Wednesday, November 25, 2009

TWO ADVERBS LOGLINE CONTEST: SEMI-FINALISTS

The ten semi-finalists in the TWOADVERBS LOGLINE CONTEST have been selected.

The loglines are up in the 2A forum, where members will spend the next two weeks casting their votes for the top three. The poll is public, so members can track which loglines lead the race.

The final three will be shared with a group of producers, agents, managers and executives, and the best logline will be chosen.

For privacy purposes, the loglines will not be published here, but the titles are:


AMERICAN PHARAOH (dark thriller)

HORROR COMIC (thriller)

INVASIVE SPECIES (sci-fi)

LORD OF THE JUNGLE (adventure)

MAJOR TOM (sci-fi/action)

MAX BLADE: SECRET AGENT MAN (comedy)

MOM OF THE YEAR (comedy)

THE NEST (sci-fi/thriller)

ONE STEP BEYOND (comedy)

SECRET TOY SURPRISE INSIDE (family/action)


Hopefully, the top three loglines will stir up some interest from the industry panel that judges them. Aside from potential reads, the three finalists will receive a script consultation with Adam Levenberg.

The winner of the contest gets a year's subscription to http://www.trackingb.com/. In addition, the winner receives screenplay feedback and general advice from Jay Simpson (ARMORED), Ryan Condal (GALAHAD), Jeff Morris (THE TRUE MEMOIRS OF AN INTERNATIONAL ASSASSIN) and twoadverbs webmaster and filmmaker Jacinthe Dessureault (DOG TRAINING) . I’ll provide a phone conference for the winner to discuss his script along with other ideas he might have and answer general questions about the biz.

Thanks to everyone who participated and good luck to the ten semi-finalists.

In the old days at 2A, we used to have a monthly contest called the "Logline Lottery." Two of those former contests have been posted in this blog here & here - in case you just can't get enough of loglines. It's an interesting lesson in how this business is so subjective.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!


_____________________________________________________________



I'll be meeting with writers at the Alameda Writers Group on December 5th from 10AM through noon to hear pitches and offer feedback. (It's at this event where I met the Dutch filmmaker who introduced me to the Netherlands.)

The event is free and open to the public. It always proves to be a good learning experience - even if you don't pitch. See details here.

Expect a blog entry on pitching within the next week.







Send comments and questions to theinsidepitch@sbcgloba.net.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU!

On Thursday, Adam Levenberg gave us his thoughts on the five types of highly unsuccessful writers.



He continues today with:



THREE UNREPRESENTED WRITERS YOU DON'T WANT TO BE!


In my previous article, I discussed some highly ineffective work habits for those trying to break through into the world of professional screenwriting. Today, I'll share some approaches to material that I routinely recognize in unrepresented writers.




THE INDEPENDENT


The Independent has no need for structure or rules, because they believe that the success of their idols is due to bucking the system. Their screenplays are often unreadable as they have a toxic reaction to any helpful advice inspired by Hollywood films that sold a lot of tickets.


The Independent has no idea that their indie idols (often they cite Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, Charlie Kaufman and recently, Diablo Cody) are usually huge fans of great Hollywood Cinema. Their idols understand traditional structure inside and out, using this knowledge to construct films that fit nicely inside the box while giving viewers a taste of creative rebellion that makes their work seem original.


The oddest thing about The Independent is that he or she refuses to stick to (or learn) the conventions of Hollywood Cinema, but is more than happy to copy the style of his or her idol, resulting in a spec that manages to be both derivative and unreadable.




THE AWARD WINNER (IN TRAINING)


The Award Winner (In Training) is similar to the Independent with a few key differences. They attend the same art-house theaters, but the AW is buying tickets to British period pieces and "important" films on serious subjects. When it comes to their own screenplay, they trend towards big issues and biopics.


Their "big issue" scripts often suck because they don't understand Hollywood Cinema well enough to help the medicine go down with a spoonful of sugar. Often, they fucking hate the spoonful of sugar and think it represents common taste, which they are far too important to indulge.


The Award Winner (In Training) loves the films of Alexander Payne like ELECTION or SIDEWAYS, but refuses to recognize Payne's credits on I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK & LARRY and JURASSIC PARK 3.


The Award Winner recommends Alexander & Karazewski biopics like THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT or ED WOOD and probably hasn't seen the duo's very funny SCREWED starring Norm MacDonald, PROBLEM CHILD (and it's sequel) as well as several production drafts of THE PACIFIER.


Usually this type of writer doesn't realize that the ability to write a film that wins awards is predicated on being able to write simple, fun genre movies first (which can be considered the building blocks of cinema).




THE LIBRARIAN


The Librarian is often a strain of the Award Winner. The Librarian understands that strong research skills are necessary to create interesting characters, situations, and value in their screenplays. They set out to learn as much as they can and overshoot their mark by one or two years, immersing themselves so far in the research that they forget to write a movie. Instead, they've constructed a vehicle to vomit as much information on to the page as possible.


This is why page counts matter little to The Librarian. How else can they fully capture the scope of their research without hitting page 150? Entertainment value is not relevant either--who has time for a subplot involving a love story when you've got eight briefing binders to cover?


Often, The Librarian is obsessed with a particular issue or event. He or she thinks a movie is the best way to raise awareness because the issue is so important. Writing a book isn't good enough. It has to be a movie!


The good news is that usually The Librarian is a highly intelligent person who quickly realizes that they haven't written anything resembling a movie and even if they rewrote the piece, it wouldn't be anything remotely fun or entertaining.




