Wednesday, April 29, 2015

AGENT'S HOT SHEET: Wither Indies?

Yep, it’s hard as heck to break into Hollywood. But it’s even harder for someone with indie sensibilities. Come with us as we investigate how an indie-minded writer can make a living in the film business nowadays.

 By Jim Cirile

Wither indies? The answer, sadly, is yes. Indies, as we’ve always understood them, are not only withering, they’re pretty much gone. Over the past 15 years, many US-based indie production companies and distributors have shuttered. This leaves fewer and fewer opportunities for writers with a penchant for more provocative, out of the box, non-Hollywood studio system material. The path in is now longer and bumpier than ever -- but opportunities still exist for the savvy indie writer.

To begin, the big indie production companies have largely gone the way of the dodo. In the ‘90s, we had Miramax, Paramount Classics, Fine Line… every major studio had an indie division. But as the studios were swallowed up into corporate media behemoths, these specialty divisions, which maybe only returned a paltry few million in profit each year, were eradicated. The last two standing: Fox Searchlight and Sony Classics. “It was about business, not art,” says Adam Leipzig, CEO of Entertainment Media Partners and former CEO of National Geographic Films (March of the Penguins.) “When specialty division dollars were not (deemed profitable enough,) the studios started to abandon smaller movies and force their larger product onto the screens that were once available for indie films.” At the same time, exhibition chains took over independently owned theaters. Thus the number of screens available for indie movies shrank precipitously. And according to Leipzig, only about 1% of the 3,800-plus features submitted to Sundance this year will get any significant form of distribution, including Netflix. So while there is no shortage of indie filmmakers out there, getting those films seen is another thing entirely.

Because of these factors, most agents and managers don’t want anything to do with indie scripts. At some point, pretty much every rep has invested years of his or her life championing a brilliant little gem they truly believed in, a Sisyphean task with often little or no reward. Few are keen to repeat that experience. “It is the more difficult, if not most difficult path (to break into the business,)” says agent Mike Goldberg from APA. He advises that indie writers need to manage expectations “as far as how difficult the path will be as well as how long it will take. Patience is absolutely key.”

Manager Jeff Belkin from Zero Gravity tells us about one client, a multi-contest winner, whose period piece drama was so great he couldn’t not represent her. “I said, this is the most amazing writing. I love this script,” Belkin recalls. “I’m a popcorn movie guy. I like summer movies, so for me to get involved in a period biopic -- ridiculous! But if something spectacular crosses my desk, I want to get involved. So the next step was, who the hell do I give it to?” One person he gave it to was producer J. Todd Harris, whose credits range from Dudley Do-Right to The Kids Are Alright. “He and his partner Mark Marcum just flipped over it. It’s been long process of trying to get the financiers, the agencies, the talent, what have you. They’re still very much passionate about the project, and we’re hoping, fingers crossed, that it will happen very soon.”(We're happy to note that Belkin did indeed set that project up -- after about three years of effort.)

Despite that, Goldberg agrees with the battle plan. “You have to (partner with) a very talented, well-connected, hardworking producer who (has a hand in) the more independent arena. That producer has the know-how and the contacts and the diligence to help put the pieces together to move your project forward.” He cautions that whether it’s a $30 million dollar project or a $300K project, “it’s going to take the same amount of work, just the people involved are going to get a lot less money. You have to find those producers who do it not to make money, but do it for the love of film and good film, that are willing to roll up their sleeves and put the projects together.”

So how does one’s indie script get the attention of Hollywood? With great difficulty, of course. One good way is by getting validation from an outside source. High-profile contests like the Nicholl Fellowship remain a great way for indie voices to get exposure. “(Actor/writer/director) Tom McCarthy wrote and directed a tiny little indie movie in The Station Agent,” says The Arlook Group’s Richard Arlook, “that he wrote in his trailer while he was making the first Meet the Parents or something, and he made that movie for under half a million dollars. It won the Waldo Salt writing award at Sundance. As a result of that, it sold to Miramax and launched him as a real filmmaker (Win Win.) You don’t hear about it, but he works consistently, and gets compensated very fairly, to fix up studio scripts.”

