which are recorded and released as podcasts. Currently there are over 50 that have been made available, and include guests such as John Truby, Robert McKee and David Trottier, and covering subjects like Rewriting (with Pilar Alessandra), Winning the Big Contests and Pitching.

iTunes linkhttps://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/curious-about-screenwriting/id975005439?mt=2

Selling Your Screenplay:

“Starring” Ashley Scott Meyers, who is an aspiring screenwriter with a couple of sales and produced films to date. His podcast interviews other writers and focuses on how they broke in, how they got their films made and what tips and tricks they can share with fellow writers. Ashley is a genre writer with no airs and graces about his own work. It’s a refreshing attitude and the insights from his guests are great, as they focus on selling your screenplay. (Which is information that all of us writers can use!)

iTunes linkhttps://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/selling-your-screenplay-podcast/id691691124?mt=2

Third & Fairfax, The WGA Podcast:

This is a new podcast from the WGA West. Only a couple of episodes so far. It deals with WGA news, has writer and staff interviews and is pretty informative for both WGA members and non-members.

iTunes linkhttps://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/3rd-fairfax-the-wgaw-podcast/id1001323963?mt=2

The Black List Table Reads:

This one is a little different… As Franklin Leonard puts it… ‘it’s movies for your ears’. In essence, this podcast takes well written scripts from the Blacklist and have professional actors voice them in a table read type setting. They work extremely well. The scripts they’ve done so far have been excellent and varied.

iTunes linkhttps://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/black-list-table-reads/id982082891?mt=2

The UK Script Writers Podcast:

Tim Claque and Danny Stack are working UK writers who provide insights on the UK scene and interview UK based writers, producers and more. Informative and funny for us Brits, there’s almost 50 episodes so far.

iTunes linkhttps://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/uk-scriptwriters/id384710944?mt=2

As to how to access these resources? Use whatever Podcast app you have on your IOS or Android device, and remember to subscribe so that you get the new episodes as soon as released.

Which is not to say the list ends here. On the contrary – it’s just beginning. There are a bunch of other podcasts that I subscribe to, and find useful to my writing. The best podcasts spark ideas around subjects I like, and act as inspiration generators. My personal ones are Lore, Ted Talks, Mysterious Universe, Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Reviews and Paranormal Report. In their own ways, each of these have provided info and snippets that have acted as the genesis for short or feature ideas. Mind you, these are my favorites – catering to my particular interests – so have a look round yourself. See what podcasts exist for your interests and fave genres. Because you never know where inspiration will strike next!

About Anthony: I’m an award winning screenwriter from the UK with over 15 scripts produced, optioned and/or purchased. Outside of my screenwriting career, I’m also a published short story writer and movie reviewer. Links to my films and details of my scripts can be found at www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

In Search Of – Guest Reviewers for STS! - posted by wonkavite

In Search Of – Guest Reviewers for STS!

Writers out there, take note! STS (Shootin’ the Shorts) is in search of a few TERRIFIC guest reviewers. After all, readin’ and reviewin’ scripts is hard and sweaty work. We need all the talented help we can get.

What we’re looking for: Seriously good writers that can preferably commit to one review a week. Though if it’s less, we understand and still want to hear from you! (In terms of time involved, we’ve generally found that a review can be written and polished in about one and a half hours, if not less. Depends on one’s writing style.) And regarding that writing style – we encourage reviewers to have their own voice but follow the general STS formula. IE: positive, humorous or poignant reviews that market the script’s best attributes.

What we offer: Well, like most writers, we’re all rolling in the money. (Insert sarcastic eye roll here.) Yes, folks – it’s a volunteer position. Unpaid. But what you gain is two fold – for every script you write, you’ll have space for your own “About the reviewer” logline. And a bit of exposure for your work, in that space. And you also gain writing experience – something to put on your resume, and hone your snappy writing skills until they bleed and shine. And trust us: that’s a very, very good thing.

Anyone interested, please send a shout-out to moderator Wonkavite at janetgoodman “AT” Yahoo.* Feel free to just introduce yourself. Or send a sample of your writing work (in the body of your email, please.)

Spammers need not apply. Seriously. None of us at STS needs a knock-off Armani bag, a mortgage refinance, or six extra inches. At least not the last time we checked…

 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Mark’s submitting to Film Festivals guide – repost from SimplyScripts.net - posted by Don

Mark Renshaw has put together a guide based on his personal experiences in script and movie festivals.

Please also follow the discussion on this as well as other articles written by Anthony Cawood and P.J. McNeill.

Mark writes…

The below ‘guide’ is based on my own personal experience submitting scripts and short movies to festivals over the past 12 months. Take from it what you will.

You’ve created a masterpiece. Maybe it is a script Tarantino would go medieval on your ass to own, or maybe you’ve managed to get a script produced into an ass-kicking-awesome movie. You’ve written your Oscar speech and hired your mom to be your Manager. What now?

Well, you could enter a film festival to show the world (especially JJ Abrams) what you are capable of. What are your options?

There are over 3000 film festivals worldwide. That number is growing exponentially; a bit like my stomach as I eat those bags of chocolate that are ‘big enough to share’ but I ain’t sharing pal! The point is, there are so many it’s impossible to track. Luckily there are websites which specialise in this area.

Festival Submission Websites

The two main contenders are Withoutabox and FilmFreeway. Both list thousands of festivals, provide various tools to help you create your projects, upload materials and browse/submit to the festivals.

