Thursday, November 29, 2012

Coverage Ink/Writers on the Storm Newsletter 12/12

December 2012


1. I Hate Contests.
2. Shorties - News, Tidbits and Disinformation for Writers
3. Kick It With Kickstarter
4. Agent's Hot Sheet: How to Really Break In To TV


How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways:
  • Losing. It makes you feel worthless as a writer. The fact that you were probably eliminated by some college student hired off Craigslist making $7 a script, who only read the first five pages, is little consolation.
  • The quality of the readers. See above.
  • The amazing disappearing entry fee. You pay your 50 bucks or whatever, and often that's the last you ever hear.
  • And when you do get feedback, it's often pretty worthless.
  • There are too many of them, and only a very few have any juice at all. The vast majority, it's, hey, you won! Congrats! Nobody cares.
  • Multiple deadlines and extensions. Just when you think you've gotten your script in under the wire, they announce an additional month.
Ho freakin' ho ho.
I'll stop there, but I think you get my drift. So now you're expecting me to say that none of these things exist in OUR contest, right? Well, sort of but not quite.

My original concept for Writers on the Storm was that it would be a nontest -- in other words, all the irritating things I just mentioned about contests, we wouldn't do. But as we quickly discovered, being truly unique was easier said than done. Readers: that was easy. We use the same tested and proven team of industry readers for the contest we use to evaluate and develop scripts for Coverage Ink. We made the mistake a few years back of augmenting with a few non-CI readers. Never again... Our readers make a fair wage and have to read the entire script. I know of some contest readers who rip through 5, 6, even 7 scripts in an hour, making serious $$$ by doing so. Yeah, not here. (Sorry, readers!)

Losing still sucks, no question, but we try to mollify the blow with education and TLC. If we can explain in the feedback why the script didn't advance, then maybe the writer won't feel so much wounded as empowered to get in there and do a little surgery. It's just a short feedback form so there's only so much we can do, but I've heard from lots of folks they really appreciated the commentary -- often it's the first time they've received constructive, professional criticism. Cool. Of course, we've screwed the pooch a few times too. A few years back I discovered we had a reader who was cutting and pasting almost exactly the same vague, meaningless three sentences onto every feedback form. That person was sacked, but not before the damage was done. She's now working for another coverage company...

As for the proliferation of contests, oy. When I started WOTS there were too damn many... now there's three times that amount. And there are still only a small handful worth your money --Tracking B, Scriptapalooza, Script Pipeline, Nicholl Fellowship, and of course Writers on the Storm. These contests have all shown consistent results and industry juice.

Now here's where we are guilty, no question: deadlines. See, for our first year I tried my noble experiment: we had ONE deadline and only one, and that was it. No extensions, no late entry period, no sliding scale entry fees -- every entry was the same low price. We let everyone know in advance that the deadline was the deadline. And we got killed. Maybe it's that writers expect there will be an extension regardless of what the company says. Maybe it's the perceived urgency of an extension propels more people to submit. Whatever the reason, we quickly realized we had to implement staggered deadlines as a matter of survival. Like everyone else. I rationalized that it's no so bad so long as you make everyone aware of it -- not "Surprise! The real deadline is 6 weeks from now. Thanks for spending the last 72 hours straight cramming to finish your script and get it in under the wire to save $5."

So now we tell everyone in advance what the early, regular, and late deadlines are. In addition, Without A Box demands a WAB-only extension period, so we tack that on at the end.

Finally, communication. I remember a contest once where I only found out I had made the top ten because I web-searched my name and found the listing on the contest website many months later. Anyway, this is an area we're trying to do better in. We try to make sure every entry gets an acknowledgement, and at the end everyone does get their feedback. Beyond that we have constant updates on our websites, our facebook page ( and right here on our blog. And if you email us at, either lovely Julie or myself will get back to you.

I still think contests suck. But we're trying to reduce the pain and swelling. Write us and let us know how we're doing!