Indeed, it’s a fairly open secret that some successful indie filmmakers pay the rent as script doctors for studio films. Says Leipzig, “To do that, that screenwriter has to write sample scripts that really show that he or she understands the commercial requirements of the business, so the writer can get an agent and get submitted for (that) work. I think that there is a potential business model for this writer to kind of do one for them, one for me, one for them, one for me.” Arlook adds, “John Sayles probably made more money over the years writing and fixing studio scripts than he ever did as an independent writer.”

This could be a really splendid solution for indie-minded writers -- the crossover. “There are definitely some writers who can do both independent and commercial films,” says Belkin. “I have some clients that do and some that very much do not. In a perfect world, it’s wonderful to introduce yourself to Hollywood in a more commercial way, because you have more chance of exposure and being read by an agency.” Leipzig feels that screenwriters need to determine if they are writing to try to get movies made that they deeply care about, even if they are not going to be very commercial -- or if they view writing as a business. “Let’s assume this is an (indie-minded) person who still wants to pay the rent by writing. I think that this person now has to think about bifurcating their work. There is not a great business for independent screenplays. Even if the movie gets made, the writer does not get paid that much, so that’s not really (the best way) to make a living. But there is a potential business for a screenwriter with really good character sensibilities to do studio rewrite and assignment work.” To do that, you will need to generate a sample script that really shows that you understand the commercial requirements of the business. “There’s still a lot of assignment work out there,” says Leipzig.

Another way to get the attention of the biz is to DIY. Don’t wait for someone to come along and give you money. Unless it’s a big-budget period piece, chances are you can shoot your script yourself on HD. “Get the money through friends and family, through credit card debt, loans, Kickstarter,” says Goldberg. “It’s been done in the past; it’s done every day. The most important thing is trying to get your film made, and if you can do it by yourself, great. If you can’t, try and find the right people that can do it with you or for you.” And if it comes out good enough, a few festival awards later and you may very well have a calling card.

But if one hasn’t won an award or gotten their film onto the festival circuit, you can still act as your own representative. “When I was a writer, coming out of film school, nobody told me how to find people,” said Belkin, who started out as a writer. “Nobody told me about the Hollywood Creative Directory or IMDBPro. I went through the usual query letter course and all that stuff. But the HCD is great in terms of finding companies, and IMDBPro is invaluable when it comes to finding producers with similar sensibilities (to your own.)”

There is another area where indie filmmaking is thriving -- anywhere but the USA. Seeking out overseas financing or coproduction money is one way US producers are still able to get non-superhero, non-based-on-a-hit-book properties made. Other countries seem to have less of a focus on the bottom line and are more willing to take risks and tell a story. If you manage to score a savvy producer, he or she will hopefully have the hook-ups to explore alternative financing options. 

Lastly, we should mention TV as the place where some of the most creative indie writing is taking place. No, not network -- with a few notable exceptions, they're still just as stale, formulaic and stilted as they ever were. But thanks to the brilliant offerings of HBO, Showtime, Netflix originals, A+E, Amazon, and all the rest, there is actually hope for more out-of-the-box writing nowadays. Of course, it will take an agent or manager with juice to get you in there. Which brings us right back to start.

The path in remains an uphill one to say the least. “To assemble a feature film from idea to execution takes an average of seven and a half years,” says Goldberg. “An independent film may take even longer.” So gird yourself for a long, tough battle, and consider, if you can, bending a little bit towards the commercial side. Above all, hang in there and keep working at your craft. Concludes Arlook, “Every once in a while, (a script comes along) that is just so wonderful that it’s undeniable that the writer has talent. Those scripts get passed around, those scripts get represented, those people get in rooms and book jobs. It’s very few and far between, but it can happen. The bottom line is that if you write something that’s great, doors will eventually open.”

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Or, Why Getting Coverage on Your Script May Be Just the Ticket 

By Jim Cirile 

We’ve all been there. We write “Fade Out” -- our new, fantastic, awesome spec is done. Then we hand it to our respective boyfriends, girlfriends, and “it’s complicated” others; they love it. Mom adores it. We’re ready for the big time. But just to be on the safe side, we send it out for coverage and wait with bated breath. Surely, it’ll be a “consider,” maybe even a “recommend.” 

