Friday, December 28, 2007

Strike Me Down

Recapping our WGA strike coverage with more analysis and commentary

by Jim Cirile

Let me say up front that Coverage, Ink supports the WGA 100%. The things the Guild is asking for are a pittance to the industry conglomerates. Of course writers should make more than 4 cents on a DVD. Of course writers should get paid when their work is viewed online. Duh. Under the Guild’s proposal, Paramount and CBS would each pay $4.66 million per year while MGM would pay only $320,000/year. Seriously, that’s it. So for the AMPTP (producers) to be shutting them down and refusing to budge (as they have for months) is reprehensible and frankly seems flat-out bananas. Unless they’re planning on replacing all scripted entertainment with 24/7 Paris and Britney coverage in ‘08. (Agh!)

That said, did the Guild really have to put the entire town out of work for the last two months of the year? I have a lot of friends who are out of work now – not just writers, but photographers, UPMs, drivers, on and on. Was there a better way this could have been handled? IATSE president Tom Short seems to think so, and he blasted the WGA brass on the front page of the 11/15 Hollywood Reporter, saying that WGA management’s failure to engage AMPTP earlier has resulted in ‘devastation’ and that their ‘incompetence’ and ‘inexperience’ has put 50,000 IATSE members out of work. The flip side is that the WGA pretty much *had* to strike now – the AMPTP wasn’t budging, and if they’d waited into next year, they’d lose their scant leverage and possibly wind up drowned in a trifecta of potential strikes – WGA, SAG and the Director’s Guild all at the same time, after the studios had a chance to stock up on product. Okay, I get it.

But there are other things. When I first joined the Guild, it baffled me to learn that a writer could work on a project for months, only to not receive any credit at all in the finished film. Nothing, zip. Because when the WGA does its arbitration, it decides who gets the credit. They pick one or two names, and then the other 11 writers who worked on the project? S.O.L. I think this is a flaming wagon of dung.

So I wrote the WGA to tell them so. Why is it a PA can work on a film for one day and get rolling screen credit (which I have done,) yet a writer could work on a film for months, have their ideas or dialogue or even whole scenes in the finished film and get none? Outrageous. The solution is simple. The WGA should keep the arbitration system to award credit and residuals and profit participation, and those writers credited should be, as always, get credits in the titles just before the director. Fine. But then there should ALSO be a “Contributing Writers” credit in the crawl listing every writer who worked on the project, whether any of their effort made it to screen or not. These writers receive no additional compensation -- they simply get a screen credit because they worked on the damn film.

“Written By,” the WGA magazine, actually printed my letter, and I spent a year or so trying to get traction on this idea. I was finally told by a friend with close ties to the board to give it up -- the WGA *likes* maintaining the illusion that only one writer (or a team) wrote a movie. They will never do anything to officially acknowledge all the other writers. WTF?

All these years later, nothing has changed, and I still think I’m right and the WGA is full of it. So maybe I’m carrying a grudge? Not really. But it makes it hard to accept that they really have all the membership’s best interests in mind, when it’s the Guild themselves who is first discriminates against writers with their arbitration process.

On Monday Dec. 10, the Writers Guild of America sent an official communiqu̩ to the entire WGA West membership plugging a spoof site ridiculing the AMPTP. The site, http://www.amptp.com, lampoons the AMPTP's poor judgment and is entertaining satire to be sure. But at a time when thousands of people are out of work heading into the holidays, most of whom will never see any benefit from any WGA deal -- only lost income Рshould the Guild really be antagonizing producers whom writers will have to work with again?

I mailed my concerns to the WGA. WGA President Patric Verrone responded promptly:

Jim,

Thanks for writing. So you know, this web site was done without Guild knowledge or input but, when we saw it, we thought members would be interested. We remain committed to resolving this contract as soon as humanly possible. Remember, the AMPTP walked away from the table on Friday, not us. We are ready and willing to bargain at a moment's notice.

Seriously.

Best,

Patric

Great response, and indeed, the AMPTP did just up and walk away, the bastards! But still, shouldn’t this be something you let spread virally, not sanction via a Guild mailing? Maybe not. Reader Jerry Monaco, a former union organizer and veteran of many strikes, commented in a fascinating response on the Coverage Ink blog, “The truth is that the WGA alone is neither big enough nor powerful enough to be what Galbraith once called a counter-veiling power. But to slag on the union for doing something successfully, something that we non-writers that support you admire greatly is not seeing the reality of the situation.” Fair enough. “When your bosses complain about how upset they are about the tactics and antics of your union, it is because your union is getting under their skin.”

So here we are at the end of the year with no negotiations scheduled and no end in sight. Yeah, the picture’s a bit bleak, and there’s certainly going to be plenty of second-guessing. Maybe I’m guilty of that. But at the end of the day, what the writers are asking for is fair, and the producers are being A-holes. End of story. Let’s all hope that this puppy ends SOON so the town can get back to work.

UPDATE 12/26: A high-level writer friend tells me a reporter from the “New York Times” just called him asking if there’s any truth to the rumor that 8 or so A-list feature screenwriters are preparing to ankle the Guild and resume work! Holy crap! My friend knew nothing about this and couldn’t comment. But if this is true, it could well break the Guild’s spine. But -- my guess is this is a load, disinformation put out by AMPTP to create unrest. I can’t imagine these writers would jeopardize their health benefits, huge pensions and residuals to do such a thing, but hey, this is “The Times” calling, the supposed paper of record (their shameless, uncritical stumping for the Iraq occupation and ignoring of many other critical issues notwithstanding.)

Monday, December 24, 2007

THE INSIDE PITCH



If you’re looking for an amazing blog written by a true industry pro, do check out high-level WMA executive Christopher Lockhart’s fantastic The Inside Pitch. Every single person reading this needs to spend ten minutes absorbing the wisdom imparted upon us by the wise Master Lockhart, who answers many questions from screenwriters and truly is the insider.

Click HERE to read The Inside Pitch!

Here's an example of what you will find on Chris' blog:
(a reader writes:)Does the title really matter (when it comes to a spec)? I opted for (the provisory title) “4 and ½” to perfectly support the insanely smart hook in my logline (that can be seen at www.nu4m.com). If the logline is as important as you say (and I decided it is before I opened your twoadverbs.com site) I guess it worth the risk. And I’m saying that cuz I have better titles up my sleeves.

CL responds: Yes. I think a title really matters. Producers think about how they are going to sell the movie to audiences, and that process begins with the title. Yes, studios change titles all the time, but you want to consider the perfect title for your screenplay.

THE FAMILY STONE, which was released late in 2005, was originally titled THEY F**KING HATE HER and then retitled HATING HER before ending up with the final result. But the original title helped to increase an awareness of the script and prodded people to read it. Of course, the title SNAKES ON A PLANE gave that project a massive amount of attention.

I’m not a fan of your title, because it doesn’t give me a hint as to what the script might be about.

Is 4 and ½ a comedy about an ugly woman?
Or a tragedy about a man with a small penis?
Or a heartwarming MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS with math instead of music?

I have journeyed to your website to check out the “insanely smart hook” in your logline – which is more insane than smart.

The notion of a script that is a “fast-paced fantasy comedy with horror and parody elements set against a background of high adventure” doesn’t help me – in the slightest – to nail down the tone.

Furthermore, you chose a group of protagonists made up of screenwriters, which is an automatic “pass.”

Sadly, Chris folded the blog in April ’07, but it is still well worth your time. Check it out!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Popular Films' logline Worksheet

DO YOUR LOGLINES LIE THERE (ER, LIKE A LOG)?

Tim Albaugh, cofounder of Popular Films, and an instructor in the UCLA Professional Program in Screenwriting, was kind enough to share his insights on loglines with us. Loglines are in many ways more important than the script itself, since if your one-liner isn’t compelling, the script won’t get in the door. Albaugh teaches this material in his UCLA Professional Program in Screenwriting class, and we’re pleased to present it to you here.

LOGLINE WORKSHEET

By Tim Albaugh

Loglines are many times more difficult to write than a screenplay. But if you can’t tell your story in a few sentences, you’ll never be able to do it in 120 pages.

Loglines are a condensed version of your story, usually 50 words or less. It’s the “trailer” for the reader or development executive. It should give the essence of the story and most importantly, hook the reader.

Loglines should reveal the protagonist’s PERSONALITY and SITUATION; the important COMPLICATIONS; describe the ACTION the protagonist takes; and hint at the CLIMAX and the potential TRANSFORMATION of the protagonist.

Everything needs to be distilled down to the essentials. Forget the small stuff; no details. Make them have to read the script.

Focus on WHO your story is about and WHAT the CONFLICT is.

Make sure you include the human story (emotional conflict) in your logline.
Start with the protagonist, then give the emotional conflict that has to be overcome in order to solve the external conflict.

Don’t forget, your script has to be about a person with a problem -- and the person LEAST able to solve the problems usually gets stuck with it.

Use strong, action words. Case in point:

TOOTSIE

Michael is an arrogant, unemployed actor who has no respect for women. Unable to find work, Michael dresses up as a woman and lands a job on a soap opera. Forced to be a woman 24/7, Michael learns to respect the opposite sex and ultimately becomes a better man.

