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Friday, May 8, 2015

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

You’ve Finished the Damned Script – Now What?

(Anthony Cawood Primers for a Networked World)

Part 6: Options, Sales and Production

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

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

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

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

Sales and Options

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For me, the essential elements are these:

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

Pre-production Frustration

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-production

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

Right?

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

Post-production.

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

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

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

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

Thank God – The Damned Thing’s Filmed!

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

Right?

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

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

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

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

So focus on the positives!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 24, 2015

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

You’ve Finished the Damned Script – Now What?

(Anthony Cawood Primers for a Networked World)

Part 5: Competitions

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

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

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

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

Let’s consider these motives, one by one.

1) Obtaining an Agent, Manager or Producer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Get coverage

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

3) Win something

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

4) Award winning screenwriter bragging rights

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

5) All the above (or any combination)

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

Researching Competitions and Lists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Why Your Screenplay is NOT What Defines the Movie it Becomes – Repost from CHIPSTREET - posted by wonkavite

Why Your Screenplay is NOT What Defines the Movie it Becomes

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

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

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

*******

Why your screenplay is not what defines the movie

Here’s one example of how the best stuff that appears on screen can have nothing to do with what’s in your screenplay… and why that’s great.

Filmmaking is a collaborative art form.

New screenwriters hear that truth often, but until you’ve spent time on set watching the process, you don’t get it. You really don’t.

Newbie screenwriters are convinced that it’s their job to provide every parenthetical direction (mad) (happy) (confused) and every stage direction (he points, he smiles, he nods) the story needs.

And that’s fine (to a degree)… you have to paint a picture for the reader, or it’ll never get to production.

But the mistake is in believing that the screenplay will remain the blueprint for the director and the crew to faithfully reproduce the vision the writer had in their head. That it’s your unique vision, the movie you see in your writer’s brain, down to every sadly happy pointing nod, that everyone is dedicated to creating.

Those naive young screenwriters are incredulous, if not offended, when they’re told that their screenplay will be changed, edited, enhanced, and improved by everyone from the director to the lighting guy in ways they can’t even imagine… and over which they will have no control.

What really happens

In reality, something magic happens on set … it’s an intense group enterprise driven by a motley crew of creatives and journeymen, who are under the gun of insane deadlines, unpredictable circumstance, weather and egos.

They all want to put their creative mark on the project, and they all want to do their best work. They all contribute to the quality of the story, to the characters, and to creating special moments on screen that were never imagined by the writer.

A simple example

I worked as art director on the film Fat Rose and Squeaky, and there was a scene where Bonnie (Louise Fletcher) takes off with her two troublemaker buddies in her classic ’57 Chevy.

The script said that the three women got in the car, where Bonnie opened the glove box, and retrieved a pack of cigarettes.

I learned from my mentor Brian Sharp that when breaking down the scene as art director, it’s my job to think beyond the literal script and give the director, and the actors, choices. So when I got to this scene, I had to imagine “what else would be in the glove box of an 80 year old woman’s car?” See, if she opens the glove box and the only thing in there is — conveniently — the cigarettes the scene calls for, they’re obviously a prop.

So I got a pack of cigarettes. A cool vintage Zippo lighter and matchbooks. A poorly folded map. Black Jack gum. A couple of those little travel sized packages of Kleenex. Hard candies. Ladies driving gloves. And five pairs of old classic sunglasses.

I thought it would be funny to have a crapload of old lady stuff spill out when she opens the glove box so she has to rifle through it to find her smokes (knowing of course that that’s not my call… I’m giving the director options… he makes the final decision.)

(As an aside, on the day of shooting the car showed up and as the scene was coming up shortly, I ran out to dress the car, only to find that it had no glove box… the door was there, but there was no box inside. Just an empty space inside the dash open to the floor. I had 20 minutes and a sheet of black foam core to build a glove box and install it for the shot.)

