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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Interviews – A heart to heart with Bob Thielke - post author Anthony Cawood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M: Do you live in California?

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

M: Do you have a degree in screenwriting?

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

M: Have you won any major screenwriting contests?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B: I’m too ugly for IMDb.

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

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

ALL ABOUT BOB:

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

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

ABOUT MARNIE:

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

Friday, October 31, 2014

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

“Will you read my script?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

You’ve Finished the Damned Script – Now What? (Anthony Cawood Primers for a Networked World) – Part 3 - post author Anthony Cawood

A writer’s work is never done. Let’s see, where were we? Oh – that’s right. Marketing you and – most importantly – your SCRIPTS.

You got yourself an online presence. TICK.

You’ve used some of the handy sites we mentioned last time to garner feedback, and improve upon perfection. TICK.

So – here you stand (or more likely sit): armed with a finished, polished script. But now who’s going to make it? And how will they learn of its existence?

Well, our third article is here to help you out – providing you, the writer, with a host of sites and services especially geared to get your script out there. To be seen – and hopefully filmed. After all, that’s what we’re writing them for!

Isn’t it?

A few tips before we dive in.

  • On Forums and Message Boards, make sure you follow their rules and post in the right place. Nothing’s more offensive than a writer who barges in, and doesn’t bother to get the “lay of the land.”
  • Keep posts short and sweet – and watch them for responses.
  • As part of the “getting to know you process”, mention any achievements you may have. EG: My script won XXX award was filmed by John Doe Director in 2014. You know, that sort of thing.
  • Post your logline, and make it zing. After all, it’s the first thing a reader will react to.
  • Link to your website or IMDB page etc. That gives people a chance to check out your work.
  • Please note: I personally specialize in shorts, so the resources listed may be biased that way. But I’ve mentioned sites that focus on Features, too.

*Speaking of “getting to know you”, I’ve included in these listings the number of short scripts I’ve managed to option/sell/get made from the various sites. Just so you can get a sense of how active and successful they could be for you.

So onto the resources. And what better place to start, than …

Simply Scripts (SS)http://www.simplyscripts.com/submit_your_script_new.html

Submit a logline and your script. When you do, it’ll appear in two places.

The Discussion Board – lots of screenwriters frequent SS. It’s here that they’ll take a look at your work, and offer you their thoughts. These are great free reads. Perfect to use for your next revision.

Unproduced Scripts – A round up of all scripts submitted in the previous week.

TC Note: Your script will also be findable via the sites’ search engine, various genre links and (potentially) through SS’s ‘Random Short Script of the Day’.

Simply Scriptshttp://www.simplyscripts.com/category/scripts-available-for-production/

Between SS and STS I’ve had 3 scripts sold/optioned so far.

Inktip http://www.inktip.com/

Inktip is primarily for indie, lowish budget Features. From what I’ve heard it’s got a pretty decent track record of connecting screenwriters with producers and getting things made. They also provide a host of other services including script tracking, an online magazine, a competition portal and a whole lot more. Some things are paid for, others free.

To date, I’ve gotten five shorts sold/optioned through Inktips. Submit your short for free via http://www.inktip.com/sa_short_script_listing.php

Blacklisthttp://www.blcklst.com/

A site definitely geared for the Feature screenwriter. My experience of it is non-existent, but some writers have had success. Blacklist takes the approach of evaluating and scoring scripts by at least two of their readers (the site’s reader evaluations are paid for by the individual writer. Any resulting industry reviews are free.) This allows prospective film makers to get an opinion of a script in advance – though some writers have taken issue with evaluations and scores.

Reddit, Produce my scripthttp://www.reddit.com/r/producemyscript

There’s a forum for everything you could ever think of on Reddit, and that includes Screenwriting. The ‘Produce my Script’ forum has been set up to connect writers with filmmakers. The filmmaking side tends to be students and gifted amateurs. But give it a try. You never know where the next Tarantino will emerge from. I’ve had three successes here thus far.

