Friday, August 20, 2010

VOTE NOW for the winner of the Cyberspace Open!

Hey folks,

THIS is your chance. Watch the three top-scoring scenes from the Spring 2010 Creative Screenwriting Cyberspace Open and then VOTE on the winner. In this age of Diebold and Premier Voting Systems, this may be your last chance to vote for anything where your vote is actually counted accurately. So vote now!

We proudly present to you the top scenes from 1,500-plus entrants in the Spring Cyberspace Open. Writers were given irritatingly tricky scene parameters and a maddeningly quick turnaround time to write their own interpretation of that scene. The scenes were then evaluated by Coverage Ink's team of readers. The top 3 scorers were then videotaped (directed by Piotr Uzarowicz, scene narration by yours truly) using real actors in staged readings. The results: three very fun, and very different, interpretations of the scene prompt!

Did I mention the winner receives $3,000??? 

The top three scenes:

Undesirables by Dries Coomans 
Roulette by Ian Murillo
Breach of Confidence by Lisa Scott

Go to this page right here and watch the three scenes (they're short!) You may also read the scripts if you like (they're posted as PDFs.) And then... VOTE! Seriously, that's all there is to it. And then get ready, because the Fall Cyberspace Open is coming at you in short order. Think you can do better than these three? Then bring it! Enjoy!

--Jim C.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Boyer's "Mad" Skillz

Isn't this something? For the second time this week, we've reviewed a knock-it-out-of-the-park home run script. In this case, Susan J. Boyer's "Mad Men" spec "Good Mourning" elicited a very, very rare "high consider/high consider" (excellent) score from Coverage Ink analyst KO (himself a working TV writer.)
‘Mad Men: Good Mourning’ is a nearly flawless spec that stays true to the hit AMC television show. The writer is clearly passionate about the program and nails every nuance and character... It captures these characters, layers in subtext (on countless fronts) and provides effective comic relief to help with the pacing (see Roger once again). The tone matches up with the show (dark and dramatic) and stays even and consistent throughout.
We contacted Boyer with the news. Boyer, who says she's been using Coverage Ink "for, like, ten years" was floored. While she's gotten considers before, this is the first time she's gotten a rave like this. "'Wow' is right!! What amazing coverage, of course, not only for the praise but also for the constructive feedback. Absolutely the reason why Coverage Ink is the only coverage service I have used for the past decade! Getting started on my revision NOW with this road map. I am embarking on AgentQuest '10 and this coverage boosts my confidence enormously! I certainly will use some of the pull quotes. And I will keep you apprised of my progress."

Anyone interested in checking out this script please contact CI at and we'll put you in touch with Susan. Way to go!

Saturday, August 07, 2010


Today was a momentous day. Today is the day Matt Zien's script LOVE AND CANDY scored the single best review in Coverage, Ink history. We've had a few "recommends" before (no more than 4 or 5 out of the thousands of scripts we've received,) but never have we had a recommend/recommend (That's a recommend for both writer and script) and box scores either excellent or very good in every single category.

LOVE AND CANDY is a dramedy about an anxious neurologist who unknowingly tries ecstasy and has a life-changing experience, which then motivates him to use psychoactive therapy on his parents to try to save their troubled marriage. Reader DS (a former literary manager) in particular praised the writing and the dialogue, laden with subtext and humor. Zien has the goods.
"What brings it all together is the very strong writing that bespeaks skill and experience," said DS in the analysis. "The subject matter is treated with the deftness and maturity it deserves, yet the story manages to maintain a light and humorous tone throughout with just the right balance of comedy and drama.  We laugh, we cry, we are kept turning the pages with twists, turns and surprises that we don’t expect... Simply put, great job."
We e-mailed Zien to tell him the news. "I'm absolutely floored with DS's reaction, and honored he enjoyed the read," he said. "That said, I will definitely follow your advice and get some more opinions on it. Rest assured I'll have a few more scripts that will need opinions over the next year or so and I'll be sure to come to you! Thank you again for the coverage and especially the exposure on your blog. It means a lot and has truly made my year."

