Monday, December 27, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 156 - Year Three Recap

This has been quite the writing year - both productive and educational. My post-Apocalyptc spec, which ended 2009 in the hands of a creative executive at a production company in Hollywood, evolved over the course of another three drafts (and many smaller revisions) since then. In May, the independent producer who optioned it a year and a half ago (Gretchen) and the creative exec agreed that the then-current incarnation of the script was just about industry ready. In June, I renewed my option with Gretchen, a move that really protects her as much as if not more than it served me at that point. Finally, after agreeing that the script was just about all there in May, we spent a week doing final proofreading and minor problem-solving in August, having subjected it to another few months of filling in gaps and making tweaks. Toward the end of the summer, not long before Labor Day, the script went out to agents and was slipped to a lawyer. 

We got positive responses from a few of the agents, namely at UTA and WME. While waiting to see if either interested agent was keen enough to meet with me and possibly take me on as a client, and while waiting to hear back from the lawyer who the creative exec had given the script to, I dove into a new project. My firefighter script, a fun, semi-absurd action spec, took about a month to write, after outlining and character sketching was through. During that month, my manager gave me confirmation that someone at UTA was indeed very interested and had a strong working relationship with both the lawyer (who by that point had read and liked the script a lot) and the creative exec still working with us. 

With the interest from those parties secured, my manager set up meetings for me. I flew out to LA in mid-October, three days after finishing the first draft of my firefighter spec. My manager and I met that weekend to prepare for the upcoming meetings and to discuss the draft of the firefighter script. While he liked it, we both acknowledged that there was a tone issue that warranted addressing before the script went out anywhere. That Monday, I had successful meetings at UTA and at the law firm. A lunch with the creative exec revealed that the production company she works for would not stay on as a partner on the script, either officially or unofficially. However, she was still devoted to the project, and secured the ability to remain on board, independently, developing the material with us on the side, apart from the production company. Both reps I met took me on as a client, and I was back to NYC with a promise to deliver two specs a year.

Not long after returning from LA, I was bound for the Middle East for vacation. It was a great trip, but also served as a two-week break from all things writing. My return to the States preceded Thanksgiving and year-end madness by just a few days. In the time since, I came up with a handful of other ideas for potential scripts, some more plausible than others. I've now settled on three that I'd like to pursue, though one of them might be less marketable than the others. My charge now is to dive fully into one to have it ready to begin working on and talking about soon into the New Year. And, finally, as 2010 wraps up, my reps and I are awaiting news from a read we are getting at a studio over the holiday, and regarding interest we have from another producer who read and really liked it. With Hollywood effectively closed until January 3, there's little for the post-Apocalyptic spec any of us an do for the next week, other than wait. Still, it could be a result very much worth waiting for. 

One thing that's captured my attention regarding this whole process, is how a writer's script's future is completely out of their hands at a certain point. (I'm talking mostly about unproduced or emerging writers like myself here.) I spent nearly three years writing the post-Apocalyptic spec, yet at this point, I am making very few decisions regarding it. My representatives and independent producers keep me in the loop regarding everything, but the ball is very much not in my court. Sure, I can weigh in, and they're all great to deal with - this is in no way a knock against any of them; I couldn't have lucked out more in terms of the type of people I'm dealing with. Still, when all is said and done, while I think about the script a lot, it can be weeks between phone calls or emails about it. To have gone from so much time with it and being the only person involved in its development, to the one discussing it the least and the last to be responsible for mapping its future is just a very strange feeling, one I've come to terms with, but which still seems odd when I think about it.

It fails to elude me, either as I write this now or when I frequently think about it, that my experiences in the industry - or at least on its periphery - have all been due to one script. The representation I've secured, the lunches and coffee meetings, the development calls and countless rewrites, all of it has been due to one project, for one project. Naturally, this begs the obvious question (while I'm sure my reps are thinking it, I'm the one who has so far vocalized it) - will there be another script? Will I take meetings and lunches and generals and calls for another project that people are interested in?

The honest answer, is that there's no guarantee. Certainly, I hope there will be. The agent and lawyer and manager who have invested time and energy in me definitely hope so. I am working to make a viable follow up script a reality (and soon, I hope). But, as with so many other things in this industry, there is no absolute affirmation. No guarantee. The thing is, though, I don't think that should be a grim revelation. My work is cut out for me, as I love to recall my agent's words; it is both "very easy and very difficult, [I] just have to keep writing." So there it is, my mission for 2011: more writing. If this, my career trajectory, is a script, I like to imagine that I've come to the end of Act One; 2010 (and some major events in the two years preceding it) set up a possible outcome for my venture into screenwriting. As we turn the page into 2011, the difficulties of a self-sustaining second act become readily apparent, and despite the obstacles, highs, and lows I might encounter in the coming years, my directive is to continue writing throughout, and to do it better than I have in the past. I feel ready for the challenge. Onward, into 2011. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 155 - The 3 Ps of Being a Client

Hollywood is closed. Until January 3rd, very little will be happening in Tinsel Town. People will be reading a lot of scripts, but in terms of deals and meetings, there will be next to none of that going on - especially officially. 