THE PRESCRIPTION FOR SUCCESS:


Whether you're an Independent, Award Winner, or Librarian, chances are you have yet to write a movie that a studio would want to buy. Ask yourself--are my scripts FUN? What is the specific value of my screenplay? Will it make people laugh? Will it scare the shit out of them? Is the dialogue snappy?


Independents need to know traditional Hollywood structure (I like SAVE THE CAT because its the most user friendly, but there's other versions of beat sheets you can use) and write a script that follows the numbers. Stop trying to write PULP FICTION and see how you can translate that creative energy--perhaps by writing something like HOSTEL, which I consider to be a great genre piece that Tarantino produced.


Award Winners need to stop being so ambitious. No more period pieces or biopics, assuming you are intent on writing a script that sells. If you're simply a history buff and write screenplays as a hobby to keep yourself occupied, go right ahead and keep chugging away. Whether you garden, build train sets, or write scripts, your free time is your own to enjoy as you see fit.


For Librarians, it is absolutely essential that you realize that you're not going to bring anyone's attention to a life and death issue by writing a screenplay about it.


If you are a witness to history or feel that the information you've uncovered needs to be shared with humanity and documented for historical purposes, write a book! Please. You are welcome to do as much research as you want, just make sure that it's research on the genre you're attempting to write and not the issue you want to tackle.


Remember that having a touch of these characteristics is just fine. There's nothing wrong with cbeing rebellious, hoping your movie will be critically respected, or doing adequate research before starting a screenplay. Like everything else, it's all about balance, and ultimately, bringing new ideas to the table to pump life into your movie.



_______________________________________________________






Special thanks to Adam for his contribution to my blog. Look for more of his postings here in the future.



Send questions and comments to theinsidepitch@sbcglobal.net.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

UNSUCCESSFUL SCREENWRITERS

Many years ago, I taught a screenwriting class for high school kids at UCLA. The kids came to the campus for the summer from all around the country. In the class, we talked about the basics of screenwriting and saw how they were applied in both scripts and films. The kids pitched their own ideas and wrote scenes.

In my very first class, one of the kids was an enthusiastic high school thespian from Rhode Island who pitched me all sorts of ideas. His name was Josh Schwartz, and it was less than a decade later that he would go on to create THE O.C. and become the youngest show runner in network history. (I turned the tables on Josh and watched him teach a few years ago when I asked him to come speak to the ICM agent trainees.)

Once I was at a screenwriting award banquet and was surprised to see that the writer getting the top prize had also been a student from that class. I hadn’t seen him in almost ten years, but he went on to become my intern and eventually my full-time story analyst. Today, Gideon is one of the busiest in the business.

This leads me to Adam Levenberg - another kid I hit it off with back then. He was opinionated and loved movies and we kept in touch over the years. My wife even cooked for him once. (That’s impressive because she’s only cooked for me once.) Adam found his niche within the business and made his way through the Hollywood maze as a creative executive. Recently, he has been consulting and offered himself out as a prize in the twoadverbs logline contest that’s currently underway.

I asked Adam to contribute to my blog. In this article, he characterizes certain kinds of unrepresented writers. Here, according to Adam Levenberg are:



THE FIVE TYPES OF HIGHLY UNSUCCESSFUL SCREENWRITERS


In speaking and working with around 500 unrepresented writers in the past year, I've noticed some easy to spot patterns regarding unsuccessful work habits.

Everyone has their own style and approach to how they take on the job of screenwriting, but if you notice your own behaviors reflected below, I suggest taking a deep breath and asking "is it possible this characteristic has impeded my success in the past?" If so, resolve to switch up your modus operandi for the next few months and see if that helps generate stronger material.

Keep in mind, my advice here is directed towards writers who lack literary representation and are hoping to "break in" to the business. If you can effectively juggle five projects at once and are repped at a huge agency, get back to work!


THE JUGGLER

The Juggler is always working on fifteen specs, pitches, and rewrites at once. He's got a ton of creative energy that is drained or diluted by spreading themselves too thin. He's often proud of his ability to work on several things at once, not recognizing that at the end of the day, none of the fifteen projects are worthy of hitting the spec market.

Often, The Juggler has been confused by reading about professional writers who seem to be working on several projects at once. He doesn't know that a professional might be juggling several projects over the course of a year, not during the same day, week, or even month. If you're a pro who turned in the latest draft for an actor or director who's working, it could take months for them to read it and turn over their notes for the next draft. This downtime can then be used to write an entire new spec.


THE SPEED DEMON

Speed Demon can write ten scripts in a year. They sit down at the computer and generate pages and pages of output. They are inspired by Stephen King or Aaron Sorkin, who can sit down and write a script in the amount of time it would take most of us to assemble an entertainment center. The Speed Demon loves notes, because they can deliver a new and improved rewrite in two days!

The Speed Demon's problems are multiple. Their scripts read as if they were vomited on to the page. They're rough to read and rarely contain valuable ideas, strong dialogue or clever screenwriting, simply because there's only so many worthy brainstorms one can come up with in a single day. Screenwriting isn't about finishing something fast, it's about bringing exciting ideas to the table.

There is value in spending some time (like more than one month) on a spec, since creative ideas flow most easily during the actual writing process when the brain is firing on all cylinders. The Speed Demon robs themselves of this fertile imagination time, resulting in multiple scripts lacking any value at all.


THE REWRITE KING & QUEEN

The Rewrite Queen wants to get her script right. That means she'll write it, spend a year "perfecting" it through multiple rewrites, get reaction from friends and family, incorporating their notes, then continually getting feedback from any source they can, which once again, will be channeled into a rewrite.

