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Friday, January 30, 2015

How I Sold the First Screenplay I Ever Wrote – Repost from CHIPSTREET - posted by wonkavite

How I Sold the First Screenplay I Ever Wrote

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.  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/2013/05/21/how-i-sold-the-very-first-screenplay-i-ever-wrote/)

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.

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How I sold the very first screenplay I ever wrote – and how you can avoid the same fate

Originally posted on May 21, 2013 by Chip Street

I write a lot of screenplays. They say you’ll never sell your very first screenplay. Hear how I sold mine, step by step and learn why you probably shouldn’t do exactly what I did.

They say you won’t sell your first screenplay.

Or your second.

Or third, or fourth, or fifth… that it’ll take years of practice to arrive at a screenplay that’s worth reading, much less worth buying.

But I did… I sold the very first screenplay I ever wrote.

Sort of.

Here’s what I did right, and wrong …

I started wrong and badly

I started writing Rocket Summer in 2002. I’d never written a screenplay… not a short, a trailer, nothing. All my previous writing experience was Literary… short stories, poetry, a few one act plays. None of which had ever been published or produced.

That’s fine. Everyone has a first screenplay.

The first version of Rocket Summer was terrible. I know that now… filled with too many parentheticals, too much expository dialogue, and over-written left margin (description), right down to the shoes characters wore, and the colors of their shirts. Every (pause) (smile) (angry) (happy). And it was too long (partly because it had too many parentheticals, too much dialogue, and way too much description).

Again, that’s fine. Everyone’s first screenplay sucks – even if they don’t know it.

I rewrote it

So I rewrote it. The more I learned about what goes into a great screenplay, the more I realized I had to change. I cut scenes. I conflated characters. I stripped my description to the bare minimum.

That’s good. Everyone should rewrite their bad first screenplay, so they can see how their changes make things better.

I didn’t get notes

Not from anyone that mattered. Friends are okay. Family is okay. Even other aspiring screenwriters are okay. But none of them know what a real reader knows… none of them can give you the hard truth from a professional point of view that you really, really need.

That’s bad.

I rewrote it over and over and over and…

So, IN THE ABSENCE OF PROFESSIONAL FEEDBACK OR GUIDANCE, I rewrote it again. And again. And again. Not because anybody was paying me to. Not because I’d gotten great advice.

Because I couldn’t move on. I wanted to make this story perfect. I didn’t want to find another story that needed telling.

Maybe, just maybe, I was afraid that if I couldn’t get this story right, I shouldn’t waste my time on any other screenplays. That failure with Rocket Summer meant failure as a writer.

I rewrote it a dozen times or more. I wasted YEARS making changes that became more minor, more minuscule and less important, when I should have been honing my skills on new stories and growing a bigger portfolio and finding my voice and genre.

And that, likewise, is just bad.

I wrote, produced and directed a short

In the midst of all this, I co-wrote, produced and directed a short, Whatever It Takes. I even did the storyboards, and handled props and wardrobe. I had zero experience on set, and had no idea what I was doing. But I learned — fast and hard — how overly-specific description and story problems at the script stage can make it hard on the art department, the actors, and the director, to find the good story buried in the badness.

Getting real production experience, at any level, will open your eyes to the relationship between what you write and how that turns into a movie. And how, really, at the point of production, your anguished choice between “sits” and “sat” doesn’t really matter.

This is good.

I worked on a feature

I parlayed that experience into a gig working under a production designer friend. I art directed a feature length film, Fat Rose and Squeaky.

I worked my ass off, 12 hours a day, six days a week.

I watched how lighting worked. I watched how directors work. I chatted with the scripty, and wardrobe, and observed everything and anyone I could. My learning curve was a straight line pointing up and to the right.

I did whatever anyone asked me to do, and I did it with a smile.

Because half of working in movies is being reliable. The other half is being a team player.

The third half is building relationships.

And that’s all good.

I said yes

Somewhere along the line my production designer friend had mentioned to the producer that I had a script.

The producer asked for the script.

I gladly handed it over.

Right now, some of you are saying “See! It’s who you know! You got your script to a producer because you had an inside track!”

And you’re kind of right.

I paved my own inside track

But understand this: I paved that inside track.

I said yes to producing that short, even though I didn’t know what I was doing.

I said yes to the art direction job, even though it was way over my head.

I said yes whenever anyone needed anything from me.

I said yes to whatever I needed to do to make that little film look as fantastic as I possibly could.

I made my friend look good to the producer, so the producer trusted him when he recommended my script.

And this is good.

I didn’t bug the producer

The producer was busy putting his movie to bed, setting up distribution, and all the other stuff a producer does.

And he didn’t get back to me right away.

I didn’t follow up, I didn’t ask if he’d read my screenplay yet.

I waited patiently.

And that’s good.

I let go of my story

The producer eventually got back to me.

And here’s what he said.

“I love your story. But I think I can sell it better if the kids are younger, and it’s aimed at a tween audience. Can you make them 13 instead of 19?”

I said yes again.

I worked for free

I don’t always recommend this part, but I agreed to rewrite the screenplay with younger kids (and all that it entailed, from concerned parents to figuring out transportation issues when they can’t drive).

Before the option was signed.

But he liked what he saw, and he optioned the screenplay for a year.

I did more free rewrites while under option, to appease his various potential investors.

And he extended the option another 6 months.

Then I said NO … and worse

For whatever reason, he let the option run out.

When he finally offered to buy the screenplay, he wanted to pay me less than the option agreement had stipulated; the economy had tanked, and he couldn’t raise the budget he wanted to raise. But he still wanted my screenplay.

By then I’d gotten exhausted with the free rewrites, and felt like my story deserved better.

I thought that maybe, if I’d stuck to my original story vision, we’d have had better luck.

So I said no.

In fact, I also let him know how irritated I’d gotten with the constant edits, and kind of burned my bridge.

This is bad.

Even if I’d wanted to hang on to the screenplay, there was no reason to burn the bridge. Because, as I’d learned earlier, maintaining good professional relationships leads to trust and referrals.

But I did it anyway.

I killed my momentum

But nothing happened with Rocket Summer. Lots of people looked at it, but nobody wanted to option it. It had become too specific to that one producer’s vision, and I didn’t have the energy to continue to work on it any more.

So instead of a sale, I had a stale property that I wasn’t motivated or inspired by any more.

And that’s bad.

I wrote more screenplays

I finally got around to writing more screenplays, along with doing more production work.

Grampa Was A Superhero was optioned via InkTip, and in development for two years (I’ve got it back now).

Faeries was a finalist in the Shriekfest Screenplay Competition, and is now under option and in development.

I learned a lot more about writing, and built more relationships.

This is good.

I said yes again

One day, years later, that same producer called me.

He asked if Rocket Summer was still available, and explained that he’d since had success funding, producing, and distributing a number of small titles, and was confident that he could finally pull Rocket Summer together.

We had a frank conversation, and healed our wounds, and talked about how the story had been on his mind all these years, and how badly he wanted to make it the way it should be made.

If I would just make one change.

Make all the boy characters girls, and all the girl characters boys. Because he was sure a female tween hero would be an easier sell.

Crazy, right?

I said yes.

Why I said yes

Firstly, after ten years, it was time to let this story go. I have many more screenplays, stories, and books to write, and Rocket Summer had sublet space in my head (and co-opted my creative energy) for long enough.

Plus, although I’d since added multiple options and a number of other production credits to my resume, it’s important to have a sale.

And lastly, saying YES, in my experience, leads to more good things than saying NO.

So I rewrote the story one last time. He gave me a great deal of creative freedom.

And I sold the very first screenplay I ever wrote.

It wasn’t really my first screenplay

So here’s the thing.

Technically, although I can say I sold the first screenplay I ever wrote, I’d rewritten it so many times that it was no longer really the first screenplay I ever wrote.

I’d done all that “write a second, third, and fourth screenplay” business, ALL ON THE SAME SCREENPLAY.

It took me ten years and two dozen rewrites to sell my first screenplay, the equivalent of writing a half dozen or more screenplays, and I only had one screenplay to show for it.

I could have quite a few more screenplays in my portfolio now, had I done things differently.

And maybe, just maybe, I’d have sold a different screenplay years earlier, had I done things differently, and not let Rocket Summer become an obsession.

I’m happy I sold Rocket Summer. The producers are awesome people, they really love the story, and I hope you get to see it sometime soon.

But I might do things differently if I had it to do again.

Where things are now

After all that, the producer, Stan Harris, sadly passed away in a terrible motorcycle accident just months later.

But his producing partners are still committed to the project, and are working on raising the funds.

We’re hopeful for a 2015 production start.

In the meantime, as I’d negotiated retaining the Literary rights, I’ve written a novelization of Rocket Summer which is now selling well on Amazon, BN, and elsewhere.

So what should you get from all this?

You do not have time to write everything you want to write. Life is always shorter than you want it to be. If you have many stories in you, don’t hesitate. Pick one, and get started.

