Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The early years

Inspired by Lena Dunham's funny Instagram post of a story she wrote as a kid, I went through my writing from 2nd and 3rd grade to see if there were any early clues that I might become a screenwriter. Instead, I found some other hilarious things, including an obsession with multi-bedroom mansions and an early penchant for brunch:

"My favorite lunch, which is brunch lunch..." (Some things never change!)

When people ask me if I'm a Buffalo Bills fan, I give a complicated answer about childhood disappointment. This should explain it:

In college, I was a radio DJ/newscaster. This one contains some early hints of my broadcasting career (and a weird-ass 8 year-old personality):

Apparently, I spoke out against the conspiracy theory that Betsy Ross may not have made our flag (go ladies!):

A year earlier, my mom gave birth to my younger brother and I had to move into a room with my older sister. Apparently, I did not take this very well, and became obsessed with rich people and mansions:

"Everybody gets their own room!" (Ah, utopia.)

I guess I wanted "nine sisters and zero brothers" (sorry, Jim):

Duh, all pirates live in mansions with dungeons. Perhaps this next one hints at screenwriting: "give me all your money or I'll shoot you" sounds like a great high-stakes premise, no?

At Thanksgiving, I was more thankful for "clothes" and "books" than for "life and health" (which is basically still true):

By third grade, I realized I wanted a mansion AND servants:

And finally, third-grade me also resisted notes. Notice how my teacher corrected some mistakes and I crossed them out with a red pencil:

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tuesday links!

GOING THE DISTANCE writer Geoff LaTulippe has relaunched his website/blog. His post How Do I Read? How Do I Write????? is a must-read guide to what to look for when studying professionals scripts - and I'm sure he'll be posting plenty more professional insights in the future. He's also giving away a bunch of stuff for Xmas...check it out!

The Bitter Script Reader posted a great guest blog post from Eric Heisserer about the studio film development process from a writer's perspective (Eric is the writer behind the 2010 reboot of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, as well as FINAL DESTINATION 5 and the 2011 prequel THE THING.) The journey from first draft to film is both complicated and frustrating - and this is a great "insider" look.

Now that it's Awards season, you can find a lot of award-hopeful professional screenplays online. Scott over at Go Into the Story has linked to a bunch of them, from ANNA KARENINA to LINCOLN to MOONRISE KINGDOM. Read read read!

Variety has announced its 10 Screenwriters to Watch for 2012. Read their stories and be inspired!

This one's old - but via Twitter, I've just now been alerted to Film Crit Hulk's 2011 blog post, The Myth of 3 Act Structure. Although film execs and producers largely refer to features as having three acts, you might find it helpful to study follow Shakespeare's 5-Act structure, since Act 2 in a feature covers so much ground.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Check out the Nov/Dec 2012 Issue of Written By

I'm honored to be included in a list of screenwriting blogs in the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of the WGA's Written By magazine (you can also download the magazine as a PDF). Thanks everyone for reading these last five years!

How to raise money on Kickstarter: Six Questions with THE GATEWAY producer Lee Sacks

Lee Sacks is producing an indie feature called THE GATEWAY. From its Kickstarter page:
THE GATEWAY is an exciting ensemble film that tells the stories of several people whose lives intersect in an explosive way at the rundown desert motel, The Gateway. Equal parts crime thriller and modern western, the film highlights the chaos that plagues modern time and has a similar tone to the films of the Coen Brothers. The story is an inspired continuation of the characters George and Princeton, central figures in LITTLE ODESSA, our award winning and internationally distributed short, and our self-released comedic web series, THE STOOGES.

I know that many of you guys also want to produce your own films, so I asked Lee a few questions about the experience:

1. What has been the history of this project/process up til now?
In 2009 I was introduced to a writer/director named Natan Moss who needed help producing a short film. The film LITTLE ODESSA went on to play several international festivals and get distribution; we continued to collaborate on projects after that. Natan has written a couple features, but we hadn't really tried to do anything with them, until a friend in NY came to me with a potential investor looking to finance a film. The feature Natan had is called THE GATEWAY and is loosely based on characters in ODESSA. We felt the short was the perfect pitch tool for the full-length film. That initial financier fell through, but it gave us the motivation to try and make it happen another way. Currently, we are still in the financing stages and have launched this Kickstarter as a way to engage the film community and push us a little closer to our overall budget goal.

2As a producer, how did you find a writer/director to work with?
I was introduced to Natan through my roommate at the time, who had been a PA on a previous short film that Natan made. We basically just clicked on LITTLE ODESSA and began a creative relationship that has carried through to today. I think that as a producer, finding creative people to work with whose opinions you value and whose personalities you gel with is very important. It is a relationship that involves a lot of trust and an over all shared creative impulse, even if you sometimes dispute the details. I also have good working relationships with other writers and directors based on the same principles.

3. What happened as a result the festivals?
We gained a little more notoriety as filmmakers, if only for a short time after ODESSA played the festival circuit. We got some good exposure at the Palm Springs International ShortFest, where our film was picked up for distribution by Ouat! Media. Also participating with NewFilmmakers LA to premiere the short at the end of 2009 began a great relationship with the creators of that festival. Susie Kim and Larry Laboe have been a very valuable resource and great supporters of our project and are helping us to get the feature made.

4. What did you have to do before you were ready to launch a Kickstarter?
The script for the project was completed long before we began the Kickstarter campaign. However, while we were in the early stages of financing, we were still making story changes and tweaks to the project. We actually put the project on hold for about four months while we made THE STOOGES, which gave Natan a lot of time to think about the script and make some significant story changes.

A portion of our main crew is already set for the film, including our production designer, director of photography and hair and make up artists. A lot of the crew will be the same as previous projects because we know that we all work well together and everyone is in this for the purpose of making a great film and are conscious of the constraints of working on a tight budget.

Launching a Kickstarter is rather simple; all it takes on the practical side is an Amazon Payments Account to run all of the money through to a bank account. Because we are using mostly investor financing for our film, we did establish an LLC for the project and a business bank account, so our Kickstarter funds are being run though that. However, you don't need a business account; you can use your personal one. It is also important to have a video component to the campaign, so we shot a main video to peak some interest as well as a few stand alone teasers. They were shot specifically for the Kickstarter, so their content is intended to pique interest for the project.

5. What are some things you have learned along the way in this process?
The main thing I have learned is that your reach is probably a lot smaller than you think. Unless you come from an extremely wealthy family or have wealthy friends that are very generous, making a ton of money on Kickstarter is very difficult. We set our goal at $15,000 which is around where most film projects plateau and it becomes harder to get past the $20,000 hump unless you already have a big following or some kind of appeal to a niche audience. Even then, our goal is starting to seem difficult to attain. It is important to utilize your social media resources as best you can, and make an appeal to the type of audience you think you have for the project. For example, two of our cast members are prominent YouTube creators, and we are still hoping to market the campaign directly to their audiences in the upcoming weeks. Also, I would recommend that you set aside some money to push your Kickstarters to your goal if you fall short in the final days.

6. Are there any books/blogs/resources that you used that you would recommend to other producers trying to make something independently?
There is no one book or resource I used to educate myself on this process, just as there is no one way to get a film made. I have read a few books that were helpful such as Shaking the Money Tree by Morrie Warshawski, but a lot of what I learned was just from reading independent filmmaking magazines and learning about other filmmakers experiences raising funds. I have been lucky to continue to work in film for the past five years in Los Angeles and have gotten to see and know mainstream and independent filmmakers which have given me good insight as well. I also try to attend as many film events and seminars as I can through Film Independent here in Los Angeles which has been a good resource.

Thanks, Lee! To help support THE GATEWAY, check out the film's Kickstarter page.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Enter the NBC Drama Pilot Challenge and Comedy Central Pilot Competition

The submission periods have opened for The New York Television Festival's NBC Drama Pilot Challenge and Comedy Central Pilot Competition, both of which award writers development deals. Deadlines are in March. Good luck!