First sentence is character and his emotional problem. Second sentence is his “plot” problem and his reaction to it; the action he takes. The third sentence suggests the transformation the protagonist will experience.

Just like a movie has three acts, your logline should have those three beats mentioned above. Beginning, middle, end.

+++++++++++

To get Popular Films to work for you, schedule a consultation! Popular will read your script and set up a 2-hour face-to-face meeting with you. Popular has projects set up all over the town. We know of no other working production company that does this, so take advantage of this amazing opportunity. For more on Popular, check out their Coverage, Ink web page.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Letter of the Month


We LOVE this! Go, Javier!

Hi Jim,

I thought (now that I have plenty of free time due to the strike) I'd share a short success story of mine with you, as you were part of it.

You gave a favorable response for The Heretic, which, boy... came at the right time. It felt like I'd been losing a little bit of hope as a writer, but your coverage was not only a booster shot for my confidence, it helped me refine the script further. Because of that, I went on to land a great manager, some relationships at great companies.

To make a long story short, after working with a development exec at Phoenix Pictures for a few months, getting The Heretic just right, Mike Medavoy optioned the script in September! Granted... it's now parked because of the strike... but we got the option anyway!

Thought I'd share, and thank you personally once again for your help in getting me to where I am.

Javier Rodriguez


Mission accomplished! That just makes our day. Any time one of our own finds a crack in the fortress walls and slips in, it's cause for celebration. In Javier's case, he took a tough piece of material -- a middle ages period piece -- and made it commercial by adding a complex protagonist in a gritty, action-filled setting. Great work, dude, and continued good luck on your ascending career! -- Jim C.

Monday, December 10, 2007

WGA Management Officially on Crack


Monday Dec. 10 -- In a staggering display of poor judgment, the Writers Guild of America, currently neck-deep in a strike effort against the AMPTP (film producers), either deliberately or inadvertently sent an official WGA communique to the entire WGA West membership plugging a spoof site ridiculing the AMPTP. The site, www.amptp.com, lampoons the AMPTP's poor judgment and is entertaining satire to be sure. But at a time when thousands of people are out of work heading into the holidays, most of whom will never see any benefit from any WGA deal, only lost income, the industry is getting more and more nervous, and key industry figures like Thomas Short, president of Hollywood union IATSE, are publicly criticizing guild management for incompetence on the front page of The Hollywood Reporter, in my opinion the Guild should have exercised some sensitivity here. To be sure, this comes across as a childish move--certainly not the deft and professional negotiations many of us were hoping for.

To be clear, Coverage Ink supports the issues the WGA is going for here. But boneheaded moves like this can't possibly help the Guild or the strikers. Goof sites are fine, and I've written a few myself. But when they're officially sanctioned by one side, it makes the sanctioner look like a complete jack-ass. Brilliant tactical maneuver, WGA.

UPDATE 12/11: WGA President Patric Verrone responds thusly:

Jim,

Thanks for writing. So you know, this web site was done without Guild knowledge or input but, when we saw it, we thought members would be interested. We remain committed to resolving this contract as soon as humanly possible. Remember, the AMPTP walked away from the table on Friday, not us. We are ready and willing to bargain at a moment's notice.

Seriously.

Best,
Patric

***********

So this confirms that no less than WGA President Patric Verrone signed off on this mail. God help us all. I defer to the first post below from "anonymous" as to a few more reasons why this WGA mailing was a serious shot in the foot. --JC

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Short That Took A Year


Hard to believe it, but it was one year ago that my cowriter Aaron Schnore and I put the finishing touches on our comedy short screenplay SHOWDOWN OF THE GODZ. Back then our budget was $8,000, largely put up by our director Julien Calderbank, and we planned to shoot in February in NYC and have the film out to festivals in the Spring. That would be Spring... 2007.

Er, well, we DID shoot in NYC in February. As for the rest of it...

We are finishing the film TODAY (December 7, 2007.)

WTF? How could Coverage Ink's first co production, a 16-minute short, take so long? Folks, there is no short answer, but suffice it to say, many lessons were learned along the way. The good news is the film looks great. We're all proud of it and I'm fairly confident it rocks.

However, it took us $50,000 (I've worked on FEATURES with smaller budgets...) and a year to make it so.

There wasn't just one delay or issue, there were multitudes, both large and small. Most of them had to do with fixing mistakes. For example, due to some, shall we say, spectacular ineptitude on the part of our camera operator, certain scenes shot on certain days had dirt on the lens. We had two choices: leave it be or spend the money to have the film fixed. This process (called dustbusting) is the same painstaking process old films undergo when they are restored. Each frame is analyzed, and the debris, scratches, hairs caught in the gate, etc., are digitally painted out.

This took a lot of time and two separate CG artists (Tom Haney, and Lisa Yimm & David Bell of HDR-FX.) And then there were the compatibility issues--making the dustbusted footage integrate back into the original. This alone took weeks to resolve. But the end result is the film looks as pristine as, er, well, as it would have been had it been shot properly in the first place. Ahem.

Then there was the "Super X." This supposed rare monster toy is the Macguffin, the subject of our protagonist's quest. Yet on camera, the Japanese monster toy selected by our props guy looked the opposite of awe-inspiring. It sucked. Enter CG artist Tom Haney, who rotoscoped out the original weak-ass prop frame by frame and replaced it with a new one that just rocks, complete with dynamic lighting and proper sense of majesty.

Yeah, that took some time and a few bucks. Are you starting to get the picture?

Then there was music licensing... some more F/X work (including miniatures and more CGI) a key member of the team freaking out and bailing midway through, only to return months later; a few normal, healthy creative disagreements, and some flat-out attitude issues from a few key post personnel, all of which slowed down the works immeasurably.

And this is the tip of the iceberg. Suffice it to say, the Godz producer team--myself, Aaron Schnore and Robert Troch--often felt like we were battling a gigantic mutated Japanese monster with a broom, yet we forded on and stuck to our creative vision.

And today, we did it. Finally the film is mastered and ready for festivals.

Whew.

In the coming months, www.showdownofthegodz.com will be up (not yet) and the film will be rolling out to selected Festivals in '08. We are also setting up screenings in LA and NYC for February/March and will eventually have DVDs available for sale, too. Thanks, everyone, for your patience. Will it have been worth all the time, money and effort? We'll see!

--Jim C.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

You Say You Want A Revolution...

Sigh.

Of course I support the strike... in theory. It's nice to see the WGA rising up against The Man. They are revolutionaries, and that are just saying NO to being handed crap by the corporations that control us. Would that our political parties might do the same against the corporatists who have taken them over.

But here's the thing. A lot of people are being hurt by this thing. And every day that goes by it gets worse. All the agents and managers I know, well, no deals means no business. I spoke with my motion picture lit attorney yesterday, and he painted a gloomy picture as to having any income anytime soon. Now obviously the big agencies can handle this, but the smaller companies do not have the reserves to weather a protracted strike.

And of course there are the writers themselves. The Guild's decision to strike NOW means thousands of writers have no income for *two months heading into the holidays.* This is horrible.

Worse, the studios don't care, since most of the execs take off for blue unbrella drinks and breezy tropical isles from now through Sundance. And while the Governator is personally trying to bring the two sides together, and I applaud his efforts, the truth is the big media conglomerates have little incentive to resume talks until January. And why should they? Their bottom lines will look much nicer if they can close out the year without paying anyone.From my perspective, the timing here was just plain stupid on the part of the WGA.

For writers' kids this year, Christmas ain't gonna be very merry.

There's one more thing folks generally forget about--all the TV production people in town. These thousands of folks work on a contractor basis; when their show is not in production, they don't get paid. I was in production for many years and left it for precisely that reason--financial uncertainty. But many have made a career as gaffers, grips, photographers, working job to job, simply because there is no alternative. All of them are now screwed. None of them gets any residuals or DVD revenues for the shows they work on. They get a flat fee and that's it. And yet they are part of the creation of the work, too.

And right now a great many of my friends are about to be out of work.

I read somewhere that the hit to the state's economy of the last strike was $500 million. That was in '88. Again, the studios feel little of this pinch and in fact are happy to not have to pay anyone.

Let's hope Arnold is able to get the two sides talking again. Soon.

****

This is the latest e-mail from WGA president Patric Verrone:


To My Fellow Members:

Day eleven. Good morning. You have stood up to the corporations and made it clear that we won’t quit until we reach a fair deal.

The public supports us. One small example: yesterday, a middle-aged man who had come all the way from Michigan with his wife and children showed up at Paramount studios for the day. But when he saw the writers, he told them he was a member of a mechanics union and has never crossed a picket line in his life. They refused to go in.

As many of you may have seen in the press yesterday, a new poll from Pepperdine University shows that 63% of the American people support us and only four percent support the conglomerates.

But what the poll numbers can’t show is the reason. That reason is you. It is your hard work on the picket lines, your long hours, your rallies, the actors you have reached out to, and the energy you have brought to bear that has created this overwhelming support.

We are all in this together.