WinningScriptshttp://www.moviebytes.com/ws/

Sister site to MovieBytes (Great competition portal). WinningScripts offers writers a great opportunity to get their scripts listed and seen by industry professionals. One can list an unlimited number of scripts on the site for a modest annual fee (currently $29.95). Included in that is a logline, synopsis and script excerpt. Interested film makers can contact you to request full scripts. There’s also a Top 10 section based on scripts that have won or placed in competitions. I’ve not had a script success from here yet, but I remain optimistic.

Stage 32http://www.stage32.com/

A great online community for all aspects of film making. Once you’ve joined, you can upload loglines. People can check them out and contact you if interested. I’ve had two shorts optioned by other Stage 32 members to date.

International Screenwriter’s Association (ISA)http://www.networkisa.org/

Upload your script’s logline and other details, which are visible via the site’s database. The site also has a ‘Jobs’ section – more on that in the next article. I haven’t had any success with this site as yet, but I have had a few read requests.

Script Boutiquehttp://www.scriptboutique.co.uk/

A relative newcomer from the UK. It’s similar to Inktip in that as you can list your logline and synopsis for viewing. Script Boutique is free for screenwriters from all round the world. No successes so far, but it’s a new site which will probably grow over time.

There are also some other sites/forums that I regularly post on. No luck with these so far… but then again, you never know! 😉

Screenwriter’s Market http://bproducersseekingscreenplays.runboard.com/f2

Indietalkhttp://www.indietalk.com/forum.php

Student Filmshttp://www.studentfilms.com/

Done Deal Prohttp://messageboard.donedealpro.com/boards/index.php

Screenwriting Goldminehttp://www.screenwritinggoldmine.com/forum/

Film Maker Forumhttp://www.filmmakerforum.org/script-marketplace/

Happy writing to the STS community. And until next article – get those damned scripts out there!!

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

Friday, October 10, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – Don’t Feed the Trolls (P.J. McNeill) - post author P. J. McNeill

Don’t Feed the Trolls

If you’ve ever joined a message board, read the comments on a YouTube video, or really just used any form of social media, odds are you’ve met a troll. Trolls are people who pick fights just for the sake of picking fights. Someone who’s just living in a bubble of constant negativity. You will never win with a troll. It usually ends up being a waiting game to see if the troll will get deleted or banned. And it’s not usually personal because they don’t know you, and the best they can do is hurl vague (yet vulgar) insults.

It’s different with screenwriting. If you’re a screenwriter, and you make your work public (which you most likely will), they’re going to attack your work; which will, at times, feel like an attack on YOU. But then again, some trolls will make it about you to try and get under your skin. They won’t just attack the work, they’ll attack the writing: “You are a bad writer. You are not funny”.

The odd thing about screenwriting trolls is that a lot of them claim to be “just helping”. “Hey man, I’m just trying to help!” you’ll hear them say in defense. And that makes the most sense, right? You always belittle and mock the people you’re trying to help. That’s what makes helping so much fun! Whenever I give to the homeless, I always like to think of a few zingers before I toss a quarter in their can.

The truth is, they’re not helping. Trolls are an infestation of almost every place they inhabit. I’ve seen good message boards turn to shit because a couple trolls hang around, attacking everyone (especially new members). It’s always awful to see a young, new writer post their work, only to be torn apart by a troll. “Hey man, this is how it is out there! Those Hollywood producers aren’t going to coddle you, so why should I?” Oh, shut the hell up. You are not a Hollywood producer. You’re a failing, bitter writer who has to take out their frustrations on the world.

So what can you do to deal with trolls? Well, let’s start with what you shouldn’t do: 1) Don’t yell at the troll. It’ll feel good when you’re typing it out, but it won’t have the impact you’re going for. Remember: you can’t win. Whatever you type will just bounce right off the troll and be fodder for their next response. 2) Don’t try to reason with the troll. Trolls have no reason. They will talk past you, not to you.