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Tangled Web We Watch: New Webseries Resource

Writer/actress Stephanie Carrie has launched The Tangled Web We Watch, a new blog/site for webseries creators and consumers. More and more writers are making shows for the web, but it's kind of a Wild West. What are the conventions? Which companies are looking for material? What's the next step after you've written a script? Should you try to produce it all on your own?

The still-developing site features interviews, news, lists of companies and production resources to get you in touch with people who might be able to work on your webseries production. Today, Stephanie posted a great interview with Corey Moss, VP of Digital Entertainment at Principato/Young. Check it out!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What TV spec to write for the WB Writers' Workshop in 2013

Congrats to the writers who have been accepted into the WB Writers' Workshop for 2012 - and also to the top 5% of applicants who have been invited to WB's seminar tonight.

The WB Writers' Workshop has updated its list of acceptable specs for the 2013 program (the submission period runs May 1, 2013 - June 1, 2013).  Included in the 122-show list are new premium cable comedies like GIRLS - but in the past, the Workshop has advised against writing premium cable comedies that won't translate as samples for current WB shows. Remember that the program's goal is to get you staffed on a WB show - so your sample needs to show that you'd be a good fit for one of these shows. Be sure to read what the WB Workshop looks for in a spec, and which specs past winners wrote to get into the program (in 2012, the comedy specs were MIKE & MOLLY and 30 ROCK). On the drama side, premium may not be a bad thing; one writer accepted into the program wrote a SHAMELESS spec.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Free NYTVF event with Graham Yost, creator of Justified

New York area readers, take note: The New York Television Festival is hosting a free 2012 Creative Keynote conversation featuring Graham Yost, creator of FX's JUSTIFIED. From the festival: "Yost will participate in this intimate discussion of television writing and producing, offering TV lovers and fans unique access and insight the process of creating and guiding some of television's boldest dramas."

Tue, Oct 23
92Y Tribeca Main Stage
200 Hudson Street

Again, the event is free, but you'll need to reserve a ticket here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Black List Launches Service For Aspiring Writers

By now you've probably heard about The Black List's new service for aspiring writers. From their press release:
The Black List founder Franklin Leonard and co-founder/CTO Dino Sijamic announced today the launch of a paid service that allows any screenwriter, amateur or professional, to upload their script to The Black List’s database, have it evaluated by professional script readers, and depending on its evaluation(s), have it read by as many as 1000 film industry professionals currently a part of its membership site. The Black List’s home on the web is
“For years people have been asking me how to get their scripts to Hollywood. Short of endless rounds of unanswered query letters and screenplay competitions that may, in the best case scenario, attract the notice of a few people, I never had a good answer,” said Leonard. “We built this to provide one. It’s essentially a screenplay competition with rolling admission, as many prizes as there are good scripts, and instead of a check, you may be rewarded with a career as a professional screenwriter. We’re delivering the best scripts directly to the hundreds of people who can help get them bought and made.” 
Aspiring screenwriters will pay $25 a month to have their scripts hosted on The Black List’s website, accessible only by a closed community of Hollywood professionals. They can further pay $50 for evaluations by anonymous script readers hired by The Black List. Every read by industry professionals generated by those evaluations is entirely free. Moreover, The Black List will not claim a commission, finder’s fee, or producer credit on business generated by their service. “Writers retain all rights to their work and are free to negotiate the best deal they can get. All we ask is an email letting us know of their success,” added Leonard.
I was going to do a more in-depth post about this, but The Bitter Script Reader has already covered most of what I was going to say about how it compares to other script coverage and script listing services out there. (BSR also did an in-depth interview with Franklin Leonard, so check that out!) One question that's already popped up: will the Black List will accept TV scripts? "Not yet, but soon," says The Black List's official Twitter account.

Many writers tell me that they don't know how to get their scripts to the right people, and now we have a new method to add to the list of usual ways writers can get noticed (win a contest/fellowship, meet people through an assistant job, etc). In many ways, Hollywood is resistant to change - but why shouldn't we be utilizing the Internet and new technology in our industry?

I really do believe that Franklin's goals are to A) utilize new technology in Hollywood and B) champion good writers. I met Franklin back in 2008, after he contacted me about this blog; I think he's simply interested in anyone who's exploring the insider culture and methods of the entertainment industry on the public platform of the Internet. But he's not just a technophile, he's also a film industry professional - and one way this service differs from some other services is that The Black List is a respected brand within the industry, led by an experienced executive.

Will The Black List's new service actually change the way aspiring writers get their scripts noticed? Maybe. Two things need to happen: enough industry professionals need to use The Black List site (which is now free for them), and the scripts uploaded need to be good.

At the risk of sounding pessimistic, I'm not sure there are thousands of fantastic scripts floating around out there, just waiting to get read by the right people. I have always maintained that the path to being a professional film or TV writer is simple (though not easy): 1. write a great script, and 2. find someone important who likes it - and in my experience, most writers think that #2 is their problem when it's actually #1. I have read scripts by both repped and unrepped writers for agencies, production companies, contests and coverage services - and the quality of the scripts is often disappointing. ScriptShark offers affordable coverage and scouting services - but is upfront about the fact that only approximately 5% of its submissions earn positive enough coverage to qualify for scouting. I wouldn't be surprised if The Black List yields similar results.

But if your script is truly good, then this new service can only help. Getting your script read is still hard even after you've secured representation, so I'm excited that there's one more way to connect with people looking for scripts.

To save yourself some money, please read professional scripts, study proper script formatting, outline extensively, write at least a second draft and proofread your script before sending your script to any service, contest, agent, etc.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Nerdist Writer's Panels for October

Check out this month's Nerdist Writer's Panels at Meltdown Comics:

Sunday, October 14, 5-6:30ish:
Jeff Eastin (creator, White Collar and Graceland)
Victor Fresco (creator, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Better Off Ted)
and more panelists TBA
Click here for tickets

Thursday, October 18, 8pm:
NWP Presents the release of Not My Bag, a new autobiographical comic by former Walking Dead editor Sina Grace!
Also featuring performers/comic book writers:
Blair Butler (Attack of the Show)
Gerry Duggan (Deadpool)
James Asmus (Thief of Thieves)
This comic release party/panel is FREE!

Sunday, October 21, 5-6:30ish:
Pendleton Ward (creator, Adventure Time)
Martin Gero (creator, The LA Complex; Bored to Death)
Kent Osborne (head writer, Adventure Time; Spongebob; Flapjack)
Click here for tickets

Friday, September 28, 2012

5 Questions with LaToya Morgan, Writer on PARENTHOOD

LaToya Morgan is currently a writer on PARENTHOOD who previously wrote for SHAMELESS. She was kind enough to answer 5 (actually 6!) questions about how she got her start. You can follow her on Twitter at @MorganicInk.

1. How did you get your start?

Honestly, film school is where I got my true start.  When I was a Screenwriting Fellow at the American Film Institute, I was loving life -- completely surrounded by lots of really talented people and these incredible professors who had been nominated for Academy Awards reading my material and giving me notes.  I’m a big time cinephile and was a huge fan of the writers teaching there, so it was heaven.  They helped shape the way I think about characters and story in a way that has never left me.  I can practically hear the chorus of naysayers screaming at me now, so let me say this: Not everyone needs to go to film school to be successful in Hollywood.  This is a proven fact.  But for me, AFI was the place where I really honed my writing.  I dug in deep and wasn’t afraid to take storytelling risks.  I also made great friends who have continued to be influential in my career to this day.  It took a few years of working as an assistant at production companies and agencies after AFI to finally break into Hollywood, and that was when I got into the Warner Bros. Writers Workshop.  The Workshop is an incredible fellowship and through it I got my first staff writing job on SHAMELESS, which was a dream come true.  The hard work that I put in on that show helped me get my current job on PARENTHOOD, which has been amazing.