Because of the two week break at the end of the year, this is a difficult time to really break in. It is, on the other hand, an amazing time to get some major writing done. With the industry going silent for a bit, we writers - especially those of us who are still trying to get our names and work out there - have the perfect opportunity to polish off current or start new scripts. Managers and agents won't be clamoring for new material, and the buyers are out of town (or at least away from the office), so there's no pressure now to go to the industry. It's an amazing time to just focus and write.
That said, just to continue relaying my experiences to other hopeful scribes, I'll give you my year-end update. I spoke to my manager at the end of the day yesterday, and 2010 ended on a fairly positive note. There was some positive feedback from a production company, though again nothing concrete beyond that until after January 3. We also have a read at one of the studios over the holidays, which is great. Beyond those, my manager's also been in touch with a head of development at a company here in NYC, looking to arrange a general (i.e. meet and greet meeting) for me come 2011. All in all, a few nice things to look forward to after ringing in the New Year. 

One other important realization I had yesterday while talking to my manager, which I'd stress to anyone with or hoping for representation. Last week, I wrote a lot about being a proactive client. This week, I'll put on the other shoe and discuss being a patient client, a bit. I know that my manager's doing a lot - trying to set up meetings, determining if my ideas for other projects are already out on the market or not, building contacts for me. I might not hear from him, but in reviewing everything with him then, I was reminded that I don't need daily or weekly updates to know he's on the case. (Mark this under the category of "obvious, but bears repeating." If/when you have representation, just because they don't reply immediately or the meeting they're setting up doesn't happen in a day, remind yourself that they have your best interest in mind. I know my rep does, but I felt that such a crystal clear indicator of that was worth mentioning. If months go by, that's a different case. But representatives - agents, managers, lawyers - do a lot. Would you rather have them calling every hour to let you know there's no update, or out on the phone and in meetings trying to sell you and your work?

Proactive and patient - that seems to be the best way to go. And I'll throw in a final adjective to round out the "three Ps of being a client;" pleasant. Be pleasant to work with, to give notes to, pleasant in meetings, and to develop a script with. Saying "yes" or knowing how to say "no" in a kind way will make people want to work with and for you. It will make them want to protect you. As a writer, that can be invaluable. Proactive, patient, and pleasant. That'll do it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 154 - Be a Proactive Client

The agent/manager/client relationship is an interesting one. It's something that most of us new and aspiring writers dream about getting involved in. We often believe it'll be the solution to all of our (career-building) problems. Getting an agent or manager - at first, the idea is that any representative will do - is the first major goal of breaking into the film industry. Once that's been accomplished, they should do everything and drop everything for you. This kind of thinking can be misleading, can prove frustrating, and is in many ways just wrong. That said, once you have secured representation, there are a few key things you can do to ensure a more successful writer/representative relationship.

(Full disclosure: for anyone who hasn't been keeping up with me since day one - and apologies to people who have been - I currently have both an agent and a manager. Before that, I spent about four months with a manager who did not pan out, and a good chunk of time before that when I didn't have any representation at all. Take my advice, or leave it, with a grain or a cup of salt. All of this is based on what I've been told and what I've discovered through my interactions with my various representatives.)

As emerging talent, as my agent (who I secured in October) said, I have both a very easy and a very difficult job right now. I have to keep writing. Sounds simple enough, but the stakes have changed since I was just writing for myself. The future of my relationship with my representatives hinges on my ability to deliver product (scripts) in a timely fashion. That doesn't mean first drafts, either. The bar has been raised, and I'm charged with trying to produce two industry-ready scripts per year. It's a pretty mighty task, but this first year or two is really like testing period. Sure, the goal is to sell my post-Apocalyptic spec and set me up on other projects. But I also have to prove my ability to produce quality pages in a professional window. So, part of my job is to be proactive in terms of my writing - I have to come up with marketable ideas, and then be able to follow through with the scripts. In that way, I help my representatives and myself.

Being a proactive client doesn't end in just producing pages, though. While an agent or manager is supposed to set their writers up on meetings and get their name out into the industry, a dedicated client will try to do the same. This is where your contacts come into play. If you've held an internship or worked with someone before, and they have the power to read and maybe recommend a script, try to get that connection linked up with your reps. If you have an in at a production company, even if it's not the kind of company that does the work you're writing, let your manager or agent know. Make connections that they can follow up on on your behalf. The initial stage of your career is going to be used for building your visibility and gaining you some name-recognition. Be proactive in making connections, as well, and you'll help your representatives. After all, any help they get in marketing you, really just helps you in the end.

Hollywood Blacklist 2010

The 2010 Hollywood Black List - a compilation of 290 executives' favorite scripts of the year, which will not be in theaters in 2011 - has just been released. You can peruse the entire list here, at Deadline Hollywood.

If you've been following sales at all, a lot of these titles will probably look pretty familiar to you. Most of these have sold a while ago and, consequently, already have production companies attached to them. Like most independent film festivals, which were once intended to showcase work by new and emerging talent (but have since grown to be the release venues for A-list talent's next films), the Black List is no longer home to predominantly un-sold material by new writers. (Not to assume that it was, but in earlier years, many of the titles featured on the prestigious list had yet to attract buyers.) Now, the list is predominantly scripts that simply haven't been put into production yet, or are, but will not premiere on screens in 2011. In fact, excluding the scripts that only received five votes apiece - and there are a lot of those - you can count on one hand the projects which do not currently have a production company attached to them.

