Thursday, February 28, 2008


Holy Crap! 40-year-old New Line Cinema, the studio that has given us spectacular films such as "Lord of the Rings" (and more than a few unspectacular ones, too) is no more. Warner Bros., who acquired it a few years back, today announced they were absorbing New Line into its vast corporate bloat. New Line as a separate studio will cease to exist, and the New Line label will only be used for urban, horror and genre pictures, hearkening back to NL's early days.

Approximately 600 New Line staffers are jobless.

This is stunningly bad news on many levels. Firstly, the continued media consolidation means less buyers, which means less chances to sell spec scripts, less films being developed, less chance of real cutting-edge filmmaking taking place. And then there's the job losses -- with this announcement, a huge chunk of the town is now out of work; projects that were in development there (and there are many) are likely to go into turnaround, which means, hot on the heels of the writers' strike, yet again a lot of wordsmiths will be unemployed. It means less income for agents and managers and simply makes it even tougher, period, to break in.

And the dreaded big media consolidation machine rolls on.

The only bright spot here is that certainly some NL executives will start new companies, and as happened with the Weinsteins leaving Miramax, phoenixes do emerge from the ashes. But for now, this just flat-out sucks.

Variety has the scoop HERE.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Writers on the Storm 3 - $10,000 GRAND PRIZE

We're nuts.

A 10 grand first prize? Believe it. Because we want to say loud and clear to everyone that Writers on the Storm is one of the top 5 contests out there. And so while some other contests are fumbling, we're stepping up.

10 grand.

Whew. That's a lot of dough. But your script is worth it? Or... IS it? ;)

Writers on the Storm 3 begins 4/21/08. Here's the lowdown:

$40 entry fee
$10,000 first prize
Every submission gets feedback
And of course... FREE entry with any script submission to Coverage, Ink during the contest period (4/21/08 - 7/11/08.)

So, gentlemen (and ladies,) start your engines... let's get those scripts ready because the STORM is about to hit!

Jim Cirile

Friday, February 15, 2008

Challenging the Unchallengable

Interview with Jarek Kupsc
Writer/Director, "The Reflecting Pool"

By Jim Cirile

“The Reflecting Pool” may just be the “All the President’s Men” of our time. No, it doesn’t have Hoffman and Redford. But it is a chilling and important fact-based investigative drama.

Writer/director Jarek Kupsc (“Slumberland”) stars as Alex Prokop, a successful hard-hitting Russian/American journalist. As a last gasp before corporate takeover, his editor (Lisa Black) hands Prokop a bombshell assignment -- investigate the official version of 9-11. Prokop, dismissive of 9-11 skeptics, reluctantly teams with grieving father Paul Cooper (the outstanding Joseph Culp) to investigate. After losing his daughter in the attacks, Cooper transformed himself into a 9-11 expert -- at the expense of his marriage. As Prokop and Cooper kick at the hornets’ nest, a sickening, carefully orchestrated pattern of deceit emerges – and Prokop finds publishing the story may mean curtains on his career.

The well-researched (and exhaustively documented on the DVD) thriller ultimately proves more compelling than 9-11-themed documentaries such as “Loose Change” by taking a narrative approach and by personalizing the story. Disbelieving investigative reporter Prokop is an effective audience surrogate, while the passionate, fragile and self-destructive Cooper grounds the story with heart and soul -- a constant reminder of the human cost of the “war on terror.” The script is solid, the characterizations moving. If the film has a flaw, it’s in trying to document so much evidence in a narrative structure. Yet by and large, it pulls it off to deliver a chilling and effective message -– maybe it CAN happen here.

“The Reflecting Pool” will open eyes, anger some and test the faith of others. But it also finally gives voice to the 48% of Americans distrustful the official 9-11 story, according to a recent Zogby poll. And it’s a tour de force from writer/director/actor Jarek Kupsc. With the 9-11 Truth movement gaining steam by the day (this week alone, Willie Nelson “came out,” joining a growing list of celebrities to question 9-11; Dario Fo & Gore Vidal’s 9-11 documentary “Zero” is dropping jaws and creating buzz in Berlin at the European Film Market; and NY Times reporter Philip Swenon's expose "The Commission" hit bookstores) we believe this is an important topic worthy of serious discussion, and thus we are proud to bring you this interview with the courageous Mr. Kupsc.