Withoutabox has been going since the dawn of time (2000), you can tell by their archaic design. In 2008 they were bought out by IMDB. So the good news here is you get an IMDB title page/credit for every eligible submission. The bad news; the website is user unfriendly, they’ve been slow to keep up with changes in technology and there have been complaints about overcharging. Personally I don’t like them. I’ve had submissions go missing and others where the status has not updated, so I’ve had to contact the organisers direct to sort things out.

Filmfreeway is the new kid on the block. It doesn’t have as many festivals available as Withoutabox but the list is growing all the time. It’s more modern looking and is constantly adding new functionality in response to feedback. Personally I prefer it. I’ve had a good user experience so far. I wouldn’t be surprised though if Withoutabox buys them out once they’ve reached a certain size.

How much will submissions cost?

Withoutabox and Filmfreeway are free to join, free to use but the entry fee for each festival varies and is based on a tiered system. The key here is to get in early. Some festivals start accepting over a year in advance and most offer an early bird discount. If it’s a Seasame Street festival I’m sure they’ll offer a Big Bird discount, but I digress…again. From this point on the prices rise steadily through a tiered range as time goes by.

To save some cash it is also worth following some festivals on social media, as they do randomly throw out discount promo codes.

Some festivals are free! If you use the advanced search options, you can set the price filter to $0 . Be careful though, some of these are only free under special circumstances, like if you are a student or a wizard with a lisp or something.

Which Festivals should I enter?

This is where you are going to have to do your research. Festivals will gladly accept any script or movie you submit. They’ll gleefully accept your money, while dribbling saliva down their chins like rabies infected baboons. However, as soon as they start trawling through the thousands of submissions, they will reject yours faster than a fast thing that’s been fast for a very long time, if it doesn’t meet their criteria.

Let me put it this way, it’s no use submitting a script about a blind albino transgender Jew in war- torn Nazi Germany, who has a secret love affair with Hitler’s briefcase, to a sci-fi festival is it? And yet you will be surprised how many people pick festivals at random.

It’s not just the genre. Some festivals focus on a certain theme, others specialise in supporting a cause or championing a specific gender. I saw one which specifically said in the small print they only accepted submissions where you could prove it was a collaborative project involving people from different countries. Yet, the rest of the promotional material did not state this rule.

The other aspect to consider, what are the prizes? If you just want to promote your work, get some awards, any festival will do. There’s nothing like bragging rights, right? However if you want a way into the industry, if you are looking to get an agent, win a professional table read or if you want cash, then only certain key festivals offer such rewards. Be warned though, the competition for these is fierce!

So before parting with your hard earned cash:

  • Read ALL the rules and criteria for the festival. It’s easy to get caught out by a stipulation.
  • Research the festival! The promotional page makes it look super professional and slick but go to their actual website and it may look like something a demented child has hacked together with a hammer and a jar of marmite. Do you really trust your work and money to a festival that can’t even put together a decent website?
  • Review some of the previous qualifying/winning entries. If last year’s winning entry was a black and white silent film showing a slug’s life over 24 hours, should you submit that romantic comedy?

What are my chances?

Here is the mule kicker. Entering and paying a fee doesn’t get you into the festival. It’s gets you a consideration; that’s it. You can pay a small fortune and simply end up with a load of rejections with no explanation as to why.

What festivals will never, ever do, is inform you of your chances of being accepted. The promotional material makes it all sound glamorous, exciting and within your grasp. Just remember it is all marketing aimed at trying to generate as much money as possible.

Let me throw some figures at you – this is based on independent movie submissions only, I don’t have any actual figures for script submissions.

• Manchester (UK) International Film Festival – This is their first year. They’ve had over 1000 submissions with only 20 slots available.

• Palm Springs (LA) Film Festival – Over 3400 submissions.

• Sundance – 200 slots available – woo hoo! Over 9000 submissions – WTF?

With so many entries, it’s hard to fathom how they could possible review each one and give each their full attention. From the stories I’ve heard some festivals don’t. Mere mortals like us have no idea which festivals review each entry fairly and which just take your money and run.

So unless your work has the backing of a big player, a recognised actor or a major Indy studio is involved who could promote your work, it’s worth considering:

Online festivals – They have more slots compared to traditional venues and the festival can run over longer periods of time.

Smaller, specialised festivals – Sure they may not be as glamourous as Cannes but there are less submissions to contend with.

Feedback Festivals – Some festivals provide feedback! So even if they reject it, you’ll know they gave your submission the attention it deserves and you will know why you got rejected. Please note, some festivals charge a hefty extra fee for feedback but some provide this service as standard.

New Festivals – These are trying to establish themselves, they’ll be wanting to make a good impression in their first year, get as many submissions as possible and therefore the rules for acceptance may be less strict.

Super Secret Tip!

If you’ve read this far, well done! You win a straw donkey! Plus, I’ll let you in on something I’ve only recently discovered. The GOOD festivals actually want you to engage with them direct!

Shocking I know. It’s easy to leave the communication between the third-parties like FilmFreeway, I did for a long time and ended up with a lot of rejections. I’ve come to realise that once you’ve submitted your project, the best thing you can do is get hold of the festival’s email address, tell them a bit about yourself, tell them about the project you’ve entered and even tell them how it’s doing/done in other festivals.
I’ve only used this method for the past few weeks and already I’m receiving great engagement from the festivals via email and on social media. Will this increase my chances? Who knows? Time will tell but it can’t hurt to try.

If you have any personal experiences to share please do so.

