Wednesday, April 29, 2015

AGENT'S HOT SHEET: Wither Indies?

Yep, it’s hard as heck to break into Hollywood. But it’s even harder for someone with indie sensibilities. Come with us as we investigate how an indie-minded writer can make a living in the film business nowadays.

 By Jim Cirile


Wither indies? The answer, sadly, is yes. Indies, as we’ve always understood them, are not only withering, they’re pretty much gone. Over the past 15 years, many US-based indie production companies and distributors have shuttered. This leaves fewer and fewer opportunities for writers with a penchant for more provocative, out of the box, non-Hollywood studio system material. The path in is now longer and bumpier than ever -- but opportunities still exist for the savvy indie writer.

To begin, the big indie production companies have largely gone the way of the dodo. In the ‘90s, we had Miramax, Paramount Classics, Fine Line… every major studio had an indie division. But as the studios were swallowed up into corporate media behemoths, these specialty divisions, which maybe only returned a paltry few million in profit each year, were eradicated. The last two standing: Fox Searchlight and Sony Classics. “It was about business, not art,” says Adam Leipzig, CEO of Entertainment Media Partners and former CEO of National Geographic Films (March of the Penguins.) “When specialty division dollars were not (deemed profitable enough,) the studios started to abandon smaller movies and force their larger product onto the screens that were once available for indie films.” At the same time, exhibition chains took over independently owned theaters. Thus the number of screens available for indie movies shrank precipitously. And according to Leipzig, only about 1% of the 3,800-plus features submitted to Sundance this year will get any significant form of distribution, including Netflix. So while there is no shortage of indie filmmakers out there, getting those films seen is another thing entirely.

Because of these factors, most agents and managers don’t want anything to do with indie scripts. At some point, pretty much every rep has invested years of his or her life championing a brilliant little gem they truly believed in, a Sisyphean task with often little or no reward. Few are keen to repeat that experience. “It is the more difficult, if not most difficult path (to break into the business,)” says agent Mike Goldberg from APA. He advises that indie writers need to manage expectations “as far as how difficult the path will be as well as how long it will take. Patience is absolutely key.”


Manager Jeff Belkin from Zero Gravity tells us about one client, a multi-contest winner, whose period piece drama was so great he couldn’t not represent her. “I said, this is the most amazing writing. I love this script,” Belkin recalls. “I’m a popcorn movie guy. I like summer movies, so for me to get involved in a period biopic -- ridiculous! But if something spectacular crosses my desk, I want to get involved. So the next step was, who the hell do I give it to?” One person he gave it to was producer J. Todd Harris, whose credits range from Dudley Do-Right to The Kids Are Alright. “He and his partner Mark Marcum just flipped over it. It’s been long process of trying to get the financiers, the agencies, the talent, what have you. They’re still very much passionate about the project, and we’re hoping, fingers crossed, that it will happen very soon.”(We're happy to note that Belkin did indeed set that project up -- after about three years of effort.)

Despite that, Goldberg agrees with the battle plan. “You have to (partner with) a very talented, well-connected, hardworking producer who (has a hand in) the more independent arena. That producer has the know-how and the contacts and the diligence to help put the pieces together to move your project forward.” He cautions that whether it’s a $30 million dollar project or a $300K project, “it’s going to take the same amount of work, just the people involved are going to get a lot less money. You have to find those producers who do it not to make money, but do it for the love of film and good film, that are willing to roll up their sleeves and put the projects together.”

So how does one’s indie script get the attention of Hollywood? With great difficulty, of course. One good way is by getting validation from an outside source. High-profile contests like the Nicholl Fellowship remain a great way for indie voices to get exposure. “(Actor/writer/director) Tom McCarthy wrote and directed a tiny little indie movie in The Station Agent,” says The Arlook Group’s Richard Arlook, “that he wrote in his trailer while he was making the first Meet the Parents or something, and he made that movie for under half a million dollars. It won the Waldo Salt writing award at Sundance. As a result of that, it sold to Miramax and launched him as a real filmmaker (Win Win.) You don’t hear about it, but he works consistently, and gets compensated very fairly, to fix up studio scripts.”