For those of us trying to break in, the list can be a mixed blessing. For one, I strongly suggest taking a look at it and reading all the loglines closely, so as to familiarize yourself with what's selling these days. These were the hot scripts of 2010. This is what the market wants. You'll start to see some patterns or similarities emerge pretty quickly in this list. No surprise there. On the other hand, since many of the ideas are reimaginings of tried and true formats, and fairly vague in logline format, you might find that your idea is up on that list. It's unfortunate, but that can happen a lot. The key to winding up on the list next year is to do your own take on something, not to mimic it entirely. While what's selling today might not be selling tomorrow, chances are rival companies are going to want to jump on the bandwagon - at least for a little bit - so you might see a market opening. Take it, if you can.

Also of note, and probably pretty obvious once you think about it, is the fact that all of these scripts have representation. This makes sense, since this list is compiled from votes by executives. For the most part, the only way to reach those people is through agents and managers. Don't be discouraged if you don't have representation yet. Just keep querying and trying to get someone to read your script. Hopefully, you'll name will be on the list next year!

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 153 - Know the Market

Screenwriting is a business. When you're a writer, you (your work) are your product. Your ideas and your talent are the good you sell, and your ability to deliver on time and be a pleasure to work with helps put you above the rest of the competition. And, like in any other business, in order to stay afloat in it - or in cases like mine, where the writer has yet to make a sale, but is trying to wiggle into the industry - you must know both the market value of the product and the market trends.

I've talked a lot in the past about the importance of knowing the market. Sites like Done Deal Pro and Deadline Hollywood help track sales and industry happenings. Track this information closely. You can tell what the value of your idea might be based on whether or not something similar (i.e. teenage vampires) has sold recently, and what it went for. If twelve teenage vampire scripts sold last month, there's probably a good chance that by the time your idea hits the right agent or producer's desk, the trend will have passed, and the next hottest tween 'tainment craze will have begun. On the other hand, if space seems to be the next frontier for Hollywood, and your agent just happened to have received the next Star Wars from you, you could be in a good spot. Similarly, if a couple big action movies just sold, and you have a tentpole action out to representation or studios, you can guesstimate what its worth by what the others went for. (Of course, your representatives are the ones who will negotiate the terms of the sale; their job is to know that X scripts are going for Y money these days. A writer in the know, though, is always a smart businessperson.)
The downside to all this information can be equally as obvious. Research done at Box Office Mojo and via the trades can and often does shed some light on the climate for certain pictures at the moment. For example, the past week, I've been developing a Middle Ages idea. Over Thanksgiving, I watched the new Robin Hood movie. It wasn't very good. More than that, it cost a lot of money, and it was not considered a huge box office or critical success. Failing on one of those two points might not be so bad, if the other lives up to hope. For both to fall short, though, can be bad news - not only for the companies and talent involved, but for the genre itself. I had a hunch that Robin Hood might have made Middle Ages movies a bit risky now, so I called my manager last week just to follow through. Sure enough, he was keen on everything about the idea, except for the fact that it was set when and where it was. Audiences did not receive the last Medieval movie well, so all future projects are (almost immediately) dubbed too risky. Especially when written by still-unknown writers.

On the other hand (and back to the positive), tracking the trend like that allowed me to get a jump on debating the viability of the project, before getting too far into the script. Imagine if, three months from now, I sent my manager a completed draft of a script, just to hear, "I like it, but we shouldn't do the Middle Ages now." That would be bu hao ("no good"). So, in addition to all the writing you're doing, if you don't do so yet, try to follow the market, as well. It can give you a much needed leg up in this difficult industry.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 152 - No More Idleness, A Writing Resolution

Thanksgiving is over, and Christmas and New Years are right around the corner. For writers not getting paid to work, this can either be a great time to work (what with all the free time) or, more often the case, an extremely detrimental period to one's work ethic. As far as I go, I know two things to be very true for myself - 1) while my team tries to sell my post-Apocalyptic spec, I can no longer afford to miss out on any potential writing time and 2) the temptation to scale back my efforts over the holiday month is great. To avoid stagnating, I have decided that I will not succumb to the holiday slump, no matter the hours that means I will keep.

In truth, I've done little writing in November, costing myself a great deal of time. Granted, I was out of the country and not on a trip conducive to writing for two weeks. And then, promptly after my return, I left the City again for the long Thanksgiving weekend. The result is a month with little more than about a half dozen loglines to show for it. At this stage in my (hopefully) emerging career, I have to consider that entirely unacceptable. 

Part of the reason for the lack of actual writing is that I have yet to settle on a next project. My manager and I go back and forth over my ideas, many of them proving unsuited to the current market for one reason or another. I've allowed myself this difficulty in settling on a project an excuse for little momentum, and over the holiday - which proved more revelatory than I anticipated - determined that was no longer justifiable. My return to New York prompted something in me, which wants to cast off any sense of idleness. I think, actually, something I experienced overseas did that, though I can't say what it was. 

