Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Exception to the Ensemble Epidemic Rule

I have a confession to make. It's not very often that I get addicted to a TV show. While I enjoy "Lost" and "Boston Legal," and a handful of others, there's been nothing that's really broken out for me from the 2006-2007 season... until "Brothers & Sisters."

This ABC dramedy portrays the huge, dysfunctional Walker family--every Walker except J.J., it seems--a well-off bunch with a recently deceased patriarch, all coming to terms with their own neuroses and crumbling relationships in the wake of dad's death. The performances are top-notch across the board--Sally Field, Rob Lowe, Rachel Griffiths, and seemingly half the cast of "Alias"--Patricia Wettig, Ron Rifkin and Balthazar Getty--not to mention the most neurotic of the clan, uber-Republican Kitty, played wonderfully by Calista Flockhart. The cast is so strong you almost forget that not a single one of these siblings looks ANYTHING like each other, and in fact Rachel Griffiths towers a good foot over Sally Field's head, her supposed mother. Whatever!

The writing is consistently amazing--dialogue full of subtext (a recent episode had cast members trading veiled yet stinging personal barbs while seemingly talking merely about wine) and emotion and humor. Another recent scene featured a cat fight between two characters that started off polite, then turned bitchy, then to physical violence, then to humor and finally to tears--all in the space of four minutes, and it WORKED. Wow. I bow in humility and respect to the writers.

And it is a true ensemble show.

Regular CI newsletter and blog readers, along with many of you who've gotten coverage from us, know how we feel in general about ensemble feature screenplays. (If you don't, please read 'The Ensemble Epidemic' HERE.) In short, next to Westerns, ensembles are probably the toughest type of spec script to get anyone interested in. The reason is that these projects, when they are made at all, and that is rarely, are generally auteur-driven, not originated as specs. And while I love Altman and "Crash" as much as the next guy, the market is not generally looking for ensemble dramas--or any dramas, since they are not rewarded at the box office. But far worse is that more often than not, an ensemble feature screenplay is indicative of an amateur writer who has not learned how to focus, how to tell a single story following a solo protagonist yet, and so the writer goes off on tangents following secondary characters like he would in a novel... the net result being the typical prodco reader loses focus on the protagonist and hurls the script into the recycle bin in about 12 pages.

So it dawns on me that I need to revise my opinion about ensembles, since I somehow overlooked one venue where they are alive and thriving -- TV. As "Brothers and Sisters," and indeed, "Lost" and "Boston Legal" and plenty of others show, television is where ensemble writing thrives.

So if you're writing a new feature spec screenplay and you find yourself thinking about taking the ensemble approach -- STOP. Do yourself a favor and make it a TV spec of your favorite hour-long drama, or make it into a pilot instead. It will be less work for you (48 pages instead of 110!)

But even better, it might even have a chance at getting set up, which your feature ensemble spec likely will not.

--Jim C.

P.S. Oh, I know "Brothers & Sisters" has won a lot of fans thanks to the plethora of beefcake on the show, too--whereas the female cast members in general are not, er, shall we say fantasy material. However the show recently added insanely gorgeous 21-year-old Emily Van Camp ("Everwood,") so us dudes have some serious eye candy, too ;) Watch "Brothers & Sisters" on free ABC-TV.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

That's a Wrap!

Writers on the Storm is now closed for submissions in 2007. Many thanks to everyone who participated! It's still to early to tell the total number of entrants since many will be arriving in the mail over the rest of the week, but it looks like we're right around the same as last year--about 900 or so entrants, possibly 1,000. We'll see!

Now it's time to get reading... Are there a few masterpieces in this enormous stack? Let's find out!

--Jim Cirile

PS: Had some Google/blogger difficulty last week, which explains why the comments do not appear on the posts below... and there's no way to recover them. Thanks, blogger! But it has been fixed, so comments should appear below.

Monday, April 09, 2007

CI consults on "My Life As A Dog" sequel

Every now and then we work on something that fills us with a sense of purpose and fulfillment and, well, makes us feel like we're actually doing something cool here. CI recently helped develop "Hair of the Dog," the sequel to "My Life as a Dog" for Swedish producer Thomas Allercrantz with original writer Reidar Jönsson. “My Life as a Dog” was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director (Lasse Hallström) Oscars in 1988 and is just a fantastic, must-see piece of cinema.

I think the analysis is excellent! It could have been my own words :o )
Please forward my thanks and best regards to BF Esq.

I think the analysis will be a very good tool to sharpen up the script, which it clearly needs. It will be very interesting to see the reaction from the authors. I will keep you informed.

I am very glad that we have opened up a link to Coverage, Ink, and looking forward to continuous contact with you in this and other projects. It's to bad that you don't have any Swedish reading readers ;o ), or do you!? In any case I will be glad to recommend your service to other Nordic producers and writers.