Coverage Ink: Tell us a little about your background.

Jarek Kupsc: I’m over forty, so the background is pretty vast and littered with a lot of debris. But, in telegraphic terms, here it comes. Born and raised in Warsaw, Poland. Art and History major in high-school. Participated in juvenile delinquency politics during martial law with mild consequences. Escaped military service by becoming a political refugee in Greece. Emigrated to the U.S. in 1987 (after an unsuccessful attempt to enter Australia and Canada). Worked my way through college and state university in San Francisco, studying acting and film directing. Wrote a book on film history as a way of financing first feature film (didn’t work out). Subsequently, went bankrupt making two movies.

CI: Wow. What was the genesis of “The Reflecting Pool”?

JK: The movie came as a direct result of my personal interest in 9/11, which began on 9/11 at 9:03 a.m., the moment the second tower got hit. As a born skeptic fed totalitarian propaganda in my native Poland, I never bought the official story of nineteen hijackers. After three years of research, I amassed enough information to believe that this tragic event was orchestrated within the U.S. government circles. I never intended to make a movie about 9/11. I was absolutely positive someone else would. Sure enough, some excellent (and some outlandish) documentaries started to
(emerge). I thought it would be a matter of short time before the notoriously “liberal” Hollywood or some independent producer would tackle the subject in a dramatic form. By 2005, that didn’t happen. So I decided to do it on my own. I was simply driven by anger and disbelief that the narrative sector of the movie industry would not deal with this issue. Since I am trained in the narrative form, it was only natural to develop a character-driven fictitious film based on actual events.

CI: The idea of turning all that research into a narrative investigative drama sounds pretty daunting. What was your writing process?

JK: From my personal research, I had all the facts. And by “facts,” I mean sources that came directly from mainstream media – New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, even Fox News, believe it or not. All these outlets reported some pretty damning information. Granted, it was never front-page news. Those articles were buried deep. Luckily, as a grad student, my wife (“The Reflecting Pool” producer) Jodie Baltazar had access to an online library that rivals the Library of Congress, so I could cross-reference any officially published 9/11 topic. I also looked at some of the best 9/11 Truth websites to find links to mainstream articles. They are very thorough in indexing their sources to avoid any suspicion of fabricating or distorting the facts. Having had these facts at my disposal, I then begun a truly arduous process of selecting what should stay in the script and what should go. It was an editorial process of elimination of those facts that were still questionable, less relevant, or could be misconstrued as misinformation. I ended up with a short-list, which I then trimmed to what a two-hour movie could support without overwhelming the audience. The facts you hear about in “The Reflecting
Pool” were ultimately chosen to give a solid foundation for the narrative of two guys who go after the truth. The fiction part of the script is what gives the movie human dimension, real drama, as opposed to a fact-driven documentary.

CI: I noticed the DVD is meticulously sourced. These are facts, and the picture they paint is inarguable. Yet many will dismiss them because the concept of government and media complicity is just too horrifying for some folks to handle.

JK: If you dismiss the facts of “The Reflecting Pool,” you have to dismiss every source we used, including Fox News and the most prominent newspapers in the country. So you have to ask yourself, if Fox News is telling me that every intelligence service in the world sent us warnings about the attacks, what does it mean? Now, Fox News, for all intents and purposes, is a propaganda channel for the Bush administration. They are not apologetic about it -– they provided the President with a Fox News spokesperson for heaven’s sake! But now and then, even Fox has to report some truth just to give us an illusion of objectivity. In this case, reporting on the foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks, they got it right. Of course, they didn’t break this story – they wouldn’t dare. But once they saw it being reported on the other networks, they were forced to pick it up in fear of not falling behind. The worst form of censorship is self-censorship. Not reporting something you know is true is far more damaging than burning a few library books. What we have in this corporate media-driven society is a combination of self-censorship and marginalizing the inconvenient truth. If you bury it by the obituary page, nobody will read it. If you listen to our commentary on “The Reflecting Pool” DVD, you’ll hear all these quotes from corporate media, and you may think, wait a minute, they DID report this! They must be on our side! What you don’t realize is that none of the facts we quote were ever front-page, or even back-page news. They were meticulously marginalized and, obviously, nobody came out in the mainstream media to connect all the dots. Which is what “The Reflecting Pool” attempts to do -- to paint a larger picture based on marginalized reports.

