Monday, May 31, 2010


Here are our top 13 (because of ties)
(93 cutoff)
95) Ian Murillo   
94) Dries Coomans
94) Walter Thompson
95) Philip Schneider
94) Lisa Scott
94) Crystal Ann Taylor
93) Kimberly Nunley
93) Tim Harding
93) Rich Frost
97) Diane Lisa Johnson
93) Erik Fetler
95) Marcus Leary
93) Michael Riccardini
The top 3 will be announced later today. Please note that the top 3 are based on averaged consensus scores from all our readers, NOT the individual reader's scores posted above. Thanks, everyone, for participating! 

"Thundercats" Writer Murdered

Well, this is sad and startling. According to this story, Thundercats writer Stephen Perry went out in an unappealing way. Let's hope we all write ourselves better endings than this.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

CSCS Open Round 2... soon...

Hopefully today... we have received all the scores and are now going through the finalists...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Jason Scoggins Report

Interview by Jim Cirile

Jason Scoggins is a manager and partner of Protocol, a Beverly Hills management company. But he’s best known for his monthly Spec Script Roundup, which you can sign up for by visiting He’s also the founder of, a subscription site that tracks spec screenplays and sales. In short, this is pretty useful intelligence for anyone serious about mounting an armed assault on Hollywood. We sat down with Jason for a lovely chat about all sorts of things. Enjoy!


Jim Cirile: Give us a quick heads-up on who Jason Scoggins is.

Jason Scoggins: Sure. I grew up in L.A. I had no friends or family in the entertainment business. I caught the bug early when I saw “Star Wars” as a kid, which is dating myself, I realize. (After college,) I screwed around for a couple of years after I graduated and finally I got my shit together in ‘95. And I became an assistant at ICM. My boss was Nancy Josephson, who was, at the time- -- I think she still represents Bright, Kauffman and Crane, who created “Friends.” That was the summer after “Friends” had debuted. So it was quite a heady time for the agency and for her and for the TV business in general. Before I got on her desk, I didn’t know anything about the TV business. I mean, I was always a film guy. And fell in love with the TV business itself. And ended up getting promoted to her second assistant and then promoted off her desk to departmental assistant in the TV lit department, which was sort of the coordinator-like position.

Cirile: You went to Gersh as a TV lit agent, right?

Scoggins: Right, in ’98. I cut my teeth as a TV lit agent for a couple of years. And then I went to Writers and Artists for about six months in 2000. And right about the time I was tired of being an agent, which we can talk about in a second, a friend called and said hey, why don’t you come do business development for me at my internet company? I said sure, because I was in a weak spot. I actually didn’t really know what my next step was inside the business. That sounded like something really fun and cool to do. I was really done being an agent. So I said yes and that led to seven years in the wilderness, going from one sort of year plus job to another and a bunch of different businesses from healthcare to wholesale gifts and collectibles to... I even spent a year sort of helping out a friend on their insurance defense lawsuit as sort of the guy who could talk enough legal speak and enough nonlegal speak to sort of coordinate between the lawyers and the people on the ground, as it were.

Cirile: But they couldn’t keep you away for long.

Scoggins: I sold my house in Park City in 2006. Bought a house here in Playa del Rey. I had a day job, which was selling website content management systems that were optimized for hospitals. (Meanwhile, ) I signed a couple of clients and developed material. I was really good friends with Brian Inerfeld, one of the founders of Protocol. I called him up and (asked) if I could build a book of business under the Protocol umbrella. I’m sure he thought that I was just blowing smoke, but I proved him wrong. And so in 2007, I started doing that, basically in January. And by May or June, John Ufland, my other partner, and Brian could tell that I was serious and so we talked about doing it properly. So I became a partner. It’s a small company; three managers, a couple of assistants.

Cirile: Cool. Okay, so it’s obviously time-consuming enough just to be a manager. How did you become the spec market guru?

