Monday, July 30, 2007


Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are proud to announce our WINNERS.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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 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" 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 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 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


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

"Showdown of the Godz" logo revealed!

Hey, all, happy to present the logo for our soon-to-be-finished comedy short entitled SHOWDOWN OF THE GODZ, starring David Caseman, Alixx Schottland, introducing Ayla Guttman and featuring George Takei. The film will be hitting the festival circuit starting late fall. Enjoy!
Also coming soon (well, not really soon, probably in a few months, actually) is We're going to try to make the web site really fun, with sci-fi and monster movie trivia contests and some other fun little goodies we have planned (budget permitting, of course.)