Tuesday, December 15, 2009

KILLER SCREENWRITER - The Bob DeRosa Interview

Bob DeRosa (“The Air I Breathe”) is on a roll and taking Hollywood by storm. This is especially gratifying for us here at Coverage Ink., because Bob was the 2004 winner of the CS Open, the live writing tournament we’ve been judging for the past eight years. As the release date of his latest movie “Killers” (starring Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl) approaches, we sat down with Bob for a chat about the long, perilous climb to the top.

by Jim Cirile

Jim Cirile: Thanks for taking the time, Bob. At what time did the screenwriting bug bite you in the butt?

Bob DeRosa: I wrote my first short story when I was 6. I always thought I was going to be an author, write books and short stories. In high school, I started doing little video projects back before anyone had video cameras – they were these giant things that sat on giant tripods, and you had to rent ‘em out from the library. My best friend Ken Davis and I went to college together at University of Florida, and we just started making short films together (on) half-inch, crappy video. That’s all we could get our hands on. We made a 20-minute comedy, and people laughed in all the right spots, and we were like, okay, we can do this. I wrote almost a feature-length bad, bad vampire movie called “Spectre,” and that was the first script I wrote. I was a freshman in college – a long time ago.

JC: Did you ever think about going to film school in SoCal?

BD: Throughout my career, a lot of the conventional things that everybody else was doing just didn’t seem to work in my mind. I was at a great school with all my friends, a very creative group of people, making movies. We were making films literally all the way up until I graduated from U.F. This was in the heyday when they were promoting Orlando as kind of Hollywood East. That didn’t happen, (but) my heart is still part of that film community.


JC: So what made you realize it was time to load up the truck and move to Beverly? Hills, that is.

BD: After college, I was back in Orlando for quite a while, and I became a jack of all trades. I was writing and directing short films. I got into an improve troupe, and we were together for ten years. We toured Canada and started doing corporate gigs. I was a commercial actor. I did plays. I was assistant casting director on “Jeepers Creepers.” And I was assistant programmer for the Florida Film Festival for three years. That happened right when “Blair Witch Project” (emerged), and all those guys are from Orlando. We did the second-ever U.S. screening of it, and I was working for an amazing programmer, Matthew Curtis, who’s still there. And so I’m watching hundreds of films a year. I’m meeting filmmakers and traveling to Sundance and IFP market in New York and scouting films, and the whole time I’m still writing scripts. As a result, I kind of learned my own way, which goes back to the way things were in college -- I was on my own path.


JC: You couldn’t pay for experience like that.

BD: Exactly. And then the “Orlando Weekly” voted me Renaissance Man of Orlando. The entertainment editor at the time was just a big fan of Orlando arts in general. It was just an amazing time. I kind of got to the point where I (realized,) you know, I’ve kind of done everything I can do in this town. I was probably 31 at the time, and I was like, it’s time to make a go of it. So I moved to Los Angeles. I (decided) I was going to continue with my improv troupe but just focus on my screenwriting. It’s what I came here to do.

JC: You’re coming from a place where you’re established within a community. What was it like to come to LA and discover that none of that matters and nobody gives a crap?

BD: Yeah. Well, I was in the world of film but also still in the world of improv. We were really well-respected on the East Coast. But I would meet Los Angeles improvisers, and they would have no idea who we were. You want to send your résumé (listing) all the people you’ve trained with, to hundreds of people, but they don’t get it. And all of a sudden, it was like, Crap, I have to start over. (The improv troupe) all kind of went our separate ways, and we’re still friends and collaborating in certain ways, but for me, I was going to focus more on my writing.

I was very fortunate in that I had a couple of samples and an up and coming manager that I knew from Orlando. I literally got off the plane with the guy who’s still my manager today – Christopher Pratt over at Elements Entertainment. As a fledgling producer in Orlando, he hired me to rewrite a script for 600 bucks back in the late ‘90s. I had a script called “Gifted” which he was showing around. He was an assistant for a manager at Shapiro West. The only people he could get it to were the people at the very bottom of the ladder, but my stuff was getting read. We hit it off, and we were at the exact same moment in our careers. A guy with my experience level back then is not going to get signed by Christopher now. I was able to come out here and hit the ground running with a manager who believed in me.

JC: That’s exactly how it’s done. My clients are always asking me, “How do I get an agent? How do I get a manager?” The truth is that no big agent is going to give them the time of day. You have to find someone hungry who still needs to make his bones, who’s got some hustle and sees something in you that they can champion. The guys at too high a level, they have big clients they have to service.

BD: And Christopher was a hotshot. He was a pit bull even back then, but he still had a lot to learn, as did I. We learned together. Sometimes the industry would kick us both in the ass at the same time. Put this in print, Jim – I have never written a query letter in my life. I know it works for some people, but it was not in the cards for me.

JC: Wow. So what happened when you got out here and Christopher started showing your stuff around?

BD: I was fortunate in that I had (“Gifted,”) which was a little indie (script) that nobody would make but that everybody admired. That’s one of the lessons Christopher taught me, and it was a hard lesson – you can write little indie movies and scrounge a living and maybe get some things made, or you can write a studio films and work as a screenwriter. He encouraged me to embrace the genres that I used to love. So I went from a little romantic dramedy, and my next spec was an across-time zombie killing movie called “Hatchet Club,” which I wrote in six days – one of the best writing experiences of my life. Christopher loved it, who gave it to his boss, who also loved it. He made a call to ICM, and basically less than two years after I moved here, that script went all over town. A ton of people read it; Joel Silver took it in to Warner Bros. I was in my little apartment in Burbank, and I was like, Oh, my God. My life could change tomorrow.


JC: I recall you got about 40 meetings, but the script didn’t sell, right?

BD: Exactly right, but that’s what happens to everybody. A very successful executive who was a fan of “Gifted,” he needed to know that I could write a big studio movie. He read “Hatchet Club,” and he was like, “You’re the guy.” he was looking for a young, up n’ comer (cheap) screenwriter. He helped me develop an idea they had internally. We pitched it to (then Revolution Studios head) Todd Garner, who hired me for my first studio screenwriting job – “Untitled Romantic Fantasy.”

JC: Did that one wind up going anywhere?

BD: No, not at all. (laughs) I’ve been a very moderately successful studio guy. I got three studio jobs over the course of several years, so I definitely went through some hard knocks. I worked with some great executives, and I learned a lot, but it took me quite a while to realize that part of a writer’s job is to be able to tell them hey, this idea you have over here is great, but this one over here is not so great. And here’s why.

JC: Without making them think that you are difficult to work with. So how did winning the CS Open (“Creative Screenwriting” magazine’s annual time writing tournament at the Screenwriting Expo) figure in to all this?


BD: It put a little money in my pocket when I was a struggling writer. The thing about the CS Open is that I did it the (previous) year, and I lost badly. Didn’t make it past the first round, and I was pissed. I’ve noticed in my life that trying to do something in this industry and having people say, “Nope!” That really fires me up to figure out how I can turn a no into a yes. I had been doing all these 24-hour theatre shows in Hollywood, in which you write a 1-act play overnight, and they put it on the next night. It’s really fun and a great writing exercise. So I came in to the CS Open the next time with a really strong strategy. I was like, I’m gonna write it funny. It’s gonna have a twist ending. I’m gonna be creative with the way I interpret the rules. And I did that through every single step, and I kept moving forward and eventually I wrote the winning entry “Taco!,” which you named. You were like, “Vote for number three if you want to vote for ‘Taco!’” I was like, that’s the title of that one. The CS Open was an outstanding lesson for me.

JC: How did you meet Jieho Lee (director of “The Air I Breathe,” cowritten by DeRosa and Lee)?

BD: We programmed his film (“A Nursery Tale”) at the Florida Film Festival. Jieho was just one of those filmmakers that I met that I kept in touch with. Literally two weeks after I moved to LA, one of my one-act plays was put on by some friends of mine. Jieho came to the show and asked me if I could help write his debut feature, which he was going to shoot in Korea at the time. That became a 6-year journey of working together on and off. “The Air I Breathe” was just one of these passion projects we kept coming back to. I basically helped him realize his vision.

JC: So you were working on “Air I Breathe” on the side as you did your studio gigs?

BD: Yeah, and I’ll be honest. There were some pretty lean times. There were those big gaps between the jobs, and I was floating myself on credit cards. Then I’d get the next job, but I’d be scared to pay off the credit cards because I needed the money to live for the next eight months. It was a very precarious six years.


