Thursday, April 19, 2012

InkTip Pitch Summit III Review

2010's first Pitch Summit, brought to us by our friends at, was tremendous mix of both opportunity and discombobulation. Now in their second year, have they ironed out all the bugs?

By Tanya Klein

I recently checked out InkTip’s Pitch Summit III. Having attended the very first one -- which was riddled with logistical missteps and probably caused a few serious cases of sciatica in some of the unfortunate writers who stood in endless lines -- I felt more than a bit trepidatious. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised. The organizational upheaval from their first outing was completely ironed out. They had plenty of people working to keep everything running smoothly. The lines were mercifully short, arranged by genre, and they were kept moving with adequate speed. Efforts were made to keep all of the attendees in the loop through continual announcements. So, first of all, kudos to the InkTip team for oiling this particular machine.

Any review of an InkTip Pitch Summit really comes down to how one feels about pitching to three or four executives from different companies simultaneously, versus focusing on only one. Because, you see, that's how they do it. You don't just pitch one-on-one to an exec: you pitch to a table of three execs, all from different companies. Let’s start with the pros: The three-to-a-table scheme makes it possible for a writer to cover more ground – a lot more ground. It’s the difference between pitching to 15 people or to 50. That’s an undeniable plus. But does it outweigh the cons?

In the morning I stood in line for one three-executive table, two of whom I really wanted to see and the third one – let’s call ‘em 'Gravy' – I hadn’t heard of. When I got to the table, only Gravy was there. I’m guessing the other two were still enjoying their morning coffee or were simply a no-show. First con of having more than one executive at a table: You can’t hold the line if someone is stuck in traffic; and sometimes a writer will miss the opportunity to pitch to an executive, because said executive is searching for the restroom.

The InkTip Pitch Summit in progress.
Later in the day, I noticed that I was pitching to an executive – let’s call ‘em 'Homeless' – whom I had pitched to before at a different table. Homeless complained that they kept moving him around. Second con: It’s difficult to accommodate last-minute executive changes, since they can’t simply put up another table, but have to find the proverbial birds of a feather (they endeavor to clump the execs together by genre.) If more than one executive occupies a table, the occupants have to agree at least somewhat on the type of material they’re looking for, which probably leads to either some unhappy executives or likely a few table switches (which in turn leads to some unhappy writers.)

 In the afternoon, I tackled some of the longer lines, gleefully inching my way forward, until we were informed that the table had collectively decided that they wanted to hear comedy now – let’s just call ‘em 'Confused.' Down the drain went my pitches – and about 15 minutes of my life. (Hey, I’m German. I don’t do comedy.) Third con: Listening to only one genre all day makes for some tired executives – and abrupt changes. Fact is, quite a few of these folks are looking for several genres, and the three-to-a-table table mechanic doesn't handle that very efficiently.

In general, having more than one executive at a table makes it hard to keep track of exactly who you’re pitching to at any given time – especially when the executives switch tables or take long breaks or a company didn’t show up and was quickly replaced with another company. Let’s face it, the moment you sit down, you pitch. You don’t pull out pen and paper and start copying down everyone’s name tag.

One last thing worth noting: unlike Great American Pitchfest, InkTip provides no real background information on whom you're meeting with, nor any contact info. All they give you are the contact's name, company, and a couple of credits. This makes following up with people whom you do not get a chance to meet with difficult. Great American Pitchfest, on the other hand, is worth the cost of admission just for the detailed booklet they provide, which becomes a valuable reference you'll refer back to time and again throughout the year and may yield plenty more opportunities long after the pitching is over.

Was there opportunity? You bet! I got in about 15 pitches, altogether about 38 companies in total. That's pretty amazing. Still, my personal preference is one executive at a time. You have a slightly better chance at establishing a personal connection when it's one on one. I’m also comforted in knowing who exactly I’m pitching to; and I prefer being able to tailor my pitches to the person at hand, as opposed to keeping it general. But that might just be my inner Teutonic control freak. When all is said and done, InkTip showed they have learned from their mistakes of the past and they delivered an event chock full of potential for writers.