So what should you do? 1) Ignore the troll. I really wish more people would do this. Just don’t engage, period. The troll wants attention. If you deny them attention, they will wither and die. Or log off. Either or. 2) Kill them with kindness. Remember the movie Ernest Scared Stupid about a group of trolls that attack a small town and they can only be stopped by Ernest P. Worrell? Of course you do, it’s a classic! Anyway, Ernest figures out that the way to stop them (SPOILER ALERT) is with love. Awwwww. At the end, Ernest grabs the head troll and gives him a big sloppy kiss on the mouth. He disappears and the town is saved. Consider doing this (sans the kissing) with trolls on the internet. I once had a troll attack one of my shorts. It was quite clear from his rant that he had not actually watched the entire short. I was upset, but I responded by thanking him for watching it and saying I was sorry it wasn’t to his liking. To my surprise, 10 minutes later the troll wrote back saying he felt bad, went back, watched the whole short, and loved it. But that is the ONLY time that has happened to me. 9 times out of 10, it’s better to just ignore them.

So, to recap: if you see a troll, just ignore them. If you are a troll, feel free to leave some of that classic troll vitriol in the comments section below. I’m fairly certain if a troll trolls an article about trolling, it would be so meta it would cause the internet to explode. Sure, we’d be out an internet in the process, but we would also never have to listen to you again.

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

 

 

Monday, October 6, 2014

No BullScript Consulting – Danny Manus Script Review (Memories) - post author wonkavite

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

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

Below, please find Danny’s notes/coverage for Memories. 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-Web-Banner-160x85-Final

NO BULLSCRIPT ANALYSIS

 

Title:   Memories

Type of Material: Screenplay

Author:  Marnie Mitchell-Lister

Number of Pages: 98

Submitted To: Simply Scripts

Circa: Present

Location: NJ/TX/Memphis/Grand Canyon

Genre:  Dramedy/Road Trip

Coverage Date:  10/1/14

Budget Range:  Low

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

The family road trip movie has been a tried and true successful genre in film for years. From National Lampoons Vacation to Little Miss Sunshine, The Guilt Trip to Road Trip, RV to We’re the Millers. And I think overall, your script follows in their quirky tradition but with an interesting twist. There is nothing worse than being trapped in a Winnebago with your parents – except perhaps being trapped in a Winnebago with your divorced parents, your dad’s new yoga-loving girlfriend, her spiritualistic protective father, your eccentric grandfather, and his white trash crooning love toy…all while suffering from amnesia. It’s certainly a strong recipe for comedy and conflict, and I think you deliver both. It’s kind of Little Miss Sunshine meets The Ref but with amnesia and yoga.

It’s a nicely written, quirky, low budget, character-driven dramedy/road movie that tackles a few important themes including the importance of family, the timely message of living in the moment instead of trying to capture it in a photo, and the importance of self-discovery and moving on. And while I think you do a nice job of bringing these themes out through your character arcs and plot, I do think it becomes a bit heavy-handed in the third act. For me, the symbolism is laid on a bit too thick and a bit too often.

Road trip movies are often comprised of a series of set piece scenes in interesting locations where at each stop, an action occurs that helps advance the character arcs and builds towards a reveal, a lesson, or a major payoff. And I think Memories fits that mold quite well while still having its own original hooks to it.

Since this is a character-driven dramedy, the success of the script really comes down to your characters, their dynamics and dialogue. I think you do a nice job of giving most of them their own distinct personalities and voice and originality, which is great, however I’m not sure that most of your characters (other than the surprisingly grounded Sierra and the very ungrounded Jake) are that likable. And I think that while some of their dynamics are strong, we don’t really find out the reason behind those dynamics.