I do know, though, that the position I'm in necessitates writing. To that end, I've decided to begin outlining a project I want to work on, even before receiving my manager's blessing on it. For starters, being able to speak about it at greater length should make my pitch stronger. If nothing else, though, it will get my mind working again after a vital month which, if I am to be completely honest with myself, feels like more of a loss than a gain in terms of progress that is in my hands. I can't control what's happening with the post-Apocalyptic spec at this point, so I feel as though I can't claim any real progress it makes as my own now - not, at least, until I have something solid to follow it up with. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 151 - Developing New Ideas as Producers Read

It's been a pretty eventful two weeks, though not a lot of that time has been spent on writing. As you know, I've been out of the country exploring the Middle East and Cyprus. It was a pretty epic, pretty incredible trip. And to be honest, it was good to get away from everything for a bit, especially the post-Apocalyptic spec, since there's nothing I can really do to further any progress at this point.

While I was abroad, my team went out to some directors and big-time producers. We're still waiting to hear back from most people. Of course, not everyone will like or want the material, but part of the process right now also involves just getting my name out there and familiarizing people with my style. Ideally, even if that doesn't lead to a direct sale right now on this project, it will beget other work in the near future.

Now that I'm back in the country, I need to continue developing other script ideas. I'm working on scaling them back a bit for the time being, and as I tried to kill 13 hours in the Larnaka, Cyprus airport last week, I came up with a half dozen, fairly mainstream and "simple" ideas. I don't mean simple in terms of the idea being basic or dumb or easy. Rather, simple just means that it's easy to comprehend, conducive to an elevator pitch that doesn't require visuals and an entire world or preexisting knowledge. People can hear these ideas in 30 seconds and think, "I know that. It's like (insert well-known movie here), but with a twist." Frankly, that's the ticket right now, at least for me. 

As I mentioned in the past few weeks, the industry is still fickle at this point, and as writers trying to sell big ideas, we have to make things that are unique and new takes on something that has been tried and true. That's what I'm working on now. If nothing else, it's an interesting experiment, just seeing how many ideas I can come up with in an hour, which I'd actually want to write. If I detested them, they didn't even go down on paper. After all, I'm the one who is going to have to spend (possibly) a year on it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 150 - Exploring the World (and Hopefully Finding Inspiration)

It's that time again - my annual "get out of the U.S." trip. Don't get me wrong. I love the comforts of home. Compared to some of the places I've been, life in New York City is a complete luxury. Still, I find it crucial to my development as a writer to get out there and see the world, and that's what I'm doing right now.

The itinerary is three countries: Egypt, Jordan, and Cyprus. I'm taking one of those all inclusive tours (with the exception of a few meals here and there), which is a first for me. The downside is that they rush us through everything before we really have time to take in the sights, and there's little flexibility to stray from the set plan and see other things. The upswing, on the other hand, is that there's very little planning I actually have to do. As long as I'm where I'm supposed to be, when I'm supposed to be, the rest is taken care of. If only someone would chew my food for me, I'd be all set.

Enough about that, though. This trip also comes at a good time for my writing health. As you might remember from last week, I'm developing new ideas again. I still really like a handful of older ones I have, but it seems that - without source material such as a graphic novel to back it up - the market's just not secure enough to risk sending them into now. On top of working out new things, everyone involved in the post-Apocalyptic spec is still strategizing for that. This past and this current week would be too much sitting around, constantly checking email and waiting for my phone to ring for updates. Not being able to access email or phone, in fact, not being in the country, makes the wait much easier.

Sometimes, the best thing a writer can do to get back on the proverbial writing horse is to get as far away from writing as possible. One of the stories we used to hear a lot in school was how one of our professors poured everything he had into one final script while he was trying to break in, then took what little money he had and went to China. He wanted to get as far away from it all as possible. If nothing came of the script, then fine. He'd tried with all his might. But, as it would happen, his agent managed to track him down in China, and one day, that writer got a call telling him to get on the next plane back to L.A. His career had begun. I'm not expecting something like that to happen now, but it just goes to show you - sometimes distance is what the doctor ordered.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 149 - The Dependence on Source Material

The further I get into the industry (and that's still not incredibly far, yet), the more I hear people talk about the importance of source material. If you're unsure what I mean, 'source material' here describes existing material, which your script is based on. It can include anything from books or graphic novels, to other movies or even paintings. Basically, it's something that studio heads and producers can look at as already having found an audience (even if it's a very small one), which makes them more comfortable with backing your big idea. 

A prime example is Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove (and my favorite western). He wrote an epic script about rangers who drive a herd of cattle from Texas to Montana. No one wanted it. He then wrote an epic - 900+ - page book based on it. It was an in-demand property. He quickly tweaked his existing script and sold it as a four-part miniseries. Go Larry.

What this all means, more or less, is that your awesome superhero movie idea, while indeed quite awesome, is less likely to get greenlit than a movie about a third tier superhero that a dozen people read about each month is. Why? Because the product is already in place. More than that, there are already visuals that the writer (or director, or producer, or whoever) can produce in a pitch meeting. You have an idea - and even a script - which is great. What you don't have is a comic book you can point to and say, "look, here is is, hitting something!" It sucks, but I'm finding it's true. 

