Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Coverage Ink/Writers on the Storm/Cyberspace Open Newsletter - 6/11

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June 2011

1) Shorties
2) The Great Actor/Writer Disconnect
3) Interview: InkTip's Jerrol LeBaron
4) Manager's Hot Sheet
5) Movie Shorthand = Bad 
6) Lettuce

Hey, kids!

"If you're writing a spec and you're not having fun, something's wrong. I used to have lots of fun. Now, I'm always thinking, will it sell, will it sell?" -- Shane Black

I found this quote online and it got me thinking. There was no date attributed, but I can't imagine it's recent. Does Shane Black still play the spec game? Does he still really give a crudbucket if his spec sells? Well, maybe he does. After all, when you've racked up historic sales like he has, there's probably a certain amount of pressure to keep it going. Me? Eh. I couldn't give a rodent's derriere.

What I mean is, I'm a bit more realistic nowadays. When you're in your 40s, and you've been at this a while, you start to gain what some people might call "a cynical freaking attitude," but I call it "perspective." I know that the vast majority of scripts never get any traction at all. Even if you're lucky enough to have a script sent out by a major agency or management company, the chances of a sale are pretty microscopic.

See, it's not the 90s anymore. I'm no longer so naive as to believe my script might sell for $1.6 million against $3 million in a bidding war. Sure it still happens, rarely, and when it does, I write articles about those occurrences in Script and Creative Screenwriting. But way more often than not, a script will go out, it won't sell, and if you're lucky you'll land some "generals" (meet n' greet meetings with development execs who liked your script, even though their company didn't buy it.) From there, your personality and charisma takes over; if you come across as easy-to-work-with, someone the exec could see hanging out with over a period of months to develop a piece of material, well hell, you might just land a rewrite assignment. And that, friends, is what it's really about. "The bread and butter of Hollywood is the assignment game," says ICM superagent Emile Gladstone.

Still, a lot of people seem fixated on selling their spec. I guess that's not a bad thing in one respect, if that means you'll do the heavy lifting necessary to make your script really kick gluteus. Problem is, this thinking is based on an old, and no longer totally accurate, paradigm. Compared to 15 years ago, spec scripts hardly ever sell anymore. Worse, if you have that mindset, it may mean that you're looking at Hollywood as your lottery ticket. Bad move. This ain't Vegas. You will not get rich quick here. The money will NOT show up in the nick of time, when you need it most. More like, after a decade or more of dedication to your craft, you may finally forge a relationship with a small producer, and eventually some of the projects you develop together could lead to a paying opportunity down the line. What's that, you ask? When do I get paid? Well, that's what your job shoveling horse dung at the racetrack is for (see above, re: "cynical freaking attitude.")

Of course I have my tongue pretty firmly in cheek here, but still. See, here's the tricky bit: we writers tend to get so caught up in the machinations of the business (and the endless tsunami of rejection) that we start to get neurotic and really stressed out. And despite Woody Allen movies, no one loves a neurotic, stressed-out writer. Which brings us back to Mr. Black: "I used to have lots of fun." Remember when writing was a blast? Yep, when you're working on a draft, and you're in the zone, it is an awesome feeling, right? It's FUN. The buzzkill doesn't really kick in until we start dealing with how to sell the damn thing.

So I challenge all of you to share my "perspective." Stop caring about selling your script. I don't mean don't try to market yourself or don't send your script around. Of course not! I mean, don't invest so much into the outcome that you lose the joy of creativity. Be okay with the process and accept it for what it is. So what if the big pot o' gold is slightly more elusive nowadays? Appreciate your life, your family, your dung dispersal technician paycheck. Find your zen. And you know what? If you do, people will sense it, and you'll be much more likely to land that killer rewrite gig and maybe even... sell that spec.

Kind of messed up the way that works, huh? Yep.


Could it be Writers on the Storm early deadline already??? YES. This is your last chance to get in for our rock-bottom $40 rate. Don't say I didn't warn you. At 12:01 AM July 2nd, we move into the regular deadline period and prices go UP. But don't forget you have two chances to enter for free every month until the contest end (7/31; see Raffle below.) We've got some more great articles for you this month including an interview with inkTip's Jerrol LeBaron; the Cyberspace Open top 3, now online and ready for voting, news about Coverage Ink's film LIBERATOR and our very first Writers on the Storm quarterfinalist. All dat plus a ton more, so let's get to it.

Onward and downward!

Jim Cirile
Coverage Ink
Writers on the Storm

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WHO WON? WHO WON? AND WHO'S NEXT? Hey, did ya know we're raffling off two free entries into Writers on the Storm every month until the end of the contest (7/31)? It is true! Here's how it works: email us at and put "STORM RAFFLE" in the subject line. We will then randomly select (using's random number generator) two folks and notify you by e-mail. And sure, you can try again if you entered last month! Just e-mail us again. This month's winners are: Eleanor Rogers and Christian Wagner. We've already notified them and told them how to enter. Two more raffle winners will be selected next month. Will you be among them?

