Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Can you offer a list of story points that I should consider after finishing my first draft?

Each story is its own fingerprint. Since each script has its own set of goals, it can be difficult to offer up a checklist to which all screenplays should subscribe. I think each screenplay has its very own unique checklist. However, there are certainly general points that can be considered. The problem with a checklist is that a clueless scribe will review it and mistakenly believe he has all points covered. By no means is a checklist any sort of cureall. Ultimately, the checklist must come from within - not without. Regardless, these are some general points that I look for when reading scripts.


Is it a concept that immediately conveys a sense of conflict?
Is it a cinematic/visual concept?
Is it an intriguing concept?
Is it a concept with commercial appeal?
Is it a concept that could attract talent?
Does the script “write to its concept?” (Does it fully EXPLOIT the concept?)
Is it HIGH CONCEPT – story driven by concept?
Is it CHARACTER DRIVEN (slice-of-life) – story driven by character?
Is the concept true to its genre (conventions)?


Does the hero have a memorable introductory scene?
Do we identify with the hero?
Do we empathize?
Sympathy? Jeopardy? Likeability? Humor? Power?
Does the hero have a GOAL?
External? Internal?
Is there HOPE & FEAR? (“Hope” the character will win, “fear” that he’ll lose?)
Is the hero actively pursing his goal?
Are there strong motives for the protagonist?
Is there a backstory? Is it woven skillfully (smoothly) into the unfolding storyline?
Is the hero challenged? (Challenge your character with his greatest fear?)
Is the protagonist’s internal life explored visually and dramatically?
Does the character change from the beginning of the story to the end? (Character arc?)
Does the character have “texture?” (Quirks, nuances and details.)


Is mood and tone successfully established?

Is concept explored through compelling conflict?
Are we hooked into the story by the end of the first act?

Is it fleshed out and explored through characters (behavior/moral choices) and conflict?
Is the character’s goal (the engine of the story) clearly expressed?
Is it introduced too early in the script? (Causing the story to run out of gas early?)
Is it introduced too late in the script? (Causing boredom early on in the story?)
Is there enough conflict? Is it compelling? Suspenseful? Credible?
Are there stakes/jeopardy? Are the stakes high enough?
Is there a sense of urgency?
Is the story well paced? Is there sufficient modulation? (Both highs and lows?)
Comic relief/ humor?
Does it avoid forced, artificial beats? Do the beats feel organic to the story?
Does it avoid contrivance and coincidence?
Does the story plant and pay-off?
Is there plenty of tension? Momentum? (Are you compelled to turn the page?)
Does it avoid repetition? (Tightly edited?)
Does it avoid cliché?
Is there an antagonist? Is his force equal to that of the hero?
Does antagonist have a goal? Is he three-dimensional? Does he have an arc?
Does the story hold its course (following the hero’s journey) or does it wander?
Is the world in which the story set believable, logical, and sensible?
Does it establish the “rules” of the world?
Does the story have a “cause and effect” flow? Each scene proceed logically to the next?
Does it raise questions? Anticipation? Superior position? Curiosity? Surprise?
Is EXPOSITION handled well? Evenly spread out through script?
Are the story’s key moments “earned?”
Is there a “romance?”
Do the sub-plots enhance the major storyline? Does sub-plot reveal theme?
Do the secondary characters support the hero? Add depth?
Do the major secondary characters have arcs?
Are there an efficient number of characters? (Too few, too many?)
Voice-over used effectively? (Does the story make sense without it?)
Does it build to the climax?
Are conflicts resolved?
Does the ending satisfy? Is it logical?
Does the antagonist receive a comeuppance commensurate with his actions?
Does it avoid a “deus ex machina?”
Do scenes start and end at the most effective points?
Does the story have “texture?” (Quirks, nuances and details.)

Is the overall experience "emotional? (Funny, scary, disturbing, powerful, sad, etc.?)
Is the story about something? Is there a "theme?"


Is the set-up well utilized? (Preparing audience for imminent dilemma?)
Important characters introduced early enough?
Is the first act efficient and effective?
Does the narrative maintain tension?
Is the hero responsible for pushing the story forward?
Are the plots points effective in providing the story with momentum?
Are “flashbacks” used to advance the story and/or raise questions?


Is it character specific? (Henry Higgins versus Eliza Doolittle)
Does it reveal character? Does it advance the story?
Does it set tone?
Does it avoid clunky exposition? Soliloquy? Monologue? Asides? Outright explanations?
Does it employ sub-text? (Not on-the-nose?)
Use visuals to enhance dialogue? Break up dialogue with pertinent action?
Does each line flow from previous line?
Does it avoid conversation?