JC: Did you get a nice career bounce off “Air I Breathe”?

BD: It absolutely helped my career. It was an insanely positive experience. I was in Mexico City for every day of the shoot, in every producer’s meeting, every notes meeting. I was a part of the team, and that doesn’t happen very often. “Air” as a spec had plenty of fans, but because I cowrote it with Jieho, I couldn’t use it as a sample. And I hadn’t written a really good sample since “Hatchet Club.” It had been years. Here I am with a produced movie but no sample, and Jieho’s too busy editing to write a new script with me. I was kind of unhirable in 2006. The other samples, everybody had seen them already. Also they were kind of scattered. I had a romantic indie film and a zombie movie. They didn’t know what box to put me in. So I was angry – but as I said, it was a good, positive anger. So I basically said, I’m gonna write a spec, and I’m going to put in everything I love to do, everything I’m good at.

JC: That was “Five Killers” (later renamed “Killers”)?

BD: Yes. It was a high-concept, character-driven action film that was romantic and funny but not an outright comedy. (It’s about) a retired hit man, whose wife doesn’t know what he used to do, finds out that he’s got five killers hidden in his life, and they’ve all been activated – and there’s a $20 million contract on his head. The twist is they were planted in his life three years ago, so it could be anybody – his best friend, the secretary at work, the mailman. It was a fun concept, and Christopher really approved of it. I turned in the first draft, and he gave me some really good notes and “Save the Cat!” by Blake Snyder. And that was a lightning bolt.


JC: For all of us.

BD: Yeah. Oh, my God. The thing is that everything that’s in Blake’s 15-point beat sheet, I had in the script. They were just all in the wrong places. So I reboarded the whole movie and turned the next draft in to Christopher. And get this. It was my birthday, and Christopher calls me and says, “You knocked it out of the park, buddy.” And I realized I hadn’t heard that in years. It had just been so long since I’d written something fresh. I literally cried.

JC: That’s amazing, and yet more testament to the brilliance of the late, great Blake Snyder, too.

BD: I can’t sing his praises enough.

JC: So how did you get “Five Killers” set up?

BD: I did another tiny draft, and basically by January, 2007, we were ready to go. I didn’t have an agent at this point. I’d left ICM a couple of years before. Christopher felt, OK, now it’s time. He was at Elements Entertainment at this point, partnered up with some other great managers. So he was able to get me in the room at Endeavor and a couple of other agencies. I really liked (the Endeavor) team. They talked a lot about packaging and had actually packaged “The Air I Breathe.” They full-on signed me and started packaging at that point, trying to get their directing and acting clients interested.

JC: A long, slow, painful process.

BD: Oh, God, it was so slow. I was frustrated and broke at this point, and it was like, come on! At the same time, Jieho had finished “Air I Breathe” and started showing it to distributors and buyers. Lionsgate saw it, loved the film, loved Jieho’s directing, and they hired Jieho and I to adapt a video game project for them, and they attached Jieho to direct it. It wasn’t a big money job or anything, but it was something. So they called Christopher and asked if they could read “Five Killers.” Christopher said no, because he didn’t want any buyers to read it (yet.) Lionsgate called back a few weeks later and said, “What if we read it, and we really liked it? Hypothetically.” Somehow Lionsgate got a copy when nobody was supposed to have a copy, and sure enough, they really liked it. I wrote it to be this $25 million not-too-big action film, which is exactly what they make. And they were like, “Hey, what if we bought this script that you’re not selling?” So they made an offer, and it was not a bad offer at all. It was just enough to make me go, “Uh, Christopher, I have a lot of credit card debt.”

JC: So why didn’t Christopher blast it out wide at that point with an offer on the table?


BD: We didn’t want to just sell it. The plan all along was to package the film with a director and an actor or actress and make the movie. So we were like, Well, fine. If you want to buy this, we’re going to ask for the moon. We made a really aggressive (counter) offer. The writers strike was coming up, and we knew they were going to want to shoot this pretty soon. We asked for everything we wanted at that moment, and they said yes. And then we had to sell it.

JC: Yeah, I guess so!

BD: I turned in my final draft to them right before the strike. After the strike, they brought in Phil Joanou (“Gridiron Gang,”) who is a great action director and had really great ideas. I was really lucky at that point. That’s usually the point where a writer gets kicked off a project, but I owed them a draft. And I met Phil, and we hit it off. So I did a couple drafts with Phil’s notes. So for at least a year I was doing drafts with feature directors, and by the time I finished my last draft with Phil, the studio was even more enamored with the script. At this point the budget’s starting to rise, and it’s becoming more of a star vehicle. They brought in Ted Griffin (“Ocean’s Eleven”) to do a polish, and he did a great job, and he did what they wanted to take that $25 million movie and make it more of a $50 or $60 million movie. They ended up parting ways with Phil – I think Lionsgate was starting to see it more as a comedic film. As opposed to an action film comedy, they started seeing it as a comedy with action. (Director) Rob Luketic (“Legally Blonde”) came on, Ashton Kutcher (“That ‘70s Show”) came on, and then Rob had just shot a movie with Katherine Heigl (“Grey’s Anatomy”) and she came on. Now it’s tentpole-sized. I mean, it’s funny for me, because it’s still my story, still my characters – I just went through credit arbitration, and I got my credit – story by Bob DeRosa, screenplay by Bob DeRosa and Ted Griffin – but it’s a bigger movie, a funnier movie. It’s definitely evolved in Rob Luketic’s hands. I haven't seen the first cut yet, but I think it’s going to be really, really cool.


JC: An amazing cast – Ashton Kutcher, Katherine Heigl, Tom Selleck, and oh, Martin Mull! I love that.

BD: And Catherine O’Hara.

JC: Yeah, SCTV. How cool is that? Larry Joe Campbell… This is the second time you’ve had this incredible ensemble cast assemble around something you’ve written (“The Air I Breathe” starred Brendan Fraser, Forrest Whitaker, Kevin Bacon, Julie Delpy, Andy Garcia and Sarah Michelle Gellar.) Could you ask for better casts in either of your films?

BD: I am so fortunate and really excited and happy. I love actors and always have, and I will always write for actors. And so it’s a vindication to get such fantastic casts. It’s a dream come true, it really is.

JC: Why did they change the title (from “Five Killers” to “Killers”)?

BD: In my version of the script, the fact that there were five killers was right up front. There are five killers, and they’re coming for you. They make it a little more of a mystery in this version – how many killers and who the killers are. It may not be five killers anymore.

JC: And next up?

BD: I have a brand-new spec, another action/comedy, and Christopher is doing the exact same thing. He is putting together his dream package to hopefully get the movie made. We’ll see if somebody tries to buy it away from us. I think we’ll be particularly aggressive this time.

JC: Awesome. Bob, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Wishing you the best, and looking forward to “Killers.”

###

"Killers" opens 6/4/10 in wide release.

Monday, December 07, 2009

***WRITERS ON THE STORM WINNERS 2009***

It all came down to voice.

This has been without a doubt the single toughest contest to adjudicate I’ve ever been a part of. All of our top ten scripts are very good, every single one of them. And there was no consensus. Portia’s picks differed from Joe’s, which differed from mine and on and on. Everyone presented valid arguments as to why their picks should win the day. Some scripts had a cool concept or a great twist. Others had nifty characterizations and heart-wrenching conflict. But at the end of the day...

It all came down to voice.

Eight years of writing the Agent’s Hot Sheet column for Creative Screenwriting has given me, I hope, a pretty good idea of what the industry prizes most of all. What grabs these guys’ attention is “voice”—that elusive, ephemeral quality that is part craft, part attitude, part emotion, part pizzazz and topped off with a dollop of awesome. It’s what keeps you turning pages. Voice can help overcome story weaknesses and buy a lot of reader goodwill. Because when the voice is strong, the reader relaxes, confident he is in the hands of a great storyteller. All three of our top ten scripts exhibit that very quality in proverbial spades.

Which is not to say the rest of our top ten did not! It’s a judgment call, and somebody had to make it. That said, I am extremely proud of all of our entrants for 2009 -- far and away the best batch of scripts Writers on the Storm has ever received. It is amazing to watch everyone’s craft grow exponentially. And in the end...

It all came down to you-know-what.

We humbly present to you the winners of Writers on the Storm 4.