Best of luck, unless you are entering the same festivals as me! If you do, may your submission supernaturally explode and I win by default.

-Mark

Follow the discussion on the discussion board.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Understanding Screenplay Feedback – Repost from CHIPSTREET - posted by wonkavite

Understanding Screenplay Feedback

You wanna write screenplays?  Seriously?  Hopefully for a living?  Well, one thing you’ve got to do is perfect your art. Write. Rewrite.  And keep plugging away… nonstop. Keep polishing your craft until it shines!

…and be open to lessons learned from those who’ve been in the trenches, and blazed the same trail that you seek to tread.  STS is happy to be reposting a series of articles from ChipStreet.  Folks, this is a terrific website – we recommend that you check it out in more depth!  (Original article available here)

About Chip: Chip Street is an IMDB credited indie screenwriter, director, and art director. His short films have screened at festivals, and his feature screenplays have been optioned and sold. He is a screenplay analyst, competition finalist, screenplay judge for a major industry competition, screener for an International film festival, founder of Write Club Screenplay Challenge, and a respected blogger on the art and business of screenwriting. He’s been published or cited by The BlueCat Competition Newsletter, Script Magazine, JohnAugust.com, Bleeding Cool, NoFilmSchool, ScriptTips and IndieWire.com.

*******

When to listen to the reader: Understanding screenplay feedback

Originally posted on January 27, 2012 by Chip Street

* This post was recognized and redistributed by the BlueCat Screenplay Competition.

We hear it all the time. If you want to write a better screenplay, get feedback and listen to it.

But I promise you this: the feedback you get from contest readers, other writers, and even friends and family will not be consistent. Readers will contradict one another, you’ll get mixed messages even from single readers, and figuring out how to use any of it to build a better screenplay will be overwhelming.

A few years ago I attended a talk with Sony’s Sam Dickerman. My favorite observation of his was that when producers say “That’s great, but can we add aliens somewhere?” they don’t literally mean “add aliens”. They mean they’re looking for something spectacular and unexpected, and it’s your job to understand what result they’re looking for, and find ways to deliver on that while remaining true to your story (and yourself).

So what do you do?

Be open minded. Some feedback is going to resonate with you as an “aha moment” that you know is exactly right for your story. Some is going to simply feel “different not better”. And some is just going to sound flat out wrong. Don’t dismiss any of it out of hand… think about it, and see if there isn’t something of value there.

Watch for patterns. Three readers all giving the same note very possibly means there’s an issue there that you should seriously consider, even if it’s not resonating with you. When you find yourself saying “These people are idiots! Why do they all think Juanita is a Martian?” it may just be that you have not, in fact, made it clear what you mean by “alien”.

Add value, not information. For those changes you decide to make, ensure that you’re adding value, not just more words. Can you use the change as an opportunity to develop a deeper character? Enhance a relationship? Build tension?

Easy to say, harder to do. We’ve recently gotten lots of feedback from a variety of respected readers at a number of high-profile contests… specifically BlueCat, SlamDance, and WildSound. So by way of example, we thought we’d share some of the feedback we got on our horror screenplay Faeries.

Pacing: You can’t get there from here [fast enough]

By design, we modeled our screenplay structure on The Descent, a relatively recent creature feature that enjoyed real success and spawned a sequel. As in The Descent, we spent lots of time building the characters and relationships, saving the first creature reveal for the midway point (at page 47, we still beat The Descent’s minute-50 reveal).

Because of that slow build, the action really takes off midway through the second act, following the characters as they’re pursued through the woods, picked off by the creatures one by one.

This slow build and sudden shift in pacing could be considered a gamble, The Descent notwithstanding, given the traditional genre (and SyFy Channel) preference to “get to the creature quick”, and the inherent impatience of readers in general.

The response was mixed.

BC: “This second half of this script is incredibly strong. Once the faeries arrive, the action is non-stop. Every time our characters look like they have escaped, they are placed in another dangerous situation. The danger keeps increasing, keeping the audience at the edge of their seats.”

BC: “The title of this script is Faeries, yet we never see a faerie until page 47… For a thriller, the action unfolds quite slowly…”

SD: “The build is very strong. The author doesn’t try to rush things and make everything happen immediately or too fast, but lets the horror build… the slow build is a good idea.”

   BC: “The story does not take off until the midpoint, making the first half feel more like a really long setup instead of a thriller.”

 WS: “…the authors maintain a brisk pace throughout the piece.”

So the build worked for some, and not for others. This is subjective feedback. Our intention was a slow build — those for whom that didn’t work simply aren’t our audience, right?

Yes and no. In fact, it prompted us to look at the first half, and ensure that the time we were spending on building characters and relationships was engaging, well-paced, and escalated in a way that made it as interesting as possible. Because what we don’t want is for it to *feel* like a “long setup”. We found a few places to make some adjustments, and we think it’s better for it.

Character Development: Who are you again?

Choosing to write a character-driven horror movie (and sacrificing an early creature reveal) means we’d better do a damn good job of building interesting characters. This is something we felt we’d done well at. Here’s what the readers had to say.

SD: “The characters are above average and the author strives to give them some depth and individuality.”

   WS: “There are also some wonderfully subtle moments of character development.” “…characters are so strongly developed”

   BC: “Each character is well-developed and fits nicely into the story.“ “…the female characters are strongly portrayed.”

Great, right? Then there’s this…

   BC: “In general, the characters are not fully developed.”