Indeed, it’s a fairly open secret that some successful indie filmmakers pay the rent as script doctors for studio films. Says Leipzig, “To do that, that screenwriter has to write sample scripts that really show that he or she understands the commercial requirements of the business, so the writer can get an agent and get submitted for (that) work. I think that there is a potential business model for this writer to kind of do one for them, one for me, one for them, one for me.” Arlook adds, “John Sayles probably made more money over the years writing and fixing studio scripts than he ever did as an independent writer.”


This could be a really splendid solution for indie-minded writers -- the crossover. “There are definitely some writers who can do both independent and commercial films,” says Belkin. “I have some clients that do and some that very much do not. In a perfect world, it’s wonderful to introduce yourself to Hollywood in a more commercial way, because you have more chance of exposure and being read by an agency.” Leipzig feels that screenwriters need to determine if they are writing to try to get movies made that they deeply care about, even if they are not going to be very commercial -- or if they view writing as a business. “Let’s assume this is an (indie-minded) person who still wants to pay the rent by writing. I think that this person now has to think about bifurcating their work. There is not a great business for independent screenplays. Even if the movie gets made, the writer does not get paid that much, so that’s not really (the best way) to make a living. But there is a potential business for a screenwriter with really good character sensibilities to do studio rewrite and assignment work.” To do that, you will need to generate a sample script that really shows that you understand the commercial requirements of the business. “There’s still a lot of assignment work out there,” says Leipzig.

Another way to get the attention of the biz is to DIY. Don’t wait for someone to come along and give you money. Unless it’s a big-budget period piece, chances are you can shoot your script yourself on HD. “Get the money through friends and family, through credit card debt, loans, Kickstarter,” says Goldberg. “It’s been done in the past; it’s done every day. The most important thing is trying to get your film made, and if you can do it by yourself, great. If you can’t, try and find the right people that can do it with you or for you.” And if it comes out good enough, a few festival awards later and you may very well have a calling card.

But if one hasn’t won an award or gotten their film onto the festival circuit, you can still act as your own representative. “When I was a writer, coming out of film school, nobody told me how to find people,” said Belkin, who started out as a writer. “Nobody told me about the Hollywood Creative Directory or IMDBPro. I went through the usual query letter course and all that stuff. But the HCD is great in terms of finding companies, and IMDBPro is invaluable when it comes to finding producers with similar sensibilities (to your own.)”

There is another area where indie filmmaking is thriving -- anywhere but the USA. Seeking out overseas financing or coproduction money is one way US producers are still able to get non-superhero, non-based-on-a-hit-book properties made. Other countries seem to have less of a focus on the bottom line and are more willing to take risks and tell a story. If you manage to score a savvy producer, he or she will hopefully have the hook-ups to explore alternative financing options. 

Lastly, we should mention TV as the place where some of the most creative indie writing is taking place. No, not network -- with a few notable exceptions, they're still just as stale, formulaic and stilted as they ever were. But thanks to the brilliant offerings of HBO, Showtime, Netflix originals, A+E, Amazon, and all the rest, there is actually hope for more out-of-the-box writing nowadays. Of course, it will take an agent or manager with juice to get you in there. Which brings us right back to start.

The path in remains an uphill one to say the least. “To assemble a feature film from idea to execution takes an average of seven and a half years,” says Goldberg. “An independent film may take even longer.” So gird yourself for a long, tough battle, and consider, if you can, bending a little bit towards the commercial side. Above all, hang in there and keep working at your craft. Concludes Arlook, “Every once in a while, (a script comes along) that is just so wonderful that it’s undeniable that the writer has talent. Those scripts get passed around, those scripts get represented, those people get in rooms and book jobs. It’s very few and far between, but it can happen. The bottom line is that if you write something that’s great, doors will eventually open.”

www.coverageink.com



Tuesday, April 28, 2015

FROM PASS TO KICK-ASS

Or, Why Getting Coverage on Your Script May Be Just the Ticket 

By Jim Cirile 
www.coverageink.com 

We’ve all been there. We write “Fade Out” -- our new, fantastic, awesome spec is done. Then we hand it to our respective boyfriends, girlfriends, and “it’s complicated” others; they love it. Mom adores it. We’re ready for the big time. But just to be on the safe side, we send it out for coverage and wait with bated breath. Surely, it’ll be a “consider,” maybe even a “recommend.” 

