Friday, February 17, 2012

Coverage Ink/Writers on the Storm Newsletter February 2012

1) On the Button
2) Shorties
3) My Bandwagon Seems To Have a Flat (The Descendants review)
4) Steve Kaire: More Test Your Screenwriting IQ
5) Ten Things Your Agent Will Never Tell You



by Jim Cirile

Here's something that's crucially important in screenwriting that hardly anyone ever talks about: the BUTTON. No, not the thing on your pants that is getting harder and harder to fasten (okay, maybe that's just me.) I mean the punchline, if we're talking comedy, or the line with punch if we're talking anything else. In short, it's the unexpected comeuppance, the fiery bon mot, the sublime retort, the fist to the face you want to end your scene on -- punchy and memorable and exquisite.

Why are buttons so important? Well, lots of "duh" reasons, like, always end on a high note, as well as wanting the reader to be so excited about what they've just read that they launch vigorously into the next scene. A solid button makes you want to keep reading; a lame one makes you go, Hmm, I wonder what's on HSN? And of course you want something that makes you shine as a writer, something that punctuates or encapsulates the point of the scene and puts a dainty little bow on it.

Good reasons all, of course. But the main reason why buttons rock, to me, are because they embody and define great movies. When we think of the movies we love, we often think of the buttons--the best lines said at the best possible times. Buttons are part of the reason why we become screenwriters in the first place. We want to create those iconic moments. And thus it is odd to me that so many screenplays have flaccid scene ends, or don't have buttons at all. Button up, folks!

Here are just a few fricking amazing, classic buttons:

Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape! (Planet of the Apes)
I don't like to lose. (Star Trek II)
Snap out of it! (Cher to a smitten Nic Cage, Moonstruck)
We're gonna need a bigger boat. (Jaws)
No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die. (Goldfinger)
I know. (Han to Leia, Empire Strikes Back, after she tells him she loves him)

And perhaps the greatest movie button ever written:

I'll have what she's having. (If you don't know where that's from, there's no hope for you.)

So if you're unfamiliar with buttons, here's how to implement them. When you get to the end of a scene you've been working on, read back over the scene and edit it mercilessly. One thing many of us do is "overshoot the button," which means we keep blathering on even after the point of the scene has been made and the logical place to end the scene has passed. So scan your scene for a natural end point. This might be a crushing piece of news or a great comeback or just a crazy-smart piece of dialogue you're proud of. And then simply end your scene there. All that other stuff after it? You probably don't need it.

Then do the exact same thing with the other 50 or so scenes in your screenplay.

If you're a comedy writer, the button is where you prove your mettle. Every one of those darn scenes is going to need that rock 'em sock 'em line to go out on. This can be a real hair-puller, let me tell you. Monty Python often ended their sketches early, rather than have a proper punchline; thus the crazy animated links became their own nonsequitor buttons in a way.  One useful trick is to make your button a new development or something no one saw coming. It's been said that jaded movie execs want a surprise on every page. So the surest way to keep people turning pages is to end on something that teases them forward -- a trick every novelist worth his or her salt employs.

And now a confession: I'm trying to think of a great button for this little piece, and I'm coming up with diddley squat! Something no one sees coming... hmm... okay, how about this?


So what's going on? Jeez, everything! How about Coverage Ink Films' LIBERATOR trailer debuting on How about Writers on the Storm returning? How about a new book coming from yours truly? How about Coverage Ink Films announcing preproduction on our first feature? And a wee little SALE to light a fire under everyone's butts as we roll into contest season? Plus watch as we demolish the script for the overrated "The Descendants." All this and more in SHORTIES below. And don't miss my "Ten Things Your Agent Will Never Tell You" article!

Onward and downward,
Jim Cirile
Founder, Coverage Ink, Writers on the Storm

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Continue on to Shorties


WRITERS ON THE STORM VI returns May 15, 2012. Six years of this! Crazy. When will we ever learn? One would have to draw the conclusion that we like being inundated with scripts. (sigh) Still too early to have anything to report from last year's winners yet. In fact, we haven't even taken the list out yet. Charles Mitri, John Winn Miller and our winners Brooks Elms and Glenn Sanders have all finished new drafts based on our notes, and if all goes well we should be going out in early March. We'll have more to report when we have more to report!