Abby is our protagonist, though she’s actually also the antagonist to the rest of this family. She falls more under the basket case archetype, like the ladies in First Wives Club or Cate Blanchette in Blue Jasmine. She kind of vacillates between being pity-able and being delusional, but neither of these really make her likable. I will say that I grew to like your characters by the middle of the second act, but it took me a while to invest in Abby or care because she seems pretty obnoxious, overbearing, in denial, and sometimes delusional. It’s not completely clear she and Mack are actually divorced (as opposed to separated), and we don’t know for how long they’ve been separated or what actually caused his heart attack and if that was the catalyst for him leaving her, if she caused it, or if it happened after the divorce? Also, it’s not so much Abby’s goal to get Mack back as it is her belief he’s already COMING back. The steps she finds and takes to win back her ex are OK, but it doesn’t really come into play until the end of your second act.

A small note, but I don’t really understand why Mack calls Abby “the strongest woman I have ever known” on page 12 – this doesn’t seem to be true, but it also doesn’t seem to be something he’d say. Certainly not to her.

While I do like that the story is about Abby’s road to self-discovery and realizing how she needs to change and move on in order to move forward and forge the relationship she wants with her daughter, and that makes for a very strong character arc, I think there’s also a version of this story where Julianna is actually the protagonist and she has to try to remember her life while forced on a road trip with her whole family that she doesn’t even remember.

Mack is certainly introduced as the more likable parent and character, and we do see a couple flashbacks through his POV even though he is not the protagonist. However, unlike Abby who becomes more relatable and likable as we go on, Mack has a period in the second act where he becomes very spiteful and unlikable and shows some of his true colors wanting to exact revenge on Abby for ruining his relationship with their daughter, Julianne. However, it’s never really explained HOW she ruined their relationship or how she kept Julianne away from him, especially since HE seems to be the one that left HER. This seems to be a very important piece of the puzzle and motivation for Mack, so to help us connect with him, maybe we could get just a line or two of more specifics of HOW Abby accomplished that (at least in his mind), and maybe Sierra can once again be the voice of reason and explain that Mack was just as culpable.

The other major issue with Mack’s feelings and motivation is that Abby never learns of it. They never actually talk about what happened between them or why he’s so angry, or why she is how she is or what happened between them. It’s really never explored what bits of backstory or issues made her so horribly neurotic, overbearing or obsessed with the perfect photo. And so for me, I think you could use a couple more of those moments.

As Abby tries to reconnect with Mack and win him back, she seems to do all the things that almost killed him the first time – donuts, bread, coffee, peppers, etc. So it actually underlines the fact that these two are not right for each other – she’ll just kill him again.

Julianne, for me, was the most unlikable character of them all. Yes, she has amnesia, but she seems to be purposefully hurting her parents and being a pretty obnoxious bitch throughout most of the movie (at least to them). Why is she SO cold to Abby and why can’t she stay in her bedroom? Why can she stay with Mack but not Abby? It feels awfully cold. Also, I think the moment that Julianne wakes up on page 16 needs to be a bit bigger of a moment.

I think you could set up Julianne’s love connection with Duncan a bit more as right now, they feel more like f-buddies than boyfriend/girlfriend. It’s also unclear if Abby or Mack even know about Duncan, though Abby does say “I knew you’d get her into trouble” on pg 11. But I assumed Julianne was keeping Duncan a secret.

I am unsure why Duncan and his existence is never mentioned to Julianne after she recovers, especially since he’s the thing that seems to bring her memory back. No one ever mentions him, he never calls or checks in and they never seem to let him know how she’s doing. It makes us feel like he wasn’t REALLY in love with her, or that the parents didn’t care. On page 83 when she does start to remember and Marshall suggests Jake, Bea and Sierra tell her about Duncan, those are the three people who probably know nothing about him. And when Duncan does finally show up again, I’m a bit surprised that Julianne isn’t mad that he totally left her or that her family never mentioned to her that she even HAD a boyfriend, etc.

