Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Summer Doldrums Come Early This Year

Hi friends,

 Seen any good movies this summer? I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it harder and harder to get excited about the late spring/summer movie season. Feels like the same crap over and over. In May, as I drove around Los Angeles looking at all the billboards advertising “Iron Man” and “Sex and the City,” and all I could think was, is this 2008? Think about it. Has there been a major studio release that’s NOT a sequel or based on a TV show or video game? Of course this is nothing new, and the writing community has been discussing (and fretting over) this irritating trend for years. And there are no signs of it abating. Just the opposite, in fact, since as Jason Scoggins notes in this month’s Spec Market Scorecard -- the industry has largely abandoned the concept of buying and developing scripts. They’re pretty much only interested in prepackaged, ready to go movies.

So what’s a writer to do?

I think it’s important to modify our expectations of what we’re going to get in the way of major studio releases. Much though we’d all like it to be, it’s not the 1970s, and movies like “Coming Home:” and “Ordinary People” probably won’t get made by the major studios (although they might pick them up for release if someone else makes them and they get a lot of buzz on the festival circuit.) Therefore it’s even more critical that all of us support the independent film community, which has done a damn good job of picking up the slack. Here in Los Angeles we’re fortunate enough to have a good selection of art house theaters, and at any given time if one digs just a little bit you can probably find something cinematically cutting edge and that doesn’t leave you feeling fallow and taken at the end.

Now let me be clear: I have never been an indie guy. I grew up loving studio movies, and they’re the reason I got into the business. But the business has changed. And while sure, I will absolutely shell out to see big movies, the more Hollywood continues its corporate downward spiral, the more I want a movie experience with actual substance. This summer I’ve fallen in love with the wonderful Landmark at the Westside Pavilion. This gorgeous theater makes movie-going fun again. You can select your own seats from a seating chart, there are no commercials, the price is about the same as any other theater, and the movie selections are always fresh and creative and alternative. (There’s also there’s a bombtastic restaurant right downstairs with the best hummus and martinis in town.)

My surprise fave so far this this year is the quirky dark satire “The Joneses” starring David Duchovny and Demi Moore (trailer here: Kind of shocking that two former A-list stars in a cutting satire on American consumerism can only manage an art house release. To date the film has grossed less than $1.5 million domestically; not even close to making back its $5 million budget. It’ll probably break even internationally and on DVD, but still, the point here is, why didn’t people go see this movie? Did anyone even know about it? My date only begrudgingly accompanied me to see it because I twisted her arm. She hadn’t heard of “The Joneses,” but she’d damn well heard of crapola like “The Bounty Hunter” and “Furry Vengeance,” both of which she asserted she’d prefer to see over “some movie with the ‘X-Files’ guy.” Sigh.

Box office is down again this summer, and the only reason for the revenue spike earlier this year was because of 3-D ticket gougery (Seriously, 5 bucks more to see “Clash of the Bison” in Fake 3-D? Pass.) and the success of “Avatar.” My date aside, maybe the masses really are slowly starting to get the picture. Who knows, perhaps in a few years this trend could reverse itself and lead to a new cinematic renaissance. As Scoggins notes, “Over the past decade we’ve seen a long list of fantastic and popular television shows, in no small part because the networks have risked giving showrunners and creators room to tell compelling and original stories. The movie studios should do the same thing: be smart about production and marketing budgets, but take some risks and trust the talent to do what they do best.” Well said!

--Jim C.
Founder, Coverage Ink
The Industry Experts

P.S. Did I mention we were just top-rated by Creative Screenwriting? Ya gotta believe it! See below…


Friend us on Facebook!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

GET THE BOOT! Weds 6/30

Our first Mini-Camp last year with Writers Boot Camp founder Jeffrey Gordon was so popular we’re doing it again! Join us at the WBC campus at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica next Wednesday at 7:30. Jeff will be making a presentation titled “Making the Second Half of the Year More Productive.” Jeff’s wisdom and insight is legendary, and his tools for helping to break your week down will give you a great head start for a more productive summer. The knowledge Jeff imparts in 90 short minutes will leave you reeling. Bring a notebook! And did we mention… it’s FREE?  