SICK AND "TWISTED." We are pleased to announce preproduction on our first feature film "TWISTED." As of January 2012, Coverage Ink Films is a real, live production company. Our goal is to make one feature a year. Twisted is a time warp horror/thriller written by CI analyst Tanya Klein and Jim Cirile and will be directed by Liberator director Aaron Pope. If all goes well, Twisted will begin principal photography at the end of summer in Los Angeles.

LIBERATION BEGINS NOW. Coverage Ink's new 20-minute short film/presentation pilot LIBERATOR isn't even done yet but is already getting an insane amount of buzz. USA Today picked up the world premiere of the 2-minute trailer and dozens of media outlets and fan sites have also run with it. It helps that LIBERATOR star Lou Ferrigno is having one hell of a comeback, mirroring his character in the film. Ferrigno is on NBC's Celebrity Apprentice this season (Sunday Nights at 9PM) and is reprising his role as The Hulk -- at least, in voice -- in the upcoming Marvel summer blockbuster The Avengers. The publicity firestorm has Lou doing interviews around the clock, all of which is just huge for us and Liberator. Click HERE to visit the Liberator website and see the trailer, behind the scenes video and more! And don't forget to watch Lou -- as well as the star of a previous Coverage Ink production, George "Mr. Sulu" Takei -- on Celebrity Apprentice.

AGENT'S HOT SHEET: THE BOOK. As most of you know by now, sadly, both Creative Screenwriting and Script magazines are no more. This is just ridiculous. We went from having two great magzaines to none in the space of a few seconds. Surely someone out there will perceive an opening and start up a new print screenwriting magazine. There's definitely a market for it! At any rate, I wrote the Agent's Hot Sheet column for ten amazing years before CS foundered. That's an awful lot of important and still-relevant advice from the top reps in the biz that shouldn't disappear. So I am now editing and updating those columns and will be offering them as an e-book : Agent's Hot Sheet-- Ten Years of Screenwriting Wisdom from Hollywood's Top Reps sometime in March. You will also be able to order it as a PDF from Coverage Ink, just like our legendary CI Spec Format + Style Guide (which, BTW, is NOT available as an e-book due to formatting issues--only as a PDF download from CI.) We'll have news on where to get your copy in next month's newsletter.

Bessounian, Langham and C3PO
THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE NICHOLL. Huge, huge congratulations to our pals writer/directors Chris Bessounian and Tianna Langham, who along with five other writers were named Nicholl Fellows in November. Their script “Guns and Saris” grabbed the top honors, and the news hit Bessounian so hard it actually put him in the hospital, believing he was having a heart attack! We hope their careers are heating up in a big way. Bessounian and Langham are also the founders of Squirrel, a crazy-useful site that allows the filmmaking community to feedback on festivals so that we don't waste money on the many that are just not worth the dough. If you've been to any recently, sign up and leave your e-pinions (free of course.) Way to go, you two!

YET MORE CATS TO SAVE. Blake Snyder may be gone, but the Save the Cat! team soldiers on, their mission: to continue sharing the STC! method with the world. I recently had breakfast with BJ and Rich from Save The Cat! and came away super impressed. These are two smart, very cool guys and their hearts are in the right places. I think Blake would be very proud that they are continuing on with his teachings. And if you don't have a clue what I'm talking about and haven't yet discovered the wonder that is the Save the Cat! books and software, then stop right now and click this link. The next Save the Cat! beat sheet weekend is March 24/25 in Los Angeles, and you should check it out. Those two days could be the single best thing you ever do for your writing career. Read Ebony Jones' review of an STC! Beat Sheet weekend right here. Then sign up at By the way, Ebony will have a review of the new Save the Cat! 3.0 software right here next month.