HOW IT'S DONE. Congrats to Andy Maycock, the very first Quarterfinalist in Writers on the Storm 2011! Maycock submitted his screenplay Getaway, Inc. to Coverage Ink for evaluation, and it scored a 'consider' for script. That makes it an automatic quarterfinalist (appx. top 10%.) He can now either let it ride, or he can resubmit a polish draft based on the coverage, theoretically bettering his odds. But one way or another, his quarterfinalist status is locked in. Way to go, Andy! Remember, only the folks who send their scripts to CI for coverage find out their status and have a chance to polish those scripts and resubmit. If you enter the contest directly at, you have to wait until after the end of the contest (7/31) to find out if your script made the quarterfinals. Don't start counting that prize money yet, Andy... you've got an full-on assault coming at you. Stand tough, my brother! And congrats again.

LIBERATION COMMENCES. Principal photography on Coverage Ink's second film, THE LIBERATOR, began 5/30 in Los Angeles and wraps 6/25. Liberator stars Lou Ferrigno as a disgraced, washed-up superhero whose black ops past exacts a heavy toll on his life and everyone around him. The 15-minute presentation pilot also stars Peta Wilson (La Femme Nikita), Michael Dorn (Star Trek: the Next Generation) and the legendary Edward Asner as President Whitlock. Scoring the film is Tim Wynn (Supernatural) whose work with the Skywalker Orchestra for the video game Red Faction: Guerrilla has to be heard to be believed. Liberator is written by CI's own Jim Cirile and Aaron Pope, as well as directed by Pope. Check out for production diaries, behind the scenes footage and more!

LET THE VOTING BEGIN! Whether or not you participated in the Cyberspace Open this year, you'll definitely want to watch the top three scenes and vote on them! Earlier this month, we videotaped actors performing the top three scenes in staged readings. Top 3 Elisa Graybill, Michael Hedrick and William Shank wrote own interprations of our scene prompt, which went a little something like this:
Your PROTAGONIST is desperate and mulling a risky proposition. Taking action could result in a personal gain to the protagonist, but at great potential cost in the form of a relationship(s). Write a scene either before or after the decision has been made, addressing it in whatever manner you like. You may use any number of additional characters you desire, and again, keep in mind SUBTEXT when writing dialogue. One other thing: your protagonist is *crazy*.
Watch the scenes at the official Cyberspace Open web page and then vote for your favorite. But remember, we're not just looking for solid scenes; we're looking to see how well they adhered to the scene prompt. The scenes are also posted on Vimeo here, here and here. Thanks, everyone, for participating. As always, it was a gas. The Cyberspace Open will be back soon for... wait for it... year ten!

3-D: YOUR 15 MINUTES ARE UP (AGAIN.) Check out this great discussion about the pros and cons of 3-D on As with all things, moderation is the key. A little 3-D every now and again is fabulous. Hell, bring on the 40-minute 3-D Imax spectaculars! But Hollywood of course has no concept of moderation, and so pretty much every single film coming out nowadays is in "3-D." I put that in quotes because oftentimes they're coverted to 3-D in post (gimmicky and lame) as opposed to natively shot in 3-D. Converted 3-D movies look like poo. Don't know about you guys, but the idea of spending an extra 5 bucks on movie tickets to have my eyeballs forced off their vertexes for two hours just doesn't do it for me. What do you guys think?

YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE A STAR, BABY. Our pal, indie film writer extraordinaire Aaron Schnore from New York City, sent along this heads-up about his latest movie:
Hey, everyone, I want to let you know that "Starla" -- a new feature film by the immensely talented Rik Cordero -- is having its world premiere on Saturday June 25th in NY. I was one of the writers. There are 7PM and 9PM showtimes (although I think the 9PM is almost sold out). The screening will take place at the Auditorium on Broadway (1871 Broadway). You can check out the teaser trailer -- and BUY TICKETS -- by going to

"Starla" is a psychological thriller about a woman who seeks revenge on the surgeon who botched her daughter's surgery. I co-wrote the script with Rik and my longtime collaborator (and senior Coverage Ink analyst) Billy Fox. This is my second feature film with Rik, following "Inside a Change" (Winner - Best Picture; 2009 HBO NY Latino Film Festival). Billy and I also co-wrote the award-winning hip-hop horror webisode series "Rhyme Animal" (with our pal Jorge Rivera). I'm proud of this movie, but I won't lie -- writing the script wasn't always fun or easy. It's an emotional story, and writing it put me in some dark places at certain points. But it was worth it. I'm excited about "Starla", and I hope you can join me on this special night.
ADVICE FROM THE MASTER -- FREE. Speaking of Billy Fox, he wanted to share this with you all:
So I've been on a big "Rockford Files" kick the last couple weeks, and just finished plowing through the first season. I loved the writing so much that I became curious about the creator and lead writer, the late Stephen J. Cannell. Can't believe he wasn't on my radar before, as he was one of the most successful producers in the history of TV, and an amazingly prolific writer for several mediums. Check out his credits on imdb.

