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 couchsurfing.org. 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 http://www.circalit.com/projects/competitions. The deadline for submissions is one week from today, on October 15.

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 144 - Planning for L.A.

At long last, and after much dreaming, it looks like an L.A. trip is growing increasingly likely (and imminent). My manager called me early last week to update me on our quest to land me an agent. A few weeks back, we'd gone out to agents at three of the major agencies, and then followed that up with another three at slightly smaller, but no less prestigious, companies. As of last week, we'd still only had one tentative and one confirmed agent interested, and the one whose interest was clear followed up with my manager (a very good sign) to see what the status of the project was. 

From everything I've heard, read, and experienced, this is almost as bad a time for an unknown writer to try and secure representation. Very few people seem to want to read new material by new writers and risk getting on board with something that is not a "sure bet" - especially because even "sure bets" with established talent involved are giant leaps-of-faith now. The spec market seems to be warming (possibly), in large part due to Inception and other original successes, but it's a slow climb back to high interest levels from industry players. The level of caution is still difficult to overcome, and for outsiders like me - i.e. unproduced, unsold, unknown - the hope of getting work over someone with credits is incredibly low. 

All of the above means that having interest from an agent at one of the top companies is a major coup. (Aside: I'm not trying to toot my own horn here; rather, as always the purpose of the site, I'm trying to put things in perspective for our readers in similar or hoping to be in similar situations.) If you're based anywhere but L.A. as I am and you really want to try and break into the film industry, there is very little that should get in the way of you taking advantage of an opportunity like this. When my manager called and asked if it would be at all possible for me to fly out west for a day or two, I immediately said I could drop whatever and go whenever. Even if the agent and I don't click - the purpose of my trip would be to put in some face time and see whether or not we could work together - the opportunity to go out there is something that I can't pass up. I might not get another chance like this. 

Beyond that, making the trip indicates something else about me as a writer that all aspiring scribes should adhere to. It means I'm willing to work with people. That might seem pretty basic (or maybe confusing), but it's essential. The same way that a rookie scribe going through script development with other people must be open to notes - both taking and actually implementing - he or she must be able to work with people at their convenience. Because I'm not in L.A., making the trip when someone needs me to helps to show my commitment to my career. If you're outside Hollywood and trying to work your way in, put some money aside in the event that you have to make the trip. You might not have the luxury of asking people to wait a month or two so you can scrape together funds for a plane ticket. Keep $500 or $600 aside, get yourself on travel deal email lists, and look up anyone you know out there who might offer to host you on their couch for a few days to a week. If someone asks you to come out there, the only real answer - if you're able to travel - should be "yes."