CI: I understand the film was at least partially financed by credit cards. How did you go about raising the money?

JK: We didn’t. We, Jodie and I, and (producer/actor) Joseph Culp, combined our meager personal resources to make this film. There was no time to wait for outside money, which could take years to raise. It had to be done in the moment. For the same reason we are self-distributing the DVD on A lot of people don’t realize that even if you do secure a distribution deal, the so-called turnaround time for the movie to see the light of day would take twelve to eighteen
months. By then, Cheney and Co. will (hopefully) be way out of the office, laughing all the way to the bank.

CI: You have a few key cast members from Corman's original "Fantastic Four" (Joseph Culp and Alex Hyde-White) in your cast ;) Hyde-White's Bill O'Reilly-esque host was chillingly accurate.

JK: I met Joseph Culp about three years ago through an actor friend. Joe is an accomplished drama teacher, in addition to his other skills. I took his Walking Theatre Workshop for several years. About a year into my acting training with Joe, I began working on the “Reflecting Pool” script. We ended up workshopping the material in the theatre on weekly basis. In fact, the script really took shape thanks to the acting workshop with Joe.

Now, through Joe and his workshop we had access to some amazing actors. In the early nineties, Joe had been cast in the Roger Corman original “The Fantastic Four” movie as Dr. Doom. He befriended Mr. Fantastic, the outstanding Alex Hyde-White, and during “The Reflecting Pool” casting process, he immediately thought of Alex for the part of our TV host, who is clearly modeled after Bill O’Reilly. The only directorial suggestion I made to Alex Hyde-White in preparation for his role was not to think of it as parody. He really played it straight. When you know what O’Reilly is capable of on the air, you can almost say Alex is underplaying a bit. But
in all honesty, the character of Mahoney, the TV show host, in “The Reflecting Pool” is a sad commentary on reality, not on O’Reilly specifically. You have these so-called “news shows” on any network, and they are cast, scripted, and directed as pure entertainment. There is no real news on television, period. Unless you’re into traffic reports and weather.

CI: One thing that jumped out when I saw the film was that I wish there was one brave editor somewhere who'd take on this story, as happened in the film. And yet even Rolling Stone, American Prospect, Mother Jones and The Nation are inexplicably silent on the issue. What do you think is going on?

JK: Vanity Fair did a fairly decent piece on 9/11 and "Loose Change" in 2006. But even they had to beat around the bush, if you excuse the pun. On a good day, I believe they are not educated enough on the facts of 9/11 and still consider it another “nutty conspiracy” case. On a bad day, I think the pressure from the top, meaning the ownership, is just too dangerous to risk a 9/11 expose for the major publications. It’s a make-or-break issue, and most likely they would be broken. Look what happened to Dan Rather with his 60-minutes report on Bush’s National Guard service. Look at how (“The View”) dealt with Rosie O’Donnell after the Building Seven episode. This is the message they are sending to other prominent figures – you risk having your career shattered. The issue of spin and damage-control by corporate media features prominently in “The Reflecting Pool.”

CI: What sort of reaction is the film getting? I would imagine there's praise and also some hostility.

JK: I would have to honestly say that most people who have seen “The Reflecting Pool” so far are firm believers in the government complicity in 9/11. So, by default, they nearly uniformly praise the film. We are getting applause at every show and the Q&As. Personally, I’m very flattered by that. But the real trick is to find a larger, skeptical audience. We have gotten a terrific support from various political groups in spreading the word about the movie. What we need is a fund-raiser to
place a full-page color ad in LA Times and book a nice theatre for a week-long run. Then, the papers would have to review the movie, and people not involved in politics would see the ad and hopefully come to the screenings. We have to cross-over to the mainstream if this message is going to be heard loud and clear. That takes the kind of money we simply don’t have. What we do have, however, is grass-roots support, which is a beautiful beginning of a long journey. I’m sure we will encounter real
hostility if we show the movie to a larger audience. We are prepared and ready to face it.

