Saturday, March 03, 2007


Recently, you were discussing Sherwood Oaks College as a path for honest industry access to agents, etc.... How about the Concept to Sale Conference and Pitchfest in February at The Hyatt by Fade In? They already have my $300, but now that they sent the actual list of attendees for the pitching this weekend -- there are not as many agencies as advertised on their website, only 4 if you count one that's a law firm too, and for the big agencies... nada. (This is out of the listed 62, mainly production co's). Fade In's guy told me over the phone today that more (possibly bigger?) parties might commit at the last minute with definite names. In your experience, do the major and even medium agencies attend? And do they send decision-makers/seasoned pros with savvy, or the assistant's intern to listen to pitches for college credit?

I myself heard writers gripe about seeing listed "buyers" lining up to collect some small paycheck after they were done hearing their pitches at The Screenwriters Expo downtown a couple years ago. In a sense, writers are paying for pitching when they pay $300 for these things, but should the industry rep get paid? I wish their company would pay them because it is their weekend (or a nice love candle or box of pears anyone?), but I'm hoping they don't look for checks at Fade In and just good ideas from motivated writers, who yes... have to pay for such access before showing their goods. I'd be more optimistic about posing queries by mail except for one blunt, quite honest agent telling her audience that the ripping sound she hears every morning in her office is that of her assistants destroying unsolicited query letters.

Oh yes, Fade In's phone guy pointed out that big agencies --- ICM, Endeavor, UTA, and William Morris -- will be in the Q&A panel Saturday. Sounds great, I don't know if that means you from ICM, but do you know if it means each agency will absolutely send reps to hear writers at Sunday's pitches? Would they be highly motivated to look for new writers to represent at this free-for-all? (At least free for the pedestrian crasher who sneaks in, grabs lunch, and squeezes out with his weekend and wallet unmarred.)

If there are only a handful of agencies (4 and counting) and with 174 other writers there vying for the limited number of slots, with 8 arranged pitches each, doesn't sound like I have this part nailed down as well as I thought for my $300.

Appreciate any thoughts.

This response arrives after the scheduled FADE IN event in February. I apologize for the late reply, but I hope you write back to fill me in on your experience.

There isn’t much I can say here that I haven’t said in the past. These types of events are useful in allowing the writer to practice her pitching and social skills. Also, the writer can make friends within the industry that he wouldn’t have made had he stayed home. However, it’s doubtful that great talent will be unearthed at a pitch fest.

Generally, these local events are not attended by bigwigs. (Higher ups are more likely to attend out-of-town events, where a free vacation is the swag in exchange for listening to pitches.) Instead, the minions are sent to the local fests, many of whom go simply to get practice in taking pitches.

Most of these events do NOT compensate. It’s slave labor – a racket that involves not paying your work force. If travel is involved, expenses will often be covered. The very first pitch event I attended was in Las Vegas. Although payment was promised, I got shafted on the full amount. (I took it as a sign.) I think the EXPO (which I’ve never attended) pays their guests $100, which covers gas, parking and lunch. This is a paltry fee for what the agent must endure.

In my opinion, it is unethical to accept remuneration in exchange for hearing pitches. But this is the heart of the problem. What’s in it for the agent?

The idea that he might find a diamond in the rough is ludicrous. There are a million more time efficient ways in which to mine for (better) material.

And let’s get something straight. Listening to pitches at a fest is hard, exhausting work. I attended the FADE IN event last year when Ana (who’s now coordinating our Story Department) wanted to go. It was a fucking zoo. We were only there for about two hours – but heard the maximum amount of pitches. It’s a tough environment because there’s so much happening at once. (And I listen to the conversations all around me while I’m engaged in one of my own.) Then an earnest writer sits before you with the worst fucking idea ever spoken. Two minutes later a bell rings and another writer takes his place – with an idea that’s even worse. All the while, you must stay alert, polite and focused. Each writer has shelled out hard earned money – many traveling great distances – and is determined to have you leave with his script – which is stressful for anyone with an iota of humanity. Each “no” results in a disappointed writer – which takes its toll on the agent. A “yes” makes the writer smile and eases the agent’s stress at the scene. But in the aftermath, the script stares longingly at him from a huge pile of unimportant material. Time goes by and e-mails from the writer along with the dread of having to put aside a Saturday afternoon to read (if the agent or exec doesn’t have access to readers) are different sources of stress. After the read (which is probably painful), the agent will have to contact the writer with – most likely - the bad news, which can induce more anxiety. Multiply this by the amount of times the agent said “yes” at the fest, and it becomes time consuming and draining.