$10,000 GRAND PRIZE WINNER

RIVETER by Kevin Madden
Sci-fi. A new kind of “War of the Worlds”-style invasion. Creepy, gripping. Insane imagery. Lightning-fast read. Awesome style. Big, big things ahead for Mr. Madden. Bravo!

SECOND PLACE
SVENGALI EFFECT by Jeremy Shipp
Action/adventure. WWII-era magician recruited by the CIA as a spy. Pitch perfect throughout. Great pace and flow, snappy action and dialogue. A great read.

THIRD PLACE
WILSHIRE by Laurence Cruz
Dramedy. A new take on “After Hours.” Fantastic, snappy writing with laugh-out loud moments and fabulously quirky characters. A wonderful journey with two mismatched souls on a crazy night of serendipity and discovery. Beautiful.

The rest of the top ten (in alphabetical order):

ARKAN: THE LAST CAMPAIGN by Parrish Griggs
Action/horror. Civil wars re-enactors get more than they bargained for when they stage a little-known battle on the land of a ruthless adversary. Damn cool stuff, great writing.

BORDERLAND by Wyatt Wakeman
Action/buddy. A gay Fed and an Asian Texas cop investigate sniper murders at the US/Mexico border. Solid characters, pacing, dialogue and visuals.

COLDBLOODED by Susan Stritter Russell
Horror. Female horror writer has unexpected ties to a serial killer. In the vein of “Captivity.” Smart, unexpectedly strong characterizations and gobs o’ creative gore.

THE LODGER by June Escalante
Drama/thriller. 1940s drifter kills a rural businessman, then worms his way into the man’s family. Solid writing. Good pacing. Noir-ish “Postman Always Rings Twice” meets “The Hot Spot” vibe.

RAINWASHED by Paul Sargia
Psychological thriller. Private detective at a crossroads searches for a missing woman and, in a clash of dream vs. reality, becomes a changed man. Quirky, fun, truly unique.

SCATTERBRAINS by Richard Hohenrath
Horror. Zombie “Heathers.” Undead females seek revenge on those who wronged them. Great stuff!

SHROVETIDE by Peter Besson
Comedy. American businessman heads to England to claim an inheritance and finds himself embroiled in an age-old football rivalry. Wonderful local color, dialogue and characterizations.

John August on $$$

As I was researching my latest column for Creative Screenwriting, which is all about the real skinny on making a living as a screenwriter, I came across this awesome article by screenwriter John August (Go.) August covers similar ground as my article, and goes into detail on how and why breaking in as a screenwriter may result in a lot less dough than you think. A must read! Check it out right HERE.


For example, take a look at this money table. 100 grand sounds like a lot of money, right? Until you realize how many folks are grabbing their cut. In a nutshell, if you have a writing partner, an agent, manager and lawyer (and you will likely need the agent, manager and lawyer,) your NET is going to be $36,750 BEFORE taxes. If you live in California, those taxes are pretty damn high. So let's then assume a 40% tax rate (Federal and state combined, although this is likely low.) Your net is now $22,590. And that's not even counting California's 10% sales tax on everything you buy.

These are sobering numbers to be sure, but the point here is not to demotivate anyone, but rather to lay out the facts so you can plan accordingly. August also spells out specific instances where it made sense for people to quit their day jobs and move into a full-time creative gig--only when it would have been impossible to do anything else. A great read - check it out!

WRITERS ON THE STORM 2009 Winners



Anticipation... is makin' me wait...

Check back right here at 4 PM today (Monday 12/7!)

Friday, December 04, 2009

What is The Black List?


And why should you give a crap? Well, the Black List is an annual compendium of the best scripts in town as voted on by execs and development types. Getting on this list means almost certain career momentum - in a big way. The list streets December 11th. Check out this great article from The Huffington Post all about the Black List and what it all means right HERE.

The visit the Black List web site and blog, click HERE.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

UNPRODUCED - The Worst Specs of 2009


Our anonymous pal over at the hilarious website The Hollywood Roaster has compiled a list of the most dubious, questionable or flat-out lame specs to hit the town this year, as voted on by development folks. While we here at CI will not make any judgments on the material therein, it is worth noting that a few of these did actually get set up. Browse these and have yourself a good chuckle and a head-scratch. Check 'em out right HERE.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Interview with Disney fellow Jen Derwingson

by Jim Cirile

Rising star Jen Derwingson is a Disney Fellow, which means she beat out a huge amount of folks to win a coveted slot in Disney's feature fellowship program. A graduate of USC, her award-winning charming short film comedy ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE (watch it HERE ) got her career rolling, and it's been a steady ascent ever since. We caught up with Jen to talk about the Fellowship and what it all means.

Jim Cirile: Thanks for chatting with us, Jen. Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you get into writing?

Jen Derwingson: I started off directing theater in college. I went to Stanford undergrad, and started directing while spending two terms at Oxford. After graduation, I worked in London for a little while, and then had a small company in San Francisco with some college friends. I then applied to film school and went to USC in the MFA Production program. I thought I might also like to write, but I knew I wasn't a playwright. I wrote a couple of scripts at USC, and discovered that the form of the screenplay fits with the way my brain works.

JC: What was the USC experience like? Would you recommend the program to others?

JD: I had a really good experience at USC. I got to make a lot of films, which is what I set out to do. I would recommend USC -- or any film school -- to anyone who is prepared for the realities forging a career in the entertainment business. If you're not willing to spend 10 years after graduation to really get something going, you'd be better off not having $100,000 in student loans.

JC: Once you decided to get into feature writing, what happened next? How many specs did you write before you started getting attention?

JD: I don't think I made that decision. I started writing so that I will be able to direct. When I got out of film school, I was basically looking for any job I could get. My first job was as the writers assistant on "The Dead Zone." It was an amazing experience -- I learned a ton from a lot of gifted writers. At the same time, I was writing a feature spec. I showed the spec to the showrunner who I was working for at the time. He really liked it, and I think was planning to put me on staff for the next season. Then he got fired, and the new EP (executive producer) didn't want to put me on staff. I felt like I had learned as much as I could as an assistant, so I left. A few months later, we sold that script to Stephen J. Cannell's company.

JC: Cool. What was that spec about?

JD: "The Yellow Wood" is a metaphysical thriller about Miranda Hanson, a woman who is haunted by the childhood death of her sister. After experiencing a recurring nightmare about the day her sister died, Miranda uses lucid dreaming techniques to "wake up" in her dream, change what she did, and consequently witness the murder of her sister. Seeing the murder changes everything, and when Miranda wakes up, it's to an entirely new reality. Now, everything in her life is threatened, including her own life, and Miranda is impelled to return to the scene of the murder to make it right.

Following the sale of "Yellow Wood," I was hired to write the remake of the British thriller "And Soon the Darkness," which shot earlier this year in Argentina, and just finished post. I was rewritten by the director, so I share writing credit with him. But it will be my first produced feature. I also wrote a draft of an adaptation of the book "Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah" by Richard Bach. This was sort of a spec for hire situation, where I would only get paid if the script got set up. I decided to do it because it was such a passion project for me. Luckily, it did get set up at Warner Bros. last fall for Zack Snyder. I have no idea if I'll be able to continue on the project. I have first rewrite, but the studio has the right to throw out my draft and go back to the book if they want to. So, we'll see.

JC: Sounds like a lot of cool stuff going on. So why did you decide to apply for the Disney Fellowship?

JD: After those early successes, I spent a year pitching for assignments that I didn't get. So it was a lot of work for almost no payoff. Although, some of the ideas I pitched I'm now turning into spec scripts. For several months before the writers strike, I was pitching a remake of an RKO film to one of the producers of the "Rush Hour" movies. It took a few attempts to adapt the kind of movies I like to write ("Yellow Wood" has a pretty complicated plot with multiple realities), to the kind of movies that this producer makes. I finally came up with a take that he liked, and then the strike happened and killed that project. After the strike, RKO decided to remake their horror library instead of their thriller library, so that project was out.

So I was essentially out of work for two years, and had to go back to working a day job. I got a job at Disney, and my orientation was the same day as the writing fellows from last year. That's what sparked my decision to apply. I thought it would be a good way to get my career back on track and hopefully step it up to studio-level projects.

JC: How did you feel when you'd found out you had won?

JD: I was ecstatic. I got to quit my day job (again) and focus solely on writing.