I've been finding lots of great interviews with him online. The best so far is the "USC School of Cinematic Arts Conversations With" series (Cannell is number 5 on the list). I strongly urge you all to have a listen on iTunes. I got tons out of it, and literally minutes after finishing it I was brimming with ideas on how to retool a script that's gone through multiple drafts over a several year period, but just wasn't knocking it out of the park.
And for those of you who don't do iTunes, watch this lovely 4:33 bit of advice on writing from Mr. Cannell right here.

GREAT AMERICAN PITCHFEST - LAST CHANCE! What mades an enormous thudding sound followed by a queasy, flatulent squish? Why, that's the sound of missed opportunity, ladies and gentlemen. The Great American Pitchfest hits town this weekend June 3-5, 2011. So you have a choice: be there, and enjoy beaucoup face time with buyers who are there expressly to try and find fresh writing voices; or give it a miss, and continue to whine that only one company out of 483 responded to your last query letter campaign. Find that inner strength to get in these people's faces and blow them away! Sign up now at And while you're there, stop by the Coverage Ink booth and say hi.

Blake Snyder
STC! SOFTWARE REVIEW COMING SOON. We're big fans of Blake Snyder (Save the Cat!), who left us way way way WAY too soon. Fortunately, the good folks at are keeping the torch lit. Coming soon: Save the Cat! software 3.0. We hope to bring you a full review in our August newsletter. We have been using 1.0 for two years now, and what a great tool it is. It literally forces you to think through your screenplay structure and dimensionalize your characters. Pretty amazing stuff. Well, 3.0 is supposed to raise the bar substantially. They say they've revamped everything, from the user interface to the corkboard notes to the scene cards. Oh, and they've upped the page count to 1,000, in case there's a manifesto inside you just dying to come out. Everything now intuitive and drag and drop -- so they say, but we'll be the judge of that...

ARE THEATERS OBSOLETE? No. People will always need a place to go on a date or simple to be somewhere other than home. But DVDs are probably going the way of the archeopteryx sooner rather than later, in the same way that digital music is slowly killing CDs. I mean, you gotta love VOD (video on demand.) The idea of going to a store or even a $1 kiosk to rent a flick seems so quaint when for a low monthly fee you can watch almost any movie or TV show instantly. Summit is the first major company to really test these waters by releasing Source Code, a nifty little thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal, on VOD two weeks before the physical release. According to, this will not shorten the window between the theatrical release and the home video release, but rather, will delay the home video release slightly in order to gauge the public's appetite for viewing a big-budget movie on VOD. One thing is clear -- within a few years, it will be as hard to find a DVD of a new release as it is a vinyl copy of the new Lady Gaga.

GET THE BOOT. This from our friends at Writers Boot Camp: SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: 5-Week Basic Training Session with Writers Boot Camp Founder Jeffrey Gordon in Santa Monica starts Tuesday, June 7. A few spaces are still available. Stormfront blog readers can save $100 if they register by noon on Friday, June 3rd.

Writers Boot Camp alumni work at the highest level of the film and TV industry and have been nominated for Academy Awards, have won Emmys, Golden Globes, WGA Awards, Webbies – even the Tony! In Basic Training, you will learn comprehensive screenwriting techniques in a condensed 5-week time frame, and you will complete a first draft of a feature-length or TV spec script. Classes meet one night a week, and each writer can also check in for support during office hours. All you need is an idea and 10 hours a week to write. Kick off the summer by completing a draft! Contact us today at 310-998-1199 or e-mail See you in class! AND contact us now about the Pavilion series, kicking off Sunday June 26th with a brunch and a full day devoted to attracting representation. Call us at 310/998-1199 for details.

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by Simon Herbert

Screenwriters, by necessity, spend a lot of time by ourselves; listening to the voices in our head, trying to give form to the characters that are going to populate and drive our story. Most screenwriters will agree that all genre bells and whistles aside, character is the only real essential that defines their stories. If we don’t get this aspect right, then no amount of special effects, last act reveals or hip postmodern embarrassments can save our script. Plot may be the visible structure of the rocketship that we’re building to transport people to our exotic new world, but it’s character that is the fuel; without it our creation will never achieve escape velocity.

So it’s strange to consider just how distant our relationship can be with the people who have to breathe life into our characters: a strange species known as actors. Most screenwriters don’t actually get to spend much face time with the people who are actually going to interpret their words. Even produced scribes are rarely invited by the director or producer onto the set. It’s kind of like you spent two years designing your dream house, and then you hand it over to the first anonymous laborer you find on Craiglist. There’s a bit of a disconnect going on.

I only truly became aware of this distance over the course of the last year when, with two friends and fellow alumni from the UCLA MFA in Screenwriting, we three newly minted virgin multi-hyphenates (co-producers/writer/directors) embarked on shooting our own self-funded feature project -- firstly because we got tired of people with bad hair gel asking us “Yeah, great, it’s a little too 'Hungarian,' but what else you got?”, and secondly because we believed we’d formulated a killer idea that could be done modestly, so why the hell not?