So, again, why should an agent from William Morris subject himself to this kind of unhappiness? He can simply call his buddy at BenderSpink and ask, “Any good writers?”

I had thought at one time these events would slowly eat themselves up. I assumed that as agents, producers and execs discovered the cruel and unusual punishment for little – if any – return on their investment, fewer would attend and, subsequently, the fests would dry up. However, the Hollywood dream can successfully reconstitute the dehydration, and as long as someone will listen, writers will gather and pay to pitch.

If these fests didn’t exploit the “Hollywood dream” and, instead, simply promoted themselves as educational events (which is what they really are), it would all be easier to digest.

If you pay close attention to the guests invited to “screenwriting conferences,” the list is often comprised of the “gurus” and very few agents/executives. That’s because the gurus have more motivation to mingle with bad writers. It’s their bread-and-butter. They write books and attend conferences in order to solicit consultations, offering all sorts of high priced analysis on bad scripts that will never be movies. Agents and executives have a different sort of business, which is why they seldom attend any of these events.

My familiar advice is to pitch managers at these festivals. Your $300 will be put to better use and your odds of success are greater than signing with an agent from CAA – who isn’t going to show up anyway.

Where do I start in finding a career as a pitch man for products seen on T.V. - like the amazing gadgets we see every day - please help if you can I am at a loss.

I don’t have a fucking clue. This is a Q&A forum for writers. I suggest you direct your question to Ron Popeil or Nancy Nelson (both of whom have websites).

“Career” doesn’t quite seem like the right choice of word – since being a “pitchman” is probably just a job within a career that covers other areas. Many of the pitchmen you see on TV are the actual entrepreneurs. In other cases, they are celebrities or “host” personalities, who started in voice-over or broadcasting. (Did you study broadcasting in college?) Quite a few have evolved into producing those TV spots themselves and, as a result, have created lucrative businesses. You could do an Internet search for the various companies that produce infomercials and make cold calls.

If your pitch doesn’t cut it, you probably shouldn't be a “pitchman.”

I worked for Jerry Bruckheimer and have sold several stories through deals represented by Warren Dern.

I came up with a high concept pitch that seems like a no-brainer, yet can't seem to get traction with it. Any idea why? It's cheap to shoot. It has sequels, and it's a perfect starring vehicle for any comedy actor. It also nicely poaches off The Sopranos audience.

The idea is to get the two Sopranos writers at Paramount to write a draft and then go after Francis Coppola to direct so Paramount can claim the mother of all Mafia movies that brings together The Sopranos with the Godfather audiences, with cameos by cast members from both.


A 9th grade swimming coach, busted for embezzling money from his team’s training fund, is sentenced to community service as a counselor at a summer camp in Maine...for mobster kids. Vehicle for Jack Black, Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, or Jim Carrey.

I think Hollywood is tired of the Mafia angle, which might explain the tepid response.

The idea is cute but not wholly original. I’ve read many similar projects over the years. One that comes to mind involves a Mafia kingpin - on the lam from a federal indictment - who poses as a camp counselor, turning all of his little campers into wiseguys (In one scene, he uses “cement shoes” to enable a hydrophobic kid to swim.) It’s called CAMP COSA NOSTRA.

My point is your idea isn’t particularly original and, it’s possible, that every studio already has a facsimile on a shelf somewhere.