Once again, opinions vary from reader to reader. More confusing still, the same reader who said “Each character is well-developed” also said “the characters are not fully developed”.

So what do we do with that? We chose to combine the refinement of the first half (our response to the long setup issue) with character building (our response to character issues), by looking for opportunities to enhance character in ways that also contribute to tension, plot, and escalation early in the story.

Issues of clarity: Did you even read the script?

Speaking of characters, our main character, a woman, is suffering from head trauma and has lost an unborn baby, the result of a terrible car accident in which her husband was the driver (and she the passenger). That accident is illustrated via a trio of flashbacks, which demonstrate the long-standing tension in their relationship. In the flashbacks, she’s described as “clearly pregnant”. In the present story, of course, she is never referred to as pregnant, and is even shown drinking. Driving it home, during one conversation about the accident, another character says to her “It’s not about blame. It’s about getting you healthy. Kids can come later.” We thought we’d been pretty clear, and for the most part readers seemed to get it.

WS: ”She also endures some terrible personal tragedies, from the loss of her baby to her head trauma…”

Yet somehow, others completely misunderstand this.

BC: “Reese’s pregnancy makes a more vulnerable and likeable character.”

BC: “…even though Reese is pregnant, no one seems to discuss it or treat her with extra care… her friends do not seem concerned about a baby. The pregnancy is only mentioned once; consider removing that detail.”

This is frustrating. How “on the nose” do we have to be to satisfy readers who clearly just aren’t reading carefully? We’re certainly not going to remove the pregnancy. It’s a huge factor in the couple’s troubled relationship. But that said, if its impact on the relationship was working, would a reader say “the pregnancy is a minor detail you can lose”?

This is an opportunity to “add value, not information”. As tempting as it might be to simply insert some clunky descriptive line that says she’s “clearly no longer pregnant”, we’ll be better served by addressing why the pregnancy is a valuable story point, and look for opportunities to enhance interactions between her and her husband in ways that organically demonstrate the impact of the lost child on their relationship… and the story.

Format: Dot those I’s, cross those T’s

Format feedback is pretty objective stuff. Yes, there’s room for some flexibility, and it does evolve over time. What was allowable decades ago wouldn’t be acceptable today, and what works today may not fly in a few years. But by and large, if you’re still peddling spec scripts, it’s not on you to reinvent the font or margins.

   SD: “It is first suggested that the author bring the screenplay to industry standard or a more modern style of doing narrative. Here this means that no words should be fully capitalized except for a character’s name when they first appear. Also, do not list transition shots like dissolve to, or POV shots. Other than that, the narrative here is well written.”

   AL: “Don’t put so much contact information on the title page.”

When I first started writing screenplays, all SOUNDS were capitalized. Apparently that’s not what (at least some) readers are looking for today. There’s little in the way of formatting that’s worth standing firm on if you’re hearing that it’s a problem. More than two readers complain about your capitalized sounds? Get rid of ‘em. Focus on story.

What’s the upshot?

While we found some of the feedback insightful and enlightening, some of it was clearly conflicting, and some of it, frankly, so astonishingly off the mark we wondered if they’d read the script at all. But in the end, we did our best to set aside our egos, give all the feedback due consideration, and be open to ways to improve our script.

After all, if you’re asking for feedback just to hear how great you are, you’re wasting everyone’s time.

We learned a lot, and ended up making some minor but impactful modifications that changed our screenplay for the better.

Thanks, all you readers, for taking the time to tell us what you thought.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Why We Rewrote a Perfectly Good Screenplay – Repost from CHIPSTREET - posted by wonkavite

Why We Rewrote a Perfectly Good Screenplay

You wanna write screenplays?  Seriously?  Hopefully for a living?  Well, one thing you’ve got to do is perfect your art. Write. Rewrite.  And keep plugging away… nonstop. Keep polishing your craft until it shines!

…and be open to lessons learned from those who’ve been in the trenches, and blazed the same trail that you seek to tread.  STS is happy to be reposting a series of articles from ChipStreet.  Folks, this is a terrific website – we recommend that you check it out in more depth!  (Original article available here: http://chipstreet.com/2013/07/08/rewriting-a-perfectly-good-screenplay/#more-3986

About Chip: Chip Street is an IMDB credited indie screenwriter, director, and art director. His short films have screened at festivals, and his feature screenplays have been optioned and sold. He is a screenplay analyst, competition finalist, screenplay judge for a major industry competition, screener for an International film festival, founder of Write Club Screenplay Challenge, and a respected blogger on the art and business of screenwriting. He’s been published or cited by The BlueCat Competition Newsletter, Script Magazine, JohnAugust.com, Bleeding Cool, NoFilmSchool, ScriptTips and IndieWire.com.

*******

Why we rewrote a perfectly good screenplay – and why you should too

Why rewrite a screenplay that’s working? Because it’s not.

Here’s one story about going back and fixing what we didn’t think was broken.

You know Grampa, right?

Those of you who know the tale of Grampa Was A Superhero know it was the second feature screenplay I wrote, this one in partnership with my pal Sean Meehan.

You also know it turned out pretty good, and was optioned for two years by a producer who’d previously worked extensively with Stephen King. However, the indie market was still reeling from the recession, and we weren’t able to pull together the funding.

In the meantime, we wrote Faeries, a creature feature horror script which immediately finaled in the Shriekfest Screenplay Contest, was considered by a number of prodcos, and is now under option and in development. Fingers crossed.