The last year has been tough but energizing (by coincidence, at time of writing this article, today marks the first anniversary of our start date. This should be taken as an indication to all indie wannabes that shooting a micro-feature on weekends take time and patience) and if there’s one thing that all three of us agree on it’s that working with actors has pretty much given us a whole new perspective on the writing process. Yes, working with actors. Those people that interpret all the pretty stuff we’ve been writing and (hopefully) rewriting. That mystical portal that acts as a direct continuum between your words and the audience that absorbs them... two or three years later on the screen.

Now, working on the lower slopes of the Hollywood system means that you quickly realize that some actors are better than others (and, to be fair, this is also true of writers.) Some come prepared, and some don’t. Some are actually even better than their showreels, whilst others make you wonder if the person stood in front of you is a poor CGI photocopy of the person you originally thought ideal for the part. Some “get” the role in relation to the larger story and trot their lines out quickly and efficiently; whilst others decide to try to invoke the “Jack Nicholson Method” of camera hogging (basically, this involves leading with an extended heavy pause before the delivery of the first line; then the actor moving their eyeballs to the left whilst keeping their head immobile, then tilting their head afterwards to follow their eye line, thereby ensuring an extra precious nanosecond of screen time.)

But actually sitting with an actor and discussing their part, and their interpretation of it and their thoughts, has been a real revelation to me as a writer, for several reasons:

1) It’s humbling. All flippancy aside, an actor is a human being, just like you. Hollywood is stuffed with stressed and bitter people who lick their wounds by ripping the piss out of any other type of professional than themselves, and actors are high on the shit list. We all have to drive on the bloody 405 to get to the shoot location. We all have dreams, and after a certain time we maybe all realize that we’re not going to be going to Cannes any time soon, but we remain invested in wanting to make some tangible, qualitative impact on this termite mound with our craft. We want to do something of worth.

Unlike writers, though, an actor doesn’t have the luxury of a thousand takes in the privacy of their Ikea-furnished palace: they perform in public, to a ticking clock. They have to deliver (“interpret” would be a fairer word) their contribution with often less than 24 hours of prep time, and often without contextual information about the scenes that the actor isn’t in. More often than not, actors are forced to thrash around confused, barely understanding their place in the greater scheme of things: like they’ve been given 20% of a map, with most of the landmarks left out by some malevolent cartographer.

They then have to stand in front of a camera, a stressed DP, and bunch of jaded smartasses with tired feet and one eye on the clock (or the craft services); even as other fussy people, that they don’t even know, are sticking their sweaty hands up their shirts and clipping radio microphones onto intimate body parts, or putting tape by their feet, or adjusting lights that can eradicate the cornea and fry the aqueous humor at five paces.

It’s a real gauntlet to run, but I can honestly say, after the last year, that I’ve never worked with a single actor who wasn’t trying their best (and in that I include even the few really delusional ones I’ve met). Actors have cojones.

2) It's all about the process. As a screenwriter, it makes me appreciate that any single empty white page can eventually contain any number of amazing things, after you’ve wrestled the beast onto the mat and got your scene; but it’s only gonna fly if you mediate it through human beings. A bad actor will always screw your script up; but a good one can deliver either a good or bad performance depending on how you work with them. A screenplay is so fragile as a concept that it’s a kind of literal orchid, mostly predestined to wilt despite the most fervent care. Perhaps that’s why people still use tired terms like “magic” when it comes to movies; because for these bloody things to work, you really do need a certain amount of alchemy and dark arts.

Actors help you realize, as a screenwriter, that the process only really, truly, starts after you got a good draft on paper (which should be the least required of you as the writer.) Whether you decide that you want to be a writer who never wants to actually venture onto a set, or be a multi-hyphenate who steers the blueprint through to actual production, you now know that your script is only the beginning of the process.

3) Writers inevitably become better writers by working with actors. As Harrison Ford famously told his director on Star Wars (1977), “George, you can type this shit, but you sure can’t say it.” Over the last year it’s been proven to me, time and time again that, despite the best advice from my professors at UCLA, who preached the mantra of brevity at me like Calvinist wordsmiths, that I still write too much. My two collaborators had the same realization; when we stopped rolling due to something not working, and had to go rework the lines, we actually got to the heart of what the scene is about. It’s a different tempo than the terraforming we initiated on Planet Final Draft. Sometimes our character just needs to get to the urgent truth of the sequence more quickly. Or perhaps we simply get that the characters is humiliated or evasive without the need for them to say one more bon mot.

4) Actors want the lines to work. On occasion, some actors have actually suggested cutting lines before even we writers do. It‘s a selfless act, but the best actors know that 10 seconds of potent screen time is better than 15 of blah blah. Actors will often work with you, and their suggestions may occasionally be worthy of consideration.