CI: What's next for you?

JK: In terms of a next film project, I would like to continue making small-scale independent films for the rest of my life. I made three so far. Realistically, the next project will need outside financing – I’m tapped out. I have about five projects of varying budgets lined up. What I do next depends on how much money I can get. I’m not a player in the film industry, so my prospects are grim. For now, I’m fully committed to take “The Reflecting Pool” as far as we can take it, domestically and internationally.

CI: Tell us where can folks see “The Reflecting Pool”?

JK: "The Reflecting Pool" screens EVERY Saturday and Sunday at 11AM at the Laemmele Monica 4-plex. Followed by Filmmakers Q & A after each show.

1332 2nd Street, Santa Monica, CA
Special screening on Monday, February 18
Come celebrate President's Day with us!
11AM at the Laemmele Monica 4-plex. Filmmaker Q & A

You can also check for additional screenings
on our website.

CI: And you can also order DVDs off the website. Thanks for your time, Jarek, and best of luck with the movie and your career.

JK: Thank you, Jim.

Character Counts!

Yes, character does count. No, we're not talking about honesty or humanitarianism or giving back or consideration of your fellow man or any of that silliness. We're talking about screenplays. So here are a couple quick tips that a lot of folks don't think about when it comes to presenting characters in their scripts.


There are two schools of thought on this. The first is never use boring, typical names throughout your script or you'll never be able to tell the characters apart. For example, which of these groups of pals will be easiest to remember and tell apart: Pete, Bill, Mike and Rob -- or Lazlo, Murph, Fuaz and Pyro? The last thing you want is anybody going back to page 14 trying to remember, "Which one was Pete again? Oh, yeah." Which can happen if the names are average and the characterizations lean.

The other school of thought is to NOT do that, because some people get put off by unusual names. And indeed, it is possible to go over the top on this. But a writer needs to do everything he or she can to make the characterizations distinctive. The character's name is important. So the next time you're about to name your character Generic Name #11B, instead consider reaching for the baby names book and looking up something a bit more distinctive. Would Homer Simpson be as funny if his name was Bill? Think about that.


For features, the rule is: CAPITALIZE character name (and put age in parenthesis) the first time they appear; thereafter, character name should be in regular mixed case in descriptions. Don’t be the guy who capitalizes your character names every single time. This is terribly annoying, and worse, makes it less clear when a new character arrives in the script.

Now some people get confused on this, because they see character names capitalized in SLUG LINES. And that is okay, because a slug line is the way we writers cheat and tell the director what to shoot without camera direction. So if you’re using a slug line to specify a particular shot, yes, capitalize the name—then switch back to mixed case when the description resumes. Like this...

Mad Dog levels the shotgun at Julio.


He’s done, and he knows it. He lowers the rake.

Mad Dog swats it away and brutally kicks Julio to the floor.

And remember to include at least a brief (1-word is okay!) description of every character you mention who speaks. Try to make these descriptions succinct and emblematic. We don’t need tons of detail about what someone is wearing or their mental state or what have you. Find a concise way to get at the kernel of what you’re trying to say. The director and costumer and actor will fill in the blanks...

NAZIR (22,) a walrus of a man
MARTHA (67,) frazzled, way too much makeup
WILLY SAN PIETRO (55) – Perpetually cheery in bathrobe and oxygen mask
LUNA (19) World’s most confused waitress
MARGIE-LYNN (40), sequined cowboy boots and a 10-gallon Stetson

We’re writers, so use this forced economy as an excuse to let your creativity shine! The snappier and tighter your character intros, the more readers will relax, feeling their in the arms of a sure-handed storyteller.


