Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Coverage Ink/Writers on the Storm/CS Open Newsletter 4-11

1) Shorties
2) The "Power" Within: Interview with Ari Gold
3) Steve Kaire: How to Protect Your Material
4) Agent's Hot Sheet: The (Not Especially) Long Haul
5) Lettuce


Hey, kids!

Back in November I wrote an article for Script magazine titled (not "entitled"--everyone makes that mistake, including me until recently) "Rating the Pitchfests." Yeah, real friggin' creative title, I know. Anyway, since pitchfest season is rolling around again, you guys should probably check it out. It's not online yet (we can't reprint it for six months,) although the supplemental article can be found right here.

As part of my research, I hit several pitchfests and interviewed a whole bunch of folks, from producers and agents to regular ol' writers like you and me. While at the InkTip Pitch Summit, I was struck by a focused young lady with piercing blue eyes, assiduously reviewing what appeared to be a well-thought-out battle plan. I stuck my Olympus VN-6200 digital recorder in her face and buffeted her with questions. Her name was Tanya, and she had flown out from New York (where she had run a theater company for almost a decade) to pitch her kids' fantasy adventure script as well as a dark drama. I wished her luck and moved on.

A month later, I contacted her to see if she'd had any luck. She said she had gotten several bites and was quite pleased with the response and with the InkTip event overall. I only then discovered that she was a Coverage Ink client, and a script she'd submitted to us last year, "Friday Night Quarter-Life Crisis," had struck me at the time for its great high-concept premise as well as execution. A few congenial e-mails back and forth gradually turned into something much more than that, and now, well... Tanya and I are seeing each other.

Boy, amazing things can happen if we writers actually claw our way out of our caves and let sunlight hit our skin every now and then, huh? Wow. Who knew -- socializing, interfacing with other writers can yield unexpected opportunities and maybe even a love connection! Seriously though, now that I think about it, a lot of great things have happened for me in recent years because of my writer friends. The guys in my poker gang (mostly writers), we all help each other out regularly. The talented crew from my late, great writing group, same thing (have to start a new one soon.) And of course the Coverage Ink team, we all help each other out.

Waiting around for Hollywood to decide to buy your script? Eff that. Get out there and interact! Hey, ScriptwritersNetwork.org is cheap, awesome, nonprofit and has tons of regular events, all free (with a low annual subscription,) as does Writers Boot Camp. And InkTip's Pitch and Networking Summit (heck, they even put "networking" in the name!) returns in July, offering not only incredible access to buyers and reps, but lots of free classes and, yes, fellow writers to schmooze with.

Believe me, I know how hard it is for most of us to socialize. We're writers -- by definition, neurotic, myopic, creative types who like to isolate. But what if each of us sets a goal to get out there and interact in some way, any way, oh, twice this year. Who knows what will come of it. Be brave, my friends, and embrace your brethren! For who knows, they may embrace you back ;)


STUFF GOING ON: why, yes, indeed there is. We've got the Cyberspace Open Top 100 and genre prize winners, just announced. We've got our contest, Writers on the Storm, starting up again April 25th with over $25,000 cash and prizes including 10 grand cash grand prize. We've got Liberator in pre-pro. We have a red-hot spec market. And we have an interview with a really neat dude by the name of Ari Gold (for reals,) whose film "The Adventures of Power" screened at Sundance and is now out on DVD, talking about how all of us can find the music--and the power -- within us. And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing. All that and mo' comin' at you right now.

Onward and downward!

Jim Cirile
Coverage Ink
Writers on the Storm

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OPERATION: LIBERATION. We are very pleased to report that Coverage Ink begins production on our second film, THE LIBERATOR, on 6/21, with Lou Ferrigno starring as the disgraced, former superhero with one last chance at redemption. We had originally hoped to shoot LIBERATOR as a feature, but have scaled it back to a (very ambitious) short which we hope will entice people to want to see the continuing adventures. Rather than waste years trying to raise the budget for a feature, we decided to shoot the best possible version we could with the money we had. We hope to announce some mind-blowing additional casting very shortly. LIBERATOR is written by Coverage Ink's Jim Cirile and Aaron Pope, directed by Pope and executive produced by Cirile.