On page 62, I’m not sure why Julianne’s answers to the cop seem so clueless. She may have amnesia, but she knows what a police officer is. And she knows who her mother is even if she doesn’t remember. She knows what they are all doing there, but she seems to answer like she has no clue. I like the thought of them all getting into some legal trouble here, but there’s not a great deal of comedy that comes from it – just the reveal that Abby actually bought the RV instead of rented it.

I think your supporting characters of Marshall, Trina, Jake and Bea all play their parts well and bring quirk and comedy to the story. However, I didn’t quite understand why Abby just walks into her father’s house in the middle of the night and then just leaves and waits for breakfast. It’s a bit of an odd scene and Marshall doesn’t really react much. He doesn’t even ask to see his ailing granddaughter who almost died and has amnesia.

I like the mini-climax of Mack being rushed to the hospital at the same time Julianna passes out and is taken to the hospital, but Abby doesn’t seem to spend time with her – she never even goes into her hospital room. She’s too busy worrying about Mack. Though I do like her turn at the end of this scene where she realizes he is Sierra’s responsibility now and she has to let go. It’s a strong moment for her arc.

I have read a number of scripts lately promoting the virtues of Yoga. It’s the weirdest trend I’ve come across in scripts, but this is the 5th script I’ve read this year that had a heavy yoga influence or plot point. For me, I think yoga can be a great setup to a very funny scene (like in Couples Retreat), but it’s not something that can drive a story.

It’s not exactly a cinematic hobby.

I think the dialogue has some great, hilarious moments, mostly from Jake who provides some great comic relief especially in his “cock” conversations. There is definitely a voice that comes through the pages, and you have some nice quirky subversive moments.

But while there were some laugh out loud lines, I think the project could still use a bit more comedy. A family road trip drama is a hard sell, but comedies and dramedies usually do better in this genre. There were numerous dramatic moments in Little Miss Sunshine, but the outrageously funny climax is what everyone remembers. There was a huge payoff in comedy in the climax. In this story, that doesn’t really happen. The climax and ending is much more of a drama, and I’m not sure it should be.

Abby actually falling off the cliff is funny, but it’s hard to tell exactly how trapped she is after that or what kind of cavern it is that takes a rescue team to get into. For me, the last 10 pages of the script take too long and are lacking in comedy. The dragonfly being dead, the bats signifying change, is really nailing the symbolism home a bit too much – we get it, she’s not “stuck” anymore. And then Doug’s line “You’re stuck in a dark place. I know it’s scary but we’re going to get you out” is really on the nose especially when paired with all the other symbolism. Then the rebirthing ceremony with Mildred Eagle Feather drawing the comparisons between the cavern and a womb, and then once again with Jake on pg 97 screaming about the dragonfly and transforming – it’s just all very heavy handed and not really necessary.

I think you could actually cut all of it and just let the actions and Abby’s change in personality and disposition speak for themselves. She falls, we see the dead dragonfly, her emerging from the cavern, her apology to Julianne – that’s enough. Though what’s really missing while she’s in the cavern is a conversation with Mack and/or Sierra. Something that explains the feud between her and Mack and will allow them to be better parents and lead healthier lives…apart.

I like Doug, but I think perhaps you could show him on page 10, in the background, fixing something perhaps so we at least make some visual recognition to him later on. Abby’s reaction to Doug rescuing her could be a bit funnier as well.

Overall, I think this last sequence with Abby being trapped needs to be much funnier, and it’s odd that all of a sudden Julianna remembers everything, even her class parties as a child. When did that all happen? When Abby went into the cavern, she didn’t have all those memories. And now that she does remember, does she also remember how much she hated her mom? Julianne never really becomes that likable in the end, and since Julianne’s amnesia is really the catalyst and hook for this trip (and the story), I think it may need to play a bit more into the resolution of the script and be a bigger moment when she gets her memories back. Some realization moment of her own so that SHE can grow a bit like her mother and father have by the end of this trip.

I have just a couple specific page notes or questions –

Pg 43 – Is Mack fat in this flashback? Or regular size?