Now in its 21st year, Writers Boot Camp alum have received won or been nominated for Academy Awards, Emmys, Golden Globes and even the Tony award! Their writers have written screenplays that have brought in close to ¾ of a billion dollars in box office and have created or been staffed on close to 100 different TV shows. So set aside 90 minutes next Wednesday night and join us! 

Click here to RSVP!

Friday, June 18, 2010


As Mel Brooks said, "It's good to be the king."

Pick up your copy of the first of its kind, comprehensive Creative Screenwriting 2010 Screenplay Consultants as Rated By Screenwriters report right HERE.

Revenge Is a Dish Best Served... in France

Screenwriter/director Diane Lisa Johnson got the shaft. We freely admit it. See, Diane wrote the top-scoring Round 2 scene in this year’s CSCS Open. Yet she’s not in the final three. WTF? Blame it on the way we calculate scores. Diane’s round 2 score of 97 got her into the top ten (actually top 13 because of ties.) But that scene was only read by one judge. To come up with the final 3, all seven of our judges read and scored the top 13 scenes, then we averaged the results. It was those scores that were used to determine the top 3, and Diane missed the top 3 by -- get this -- 1/10th of a point. Of course, we feel like utter crap about that.

The good news is Diane’s explosive talent is already propelling her into orbit. Her charming, quirky and hilarious short “Swimming,” which she wrote and directed, has been cleaning up at the festivals. And Diane just wrote to tell us today that “Swimming” has just been picked up by French TV Channel MCE (Ma ChaĆ®ne Etudiante).

“Let's put it this way,” says Johnson, “(the licensing fee) won't pay my rent, but I believe I could buy a house with it -- if we were playing Monopoly! Ha.” Yes, but it’s big exposure and just more evidence that things are going to go, er, swimmingly for this talented young lady. "Inspired by the success of the short film, I have been writing and developing a feature based on the short. The feature is a greatly expanded story and I have been working with an unusual story structure as a way to craft a romantic-comedy that feels surprising and is not just the same old fare." Sounds good to us! Check out the award-winning film right here at

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


With all due respect to the Chairman of the Board, here’s a guy who really did it his way. Writer/director Adam Rifkin’s career has been kicking ass for over two decades, and he’s not slowing down anytime soon. Sporting wonderfully diverse credits like “The Dark Backward,” “Mouse Hunt,” “National Lampoon’s The Stoned Age” and “The Chase,” Rifkin’s latest project is a new Showtime series based on his award-winning indie film “Look.” We chatted with him about his incredible career, his indefatigable do-it-yourself spirit and the numerous highs and gut-ripping lows of his 20-plus years in Hollywood. Get that mouse!!!

Interview by Jim Cirile

Jim Cirile: So let’s just go back to the beginning. Where are you from?

Adam Rifkin: I’m from Chicago. I came out to LA when I was seventeen, just right out of high school. I figured out pretty early on that there was no magic to getting movies made. All it took was money. I grew up just obsessed with movies. Loved watching them. All I ever wanted to do when I grew up was make them. I made movies as a kid with all my friends with a home movie camera. And so as soon as I was old enough, I left Chicago for Hollywood with the idea that I’m just gonna find money and make a real movie.

Cirile: Did you know anybody out here?

Rifkin: I knew no one. I spent the first year and a half or so just getting settled. I had gone to USC for about a year, but then I left. I didn’t get into the film school. I just went to the regular school. But I actually became friendly with a lot of the film students there who have gone on to do phenomenally well. Anyway, I just started writing scripts, and the first one that I wrote got into the hands of a young producer. I was about nineteen, I think, and the producer was Brad Wyman, who was, at that time, I think, 21. He was working for an old-time producer named Elliott Kastner. Elliott has produced a million huge Brando movies and Paul Newman movies and Richard Burton movies, and he had just, not long before I met him, produced “Angel Heart,” which I loved.

Cirile: Yeah, awesome flick.

Rifkin: Yeah. So Brad was working for Elliott, and Elliott wanted to do a whole bunch of low-budget movies because the home video market was booming.

Cirile: We’re talking late ‘80s, right?

Rifkin: Yeah, 86, 87. So, if you could make a movie that was ninety minutes long, in color, had some boobs and had some blood, you could make a fortune. It didn’t matter if it was a piece of shit or not, right?