SPEC-TACULAR. It has been a GREAT spring spec season so far. As predicted by the industry panelists in my December Creative Screenwriting article "The Spec Renaissance," all of the studios have really stepped up in 2011 (after an appallingly slow last couple of years.) Even more impressive is that the scrappy Gersh Agency has been majorly kicking gluteus, with four spec sales so far (tying powerhouse agencies WME and CAA) but on far fewer attempts. Their success rate is a staggering 67%! In short, after years of worse and worser news about the spec script marketplace, we all finally have reason to smile. The spec market is back. So polish up your screenplays and get out there and seize your piece of the action!

ON TRACK TO CONQUER TV! The winner for the Tracking B TV contest raffle is Lindsey Michelle. Way to be, Lindsey! You'll be contacted by The Insider from TrackingB.com, who will tell you how to enter. For all of you TV writers out there, seriously, you need to enter this contest. Just take a look at the TV heavyweights judging the entries. So if you have polished that spec TV pilot to a brilliant shine, and if you are confident you are ready to kick serious boo-tay, then enter the contest. LATE entry deadline is coming in fast: April 15th, so time's a wastin', folks! You can enter the Tracking B TV pilot contest right here.

BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES. Our own Writers on the Storm Screenplay Competition is back for year 5 and begins on 4/25/2011. With a $10,000 cash grand prize and over $25,000 total cash and prizes, we are once again putting our money where our mouth is. Save yourself some dough and enter during the early entry period: April 25 to June 1 (early deadline.) Regular deadline is July 11, and the late/final deadline is July 31st. We have over 150 companies who have agreed to check out the winners. And next newsletter we'll have an interview with last year's runner-up Jeremy Shipp, whom we got signed to UTA. Shipp's script "Sleight of Hand" just went out as a spec and now he's getting meetings all over town. Will you be next?

And as always, any feature script submission to Coverage Ink during the contest period (4/25-7/31/11) includes free entry into the contest. So this is a perfect opportunity to tighten up those specs, then resubmit your most incendiary draft back into the contest before the deadline. Every year we have folks doing three, four, even five drafts during the contest period, resubmitting it after every draft. For those of us who need a deadline to kick our butts into gear -- get crackin'!

THE NEW LOIS AND CLARK. The amazing Amy Adams has been cast as Lois Lane in the upcoming Zack Snyder "Superman" reboot. Adams, an "Enchanted" choice for the role, joins "The Tudors'" Henry Cavill, who replaces Brandon Routh as Superman/Clark Kent (who had the misfortune to star in the lame "Superman Returns," even though he himself was not lame.) While all this is great stuff for comics fans, as Deadline.com notes, the real story is behind the scenes. In February, Joanne Siegel, wife of Superman co-creator Jerome Siegel, passed away at the age of 94. Siegel, upon whom Lois Lane was based, has been battling DC Comics and Warner Bros. in court for years, alleging all manner of thievery. You've got to read the letter written by Siegel last year to Warner Bros. head honcho Jeffrey Bewkes. What a classy lady, and what a royal screwing Warners has given to the creators of one of the most profitable franchises in history.

CYBERSPACE OPEN TOP 100 ANNOUNCED. Well, management won't let us reveal how many entries we had, but it was a lot. And I can tell you that I personally read a lot of really solid scenework this year. But in the end, there could be only one... hundred twenty four, that is (including ties) moving on to round two. The cutoff this year was a staggering 93! Check out how you did (scores and feedback are online now) at cyberspaceopen.com. Let's also hear it four our four genre prize winners, who delivered some really dynamite writing: Stephen Koenig (comedy,) Elisa Graybill (drama,) Phillip Morales (sci-fi) and Ted Leib (horror/thriller.) We should have their winning scenes up soon. In case you missed it, this was the round one scene prompt:
Your PROTAGONIST and his or her LOVE INTEREST are at odds. One of the protagonist’s schemes has gone terribly awry, and the love interest has had it. Write a scene in which they have it out – but in an unconventional way. Their words seem measured and reasonable; but the subtext says another thing entirely. You may use additional characters other than the ones specified.
This one was all about subtext. Many of you rose to the challenge and delivered some killer "saying one thing but really meaning another" dialogue. Others found this elusive and simply gave us two characters in a spat, saying exactly what they meant, which was not what we were looking for. That's called 'on the nose' writing, and we all need to keep it as far away from our scripts as possible. Now, you elite 124, get ready for the second and final round! The round 2 scene prompt hits Friday April first.