MOVIE OUTLINE 3.1.2. If you missed our review of the terrific all-in-one screenwriting software Movie Outline 3.1.2, click here to see what Ebony Jones has to say about it.

GET "DEAD" FOR FREE. Magrie Kaptanoglu, writer of the must-see short film DEAD IN THE ROOM, tells us that you can now watch it for free on YouTube! The film has completed its festival run, so they have released it for the world to enjoy. Read our article about the film right here and then pop open a cold one and relax for five minutes and get "Dead":

SALE! Spring is rolling in fast, and that means... contest season. Are your scripts ready? I mean, really ready? Well, folks, we will help you make sure those scripts are in fighting shape. Just submit your screenplay for analysis to Coverage Ink and use this code: CISPRING20 on your order form, and you will receive $20 off any CI coverage service (feature screenplays only.) May not be combined with any other discounts; offer expires March 6th, 2012. So shine 'em up and send 'em in!


GOD HELP US, MICHAEL BAY TO DIRECT "TRANSFORMERS" -- AGAIN. Seriously, what more do we need to say here? It's a sequel but they're calling it a reboot, but seriously, who cares? Be afraid. Be very afraid!

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My Bandwagon Seems to Have a Flat

A somewhat contrarian review of “The Descendants”


by Tanya Klein

George Clooney and Shailene Woodley in "The Descendants"
I finally got a chance to check out “The Descendants” last week. I’ve been looking forward to seeing this much-lauded movie for quite some time, but life kept intervening. Maybe it should have intervened a bit longer so I could have saved my money and waited for the DVD.

Yes, I’m talking about the same movie that got rave reviews in pretty much every single paper. Yes, that movie written and directed by media-proclaimed genius Alexander Payne and starring everyone’s favorite ex-E.R. physician, George Clooney.

Despite my snarky attitude, let’s start with the good stuff: the acting throughout is believable and on-the-money, with all of the actors making the most of what they were given. Some of the shots show flashes of brilliance. The oft-mentioned scene of George Clooney’s Matt King racing down the street in his omnipresent flip-flops, wobbly and panicky, is indeed as good as everyone claims it is. It tells us in one very funny shot everything we need to know about what’s going on with the character at this point in time. Some of the scenes, like George Clooney confronting his now comatose spouse about her infidelity or the jilted wife character (Judy Greer) bringing her flowers, are very effective.

And now, let the griping begin.

My major complaints are mostly script-related. All of the characters essentially remain enigmas. Matt King describes himself (in one of his endless voiceovers) as the “backup parent,” who doesn’t seem to know his kids very well. Why he chose to de-prioritize his family to the extent that he seems to be completely baffled by his younger daughter Scottie’s (Shayla Eve) tantrums, we don’t know. Also, whatever running away from family responsibility he did prior to the movie has clearly stopped by the time the movie starts. In other words, whatever development the character might have gone through happened before we got to see it.

The subplot of the Hawaiian land sale serves as the vehicle for Matt’s supposed epiphany, his new sense of responsibility towards his heirs and ancestors. Yet, we don’t know which particular straw broke the camel's back or if, in fact, there even was one. There is never a moment where Matt journeys amongst the people and experiences what the real consequences of his actions might be. Sure, he gets lectured to from a native Hawaiian woman early on in the script, but we never see how injurious the land sale would really be (a topic covered much better in the film "Princess Kaiulani.") It doesn’t help that a lot of Matt’s supposed character flaws – his father-in-law calls him stingy and accuses him of not treating his wife, Elizabeth, like he should -- are talked about as opposed to shown. These are all "Show, Don't Tell" screenwriting violations, of course. Since we don’t know this character or his motivation or his Achilles’ heel or really anything else about him very well, we have a hard time feeling for him and going along for the journey. Matt never arcs. He comes to a moment of decision where he does do the right thing, but the only thing motivating it is a minute of staring at photos on his wall (his ancestors) rather than any personal journey.

