2) Understanding Drama by Steve Kaire
3) Interview: Adam Leipzig
4) Virtual Pitch Fest: a Review
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Not that you asked...
Apologies if I sound a bit Andy Rooney here (Whoa! Did you know that dude just turned 92?) I literally threw down the script I was reading yesterday (and when I say "literally," I of course mean "figuratively") when I realized I was seeing the same five issues in, like, the last four scripts in a row. Allow me to point them out, in the hope that I can help cure this obstreperous malady once and for all. Please give generously, and perhaps we'll rid the world of SM (Screenwriting Maladroititude) in our lifetime!
1) Over 120 pages. Learning to edit yourself is hard, it’s true, but it’s also critical. Simply put, if your script is over 120, don’t even consider sending it to industry yet. Cheating the margins ain’t gonna do it. See #5 below for more on this...
2) Genre confusion. The first scene, or ‘hook,’ is a promise to the reader of what kind of script they are about to read. That’s why comedies always start with a laugh, horror movies with a good scare. But often we see scripts where the writer doesn’t set the tone up front; or they do set the tone, but then go off the rails somewhere along the way. For example, this dramedy I just read. Halfway through, it abruptly became an action movie with huge, outlandish set pieces and abundant gore. Really? Pick your genre and stick with it. Frankly, it’s a lot easier that way.
3) Putting direction in parens. Real simple, this one. Parentheses are for minor, brief direction and line-reading cues that we wouldn't be able to figure out just from the dialogue. If it describes anything more than a brief action, it needs to go flush left as description. Oftentimes I find the parenthetical description is unnecessary. Actors generally can figure out how to say words.
4) HDWKT? Or "How Do We Know This?" It has to do with writing story details into description. What's wrong with this, you ask? Nothing, except that movie audiences are not actually reading your script. So it's cool to describe what we SEE...
MARGARET (58) Denny's uniform, lazy eye and gin blossoms, wipes the counter with a sopping gray rag. She shrug/grunts by way of saying, "Sit anywhere."
But not okay to descibe what we cannot possibly know without ESP:
She's depressed because her husband Rodrigo ran off with Flo, the reptiles gal from Petco with the enormous butt, and because she hasn't been able to nip at her flask all morning -- her boss, that bastard Gunter, suspects.
Yeah, thing is, if any of that is really important, you have to find a way to convey it to the audience, preferably visually, but you can also do it through dialogue, flashback, dream sequences/daydreams, TV news stories, etc. Otherwise, just cut it! And the most egregious...
5) Reiterating the slugline in the description. You know this song – it goes something like this:
INT. HOSPITAL HALLWAY - NIGHT
Bill and Pietro walk down the hospital hallway.
Ack! Please. Make. It. Stop. We know we’re in a hospital hallway. Perhaps reiterating that information on the very next line isn't the move. What about, “Bill and Pietro hasten along”? Or how about this:
Bill and Pietro hasten down the hospital hallway. Cold, antiseptic, tile floor with scattered medical equipment awaiting use. Nurses zigzag frantically around while machines BEEP and a lady cries and a family huddles nervously with a doctor.
Okay, look, we all know what a typical hospital hallway looks like. You do NOT have to describe it unless there is something unusual about it. Is there a miniature black hole in the hospital ceiling sucking gravity and light inexorably into oblivion? Okay, describe that. Regular acoustical tile ceiling? Urm, no.
Be aware of what you’re writing. Scrutinize every single sentence. Imagine every word you use costs you 5 bucks. So you’d be much stingier with them, wouldn’t you? You’d use only the exact words you need and no more. Those who can learn to do this to their own writing will leap-frog over the ones who can’t.
For more on all this, please watch my newest free instructional video right here --scroll down to the bottom and click on "Writer, Edit Thyself." And by the way -- I personally have made every one of these mistakes. All of us do until someone shows us the path. May these quick tips illuminate the way!
What's cooking? The Cyberspace Open, which we're judging for the 9th straight year, is underway, and our own contest Writers on the Storm launches April 25th... we bring you another kick-tushTrackingB contest raffle... we've got an awesome in-depth interview with former head of National Geographic Films Adam Leipzig about the state of the indie, a startling success story when a top Coverage Ink associate reviews Virtual Pitch Fest, and we have a BIG SALE. All dat and much more, all coming you right about now.