REACHING THE SUMMIT. If my opening letter didn't convince you of the potential (and unexpected) benefits of attending InkTip's Pitch Summit, then take a look at some of the success stories from last year's event. Then ask yourself, would meeting with 25 or so companies in a single day possibly be good for your writing career? Hmm...! InkTip's Pitch and Networking Summit hits the Burbank Airport Marriott July 22nd and 23rd. Last year, reps from over 300 agencies, production and management companies attended. Crazy levels of access await. Check it out for yourself at inktippitchsummit.com. 

"SURVIVOR" -- FOR WRITERS. Here's something really neat. Cyberspace Open participant Kelly Wells tells us he runs an online writing tournament of his own called Spookymilk Survivor, "which makes zero sense unless you know that 'Spookymilk' is the nickname I use around the internet," says Wells. "How I ended up with the nickname is another long, boring story in itself, and I occasionally think about changing the game's title." Wells splits the players into teams, and each is assigned one writing challenge per week. "It proceeds like Survivor, with the lowest-scoring team voting out a member who either didn't bring it or was too lazy to submit anything that week, costing the team points," he says. When the game is down to fewer than 10 players, it changes into a solo competition where the lowest scorer of the week is eliminated. Wells says they have about 20 actors, writers and comedians playing now and he'd love to grow it further. So why not join the party? Check it out at spookymilk.wordpress.com.

LAST CHANCE SALE! This will be our very last sale until the contest is over (7/31/11.) So get those scripts ready for contest season now. Before you waste money on entry fees, make your your script rocks with mighty authority. Send your script to Coverage Ink for analysis now! Use the code CINEWSLETTER20 on your order form and get $20 off any feature script submission between now and April 25th. Contests aren't lotteries. The cream really does rise. That means to a large extent, YOU control the outcome. Do the work. Get your craft up to the level where people are tripping over themselves to help you out. It won't be easy. It takes dedication and the painfully difficult setting aside of one's own ego. But somewhere around the 18th draft or so, that script is gonna start to sing. Bring it!



by Jim Cirile

Who is Ari Gold? No, not that Ari Gold. This Ari Gold is a writer/filmmaker who, corny as it sounds, should be an inspiration to us all. Armed with little more than writing chops and a crazy premise, he cobbled together the hilarious ADVENTURES OF POWER, a delightfully daffy hero's journey about a dork who dreams of becoming a professional air drummer and pulls out all the stops to make it happen. Assembling a killer cast including Michael McKean ("This is Spinal Tap,") Adrian Grenier (who actually IS on "Entourage") and Jane Lynch ("Glee,") the film made it into Sundance, won a heap of awards on the festival circuit, and is now available on DVD and Netflix. It's charming, it's ridiculous, and it's brilliant. But most importantly, it shows what any of us can do if we seize the day and just decide we are going to make our movie, damn it, through sheer force of will. Visit the official web site and then play the game at airdrumbattle.com.

Jim Cirile (JC): Welcome, Ari. So wait, you don't look like the dude on "Entourage." I thought you were the dude on "Entourage." Who are you?

Ari Gold (AG): I was born in San Francisco and always wanted to be a writer. I did play air drums at a very young age and ultimately learned to play drums tolerably. I kind of saw my love of film and even my love of music as things that were out of reach or somehow other people were allowed to do but I wasn’t. (I started) writing stories and bits and pieces of a couple of different novels while I was growing up, (but) it took me awhile to realize that I didn’t like the solitary lifestyle and being alone, even though I liked telling stories. That’s what led me to start making short films and trying to get myself into filmmaking. I started making short films which took me to Sundance a bunch of times in a row, and then I kind of had enough credibility to try to put together a feature, and actually ADVENTURES OF POWER was the sixth feature that I tried to put together. I wrote a lot of screenplays before I had one that seemed to have a kind of, for me, a cross between crowd-pleasing storytelling and also ideas and emotions that I wanted to address in moviemaking. I (was) inspired by movies like BABE and REPO MAN because they take farfetched ideas and turn them into ways to look at spirituality and culture and love and everything that matters.