The coverage comes back -- and it’s “pass/pass.” A pass for script and for writer! A knock to the ego, right? Maybe. Hard to Endure? For sure. Just what you need? Damn right. WTF? No, seriously. Read on… 

Of course, there’s only one explanation: the reader is a complete moron. An imbecile! Some frustrated hack, who is just jealous and will likely pilfer the script idea and write her own version of it and sell it for a milllllion dollars. We rail and rail and rail. A couple of weeks go by and maybe we take another look at the coverage and concede that maybe, possibly, there might be a miniscule microbe of a chance that there might be ONE valid point -- the reader pointed out that having a character names Belinda and Lebinda in the script might be confusing. Fine. Goodbye, Belinda; hello, Quelgha. Dissimilar enough for ya, reader? Hmph. 

But in the process of going back over the notes again, a few other things kinda stick in our craw. So we slowly start making a few other recommended changes. Before long, three hours have gone by and you’ve addressed all those notes. Sure, the notes were terrible, but hey… for sure, the script is perfect now. Just to be on the safe side, we send it out for coverage and wait with bated breath. You know of course what happens next. Wash, rinse, repeat. Yes, it’s frustrating when you find yourself on draft 21 and it still comes back pass/pass. You want to bash your head against the wall, throw in the towel, use your laptop for archery practice and ream out the moron who just sent you six pages of notes, single-spaced. 

Look, I get it. Not only do I get it, I’ve been there. Yes, full disclosure: I own a coverage company. But as Sy Sperling from Hair Club for Men used to say, I’m also a client. You work your butt off and create something you’re really proud of and then somebody essentially poops all over it. At least, that’s how it feels. That’s the point when you need to ask yourself if that’s reality or a hurt ego talking. Perhaps you’ve heard this hoary old cliché before: writing is rewriting. Hold onto your ass, because I am about to impart a dollop of reality. Here it is:

Neither you, nor anybody else, will likely hit a bull’s-eye with your first draft. 

Or fifth. Or even tenth. 

There’s a word for this process. It’s called “work”. Some writers get so discouraged, they shove that cursed script into the drawer never to look at it again. Some hire us as ghostwriters to get them over that hump (great way to not learn your craft.) And many just flip the proverbial bird to the story analyst and send the script, unchanged, to every agent, manager, and production company they can find an email address for. Worst move of all. A script that hits the town before it’s ready can not only do its creator considerable harm -- a bad first impression is difficult to rectify -- it’s also dead in the water once everyone’s passed on it. At that point, you can’t go back and “fix” it. Once a company passes, it’s pretty much toast there for good. 

Your script may well look like this after getting coverage back.
But then there are the superstars -- the few who roll up their sleeves and get to work. They do a draft, send it in for coverage; and after the requisite agonizing, they do the notes. Oftentimes improvement takes several drafts. But eventually, if you actually listen to the notes and are not afraid to throw out whole sections of the script and rethink them, that needle will tick over into the ‘consider with reservations’ zone and even ‘consider.’ Granted, this is a slow, agonizing and costly process. But it is also a proven way to improve your script, and in so doing develop your craft. And THAT, amigos, way more than sending out half-baked scripts to a town that doesn’t care, is what will eventually get you where you want to be: a working writer. 

For proof, you need look no further than me. I send my own scripts in for coverage to our team. It generally takes me about 20 drafts/script to Get It Right.

Here are the advantages of taking the stony road to success as opposed to the instant gratification highway to failure: well, the nomenclature says it all, the difference between success and failure. Let me briefly soapbox here: if you want to be a doctor, you spend years in medical school and then slog away on 36-hour shifts in a hospital during your internship and then, eventually, eons later, you’ll be a full-fledged M.D. The same long, intensive study and dues-paying is true for… well, pretty much every job there is. Yet, somehow, in this lovely business of ours, someone can wake up one morning and decide that they’re now a writer (or actor or director). Huh? Would you walk into the O.R. tomorrow and demand to be given a scalpel, simply because you’ve been to a few doctors and have seen them on TV and thus have an idea of what they do? Hell to the no. Then why would you assume that a script you spent only a few months on should be worth professional-grade $$$?

This guy learned all about doctoring from watching "E.R."
With a few exceptions that make us want to bash our heads against the wall, the writers making the big bucks have proven their mettle and are worth every penny. Being able to take and implement notes is an art all of its own. One that it takes a while to acquire, but which is vital for a career, because as a working writer you’ll be dealing with agents, managers, producers, directors, stars and their respective entourages, all of whom will be giving you (sometimes conflicting) notes. And you better be able to handle it. 