Jim Cirile
founder, Coverage Ink
Writers on the Storm

Continue to Shorties

Shorties 12-12

WINGING IT. Man, we love sharing awesome news. In November, Writers on the Storm IV runner-up Jeremy Shipp -- whom we had previously gotten signed at UTA, and who is now working on the ABC comedy Family Tools -- set up his original animation project Nightglider. Wind Dancer Films and Brown Bag Films are teaming to produce the flying squirrel comedy, with a projected release in 2015. It will be the first animated project for both companies. To say this talented young man is on a roll is the understatement of the year! Jeremy's WWII magic-themed action/adventure script Sleight of Hand caught UTA agent Emerson Davis' eye and got him into the bigs. Since then he's worked on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and ABC's mid-season replacement Family Tools. We can't wait to see what his new contemporary action/thriller spec does when it hits the market next year. Go, Jeremy!

Yeah, they have reason to smile.
SIGNED. Yahoooo! Last year's winners of Writers on the Storm, Glenn Sanders and Brooks Elms, have also signed with UTA. The insanely gifted writing duo kicked our butts with their hilarious period comedy Wright or Wrong, a deliciously daft revisionist take on the Wright Bros. making things even more absurdly cool, they've signed with none other than red-hot agent Charlie Ferraro, who has sold six, count 'em, six specs so far this year (only WME's Mike Esola has sold more with seven.) Now they're readying a new comedy spec and getting meetings with movers and shakers. Nice! You know, it's easy to get frustrated with Hollywood. But when guys like Elms and Sanders and Shipp can break in -- cool guys with real chops -- it buoys our spirits. Occasionally, the town really can reward hard work and merit. Bravo, gentlemen! We expect nothing short of serious badassery from you.

FIRST PUT THE MASK ON YOURSELF, THEN THE CAT. Our pals at Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! have a new event coming up this January. We're going to be there and so should you! It's called SAVE THE CAT!® MAKES A SALE -- PRACTICAL LESSONS FROM WORKING SCREENWRITERS, and it's going to be Saturday, January 26, 2013 9:00 am - 5:00 pm at the Burbank Marriott. In addition to covering a massive amount of material to quickly whip your scripts into shape (we're all STC! evangelists here at Coverage Ink,) they're bringing in four working screenwriters to discuss how they  use the STC! principles: Dean De Bois (How To Train Your Dragon 2), Jeremy Garelick (The Break-Up), Caleb Wilson (Four Christmases) and Jon Davis (The Dukes of Hazzard.) These things always sell out, so reserve your slot today. And if you're wondering what the big deal is with Save the Cat!, pick up a copy at any bookseller and behold the wonders of Blake Snyder's simple, foolproof, studio-mandated method. If you do not think this is important, you are sadly mistaken. I have had more than one producer meeting where they insisted on a Save the Cat!-style beat sheet.

DON'T SHOOT THE MESSINGER. More good news: our pal (and CI client) Bob Messinger's script The C.O., about the early days of the war in Iraq, has taken Best Script honors in the ENDAS International Screenplay Competition. The annual competition, headquartered in Genova, Italy, draws thousands of entries from around the globe. According to Messinger, The C.O. is different than most war dramas not only because it realistically depicts the horrors of modern urban warfare, but also because it dares to challenge the world community's political, religious and moral motivations for waging war. “I’m more proud of this script than any other I’ve done,” says Messinger, who has written multiple drafts of the story, one of which was a semi-finalist in Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope screenplay competition in 2006. Messinger plans to use his €1000 prize either to prepare a trailer for The C.O. or to prepare a trailer for a new project he hopes to film himself by raising money through Kickstarter. Way to go, Bob!

WRITERS ON THE STORM QUARTERFINALISTS SO FAR. As many of you know, folks who submit scripts to for analysis during the contest period are automatically entered into Writers on the Storm at no extra charge. These folks (but not those who enter via find out in advance whether or not their screenplays have made it to the quarterfinals -- scripts that score "consider with reservations" or better for script -- historically about the top 10% -- automatically advance to the quarterfinal round. But this year, just days before our regular deadline, we have only six quarterfinalists to date -- way less than 10% of the scripts submitted for coverage. What's going on? Are our readers being supreme hard-asses? (Yes.) Or have a lot of folks been holding out on submitting until their scripts are polished and shiny? (Yes.)  Hopefully those numbers will correct as we get closer to the final deadline.