JC: Yeah, you even mention in your director's commentary that you sort of borrowed the structure of the film's third act from "Babe." They both do kind of have that blend of reality and fantasy.

AG: It’s a challenging thing to do that tonally, because some people walk into a comedy and they want it to be a bunch of jokes and increasing gross-out-ness, and maybe by the end one sentimental scene. I really wanted to ask the audience to buy into something that was absurd and fantastical but rooted in real emotion in a deeper way than a traditional comedy, or than a modern comedy. A traditional comedy – you go back to Chaplin and he was certainly doing that. I’m not saying that I’m doing it as well as Chaplin, but looking at the way that he would take comedy and make you cry by the end, and I thought, okay, I’m going to set the bar as high as I can and just try to do that.

JC: One thing I found kind of brave was that the main character, Power (portrayed by Gold,) well, we kind of snicker at him. He's a little bit of a doof. And yet despite that, we invest in him and his insane quest.

AG: Laughing gives you permission to do something deeper. I’ve actually written some far more serious stories, some of the things I wanted to make before I got Power off the ground, that were dealing with war, were dealing with violence, spiritual loss and homelessness. I wrote pretty serious, dark scripts in there, and telling a story about the underground railway of air drummers actually allowed me to address a bunch of these thingss -- even immigration and labor issues, family issues –- all this stuff that is very much a part of the story and yet it’s delivered in a package that’s completely absurd. For those that can go along for the ride and experience both, they love the movie, and for those who can’t, they’re either confused by it or they reject it because it doesn’t make sense to them.

JC: Talk about getting this film off the ground. You shot ADVENTURES OF POWER over the course of a year?

AG: Having had three short films at Sundance was very helpful because it gave me credibility. So I could say, whether it was to an investor or to an actor, okay, I know the summary says it’s about an air drummer/copper miner, but you should read a little further because I have some kind of a track record. But it still was a year of pounding the pavement before I started shooting. (This was made more difficult) because I wanted to shoot all over the country and really capture the feeling of the real America -- not do what one producer who we ended up parting ways with wanted to do, which was shoot it all in Los Angeles and the Valley. I really wanted to capture the southwestern copper town, a cross-country journey, (and) at least a version of Mexico. I wanted to capture downtrodden, post-industrial New Jersey as well on Power’s journey across the country, where he meets people who spiritually, politically, air-drummer-wise, who are on the same page as him, even if they may be an Indian immigrant in Newark, NJ, or a second-generation Italian-American. I finally had gotten clearance to shoot (the factory scenes) at a (Utah) coal plant after having looked for a long, long time, and having gotten rejected from a bunch of places because of political concerns of the owners of the various mines. I had enough money to shoot that section, and winter was coming in fast, so I thought okay, I’d better start this ball rolling now. I had no idea that I would be finishing the last shot thirteen months later. It was a really long year.

JC: So you kind of piecemealed the film together?

AG: There were four or five different shoots spread out over thirteen months. Generally I would shoot when I could with the actors that I had in the locations we had, and finish up a location – I shot everything I needed to shoot in the desert first, and then I shot everything I needed to shoot in Los Angeles, and then I shot in New Jersey, and then I shot in New York. I just made a few adjustments in the script to make sure that I would never have to bring an actor back for more than one shoot because when you’re shooting with a low budget and you don’t have money to really book an actor except by luck, and their schedule being free from real paying work – when there’s a window with Michael McKean or Jane Lynch where they have two weeks to shoot something, I knew I had to get everything all at once. Now, one of the advantages of playing Power in the movie myself is that because the shoot was stretched out over a long period of time and over this huge geographical area, I knew that the lead actor was always going to be there.

JC: Broken arm or not.