Best,

Patric M. Verrone
President, WGA West

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Strike is On! Probably.


Today 3,000 writers flooded the Los Angeles Convention Center to vote on whether to strike or not. The vote came down 90% in favor. The strike could be announced as early as Friday. However talks are ongoing, and any strike could vaporize as soon as it begins... depending on how obstinate all the parties feel like being.

The main issue here is that writers want a nice cut of the studios' DVD profits. They have smartly figured out that while theatrical performance is a crap shoot, many films attain profitability on DVD--even ones that tanked in theaters. This DVD revenue has been keeping the lights on at the studios for years. So now writers want the huge media conglomerates to fork it over. Will the studios do so? Stay tuned.

What does the strike mean to you? Well, unless you're in the guild, or have a spec about to go out through a big agency, not much. But what it does mean is that if the strike goes on a while, all those writers will be writing specs. That's very bad news indeed for everyone trying to break in, because it means that the market will be flooded with material from the big boys, crowding out the little guys for a while.

For everyone's sake, let's hope a deal is struck quickly!

This from the WGA web site as of 11-01-07:


Contact: Gregg Mitchell (323) 782-4574
Sherry Goldman (718) 224-4133

News Release: November 2, 2007

WGA Negotiating Committee Recommends Call for Strike
Membership Meeting Draws 3,000

LOS ANGELES -- Before a standing-room-only audience of 3,000 Writers Guild members in the Los Angeles Convention Center’s West Hall in downtown L.A. Thursday night, the Writers Guild of America Negotiating Committee, on behalf of the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) and the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), announced its unanimous recommendation to call a strike against the film studios and television networks that make up the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Screen Actors Guild President Alan Rosenberg joined the Negotiating Committee onstage to voice his union’s support of writers.

During the largest membership meeting in WGAW history, the Negotiating Committee reported that the AMPTP had called a halt to talks by demanding that the Guild accept the extension of the current DVD formula to new media. The committee also informed the audience that in three months of negotiations, the AMPTP has not responded in any serious manner to its initial proposals.

Members spent three hours in frank discussion of the report and recommendation. From microphones on the floor, WGA members expressed their anger at the Companies’ refusal to bargain seriously, reiterating their overwhelming support for the Negotiating Committee, Guild leadership, and for the bargaining agenda of the WGA.

The WGAW Board and the WGAE Council will meet Friday to consider the recommendation of the Negotiating Committee and to decide the next steps.

For more information about the Writers Guild of America, West, please visit www.wga.org. For more information about the Writers Guild of America, East, please visit: www.wgaeast.org.

The Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) and the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) represent writers in the motion picture, broadcast, cable, and new media industries in both entertainment and news. The unions conduct numerous programs, seminars, and events throughout the world on issues of interest to, and on behalf of, writers.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The WGA Strike -- What's it all about?

You may have heard a bit about this impending disaster known as the WGA strike that could shut down the town and put a lot of working writers out of work. The strike threat has already taken its toll on the fall spec season (nothing is selling). Not a lot of happiness from writers, managers and agents right about now.

If you're in the dark as to what's going on, this recent "Los Angeles Times" article gives you a quick overview:
Residual resentment slows Hollywood talks

Studios want to revamp pay for reruns. Writers and actors want more.

By Richard Verrier

As a young writer, Marc Cherry found early success on NBC's hit show "The Golden Girls," then toiled in obscurity for the next 12 years.

Two shows he created for Fox and CBS were canceled. None of the TV pilots he developed clicked. In debt $30,000, he sold his Hancock Park home, moved into a small condo in Studio City and even borrowed money from his mother.

What sustained him in the fallow years, before his desperation inspired ABC's 2004 hit "Desperate Housewives," were the little green envelopes that showed up in his mailbox. Reruns of "The Golden Girls," which got a second life on the Lifetime cable channel, brought residual checks that one year totaled $75,000.

Residual fees are at the center of labor talks underway between the Hollywood studios and the union that represents movie and TV writers. The major studios want to revamp the decades-old system, citing soaring production costs and fragmented audiences amid today's digital revolution.

But the writers say these payments help them weather Hollywood's feast-and-famine work cycles. Without residuals, Cherry said, he might have been forced to "get a real job."

TV viewers might never have had "Desperate Housewives," the darkly comic tale of suburbia that helped lift ABC out of the doldrums.

"These residuals allowed me to survive long enough to create a show that is a huge profit center for the network," said Cherry, 45, a Long Beach native and member of the Writers Guild of America negotiating committee. "That's what kept me afloat."

The major studios and the Writers Guild are far apart in negotiations on a three-year contract that would replace the one that expires Oct. 31. The writers are scheduled to vote this week on whether to give the board the authority to call a strike if no deal can be reached. Studios are preparing for a strike as early as Nov. 1, which would be the first writers' walkout in nearly 20 years.

A major sticking point in the talks is the residual fees that actors, writers and directors receive when their movies or TV shows are rerun on television or sold for release on home video and in foreign markets. The writers' West Coast guild collected $264 million in residuals in 2006.

But the writers want more money. They are pushing to double the payment they receive for TV shows or films that are released on home video. Currently, they receive about 4 cents for every DVD sold under a pay formula agreed to in the 1980s, when manufacturing home videocassettes was expensive. They also seek higher pay for movies and TV shows sold over the Internet and residuals for shows created for the Web and other new media.

Studio executives, however, have resisted paying more for digital downloads and contend that it's premature to set pay formulas for online shows when the medium is experimental.

They propose overhauling the system, paying TV and film residuals only after the studios have recouped their costs. They contend that residuals were developed at a time when studios more than offset their film costs at the box office, which hasn't been the case for nearly three decades. TV networks say they have been squeezed by a shrinking syndication market and a migration of younger audiences to the Internet.

"It is simply no longer tenable to be paying residuals on losses as we have for three decades," said Nick Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. "We must adapt to the realities of the marketplace, the new demands from our audiences and new technologies, or suffer the fate of those who deny change or don't adapt fast enough..."
To read the rest of the article, click HERE.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Win 5 grand this month. Yes, you!

For the sixth straight year, Coverage Ink is official contest judge of the CS Open Live Writing tournament at the Screenwriting Expo. Many of you reading this have done the Open before (hi, guys!) but for those who haven’t, consider doing so this year!

In a nutshell, you’re given 90 minutes to write an original scene based on parameters we give you. Your scene is then evaluated by the Coverage, Ink team. The top three scenes are then performed live on stage by actors at the Expo’s closing ceremony on Sunday 10/28. The winner gets 5 grand.

In other words, you could be 5 grand richer for writing a couple of scenes the weekend of 10/27. Plus there’s cash prizes for the top 3 and other prizes for the top ten. So what are you waiting for? Could you best 800-1,000 other writers? Can you write under pressure? I find it’s when I do my best work (especially when there’s money on the line.) So if you’re going to the Expo and haven’t yet enrolled in the CS Open, do try your hand. 90 minutes of your time could net you some big $$$.

For more on the CS Open, and to enroll online click HERE.

And while you’re at the Expo, do drop by and introduce yourself to the Coverage Ink team!

Free Scripts! Read Now!


Just a reminder that there are TONS of free scripts out there on the web. One of my faves is UCLA Extension's site, which is well stocked with great movie scripts. It's easy to forget that one of the best ways to learn is to read scripts. So download a few of your favorites and then read them for the story and scrutinize the craft carefully.

Click HERE to visit the UCLA Extension screenplay database.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

SCRIPT COPS video


Here's a 1-minute short guaranteed to brighten your day. Click HERE to watch SCRIPT COPS.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Warner Bros: No More Female Leads


No, we're not making this up. Apparently due to the underperformance of female-driven films THE INVASION (Nicole Kidman) and THE BRAVE ONE (Jodie Foster) at the box office, Warners' Jeff Robinov has issued a moratorium on films with a female star.

Wow. Who would've thunk it? Er, then again, the only female Looney Tunes characters were Granny and... er... hm...

For the staggeringly Neanderthal rest of the story, click HERE.

Friday, August 31, 2007

trackingb.com in the "Los Angeles Times"


Our friends over at www.trackingb.com, the industry insider tracking site now available to screenwriters (see blog item below) got a nice little write-up in Jay Fernandez' Scriptland column in the "Los Angeles Times."
TrackingB.com, a growing pay website that tracks insider maneuverings and the real-time sale and buzz of new pitches and screenplays, (is) kind of bank vault to which anyone can buy the combination for $69 a year.

TrackingB.com is owned and run by the Insider, the nom de Web of Adam (who withheld his last name) who launched the site last October. It's meant to act as a common area for writers and their representatives and the development executives at studios and production companies who want to know what material they're circulating -- or about to circulate -- in the marketplace.

"I'm mostly using it to look out for: What are the new specs that are going out on the market, what's happening with the ones that are already out there?" says Fox Searchlight creative executive Jason Hargrove, who checks the site daily and nabbed a script called "Near Death," written by Carter Blanchard, this year because TrackingB.com reported on it three days before it went on the market.