5) We’re all in this together. A few years back I was brought in to rework a thriller that was already shooting. Called Japan (2008, and not coming to a theater or a Target reduced bin near you any time soon), the script called for a potential pre-”Wrestler” Mickey Rourke to be the villain of the piece, and I accordingly labored on the pages with this ‘character vision’ in mind. Visions of Rourke’s career flashed before me as I tailored the part to his unique energy: The Pope of Greenwich Village, Angel Heart, Diner.  A couple of weeks later, I was invited by the director onto the set to meet the villain -- Peter Fonda. I was led to Fonda’s trailer and introduced to him. I wasn’t allowed to enter the trailer, just hover by the doorway. He looked up from his open bottle of PatrĂ³n  (no shot glasses evident) and giant... cigarette... and said, “Hey. I feel like you really got the essence of this bad dude. It feels like you wrote it for me. Your words are a privilege to read.” And then he pushed the trailer door slowly closed with his cane.

The point is: you need actors just like they need you. Yes, they can screw your lines up and mangle them, and drive you nuts with unbidden improvisations; but they can also deliver the truth that you heard in your head when you first wrote those lines, and in, in some cases, even make it better.

So don’t be a snob as a writer. Don’t treat your words like they’re being written onto flayed parchment in gold leaf, and that a bunch of barbarians are going to gutturally interpret them and screw your incredible vision up. If you haven’t been produced yet as a screenwriter, then forget using Appletalk to computer-read your stuff, or even acting it out yourself (chances are you’re as bad an actor as actors are as writers), and find at the very least some amateurs to do a table read. Hear. Your. Words. Out. Loud. Writing as a process may happen in a vacuum, but remember you are writing for cinema, not for a novel. And that means actors. Embrace the process and it may well embrace you back.


Originally hailing from the UK (in case you couldn't tell from the "bloody"s), Simon Herbert is a Los Angeles-based screenwriting teacher, tutor and magazine journalist and copy editor.

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3) INTERVIEW: InkTip's Jerrol LeBaron

With the InkTip Pitch and Networking Summit II event rolling in (July 22nd and 23rd), we thought this would be a good time to check in with inkTip founder Jerrol LeBaron to find out what they've got in store for us all this time! 


Jim Cirile: Hi Jerrol! Thanks for taking the time. The title of the event has changed to Pitch and Networking Summit. Tell us a little about that.

Jerrol LeBaron: Hey Jim, well first off, thanks for the interview. Always love working with you. Yeah, the name did indeed change. It sort of had to, really. The event has just been organically growing into something much more than just a “pitching” marketplace, so we felt the name should reflect more of the event's dynamic. In fact, there is a film currently in pre-production right now as a direct result of the networking opportunities at the Summit.

JC: Is the venue the same as last years?

JL: Nope. Changed the venue too. Ha. After last year, it became pretty clear that we needed more space, so we’ve moved it to the Los Angeles Marriott in Burbank for 2011. Though the popularity of the Pitch and Networking Summit with execs went through the roof this year -- more than 40 studio execs and studio-related production companies are already among the 300-plus attending professionals, so we’re negotiating with some very unique and amazing Hollywood venues for 2012.

JC: What lessons did you guys take away from last year? What worked, and what didn't?

JL: Ah, OK, the tough questions. Well, our executives worked! Unlike any other pitching event, we don’t pay our execs to attend. We do this for a couple reasons, but first and foremost, we do it so the only execs attending are those who are seriously looking to buy scripts and hire writers. If I knew I was getting a hundred bucks and a free lunch, I’d be willing to hang out with others and listen to some pitches regardless of if I’m looking or not. We knew we were taking a risk since it’s been status quo up until now, but we felt as safe as we could because also unlike other events, we work with these executives year-round, not just one day out of the year. The executives know us and know that we have good writers... it's a mutual trust. And from just one Summit, we already have 2 films in pre-production. About 17 writers optioned their scripts, were hired or are in development with production companies from that one day alone. No pitching event has yielded a produced feature-length film, nor that many successes, so right there we know we’re getting the job done. Now it’s a matter of smoothing out any kinks.

JC: I love The Kinks. Oh, wait. What kind of kinks are you talking about?

JL: The kinks in this case were all traffic-related. I have to take full responsibility for the delay we ran into in the morning, which slowed us down in checking in the executives. If I had 50 to 100 execs, no biggie, but we had about 310 execs check in when all was said and done. We just lacked the staff needed. We’ve drastically improved that system for July’s Summit, so we’re excited to see things run very smooth. And instead of getting 17 successes, we know we will get a lot more.

Also, it became pretty clear that some lines would get too long due to the popularity of a company. My buddy, Ryan, over at Lionsgate was a very popular dude that day. This time, we’re working to bring in several execs from major and mini-major studios and studio level production companies. For example, we already have three or so RSVPed from ABC, and three or more from Lionsgate; we’re looking at having one studio-level executive every other table or so. So, it will be much easier to pitch those more popular companies since the lines will be more evenly dispersed. This should also lead to a higher average number of companies pitched per person.

