Friday, December 28, 2007

Strike Me Down

Recapping our WGA strike coverage with more analysis and commentary

by Jim Cirile

Let me say up front that Coverage, Ink supports the WGA 100%. The things the Guild is asking for are a pittance to the industry conglomerates. Of course writers should make more than 4 cents on a DVD. Of course writers should get paid when their work is viewed online. Duh. Under the Guild’s proposal, Paramount and CBS would each pay $4.66 million per year while MGM would pay only $320,000/year. Seriously, that’s it. So for the AMPTP (producers) to be shutting them down and refusing to budge (as they have for months) is reprehensible and frankly seems flat-out bananas. Unless they’re planning on replacing all scripted entertainment with 24/7 Paris and Britney coverage in ‘08. (Agh!)

That said, did the Guild really have to put the entire town out of work for the last two months of the year? I have a lot of friends who are out of work now – not just writers, but photographers, UPMs, drivers, on and on. Was there a better way this could have been handled? IATSE president Tom Short seems to think so, and he blasted the WGA brass on the front page of the 11/15 Hollywood Reporter, saying that WGA management’s failure to engage AMPTP earlier has resulted in ‘devastation’ and that their ‘incompetence’ and ‘inexperience’ has put 50,000 IATSE members out of work. The flip side is that the WGA pretty much *had* to strike now – the AMPTP wasn’t budging, and if they’d waited into next year, they’d lose their scant leverage and possibly wind up drowned in a trifecta of potential strikes – WGA, SAG and the Director’s Guild all at the same time, after the studios had a chance to stock up on product. Okay, I get it.

But there are other things. When I first joined the Guild, it baffled me to learn that a writer could work on a project for months, only to not receive any credit at all in the finished film. Nothing, zip. Because when the WGA does its arbitration, it decides who gets the credit. They pick one or two names, and then the other 11 writers who worked on the project? S.O.L. I think this is a flaming wagon of dung.

So I wrote the WGA to tell them so. Why is it a PA can work on a film for one day and get rolling screen credit (which I have done,) yet a writer could work on a film for months, have their ideas or dialogue or even whole scenes in the finished film and get none? Outrageous. The solution is simple. The WGA should keep the arbitration system to award credit and residuals and profit participation, and those writers credited should be, as always, get credits in the titles just before the director. Fine. But then there should ALSO be a “Contributing Writers” credit in the crawl listing every writer who worked on the project, whether any of their effort made it to screen or not. These writers receive no additional compensation -- they simply get a screen credit because they worked on the damn film.

“Written By,” the WGA magazine, actually printed my letter, and I spent a year or so trying to get traction on this idea. I was finally told by a friend with close ties to the board to give it up -- the WGA *likes* maintaining the illusion that only one writer (or a team) wrote a movie. They will never do anything to officially acknowledge all the other writers. WTF?

All these years later, nothing has changed, and I still think I’m right and the WGA is full of it. So maybe I’m carrying a grudge? Not really. But it makes it hard to accept that they really have all the membership’s best interests in mind, when it’s the Guild themselves who is first discriminates against writers with their arbitration process.

On Monday Dec. 10, the Writers Guild of America sent an official communiqu̩ to the entire WGA West membership plugging a spoof site ridiculing the AMPTP. The site,, lampoons the AMPTP's poor judgment and is entertaining satire to be sure. But at a time when thousands of people are out of work heading into the holidays, most of whom will never see any benefit from any WGA deal -- only lost income Рshould the Guild really be antagonizing producers whom writers will have to work with again?

I mailed my concerns to the WGA. WGA President Patric Verrone responded promptly:


Thanks for writing. So you know, this web site was done without Guild knowledge or input but, when we saw it, we thought members would be interested. We remain committed to resolving this contract as soon as humanly possible. Remember, the AMPTP walked away from the table on Friday, not us. We are ready and willing to bargain at a moment's notice.




Great response, and indeed, the AMPTP did just up and walk away, the bastards! But still, shouldn’t this be something you let spread virally, not sanction via a Guild mailing? Maybe not. Reader Jerry Monaco, a former union organizer and veteran of many strikes, commented in a fascinating response on the Coverage Ink blog, “The truth is that the WGA alone is neither big enough nor powerful enough to be what Galbraith once called a counter-veiling power. But to slag on the union for doing something successfully, something that we non-writers that support you admire greatly is not seeing the reality of the situation.” Fair enough. “When your bosses complain about how upset they are about the tactics and antics of your union, it is because your union is getting under their skin.”

So here we are at the end of the year with no negotiations scheduled and no end in sight. Yeah, the picture’s a bit bleak, and there’s certainly going to be plenty of second-guessing. Maybe I’m guilty of that. But at the end of the day, what the writers are asking for is fair, and the producers are being A-holes. End of story. Let’s all hope that this puppy ends SOON so the town can get back to work.