Tanya Klein is a CI story analyst, teacher and screenwriter. For almost a decade she ran a theater company in NYC, and she was the second unit cameraperson on Coverage Ink Films' LIBERATOR. She is currently working on the script for CI's first feature "TWISTED," which begins shooting in late fall.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Jeff Fisher's Butt-Kickin' Rewrite Process

by Jim Cirile

Here's what's supposed to happen: you send your script in for coverage; the notes come back, and finally after much groaning, agonizing and denial, you rewrite the script, solving all the problems that deep down you suspected all along.

Except, it NEVER happens that way. The way it actually goes down is: you do a rewrite based on the notes, and while some problems may get solved, new issues are created -- those knee-jerk solutions may not be all that well thought through. One step forward, two back. So after yet another rewrite, one sends it for coverage again. But now when the notes come back, it seems you're even further from the bull's-eye than you were on the first draft! Pretty frustrating, right? It always takes way more drafts than we would have hoped, and it's seldom that linear progression forward from "pass" to "consider" we all hope for.

Jeff Fisher
Unless you're Jeff Fisher, that is.

A few months back, Jeff sent his script "Cloud Nine" in to Coverage Ink for analysis. According to the notes, it had a lot of good elements, but also needed a lot of TLC -- rather like many of the scripts that come our way. But the most amazing thing happened when Jeff sent along the rewrite about 4 weeks later: the reader (AK, who had also read the first draft) was blown away. "I've never seen anything like this," he said. "This guy nailed all the notes." In less than a month, Jeff Fisher went from pass/consider with reservations to consider/strong consider. He skipped right over the 16 drafts it usually takes the rest of us to achieve that! So with great admiration (and just a smidgen of jealousy,) we figured we'd ask Jeff just how the hell he pulled this off.

Jim C: Hi, Jeff! Can you tell us a bit about your background?

Jeff F: My first "industry" job (unless you count movie theater usher) was a Craft Service PA on a Paramount feature called ARRIVE ALIVE, a romantic comedy starring Willem Dafoe and Joan Cusack that shut down production after nine shooting days.  : )  From there,  I was lucky enough to PA on some awesome features ("Cape Fear" was a biggie for me) back East where I'm from.  I moved to LA and worked as an assistant at ICM and then Columbia/Tri-Star, always shooting little spec music videos and stuff to build a reel on the weekends.  I shot my first short film "Garage Sale" over a week's vacation from ICM.  Off my short films (and thanks to my awesome friend Toni Gallagher), I was able get a gig on a few early reality shows ("Bug Juice" was my first) and worked my way up to Director on shows like "The Real World/Road Rules Challenge" and "The Simple Life."  I wrote and directed my first feature ("Killer Movie") which premiered at Tribeca in 2008 and stars Paul Wesley, Kaley Cuoco, Leighton Meester, Nestor Carbonell and a gaggle of other actors I loved working with.  It was about a reality film crew that gets into all kinds of trouble -- something I knew a thing or two about.  There's lots of mayhem going on, but it's all very "Scooby-Doo."  
JC: Nice. Give us a quick heads-up on what CLOUD NINE is all about and what you hope to do with it. You're planning to shoot this puppy?

JF: CLOUD NINE is the grown up version of a little musical short I did called "ANGELS, BABY!" back  in 1999. (Watch it right here.) I always loved the idea of having an angels around looking out for our best interests.  I actually got the idea for the short watching Steven Spielberg do a press interview for the movie "ALWAYS."  I'm paraphrasing, but when he was asked about the angel in that movie, he said he loved the idea that when he was trying to figure out where to put the camera and got a great idea, maybe it was the spirit of some great director from years gone by whispering in his ear.  That was the impetus -- along with a musical number I once saw the actress Jessica Tuck perform (that's another story though.) It has just been growing into a feature in the back of head since.  I've had some great notes and help from friends along the way too.  