Jim C. replies: Thomas, we are privileged and honored to consult on the follow-up to such a wonderful movie! I can't wait to see it on the big screen. Unfortunately we don't have any Nordic readers at this time, although I did write a Viking comedy once that fairly butchered Danish in an attempt to create a faux Old Norse! Do keep us posted on the project. Best regards, Jim

Sunday, April 08, 2007


Hey Stormies,

Portia here, your Writers on the Storm contest coordinator. Don't mean to panic anybody, but our contest is ending soon -- Sunday April 15th! No e-submissions will be accepted past 12 midnight on 4/15/07 (that's Sunday night/Monday morning). In other words, all y'all who've been scrambling to get those scripts tight enough to bounce quarters off of, well, get bouncing!

What's real interesting is that unlike last year's contest, this year we had a lot more people entering WOTS via submitting their script to Coverage, Ink for script analysis, and getting entered in the contest for free that way. In fact we've had over 200 submissions so far through CI! Of course, that's pretty smart, because those guys are getting a second chance -- you get to see what we think of your script and get our tips for correcting the things we find -- and THEN you can polish 'er up and send the script directly into the contest by the end date. Not sure, but I don't think any other contest gives you that sort of leg up.

Now of course, if any of you all send your script in for coverage this week, well, no leg up for you guys -- you'll get your analysis back after the contest end date (unless you do a rush,) which means... no chance to revise and resubmit. However, you will know much sooner than the regular WOTS contestants if you advance to the quarterfinal round or not -- since everyone who gets a 'consider with reservations' or better for script (I'll explain that further, below) is automatically advanced to the quarterfinal round. Folks who submit directly to the contest (at won't find out if they've made the quarterfinals until the main announcement, which I think is sometime in late May. Actually, it's May 25th, Portia -- Jim C. If you enter through CI and don't get a consider with reservations or better for script, you are eliminated. Sorry :( I know that hurts.

Now some of you all don't understand what we mean when we say 'consider for writer' or 'consider for script.' Let me explain how this works. At the end of a coverage report, your script is rated on the following scale: PASS, CONSIDER WITH RESERVATIONS, CONSIDER, STRONG CONSIDER, and RECOMMEND. And you receive this rating for both SCRIPT and for WRITER. In a nutshell, this tells you whether we think the material and the writer are 'there' yet, or if more work needs to be done -- and how much.

The vast majority of scripts are a PASS for both script and writer -- about 90%. Now this doesn't mean that we think the script stinks, or we think you can't write your way out of a Hefty Steel-Sak bag! This simply means that in its current version, we don't feel that the script is ready yet (well, it *could* stink, truth be told... but there's hope for us all with gentle, proper guidance!) And a PASS for writer doesn't necessarily mean you can't write worth a damn; it just means that your craft isn't quite at the level it needs to be -- yet. Heck, none of us start out as Susannah Grant or Frank Darabont -- there's a long, often painful (especially in my case) learning process involved; only over time and after much practice do most of us learn how to bring our 'A' game to the page.

CONSIDER WITH RESERVATIONS, or better, for script, means that we think your script is in pretty good shape, but could still use a bit of work. But it's a bit closer to the target. CONSIDER means, Damn! Nice job! This thing could get peoples' attention! Although even 'considers' often need some fine-tuning. Lastly, there STRONG CONSIDER, which is like saying, whoa, drop everything, this script is awesome! As for RECOMMEND, as JC points out in an article on the CI site, they are super rare. I've been reading scripts in this town for 3 different production companies for six years, and I have given out exactly one recommend!

You need to understand that when a reader gives a script a 'recommend,' she's pretty much pushing the red button. It means my boss is canceling his lunch plans to read the supposed masterpiece. Guess what happens if my boss doesn't agree with my opinion? I am toast. No, worse -- I am frybread. I am stomped-upon saltines. You get the idea. That's why even if a reader loves a script, she'll often hedge her bets and give it a 'consider' -- just in case others don't feel as strongly about it!

Now some people wonder, how come I got a 'consider with reservations' for writer, but a 'pass for script'? Well, that just means the reader thought you're displaying some good writing chops on the page, but the script isn't ready to rock and roll yet. And if you get a 'consider' for script but a 'pass' for writer? That translates to, fantastic idea for a movie, but the execution is not living up to the promise of the premise. You gotta work on your craft.

If any of you guys are still confused about all this, shoot me an e-mail and I will try to make it all make sense...

This leads me to the fun part: announcing our quarterfinalists to date! As of 4/7/07, the 2007 Writers on the Storm quarterfinalists (remember, these are folks who entered the contest through Coverage Ink) are as follows, in no particular order. And as always, I remind everyone we show NO favoritism to anyone who enters the contest via submission to Coverage, Ink - in fact, it's two different staffs of readers.