The process never ends. The Rewrite King or Queen sees their idea or spec as having value because the idea excites them. They believe any script can sell if it is "fixed". These royals are confused by what a rewrite actually means inside of the development world. In the Rewrite Queen's head, a "rewrite" can account for changing 3-5% of the script, polishing dialogue, changing a scene around here and there. They are their own development executive, trying to determine what must be changed in order to bring the script into "sellable" shape.

Years may pass, but the Rewrite Queen is still trying to "get it right" whatever it takes. Often, she'll speak as her determination is a badge of honor. It's not.

She doesn't know that in the development world, a working writer will deliver a spec, get feedback from an agent or manager, rewrite once and send it to market. If it sells, the writer may continue a series of rewrites, but they are no longer responsible for coming up with new ideas--instead, they execute the notes (aka ideas) of execs, producers, maybe an actor or director, and an army of assistants and story editors. The rewrite consists of drastically revamping characters, subplots, demolishing and reworking massive portions of the script, and trying to come out the other end with an improved draft.

So while the Rewrite Queen is plugging away at draft number twenty six, working Hollywood writers have amassed a library of material.


THE PUSHER

Years ago, The Pusher attained recognition for a screenplay they wrote. It might have been a free option, flirting with representation, or even attaining a big agent to send a spec out, only to have it not sell. The taste of potential success has not sent The Pusher back to the drawing board, confident in their talent. Instead, it has engendered confidence in THAT SCRIPT. There is a distinction.

The Pusher thinks if they can get enough new people to read the script, they will once again taste that success and move the project forward. Sometimes even represented writers continue to push their agents to send out their unsold scripts. This becomes annoying for the agent, who never thought it would sell in the first place but sent it out to make sure they could represent the next spec, as the Pusher may be genuinely talented and a great client.

Here's what the Pusher doesn't know: If the material is good enough, an agent will continue to send it out on their own. If the agent doesn't think they can earn money by selling it, why would they send it out again? Also, The Pusher is often confused as to the level of success that they tasted. They don't know that "free option" came from a producer who had no idea what they were doing or what a readable script read like.

In my consulting, I was hired to read three scripts for a client who worked as a surgeon. I'd also spent over an hour speaking to him beforehand and knew this was a brilliant guy who had a great grasp of cinema. When the three scripts arrived, I was surprised to find that he was lacking any fundamental understanding of screenwriting, story, or character development.

Of the three scripts, one ranked among the worst screenplay attempts I'd ever been hired to look at. It was so unreadable, I suggested we skip that one and focus on the other two to discuss areas of improvement. Here's the funny thing--THAT was the script that had been optioned by some no-name producer! Being a genuinely smart guy, the client learned during our talk and came back a month later with a script that was better than the vast majority of unrepped material I've seen. The success of a free option from a bullshit producer kept his talent locked up for years.

Contest wins are the most dangerous drug for Pushers, who can't take the hint the material may not stack up in the real world (even the winners rarely do, and if you don't believe me, read some "finalists" from ANY contest on Earth). They continue to "market" their spec and enter more contests to taste that validation one more time.


THE EGO

The Ego has the hardest time with advancing as a screenwriter because he thinks his script is great. He responds to every note with a long explanation of WHY he wrote something in a particular way. Instead of listening intently, The Ego digs in and prepares for battle. Very few of these writers make it to the point of representation--they are unable to meet constructive criticism with new, fresh ideas. The result is that they scare off any professionals who may be able to help them.

The Ego's biggest problem is not realizing that if their screenplay actually worked, the notes disputed would have never been offered or mentioned in the first place. The Ego is also the most likely type of writer to complain about the state of Hollywood movies or how unfair the process of breaking into the system is. They don't like to consider the fact their script doesn't cut it.

Sad truth--Often the Ego has massive raw talent and superb intelligence. Their biggest weakness is that they know it and use their smarts to defend the existing script at all costs instead of coming up with crafty ways to fix it.


THE EXCEPTION - THE SUCCESS

The most successful screenwriters are great listeners and great adapters. They treat development meetings like brainstorming sessions, recognizing that "notes" are not an assault on their screenplay, but intended to help make it better. The Success also knows that while they may violently disagree with a specific change, often there is something that falls short in the script that needs to be addressed. So they cook on that and figure out a smarter way to fix the problem than what was offered in the notes--after all, the Success may be paid ten to twenty times as much for this one job as the executive overseeing the project makes all year!

The Success makes meetings fun. He or she takes copious notes, willing to accept any great ideas that bring additional value to the script. After working a long time in the business, the Success is cool with tearing their scripts apart and starting over, as they recognize their job and sole purpose is to make other people happy--first their agent, then executives who purchase the script, later, the actors who must be excited enough to sign on, and finally the audience.


_________________________________________________________



More articles by Adam Levenberg to come. You can contact Adam here.






Send questions and/or comments for THE INSIDE PITCH blog to theinsidepitch@sbcglobal.net.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

MAILROOM #13

You've relaunched your blog?

Yes, I blogged for a year (2006-2007) and then put the skids on when my tenure at ICM was coming to a close and a new chapter of my career at William Morris began. The turmoil involved in leaving ICM was part of a precedent setting lawsuit and didn't leave me with much of a desire to blog. Since that time, I've produced two movies and survived the biggest merge in Hollywood talent agency history. I've had a well-rounded education in the last two and half years, and I hope to share some of it here.

Your questions and comments are welcome at:

theinsidepitch@sbcglobal.net - any of which could find their way into this blog.

While I will ocassionally blog about things that amuse me (just for the sake of my own sanity), I will include reader questions every so often in entries I refer to as the MAILROOM. This entry makes number thirteen. You can go back and read the previous twelve editions of Q&A.