Although development execs have long had their own versions of invitation-only tracking boards, where they swap thoughts on writers, agencies and screenplays, the agents themselves have rarely been directly privy to the chatter.

In addition to insider gossip, TrackingB.com also gives them an opportunity to see what their rivals are going out with and what's generating positive heat.

It also, of course, allows them to plant artificial buzz, which could dilute a script's potency if it's thought that an agent is merely hyping his own client's work.

At the moment, the site's subscribers are drawn mainly from junior creative executives and VPs at studios, as well as lower-level assistants, managers, agents, financiers and producers, although the William Morris Agency has an account and at least one production head at a major studio uses it.

"I always felt out of the loop when my work went out and hit the town," says Adam. "I felt like I was always one step removed from everything. So I wanted to create something where not only insiders could learn about the industry but people who were on the fringes of it could find a way to get more in the middle."
Check out trackingb.com HERE.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Mr. Sulu Returns


Brace yourself, folks... classic "Star Trek" is back.

I'm not talking about the upcoming JJ Abrams "Starfleet Academy" movie, featuring new actors in the roles of Kirk, Spock and co. No, this is a the original series' "fourth season," a fan-based effort that started out admittedly cheesy and got progressively better as time went on. Now this series is boasting some serious firepower, with original Star Trek actors Walter Koenig and George Takei reprising their roles as Chekov and Sulu, original series writers and fan faves David Gerrold and D.C. Fontana behind the camera! And none other than Rod Roddenberry, son of the Great Bird of the galaxy, has given the series his stamp of approval.

The latest episode, "World Enough and Time," stars Coverage, Ink fave George Takei, whom many of you know also stars in the forthcoming CI film "Showdown of the Godz." "World Enough and Time" boasts 700 special effects shots and some amazing recreations of original series sets. Note that Paramount allows these fan-made productions provided that they do not make a profit.

To view the episodes, please visit the "Star Trek New Voyages" web site HERE.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
GEORGE TAKEI BACK AS SULU
IN AUGUST 23 STAR TREK PREMIERE
Oscar and Emmy winners – along with the fans – team to complete Sulu STAR TREK episode begun 30 years ago

GEORGE TAKEI may be playing a hero on HEROES and serving as Howard Stern's recurring sidekick on subscription radio, but it's as the dashing Mr. Sulu, helmsman on the starship Enterprise, that he will be forever loved by the fans.

But he hardly imagined his greatest Sulu episode would come in 2007! Takei is starring in "World Enough and Time," a new STAR TREK episode produced by an amazing mix of Industry pros and fans that will be premiering at the Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills on August 23, 2007, with both the premiere and episode streaming real-time worldwide on the Internet – literally a world premiere.

Plus one lucky fan will win airfare to the premiere and exclusive dinner with Takei, the writers and director of the episode. (To register to stream the episode and/or enter the contest, log onto www.startreknewvoyages.com)

It all began when STAR TREK – NEXT GENERATION writer MARC SCOTT ZICREE learned of STAR TREK NEW VOYAGES, a high-quality series of fan episodes that were getting millions of viewers and beating the networks at their own game.

"I recalled a terrific Sulu story my friend MICHAEL REAVES came up with for STAR TREK PHASE II, a series Paramount was going to do in the mid-70s," Zicree recalls. "After a year of building sets and buying stories, the studio made the movies instead, so the script was never written. Ironically, Michael's story had Sulu aging 30 years and raising a family on an alien planet, so it seemed perfect timing to do it now."

Zicree suggested to Reaves, an Emmy-winner and also a STAR TREK – NEXT GENERATION writer, that the two of them write the script together. He then contacted JAMES CAWLEY, producer and star of NEW VOYAGES, who eagerly agreed to their proposal.

Finally, Zicree met with Takei and pitched him the episode (the two had been friendly acquaintances since Zicree had interviewed Takei for his landmark book THE TWILIGHT ZONE COMPANION). "I told him, 'You're a brilliant actor who never got the Sulu episode you deserved, and this is it." Zicree laughs. "He read the synopsis then and there and said, 'I'm in.'"

Utilizing the existing cast and crew of NEW VOYAGES, Zicree set about augmenting it with Industry pros from his own career on network shows, including top STAR WARS artist IAIN McCAIG (designer of Darth Maul and Queen Amidala) and Oscar and Emmy-winning makeup, effects and storyboard wizards from such TV shows and films as BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, LOST, HEROES and SPIDERMAN 3.

Guest roles included two more STAR TREK legends – GRACE LEE WHITNEY, reprising her role as Rand, and MAJEL BARRETT RODDENBERRY, Gene Roddenberry's widow, contributing her talents as the Enterprise's computer voice. Rounding out the cast was Broadway actress CHRISTINA MOSES, as Sulu's daughter Alana.

Shot in high definition with over 700 effects shots, "World Enough and Time" boasts a level of production far beyond a network show. More than that, Zicree is proud that the story works on an emotional level.

"People who see it are in tears by the end," he notes, adding that ardent fans of the episode include such noted writers as MARV WOLFMAN, creator of BLADE, and science fiction icon RAY BRADBURY.

With the world premiere finally in sight, Zicree can breathe a sigh of relief at having finished his first directorial effort (after over 100 script sales as a writer-producer). Mentors who advised him included such esteemed directors as GUILLERMO DEL TORO (PAN'S LABYRINTH), MICHAEL NANKIN (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) and ROXANN DAWSON (HEROES). "But the best advice I got was from J.J. Abrams, who said, 'Pretend you know what you're doing!'"

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Introducing ***trackingb.com***



Coverage, Ink is proud to announce an association with the coolest new service for writers we’ve seen in a long while — trackingb.com.

Founded by an anonymous industry insider, trackingb.com gives writers an unprecedented peek behind the curtain at a real, live industry tracking board. Tracking boards are the means by which the biz keeps tabs on spec scripts and assignments, who’s buying what, who’s looking for what, what’s hot and what’s not. When material goes out to town for consideration, the development network kicks in, and the status of your project—and everyone’s opinions of it—are tracked. (See article on this below--"On the Right Track".)

trackingb.com is the #1 interactive online Hollywood tracking board — a place where film and television executives share and discuss new literary properties hitting the market, the latest hires and fires, hot spec sales, and other insider industry news. The site draws the tastemakers and buzzmakers of the entertainment community: A-list screenwriters, directors, and producers, top agents, managers, and execs from the major studios and production companies. Key information is exchanged. Connections are established. Projects are tracked as they heat up or cool down. And deals are made.

Now you guys can see how this info can be useful, right? Knowledge is power, and trackingb lets you be a fly on the wall to the industry — talk about the inside skinny! Industry-savvy writers have been jonesing for just such behind-the-scenes intel for a long time.

When you join trackingb.com, you’ll join up on the same board as the William Morris Agency, heads of studios, major prodcos and management companies. Regularly $69 per year, we’ve arranged a special discounted rate of only **$59** for friends of Coverage Ink/Writers on the Storm.

Go to www.trackingb.com and spend a few minutes exploring, and you’ll begin to get the idea just how cool this is. Then click HERE to subscribe at the discounted price.

We are very pleased to be able to offer this to you guys. Check it out! www.trackingb.com – the industry’s online network.

On the Right Track

What the hell is script tracking and why is it important in your life? You got questions, we got hamsters.

By Jim Cirile

"When you send out a spec, you're pushing a rock uphill anyway. But when the tracking boards (kick in), that rock gets a lot heavier." -- Manager/producer Graham Kaye

Try this on for size: you've just successfully landed your first agent, who is preparing to "go out wide" with your script in order to "introduce you to the town." The agent messengers your script to 35 or so creative executives, all of whom gladly read your script with no predisposition one way or another. Within a day or two, several companies have expressed interest, and your agent is gleefully assigning territories (coordinating which buyers the interested prodcos may present your script to.) You've got a decent chance that the script will sell.

Nice scenario, right?

Now, try this variation: your agent and/or manager are preparing to "go out wide" with your script to introduce you to the town. The agent puts out the word by calling the targeted companies' creative execs (also known as CE's.) The CE's spread the info via phone networking and "the boards;" before long, everyone in town knows your script is hitting the streets soon. Further, many companies who were not on the agent's "send" list see it on the boards and are calling him, begging for a copy. Suddenly, 50 companies are getting your script, not 35. Terrific!

The momentous day comes; your script goes out. Some producers tell their assistants to "drop everything and read this now." Within hours, your script is "covered," and feedback hits the tracking boards. Unfortunately, the first comments are not stellar. By afternoon, your opus has racked up a handful of passes. Over at BigSpecProdco, their CE tells her VP, who was planning on reading your script at home that night, that everybody's passing on it. Delighted to have some extra time that night with Sportscenter, VP doesn't take the script home, and instead tells his assistant to get it covered. By noon the next day, 75% of the companies have passed, which means, your heat has completely vaporized. Even though you're technically still alive, you're already dead.

Thus goeth tracking.

Just what is this mysterious thing called "tracking?" For production companies, it's a vital communications network; an immediate and effective way for them to exchange intelligence and keep up-to-date on the latest developments in the literary marketplace. And as illustrated in the above example, for agents, tracking can be both a useful tool for whipping up hype, and a dreaded obstacle.

