Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Advice for Screenabes 2

For query letters I notice a lot of writers include statements that carry unwanted subtext. 

For example: 

1. "If you've been tryin' for years we've already heard your song." ('Death or Glory' by The Clash. 

This is the I've written 20 screenplays and been at this for 17 years with little or no success. 

Goal of writer: To show commitment and impress them with your effort. You're in for the long haul. 

Subtext: Everyone's seen my work and hated it and I'll never make it. I'm a has been before I ever started. 

Fix: Better to be 'discovered' by someone and give them the satisfaction of finding the shiny new star. I wouldn't put anything on the resume' older than 2 years. You just dashed out this screenplay (your 2nd or 3rd) and you're a true find. 

Of course, not true. Takes on average a decade to break in and ten scripts. Never let 'em see you sweat though. 

2. The Michael Myers screenplay. This script never dies and the writer works on it only to have it show up again and again and... You get the idea. 

Query will contain something like, "This script has undergone 176 rewrites. I've been working on it 3 years. 572 people have read it including 47 consultants." 

Goal of Writer: Impress the reader with their effort. 

Subtext: I got a stale script that everyone, including my dentist, has seen. I can't do assignment work because it takes me a week to write a sentence. I'm stuck like a skip in a CD. I may only have one idea and can't even get that right. 

Fix: The script is here. They'll see the effort in the work. Here's the pitch. Read it. Less effort you appear to have done to accomplish great work implies, "Wow, some secret font of genius is there!" Michael Jordon was genius in motion because of the thousands of hours of work he put in to get there. But all we want to see is the result. 

3. The "I'm not a pro" adjectives. 

Writer will say something like, "I'm an aspiring screenwriter and I'm hoping you can help hand me a career on a silver platter. I've got an optioned feature screenplay." 

Goal of writer: Not to appear cocky. Humble and I'm nervous even writing this letter. 

Subtext: I'm a frackin' loser. 

"Aspiring" = bad. Not a real pro but a wannabe. 

"One option" -- for a dollar to your uncle. How about "Feature in pre-production"? Smile Which it is technically. 

"Placed third in Iowa Beefiest Screenplay Contest." How about... "Award-winning screenwriter..."? 

Fix: Be cocky. You're a pro. They need you. You're the one that they make money off of -- YOU'RE the talent and creator. You ARE a screenwriter. 

You are moving forward and the train has left the station. Hop on but I'm rolling down the tracks with you or without your sorry ass and you'll feel like a schmuck when you blew your chance cashing in. 

A healthy dose -- not total prickdom -- of self-confidence is a sign of a professional in any field. Focus on the material -- just read this script. It'll say the rest. 

4. Shotgunning. 

"I have seven screenplays and here are the loglines..." BLAM BLAM BLAM! Game over. 

Writer's goal: I have no idea what they want. Who knows? Fuck it. Try them all. 

Subtext: I have all kinds of crap here -- all shapes and sizes -- and have no clue which you may want. I didn't go my research to know you already have a thriller about circus clowns in pre-production. Plus, I've been at it ten years and have a huge stack here. Read them all. Please! 

Fix: Target ONE script with each letter. Don't want to have a dozen unsold scripts. They know you got 'em but don't say. 

If other people have additional suggestions post them under COMMENTS.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Advice for Screenabes

A few aspiring screenwriters have asked me for advice.  So here it is all in one place:

First, visit boards:

1.    Keen is a moderator there now.  Bit more advanced than TriggerStreet usually and some good info there.

2.    Info on contests but also discussions.   

3.  TriggerStreet.   All familiar with the Street.   Join it.  Review scripts.  Post your own (after you copyright it).  Get notes, revise, repost.

4.  The Artful Writer.   Board there.   Pros answer questions.

Second, on all these boards remember everything that you post is, in effect, advertising.  Are you someone people want to do business with or not?

Amazed to see people insulting contests, reviewers, getting in flame wars, etc. on these boards.  Not exactly winning friends in the industry and it's a small company town at the top.  

One writer posted that he'd been working on one script for 3 years, 180 drafts. 20 pro readers gave notes.    ??   He apparently believed that was impressing someone.   It didn't.  Less effort = more talent.