Then we moved on to a new screenplay, a western-genre mashup of epic proportions.

We didn’t look back at the Grampa script. Even though we knew we’d learned a lot on Faeries about crafting a tighter plot, we were confident that Grampa was a solid piece, and that once we were ready to start shopping it again, it was ready to hit the ground running.

That confidence was boosted by the simple fact that it had already been optioned once. I mean, sure, the previous producer had mentioned doing some rewrites, but they all do. Surely the screenplay was sound if it had been optioned at all, right?

So imagine my dismay when I read it through last year to prepare to start marketing it again, and discovered that it sucked.

Okay, it didn’t suck

Okay, maybe it didn’t suck. It’s a great story, with real four-quadrant appeal, and characters that we think actors will want to play. Plus it’s got franchise written all over it, and cross-media potential in graphic novels, TV or web series, and mebbe even action figures. (A guy can dream, right?)

It was good. But it wasn’t good enough.

Here’s the thing. Essentially it’s a family road trip adventure story, in the vein of Home Alone, Wild Hogs, Are We There Yet, or Unaccompanied Minors. But given that genre, it’s a complicated story: Jesse and his Grampa are on an unplanned road trip (that’s plot one), a pair of bumbling robbers are pacing their route cross country (that’s plot two), an aspiring TV reporter is using his network’s resources to grease the duo’s wheels and keep them on the road and in the press (that’s subplot one), and Jesse’s parents are trying to figure out where the two traveler’s have disappeared to (that’s subplot two).

Add to that the fact that Grampa’s living in a dream world where he thinks he’s a super hero, because he used to play one on TV in the ’60’s, and there’s a lot of there there.

What we discovered was that while all those plots intertwine in ways that organically build on one another (there are good story reasons why one plot is facilitated by another), we’d given them all nearly equal weight. And what the story really wanted, what it needed, to be about was Jesse and his Grampa.

So I went to my writing partner and told him the bad news.

The bad news

He balked. He hadn’t thought about this screenplay for years, and was confident it surely must be good enough.

I convinced him to read through my notes, and keep his mind open.

He’s good like that. And he saw what I was saying.

At 110 pages it was just too fat. Some of that was too much plot, some of it was overwritten description (not terribly overwritten screenplay description, but too wordy fer sure).

And it suffered from a lack of focus. We needed to pare down the subplots, and put the focus back on Jesse and Grampa.

So began the gutting.

What we did

I won’t bore you with the details of the rewrite. But trust me, we gutted a lot of stuff.

We shredded it.

We’ve spent some time studying the art of the rewrite, and have blogged about interpreting screenplay feedback and integrating value back into your story.

We lost lots of great dialogue we loved when we wrote it, and still think is great stuff. For another movie.

We lost whole themes about timely and interesting things: how we live in a consumerist society that values acquisition over honor, money over integrity, fame over achievement. None of which really belonged in a movie modeled after Home Alone.

We lost five pages just by simplifying the motivations of a single minor character.

Another five by editing the description to be more concise.

Another three or four by killing really cute scenes that weren’t actually moving the story forward.

In the end we stripped twenty pages — twenty pages! — from what we thought surely was a solid screenplay, that had been good enough to be optioned (and extended) for two years.

What we got

We are super excited about what we ended up with.

We only get together once every couple of weeks, and work on our notes in the meantime when we have time.

So it took us a few months on the calendar, but only around a week or so of full time work, to finish up.

Now Grampa Was A Superhero is a much more concise, tight, fast-moving story that more closely matches its brethren in the genre. It’s funnier, faster, leaner and meaner. We put together a dream cast (just for fun) and will be submitting the screenplay to a few competitions, and a few prodcos.

And we’ve got high hopes for this new, improved screenplay.

Why you should rewrite your old work (or at least give it a critical read)

While I don’t recommend rewriting and rewriting screenplays forever, it’s important to recognize that you do learn and grow as you write.

You’re a better writer now than the person who wrote that screenplay. So don’t let that less experienced writer of the past ignore the advice of the better and more talented writer you’ve become.

You need to be willing to be brutally honest with yourself, be your own worst critic, and listen to what your new and more insightful gut is telling you.

You’ll gain confidence, because you’ll see that you can now recognize your mistakes, that it’s possible to find ways to improve even solid work, and that good enough can be better.

It’s valuable to learn how to kill your babies, and get rid of paragraphs of what you’ve thought for months or years might be great dialogue, if losing it is in service of a better story.

It’s valuable to be willing to acknowledge that the great themes you wove into your work aren’t appropriate or necessary to the movie you’re writing and are muddying the message.

And yes, if the story is a good one, and you can fix it in relatively short order, it is worth spending some time to do it. Hopefully, you’ll end up with a much stronger screenplay (we did).

So go. Reread. Rewrite. Grow.

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Congratulations to Richard Russell! - posted by wonkavite

His reviewed short, Last Date, has been officially been optioned by Digital Cafe, LLC.  We’ll keep you apprised as more information becomes available.  Including teaser trailers, of course!  :)

About the writer: Richard Russell lives in North Carolina where he plays golf and writes.  He has been writing since college when his short stories appeared in the university literary magazine.  He loves writing screenplays, and THE CALL, written with his partner, Felice Bassuk, is one of their best.  They have written an award-winning feature, THE KOI KEEPER, which they hope to see on the screen in the not too distant future.  Richard has a trove of shorts and feature length screenplays and continues to add to the inventory.  Writing remains the sole source of sanity in Richard’s chaotic world.