Know when to quit. Don’t let one screenplay take over your life. You really do need lots of them, both to become a better writer, and to prove to others that you’re capable of doing it more than once. And there truly is a point of diminishing return on your investment of time. Put it away, and come back to it another time. Do not leave your other stories untried.

You’re not as good as you think you are yet. You will be blind to your screenplay’s shortcomings. That’s a fact. Your friends and family will not be honest with you. And other wannabe screenwriters know as little as you do. So when you think it’s as good as you can make it, show it to someone else who actually knows what they’re talking about so they can show you how it’s not. You will be a better writer for it.

Worry about writing more, and writing better will come. You can’t write more good stuff if you don’t write more.

Pave your own inside track. Yes, it’s who you know. But you determine who you know, and how good those relationships are. If you don’t have the connections you need, find a way to make them. You can start with:

Always have your yes ready. Say yes to opportunity, say yes to things that challenge you, say yes to people who need your help. Even if you’re not sure what you have to offer. It will make you a better person, and probably a better writer.

Screenwriting is not filmmaking. Your screenplay is just a piece of a complicated process. Get any production experience you can. It will make you a better writer, and help you with paving your inside track. And it’s a crapload of fun.

 

 

 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Understanding Options – Repost from CHIPSTREET. - posted by wonkavite

Understanding Options

Writers.  We sweat out every inch of our scripts.  Writing after work. On trains.  By the glow of TV light after our family’s gone to sleep.  We agonize over every word. Stress and bleed… all reaching for that blessed day when a studio sends an email: we’d like to offer you an option.

What happens next?  Well, angels fly down from the heavens. The chorus sings.  BUT – there’s just one teeny tiny problem.  Most of us don’t have anything resembling an agent.  So how does a writer evaluate the legalese… making sure you get a decent deal, when you sell them your “baby”?

Well – first and foremost – get an entertainment lawyer.  No matter what, you’ll need one. 

But you need to educate yourself as well.  Make sure you understand the basics.

Fortunately, there’s a great primer available on the web: posted originally on ChipStreet.  (Folks, this is a terrific website – we recommend you check it out in more depth.)  In the meantime, here’s a terrific primer they put together – also available here: http://chipstreet.com/2010/02/02/ten-things-when-you-option-your-script/) Want to chat with Chip some more?  His contact information’s available here: ChipStreet.Com/contact

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What does it mean to have your screenplay optioned?

A producer wants to option your script. Should you do it? What are the considerations? Here’s one guy’s opinion.

Now that I’ve been through the option gauntlet a couple of times, I get asked about the experience and the process. It’s a little humbling, cuz I’m just a lucky guy with a couple of options, but I know how much I appreciate when I stumble across some good first-hand info, and figured it would be a good idea to share what I know. So I thought I’d gather my notes together here, in the hopes that it’ll prove useful to others. This is no substitute for having an attorney, mind you… more on that later. But I wish I’d had this list.

Of course, I’m no lawyer, but I did pay one (a really good one, too!) to represent me in my deals. I wanted to learn, so I was involved in the negotiation process, and reviewed each round of revisions on the offers and eventual contracts, asked lots of questions, and took lots of notes. I asked the attorney to mark up the contract with all the items of concern or negotiation he could think of… then I had him go over them with me, and explain things to me that I didn’t understand. I picked out the points I wanted to ask for, and removed items I felt were over-reaching or I just didn’t feel like I needed.

I don’t plan on being so involved in future deals. But now that I’ve got a handle on the basic vocabulary and have some sense of what it is I should be looking for, at least I won’t feel like an outsider in my own negotiations.

Part I is the basics… what is an option, how to respond, and what to expect. Part II is a list of negotiation points and terms that I’m very glad I know about now, and you might like to know about as well.

PART ONE:

1 – What is an option?

Producer Bob stumbled across your script on your site, or at InkTip.com, or in a screenplay competition, and has approached you with an offer to “option” it. What’s that mean, exactly?

Granting a producer an option means granting them the exclusive right to develop the script… to try to raise the money to make it, get talent or a director attached, and otherwise exploit the property with the end goal of making your movie. Any time within the option period they can “exercise” the option, and buy your script for an agreed price.

Sounds great, right?

Depends.

2 – Should you take the option?

Getting optioned is exciting. But it doesn’t mean your film is going to get made… it means someone wants to make your film but doesn’t have the resources yet. If they did have the resources, they’d buy it and make it, right? So what you really want (short of actually selling the screenplay) is to have it optioned by someone who has a high likelihood of getting it made. Because while having a script optioned is great (and it is great, don’t get me wrong) having a script produced is even better. Not just for your ego, but for your career.

Remember too that your scripts are your product, and have value. They’re an investment for you, and like any investment, they should be working for you. I assume that you don’t just write them and stick them in a drawer… you show them to people, put them into contests, post them on screenplay sites (like InkTip.com), right? You want them out there representing you, if not to get sold, to at least be working as writing samples.

But during the time the script’s under option, you’re likely restricted from any further exploitation of your own. That’ll probably include submitting it to any more contests, and certainly means not showing it to any other producers. When your script is under option, it’s “off the market” and is no longer working for you. Now the option has to be working for you, by being more valuable, more likely to lead to production, than having the script “on the market”. So, you want it optioned by someone who’s really got the goods to make things happen.

3 – It’s okay to say no

If you’re approached by an unknown producer with no resources, no previous credits, no financing and no connections, and thus a limited likelihood of getting to production, it’s okay to say no. Your script (assuming it’s a good script, and of course it is, right?) may be more valuable to them than they are to you. Your script may no longer be working for you, either inside or out of the option. (But you don’t have to say no. There may be good reasons to take said chance with Mister unknown resourceless producer… more on that later.)

4 – Get a lawyer

If you’re considering taking the option, let me say this first:

Get a lawyer… not just any lawyer,  but an entertainment attorney. I promise you, they will handle things you never dreamed would need to be handled. They will ask for compensations and protections that you didn’t know existed. And you will be better off for it.

Second, partner with your lawyer. I’ve heard people complain long and hard about how their lawyers screwed up deals for them, lost them money or projects or investors. Your attorney works for you… they’re the pro, don’t get me wrong, and avail yourself of their wisdom, but be sure you’re involved enough to sign off on what they’re asking for. In the end, if you let your attorney ask for too much and screw the deal, it’s on you.

Where do you find a lawyer? I can only tell you how I found mine. My first option deal was a no-lawyer friendly deal with a producer I knew from a previous film (I was an art director). I signed an option contract that looked fair to my unschooled eye (and it pretty much was), and it ran its course. When the producer wanted to renegotiate an extension, I took that as an opportunity to look for an entertainment attorney, because I figured it would be easier to find a good one when I could say “There’s an offer on the table… can you help me?”.

Then, I reached out to other screenwriters I know, asked for references, and was recommended to a great attorney in Beverly Hills. I was able to contact his offices, reference this other writer’s name, and say “So and so referred me to you. I’ve got an offer on the table. Can you help?”

The short answer, I guess, is network for recommendations.

5 – Why do you get paid?

So if they’re not making your movie (yet) why do you get paid?

Your script is Intellectual Property (IP), and he with the best IP wins. No script, no movie. (Well, that’s not entirely true… plenty of films go into production with no script, but they’ve usually got big stars or big producers behind them. Iron Man comes to mind as a recent example…) IP has inherent value, and potential value. The inherent value is that it’s legally defensible property that you own and control the rights to. The potential value is, of course, what its resulting film (and all that might go with that… merchandise, novelizations, sequels, serializations, TV series, etc.) will be worth.

When you option the script to a producer, you’re transferring your rights in the IP to that producer to use as her own. It’s no longer yours for the period of the option… it’s now an asset in the producer’s portfolio. Even if the film isn’t made, the rights to that asset — control over the potential — are of value to the producer. Why? A producer with a portfolio of ten good producible scripts she’s got exclusive rights to is in a stronger position with potential financiers, studios, production partners, than is a producer with no rights to any scripts. Make sense?

Because you’re giving up an asset with value and taking it off the market, you should be compensated.

6 – How much will you get paid?

Your option contract should include at least two numbers: the option price, and the purchase price.

The option price is what you get for giving the producer rights to your IP, and taking it off the market. The option price is traditionally 10% of the purchase price, and is yours to keep no matter what happens.

The purchase price is just what it sounds like: at some future point defined in the contract, should the producer raise the funds and resources to make the film, she will  “exercise the option” and buy the script from you. This should be prior to the start of principal photography, but could be another negotiated date.

The option price (what you’ve already received) may be applied toward the purchase price… say the purchase is 50K, and you’ve received 5K as the option price (10%). When they exercise, they’ll give you the other 45K. Should they never exercise, you keep the 5K as compensation for being “off the market”. But again, this is all negotiable.

So what is the purchase price?