In the past few months, as I work out future projects I want to develop, I find myself butting up against this 'source material' wall. Superhero stuff - unless a rarity like The Incredibles or Hancock - is basically not gonna happen without a comic book it's based on. Giant sci-fi epics (unless you're James Cameron) are in the same place. For emerging and unproduced writers now, the waters of the market are cold and rough, and a simple, one-sentence pitch of an idea are (perhaps unfortunately) some of the safest boats. Heat worked, so how can you do Heat with a unique spin? That's what you'll be asked.

Of course, I don't want to limit anyone. I was talking with Onyx about this last week, and he reminded me of something important, worth keeping in mind. Sure, it's tough to launch your own The Matrix without source material, but a couple big sales can make all the difference. A tried and true writer can get a lot more experimental than a newbie. So, for the time being, I know that some of my ideas are going on the back burner. I'll keep working on them intermittently, with the hope of one day being that tried and true writer. Then, look out. Something awesome will happen.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Logline Central - Psycho Killer

Logline Central is an irregular segment that takes a deeper look at loglines of scripts or projects that have just been purchased, as listed on DoneDealPro.

Here's an interesting logline that sprang up on DoneDeal today:

Title: Psycho Killer
Logline: A nameless, masked murderer leaves a trail of victims across the U.S. In a chance encounter on the plains of Nebraska, he kills a highway patrolman. The only witness to the crime, the patrolman's young wife, a fellow officer, sets out to hunt the killer down, as the psycho killer plans his masterpiece: a mass murder which guarantees him a triumphant entry into hell.
Writer: Andrew Kevin
More: Eli Roth and Eric Newman will produce. Gavin Polone will direct. 
Disclaimer up front: I'm always quasi-curious about serial killer films. I even wrote a draft of a low-budget serial killer drama. (I've never seen someone so scared by something I did as when I had to return to the Borders clerk because she overcharged me for the two serial killer books I bought for research. I guess it's not often that someone buys serial killer books - mind the plural - makes "harmless" chit-chat during the transaction, and then comes back a couple minutes later.) 

This logline is interesting. If I was a teacher, I certainly wouldn't use this as a prime example of a logline. It's actually closer to the length of the pitches I delivered to my then-prospective agent a couple weeks ago. If we're talking textbook logline, I still argue for one (possibly two) sentence that essentially follows this format: When X (inciting incident) happens, Y (protagonist) must Z (goal).

That said, I think today's example offers an interesting way to breakdown the film. At first glance, leaving a "trail of victims across the U.S." seems like it could be a movie in and of itself. However, after a bit further reading, it actually strikes me as the set-up. By the time the film opens, this trail of bodies has already been laid, and the authorities are onto the killer (at least the idea that he's out there, that is). The inciting incident - or at latest, end of Act One - is the patrolman's death. That's what really sparks the movie. And even though the logline opens with mention of the killer, I wouldn't be surprised if the patrolman's wife is the protagonist.

HOWEVER (and that's in all caps for a reason), the very last part throws a lot of that back up into the air. "As the psycho killer plans his masterpiece: a mass murder which guarantees him a triumphant entry into hell." Wow. Ok, here's what this does. A) It takes everything to a new level. A mass murder that guarantees a triumphant entry into hell is an interesting sentence, very curious and invoking imagery, but it might be too much. Unless we're following the guy into hell, we don't know what becomes of him after he dies. Therefore, his entry into hell could be completely irrelevant. B) It shifts focus back to the killer as the potential protagonist. His goal is to cause this mass extinction of people in whatever town the film is set. His antagonist, then, is the patrolman's wife trying to stop him. C) It makes me wonder a bit about the other themes. So far, we've had cops and killers. Now, though, invoking hell brings into a possible religious element, and certainly the presence of something much greater, which makes me wonder how it's all strung through - thematically - from the getgo.

Either way, I'll be curious to know more (though again caution that this might not be the best go-to source for logline examples, for the reasons above).

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 148 - When Ideas Seem Too Familiar

It happens to all writers. If it hasn't happened to you, it will. If it has - don't worry, it's not a conspiracy. And chances are, there's no real reason to get all in a huff about it or try to figure out who to sue. Just suck it up, and move on. I'm talking about that fateful day, when your prized idea appears in the trades as a sale that's being fast-tracked for production. Hopefully you're not completing the final pages of your masterpiece when that happens, because chances are, especially if you're not repped by an agent, manager, or lawyer yet, your script just bought itself an open-ended ticket to the back burner.

The above happened to me this week - twice, actually. I have a scrip that I've been toying with for a while now (the "Roman Army spec" of last year's Writing Weeks). To be fair, this script was already put in the proverbial drawer at my manager's suggestion. Before he suggested we sit on it for a while - mainly, some very big concepts that, without source material such as a comic book to back them up, can be hard for a big studio to be very confident in - other movies came out that made me start to worry. Clash of the Titans, Centurion, and a half-dozen other Roman/Greek movies flooded the market in a short period. The success of the pictures aside, there was a lot out there, and my project began to run the risk of redundancy.