JC: What's it like working over there? Is it exciting, hair-pulling, a little of both? Do you have to go there every day? Do you have a mentor?

JD: The first few months were pretty intense. I was asked to come in with five pitches, which I did. They liked one, and I worked on it for a while before the studio decided it was too complicated. I came in with five more, simpler ideas, which they liked, but which were too similar to other scripts they and other studios have in development. So I went back to the well again, and after a week of sleepless nights, finally came up with four more - one of which they sparked to. That was about 6-8 weeks of non-stop work -- nights, weekends, etc. Once I got a pitch approved, it calmed down. I then went on to treatment, did two drafts of that, and then was approved to go to script. I just finished the first draft last week.

I sometimes go into the office, sometimes work at home. It depends. I'm going into the office more these days because there are fewer distractions. Plus my office is right down the hall from Walt Disney's office, so that helps with the inspiration part of it.

I have a team that consists of an executive from one of the production companies on the lot and two Disney executives. They've all been really encouraging and helpful. There's nothing like sitting in a room with a bunch of smart people trying to figure out a story.

JC: When is the fellowship over? What happens then? And what happens if any of the material you develop while there gets picked up?

JD: The fellowship is over at the end of next March. At that point, Disney can opt to put the script into active development. If they don't, they'll essentially put the script into turnaround, and I can take it out as a spec. I will also still own all of the ideas I pitched.

JC: Any funny stories or anecdotes regarding the program you'd care to share?

JD: Our offices are on the same hallway as Tim Allen's production company -- but their offices are hidden behind a wall with a poster of Rudolph. If you press Rudolph's nose, it rings a bell in their offices and they'll come and open the door.

JC: That's hilarious. Thanks so much for your time, Jen. Can you offer any advice or tips for our readership who might be trying to follow in your footsteps? What's your 'secret sauce'?

JD: Rewrite until you can't rewrite anymore, and then rewrite it one more time. "Yellow Wood" was only the third script I had ever written. But I rewrote it at least 10 times before showing it to anyone. Then a few more times before showing it to my industry contacts. Then a couple more times based on their notes before it went to agents and managers.

I think you learn much more rewriting one script 10 times, than writing 10 first or second drafts. It's all about quality, not quantity. I think one of the main things that differentiates a good writer from a lesser one is how much they're willing to rewrite.

***

Note: Jen also advises us the Disney fellowship program for features has been discontinued. Henceforth, the Disney/ABC Fellowship will concentrate on TV. Obviously the economics of it were a factor. What a shame.

Monday, November 02, 2009

WRITERS ON THE STORM TOP TEN 2009

Writers on the Storm top ten screenplays of 2009... congratulations, guys! WINNERS will be announced 12/7/09. Thanks, everyone!

Shrovetide by Peter Besson
Wilshire by Laurence Cruz
The Lodger by June Escalante
Arkan: The Last Campaign by Parrish Griggs
Scatterbrains by Richard Hohenrath
Riveter by Kevin Madden
Coldblooded by Susan Russell
Rainwashed by Paul Sargia
Svengali Effect by Jeremy Shipp
Borderland by Wyatt Wakeman

Showdown of the Godz now on DVD

It's finally here! Coverage Ink's very first production SHOWDOWN OF THE GODZ is now out on DVD. Featuring the legendary George Takei, GODZ shows what an unhealthy devotion to Japanese monster movies can to marriage, a family and a career. This is a comedy for sci-fi geeks everywhere and anyone who's ever suffered for their passion.

The GODZ special edition features a commentary track from three producers, effects outtakes, deleted scenes and of course the original 14-minute film which wowed 'em at Comic-Con, G-Fest, Monsterpalooza and a host of festivals. Only $9.99 -- a great gift for any Star Trek, sci-fi or Godzilla fan!

Monday, October 19, 2009

WRITERS ON THE STORM TOP 50

Hi Stormies,

Not a lot of easy decisions in choosing this batch, only very very good scripts. Whittling this down to the top ten is not going to be easy. High fives to everyone on this list. By the way, everyone here receives a 1-year subscription to MovieMaker magazine! Drum roll, please... as we proudly present our Writers on the Storm 2009 Semifinalists!

Arkan: The Last Campaign by Parrish Griggs
Atlanta From Olympus by Lee Tidball
Axel's Riff by Richard L. Sartore
Beast by Blake McCallister
Borderland by Wyatt Wakeman
Coldblooded by Susan Russell
Controlled by Craig Cambria
Dealers by Jimmy Bromberg
Destinations by Jocelyn Osier
Grace by Marie Robinson
Gravedigger by M. Justin Parsons
Home Free by Atif Shaikh
Hoopla by Joe Romeo
Horror Comic by Stephen Hoover
Kamali'i Nia - The Dolphin Princess by Rockwood
Macau Twilight by Tony Shyu
New Project N-I-4-N-I by Bonnie Bonaduce
No Running by Elizabeth Savage Sullivan
Privileged Voice by Victor Grippi
Quest by Russ Meyer
Raccoon by Robert Bollweg
Rainwashed by Paul Sargia
Red Forest by Aaron Marshall
Return To Darian's Point by Kyle Michel Sullivan
Riveter by Kevin Madden
Scatterbrains by Richard Hohenrath
Seeking Samarkand by Felipe Cagno
Sense of Self by Craig Cambria
Shades of Grey by Michael D. Morra
Shotgun Cinderella by Alex Hollister
Shrovetide by Peter Besson
Sophronia L. by Tim Bridwell
Stones From The Heart by Joanne Kimura
Stranger to the World by Jeremy Greenberg
The Guardians by Jason Auerbach
The Jacaranda Tree by Alex Broun
The Kids From Nowhere by George Guthridge & Deborah Schildt
The Last Bigheart by Barbara Senatore
The Last Secret by Ron Basso
The Lodger by June Escalante
The Quiet Killing Box by Jeff W. Davidson
The Reunion by Allen R. Rosenberg
The Svengali Effect by Jeremy Shipp
The Twenty-Fifth of Whatever by Adam Bertocci
The Undead by J. Dillon Flanagan
The Writ Writer by Michael Murphy
Tortoise and the Heir by Russ Meyer
Uncaged by Melissa Birks
Wedding Knight by Stephen Hoover
Wilshire by Laurence Cruz


Coming November 2: The TOP 10! Thanks again, everyone!

Portia Jefferson
Writers on the Storm Contest Coordinator

CS OPEN WINNERS; WRITERS ON THE STORM TOP 50 SOON!


What a weekend! It's been busy as heck here at Coverage Ink as we finished off the CS Open live writing tournament with staged readings of the top three scenes at the Expo closing ceremonies. Our actors did a wonderful job portraying Mark Poole from Louisville, Kentucky's "Killer Writer/Writer Killer," David Zorn from Los Angeles' "Bad Doctor" and Benjamin Wheelock from Brooklyn's "Part of the Job." Who walked out with the 3 grand top prize? Read on...

This is our eighth straight year coordinating the CS Open live writing tournament. In that time, we’ve given out over $83 billion in prize money – oh, sorry, that’s Goldman Sachs -- and one of our winners, Bob deRosa, has gone on to quite a career. His movie “The Air I Breathe” starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Forest Whitaker came out last year. So awesome things can happen to CS Open participants -- not just frustration, indigestion and carpal tunnel syndrome!

Now as many of you know, we changed it up a bit this year. In the past, the CS Open was done live in person, with hundreds of folks writing scenes by hand, in pencil, based on the scene parameters we gave them on the spot. Now that was fun and exciting, but there were problems. First off, folks often had scheduling conflicts with other Expo events. Second of all, it kind of sucks writing by hand, and we couldn’t really figure out a way for everyone to do it electronically… until now.

So this year, for the first time, the CS Open became the CSCS Open – the Creative Screenwriting Cyberspace live writing tournament. Big props to Creative Screenwriting publisher Bill Donovan who brought the CS Open back from its near demise earlier this year by spearheading the migration of the tourney to the internet. For the first time ever, folks around the world could participate in the CS Open all at the same time. The response was overwhelming, with entries far exceeding our projections. Of course we had some glitches, too, with mysteriously disappearing scene feedback and so forth. But by and large the process went smoothly, and once we get in there and spackle up a few holes in the system, the CS Open will be back.

