Tuesday, March 29, 2011

More on character jobs...

Apropos of Friday's post about character jobs, check out this Monster.com post: How Does Hollywood See Your Career?

(Thanks Mom!)

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Career Day

Choosing a career for your character is fun, but also hard. Have you noticed that you see the same jobs in TV and movies over and over? I may kill myself if I read another script in which someone works at an advertising agency, magazine or newspaper. Sure, these professions worked perfectly in What Women Want, Never Been Kissed, 27 Dresses and How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, among others - but that's kind of the point. They've been done.

Now, I understand why the magazine/ad agency thing is so genius. In these cases, the career is the B-plot (as opposed to the A-plot, like in cop or doctor shows, CIA/FBI/etc. movies or even something like Black Swan, in which the profession itself is the premise).  The B-plot generally exists so that we may explore our themes, and what perfect way to explore our theme than in a big, splashy advertisement! Film and TV are visual mediums, so it's a good idea to pick a career that we can SEE and instantly understand. Most people in the real world have jobs that aren't so visual, tangible or easily explained. They sit in cubicles and work at computers, generating reports, having conference calls, etc. Boring! Sometimes that's the point, like in Office Space, but usually we want to be watching something interesting and compelling. Also, many professions are entire worlds in themselves - and if this world is not the premise of your movie or show, you may A) get caught up in explaining a lot of boring, unnecessary things, or B) give us a perfunctory, unsatisfactory view of what we know is a complicated profession. I thought No Strings Attached did a good job with professions. Ashton's work on the teen musical show was fun to watch, and Natalie's job as a doctor - which is instantly understood by the audience - also made her slightly abrasive character more likable. Similarly, on House, Hugh Laurie is able to get away with being a douche since he does save lives for a living.

Challenge yourself to put your character somewhere besides a generic desk in a generic office. Here's what I think about when picking a character's job:

1. Is it cliche?
2. Is it visually interesting?
3. Will the audience instantly understand?
4. What is at stake? (This is why doctor, cop and law shows are so ubiquitous.)
5. Does it match his/her personality traits?
6. Does it enable you to explore the theme?
7. Does it function as a metaphor for something else?

What shows and movies have professions that you thought worked well?

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Script notes service: update!

Update as of 8/27/14: Yes, I AM still doing notes. Prices:

short script under 20 pages: $50
half-hour spec or pilot: $79
one-hour spec or pilot: $95
feature (130 pages or fewer): $115

if your script is over 130 pages, it's $1 per additional page. 

Note: proofreading for grammar mistakes/typos is now an additional service that can be added on to any script notes purchase for $25.

Returning customers and customer referrals still get $5 off. 

Email me at aspiringwriterblog at gmail dot com for more info!
____

I have been a professional reader since 2008. I currently write coverage for production companies and a sales/distribution company; I've also written coverage for contests, coverage services and the agency I used to be an assistant at. Through this blog, I've also provided notes for over 200 private clients.

Lots of coverage services exist - and you're right to be skeptical of them. I hope you guys understand that I'm not some scam artist looking to make millions off this little business. I'm simply offering the same kinds of insight that I already give production companies. I've done paid screenwriting work, but I'm not yet able to make my entire living from screenwriting alone. When I am, I'll probably discontinue this business and replace my 1997 Honda Civic (though I love its glued-shut sunroof and broken cassette player).

Readers generally make $50-70 on regular coverage for production companies and the like. My notes service rates are a bit higher because my notes are a bit different; I'm not giving you a formal synopsis (I can never understand why writers want synopses of their own work) and a couple paragraphs of comments, but instead several pages of page-specific suggestions of where problems lie and how I think you can fix these problems, depending on what you're aiming for. I won't try to push you into any specific direction, but will offer the direction I think is most commercial or interesting or makes the most sense. I'm very meticulous, down to formatting mistakes. These notes take me longer than basic comments for coverage.

Discounts:
  • If you send a second script, you'll get $5 off.
  • If you refer a friend, you'll get $5 off a future script - just tell your pal to mention your name when s/he emails me. 
You can compare these prices with Alex Epstein, who charges $600 for TV and $850 for features, or Jen Grisanti, who charges $350-500 for TV and $550-950 for features. I'm sure they give great feedback...but that's a lot of money. You can also get affordable $50 feedback from The Black List, but their readers only make $25 per script, which means that if they take 3 hours to read AND write up notes, they're only making $8.33 an hour. They do a good job of finding the very best scripts, but giving thorough development notes is not the aim of the site. Check out this Hollywood Bound & Down post for more about this kind of feedback. If your script is already in good shape, the Black List can be very helpful -- but if you're getting really low ratings and you're not sure what to do, you might want more specific comments and suggestions for changes.

