Saturday, May 31, 2008

Writers on the Storm contest update

Hey, Stormies!

Well, we are now one month in to the contest, and we now proudly present our quarterfinalists! Ready? Okay, maybe not *all* our quarterfinalists. Any of y’all who sent in your script to Coverage, Ink after the contest start date got entered automatically. If the script gets a “consider with reservations” or better for script (roughly top 10%) you’re an automatic quarterfinalist. And we are pleased to announce we have six of y’all so far (in no particular order):

Heather Upton, Belfast Boys
Alan Sproles & Lizanne Southgate, Eden Lost
A.C. Yacobian, Rasta Pasta
Kelly Murry, La Matadora
Rich Sheehy, Sliding Into Home
C.A. Bennett, Death Valley Dig

Awesome! Those of you who entered at or withoutabox, it’s going to be a while until you get word back on your script (when we announce the full quarterfinalist list after the end of the contest.)

Of course, it’s just the first month, and the deluge generally doesn’t come till the last month. If you guys are like me, you’re probably constantly retooling your material; naturally you want to submit the best possible draft to a contest (or industry, obviously.) But now let me clue you in to a poorly kept industry secret: the dreaded *contest extension syndrome* (shiver.) Here’s how it works. Screenwriting contests (including this one in the past) would announce a contest end date. So all of y’all would scramble to get it in by then, and then — surprise — a last-minute 3-week extension! Grr! Pretty much every darn contest does this, and personally? I find it a bit irritating. I mean, I don’t like rushing to make an artificial deadline only to find out I killed myself for nothing, and heck, I could’ve taken practically an extra month! I mean, okay, I appreciate the kick in the booty, because you know, it actually makes me get it in gear and produce. But still, right?

So this year: I’m telling every one of y’all right now — there WILL BE AN EXTENSION. Okay? The standard deadline is 7/11, but the FINAL deadline (which really really is final) is midnight 7/27. BUT: the price goes up on 7/12. So if you submit late, you’re gonna get dinged. Hopefully this will eliminate anyone feeling put out for rushing to meet a deadline ‘cause if you make the regular deadline, you’ll save ten bucks. Jim tells me that Coverage, Ink, however, will not be raising prices during the late period — entry into WOTS will remain free throughout the final deadline if you submit to CI.

As for the contest submissions so far, we’ve seen some interesting material so far. There are a handful of very good marketable concepts, which is great to see, and one the studios would probably hate but I love. I read a compelling political drama the other day, and today I read a romantic comedy with fantastic writing but the second act just ran out of gas. And on and on it goes! I love checking out the immense outpouring of creativity and talent. If there’s one conclusion I can draw after working on Writers on the Storm, it’s that there are very few *bad scripts.* More often than not, the problem is in the writer’s craft and execution, and that stuff just takes practice and mentorship. I’d be nothing without my UCLA mentor. That said, quarterfinalist Kelly Murry tells us ‘La Matadora’ is her first script. Yeah, I know, I’m jealous, too!

Questions? Praise? Venom? E-mail me! Just shoot a mail over to I read and respond to every mail personally. We’re gonna try our hardest to treat your script fairly and give it the attention it deserves. Love y’all!

Portia Jefferson
Writers on the Storm Contest Coordinator

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


I’ve been in L.A. a long time, and I’m embarrassed to say I only recently discovered these guys – and you should, too. Scriptwriters Network is a 503(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization with an all-volunteer staff. For over 20 years, for a dirt-cheap annual fee, they’ve been offering monthly Q&A seminars from top industry talent, staged readings, field trips, studio tours, industry get-togethers, outreach programs and even a high school fellowship program! These guys are the real deal. And they're giving a 1-year membership to the winner of Writers on the Storm.

Their next event is a 1-hour TV panel featuring writer/producers of shows like “Ugly Betty,” “Samantha Who?”, “Battlestar Galactica,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and much more! We’ll be bringing you an interview with Scriptwriters Network president Michael Engel in July. Check them out HERE. --Jim C.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

CI Book Review: "Writing Drama"

by C. Elizabeth Peters

“Writing Drama: a Comprehensive Guide for Playwrights and Scriptwriters,” by French writer/director/teacher Yves Lavandier, is an exhaustively thorough text (almost 600 pages) that leaves no stone unturned. The fact that plays and screenplays are two different mediums, governed by different structural and aesthetic rules, does not matter here, because the principles that Lavandier discusses transcends both and gets to the heart of truly great storytelling. This is a fascinating and incredibly in-depth book that is academic in nature, full of systems and definitions. It’s “Gray’s Anatomy” for plays and screenplays, taking every kind of dramatic system apart so that writers can see how it all fits together.