2. What writing samples did you have?

This is a great question.  I had lots of writing samples and I think that people trying to break in should have at least a few things in their arsenal that they feel can be a silver bullet.  There will always be a pile of scripts on someone’s desk and your job as a newbie is to have a sample that will set yourself apart from the pack.  After work every night while I was an assistant I kept writing new TV specs and features.  Those samples served me well.  One of the features I wrote placed in the Nicholl Fellowship and that’s how I got my manager.  The TV specs I wrote made me a finalist for several writing fellowships before the Sons of Anarchy spec I wrote got me in the the Warner Bros. Workshop.  Some people may not know this, but when you get to a certain level in these fellowships, they like to ask for original material.  So as much as I think specs are useful, it’s critical to have original material that showcases your voice as a writer.  For me, that was the Nicholl script, this little indie movie that I wrote and almost didn’t write because I didn’t think it was commercial enough to get traction.  But it was one of those ideas that I was very passionate about and it just wouldn’t leave my head.  I finally wrote it and it hasn’t been made yet but that script has gotten me meetings with some of the most brilliant and amazing showrunners and producers in Hollywood -- my idols, really.  So if you’re passionate about something, write it - you never know where it might take you.  Also, don’t be shy about exploring other mediums.  I wrote a play that ended up being the writing sample that ultimately got me my first staff job.  Some people only read pilots, so I wrote my first one this staffing season and that’s what got me most of my meetings and my second job.  I try to have a sample for all occasions.

3. When in the process did you sign with an agent and/or manager?

I signed with my manager a year before I got into the Warner Bros. Workshop.  During staffing season while you’re interviewing with shows for jobs, The Workshop sends your material to agencies.  It’s a whirlwind process and I was lucky enough to get interest from several places before I even landed my first job.  Once I got the gig, even more agencies came knocking.  Choosing a representative is important.  You want to make sure that these are not just people who are powerful but that they really understand the writer you are and the trajectory of the career you hope to build.  I met lots of wonderful people during this process and that was the biggest factor in my decision.  I think most people who are starting out feel that they need an agent or manager right away.  That may not necessarily be the case, especially if you’re still trying to get your material to a place where it’s ready to be sent out.  It’s okay to take the time to do that.  It goes back to that pile on somebody’s desk.  When your script finally lands there, you want it to be the best it can possibly be.

4. Some people say that a staff writer's main job is to shut up and listen, while others say that staff writers have to speak up enough to earn their keep...what was your first staffed experience like?

I’ve been lucky enough to be in rooms where staff writers are welcome and encouraged to contribute, which I’ve loved.  There’s nothing more fun and exciting than when a pitch in the room starts to get legs and everyone is riffing and adding on to it to tell the story.  As a staff writer, you have to find the balance of contributing but also not stepping on higher level writers' toes.  My rule of thumb is to follow the music of the room.  If you can’t come up with an idea of your own, figure out a way to add onto something that someone else has said that’s valuable.  You never want to be that one person who is constantly derailing ideas.  You also don’t want to be the one that everyone is staring at because you will not shut up.  Everyone has his or her own style.  I’m a sniper.  One of the things I do is find areas for story that I can become an “expert” on so I can contribute effectively in the room.  On SHAMELESS, I happened to have a crazy family very much like the Gallaghers and come from the same working class background, so there were lots of stories that I could draw from to pitch ideas.  On PARENTHOOD this season, we have an adoption storyline and I have an aunt who adopted a child from foster care and know several people who work in that area.  I took initiative and made calls and did lots of research.  My mother is a cancer survivor, so I could relate really personal stories to another storyline we’re doing this season, so I felt comfortable pitching those ideas and they were received well.

5. What's something that you learned in the room? 

Don’t be afraid to fail.  This can be terrifying, especially if you’re a recovering perfectionist like I am.  There are going to be ideas that you throw out that will not fly.  Not because they aren’t good ideas but for a variety of reasons, including upcoming arcs of the season, or roads not traveled previous seasons if you’re staffed on a show that’s not a pilot or the showrunner’s taste.  Or the idea could just suck.  It happens to all of us, not matter what level you’re at.  But you have to constantly generate ideas.  It can be intimidating at times, but always remember that you’ve been brought to the team because the showrunner has confidence in your abilities and he or she is paying you for your thoughts and opinions.  So be thoughtful.  And always, always be kind.  We’re all just people.  People who need people.  Cue Streisand.

6.  What advice would you give aspiring writers?

My best advice for aspiring writers is to be yourself.  No one can be a better you than you.  When you’re taking those showrunner meetings during staffing season, they are looking to complete a team.  Show them why you’d be a good fit.

I always tell people to constantly be writing and that sounds lame but a lot of people work on ideas.  That’s half-assed writing.  What you need to do it write scripts or plays or short stories or whatever compels you to stare down the blank page.  By that I mean finished products that you wouldn’t feel uncomfortable showing people.  Your representatives will not want to read that thing from three years ago that you’re re-polishing.  If you’re serious about being a professional writer your job is to write, even if at the beginning of the journey it’s just for yourself.

Networking is important.  Coming out of your writing cave and going out to drinks is important.  Having dinner with your friends is important.  If only for your own sanity.  Work hard but have fun too.

Be kind.  This above all else will serve you well.


Thanks, LaToya! PARENTHOOD airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on NBC.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Writers Guild Foundation Panels: Notes on Craft 2012

Thu, September 27, 2012 - Thu, November 1, 2012 
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
This autumn, the Writers Guild Foundation will host its fourth annual NOTES ON CRAFT series: Six weeks of panels, each composed of two or three writers, each focusing on a separate aspect of the screenwriting craft. Each panel will be moderated by Oscar-nominated writer Dan Petrie, Jr. (BEVERLY HILLS COP, THE BIG EASY) and followed by an audience Q&A session.
Sept. 27: Premise and Concept, featuring Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel (PARENTHOOD) and Zak Penn (ALPHAS). 
Oct. 4: Story and Structure, featuring Lem Dobbs (HAYWIRE), Stephen Gaghan (TRAFFIC) and David Seidler (THE KING’S SPEECH).  
Oct. 11: Adaptation. Stephen Chbosky (THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER), Robin Swicord (MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA), Robert Nelson Jacobs (CHOCOLAT). 
Oct. 18: Characters. Susannah Grant (ERIN BROCKOVICH), Jim Kouf (GRIMM), Will Reiser (50/50).  
Oct. 25: Dialogue and Scene. Panelists TBA. .

Nov. 1: Rewriting and Polishing. Panelists TBA. 
 For tickets to individual events or the whole series, click here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Should I learn to write coverage by doing it for free?

Andrew asks via Twitter: Doing coverages for a producer offering critiques of my coverage in exchange; helping me to build a coverage portfolio. Good idea or sketchy?

I think it's a good idea - as long as you're not doing it for free forever. Anyone who writes coverage starts off doing it for free; I did it at two of my internships, and I also read plenty scripts and gave my agency boss quick verbal assessments without getting paid extra. (Official agency coverage is paid for.) As you're learning to write coverage and building your portfolio, this is necessary. The producer's critiques will help you improve your coverage and learn about what people look for in scripts.

However, keep in mind that the producer is getting a free service that s/he could be paying someone for. I don't think you should continue this arrangement for more than a few months; most interns work for a semester (Jan-May or August-Jan) - so that's about the amount of time I think is appropriate. After that, you should transition to being a paid reader, or move on to being a paid assistant (either at this company or somewhere else).

If you're a writer, you might also eventually want to ask the producer to read your script and give you feedback. After you've been working for free for this person for a couple months, I don't think this is asking too much. The producer might say no (or say yes and then never read it), but you don't really have anything to lose by asking.