What finally happened

When the actors (Louise, Lea DeLaria, and Julie Brown) ran a rehearsal, they found all those funky sunglasses, and started riffing with each other, trying on the different pairs. It quickly developed into a “bit”, where they simultaneously donned the glasses and struck a pose. The director loved it, and once it was shot and set to music, it became a “trailer moment”.

That was magic. And it wasn’t on the page.

It happened because everyone contributed to the creative alchemy of filmmaking.

The art department thought beyond the page, and provided the director and actors with fun choices.

The actors did what they do best, and imagined what their quirky characters could do with those choices.

The director recognized the actors’ genius, and gave them the room to do their thing.

And the editor and composer folded it all into the finished product in a way that created a “moment” that defined the characters, added humor, and frankly helped sell the film.

What I’ve learned

Being on set is invaluable for understanding what it takes to get from page to screen. As a screenwriter, I worry less now about the choice of just the right prose nuance, and focus instead on making the story flow, and creating characters and moments that are ripe for others to capitalize on.

And I find myself able to let go of the minutiae of blocking, and stage direction, and parentheticals, and trust in the director and actors to make the right choices, choices I might not even consider, to bring the scene to life.

I’ve watched dialogue get rewritten on set, the finale of a film get rewritten during lunch break, entire scenes cut for lack of time, characters cut for lack of space on set, and all kinds of new funny, drama, or scary added by improvisation.

If you’re a screenwriter, and you haven’t spent time on a working set, find a way. Not in the capacity of screenwriter… I promise you there are student and indie productions in your neighborhood that would love an extra pair of hands to carry heavy things, fetch coffee, or distribute sides.

While you’re there, observe. Learn. Get a look at the script, and watch how it evolves.

You’ll have a greater appreciation for all the work that goes into making movies after the screenplay is done.

Footnote:

I got involved in production to understand the process, so I could do a better job as a screenwriter giving everyone what they need.

Since then I’ve worked on 11 features, 9 shorts, and 2 TV series in some capacity, as a writer, director, producer, art director, prop builder, or storyboard artist. I’ve had a chance to observe micro-budget and multi-million dollar projects (all at the indie level — admittedly no studio projects). And I love what happens on set.

BTW, if you’re a writer-director, you may have more control over translating your screenplay to the screen. If your screenplay is your personal magnum opus, and you’ll die a sad hollow death if it isn’t faithfully reproduced, then produce and direct it yourself. And more power to you.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

How the Crazy Lady at CVS Can Help Write Character and Dialogue – Repost from CHIPSTREET - posted by wonkavite

How the Crazy Lady at CVS Can Help Write Character and Dialogue

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)

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.

*******

Originally Posted on June 24, 2011 by Chip Street

People watching may be the best way to hone those sub-textual writing skills.

So I was standing in CVS looking for a father’s day card for my son (note to self: There are no father’s day cards from dad to son-who-is-a-dad) and of course I wasn’t the only person who’d put it off perilously late.

To my right, a woman and her teen daughter scanning the rows of leftovers.

Enter screen right: A third woman, tension radiating from her clenched up little form like heat waves on a hot tarmac.

She ingratiated her way between the mom and daughter team, in that way that Obi Wan assured the Storm Trooper that these were not the droids he was looking for, by standing behind them making furtive little half-steps toward the space-between-that-was-not-large-enough-for-her, audibly huffing little puffs of what I was sure must be steam from between her pursed lips, until they realized that they must part for her just to get some of the sticky tension she was exuding off their person. She never said “excuse me”. She never addressed them directly. She just “made them want to step aside”.

Then she spoke. “Bobby. Suzy. Come here.”

No one came.

“Bobby, Suzy, now.”

Still no one came.

“Bobby, Suzy, come here now! Over here! Agh!”

I looked to my left, and there were two sweet kids I assumed were Bobby and Suzy, calmly looking through a row of “Father’s Day for Grampas” cards, guided by a man I assumed was Bobby and Suzy’s father. He pointed out options, the kids read (or looked at pictures at least).