Lavandier begins with the basics; he discusses at length how to create conflict, emotion, and obstacles that are effective to keep the story interesting. He then moves on to the finer points of structure. The book also includes analysis of a play (Moliere’s “The School for Wives”) and a screenplay (Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest”), numerous appendices such as Documentaries, Short films, and Writing for Children, as well as writing workshop exercises. Lavandier follows each defined concept with a long list of examples – everything from Shakespeare to “The Simpsons,” contemporary movies and plays as well as classics.

Although his range of referenced works is impressive (1,400 works are referenced!) Lavandier sometimes lets his opinion of certain work be what matters most, and occasionally dismisses works that have seen box office and critical success if they do not employ all of his theories. Some of the works that don’t work, according to Lavandier, are “Rain Man,” “Titanic,” “Dead Poets Society,” and “Vertigo.” Meanwhile, listed among works that “work” are names of movies that are not very well known, at least in the U.S.

But make no mistake: opinionated or not, Lavandier knows what he is talking about, and his examples prove to be excellent illustrations of his concepts. I’m unaware of another book that devotes an entire chapter to the correct and effective use of dramatic irony and another chapter to symbolism! It’s refreshing to see an author go the extra mile instead of stopping at “you need a character with a goal, and obstacles to that goal.” There is so much more going on in works of drama, and this book clearly demonstrates as such. Give this book time, and slowly Lavandier’s analyses of so many different works coalesce into a thorough understanding of, well, writing drama. And for screenwriters, that is invaluable.

A caveat to readers in the United States, especially those living in Los Angeles and immersed in the belly of the beast: Lavandier is European, and his book often makes snide references to American cinema as childish and overindulgent in violence and spectacle. Let that go and focus on the concepts behind what he is saying. Lavandier’s book truly is a comprehensive guide, and any screenwriter (or playwright) that applies the principles set forth in “Writing Drama” to their work will create results that are well above average. Recommended!

For more info on WRITING DRAMA: click HERE
To order WRITING DRAMA: click HERE.

Free Screenwriting Software? Yep! Meet SCRIPPED

I remember clearly when my friend and fellow (former) ‘Creative Screenwriting’ columnist Michael Lent urged me to “come toward the light.” It was in 2000, and we had just landed a page-1 rewrite deal. Michael used Final Draft and felt it would be easier to collaborate using it. But I resisted. I was perfectly happy using -- brace yourself -- Word Perfect 3.0. I had all my macros set up; it worked perfectly. Well, just one teensy weensy problem—pagination. See, because word processors don’t split up your dialogue properly over a page break, this had to be done manually. And when rewrite time comes around? Oh, what a nightmare. You have to remove all those “mores” and “continueds,” because the positions will shift as you edit the script. When at last I relented and got FD, and it was as if the heavens opened and the freakin’ angels sang “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”

For those of you still toughing it out using a word processor for screenwriting, (about 25% of you based on the submissions to Coverage, Ink) you’re avoiding screenwriting software for one of two reasons—you’re bull-headed like me ;) or you can’t afford Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter. I hear that. Seriously, they ain’t cheap!

But now along comes SCRIPPED, and it may just be the coolest screenwriter’s accoutrement since Trader Joe’s Pound-Plus dark chocolate bars. Scripped is 100% FREE *online* screenwriting software. You read that right -- it runs in your freakin’ browser!

So what do you get for your (no) money?

- Online-based, no downloading, saves everything
- All the basic script elements are present
- Can import from FD and Word, export as PDF (industry standard)
- Good shortcuts for the basic stuff - tab to next element, etc.
- Did we mention it’s free?

Scripped is the brainchild of UCLA MBA student Sunil Rajaraman, USC Peter Stark Producers' program grad Zak Freer, and Ryan Buckley, an “MIT/Harvard dual degree genius!” says Rajaraman, who also proudly notes Scripped recently signed Ed Burns to their advisory board.

A few years back, Rajaraman and Freer had come up with an idea for an online screenwriting magazine – but the mission statement changed when the duo discovered Buckley had already developed a collaborative writing tool. “The three of us came together and formed what is now Scripped. The story is actually much longer, and much more interesting, but I'll spare you,” laughs Rajaraman. Scripped team member Kristen Azzam, also a UCLA MBA student, tells us that Scripped now has a user base of over 5,000 writers from over 50 countries and all 50 states.