And the plan is to make it this summer!
JC: What was your reaction to the first round of coverage on it?
JF: "YIKES!"  But -- and I think you say this in your video -- it resonated.  I knew the notes were valid and I was determined to make this as strong a script as possible.  I let it marinate for a week.  I asked for some advice from writer friends I respect -- and dug in on the next draft. 
JC: Smart move. I always let stuff simmer for a while.

JF: I had to sit with the notes for a beat.  Digging right in that day was too aggressive.  I actually wrote out all the notes I received and started writing possible solutions in the column next to them.  By the way, some AWFUL solutions!  I'd call a friend and ask -- and they'd talk it through and often give me a good idea or get me thinking of something emotionally honest.  I found a lot of my initial solutions were way too "on the nose."
JC: Exactly. We're often in such a rush to get the rewrite process over with that we often choose the easiest fixes, which may not be the best ones for the script. The first things we think of might be inelegant or contrived or cause plot holes down the line. You did an amazing job on the polish. What sort of advice would you give to other writers who might be in a similar position -- ten pages of notes, now what the hell do you do?

JF: That is so cool of you to say. Thank you! Honestly, I'd say don't sweat it. Just read them through (hopefully with a strong drink close by) and put them aside for a beat. You'll know when it's time to check them out again. You don't have to solve every problem all at once. Just pitch one solution to yourself or a friend. The next one won't be far behind.

JC: Thanks a bunch, Jeff! Looking forward to hearing more about CLOUD NINE as it heads into production.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Writers on the Storm 2012 Contest Posponed

Hi folks, we are postponing the start of Writers on the Storm 2012 until fall. We had been scheduled to launch May 21.

There are several reasons for this, but the main one is time. We are overloaded with projects at the moment, and it takes a lot of time to put together a contest on the scale of WOTS. Coverage Ink, which is the parent company of Writers on the Storm, is also in preproduction on our first feature film called TWISTED.

We will announce the new launch date of the contest within a few weeks. In the meantime, we are sending out the top ten from last year's contest, so, everyone, let's all pull for our winners! We're getting lost of positive feedback on out winning script, Wright or Wrong. No less than Jake Wagner from FilmEngine called it "very clever." So let's cross fingers!

We appreciate everyone's patience. If you're going to be at Great American Pitchfest (June 1-3), please stop by our booth and say hi. And now, all of you, what are you wasting time reading blogs for? Get back to writing! (Oops, me, too.)

Jim C.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

THE HUNGER GAMES -- Greatest Movie Ever?

Jennifer Lawrence went brown, not black. If you're going to dye, why not dye it to the correct color?
Okay, okay. Let me clarify right away: I don't actually think The Hunger Games, Lionsgate's hugely successful, more or less faithful adaptation of Suzanne Collins' young adult sci-fi bestseller, is the greatest movie ever made. That honor, of course, goes to Monty Python's Life of Brian. But the strangest thing happened as I sat there watching this film: for a brief time, I did actually think Hunger Games was the shizzbombdiggityest film ever. Seriously.

Warning: spoilers ahead!

Going into the movie, I wasn't expecting much. My daughter is a big fan of the book series, and I'd read a few chapters of the first one. I found the writing pretty good, but was not really compelled to keep reading. I'm old enough to realize that The Hunger Games is just a young adult ("YA") version of The Running Man and The Most Dangerous Game. And so, feeling this material was about as fresh as the mini Baby Ruth in the Easter egg I planted under the sofa last year but only just found yesterday morning, I put the book aside. Turns out, however, that those unfamiliar with where the story was lifted from found the material bracing, the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, inspiring, and the post-apocalyptic world of Panem dark, exciting and new.