Founder, Coverage Ink
The Industry Experts
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20 BUCKS OFF! For a very limited time: get 20 dollars off any CI analysis, from our team of 14 kick-ass story analysts. Rated "Cream of the Crop" by Creative Screenwriting's user poll, 2010. To get your discount: 1) Submit your script normally at www.coverageink.com. 2) E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us your script name and this discount code: CISALE20. 3) We will then send you a confirmation and an invoice for the adjusted total. Hurry, expires midnight 3/5/2011!
CELLULOID CEILING. If a director makes a movie that earns $400 million, that person can pick and choose whatever they want to do next, right? Unless that person is a woman, that is. Check out this astonishing article.
SIGNED. It’s a beautiful thing, ladies and gennemah. Last year’s Writers on the Storm runner-up Jeremy Shipp (“Sleight of Hand”) has signed with UTA for exclusive representation in all areas. We walked him in the door there, and UTA's Emerson Davis loved the voice of Shipp's exciting period action/adventure. Not to be outdone, last year’s Writer’s on the Storm multi-honorable mention Paul Moxham has signed with manager Kathy Muraviov from The Muraviov Company, and she is now shopping Paul’s outrageous basketball comedy “Vertically Challenged” around town. In both these cases, Coverage Ink helped develop the scripts to get them where they need to be. And that takes us to...
WRITERS ON THE STORM RETURNS 4/25/11. Ready for your shot, like Mr. Shipp and Moxham above? Our contest returns April 25 with over $25,000 in cash and prizes. And as always, you can either enter directly through the contest website (writerstorm.com,) or entry is *free* with any script submission to Coverage Ink while the contest is running. Any script that scores a ‘consider with reservations’ or better for script (approximately top 10%) is an automatic quarterfinalist. Contest coordinator Portia Jefferson is back, as are partners Writers Boot Camp, The Writers Store, InkTip, Moviemaker, Great American Pitchfest, Creative Screenwriting, Virtual Pitch Fest, TrackingB.com and many more. We’re working behind the scenes right now to assemble a really awesome prize package and list of participating companies. More to come soon!
|Industry tracking board TrackingB.com|
RAFFLE! So how about a Free Entry? E-mail email@example.com and put "Tracking B TV" in the subject line. We will randomly select one winner to receive a free entry into the contest. Winner will be notified by e-mail and raffle ends 3/4/11. But TV writers, don't wait around. This is an extremely rare chance to get your writing in front of some serious TV heavyweights. Enter now at www.trackingB.com.
NO DODDERING ALLOWED. Just grabbed this right from the Motion Picture Society of America’s own news page, so that means it’s likely true: Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, who recently retired after more than 30 years because he couldn’t take the BS anymore (my interpretation) is in negotiations to head up the MPAA. This is interesting for a number of reasons – one, because Dodd was a damn decent senator, and because the MPAA spends over $1.3 million annually lobbying Washington for various things, such as, please actually enforce the anti-piracy laws. This new role could be a very interesting one indeed for the Silver Fox. Official announcement likely to be forthcoming soon.
MIND THE GAP(F). If you read my article "Rating the Pitchfests" in the current issue of Script, you know that Great American Pitchfest took the top prize. If you've ever attended a GAPF, you know that it's a well-organized affair, with tons of free courses and, of course, access. GAPF is June 4th and 5th, and our pals Bob and Signe are offering a special $50 off deal for you guys: a GAPF pass, ticket to the luncheon, and hard copy of the booklet. Regular price is $375, but you folks can have it for $325. Just visit The Great American Pitchfest registration page and select the Friends of the Pitchfest package. We'll be there as always, so stop by our booth and chat!
CI ASSOCIATE GOES 'UNDER' AND SCORES BIG. It's always nice to see one of our team hit it big (this month, it's not one but two! See Virtual Pitch fest review below.) Round of applause for Kevin O'Hare. His thriller pilot UNDER, about a young mob doctor was picked up by Tagline television ("Psych.") Check out the article on Dateline Hollywood http://www.deadline.com/2011/01/tagline-signs-first-look-deal-with-ucp/"> right here. Way to go, bro!