Great actors will fight to play someone who is complex, richly detailed and interesting. Giving the character back story, family, friends, hobbies, quirks, peccadilloes, idiosyncrasies, etc., goes a long way towards building a multidimensional person that we want to watch a movie about. Does he or she have a dramatic flaw or a goal? What personal problem does this character need to solve? How does he arc or change? What does he learn during the course of the story, and how does it enable him to resolve his internal AND external issues? Keep in mind: if your script is under 95 pages, that should be an immediate red flag -- what’s likely missing is depth of character, which needs to be established in the form of *character-defining scenes* in your first ten pages (establishing the character(s) in his/her known world.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Yay, the Strike is Over.

We were all pretty tired of it, weren't we? Finally things can get back to normal in town and the tens of thousands of folks who depend on business as usual in this town might be able to pay their rent by April.

Now onto more important matters. Behold these newly leaked photos of the reimagined starship "Enterprise."
Click to embiggen! High-rez pix!

And here's another one:

What do you guys think? Me, I like that they kept the same basic shape and, interestingly, some of the exact details from the original design--yet radically changed the warp nacelles. Hmm. I don't think it's a home run like the way the refit for the movies way back in 1978 was. It may not even be a base hit. Watching the remastered original Star Trek episodes with the redone all-CGI "Enterprise" proves how well the original design holds up when shot in high rez. This version just looks a little like changes for the sake of changes, but not actually improved.

--Jim C.

Monday, February 11, 2008


The one class no one wants to take is actually the secret formula to kicking your writing into overdrive.

By Jim Cirile

1,500 words. That’s how long my Agent’s Hot Sheet columns for “Creative Screenwriting” must be. No longer, no shorter. May not sound like much, and indeed, it isn’t. The industry bigwigs on my panel are all characters with colorful stories. And so the first draft of each column always comes in around 2,500 words. Inevitably I am faced with a conundrum—how to crunch all this agenty goodness so it will fit—and here’s the key—*without actually losing any of the content?*

It used to be much harder to do than it is now. Because I took a copy editing class at UCLA.

A few years back, when I found myself doing more and more magazine and internet articles, I enrolled in UCLA’s certificate in journalism program. I had never actually learned to write in proper newspaper and magazine style, how to source stories, how to write copy for broadcast, etc. All useful stuff and surprisingly all useful for screenwriting, too.

But then came Karre Jacobs’ copy editing class.

My first reaction: yecch. It was all about grammar and punctuation and proofreading and “AP Style Guide” rules. But it was Required. So somewhat painfully, I bought the dry-as-Gobi textbooks and dragged myself to class. Little did I know I was entering a chrysalis, soon to emerge a lean, mean editing machine.

We started out by proofreading old news stories written by former students. This was pretty easy. It’s always easier to spot excess verbosity on others’ work (streamlining your own work is something else.) Then we learned the Associated Press style rules. These are important for newspaper and magazine stories, since most publications go by AP style. AP governs things like whether to capitalize President or not, whether you should write out “twenty three” or use the digits, when to use a comma and when to use an em-dash, and on and on. Borrrring. But I came to realize — heck, these same rules apply to a well-formatted screenplay. And screenplays became a lot less confusing when people actually did follow the direct address rule (always use a comma before and after any direct address—right, bub?)

But most importantly, we learned to be concise — get the point across in the *fewest possible words.* I became aghast as I looked back on my scripts. They were all clunky, overwritten wordathons. Agh! So much of my writing was just filler.

Light bulb now ablaze and grafted to my skull, I changed things like Paco yawns, still half asleep, gets out of bed, covers spilling to the floor, reaches over to turn off the lights and sleepily heads into the bathroom to... Paco yawns, jumps out of bed, trudges to the bathroom. All the other action is either implied (something the actor will likely add automatically, therefore, no need to write it) or just unnecessary. An overwritten 27-word sentence becomes a tight 10-word one without losing anything. Amazing! Scripts that I’d thought were tight enough to bounce quarters off of dropped 5 pages of dead weight without losing a single scene or line of dialogue. It was as if my scripts had all undergone the most amazing and painless diet ever, with no risk of the weight ever coming back!