To make matters worse, you propose the loopiest packaging idea. I’m not sure if the TV audience of THE SOPRANOS would be interested in seeing a feature family comedy. I suspect it would be a hard sell exciting a studio over the notion of TV stars, and it would be an even greater uphill climb to entice Coppola into a project that seems more appropriate for the DISNEY CHANNEL.

Your enthusiasm is admirable but not contagious. Fuhgeddaboutit!

We have been toiling away on a would-be TV series and need to formalize it for pitching. I am wondering if you know of any examples or could point me to any examples of how best to outline a show, what the show bible should look like and include, etc..

Although it’s not unprecedented, new writers are unlikely to sell a TV pilot. That aside, having an original TV pilot along with a spec from an existing TV show helps to create a good portfolio when looking for representation. Regardless, there are no standardized outlines.

A “bible” at this stage seems completely unnecessary.

In addition to the pilot script, provide the show’s concept (logline).

Then offer up a more detailed synopsis (a page in length) of the series, suggesting its scope and trajectory.

Also include a breakdown of the recurring characters (about half a page for each) – which should give the reader an idea of backstory, how they interface with the concept and the interrelationships. TV is character based. Even shows that seem to lack a dimensional dramatis personae were all sold based on the strength of the characters.

Finally, include six to eight loglines for potential episodes.

The subtext of the presentation must allow the reader to understand the architecture of the show, see the movement from episode to episode and season to season and even provide an idea of the "producibility" of the project.

I was shocked to see your coverage of The Black List. Now, a regular kid from Vancouver wouldn't usually be shocked by such a document, unless that regular kid from Vancouver was on it and not only on it, but yes, in the top ten. And then I read your blog site, got more and more excited, reading down until, "Here are the top ten...." And then I cried and cursed Caleb Kane to hell (I didn't really cry or curse... maybe just a little). My name and my script were nowhere to be seen. Why? Because I was not in the top ten, I was in the top 11 and you bluntly slapped me across the face waking me up from my haze.

Thank you Mr. Lockhart, thank you very much.

I certainly didn’t create this blog to cause any more angst or woe on writers than I normally do in the course of my work day.

Although I understand your acrimony toward Caleb Kane for selfishly taking up two spots in the top ten, I must accept full blame. I guess I could have included more of the list but stuck with ten – since it hearkened back to the “Hollywood Ten.”

If I accommodate you, I might get e-mails from writers who only had one mention requesting that I include their names on my blog.

However, I’ll take the chance and mention that the eleventh title on the 2006 “Black List” is HANNA by Seth Lochhead (a surname similar to mine that “locks” a different body part). The script received ten mentions.


I forget most scripts after “fade out,” so it’s a coup to get ten busy executives to recall your script after everything they’ve read throughout the year.

Seth isn’t the first “Black Listed” writer to contact me. After Christmas, I received a very nice call from Grant Nieporte (thirteen mentions with his script SEVEN POUNDS) asking me to tweak the logline I provided in the blog, which I happily did.

I hope to hear from Caleb Kane soon.

I am a stand-up comic from Vancouver, Canada and I am preparing to send out query letters about my latest completed script. Could you offer any suggestions on how to improve the following pitch?

The Ice Cream Man.

The Ice Cream Man is a fast-paced live-action comedy written in the spirit of the Chuck Jones Warner Bros. Cartoons.

It is the story of a brilliant but bumbling Ice Cream Man named Fred Frost, who creates a delicious new ice cream – Fred’s Frosted Fudgie-budgie bar.

His increasing sales get noticed by Roger Rogers (owner of the evil Ice Cream Empire), who gets angry and releases a new competing product - the Roger’s Red Rocket bar.

The Roger's Red Rocket bar, however, has a (not-so-secret) ingredient – an ADDICTIVE compound that makes it irresistible to children.

Unfortunately, when children eat too much of it – they get “Brain Freeze” and begin to de-evolve - acting first like drooling, farting buffoons, then like various apes, chimpanzees, and monkeys, and finally – reverting into brainless Zombie-like creatures.

The Ice Cream Man has to avoid Roger’s hired goon ‘Guido’, a crazed Meter-maid, and an angst-ridden teenage gang of hooligans if he hopes to survive.