Speaking of which, the journey lost me before it got rightly started. The inciting incident – the older daughter, Alex (Shailene Woodley), telling her father about his wife’s infidelity – didn’t strike me as believable. Completely apart from the setup – she just happened to see her mother walk into a house with a guy in a completely different part of town where she happened to pass by (hey, okay, you‘re allowed one coincidence per movie) – what didn’t ring true was the situation in which she told her father. A 17-year-old semi-rebellious teenager might throw that into her father’s face in any number of situations: a fight, a visit to the hospital, him trying to assert parental authority or any number of other scenarios would all work fine; unfortunately, sitting in the living room and having a conversation after Matt tells his daughter that her mother won’t come out of the coma isn’t one of them.

The character of Alex also, regrettably, has no arc or transformation at all and remains quite enigmatic throughout the movie. I originally expected her slacker friend Sid, who unaccountably is always at hand, to serve as her vehicle for change. But that didn’t happen. In fact, Sid seems to be one of those characters that fit squarely into the "use him or lose him" category.  Just who IS this guy? Is he sweet on Alex? Why does she keep him around? How does she know him? And if he's such a good friend, why wouldn't Matt know who he was? Throughout the movie, we keep waiting for the character of Alex to grow and mature out of being rebellious and difficult and self-centered, traits she seemingly adopted as a defense mechanism to dealing with her mother's infidelity and her father's disconnection; and we expect Sid to be the person who facilitates this. None of this ever happens, and in fact Alex simply stops exhibiting those behavior patterns for no reason that I can tell. As charming as the actress is, this role is an epic fail as far as the writing is concerned.

And as for Scottie, well, there's no "there" there either. That's 0 for 3. She never arcs or comes to begrudgingly accept her father; they never have that tear-drenched heart-to-heart where they at last connect; nothin'. Towards the end of the movie, on their way home from confronting Elizabeth’s lover, Matt and Alex talk about the fact that they haven’t broken the news of her mother’s diagnosis to Scottie yet. A few realizations hit me at this point -- one, that I had all but forgotten about Scottie, because the character was so underdeveloped and her issues never addressed -- two, that I hadn’t even realized that they hadn’t told her yet (and it really didn't make a difference) and three, that I really didn’t care. 

A few days later, I saw another film, this time on DVD, that’s been on my list for a very long time, “The Beaver” – yes, my list is a bit backed-up – starring Mel Gibson and directed by Jodie Foster -- and it made me think about the vagaries of this business. Even though these two films cover very different ground, both deal with families in turmoil and transition and specifically, fathers who have difficulty connecting with a difficult high schooler who has written him off. But "The Beaver" does all that in a much more original and creative way. The writing, directing, and acting is as good as it gets; the script by Kyle Killen, a Black List fave, paints every single character in three luscious dimensions. Yet, when it came out – thanks to Mr. Gibson's minus numbers on the likability scale – it didn’t get any kudos. "The Beaver" is a superior film to "The Descendants" in every way. In this business of bandwagons and public perception, have we gone so far astray that most emperors are nude while anybody wearing clothes is relegated to the DVD bin? Yes, George Clooney is charming and still handsome, while Mel Gibson hasn't aged well and his off-screen antics are appalling. But this is the man who directed "Braveheart," and you know, he can still act up a storm. Gibson's performance is arresting; he rips open a vein in "The Beaver". Clooney sheds a single tear and kinda coasts a bit in "The Descendants". The performances are not even in the same league. 

But of course, we like Clooney, and we don't like Gibson. So there you go. As for "The Descendants," one kind of hopes to exit the theater after seeing a critically lauded film feeling more than, "Eh, it was okay, I guess."


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."

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Steve Kaire

Ready for another round of 20 Questions with the High Concept King? Steve Kaire once again tests your mettle. 15 or better correct is a great score!

True or False:

1) You should always take a journal with you to every pitch meeting.

True. Record the date, name of the company and what projects you pitched to them as well as their reactions.

2) With enough practice, you should be able to pitch any story of yours in one sentence.


3) If you sell a spec script, proceeds go into your Writers Guild Health and Pension fund.

False. Only contracted sales, not spec sales, go into both funds.