This week, though, two more nails were driven into the coffin. One project had a title similar enough to mine to make me cringe. Swap out one word, and they were the same. That was a small issue compared to a sale recorded later that same afternoon - a project that was in concept quite similar. It wasn't identical, but the combination of a similar idea and nearly identical title being used by two projects in one day made me realize that the drawer-time for my Roman Army spec just got extended.

What if I'm in a pitch or something later on, and I get the sense that the producer I'm meeting with is searching for what I have? Sure, I'll pitch it - why not. Can I swap out Roman for some other historical civilization? Yeah, probably. And for the scrip to have any life now, I might have to. Hmm... Mongols, anyone? Anyway, such is the fate of an aspiring writer. This happens, people. If it does, my guess is that no one stole your idea. You'd need more than the notion of a couple being haunted by an evil spirit to claim plagiarism against Paranormal Activity. Get into the details - not just of your idea and how the film compares, but of who you told it to and the people involved in the production - and you might have more to go on. For the most part, though, these experiences can be considered (unwanted) exercises in developing the thick skin necessary to try and make it in the industry.

Should you automatically delete your script because something similar comes out? No. Definitely not. But, at that point, you need to be realistic. If something is the start of a trend, you might have time to get on board. Maybe. On the other hand, if someone else, someone with clout and credits, is doing what you want to, it's time to weigh your options. The spec you use to break into the industry should seem fresh (these days, the fresher the idea or approach, the better for new talent). If it's way too similar to something already in the works, many producers will stay away from it. They might treat it as a sample - never a bad thing - and you'll get other work from it; but that specific project will gather dust for a while. On the other hand, if you don't want to just aim for a sample, and you have other ideas and aren't too far into that particular script, it might behoove you to move onto something else, one of your other ideas that isn't as close to something that just sold. You'll save yourself a lot of time and grief, and chances are greater that you'll impress someone with you ingenuity.

Of course, take all of that with a grain of salt. Take it with a tablespoon of the stuff. It's all about time management, and if you think that the window for an idea just closed, it might be time to see what others are still open. And if you don't have any other ideas, then by all means, finish that one, and make it as solid as you can. The last thing you want to do is let one similar idea stop you from writing all together. If that were the case, we wouldn't have had any new stories for centuries. Then where would we be?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

2010 Spec Sale Analysis Through October 17

Scott Myers over at Go Into The Story yesterday posted the 2010 Spec Sale Analysis through mid-October. An interesting (fairly quick) read, it's also a valuable tool for anyone looking to break into the industry, particularly as a writer. Knowing your craft is an essential tool for success, but so is knowing the market. Having an understanding of what is selling, to who, when, and by which companies is an integral bit of information for launching your career. If you're interested in writing big dramas, for example (not something the numbers seem to favor right now), it pays to know which reps are getting that material out into the marketplace and what companies are buying.

The basic stats broken down:
  • 45 specs sold out of a total 307 brought to the market, for a total of 14.7%
  • 25% action/adventure; 25% comedy, 8.3% drama; 31.2% thriller, and 10.4% sci-fi
  • Of the studios, Warner Bros. bought the most with 7 (15.6%); Columbia, Disney, Dream Works, Fox, and Lionsgate tied for fewest with 1 each
  • No specs sold in January; July was the next slowest month
  • Of the agencies, CAA sold 46% of what it introduced to the market, followed by Original (38%), Verve (33%), UTA (32%), and WME (27%) for the top five ranked by success
  • UTA had the most sales for agencies with 7
  • Of the management companies, Energy, FilmEngine, Infinity, Kapital, Mosaic, Safran Co., and Smart Entertainment all sold 100% of what they took out (Infinity went out with 2 scripts, the others 1 apiece)
  • H2F had the most sales for a management company with 4, followed by Circle of Confusion (3)
Numbers can tell a lot, but they don't paint the whole picture. For example, the first chart shows a 1 for January, but the number actually corresponds to the month in which that script hit the marketplace, not the month in which is was sold. For all we know, it sold in September. The numbers do not reflect how long a writer has been developing the script (although, in this instance, everything tallied debuted in 2010). Some of these sales could have been years in the making, with handshake development deals preceding any intro to buyers. Nonetheless, a valuable read for any emerging writer. Thanks, Scott!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 147 - A Story Structure Tip

Pacing is an extremely important part of writing. Solid pacing - knowing when big beats come, where the audience needs a short break, where all the highs and lows come - is an incredibly difficult thing to get down. It can take years of writing and many, many drafts of many scripts. I know I don't always have great pacing in my stuff, especially in first and second (and third) drafts. Effective pacing, however, will not only keep your audience engaged throughout, it will disperse information when necessary and - one of the first crucial steps in the process from page to screen for any script - keep your readers engaged.

When I write, because I work on so many action scripts these days, I like to outline before I start writing actual pages. This outline is always flexible, and the events, dialogue, and information within each scene often change from outline to page. What tends to remain more or less constant, though, is the structure - an informational and dialogue heavy scene here, followed by some action, followed by more info, and then, finally, an even bigger action beat. That is to say, the pacing remains the same, even if the content of the actual scenes does not. 