TRACK ATTACK

Trackers are generally assistants and junior creative executives whose job descriptions specifically include keeping their ears to the ground for new literary material. This is accomplished by monitoring "tracking boards" -- private bulletin boards used by the industry -- and by heavy phone networking amongst their peers.

"The best way to think of it is like a big game of telephone," says Marc Platt Productions' Greg Lessans, who was known throughout the biz as an extraordinary tracker in his early tenure at the company, before handing off the reins to a younger exec. "It's the process of sharing information between a lot of different executives and companies. It's people talking to each other and saying, 'What are you reading? What should I be reading?, What's good, and what's not?' And all that information is shared both over the internet and over phone lines." ICM’s Emile Gladstone says, "Junior executives are very important to any writer's career. They will take more chances, they're more excitable; they still have to put feathers in their cap." Gladstone feels that utilizing the network of CE's is critical to building hype on a project, and for establishing a fan base for a new writer.

ICM's Nicole Clemens relates an instance where she used the tracking network to her favor: "There was this “LA Times” article that ran, and we did not control (it) at that moment in time, but we were in the process of controlling it. I put a writer on it who had a take, then immediately called up a couple of key tracking people and gave them the information. Literally within five minutes, the entire town knew that we controlled the article, and a desirable writer was attached. That triggered an offer from a studio, having not even heard the pitch. That's a perfect example of (using tracking to your advantage.) I needed to essentially mark my territory; it would have taken me four days to call everybody."

Quattro Media’s Jim Strader agrees that tracking can be a valuable tool for managers like himself. "We're setting up a movie based on a videogame called 'Toxic Grind.' And for kicks, on this one public board, I spammed the whole group about the project. And it's like 70 people. Most of them are industry, young people -- assistants, junior CE's -- who have their finger on up and comers, and people you should be aware of. You like to make sure these young people are supportive, so you can build a foundation. You try to get them excited. Well, I heard back from all these young assistants -- for three days, it was this constant flow of e-mails -- and even people who were not on this list, saying, 'so and so sent me this,' and they're listing all these writers and people I should know. That was very cool."

WRONG SIDE OF THE TRACKS

And now for the horror stories. Why is it that some people view the tracking system negatively? "Cockroaches," was the succinct description of trackers from one agent who asked not to be identified. Clemens fills us in: "It can kill you if your script gets out there and someone says, 'it sucks.' You're just screwed," she says. In fact, a few negative comments about the script can spread like wildfire, courtesy of the tracking boards. All that hype which is critical to selling your script vanishes, and some executives -- if they ever read the script at all -- may only do so begrudgingly. Strader tells us about an agent he knew who got sandbagged by bad coverage on a tracking board, which tainted the script before most of the production companies could even read it. "This (reader) hated it, trashed the shit out of it. Amazingly, (the agent) ended up selling it anyway. But I remember we talked about it, and it was this huge thorn in his ass. How the hell (was) he going to pull this one out, when publicly, on a board somewhere, there's this disastrous coverage for everyone to see?"

"Frankly, I wish (tracking) would go away," muses producer/manager Graham Kaye. "That's the honest-to-God truth. What you're usually dealing with are people that don't have the experience, or are not qualified at the level that (agents and executives are.) And so for them to throw out their random opinion, or to repeat negative coverage that maybe one studio gave -- although another one may think it's great -- can be disastrous. Then all of a sudden you get responses from people saying, 'I heard it was a pass,' or, 'I heard it wasn't good,' and (they) don't take the time to read it. When you send out a spec, you're pushing a rock uphill anyway. But when the tracking boards (kick in), that rock gets a lot heavier."

But Lessans feels that the only real way to formulate an opinion on a piece of material is to read it yourself. "A valid argument can be made that anything that impedes that buzz and momentum could be hurting that script's chances of selling," Lessans observes. "But I would argue that that has never happened to a truly good script. Good material rises to the top. It doesn't matter if I read on a board somewhere that so-and-so's script was terrible, I'm going to give it a read myself, and so are other people, and if it's worthwhile, it'll eventually overcome (the negative feedback) that some shmoe put up on a board. If it's not, then that (reader or CE) who may have been having a bad day, who may have been vindictive, is probably on some level speaking the truth. And that's why I think that a lot of times people may use tracking as some kind of scapegoat. (They say,) 'My script didn't sell because so-and-so bad mouthed it on a board,' or what-not, but in the end, your script didn't sell because of the quality of the script," Lessans notes.

But just like a game of Telephone, Lessans cautions that any information you acquire through tracking can be inaccurate. "By the time a piece of information reaches me, it may have passed through ten different executives at ten different companies, who wrote it down wrong, who got the writer wrong a lot of times you'll hear about something through tracking and it's not even real. Tracking is the least reliable source of information in this town. Even the stuff that comes over the internet, for better or worse, is mostly orally transferred, and everybody gets the facts wrong. The only way to get accurate information is to call the agent and say, 'Is this real?'"

TRACK AND FIELD

One odd aspect of the tracking process is that companies who are essentially competing against each other are sharing critical intelligence. "Which is generally why the best material doesn't track," says Lessans. "If an agent calls me up and says, 'I have a fantastic piece of material, don't tell anybody about it,' well, I'm not going to tell anybody about it! Why would I? I'm going to read it, I'm not going to share."

"Knowing who shares tracking is important," says Gladstone, "'cause you don't tell one person something, and tell another person something else. You try to find out who's on which board... you do a lot of recon," he says. Lessans elaborates, "Generally on each board you may have one or two companies at each studio. The idea being, you don't want to be on the same board as your competition." Strader adds, "The people that track, for example at Davis (Entertainment), they're tracking for a specific exec, as opposed to tracking for everybody. Everybody competes side by side for stuff, and they don't really work together. It's very fiefdom-like." So then why is information shared at all? Strader postulates, "People stay in jobs 6 months to a year and a half. Generally, there's not a lot of upward mobility in a lot of these companies. You have to move laterally to move up. So at the end of the day, the only thing CE's really have is the support of their peers, and it's those peers that are going to help them get their next job. Really, it's cultivating a close circle of people who are willing to work with you in the future."

TRACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD

"Tracking is one of the more overrated systems in this town," says Lessans. "I'm just not sure that it ultimately either helps or hurts the material. I get calls very often from agents, asking me to track their scripts, because it brings a lot of attention... For example, after I've passed on a script, an agent may say, 'Please don't track your opinion, don't tell other people what you thought of the script.' That's something I respect, because what they don't want is for me to tell a friend I
didn't like it, and for my friend to not give it a serious read. I understand that." But Lessans -- leading by example -- isn't swayed by someone else's opinion, one way or another. "This is a town where the most valuable thing anybody has is their own personal opinion. So, I think the effective executives out there are going to read it anyway. That's why I say that tracking is over-rated. Doesn't matter what my friend says. I'm going to read it and decide for myself."

Graham Kaye is glad there are stand-up execs like Lessans out there, but knows that there are a few who are not. "In a business that's so incredibly creative, we wish that more people would form their own opinion. I mean, a perfect example is 'Forrest Gump,' which took ten years (to get set up.) Or 'Splash,' which nobody would buy because Brian Grazer didn't have a name yet. (But) it's an agent and a manager's
job to select executives who have their own voice, and really will read the material, and they have a track record (which shows) they won't listen to anybody's opinion but their own."

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Interview with WOTS Winner Matthew Scarsbrook

Matthew Scarsbrook's excellent script EXIT MARLOWE recently won the big prize in our Writers on the Storm contest. This interview courtesy of our pals at MovieBytes. Thanks, Frederick!

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

MovieBytes Interview: Screenwriter Matthew Scarsbrook

An interview with screenwriter Matthew Scarsbrook regarding the
Writers On The Storm Writing Competition.

Q: What's the title of the script you entered in this contest,
and what's it about?

A: Title: 'Exit Marlowe'

My story is set in the Elizabethan Era and is based on the life
of Christopher Marlowe ...

1593, Elizabethan England: In a turbulent time of wars, famine,
and religious persecution, Christopher Marlowe struggles to
balance his life as England's most popular playwright with his
duties as a government spy.

Suddenly, when he falls under suspicion of atheism, Marlowe fears
his many powerful enemies have launched a conspiracy to have him
executed...

With only a few days to clear his name, he quickly enlists the
aid of a young William Shakespeare – one of the few friends he
can still trust. Together, they race through Marlowe's tangled
life of crime, espionage, and noble connections to expose the
conspiracy and save him from the hangman's noose.

But will anything save a man as troubled as Marlowe?

Q: What made you enter this particular contest? Have you entered
any other contests with this script? If so, how did you do?

A: Although Writers On The Storm offers a generous list of
prizes, I mainly entered the competition because of the exposure
it offered my work around Hollywood. They have a very tempting
list of managers, agents, and production executives who will read
the winning script. In my mind, if a contest doesn’t promote its
scripts around Hollywood, there’s no real point in entering it.