So what’s not to like? Well, Scripped is still in the beta stage. And it is not as of yet as intuitive and full-featured as the big boys, who have had many years and big development budgets to smooth all the wrinkles. Some issues facing Scripped: it doesn’t yet have a smart type feature, which slows it down and means extra typing for the writer; no automatic continueds in dialogue; no automatic parentheses for parentheticals, mores, etc., and there’s no way to jump directly to scenes. Rajaraman responds, “The features you suggested are all things we have in development, but are not yet released. The reason (they’re not available) just yet is because they slow down the application considerably -- which is the reason why Google Docs will never be MS Word, or Excel.” But Rajaraman notes that they are streamlining the interface and implementing more functionality constantly “to help writers complete their works in a more timely fashion,” he says.

In time, Scripped plans to add new features to empower writers (we can't say what yet). They already have over 6,000 screenplays in their database. They also have a great blog and newsletter themselves, and are working to build Scripped into an indispensable screenwriting resource and community. We say bravo! I like these guys. To check out Scripped, just go to and give it a whirl. The price is right.

--Jim Cirile

Friday, May 09, 2008

Verbinski to direct "BioShock"

Wow! This is super cool. One of the best PC games ever made to be brought to life by a super talented director? Sign us up. If you haven't played BioShock yet, (see our article on best games for writers below) you're missing our on a truly cool, creepy and immersive world. It's escapism at its finest. Here's the press release from publisher Take Two Interactive:

May 9, 2008

2K Games announced today that it has reached an agreement for "BioShock," the universally acclaimed smash-hit video game, to be developed as a feature film by Universal Pictures. 2K Games, whose 2K Boston and 2K Australia studios developed "BioShock," is a video game publishing label of Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc.

The prospect of bringing this blockbuster game to life has attracted not only a major studio, but top Hollywood talent. Gore Verbinski, director of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" trilogy, is slated to direct and produce the BioShock movie. John Logan, Academy Award-nominated writer of "Gladiator," "The Aviator" and "Sweeney Todd," is in talks to do the screenplay.

The expected release date and terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

An original property developed by 2K Games, "BioShock" is one of the most successful new interactive entertainment franchises to launch in recent years. A critical and consumer hit, BioShock has sold more than 2 million units worldwide since its release in August 2007. A sequel to the game, "BioShock 2," is planned for a release in 2009.

"We are excited that 2K Games' vision for 'BioShock' will be carried forward in a new medium," said Strauss Zelnick, Chairman of Take-Two. "'BioShock' has been hailed as one of the most highly cinematic and richly plotted titles in interactive entertainment, making it extremely well-suited to film. In partnering with Universal and Gore Verbinski, we have assembled a team that respects the uniqueness of 'BioShock' and will translate it into a powerful movie experience.”

Zelnick added, "Our ability to attract a major studio and unparalleled creative team speaks volumes about the strength of our 'BioShock' franchise. It also demonstrates how Take-Two is delivering value based on our strategy of creating and owning our industry’s most powerful intellectual property."

Christoph Hartmann, President of 2K Games, noted, "'BioShock' fans appreciate the depth and complexity of the game, and our partnership with Gore Verbinski will introduce the world of Rapture to an even wider audience. In addition to his impressive body of work, Gore is an avid video gamer and true fan of 'BioShock.' That was extremely important to us in deciding to move forward with this project."

Considered to be one the finest games in the history of interactive entertainment, "BioShock" unfolds as a deep and exciting adventure. Barely surviving a plane crash, the player lands in icy uncharted waters and discovers an undersea city called Rapture, a failed utopia whose citizens had embraced genetic engineering before the city descended into pure anarchy. Power and greed have run amok and the city has succumbed to civil war. It is a gripping game that forces the player to make complex moral choices. Fans have embraced "BioShock's" mysterious world filled with powerful technology and fascinating characters. "BioShock" is also renowned for its rich visual detail depicting a gorgeous Art Deco world set deep beneath the sea.

Monday, May 05, 2008

CI Client Wins Trigger Street Script of the Month

Screenwriter Mark Kratter's script WHERE THE DEAD GO, which he developed with me last year, has been named's script of the month! Kratter's writing chops are clearly on display in this thinking man's horror thriller about a geneticist sent to investigate a weaponized disease outbreak in Africa that gives the infected supernatural abilities. Kratter, a finalist in many contests (an earlier draft of this script was a quarterfinalist in last year's Writers on the Storm) clearly has big things ahead. Indeed, this bloody good script may well represent the future of horror, which for my money has burnt itself out lately with sadistic gore porn and lame CGI. The cool thing about WHERE THE DEAD GO is it always seems believable, no matter how fantastical things get--and did I mention it doesn't skimp on the blood?

So congrats again to Mark, and let's hope the SOM designation gets you some industry heat!

--Jim Cirile