That’s the trick, isn’t it? If you’re in the Writer’s Guild (WGA), I believe the union minimum right now for a feature script is in the neighborhood of 76K. Of course, the WGA does understand that small movies can’t take that hit, and they’ve got low-budget agreements for those kinds of productions. Ask the WGA for more info – they’re pretty accessible folks, even for non-members.

I’m not currently WGA, and I’m assuming you’re not either. So what do we ask for?

One rule of thumb says the script should account for about 3% of the budget… so if your script is a little indie film that’s being shot on weekends for 50K, figure $1500. A 2MM movie? Shoot for a $60,000 purchase price. Find a balance, and don’t cripple the production with an unreasonable percentage. Be a partner, and an asset, not a financial liability. Instead, negotiate those alternative compensations. Wouldn’t you like to have owned a little backend piece of Paranormal Activity?

7 – What about those “dollar options”?

Again, if you’re in the WGA there are restrictions on how little you can accept… but we’re not WGA. So we’ve got the freedom to strike any deal we want.

The producer may ask you to option your script to them for very little or no money, and while many writers may disagree with me, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. There are good reasons to take low dollar or free options, especially when you’re early in your career — so long as you’re confident that the producer has a reasonably good chance of reaching production, or you’re otherwise going to get some good value and experience from the option. There’s value in getting the opportunity to work with certain people, for instance, or in being allowed to participate and gain experience in a production role.

If you choose to take the dollar option, just bear in mind that you should be reimbursed for that additional concession. In addition to your purchase price, consider negotiating for other compensations, like backend points, or a higher purchase price, or box office bonuses, a first right of refusal on all paid rewrites, the sequel, remakes, etc. Or consider retaining some or all of other rights in exchange for the dollar option, like the novelization, video game, or merchandising rights.

Or at the very least, if there’s little or no money up front, shorten the option period. Mitigate the “off the market” time you’re willing to endure for zero dollars.

8 – How long will the option be?

Options run 6-12 months (usually). At the end of the option period, the producer may have an “extension clause” they can exercise, to get another 3-6 months or more. But if they do, there should be another payment involved.

At the end of the extension, if they really want to hang on to the script, they can ask you to do another extension, or renegotiate the option, or whatever… but then it’s up to you.

All of these numbers are negotiable… how many months, how many extensions, how much additional payment. You’ll want to balance your desire to work with the producer, the time off the market, the likelihood of production, and make a deal you can live with… because once you sign, you’re obligated.

9 – Will they change my script?

In a word, “Yes”.

Every script, by every writer established or new, will go through changes. During my first option, among many other changes, all the characters had their genders reversed, and (I kid you not) a scene with a giant flying corncob was added. Yup. It all made sense to someone somewhere, and those changes, if they appease the right people, are probably bringing your project closer to production. I mean, come on, people don’t add flying corncobs for simply no reason, do they?

Don’t be married to your script. Filmmaking is a collaborative artform, and your option makes you a part of a team. If you’re so in love with your story and will suffer heartache (that money or a produced credit can’t solve when it gets changed), then put it in that drawer and don’t take it out till you can make it yourself, your way.

Negotiate yourself as the writer of any rewrites, polishes, and punch-ups that might be necessary. Maintain some creative control.  Especially if you’re doing one of those dollar-options.

But don’t underestimate the value of having more eyes on your work. There’s a lot to be learned by seeing what another writer does with your stuff, and maybe (just maybe) you’ll like the experience. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll end up sharing credit with a writer of note. And that’s not a bad thing.

If you can, negotiate to protect your credit. Look into the WGA guidelines for which credits mean what. Understand that if WGA writers are brought on to massage your work, they’ll be treated like WGA writers, possibly to your detriment. More on that in Part II.

And this is important – negotiate the rights to any changes or alternative versions created by the producer or on behalf of the producer during the option period. In other words, if the script reverts back to you, so should the rights to any changes made to the script while the producer had it. Otherwise, you’ve got your script back, but the producer potentially still has rights to their version… and now you’re in competition with another version of your script that you don’t control. That’s not a place you want to be.

*EDIT* I received further clarification on this from a well-positioned Hollywood exec and consultant. Check out the post “Who Owns The Rights To Your  Screeplay Rewrites“.

10 – So why option?

If you were a producer, wouldn’t you rather spend a little money to guarantee your exclusive rights to a great script, and spend a year testing the waters with financiers, production partners and distributors, than buy a script outright for ten times the money only to discover you can’t gain any traction?

As great as you and the producer might think your script is, the production environment is fickle. Deals fall apart all the time. Movies go in and out of production like fashion and fads. The option lets you and the producer partner together with limited liability and obligations well defined, to try to bring your project to the screen. A carefully written and executed option contract makes for good and honest business partners… and that’s what you are, in the end.

So here’s my philosophy. Enjoy the option for what it is: a vote of confidence in your hard work, and an opportunity to learn and network.

Dream about the option turning into a sale and a produced script… and plan for it in your option negotiations. But from a practical standpoint, consider the option the endgame. The option is a great opportunity to learn more about the business, to meet new people, and make new connections. Take full advantage of it (as much as the producer will allow) and be a participant. Producers (many of them, anyway) want to work with writers who do more than just deliver a script and wait for a check… they want a creative partner. Negotiate your right to rewrite and polish, and attack it with everything you’ve got. Prove yourself a team player and a saleable writer.

This industry is all about relationships anyway. If the movie isn’t made, you’ve spent a year on someone’s radar, in this producer’s office, on the phone, meeting her contacts, and showing yourself to be a professional who delivers and is willing to work and play well with others. You’re in her rolodex, and maybe she’ll refer you to her pals.

That may just prove to be payment enough, when it leads to your next big deal.

Coming up…

In part II, you’ll learn many of the terms, clauses and points of negotiation I’ve become familiar with, so that when you’re talking to your attorney (and your potential producer) you’ll have at least a little vocabulary to lean on.

Okay, so you’ve gotten an option offer, you’ve thought about the 10 things, and you still want to do it. Now it’s time to talk to your attorney, and make some decisions about the negotiation points. Your attorney is going to toss some notes back to you for consideration, and chances are these things are going to be included. (There’ll be lots more than this… from simple typos to wholesale rewrites. But these are the top contenders for “things I think you should know”.)

Ask your attorney to spend some time with you to explain what they mean in the context of your deal… but here’s my take, based on my experience.

DISCLAIMER: I shouldn’t have to say this, but: I Am Not A Lawyer, I am not offering legal advice, and none of the numbers used as examples here should be considered recommendations or as examples of my personal previous contracts (which are none of your beeswax ). They are provided as  hypothetical examples only. Talk to your own attorney about your particular deal.

PART TWO

Equity

This is a freebie. Either that, or this is really a list of 12 more things to think about. But I use the term “Equity Position” or “Equity Participant” frequently, and I want to make sure you know what that means before we really get started.

Equity (as defined by Wikipedia) is “the value of an ownership interest in property, including shareholders’ equity in a business”.

It means you’ve got an ownership stake in the property, and participate in its upside. When the property increases in value, your piece of it increases in value. You’re an investor.

And of course, should it be worth nothing (and many an indie film is worth just that), so then is your stake.

Your share of ownership in the property is generally defined as a percentage, or points, which brings us to:

1 – Percentage, Points and Net

This is a long one, so let’s get it out of the way.

You may be offered a percentage of “Net Profits”. Most people will tell you that this is worthless, and it may very well be (I’ve had a percentage of Net on all my options, and most of the features I’ve worked on in any other capacity, and so far I haven’t seen a dollar) for two reasons:

  • (1) Most films — especially small low-no budget indie films, never get finished. Of those that get finished, most never get distribution. Of those that get any kind of distribution, most genuinely don’t make a profit. So your percentage becomes a percentage of “zero”.
  • (2) Of those films that do make a profit, often some very creative bookkeeping takes place to make sure that “net profit” is never achieved (on paper), so again your percentage becomes a percentage of “zero”. (See below)

Some oversimplified round numbers: “Net” is the amount of profit that is left after “Cost” is recouped by the producer. If it costs 50K to make the film, and the film them “Grosses” 100K (in distribution deals, say) that’s a “Net” of 50K. Let’s say you negotiated 5 percent of Net. You get $2500. Simple, right?

Not so fast. What constitutes a “Cost”? The producer may claim other costs besides pre, production and post. There may be M&A (Marketing and Advertising) costs, film fest entries (maybe including her travel and lodging to attend said fests), and so on. You might even see “Producer’s Fees” (a professional fee the producer has set aside for herself to be paid as a “cost” before arriving at “Net”).

So make sure your attorney gets “Net” defined in your contract. You may not completely love the definition you get, but at least it’s non-negotiable. Should you NOT have it defined, it may became very nebulous indeed if the film catches lightning in a bottle and becomes “Paranormal Activity”.