‘Exit Marlowe’ has also placed in a number of other competitions:
Finalist – Writemovies International Screenwriting Contest (2007)

Semifinalist – Scriptapalooza (2007), PAGE International
Screenwriting Awards (2007), and the Tennessee Screenwriting
Association Contest (2007) Quarterfinalist – Nicholl Fellowships
(2006) and the Bluecat Screenplay Competition (2007)

Q: Were you satisfied with the adminstration of the contest? Did
they meet their deadlines? Did you receive all the awards that
were promised?

A: It’s a very professionally run competition. I was always
emailed the results at every stage, and when I won first place
the contest organizer, Jim Cirile, phoned me specially to tell me
the exciting news.

The competition met most of its deadlines and quickly announced
new deadlines when they were a few days behind schedule. As long
as screenplay contests tell you when they have changed the
deadline, I don’t mind – it’s the competitions who don’t keep you
in the loop that I dislike.

Q: Were you given any feedback on your script? If so, did you
find the feedback helpful?

A: The competition offers a basic level of feedback to everyone
who enters. They send you an email with how your script scores in
categories like Structure, Dialogue, Story, and Originality, etc.
However, the contest reader also provides his/her brief comments
on the Strengths/Weakness of the script and also makes various
suggestions for improvement.

Overall, although it’s only short a critique, I found the
feedback to be a positive feature: it offered the views of an
experienced reader who had actually read the script (it’s easy to
tell when they don’t) and it gave me one or two useful points on
how to strengthen the story.

Q: Has your success in this contest helped you market your
script? Were you contacted by any agents, managers or producers?

A: It’s too early to tell yet… but Writers On The Storm have a
long list of contacts in the movie industry. Many of the names
are impressive and I’m confident that I will get at least some
contacts or meetings (as did the scripts who made it to the Top
Ten last year).

Q: What's your background? Have you written any other screenplays
or television scripts?

A: I have just graduated from Cal State Northridge with a Masters
Degree in Screenwriting. Apart from screenwriting itself, I am
also a novelist: I write my stories into both scripts and novels
and I have just completed ‘Exit Marlowe’ as a novel.

I have three other scripts written as part of my Masters Degree,
including an adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s classic novel
‘Of Human Bondage’ (this script has also placed in many
competitions).

Currently, all my work is historical in genre: history is rich
with interesting characters and stories that stimulate the
imagination. I believe Hollywood has yet to really tap the
potential life and excitement of this genre.

Q: Do you live in Los Angeles? If not, do you have any plans to
move there?

A: Thankfully, I live in Santa Barbara, California which is only
a two-hour drive from LA. Thus, I can still attend meetings in
the city without actually having to live in all the smog, etc.

Q: What's next? Are you working on a new script?

A: Next, I plan to sell ‘Exit Marlowe’ the novel. I have a
literary agent in New York who represents many bestselling
authors and she will soon start submitting the manuscript to
publishers. Fingers crossed!

As for screenplays, I have another story in the works about the
life of Lord Nelson that I will turn into my next script and
novel.

Anyone interested can learn more about me and my work at my
website: www.matthewgscarsbrook.com

* * *

Monday, July 30, 2007

WOTS WINNERS 2007


Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are proud to announce our WINNERS.

WINNER

Exit Marlowe
Matthew Scarsbrook

A wonderful script. It's THE FUGITIVE with Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare teaming up to expose a conspiracy. Cracklin' good writing and adventure.

RUNNER UP

Something for Me
Juan Sebastian Jacome

An excellent Latino-themed drama reminsicent of HUSTLE AND FLOW in its unflinching look at hard-knock characters in a difficult situation, with out of this world writing.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Sole Pursuit
Jason Siner

Top-notch action thriller with a strong female protagonist. Inventive action and solid characterizations make this one not only a great script but appealing to the industry and a career launcher.

Congratulations to all our top ten and all our contestants!

--Jim Cirile

2007 WOTS Winners Coming 12 noon PST 7/30

Stand by...

Saturday, July 28, 2007

And the WINNERS are...

Fooled you, huh? Not yet! But we are getting very close. Can't you just feel the anticipation? By this time Monday we will have chosen the winner of Writers on the Storm for 2007. I have a pretty good idea who it will be, but we're having one more team meeting tomorrow to wrap it up. In my mind, right now, it's really choosing #2 and #3 that will be tough.

Hints?

Well... no.

But I can tell you that... er, no, actually, can't tell you that either.

Well, let's just say the winner--nope, can't go there.

Sigh. Sorry, guys. Anyway, sit tight! The winners coming at you VERY SOON.

--Jim C.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Writers on the Storm Top Ten in Depth



By Portia Jefferson

Hi, Stormies!

On behalf of the WOTS administrative staff and our fantastic team of professional readers, I want to thank everyone who entered this year's Writers on the Storm Screenplay Contest. It was a pleasure reading your scripts! As mentioned previously, the general quality of scripts from all entrants was at a higher level than last year, and we were impressed with much of the writing. It was a difficult task making each of the cuts -- Quarterfinals, Semifinals and Top Ten. At some point, it does become a subjective process, but that is how the industry works -- your script has to appeal to that one person (producer, agent, manager, studio exec. etc.) who holds it in his or her hands. Many entries had great concepts, but
the execution was not strong enough to move it forward. Many other entries had great writing, but the story had a weak narrative drive or was unfocused and/or unclear.

If you were eliminated in our first round, does that mean either you’re a lousy writer, or we’re idiots? Oftentimes the difference between a “pass” and a “consider” is one rewrite that solves a key story problem, or one adjustment to your craft that makes the read snappier, punchier, more dynamic. If you keep working on the craft, keep developing your stories and rewriting them, making them as strong as possible, your chances of success will rise, even as others give up and pull out.

Everyone will tell you how hard it is to break into this industry, but actually it's quite easy -- write a great script. Not an okay script, not a good script -- a great script. Write something so strong that it will be impossible for someone to turn down. Make it a page-turner. Easier said than done, right? Right. It is a wonderful achievement to simply finish a screenplay -- it is so difficult. Everyone should feel proud. But just because you made it to page 120, does that mean it’s ready to kick booty? If you’re like me, you probably have about 10 or 12 more
drafts to go first. Seriously! Hey, that’s just me. Maybe with y’all it’s only 6 or 7 ;)

Now, go... write, write, write, and... make it great!

Below are the loglines for the Top Ten scripts along with some of my comments. Not only is the writing exceptional on these scripts, but also the concepts are strong and the execution near flawless. We are in the process of rereading these scripts... and we will have another very tough decision to make on July 30th as we select our WINNER and two runners up.

Congratulations to the Top Ten Finalists - you deserve it!

The Writers on the Storm 2007 Top Ten, in alphabetical order by title:

1) BEDLAM by Dennis Shutty
Logline: A tabloid reporter unravels a 300-year-old mystery.
Genre: Supernatural Thriller
Comments: The script has great suspense and intrigue. Dramatic tension is strong throughout the story -- the readers were engaged on every page. There are a number of good surprises and twists which also make it a fun read. The "supernatural" element is unique and woven nicely into the narrative. The industry is always looking for great thrillers (and comedies) and this story should attract interest.

2) EXIT MARLOWE by Matthew Scarsbrook
Logline: 1593, Elizabethan England. The playwright Chris Marlowe struggles to expose a conspiracy against him before he is executed for atheism.
Genre: Historical thriller
Comments: We received a large number of period pieces, which typically do well in contests but do not garner much interest from the town because they are expensive and have limited audience appeal. But, there are some stories that are so compelling that even though it is set in the past, are too strong to overlook. This is one. Strong writing, strong story, strong execution.

3) FAMOUS NEIGHBORS by Patrick Baggatta
Logline: Two rival couples battle it out for the attention of the celebrity couple who just moved into their high-rise apartment building.
Genre: Comedy
Comments: We were surprised because of the small number of comedies submitted this year. Comedy still is king in this town, and if a writer can "write funny" then he will have a good shot at success. This is an energetic, fun, lively script that sucks you in, and the author has a strong comedic voice.

4) GRAVE CONSEQUENCES by Curt Burdick & Scott Burdick
Logline: Two ex-cons work in a graveyard - robbing graves. But "all hell breaks loose" when they rob the jewels of a famous dead gypsy.
Genre: Supernatural Comedy
Comments: Another strong comedy -- with a wonderful supernatural element to it. The authors are extremely inventive. The story is fresh -- we had not seen a story like this before, and there are some great twists. Funny!

5) MS. HALL OF FAME by Raenell D. Jones
Logline: Athena Michaels’ love for football leads her on a difficult task to reach her goal to join the NFL.
Genre: Family drama/Sports
Comments: This is a strong premise. A sports story that also appeals to family -- which makes it extremely attractive to potential buyers. There is a strong female protagonist (African-American) whom the readers could not help but root for. That's what you want with a good script -- a protagonist whose goal is clear and that the audience can get fully invested in. Story is clear, simple, fun and... emotional.