4) Writers who pitch well are able to sell projects the first time they pitch to a company even if they’ve never pitched to them before.

That’s false. It’s rare to sell anything the first time you pitch to a company.

5) Get the names of assistants and secretaries of companies you’re pitching to.

True. Be polite and friendly to them so they’ll put you through to their boss.

6) When you contact people you want to be in business with, be persistent but not annoying.


7) Every company has an agenda that a writer coming in to pitch isn’t aware of.

True. There are certain types of projects they are staying away from but you won’t know what they are.

8) There is more theft of material in the film business rather than in TV.

False. The opposite is true.

9) Before any pitch meeting, call and find out exactly what kind of material they’re currently looking for.


10) Being a successful screenwriter is more about how good a writer you are rather than anything else.

False. Your talent is important, but so are your connections to the people who can get projects sold and produced.

11) High concept scripts sell for more money than non-high concept scripts.


12) Bringing in a poster of your movie won’t help sell it.

False. When pitching, having your potential buyer visualize the movie poster can help in fostering a sale. But beware: that poster better be of professional quality or there may quickly be a smoldering, self-inflicted bullet wound in your foot.

13) Showcasing your short films on YouTube won’t help your screenwriting career.

False. Anything that gets your work and name out there can help.

14) Produced film and TV scripts can be purchased online.

That’s true. You can also find them for free on sites like Drew's Script-O-Rama.

15) Below-the-line refers to behind-the-scenes talent.


16) There is a limit on how many writers can be brought in to rewrite a sold script.

False. The studio can bring in as many writers as they want. There is a limit to how many writers the WGA will allow to share credit, however.

17) Most new TV series begin with a proposal, a list of characters and six story line episodes.


18) Associate Producer credit is essentially a throwaway credit.

True. It’s given out as a favor like to the director’s girlfriend or the producer’s brother-in-law.

19) The average film budget is $75 million these days.

False. It’s closer to $40-50 million.

20) A star who lends his or her to a project is contractually bound to appear in it should it get made.

That’s false. They can back out before the deal closes.


How did you all do? If you got every one right, then pat yourself on the back and go get 'em, tiger. If you knew several, then way to go! If many of thesed stumped you, definitely start reading the trades regularly. Becoming a savvy student of the biz is key to making it as a writer in TV or film. Keep up the good work, and I'll see you all back here in 30.

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.

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10 Things Your Agent Will Never Tell You

Think your rep is giving you the real skinny? Maybe not. There are certain secrets they will never divulge to the likes of you. Let’s pull back the curtains, shall we?

by Jim Cirile

Agents and managers by definition are wheeler-dealers. So don’t expect a lot of honesty from them, right? You’d be surprised. Our panel floored us with their candor. When it comes to dealing with clients, many have decided it’s easier to just be honest -- so as to avoid the “Which Lie Did I Tell?” syndrome, to paraphrase Bill Goldman.

That said, don’t ever assume you’re getting the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There are things that even the most forthright representatives may be reticent to tell you. Thus, with our panelists speaking under condition of anonymity, we proudly pull back the curtain to bring to you the cold, hard truth. Ten things your agent or manager will never tell you, comin’ at ya right now…

10) Your script blows. This is the obvious one, so we’ll get it out of the way first. There are a couple of different scenarios here. If you’ve finagled a submission into an agency or management company, you are no doubt familiar with the “Thanks, but it’s not what we’re looking for at this time” response. “You really want to keep (passes) as generic, as vague as possible,” says Agent A, veteran of one of the big 3-letter agencies. “You don’t want the writer whose script sucks to perceive any sort of opening.” In other words, provide any details about why they’re really passing, that opens the door to conversation (or argument.) ‘Not what we’re looking for at this time’ is non-judgmental and shuts down most writer responses.