2011 CYBERSPACE OPEN UNDERWAY. It's too late now to register, but we're mentioning it anyway. Why? Because we LOVE the Cyberspace Open. It seems like only nine years ago when Erik Bauer first started this crazy experiment, handing out pencils and scene prompts to 800 writers over a crazy-long discombobulated weekend at the first Screenwriting Expo in 2002. Hmm, actually, it WAS nine years ago! Since then, we have given away over $30K in cash prizes, played a small part in launching a few Hollywood careers, inspired dozens of short films and motivated thousands of writers. If you don't know what it's all about: the Cyberspace Open is a writing tournament wherein you have a short amount of time to write your best interpretation of a scene prompt which we provide. The top three scenes are videotaped and posted online for all of you to vote on the winner (who gets $2500 cash.) Visit the Cyberspace Open web page for more info.
And check out writer Steve Pryor's terrific, multi-part coverage of the Cyberspace Open on his blog My Other Career.wordpress.com.
THR FDBK. Several of you responded to my last intro letter about The Hollywood Reporter's new format. Most of you agreed with me that you didn't love it, and that it's hard to justify spending that kind of dough on a subscription to what is now an oversized, glossy weekly. However, since then I've changed my opinion a bit, mainly due to the impressive content in each of those magazines. There's lots of good reading in there, and the in-depth feature stories are really well-done. Wildly different experience, of course, than the dearly departed daily edition. But still a worthwhile one. I may actually renew now. What do you guys think?
AUGUST ADDS THE ZING. If you haven't yet discovered John August's website, you are seriously missing out. August ("Big Fish," "Go") is an endless fount of amazing screenwriting tippers that he shares with all of us out of his own benificence, and because it "gives him an excuse for not writing." Observe this awesome 7-minute video explaining how to turn a ho-hum scene into something speecy-spicy.
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by Steve Kaire
Of all the genres, drama has the most emotional impact on screen. Think about it. Virtually all of the most highly regarded films are dramas. Examine the American Film Institute’s “100 Best Films of All Time” and at least ninety percent of them are in the drama category.
So why are dramas so difficult to pitch? It’s because dramas are execution-driven, not pitch-driven. The scripts have to be read to be fully understood and appreciated. That’s why no High Concept films can be dramas. High Concept films, by definition, are easily pitchable and understood by anyone who hears the logline. High Concept premises are unique and clever. Dramatic material is not. High Concept is also meant for a wide audience while dramas have a more limited appeal.
Take the movie “Kramer Vs. Kramer.” The pitch would be: a divorcing couple battles for the custody of their son. There’s nothing special about that pitch. It’s all in the execution on the screen.
Going further, there are dramas that are virtually impossible to pitch. Take “Pulp Fiction” for example, although this one obviously has elements of crime thriller also. The logline would be something like, two philosophical hit men are out on a job. It’s obvious that the pitch is vague and unsatisfying. It’s not possible to grasp the depth of that story without actually reading the screenplay or seeing the movie. All these reasons make dramas a difficult sell.
This is not to dissuade you from writing one if you're so inclined, but rather to just make you aware of the marketing difficulties. Movies are commodities, and the people who bankroll them want commodities that are shiny and captivating and cool. That's why High Concepts have the best shot at a sale in Hollywood -- they are easy to grasp as well as to visualize the marketing campaign. They don't need expensive talent attachments (although many are packaged anyway) because the concept itself is enough to interest people. None of this is true of drama, which often will require an A-list attachment -- an actor looking for awards -- to have any chance of getting anywhere.
Is any of this fair? Of course not, but that's simply the way it is. This is why the best avenue for the dramatic writer at this time may be TV as opposed to features. If you're a dramatic writer serious about a career in features, reconsider investing months writing a dramatic spec that few in the industry want to read, and instead put that considerable talent to use finding a High Concept. Those dramatic chops will come through in the writing process. And once you're established, more opportunities to do dramatic material may materialize. Good luck!