So you arrive at a definition of “Net”, and you’re getting some piece of “Net”. What piece? Sometimes you’ll hear the term “Points” – as in, “we’ll give you 5 Points in the film”. It’s easy to think this means “Percent” (and it might) but it’s not uncommon for the overall Net profit to be split in two — half for the producer, half to be shared among investors and/or other equity participants (like you). That second half is divided into 100 “Points” (sometimes more). So your “5 Points” may really only be 5 Percent of 50 Percent, or 2.5 Percent, of Net.

Further, those Points may be assigned a dollar value… so as funding is being pursued, investors are sold Points at a fixed cost — say 5,000 per Point. Invest 20K, you get 4 Points. If that’s the case, a dollar value is being placed on your contribution  (if each Point is worth $100 and you’re getting three Points, that’s valuing your contribution at $300). Make sure the Point value matches the agreed value of your deferred pay – or at least, that you’re comfortable with the valuation.

Lastly, consider the order in which equity participants are paid out. Some agreements may have the cash investors paid back first, until they recoup some percentage of their investment (anywhere from <100% to 110% or more) before “Net” is arrived at. In other words, all the “hard costs” of the film get recouped, then as profits come in it all goes to cash investors until said threshold is hit, THEN other equity participants start getting their cut. Perhaps the “point structure” should mandate you get paid as a CASH investor… with the “first paid”.

Bottom line? You’re not likely to affect how “Net” is defined. But getting it defined in your contract, and then defining WHEN you get paid, sets all expectations, and gives you the power to protect your back end participation should the film ever turn a profit.

2 – Audit and Accounting Rights

Pretty much what it sounds like… particularly important when you’re an equity participant. You want to be able to (reasonably) request access to Accounting information for the purpose of an Audit. You may never need to exercise it (I hope you don’t) but should the “Net” seem mysteriously elusive, you’ll want these rights in writing.

3 – Box Office Bonus

A Box Office Bonus is just that… a bonus paid to you for good box office performance. Hey, if the movie does well, it’ll be in part because of your great script, right? So how does that work?

If the box office gross surpasses the budget of the film (and you’ll want to define what constitutes the “budget” too) you may receive a bonus. This can be a tiered structure as the box office reaches ever higher multiples of the budget. For example:

  • $10, 000 when box exceeds 2.5 x budget
  • another $10K when box exceeds 3 x budget
  • another $10K when box exceeds 3.5 x budget
  • a balloon $30K when box exceeds 4 x budget

4 – Set Up Bonus

Another opportunity for a bonus? Yup. You can negotiate a “Set Up” bonus, which pays you a happy little chunk of unexpected change when the project is “Set Up” with either a production or distribution entity.

How much? Think in the neighborhood of 3-5% of your purchase price.

5 – Writing Rights and Fees

Get paid for  more writing? Sign me up! See, what the producer is purchasing is rights to your script in whatever version/state it’s in when they optioned it. Once it’s optioned, you shouldn’t still be working on it, unless you’re getting paid for it.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. You want to be a team player, and if this is a low budget project, money might be tight. You may opt to forego fees for rewrites if it helps move the project toward production… imagine Angelina Jolie said she’d consider being attached, if her part were meatier. Are you gonna screw the pooch by demanding another 5K the producer can’t afford?

I didn’t think so.

But you do want to be the writer writing for Angelina, right?

So get first right of refusal on rewrites, polishes and sequels.

If you want to write for free, consider putting a limit on the number of unpaid revisions. Be generous if you like, but protect yourself.

Then, when it’s time for paid rewrites or polishes, you should still be first in line, and you should have a fee defined in the contract.

How much? Entirely dependent on the  budget and purchase price. Work it out with your attorney (have you heard me say that too much already?).

6 – Passive Payments

Like to get paid for not working? It could happen.

Imagine the option is exercised, and your script is bought. It goes to production, gets distribution, and sees enough success to warrant a sequel. If you’ve negotiated well, they have to give you first right of refusal to write that project.

But what if you don’t write the sequel? Maybe the notoriety of the original project has got you too busy with new assignments… or maybe they’ve done something terrible to your original concept and you don’t want to be associated with the sequel ;). Whatever the reason, if you’ve negotiated a Passive Payments clause into the sale of the original script, you’ll get paid for the sequel even if you pass on writing it.

How much? You might negotiate your contract to stipulate the fee for writing a sequel as negotiable, with a minimum at least equal to the purchase price of the original. Then, you can negotiate a Passive Payment of 30-50% of the fee you got for the original should you choose not to write the sequel. Make sense?

  • Purchase price: $50K
  • Write the sequel: Minimum $50K
  • Passive Payment (for not writing the sequel): $25K

Remember that any or all three of the above might include some back end participation as well.

Consider also negotiating what credits you might get on a sequel, should you choose not to write it.

7 – Ancillary Rights: What rights are you selling?

Bear in mind that the producer is going to ask for ALL rights… that’s what “all right, title, and interest wordwide and in perpetuity in and to the Property [your script]” means. That’s the right to make it, sell it, exploit and market it in any and all media “now known or hereafter devised”.

That’ll probably include “Ancillary Rights”… merchandising, commercial tie-ups, soundtrack. Happy Meals, action figures, posters and jewelry and Hot Topic paraphernalia.

Even the novelization or serialization of the story in a periodical.

Serious, right?

But there may be some rights you can hang on to. Work it out with the producer and your attorney, but I’ve had luck retaining:

  • Publication Rights (publish and distribute printed, audio and electronic versions of the Property in book form and magazines).
  • Stage Rights (perform the Property or an adaptation on the spoken stage provided no broadcast, telecast, recording, photography, etc is made).
  • Radio Rights (broadcast the Property by sound on radio).
  • Author Written Sequel (a literary property using one or more characters, participating in different events, in a plot substantially different).

The specifics of these might get complicated, and maybe they’re not of interest to you.

Consider then also ensuring you get get some equity position in all the subsequent merchandising and other exploitation of your script. That might be covered adequately in your back end percentage of producer’s net, but check in with your attorney.

8 – Reversion Rights

What if the producer exercises her option, buys your screenplay, then never makes it? Sure you got paid, but wouldn’t you like to see the film produced? And now it’s sitting on somebody’s shelf collecting dust, never to see the light of day. What if  you’d like to get it back and maybe find it a home where it’ll finally get shot?

That’s what Reversion Rights are. Some defined number of years after a purchase (3? 5?) the rights to the script can revert back to you.

But wait, you say… the producer paid for the script. Don’t you have to buy it back?

Nope… you can negotiate a “lien” on the script, which means that they’re paid back as a part of the budget that eventually gets raised for a future production, or out of its profits (as an equity participant), should you succeed in placing the script with another producer. Again, let your attorney work out the details. But consider asking for Reversion Rights if you can.

9 – Arbitration Clause

A basic part of any contract, this clause simply states that should the contract require arbitration, you and the producer agree to abide by arbitration rules of a given state. Usually the state in which the production entity is incorporated.

10 – Get yourself added to E&O Insurance

E & O (Errors and Omissions) Insurance is standard practice for all productions (or should be). It protects the production company from liability should they cause financial harm to another party by way of an error or an omission. So, you want to be protected as a member of the production from liability.

Imagine they screw up and use Toyotas in that big crash scene you wrote, without permission from Toyota, thus inferring that Toyota’s brakes and accelerators kill babies. Toyota takes them to the cleaners. You want that mess to roll downhill to your unprotected hiney? I don’t… so having your name added to the production’s E&O is smart protection.

11 – WGA and Credits Protection

I actually talked a lot about this in Part I but thought it bore repeating here. If you’re not WGA, how can you protect yourself from losing credits or rights to WGA writers who might come on board the project later for rewrites, polishes, etc?

Have it stipulated in the contract that, should the project fall under WGA jurisdiction, you should be deemed a “Professional Writer” and a “Participant Writer” as defined under WGA to determine writing and separated rights.

And while we’re talking credits…

  • Story By: You didn’t write the script, but created the source material (article, book, treatment, etc).
  • Written By: You wrote the script, and everything is original to you.
  • Screenplay By: You wrote the script, based on source material not original to you (article, book, treatment, etc).

And of course all of these can be shared among numerous individuals.

In the end…

Seems like a lot of stuff, right? It is. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Your attorney might recommend everything from how many copies of the DVD you get, to guaranteeing invites to any festivals the movie plays at, to negotiating first-class flights to the premiere. It’s up to you what to push for and what to let go, but I’ll leave you with this thought (and I’ve said it before):

Be a partner. Don’t cripple the deal, or the production (especially small productions), with unnecessary fees that might either paint you as a prima donna, or worse, keep good money from hitting the screen. When the time comes that you’re negotiating million dollar development deals, then you can play hardball if you must (I know I will. I love me some First Class).

I personally have tried to focus on a fair price, first rights of refusal for paid rewrites and sequels, and protecting my credits.

I hope you have every opportunity to huddle up with your attorney, and negotiate a fair contract that forges a real partnership with a great producer that turns into many more projects.