Cirile: I know.

Rifkin: So Elliott wanted in on that and was making a bunch of these movies. And so we convinced Elliott to let me write and direct and Brad produce our first movie.

 Cirile: You were kids. This guy’s an experienced producer. How on earth is he going to take a flyer on you guys?

Rifkin: Well, that says a lot about the times because he just wanted as much product as possible because it just seemed like the sky was the limit. The quality of the project didn’t seem to be of paramount concern. All these guys like Elliott were trying to get as much money from this sort of boom as they could before it dried up. Plus if I may be so bold, I think we were pretty creative and articulate and really passionate, and we really put up a good argument why he should let us have our first movie. He did not want to do that first script that I wrote that Brad met me on. He said that that was too weird and dark and he didn’t want to do that. He wanted to do a movie for the kids is what he said. And what he meant was like he wanted his own “Breakfast Club.” So he said think of an idea that can be shot in one location with a few actors and we could shoot it in a really short amount of time. So that’s when I came up with my first movie idea for him, which was “Never on Tuesday,” which I wrote in a week and he didn’t even read it. He just said ok you can do it, and that was that. We were off to the races.

Cirile: And Peter Berg was in that, right?

Rifkin: Peter Berg’s first movie.

Cirile: That’s wild. Alright, so what did that beget?

Rifkin: Hollywood is a cornucopia of life’s lessons. Each one is a test of character. (With) “Never on Tuesday,” I was 19 years old. Brad had grown up in LA and knew all the brat pack kids. So we got them to do cameos in the movie. Charlie Sheen was in it. Nicholas Cage was in it; Judd Nelson, Emelio Estevez. I mean all these guys showed up for a day, you know, and did fun characters. I thought to myself, I’m going to be rich and famous by the time I’m 20. We screened the movie for all the studios. And they all wanted to buy it and release it, which was very exciting. But Elliott was also in partnership at that time with another producer named Andre Blay, and Andre Blay, for whatever reason, had taken control of this property. Andre would only sell the movie to Paramount because Paramount was the only studio that would take on home video rights for an enormous sum of money and then they would, on top of that, give Andre $2 million additional with which to release the movie himself through his own theatrical arm, which Paramount didn’t realize didn’t exist. He told them that it existed to get another $2 million, and they bought it. And he walked away with (the money) and the movie never got seen. So one day I’m flying high as a kite and the next day, you know, just come crashing down.

Cirile: Yeah, that which does not kill you, right? In retrospect, it probably gave you humility and perspective and all that crap.

Rifkin: It definitely did all those things. But here’s how one thing can lead to another thing. The movie had been screened, like I said, for all the studios. The head of Twentieth Century Fox at that time was Craig Baumgarten (“Jade.”) He liked the movie and called me in for a meeting and said he liked my personality and (asked,) What do you want to do? And I said well, you guys own my favorite franchise, “Planet of the Apes.” I want to reignite the “Planet of the Apes.”

Cirile: I remember reading you were hired on for that. Whatever happened with that?

Rifkin: I got hired to write and direct a reinvention of the “Planet of the Apes.” My take on it was it’s a sequel to the first movie. You open the movie with Charlton Heston at the foot of the Statue of Liberty screaming,“Damn you! Damn you!” You realize it’s Earth, right? Fade to black. And then a card reads, “300 years later.” And then you fade up on the apes having reached their Roman era. And you basically do “Spartacus.” So the humans are the slaves and the apes are the Romans, and a distant descendant of Charlton Heston’s character leads a slave revolt against the apes, right?

Cirile: Works for me.

Rifkin: Yeah, that would be really fun, right? I told him that in the spirit of how I was able to pull off “Never on Tuesday” for a really small amount of money, but we got it to look really big, I (would) do the same with “Planet of the Apes.” And he said, “I’m in.” So I wrote the script. He loved it. The only notes the studio had at the time were can you trim about ten pages out. It’s too long. That was the only note, right? So I’m in heaven again. Of course, life lesson number two approaching fast. We were about to start pre-production. We had been in talks with Danny Elfman to do the score and (special effects makeup guru) Rick Baker to do the apes. And at the time it was going to be Tom Cruise or Charlie Sheen to play the human. And then Craig Baumgarten got fired, of course.