AG: Yes, I certainly wasn’t expecting to break my arm the night before what was going to be my last section of the shoot. That was really a tough experience. I had been putting together that last portion for months and months, finally had the money and finally had a crew together, and finally had clearances and the loading docks in New Jersey, and some pretty intense locations including one decommissioned factory in Brooklyn that was about to get torn down. I was ready to go... and then I broke my arm the night before the shoot. It was difficult. So what I had to do – I broke that shoot into two parts and because of this factory getting torn down that I already had booked for this week, while still on painkillers the morning after breaking my arm, went through what was going to be the final week’s shoot and cobbled together about three days that I could shoot even with a broken arm, and got all that stuff in the can, knowing that I would have to do one more short shoot when my arm healed and I had more money back together.

JC: The script is structurally solid and nails all the classical, mythological beats. Smartly done.

AG: Because I saw the epic hero tale told in the absurd (way), I really wanted to follow some of those rules. I’ve read a lot of Greek myths, a lot of Estonian and Latvian and Lithuanian myths. I like that structure and I think there’s a reason that human beings respond to it. The story led me to follow the model that’s been around for thousands of years. Even including several elements of what I guess you could call magical realism –- the Mexican guy who appears in two places, and leads Power to the underground railroad, he’s kind of a magical helper which appears a lot in mythology. A lot of stuff – Power’s call to action, which he rejects at first and then he’s forced to accept because he loses his job. Because I think the hero structure fit this story and because I knew it well enough that I didn’t have to refer to it while I was writing, I actually felt really free through it and I wrote the first draft very quickly. I spent many, many months editing it and revising it and strengthening the different beats after that, but that first draft really came out quickly and I let my brain go wherever it wanted to go.

This is one scene you've just gotta see.
JC: But seriously -- a movie about an air drummer?

AG: I really felt possessed when the idea came to me, like it had to come out, unlike the feeling that I'd had in some of my more sane scripts. I felt that I had something beautifully absurd and funny, and at the same time that there was this deeper metaphor inside the air drummer, making something out of nothing, and the spiritual and political story of that felt important to me. I really became kind of obsessed, where it was all I thought about. I had cooked around the idea of an air drummer, I had made a few little stunt videos, I had performed as Power at the air guitar competitions – there was a little cooking of the idea where I wasn’t taking it seriously, where I was just doing it for fun and it kind of happened in a flash where I suddenly thought, wait a minute, this character actually has something more and it’s not a Saturday Night Live skit. It all kind of happened quickly where I made these little short videos with the character that I’ve been putting on my YouTube channel now, actually, and I thought, okay, I think he’s from this copper mining town that I used to live in in my aunt’s basement. And that’s all I really drew, and I flew out to New Mexico to visit the town where I hadn’t really been in a few years thinking okay, well, maybe the copper mine is going on strike. When I got there, the day I arrived, the copper mine went on strike, and it was one of those incredibly strange experiences in life where seeing that happen, arriving in a tiny little town, and seeing people standing in the street with signs, families sleeping out in front of the mine with tents, which appears in the movie –- that image happening right before my eyes, it must have been 48 hours after I thought of it. It sort of felt like the universe saying this has to happen now, this is a story, this is something deeper, welcome to the next several years of my life.

JC: I have to mention for Rush fans, drummer Neal Peart not only appears as the judge in the final drum-off, there is a terrific half-hour conversation with you two in the DVD extras, which by itself is worth the price of the DVD. So what's next for you, Ari? And where can people check out ADVENTURES OF POWER?

AG: I did a little job on United States of Tara, I’ve done music videos, and I’m having an alarming number of meetings with independent and more studio-connected producers about trying to get another movie off the ground. My hope is that whatever I do next will entertain what this film and all the shorts have, which is some respect for humanity and respect for the absurdity of life. That will probably be the common denominator, but hopefully I’ll have a salary, too. (laughs) The best thing people can do is go to adventuresofpower.com and click on the link and buy it on Amazon. There’s actually two hours of bonus features. It’s a very, very, packed-full-of-entertainment DVD. It is also available for rent on Netflix, although it’s not on streaming at this point. I think you can buy it on iTunes, but the DVD is awesome, and I hope people will buy it. At bare minimum, I hope people will go to adventuresofpower.com and check stuff out, look at the trailer, join my social media – I have all the usual social media. People can follow me, Facebook me, and all that stuff. Most importantly, this article you’re writing, probably 95% of the people who read it, this will be the only time they hear about this movie, so this is David vs. Goliath. Perhaps it beautifully matches the story that Power himself has nothing, and has to make do with nothing, so anyone curious enough to read it, I encourage you to check out the movie now, because you probably won’t be seeing it on a billboard anytime in the next couple of hundred years.



by Steve Kaire

There is no absolute method of protecting your ideas or screenplays. There are, however, a number of steps you can take to give you the maximum protection possible.