However, the picture changes a little bit if you’re a client. If your new script bites it big-time, it’s in everyone’s best interest to convey to the writer at least a version of the truth. “I might say, I was really excited to read it, and as you know, I’m always looking for something that I can rally behind,” says Agent A, “but I didn’t respond to it the way I was hoping to. Sometimes the writers will accept that and try to fix it or move on to something else, but other times they’ll insist you do something with it.” In those circumstances, Agent A might send the script to a few industry friends, wait for the inevitable third-party confirmation of the script’s asstasticness, then delicately pass that along to the writer. “I’m not always right, and there have been times I’ve been surprised,” says A. “But if I’m right, I’m right. If (the writer) gets it then, great. If they don’t, we’re going to have a problem.”

9) How the Hell Am I Supposed To Sell This Thing? Look at what’s playing at the local 32-plex. Can you see your movie alongside those others up there? Agents and managers earn their daily bread by being keen judges of the market. If you give them some quirky experimental script that could never sell in a quintillion years, they may honestly want to throttle you. “Generally we know if advance what they’re working on,” says Manager B, from a well-known boutique management company. “But there have been times when a client drops this lead sinker on us and expects us to do something with it.” Now this doesn’t necessarily mean the script isn’t any good. It could be great, just a tough sell. “Let’s say someone has a period drama -- I don’t even want to read it,” says B. God forbid the rep actually loves the script. That puts them in the awkward position of having to mount a quixotic, time-consuming and likely doomed mission to sell it. “I did have this one drama once; it was amazing. I had to make it happen,” B enthuses. “It took over a year but I finally got it set up (at a small production company.) An amazing, rewarding experience I’m not in a big hurry to repeat,” she laughs.

Manager C, however, uses the picky marketplace as an easy way to pass. “I just say, I don’t think this is something the market will respond to right now, and that’s that.” And if the writer pushes it, “I have to tell them, look, I think if I do send this out, ultimately it will be detrimental to your career. You don’t like saying that, but sometimes you have to.”

8) Never Read It. Never Will. When you submit a script to an agency or management company, do you think the rep actually reads it? Ha! At smaller firms, it will often be covered (read) by an assistant or intern; bigger firms also use freelance or in-house readers to provide coverage. I have been in meetings where it is clear my agent had not read the script and had to keep referring back to the coverage. Even if you’re a signed client, there are some reps who simply never read. “It’s pretty well-known in town who reads and who doesn’t,” says Manager D. “Some guys actually brag that they can sell a script without even reading it.”

But we’ve got a good panel here – they read. “Sometimes my clients try to catch me,” says D. They’ll name a character after me in the third act or something. I always make it a point of mentioning that I caught it.” Still, it goes without saying that if it’s a pass, it’s more often than not based on the assistant or the intern’s coverage report. So when does an agent actually read a (non-client’s) script? “I trust my assistant, but she had to work hard to earn that trust,” notes Agent E from a mid-sized agency. “It took a while for her get to the point where I am 100% confident in her opinions. So when she tells me to read something, I know it’s worth my time.”

7) He’s Just Not That Into You (Anymore.) It’s sad, but like any relationship, you and your agent or manager may someday fall out of love. How do some reps deal with this? Why, radio silence, of course! “Those are the calls you dread making,” says Agent A. “It’s no fun to tell someone it’s not working out. So to be honest, yeah, sometimes I’ll just not call and hope the person eventually gets the message and starts looking for new representation.”

Of course, there are different reasons why a rep might want to end the relationship. “If it’s going on two years, and the writer hasn’t gotten any work,” notes Manager B, “but they’ve come close, I’ll hang in -- if a spec almost sold, or if they’ve gotten traction. But if there’s just nothing at all? I might say, look, maybe I’m not the best rep for you. There might be someone else out there better suited for what you do.” In other words: it’s not you, it’s me.

6) Reconsider Dad’s Plumbing Business. This is definitely the hot potato. On the one hand, as ICM’s Emile Gladstone once said, “Screenwriting is a craft -- like carpentry. It can be learned.” On the other, there are just some folks who should not be writing screenplays. “I’ve read some queries where the writer can’t even compose a sentence,” says Agent E. “It’s like, dude, what are you thinking? Buy a Subway franchise or something.” Manager B notes that if it’s been 8 or 10 years and you haven’t gotten anywhere -- no contest showings, no industry interest, no connex, nada -- “That may be a sign that you just don’t have the goods.” Still, she notes, the problem may be correctable. “It could just be the writer needs to take some classes and get some real feedback, work with someone who knows what they’re doing.” But don’t look to our panelists to actually tell you this. They won’t. “Don’t try to be a writer if you have a passion for anything else,” says B, “and don’t quit your day job.”