The coverage comes back -- and it’s “pass/pass.” A pass for script and for writer! A knock to the ego, right? Maybe. Hard to Endure? For sure. Just what you need? Damn right. WTF? No, seriously. Read on… 

Of course, there’s only one explanation: the reader is a complete moron. An imbecile! Some frustrated hack, who is just jealous and will likely pilfer the script idea and write her own version of it and sell it for a milllllion dollars. We rail and rail and rail. A couple of weeks go by and maybe we take another look at the coverage and concede that maybe, possibly, there might be a miniscule microbe of a chance that there might be ONE valid point -- the reader pointed out that having a character names Belinda and Lebinda in the script might be confusing. Fine. Goodbye, Belinda; hello, Quelgha. Dissimilar enough for ya, reader? Hmph. 

But in the process of going back over the notes again, a few other things kinda stick in our craw. So we slowly start making a few other recommended changes. Before long, three hours have gone by and you’ve addressed all those notes. Sure, the notes were terrible, but hey… for sure, the script is perfect now. Just to be on the safe side, we send it out for coverage and wait with bated breath. You know of course what happens next. Wash, rinse, repeat. Yes, it’s frustrating when you find yourself on draft 21 and it still comes back pass/pass. You want to bash your head against the wall, throw in the towel, use your laptop for archery practice and ream out the moron who just sent you six pages of notes, single-spaced. 

Look, I get it. Not only do I get it, I’ve been there. Yes, full disclosure: I own a coverage company. But as Sy Sperling from Hair Club for Men used to say, I’m also a client. You work your butt off and create something you’re really proud of and then somebody essentially poops all over it. At least, that’s how it feels. That’s the point when you need to ask yourself if that’s reality or a hurt ego talking. Perhaps you’ve heard this hoary old cliché before: writing is rewriting. Hold onto your ass, because I am about to impart a dollop of reality. Here it is:

Neither you, nor anybody else, will likely hit a bull’s-eye with your first draft. 

Or fifth. Or even tenth. 

There’s a word for this process. It’s called “work”. Some writers get so discouraged, they shove that cursed script into the drawer never to look at it again. Some hire us as ghostwriters to get them over that hump (great way to not learn your craft.) And many just flip the proverbial bird to the story analyst and send the script, unchanged, to every agent, manager, and production company they can find an email address for. Worst move of all. A script that hits the town before it’s ready can not only do its creator considerable harm -- a bad first impression is difficult to rectify -- it’s also dead in the water once everyone’s passed on it. At that point, you can’t go back and “fix” it. Once a company passes, it’s pretty much toast there for good. 

Your script may well look like this after getting coverage back.
But then there are the superstars -- the few who roll up their sleeves and get to work. They do a draft, send it in for coverage; and after the requisite agonizing, they do the notes. Oftentimes improvement takes several drafts. But eventually, if you actually listen to the notes and are not afraid to throw out whole sections of the script and rethink them, that needle will tick over into the ‘consider with reservations’ zone and even ‘consider.’ Granted, this is a slow, agonizing and costly process. But it is also a proven way to improve your script, and in so doing develop your craft. And THAT, amigos, way more than sending out half-baked scripts to a town that doesn’t care, is what will eventually get you where you want to be: a working writer. 

For proof, you need look no further than me. I send my own scripts in for coverage to our team. It generally takes me about 20 drafts/script to Get It Right.

Here are the advantages of taking the stony road to success as opposed to the instant gratification highway to failure: well, the nomenclature says it all, the difference between success and failure. Let me briefly soapbox here: if you want to be a doctor, you spend years in medical school and then slog away on 36-hour shifts in a hospital during your internship and then, eventually, eons later, you’ll be a full-fledged M.D. The same long, intensive study and dues-paying is true for… well, pretty much every job there is. Yet, somehow, in this lovely business of ours, someone can wake up one morning and decide that they’re now a writer (or actor or director). Huh? Would you walk into the O.R. tomorrow and demand to be given a scalpel, simply because you’ve been to a few doctors and have seen them on TV and thus have an idea of what they do? Hell to the no. Then why would you assume that a script you spent only a few months on should be worth professional-grade $$$?