Pacing, though, also means something else to me. Rather, 'pace' does. I hit my writing stride, and I don't want to lose or lessen my pace. I'm churning out the pages, really getting into the meat of the story, and the last thing I want to do is encounter that dastardly League foe, Writer's Block. Sometimes, though, I know that I have Scene A just about completed, and I know exactly what Scene C will be (and sometimes even how long it will be), but I have no idea what Scene B is that connects them. Instead of losing a half hour or more - and, more importantly, the pace that I've been working at - trying to figure out what the bridge between them is, I skip ahead to the next scene. 

Writing out of order can be intimidating. I didn't used to like to do it at all. I know that some very successful writers love it - write the scenes as they come to them and then cue card them into place like a puzzle. That's not really my style. I truly believe that one scene informs the next, even if that's not immediately apparent from what's in them. Still, sometimes a writing streak is just too good to break up for a missing beat. in those cases, I bold the slugg line for the scene that needs another beat before it. Doing this reminds me that there's a missing jump before that scene, which I need to come back to. This can be as simple as two scenes featuring a large jump in time, which organically need something else to bridge the gap. It could be two scene with the same character, which don't naturally flow into one another. It can be any number of things. After I get my draft completed, I go back and look for these bolded slugg lines - usually two or three of them. I check those against the information that I know is missing from the script, bits of dialogue or action that inform the resolution, and see how and where they can be incorporated. I often find that, in the madness of writing, I left out something simple but crucial, and one of those jumped beats is the perfect place for it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 146 - The L.A. Trip

To say that it's been "quite the week" would be an understatement. The past four days have been some of the most important in my screenwriting career so far (if it can in fact be called a career). I met with some very well respected, very important people in Hollywood on Monday, and I'm pleased to say that things went incredibly well.

The agenda was simple: meet my manager face to face for the first time since we began working together in June of 2009, meet with my producer and the production exec we've been working with (both of whom I had met previously), and - most crucially - meet with an agent and a lawyer who were both interested in my post-Apocalyptic spec. In preparation for the meetings, I had a couple key jobs. First, I promised my manager a draft of the firefighter script by Friday, so that we could address the best way to talk about it in any meetings and go over points for the next draft. Next, I had to come up with three pitches for the agent - 3 or 4 sentences that I could go through in under a minute each to give an idea of other projects I've been thinking of. The overall goal for the meetings was to not only present myself as well-spoken and capable of taking a meeting, but also trying to prove that I have the potential to be more than a one-time writer. While both the agent and lawyer liked my post-Apocalyptic spec, they each would (rightly) want more from me than just that.

On Saturday, I flew out to L.A. for the first time since I was in fifth grade and on a family trip to visit my aunts in Pasadena. Sunday was the meeting with Kevin, my manager. We'd spoken on the phone and via email countless times, but our faces were still a mystery to one another. We met for coffee at noon at my hotel and talked for the next two hours. Kevin prepped me a lot for the two meetings I had on Monday - an 11am with the agent and the lawyer at 5pm. We discussed the first draft of a new spec (the firefighter one), which I managed to get to him Thursday night. We went over the three pitches I prepared. We talked movies, getting me a couple talking points (what I've liked most recently, what I most enjoy or most frequently see in theaters, basically what I'd want to write).

I spent most of my free-time Saturday and Sunday running over the pitches, repeating them like a mantra. I'd shuffle between them, making myself repeat any of them at any moment. If I got so much as one word wrong, I'd start from the top. Doing some vocal work, I added crescendos and falls here and there, trying to make them as engaging as possible. By the end of the night Sunday, I could have repeated them in my sleep. 

Monday was the big day, and it started with an unnerving, Murphy-esque realization. I woke up at what I thought was 8:30, ready for a slow breakfast before heading to the agency. When I turned on my phone and the morning news, thought, every other clock was telling me it was 7:30. Two hours later, I was still holding onto a shred of doubt as to what time it actually was. Somehow, as I slept, my alarm clock decided to jump ahead an hour. Better than falling back an hour, I suppose, but still a jarring way to start such a monumental day. I donned my Converse sneakers, jeans, and black dress-shirt, and I was ready for action.

Kevin accompanied me to the agent meeting. We waited a few minutes to be called in, making small talk as we sat there. I was still going over the pitches in my mind, cycling through them as quickly as I could. Finally, the agent's assistant came and got us. We thought a junior agent would be joining, but it wound up being just Kevin, the agent, and my self. The next 25 minutes were a combination of me trying to hold my own, absorb everything that was said (and not said), and trying not to sound too much like an idiot. Kevin prompted me to go through my ideas; the constant repeating of each 45 second pitch paid off, as I got through them without a hitch. Of the three, the agent latched onto one in particular, putting the first idea on the backburner for the time being. Unfortunately, that one that was tabled was the firefighter idea - which I'd just cranked out the first draft of - but we all agreed the idea he liked most was the most compelling. At this point, it's also the one that I have the most work to do on.

At about 11:30, we left the office. A lot of hand shaking and "nice to meet you" escorted us out the door. Kevin and I stood in silence as we waited for the elevator to take us down to the ground floor. My neuroses kicked in as soon as we stepped outside, and I needed Kevin to reassure me no fewer than six times that the meeting went well. He's done this much more than I have, so I trusted him when he said he thought it was a meeting to be proud of.