In any event, here are our spectacular, odds-defying Writers on the Storm quarterfinalists so far!
  • The Theory of Everything by Tim McSmythurs
  •  My Asshole Neighbor by Andrew Currie + Robert Comiak
  • The Galaxy's Littlest Prince by Joe Borriello
  • On the Edge by Patrick Hunt
  • Wormweed by John and Jessica Walker
  • Russian Roulette by Karl Schiffman
Can you join this small but mighty group? We'll see... get your script in now at or

INDIE FEST: LIBERATED. We are pleased as punch to tell you that Coverage Ink's new short film/pilot Liberator won the Award of Excellence from Indie Fest. We're just beginning our festival run, so Liberator will be coming to a film festival or Comic-Con near you. Next up: join us Thursday 12/6 at 4:30 PM at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival. Or perhaps you would prefer Medellin, Colombia? Because we're screening there Dec. 8th at the Dark Mountain Film Festival. Sadly, we will not be in attendance for that one. Many more screenings to come, including a few big ones featuring key cast members such as Lou Ferrigno, Michael Dorn (Worf, son of Mogh) and Peta Wilson (La Femme Nikita) so please "like" us on Facebook and stay in the loop. If all goes well, we'll be bringing you a major Liberator announcement next month...

SPEC-TACULARITY. Usually this is the time of year when the spec market ramps down as we cruise into the holiday season and execs begin their long vacations to the Seychelles and Betty Ford. But there's life in the spec market yet, and three specs have been set up just last week. So far this year, 62 companies have been attached to specs that have sold (some with more than one project.) It's been a great year, and the market is still hungry. When the market sucks, it affects everything. People are less willing to read, writers' quotes take the hit which means agents and managers get grumpy... it's a vicious cycle of suckitude. So here's to a terrific 2012 -- and an even better 2013.

HOLY BAT-TASTROPHE! Warner Bros. has announced that an American legend, a true visionary, has signed on to direct the Batman reboot. Who could it be? Well, if you believe the snarky industry humor site The Studio Exec, none other than Mr. Soon-Yi himself.  Allen is reported to be considering "going back to what made the franchise great in the first place" and plans to announce casting of Adam West in the role of the caped crusader. In all semi-seriousness, this would be a pretty cool choice if it were real, which it is not. But the faux news stories on are well worth your time. Check it out!


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Continue to Kick It With Kickstarter

Kick It With Kickstarter

Seems like almost everyone I know has jumped on the crowdfunding bandwagon. There's Robert from Brooklyn who raised $3,000 to fund his spectacular annual free Halloween show; Brian the makeup effects artist who's soliciting funds for his post-apocalyptic horror free-for-all; and Jessica, who played Lou Ferrigno's daughter in LIBERATOR, looking for funds to launch her new 13-episode web series. And they're just the tip of the iceberg. I have one word for it: awesome!!!!

Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGogo have indeed returned the power to the creators' hands. No longer is our messed-up corporate media the be-all and end-all for whether a movie gets made, a book gets published or a band gets their music out there. Hell yeah!

But word to the wise: these sites are not instant, free, easy money. They are amazing tools to be sure, and they can sometimes yield dramatic results. Hell, we raised almost $25K in finishing funds on Kickstarter for LIBERATOR. But the process is, frankly, a monumental pain in the ass. So if you're planning on crowdfunding to raise money for your project, go for it, but keep a few things in mind...