A hackneyed phrase about heat and kitchen comes to mind. 

So, what next? Get feedback on your script. There are hundreds of coverage companies out there and even more one-man or one-woman shops. Don’t overlook writing groups and peer to peer sites -- free feedback is a beautiful thing (sometimes.) Yes, some of these “analysts” deserve their air quotes. Some flat-out suck. Others are clearly using you as a punching bag to work out their own issues. You know what? Doesn’t matter. It is your job to differentiate between good and bad notes, and do the good ones without letting your ego get in the way. You also need to be able to take that (figurative) punch in the gut and keep going. This is Hollywood, not grammar school. You don’t get a medal just for showing up. 

Now, to those of you who are yelling at your computer screen right now -- “But all of those Hollywood hacks with their half-baked ideas are being paid a lot of money to write really bad movies” -- let me address that sentiment. You’re absolutely frigging right. If your college roommate is now a hotshot agent (or is abfab in conning people -- oops, I meant networking,) then, no, your work doesn’t have to be top-notch -- and by the way, bite me. Since you are reading this article, I’m assuming you don’t belong to that category. If you’re not on the nepotism freeway, then, sorry, the only other road open to you is that aforementioned painstaking road of learning your craft and being the best darn writer you can be.

So take the notes and implement, brothers and sisters. 20 drafts? Heck, just part of the process. Find the courage to get in there and do One More Draft. You’ll know when you’re ready to go: when those coveted words “consider/consider” appear at the end of the coverage report. Turn that pass into kick-ass. 

+++ 

Jim Cirile is a Los-Angeles based writer/producer. He owns www.coverageink.com, a leading independent screenplay coverage and development service. His latest movie is the animated horror feature MALEVOLENT starring Morena Baccarin (Deadpool.) 

www.coverageink.com

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Get Repped Now! - Now Until 5/3/15

Get Repped

 
Coverage Ink’s Get Repped Now! Returns!
4/6/15-5/3/15

Last year we got writer Brandon Barker into Benderspink and UTA, and his script “Nottingham and Hood” sold to Disney for six figures. Are you next?
 
 
ALL SCRIPTS THAT RECEIVE A “CONSIDER,” SUBMITTED BETWEEN 4/6/15 and 5/3/15, WILL BE READ BY OUR PANEL OF TOP LIT MANAGERS - GUARANTEED.
 For a limited time only, four top literary representatives:

will personally read any scripts submitted to Coverage Ink for script coverage that garner a "consider" for script (roughly the top 5% of submissions on average.) Wagner, Engleson and Belkin will read the feature scripts; Wagner, Engleson and Mills will read the TV pilots.

That’s all there is to it.  The door is open.  If you've got the goods, you've got a real shot of getting a kick-ass manager. Bring it!
 +++
 HOW TO ENTER: 
 1) Click the SUBMIT IT button:

 
2)  Fill out the online release and order form and then upload your screenplay or teleplay.
 
3) You will receive a confirmation from us and a Paypal invoice from CI for the screenplay analysis. 
4) You will receive your analysis back within ten calendar days. NOTE: If we are at capacity, we may have to push your coverage delivery back. Due to the huge response last time we were running about 12 days behind at the end of the Get Repped Now! promotion. We’ll let you know when you submit if we anticipate a delay.
Considers will be sent to Belkin, Engleson, Mills and Wagner with our recommendations and the coverage. Script submissions that score below consider ('Consider with Reservations' and 'Pass') will not be forwarded, but you will have a solid road map for how to make your script rock in the form of a detailed and empowering script coverage report. Considers will also have the opportunity to polish your script based on the coverage before we submit.
STANDARD COVERAGE COST: $129 for features, $99 for 1-hrs and $79 for 1/2 hrs. This includes a very detailed 10-14 page coverage report analyzing every aspect of the screenplay. Please see our website for complete rules and FAQs: http://coverageink.com/getrepped.html
 
Good luck, everyone!
 
 Founded in 2002, top-rated Coverage Ink is a leading independent screenplay analysis/development service used by emerging writers, established scribes and management and production companies. Coverage Ink is currently in production on its first animated feature "Malevolent," starring Morena Baccarin, Ray Wise and Bill Moseley. Visit us at www.coverageink.com.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Walking Away from The Walking Dead



Expert use of subtext hinted that there would be a fire.
*Spoiler Alert*  

We find ourselves about to give up on THE WALKING DEAD for the second time. We know, yes, the much-beloved THE WALKING DEAD. But after watching the season two finale on Netflix... meh.