What you'll get from me: three to seven pages of single-spaced notes addressing the structure, plot, characters, dialogue, format, commercial viability and writing style/voice of your script. I'm happy to focus on any specific aspect of the script that you're concerned about - or do a cold read. I'll also recommend any relevant scripts I think you should read or shows/films I think you should watch. Turnaround time is one week from when I receive payment. If you need immediate help for some kind of deadline, we can talk about an additional fee. Also - if you're not sure if I'm familiar with a show you're speccing, feel free to email and ask. I can also provide samples of notes I've given in your genre if you're curious about what you might get. Note: I accept all genres (and get assigned to read all genres), but I consider myself an expert in comedy, romantic comedy and TV sitcoms. I'm also a big fan of dramas -- anything that focuses on character, really.

If you'd like to get notes on your TV or film scripts - or if you have any questions, email me at aspiringwriterblog at gmail dot com . I will send you a release form to sign and will bill you through PayPal so you can pay via credit card, bank account, etc.

Here are some comments from writers who have used my notes service:

"I used Amanda's service for my GIRLS spec and ended up placing in the Top 10 for the UCLA extension TV competition and made the quarterfinals of Final Draft's Big Break Contest. It was my first script and I have to say, it wouldn't have been possible without her notes!" -Valeska

"Amanda's script consult led eventually to an award from Nickelodeon for my Modern Family spec!" -Amisha

"Amanda helped me with an Office spec a while back which I submitted to the Nickelodeon Writing Fellowship and I just got the call today that I'm a semi-finalist!" - Jon

"Amanda read and gave notes on a half-hour TV spec pilot I wrote. Amanda's notes were smart, constructive and detailed which helped in the finessing of the script. The script has now been optioned by a UK TV production company who work a lot with the BBC." - Kevin L

"Amanda gave me notes on my drama pilot script and also gave me a nudge when I was debating whether to submit to the NYTVF NBC pilot contest. I submitted and we made it to the finalist round! Amanda's feedback was extremely helpful." - Wesley H

"Amanda's notes on my comedy pilot were fantastic. She was critical but gave me encouraging feedback without making me want to throw my laptop out the window and never write again. She has a very sharp eye and gives you concrete ideas you can actually use to improve your work. For the price, you are getting an amazing deal. I would not hesitate to recommend her to anyone and will definitely be using her services in the future." - Amita P

"Amanda provided great insight into how to improve my Parenthood spec. Amanda’s feedback focused on the structure of the script, which character’s voices sounded right on (and which sounded “iffy”) down to individual lines, and how I might thematically tighten my script. The feedback was always constructive, and kept me inspired to continue working on and improving my script!" - Brett

"Amanda is an incredible reader. Her insight into my script was original and compelling. In fact, I just optioned it to a prominent production company. So use her!" - Tony D


"I thought Amanda's notes on my comedy feature were really specific, clear, and useful. Well worth the money." -Eric G

"Amanda gave me excellent script coverage with my Law and Order: Criminal Intent spec. She praised the positive aspects while giving me constructive feedback about the parts of my script that weren't working without hurting my feelings or making me feel stupid--and as a sensitive person, I admire someone who can do that. She not only gave me advice on the overall structure of the script but helped me with nit-picky details that many other readers might have overlooked. I spent several hundred dollars on feedback from so-called "professional scriptwriting services" but won't make that same mistake in the future--I got better quality script notes and advice from Amanda." - Sarah M


"Amanda's critique was insightful and specific. She helped me tighten the structure of my BONES spec immensely and provided a window into how industry insiders would see my script." -Rebecca S

"Amanda put into perspective everything that was weak about our feature script, but in a very positive and constructive way. With every criticism came a helpful suggestion. She is a genius script doctor and her diagnosis was the perfect cure for our story. She definitely knows the anatomy of a script and is a very valuable resource." -John L and Ishira K

"Very helpful. I will recommend you for sure!" -Jodi L


"Amanda hit on some specific areas I was already wondering about and pointed out several new ones. They were very insightful and specific right down to the page numbers!" -Jon C


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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ithaca College 2011 Rod Serling Screenwriting Competition

2011 Rod Serling Scriptwriting Competition Entries Now Being Accepted

Entries are now being accepted for the Rod Serling Conference's Short Feature Scriptwriting competition. The conference is scheduled for September 9-10, 2011, at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York.