JC: Sounds great. Now at all pitch events, there are always a certain amount of buyers who RSVP but can't make it. Is there anything you guys can do to anticipate this and maybe lesson the impact?

JL: Like I said, we actually had 310 attend last year, so we just make sure that our number of confirmed companies are in range. We expect to have about 300 this year and about 400 writers. No one has ever had a ratio of writers to producers like that. We really want to make sure our writers are able to pitch lots of producers, not a mere 8 or 15.

JC: Talk a little bit more about the success stories from last year's Pitch Summit. I met my girlfriend there!

Hurry -- registration closes June 17.
JL: Glad we could help! Haha. We’ve had tremendous success. Some 17 options and writers getting representation, but there are a couple we’re really proud of. One is that a buy offer was actually made at the event! Pretty sure that’s another record set. Of course the success story I love is the fact that we’re the only pitching event to lead to feature films going into production, and it’s only going to get better this year. “In the Belly of the Whale” is being packaged with A-list talent now, and indie film “Broken Doll” starring a close friend of mine, Fernanda Romero, is also in pre-production and slated for release late 2011. Your readers can look up InkTip and Summit credits on IMDb (InkTip [us] for most of our corporate credits, and InkTip Summit Events [us] for the two in prepro now).

JC: What kind of work goes into putting something like this together? Seems a Herculean effort.

JL: Yikes, that’s a big question. Simple answer, hard work. There’s a lot of prep and care that’s taken on even the smallest details, but I’d say something that puts us in our own league is the attention to our relationships; making sure we take care of both our executives and writers before, during and after. Corny, I know, but it really is the truth.

JC: Thanks again, Jerrol. Tips for writers who are going to participate?

JL: Be happy and be daring. Be willing to go big in a pitch, but focus more on the potential relationship between you and the producer. Maybe they like your pitch, maybe they don’t, but if they like you personally, they’ll be much more willing to talk through different ideas and work with you in the future.

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What exactly do managers do? Are they worth the extra 10%? Come with us, young grasshopper, as we impart unto you the secrets of management and why you should have some in your life.

Reprinted courtesy of Creative Screenwriting

By Jim Cirile

Richard Arlook
The Arlook Group

A.B. Fischer
The Shuman Company

Ava Jamshidi
International Creative Management

Emile Gladstone
International Creative Management

Julien Thuan
United Talent Agency

Jake Wagner
Film Engine
Managers are one third of the representation triad (along with agents and attorneys.) Yet do you have a clear idea of exactly what they do? Many of us don’t. So this time out, Agent’s Hot Sheet has been shanghaied by five feisty reps from leading management companies. As you will see, managers may be the most crucial part of the team, especially for the emerging writer.

I describe managers as the guys who really do what we think agents do. They who do the heavy lifting — developing scripts through draft after draft, nursemaiding our rampaging writery neuroses and trumpeting us to the industry. FilmEngine’s Jake Wagner tells us an agent may have 80 clients while a manager may only have 20. “An agent will read a script once and make a decision if they can sell it or not, boom, one and done,” he says. “Managers will go through eight drafts.” Mandown Pictures’ Pouya Shahbazian agrees. “It’s about having more intimate relationships and a lot more personal attention than an agent has time to give.” Shahbazian, who is also an attorney, says that agents are pressured to book business nonstop and simply can’t be as hands-on as writers might hope. “But as a manager, I can take a flier on a young client who needs development work or wants more attention so I can get them to the place where their career will launch or we can place them with an agent.”

Yep, that right there is the key reason why a manager is crucial to have on the team — because the path to agency representation is often through management. Whether we want to believe it or not, nine times out of ten our material needs honing before it will be ready for presentation to the biz. “I will do 100 drafts with a client before I’ll even give it to an agent,” says A.B. Fischer from Shuman Co., who summarizes himself as part life coach, part development executive, part cheerleader and part business partner. “If an agent has 100 clients, there’s no way they’re able to dig into material like I can.” More often than not it is the manager who gets your material to the point where it’s really ready—as opposed to when you think it is ready — and then he gets you the agent and the attorney.

Any other differences between agents and managers? Well, managers can’t legally negotiate. “That’s what agents and lawyers are for,” says Fischer. “We strategize, and oftentimes we’ll be on the call if the agent is negotiating the deal. I like to be a part of that process and feel like I add value.” Magnet Management’s Jennie Frankel describes agencies as “an incoming call business, whereas managers tend to be an outgoing call business. When people have an assignment, they’re going to call CAA, ICM, UTA, Endeavor.” But Magnet is constantly making calls to get their clients out there. “In general, we’re supposed to be looking out more for long term, and I think in general, agents (are) more concerned with the short term.”

One way the agent/manager lines are blurred is that a lot of managers started out as agents. Why? The Arlook Group’s Richard Arlook says there are two reasons — voluntary and involuntary. “It’s very competitive at agencies. (Maybe you) reach a certain age, or you’re not bringing in a certain income, or maybe you got caught up in some political thing. In my case, it was purely voluntary. I was a partner, ran the Gersh motion picture lit department and had a home there for many years. In my case, it was a bit of agent burnout, wanting a different kind of lifestyle and a change in my life.”