The first time we bailed was right after the pilot, which seemed full of holes as well as a blatant "28 Days Later" rip-off. But because of the urging of friends, a year later we went back to it.

Season one was fairly flaccid -- not a lot of forward momentum, as well as constant, irritating sexism. But it wasn't awful; they just hadn't found the rhythm quite yet. Well, the sexism in season one was awful to be sure. But we had it on good authority that situation would improve, so we stuck it out (hint: it did not.) 

This is hard to admit, but losing (season one showrunner) Frank Darabont apparently helped the show tremendously, 'cause the first part of season two picked up the pace in a big way -- multiple heart-pounding storylines going on at the same time. What a turnaround! Suddenly, the show became GREAT. 

And then... it all kinda started to unravel again. Mid-season 2, we had two stinker episodes in a row -- one in which nothing happened but talking heads, an obvious cost-cutting "bottle" show, and the next featuring a poorly thought-out and unmotivated attempted suicide "B" story from a character we didn't care about (Herschel's daughter, whose mom actually died months ago - so why does she want to kill herself now?), while ignoring the far more fascinating Daryl/Carol dynamic. It's Carol who should have had this "B" story -- she's the one who just lost her daughter!

Um... yup.
Throughout the season, we found ourselves repeatedly shouting at the screen, "Hey, Rick, how about organizing a party to go shore up that fence?" "Rick! THE FENCE!!!" Like, the first and most obvious thing you'd do, right? But no, this was never even mentioned. And so it came as no surprise (to us) when these dopes were caught off-guard as the flimsy fence gave out in the season 2 finale and the farm was overrun. Groooan.

Dammit woman, see what happens when you try to drive? Get back to the laundry!
Oh, and there were other irritations along the way -- we're TOLD Andrea is a civil rights attorney, but we never see her say or do anything attorney-like, even in the key scene that would specifically call for her to step forward and handle the whole situation -- the discussion of the fate of the intruder boy. That should have been her "Inherit the Wind" moment. 

And yet more sexism smashes us about the skull as Laurie bitches to Andrea that her not doing laundry is actually creating more work for the rest of the women -- are you shitting me?  But the piece de resistance: the one time a woman goes off on her own, she wrecks the car and has to be rescued by a dude. WTF???

And, writers, have you noticed the show's aversion to subtext? Characters MUST always speak directly what's on their mind, generally one on one, with nothing else happening at the same time. Because apparently you can't do action and drama simultaneously, and you certainly can't have characters keeping thoughts to themselves or using body language or saying the oppositie of what they really mean. 

Last but least, there's the secret the CDC told Rick -- who cares? This piece of information doesn't change their situation at all. So what if we all carry the disease? *That's* the big reveal? Completely useless factoid we'd already figured out, because duh. 

It's all so frustrating, because there is a lot to like about this show, which is why we stuck it out until the end of season two. But for now at least, these ambulatory deceased are going back on the shelf. Now we know a lot of folks love this show -- tell us we're wrong!

http://www.coverageink.com


Monday, March 09, 2015

Underground's Trevor Engelson Joins CI's Get Repped Now!

Engelson
What is that pleasing fragrance in the air? That, fellow scribes, is the sweet smell of opportunity.

We are pleased as punch to welcome manager Trevor Engelson from Underground to our Get Repped Now! manager panel. The red-hot management company reps such folks as John Singleton and our own former CI analyst Kevin O'Hare, who has moved on to become a successful TV writer/producer with several shows in the works.

Engelson, who covers both features and TV, joins our panelists Jake Wagner, head of lit at Benderspink (who sold Get Repped Now! contestant Brandon Barker's script "Nottingham & Hood" this past fall,) Chris Mills from Magnet Management, and Jeff Belkin from Zero Gravity.

How does Get Repped Now! work? From April 6th to May 3rd 2015, all scripts (features and TV pilots) submitted to Coverage Ink for script coverage are eligible to be advanced to our manager panel. The script must score a "consider" for script (roughly top 5%) of all submissions) to qualify. All considers are guaranteed to be ready by the panel -- Wagner, Engelson and Belkin for features, and Wagner, Mills and Engelson for TV. Those who do not garner the coveted grade of  "consider" for script will receive our standard detailed coverage report. Writers may then elect to polish the script and resubmit before the deadline, if possible, or simply use the notes to plug all the leaks in the script. Either way, it's win-win for everyone.