5) Your Neediness is Going to Cost You. We writers tend to be a fairly insecure lot. We often work alone for years on end, each 'pass' another tiny incision sucking your soul away. Suddenly, success! But all those neuroses you’ve built up don’t just evaporate. The reality is: your rep doesn’t want to deal with that crap. “I’m not a babysitter,” says Agent A. “I have a lot of clients, and those clients need to respect my time. I’m happy to talk about a project or your career or if something is going on. But if you’re calling up just to chat, or for the sixth time that week, my patience is going to run out quickly.” In short, it’s the writers who can be kickback and exude cool that reps keep around. Learn to front, and vent those neuroses to your shrink or your journal, not your agent. “How much of a pest they are, that definitely figures into the decision-making process (of whether to retain a client or not,)” says A.

4) I’m Not Going to Do As Much For You as You Think. You’ve just landed your first agent or manager -- congratulations! Now you can sit back and coast. They’ll line up meetings for you and do all the work, right? Wrong! The reality is that even with representation, you still have to market yourself. Agents are an interesting lot -- the more your career heat you have, the harder they’ll work for you. But if nothing is happening, don’t expect them to whip up a furor out of thin air. It’s up to you to fan the flames.

Oftentimes a rep will “hip-pocket” a writer-- acting as official (unsigned) representation-- in the hope that the writer will take flight or bring in deals on his own. In these cases, the rep may not do anything for you at all! We’ve all heard writers grousing on and on about their agents. There’s even that joke about the writer who comes home to catch his wife in bed with his agent, and the writer beams, “my agent came to my house!” Yeah, it has its basis in fact. “Don’t expect me to send out every script from your back catalog,” says Manager D. “Bring me great new material I can sell, and I’ll bust my ass for you. If not, eh…” Segue to…

3) Write Something, You Lazy Bastard!
“This drives me crazy,” says Manager C. “You’re supposed to be a writer. Well, let’s see some evidence of that. Don’t expect me to keep sending out the same spec a year later. Move on.” Yep, writing is hard work. Douglas Adams (“Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”) famously said he much preferred having written to writing itself. But in Hollywood, “new” is a commodity. “I might gently urge them to get back to me with some ideas, and from there we should figure out what they should work on next,” says C. “But what I really want to say is, What is wrong with you? How do you expect to be a professional writer if you don’t write?” C calls this his biggest pet peeve and notes it’s oddly endemic in writers. “I just don’t get it,” he opines.

2) It’s Not the Team. It’s Me. Only after being reassured this was strictly anonymous, Agent F, head of lit at a medium-sized agency, hits us with a technique. “I often blame the (agency feature literary) team,” he notes. “I’ll say hey, I really wanted to make something happen with this, but I couldn’t get a consensus among the team.” Sayonara, don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out. F also mentions this same approach is useful when attorneys or managers call up trying to recommend someone, “and it’s some fourth-rate writer I have no interest in, or someone whose career has completely bottomed out. So even though I know it’s a pass, I’ll tell them I’m excited to read it, sure, send it in. Then a week later I call up and say, sorry, you know, the team just wasn’t as enthusiastic about it as I was.”