Friday, May 8, 2015

You’ve Finished the Damned Script – Now What? (Anthony Cawood Primers for a Networked World) – Part 6 - posted by wonkavite

You’ve Finished the Damned Script – Now What?

(Anthony Cawood Primers for a Networked World)

Part 6: Options, Sales and Production

A few people have asked me recently how I manage to sell and option so many short scripts.

My response? I usually laugh, and get embarrassed (what can I say – I’m a Brit!) Anything to move the subject along.

Others have shared their experiences of optioning/selling scripts, and their frustrations regarding what happens next. Or as is often the case – what fails to happen next.

As a result, I thought it would be useful to take a look at both sides of the coin, and share my personal experiences. Note: In this article, I’ve strived to be as ‘full disclosure’ as possible without discussing individual deals. And please keep in mind, this all relates to my experience only. Your mileage may vary.

Sales and Options

According to my calculations, I’ve written 30 short scripts over the space of just shy of 2 years.

19 of them are currently sold, or under option. I say ‘currently’ because I’ve got an additional 6 shorts where the options have technically lapsed. So you could argue the number’s 25.

I’ve also written three scripts specifically at someone’s request. Only one of those has actually made it to fruition. In the other two cases, the “commissioner” of the script proved unable to move the project forward, leaving me with the unproduced work. One of those has since sold to a different producer.

Let me clarify what I mean when I use the terms Sales or Options. Trust me, I have my reasons.

Sale: Someone buys the script outright for money. And a contract exists to formalize that.

Option: Someone agrees to try and pull the resources together to make the script within an agreed-upon window – normally 6-12 months – with agreed payment to follow.

A further note regarding options: these are usually offered by newer producers or directors (sometimes students) who don’t initially have funds available… or just want to ensure they can get the project off the ground before sinking capital into it. Any agreed payment for such deals is often only a percentage of the profits the short may make, rather than a defined monetary amount. This type of deal is often called a Free Option.

Sales have $$ paid up front. A couple include bonus $$ upon start of production, things of that nature. Note: Whenever I can, I make a point to obtain a percentage of the profits on the backend as well. Shorts usually make no profit at all. But I want to be included in case it goes viral, or blows up some way!

When talking with a Producer or Director, I ask if they have a budget for purchasing the script, then go from there. Why? Because I strongly believe a writer’s work has value. We spend time, effort and emotional energy on every script we create. So we deserve to be compensated when it’s possible.

Contract and agreements, I tend to play by ear. Some people will disagree with this strategy – and I do wish to stress I only do this for shorts.

When payment is involved, there’s usually a contract. I don’t use a lawyer or agent – just my common sense. Knock on wood… it’s worked. So far!

With options, I email an outline of my terms to the producer, and make sure all parties are in agreement on the terms.

A quick note when it comes to both types of agreements (both email and signed): don’t be scared to ask for anything you consider right and fair. And never be afraid to say no, if you’re not comfortable with a deal.

As to what contracts contain: that’s always different! Usually, they’re drafted by the Producer/Buyer. On a couple of occasions, I’ve been asked to supply them. In those circumstances, I just retrofit one I’ve already got. If you don’t have one on hand, Googling for templates also works.

For me, the essential elements are these:

  • What rights are you granting to the producer? e.g. Sole and exclusive, region specific or worldwide?
  • What does it extend to? e.g.: is it just this script, or does it grant rights over sequels, remakes, etc (you should definitely try to keep these rights.)
  • Make sure the contract specifies how long it’s for.
  • Make certain payment terms and amounts are included – plus timings and delivery mechanisms (Paypal is one great method– though they do take a cut.)
  • If in doubt about a clause, seek clarity before you sign.
  • Very, very important note: if and when I get to this stage with a Feature script, I’ll be seeking professional legal advice.

Pre-production Frustration

I recently shot the short “Txt M” from my own script – precisely due to frustration with how long it can take films to get made!

So for those who’ve sold/optioned scripts and now wait in limbo. Please believe: I feel your pain

But in the end, there’s very little you can do. Producers and Directors are not doing it to you on purpose (as much as it may seem that way!). No, there’s a whole host of reasons it can take awhile before an optioned script goes into production.

  • They have a window – which just so happens to be 6 months away.
  • Their plans change. Many short film-makers have other jobs. Your short is just their passion project, which can only be done on their off time.
  • Resources and/or finances change. Or disappear.
  • They flat-out change their mind.

Of course, none of those reasons make the process any less frustrating… however how valid they may be. My advice. Patience is a virtue. Practice it. Often and wisely.

As a side note: it’s often interesting to see how willing or unwilling the film maker is to involve you in the process. In my experience, I’ve had audition tapes sent to me for my review. Rewritten scenes as required. Advised on prop selections, etc. Even if the producer prefers you take a ‘hands off’ approach, there’s no harm in letting them know you are keen to work with them, if desired, so as to better understand the process.

Post-production

But once a script is finally produced, everything comes up roses.

Right?

Well kinda. But not really. Among other things, one learns about (drum roll)…

Post-production.

Post-production is where a lot of the magic happens. Film editing. Sound effects. Colour adjustments. Music, titles, credits. And more.

Needless to say, that can take awhile. So you’ll need to practice your patience again.

Please don’t interpret any of this as a complaint. If I didn’t think it was all worth it, I wouldn’t have written 30 shorts and 2 features. I’d have found something to do with more instant gratification.

But it’s good for writers to be aware of the potential bumps in the road. Factor them into your expectations.