In fall 2014, Brandon Barker's Robin Hood comedy "Nottingham & Hood" grabbed the eye of Jake Wagner, who signed him and got him into UTA as well. The script then sold to Disney for six figures, launching his career. Mission accomplished.

For more on Get Repped Now! please visit our website. Then get polishing, because we are looking to give these guys something they can sell!


www.coverageink.com

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Coverage Ink's Get Repped Now! Returns April 6th

http://coverageink.com/getrepped.html

Last year, in the very first Get Repped Now!, we had the pleasure of reviewing several hundred scripts. Five were rated 'consider' for script, and were read by our panel of industry managers. Writer Brandon Barker's Robin Hood comedy "Nottingham & Hood" blew away Benderspink's Jake Wagner. Within a month, Barker had signed with UTA and the script sold to Disney, where it is now fast-tracked for production.

Sweet, huh?

So we're doing it again. From April 6th through May 3rd, all scripts submitted to Coverage Ink for script analysis which score a 'consider' for script will be read by our panel of managers, guaranteed. We're looking for the next Brandon Barker. Have you got the goods?

So whip out that can of Pledge and start polishing those scripts. We want the next big splash to be made by you.

For more about Get Repped Now!, please click here. Good luck, everyone!

--Jim C.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

THIS IS MY BOOMSTICK

Happy New Year, fellow scribes!

If you're like me, you may use the coming of a new year as time to reflect on your successes and failures of the past twelve months. Sure, we may not like some of the conclusions we draw, but I believe personal and professional growth comes from listening, really listening, to constructive criticism, taking it to heart, and -- this is the most important part -- devising a plan of action. I mean heck, that's kind of why I founded Coverage Ink 13 years ago in the first place. 

Thirteen years. Wow!

So if you're like me, one big question likely pops into your head as you assess how effective your efforts to break in have been: "What am I doing wrong?" Heck, we all feel like we deserve success, right?  And yet it proves elusive. Your last batch of queries was met with a collective shrug; the one producer who did request your script never got back to you; you flamed out in the first round of last year's contests, except for maybe one quarter-final slot; and you sent your script in for coverage somewhere and got hit with 12 pages of notes.

It's enough to suck the mojo right out of your walrus gumboot (obscure Beatles reference, BTW. Kanye thinks they may have something.)

So because I have SO been there and have agonized over this stuff to the point of absurdity, allow me to share some observations and conclusions that have come from this often painful introspection -- as well as from knowing a lot of writers. Here are a few things you may indeed be doing wrong without even realizing it.

15 Drafts Don't Mean Done. 

Oh, one of the more painful ones, we know. You do draft after draft, and eventually you get frustrated, say "Good enough," and pull the trigger -- posting the script on BlackList, sending out queries via Virtual Pitchfest, contacting your industry connex. But was the script really ready to go? Were you rocking consistent 'considers' or getting raves from your friends? Were people contacting you to ask if they could help or be involved with the project? Because that's what happens when people really dig something, and that is the momentum you need to see before you send your baby out into the cold, cruel world. 

Irritatingly, progress on a screenplay may not always be a linear forward path. You've heard the expression 'one step forward, two steps back' I'm sure. This is never truer than in writing. What happens is, often when we fix problems, we unknowingly create new issues, or perhaps the fixes cause another issue, which may not have been that noticeable previously, to now be prominent. Over time, the screenplay can become more and more disjointed as the spot-fixes may not always coalesce with the whole. In those instances, it's often better to literally wipe the page and start afresh. 

Yes, this sucks, but great writing seldom appears on schedule, within the timetable we've allotted for it. One has to be flexible enough and secure enough to not pull that trigger just because we're already invested a year in a damn script. Working on several projects at once can help prevent burnout. 

Entitled Ain't Just a River in Egypt (Um... What?)


This is what you call a "first-world problem" a lot of us share -- because we've studied screenwriting and written a bunch of scripts, perhaps invested years in it, we feel entitled to success. We may resent other writers who have broken in and are now making a living while we're still forcing a smile as we ask customers if they want extra foam on their freaking Caramel Brulée Frappuccinos. This is only natural; we all have egos. 