Ideas and loglines are the least protectable written material. I recommend that a story idea you pitch and that you have interest in be expanded to a three to five-page treatment. Then register that treatment with the Writers Guild. The longer the material, the more protection you have. Treatments are more protectable than story ideas. Screenplays are more protectable than treatments. All screenplays, treatments, Movies-of-the-Week and television pilots should be registered with the Writers Guild of America West or East. Registration can be done in person, by mail or online. And don't forget to copyright your material as well. As any copyright attorney will tell you, a copyright has much more legal weight than Writers Guild registration.

Writers should also take a journal with them to all pitch meetings they attend. The journal should include the date, name of the person they met with and a list of all the projects they pitched.

Before you’re pitching your projects in a one-on-one pitching session, you should mention to the person you’re pitching to that all your projects are registered with the Writers Guild, even if not all of them are. If you then get interest in one of your projects, then quickly register it online to cover yourself.

You should also get in the habit of sending a thank you note by email after every meeting you have. Mention the names of all the projects you pitched to that company and keep a copy for your records. Save all rejection letters as well. The journal, thank you e-mails and rejection letters are the beginning of a paper trail which can help you keep your material from being stolen.

In the event you believe that your material was stolen, you have to prove two things: similarity and access. Similarity means that your script is almost identical to the material you claim was stolen. Keep in mind that there are hundreds of thousands of scripts that have been registered that by coincidence could be similar to yours.

Access means that you have concrete proof that a company or studio had direct access to your material. You’ll have to hire an attorney to represent you in litigation, which will be an expensive proposition for you. And the results are almost always the same: the writer claiming theft loses a costly court battle and is blacklisted for life.

Theft is not as prevalent as most writers perceive, especially in the movie business. It’s a little more prevalent in television since it’s such an imitative medium. There’s an old expression in Hollywood, “You’re not going to get screwed by people stealing from you. You’re going to get screwed by people making a deal with you.”


Steve Kaire (HighConceptScreenwriting.com) is a Screenwriter/Pitchman who’s sold 8 projects to the major studios without representation. His top-rated CD, “High Concept--How to Create, Pitch and Sell to Hollywood” is available on his website along with original articles and national screenwriting contests.


The (Not Especially) Long Haul

If you work hard enough and long enough and have no small amount of luck, you may just break in as a screenwriter. But how long will the gravy train run, and what can you do to keep it on the rails?

by Jim Cirile

Reprinted courtesy of Creative Screenwriting

Richard Arlook
The Arlook Group

A.B. Fischer
The Shuman Company

Emile Gladstone
International Creative Management

Ava Jamshidi
International Creative Management

Julien Thuan
United Talent Agency

Jake Wagner
Screenwriter/director John Fasano recently celebrated his 20th anniversary as a working screenwriter. This event was all the more remarkable because of its rarity. Earlier this year, Academy president and former Paramount head Sid Ganis told him, "You're the only writer from back then (the early '90s) who's still working." Fasano attributes his two-decade long career to “being terrified of running out of money.” Seriously, he says his secret is that he always tries “to be sensitive to producers’ and directors’ needs, and to understand what sometimes the silliest frigging notes you've ever seen actually mean.” In other words, embrace the notes, they’ll love you. Give ‘em ego, end your career.

Sounds simple, right? Yet it can’t be, or a lot more people would have multi-decade writing careers. Obviously there are other factors at work. So is it really possible in this day and age to not just break in, but to still have a career in 2030? As always, Agent’s Hot Sheet’s in the hizzy with the 411.