Thank God – The Damned Thing’s Filmed!

Yes, that day has finally come. You’ve been sent a Vimeo link, or a DVD of your film. Now you can relax and soak in compliments from your jealous friends.

Right?

Well. Sorta. But then you watch the film – and your over-critical ID chimes in.

Because, unless you directed and edited the final movie, it’s very, VERY likely it won’t be exactly the same as what you envisioned in your mind’s eye.

Reasons for changes are unending. Budgetary concerns. Dialogue can be altered. Casting may not be your taste.

And make no mistake – there’s nothing you can do about it… unless you morph into a director, and insist on making scripts your way.

So focus on the positives!

  • You conceived a great idea – and it got filmed.
  • You had the creative skill to distill your ideas into a successful script.
  • You had the gumption and fortitude to get that script into the hands of a real film maker, who thought highly enough of it to invest time, effort and money to make it a reality.

As a result, you’re now watching something that has your name in the credits. You’re a produced screenwriter, which is no small achievement. No matter how arduous the journey was.

As for my own stuff? Well, I keep plugging away, and will broach every opportunity to push and promote my scripts. But there’s no magic involved. It’s just an established plan that’s worked for me. So far:

  • Have a decent idea. Follow it up with a decent script.
  • Get feedback to make sure that script is as good as it can be. I mostly use Simplyscripts and Stage 32. Both are invaluable to me!
  • Get your script listed everywhere (I’ve discussed go-to links in my previous articles.) But for the record, Simplyscripts and Inktips have given me the majority of my success.
  • Refresh your listings. Change your loglines. Always keep working on the scripts.
  • If someone requests to see one of your works, make sure you use it as an opportunity to build relationships. They may not ultimately want the script they ask for. But they may like your writing, and choose something else you have. Or ask you to write something for them.
  • Always, always – persevere.

And the result? Out of my 19 scripts, 3 have been produced and are watchable (links available on my site.) 2 are in post production (I’m hoping to see them in the next 2-3 months.) 8 are slated to start production six months from now. The rest, further out than that.   And I have a feeling that as least another 2-3 will end up as lapsed options. Sad as that may be…

And speaking of future predictions: I’ve started to concentrate on Feature scripts. Which means going through all the pain, agony and frustration all over again. But in new and interesting ways.

I’ll keep STS posted. Perversely, I’m looking forward to it!

About Anthony: I’m an award winning screenwriter from the UK with over 15 scripts produced, optioned and/or purchased. Outside of my screenwriting career, I’m also a published short story writer and movie reviewer. Links to my films and details of my scripts can be found at www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

In Search Of – Guest Reviewers for STS! - posted by wonkavite

In Search Of – Guest Reviewers for STS!

Writers out there, take note! STS (Shootin’ the Shorts) is in search of a few TERRIFIC guest reviewers. After all, readin’ and reviewin’ scripts is hard and sweaty work. We need all the talented help we can get.

What we’re looking for: Seriously good writers that can preferably commit to one review a week. Though if it’s less, we understand and still want to hear from you! (In terms of time involved, we’ve generally found that a review can be written and polished in about one and a half hours, if not less. Depends on one’s writing style.) And regarding that writing style – we encourage reviewers to have their own voice but follow the general STS formula. IE: positive, humorous or poignant reviews that market the script’s best attributes.

What we offer: Well, like most writers, we’re all rolling in the money. (Insert sarcastic eye roll here.) Yes, folks – it’s a volunteer position. Unpaid. But what you gain is two fold – for every script you write, you’ll have space for your own “About the reviewer” logline. And a bit of exposure for your work, in that space. And you also gain writing experience – something to put on your resume, and hone your snappy writing skills until they bleed and shine. And trust us: that’s a very, very good thing.

Anyone interested, please send a shout-out to moderator Wonkavite at janetgoodman “AT” Yahoo.* Feel free to just introduce yourself. Or send a sample of your writing work (in the body of your email, please.)

Spammers need not apply. Seriously. None of us at STS needs a knock-off Armani bag, a mortgage refinance, or six extra inches. At least not the last time we checked…

 

Friday, April 24, 2015

You’ve Finished the Damned Script – Now What? (Anthony Cawood Primers for a Networked World) – Part 5 - posted by wonkavite

You’ve Finished the Damned Script – Now What?

(Anthony Cawood Primers for a Networked World)

Part 5: Competitions

I decided to enter a few competitions last year with some of my short scripts… And quickly discovered that, as screenwriters, we are spoilt for choice. There’s hundreds of contests out there, with new ones starting every year. So which ones should you be entering, and spending your hard earned money on?

When all was said and done, I collected one 1st place, one Runner’s up, a Third, a Finalist and one Semi-Finalist placing. (In the interest of full disclosure, I also entered five more scripts that got absolutely nowhere. Nada. Zilch!) But I did gain knowledge and experience in the process – and that’s valuable as well.

But, let’s back up for a moment and ask one important question… Exactly why do you want to enter competitions in the first place? For me, it was reasons 3 and 4 from the list below. But different competitions offer different opportunities. It’s important to define your goals at the very start, in order to plan proper strategy. Do you want to:

  1. Get yourself an agent, manager, producer.
  2. Get professional coverage.
  3. Win prizes, such as money/trophies/software/film festival passes, etc.
  4. Add ‘award winning screenwriter’ to your resume.
  5. A mix of various aspects of the above.

Let’s consider these motives, one by one.