Now suppose I put it to you like this: how long does a lawyer have to study before they are allowed to actually practice law? Or a doctor -- from college through through internships and certifications, how long does that all take? And these folks are investing big money (if you're a US citizen; of course, this type of education is free in every other civilized country) and likely going into heavy debt. Six to eight years later, after 40-80 hours a week invested in your education, you are now ready for a starting job in that field. 

Now tell me: how many of us have actually invested that much time and/or money in learning our craft? The truth is, very few of us. We just assume that because we're decent writers and we've all read books and seen movies and got an "A" in Creative Writing in college that we can make millions writing for movies and TV. Why should breaking in as a writer be any easier or require any less time or experience than any other high-paying, highly skilled profession? 

Friends, the industry is hard to break into by way of quality control. Hollywood's high castle walls effectively keep out the riff-raff; only the select few -- the crafty, the industrious, the hardy, the indefatigable -- will eventually breach the fortifications.

Sucks, yeah.  But it's all well and proper when you think about it.

How Groan Is Your Valley?

We read a lot of scripts here, and the vast majority of them do not suck. But many of them suffer from what I call Conceptitis, which means -- even in its most ideal form, the premise of the story may not ever get anyone excited. 

"Whiplash"
Truth be told, finding a killer concept, or even a decent one, is about as easy as finding an honest politician. As my old pal producer Dan Ostroff once told me, "I'll take a poorly written script with a great concept over a well-written script with a mediocre concept any day." The reason is, you can always rewrite a weak script, but a mediocre concept may be an insolvable problem.

As the bull's-eye for features and TV scripts grows ever more miniscule, there are certain ideas which are just not commercial at this time or else are currently played out. Dramas are a tough sell, unless -- and this caveat is true of every single genre or idea -- unless you find a really new, fresh, or different take on it. If you blow people's minds, doing something really amazing or unexpected, the sky is the limit. Just look at "Birdman" and "Whiplash," two of 2014's best movies. In the hands of lesser filmmakers, they could have been boring, deadwood dramatic exercises. But smart, intense scripts dialed it up and made them rock. Ensemble dramas especially -- meh. They just don't work as specs. And expensive period pieces (unless they're for TV) are always a tough sell. 

On the more commercial but played-out side, anything with werewolves, vampires, spies, a serial killer, terrorists or superheroes are all basically DOA. Again, there are exceptions, but getting traction on one of these is a Sisyphean task. Finding an awesome, fresh concept may take a lot of brainstorming sessions. But it's better to wait until you have that killer idea than to move forward with a so-so one and waste a year of your life pushing it. 

Can You Will An Alternative Reality Version of Hollywood into Being?

Not Coming Soon.
Continuing with the above thought, we all wish that Hollywood was more like it was in the '70s and '80s, before the studios were gobbled up by megacorporations. In those days, they might take a chance, sometimes, on riskier material. Of course, they churned out a lot of crap, too. But they made way more movies than they make now, and thus there was more opportunities for good storytellers. Too, minimum guarantees on foreign sales meant lots of opportunities from smaller film companies making "programmers," which could always be counted on to turn a profit. All of that meant talented writers could earn a pretty good living -- the opportunity was there.

Hollywood will likely never return to those days; don't expect it to. If you're writing the next "Kramer Vs. Kramer," good for you -- but don't expect Paramount to make it. Instead, one now has to think about independent or foreign financing or self-producing. Awesome movies are still being made; they're just being put together in more creative ways. And if the end result is a great movie, then a big studio might pick it up at Sundance and release it. Way less risk for them. As for the writers, those paychecks are harder and harder to find as the middle has been almost completely squeezed out of the marketplace.

But in case you didn't get the memo, there is a renaissance going on right now, and it's called TV. Premium cable led the charge with incredible content like "The Sopranos" and "Dexter." Basic cable stepped up and gave us "Monk," "Breaking Bad" and "Sons of Anarchy." And now we have Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and YouTube creating envelope-pushing original shows with none of the cliches and censorship associated with network TV. 

Truly, it is an AWESOME time to be a writer. Adjust rose-tinted goggles and set sights accordingly.

Dead Horse, Meet Flogger.

The industry expects you to be able to create 1-3 scripts/year. If you're still trying to send out the same script you were shopping this time last year, pardner, that ol' nag is ready for the glue factory. Sure, there may always be new opportunities for an old piece of material, but if the script has been exposed to the town in any significant way -- as in, it's been submitted to a couple of production companies -- you may well be dead from this point forward and not even know it.