Any of us can write a good scene if we have two weeks. But can you do it when the pressure’s on and the clock is ticking? We’re not giving out official numbers, but my Coverage Ink team of industry readers read and evaluated a freaking tsunami of scenes over the last six weeks. These scenes were created by you guys based on our scene parameters, and everyone had 48 hours to get them in. The top 135 or so then advanced to the semifinals, in which they had to write another new scene based on a new, fiendishly hard scene prompt. Then finally yesterday, the top 15 came back to write one more scene for us, from which the CI team narrowed it down to the three scenes that were staged at the Expo closing ceremony. Here is the scene prompt whioch the top 15 had to write their best interpretation of:

Your PROTAGONIST is caught between a rock and a hard place. It's crisis time, and he (or she) needs to make a life or death decision that, one way or another, is going to piss people off. The stakes are high, and doing nothing is not an option. The ANTAGONIST is using this all to make the hero look bad. On top of everything, your protagonist's hands are not entirely clean in this situation. Write the scene in which your protagonist is confronted by his LOVE INTEREST about his involvement in the crisis as he agonizes over what to do.

How you approach the scene--dramatic or comedic--or stage it is up to you.


The audience laughed along as the scenes were performed. Mark Poole’s “Killer Writer/Writer Killer” portrayed a man who’s dating a girl whose twin sister is murdering screenwriters; Benjamin Wheelock’s “Part of the Job” depicted a bank robbery that goes wrong when the inside man, the bank manager, gets discovered by one of the tellers he’s banging; but it was David Zorn’s “Bad Doctor,” a riotous comedy sketch about a pioneering surgeon who accidentally sews up his cell phone inside of a mob boss’ wife, who took home the top prize. Zorn was the only one of the top three in attendance, so it was fitting that he was on stage to accept his prize. Too bad I mixed up the scenes and announced he’d gotten third place by accident! Dur. Great work, David! Bad work, Jim.


I also want to mention the other 12 finalists who cranked out scene after scene for us, giving up quality time they could have spent slacking or obsessing guiltily over not writing. They are: Pamela Rodeheaver, Doug Peake, David Ivy, Tom Weber, Sean Leonard, Matthew Fleck, Kevin Johnson, Karen Veazey, Scott Noack, Gillian White, Cathy Kitinoja, and Dan Parkhurst.

Sean Leonard receives an honorable mention for the terrific writing in his scene.

Last, I want to give a shout out to our phenomenal team of readers who did an incredible job evaluating the almost frightening volume of scenes. These guys are about the best around. I use them to develop my own material, and their insights are just top-notch -- so Ruchika, Joe, Dylan, Andy K., Greg, and Aaron, big thanks to all you guys. You rock! Anyone interested in finding out more about what we do and our philosophy, check out coverageink.com.

SOON: WRITERS ON THE STORM TOP 50! Stay tuned! Monday, hopefully…

Jim C.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

CSCS Open Announces Finalists

Creative Screenwriting CyberSpace Open Top 15 2009

Hi folks,

It is with great pleasure that I present to you the top 15 for the Cyberspace Open. **The cutoff was 94.** Yes, this is the highest cutoff in all my years of running the CS Open tournament, and that is a testament to the rock star writing skills on display in this tourney. A ginormous round of applause for:

David Zorn
Doug Peake
Pamela Rodeheaver
David Ivy
Tom Weber
Benjamin Wheelock
Sean Leonard
Matthew Fleck
Kevin Johnson
Karen Veazey
Scott Noack
Mark E. Poole
Cathy Kitinoja
Gillian White
Dan Parkhurst

These guys all wrote terrific scenes with heartfelt mea culpas (per the scene prompt) and really kicked our butts. So be ready Sunday morning 10/17 as the Round 3 scene is posted online at http://www.screenwritingexpo.com/writingtournament.2009.html or in person at the Expo:

Wilshire Grand Hotel
The Westwood Room
930 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90017

For those of you who are not advancing, yeah, maybe it’s a little disappointing. Look, all of you guys have mad writing chops or you wouldn’t be in this elite group I’m addressing right now. Maybe there’s a germ of an idea in that scene that can spark your next spec. Maybe you got a freakin’ 93 and want to strangle us! Ultimately, hey, this was really just a fun little exercise, a little 12-buck get-yer-butt-in-gear-and-write-dammit! bit of motivation. We hope you guys had fun and next time you come back with a vengeance. Bring it! And remember, if you’re at the Expo, please come to the closing ceremonies Sunday to watch the top 3 scenes performed live on stage. It’s a real blast.

Speaking of mea culpas, here’s one from us. We’re using a new system this year, and there were holes. While it worked for the vast majority of folks, others scenes just never made it to us, or the feedback was sent but never received – plus we neglected to post that the easiest way to reach us was info@coverageink.com, which some folks had to figure out the hard way. Sigh. While we attempt to spackle up the leaks before the next go-round, please contact me personally at info@coverageink.com if you never received a round 1 or round 2 scoresheet.

Thanks and regards to everyone, and see you at the Expo!


Jim Cirile
CSCS Open Coordinator
Founder, www.coverageink.com

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Writers on the Storm 2009 QUARTERFINALISTS


It is with great pleasure that I present you with the Writers on the Storm 2009 Quarterfinalists. These scripts represent the top 10% of the almost 1,000 screenplays submitted to our contest. And there are some very, very good screenplays in the batch.

Now comes the hard part. We have to pick the top 50 (semifinalists) by October 19th. Sounds easy? Well, battle lines are already being drawn. These scripts have fans amongst our team, and I've already heard a few passionate arguments about some of them as we've decided our quarterfinalists. It's only going to get worse from hereon in.

For the vast majority of you who are not on the list, let me say, believe me, I feel you, guys. No two ways about it -- it sucks. That feeling of not cracking the quarterfinals on something you've put a lot of effort into -- well, I have so been there. Way too many times. My first reaction generally is the reader was an idiot, followed by screw it, it's just one contest, there are plenty more, followed by, well, there's goes another chunk of dough out the window. And there's truth to all of it. But let me say this. The feedback forms, which should be going out sometime in October, will give you a heads-up on what we thought of the script. Give it a fair read and see if anything in it resonates with you. It could be one simple thing in your craft or writing style, such as excessive verbosity, for example, that ossifies what would have been a good story. Or perhaps there's a plot development that just defies credulity where you lost the reader. Use this intel well.

I also recommend you take advantage of all the learning avenues, some of it free or dirt-cheap, available to you. Every month Writers Boot Camp hosts free 90-minute Mini Camps. Last month we coordinated an Agents/Managers panel for them, and the amount of sage wisdom they gave out was unbelievable. Scriptwriters Network is another great resource -- dirt-cheap (nonprofit) and chock full of classes, seminars, the works. And The Writer's Store, too, puts on regular panels. Simply by showing up to these events you will absorb so much about the craft and the business.

There's always more to learn, places to learn it, and ways to improve your craft. Strive. I look forward to all of you who didn't make the list sending me an e-mail in a few months to tell me the script has been optioned! (It has happened a bunch of times!)

We'd also like to make special mention of a couple of writers who blew us away with their amazing tenacity: YVONNE MIRANDA and TONY SHYU. These guys, quarterfinalists both, did four or five drafts of their scripts each during the contest period (!) sending off the revisions to CI for comments and then resubmitting again and again. In both cases, the scripts went from good to great. But more importantly, it is that very tenaciousness, that never-say-die attitude, that is the true mark of a pro. For when the producer hits you with the umpteenth list of script changes, are you going to crack under the pressure, or are you going to knuckle down and get it done? These guys all showed amazing devotion to the craft, so a special round of applause to Yvonne and Tony for showing us all how it's done. Amazing work, guys!

And now without further delay, we proudly present our WOTS QUARTERFINALISTS 2009.