Cirile: For the sake of our readership who don’t necessarily understand how this stuff works, explain what happens when the studio executive gets fired.

Rifkin: When a new studio head comes on, he’s probably going to shelve the better part of all of the projects the previous administration had been working on because (A,) they may be different than his or her taste, (B,) if one of them is a big hit, it looks kind of bad that I’m the new studio head and my previous person in my seat picked the big hit, and (C,) I’m a studio head now. I get the freedom to do whatever I want to do.

Cirile: So where does that leave the writer on the project?

Rifkin: A lot of times original projects can go in to turnaround and you can get them back. I’ve had that happen at other studios. But Twentieth Century Fox owns the “Apes” franchise and they would never let the franchise go. So I had a little dance with the new administration for a short while but, of course, it didn’t really evolve into much. And I knew it wouldn’t, but you had to give it a try. And so then you just gotta move on. And if there’s anything I can impart to anyone out there who is an up and comer, it is you just can never, ever let rejection slow you down. No matter how brutal it is. I mean, literally we were days away from moving into our pre-production offices on the lot. You just have to swallow it like a bitter pill and then move on. You just can’t let it derail you or take it personally.

Cirile: I’m sure there was a couple of weeks of wound licking in there.

Rifkin: Yeah, but if you’re a boxer and you take it personally when you get punched in the face, you’re going to be a really shitty boxer. Your job is to get punched in the face as often times as the other guy can punch you. And you still, in spite of that, have to win the fight. No matter how many times Hollywood punches you in the face, you just have to keep moving forward. You’re a shark. If you stop, you die.

Cirile: “The Dark Backward” is the one that really put you on a lot of people’s tongues. How did that one come about?

Rifkin: That was actually the very first script I ever wrote. My philosophy was, I don’t know anybody. I know I can’t afford movie stars. I know I can’t afford big explosions. I can never compete with studio movies. The only shot I have is to be unusual. Because I thought at least that will set me apart. I’ll write a script that nobody else has written. And then when people read it, they’ll say this is nothing like anything I’ve ever read and that hopefully will make this script stand out. And it worked. And as a result of that, I got to meet a lot of people and we ultimately got it made. And because the script was unusual, we were able to attract a really, really cool cast. I mean, it’s a pretty oddball movie. It’s the kind of movie that people either seem to really like or really hate. But it really helped me a lot in terms of just establishing me as a filmmaker with a sensibility that people can kind of get.

Cirile: Yes. Plus, it kind of went viral back in the day. I was back in New York at the time, a young kid myself when I remember hearing all about this really cool, you know, messed up film, and this really cool new filmmaker and writer. But did that sort of rep hurt you as well as help you?

Rifkin: That movie definitely didn’t help my career, because all the people who loved it were creative types; other actors, other filmmakers. All the people who could hire me hated it. They said, “Hly shit, this kid is going to put circus freaks in all his movies.” I said no, that was a choice for this movie. I’ll tell you just as a broader sort of concept, I’ve never had a blockbuster. So I don’t know from any firsthand experience if it truly makes a difference or not. But (I’ve) made a lot of movies, and all of them have made their money back and some of them did very, very well. But it never feels like it gets easier to get a movie made. Every movie I make, I think okay, once this movie is seen, it’s gonna make all the next ones easier. That’s something to keep in mind for everybody that’s struggling. It’s a constant process. It’s pushing a rock up a hill each time. That said, if “The Dark Backward” had made $200 million, there’s a lot of freedom that comes along with that. But (those filmmakers) say everything’s relative and they have the same kinds of struggles.

Cirile: One thing that is really interesting about you and your work is you sort of exist on multiple planes at the same time. I mean, you’ve got this wonderful backlog of family oriented stuff, which is all great stuff. I can take my daughter to it. It’s awesome. “Underdog” and “Zoom,” I really like that film. And, of course, “Mouse Hunt” and “ Small Soldiers” -- I love that movie. And yet you can be sort of an indie guy and you can be studio guy, too. Seems like it would be a difficult tightrope to walk. I often advise Coverage Ink clients who like to write in multiple genres to narrow their focus, because agents and managers tell me you need to be one thing -- find the one voice that they can market you as.