But first, he’s going to have to stop arguing with his new ten-year old assistant, Paul, long enough to figure out how to create an antidote and save his small business… and the world.

I’ll bet the other writer from Vancouver, Seth Lochhead, is experiencing great shame after that pitch.

I appreciate the tone of the project and I love ice cream. (My wife makes it homemade, but chocolate chip mint from Breyers is my favorite.)

The pitch is an assault. There’s a lot of wacky information being thrown at me, causing me to act like a drooling, farting buffoon (prerequisite behavior for a Hollywood exec).

This is way over the top and seems downright silly – which I guess is the point. But it seems too silly. It doesn’t feel rooted in any sort of reality (and no emotional reality).

Look at ELF. It’s a silly premise but manages to root itself in a world we can understand. And it made big money. This reminds me of the film version of JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS – a movie that only I seemed to enjoy.

I suspect you’ll have a difficult time marketing this – since it seems like a tough story to place. However, if it’s well written – it might show off your comic writing skills and serve its purpose by launching your writing career in some other unexpected manner – which is often the case.

I am finishing a second re-write of a screenplay with a deep, but not in-your-face religious theme. It has action, romance and a plot line that I've never seen in the movie s- and I've seen most of them. I am a realistic person. I became realistic when my first screenplay basically got a D- after I paid the $395.00. But, what an awesome learning experience.

Since “The Last Temptation,” who's buying? Who's representing? Do I have to walk on water to get someone to read it? AND, is there a religious/secular cross over market? Will a religious movie sell with an R-rating for violence? Will I get an agent to look at script where a semi-religious theme is involved? Your thoughts and suggestions would mean the world to me.

I would avoid using the word “religious.” I prefer the term “spiritual,” which is more digestible. I don’t mean to alienate the religious readers. (I write this as I look out my home office window, which sits in the shadow of a Catholic Church with a bell tower that rings out two hymns every day at noon.)

I think some of the most successful films of all time have strong spiritual content: the HARRY POTTER series and STAR WARS franchise clearly come to mind. The unproduced STEINBECK’S POINT OF VIEW - a spec script with a purported deal worth over five million dollars (the highest ever) – also has a heavy spiritual theme.

In my opinion, the key is to tell a story with religion in its subtext. Clearly, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST was an overtly religious tale, but that was a box-office anomaly. (At least that’s the way Hollywood views it.) THE PASSION… had an ingenious marketing campaign and appealed to a crossover crowd. Not only did the faith-based crowd attend, but young people with a predilection for violence also bought tickets. (The film was more violent than anything in HOSTEL.)

But for a new writer trying to break through the spec market, it makes more sense to write some sadistic slaughterhouse movie with sinful teenagers dying torturous deaths - which is actually a metaphor for the Immaculate Conception.

I think big budgeted Cecil B. DeMille religious spectacles are a thing of the past. THE NATIVITY – the other greatest story ever told – was released around Christmas but instead of box-office gold, it found coal in its stocking. Conversely, Charles Randolph has written a remake of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS for Paramount and Mark Gordon called EXODUS. However, his take is a solid and gritty examination of the story – lacking the silly Technicolor pageantry of previous efforts. (But I love the Charlton Heston version. It’s my all-time favorite guilty pleasure.) It remains to be seen if EXODUS will get off the ground.

There are others out there struggling to peddle religious content in the west coast city of Sodom and Gomorrah (which is Biblical). I’m loosely involved with the Damah Film Festival – which celebrates spiritual experiences in film. You can check them out at

Also, Biola University, a private Christian college, will hold a conference on April 21st in La Mirada, California to discuss the opportunities for faith based filmmakers. You can visit their website at

And, of course, there is


I have a script completed that is adapted from a novel.

Before the script was ever started, I found the author (no easy task - he self publishes), got in touch with him, and got him interested in the idea of his book becoming a movie. I also sold him on the idea of an unproduced, still unpaid screenwriter taking the lead on this project and raising the funds independently and producing the movie. He was very intrigued.