Pg 80 – It’s a funny beat, but I didn’t understand why Melvis and Trina got together if Melvis was with Bea, and she doesn’t seem to react to the news at all.

Overall, I think you have an interesting and potentially very funny twist on the family road trip genre. A road trip to make one of them remember who the rest of them are, but everyone has their own agenda which causes conflict, comedy, and almost kills them. I think that can definitely work, and you have some nice quirk and comedy, but if you can increase the comedy quota throughout and make your main characters just a little bit more likable, maybe shed a bit more light on the backstory, etc., I think it would be much stronger. And I think if you examine the last 10 pages with Abby being stuck in the cavern and make them a bit funnier and have a bit more resolution between she and Mack, and tone down the on the nose symbolism, that could also help. It has potential though. Stick with it! Keep writing! And best of luck! Thanks again Marnie for submitting your script “Memories” 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 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, October 3, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – Is Film School Really Worth It? (P.J. McNeill) - post author P. J. McNeill

Film School – Is it Worth it?

Should I go to film school?”

It’s a question I’ve answered many, many times; asked by friends, family members, and total strangers. They ask because they (or someone they know) are eager to launch into a career in film. They ask because they worry if the expense (and looming debt) will be worth it. And finally, they ask because I went to film school, and they want to know “Hey, how’s that workin’ out for ya?”

There’s one big asterisk I should get out of the way before discussing film school: My parents paid for my college, in full. I have no debt to speak of and never had to worry about paying any bills. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I was given, and am not ignorant to the fact that the college experience is not like this for everyone. A lot of people have to get scholarships, go into debt, and pay their tuition out of their own pocket. Because of this, some of you might think I have no right to talk about whether or not to go to film school, and you might be right. I can’t say with great certainty that, if tasked with paying for it myself, I would have done the same thing. All I can do is lay out my thoughts on the matter (as always), and you can take them as they are.

First, the hard truths: your BA in Film probably won’t mean a whole lot once you leave. In fact, a friend of mine who moved out to NY told me that “BA in Film” on your resume was shorthand for “Don’t hire me.” So, right off the bat, no one’s going to pat you on the back for your accomplishment. (You can play a game: tell people you’re majoring in Film (or majored in Film), and then see how quickly the interest fades from their eyes.)

Another hard truth: if you fail at film, and all you have left to fall back on is your BA in Film, you might have a hard time finding work. When I was trying to find work NOT in film, I know for a fact people had a hard time seeing I had majored in Film. It was right there on my resume, like a big waving flag: “HEY! This guy doesn’t want to be here! He wants to work on movies!” I remember a job interview for a police department (light office work, not officer) where I let it slip that I wanted to be a screenwriter, but tried to cover it up with “But that won’t impact my job.” I could feel a chill come over the room, and needless to say, I didn’t get the job.

Ok, enough hard truths. The positives:

1) You need connections. If you’re lucky enough to live in NY or LA, great. You can find unpaid work as an intern at any number of places. BIG places too. I remember, when I first got to LA, I was so disenchanted because people who lived out here already had a leg up on me. I was going up against people who worked on stuff like Lost (for FREE!), and the most I had worked on were some small, independent projects. They say this industry is built on connections, and film school really was a great place to make them.

2) You need time to grow and get all the garbage out of you. Film school really can act as a great purging of all the garbage inside of you. All the hitman shorts…all the writer’s block stuff…it all comes out in film school. (That’s why you see so much of the same stuff there.) It also gives you the opportunity to see what other people are doing. Learn from both your and their mistakes. Granted, you could do this with an iPhone and YouTube today (and not spend a cent), but the atmosphere and the application is much different. Workshopping in a classroom is just plain different than the comments section on YouTube.

3) You will be given the equipment and crew to make some truly great stuff. The best short films I made were in film school, and it definitely helped that I had access to amazing equipment and a readily-available crew of eager students. I always tell people: When you’re in film school, treat every-single-project like it will be screened for thousands of people. I saw so many people blow off projects, and I never understood why.