Steve Kaire is a Screenwriter/Pitchman who’s sold 8 projects to the major studios without representation. His top-rated CD, “High Concept--How to Create, Pitch and Sell to Hollywood” is available on his website along with original articles and national screenwriting contests. HighConceptScreenwriting.com
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3) THE ADAM LEIPZIG INTERVIEW
by Jim Cirile
Adam Leipzig is one of a kind. He's a golden-touch film exec who helped transform Disney from a film company who had never had a big hit to the behemoth it is today. For six years, he helmed National Geographic Films, whose successes include "March of the Penguins". He's also the same guy with a love of theater and artistic expression, who puts his heart and soul into his terrific Cultural Weekly blog (must not miss: his three-part series Indie Films: State of the Union, which you can find right here.) We chatted with Adam about his career, Hollywood, and what we can do to make indies a viable investment again.
Jim Cirile (JC): Thanks for taking the time, Adam. Tell us a little about who you are.
Adam Leipzig (AL): Sure. I'm a native of Los Angeles. I studied literature at Yale, audited a bunch of classes in the school of drama, graduate school. Had my first career in theater, came back to L.A. and was part of the Los Angeles Actors Theater, which then grew into the Los Angeles Theater Center, which is that four-theater performing arts center downtown at 5th and Spring Street. I was part of the team that built and opened that company. After its initial seasons, I wanted to work on a larger canvas and decided that I wanted to work in the movie business. This was just at the time that Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg had come over from Paramount to run Disney. Hard to remember that Disney was once a small company that had never had a movie that grossed more than $100 million dollars. So, I went over there, I was part of the creative team, and had a terrific run there.
JC: You make it sound so simple. How did you get in?
AL: At that point I really knew nothing at all about the movie business, so I put myself on a series of information interviews, and started with the few people who I knew. I knew two agents, and they referred me to a few more people, and those people referred me to a few more people. I was really trying to educate myself about what the business was and where I could make a contribution to it. In three months, I sent myself on 87 of those information interviews. Number 88 was Disney. By that point I was prepared for the interview and there was actually a job on the table, and then they hired me.
JC: Wow. Nicely done. So then you worked your way up?
AL: I did. When I went to Disney it was a small team. There were eight people in the group, including me at the bottom and Michael Eisner at the top, and over the course of time, the group expanded, it divided into several different divisions. I and other members of my Disney class were promoted up into higher executive positions, and I was supervising movies with a very good team of people.
JC: Where does one go from there?
AL: At a certain point you have to make a decision in your life about where will you best serve, and I decided that I would best serve as a producer as opposed to a studio executive. There are many upsides to being the studio executive, but one of the downsides is that you get removed from the actual process of making the movie. So I left the Disney executive role and went to one of the Polygram companies. Polygram at that time was investing in the movie business and financing several companies. One of them was a company called Interscope, and I became a producer there. Kind of a great object lesson because I had been producing movies as an executive at the studio before I became a producer, and when I became a producer, the first day I walked onto the set I realized all the things that I didn’t know about movies when I had been supervising them as an executive. So I started learning again and re-trained myself as a producer. It was a necessary crash course.
JC: Did you enjoy the hands-on aspect?
AL I love being a producer. (It's) the most fun a kid could have. After I left Polygram, I set up my own company and I was a producer on my own. I produced some movies and a little bit of television, and then I was meeting with the people at National Geographic, who had a nascent film division and asked me to come in and help them develop a more comprehensive strategy for how to really be in the movie business, which I did, and then they asked me to run the company, which was very flattering, and of course I said yes.
JC: And you had a very nice six-year run there.
AL: Yes. I left in March (2010). There are still some movies that are coming out which I was involved in and there are a couple of projects which I may well continue to produce for them.
JC: What were some highlights of your run at National Geographic?