“Grk! Come here, now! Bobby! Suzy!”

She stomped over to them, and I half expected her to grab both their wrists and drag them back to the (now very uncomfortable) mom and daughter duo. “Will you come here?”

Finally dad replied. “They’re looking here.

She tried to melt his face with eyes that, in another universe, would have been two lumps of burning brimstone. “The Grampa cards are down there,” she hissed.

Dad didn’t say anything. He just indicated the section the kids were already rummaging through. It said “Father’s Day for Grampa”.

She seemed to shrink, just a little. “Oh.”

I thought that was it. Tension defused. “I didn’t know,” she fumed. Then: “Well, hurry up.”

Dad exhaled. Inside, I knew, he had just counted to ten. “They’re looking.”

“Just hurry up! Pick one!” She paced. She paced uncomfortably close to their backs. She made those same little half-steps, from one end of her tiny invisible cage to the other. I think her knuckles were white.

Apparently, they didn’t move quickly enough. She huffed again. “God! Will you just hurry? Never mind. Forget it. I can’t stand this. I’m going outside.”

Dad turned, and put a hand on her shoulder. He kind of guided her away a step. “Just calm down, will you? Wait over here.”

“No!” She stamped back to position one. Mom and daughter had beat feet. She had her section to herself. I’m not sure why the cards didn’t burst into flame.

Dad saw the kids hadn’t found what they were looking for, and crossed behind me, guiding them gently toward mom. I don’t know how much pushing he had to do.

I’ve never been so tempted to stop someone and say “Is she always like that?” Or “You’re a saint.” Or, to her, “Do you have any idea how fucking unpleasant you are?”

But I didn’t. Because, of course, I don’t know if he’s a saint. I don’t know what came before the drugstore. I don’t know her relationship with the Grampa, how late they were to get somewhere else, or what hellions the kids had been in the car. None of which, of course, should excuse her terrible behavior. But all of which, very possibly, very likely, informed it.

What I did know was, in all likelihood, this exchange was not at all about the cards.

And therein lies the point.

It’s the subtext, stupid

Most arguments, and many conversations, are not really about the subject at hand. That’s what subtext is all about. Writing dialogue that in fact reflects the true nature of the dynamic between characters is “on the nose”. It is “exposition”. It is (almost without fail) suboptimal.

In the first Write Club Challenge, script analyst John Rainey stated that “Rarely do characters say what their objective is. They speak around it in an effort to persuade the other character to give him/her what he/she wants. A guy on a date would never say ‘Let’s go to my place and have sex.’ … To say that would be ‘on-the-nose.’” (read more of John Rainey’s screenwriting advice here…)

We don’t know what the crazy lady at CVS was really angry about. She didn’t tell us.

It’s possible they were running late, but she never said “We’re going to miss dinner at Grampa’s if you don’t hurry and pick out a card.”

It’s possible she hates Grampa, but she never said “I don’t know why we’re wasting money on an emotionally abusive old man who never gave me a birthday card my whole life.”

Real people, at least the interesting ones, don’t do that. They talk around the problem. They project their anger elsewhere, perhaps (usually) inappropriately. They often don’t even know themselves what they’re actually angry about.

They don’t explain their anger. They are just angry.

This scene, with this woman, was fascinating in its intensity, its impropriety, its inference that there was much more to the story to learn. More than I would probably ever know. And, it was fascinating in its organic realism.

As writers, it’s our job to hone our observation skills, to people-watch, to make mental notes, to become keen spectators of human communication … and to see the truth of just how imprecise, and woefully inadequate, it really is.

As writers, it’s our job to know what’s going on in the character’s mind (even if they don’t); to know how much the character does know; to know what the character wants out of the scene (or the scene needs out of the character); and then to find ways for the character to express what they want without ever letting them say what they want.

In a perfect world.

Are you doing enough people-watching? Has it made you a better writer?

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.

 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

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

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.

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.

******

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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 P. J. McNeill

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.

 

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