Monday, December 16, 2013

The 2013 Black List Revealed

Deadline Hollywood is live updating its announcement of the 2013 Black List selected screenplays. The Black List is a yearly list that recognizes the best unproduced screenplays of the past twelve months. Initially, the list was meant to showcase new work by emerging talent, and placement on the list often led to representation, sales, production deals, and the like. More recently, the List has experienced some controversy, since many well-known writers with projects that have already been set up feature heavily in the ranking. Technically, their featured screenplays are still unproduced, though when Tarantino's DJANGO UNCHAINED made the list a couple years back, for example, many felt the nature of the list had been besmirched. Still, kudos to all who have made it on, especially those who are new to the industry.

Check out the 2013 Black List Screenplays here


You can now read the loglines and representation and production/financing info for all Black List screenplays on the Black List's official site 

Writing Opportunity Alert - Nickelodeon Writing Program

The annual Nickelodeon Writing Program application dates have been announced. The program is designed to usher in a new crop of talented writers each year, who are selected based off the strength of a spec television script they submit for a show currently on air. Selected writers are then offered a year's placement as a salaried writing staff member.

As always with any fellowship, competition, or submission, be sure to read the guidelines carefully before submitting. I've regretted forgetting to take, say, my name off a title page when instructions clearly indicated that I had to, and you never want something like that to be the difference between placement and a form rejection.

Good luck!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 283 - Outlining (Again)

It has been 22 months since I first began collaborating with actor turned director-writer, W.A., on our sci-fi project. I have since lost track of the number of drafts of the outline and script that I've written, but it's up there. A few months ago, we sent the script to our representatives for their feedback, hoping they would be on board to start shopping the material around. Unfortunately, they didn't think the script was ready yet. After my initial disappointment at their qualms with it, I came to see the points and understand the flaws they had picked up on. I then went back to the drawing board. 

The major problem with the script, as pointed out to us, was that the first half (and especially the first half of Act Two) failed to excite. A lot happens exposition-wise, and there is a strong science component that the characters focus on. However, as my agent said, we created a heightened other world that the story is set in, but then just have characters sit around in a room for a long time. While an exaggeration, it's not too far off the mark. The more I reread the notes, the more clearly I saw the weaknesses of the first half. Yes, things happen, but it's not riveting, nor is it visually compelling - at least, it's not as aesthetically exciting as a story set in the world we've devised should be. Something big happens at the midpoint that both elevates the emotional resonance and capitalizes on the world and action potential established early on, but the 50 pages before that barely scratch the surface. Our big obstacle in rewriting, therefore, was to make better use of the first half of the script.

W.A. and I got on the phone (a few times) to hammer out ideas. I pitched him one that actually struck me as we spoke. I didn't know if it would be too out there or too disruptive, but the great thing about working with W.A. is that he's always totally game for whatever idea, as long as he thinks it could work. He thought this radical one would be the perfect way to address the first half shortcomings, so we started spitballing using that as our base. I since went back to outlining, as neither of us wanted to spend any time writing before we were positive we had the new direction firmly set. It took me a while to crack the first half of the revised second act, but after a call on Monday with W.A., I think we're there. 

The change I proposed ups the emotional impact of the script very early on, moving a major reveal from page 70 to page 10. IT catapults the characters and story in a way that the inciting incident hadn't yet before, and (we hope) it buys us a little more time before we need a major action beat. We still push the action up, but in really looking at the rules of the world that we've established, it became apparent that certain things simply cannot happen - at least, not organically - and therefore limit how and when we can have a tentpole, edge of your seat scene. Still, with the new incarnation, the major first half of act two action sequence moves up from page 42 to somewhere around 32, which is great.

So, now, after months off, I am about to dive back into pages for the script in what's almost (but not quite entirely) a page one rewrite. In the meantime, I've had additional reviews go up on Under the Radar. You can read my two latest online exclusives there, for Last Days on Mars and Expecting. Suffice it to say, I was underwhelmed by both films I saw.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Spec Script Analysis Infographic

 Former Leaguer King Suckerman, (aka Alex Segura, whose debut detective novel, Silent City, you can buy here) recently tipped us off to an incredibly interesting infographic on spec script coverage. 

About a week and a half ago, a Reddit user named profound_whatever analyzed and compiled comparative data on 300 screenplays s/he had covered as a reader for five different film companies. (Readers are the first point of entry to getting your script repped or sold. They are the people - sometimes in-house, like interns, which I did for two companies during college; sometimes hired externally and paid on a script by script basis - who read most if not all incoming material for a production company, agency, or studio. They are then tasked with writing coverage, which consists of a brief synopsis of the script, followed by an evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses. They are then asked whether to recommend, consider, or pass on a script - and let me tell you, they are encouraged not to recommend, as each recommendation could lead to many staggering expenses, including buying a script and making a movie, which could lose the company a lot of money. The whole point is to get the muck out of the way, so that the higher ups can be spared the trash and focus solely on promising material. In short, you want a reader to like your script.)

The reader on Reddit assembled stats on the 300 screenplays to provide a broad, and sometimes quite detailed, snapshot of the kind of material assigned to him/her. Of the 300 scripts, they averaged 107.22 pages (which should give you an idea of where your script should land), but ranged from 79 to 147. As a former reader, I can tell you that the shorter script will always be read first, though too short a script is an immediate red flag. The most popular genre was horror/slasher, with 49 script. More than 1 out of 7 scripts (43) was set in New York City. The scripts were male dominated (270 male writers and 137 scripts that featured both a male protagonist and antagonist). 

Perhaps most importantly, of the 300 script, the reader recommended only 8. Yes, 8 out of 300, or just under 3% of script were considered worthy of recommending outright. The reader "considered" (or considered with reservations, which means s/he didn't want to be the one to say no, when it might be worth looking at a bit further) a further 89 scripts. That's a good stat, but most considers get a second read by someone else, and then a pass. A total of 203 (more than 66%) of scripts received a straight up pass. Someone higher up at the company will read coverage on a pass and might read the script if it sounds interesting enough, but generally, a pass is where a script's life ends at that company. (You should also be aware that coverage is archived, so if you rewrite your script and resubmit it, the company will go through the files, see that they have a script of the same name by the same writer that they already passed on, and they won't read you again. A pass, friends, is a pass for good.)

Check out the image below - or click here for the original link and access to a higher resolution version - to see the above stats and countless others. It is super helpful info, so major thanks to Reddit user profound_whatever for compiling it.