Rifkin: Well, it definitely hurt me that I can and have done lots of different things. If I was just the guy that did, or I was just the guy that did family movies or if I was just the guy that did weirdo “Dark Backward”-y style movies, my career would probably have been a lot easier. But I just have so many different kinds of movies that I like and so many different kinds of movies that I want to make, I can’t help myself. If I get an idea, I just have to write it. Yeah, it will make your path an easier path if you are able to have a singular voice. Market yourself in the industry as that guy and just follow that trajectory. I just can’t really help myself. And it has been to my detriment in many ways.

Cirile: But you’re still working. You’ve had a two-decade long career. That’s pretty damn amazing.

Rifkin: Knock on wood. Thank God. Thank God.

Cirile: Can you tell us a little bit about the “Mouse Hunt” spec sale? And do you think that something like that could even happen now in the same way, what with the changing economic environment and the corporatization of Hollywood?

Rifkin: Hollywood’s changed a lot just in the last couple of years, let alone the last ten years. I had been hired to direct “Barb Wire,” which wasn’t necessarily a movie that my soul was yearning to make, but I felt like it was a next step that I should take in my career. It was the biggest budget that I would have ever had to work with. I didn’t write it, but I was getting hired as the director and (Pamela Anderson) was a big star at the time. I got hired by the comic book company Dark Horse against even the knowledge of the financiers, let alone the wishes of the financiers (Propaganda.) And so there was a big battle between Dark Horse and Propaganda as soon as I got hired, and the next thing you know, I had gotten fired. I sort of became the fall guy in their sort of power struggle. And all the people that called me to congratulate me for getting the job were suddenly not returning my calls after they read on the front page of “Variety” that I had been fired.

Cirile: “Creative differences.”

Rifkin: Exactly, “creative differences.” So feeling very powerless at that moment, I realized that the only power I have is my ability to generate material. So I just went on a writing tear and wrote, basically, four scripts in the time that they were still shooting “Barb Wire” with the different director. The other three didn’t sell. And the fourth one that I wrote was “Mouse Hunt,” (It) was the 30th script that I had written and tried to sell, not including the indie movies that I wrote and directed. At the same time, I was always writing studio movies to try and sell. 29 of them hadn’t sold. The reason I wrote that one in particular was I would read about another spec script that sold, and the logline was just so dumb. So I came up with what I thought was a really dumb idea: two brothers inherit a house. There’s a mouse in the house. They can’t get rid of the mouse. The mouse fucks with them and it destroys the house -- live action Tom and Jerry.

Cirile: Exactly.

Rifkin: And my best friend Val says, "You gotta write it and it will sell for a million dollars." And she was right. It sold for $1 million. Timing and luck and hard work all have to come together at the same time. It just so happened that DreamWorks was looking for material. They had been in existence for a couple years and hadn’t done much yet. So they were getting some flak, like, what are you guys waiting for? When (DreamWorks SKG cofounder) Jeffrey Katzenberg left Disney, it was a very, very public divorce. And so when he heard that a spec script came in called “Mouse Hunt,” about a mouse, he said, “I want my own mouse!” How could you predict that kind of lucky timing? There were some other small bids on the table, and DreamWorks just came in and said, “What will it take to wrap it up right now? My agent said be bold. $1 million, and that was it. And then my life changed. All the crew members on “Barb Wire” were people I had hired. The editor told me that he was in a meeting with the guy who had fired me. And in one hand he was holding the “Variety” (with the $1 million spec sale cover story,) and in the other hand he had the test scores for “Barb Wire,” which were the lowest test scores in the company’s history. And I felt that that was pretty satisfying.

Cirile: (laughs) Oh man, take that to the bank. That’s beautiful! Now I know you’re a big fan of DIY. Talk a little bit to our readers about empowering yourself by just going out there and just getting it done however you can.