Here’s a sobering statistic. ICM feature lit agent Emile Gladstone asserts that the average life of a writer in Hollywood is about five years. “You have to be very careful how to extend that,” he says. “You have to play chess. It’s not just about being talented. You have to learn how to play the game and be a strategist and not be reactive, which is very, very difficult to do.” In short, just because you break in doesn’t mean you’re in to stay. “Screenwriter” is not (generally) a salaried position with benefits and job security. UTA agent Julien Thuan agrees with Gladstone’s assertion. “I would offer up a couple more years on that, but I don’t think it’s an absurd statement. It’s certainly not long. Any writer who can sustain a career for more than a decade in this business -- it’s a harsh business, obviously -- and find a lot of success, that’s an incredible career.”

It’s important for writers to understand exactly why longevity in Hollywood is measured in nanoseconds. The first has to do with the writer’s ability to deliver the goods consistently. “(A new) writer comes out with a lot of heat,” says FilmEngine manager Jake Wagner, “either off a spec sale or at least a hot sample, and it’s a process of capitalizing on that heat with the open writing assignments or selling more material. If the writer wipes out on assignments or never writes a great piece of material again, yeah, three or four years, it could be all over.” The second factor has to do with writer burnout and the rapacious, soul-sucking nature of the Hollywood development process. “Sometimes people just lose steam,” says Thuan. "Sometimes they get cold because they can’t do it anymore. They’re not excited about taking those general meetings anymore, about being entrepreneurial in quite the same way, or they have other priorities. After taking a little break, it becomes really difficult to come back again.” In other words, they get sick of doing the dog and pony show.

And then, of course, there is the inevitable shooting oneself in the foot. Says manager/ producer Richard Arlook, ““Sometimes you get driven so crazy that at some point, it’s just, like, ‘I’m done.’ The producer wants more work to be done. The writer doesn’t want to do it. We all know how that’s going to end.” The writer will get his delivery money, but the producer will replace that writer in a heartbeat and word of the writer’s attitude will spread like Crisco in a hot skillet. “The smart person is not interested in winning a battle, he’s interested in winning the war. How do I define winning the war? Having a successful career.”

But occasionally writers lose momentum due to no fault of their own. “The town makes decisions about writers,” says Thuan. “They get excited about new people, new voices, new ways of telling stories. Sometimes people who just do good work don’t get quite as much credit. It’s a really tough thing for people to reconcile.” Yes, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, Hollywood is not always a meritocracy. “I’ve seen writers go through a 2-year phase where they (were) up for tons of writing assignments,” says Wagner, “wrote at least one original screenplay or pilot a year, and still nothing. But as long as they were getting close on everything—if the spec almost sold or they almost got the job—then it’s just a matter of time. So then you’ve just got to keep on going and know that it’s a combination of luck and timing and hard work. Eventually you’ll get the luck back.”

Success at screenwriting can yield some big paydays, but it’s often hard for writers to come to grips with the fact that the end of the line may be sooner rather than later. Having a fiscal strategy is a smart move. When you’re first starting out, don’t be so quick to ankle the barista gig. “I have that talk right away,” says Wagner, “especially new writers, because as soon as they sell something, they quit their jobs. You just (have to say,) listen, this could be the only thing you sell for a while. And no one understands how long it takes to get paid.” This is primarily due to wrangling from legal affairs combined with studios simply not wanting to pony up until they absolutely have to. “The guys who’ve been doing it a couple years, they get it. “ Beyond that, figuring out how to manage the capital during both flush and fallow times is crucial. “Part of what you do is talk about how one maintains a living when financially things can change from one year to another,” says Thuan. For example, it may be very prudent for a writer to invest wisely, hopefully to create revenue stream that continues after the writing career ends. “I’m not a financial advisor,” says Arlook. “I give prudent, basic advice. (If a new) writer sells a spec for maybe $350K, $400K, they (will often) behave like they’re going to be doing that twice a year. You have to say, ‘Listen, don’t put yourself under financial pressure. Until you’ve maybe done this three or four times and you’ve got $1 million cash, you might want to live simply.’” His former colleague from Gersh Agency, Sandra Lucchesi, adds, “(New) writers, don’t quit your day job. Don’t live outside of your means. This isn’t a 9 to 5 where you’re collecting your weekly paycheck. You have to protect yourself in terms of how you take care of your finances. It happens to every artist -- you’ll have moments of great success and then moments of not so much.”