AL: It seemed as though the best and quickest way for the National Geographic label to make its mark on the movie business was through acquisitions and acquisitions partnership, because the amount of time it takes to acquire a script, develop it, cast it, finance it, produce it and get it out is a two to three year window. So we started, initially, in purely acquisitions mode, and we partnered with distribution companies. The first picture that we picked up was THE STORY OF THE WEEPING CAMEL (94% on rottentomatoes.com), which was a wonderful film that ended up being nominated for Best Documentary and won the DGA Award for Best Doc. We partnered on that with Think Film, which is sadly no longer with us, because they released some terrific movies and took some real risks and had some good management. It demonstrated that we could do it and that our brand meant something to audiences. Our next big acquisition was MARCH OF THE PENGUINS. We were emboldened by the recent success of WEEPING CAMEL, and we partnered on that with Warner Independent, which again, sadly, is no longer with us, and they were terrific partners. It was a perfect partnership.They did a brilliant job in platform releasing it.
JC: That went huge. What did that do for Nat Geo?
AL: It was very good for the bottom line. It was very good for our profile, and on the strength of that success and the business planning we were able to do from that, we were then able to raise a production fund, which closed two Torontos ago, which was basically a $100 million production fund for the production and acquisition of films. There’s equity capital both from National Geographic and from Image Nation Abu Dhabi, which is part of Abu Dhabi Media Company, and then there’s a credit facility which is lead by JP Morgan.
JC: That’s amazing. Why would one then move along from there?
AL: After six years it’s just time. I really love building things and starting new things, and we had closed the fund and it was time to put our first projects into the fund and it was just time to move into other ventures. I’m trying not to call myself an independent producer because I’m not actively looking for new projects. People keep sending them to me, though. Being an independent producer is not really a business model that functions anymore in the world. While there may be a few projects that I produce, it’s not primarily how I define myself. I’m doing a lot of writing, and I am also doing some consulting and I am thinking very entrepreneurially about which entertainment venture I may either enter into or attempt to start up this year.
JC: Let's talk a little bit about your article on the fall of the Indie. Back in the day, we used to finance a lot of indie films through foreign pre-sales (wherein you pre-sell foreign distribution rights at American Film Market and Cannes in order to get the money to make the film.) I understand that paradigm no longer works.
AL: It has not completely gone away. In fact, at AFM, sales were higher than many people expected, and I think this Berlin will actually be better than people are predicting. But, it has certainly fallen down, and in Cannes last year and the year before, sales were much softer than anticipated. What is selling is more specific. It is much more overtly commercial. It is much more focused on a very specific audience, and it addresses the needs of the audiences in the territories where the sales are being made.
JC: Why did the international sales model go soft?
AL: The first reason is that television sales and home entertainment/DVD sales softened in international territories just as it did here in the United States. So, if you’re a French distributor, you are not going to sell as many DVDs or make as big a sale to your French TV company as you could have in the past. Therefore, every movie has less financial value to you. The other reason is that over the past decade, so-called local language production has reached critical mass. Local language productions are movies made in the country by people of that country in their language for that audience. Audiences in each country have shown a dramatic preference for their own movies versus smaller American movies. Hollywood tentpole movies still seem to have a global audience.
JC: Really? The rise of the local filmmaker is partly to blame?
AL: On an international, global creativity basis, it's kind of good news. It means that more filmmakers in more countries are making movies that their audiences are seeing. On a holistic basis, that’s kind of cool, right?
JC: One would think. So it's about the renaissance in filmmaking because of cheap filmmaking equipment? Doesn't feel like that could be a negative.
AL: You've really come to the heart of the problem, because now the technical ability to make a movie is practically universal. You can shoot and edit a movie on your iPhone and upload it to YouTube. Of course, what’s not universal is talent. Are you making anything that anyone really should see? But the big thing is, of course, there’s the massive distribution problem -- just because it's relatively easy now to make a movie, that doesn't mean (it's easy to get people to notice) that it’s there, that they will see it or buy it.
JC: So hopefully everyone reading this will read your article, but can you give us a quick recap?
AL: Sure. Even though there was a surprising flurry of high-priced dealmaking at Sundance this year, the reality is that most of the movies shown at Sundance, and far and away most of the movies that were submitted to Sundance, are not going to be distributed (or) seen by audiences, and even if you heard about it, you will not even be able to buy it on Netflix. The crisis of independent filmmaking is not that movies are not being made. They’re being made in the most inventive and sometimes the most desperate ways, from angel investors to credit cards. But they’re not being distributed because we don’t have enough distributors or distribution mechanisms to get those movies in front of audiences, and solving that problem is going to be fundamental to how our business transforms itself in the next ten years.