Rifkin: Well, anybody who wants to be a filmmaker today is in a really lucky spot because it’s easier to get movies made now than every before. When I made “Never on Tuesday,” in order for a movie to be taken seriously in any context, it had to be shot on film. Film is just expensive. Now you can shoot a movie on a consumer camcorder for nothing. And you can edit it on your laptop. “Paranormal Activity,” perfect example. I know the filmmaker. He made the movie for a few thousand dollars in his house in a week. He was the only crew member. Because it was good, it got accepted into the Slamdance Film Festival. The buyer from DreamWorks was there and they saw the audience react and they bought it, even though it sat on the shelf at DreamWorks for two and half years before they figured out what to do with it. Because the test screening went phenomenally well, they said, “You know what, this can’t be denied. We’ve got to release this thing.” And it made a fortune. So my advice is make a movie. Just be really smart, really clever and really talented about the way you do it. And if you make one that’s really, really good, you’ve got a great shot.

Cirile: We don’t need to be sitting around moaning that no one’s buying our scripts anymore.

Rifkin: Not at all. And, in fact, the people who do that are just using that as an excuse to not do anything because they’re afraid to take the next step. And also to I know tons of people who didn’t even make a feature, but they made a series of shorts that they put up on YouTube. Worldwide audience, YouTube. Worldwide distribution instantaneously. You don’t make money, but you can get your movie seen. And I know people who have made shorts on YouTube that as a result have gotten movie deals. There’s no waiting for permission anymore. And that’s what’s exciting about the movie business today. The old way of doing things, it’s getting harder and harder to get movies made that way because fewer and fewer movies with bigger and bigger budgets are being made. And those are the preexisting titles – “Transformers” and things like that. And by the way, that’s fine. But what’s exciting now is that anybody can make a movie. So my advice is just go do it.

Cirile: I haven’t seen “Look” yet but it looks really interesting. Let’s talk just a little bit about that.

Rifkin: I wanted to make a movie that I haven’t seen before. We are under constant surveillance. I did a little research after I got a traffic ticket on a red light cam. They sent the ticket in the mail and there’s the picture of me running the red light, right? I thought, wow, how many other surveillance cameras are on me that I’m not aware of? So I started paying attention. There are surveillance cameras absolutely everywhere. I didn’t realize how pervasive they were. I learned that the average American is captured two hundred times a day. I thought, wow, that’s creepy. I started to think if I had access to all the footage of all the cameras that I walked in front of today and I cut those together, I’d bet I could cut together a pretty interesting little scene. And if I had all the footage from all the cameras I had been in front of all week, I bet I could cut together an interesting movie. So I thought to myself, I’m gonna write a movie and I’m going to make it. I’m not going to wait for permission. It’s an idea that organically lends itself to being made very inexpensively. If the script is good and the acting’s good, that’s all that matters. And so I made “Look.” It’s a movie that was entirely shot with surveillance cameras that follows four or five interweaving story lines over the course of about a week.

Cirile: But it was scripted, right?

Rifkin: It was completely scripted. We (didn’t) want any name actors because we have to believe that this is real surveillance footage. It was the first time in my career that names were being thrown at me. (Famous) actors were wanting to play these parts. It was very difficult to pass on them because it adds so much value to a little movie. But (we went) with all fresh faces. And I’m glad we did. The movie turned out great. We got great reviews. We won a bunch of film festivals. We played the art house scene for like six months, traveled all around the country. But we also for great write-ups in all the entertainment sections of newspapers and magazines because the privacy issue is topical. We got all kinds of op-eds and articles in the political pages too – “Wall Street Journal,” “Newsweek,” “Wired,” “USA Today,” about the state of privacy in our country. It sort of became a little talking point about the movie. Anyway, because the movie did well, we are now doing it as a series for Showtime.

Cirile: Sweet! That’s a success story if I ever heard one. Thanks so much for your time, Adam. One last question -- after two decades in the biz, how do you prevent burnout?

Rifkin: I’m very passionate about being able to keep one foot in the studio system and write movies for Disney and the other studios, and I just love that kind of stuff, and I hope to always be able to be involved in doing that kind of thing -- and one foot firmly planted in sort of a more independent sensibility-type project like “Look,” where I get to express myself a little bit more as an artist. Doing things that are a little more experimental, a little more riskier, I get to exercise different creative muscles, and that’s what makes it so much fun. Each project is like a little refreshing escape from the other one. It’s fun to work really hard on one to the point of exhaustion but then instead of taking a week off, I then work for a week on a different project which is energizing because it’s fresh and it’s different. I love that kind of stuff.