Monday, September 17, 2012

What is a "writing sample?"

Frank asked via Twitter: I was told in coverage of a script (from an online coverage service) that it was a "great sample script" and got a "Recommend" under "Writer." What does that mean? What is next? Should I be excited?

Definitely be excited that a professional reader liked your script! We're a tough group to impress.

A "sample script" refers to a script that a writer (and his/her reps) will use to introduce the writer to the film community. If people like your sample, you'll get to meet producers, executives, etc. in general meetings and you'll be considered for open writing assignments (rewrites, adaptations, etc). Though we all write scripts in the hopes that they'll become movies someday, it's more likely that our scripts will function as writing samples. Even if a script never sells, it can be an invaluable tool that opens doors and leads to paid jobs.

In terms of what's "next" - unless the coverage service promises to send highly-rated scripts out to people in Hollywood (some of them do this), there's not really much you can do with this news. If the coverage was for an actual production company and not for a coverage service, a "Recommend" on writing would mean that you'd be kept in mind for future open writing assignments - but since this came from a coverage service, I don't think there are going to be any immediate results from your "Recommend." Still, you can feel confident about sending the script to more people. Ideally, someone will read your script and A) buy it, B) offer to represent you or C) send it to someone who can do one of those things. (Note: I don't think that writing about your "Recommend" in a query letter to an agency would be well-received.)

You might also want to evaluate whether your concept is clear, compelling and commercial. If you got a "Pass" on concept but "Recommend" on writing, the reader felt that your execution was impressive (characters, dialogue, etc.), but didn't think that people would want to buy the script. Can you rewrite the script to inspire a "Consider" or "Recommend" on concept? If it's time to move on from the script, be sure to develop a marketable concept for your next script.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The 2012 Austin Film Festival

The 2012 Austin Film Festival takes place October 18-25. Panelists include all kinds of awesome writers and producers, from Damon Lindelof and Aline Brosh McKenna to Paul Feig and Marti Noxon.

A script of mine made it to the Second Round/Top 10% before being eliminated, meaning I'm offered some kind of TBD discounted admission. I've always heard that Austin is a very writer-friendly festival & conference (plus, I feel like nobody there will judge me for stuffing my face with macaroni and cheese). Is anyone going? Have you gone in the past? Would love to hear some feedback in the comments.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Should Aspiring Screenwriters Join Twitter?

Marisa writes: I have been hearing that writers trying to start their career should take to Twitter to help in developing their voice and also to help them get discovered. Do you have any tips on how writers should approach Twitter? For example, are there things they should definitely tweet about and things they should avoid?

This is a fantastic question. I'm on Twitter, and I like it a lot. I'm able to connect with blog readers, follow my favorite screenwriters, and see headlines from my news outlets as stories are reported. I've even become "Twitter friends" with some industry people I've later met in real life.

Still, like all internet fun, Twitter can be a distraction. Whenever I hit a tough spot in a script I'm writing or get bored by a script I have to write coverage on, it's easy to click over to Twitter and procrastinate. Nora Ephron was definitely on to something when she suggested temporarily blocking your internet access to focus on your work.

Also, many writers fail to think about the consequences of what they Tweet. If you write that you hate a certain movie, you've permanently stamped it on the internet. What if you meet that movie's producer for a meeting someday? Would you want him/her to Google your name and see this insult pop up in the results? (I've blogged before about being aware of your internet presence - and the related question, "Should I start a blog?".) I'm sure this doesn't happen that often, and I'm not saying we should be super paranoid and self-censoring, but I try to ask myself if anything good will come from something I've Tweeted/Facebooked/blogged/etc. Is it worth it? Also, since I'm a new writer, I don't feel like I really have the authority to be bashing things (it's a little different when a screenwriter with 20 produced credits sends off an opinionated tweet). I'm not saying you shouldn't have opinions - just think before you put them all on the internet.

In terms of getting "discovered" on Twitter, it can happen - mostly for comedy writers. Many up-and-coming stand-up comedians gain popularity by tweeting hilarious one-liners. (Just make sure you save some jokes for your routines and scripts.) Also, you might consider tweeting in the voice of a specific "character" or concept in the hopes that it could become a show. CBS' now-defunct sitcom Sh** My Dad Says began with a Twitter account - and CBS also bought scripts based on Twitter accounts Dear Girls Above Me and Shh Don't Tell Steve. I think the key with this stuff is focus and specificity. These people aren't tweeting "OMG delicious breakfast! Time to work on my script!," you know? All their tweets are through a specific lens and concept. Also, for what it's worth, I don't think there's a drama equivalent of turning a Twitter account into a show (feel free to comment if you know otherwise).

You'll have to decide if you want to use your real name or stay anonymous. I use my name since I want people to be able to find me - but obviously, all my Tweets are then connected to me. If you're tweeting anonymously or under a "character," there's a little bit of a barrier in connecting your account to you as a writer - but I suppose if people loved your concept and wanted to contact you, they could send you a direct message (which isn't for public viewing). If you want to have more than one Twitter account, you can - you just need additional email addresses to open the accounts.

There aren't any official DOs and DON'Ts of Twitter, but here's my advice:

DO tweet things that you think other people will actually find interesting
DON'T tweet anything you wouldn't want people to find in a Google search for your name
DON'T tweet so often that you're super annoying
DON'T be afraid to tweet at your favorite writers, producers, etc. - but immediately asking, "will you read my script??" is probably not going to win them over

Lastly...perhaps this seems obvious, but don't think of Twitter as an easy way to skip the process of studying shows and writing good scripts. Twitter might help get you noticed, but I doubt you'll get very far without some solid writing samples.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Top 5 Reader Questions

I recently asked my Twitter followers if they had any burning questions, since I feel a bit like I'm out of new things to discuss. Kiki asked: What are the top 5 questions people ask?

I definitely get a lot of emails about the same things. Using the super scientific method of memory, here are the top 5:

1. How do I get an agent/manager?

The general answer is: write a bunch of awesome scripts while you simultaneously meet people who know (or will know) agents and managers. One way to do this is to get an assistant job (like I did), which will help you make connections and also teach you a lot about how the industry works. Once you have contacts, you can ask your new friends to refer you, since querying is not very effective. You can also enter contests, fellowships and studio-sponsored writing programs (like the Nicholl Fellowship for features or the Warner Brothers Writers Workshop for TV), since this will get you noticed by reps.

2. How do I get a writer's assistant job?

It's a hard, hard job to find, but you can find more info here.

3. Do I need to move to LA? 

Yes. Go ahead and ignore this advice, but all the people who move to LA have an advantage over you.

4. I'm in high school or college and I'm interested in film/TV writing and internships - where do I start?

I recently cataloged posts geared toward students under the heading High School and College Students. I also have a category for posts specifically about Internships.

5. Does it matter if I have a degree in film/TV? 

No. Going to film school can be great for screenwriting classes, internship connections, etc., but it's not essential. I'm glad I studied screenwriting in school and came to LA for a semester program (I think I was a bit "ahead" of people who didn't), but you don't need any specific kind of degree to A) get an assistant job or B) become a writer. Please don't go into massive debt for an arts degree...but if you get a scholarship or have supportive parents, film school can be fun.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Writing advice from actors: Creating challenging roles

Your characters aren't just characters; they're roles. Creating challenging roles will strengthen your screenplay and also increase your chances of getting an A-list actor attached (which can help enormously in getting your project read and getting your project off the ground).

I usually look for interviews with screenwriters, but lately I've been noticing that actors have been (inadvertently) offering some great insight for writers in explaining why and how they pick roles. Certainly different stars have different career goals and agendas, but I think the overriding theme - from the following two interviews, at least - is that actors want to be challenged by characters who are both unique and exhaustively fleshed out.