Scoggins: Life on the Bubble and It’s on the Grid. I write these two articles a month. One looks back at the previous month’s spec market. I call that the Spec Market Roundup ‘cause I’m a genius when it comes to titling things. And then I do the Spec Market Score Card, which rolls up the numbers for the entire year to date. The Score Card looks up the numbers on the whole, and in particular what buyers are buying what, how many projects the buyers are buying, how many projects the sellers are taking out. You can see over time who’s really killing it on the agency and management side and who’s not having that level of success (as well as) which buyers are really serious about specs, if any, and how that compares to other buyers.

Cirile: All in a wonderfully unscientific way.

Scoggins: Exactly. I’m as far away from a statistician as it gets.

Cirile: How do you find the time? I mean that’s an awful lot of research. And, you know, you’ve got clients now.

Scoggins: Yeah, exactly. So to go off on a tangent on that for a little bit. In 2009, I did spend a considerable amount of time between Life in a Bubble and those reports and It’s on the Grid. But it was also at a time when the market was incredibly slow and I hadn’t build my reputation and my business far enough to break through those barriers. Last year, very few specs sold and the people who got open writing assignments tend to be the people who would get open writing assignments, who I didn’t represent at the time. I’ve got a couple of guys who are totally qualified now based on the stuff that they did at the end of 2008 and through 2009. So it’s a little bit different now. Writing those articles does take a certain amount of time though. It’s probably a full days work for each one. But again, I get enough value out of it that it’s worth doing. And because I work long, long hours, it’s not like its taking me a full day during the work day and I’m not making phone calls.

Cirile: I’m looking through the latest Spec Market Score Card and it’s pretty bleak. The studios are sitting on the sidelines, looking for any excuse to do nothing, spend no money and basically not put anything into development. And the smaller buyers are hopefully stepping up and picking up the slack and stuff like that. But still, it’s pretty damn depressing. Is there a ray of hope out there for the emerging writer?

Scoggins: The studios are making fewer movies, and therefore developing fewer projects, and they also have a certain appetite for projects that have a built-in marketing angle. That’s why we obviously see all the stuff being either rebooted or adapted from books and comic books or video games -- all of those typical things that we all complain about all of the time. And that sucks a lot of the air out of the room for original material. Sony has basically let it be known that they have spent all of their development money for 2010 already or allocated it. So they will not be buying new specs unless it’s a worthy exception to the rule -- stuff that’s coming in almost ready to go -- ready to shoot, big package. Like if you think back to what they did coming out of the strike with “2012” when Roland Emmerich’s team came in with not just a script and not just a production budget, but a shoot date, and basically were auditioning studios – “Tell us why we would allow you to pay for our movie.” Those are the kinds of projects that are gonna get traction, even at a place that is ostensibly closed, like Sony. (Producers need to) realize that the spec market isn’t the root to projects for them like it used to be -- at least not in the “let’s send a script out to the entire town and get people to fight each other to take it into their specific territories” sort of way. That’s still happening a bit, but the producers know that they have to take their best shot. So if they’re taking a script that they don’t feel is going to get traction at the studios, then why play that game? If they’re not going to be successful at their home studio that’s friendly to them, then it doesn’t make sense to even try to compete.

What does make sense is developing material. So what we’re hearing about is a producer saying, “Hey, I really like this and I’d love to take it in, but its not quite there yet and we’ll develop it with you.” And so, circling all the way back to your question, a ray of hope for new writers who aren’t necessarily on the open writing assignment list or haven’t had a huge spec sell before --there remains an appetite with development executives to find new writers, to read new voices and find great material. And there’s an appetite to develop that material until it’s the best version of what it is. But most of them don’t have their own development funds, and what I think we’re seeing here is a period where the non-WGA writer might have an advantage because, frankly, they’re more easy to take advantage of.

Cirile: In other words, drafts for free.

Scoggins: “We love this project, but here’s our notes. Go rewrite it for nothing and come back and we’ll do the whole process again with the idea that we’ll be attached as producers and we’ll go use our producer acumen to set it set up as soon as its read.”