Yeah, make it look easy, Matt. Sheesh! Any industry types out there interested in a look, contact CI at and we'll hook you up. Congrats, Matt!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


HIGH CONCEPT: How to Create, Pitch, Sell to Hollywood
Steve Kaire
Audio CD

By Jim Cirile

How much would you spend to sit down with an industry maven for an hour and have that person share their secrets? Now imagine that those secrets are specifically geared towards helping you find the best, most sellable story ideas and showing you how to develop them. Then suppose that this information just saved you a year of your life that you would have spent writing and trying to market a new spec script with a so-so storyline you probably shouldn’t have wasted time on in the first place. NOW how much would you pay? I know, I know, I sound like a Ronco pitchman. But the fact is: Steve Kaire is the real deal, and that $29.95 you shell out for his disk may be the best money you’ve ever spent.

Kaire has been around forever and is well-known in town as “the high-concept guy” – he’s a regular at pitch fests and screenwriting events, hoping he’ll strike gold and find material he can then go sell (Kaire has indeed sold eight pitches to the studios -- without representation.) I remember meeting him at a pitch fest years ago and fired some ideas at him. I was a working writer with heat, and I thought sure he’d grab onto my ideas. Instead, he found flaws with each of them -- and he was right. I left reeling, but with a ton of respect for the guy. Simply put, Kaire has divined the secret of what Hollywood is looking for. And now he’s sharing this knowledge with us all.

The first thing you need to know is that this is an audio CD. While this might seem quaint in the age of BluRay and podcasts, it’s actually wonderful. I did not have to carve an hour out of my day to sit down and watch this thing. Instead, I listened to it in my car. Three freaking times. Even after 20 years in this business, I still learned a lot from Kaire, and his precepts really helped crystallize my thinking as to what projects I should be focusing on. Gojira-size thumbs-up for the audio CD format, and thank you, Mr. Kaire.

So what exactly does Kaire have to say? 63 minutes of advice, anecdotes and sage how-to. Kaire exhaustively details what “high concept” is and what it isn’t and why it’s so important (in a nutshell, it’s an idea that is rife with potential that you can visualize just from the title – for example, “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.”) He runs down movies with great concepts as well as terrible ones (“I Heart Huckabees.”) Yes, movies with weak concepts do get made, but they are generally executive or auteur-driven. For a baby writer trying to break in, your best bet is to find that great high concept idea.

Kaire chronicles a whole pile of both good and bad pitches he’s heard (you’ve gotta hear the “Great Balls of Fire” story) and even details how to find and best approach producers and representatives, how to compose your short or phone pitch, query letters, dealmaking and more. This is all good stuff to be sure, but where this disk really shines is when Kaire shares with you his high-concept development techniques. If you think coming up with a great movie concept is a bolt-from-the-blue thing, think again. Kaire details proven methods he uses to develop high-concept ideas and breaks down the five different kinds of high-concepts and shows how you can come up with your own. For example, “the ______ from hell.” You fill in the blank. Hollywood goes to this well all the time. The nanny from hell? That would be “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.” The psych patient from hell? “What About Bob?” Get the idea? Using Kaire’s methods, a half-hour of brainstorming could yield you a solid, marketable new story idea, instead of you sitting around on your keister for six months waiting for inspiration to strike you.

Kaire’s delivery is gentle and evenly paced, and his Brooklyn accent is sometimes amusing (and hey, I’m from New York.) I’m guessing he deliberately kept the fast-talking to a minimum so as to make sure that the material is readily digestible, and it works. So listen up and listen well. If you’re looking for that lightning bolt to kick-start your creative juices, Kaire’s “High Concept” may be just the ticket. Check it out right HERE.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Thinking Formulaically

Review: "The Screenwriting Formula" by Rob Tobin
Writers Digest Books, 2007
223 pages

by Ebony Jones

Former development executive Rob Tobin's The Screenwriting Formula: Why It Works and How to Use It should be the first book that every screenwriter reads. I wish I had this book four years ago when I determined that screenwriting was the path that I'd choose for my artistic expression. As an artist who was naive to the rules of Hollywood, this book would have gone far to help me understand that there can be a balance between following the formulas and still maintaining that heavily desired originality.