JC: The studios' indie arms have almost all gone away.
AL: Some of those were cut because they were not profitable and because they overspent. Others were really profitable or consistently profitable, but the problem was that their numbers were just not that big on the balance sheet of a billion dollar company anymore, and it was too labor intensive to make a few million dollars a year. From an accounting perspective, the people in the head office just didn’t feel that it made sense. I, of course, feel otherwise. I think if you can make an extra two million dollars, what do you care? The reason the independent distributors with specialty divisions closed were either because they were making money but it wasn’t enough for their corporate parent -- look at Paramount Classics. They were profitable every single year. On the other hand there were examples of independent companies which overreached and overspent, and therefore could never be profitable.
JC: Any light at the end of this tunnel? Glimmer of hope for indies? What can revitalize the genre?
AL: We have to focus on distribution. Distribution has three parts. One is access, the second is awareness, the third is want to see. Access means you have to be able to get the movie – DVD, iPad, iPhone, Netflix On Demand. That is pretty much close to being solved. We have the technology, that’s there. Awareness. Much better use of social networking in smart ways, not just e-mail blasts, not just Facebook postings, not just endless Twitter feeds, but actual awareness that really connects with audiences that care about the work. And the third thing is want to see. Everybody was aware of THE TOURIST, but there was very little want to see. You have to have enough investment in your audience to create movies that your audience wants to see and then connect with them strongly enough that they buy the ticket.
JC: Thanks so much, Adam!
Read Adam Leipzig's Cultural Weekly blog right here.
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4) VIRTUAL PITCH FEST - a Review
by Aaron Pope
We assigned Coverage Ink senior story analyst Aaron Pope to to get the nitty-gritty on query service Virtual Pitch Fest. None of us expected this would turn into a life-altering experience.
The times, they are a-changin’. Gone are the days when a writer in search of an agent, manager, or producer had to type a query letter, lick a stamp, drop it in the mail, and then wait weeks, even months, before finally realizing no response was forthcoming. It’s an electronic world these days, and so it’s no surprise that someone has created a way to streamline that process, combining the widespread access offered at in-person pitchfests with the ease and simplicity of sending an e-mail.
It’s called Virtual Pitch Fest. VPF is the brainchild of producer and script coach David Kohner Zuckerman, who designed the website to give writers a level of access they wouldn’t otherwise have. And writers have taken notice, using the site to gain entry into companies they previously couldn’t reach. “Normally you'd have to have one of the major agencies backing you up to submit to them,” says horror scribe and VPF user Pete Cafaro. “This gives an unproduced writer, possibly sitting on the next big thing, access he wouldn't usually have.”
Here’s how it works. You go to the website, subscribe for free, then buy a pitch package. The Standard Package offers five pitches for $50 and the VIP Package gets you ten for 90 bucks. “It’s definitely worth the money,” according to Cafaro. "I’ve been to pitchfests that charge over twice as much per pitch."
Once you’ve bought your package, you’re ready to pitch...
Er, well, not pitch exactly. You’re ready to query. That’s what Virtual Pitch Fest is really. It’s not the same as the in-person or online pitchfests, in which you get to sit down across from some low-level exec and sweat through your overly polished pitch as fast as you can before the bell rings. What you’re doing here is writing a query letter.
Is that worth the money? For something you could already do? With a little bit of Googling, you could track down most of these email addresses and send these same query letters. Sound like I’m bagging on Virtual Pitch Fest? Not in the least. I love it.
Why? Because what you get by submitting through VFP that you don’t get otherwise is a guaranteed response. Anybody who’s sent out multiple query letters in the past knows that this is, well, priceless. Most queries go straight to the recycle bin. But with VFP, the producers, agents, and managers who’ve signed on have agreed to not just always give a response but to do so within five days. VFP pays them a gratuity for each letter they respond to, but according to Zuckerman, that’s not the real reason they do it. “Their incentive is mostly to try to find a new writer or project,” he says, “because most of them are making about 25 dollars extra a month.”