Sometimes I'll jot down random thoughts and title it BUCK SLIP - that ubiquitous pad of scratch paper that litters every desk in every talent agency.

I will also include guest bloggers when I get lazy or someone wants to contribute.



I haven't been able to land an agent or manager and I'm thinking about starting a management company to market my own work. Any suggestions?

If your work isn’t good enough to earn the respect of a reputable agent or manager, I suspect that even you won’t be able to help yourself. I suggest you keep writing and improve your craft. When you’re ready, you’ll find representation.

Over the years, writers have tried all sorts of cockamamie things to get their scripts on to desks all over town.

A few years ago, a manager came forward and announced he wasn’t who he claimed to be. Like something from a romantic comedy, a struggling screenwriter had created an alter-ego - a literary manager - to market his own screenplays. But the dual identity eventually got out of hand. He confessed to the industry in a letter. In part, here’s what he said:


I adopted a geographically undetectable accent, formed a new management company (legally), listed it in the HCD, introduced myself to D-folk through a series of cold calls, distributed my new script, then suddenly found myself besieged by requests from hopeful writers for representation. I already had one client - me - whose work I felt merited attention, but, knowing how much other quality talent was floating around out there due solely to a lack of representation willing to take a chance on an unproven client, and knowing firsthand how hard it was for "new people" to break down the doors and get their material read, I determined to seek out and nurture nascent writers and help to give them a shot as well. I figured that I was in a rather unique position to judge good writing - after all, I'd been doing just that for years in my sundry employment capacities around town, and believe that writers are fairly adept at gauging the quality (or lack thereof) of other writers' work - so I sifted through the bushels of chaff flooding my mailbox to come up with a few bits of wheat worth bringing to your attention.


As the manager, to conceal his identity, he never met anyone in town – only spoke with them over the phone. Instead, he would go out as the client-writer (using a nom de plume). He continued:


I didn't do any of this to be sneaky or underhanded; that was never my intention. As I came to know many of you, I truly did feel terrible about deceiving you, even on the minor level at which I was doing so, and wished I could have told each and every one of you what I was doing and why I was forced to do it. I wanted to set up meetings as “the manager,” do lunches, drinks, host parties, schmooze and network, all those fun things, but ultimately felt it was more important to protect my anonymity and the chance to continue getting my writing in front of the people who I needed to see it. I also didn't want to lose the opportunity I'd established to receive genuine feedback on my submissions; as you know, one often tends not to give the most straightforward or unabridged opinions of a script when talking to the person who wrote it, so keeping a certain level of anonymity was an invaluable tool for receiving constructive, no-holds-barred feedback and reactions to all the work I submitted. Please don't feel duped in any way by that aspect of my "scheme"; I never held anyone's opinions against them, took negative criticism personally, or let an adverse response prevent me from submitting other material to anyone's company. On the contrary, I listened appreciatively to each and every one of your comments and took them to heart when working on subsequent projects, or passed them along to my clients, when appropriate, who also absorbed and appreciated them.


A simple little idea took on a life of its own. He was eventually forced into revealing the truth when he was pressured to appear as both the manager and client simultaneously – something that was physically impossible. (In the screenplay adaptation, he would have hired an actor - and fallen in love with him.)

But he isn't the only writer who has tried to outsmart the town.

When I was at ICM, I got a call from a friend at a management company who was angry for having wasted his time reading a script that I recommended. He had a letter from ICM that stated his screenplay was well received by my office and that a client had attached to it. The title was vaguely familiar to me but no clients were attached to any such project. I checked my records and found a copy of the letter my friend had. It seems a writer took a “pass” letter and doctored it to appear quite favorable – even twisting the words around to say that our client liked the project very much when, in truth, he had passed. My friend faxed over the forged letter. I brought it to Business Affairs and within an hour, the writer had a “cease and desist” letter on his front door.

Although he was clever enough to get his script through the door of many places using this method, in the end, he was betrayed by the bad screenplay he had written.

Very recently, I got an e-mail from an ICM lit agent. It seems a writer was dropping my name, explaining that he and I had a relationship when I was there. Now, he was hoping to forge a new relationship with this lit agent to continue the work he and I had started. But I had never heard of him. And told the agent.

I think the creativity and tenacity in these three cases is admirable, in a warped sense of the word. But Hollywood is a big small town. One degree of separation is the norm, and it doesn’t take anything more than a quick phone call or e-mail to seek out the truth.

If these writers had put the same amount of effort into their scripts instead of all the scheming, they might be better off today. As far as I know, none of the three has sold a screenplay.

Let this be a lesson to you.



Don't you think that producers only accepting screenplays through recommendations can be called "discrimination." Sounds like this means they only accept screenplays from friends, or friends of friends...What do you think?

Discrimination is a strong word. If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you’ve learned about my encounter with thousands of Dutch query letters. Agents, managers, producers, executives are bombarded with query letters on a regular basis, and it can be – at the least – time consuming to respond to all. The few screenplays that are solicited through queries are risks, because the producer is taking a chance on the script simply from a logline.

The most efficient way to find material is through recommendations. Because I read a lot of scripts, many of my agent/manager/producer friends ask me for recommendations. “What’s good to read?” “Any good unrepped writers out there?” A recommendation from someone you trust is the easiest and most realistic way of finding writers and material. A reputable contest, for instance (like the Nicholl Fellowship) does the same thing. When the top ten finalists are announced, the big agents in town can pounce. After all, those ten fought their way to the top from a pile of 6000 scripts. It’s a lot easier for the Nicholl Fellowship to wade through 6000 scripts than a busy agent, whose primary responsibility is to secure work for his current list of clients.