But the big reason agents move into management? Money. By the talent agency act, agents cannot produce. Managers can, which can yield significant additional revenue. “I’m probably one of the few managers that didn’t get into managing to produce specifically,” says Fischer. “There are a lot of managers who look at it as a means to an end, because they want to be a producer.” Arlook notes that in his first year as a manager/producer, “I’ve got two documentaries in the can that were labors of love, executive produced my first feature and set up a few things at studios,” he says. Arlook feels that his coming aboard as producer can be an advantage to the client. “My role is to do everything I can to facilitate the project moving forward and to protect my clients’ needs. I don’t produce every client’s script. It’s really, am I added value? Have I helped in the development process?” Frankel says, “If there are ideas that we generate in-house as producers, then we’ll bring those ideas to clients. We’ll only produce when mutually agreed upon, and there’s no pressure to our clients to have us come on to their material. We’re not looking to glom onto anything. But a lot of them like it when we come on to produce. Should the writer be taken off the project, we’re there to hopefully prevent that from happening, and also to (protect) the original idea.”

Get the picture as to why a manager may be beneficial to your career? But then there’s that pesky extra 10%. When you add together agency fee (10%), attorney fees (5%), the WGA and taxes, you’re looking at 40% or more of your money vaporizing. And then you’re going slice another 10% off the pie? “That’s a legitimate argument,” says Fischer. “We think that we more than make up for that 10% in what we do for our clients. This business is about relationships, and you’re multiplying the number of relationships (you have access to) by the number of representatives that you have. If you’re getting an extra job a year, or getting you the job you want, that 10% is going to be more than made up for.”

Arlook notes that while a million-dollar writer may not want to give away the extra 10%, “if you’re somebody that has never earned any money and you’ve got maybe a young agent and you haven’t gotten your first break, (it helps to have) somebody else out there — that manager-producer screaming your name. Every time there’s a submission made on your behalf, it increases the odds that someone’s going to read it, someone’s going to buy it, someone’s going to send it to somebody else, that it will lead to a more successful career.” Wagner adds, “Oftentimes it seems to be more of a personal relationship as well, and to that end, you speak with your manager a lot of times more than your agent because you’re developing the material from an idea, doing multiple drafts and all that. You become close through the creative process, closer through notes and development, especially if you have that creative connection with someone. I think that’s worth 10%, certainly.”

So if many managers used to be agents, and managers do a lot of the heavy lifting, do you really need an agent? Our panelists say absolutely. “There are a lot of agents that act like managers and a lot of managers that act like agents,” says Frankel. “But the business just keeps getting tougher, and the more hands helping you on your team, generally, the better off you are.” Arlook notes that he has gone out with specs as a manager with no agent on board, but, “I really like to build bridges. I am perfectly capable and qualified to go sell a spec just as a manager and producer. I have the same relationships, and as long as all the clients have lawyers to negotiate, there’s no conflict.” But Arlook still prefers to bring an agent aboard. “If I’ve got (a great script) and there isn’t an agent involved, then I can reach out to an agent, and in the long term get the client a great agent to capitalize on the sale of the script, and then in turn maybe get that agent to send me a client, then it’s a win-win.”

Shahbazian concludes, “As a manager, you love everybody, and everybody loves you. You can have relationships with other managers, producers, executives, everyone across the board. For the most part, agents very rarely speak to their direct rivals. But as a manager, you can be everyone's friend." So befriend a manager today! You’ll be glad you did.

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by Jim Cirile

I've been reading "Thor" since I was 5, and so I was really excited about the selection of Kenneth Branagh as the film's director. If anyone could really add depth to these characters, not to mention make Thor's "verily-and-forsooth" faux Middle English patois not laughable, it's Branagh. Turns out I was only partially right.

Minor spoiler alert!

Now let's just get right out there, I kind of liked the film. Captain Kirk's dad did a great job in the title role, radiating real star power and charm. Anthony Hopkins' gravitas indeed made the Asgardian elements of the story compelling when they could have been laughable. The fish out of water stuff on Earth was passable and generally fun, and some of the action was creative.

But I had two big problems with this flick. This first is: it was a nonstop CGI fest, from start to finish. Sure, we had some big sets and a few smartly designed practical elements, but the vast majority of the film looked fake. They spent $150 million (!) to make this thing, and yet the overload of enormous swooping CG vistas were a snoozeroo. To my eye, they never had the verisimilitude of a proper miniature set (although the Jotunheim ice world design was very effective), and the big Destroyer whom Thor fights in New Mexico, again, never believed it for a minute. Remember 29 years ago, in Star Trek II when we saw the Genesis Effect for the first time, how cool that was? Well, we've been so bludgeoned with similar visuals since then that, frankly, I don't care anymore. And they still look fake.