6) ORIGIN by John Unger Zussman and Patricia Zussman
Logline: A biopic about Darwin and the story of his life during the years that he was writing (living) The Origin of Species.
Genre: Biopic/Period Drama.
Comments: Another strong period piece -- from our Writers on the Storm 2006 runner up. This one is a biopic on Charles Darwin. The authors did a tremendous job of researching Charles Darwin's life, his work and getting to the heart of his theory. The story is also important and resonates today. Excellent writing, excellent subject, wonderful execution.

7) SOLE PURSUIT by Jason Siner
Logline: Female bounty hunter struggles to go it alone after her husband and partner is killed. While pursuing a prison escapee, she finds herself up against a corporation that's hiding the convict's location to protect a deadly secret.
Genre: Crime thriller
Comments: An engaging, entertaining action thriller by 2004 CS Open Winner Siner. This one has a strong, empowered female lead and a handful of exciting action set pieces. The author has a wonderful writing style and clearly is strong in the crime/action genre. A page-turner.

8) SOMETHING FOR ME by Juan Sebastian & Jacome Moreano
Logline: A selfish and rebellious Ecuadorian single mother learns to care about her nine-year-old child as she struggles to migrate to the United States.
Genre: Drama
Comments: An awesome story set in a unique world. Great, complex characters with a strong emotional underbelly. The mood and atmosphere are both solid, as is the conflict/tension throughout the story. Story is fresh and the combined voice of the authors is unique, fresh and emotionally gripping.

9) SULTANA by Laqueta Lewis
Logline: An Islamic queen struggles to retain her power and sanity as she finds herself ruling Egypt in the midst of a Crusader invasion.
Genre: Period Drama
Comments: This writer had two other scripts that could have been in the Top Ten. She is an exceptional writer. Each of the scripts she submitted to us were very well-written, compelling, and were executed at a high level. Of her three scripts, this one was the one that had the most promise commercially (as well as being the best overall story). Everything from the locations to the dialogue feels totally authentic and believable. A joy to read.

10) TWAS NIGHT BEFORE THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS by Lee Tidball
Logline: Christmas barely survives when Santa is waylaid by an evil elf and his rebellious teenage daughter Sandi, who takes over, uses the toy run to get to a Christmas Eve talent competition that she's in.
Genre: Family Holiday Fantasy
Comments: Christmas scripts are a tough sell because producers, execs etc. put them in a special "seasonal" pile that they may, or may not, ever get to. Also, Christmas stories all tend to have familiar elements. Not this one. This is fresh, fun, and very engaging. It is hard to create something unique in this overdone genre, but the author has done so. The characters are all strong. Very merry and jolly!

Good luck to the Top Ten!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Like A Dog With Chocolate

Like a Dog with Chocolate: Why I Keep Coming Back to NY Indie Film (Even Though It Makes Me Sick)

by Aaron F. Schnore

I once read this great David Lynch quote, where the iconoclastic director explains why he keeps returning to TV despite repeated failures. I'm paraphrasing here, but Lynch said he's like a dog with chocolate. He knows TV (the chocolate) is gonna make him violently sick, but he just can't stop eating it. I can relate. If I'm a dog, then New York independent film is my chocolate.

My name is Aaron F. Schnore and I'm human. I've lived in NYC for the past 11 years. I started writing scripts ten years ago when my step-brother and I wrote an oddball script called LUST AND RUST AND ROY over e-mail. It wasn't so much a script -- it was more like a weird prose poem in screenplay format. In other words, it sucked. But it actually got a few nibbles (and prompt rejections) from producers. When I got that first voice mail from a producer requesting LUST AND RUST AND ROY, I'd tasted the chocolate. And it made me sick. But to this day, I keep coming back.
I've known Jim Cirile for most of my screenwriting career, and like many of you, he's my go-to guy for script solutions. I consider Jim not only a friend and an amazing screenwriter, but also a mentor. I'm also proud to call Jim a collaborator after we recently co-wrote and co-produced a comedy short film called SHOWDOWN OF THE GODZ, co-starring George Takei (a/k/a Mr. Sulu from STAR TREK). When Jim asked me to write an article for the CI newsletter, discussing the ups and downs of writing (mostly) independent film scripts for New York producers and directors, I was honored. But let me say upfront, I have no beef with big, Hollywood studio filmmaking. On the contrary, I would LOVE to sell a mega-budget, Will Farrell vehicle optioned to a huge studio for high six figures. I've written a few big budget specs. But most of my scripts are New York-based, low-budget independent film projects. It's the world I know.

Some back story. A huge milestone occurred for me back in 2002. I had just gone through a painful separation and 9/11. Life sucked. But then my collaborator Billy Fox became Top 50 finalist in Project Greenlight for our screenplay MANTECA, a period piece about the legendary, hard-living Cuban percussionist and composer Chano Pozo. I'd had some success with screenwriting competitions in the past, but nothing like this! I was rejuvenated. Around this time, I also met a cool and talented Haitian-American film director named Phil Roc. We clicked, and almost immediately we wrote this gay/teen-themed indie script called CRAZY IN HEAVEN. I pitch it as "BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN meets KIDS". CRAZY became a Top 20 Final Draft finalist, a Sundance Lab finalist, and got a lot of nibbles from legitimate production companies. Then MANTECA got optioned by an upstart prodco in L.A! Another one of my scripts -- a big-budget drama about a middle-aged woman with a gambling addiction called PLAYING WITH THE QUEEN OF HEARTS -- was getting major heat from Lifetime. Olivia Newton-John was interested in the lead role! After years of spec scripts, contests, and query letters, things were looking up. Damn, that chocolate tasted good.

Unfortunately, things turned... bitter. MANTECA went into turnaround, and the upstart production company dissolved. CRAZY IN HEAVEN generated a huge buzz, and had an Oscar-winning producer attached and championing it like Ari from ENTOURAGE, but no producers (big or small) thought the "gay teen" theme would play in the red states. We got more passes than Terrell Owens. Then Lifetime passed on QUEEN OF HEARTS because they were committed to producing a Delta Burke film about -- what else? -- a middle-aged woman with a gambling problem!!! Great.

Did I stop eating the poisonous chocolate? Hell no. Phil Roc (my CRAZY IN HEAVEN co-writer) and I decided to make our own short film. With some help of my girlfriend Johanna Lewis, Phil and I wrote a script called AVENUE X (which you can watch at the AVENUE X website HERE), a drama/comedy about two deaf NYC teenagers who take an adventure-filled day trip to Coney Island to ride The Cyclone. We cast two real deaf teens, shot the film with a skeleton crew in two hectic days, cut almost every corner imaginable. We shot most of AVENUE X guerilla-style. Two scenes were shot in the wee hours on the NYC subway, including one with my sleep-deprived daughter (5 at the time) with yours truly playing her grouchy dad. For the film's most notorious scene, our fearless cinematographer Al Pollard snuck a camera on to The Cyclone. Those were two of the most punishing days of my life. It was unbearably hot, and Phil yelled at me constantly for my rookie errors as a de facto PA/script supervisor/actor. But those were also two of the best days of my life, and AVENUE X went on to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, screened at dozens of other festivals, and it won a bunch of awards. Phil, Johanna, and I also wrote a feature version of AVENUE X which we want to leverage into a feature film (a la great indie films that started as shorts, like RAISING VICTOR VARGAS, SAW, NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, HALF NELSON, etc.). More significantly, making AVENUE X taught me a valuable lesson: I CAN MAKE MY OWN DAMN FILMS!!!

Two years later, I'm still following the same strategy: making my own New York indie short films, and backing 'em up with a killer feature script. I've cowritten/coproduced three short films since AVENUE X. There's the hip-hop/horror short RHYME ANIMAL, co-written with Billy Fox and Jorge Rivera, the story of a cannibalistic rapper who devours his groupies and rivals. We have a feature version in script form, and we're generating some considerable film festival buzz. I also co-wrote the NYC-based medical drama WHITE CURE (renamed SCIENTIFICO) for the German/Italian director Fernando Scarpa, which also has a feature script version attached. And of course, there's SHOWDOWN OF THE GODZ, due to start hitting festivals this winter. Standing on set, watching my childhood hero GEORGE FREAKIN' TAKEI, read lines I'd co-written was euphoric. At that moment I realized that even though screenwriting hasn't allowed me to quit my day job (yet), I've made progress in the past 10 years. Keep eating the chocolate.
My overarching goal now is to make a feature film by any means necessary. Seriously. This MUST happen by 2008, even if I shoot my own damn feature with a cell phone camera, in my small Manhattan apartment, starring a sock puppet. Fortunately, I have something slightly bigger in the works with my good friend Rik Cordero, a talented, renegade indie film director from Queens who shot his first no-budget feature film MEND when he was 25 years old. Rik's one of the hardest-working, most passionate filmmakers I've ever known. He personifies what New York independent filmmaking is all about: getting films made NOW. To check out some of Rik's work and reel, go to www.three21media.com. Earlier this year, we co-wrote a low-budget feature script (in one week) called INSIDE A CHANGE. Indie film gods willing, INSIDE A CHANGE goes into production this fall. Jamie Hector from THE WIRE is attached to co-star, and I'm beyond psyched. Wish us luck, and check out www.insideachange.com" for updates.