UPDATE 12/26: A high-level writer friend tells me a reporter from the “New York Times” just called him asking if there’s any truth to the rumor that 8 or so A-list feature screenwriters are preparing to ankle the Guild and resume work! Holy crap! My friend knew nothing about this and couldn’t comment. But if this is true, it could well break the Guild’s spine. But -- my guess is this is a load, disinformation put out by AMPTP to create unrest. I can’t imagine these writers would jeopardize their health benefits, huge pensions and residuals to do such a thing, but hey, this is “The Times” calling, the supposed paper of record (their shameless, uncritical stumping for the Iraq occupation and ignoring of many other critical issues notwithstanding.)

Monday, December 24, 2007


If you’re looking for an amazing blog written by a true industry pro, do check out high-level WMA executive Christopher Lockhart’s fantastic The Inside Pitch. Every single person reading this needs to spend ten minutes absorbing the wisdom imparted upon us by the wise Master Lockhart, who answers many questions from screenwriters and truly is the insider.

Click HERE to read The Inside Pitch!

Here's an example of what you will find on Chris' blog:
(a reader writes:)Does the title really matter (when it comes to a spec)? I opted for (the provisory title) “4 and ½” to perfectly support the insanely smart hook in my logline (that can be seen at If the logline is as important as you say (and I decided it is before I opened your site) I guess it worth the risk. And I’m saying that cuz I have better titles up my sleeves.

CL responds: Yes. I think a title really matters. Producers think about how they are going to sell the movie to audiences, and that process begins with the title. Yes, studios change titles all the time, but you want to consider the perfect title for your screenplay.

THE FAMILY STONE, which was released late in 2005, was originally titled THEY F**KING HATE HER and then retitled HATING HER before ending up with the final result. But the original title helped to increase an awareness of the script and prodded people to read it. Of course, the title SNAKES ON A PLANE gave that project a massive amount of attention.

I’m not a fan of your title, because it doesn’t give me a hint as to what the script might be about.

Is 4 and ½ a comedy about an ugly woman?
Or a tragedy about a man with a small penis?
Or a heartwarming MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS with math instead of music?

I have journeyed to your website to check out the “insanely smart hook” in your logline – which is more insane than smart.

The notion of a script that is a “fast-paced fantasy comedy with horror and parody elements set against a background of high adventure” doesn’t help me – in the slightest – to nail down the tone.

Furthermore, you chose a group of protagonists made up of screenwriters, which is an automatic “pass.”

Sadly, Chris folded the blog in April ’07, but it is still well worth your time. Check it out!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Popular Films' logline Worksheet


Tim Albaugh, cofounder of Popular Films, and an instructor in the UCLA Professional Program in Screenwriting, was kind enough to share his insights on loglines with us. Loglines are in many ways more important than the script itself, since if your one-liner isn’t compelling, the script won’t get in the door. Albaugh teaches this material in his UCLA Professional Program in Screenwriting class, and we’re pleased to present it to you here.


By Tim Albaugh

Loglines are many times more difficult to write than a screenplay. But if you can’t tell your story in a few sentences, you’ll never be able to do it in 120 pages.

Loglines are a condensed version of your story, usually 50 words or less. It’s the “trailer” for the reader or development executive. It should give the essence of the story and most importantly, hook the reader.

Loglines should reveal the protagonist’s PERSONALITY and SITUATION; the important COMPLICATIONS; describe the ACTION the protagonist takes; and hint at the CLIMAX and the potential TRANSFORMATION of the protagonist.

Everything needs to be distilled down to the essentials. Forget the small stuff; no details. Make them have to read the script.

Focus on WHO your story is about and WHAT the CONFLICT is.

Make sure you include the human story (emotional conflict) in your logline.
Start with the protagonist, then give the emotional conflict that has to be overcome in order to solve the external conflict.

Don’t forget, your script has to be about a person with a problem -- and the person LEAST able to solve the problems usually gets stuck with it.

Use strong, action words. Case in point:


Michael is an arrogant, unemployed actor who has no respect for women. Unable to find work, Michael dresses up as a woman and lands a job on a soap opera. Forced to be a woman 24/7, Michael learns to respect the opposite sex and ultimately becomes a better man.

First sentence is character and his emotional problem. Second sentence is his “plot” problem and his reaction to it; the action he takes. The third sentence suggests the transformation the protagonist will experience.

Just like a movie has three acts, your logline should have those three beats mentioned above. Beginning, middle, end.


To get Popular Films to work for you, schedule a consultation! Popular will read your script and set up a 2-hour face-to-face meeting with you. Popular has projects set up all over the town. We know of no other working production company that does this, so take advantage of this amazing opportunity. For more on Popular, check out their Coverage, Ink web page.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Letter of the Month

We LOVE this! Go, Javier!

Hi Jim,

I thought (now that I have plenty of free time due to the strike) I'd share a short success story of mine with you, as you were part of it.

You gave a favorable response for The Heretic, which, boy... came at the right time. It felt like I'd been losing a little bit of hope as a writer, but your coverage was not only a booster shot for my confidence, it helped me refine the script further. Because of that, I went on to land a great manager, some relationships at great companies.

To make a long story short, after working with a development exec at Phoenix Pictures for a few months, getting The Heretic just right, Mike Medavoy optioned the script in September! Granted... it's now parked because of the strike... but we got the option anyway!