And so as I watched the movie on opening day with three 12-year-old girls--target audience, yup--I was expecting to enjoy the film perhaps slightly more than a colonoscopy. Sure enough, as The Hunger Games went through its paces, I was not especially interested. The whole premise just seemed, well, stupid. In case you're unfamiliar, in the story, the 12 districts (which are all supposed to be suffering from severe hunger, although there is nary an emaciated person to be found in the entire movie) choose tributes--children from 12-18--to participate in a gruesome, televised fight to the death --bread and circuses, without the bread. Problem here is, there is a BIG difference between a 12 year old and an 18 year old. 12 year olds are kids; 18 year olds are grown-ups. Having them compete on the same battlefield makes zero sense. Nor does the hyper-gory nature of the competition. WHY kids? Well, to  appeal to the YA audience, of course. But in reality, does it make any sense? Of course not. And this is underlined by exactly what happens in the movie--when a young girl who touched the audience (Rue, played by Amandla Stenberg) dies in the competition, riots begin. Yeah, you know, in the 70-some-odd years they've been doing these games, I'm sure this has NEVER happened before. No one ever got upset over the killing of one of the contestants and went ballistic. No parents ever organized or tried to stop the madness. It's idiotic. What fascist state would ever persecute the ones most likely to engage the public's emotions, to potentially ignite rebellion? Far more likely: adults would be chosen for these games, not kids, and most likely they'd be prisoners or outcasts or enemies of the state... oh, wait, that's Running Man again.

Katniss and Rue
But wait, I said Greatest Movie Ever! I haven't said much positive yet. Here's the thing: the filmmakers did one thing very, very right. Midway into the movie, they focused on the battlefield relationship between Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Rue. This accomplished several things: firstly, it made Katniss super-empathetic. Rue became her charge, Katniss the mother/protector. This, coupled with Katniss never killing the other competitors offensively--only defensively--made her someone to root for, a good person worth our emotional investment. It's like Ripley once she took Newt under her wing in Aliens. We all liked the character to begin with, but having to protect a young one brings out that maternal instinct that we can all relate to (yes, even dads who begrudgingly take their daughters to YA movies.)

Secondly, these scenes break up the more or less uninspired woods stalking/fight scenes. Let's face it, how interesting is it to hunt people in the woods for two-thirds of a major release? It all feels pretty stale, and the few token attempts to enliven the action by showing that the woods are actually like the Enterprise-D holodeck, and the gameskeepers can create new weather and creatures at any time, are pretty much a fail. But because Katniss bonds with Rue, we lock in and we care, too, and we don't stop to think that much about the lack of creativity in envisioning these sequences and indeed the very premise.

Lastly... they killed Rue. (I said spoilers!) This can't help but move us, and it injects the movie with some much-needed heart at just the right time. To ice the cake, Director Gary Ross wisely cut to scenes of Rue's grieving dad igniting the protests, and then the riots spreading (which according to my daughter did not happen in the book,) all of which tap into our own visceral, "Yeah! Get those bastards!" feelings. And thus, for a fleeting time there watching the movie, I actually thought: Wow. This is the greatest movie ever.

Anyway, that went away pretty quick. The ending in particular was a real fizzle. We're hoping that Katniss steps up and becomes the voice, the embodiment, of the new resistance. We're hoping that she uses her status as the winner to make a speech, to motivate and unify people to effect change. We want her to step to the maniacs who instituted this system in the first place, to use her archery and her passion and her chutzpah to do something. Yeah... nope. See, apparently that all happens in book two, so the movie ends on one hell of an anticlimax.

I walked out of the theater thinking this was a good movie -- flawed, but good. Within two hours of thinking about some of these issues and others -- such as why Heymitch (Woody Harrelson) is a drunk in his first scene but then inexplicably stops drinking (motivation?,) where's the hunger (apart from the title,) why--if the battlefield is indeed a hologram--woods at all? Why not a messed-up futuristic Wipeout-style obstacle course, complete with vehicles, armor, explosives, etc.? And of course, the inevitable, why do all the older teens all look to be in their mid twenties? Sigh.

All of that said, kudos should be given to the filmmakers and writers for hewing the adaptation closely to the source material (although my daughter and her friends certainly had quibbles) and more importantly, for a savvy marketing campaign. If you see the film, you'll likely enjoy it. Just try not to think about it too much afterwards. Or during.

--Jim C.