Cirile: As Julien Thuan from UTA pointed out to me, one thing that is not mentioned in your Score Card is that even stuff that’s been set up with multiple bidders are seeing pricing drops.

Scoggins: Yeah.

Cirile: Back in the day, they’d be going in with starting offers of 500K or whatever and then, basically, the thing would be going out at 750K, 850K against $1.2 million or whatever. And now the opening bids are, like, scale. Previously, agents would laugh at offers like that. But now they can’t.

Scoggins: And no guaranteed multiple drafts.

Cirile: One-step deals, exactly. No more draft, set and a polish.

 Scoggins: It’s the definition of a buyer’s market. There’s so much material and so many people hungry to sort of take those very few slots at the studios, that they can afford to be selective and not to buy things. The buyers won’t buy something unless they have to. And we’re in this weird period where they don’t have to buy anything. Look at (a recent spec script.) When that came out from (management company), I think they played the media very well. By media, I mean that as broadly as possible -- from Nikki Finke ( to blogs to even the tracking boards where we were seeing reports the minute that thing hit the market. Because (a popular young actor) was attached, they had two offers ready to come in (at the outset.) I remember seeing a blog posting (which read,) “this is out, and two buyers are already preparing to make an offer.” But the way that broke down, and this didn’t widely get reported, but there were immediate passes from, I think, all of the major studios. I think they may have played (the buyer) off against people who weren’t actually in the mix anymore.

Cirile: Seriously? Wouldn’t that be discovered in about a second?

Scoggins: You would think so, but there was a rumor that DreamWorks was coming in with a preemptive offer. I heard from a friend at DreamWorks that no, in fact they’d passed. But that rumor persisted for a while -- whether that was (the management company’s) doing or not, I don’t know -- and (script) ended up selling. Another thing that happened was some blog posts said it sold for a million dollars, when in fact it was a very respectable $400K against $1 million is what I heard.

Cirile: So basically, agents and managers have lost a lot of leverage, and the studios hold all the cards. How do we get it back?

Scoggins: Well, packaging up a project is certainly one way to develop leverage. The best way to sell a script is to have two different buyers that want to buy it, and then suddenly you have some leverage -- the traditional sort of sales tactics of getting a couple of people to think that it’s hot as can be and get them to bid on it. “Abduction” is a great example. But there are limits to being able to continue to use those standard old tactics. I think the only thing we can do is have as tight a piece of material as possible and package it up as far as it can possibly go. And then masterful sales tactics from agents and managers to get more than one studio hot to buy it, and suddenly you have leverage again.

Cirile: Thanks for everything, Jason!


Plus our genre picks! Check 'em out right now, along with everyone's feedback -- online! Click right HERE for the list. Some awesome scenes this time out, folks. It was a pleasure to read them. Hopefully this little exercise will be a springboard for future scripts -- it's easy to see many of these scenes being expanded. And of course, congrats to our top 100. Round 2 begins THIS weekend!

-- Jim C.

Friday, May 14, 2010

CSCS Open Top 100 & Genre Awards to be Announced Soon (UPDATE)

Hi guys!

We've finished all the reading (and there was quite a bit of it.) Creative Screenwriting won't allow us to release the total number of entrants in the CSCS Open writing tournament, but I can tell you it was a lot! If all goes well, we should be announcing the 100 Finalists as well as the Genre Prize award winners sometime between Monday 5/17 and Wednesday 5/19. Info will be sent via e-mail as well as posted on the CSCS Open web page.

This year CS has added four $200 genre prizes for the best Comedy, Historical or Sci/Fi, Drama and Horror/Thriller scenes. These scenes may or may not also be top 100, depending on what our cutoff is (still to be determined.) In addition, we'll be naming two runner-ups in each genre category, and those folks will be receiving subscriptions to Creative Screenwriting. But I know all of you guys are ALREADY subscribers, right? Ahem. ;)

I can tell you this -- I was blown away this year. Of course there were plenty of so-so scenes, but there were also more than a few jaw-droppingly great pieces, especially in the Drama category. This is great to see because in past years the CS Open tended to lean heavily towards comedy. So here's hoping that the introduction of genre prizes allowed people to write in their milieu and feel confident there could be acknowledgment for it.