Of course, there is the whole liability issue. It’s easy to accept material from people who come recommended or professionals with a credible reputation or those we know because it’s unlikely that they’ll return a year later with a lawsuit in hand when a project similar to theirs sells. There are a lot of wacky, paranoid aspiring writers out there who cry foul ball very easily. The simplest way to circumvent that sort of headache is to avoid it all together. Most agencies, in fact, insist that solicited material come from a recognizable source as opposed to complete strangers.

I’ve seen aspiring writers bitch about the whole process as “job discrimination.” In other words, “If an agent or producer refuses to read my script, he’s preventing me from earning a living.” That’s pretty ridiculous. First of all, there is no job. When a writer queries an agent, it’s a cold call. The writer’s goal is to create a need when one may not exist. An agent may not have any more room for a new client. And he isn’t in the market for one. However, if you have a great idea (for which he thinks there is a market), he might be willing to read your script. If your pitch doesn’t intrigue him in the least, then you’ve failed to create a desire in him. Who’s fault is that?

If I came to your front door and asked to mow your lawn for $15, would you be obligated to hire me? You didn’t put an ad in the paper or even express interest in someone mowing your lawn. If you’re not in the market for a lawnmower, then how can you be discriminating against me?

If you attend a concert with 50,000 other people, do you expect the band members to sign 50,000 autographs? If they choose just a few to sign, is that discrimination?

In a system where the supply far outweighs the demand, there are only a few realistic ways to search for material.

Ultimately, this shouldn’t be about how new writers are victimized by the fortress wall that surrounds Hollywood. It should be about how to get over that wall.

What are you doing to introduce yourself to the people who can help introduce you to the business? Are you churning out the best scripts you can? Are you entering worthwhile contests that can make a difference? (99.9% of all contests will not create a bridge between you and industry.)

For many who don’t live here in town and might only venture in once a year for a conference or Screenwriting Expo, don’t waste time sitting in on William Goldman’s lecture. What the fuck can he do for you? Find out what panels feature young, hungry managers and agents. Do your homework in advance to learn who is interested in working with new writers.

Many new writers use script consultants (another topic altogether). If you’re going to plop down money to hire one, be sure it’s someone who has real industry contacts and will provide entree if the script deserves it. If you're going to get notes, you might as well have the additional component as well.

New writers get signed by agencies and management companies every day. In some cases, those writers knew absolutely no one in town when they started their journey, but with some networking strategies and a good script, they managed to avoid the so-called "discrimination" and hop the wall.


It seems like everyone is writing a screenplay. Is it really that easy? Can anyone write a screenplay?


Sure, anyone can write a screenplay. But just because you’ve written a screenplay doesn’t mean you’ve written a screenplay.

Yes, I believe writing can be learned. And a lot of information can be picked up in books and classes. But there is talent involved. And that is inherent. It’s a gift. That’s why some screenwriters are just better than others. They have a stronger grasp of the dramatic craft and have the talent to successfully execute it. Some writers have a “voice,” a unique way in which they tell their stories. Often, it is the “voice” that captures the interest of agents and managers – even if the particular script is not marketable.

I’ve said in the past that too many writers approach the medium as writers and not as craftsmen. In dramatic writing, a script is built rather than written – since the tension and catharsis are dependent on the way scenes are constructed, laid out and juxtaposed. Because the pool of aspiring scribes is made up mostly of writers and not craftsmen, the failure rate is high and most scripts don't work.

Anyone can sit down and write 120 pages, but that doesn’t mean those pages will create a cohesive cause & effect dramatic story that elicits an emotional response/produces an emotional experience for the reader.

Most scripts don’t – which is why most aspiring screenwriters never rise above their aspirations.


I am one of those Dutch writers who has good ideas. I'm a little disappointed to learn that ideas are not so easy to sell. Are there any professional screenwriters looking for ideas?

Typically, screenwriters develop their own ideas - unless a movie studio or producer comes to them with an idea and pays them to write it. Some pro scribes will write on spec for a reputable producer. Unless you're a producer, Hollywood isn't designed to take ideas from the outside and match them up with screenwriters.

There's not much of a market for just ideas, because it complicates matters.

For instance, let's say you give me (a screenwriter) your idea. I can't pay you for it. I'm just a screenwriter and don't have a lot of money. So, I'll write the script and IF we sell it, then I'll pay you. But how much?

And who gets more money?

If I've written the script - maybe I've invested six months working on it. What's that worth versus your just giving me an idea? And what if the idea morphs and becomes something quite different - something that sprung from my head?

Plus, idea people often get a little crazy - suing because they feel they didn't get enough money. (We're sue crazy in America.)

So, it can get complicated. Most of the time, writers are inspired by their own ideas or ideas that come from a producer holding a paycheck. (The best motivation to sit in front of the blank page is your own idea or a paycheck.)

For some of these reasons and more, most screenwriters are not in the market to take outside ideas from sources unknown to them - like a random idea from an Ohio housewife.

That's not to say no one has ever done it or that it's taboo or won't ever be done.

I don't want to come across like a Dutch uncle. I'm just saying that it's tantamount to looking for a needle in a haystack. (But so is just about everything else in this business.) Most screenwriters who might find interest in that kind of arrangement are probably not professional and, as a result, your bank account will never benefit.

If you have a great idea, my advice is to write it into a screenplay yourself. If you don't have the time, inclination or talent, then you might have to accept the reality that your idea will fester in your head undiscovered by celluloid and unrealized by the world until the end of time.