On Tuesday, July 24, Matthew McConaughey appeared on The Daily Show to promote his movie KILLER JOE. Around 18:20 in the interview, he explained his current thought process behind choosing his roles: "The scripts I was getting about two years ago, everything I read, I was like 'Okay, I've done a version of that before,' or, things that I read that were new, I was like, 'you know what, I could do that tomorrow.' And that's not a bad thing, but hang on a second, let's go back, work on the family, make some other things stick, and take the time away until I get something that sort of arrests me a little, scares me a little bit.  And these five independents kinda came back to back to back, and all the roles were very different. They were all characters that really don't pander or placate to anybody's rules but their own. They were very singular-willed characters that I was a little bit scared of - but I was excited to say, 'I'm gonna dive in and come out the other side and figure out who that guy is. And they were all with great directors who have very strong points of view. None of these directors were gonna say, 'Well, let's bring it back to convention, let's play it safer.'"

Jessica Biel also gave some insight about choosing roles at Comic-Con, where she discussed her role in TOTAL RECALL:

"If Len [Wiseman] didn’t care about a female character that was equally smart, cool, tough, kick-ass and emotionally vulnerable, emotionally sensitive and actually a woman, a real person, then you’re dead in the water. Because he, in the end, is the only person who has the ability to put it all together, and on this one particularly, he cared about letting this person be this well-rounded and real -- in a heightened sense, but a real woman."

The Hollywood Reporter: How tough is it to find genre or nongenre movies that you feel like offer you a well-rounded character to play? Is it a matter of you simply transforming whatever you take on to make it challenging, or does it need to be on the page from the get-go?

Biel: "No, it’s always a concern because if it’s not on the page, it’s a real question mark. The movie is made on the writing, the movie is made on the set, and the movie is made on the editing table -- you can do whatever you want emotionally onscreen, and then someone can just cut it up and chop it up. So the best possible way to start something feeling confident that you will have a well-rounded experience is for it to just be there, if possible, on the page. Because I’m not interested if something is a surface thing; unless I’m passionate about it for some other reason, I’m not moved by it. And I want to be moved. I feel like I can’t be moved unless I believe that this person really exists and the arc makes sense and where they go is interesting. But if it’s a really well-thought-out person, that’s what is exciting."

The Hollywood Reporter: Is there any difference for you between taking on big movies like Total Recall and smaller ones? Kristen Stewart recently said she learned through the process of making Twilight that you don’t necessarily have to take an independent project to be able to feel passionate or develop something independently. Has that gap narrowed to where it’s no longer like, “There’s my Sundance movie, and there’s my summer movie"? 

Biel: "Yeah, I think it has narrowed a bit. It really does depend on who your director is. There are some people who are able to do both really well, and they are some people who just don’t, and sometimes you find yourself in an experience where you feel like you do need to go do your independent Sundance movie. But I do feel like the maybe the gap has closed a little bit. I think that’s also because the audience requires a thought-out situation. It’s not just like, 'Oh, I can just watch a bunch of action and not a real plot and no real character.' It just doesn’t work like that."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

5 Questions with a Writer's Assistant and Script Coordinator

For most of 2007-2011, Caleb Bacon was David Milch’s Writer’s Assistant/Script Coordinator. He says: "During that time we did John From Cincinnati, a pilot in NYC called Last of the Ninth, two years of development of Luck, and then Luck. During periods of hiatus I would do some freelance Writer’s Assistant work for a variety of writers including former Cheers Executive Producer Rob Long. Last Fall, I did the Sullivan & Son multi-cam pilot with him and Vince Vaughn for TBS. And this year I basically did both gigs -- Script Coordinator and Writers Assistant -- on the comedy’s first season. Sullivan & Son debuts this Thursday, 7/19, at 10pm on TBS."

You can also follow Caleb on Twitter: @CalebEatsBacon.

1. How did you get your job as writer's assistant?

I had two different crew jobs on Deadwood and over two seasons I developed a relationship with the show’s creator, David Milch. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with my life but David had a sense that I was a writer even before I fully came to that myself.

After Deadwood’s third season, he brought me into the Writers Room as a writing intern. I even received a weekly paycheck. Unfortunately, Deadwood was cancelled but we instantly started work on John From Cincinnati. And when there was an opening, I became Script Coordinator. I was a mid-season replacement.

2. What are all the duties of your job/what are your usual hours?

All of the shows I’ve worked on have had their own sort of hours and duties. Back on John From Cincinnati I had to be on set for first rehearsal every morning. David Milch would often rewrite scenes on set so I’d need to be there for those changes. That’d often be as early as 6 a.m. My recent transition to comedy rooms has been more friendly for sleeping-in as I typically don’t need to be in until 10 a.m. And I’ve occasionally had to be in Writers Rooms after midnight.
Every show is also different in terms of how the Writers’ Assistant and Script Coordinator and Writers PA split responsibilities. I’ve done everything from taken notes in The Writers’ Room, to typing on the large monitor in The Room for rewrites, to issuing scripts for production, to dealing with the lawyers on clearances issues, to cleaning up all of the half-consumed water bottles in The Room, to making sure that all of my superiors are appropriately caffeinated.

3. Do you have time to write?

Honestly, it’s hard while I’m on a show. After staring at Final Draft all day it’s hard to stare at Final Draft all night. Plus, the stress, the hours, and all of the carbohydrates, can be exhausting. Then there’s trying to have some kind of personal life. So, thankfully I don’t have to work 50 weeks/year.

But because of all of that I’ve discovered some fun and unexpected creative outlets. I’ve written essays, articles, produced and hosted almost 150 episodes of a podcast, taken improv classes, and done some sketch comedy.

I’ve scaled back on a lot of that stuff these days so that I can better focus on my writing. I’m 31 and would like to one day have “Assistant” gone from my title. I believe I have to write my way to the next step.

4. How is being a writer's assistant on a comedy different from being a writer's assistant on a drama? 

The laughter is the main thing. And for me, I love showing up to a job where I know we’re going to be cracking up all day.

5. What have you learned from your job - writing or otherwise?

I’ve learned that I’m the happiest when I’m doing the best that I can at the job that I have -- while not worrying about the job that I don’t yet have. I’ve became someone who can type over 100 words-per-minute and is a Final Draft Ninja. While these aren’t things I tell women at bars, I’ve became a really good Script Coordinator/Writers Assistant. Even though I want to write full-time, I take pride in the job I have now. Because of that I often get television work, and don’t have to take “civilian” jobs. Over the years, writers that I admire have been willing to read my stuff, and even let me pitch in The Room. And once I find my way into a staff job, I plan on being extra kind to the Writers’ Assistant. (So long as he or she doesn’t screw up my lunch order!)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tuesday links!

Chris Pine and Co-Screenwriter Alex Kurtzman Discuss Captain Kirk's Growth in Star Trek 2 [Reelz]
"It is structured so that the antagonist brings out all of the qualities in Kirk that need to happen in order for Kirk to grow."

Goon Screenwriter Jay Baruchel Talks Hockey Violence and Bringing Back the Enforcer [Wired]
"I had that as an idea and watching that movie you are rooting for both of them and neither of them, you want both of them to succeed but you also know that just can’t be. In order for one of them to succeed the other will have to fail, but you also have a connection to both of them. I also thought of it as a Western in a way. You have these two gunfighters, they hear about each other and you know that inevitably they are going to have to face off."

Exclusive Interview with 'Magic Mike' Screenwriter Reid Carolin []
"..he develops a conscience through the movie because he doesn’t intuitively feel fulfilled."

The Animated Life of Seth MacFarlane, From ‘Family Guy’ to ‘Ted’ [NY Times]
"It was an idea that I had for an animated series. And when I decided it’s probably about time for me to make a movie, that seemed like a cool idea. The “Avatar”-slash-“Lord of the Rings” technology had reached a point where you could create a fictional-looking character that was completely real in movement. It’s been in adventure films, in fantasy films. Where more than a comedy do you need subtle character actors?"