--Jim Cirile, founder
Coverage, Ink
Writers on the Storm

1. A Walk Through Hell by Mark Arament
2. Angel Trap by Holli Herrie-Castillo
3. Arkan: The Last Campaign by Parrish Griggs
4. Atlanta from Olympus by Lee Tidball
5. Axel’s Riff by Richard L. Sartore
6. Baz by Jonathan Stauder
7. Beast by Blake McCallister
8. Book of the Missing by Kate Douglas
9. Borderland by J.R. Taylor
10. Burnover by M.D. McCarthy
11. Cipango by Spencer Michlin
12. Coldblooded by Susan Russell
13. Controlled by Craig Cambria
14. Dealers by Jimmy Bromberg
15. Deliver Me by Michael R. Lupariello
16. Destinations by Jocelyn Osier
17. Djinn by Matthew Altman
18. El Coyote by David Edward Norman
19. The Enginist by Tim McGrath
20. Erin & Owen in Mythatania by Nicholas Julius
21. Esperancia by John Edward Flynt
22. Eve of Miracles by Mike Schwartz
23. Fat Man by Peter Robinson
24. Future Visions by Stephen Moretti
25. Garbo’s Last Stand by Jonathan Miller
26. Gatekeeper of the Worlds by Kari Ciardi
27. Going Solo by Robert Gately
28. Grace by Marie Robinson
29. Gravedigger by M. Justin Parsons
30. The Guardians by Jason Auerbach
31. Home Free by Atif Shaikh
32. Hoopla by Joe Romeo
33. Horror Comic by Stephen Hoover
34. Idiots at Heart by Michelle Kelly
35. The Jacaranda Tree by Alex Broun
36. Jenna's Gone by Russ Meyer
37. Johnny Appleseed by Alexis Munoz
38. Kamali'i Nia: The Dolphin Princess by Rockwood
39. Khamsin by Allan Ashby
40. The Kids From Nowhere by George Guthridge & Deborah Schildt
41. Kiss Me Lucky by Sheri Davenport
42. Laramie by William Johnston
43. The Last Bigheart by Barbara Senatore
44. The Last Secret by Ron Basso
45. The Lighthouse by Janet Zibell
46. The Lodger by June Escalante
47. Macau Twilight by Tony Shyu
48. The Minstrel by Todd Sorrell
49. The Motivator by Jeffrey J. Johnson
50. Murder Belles by Christopher Burns
51. Murder Made Easy by Andreas Wigand
52. Murderous Me (Reflections of Vengeance) by Vicky Sutton
53. New Project N-I-4-N-I by Bonnie Bonaduce
54. Night of the Dragon’s Blood by Ronald L. Ecker
55. Nightmare in the Ardennes by Walt Malinowski
56. No Running by Elizabeth Savage Sullivan
57. Operation Chronos by Jon Sklaroff
58. Peanut Butter by Yvonne Miranda
59. Peshtigo by John Carter
60. Privileged Voice by Victor Grippi
61. Quest by Russ Meyer
62. The Quiet Killing Box by Jeff W. Davidson
63. Racoon by Robert Bollweg
64. Rainwashed by Paul Sargia
65. Red Forest by Aaron Marshall
66. Return to Darian’s Point by Kyle Michel Sullivan
67. The Reunion by Allen R. Rosenberg
68. Riveter by Kevin Madden
69. Sacrifice by Diego Guzman
70. Scatterbrains by Richard Hohenrath
71. Scout's Honor by Jocelyn Osier
72. Seeking Samarkand by Felipe Cagno
73. Sense of Self by Craig Cambria
74. Shades of Grey by Abhi Kulkarni
75. Shades of Grey by Michael Morra
76. The Shankill Road
77. Shotgun Cinderella by Alex Hollister
78. Shrovetide by Peter Besson
79. Sophronia by Tim Bridwell
80. Sorority Kings by Scott Fickas and Brian Jones
81. South Philly Storefront by Marcia Shissler
82. Stones From The Heart by Joanne Kimura
83. Stranger to the World by Jeremy Greenberg
84. Sure Would Be Nice by Thomas Serio
85. Svengali Effect by Jeremy Shipp
86. Textbook Love by Jimmy Bromberg
87. Three Cousins & the Cannolis by Lisa Cordova
88. Tortoise and the Heir by Russ Meyer
89. The Twenty-Fifth of Whatever by Adam Bertocci
90. Uncaged by Melissa Birks
91. The Undead by J. Dillon Flanagan
92. War Without End by AF Grant
93. Wedding Knight by Stephen Hoover
94. West Dallas Gang by Melissa Hemann Borell
95. White Buffalo by John Collins
96. Wilshire by Laurence Cruz
97. Witless for the Prostitution by Andy Johns
98. The Writ Writer by Michael Murphy

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Last Chance to Enter the New CSCS Open!


"Write a scene -- win $3,000!"

Hi guys,

Registration closes today for the new CSCS Open Writing tournament. It's just like the old CS Open in that you get a scene prompt from us and have to write your own interpretation of it -- but now you do it on your computer and enter online. As always, Coverage Ink is coordinating. And this year, we're up to over 1,200 entries -- breaking all previous records! This whole online thing, there may just be something to it.

Round one begins this weekend. Visit http://www.screenwritingexpo.com/writingtournament.2009.html or just click HERE . And I'll see all of you at the Screenwriting Expo!

Jim Cirile
Coverage Ink

Monday, September 07, 2009

Quarterfinalists 9/21


Hiya Stormies,

Just a quick update. Our team is still digging in to the submissions and entering the feedback into our database. We hope to announce the quarterfinalists en toto (no, Jim, that doesn't mean 'with Toto' from 'The Wizard of Oz') on September 21st. We've already seen quite a few very good scripts, so as usual, you guys don't make the selection easy on us.

But for right now I can tell you about the Coverage Ink quarterfinalists. these are the folks who sent their script in to CI for Coverage, so they find out if they're quarterfinalists before the regular contest entrants do. Of the 371 scripts submitted to Coverage Ink for analysis during the contest period, which are thus also entered in the contest, we have 36 that scored a 'consider with reservations' or better for script. That's just shy of 10%, which is right on -- the top 10% of the regular submissions advance also. And let me just remind you that CI entries get NO favoritism. In fact we may even be a little harder on them!

So here is the final list of Coverage Ink/WOTS quarterfinalists, in the order in which we reviewed them. The rest of the QFs will drop 9/21!

--Portia Jefferson
Writers on the Storm coordinator

The Enginist by Tim McGrath
Macau Twilight by Tony Shyu
Nightmare in the Ardennes by Walt Malinowski
Shades of Grey by Abhi Kulkarni
Svengali Effect by Jeremy Shipp
Operation Chronos by Jon Sklaroff
Riveter by Kevin Madden
Sense of Self by Craig Cambria
Rainwashed by Paul Sargia
Future Visions by Stephen Moretti
Sure Would Be Nice by Thomas Serio
Scout's Honor by Jocelyn Osier
Three Cousins & the Cannolis by Lisa Cordova
Angel Trap by Holli Herrie-Castillo
Murderous Me (Reflections of Vengeance) by Vicky Sutton
Tortoise and the Heir by Russ Meyer
Laramie by William Johnston
Sorority Kings by Scott Fickas and Brian Jones
War Without End by AF Grant
Peanut Butter by Yvonne Miranda
The Last Secret by Ron Basso
The Minstrel by Todd Sorrell
Peshtigo by John Carter
Kamali'i Nia The Dolphin Princess by Rockwood
Jenna's Gone by Russ Meyer
White Buffalo by John Collins
Idiots at Heart by Michelle Kelly
The Writ Writer by Michael Murphy
Erin & Owen in Mythatania by Nicholas Julius
Sacrifice by Diego Guzman
Atlanta from Olympus by Lee Tidball
South Philly Storefront by Marcia Schissler
Coldblooded by Susan Russell
Fat Man by Peter Robinson
Destinations by Jocelyn Osier
Gatekeeper of the Worlds by Kari Ciardi

Thursday, August 27, 2009

FREE Agents, Producers & Managers Panel 8/31


Join me, "Script" magazine and a panel of 6 agents, managers and producers at Writers Boot Camp Monday 8/31, 7:30 PM -- FREE!

Attendees tentatively include:

Jewerl Ross, Silent R Management
Ava Jamshidi, ICM
Jake Wagner, Energy Entertainment
Mike Goldberg, Abstract Management

and more!

1-hr panel moderated discussion followed by audience Q&A.

RSVP: Just click HERE.

Writers Boot camp is located at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, CA. Plenty of free parking! Visit www.writersbootcamp.com for directions. See you guys there!

--Jim Cirile

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The New CSCS Open


We are proud to announce that the CS Open, the only-one-of-its-kind live writing tournament we've been coordinating at the Screenwriting Expo since 2001, returns for 2009 -- but in a new, re-imagined format. The CS Open is now the CSCS Open -- Creating Screenwriting Cyberspace Open -- and takes place (largely) online.