So how can you rise to the top and prove yourself and your script to be that new writer or project worth the industry pro’s while? It all starts with a strong query letter, the first glimpse that producer, agent, or manager has at your writing chops. But query letters are a different animal than screenplays; it’s important to make sure yours kicks butt. Fortunately, VPF offers sample letters on their site to help you hone your approach. It’s a very helpful tool.
Time to give VFP a whirl. I signed up and sent out ten submissions. The first response came within hours. By the end of the first day, I’d gotten replies from four companies. The next day, three more filtered in. By the fourth day, all ten companies had responded. Five companies asked me to send my script; five passed. Five out of ten, according to Zuckerman, is “a very successful rate.” I guess those last six months developing my actioner and tightening my logline through Coverage, Ink paid off! The replies ranged from the generic “No thanks, but thank you for submitting” to a minimalist “Yes” to one very enthusiastic “Thank God! Finally something I want to read!” I followed up on those five positive responses and within another day, one high-powered agency contacted me asking to schedule a meeting.
One week later, I'd signed with a top management company and am currently hip-pocketed by the agency in question, pending officially getting signed.
Okay, one might say these results are fairly exceptional. In truth, I may have had a bit of an unfair advantage, in that I had the full resources of Coverage Ink behind me in developing the script through 14 drafts, not to mention produced credits. Regardless, VFP is affordable, offers real access and a guaranteed response... a nice little resource.
Still, there are downsides. As I mentioned earlier, their name is a little misleading. This isn’t a chance to pitch; it’s a chance to query. If you’re planning to use your infectious personality to win them over in the room, you’re out of luck. You have to write a dynamic query letter. Virtual Query Fest? Sure, it doesn’t sound quite as nice, but it would be more accurate.
Another drawback is the way the responses come to you. You receive an email telling you an industry pro has replied, but the email doesn’t have the reply or the name of the industry pro in it. Now you have to go to the website, log in, and look at your list of submissions. Next to the names of the industry contacts, you will see a status which will either say “submitted,” meaning you haven’t gotten a response yet, or “responded,” meaning you have. Once you click on “responded,” you get their response. For me, this wasn’t a difficult process because I only queried ten companies. But what if I’d queried 50? Or more? I’d have to scroll through, try to remember which ones I’d already checked, and try to find which industry pro had replied to my query. Simply giving us the name of the responder in that notification e-mail would make the process considerably more user-friendly.
But these minor annoyances aside, the fact is that I found VFP to be a very impressive, inexpensive and user-friendly way to reach out to industry pros and get a prompt and guaranteed response. So take the time necessary to develop your screenplay until is it bulletproof, hone your query skills and start digging change from the couch cushions. You’ll be invading inboxes in no time.
Aaron Pope is a multi-produced writer/director and a senior story analyst with Coverage Ink. Visit www.aaronpope.net.
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Yup, we stole the name of our letters column from “Cracked.”
Lee T. writes: You might be a bit premature in endorsing Amazon Studios (January newsletter.) (My writing partner) and I have done extensive research into this and the opinions of virtually every writer blog and entertainment attorney that we've seen pans this new thing as a horrendous rip-off for writers. The "fine print" of the contract is atrocious, including an 18-month exclusive option that you grant Amazon JUST FOR UPLOADING YOUR SCRIPT (in other words, once it's uploaded, you legally can't market it anywhere else), the fact that ANYONE can download your script AND CHANGE IT, then resubmit it with themselves now attached as a writer, and if Amazon does like it, THEY choose who the credited writers will be, they are not a WGA signatory so don't play by those rules, the fact that their payment to you constitutes the entire sum of what you will every make if your movie is produced (no residuals, back-end percentages, etc.), and on and on. Maybe you know something I don't, but you might want to research this a bit more.
Jim C. replies: Thanks for pointing this out. Their terms do seem pretty crappy to me if something goes big. As with all things, buyer beware and do your due diligence.