Till then, good luck. Check in and let us know about your success stories (or horror stories). And if you’ve got anything to add to the above (corrections welcome) hit me up in the comments section.

Good writing.

A few words 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.

 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Android Night Punch – With Commentary!!! - posted by Don

In November, I talked about Chris Salom’s film Android Night Punch. A lot of folks had various questions of Chris on how he and his team pulled off writing and filming the movie in three days. Now, your questions can be answered with Android Night Punch With Commentary!!! by Writer/Director Chris Shalom, Producer J.S. Johnson, and actors Simone Swan and Kieran McGreal.

Talk about it on the Discussion Board

Thursday, January 8, 2015

You’ve Finished the Damned Script – Now What? (Anthony Cawood Primers for a Networked World) – Part 4 - posted by wonkavite

Let’s see… where were we?

In our last article, we looked at various corners of the web where you could list and promote your scripts. These were mostly “passive” sites – i.e.: you post the script or logline, then wait for someone to show interest.

This time around we’ll reverse that trend… examining places that showcase Producers and Directors that are on the hunt for scripts. You’ll actively choose and chase down leads – taking the initiative. That requires more work, of course. But isn’t your script worth it?

A few rules and pointers before we begin:

  1. Always read any Ad thoroughly and make sure your work fits the requirements. There’s NO point sending a short comedy script if the ad’s for a horror feature.
  2. Provide a succinct Bio of your experience and achievements. Keep it brief, to the point, and review its relevance for each ad/opportunity you apply for.
  3. Unless otherwise requested, send loglines first. Make sure they really sizzle – and never send more than three for the same opportunity.
  4. If it’s a paid site, you need to make sure it’s going to provide you sufficient value for your money. Many have testimony pages from previous users and/or trial periods.
  5. Producers/Directors who are looking for scripts post their Ads all over the place. So you may find duplications – seeing the same ad on Mandy, then SSU or ISA.

I’ve tried many of these resources, and keep an eye on most regularly. But – in the spirit of full disclosure – I haven’t personally had success with them. OTHO: I’ve had many read requests, made a ton of good contacts, but not actually placed a script with them. Yet.

Mandywww.mandy.com

A site full of TV and Film production jobs. You can filter and tailor your searches as needed. It has RSS feeds too (more on that later.) Applying is done through the site itself, so you’ll need to register. But it’s free.

Stage 32www.stage32.com/find-jobs

I’ve mentioned this excellent resource before; a great community covering every aspect of filmmaking. They have job postings, too. All sorts of film and TV opportunities so use the filter liberally. Application is via the site itself. It’ll be easier if you’ve got your loglines and scripts already posted on the site. And – like Mandy – it’s free.

International Screenwriters’ Association – http://www.networkisa.org/writing-gigs.php

Another site I’ve touched on before. Like Stage 32, it has a specific jobs section where opportunities are listed. But these are exclusively writing ones. You’ll notice some of the Ads are greyed out. Those are the new ones, which require a subscription. BUT here’s a handy tip. The Ads become available to all after a few days. So unless you’re the early bird type, there’s no need to subscribe. Subscription to ISA is $10 a month, and covers a number of other services: access to a writer’s database, class and contest discounts. And earlier access listed jobs.

Shooting People – https://shootingpeople.org/production/work

A site dedicated to connect independent film makers (in the UK) and facilitating the creation of new films. It’s subscription only and is approximately £8 a month. The Ads on here seem to be exclusive to SP (more on that later) and are applied for within the site. I’ve subscribed to these for the last several months. I just wish there were more ads specific to screenwriting.

Screenwriting Staffing (aka SSU)http://www.screenwritingstaffing.com/home.html

This one’s a little different. It has two distinct services when it comes to screenwriting leads, as well as a whole host of info and services on their website.

  • Paid Leads – sent as an email approximately 5 times a week with 2-3 leads per email. With these, the Producer/Director has a budget to pay for the script. It’s all a part of their Premium service, which costs around $15 a month or $99 for an annual membership – though they often have seasonal discounts.

In addition to the Paid Leads emails, SSU Monthly Premium Membership allows writers to post loglines on the site. Their Annual Premium Membership gets you logline assistance, screenplay coverage, and PR/Marketing assistance.

Craigslist – http://www.craigslist.org/about/sites

The world’s largest free ads site. If you have something you want to buy, sell, rent, shill or give away, Craigslist’s the go-to place. A weird mess of everything – including ads for scripts and writers. CL isn’t the easiest place to navigate, so I’ve outlined the basics for you. Further down, I’ll explain how to make life a whole lot easier…

  • Click on the link above. Scroll down to the list of Cities (CL sites are classified geographically).
  • For the purpose of this example, scroll down to “California” and click on “Los Angeles”. (Places like New York and London are logical options, too.)
  • Below, you’ll find a page full of different categories of ads. Click on Writing/Editing in the Jobs section or Writing in the Gigs
  • That will give you a list of all the ads in that section. There are literally hundreds, only a few of which are screenwriting, so…
  • Use the search box – found on the top left of the page – to narrow the list down. I personally use ‘script’, ‘screenplay’ and ‘screenwriter’ as my search terms.

Voila, there you go! Of course, you could use this method on every city that Craigslist exists for. But with hundreds of sites, it would take ages to do it regularly. Wouldn’t it be nifty if there were a way to automate it? (Of course it would… but more on that later!)

* A quick word of warning to STS gentle readers: there have been concerns raised over Craigslist and sending scripts out to strangers posting there. I suggest you limit your responses to well written and professional looking ads. Send loglines only first, and make sure you’re comfortable with the original poster before going further and emailing your work.

Reddit, Produce My Script – http://www.reddit.com/r/producemyscript

Mentioned in our last article, this sub reddit allows you to post your scripts. But it also has Producers/Directors posting requests too.

Inktip – http://www.inktip.com/sa_preferred_newsletter.php

Inktip’s another site that works both ways. Not only can you post your script, but they have a weekly newsletter with leads. The service costs $60 for 4 months (half if you have a Feature script posted on the site, too.) There’s also a free newsletter that includes a couple of leads – different from the ones on the paid mailing, so make sure you subscribe to the free version, even if you pay. Since this portion of Inktip is geared towards Features, I’ve not personally used the service yet.

Indietalk – http://www.indietalk.com/forumdisplay.php?f=46

A great forum with loads of resources. The Jobs section isn’t very active, but worth an occasional check anyway.

Screenwriting Goldmine – http://www.screenwritinggoldmine.com/forum/forums/scripts-wanted.29/

Another site with a great forum and tons of useful info. It’s got a jobs section that’s a bit quiet, but worth a look.

Ideas tap – http://www.ideastap.com/opportunities/jobs

I’ve only recently discovered this UK centric site. It allows you to search for jobs in the entertainment/creative industries, including writing. It’s free (always a good thing!) and looks like a decent all around resource.

Filmandtvpro – http://www.filmandtvpro.com/

Another resource for finding jobs in film and TV. The site has separate pages for UK, Canada, USA etc. Access to unpaid job ads is free, paid job ads are based on a monthly fee of $15/£15. I’ve not tried this one as yet, and can’t provide additional comment.

Production Base – http://www.productionbase.co.uk/film-tv-jobs

Similar to Filmandtvpro but UK exclusive. It’s a paid subscription with three levels of cost, starting at £8. I’ve not used this one either, so I’m not sure how effective it is.

Earlier in this article, I mentioned how it’d be great to automate some of the querying process. (Searching can sap a lot out of you, and take away from writing time!) Sure enough, there are some tricks that tech savvy writers can use. I’d love to be able to take credit for the tip below, but I discovered how to do it via Ashley Scott Meyers and his excellent site Selling Your Screenplay (.com.) Follow the link below. It’ll take you to a video of Ashley demonstrating how to use a feed reader and add RSS fees to automate your Craigslist searches.

http://www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/videos/how-to-find-producers-who-are-looking-for-screenplays-and-how-to-quickly-send-out-screenplay-query-letters/

The tool I use is Feedreader (www.feedreader.com). I’ve included Mandy searches on mine as well. (You can add anything you like that has an RSS feed.)

More on Ashley’s site and podcast in future articles.

Hope all of this has been of help. If I’ve missed any resources, please reach out and let me know. I’ll include it in future articles!

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.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Congratulations to Pia Cook – Heart of Coal Optioned! - posted by wonkavite

Please join us in a hearty cheer to writer Pia Cook.  Her short script Heart of Coal has been optioned!

Not that this is any surprise: Born and raised in Sweden, Pia Cook has SEVERAL produced features and shorts to her name – full IMDB credits here. She started writing screenplays in 2006 and has written over sixty short screenplays and ten features. (Yeah… that’s not a typo. Six ZERO.) She also just recently optioned a feature length thriller (additional details TBD.)

And there’s plenty more where that came from.