Sample scene prompt: Your THREE PROTAGONISTS can’t stand each other, but they are forced to work together in order to retrieve something that has been stolen from one of them which is important to them all. But they suffer a setback when the item is inadvertently destroyed due to a screw-up on one of their parts. Write the scene where they nearly come to blows and desperately try to figure out how to salvage the operation. As with the previous round, you can approach this however you like — any genre, setting or style. Good luck!

In the past, we gave participants a scene prompt like the one above and 90 minutes to write their own best version of it. In pencil. Needless to say, a lot of folks wanted to use laptops over the years. Well, you're finally able to. Instead of cramming 80-100 writers into a classroom every two hours over the course of a weekend, we're giving everyone the prompts online and giving you the entire weekend to craft and polish a 3-5 minute scene. The first two rounds will be 100% online, and the final round will be both online and live at the Expo, and will conclude, as always, with the top 3 scenes being performed by actors at the closing ceremony. Winner receives $3,000, and every scene gets feedback from our team of pro readers here at Coverage, Ink. Not bad for a couple hours work!


We're psyched, because this approach not only means you won't have to write by hand anymore, but also because we won't have to try to decode your chicken scratch handwriting! So get ready for action, folks. First round begins the weekend of Sept. 18-21, and entry is a measly 12 bucks. We're jazzed to be bringing the new, improved CSCS Open to you. Now let's see what you've got -- BRING IT!

Go HERE for all the details!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

CI INTERVIEW: WRITER/DIRECTOR DANA NACHMAN, “WITCH HUNT”



Imagine this. You’re raising a family in a pleasant suburban community in California. In the middle of the night, cops burst in, arrest you and your spouse, take your kids away -- then terrorize and psychologically manipulate your offspring into testifying against you on child molestation charges. Testimony and evidence that would lead to your exoneration is deliberately shutdown by a DA hellbent on wiping the floor with you. In short, you are being shanghaied on a one-way ticket to a life sentence in prison. And you’ve done nothing wrong.

Think it can’t happen in America? Think again.

WITCH HUNT is a jaw-dropping, award-winning new documentary executive produced and narrated by Oscar winner Sean Penn. It chronicles the nearly two dozen victims of this outrageous travesty of justice in 1980s Bakersfield, CA. Parents, friends, coworkers, community members -- all arrested as being part of a purported ‘child molestation ring.’ Families were destroyed, lives ruined, dozens imprisoned... for decades. All were eventually exonerated... but the people who pulled off this atrocity are still in power.

Co-directed by Dana Nachman and Don Hardy, WITCH HUNT is available on DVD at the film's web site. We caught up with Nachman to find out more about the film --and ask how the hell this could happen in the United States of America with, over 20 years later, no one held accountable.

***

Coverage, Ink (CI):
Great to meet you, Dana. How did you and Don become aware of what was going on in Bakersfield?

Dana Nachman: (DN):
Don and I were journalists for the San Francisco NBC station (KRON) and had done numerous stories on the Innocence Project here in Northern California. All of those stories were done after the people were found not guilty. I called them and asked if they could let us know when they were starting to work on a case so that we could see it unravel. They said that they were in the middle of a good case at that time. That was John Stoll's case. He is the main character in our movie.

CI: Were you skeptical at first that Stoll, Scott Kniffen and Jeff Modahl, among many others, really could be innocent? I mean, we all have to have *some* faith in our system.

DN: Don and I drove down to Bakersfield for part of John's trial. The ride home got a little tense at times. There was about 5 hours of driving, and we debated for a couple hours, exactly because of what you're talking about here. We all do want to believe that the system works. But by the time we got home we were both convinced that the system failed John big time... we were sure he was innocent. By the time we met the Kniffens, Jeff Modahl and the Pitts, they had all been exonerated. It's no easy feat to get exonerated... many innocent people cannot meet the massive burden of proof that's necessary... so in that sense we do have faith in our system.

CI: Tell us how you decided to mount a documentary based on this subject matter... and how did you raise the money to make it?

DN: When Stoll got out (after 20 years in a CA prison), he moved to our area and we became friends. Over beers one night, he told us that his case was just one of many. We had no idea. We did a little research and found out everything of what he was saying was true! So, we started making calls, and practically everyone we called said they would do an interview with us.

Don and I did 95% of the work on the movie while we had our day jobs - so we didn't need to bring in a salary. Anything else we needed during production we just asked our friends, and they were happy to help. The particulars like travel and tape... we put all that on our credit cards.

When it came time for post-production, we needed some cash. We were sponsored by the Film Arts Foundation, so we were able to raise money. We mostly raised money from friends (I know we have good friends!) family and people who support the Northern California Innocence Project.

CI: How did you get Sean Penn involved?

DN: Sean, Don and I have a mutual friend who was kind enough to tell him about the project. For about 2 years Jack - our friend - would tell Sean little things about us and the film. He would pass along a letter when the time was right and different cuts along the way. There were times that we
had a new cut and we knew he had an old one and we would just cringe knowing that Sean Penn had our crappy first 20 minutes! Luckily, he never watched any of those cuts. After a while, we started losing hope, but Jack would say, keep the faith... he's going to do it... We vowed that if he ever said yes that we would call our production company... KTF Films. (And they did.) So there you have it.

CI: After seeing the film, there’s no doubt the people involved were railroaded. The prime suspect appears to be Kern County District Attorney Ed Jagels, who may well have deliberately framed innocent men to serve his own political ambitions. But you have to wonder, how could this be pulled off in the USA? There would have to be a bunch of people involved to make this work, to coerce the kids' testimony, etc.
DN:
I know, shocking!!!

CI: I understand Jagels refused several requests for comment?

DN: Yes, I called up a few times and got no reply, then I started to call once a week... it was on my to-do list every Monday morning... it was kind of fun... still, months went by and we got no answer. Then, on one Sunday night I was sitting at home. My cell phone rings, and there's a 661 number. I pick it up, and it's Jagels’ press person – the only thing I can think of is that he thought he was calling a work number and that I wouldn't pick up on a Sunday night! He said that no, they would not participate due to pending litigation -- they always say that. But John Stoll is suing the county for $50 million, so I can assume that's what they were referring to.

CI: How long did it take to make the film? And how did you guys stay centered while spending all that time investigating such a criminal miscarriage of justice?

DN:
We started working on John's case in January 2004, that was for NBC. We started the documentary in December 2004 and it premiered at Toronto (International Film Festival) September, 2008.

I think the more cut and dry and shocking the story is, the easier it is to stay focused... oh, and I had two kids in that time... so focus was out the window anyway!

CI: How did you guys go about marketing the film? Getting MSNBC Films on board must have been a real moment of elation.

DN: There were four huge moments of elation during the making of this film... and many hundreds of joyous moments (and I can't lie, a few dozen moments of complete depression, frustration and hopelessness.) But let’s stick with the four moments of elation:

When Eddie Vedder called me to say that he would be happy for us to use his song -- gratis!!!

When Sean Penn said, "I'm in."

When Molly called from the Toronto International Film Festival to say that they were (going to schedule) “Witch Hunt”;

When our agent called to say that MSNBC bought the movie!!!

The purchase of the film was all because of our agent Josh Braun from Submarine Entertainment. We were very privileged to be able to work with him. We hired the awesome David Magdael who did our PR. What an incredible team!

CI: The film's been getting great reviews from top newspapers and has gotten a lot of top-tier festival play, including AFI and Toronto. What's next for the film? Any chance of a theatrical release?

DN: We are self distributing the DVD (witchhuntmovie.com) and are finishing up with one more film festival here in the Bay Area. We're hoping to get the movie into the hands of colleges so people studying this kind of stuff can be better educated then the people who caused this travesty of justice. We're not going to do a theatrical run. We were thinking about doing an Oscar-qualifying run, but we just couldn't justify spending the money. Instead we're shooting our next movie with the money we would have spent.

CI: Is Jagels *really* still in office? Has this film brought about any sort of inquiry or new publicity into these cases? DAs are elected positions... seems to me everyone in Kern County should get a copy of WITCH HUNT...

DN: Yes, he is still in office. We all went down to Bakersfield and showed the movie to an incredibly supportive crowd. The movie would be great material for anyone running against the status quo in that town... unfortunately, that candidate does not exist.

CI: So what is the next movie?

DN: It’s called "Love Hate Love." It's about three families from around the globe who have been affected by terrorism. Each family has come through the trauma vowing to make the world a better place, showing that the terrorists don't win. Actually, Don's in Uganda right now shooting! We shot in India and Australia earlier this year.