I've just been informed that the feedback has NOT been sent yet -- to avoid the delivery problems from last year's tournament, we switched to a new delivery system that will blast all the feedback mails at once. This will happen between Monday and Wednesday 5/17-19. So if you haven't received anything from us yet, not to worry -- no one else has either.

Lastly, the bogies. As always, we had more than a few folks submit who didn't read the rules or watch the introductory video, and submitted to us scenes that were missing contact info, order numbers, corrupted, missing pages, over the 5-page limit or were in unopenable formats. We've been scrambling to find ways to process these, and a few we have managed to handle, but there are still a handful of scenes that defy our best efforts. We'll be contacting all the "bogeys" individually.

Good luck, everyone!

Jim Cirile
founder, Coverage Ink
CSCS Open Coordinator

Sunday, May 09, 2010

How NOT to Train Your Dragon

Let me share with you guys a little tidbit about my daughter. She’s ten years old and a total dragonista. Colorful stuffed dragons swoop from the ceiling of her room and line her walls and shelves. Why dragons? It all started about three years ago when I stumbled upon a book called “How to Be a Pirate,” which I bought because she was into pirates at the time, and because the sample pages on were very entertaining. Turns out that was the second book in the “How to Train Your Dragon” series. Little were we to know that we would be sucked into a hilarious, snarky and demented Pythonic book series (created by British author Cressida Cowell.) For the next few years, we would delight in reading these books together, over and over, acting out the parts in silly voices, laughing ourselves senseless.

And then along came DreamWorks.

When we first found out that there would be a movie adaptation of “How to Train Your Dragon,” we were both ecstatic. My daughter insisted I get her an audition as the voice of Toothless, the disobedient but adorable little pest of a dragon owned by 11-year-old antihero Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III. Well, that didn’t work out, but still we grew ever excited as the movie’s release date edged closer.

And then I saw the trailer.

Oh. My. God. There was no way I could let my daughter see this. It would break her heart. Because it was clear from that first trailer that DreamWorks had taken this wonderful book series… and basically urinated all over it.

Now let me make this clear: I am not saying the movie sucked. I didn’t see it. By all accounts the flick is wonderful, brilliant, heartwarming, with antiwar and tolerance themes that I am definitely down with. But still – no. Why? Because DreamWorks threw the source material under the bus. Even from that one trailer, it was clear that major changes were made. In the books, the Vikings and the dragons are not at war; in fact, ALL the Viking boys have pet dragons, and capturing them is part of the boys' ascension to manhood. Toothless is an adorable but difficult and spoiled little "common" or "garden" dragon the size of a cocker spaniel, who leaves poops in Gobber's bed and tries to pass them off as chocolate snik-snaks, and he likes to ride inside Hiccup's tunic where he can stay warm and avoid anything remotely heroic. There is no Astrid, but rather, there is a Camicazi. Hiccup does not manufacture cliché 'crazy inventor' gadgets like Belle’s dad in “Beauty and the Beast.” And he’s *11* (and probably does not sound like Jay Baruchel.) And on and on.

Here’s the reality: there was NO reason this film could not have hewed closer to the books and still been a great movie. Now I read the interview in the CS Weekly where the writers said they spent years trying to make the script work, but it was only when they gave themselves the freedom to jettison the source material were they able to really make the project fly. To that, I say: horse pertaters. Eight years ago, my partner and I did a draft of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (the last draft before Karey Kirkpatrick came aboard.) That was a tough adaptation. The source material had an inactive protagonist, no throughline to speak of, and the funniest bits were basically wacky asides that by definition have no place in a narrative screenplay. Countless writers before us had attempted to translate the book into a script and flamed out. But as true Douglas Adams fans, we found a way to solve those problems AND stay true enough to the source material to please the fanboys, earning rare praise from the ICM reader who begrudgingly commented that “these guys may have finally licked this one." Of course, we were kicked to the curb (and had nothing to do with the film, so don’t blame me!) but that’s another story. Point is, you don’t throw the ^#$^#! baby out with the bathwater.