Directors seeking their next project are urged to contact Pia at  Gatortales “AT” gmail, and check out another of her reviewed shorts here:

Fit (comedy): A “Biggest Loser” contest turns into a case of one-upmanship that gets wildly out of hand…

Monday, December 15, 2014

No BullScript Consulting – Danny Manus Script Review (Lowlife) - posted by wonkavite

In November, we reviewed Kosta Kondilopoulos’ Lowlife. 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 Lowlife. 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.

******

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

NO BULLSCRIPT ANALYSIS

 

Title:  Lowlife

Type of Material: Screenplay

Author:  Kosta K.

Number of Pages:  94

Submitted To:  Simply Scripts

Circa:  Present

Location:  Any City, USA

Genre: Thriller/Noir

Coverage Date:  12/1/14

Budget Range: Low-Medium

________________________________________________________________________

LOGLINE: Trying to protect his friend, a criminal is forced back into bed with a dirty cop and the Russian Mob after a job gone wrong but this time he may lose everything he has left.

COMMENTS:  Kosta, thank you for submitting your script, “Lowlife” 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.

Overall, this is a solid script and story, and a pretty fast and easy read. There are a couple strong action scenes, nice visuals, and you’ve crafted a likeable anti-hero that we root for even though we’re not sure why. The killer with a conscience story has worked many times before, and can certainly work again, but the story and tone needs to feel really original to stand out. And while this is a nice read, I think the biggest issue is the originality and making it truly stand out. Right now, I’m not sure what really makes Lowlife, and Ritchie’s character, seem much different than Ray Donovan on Showtime or films like Jack Reacher or Drive. In fact a couple scenes feel very similar to those films.

The script could use a stronger specific hook to it. I like the noir feel, but I would suggest going even more noir with it and that would make the voice seem even stronger. The writing is strong, but I think it could feel a bit more mysterious and suspenseful – a bit sleeker or sexier – and perhaps the scope of the story could feel a bit bigger. For me, the porn angle seems a bit comedic and it doesn’t seem important enough or dark enough for these mobsters, dirty cops, and killers to all turn on each other. One mobster gets the hotter girls for their videos, so the dirty cop wants him dead? It sounds a bit too petty for stone-cold killers and “business” men. It’s more original than drugs or weapons, but it adds a more comedic slant to the danger instead of a noir or action feel.

The twist or reveal that Pete is a Detective and the dirty cop they’ve been talking about, is unclear. We are never told when we meet him in Trent’s office that he is a cop, and we don’t even know it for sure when he is at Dimitri’s house after Gwen’s murder. We’re actually not told this until later in the second act, and I think this could be revealed and made clear much earlier in the script. On page 45, Nikki and Ritchie talk about “that cop” and on pg 46 Ritchie asks if she knows who “HE” is and she says “some dirty cop,” but we still don’t know for sure it’s PETE they are talking about until Pete says it on page 61. And Pete is never around any other cops, he’s never dressed as a cop, he’s never seen as a cop. I think it could be even creepier to see that character in his police uniform at some point, and it could make for a visual and more shocking reveal of whom he is.

Structurally, I think you have some wonderful turning points in the second act that keep the story going, first with Nikki killing Gwen and it being Pete who finds her phone and calls them; and then on page 71 when they get double-crossed at the party. Your midpoint is exciting, but the action scene with Mike, Franky and Rocco isn’t really connected to the story – it’s just a random fight sequence. But as far as “filler” scenes go, it’s a fun and exciting one.

I’m not sure where the first act actually ends though and the opening scene seems a bit muted and I’m not sure it’s totally necessary. You could start the script in the rain in the dark alley as the car pulls up. Without dialogue or interaction, I’m not sure what the opening scene with the sleeping girlfriend really gets you, or what it tells us. The threat Sammy makes against her only means something if we really feel a connection between them, and from the opening scene the blonde could be a wife, girlfriend, or just some one night stand he’s watching in the morning. The relationship could be defined a bit better in that first scene to show how important the girlfriend character is to Ritchie.

It’s unclear if the girlfriend is pregnant in the opening scene. Perhaps if you’re going to open with the girlfriend, showing her as pregnant and maybe seeing Richie touch her stomach or just look at it, without any dialogue in the scene still, would set up a much deeper and clearer connection. It would also set up a bit more of a clear time frame as we don’t know how long ago she gave birth, was killed, or when he killed Sammy. Plus setting up that she’s pregnant will make us wonder if it’s the baby in the hospital, or the girlfriend or someone totally different and make us wonder what happened to her. Then perhaps the dialogue in the hospital scene could be even stronger on page 4. Something like “Any update?” “Still fighting.”

We learn that the girlfriend died by being run over by a car – seemingly on purpose. Who was this blast from the past and was it the guy Ritchie killed? Hard to believe that Ritchie didn’t get vengeance for this “accident.” Or if there could be some greater connection between her death, the man responsible, and all the mob guys and killers he’s working for/with?

After the double-cross when Dimitri takes Ritchie and Nikki, the third act brings us plenty of fun action and revenge and is pretty non-stop to the end. I love how Nikki’s death seems to reignite the killer in Ritchie and make him realize that being a nice guy wasn’t getting him anywhere and everyone must die, save one – Heather the innocent porn star – to prove he only kills guilty people. And I really like your last beat where we think Ritchie might be leaving the bag of money in the Church but then last second realizes that’s not who he is and goes back and takes the bag back. I think that’s a great moment that nicely defines that Ritchie knows he has nothing left to live for, so he might as well be the person he has always been.

The one bit I didn’t quite understand or believe is why Ritchie would go to such lengths to destroy all the evidence and not get caught, but then wear bloody dirty clothes with evidence all over them to the hospital. As a professional killer who has cleaned up crime scenes before, this doesn’t sound like something he would do. He would probably throw his shirt into the fire at the cabin. I like that the cops let him go because they all hated the dirty Pete, though perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch since Ritchie did kill like 6 people. But if the cop told him that the reason is because exposing Pete and everything he was into would reverse dozens of cases, put criminals back on the street, and destroy the reputation of the police force – then there’s more of a rational reason to let Ritchie go.

Projects like these usually get made when a big enough actor wants to play the lead role. Anti-heroes have been a growing trend in TV and film, and those types of protagonists usually are attractive to actors because it allows them to play different layers and emotions. And Ritchie feels like he has SO much churning inside of him right under the surface, but very seldom does any of it come out. I like that Ritchie has something innocent driving him as motivation – his dying baby – and I like that he has a rough backstory that he’s been to prison for 5 years and refuses to go back. It gives him a bit more of a moral compass and shows that he has compassion and a fear, but I’m not sure what Ritchie’s goal is in the story.

He goes on these little jobs given to him by other people and he wants to clean up after Nikki to clear her from Gwen’s murder, but there’s no clear case or goal or THING that Ritchie needs to accomplish by the end except survive. I would think that with his deeper need of getting redemption or vengeance for what happened to his girlfriend and Sammy, and with everything that’s happened to him, he’d have his own personal mission but there isn’t one set up. And then that goal or mission would be ruined by what he has to do to save Nikki and by working with Pete again.

Ritchie’s connection with Nikki is likable and they have a nice chemistry, but we never get much depth or backstory about them. There is a line that intimates they possibly used to sleep together or date, but we never get any real information about them or their connection. She’s a likable character who brings energy and levity to the script, and her death is definitely the emotional strong point of the story – perhaps the one true emotional moment in the script for the audience. I kept waiting for her to pop up and still be alive.

However, she does sometimes feel like this little neurotic Chihuahua constantly yapping in Ritchie’s ear. She tells other people she’s not his girlfriend, she’s not his friend, and she’s not his partner. So what is she? Where did he find her? Why does he keep her around? I actually think it’s pretty funny that after being told by Mike that she’s about to get beaten and raped in front of her boyfriend, her only response is “he’s not my boyfriend.” It makes her seem like a tough girl, but we already know she’s not really because of what happened with Gwen and how freaked out she is.

It’s clear Ritchie has this history with Pete and this anger or guilt over what he did to Sammy in the opening scene because of Pete, but other than knowing they “used to run together,” we don’t know anything about Ritchie’s relationship with Sammy or why this affected him so greatly. Did he have to shoot his best friend? After Sammy, has Ritchie been searching for some sort of redemption? Because he’s still doing the same things he was doing when he killed Sammy, so I’m not sure exactly how he’s trying to change.

Overall, the dialogue is pretty strong. You have nice moments of levity, the description is sparse and clear and easy to visualize, and your characters do have personality that comes through their dialogue. I think the biggest note in terms of dialogue is that it doesn’t always feel as NOIR-ish as it could, especially in Ritchie’s voice. His cadence and the speed of his dialogue and his delivery should basically set the tone of the script. It’s a solid thriller, but to make it stand out, I think giving it more of a noir slant could help.

Just a few specific page notes –

Pg 36 – Typo – It should be BOBBY who says the line, “He doesn’t get through that door again” instead of Richie.

Pg 40 – Can cut the scene heading at bottom as it’s the same location she’s already in.