---------------------------------------------------------------------------





Speaking of the Dutch query letters: There is a rather ironic ending to the ordeal. It seems that the author of the book "Rich From One Sentence" is not unknown to me.

I met Mr. Ruven last year at a pitch workshop I held.

I was quite surprised when he bitchslapped me with the revelation and a photo to boot! (That's me on the left - looking like Emma Thompson from WIT.)



As it was told to me, after the event on that fateful day, I gave Mr. Ruven my business card and he, in turn, shared it with 16.5 million people in the Netherlands - a simple case of cultural miscommunication. Given the fact that he and I are old friends, it appears as if I might be visiting Amsterdam in the near future.

There's a lot of ideas waiting there for me.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

BUCK SLIP

Some random thoughts:




A FINAL NOTE ON "PASS THE DUTCHIE"


I’ve received quite a few sympathy notes from my Netherlandic brethren as a result of my previous blog entries. (I responded to several queries with a link to PASS THE DUTCHIE). And they shared some of their thoughts with me.

It seems the author of the book “Rich From One Sentence” has gotten a few complaints from others in town who are outraged with the proliferation of Dutch query letters. After reading my blog, one of the book’s acolytes wrote me saying, “I assumed the author had contacted you before mentioning your name and email address.” But that is definitely not the case. While e-mail addresses are hardly top secret, it’s another thing to print it in a book and encourage thousands of people to submit ideas. It certainly wasn’t proper industry etiquette.

Note the book cover below. I don’t speak Dutch but the last two words sure look like “film idea” to me. And then right under those words is a stack of hundred dollar bills. Now, an American book might be dressed with the photo of a computer or a pad and pencil or a picture of Aristotle or even the Hollywood sign. But that wad of e pluribus unum cash-money is pretty ballsy.



Having read my blog and learning that Hollywood doesn’t pay out millions of dollars this way, a Dutch hopeful asked me, “But where does the idea come from that Hollywood would be interested in ideas for screenplays? Maybe that was the great idea - sell a book about selling ideas.” He answered his own question.

The idea of selling a sentence to Hollywood for a million dollars is a lot of double Dutch.




TWO ADVERBS ANNUAL LOGLINE CONTEST




At twoadverbs.com, we’re in the midst of another logline contest, something we started there many years ago (in a slightly different format). The contest goes like this: Writers send in their loglines and a panel of preliminary judges picks the ten best of the bunch. The ten are posted in the twoadverbs interactive forum for members to vote on their favorite.

The top three are presented to an industry panel of producers, agents and managers (my friends and whoever I might bump into in the hallway or throughout town). The logline with the most votes wins. The announcement is made on Christmas Eve.

There is no entry fee, of course, and the contest was created as a way to celebrate all the hard work and writing done throughout the year and to offer up some good lessons too.



The “prize” is a feedback & networking frenzy, where the winner will get a year’s subscription to trackingb.com (to keep up on what’s happening in the script world) and will have his script read by screenwriting pros Jay Simpson (ARMORED), Ryan Condal (GALAHAD), Jeff Morris (THE TRUE MEMOIRS OF AN INTERNATIONAL ASSASSIN) and twoadverbs webmaster and filmmaker Jacinthe Dessureault (DOG TRAINING) – all for feedback. I’ll also provide a phone conference for the winner to discuss his script along with other ideas he might have and answer general questions about the biz.

Also, Adam Levenberg will offer up his inimitable feedback for all three finalists. Adam is a former student of mine, who I set on his path to knowledge many years ago. He has a great understanding of material and the business.

The ten finalists will be posted on Wednesday November 25th, when the polls open. They close on December 9th. You can join twoadverbs (for free) by visiting the home page and clicking on "new user" at the top right hand corner of the screen.





ALAMEDA WRITERS GROUP





Each year on the first Saturday in December I drive out to the Glendale Library and meet with the Alameda Writers Group, where I listen to pitches and offer feedback.

It's a fun hour or so and a great learning experience - even for those who don't pitch.

The Alameda Writers Group is "a non-profit organization dedicated to serving writers of all stages of development and all genres." Although they haven't updated their website yet, the event is on December 5th. I'll arrive around 10:00AM. The event lasts until about noon and is free. Three hours of free parking is available across the street from the library. The event is held in the upstairs auditorium of the library at 222 E. Harvard Street.







THE PRISONER




AMC premieres THE PRISONER this weekend starring Jim Caviezel and Ian McKellen. The miniseries runs from Sunday 11/15 through Tuesday 11/17.

The show is a reimagining of the sixties TV show, the brainchild of British actor Patrick McGoohan, who also starred, wrote and produced the show – along with directing several episodes.




The original tells the story of a secret agent who resigns suddenly, but then finds himself kidnapped and held prisoner in an idyllic seaside village where everything is sweetness and light but from which there is no escape. He is stripped of his identity and given a number (6). The powers-that-be (Number 2 – played by a different actor each week) hope to learn the secrets in his head, but they cannot break him down. The show’s catch phrase, “I am not a number. I am a free man” became a sort of anthem in the 1960s.

Over the years, the cerebral and psychedelic show developed a cult following, earning it the number seven slot in TV Guide’s list, The Top 25 Cults Shows of All Time. It has inspired the likes of THE TRUMAN SHOW, LOST and many others.

Universal has had its eye on the project for quite a while and several screenplays have been written – one by Konner and Rosenthal – with the hope of creating a film property but none have captured the spirit of the abstruse original. Simon West was once attached to direct. More recently, it was announced that Christopher Nolan would take a shot at the big screen version.