1) Obtaining an Agent, Manager or Producer

There are only a handful of screenplay contests that will consistently get you this level of attention – and then only if you place semi finalist or finalist. These are the big players in the game: The Academy Nicholl Fellowship, Page Awards, Scriptapalooza, BlueCat, and a handful of others (that I have less direct experience with.)

But remember – if you’re angling for these big fish – these contests attract thousands of entries. Competition will certainly be fierce!

Page has been around for over 10 years and has a $25,000 First Prize. In 2014, it was won by Matias Caruso, whose shorts have been showcased here on Moviepoet, SS, and in STS.

Nicholl has been around even longer – thirty years and receives over 7000 entries annually. Up to five winners can receive $35,000 fellowships.

Scriptapalooza has been in the game over 17 years, receiving over 4000 entries annually. One major plus: the judges are all agents, managers or producers and the first prize is $10,000.

BlueCat has been around since 1998, attracting over 4000 entries per year. This one boasts a $15,000 grand prize (and $10,000 for the winning short too!)

Not to mention other high profile comps, like Final Draft’s Big Break, Script Pipeline, Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition, etc. Score big with one of these, and your feature, short or TV pilot could connect with the ‘right’ people.

2) Get coverage

You can get coverage from a variety of sources – from the free opinion of people right here on the SS boards, to shelling out hundreds of dollars for professional readers (of varying quality.) You can also get it as a result of entering some screenplay contests – which is sometimes packaged as part of the entry fee. Bluecat does that. So does ReelWriters. So when you are contemplating a competition, research if they do a coverage package – and determine if that’s useful for you.

3) Win something

Prizes range all over the map: nice trophies. Free software, discounted services… all the way up to some pretty substantial monetary prizes. Check out what the competition you’re considering offers – and if it’s something valuable to you. IE: is it worth spending $30 to enter a competition for a copy of Final Draft 9, if you bought a copy recently? Probably not – if that’s all that a win will mean.

4) Award winning screenwriter bragging rights

Does this matter? Well, if it’s Page, Nicholl, etc – then yes, it probably does. As for the others… Well, here’s how I think about it personally. When trying to persuade producers/directors to read your scripts, I think ‘award winning’ may help get your script read. (And maybe even read first.) It may also be something a producer might be able to use while marketing your work. I’ve never heard anyone say it’s a bad thing. Though you have to balance that against the cost of multiple entry fees!

5) All the above (or any combination)

Hey – wouldn’t it be grand to win a competition and really score? Get the prizes, the coverage, the bragging rights – and have your work seen and produced? Well, one can definitely dream. And if you back it up with hard work… those dreams do sometimes come close enough to reach…!

Researching Competitions and Lists

Okay – so you’ve decided competitions are worth a try. But if you’re not ready to tackle Nicholl, where can learn about the smaller fry? Here are a few handy links that I’ve used in my searches – complete with details on submission requirements, deadlines, etc…

1) Movie Byteshttp://www.moviebytes.com/

2) InkTiphttp://inktip.com/competition_directory.php

3) FilmFreeway (Film Festivals too) https://filmfreeway.com/

4) Without A Box – (Film Festivals too)https://www.withoutabox.com/

* It’s worth pointing out that some Film Festivals – like Austin, Nashville, etc – have screenwriting comps within their festivals. Getting into the finals of these often includes free passes for the festival as well.

Finally, let’s end with a few tips – garnered both from my own experience and common sense:

1) Thoroughly research any competition you are thinking of entering. How long has it been established, who runs it? Are there any complaints online? If you have serious doubts… spend your money elsewhere.

2) Does it have a genre bias and does any bias fit with your script(s)? If so, use this to your advantage.

3) Does it offer different categories for scripts, e.g. Drama, Horror, Comedy? In general, the more categories the better. That means that your horror opus won’t be competing against indie dramedies. (Especially good if you get a reader whose favorite film is Juno!

4) Do all scripts have to have a certain theme? I found an Australian comp where all the films had to involve dogs!

5) What can you afford? Competition entries can mount up fast. Always spend wisely. Look for discounts via sites like FilmFreeway and MovieBytes. And take advance of early entry discounts, too.

6) Do you want your script tied up? Most competitions have “no option” entry requirements. If your script’s been optioned/sold, that disqualifies it from competition. Now, that’s no problem if you’ve just landed a $10K option. But what if someone wants to option it for free, or $1? Remember, too, that many competitions have very long entry windows. Your script could be ‘considered’ for months.

7) Read the rules carefully. Make sure you understand all the requirements, and any rights you’re potentially signing away. (For instance, winning the Disney Fellowship or entering the Amazon Studio competition requires certain compromises.)

8) This should go without saying, but make sure you send in the best version of your script possible. And I don’t just mean the strongest story. I mean proofread the script within an inch of it’s life. Why spoil your chances – and waste your money – with a poorly formatted script, strewn with typos and littered with grammatical errors?

9) Send a properly formatted script in PDF format. Word docs and other files are a strict no-no.

10) Don’t forget to take your name and address details off the script title sheet if the competition asks for it (Page does, for instance).

So what now? Get out there and research! Pick your competitions wisely. Polish your script until it shines. Then submit…. And let it go. It’s in the hands of the judges now….

About Anthony: I’m an award winning screenwriter from the UK with over 15 scripts produced, optioned and/or purchased. Outside of my screenwriting career, I’m also a published short story writer and movie reviewer. Links to my films and details of my scripts can be found at www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

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