Check out Rifkin’s award-winning film LOOK on DVD right here on 

Monday, June 14, 2010


Save the Cat! Press, 2009
200 pages
Book review by Ebony Jones

If you've packed what little crap you have to hightail it to Hollywood from the Midwest with stars in your eyes, Save the Cat! Strikes Back is for you. If you've found yourself praying you don't have to leave Hollywood because, four years later, you still haven't conquered the writers' world of Hollywood, Save the Cat! Strikes Back is for you. And if you find yourself making the Sunday phone calls home begging mom and dad for money in order to maintain the strength of “the force, Luke”, Save the Cat! Strikes Back is for you.

Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! Strikes Back is not only going into the research book section of my library, but I might have to make room for it next to my Oprah-selected self-help stash. Not only did Blake take away my “why the hell did I become an artist” thoughts, he succeeded in helping me justify my 4-at-a-time Netflix subscription. I knew I was doing something right in the writing warm-up department. The past four years of my writing career has been one big warm-up. I could never bring myself to be serious and actually sit down to write. The critic in me was self-defeating and much stronger than the ones constantly asking “are you ever going to finish that script?”

How is this book different from Blake Snyder's Save the Cat!? He does a great job of weaving in elements of the first book. The wonderful Blake Snyder Beat Sheet (BS2) is back in case you didn't understand it the first time. He also discusses the “40 key scenes” and even diagrams “The Board”. It includes the same concepts from the first book, but from the perspective of Blake actually applying them to his seminars he's hosted around the world. He airs the frustrations from his most green writers to the professionals. In this book, Blake specifies how BS2 has solved their problems.

Another difference is where the “Strikes Back” of the title comes in. How do you strike back against the biggest critic in yourself? Blake helps deal with the pain of accepting all the notes you get once you finally release your pride and joy to the jaws of potential defeat. I say potential because Blake shows that there's hope in every script as long as it's carefully written with the tools he provides like the BS2, the Transformation Machine, and the “Storm the Castle”. The most important takeaway from this book is Blake never says never in any scenario.

Save the Cat! Strikes Back also discusses rewrite notes from producer Dan Goldberg's (The Hangover) perspective. Dan does his best to constantly reassure that it's not the producer's job to intentionally rip your heart out of your chest and stomp on it. But you also get the reality that sometimes the relationship between writers and studios just doesn't work out and there's always another chance as long as you don't make a fool out of yourself. Oh, and Blake shows you how to avoid doing that as well.

Save the Cat! Strikes Back discusses agents, managers, lawyers, and especially the big Catch-22 of not yet having any of those people on your team but being denied their services because you don't yet have those people on your team. Blake uses both himself and one of his fellow writers as an example of how you can overcome this.

One thing so important that this book addresses is something I've pondered over the last couple months: maybe I just need to pack up from Hollywood and go home. Blake Snyder has an answer for that, as well. Sometimes you might need to get away, but that doesn't mean it's the end of your career as a writer. “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” He suggests other locales where you can succeed if “going home” isn't really an option.

You know how important it is to end your screenplay on a high note. Well, Save the Cat! Strikes Back doesn't disappoint with its ending. Blake wraps up his book by giving readers a glimpse into his own All Is Lost moment of his writing career. And it was this passage in the book that hit me like a ton of bricks, “And all of my best ideas were not connecting with holders of checkbooks. I was 31. In January, my father died.” I just turned 31 a month ago, and my homesickness was gigantic. I too felt all was lost, but those words and Blake's positive outlook through the end of the book was the “can do” that I needed to finish a hero's task. Never did Blake talk down to me or thumb his successful nose at the rest of us by giving the “my way or the highway” speech. The best advice he could give in Save the Cat! Strikes Back is “stop bitching and write.”

With Save the Cat!, Blake started out on a venture of giving writers a book that wasn’t like any other research book. And he knew that wasn’t enough, because it’s really not just about the writing. With Blake’s passing, we lost someone that really understood and cared about the underlying fears that writers go through. In his final gift to writers with Save the Cat! Strikes Back, Blake knew the psychological disappointment that Hollywood brings and he tapped deep into the heart and soul. Even though I didn't know Blake Snyder personally, he made me feel like an old friend that knew the pep talk I needed. From “snipping the ends” of this book, I am confident that Blake Snyder ended in the way he started--full of “I Can”.