And finally, the number one thing a rep will never tell you:

1) Anything. A rep will never tell you anything. By that I mean, if you’ve managed to get an agent or manager to agree to read your script, a Herculean task in and of itself, you may think you’ll actually hear back from them at some point, even if only to pass. And sometimes you do (see number 10.) But more often than not, all you get is… (crickets chirping… )

Couple reasons for this. The first is time. It takes time to reply to all those submissions, and none of that time is revenue-producing. That means it rates just below toe fungus inspections on the agency or management company’s scale of importance. Second reason of course is, again, not wanting to open the door to any time-wasting back-and-forth. Simply not saying anything conveys the “no” loud and clear. But the main reason you’ll likely never hear anything back is they don’t really care. You either have a commodity they can sell or you don’t. If you don’t, next! It’s nothing personal. “I get hundreds of queries a week,” says Manager B. “I sometimes peruse them and occasionally respond to one or two. But if I sent ‘No, thank yous’ to everyone, that would literally chew up an hour or two of every day.” Concludes Agent A, “Writers have to develop a thick skin anyway to survive in the business. Radio silence is just part of the deal.”


Now that you’ve read this universal translator of agent/manager-speak, we hope you’ll scrutinize your own habits and the way you interact with representation now or in the future. These guys are sharing what drives them nuts and what they really mean when they tell you something. Use this intelligence well and save your career. Show your rep you know the rules of the road. They’ll love you for it. And maybe someday, you, too, can have your agent show up at your house.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

MOVIE OUTLINE 3.1.2 Review

by Ebony Jones

The last time I reviewed Movie Outline 3, I did a comparison with two other screenwriting software packages including Final Draft and Celtx.  Final Draft is considered to be the industry-standard software while Celtx is a free (though they now offer a plus version for $9.99.)  I consider Movie Outline 3 to fall in the middle between Final Draft and Celtx depending on your budget (or lack thereof).  I have used all three and I do prefer Movie Outline. 

Recently Movie Outline 3 released a new version called Movie Outline 3.1.2.  The upgrade is free if you're currently a user of Version 3, but if you're a user of Version 1 and 2, you'll need to pay $80 to upgrade.  If you're using Versions 1 or 2, I highly recommend spending the money for the upgrade. 

Version 3.1.2 fixes some of those little quirks that tend to slow you down in the writing process like adding auto-convert and auto-capitalization.  They've also added more seamless functions if you're coordinating a script with a writing partner that happens to be an international user.  And if your British friends are driving you nuts sending you scripts that replace the “z” with an “s”, you have the option to ignore UK spelling variations.  All in all, a lot of little grammatical glitches have been fixed in version 3.1.2.

Movie Outline now offers the option to register and submit your script for copyright protection through their software.  I can not tell you how many writers don't even bother to remember how important it is to protect their scripts.  You don't need to be militant about it, but before too many eyes start checking out your hard work, make sure your script is protected. 

I have been using Movie Outline 3 for a current script project for a genre that's unfamiliar to me.  And the feature that has really helped is the Drag and; Drop scenes/steps along with the FeelFactor Story Analysis Graph.  It helps me with pacing and it gives me a clear picture of how many scenes I should have in my script.  So if I know I need 43 scenes, I can do a better job of structuring my first draft.  And I feel like it cuts out how many drafts and how much genre research that I need to do.  And these features are unique to Movie Outline.  They've given me confidence with this script that I would not have had without it.

While there are many other improvements to this software, the feature that will appeal to friends of mine that are in a screenwriting software war is the Final Draft import/export function.  This is such an overdue function.  It's like the Mac vs. PC war amongst my screenwriting friends.  One sect prefers Final Draft while the other prefers Movie Outline and neither side is conceding.  So this solves a lot of problems and keeps everyone in their software comfort zones.  Import options have also improved to include PDF, Rich Text, and Plain Text WITH LAYOUT.  Why am I yelling?  Who wants to fuss with the layout of an imported script?  I don't.  So Bravo to Magic Outline 3.1.2 for that addition.  And yes Movie Outline is 100% Windows 7 and Snow Leopard compatible.  See?  We all can get along.  That's why we creative types are so awesome.

Ebony Jones is a 2001 graduate of Cornell University's School of Hospitality with a degree in business communications.  She has completed her first unpublished novel Sierra Phillips: Swimming in Blue Liqueur as well as a short story, When Ariel Lost Her Voice. She has finally tackled restructuring the dramatic screenplay she's been working on that has now gone from When Momma Dies to untitled since the mother no longer dies.