Send questions and comments to theinsidepitch@sbcglobal.net

Any mail received to this account - including query letters and solicitations from Nigerian barristers - may be used for publication on this blog.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Three weeks ago Joe Dante's Renfield Productions requested my script without representation. After I pissed my pants, I sent it in with a very professional and short "thank you". If you were in my shoes, how would you proceed? Would you follow up after a period of time or just be patient for a response? I've heard all the customary suggestions, but I'm curious, with your savvy and knowledge, how you would handle the situation?

Follow-up is imperative. It’s important to give you peace of mind, but it’s also important to let those to whom you submitted the script know you’re serious and expect some sort of response. With all the submissions agencies and prodcos receive, scripts will fall by the wayside, get lost or discarded, so it’s reasonable to call or drop an e-mail to check on the status of the script. After (about) a month and a half of waiting, a polite follow-up is perfectly acceptable, then follow-up at two-three week intervals. It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. Personally speaking, follow-up calls and e-mails help to keep me organized and remind me what I need to respond to. Following up is especially important when you’re a gnat on the producer's radar and your project is at the very bottom of the pile.


I realize that Hollywood is a youth driven culture. But does this apply to writers as well? Will agents/managers be willing to work with someone over 45 or 50 if they are trying to break in as writers?

Hollywood is definitely youth-oriented for those trying to break into the business. Agents and managers will make their own decisions on who they want to represent and why. Ultimately, they are looking for talent that understands the marketplace and can sustain a career. I suspect if a fifty-year-old pitched SNAKES ON A PLANE, he might have landed a deal regardless of his age. But how many fifty-year-olds want to write SNAKES ON A PLANE? I think it comes down to “voice” rather than appearance. If the writer’s voice is one that resonates with what agents and managers think they can sell, age is not much of an obstacle.


My writing partner and I (both Canadians living up in British Columbia) have had a small agent in LA for the past several years. The last script we wrote was a comedy/fantasy called "Honeymoon Falls". In it, the protaganist uses a certain device (I don't know how specific you want me to get, but it was a magic remote-control) to transport her into the "real" world of her favourite soap opera which is just about the be cancelled. My partner and I just saw Adam Sandlar's "Click" the other night - in it, he uses a magic remote-control to control time. When our agent shopped "Honeymoon Falls" around a year or so ago, we got some very positive comments (even creating a little bit of a buzz on some of the tracking boards), but alas, no option/sale. My question is - based on the success of "Click", should we try (for lack of a better word) "re-pitching" Honeymoon Falls, this time focusing on the similarities to "Click" - even though the similarities begin and end with the "plot device" of the magic remote control. I'm familiar with the Hollywood mantra of "Give me the same thing, but different!" In this case, we DO have the "same thing", and it IS different!

If you read the last blog entry, you’ll note a list of loglines all revolving around a similar concept, so the obstacle may not be the gimmick of a remote control – especially since CLICK earned over 130 million at the domestic box-office. However, the real obstacle to marketing the script could be the fact that it’s already made the rounds and ended up homeless. However, you and your rep can discuss new strategies to send out the script and try to use the success of CLICK to your advantage. “HONEYMOON FALLS is like CLICK meets SOAPDISH” (or whatever). You may need to do a rewrite or polish and even consider changing the title to give it a whole new look.


I'm hoping you can help with advice/referral. I've got a very solid thriller screenplay that Andre Royo (an actor on HBO's 'The Wire') wants to produce. He's taking it to his contacts like Andrew Lauren, Carl Franklin, Peter Medak and others. I'm wondering what I can do to capitalize on these connections and this whole process. Even if the script doesn't sell, how can leverage this exposure? Also, with this script and the short film I recently wrote/directed, I think I'm a viable candidate for assignment work. Is there anyone you know of looking for new talent? I'm finishing up a really strong script about an FBI agent who goes undercover in a corrupt prison to hunt a serial killer.

Almost every writer at any given time has his script somewhere with someone who’s “interested.” I never hear a writer say, “No one is interested in my script.” Even though that’s more than likely the realistic scenario for most writers in town. The business is about buzz and hype. (I love the likes of, ‘Ron Howard has my script,’ which really means it’s in the readers' pool. There’s nothing wrong with the reader’s pool, by the way. I just appreciate the spin.) Recently, I spoke to a writer who told me his script was with so-and-so producer and how he loved it and was taking it to the studio. I ended up having lunch with that producer and in small talk I mentioned the writer and the script. The producer didn’t read the script but did review the coverage, which gave the project a lukewarm reception. It seemed unlikely he would be taking it to the studio. Whether the producer was blowing heaven up the writer’s ass or the writer was blowing it up my ass remains to be seen, but the point is that there’s all sorts of fairy tales being spun in town. (The successful players in show biz detect bullshit - while their own bullshit goes undetected.) With everyone knee-high in “spin,” it takes some very serious buzz to excite an agent, manager or executive. Is your news enough to create interest and excitement in your talent? Probably not. The best way to leverage this opportunity is through the people that read the script (the Carl Franklins and Peter Medaks). Hopefully, the script will open some doors, which will lead to other doors. Writing UTA a query letter informing them that Carl Franklin is reading your script means nothing, but getting Carl Franklin to make a call to UTA on your behalf means a lot. And the truth is if the material is that good, he very well may. If it isn’t as good as you believe it to be, then you’ll know soon enough. Everyone is looking for new talent. But there are more people looking for talent than there is talent. The fact that you’ve written a screenplay or directed a (short) movie doesn’t mean you’ve written a screenplay or directed a movie – which is why most cannot get much farther than the query letter stage. Use the opportunities available to you first. Learn to exploit those and then allow that momentum to carry you onward.