Obviously, our panel is most concerned with keeping those careers on track in the first place -- for your sake as well as theirs! “We talk about things that one can do to remain fresh as a writer, in the minds of those people who do the buying or the hiring,” says Thuan. That means always having a new piece of material. “It’s the one thing that’s in your own control, that you can do consistently, and it’s a way to stay fresh and create material free of creative interference.” Wagner agrees, “Pump out at least one piece of original material a year. In this business, staying focused and positive are probably the two hardest things to do. A writer can always write a new screenplay. Directors have it bad. If you direct a poor movie, you can’t just go direct another one. They’re in director jail for five years.”

And if you’ve cracked the assignment game, follow Gladstone’s formula for longevity: “First and foremost, deliver, deliver, deliver. If you sell the script, and (you’re turning in) the rewrite, you want to have something waiting in the wings.” Gladstone notes that one mistake people make is they get hot off a spec and then grab every job thrown at them -- a surefire recipe for career hari-kiri. “It’s very hard to deliver on three jobs simultaneously, and you don’t want to make people wait. They hire you to do a job; they expect you to do it now. So you have to always be creating, always be writing. Hopefully you’ve taken a bunch of meetings, but you don’t want to take the job until you’re on the downhill slope of whatever other job you’re on.”

If all else fails and your career hits a wall, the panelists have one more trick up their sleeves: “Reinvent yourself or rewrite yourself into another genre,” says Wagner. “If you’re the thriller guy and you’re not getting thriller assignments, take a whack at an actioner or a 4-quad(rant) family thing. Jumping genres is a way for writers to reinvigorate a career.” But will the town take seriously a comedy spec from a writer known for edgy thrillers? “If it’s good, they’ll take it seriously,” laughs Wagner. “I’ve seen it happen. All of a sudden, they have a whole new career in this other genre and going to meet all those producers and production companies and are now up for all these brand-new writing assignments that they never had a shot at.”

Good luck, and I’ll see you all in 2030!



Yes, we stole the name of our letters column from "Cracked."

Mike writes: Greetings! Just finished reading your "Spec Format and Style Guide"; it gave more useful information in fewer pages than either of the costly screenplay manuals I had previously purchased. Unfortunately, because of your book I now realize my almost-finished screenplay desperately needs an extensive rewrite. Gee, Thanks.

Jim C. replies: Happy to (sort of) help!

Lindsey writes: I loved your 5 reminders for screenplays (previous newsletter). I work as a script reader and I often feel like a broken record reminding writers not to use narrative to impart facts about the characters that should be conveyed via dialogue or action, and to keep screenplays below 120 pages. May I add three more grievances to your list that perhaps you can share with writers?

* Don't end Act One with what should be the inciting incident. I see many scripts where the story doesn't really "begin" until page 30. The protagonist should vow to sabotage his true love's new romance by page 10 -- there's no reason to use an entire act to set up the protagonist's unrequited love.

* Keep narrative in the present tense. Not only does "Bob sits at his desk" have more immediacy than "Bob is sitting at his desk", it saves room on the page.

* Avoid frequent mention of the camera. Actually, the camera shouldn't be referenced at ALL in specs. An occasional mention may not hurt an otherwise compelling screenplay, but constant "CAMERA ON BOB as he enters the kitchen" is distracting and unnecessary.

Jim C. replies: Awesome tips. Thanks, Lindsey!

Guy writes: I wanted to thank you for the excellent coverage your reader provided on our script. We have had a couple of other services provide us coverage previously, but this one has been, by far, the most helpful to us. Your reader clearly understood what we are trying to accomplish with this story and showed us exactly where we veered off that path without trying to rewrite the story we want to tell.

For me, the most useful part of the coverage was the review of the structure and the reader’s suggestions. I expect I will reference that portion a lot while working on the next drafts. Also, thank you for taking the extra time to get it back to us as soon as you could. Your coverage service would be a bargain at twice the price.

Jim C. replies: Are you suggesting we double our prices? Cool! I like being able to eat. Hmm, what's that? Oh. Never mind. Well, thanks, Guy!



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Victor said...

Any idea when we will receive our feedback scores for those of us not in the Cyberspace Open top 100? You should already have these scores, right?

Admin said...

Hi Victor, they're online at www.cyberspaceopen.com.