Friday, June 11, 2010

How had I not heard about this website? It’s now the top-ranked traffic count screenwriting website out there.

What is it? Free screenwriting software. Okay, you may already have that. How about an online community of writers to share reads? Groups to discuss a variety of screenwriting-related topics.

And how about… contests. I discovered the site entering the Ed Burns Scripped contest (Ed is on the board of the Scripped company). Contest assignment was to write the first fifteen pages based on a setup they provided. Then this month they are running a Spike-TV contest. Chance to have your pilot air on network television.

Turns out all the contests are free if you’re a subscriber to Scripped’s pro service. Check out the site. 60,000 users already and growing.

Table Read Your Screenplay

Couple of weeks ago I found out I’d won the Grand Prize in the Table Read My Screenplay contest. Being flown out to L.A. next month and should be fun.

What is a table read? A table read is a group of actors brought together to go through a script. Each actor is assigned character or several characters.

Why do this? Screenplays should contain realistic dialogue. A table read allows you as writer to hear the work performed and make adjustments. Actors may trim words or take approaches to the character. Certain lines will appear redundant or on the nose. All of these improvements can springboard from a table read.

There are additional benefits depending on the genre. For example, a talented comic actor may get into character and improvise creating usable material.

How to do this?

1. Location. Pick a location where you have some degree of privacy. You want the actors to let it rip. If they get in character and begin yelling or moving about you’ll quickly become a distraction, if not annoyance, to a public location. Classroom, private room at a restaurant, or your home are suggestions.

2. Pay. Actors appreciate a show of respect for their effort. Some nominal pay (20-30 bucks) is good. Or just offer to buy dinner if you meet at a restaurant. Everyone will be more likely to show up and come back for the next one. You want trained actors. If a scene is flat or dialogue sloppy, you’ll know it’s on you as the writer rather than an amateurish performance.

3. Pre-Read. Send the scripts to the actors ahead of time or hand them a copy. Want them to have a chance to read through it and annotate their lines

4. Incentive for Actors. If you are a filmmaker or producer as well it’ll help you network with actors. Lead to future rules for them.

5. During the read. I suggest taking a food break in the middle of the read or at least a bathroom break. May take two hours to go through a script.

6. TAKE NOTES. If possible, have someone else read the narration. You want to be marking up your script and taking notes. You may also wish to video or audio record the performance to play later.

7. It’s a wrap. Pay everyone if you agreed to do so. Pick up the tab. Email ‘thank you’s. You’re creating your team.

Best of luck. Look for the video posting from my contest win in the months ahead at

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Creating TV series ideas on spec

(Guest Blogger Erik Bork explains creating a new TV series. Erik has a free initial consult offer right now. The half hour/one page is great to brainstorm BEFORE you write it, saving you many drafts. Please mention I referred you. Thanks.)

Here’s something that comes up a lot when I work with writers who have original series ideas, and spend time mapping out multiple episodes, character breakdowns and “show bibles”…
If you’re not yet established and not yet represented, your spec pilot is primarily a WRITING SAMPLE. Yes, of course you hope that the idea sells and gets produced and becomes a series, but that is such a million-to-one shot (even for those of us who do this for a living and sell pitches to networks on a regular basis), that it’s more realistic to focus on first things first — which is for this pilot script to get you noticed, advance your career, possibly get you representation and meetings. Beyond that, who knows? But the networks aren’t looking for spec pilots from unknown writers that they might produce, nor is the possibility of producing it independently as realistic as in features (although with web series, that is changing somewhat).

This is not to be discouraging at all — a spec pilot can be a very viable writing sample, and you never know what could happen beyond that. Make it the best writing sample you can, that achieves what a good pilot script should achieve. Which is what?
Well, the script needs to stand on its own. You will not be asked about what will happen in future episodes, or have the opportunity to illustrate that through a separate document. Your job is to make sure that the pilot script suggests and implies that there are endless great future episodes in this SERIES CONCEPT, because what you’re presenting in the pilot illustrates an ENDLESSLY REPEATABLE “FRANCHISE” for what happens in an episode.

“What’s the franchise?” is a common thing you hear T.V. agents, producers, and executives asking. Look at any successful series, and you can probably explain in a paragraph the template for what an episode always includes, in terms of story structure — hopefully a template that’s compelling, entertaining, believable, and somewhat fresh. Think of LAW AND ORDER, BUFFY, STAR TREK, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, etc. A typical episode’s story usually involves “X” kind of problematic situations that resolve through “Y” kinds of actions and “Z” kinds of conflicts for your characters.

Your pilot script should clearly illustrate what “XYZ” are for your concept.
Understand that no matter how serialized the overall series will be, and how much the pilot needs to set up the basic concept (and how these characters and situation come together), the pilot should also contain within it a sample of the kind of story we’ll see each week — the kind of case, or finite example of the conflicts and problems this series will showcase, with a clear beginning, middle and end.

Buyers don’t usually like what they call a “premise pilot,” where the entire pilot episode only focuses on setting up the series, but doesn’t include a “sample story” that shows them what future episodes will look like. Most pilots now set up the basic series premise stuff quickly in the first act, then get to a sample story that takes the rest of the pilot to play out. OR, they interweave “premise” elements within such a sample story.

I could go on, but these are the basic thoughts I wanted to put out there. Please feel free to comment or ask questions if you have any!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Free Consult with Emmy Winner Erik Bork

Previous guest blogger, Erik Bork (BAND OF BROTHERS) is doing some FREE phone consults:

Can't beat that price. Tell him Stephen Hoover sent ya...