Patrick McGoohan had a long career in Great Britain on stage and in film and television. His American film debut was playing yet another spy opposite Rock Hudson in 1968's ICE STATION ZEBRA. He went on to star in several popular films including SILVER STREAK (1976) as the art thief out to hoodwink Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, and, ironically, the warden to Clint Eastwood's prisoner in ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979). He also denied Mel Gibson his freedom as King Edward the Longshanks in the Oscar winning BRAVEHEART (1995). The Los Angeles Times upon reviewing the film said, “Patrick McGoohan is in possession of perhaps the most villainous enunciation in the history of acting.” McGoohan also won two Emmy Awards (1975 & 1990) for villainous turns on the COLUMBO TV series. He even played himself in an episode of THE SIMPSONS, spoofing the character that made him famous.












McGoohan died earlier this year at age 80. He was my wife’s grandfather. And with the new series, perhaps, eclipsing the old, I bring this all up as a way to introduce McGoohan to those who might not know him. He was passionate and fiery, creative and brilliant. He could be disagreeable, aloof yet loveable. He had a great sense of humor – one that was particularly self-effacing – and he enjoyed being the target of barbs. When I first met him, I told him I never understood THE PRISONER. “Good. You’re not supposed to understand it” is what he said to me. I think that solidified our relationship, as he was always bemused by those that would try to decipher it. Upon his death, Entertainment Weekly referred to McGoohan as “the man who embodied hope over despair in the coolest way imaginable.”

A cool way to be remembered.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

PASS THE DUTCHIE - PART TWEE




The mystery as to the origins of the Dutch deluge of query letters has been solved.

It seems Dutch filmmaker and author Paul Ruven has written a book entitled "Rijk door 1 zin" ("Rich Because of One Sentence").

This book explains how Hollywood pays big bucks for good ideas, and it offers up a marketing strategy that includes names and e-mails of Hollywood types – one of which is mine.

A little Internet research suggests that this is Ruven's second book. The first is called “Screenwriting for Money.” The “money” in the title might refer to the price of the book (a reasonable $9.90) and can be purchased HERE.

I haven’t read his latest book and cannot make any intelligent comments on it. But I will say that in the current state of Hollywood, it is close to impossible to sell an idea (especially via some random query from the Netherlands) without having some kind of professional reputation.

Ideas are as rampant as Hollywood dreamers. Ideas are not protected; they cannot be copyrighted, so any idea that’s tossed around can be snatched up by someone else and developed into a screenplay. But once the screenplay is written, it can be copyrighted. It is the expression of the idea (in this case, the script) that is protected. In Hollywood, the control and power is always in the screenplay itself, not the idea.

While there might be an errant manager or producer who would take a good idea from a Dutchman and turn it over to another writer, I feel confident in saying that it’s unlikely the “idea man” would get rich off it.

While Ruven's book might be filled with great information on how to formulate an idea, the notion that just anyone can get rich from selling one to Hollywood is disingenuous – to put it mildly. (And you thought that America had the fringe screenwriting market cornered?)

However, if anyone in the Netherlands does get rich by selling one sentence to Hollywood, please let me know.

I’m a firm believer in anyone and everyone taking their best shot. This town is all about dreams, after all.

But cross my name and e-mail address out of that book.


P.S.

According to my blog counter, the Netherlands has surpassed Great Britain, Canada and Australia to make it the #2 country in hits behind the United States.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

PASS THE DUTCHIE




As a kid I remember a catchy TV jingle promoting tourism in the Netherlands. But its plural sounding name confused the geography for me. Was it one country or a cluster of smaller countries? Contributing to that confusion was the Netherlands/Dutch/Holland identity issue. I still don’t know much about the Netherlands. Its capital is Amsterdam, where its carefree policies on drugs and prostitution make it a popular tourist attraction - which was not part of that catchy TV jingle. (It could go something like: “Need to get out much more? Come to the Netherlands for a Dutch whore.”) Aside from things like windmills, Hans Brinker and his silver skates and probably the most famous diarist the world will ever know, Anne Frank, I’ve never given the Netherlands much thought.

But, of late, I have been in its thoughts.

It seems that the Netherlands is home to thousands of budding screenwriters, all of whom have had the urge to query me. In the last few weeks, I’ve received thousands of query letters from hopeful Dutch screenwriters. They are earnest letters, mostly written in broken English. These letters crowd my inbox everyday.

I should clarify and say that these don’t seem to be typical query letters like, “Please read my screenplay.” In fact, the letters don’t seem to be hocking screenplays at all, but only ideas for screenplays. The letters all start out with the simple request that I provide feedback on their idea. Some letters contain several ideas. I would need a team of half a dozen to respond to these ideas in a timely fashion. (Is Miep Gies still alive? She’s always been helpful.)

Because of the mass quantities of letters, I have no other choice but to ignore them. I opened one or two at first, and maybe I would have provided the requested feedback. But when all 16.5 million people in the Netherlands seem to be sending queries, the thought of such a task is a little overwhelming. Because I have refused to respond, as a sort of protest, I’m now getting follow-up e-mails like, “I would like to hear from you, either is you are interested or not. I have at least ten more ideas. I can e-mail them to you when you want.”

Since these writers are using the same format in their letters, it seems as if they could be coming from a single source – like a film school. Maybe this is some class assignment gone berserk. Or is it the work of a misguided Dutch query service that sends out mass e-mailings for lazy writers who don’t want to take the time to do it themselves? I certainly can’t be the only target of this infestation. Has Jan De Bont been attacked? I hope others in town will come forward and share their stories with me. This victimization could call for some sort of support group.