Pg 43 – We don’t know immediately that Dimitri is the husband, as we’ve never seen him before.

Pg 54 – This scene with the 3 against one (and even Ritchie’s line about it) is pretty reminiscent of the Jack Reacher scene outside the diner.

Pg 55 – “I’m the one who got the fucking brain facial” is a great line.

Overall, it’s an enjoyable and fast read with a castable lead character. It’s a perfectly serviceable script. I think the biggest issue is just making the story and tone stand out against so many other thrillers about killers with a conscience. Stick with it! Keep writing! And best of luck! Thanks again Kosta for submitting your script Lowlife” 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   X    
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, November 14, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – Goodbye Stranger (P.J. McNeill) - posted by wonkavite

A word from Wonkavite:

Folks, we hate to be the bearer of bad news.  But today – sadly – is the last regular posting for P.J. McNeill.  P.J. wrote to us a few weeks back, and expressed that he felt he’d said everything there was to say.  We at STS really, really hate to see him go – and fully expect to have him back for special articles time and again.  But the weekly column will be a thing of the past.  So… in light of this occasion, please join us in brewing one last cup of joe, and reading a few famous last words!!  :))

*********

Goodbye Stranger, It’s Been Nice

(aka: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish…)

So, I hate to say it, but this is the end of P.J. McNeill for awhile. When I started this, I made a list of things I wanted to discuss and stories I wanted to tell. And for the most part, I’ve told all the stories worth telling; at least pertaining to screenwriting. Sure, I have others, but they all fall under a common theme of things that have already been covered. For example, I’m sure I have more “I can’t believe I blew money on this” stories, but how many of those stories do you need to hear before you learn the moral on that one?

But seriously, if you take ONE THING away from my time writing these articles, let it be to look at your money-spending habits more carefully. Is that film festival really worth it? Do you really NEED to go to that workshop? Is 200 business cards too much? I can’t give a definitive answer on all of these; all I can say is to evaluate them with great care. You shouldn’t be spending more money than you’re making (at least after a certain number of years).

If this is your first time reading anything written by me or you’ve only caught a couple, I urge you to go back and take a look. I’ve covered everything from querying to development to internet trolls, and I think I’ve touched on things most other people don’t. I don’t want to call myself a pioneer or anything, so we’ll just rest on hero. Yeah, hero sounds nice.

I’ll pop on from time to time when I have something important to say, but for now, I’m hanging up my hat. Because honestly, if I kept going at this rate, this column would just devolve into a series of motivational articles. And there’s only so many ways to say “Never give up”, yet some people seem to make careers out of it. If you want motivational quotes, go to Twitter and search #SCREENWRITING. You’ll get a bunch. Here, I’ll do it right now.

Ah, here’s one:

Sometimes it’s the 5th or 6th draft before it starts to get good. Don’t stop. #indie #screenwriting

Boom. Motivated.

Now go write. Because if you’ve learned anything reading my ramblings, it’s that the writing is the easy part. The hard part comes the minute you type THE END.

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.

 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

STS Interviews – A heart to heart with Bob Thielke - posted by wonkavite

We at STS always go out of our way to bring our readers the best in screenwriting.  Ready for prime time shorts and feature scripts.  Articles by P.J. McNeill.  Coverage by none other than Danny Manus.  Then there are our interviews.

And, sometimes, we really score!

Folks, this is one of those times.  Recently, our very own Marnie Mitchell Lister sat down with Bob Thielke, a scriptwriter that’s not only written an adaptation of The Virginian (with Ron Perlman and Victoria Pratt), but also penned Lonesome Dove Church, starring Tom Berenger. Bob’s got a lot of experience to share… and he’s not afraid to do it here.

So, without further ado – here’s the interview. STS has reserved a front row seat…

**************

M: Hi Bob. Thanks for agreeing to answer some questions for us here at Simply Scripts.

B: Totally my pleasure, Marnie. I always enjoy talking to you.

M: I guess the best place to start is, when/how did you get into screenwriting?

B: Well, it all started with DUDE WHERE’S MY CAR. Actually it didn’t, but that’s what I like to tell people. Honestly, growing up I never had any grand design to write for a living, but I was always a very creative storyteller, at first mostly to my mom and dad to get out of trouble. Here and there I dabbled in writing short stories for my company newsletter and people seemed to find them funny. In 2004 I saw a story about this little venture Kevin Spacey was undertaking called Triggerstreet and it really interested me. I’d never thought about screenwriting because I figured not living in California, it’d be impossible. But with this new fangled internet, it seemed like that was no longer a barrier. Anyways, my new year’s resolution for 2005 was to write a screenplay and upload it onto Triggerstreet to see what would happen…and the rest, as they say is history.

M: Speaking of Triggerstreet, that’s where we met, way back when, over ten years ago. How important do you think sites like Triggerstreet and Simply Scripts are, as far as helping people become better writers? And, how did it help you?

B: Ten YEARS AGO!?! Maybe nine years ago, don’t try to make me feel old. Oh gosh, these types of sites are amazing for new writers. I learned so much by participating on Triggerstreet. From basics like formatting to some really subtle stuff like how to work scene transitions and how to create subtext in your dialogue. I’d truly recommend it for anyone who wants to really learn how to write. And it was great too, for making contacts, I’ve met writers, producers, actors, directors on that site. For several years, I referred to it as a modern day Chautauqua for moviemakers, where hungry, talented, and thoughtful people could gather and talk about film, review each other’s work, and really get better at the craft. I still have several friends from my days on Triggerstreet, like you Marnie, who continually push me to improve.

M: I hate to break it to you…you must be old because it’s definitely been ten years. For those of you who don’t know, Bob wrote an adaptation of The Virginian that was released on DVD in January 2014, which starred Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy) and Trace Adkins (The Lincoln Lawyer). How did it feel….watching a feature you wrote with actors like Perlman and Adkins speaking your lines?

B: Thanks for the plug, still available at Walmart and on Amazon. It felt…really odd watching it the first time. Thankfully the film followed the script at least 95% of the time, but every time something was different, it was like a needle screeching across a record player (think a CD skipping for those of you too young to remember vinyl). Naturally, I felt really proud and it was definitely a thrilling moment to hear your words in a film for the first time. It’s interesting, but I’ve only watched the movie twice. I enjoyed it much more the second time, because I could just watch the darn thing. The first time, I was also really apprehensive that it would stink. But it was a decent movie for a low budget western.

M: Well, we’ve watched it at least five times in my house. So, The Virginian has been adapted many times before. It was even a TV series. You obviously read the book, but did you watch any or all of the adaptations to make sure yours had an original spin? And how hard was it to come up with something fresh?

B: I specifically made a point not to watch anything else remotely associated with the Virginian. I didn’t want to subconsciously take anything from the previous versions. Ironically, the biggest complaint I ever heard about the film was that it wasn’t enough like the TV series. When I read the novel, it certainly had a certain feel that fit with 1905. I wanted to have it be relevant to our times in some way, so I was looking for ways to rework some of the story and character elements to make it more topical. For example, the way Native Americans were portrayed in the novel was definitely not in tune with today’s sensibilities. As it happens, I wrote this around the time of the OCCUPY movement so I changed some of the story elements around to reflect that type of civil unrest with the balance of wealth and how there’s this perception, or truth, that the powerful get to write the rules. Really, that’s a universal truth regardless of the time or the society. So that was my new take on the Virginian. It wasn’t really hard to come up with that new approach. A good writer has to keep their eyes and ears open to the human condition, regardless of the subject.

M: How many rewrites did it take before final approval? Were you asked to change anything after production started?

B: Seemed like about three major rewrites and lots of tweaks. I probably sent them ten different drafts. Most of those were to accommodate budget concerns. I had this really awesome Gatling gun versus dynamite fight that everyone loved, but alas it had to be taken out because apparently blowing stuff up is really expensive.

M: I remember that scene in one of your later drafts. It was pretty epic. Save it for your next Western since you seem to be bringing the genre back. So, after seeing the finished product, is there anything you’d do differently? What lessons did you learn?

B: Well, if I knew how important writing to a budget was I’d have made a more conscious effort to do that upfront, it might have saved me a couple of drafts. I learned a lot about how to collaborate with other people, and I also learned how important it is to write to your budget.

M: You have another feature scheduled to be released by Lions Gate, “Lonesome Dove Church”. This one is an original screenplay and stars Academy Award nominee, Tom Berenger. Pretty awesome I must say. I couldn’t help but notice, both of these films were produced by the Nassar brothers (Jack & Joseph), who have a pretty long list of produced features. How did you hook up with these guys?

B: We talked earlier about the contacts I made at Triggerstreet. Dan Benamor, who was their Head of Development at the time, read a script I wrote called PRINCIPLES OF BUOYANCY on Triggerstreet. The script is somewhat Advant Garde (French for “out there”), but apparently he enjoyed it quite a bit and asked me if I’d be interested in developing a western for them. It was a little bit of a risk because I only got paid if it went into production. A lot of people wouldn’t take that deal. But I figured I was already working for free, so the chance of a payout was worth it. Also the chance to do an adaptation was important for me, because it seems like that was where most writing assignments that turn into major films come about.