I don’t remember who, but some filmmaker (Kevin Smith or Tarantino or whoever) is famous for saying something like “Take the money you would spend on film school and spend it on a film.” And don’t get me wrong, I completely understand that sentiment.   But I can say this: I needed film school….or the film I would have spent that money on would have been about a screenwriting hitman with writer’s block being called out of retirement to do one last hit. The twist? His last hit…is himself.

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

Friday, September 26, 2014

You’ve Finished the Damned Script – Now What? (Anthony Cawood Primers for a Networked World) – Part 2 - post author Anthony Cawood

Part Two – Getting Feedback

At the beginning of this series, we discussed writer promotion basics; how to establish you (and your work) as an active on-line commodity. Assuming you’ve been a busy marketing beaver, you’ve now got your new website all set up and ready to go. And you’re all over Facebook and Twitter like ants at the proverbial picnic table…

So what’s next on your journey towards screenwriting world domination?

Well, you could use some of the great resources out there to get coverage (aka, feedback, notes etc) of your cinematic baby. Rewriting and polishing it until it shines, for that day when you get that oh so precious email: “send us a copy of your script…”

As they say, you only get one chance to make a first impression. So you want that script to be perfect.

Don’t you?

Okay, so you’re not going to get professional coverage without paying for it. (Though when you’re ready, don’t forget to take a look at STS’s very own talented and detailed script consultant, Danny Manus, of NoBullscript Consulting!

But there are some great places to get your screenplays read without shelling out your limited dough, complete with feedback and notes.

Below you’ll find a list of sites where gifted amateur screenwriters – and the occasional pro – congregate and provide useful recommendations.

A few words of caution before we dive in: it’s worth pointing out that you’re putting your work (your baby!) online for others to see and comment on.

1) Make sure it’s copyrighted – either through the Library of Congress or at least WGA. And no, not everyone’s out to steal your script or idea. But there are always some bad apples lurking around. Somewhere.

2) Bear in mind: on the net, free expression reigns supreme. Barring any board limits and moderations, people can and will voice their opinions as they see fit. Feedback is usually respectful, but inevitably some trolling and flaming occurs. Following are a few helpful ideas to keep it to a minimum:

3)   Check your grammar and spellen. (Um, “spelling”) And then check it again! Readers quickly get distracted with error strewn scripts… and often leave choice comments before they move onto other things. Besides, if you can’t be bothered to run an easy spell check and read through the pages, why in the world would you expect a stranger to do so. For free?!? (An extra tip, if grammar isn’t your thing, there’s some online help… check out Ginger for example.)

4)   Make sure the screenplay’s formatted correctly, using screenwriting software to ensure the basics are right. Final Draft is the standard for pros, but a bit pricey. For the cash strapped, CeltX is free, as is the web version of WritersDuet. Making sure your formatting’s up to snuff removes another reader distraction.

5)   Save or upload your docs as PDFs. People don’t like seeing screenplays written in Word. It screams amateur.

6)   The vast majority of these sites work on – and appreciate – reciprocity. So if you ask for a read, make darned well sure you give thoughtful ones in return.

7)   Consider all comments and feedback. No script is so perfect that it can’t be improved on. That said, don’t forget it’s your script. So use the recommendations to improve and polish your work. Not change it into something else.

8)   Don’t limit yourself to asking for script feedback. These sites are the online homes of tons of helpful fellow writers. Reach out to them with other questions as well. How to get through a tricky piece of writing, logline reviews, etc. You name it. People will have thought about it, and will be willing to share.

Now for the online resources themselves:

Simply Scripts – http://www.simplyscripts.com/

Kind of an obvious choice, given you’re reading this off the homepage. But it’s a fact that bears repeating: the SimplyScripts discussion board is populated by a bunch of talented writers, most of whom are happy to help fellow scribes out. The site has two primary sections for getting script exposure: 1) A general discussion board for unproduced works – divided by features/shorts and genres, 2) The script Showcase “Shootin’ the Shorts” (STS), where selected short scripts (and one feature a month) get fantastic exposure through in-depth reviews. Please note: STS is for shorts ready to shoot, not first draft works in progress!