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Writing advice from Nora Ephron

Last week, we lost a talented, insightful and hilarious woman: Nora Ephron. From The New York Times:
Nora Ephron, an essayist and humorist in the Dorothy Parker mold (only smarter and funnier, some said) who became one of her era’s most successful screenwriters and filmmakers, making romantic comedy hits like “Sleepless in Seattle” and “When Harry Met Sally...,” died Tuesday night in Manhattan. She was 71.
In a commencement address she delivered in 1996 at Wellesley College, her alma mater, Ms. Ephron recalled that women of her generation weren’t expected to do much of anything. But she wound up having several careers, all of them successfully and many of them simultaneously.
She was a journalist, a blogger, an essayist, a novelist, a playwright, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and a movie director — a rarity in a film industry whose directorial ranks were and continue to be dominated by men. Her later box-office success included “You’ve Got Mail” and “Julie & Julia.”
While my informal and unscientific Twitter poll revealed that When Harry Met Sally might be Nora's most beloved film, I think Sleepless in Seattle is my favorite. I often think about it as a reminder that we can be creative and clever with structure. Would you ever think that a two-hander romcom could explore a love story between two characters who don't really meet until the very end? Meg and Tom are essentially living in two different movies. Somehow, it works - and it's also impossibly romantic.

If you haven't already, please read Girls creator Lena Dunham's beautiful New Yorker tribute to Nora, whom she was lucky enough to know personally.

I thought I would share some of my favorite bits of Nora's writing and career advice:

On procrastination:
"I have on my computer something called Freedom. You put in however many minutes of freedom you would want, and for that period of time your computer does not allow you to go on the Internet."

On voice, routine, distractions and advice (from a 1974 interview):
"Well, it’s just that my point of view happens to be faintly cynical or humorous—and just the way I see things and that’s how it comes out when I write it."

"You better make them care about what you think. It had better be quirky or perverse or thoughtful enough so that you hit some chord in them. Otherwise it doesn’t work. I mean we’ve all read pieces where we thought, Oh, who gives a damn."

"I don’t have much of a routine. I go through periods where I work a great deal at all hours of the day whenever I am around a typewriter, and then I go through spells where I don’t do anything. I just sort of have lunch—all day. I never have been able to stick to a schedule. I work when there is something due or when I am really excited about a piece."

“Life. I mean the main thing that distracts me is the pressure to go on with one’s life. That you have to stop to have lunch with someone or you have to take the cat to the vet …”

“First of all, whatever you do, work in a field that has something to do with writing or publishing. So you will be exposed to what people are writing about and how they are writing, and as important, so you will be exposed to people in the business who will get to know you and will call on you if they are looking for someone for a job. Secondly, you have to write. And if you don’t have a job doing it, then you have to sit at home doing it.

On entering a male-dominated world:
"Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.”

On turning tragedy into comedy:
"I feel bad for the people who don't at some point understand that there's something funny in even the worst things that can happen to you."

On navigating unfriendly workplaces:
“Women are loyal and true in a way that men aren’t. We have trouble breaking up. On some level, you have to choose to not be victimized by the things you should be calm about and focus on the things that should actually upset you.”

On female characters:
"I try to write parts for women that are as complicated and interesting as women actually are."

Thursday, June 28, 2012

How script readers rate scripts

"Anonymous" commented on my post 10 Reasons Why I Pass on Scripts: "Consider with Reservations"? That's actually a thing?

Good question. Yes, it's actually a thing! Companies ask readers to RECOMMEND, CONSIDER or PASS on scripts - and some companies also allow you to CONSIDER W/RESERVATIONS (aka WEAK CONSIDER). However, that last rating should be used very sparingly, and can sometimes be seen as a cop-out in which readers avoid providing a firm opinion. My function as a reader is to save my bosses time: I read things so they don't have to. If I Pass on something, they don't need to read it. If I Recommend or Consider something, I'm saying "You should read this." A "Consider w/Reservations" is sort of saying, "I think maybe you should read this, but I'm not totally sure" - and if I send up too many scripts with this rating, I'm not really doing my job.

Here's a breakdown of how I view the rating system:

When I Recommend a script, I'm saying: "I love this script. Not only do I think you should read this script, but I also think you should buy it and make it. Hurry up before someone else does! If you don't, you will lose out on millions of dollars and/or Academy Awards!" A script doesn't necessarily have to be flawless to get a Recommend, but it should make me think that someone is definitely going to buy it.

For what it's worth, I was once assigned a revised version of a script I had Passed on for another company. I HATED the original script - but in the rewrite, all the things I had problems with had been fixed. I was about to write Consider on the rewrite, but then in my comments I had no remaining criticisms. I couldn't think of anything bad to say or suggest any changes - and so I Recommended it.

(As you might imagine, readers use this rating VERY rarely. I have only Recommended a handful of scripts.)

This is a much safer way to pass scripts up the ladder. A Consider basically means, "I liked this and I think you should read it." My bosses can then read through my comments and see if they agree. A company once told me, "With a consider, you are not necessarily recommending that we buy the project, but that we take a closer look." I Consider lots of scripts! The scripts don't have to be perfect, but to get a Consider they must have a solid concept, solid characters, etc. Every script aims to be something different; a small indie drama might get a Consider for potential Oscar-worthy roles, while a big-budget action movie might get a Consider for box office marketability. Whether a script fits with what the company is looking for is up to my bosses.

I have heard that some companies include the rating "Strong Consider," but I feel like a script like that should just get a Recommend. If a script has some sort of weakness holding it back from being a Recommend, then I think plain old Consider is appropriate.

Again, I'm wary of giving scripts this rating because I feel like I'm not really doing  my job when I don't take a firm stand. Here's how I think of it: a Consider w/Reservations means, "There's something here, but I have reservations about it. The script has a major flaw that needs to be addressed, but you might not want to overlook this bit of potential." Maybe the concept is great, but the characters need to be overhauled or the plot has a major hole, for example. Maybe there's an amazing lead role in the script, but the tone is all wrong.  Maybe the dialogue is making me laugh out loud, but I worry that the concept is not commercial. I might also use this rating if I like a script but worry that it's too much like another script/movie, or if a script has amazing attachments but would be a Pass without them. It's important to fully explain in my comments WHY I have reservations.

If I find myself really going back and forth between Consider w/Reservations and Pass, I remind myself that my job is to weed out the scripts that my bosses don't need to read - so I Pass. As you might imagine, I Pass on scripts that I don't think are impressive and don't think my bosses should bother to read. In the world of readers, most scripts are Passes. I rarely read exceptional scripts or horrendous scripts; most fall in the middle of the bell curve. If I don't Pass, I'm taking a risk by stamping my seal of approval on a script - and I'd better be able to defend it.

My taste certainly informs my reading, but I try to rate scripts against their genres, not against my own personal tastes. I generally don't like watching action movies, but I Consider action movie scripts all the time. I figure that if I actually enjoy reading an action movie script, it must be pretty good.

If you're a reader, I'd love to hear your philosophy behind the script rating system - please comment!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

10 Reasons Why I Pass on Scripts

Thanks to everyone who participated in our script reader Tweet-chat last night! If you missed it (or aren't on Twitter), Scott Myers is planning to post a transcript on GITS soon.

 I thought I would share 10 common reasons why I pass on scripts (or in some cases, bump my recommendation down from "Recommend" to "Consider" or from "Consider" to "Consider with Reservations.")

1. Unclear concept
Scott Myers was shocked to find that all three of us readers named "no clear concept" as a big pet peeve in scripts. It's true: I read tons of scripts by writers who haven't clearly defined what their movie is about. "Friendship after college" is not a hook. Watch this simple yet incredibly helpful video from TBSR about developing your idea into an actual concept and story. An unclear concept is often paired with a lack of clear goals, ticking clocks or throughlines that give the movie momentum. Try to avoid characters who are just kind of floating around.