Four more e-mails have arrived since I started writing this blog entry. These relentless writers must be offspring of the Dutch Resistance. No wonder Van Gogh chopped off his ear. I’m ready to gouge out my eyes. This proliferation of e-mails borders on an international crisis.

It’s important to remember that many of us get inundated with query letters on a regular basis. Some execs are in the market for queries and look forward to getting them daily in hope of finding the next big thing. Others are generally not as enthused, as they find material in other ways – often through recommendations, reputable screenwriting contests and film festivals. In bigger companies, it is usually against corporate policies to even look at query letters and it is often demanded that they be forwarded to the legal department. Regardless, the job of execs and representatives is not to wade through query letters, so expect the response to be slow or not even arrive at all.

I'm writing all this as a sort of query of my own - addressed to the Netherlands.

It might be difficult to understand or even sympathize with my situation since you’re all so far away from Hollywood. But I’m no different than that little Dutch boy – the one with his finger in the dike. However, unlike that valiant young man (who used his fame to become the spokesperson for a brand of house paint), I have failed to plug up the hole, and the deluge is drowning me.

I’d like to call a truce. Can you please stop sending me your e-mails? How about you fly me to Amsterdam and we set up a pitch workshop in the Red Light District? I’ll gladly listen to all you have to say. But I need my inbox back.

Just so we are perfectly clear. I’m passing on all your ideas. The entire nation of the Netherlands gets a collective PASS.

Dank u.




For more information on the Netherlands:

HOSTEL (2005)
DUTCH (1991)
Screenplay Mastery” by The Hague




UPDATE: The mystery is revealed HERE.





There’s really no right or wrong in Hollywood, but based on reading a zillion query letters, here’s some suggestions when undertaking a letter writing campaign.


Don’t pitch an idea. Ideas are a dime a dozen in Hollywood. It is the expression of that idea (in script form) that makes it unique. Write your script before sending out query letters.

Don’t be in a hurry. Make sure the script is in the best shape before you hand it over to a professional. If he passes once, it’s unlikely he will read it again.

Don’t be longwinded. Draft your query as if the reader has Attention Deficit Disorder. Keep your letter short and make your point quickly. The reader should fully comprehend your pitch with just a glance of the page. If the reader has to fight through countless words and paragraphs, you may lose him. Three short paragraphs are enough (of one-three sentences max). 1) Brief intro (including script title and genre). 2) Logline. 3) Closing.

Avoid silly, self-effacing, or obsequious letters. Sometimes trying to be funny only backfires and lands the letter on the “Wall of Shame” after it’s been passed around the mailroom for some unintentional guffaws. If you’re a comedy writer, it’s most important that the logline be funny. Don't kiss ass. While it's nice to show respect, kowtowing to an agent or exec is unprofessional.

Do not include the scenes from your screenplay in a query letter. Scenes, descriptions of your characters, action or actual dialogue can seem very unappealing when taken out of context. Screenplays deserve to be read in their entirety – as a whole. The success of a script depends on the interrelation of one scene to another – the cause and effect. Reading ten pages out of context might prove you can write but doesn’t prove you can write a screenplay. Faulkner was a great writer and a failed screenwriter. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it), do not include the screenplay unless it was requested.

Avoid insignificant praise and other unnecessary or stupid information. Never include readers’ positive comments. “My college film professor says it’s the best screenplay he’s read this semester.” “The local mailman said my depiction of the United States Postal Service is accurate and riveting.” “Mary Jones at Warner Brothers loves the script but says I must have an agent.” If Mary Jones loves the script, she will do everything within her power to obtain it. Not having an agent is only an obstacle to a writer when the script isn’t up to par. Also, avoid describing your script with hyperbole. Sentences like, “This is an Oscar winner” or “This is the next TITANIC” just tend to turn people off. If you’ve won a reputable screenwriting contest, mention it. But use common sense. It’s not necessary to write (as was the case) that you landed in 429th place in the Writer’s Digest contest. It may impress your Mom but probably not a Hollywood agent. (If you came in 429th place, the agent would be better off reading the 428 scripts that placed ahead of you.) Keep all information in the query letter pertinent. Avoid superfluity. No one cares if you’re a retired accountant or one in a set of septuplets. The exception would be if it pertains to the script. Also, don't make casting suggestions (unless you are targeting an actor’s representative), and do not suggest marketing concepts.

Proofread the letter. One would believe writers have a strong command of their language. However, query letters are often littered with misspelled words. This also includes grammar and syntax errors.

Letters should be sent to a specific person. Be sure their name is spelled correctly. Refer to the “Hollywood Creative Directory,” the Internet, IMDBPro or call for the correct spelling. In general, calling ahead is a good idea. Double check to make sure the executive is still employed with that company. The agent’s name may appear in the “Hollywood Agents and Managers Directory,” but turnover is fierce, and the agent at William Morris today could be at ICM tomorrow.

Avoid writing the letter by hand. Of course, an equal amount of care should be given to the envelope.

Avoid including “yes/no” self-addressed postcards - unless requested.

The question that gets asked the most is "Should I use the word 'query' in the e-mail subject line?" I would say if the company welcomes query letters, use the word "query" in the subject line. If the company doesn't welcome them, use only the title in the subject line. (When in doubt, don't use the word.) This way it will look identical to e-mail coming from other sources and will most likely be opened. Once they read your dazzling logline, they'll have no choice but to contact you. With "query" in the subject line, it's too easy to hit delete.

Ask the Netherlandic writers for confirmation on that.







Send questions or comments to theinsidepitch@sbcglobal.net. Any correspondence could be published in this blog.

Free Blog Counter