But that's not my biggest problem with Thor. That would be: movie shorthand. Movie shorthand means a plot event or characterization or subplot not fully developed in the script; but because we've seen a similar element in movies before and kind of know how it's supposed to go, the filmmakers just sort of sketch it in. They forget to do the heavy lifting necessary to really motivate the element and make it work.

In Thor, I'm specifically referring to character arc. Thor starts out as fat-headed and arrogant, so much so that his father banishes him from Asgard and sends him to Earth, powerless, to teach him a lesson! That's pretty bloody severe. But okay, so far so good. We've certainly seen this character arc in movies before, and thus we have a pretty good idea that over the course of Act II, Thor is going to learn a painful lesson in humility. And of course, that's exactly what happens.. sort of. Problem is, the transformation is not motivated by anything that happens in the script. It simply happens, and we're supposed to accept it because, well, it's movie shorthand.

Now what should have happened is something like what happened in As Good As It Gets and Groundhog Day. We have a charming jackass who by interacting with a feisty female, finally starts to get that he needs to change in order to be worthy of her. The arcs are handled masterfully in both those films. But in Thor, while Captain Kirk's dad interacts with, and grows fond of, Natalie Portman's quirky scientist character, we never really believe he's falling for her, and we certainly never believe he has to change his behavior in order to get anywhere with her. Instead what happens is: Thor abruptly, and with no tangible motivation, becomes gregarious and charming early in Act 2.

Huh? Wait. Where's the scene where he gets his dressing down from his fed-up costar? Where's the scene where he realizes he cannot achieve his objective UNLESS he changes? The mythological movie formula (which Thor in all other ways follows) dictates that the protagonist realize his Problem at the midpoint, but he cannot solve the problem yet. It's only in Act 3, after the black moment where the lead character is the farthest from his goals, that he finally assimilates all the knowledge he's picked up along the journey from interacting with the other characters, and realizes HOW he can change his approach -- in other words, arc. Once that change happens, the hero is finally able to solve his problem and achieve his goal and defeat the threat in Act 3. But Thor, eh, he don't need any of that. Simply landing on Earth and being stranded there with Natalie Portman, whom he doesn't really appear to have any real sparks with, changes him into a jovial sweetheart by the 30-minute mark.

Now one might argue that any deviation from formula is a good one, and I would agree in theory. But when your movie hits those formulaic waypoints (verily, with a loud clank) the rest of the way, and we do not believe that the character as depicted in Act 1 could so abruptly change his tune scant minutes later, well, that, my friends, is just crappy writing. AKA: movie shorthand.

Be aware of it and by Mjolnir, keep it far from your scripts, if you can :)

Jim C.

Writers on the Storm EARLY DEADLINE 6/1! Enter online now:

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Yep, we stole the name of our letters column from "Cracked."

Michael Hedrick. writes: Hi Jim (and team), I just wanted to say thanks for all of your hard work on judging the Cyberspace Open competition again this year. I know it can't be easy reading through the 2000+ entries and providing individual input on each of them in the time frame you've set up. It's a great contest that keeps 'part time writers' like myself in mind.

Because I noticed some negative venting by other entrants on the blog, I wanted to counteroffer with some praise for the attentive feedback I've received, consistency of the contest rules and your ability to stay on target with the scheduled timelines -- within reason ;) It's has been very much appreciated. And trust me, I'm not being biased because I've made the final 3 :) I have entered the contest previously (not making it past the first round) but still looked forward to the rating/feedback, which is definitely worth the entry fee in itself.

I'm very excited to be viewing my scene online in the next few weeks and the unfolding results!

Jim C. replies: (sniffles) Thank you. Wow. Appreciation. (sniffle)

BC writes: Damn fine newsletter, Jim! Always great to read it. But it's sometimes frustrating. Historical drama is dead. Romantic comedy is dead. Western is dead. Mob is dead. Sports is dead. Dead is dead. What's left? Porn? And which one -- gay or straight?

Question: what advice can you give us about writing MOCKumentaries? Is it welcome "virgin territory" or "Christopher Guest's private domain -- so stay out"? I have scripts to "Bob Roberts" and am awaiting "Drop Dead Gorgeous" (great black comedy!) "Bob Roberts" breaks a lot of formatting rules plus loooong speeches -- totally in keeping with the genre and hey, he's Tim Robbins, so do as you please. Obviously, I'm writing a mockumentary which gives me some freedom, but will it be a dead end, like the mob film or the historical drama?

Jim C. replies: Thanks, great letter. Mockumentary is such a niche thing that it's not overexposed as a genre so as long as it's FUNNY and well-written, it could get you attention. Hell, Surf's Up was a mockumentary of sorts. Might be best done DIY however, since those types of movies tend to make small bank. Good luck!

Bill writes: Hi Jim, Received the Mark-up/Editing yesterday and finished making the corrections. I love this service as it is so helpful and I cut 5 pages off the script. (112 to 107). Also implemented some of the advice I received from the reader which was very helpful.

Jim C. replies: "Some"? ;) Nice going, Bill!

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