Our Kickstarter Liberator campaign main page.
The PBS model for rewards doesn't work. Sure, Public Broadcasting can give away a free light-up key chain with your $250 contribution. But on the crowdfunding sites that is not going to fly. Contributors expect something cool, unique and valuable in exchange for chipping in. A free DVD is fine with a $25 contribution, but for $100 you'd better give out a T-shirt, a cameo appearance, an original screen-used prop and a 45-minutes of Shiatsu from your second AD. Okay, maybe that's a bit over the top, but know this well: the better your rewards, the more likely it is that people will invest.

30 days doesn't cut it. Kickstarter recommends a 30-day campaign. They feel that people make snap decisions and thus a ticking clock works in your favor. I say: bull. It takes time to build momentum and followers.  As well, people are either going to contribute right now if they like your project; or they're going to watch and wait, and jump in at the end if they have to. Either way you've got 'em. Elect a 60-day campaign and use that time to spread the word and pimp the hell out of your project.

Plan on 30% of your intake going out the window. Yeah, this one really bites, but it's true: it costs money to print T-shirts, DVDs, stickers, and mail all that crap out. Kickstarter's take is about 10%. (Note that if you do not hit your goal, with Kickstarter you don't get a dime. With IndieGogo, you can collect whatever has been contributed, but for a higher fee than if you hit your goal -- around 14%.) In other words, if you need 10 grand, you'd best ask for 13.

Oh, did I mention that these funds are also considered taxable income?

There is no "Kickstarter community." Kickstarter says you need to create the most appealing sizzle reel you can in order to appeal to the Kickstarter community. While the first part is very true, this statement makes you think that there is a large group of individuals, perhaps bored at their 9 to 5s, who browse crowdfunding sites much like they do and eBay, looking for cool new projects to invest in. Yeah, not so much. I mean, there are a few, and they did indeed come in at the end and help us with LIBERATOR. But probably best not to expect this massive groundswell of support from people you don't know.

"Gray State" won big with their killer, FX-laden trailer and by appealing to activist groups.
YOU have to do all the work. This is the messed-up secret no one wants to divulge, but here it is. None of these sites do jack to help you, other than simply giving you space on their server. It's up to you to create the campaign and broadcast it. That means relentlessly hounding your friends (they love that) for contributions, tweeting, Facebooking, trying to get publicity however you can, and providing constant updates for contributors and potential investors. This, by the way, is inordinately time-consuming.

Social media is key. We hired a social media consultant because we had zero Twitter presence, and everyone says Twitter is the key to a successful campaign. So in the space of less than 3 weeks, Erika built us up from zero to over 500 Twitter followers. And some of them really became invested in the project, spreading the word for us. It really did start to snowball. But Erika spent a LOT of hours getting to know each of those people so that they became part of the family. If you have thousands of Facebook friends and Twitter followers to start, you've got a leg up. If not, you'd best hire someone to help you, because otherwise you will not hit your goal. Which, by the way, means another chunk of dough off the top of your take.

Most of the money you raise will likely come from your friends and family, by the way. So why do we need these sites then? You don't, really. You can build your own fund-raising website if you are so inclined. Or just have a big potluck and make a nice speech and pass the hat.

Stack the deck in your favor. Browse through any crowd-funding site and you will see great campaigns, shitty ones and everything in between. Study the great ones, obviously. Check out their sizzle reels, how they present the material. Your stuff had better look slick and pro. Check out Gray State, above, for a great example.

Did I mention, by the way, how much time it takes to put together a slick, professional presentation for crowdfunding purposes? If you're starting to get the impression that crowdfunding is anything but easy, you're beginning to get my point.

One other thing: a LOT of projects out there have no name actors attached. This is because most of us assume we can't afford "real" actors. This is nonsense. You may not be able to afford Brad Pitt, but you may well be able to get a few folks who mean something to genre fans, like we did with LIBERATOR. Hell, you're raising money online anyway. Add in an extra 10 grand for talent. There is a big difference between how a project with no names is perceived versus one that has some. And getting them is easy. Make your list, then contact their agents and make an offer. Some may laugh in your face, but others may be interested. At that point it's up to your script to seal the deal. Make sure it rocks.

Now go kick(start) some ass!

Jim C.

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