Yet, as the option rights were discussed, he kept balking. Kept pushing them off, making semi-ridiculous demands, and cooling on the idea when paperwork came his way. His first novel was made into a TV movie by Kirk Douglas, and apparently they butchered it. I asked him to give me a chance to write the script. If he read it and liked it, then we could move forward. He agreed.

Fast forward three months. Script is in its fourth draft. Very polished, and by several accounts, very well done. Legitimate interest from two different production companies, one without a screen credit yet, the other from a company with both studio and indie work. Yet he continues to balk.

I also have a lot of independent financing interested, so much that the 5 million or so needed to complete this movie, shouldn't be that difficult to tie up. Only the option.

My question - finally - is this: Should I take this script out to people that HE finds acceptable. Big name actors, directors, producers, all of whom could completely cut me out, as I have no legal recourse, or attachment to this project. I'm, quite simply put, a middle man. Do I risk sending the project to someone like Tom Hanks? The author said he'd like to make the movie, and like to have me involved. He just wants someone that this isn't "their first rodeo." (His words...)

What would you do?

I wouldn’t have put myself in this situation to begin with.

You should not have started writing until you had the option. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem like you’ve wasted much time – four drafts in three months is very fast writing.

I’m confused by this scenario. You have the written script but didn’t say what the novelist thought of it. You tell us that others thought it was “very well done” but not the author’s reaction. It couldn’t have given him much confidence if he’s still hemming and hawing. If he loved the script, it seems unlikely he would drag his feet.

It’s not in your best interest to share the script with buyers if you do not have an option in place. With an option, you have secured some sort of spot in the project. But without it, an interested party can bypass you, get an option for the project from the author and bring in their own screenwriter to do the adaptation.

You can certainly agree to his demands in exchange for the option. Otherwise, let him go and use the script as a writing sample (which in theory is some sort of copyright infringement).

It is understandable that the author wants to protect his work and wants someone with experience leading the way. (You should want the same thing.) However, once he sells the rights, it isn’t his project anymore.

Unless he’s Clive Cussler.

Although I've written extensively, I now mainly produce and direct my own material. Once in a while, I will shoot someone else's script. I've made mainly shorts and a few spec TV pilots.

I will be making my first feature this summer. Obviously, it's low budget (about $750K). I need one of Ed's clients (a fairly well known actor, but certainly not an A-lister), and would pay the actor.

The question is this: What are the odds Ed would even take my call?

If you have to ask that question, I would expect the odds are low.

However, if you are the real deal who has a real offer with real finances (and not a figment of your imagination), any agent should take your call.

Of course, the priority of your call is based on the offer compared to the actor’s quote.

Many agents work on teams. Since this is a client who’s not an “A” lister, it seems likely that he has another agent who handles his day-to-day business. Targeting the actor’s other agent might be the first step.

Does the title really matter (when it comes to a spec)? I opted for (the provisory title) “4 and ½” to perfectly support the insanely smart hook in my logline (that can be seen at If the logline is as important as you say (and I decided it is before I opened your site) I guess it worth the risk. And I’m saying that cuz I have better titles up my sleeves.

Yes. I think a title really matters. Producers think about how they are going to sell the movie to audiences, and that process begins with the title. Yes, studios change titles all the time, but you want to consider the perfect title for your screenplay.

THE FAMILY STONE, which was released late in 2005, was originally titled THEY F**KING HATE HER and then retitled HATING HER before ending up with the final result. But the original title helped to increase an awareness of the script and prodded people to read it. Of course, the title SNAKES ON A PLANE gave that project a massive amount of attention.

I’m not a fan of your title, because it doesn’t give me a hint as to what the script might be about.

Is 4 and ½ a comedy about an ugly woman?

Or a tragedy about a man with a small penis?

Or a heartwarming MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS with math instead of music?

I have journeyed to your website to check out the “insanely smart hook” in your logline – which is more insane than smart.

The notion of a script that is a “fast-paced fantasy comedy with horror and parody elements set against a background of high adventure” doesn’t help me – in the slightest – to nail down the tone.