Ebony Jones is a 2001 graduate of Cornell University's School of Hospitality with a degree in business communications. She has completed her first unpublished novel Swimming in Blue Drink as well as a teen-based short story, “When Ariel Lost Her Voice”. She is finally going to tackle restructuring the dramatic screenplay she's been working on titled “When Momma Dies”.

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Ice Truckin'!

This just in from our pal Michael Lent, author of the terrific "Breakfast With Sharks," a guidebook for up and coming screenwriters on managing their lives and careers in the insane burg o' rejection we call Tinseltown. His new book ON THIN ICE, which he wrote with ICE ROAD TRUCKERS' Hugh Rowland, has just been released by Disney/Hyperion and is getting rave reviews. Check it out right here on

On Thin Ice: Breakdowns, Whiteouts, and Survival on the World's Deadliest Roads [Hyperion]

Every year, a fleet of truckers travels beyond the northern equatorial line to the Arctic Circle, battling subzero temperatures and perilous conditions. Though treacherous, it is a region heavily endowed with natural resources. Locating this abundance of natural gas, conflict-free diamonds, and gold is relatively easy; extracting and transporting these goods is another matter entirely. The elite truckers chosen to deliver materials vital to these efforts spend two months traveling distances greater than Western Europe on naturally formed roads of ice only sixteen inches thick. 

It is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. 

For more than twenty years, Hugh "The Polar Bear" Rowland has survived the ice roads like none other. Each year when the temperature plummets, Rowland leaves his family in Vancouver, Canada, to drive 1,900 miles to Yellowknife, where he will begin his odyssey. Facing the threat of perilous avalanches, hundred-foot cliffs, and the ever-present danger of cracking through the ice, Hugh must push himself to the limit. The payoff is sweet, but Rowland isn't in it just for the money; he is driven by the camaraderie, the call to adventure, and the chance to battle the odds year after year.  

From the first snowstorm to the final thaw, On Thin Ice traces the history of ice road trucking, chronicles Rowland's preparation for the trek, and follows him through his perilous journey along the infamous ice roads. Take a ride with Rowland as he recounts tales of epic breakdowns and breathtaking heroism that are just a daily part of the job. In this classic battle of man and machine versus cruelest nature, only the strong will survive to see their payday, their families, and the chance to do it all over again . . . on thin ice. 

Hugh Rowland is a star of the Ice Road Truckers reality series currently in its fourth season. Co-Author Michael Lent spent a month in the Arctic with Rowland researching On Thin Ice. He is the author of five books including Breakfast With Sharks, considered by many to be a foundation book on the business of screenwriting. Lent also is a writer/producer and is a former contributing editor for Creative Screenwriting magazine.

Thursday, June 03, 2010


The Creative Screenwriting Cyberspace Open Spring 2010

Proudly Congratulates Our Top Three:

Ian Murillo 95.14
Dries Coomans 94.85
Lisa Scott 94.43 

Ian, Dries and Lisa, your scenes will be performed by actors in staged readings which we will videotape and put up on the web for everyone to vote on the winner! We will notify everyone via e-mail or newsletter when the scenes are online and ready to be voted on. 

Honorable mention goes to Diane Lisa Johnson, whose scene missed the top 3 by a hair (94.42.) 

How We Tabulated The Top Scores: 

Each scene in Round 2 was read and scored by a reader from Coverage, Ink. The top twelve scoring scenes were then circulated to the entire team. Seven readers read and gave a numerical grade to each of the top twelve scenes. The winners were determined by averaging the scores. Because of this, in some cases, some folks scored higher from the individual judge but lower in the aggregate, while for others the reverse was true. But in the end, the three scenes selected were the ones the team all agreed were the best of the best. 

Congratulations to the remainder of our top twelve for dishing out some truly killer writing:
Tim Harding 94.28
Philip Schneider 94.28
Walter Thompson 93.86
Erik Fetler 93.71
Crystal Ann Taylor 93.71
Marcus Leary 93.57
Rich Frost 93.42
Kimberly Nunley 92.85 

Thanks again, everyone! We hope you all had a blast participating!
P.S. Genre prize winners (and runners up) will be hearing from us shortly with regards to how to claim your prizes.