1) Devils’ Wheel by Chris Blanchet
2) Alone by Tracey Thomas
3) Assisted Living by Marc LaBelle
4) Pretending to be American by Peter Yesley
5) Dogs of War by Nick Gregory
6) Lovelocked by Wehrner Ovalle
7) Lowlifes by Brian Buccellato
8) Ariadne’s Thread by Steve Callen
9) Resurrecting Angel by Leslie Flannery
10) How the Hell Did I Get Here? by Arie Kaplan
11) Night of Reflection by Chris Cambria
12) Xs and O’Briens by George Krubski
13) Jackson Hole by Don Balch
14) Sanctuary by Chris Cobb
15) Buried Secrets by Carlos Calvo
16) Grave Consequences by Curt Burdick & Scott Burdick
17) Lions by Dave Hackett
18) Ritornare by Mark Porro
19) Middle Man by Jay Curcuru
20) Mortal Coil by Andrew Steven Harris
21) Virgin Marie by Krista Zumbrink
22) Kung Fu Movie 3 by JD Hoang

That's it, y'all! Remember to get those scripts into us by midnight Sunday 4/15 at One of you could be struttin' proud real soon!

Love to all,

Portia Jefferson

Friday, April 06, 2007

Interview with WOTS finalist Ned Beedie

Our friend Frederick Mensch from, the number one go-to resource for screenplay contests, recently did an interview with 2006 Writers on the Storm Top 3 finalist Ned Beedie. We thought we'd post it here, too. Congrats on the publicity, Ned! You deserve it!

MovieBytes Interview: Screenwriter Ned Beedie
An interview with screenwriter Ned Beedie regarding the Century City Writing Competition.
Q: What's the title of the script you entered in this contest, and what's it about?

A: The Dollmaker.

The logline is: Mike Broyles is a recently disgraced reporter -- think Jayson Blair from the NY Times. He returns to his hometown to rethink his life when the body of a missing 8 year-old boy turns up hanging from a tree.
Mike begins to uncover evidence that links this killing to a series of unsolved murders from fifteen years ago -- the Dollmaker killings.

Of course, with his credibility shot, no one believes Mike. That is, except for the murderer himself, who now knows that somebody is on to him. Mike has a chance on a story that could redeem his life and career -- if he lives long enough to write it.

Q: What made you enter this particular contest? Have you entered any other contests with this script? If so, how did you do?

A: I enter any and all contests that I can. I figure the more exposure, the better.

Yes, I have. -Semi-finalist in the Writer's Network Competition
-1st Place Winner in the Century City Screenwriting Competition
-2nd Runner Up in Writers on the Storm Competition -1 of 40
scripts selected for the fall '06 IFP Market, NYC -Semifinalist
in the Screenwriting Expo Contest -Honorable mention for the
IndieProducer.Com Screenwriting Competition -Semifinalist in
American Accolades Competition -Quarterfinalist in American
Screenwriting Competition -First Round Placement in 20/20
Competition -Quarterfinalist in Page Screenplay Competition

Q: Were you satisfied with the adminstration of the contest? Did they meet their deadlines? Did you receive all the awards that were promised?

A: I was very satisfied with all the contests I entered except one. I had an extremely bad encounter with the administrator of that particular competition and would never recommend it to anyone. Otherwise, all went very well. I received everything promised and got many meetings and readings from them.

Q: Were you given any feedback on your script? If so, did you find the feedback helpful?

A: I've been given a TON of feedback on the script. I have a completely new draft that tries to take many of these notes into account. I've only had a few people read this new version so it's still untested. I don't know if it works or if too many cooks in the kitchen undid what I was trying to achieve.

Q: Has your success in this contest helped you market your script? Were you contacted by any agents, managers or producers?

A: Yes, it has helped market it. I've been approached by all three but yet to sign with anyone, much to my frustration.

Q: What's your background? Have you written any other screenplays or television scripts?

A: I have a Master's Degree in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute. I have written other screenplays, optioned two and am working in the industry full time on various projects...though am ready to take my game up a notch or two.

Q: Do you live in Los Angeles? If not, do you have any plans to move there?

A: Yes, I don't think you can truly succeed in this business unless you do. So much of it is about bumping into people at the gym or Starbucks, or knowing a friend who has a sister who's an agent and volunteers to pass along your script. Obviously,
writing and the material matter. But, unfortunately, that can only take you so far and it's the relationships you build that sustain you.

Q: What's next? Are you working on a new script?

A: I'm currently working on two new scripts. I have a website: that describes best what I'm doing, who I am and where I'm going. Thanks!