The reason is because of tracking. Any script which is sent out in any significant way is tracked; development execs sometimes share coverage as well. Which could mean if you got pass/pass at Disney, you may already be dead at Universal. This is not always true, but in this day and age it's probably best to assume everyone knows everything. As well, once a script has been submitted to a company, any further submissions will inevitably result in the previous coverage being pulled up. People are always looking for an excuse not to read. So even if it's a new draft, you might be dead in that case as well.  Hell, I got busted once even after a title change. Their database actually pulled up the coverage based on writer name. Yep.

Most importantly, agents, managers and CEs hate when you query them the same script you've already hit them up about and/or submitted last year. Heck, sometimes our record-keeping is inept (we are writers, after all) and we forget whom a script has gone in to. But they don't, and they'll hold it against you. One of the biggest pet peeves of agents and managers is writers who don't write. You must expect that the vast majority of your work will be "practice" and put it on the shelf once it hits the expiration date (roughly a year from the time you start sending it out.) Writers write. So get over it and move on. You do have other ideas, right?

Doing the Notes Is Not Really Optional.

I love our clients -- we have so many amazing ones who constantly blow me away. Some of you guys really embrace feedback as a valuable part of your script development process. Take Carlo Bordone, for instance, who has sent us probably a dozen drafts of his script "Wartime Revelations" over a period of almost two years. His latest draft scored a coveted 'consider' as part of Get Repped Now!, thanks to lots of hard work on his part, and we will be sending it to our manager panel this month. 

Carlo Bordone
Yet others reject the notes and fire back several pages of flame-mail vitriol. Sigh. Look, of course not every note is going to be right. Sometimes a reader truly does not get what you're trying to do or flat-out misses something. It absolutely happens. But to reject the notes in whole or even in part is just kinda foolish, and says more about our own egos than anything else. I mean, you're paying for that feedback. Actually listening to it however, that's up to you. Except... it isn't really.

'Cause at the end of the day, there really is no getting around doing the notes. It's a lot easier to reject the reader's comments -- "What a moron!" No one wants to take on all that -- especially since we thought we'd nailed it in the first place. So maybe we'll do a couple of the little easy notes, but the big script-rippers -- like not having a clear protagonist, or the inciting incident not coming in until page 43 -- we ignore those. Because that means WORK.

Look, we all hate doing script rewrites. But isn't that what we signed up for? Isn't that exactly what we hope to be paid for someday -- doing revisions on your script (or someone else's)? But to get there, we *must* learn to not wall-up when we receive constructive criticism. And to do the damn notes.

And finally:

You Do Know the Odds, Right? 

Sometimes we do everything right, yet even then, things go south.  Your friends all love the concept of your new script. You get a couple bites and send it out. Then boom -- another spec with a similar concept beats you to the marketplace. You're dead in the water. Or the script that you've painstakingly ironed the bugs out of is just not a genre that's popular at the moment. Or your manager sends out the script and everyone likes it, but no one buys it. Who the hell knows why? Could be all the companies had already spent their development budgets for the year but didn't feel your script was discretionary fund-worthy; or perhaps it requires a tricky or specific bit of casting, or the budget is just too big... and on and on and on.

It's at times like these that I recall the legendary Ash Williams:  

"You see this? This is my BOOMSTICK!"

Yes, this whole writing thing will beat you down and wear you out and suck all the joy of creation right out of you if you let it. I know I just said you have to temper your ego, but gumption is just as important. Think of yourself as the protagonist in the movie of your life. You will be tested. What you're trying to do is not easy. The stakes are huge. The cost of failure: dire. And vast enemy armies will be doing everything they can to stop you. 

But... we have a goddamn metaphorical boomstick, and best of all, it has INFINITE AMMO. So no matter how many slings and arrows you may suffer, hello, there is always another shell just waiting to be chambered. You just have to reach for it and load that sucker. Then stand up proudly and brace yourself, because another wave is coming at you. But this time you'll be ready. Because you've invested the time and energy into learning your craft and you are a talented, never-say-die son of a gun. 

Lock and load, baby.



Jim C.
www.coverageink.com

www.coverageink.com

"You see this?! THIS... is my BOOMSTICK!!"
"You see this?! THIS... is my BOOMSTICK!!"