2. Cliche or familiar concept 
You need more than just a concept: you need an original, unique and exciting concept. Pay attention to what's selling and what's in development. It's fine for your movie to be similar to other movies, but it shouldn't be too close to the exact same thing. For readers who are working for production companies, concept trumps execution. Sure, I try to reward great writing - but I'm always asking myself, "Should this be a movie?" and "Will the company want to buy and make this?"

3. Believability/motivational problems
Characters don't necessarily have to be likable, but they should have reasons for what they do. I often find myself taken out of a script because I'm asking myself, "would that really happen?" or "would she really do that?" In this same vein, when characters are "just crazy," it might come off as a lazy way to write an undeveloped character without believable motivations. Plausibility can also be an issue on a plot level: do some internet research before making up laws, government agencies, etc.

4. Misogyny and lack of female characters
It annoys me when:
-All the women in your script sleep with (or try to sleep with) your male protagonist, even though he is a loser with no attractive qualities
-You are clearly living out your sexual fantasies in your script
-Your script contains zero women
-Your female characters are defined only in the context of men
-Your female characters lack agency and need to be saved or rescued by men
-The physical description of all your female characters is overtly sexual, even though sex isn't part of the concept and none of your male characters are described this way

I'm always on the lookout for scripts with solid female characters. If your script has zero women or only disappointing women, I ask myself, "do I really want to help this get made?" I feel like it's the tiny little difference I can make. Of course I'm not going to pass on a great script about men (I consider and recommend them all the time) - but if I'm already about to pass on a script, a lack of women might further dissuade me from championing it.

5. Race and Sexual Orientation issues 
Don't fall into stereotypes. You might also read about the notion of "hipster racism" or "ironic racism" and ask yourself if your attempt at a joke (even a satirical one) is actually just plain offensive. Similarly, I've read scripts that celebrate and condone homophobia - and that's never going to give me a good impression.

6. Length/pacing
I don't automatically pass on 122-page scripts or anything.. but if your script is super long, that likely indicates that you should do some trimming. Is your pacing off? Can you combine scenes? Cut off the beginnings or ends? Make your action/description more succinct? It's hard to recommend a script that takes me forever to get through. I'm hoping for a script that won't make me turn to Twitter for better entertainment every ten seconds.

7. Visualzzzzzzz
Don't write a movie about people sitting on a couch and talking about their lives. Please give me something to look at! Have you created a compelling visual world? I was impressed by the script RUNNER, RUNNER because unlike similar scripts about online gaming, it didn't feature a guy sitting in front of a screen for an hour. They go to Costa Rica! Ocean! Boats! Jungle! Cool!

8. Unanswered questions and world-building
I often recommend that writers wait to tackle complicated, futuristic sci-fi dystopias until they have a few scripts under their belts. Creating an entire world is hard; with a script in our current world, you can assume that we all understand what cars and Congress are. But with a sci-fi world, you have to explain everything without weighing down your plot with too much exposition. Once you introduce the idea that the government requires us all to take pills, you have to explain how long this has been going on, who's in charge, how this logistically works, how society has responded, etc. It's just hard - and you'll probably have to study a lot of similar scripts and get feedback from friends who can tell you what's confusing and undeveloped. This idea stretches to other genres as well (something as simple as "how did he know she would be there?" might have to be answered) - but it's most commonly an issue for me in sci-fi scripts.

9. Unsatisfying roles/lack of arcs
Do your characters transform over the course of the story? Would A-list actors want to play them? Characters are the most important thing to me after concept. (I've written about this before.)

10. Failing to live up to your concept
Sometimes writers choose a great hook, but then disappoint me in their exploration of the hook. If you set up a movie about the best bank robbers in the world, then your movie should include a bank robbery. I recently passed on a script with huge A-list actors attached because it was a cool thriller/action movie in concept but a static character drama in execution. I felt misled! Think about whether you're exploring the most interesting aspect of your concept, and don't disappoint the reader by failing to deliver what you've promised.

Monday, June 11, 2012

New UK screenwriting contest open to writers around the world

I'm constantly getting emails from foreign writers looking for ways to break in. Since they can't move to LA and get an assistant job without a work visa, these international screenwriters can't follow the usual path I recommend. Instead, I suggest that they try to become published writers or get industry-related jobs in their home countries, and also look for reputable contests/fellowships that accept foreign submissions, like the Nicholl Fellowship and the Sundance Feature Fellowship.

Now there's a new contest to add to the list: sponsored by Final Draft and the Raindance Film Festival, the Screenwriting Goldmine Competition is looking for "great original screenplays, 45-125 pages in any genre, from new writers from all over the world. Prizes include £1,000 in cash, Final Draft Software, Raindance Workshops, IMDB Pro memberships, and screenplay consultancy. Most important of all, the finalists will have their work read by eight heavyweight judges, opinion leaders within the industry. The quality of these judges means getting to the finals should attract you some international recognition."

Regular Submissions £32 by 1pm Thurs 5th July
Last Minute Submissions £38 by 1 pm Thurs 12th July
(All London times.)

I always warn my readers to be wary of contests, since they often take your money without really providing you access to industry insiders. But the Judges for the Screenwriting Goldmine Competition, like those in the Final Draft Big Break Contest, seem pretty legit - check them out and decide for yourself.

Remember that no one contest is going to be the key to your success. Keep looking for new ways to get your work out there!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

5 Questions with a Network Drama Showrunner Assistant-Turned-Writer's Assistant

Jess was working as a Showrunner Assistant on a network drama - but when the show got cancelled and her boss moved to a new show (that will premiere in the fall), she moved over to Writer's Assistant. Since she's just starting as Writer's Assistant, she answered 5 questions about being a Showrunner Assistant:

How did you start working for a Showrunner?
How do you think? This is Hollywood, people. I laid down on the couch and started to unbutton my -- oh wait, wrong job. That was my Starbucks interview.

I worked at the alphabet soup studio for a year before transitioning show-side. I was really lucky to get the studio job, the coolest cowgirl executive hired me when I had no experience. But she took a shot on a random Latina, honestly I think because I entertained her. Anyway after about a year of working for her, I decided to take a gamble and mosey on over to Free Lunch Land aka working on a TV show. The free lunch is convenient, as my current salary is less than I got paid at that Starbucks gig.

When I finally got to work with writers on a show, it was like coming home. They were weird, neurotic, pencil-throwing, baseball bat-toting people. And they were MY people. The Showrunner I worked for taught me that writing for TV is so much more than pen and paper; it's about the whole process. It's about post, production, the actors, the writing, the rewriting, the rewriting of the get the picture. Again, I lucked out with a crazy cool boss, and just got bumped up to Writers' Assistant.

So basically, though it's been said over and over, it's a relationship bizness. And if you ain't got the relationships, you ain't got bizness bein' in the bizness. And yeah, that's how I spell bizness. Look it up on Urban Dictionary.

What are the basic duties of the Showrunner Assistant?
Beyond answering the phone, proofreading scripts, booking travel, and coddling the interns, I'd say the most basic duty of a Showrunner Assistant is to be kind. Never be a pushover, but sometimes people forget that we aren't saving lives, we're just making a TV show. So you need to kindly remind them. Also, every once in a while the PA will be five minutes late with lunch and the writers will run around office screaming "Famine!" -- don't be the douche who throws the PA under the bus. Say there's an accident, they got stuck. Do them a solid. They have the hardest job in the industry. And there's a good chance they will one day be your boss.

Do you have time to write?
I do, but that's because I don't let myself sit on The Facebook all day. I lock out a section of time when the writers are all in the room so they don't want to be bothered with calls anyway and have at it. Yes, people interrupt me. And yes, I want to blow them up. But I constantly fight myself to focus, because it doesn't get any easier. The Showrunner won't be excused from writing his episode because the studio or network kept calling to give notes on those pesky other episodes. So why should I complain?