Thought I'd share, and thank you personally once again for your help in getting me to where I am.

Javier Rodriguez

Mission accomplished! That just makes our day. Any time one of our own finds a crack in the fortress walls and slips in, it's cause for celebration. In Javier's case, he took a tough piece of material -- a middle ages period piece -- and made it commercial by adding a complex protagonist in a gritty, action-filled setting. Great work, dude, and continued good luck on your ascending career! -- Jim C.

Monday, December 10, 2007

WGA Management Officially on Crack

Monday Dec. 10 -- In a staggering display of poor judgment, the Writers Guild of America, currently neck-deep in a strike effort against the AMPTP (film producers), either deliberately or inadvertently sent an official WGA communique to the entire WGA West membership plugging a spoof site ridiculing the AMPTP. The site,, lampoons the AMPTP's poor judgment and is entertaining satire to be sure. But at a time when thousands of people are out of work heading into the holidays, most of whom will never see any benefit from any WGA deal, only lost income, the industry is getting more and more nervous, and key industry figures like Thomas Short, president of Hollywood union IATSE, are publicly criticizing guild management for incompetence on the front page of The Hollywood Reporter, in my opinion the Guild should have exercised some sensitivity here. To be sure, this comes across as a childish move--certainly not the deft and professional negotiations many of us were hoping for.

To be clear, Coverage Ink supports the issues the WGA is going for here. But boneheaded moves like this can't possibly help the Guild or the strikers. Goof sites are fine, and I've written a few myself. But when they're officially sanctioned by one side, it makes the sanctioner look like a complete jack-ass. Brilliant tactical maneuver, WGA.

UPDATE 12/11: WGA President Patric Verrone responds thusly:


Thanks for writing. So you know, this web site was done without Guild knowledge or input but, when we saw it, we thought members would be interested. We remain committed to resolving this contract as soon as humanly possible. Remember, the AMPTP walked away from the table on Friday, not us. We are ready and willing to bargain at a moment's notice.




So this confirms that no less than WGA President Patric Verrone signed off on this mail. God help us all. I defer to the first post below from "anonymous" as to a few more reasons why this WGA mailing was a serious shot in the foot. --JC

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Short That Took A Year

Hard to believe it, but it was one year ago that my cowriter Aaron Schnore and I put the finishing touches on our comedy short screenplay SHOWDOWN OF THE GODZ. Back then our budget was $8,000, largely put up by our director Julien Calderbank, and we planned to shoot in February in NYC and have the film out to festivals in the Spring. That would be Spring... 2007.

Er, well, we DID shoot in NYC in February. As for the rest of it...

We are finishing the film TODAY (December 7, 2007.)

WTF? How could Coverage Ink's first co production, a 16-minute short, take so long? Folks, there is no short answer, but suffice it to say, many lessons were learned along the way. The good news is the film looks great. We're all proud of it and I'm fairly confident it rocks.

However, it took us $50,000 (I've worked on FEATURES with smaller budgets...) and a year to make it so.

There wasn't just one delay or issue, there were multitudes, both large and small. Most of them had to do with fixing mistakes. For example, due to some, shall we say, spectacular ineptitude on the part of our camera operator, certain scenes shot on certain days had dirt on the lens. We had two choices: leave it be or spend the money to have the film fixed. This process (called dustbusting) is the same painstaking process old films undergo when they are restored. Each frame is analyzed, and the debris, scratches, hairs caught in the gate, etc., are digitally painted out.

This took a lot of time and two separate CG artists (Tom Haney, and Lisa Yimm & David Bell of HDR-FX.) And then there were the compatibility issues--making the dustbusted footage integrate back into the original. This alone took weeks to resolve. But the end result is the film looks as pristine as, er, well, as it would have been had it been shot properly in the first place. Ahem.

Then there was the "Super X." This supposed rare monster toy is the Macguffin, the subject of our protagonist's quest. Yet on camera, the Japanese monster toy selected by our props guy looked the opposite of awe-inspiring. It sucked. Enter CG artist Tom Haney, who rotoscoped out the original weak-ass prop frame by frame and replaced it with a new one that just rocks, complete with dynamic lighting and proper sense of majesty.

Yeah, that took some time and a few bucks. Are you starting to get the picture?

Then there was music licensing... some more F/X work (including miniatures and more CGI) a key member of the team freaking out and bailing midway through, only to return months later; a few normal, healthy creative disagreements, and some flat-out attitude issues from a few key post personnel, all of which slowed down the works immeasurably.

And this is the tip of the iceberg. Suffice it to say, the Godz producer team--myself, Aaron Schnore and Robert Troch--often felt like we were battling a gigantic mutated Japanese monster with a broom, yet we forded on and stuck to our creative vision.

And today, we did it. Finally the film is mastered and ready for festivals.


In the coming months, will be up (not yet) and the film will be rolling out to selected Festivals in '08. We are also setting up screenings in LA and NYC for February/March and will eventually have DVDs available for sale, too. Thanks, everyone, for your patience. Will it have been worth all the time, money and effort? We'll see!

--Jim C.