Reddit – http://www.reddit.com/r/ReadMyScript/

Reddit has a few different areas (fondly known as sub-reddits) for writing, and two or three that focus on screenwriting in particular. I’ve found that the link provided above is the most suitable one for your needs. The feedback is usually decent. Not as good or in depth as SS – and there’s the occasional troll or flame war. But you’re on-line. You should be used to that!

IndieTalkhttp://www.indietalk.com/forumdisplay.php?f=43

A movie making Forum with a relatively healthy screenwriting section. If you ask for script feedback, you’ll generally get 5-10 responses. Not to the same depth as SS, but pretty decent all the same.

AbsoluteWrite – http://absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=12

A broader forum that contains a wealth of info on a number of writing specialties (including Screenwriting, of course.) It’s worth a look – but less detailed than some of the other options here.

The Black Board – http://theblackboard.blcklst.com/forums/forum/screenwriting/

This is the Forum site for the Blacklist. Yes, the Blacklist. As such, it’s pretty active with five screenwriting boards. But it’s more business related – less on the “how-to” of the craft, and more on the “getting things made” end of things.

Stage 32 – http://www.stage32.com/lounge/screenwriting

A great resource for connecting people involved in film making, in all the various disciplines. Acting. Directing. Cinematography. Producing. And, yes, Screenwriting. It’s a little like Facebook or LinkedIn, but specifically for film makers. Each discipline has it’s own “Lounge” for discussion and online interaction. There, you’ll find a variety of exchanges: requests for feedback on scripts, loglines and more. As is true everywhere, there’s a ton of opinions on S32… so please remember Rule #5. It’s your script. Take constructive criticism and value it. But remain true to your vision.

Screenwritinggoldmine Forumhttp://www.screenwritinggoldmine.com/forum/forums/screenwriting.14/

There are extensive sections on screenwriting in this active site. Definitely worth looking at for advice and reads.

MoviePoet – http://www.moviepoet.com

This one shares several members with SS – and has generated some serious talent. Scripts are limited to five pages or less. They’ve got a great monthly competition, where everyone gets to vote and comment on your script. The only downside: that you don’t see anything until the results are announced, then you get all the feedback at once. More on Movie Poet in the Competitions article.

Zoetrope – http://www.zoetrope.com

Yep, Copolla’s site! You need to join officially. But then you can post scripts and get them read. And you do need to read scripts in return. This is one site that I’ve limited experience with. More notes on it at a later date…

Screenwriter’s Utopia – http://www.screenwritersutopia.com/

Has a Script Swapping Forum for people to exchange scripts, get notes etc. The forum doesn’t seem very active, but the site has other resources worth checking out, too.

Established and respected resource for all things film, including an active screenwriting community, who are always happy and quick to help. Check out the other sub forums too, there’s a wealth of info here covering the gamut of film making subjects.

Well, that’s enough sites to start with (search on-line and you’re sure to find even more!) If you do find a gem, please let us know.

In the meantime, start digging around in these sites – they’re all essential tools to improve your script, your craft… and provide valuable networking opportunities too!

Next up: Where to publicize your scripts, once you’re good and ready…

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

Friday, September 19, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – Development Hell – Part III (P.J. McNeill) - post author P. J. McNeill

Welcome to Development Hell

Part III: Game over, man. Game over!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 12, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – Development Hell – Part Two (P.J. McNeill) - post author P. J. McNeill

Welcome to Development Hell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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May 26, 2018

    Ratman by Christopher Donald

    An apathetic police officer turns to a brief life of crime after being mistreated by the city's superhero and treated nicely by its gimmick villain. 8 pages
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