M: I have to comment on PRINCIPLES OF BUOYANCY. By far one of the most beautifully written screenplays I’ve ever read. And I’ve read lots. Back to “Lonesome Dove Church”. Is there anything you can tell us about this project? About the story and/or writing process?

B: I’m not sure what I can or can’t say. But it’s based on the founding of the actual Lonesome Dove Baptist Church in Grapevine, Texas. Writing this one was a dream. I was given some material to research about the founding of the church and then developed an outline of a story that was reviewed with a couple little changes. I developed the first draft off that and honestly, only had about two or three days of changes and that was the last I worked on it. Apparently the director made a few changes, but I don’t have any idea what they were or how they turned out.

M: Now, to help dispel some myths…do you have an agent or manager?

B: I sure don’t. I’d love to get a good one, so if anyone knows of one let me know!! I’ve had friends who’ve had agents or manager and they’ve grown frustrated with them because they weren’t bringing in work. I think they’d be helpful to get really good deals or for getting work on bigger projects, but as you can see you can still get work without one.

M: Do you live in California?

B: No, I live in Colorado where the grass is green and the girls are pretty.

M: Do you have a degree in screenwriting?

B: Sorry to say no so often, but no. I have a degree in Chemical Engineering which is about as diametrically opposed to screenwriting as you can get.

M: Have you won any major screenwriting contests?

B: I haven’t won any contests, but I have placed in the quarterfinals of Nicholls a couple of times and I have a couple quarterfinal scripts in the BlueCat and Big Break Semi Finals with my good friend David Muhlfelder on other projects.

M: There you have it kids. You don’t need any of those things to be a successful screenwriter! So Bob, what would your advice be to other aspiring screenwriters who hope to see their work on the big screen?

B: Don’t ever give up and don’t ever stop improving. If you give up, all those people that told you it was a foolish dream have won. Don’t ever give up.

M: Can you tell us what are you working on now? Or any completed works you’re currently peddling?

B: Well, as I mentioned, David Muhlfelder and I have finished a script that is a satire about all this second amendment and open carry nonsense going on in the news these days. We’re aiming for Paddy Chayefsky type satire, of course we’ll fall short, because that man was amazing. I can’t tell you the name of the current title because it has a bad word in it. We’re looking for a new title for it that will be able to be on movie posters. This one is being considered by a couple agencies and was just announced as a quarterfinalist in the Big Break Contest. I’m also writing a third feature for the Nassers, this one is set in the middle east and features Arabian horses. We’re closed to finished, but still have a ways to go before it goes into production. And last, but certainly not least, I talked this really hot Jersey babe into writing a psycho-sexual serial killer thriller with me. We’re still working on the outline, which I promise to get to you this week (oops, I let that slip).

M: What kind of movies do you like watching? What are some of your faves?

B: I love intriguing dramas and smart action movies. I love what Marvel Studios have been doing especially Guardians of the Galaxy. Because I have a teenage daughter who loves to read, we watch a lot of these movies based on them, like Hunger Games, The Giver, and Divergent. I mostly enjoy them, but I’m a little too old for some of those teen angst moments that come up. I’d love to love comedies, but I just don’t think there’s been that many funny ones lately. All time, my favorite movie is Godfather II with Groundhog Day close behind.

M: Okay. Last question. When do you think you’ll put a photo on your IMDb page? I mean, you have two big writing credits up there. Are you trying to be mysterious, humble? What gives?

B: I’m too ugly for IMDb.

M: LOL. Not at all true. Thank you for your time, my friend. The link to Bob’s IMDb page, minus his ugly mug:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5631171/

ALL ABOUT BOB:

Bob Thielke penned “The Virginian”, released in January 2014, an adaption of the novel of the same name by Owen Wister. This gritty western stars country music superstar, Trace Adkins and screen legend, Ron Perlman. Bob also wrote “Lonesome Dove Church”, scheduled for release later in 2014 by Lionsgate. It stars Oscar nominee Tom Berenger and up-and-comer Greyston Holt. Bob is currently working on several projects including a family adventure script involving Arabian horses set in the early 20th century. In addition to his produced credits, Bob has completed fourteen original scripts ranging from comedies to epic historical dramas. Two of his original scripts have recently been optioned – “Trinity”, a biopic of the controversial father of the atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer and “Frat Boys from Outer Space”, a farcical look at Greek life through the eyes of two happy-go-lucky aliens. Bob has also been a multiple quarterfinalist in the prestigious Nichols screenplay competition with a screenplay entitled “Principles of Buoyancy”, about a man stranded behind the Berlin Wall who discovers the only way back to his beloved is by doing the one thing he’s good at – being a clown.

When Bob is not screenwriting, he works at his day job as a Nuclear Waste Facility Inspector for a federal government contractor. Bob’s choice in career has given him the opportunity to travel all over the country and get to know individuals from all walks of life, colorful characters that give him rich material to work with in developing his own characters. Raised in Denver, Colorado, Bob continues to live there with his wife and two creative teenage daughters.​

ABOUT MARNIE:

Having completed 9 features and 60+ shorts, Marnie Mitchell-Lister has no plans on stopping. With awards getting bigger and opportunities getting better, she’s in it for the long haul. Projects Marnie is currently working on range from a family animated feature, to a psychological thriller about a serial killer to a TV pilot about a bored housewife whose quest for excitement gets her in all sorts of trouble. Some of Marnie’s work can be found on her website: BrainFluffs.com.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – “Will You Read My Script?” (P.J. McNeill) - posted by wonkavite

“Will you read my script?”

A few years back, Josh Olson, the screenwriter of A History of Violence, wrote a scathing piece for the Village Voice titled “I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script”. It was a complex piece with a subtle thesis: I will not read your fucking script. Needless to say, it made waves within the screenwriting community and generated a lot of discussion. Some people thought Olson was a dick (::raises hand::) and some people thought the guy had a point. To be more specific, I did think he had a point, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was being a dick doing it.

What the article failed to acknowledge is that, as budding young screenwriters, there is A LOT of pressure put on us to hustle our scripts. When I first moved out to Los Angeles, I immediately gained a connection to a VERY successful screenwriter. I used that connection simply to chat the guy up, ask a few questions and enjoy the rare chance to talk to a professional writer. Later on, I had coffee with a young producer, who chastised me for not pushing my latest script on him. I told her that I didn’t think it was right to push my script on such a tenuous connection, but she pushed and argued to the point where I came around to the idea. That night, I contacted the screenwriter and asked him if he would read my script. I never heard back. I immediately felt very stupid for doing it, and to this day, regret severing that connection with such a request. I acted as if the guy owed me something…as if I was the ONLY person who had ever met him, and then – within a week – asked him to read something. I treated him like an opportunity, not a person.

It doesn’t help that this is how it’s done. In my very first blog post, I wrote about a guy I knew who gave his script to someone and then watched it get passed around like wildfire, only to end up in the hands of a Sony executive, who then bought it. When you hear a story like this, you can’t help but want to share it with everyone you see. Any person could be your big break. And really, what other option do we have? We have connections or we have cold calling/querying.

I think the problem is two-fold, and it’s on both sides of the equation. First, the person you’re giving the script to: odds are they’re a professional, and doing much better than you. They’re most likely so far gone from the time when they were an amateur, that they don’t remember what it’s like. And most importantly: they don’t HAVE to remember. That part is over for them. Also, a lot of them develop a kind of “I had to claw my way to the top, so you do too” kind of attitude. They forget that, in almost every case, their success was probably achieved by someone doing them a favor. But like I said, they don’t have to think about that anymore.

The other side of the equation is you. The obvious part of your side of the equation is that you probably don’t realize just how many people ask them to read their screenplays. The not so obvious part of the equation is the dream. What is the dream? It’s that nagging little feeling in the back of your head that this – will – be – it. You’re going to give them your screenplay, and they’re going to like it so much, they’re going to pass it to their agent, a producer, an executive, whoever. You may give it to them under the guise that you want “feedback” or you “just want to know what they think of it”, but we all know what you really want. I’ve done it too. You want praise. You want success. You don’t want to hear what’s wrong with it. I’ve had many people ask me to read their screenplays under this guise, and get REALLY PISSED (or break off communication entirely) when I’m mildly critical of it. So you – the screenwriter – must come to terms with what you’re asking for. Because the person you’re giving it to sure as hell knows.

Giving your screenplay to people is a MUST in this industry. It has to be done. But like I’ve always said, it’s better if you treat the person you’re giving it to AS A PERSON, not an opportunity. Be real with them. Don’t hide your intentions under something you don’t really want. And most importantly, if you see Josh Olson, ask him to read your screenplay. Because seriously, fuck that guy.

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.

 

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