3rd, your profile.  Be careful to avoid "aspiring" or other things that make you seem unsuccessful / newbie.   Don't mention contest wins over 2 or 3 years old.   Keep the "discover a great new talent" possibility there for producers.   Putting 50 contests on a list is too much.  3 or 4 big ones says enough.   Don't be a long-time wannabe that can't
make the leap to pro.

4th, send hand written thank you cards.   You can buy a box.   When a pro reader service or contact comes into contact with you follow up with a note.   Gets your name out there for them again and creates a favorable lasting impression.   

5th.   Networking.  Things like the Hollywood by Phone calls.  Listen to those and send letters thanking them for their insights.    Don't ask for anything up front.  Just open the door with the letter and provide your email.  Not asking for immediate help prevents you from being one of the dozens of instant "No"s they'll do that week.  Don't ask questions or for advice that they've already given in interviews/blogs/podcasts.   Do your research.

6th.   Travel.   If you can afford to go to seminars, retreats, events go there in person.  Put a face to the name.   Again, don't go into 'sell mode' or elevator pitch.  Read GOOD IN A ROOM.   Good advice on approaching people.  Small company town.  People know people.  Expanding your network helps.   Follow up with cards after the conferences.   

7th.  Body of work.  Keep working to create a number of scripts.   When the heat hits you want to be able to cash in.   Keep momentum moving forward.  

8th.    Short films. allows you to post short scripts. lets you post a summary for free.   Why?   You network with filmmakers.  Your name on a completed work and it can land on IMDB if they enter select contests.   Plus, short films can lead to features.   You want CREDITS.   Films being made from your work = momentum.

9th.  Get PRO ADVICE on your screenplay from multiple sources.   Then rewrite.   I've mentioned several pro services on this blog.   

A few...

a.   David Gillis.  Great writer who provides great notes.  Best for 'first stop' on the page line-by-line edits;
b.  Tim Long in Florida.  Great 'big picture' structure notes;
c.  Michele Wallerstein.  Big picture notes from a former agent guiding you how to revise your script for the market;
d.  Carson Reeves at Script Shadow.   Excellent notes and you can see a sample of the quality from his website;
e.  Michael at Script-A-Wish.  Great notes and great contacts;
f.  Gregory Sarno.  Pro screenwriter that does very detailed notes; and
g.  The Script Department (Julie Gray's group).   Talented bunch. 

I've left out a few but that's a good start!   As great as you feel your script is you really have no idea until you get pro feedback.   Even contests are a measure of your script against other amateur writers.   Still a long way to go to achieve professional quality work.

Monday, July 13, 2009

My Mentor

Wanted to give my recommendation for Michele Wallerstein, a former literary agent now working as a script consultant. I've been working with Michele on several of my scripts over the last few months and she does great work.

"I've worked with Michele Wallerstein for more than 20 years, and you won't find anyone better at coaching you on your manuscript. Her extensive experience representing novelists and screenwriters, her brilliant sense of story, and her honesty, toughness, humor, compassion and industry connections will all propel you toward a better novel or screenplay, and an ultimate sale." Michael Hauge.

Her website:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Shadow Knows...

Great blog for screenwriters to follow:

Features posting of screenplays that have sold recently and reviews them.  Carson also gives good notes and is reasonably priced.  

Comedy Timing

Been rewriting my romantic comedy, WEDDING KNIGHT, and haven't had time to blog in a while.

I did, however, receive a comment that this was good information "for a comedy writer in the 1950s."

First, thanks for the feedback. Glad to know someone out there still knows how to read.

Second, if you were to take a course in screenwriting you would likely begin reading a book by Aristotle called THE POETICS.

That book is at least as old as the 1950s but you might doublecheck me on that.

The point is: The rules don't change.

The techniques are still there ready to be used. In fact, if you study the silent era masters (Chaplin and Keaton) these films are better than anything made since. American film comedy was at its apex before sound arrived. Shocking, huh?

Comedy is becoming a lost craft. I've sat through several recent films billed as "comedies" that had fewer than ten laughs in the entire film. One (and I may be working with these filmmakers/producers one day so I won't mention it by name) had ZERO laughs in the entire film.

Go back to the basics. Learn the craft. From there develop your own style.

I am beginning work soon on an eBook which will expand the theories discussed in this blog. Updates on that project to follow...