I had about 5 hours to kill before meeting with the lawyer (a meeting which Kevin would not be at with me). At many times, I was one of the only people standing vertically and not encased in an automobile (typically a Porsche, Lexus, Mercedes, or Jaguar) as I walked around Beverly Hills, coming down off the meeting and getting some exercise. It was rainy/dreary pretty much the entire time I was out there, so I didn't spend too much time out and about. But those walks after/before a meeting were a good way to calm down. 

At 5, I was in the reception area at the law firm, drinking a Diet Coke (which I took the third time it was offered), and reading a Hollywood Reporter. I was soon met by the lawyer - one of the partners in a firm that almost exclusively handles writers - and we spent the next hour talking one-on-one. We discussed everything from how I got into writing to what I wanted for my career, who the lawyer's clients are and what kind of situations he's dealt with to what he would do for me. We talked about my script and what I could reasonably expect (all types of scenarios) from future progress on it. It was another very solid meeting, and an hour definitely well spent.

The promising thing about both men I met with was that neither tried to sell me an immediate fortune. They were both realistic in that, while everyone would hope to sell the script sooner than later, the post-Apocalyptic project might not prove to be the one that fills my bank account with more zeros than the number of women I've been rejected by. Still, they were both hopefully for this project, and would do what they could - should we all wind up working together - to get it somewhere.

That night, Kevin, my producer Gretchen, and I all had dinner to celebrate the meetings and the potential for the project. It wasn't until the next morning that I found out just how successful the meetings were. I landed both the agent and the lawyer (will name drop if/when I'm positive I can), and the team is going to start discussing strategies for the script within the coming days. It looks like we'll try to package it, but that's all up in the air.

As my agent said to me during the meeting, my "job is both very simple and very difficult right now," I have to keep writing. I owe him a new script come winter. Time to get cracking.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 145 - Some Tips for the Cross-Country Trek

It's official. One week from today I'll be in LA, most likely having wrapped my first of two meetings for the day (with an agent and a lawyer). I booked my flight this weekend and am still confirming travel arrangements. While I know how to drive, I haven't been to LA in over a decade and don't feel like dealing with navigating unfamiliar territory on a big day. I'm getting a hotel near the meeting locations, and should be able to get around easily enough on foot or via cab.

All in all, this will be a pretty quick trip. Everything official is set to go down on Monday. However, the last thing that I'd want to do is be inflexible should someone need to push back, so I've reserved all of Tuesday for whatever might arise, as well. Coming from the east coast, we need to be able to accommodate changes and last minute additions/subtractions from the itinerary. If you get called out there, it's probably wise to get out there a day early and leave a day late if you can afford it. I haven't used the service myself, but I have some friends who've found couches to crash on through Especially if money is tight, it might be a good idea to look through that - an online community of people willing to let a stranger crash on their couch for a few nights. Sure, it sounds a bit shady, but the people I know who have used it swear by it.

In terms of the flight, Sundays are usually a busier, more expensive travel day. If you can, head out on Saturday and come back Tuesday (or some other time mid-week). I'm doing the red-eye Tuesday night, which means I'm back in NYC in time to go to work on Wednesday, but have all day in LA Tuesday in case I'm needed for whatever reason.

I know a lot of us (emerging/new writers) like to plan for that agent meeting as much as we can, down to the small details. What do I wear? What will we talk about? I'm fortunate enough to have my manager who is more than happy to answer all of those questions and more. In case you're wondering about the dress code, which I certainly was, the answer is to be casual yet presentable. Jeans and a polo or button-down are fine and can be worn with sneakers. There's no need to go over the top. You're an artist and are expected to dress the part. Of course, you'll also want to rehearse your pitches and know which projects you're going to talk about (that's the goal for this week), so that you're prepared to his the ground running in the meeting.

I have the next six days to work on everything (including trying to revise the first draft of my firefighter spec so that it goes from "incredibly rough" to just "rough"). Knowing myself, perfecting the pitches is going to be more difficult. I'm not great at the one sentence sell yet, so that's where I'll be focusing a lot of my energy this week. It's been a long road (I began the post-Apocalyptic spec for which I'm taking these meetings in January of 2008), but hopefully this is far from the end.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Competition Alert - London Screenwriters' Festival

Happy Friday, readers. To ring in the (much needed) weekend, we thought we’d share some information we received here at League HQ about a free feature screenplay competition. Circalit is partnering with the London Screenwriters’ Festival to offer a lucky and talented scribe a cash prize, a meeting with a top London-based literary agent, and free tickets to the festival.  

The London Screenwriters Festival makes its debut as “the biggest screenwriting event in Europe” this coming October. The festival boasts a host of speakers including Tim Bevan, Co-Chairman of Working Title, and the BBC’s Head Drama Commissioner, Ben Stephenson. Oscar shortlisted film director Chris Jones is the festival’s creative director. The three day event takes place at Regents College in Regents Park, London from October 29 through 31. 

For more information or to enter your script, visit The deadline for submissions is one week from today, on October 15.