The script competition is open to nonproduced or nonoptioned writers only. The deadline for entries is Friday, April 15, 2011.

Serling taught at Ithaca College from 1967 until his death in 1975. Ithaca College is also home to the Rod Serling Archives consisting of television scripts, movie screenplays, stage play scripts, films, published works by Serling, unproduced scripts, and secondary materials.

Eligibility
The script competition is open to non-produced, or non-optioned writers only. Any applicant who has earned money or other consideration as a screenwriter for theatrical films or television, or as a playwright for the legitimate theatre, or for the sale of, or sale of an option to, any original story, treatment, screenplay, play, or teleplay will not be eligible for the competition.

Postmark Deadline
Friday, April 15, 2011

Awards
Top 5 finalists will be judged by Carol Serling.
First Place: $250
Second Place: $150
Third Place: $100

Winners will be notified by Friday, July 1, 2011.

Awards will be announced at the Rod Serling Conference in a formal ceremony held on September 10, 2011. Winners are not obligated, but encouraged, to attend.

Submission Guidelines

1. Each script must be written in the same genre and style that would have been suitable to conform with episodes for either THE TWILIGHT ZONE or NIGHT GALLERY. More specifically this means displaying traits of either a horror or a science fiction genre, while exhibiting strong traditional or contemporary social themes. An example of a script has been posted for your reference. It is a script from a NIGHT GALLERY episode that aired in September, 1971. Entitled “Class of ’99,” it is available here for information purposes only. It is copyrighted material not intended for reproduction purposes.

2. Each script must be written in English.

3. Each script must be between 10 to 20 pages in length. No exceptions. Scripts that do not conform to the above page limit will be disqualified.

4. Each script must be written in Master Scene Format, the accepted industry standard for motion pictures. All scripts must use standard industry script binding: three-hole punched with brass brads in the top and bottom holes.

5. Scripts will be blind judged. The entrant’s name and identifying information must appear ONLY on the entry form. No personal information should appear on the script OR on the title page. ONLY the title of the piece should appear on the title page.

6. The entrant must submit:
a. three (3) copies of the script
b. a pdf copy on disc (please label the disc with last name and title of script)
c. a completed entry form d. a check or money order for $20.00 U.S. made payable to: Ithaca College.

7. All scripts must be POSTMARKED by Friday, April 15, 2011. Scripts will not be returned.

8. Failure to comply with any of the guidelines can result in disqualification. Entry fees for disqualified entries WILL NOT BE RETURNED.

9. Scripts should be registered with the Writer’s Guild of America Script Registry.
http://www.wga.org/

10. You may enter more than one script, however, a separate entry form, and payment of $20.00 U.S must accompany EACH entry. All entries should be sent to:

Stephen Tropiano
Serling Scriptwriting Competition
c/o Ithaca College Los Angeles Program
3800 Barham Blvd. Suite 305
Los Angeles, California 90068

For more information, click here.


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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Scene writing: power and victories

Where does tension come from? Thrilling scenes often involve characters who want different things, and the subtext that results from characters who can't communicate exactly what they're thinking or feeling. In my study of scenes that work - and add up to something much greater over the course of a show or movie - some writer friends have helped me notice that tension comes from the balance of power in any given scene, and who "wins" or "loses."

Take The Bridges of Madison County. It's a long, simple story, and many of its scenes feature Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood sitting at Meryl's kitchen table. However, the movie is incredibly compelling not only because of the strong performances, but also because of the shifts of power. In the first half, Meryl holds the power. She hasn't yet decided how she feels about this stranger. She can kick him out whenever she wants to. She can let him get to know just a little a bit about her, or everything. She can have an affair with him, or not.

In the second half, the power shifts to Clint. Meryl's feelings have started to win out over her better judgment. She feels torn and guilty, held back by the ticking clock of her husband and children's return home. Now Clint has the power, since he will be the one to leave her - both physically and emotionally.

Beyond that, each scene can be marked as a "win" or "loss" for Meryl and Clint. When Clint says something too provocative and Meryl closes him out, he loses. When Meryl starts to regret her decisions, she loses. Here is a great scene of one of Clint's losses:


The "win" or "loss" concept is also featured in Stranger Than Fiction (one of my faves!) when Will Ferrell starts marking off moments in his life as comedy or tragedy. Since he's hoping for a comedy in which he can survive, the comedic moments are wins and the tragic moments are losses.

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