I'll conclude with some friendly, unsolicited advice to all the future Charlie Kaufmans out there. First, keep writing your big-budget, SFX-laden, multi-million dollar "tentpole" screenplay. Close that six-figure deal. Be the next Shane Black! But... whether you live in NYC, Los Angeles, or Dothan, Alabama... you should also consider augmenting your screenwriting portfolio with a self-produced, independent short film. What do you have to gain? A lot! Credibility. Great contacts at film fests. Self-confidence. Something tangible that industry folks can WATCH and EXPERIENCE. You don't have to live in NYC (in fact, it's better if you don't -- this city's expensive!). You don't have to have a lot of money -- hell, we made AVENUE X for under 2 grand. You just need a great story, an awesome team, and the will to get it done. One more thing -- before you shoot your short film, make sure the script ROCKS. Get coverage from Coverage, Ink... feedback from friends... from someone. Finally, keep eating that chocolate. It's good for you. Really.

You can contact Aaron F. Schnore at schnore@gmail.com and read more about him here.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

I Wanna Be Seared

by Jim Cirile

Hard to believe it was 20 years ago. There I was, fresh out of college, looking for a job, when the opportunity of a lifetime dropped into my lap. I got wind of a small-time film company in New York City that was looking for an office boy. So I hopped on the Metro North train at Crestwood/Eastchester station and trucked on down to the Century Paramount in Times Square, where, on the second floor of that venerable old hotel, Reeltime Distributing Corp. had its offices. There I met Walter Sear, the man who would, 20 years later, change my life.

Reeltime was a unique, remarkable place. Run by partners Sear and Roberta Findlay, it was a combination recording studio – a retro-embracing, all-vacuum tube haven (forget digital, this place didn’t even have transistors!) where artists such as Sonic Youth recorded – and a low-budget horror and, er, porno production company.


Uh, yeah, you read that right. See, I actually got the job because of my connex in that world. While in college I was the managing editor of “Adult Cinema Review Letters.” This was a digest-sized rag emulated (read: ripped off) “Penthouse Letters,” and thus was designed to be rife with erotic letters from fans fantasizing about their favorite porno actresses. Problem was, few people actually write letters to porno actresses (their writing hand is busy doing other things.) So while my job title was Managing Editor, what I really did was… write all the letters.

And so every month I typed up literally hundreds of pages of allegedly erotic content to fill this magazine. But here’s the thing. I’m a comedy writer. It quickly became tedious trying to play by the rules. By the second issue I had created a whole cast of recurring characters writing outlandishly silly (and decidedly non-erotic) crazy-ass stories about their misadventures to the likes of ‘80s porn queens Seka and Lisa DeLeeuw. By my third issue, the magazine was an out-and-out parody.

Amazingly, no one (except the paste-up guy, who was in on the gag and kept his mouth shut) ever read the magazine! And so I wrote whatever the hell I wanted. They finally caught me 8 months in. I was called down to the city for a meeting with the editor in chief, who looked extremely puzzled as he asked me, “Uh… what the hell is stuff???” At long last, they fired my sorry ass.

Anyway, back to Reeltime. This company had been making (very profitable, naturally) porno movies for a decade, and had only recently given up on porn to move into producing low-budget horror movies. Company founder Walter Sear saw the writing on the wall -- videotape was slowly killing off traditional theatrical porno film distribution. He decided ultra-low-budget horror movies were the way to go. Reeltime in fact was known for trying to bring decent production values and stories into their sex films (they actually built sets and had scripts), and several of their films had achieved industry acclaim. In the mid-‘80s, they produced their first two ultra-cheesy schlockers -- “Tenement,” about a murderous gang taking over a building and the occupants banding together to fight back – and “The Oracle,” a “Witchboard”-like tale of a Ouiji board gone amok.
Enter young Jim. At first, I had no idea what to make of these two chain-smoking mavericks. Findlay had a love of Hitchcock and was desirous of being a real filmmaker; Sear was a classically trained musician who helped develop some of the very first analog synthesizers with Robert Moog. And here they were churning out schlock, quite profitably.

As all young assistants do, I started out answering phones, running errands, and learning as much as I could about the business. But as the company ramped up their next under-$100,000-budget horror film, BLOOD SISTERS, my destiny revealed itself. It became clear that Sear was a master low-budget producer. When it came to getting maximum production value on the screen on the cheap, no one could touch him. While no one will ever accuse any Reeltime film of actually being any good, the fact that they were professionally shot and edited on 35mm for less than Michael Bay spends on one day of catering is amazing. Sear was a wheeler-dealer, getting top-notch crew people to work at pennies on the dollar, negotiating locations on a wing and a prayer and knowing when to economize and when to spend a few bucks for an on-screen bang. Sear owned a complete camera and lighting package, too, and would jump right in there and hump equipment along with the crew.

After three years at Reeltime, I’d worked my way up to cowriter and associate producer on their films. All was going well. And then in the late ‘80s, I more or less sank the company.

I had been pushing Reeltime to expand from the shrinking low-budget horror market (foreign sales markets were drying up due to oversaturation of schlocky horror flicks.) My thinking was that Reeltime should rebrand itself as a quirky, cult-moviemoving indie. In order to do that, we made BANNED, a screwball horror comedy (which I wrote), about a young, Milquetoast jazz guitarist who becomes possessed by the spirit of a dead, psychotic Brit punk rock star a la Sid Vicious. It was like ALL OF ME meets REPO MAN. To their credit, Roberta and Walter rolled the dice and made BANNED with their own money. Unfortunately, they couldn’t give it away.
The problems were many. While the movie was pretty damn funny, it was also pretty damn crappy on a technical level. And I must take some of the blame, too, as the quirky script, while designed to be “bad-proof” due to its ruthless poking fun at itself, wasn’t all it should have been. And so the cult classic we were all hoping for hit the American Film Market with a tremendous thud. BANNED was the first film Reeltime made that they were unable to find any significant distribution for, foreign or domestic. Reeltime took a pounding.

Seeing the writing on the wall, I knew it was time to get out of Dodge. I’d gone about as far as I could at Reeltime, and one day as I was changing a flat on the George Washington Bridge entrance ramp in a blizzard, I decided that L.A. sounded like a fine place to be.

It was only after being in L.A. the better part of two decades that I really began to appreciate Walter Sear. Being out here as a screenwriter, it’s so far removed from the way we did things at Reeltime. Here, you write a script in a vacuum, send it to your people, hope it sells and that the assignment you’re counting on to make your car payment will actually come through. None of which has anything to do with actually making a movie.

Earlier this year I returned to the streets of New York as a low-budget writer/producer (producing the short film ‘Showdown of the Godz,’ featuring George Takei.) All those years working side by side with Walter Sear came back as if not a day had passed. We were making a movie by any means available. We had barely any money; we were running on fumes, humping heavy equipment up 4 flights of steps in a Harlem tenement and getting people to work for us at pennies on the dollar. It was magnificent.

At long last it became apparent to me just how satisfying it is to be Walter -- to actually get your hands dirty and get a damn movie made just by willing it to be so (and digging into your own pocket to make it happen.) Suddenly, the Reeltime paradigm seems pretty appealing to me – just make the damn movie, then take it to the film markets and sell it. If you build it, they will come. Sounds a lot more appealing right now than writing another new spec and hoping some jaded D-Girl likes it more than the 800 other scripts they got in that day. Now I am flush with grand visions of Coverage, Ink evolving into a Reeltime-like prodco, financing pictures on foreign presales, doing it our way -- and completely bypassing the whole studio system.

If only I can remember not to torpedo the company this time out.

And so, Walter Sear, my hat’s off to you. You were the real deal—an actual filmmaker, unlike so many of us here in Hollywood who are ‘in the business’ and have never even seen a C-stand or a bounce card before. Sure, many of those Reeltime films were lousy, and others were, well, even lousier, but that’s not the point. 20 years later, I can still go to amazon.com and buy BLOOD SISTERS. *That* is the point.

--Jim Cirile

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Writers on the Storm 2007 FINALISTS


Ladies and Gentlemen:

Sorry we were a bit late announcing these. Some of these were very tough choices. Ultimately we chose what we thought were the ten best-written, most innovative and creative scripts no matter the genre. And indeed, this list includes drama, period piece, comedy, thriller, horror and more! If your script is on the list below, congratulations! And if not, please know that there were some VERY tough choices we had to make.

Our winners will be announced July 30th.

Without further ado, here are the Writers on the Storm finalists (top ten) for 2007.

Jim Cirile,
Coverage, Ink/Writers on the Storm


BEDLAM by Dennis Shutty

EXIT MARLOWE by Matthew Scarsbrook

FAMOUS NEIGHBORS by Patrick Baggatta

GRAVE CONSEQUENCES by Curt Burdick & Scott Burdick

MS. HALL OF FAME by Raenell D. Jones

ORIGIN by John Unger Zussman and Patricia Zussman

SOLE PURSUIT by Jason Siner

SOMETHING FOR ME by Juan Sebastian & Jacome Moreano

SULTANA by Laqueta Lewis

THE NIGHT BEFORE THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS by Lee Tidball