My thing is, if you're a writer, you write. Period. If you aren't writing you just don't want it that badly.

What kinds of things have you learned from your job?
I've learned that you won't get anything if you don't ask for it...which guys are more naturally prepared to do. So, sac up, ladies. Ask if you can sit in on the room. Or if you can go to a mix session. Or if your boss will read your script. By waiting for the perfect time you aren't doing anyone any favors, and the whole purpose of being an assistant in entertainment is that one day that relationship will prove that you are a person worth more. Assistants are the lifeblood of the industry, but all of us are waiting for that day when we collect a paycheck that's more than you can get on unemployment.

The other thing is, don't ask. I know that sounds confusing, but don't ask for favors if you're bum and expect everything handed to you on a platter. Every question you ask is a favor, and no one is going to want to do a favor for a lazy bones. Be the one willing to help everyone. Then when you ask a favor, people will happily oblige.

How did you transition from Showrunner Assistant to Writer's Assistant? Did you ask your boss about it or did he bring it up?
We both talked about it, but I brought it up. He knew I wanted to be a writer, had read my material, and by some stroke of leprechaun luck -- he liked it. He's the kind of person who always welcomes growth and is a great mentor so I felt comfortable broaching the subject.

Okay, six questions. What's the writer's room like?
It's an enchanted place. That said, few writers can feel safe amongst other writers as historically we are very hermit-like. Or, like Hemingway, very drunk. But for the few of us who run on the fuel of bouncing ideas off's heaven. You form a bond with your room, which is really like a family, that's unparalleled. And as a budding writer, these bonds are the most important ones you have.

Also, if your future room is anything like mine, there will be a plethora of poop jokes. Bring toilet paper.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Premiering Tonight: Men at Work

Men at Work is a new TBS sitcom that premieres tonight at 10/9c. Take a look:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

5 Questions with a Cable Drama Showrunner Assistant

Katie works for a showrunner on a new cable drama that will premiere in the coming months. She was kind enough to answer 5 questions about her job:

How did you get your job?
My journey's been sort of cyclical. I moved out here to write, but started at a talent agency and then worked my way back to the creative side. My assisting began at William Morris (back when it was WMA - hollaaa) and then I worked for CBS Studios Drama Development, then a director/producer, and finally Showrunner Assistant. I wasn't trying to be strategic at the time, but my experience on the other side of the development process has been invaluable to me both in my current job and as a writer.

What are the basic duties of your job?
Officially, it's mostly administrative. I answer phones, track calls, manage files, and keep my boss on schedule. Unofficially, I'm fortunate because my boss actually abides by the open door policy, so I'm able to do more than just administrative duties. I'm able to pitch ideas and projects to him throughout production and hiatus.

Do you have time to write?
During hiatus, I work 9-6 with hour lunch break. When the writers are writing the show, it's a little later but not usually later than 7:30, and during production I usually work 9-8. When my boss is directing, it's the normal 12-14 hours of whatever is the shooting schedule. During production, I don't have as much time because my boss is so busy. But during hiatus, I have time to do my own writing. Also, because it's a cable show, our schedule is more lax than network shows, so I think I have more time than other showrunner assistants might.

What kinds of things have you learned from your job?
I've been able to see firsthand what it's like to be a successful, working writer. I've been lucky because I've had the chance to sit in the writers room and learn from seasoned writers about how to break story and craft structure. I've learned to always remember that entertainment is first and foremost a business, and you have to keep that in mind starting with the brainstorming stage. Practically, I've learned what the physical process looks like both from the writers' side and the production side. I've learned that as a writer in this industry, half the battle is making and maintaining relationships. Having an amazing script isn't enough - you need to have people who are willing to read it.

What advice do you have for people who want to become showrunner assistants?
Network and try to get as much experience as you can. Most of the jobs you'll get will be through relationships, and people need to know you're looking. Meet studio assistants and writers' assistants. Showrunner assistant jobs are usually kept quiet, so you'll want to be in a position where you have relationships with the people that are going to hear about those jobs openings. Also, there isn't one direct path or solution. Go to drinks with the people who have the job you want and ask how they got there. Although my journey felt long and somewhat indirect, I was hired because I had so much experience from the other side of the process.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Advice from script readers

Update: Part I of the Twitter discussion is now posted on Go Into the Story - check it out!

Late on Saturday night when I was painting my nails and watching Say Yes to the Dress super busy, the Bitter Script Reader, Nate Winslow and I got into an impromptu Twitter discussion with Go Into the Story's Scott Myers. To my new followers and readers: welcome! The chat was fun, and we'll be doing more reader discussions on Twitter soon. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, if anyone wants to ask me questions about my experience as a reader, feel free to comment or email me. I've written two posts on Why Readers Pass, and plan to do more. I'm actually surprised I get so few questions about my perspective as a professional reader.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Outdoor movie screenings this summer!

Nothing says LA like outdoor movie screenings! Check out some of this summer's offerings:

5/26 - SABRINA
5/27 - GREASE
(more to come)

Street Food Cinema
6/23 - AVATAR
7/14 - X-MEN
7/28 - IRON MAN

Eat See Hear
7/21 - TOMMY BOY
8/11 - FRIDAY

Note: Last year a company called Outdoor Cinema Food Fest provided screenings, but its website is no longer active and according to Yelp, it's defunct.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Commuting to LA from Long Beach and OC

Amanda writes: How far is too far from LA? I was born and raised in Orange County so I figured it might be easier to just live at home and commute. While I am well aware of the devil that is the 405 and rising gas prices (devil's spawn), I am dedicated enough to leave the house at 5 AM if I need to. When I send out resumes and put down my home address, will the gatekeepers deem Orange County acceptable or would it be better if I just moved to LA?

SJ writes: I'm moving to SoCal in a few months. My future roommates are already out in LA in grad school, so they're in charge of finding places to live. One goes to USC and the other goes to Chapman University in OC, so they're trying to find a place that would be cost efficient and equidistant for the three of us. The area that those girls are focusing on is Long Beach. Once I get out to the west coast, I'll be trying to find an entry level job in the industry - so my concern is, in terms of finding said entry level job, does it matters where you live? I'm just a bit concerned that since Long Beach is about 30 minutes away from LA, that may be considered too long of a commute for potential employers and they would be less inclined to hire me. Any advice would be amazing and very much appreciated.

A few employers might be turned off by an address on a resume that's too far from their LA office (especially if they've had previous employees with tardiness problems), but I don't think most people will toss your resume aside based on your address. If you want, you can leave your address off your resume and just list your cell phone number. Since lots of us keep our non-LA cell numbers (myself included), the area code isn't exactly a dead giveaway that you're not in LA... but if you don't have any SoCal work experience, you probably DO want to include a local address so that people don't think you're applying from New York or something (which would be a strike against you).

SJ: Long Beach is not "30 minutes" from LA. Maybe 30 minutes at 2 am if you're driving really fast. I used to travel to Huntington Beach (just past LB) fairly often and it would often take me 90 minutes, even when it wasn't rush hour. It's going to be hard finding somewhere convenient to both Chapman and USC; I know this isn't want you want to hear, but I recommend finding new roommates. (Or living with just the USC one, maybe.) You're going to waste a ton of time and gas if you get a job in LA. I don't think anyone will care that you live in Long Beach in terms of hiring you (as long as you can show up to work on time), but it just doesn't seem feasible to me.

On the other hand, I think Amanda is smart to stay in OC and live with her parents for a while, since she'll be living rent-free. If you can handle living with your parents for a few months (or maybe even a couple years), you will be able to save a LOT of money - and trust me, this will make your life much easier in your 20s. But if you're paying rent, I recommend getting as close to job opportunities as you can.