Richard J. writes: Hi, Jim, your Spec Format and Style Guide arrived. Just in time! A few weeks ago a local group in Portland, Ore., announced a 10-page screenplay competition. Sure, I thought, I have a couple of scripts that jump out of the gate pretty well. Just before sending 20 pages off with entry fees, here comes the Cirile cavalry charging out of the hills. A quick (well, several hours) read-through cleared away the fog and let some light shine through. (Um, no section on mixing metaphors.) In short, your suggestions improved those 20 pages immeasurably. More white. Snappier slug lines. POW! Only one question. Other (aspiring, emerging, blossoming) screenwriters tell me that we should spell out numbers. They reason that practice will more accurately represent the time it takes for an actor to speak them. So which should I use?
I came out of the factory in 1987.
I came out of the factory in nineteen eighty-seven.
JC replies: Hi Richard, thanks! Screenplays generally follow AP Style Guide rules. That means that numbers below ten are written out; over ten, we use the digits; and times and years and ages are ALWAYS expressed as digits. Antiquated screenwriting style rules say that numbers should always be spelled out, but this is out of favor because it can actually cause an actor to stumble over it rather than pronouncing it properly, it takes up extra space in the script and because, again, of AP Style Guide rules. Therefore, make sure ages and years and times and any number over 10 are written as digits, not spelled out. You’ll save probably up to half a page of space over the course of a screenplay.
Leslie F. writes: Hi Jim, in desperation, after years of wallowing in high concept drama, I got down on my knees and prayed to an old CS magazine. You wrote an article telling new writers to write comedy if they wanted to jump to the top of the wannabe pile. I got rid of kids, cuz you said that in another article, I made it an all-male cast, you said that too, and I made every act end on the right damn page; so simple what they want. A person could spit out these little sarcastic 100 page pamphlets all day long. So, I won three laurels in 2010... now what do I do? You’d think that would get a girl an agent but I can’t even get past a secretary to tell someone about how wonderful I am. What gives?
Jim C. replies: The letter of the week! Well, first of all, congrats on the wins. Now here's the tricky bit. Just because it's good doesn't necessarily mean someone wants it. What's your concept? How's the logline? Is it a grabber? How are you marketing it? Are you doing queries, cold calls and pitch festivals? Is this something you can shoot yourself? If so, do it. Getting the attention of the industry is the hardest thing in the world. But sometimes it's all about that query, logline and 'elevator pitch'.
Alexis S. writes: Thank you for the Style Guide!! I notice in the guide you talk about e-mailing scripts these days and not printing them for people to read. I'm not comfortable with sending my work as a file, even a PDF. So I have a question. I'm sending a script to an entertainment lawyer through a lawyer friend. The Entertainment lawyer will read it and if he likes it he will send it to an agent he knows. He asked for a file. I've decided that I want to track e-mailed scripts I send out with a faint numbered watermark. As you know, numbered watermarks are used on shooting scripts to track where people working on the show allow their script copy to go. If a watermarked PDF is uploaded to the internet or a hard copy found in a dumpster, the production company knows whose copy it is. This forces people on the show to be very careful with their script.
Question: can I track scripts I send out in this way? Is watermarking a bad thing to do when sending emailed scripts out into the industry? Do people like producers, directors, agents, lawyers and managers get offended by receiving a watermarked script that links that copy to them? If I ran across one of my scripts on the internet I would have a record of who put it there. Also people receiving my scripts would be more careful to delete them or shred them.
Jim C. replies: Alexis, great question, and I wish I had a great answer. First off, I love this watermarking idea. But while protecting your material is fine, you don't want to come off as paranoid, which will make people not want to work with you. Like it or not, PDF is the accepted way of submitting screenplays nowadays, end of story. Producers are very wary about working with writers who cannot accept this because it's a red flag that this person could be litigious or simply a pain in the butt, and so why even bother when there are a million other writers? Because plagiarism does not happen in the way people think -- blatantly stealing screenplays -- IMHO, watermarking is probably useless. I personally have had *plenty* of material stolen from me which wound up in films, and not a single one of those instances could have been prevented by watermarking. It was all from executives 'borrowing' ideas of mine -- they forget where they read it in the first place, and thus think it’s their own idea, which they then tell another writer to implement in their in-development production.
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