Furthermore, you chose a group of protagonists made up of screenwriters, which is an automatic “pass.”

I see a lot of what not to do which is awesome, but it would be great if you could provide some examples of what is good writing from your expertise. I saw your list of log lines that received a pass (which I believe means "next" as in voted off the show) but I did not catch any log lines or other material that you deem good. Or perhaps you can recommend some "must reads." I am currently reading "Story" by Robert McKee, life altering from a writer's stand point.

Robert McKee? Didn't he portray Brian Cox in ADAPTATION?

When the Los Angeles Times did an article on my free writing workshop, the journalist told me she tried to get a comment from McKee in regards to my efforts. All his camp would say was something like, "If it's free, it can't be very good."

Your bestseller list should consist of unproduced screenplays that have recently sold. You should strive to get your hands on them somehow. They will be the best teachers. You can determine from the read if you can see the movie in your head. You can decide if the script works or not and why. And you can try to figure out why the project might have just sold.

Better than any class, teacher or book – reading recently sold scripts can give you an idea of where the marketplace is at.

In the forum, I have kept a list over the years of scripts that I deemed to be very effective (in a thread called GREAT SCRIPTS YOU PROBABLY HAVEN’T READ).

Coincidentally, James Vanderbilt’s ZODIAC opened this weekend. In future weeks, Scott Frank’s THE LOOKOUT and William Wheeler’s HOAX will be hitting theaters. These are just three scripts that were talked about in that thread.

It is difficult for me to discuss “good.” It’s easier to talk about “bad.” Great scripts appeal to me on an emotional level, which can be difficult to communicate.

There is a ghost in great screenplays that continues to haunt long after the read.

The ghost stays with you, follows you and forces you to contemplate the script over and over.

Most scripts lack this invisible and intangible ghost. Even if the writer gets it textbook perfect – hitting all the plot points with precision – the script might still lack the ghost.

The ghost cannot be taught. It cannot be diagrammed. The ghost cannot be discussed over three days for $575.00, because it exists between the pages and not on them.

Even great writers fail to capture the ghost in every script they write. And, of course, some believe in ghosts and some don’t. I may see a ghost in one script while others cannot. It is an individual experience.

A script like THE BRIGANDS OF RATTLEBORGE (which was #1 on the “Black List”) seemed to possess a ghost, since many who read it were moved by it. This would be a script worth reading.

Go capture the ghost.

Robert McKee @ is giving his seminar this month in Los Angeles and New York.

Was THE INSIDE PITCH ever made available on DVD? If so, where can I purchase it? I've searched Amazon and the usual outlets - but to no avail. I'd love to attend one of your seminars, but I'm up in Vancouver, Canada.

This blog seems to have a big following in Vancouver.

Why should McKee get all the glory?

Yes, THE INSIDE PITCH is on DVD and can be purchased at, where you can also view the trailer.

It'll run you about $25.00, but if it were free, it wouldn't be very good.

I have your THE PLAYER poster next to my signed HAROLD & KUMAR one-sheet. Come and get it next time you're in Melbourne....mate.

Alternatively, I'll return it if you get Mr. Mel Gibson to consider DUST & GLORY, which is the hottest Aussie/US script and perfect for him to direct and star and work back in Oz for awhile. No better action/romance/adventure story around. Full stop. The 'Romancing the Stone' of this era if someone doesn't fuck it up.

I’ll fuck it up for you right now.

The one-sheet was discovered and returned to its new home. Though dazed and confused, it was in good condition.

Let’s not forget those writers who recently passed away. Their contributions to the creative community and our lives are greatly appreciated.

Gian Carlo Menotti (95)
Lothar-Guenther Buchheim (89)
Fons Rademakers (89)
Joe Edwards (85)
Fred Mustard Stewart (74)
Phil Lucas (65)


My LA Valley College class begins next Saturday, so the blog might be a bit neglected. Meanwhile, register at and visit the forum for lots of interactive advice and information.

Please send comments and questions to


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