CI: Thanks so much, Dana, for fighting the good fight. And remember, folks, fascism begins at home (ugh.)

Check out the film's official web site right HERE.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The deal with the deadlines

Hi folks, just to clarify:

Writers on the Storm is now closed for submissions. Except:

You may still enter through www.withoutabox.com until 8/18. They made us tack on an extra week for them. The price is jacked up an extra $10 for the final week, but Withoutabox members get that discounted.

Also, we will honor that deadline for any script submitted through Coverage Ink, even though all the signage on the web sites say 8/10. We don't want anyone to feel hosed.

If anyone has any questions, please write us at info@coverageink.com. But here's the final word from me: scripts submitted to Coverage Ink this week ARE still eligible for free contest entry at no extra cost. Sorry for the confusion, everybody.

--Jim C.

Monday, August 10, 2009

WOTS LATE DEADLINE APPROACHING


Late deadline: midnight 8/10 Pacific time
Final (Without A Box only) deadline: midnight 8/17 Pacific time
http://www.writerstorm.com

Tick... tick... tick...

Stormies! Oh, the confusion! Okay, yes, our late deadline is indeed midnight 8/10. After that, we pull the plug on the website and will not allow any more submissions. BUT... No, we’re not announcing some tricky last-minute final extension. This is how it works. We have three deadlines in total: Regular deadline (passed, sorry, guys,) Late deadline (8/10) and then Without-A-Box-only FINAL deadline (8/17.)

See, for the second year we have partnered with Without a Box. About a third of our submissions so far have come in through Without a Box (which is great for any of you who hate Paypal and wish to pay directly via credit card.) Thing is, Without a Box asked us to extend the contest an extra week exclusively for Without a Box entries. In fact this was a condition of our buying additional e-mail advertising blasts through them. So we have to tack on ONE FINAL WEEK only for WAB submissions. The WAB-only extension runs from 12:01 AM 8/11 through midnight 8/17. So… as far as the Writers on the Storm site is concerned, we still have to pull the plug on contest entries 8/10, and that’s it. However, if you’re a WAB member (or sign up this week,) you can still enter through 8/17. Now my apologies if that irritates any of y’all, ‘cause maybe you were scrambling to make the 8/10 deadline, and I understand. However, please note that WAB is jacking up the price an additional ten bucks during the WAB extension week!

However, you can still submit your script to Coverage Ink for coverage until 8/17, and for no additional fee, you’ll still get a free contest entry. As of midnight 8/17, we close the door and Writers on the Storm 2009 is history.

Okay. That out of the way, It is as always my pleasure to announce the Writers on the Storm quarterfinalists to date! These quarterfinalists represent people who’ve entered Writers on the Storm via submitting their script to Coverage, Ink for coverage. They are the ONLY ones who find out before everyone else if they’ve made the quarterfinals or not, because the CI readers rate the scripts and forward the results to us. These represent everyone who’s scripts got a ‘consider with reservations’ or better for script, or about the top 10%. If you entered Writers on the Storm via writerstorm.com or Without a Box, you will not find out if you’ve made the quarterfinals until we’ve had read and processed all the submissions, which is going to take a bit. Everyone clear on that? Okay! Without further ado, here are our Writers on the Storm 2009 Quarterfinalists **so far**:

The Enginist by Tim McGrath
Macau Twilight by Tony Shyu
Nightmare in the Ardennes by Walt Malinowski
Shades of Grey by Abhimanyu Kulkarni
Svengali Effect by Jeremy Shipp
Operation Chronos by Jon Sklaroff
Man on the Overpass by Kevin Madden
Sense of Self by Craig Cambria
Rainwashed by Paul Sargia
Future Visions by Stephen Moretti
Sure Would Be Nice by Thomas Serio
Scout's Honor by Jocelyn Osier
Three Cousins & the Cannolis by Lisa Cordova
Angel Trap by Holli Herrie-Castillo
Murderous Me (Reflections of Vengeance) by Vicky Sutton
Tortoise and the Heir by Russ Meyer
Laramie by William Johnston
Sorority Kings by Scott Fickas and Brian Jones
War Without End by AF Grant
Peanut Butter by Yvonne Miranda
The Last Secret by Ron Basso
The Minstrel by Todd Sorrell
Peshtigo by John Carter
Kamali'i Nia The Dolphin Princess by Rockwood


Whew, that’s 24 so far! And there will be plenty more. There are some good scripts in here, guys – these are all considers and consider with reservations for script, or top ten percenters. But who will win the ten grand? But I can tell you it’s going to be a crazy next couple of weeks. Last thing, I have to remind everyone that… wait for it… most of you are not going to win. What??? No, seriously. They’ve already eliminated about 250 scripts that have come in on the Coverage Ink side for coverage that were not judged top ten percenters. And there’s been a little grousing and kvetching. We understand. The thing is, can you use the feedback so the NEXT time, you get that consider? Can you do everything you can to give yourself the tools you need to make your script bulletproof, to succeed in Hollywood? Consider, just consider, what if he or she is just a little bit right? As painful as it may be to dig in to those notes and start making changes, cutting lines, scenes, characters you’ve worked hard to bring to fruition, unfortunately it’s part of the deal. Yep, one thing you learn fast out here is you better be up for ‘Thank you, sir! May I have another?’ because that’s what it’s like working with every producer in town.

I remember my first meeting. I’d been out here almost two years and finally got in the door at a small production company. And I meet with this little guy who liked my romantic comedy, but he had notes. And I gotta admit, guys, my walls went up as he laid them out. Gotta tell you, some of those notes were downright stupid! I was cordial, but I walked out of there seething. Good thing my mom talked some sense into me as she always does. In her no-nonsense style, she was like, “Sugar, you get your ass in gear and do what he tells you to do and put your ego in a box or I am going to come out there and kick your ass upside down and sideways!” Thanks, mom. Well, I ate crow and did those notes and the guy still lost interest. Whatever. Point is, mom was right. I still have to get those reminders from her every now and again, as I imagine y’all do, too. I guess what I’m saying is what we do here with this contest, and with the coverage, it’s just a little taste, a practice run. You can use it to not only make your script better but also to steel your tush for the abrading it will take once you start with the general meetings ;)

Smoochies, you guys!

Portia Jefferson
Writers on the Storm Contest Coordinator

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

R.I.P., Blake Snyder


It is with incredible remorse that we report that our friend and mentor Blake Snyder, the genius behind the "Save the Cat!" book and software series, passed away today. He was 57.

Snyder was well-known in the screenwriting community for his incredible story sense and his generous nature. Thousands of writers around the world have improved their story craft thanks to Blake. His book series was a best-seller and his weekend lectures always sold out around the world. Blake's easy-to-understand breakdown of the studio movie has become the go-to template at screenwriting classes around the world.

Here at Coverage Ink and Writers on the Storm, we became Snyder converts a while back and recommend his book constantly, not because he's a friend (he BECAME a friend because we felt so strongly about his methods) but because his canny wisdom and breezy writing style made learning about screenwriting fun again. Blake has been a Writers on the Storm contest sponsor for several years now, donating books, software and seminars to our winners. Earlier this year, we interviewed Blake for this very blog (COVERAGE, INK/WRITERS ON THE STORM: SAVING MORE CATS THAN THE SPCA) and were once again impressed by this man.

He will be missed.

--Jim Cirile
8/4/09

Monday, July 27, 2009

WOTS moves into LATE ENTRY PHASE

Hey guys, as of midnight tonight PST (that's 7/27/09, or rather, 12:01 AM 7/28,) Writers on the Storm passes its regular deadline and goes into LATE mode. All submissions to the contest until our late deadline (midnight 8/10/09) will now cost $50 for a single entry or $95 for a double entry of the same script (when submitted directly into the contest at www.coverageink.com.)

However, submissions to Coverage Ink for script analysis will still net you a contest entry until 8/10 at no extra cost (feature scripts only! Sorry, TV writers... we'll add a TV component next year!)

After the late deadline, there will be one final week that the contest is open for submissions, our FINAL week, which will be open only for Without a Box members. The FINAL contest deadline is 8/17/09.

Hope that's all clear (judging by the amount of calls and e-mails today, it isn't!) Thanks everyone for sending in your scripts, and we look forward to finding some great ones in there!

Jim C.