This guy learned all about doctoring from watching "E.R."
With a few exceptions that make us want to bash our heads against the wall, the writers making the big bucks have proven their mettle and are worth every penny. Being able to take and implement notes is an art all of its own. One that it takes a while to acquire, but which is vital for a career, because as a working writer you’ll be dealing with agents, managers, producers, directors, stars and their respective entourages, all of whom will be giving you (sometimes conflicting) notes. And you better be able to handle it. 

A hackneyed phrase about heat and kitchen comes to mind. 

So, what next? Get feedback on your script. There are hundreds of coverage companies out there and even more one-man or one-woman shops. Don’t overlook writing groups and peer to peer sites -- free feedback is a beautiful thing (sometimes.) Yes, some of these “analysts” deserve their air quotes. Some flat-out suck. Others are clearly using you as a punching bag to work out their own issues. You know what? Doesn’t matter. It is your job to differentiate between good and bad notes, and do the good ones without letting your ego get in the way. You also need to be able to take that (figurative) punch in the gut and keep going. This is Hollywood, not grammar school. You don’t get a medal just for showing up. 

Now, to those of you who are yelling at your computer screen right now -- “But all of those Hollywood hacks with their half-baked ideas are being paid a lot of money to write really bad movies” -- let me address that sentiment. You’re absolutely frigging right. If your college roommate is now a hotshot agent (or is abfab in conning people -- oops, I meant networking,) then, no, your work doesn’t have to be top-notch -- and by the way, bite me. Since you are reading this article, I’m assuming you don’t belong to that category. If you’re not on the nepotism freeway, then, sorry, the only other road open to you is that aforementioned painstaking road of learning your craft and being the best darn writer you can be.

So take the notes and implement, brothers and sisters. 20 drafts? Heck, just part of the process. Find the courage to get in there and do One More Draft. You’ll know when you’re ready to go: when those coveted words “consider/consider” appear at the end of the coverage report. Turn that pass into kick-ass. 


Jim Cirile is a Los-Angeles based writer/producer. He owns, a leading independent screenplay coverage and development service. His latest movie is the animated horror feature MALEVOLENT starring Morena Baccarin (Deadpool.)

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Get Repped Now! - Now Until 5/3/15

Get Repped

Coverage Ink’s Get Repped Now! Returns!

Last year we got writer Brandon Barker into Benderspink and UTA, and his script “Nottingham and Hood” sold to Disney for six figures. Are you next?
 For a limited time only, four top literary representatives:

will personally read any scripts submitted to Coverage Ink for script coverage that garner a "consider" for script (roughly the top 5% of submissions on average.) Wagner, Engleson and Belkin will read the feature scripts; Wagner, Engleson and Mills will read the TV pilots.

That’s all there is to it.  The door is open.  If you've got the goods, you've got a real shot of getting a kick-ass manager. Bring it!
 1) Click the SUBMIT IT button:

2)  Fill out the online release and order form and then upload your screenplay or teleplay.
3) You will receive a confirmation from us and a Paypal invoice from CI for the screenplay analysis. 
4) You will receive your analysis back within ten calendar days. NOTE: If we are at capacity, we may have to push your coverage delivery back. Due to the huge response last time we were running about 12 days behind at the end of the Get Repped Now! promotion. We’ll let you know when you submit if we anticipate a delay.
Considers will be sent to Belkin, Engleson, Mills and Wagner with our recommendations and the coverage. Script submissions that score below consider ('Consider with Reservations' and 'Pass') will not be forwarded, but you will have a solid road map for how to make your script rock in the form of a detailed and empowering script coverage report. Considers will also have the opportunity to polish your script based on the coverage before we submit.
STANDARD COVERAGE COST: $129 for features, $99 for 1-hrs and $79 for 1/2 hrs. This includes a very detailed 10-14 page coverage report analyzing every aspect of the screenplay. Please see our website for complete rules and FAQs:
Good luck, everyone!
 Founded in 2002, top-rated Coverage Ink is a leading independent screenplay analysis/development service used by emerging writers, established scribes and management and production companies. Coverage Ink is currently in production on its first animated feature "Malevolent," starring Morena Baccarin, Ray Wise and Bill Moseley. Visit us at