So here I am with this 2,472-word column, two hours till deadline and almost 1,000 words to cut. I always allow my first drafts to go long to make sure I get everything in. And then—it’s copy editing time. EVERY sentence, every word gets scrutinized. 10-word sentences are reduced to five. First to go? Unnecessary asides like, “Yeah, well, it’s like I always say,” and “In my mind, generally speaking, I would say...” All that verbal chaff we tack on in our day-to-day speech—out the window. Next I take a hard look at the quotes. Inevitably the panelists reiterate themselves. They state their premise, make their point, then reiterate the premise. We all do it when we speak. But in an article—out. (Hint: watch for this in your dialogue, too.)

Now down to about 2,000 words. In the zone. This is where it gets tricky. Everything gets scrutinized again. Adjectives—generally not needed. Out they go. My snide commentary (sniff, sniff) gets cut to the bone. I cut and cut, but—and here’s the thing—never excise substance. The key points must remain. Suddenly and miraculously, that column will hit the magic 1,500-word mark, and it will be much tighter than if it had run in its original form.

Do the same thing with your scripts.

If I had to identify one thing that writers in general need to work on, it’s not structure or characterization, although obviously those things are important. But most everyone who’s written a script has read a few books or taken a class or two and has a decent idea. But many of us forget the importance of the presentation. If the writing is tight, lean, punchy, it will grab the reader by the throat from page one. It will tell the reader, “you’re in good hands, this guy’s a pro.” And they will read on. But if the script is overwritten, your script will soon be on the pass pile.

So if you only take one class this year, pause for a second. Enrolling in a good screenwriting program WILL help. But what you might REALLY need is to learn how to ruthlessly edit your own writing. And one inexpensive, seemingly tedious copy editing class at your local university might be the weight loss plan that will turn it into a decathlete.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Deal's on the Table

Is it almost over? Is the town finally going to get back to work? Could be. We may know by Sunday night. Here's the latest:

LOS ANGELES — Hollywood writers got their first look Saturday at details of a tentative agreement with studios that could put the strike-crippled entertainment industry back to work.

A summary of the proposed deal was posted on the Writers Guild of America's Web site hours before members were to attend meetings on the East and West Coasts to voice their opinions. The writers planned to gather behind closed doors Saturday afternoon in New York and later in Los Angeles to consider the deal that guild leaders said "protects a future in which the Internet becomes the primary means of both content creation and delivery."

Compensation for projects delivered via digital media was the central issue in the 3-month-old walkout, which idled thousands of workers, disrupted the TV season and moviemaking and took the shine off Hollywood's awards season.

If guild members react favorably to the proposed deal, the guild's board could vote Sunday to lift the strike order and the industry could be up and running Monday. This month's Oscars ceremony, which has been under the cloud of a union and actors boycott, also would be a winner.

Sunday's Grammy Awards ceremony has a picket-free pass from the union.

An outline of the three-year deal was reached in recent talks between media executives and the guild, with lawyers then drafting the contract language that was concluded Friday.

According to the guild's summary, the deal provides union jurisdiction over projects created for the Internet based on certain guidelines, sets compensation for streamed, ad-supported programs and increases residuals for downloaded movies and TV programs.

The writers deal is similar to one reached last month by the Directors Guild of America, including a provision that compensation for ad-supported streaming doesn't kick in until after a window of between 17 to 24 days deemed "promotional" by the studios.

Writers would get a maximum $1,200 flat fee for streamed programs in the deal's first two years and then get a percentage of a distributor's gross in year three _ the last point an improvement on the directors deal, which remains at the flat payment rate.

"Much has been achieved, and while this agreement is neither perfect nor perhaps all that we deserve for the countless hours of hard work and sacrifice, our strike has been a success," guild leaders Patric Verrone and Michael Winship said in an e-mailed message to members.

Verrone is president of the Writers Guild of America, West, while Winship heads the smaller Writers Guild of America, East, which together represent 12,000 members. About 10,000 have been affected by the strike.

The guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios, have not publicly commented on the proposed contract because of a joint media blackout.

One observer said the guild gained ground in the deal but not as much as it wanted.

"It's a mixed deal but far better than the writers would have been able to get three months ago. The strike was a qualified success," said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment attorney with the TroyGould firm and a former associate counsel for the writers guild.

The walkout "paved the way for the directors to get a better deal than they would otherwise have gotten. That in turn became the foundation for further improvements the writers achieved," Handel said.