By the time the second and third “Dragon” trailers hit YouTube, there was no avoiding them. My daughter did see them, and yes indeed, she was shattered. She still feels betrayed to this day. “Why? Why did they do that?” she wondered. It was tough to explain to her. We started talking about the Bond films -- the farther the films got from Fleming, the more they sucked. Of course, the filmmakers made gobs of money, so they never cared. But fans of literary Bond, WE cared. Well, this is no less true with kids' books. The fan base for the "Dragon" series may be much smaller than the "Harry Potter" or the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" books, but still, the true fans want the movies to embrace the source material, not merely exploit the title and the milieu. Note that the "Potter" and "Wimpy Kid" filmmakers have both somehow managed to remain wonderfully true to the source material. I don't see any negatives profit-wise from their doing so -- just the opposite.

DreamWorks recently announced a sequel and ancillary projects to follow based on the megahit “How to Train Your Dragon.” I think it’s safe to say there were no lessons learned here. DreamWorks may well have made a great movie in "Dragon," yes. But they did it in a way that was downright cruel to the source material's core audience. And for that reason, I’m sticking on principle -- as is my daughter -- by refusing to see their movie. DreamWorks, you’re not getting one thin dime from me or anyone in my family for anything related to “Dragon” – ever.

Sometimes you just have to take a stand, as useless as it may seem. And yeah, I know Cressida Cowell has gone on record to say she loves the movie. But then, she got a very, very big check.

--Jim C.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Comment on "The Speck Market" column

Hey guys, so if you read Creative Screenwriting, you've likely read my most recent column "The Speck Market," which is a candid and not exactly rosy picture of what's happening in the feature film spec marketplace. Just received this e-mail from former CS columnist, screenwriter and teacher extraordinaire Ron Suppa:
Good and important column. I always read you first. (Still don't get why the K in Spec -- significance?)

This causes a tough time teaching screenwriting. They all have dramas. And no one is buying dramas. No one is buying much of anything from new writers. Can't get an agent for them. Half of them are over 40 (or 50) -- it's too late for them, practically speaking, but what are you supposed to tell them? They can't come in and write Shrek V (was that your idea for the K?) They can't afford bestsellers to adapt or find a way to package stars into their new scripts. They don't have the rights to TV shows or past movies for remakes or sequels. They all come out naked. I feel as though we're teaching a theoretic, classical, dead art form.

Cheers anyway,
I replied:
Hi Ron, exactly. Speck as in "minuscule." What I tell my clients is to focus on TV if they want to write drama, forget features, and if you can DIY, do it. I'm doing the same thing myself and am shooting my next action movie short (starring Lou Ferrigno) with zero help from Hollywood but plenty of help from my buddies! If you DIY, ageism is a nonissue.

Hollywood, and indeed the USA and the White House, has been taken over by the big corporations, and that's just the way it is. The old paradigm is dead. Long live the new paradigm!
And there it is. We writers can't just continue to trudge along pretending it's still the 1990s. The rules of the game have changed. Youth and source material are what is in demand. High-concept is also still in demand, and that is why a killer idea with mediocre execution will always have a better shot than a mediocre idea with brilliant execution. So check out the column and let's all be real about things. TV and the Web are two places that are still vibrant and a way in, as are film festivals (provided your short or feature racks up some awards, of course.) A high-concept spec feature can still get attention, but don't expect it to sell. But you will hopefully get meetings off it and then can maybe use it as a sample to help sell your TV series idea. This is the way it is 2010. It's not wonderful, but there are opportunities for those who are savvy about what's in demand and what isn't.

Jim C.