I'm sure you've heard writers who have said that they refuse to follow the formulas because they're afraid of writing the same movie that everyone else is writing. Tobin takes blockbuster titles and tells it like it is by saying that there are some major blockbusters with poorly-written scripts. He warns against getting so emotionally involved in viewing a movie that we lose sight of its flaws. And in this book he points out where these scripts go wrong by not following the formula. But how do these blockbuster movies get away with deviating from formula? The bigger question that Tobin asks is, do they really get away with it? He also takes six different movies from six different genres and explains to us why these movies work by following the same formula yet are still originals.

So, what is the formula? What I loved most about Tobin's book is that he takes you step-by-step through it. Please bear with him through this process. I have read many screenwriting how-to books, and while it's easy to get cynical while reading this one, there is payoff. One of the pieces of payoff is Tobin pointing out that there are two levels to a movie that must exist, both objective and subjective. I will admit that I've often misjudged the objective level as the success of the movie, when it's actually the subjective that brings the audience to their knees and could be the difference between an Oscar screenplay nomination and a win.

It's been said that writing a character-driven script versus a plot-driven script is a nonsense argument and along the lines of which came first, the chicken or the egg? That may be true, but Tobin's focus in this book is on the hero, the ally, and the opponent -- the characters. In some movies, both the ally and opponent are the same character. He takes you through a hero's journey. Tobin doesn't gloss over this journey because it's the true reason why we see the movie in the first place. He breaks his analysis up according to the three-act structure. He also denotes the importance of believability in the character's actions. It's important to justify why a character has a certain flaw and why they hold onto that flaw and why they act the way they do. Tobin emphasizes the importance of back story in every element of the movie even if it's not apart of the script. He shows you how to subtly weave in elements of back story when it's applicable, to move your plot forward.

So, what's the blockbuster film that Rob Tobin feels had a terrible script? You'll just have to read the book. If you're a fan of that film, please hear him out. Tobin notes that the movie won Oscars for practically everything it was nominated for except best screenplay. I recently watched the movie and looked at it from a writer's perspective, and Tobin is right in his assessment. One big flaw that struck me about that particular script even before reading Tobin's book is the many times that the main characters called each other by their names in a simple conversation. But little things like that matter to the whole of the script.

And speaking of little things, Tobin discusses making your concepts “high concepts” but still keeping it simple. Your hero should only have one major flaw. I must emphasize that a great movie can be made with only one major character flaw. Giving a character too many flaws can keep a script from tying up loose ends and you walk away from the movie feeling like something was missing.

Pitching the script, loglines, outlines, and brainstorming techniques are all important parts to the success of a movie. Tobin makes them secondary to what matters most to the viewer. Sometimes Hollywood forgets why we invest money, gas, and time to sit in a theater opening weekend to watch these movies. We watch them because we identify with or feel sympathetic toward the “hero” in some way. How that movie got onto the screen doesn't matter to the average movie watcher. I loved Rob Tobin's The Screenwriting Formula because he wants writers to build a story on a strong foundation. He says in the book that it's like architecture. You don't want to build a house that looks pretty but could easily fall without structure. One of the most important things that Tobin says is that once you learn the rules, you can elect to break them. But don't break the rules until you know what they are.

Ebony Jones is a 2001 graduate of Cornell University's School of Hospitality with a degree in business communications. She has completed her first unpublished novel Swimming in Blue Drink as well as a short story, “When Ariel Lost Her Voice”. She is finally going to tackle restructuring the dramatic screenplay she's been working on titled “When Momma Dies”.