Your recent post of Halle's and Mona's got me thinking some more about something that continuously gets thrown my way. In the meetings I've managed to garner (living in Vancouver...yet to break South down the I-5), I have done decently well at gaining some working relationships, some interest and a job or two. But this is what is so often said to me: "We really like your style and think your dialogue is great, but we'd like you to work on some different projects with us." And then we move along to either them pitching me a comedy, family movie, etc., while the majority of my samples are psychological thrillers and/or sci-fi. I realize the task is to be able to apply myself to any form I can manage and do it to the best of my abilities, but to take a selfish tone for a minute I can't help but wish to be asked to continue work on a sci-fi or something more “me.” Without pitching my specs your way, would you think this was a result of throwing them a Jocelyn? Is it a genre thing? I noticed in your post (and countless others that report sales) that my preferred genres aren't in the highest of demand, so is it the concepts aren't high concept enough or is it that (assuming a script is written well) one can struggle trying to show off a Mona, and not a Halle?

Most writers earn a living on work-for-hires, so the fact that producers want to hire you to write a project for them instead of buying your script is status quo. It is a bit odd that they want to hire you for genres that you’ve shown no interest or proficiency. It’s impossible for me to guess what they’re thinking. It is entirely possible that you written a Mona and not a Halle, which would turn them on to your writing – but not necessarily the script (which could be a tough sell for them). I find it hard to believe that a producer would want to hire you based on a bad script – though it certainly happens. But I don’t think it really matters. If a producer wants to pay you to write a screenplay, you have succeeded (even if it’s in a small way). I think the “Halle/Jocelyn/Mona” philosophy needs to be carefully considered if there is a profound lack of interest in your projects. That hardly seems to be your situation. If what they pitch fails to interest you, you have the power to “pass” on the project.


In your blog title "Hallewood" you say, "My wife, on occasion, will ask the dreaded question, 'Honey, am I as good looking as Halle Berry.' My reply is, 'If you were, we wouldn't be on opposite ends of the couch.'" I don't know what your wife looks like but she might be better off at the other end of the couch since you're no George Clooney!

George Goony would be more appropriate. I've always likened myself to the "Scarecrow" in THE WIZARD OF OZ - only he's a better dresser. You'll be happy to know that I ran the quote by my wife before publishing it. She has an excellent sense of humor (a must to exchange vows with me) and gave me her blessings.

Send questions to theinsidepitch@sbcglobal.net

Any mail received to this account - including query letters and solicitations from Nigerian barristers - may be used for publication on this blog.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


On Saturday, I spent two hours listening to writers pitch their screenplays. The writers were all earnest and some energetic and entertaining, but none offered a slamdunk movie concept. Some managed to pique a little interest, but none were going to smash down the doors to Hollywood.

The greatest challenge for any writer is finding a concept that will spark interest within the Hollywood community.

New writers have the unenviable task to find engaging concepts because it’s the only way to capture the interest of busy buyers and/or sellers. While established scribes could (though not recommended) write about their lazy summer on a Northern Ohio earthworm farm, new writers must find a concept that screams, “This is a movie.”

This is not a new revelation and is rudimentary to most.

Then why do most concepts suck?

Travel to any screenwriting message board and most are testing out terrible concepts. I wonder if any of these writers have ever been to the movies. Do they read the trades to see what sorts of scripts are selling? Although new writers claim they understand the notion of finding a concept that has universal movie potential – empirical evidence suggests otherwise.

If there hasn’t been a movie made about a lazy summer on an earthworm farm, there could be a good reason for it. That’s not to say the story shouldn’t be told. Just let someone else tell it. Or write it after selling a high concept comedy or two.

“High concept” is a term bandied about and most can agree upon its definition. High concept is a story idea that evokes a movie with just a sentence or two. Even with this definition, high concept can be hard to nail down. One has to hear it to know whether or not it's high concept. It’s like pornography: difficult to define but obvious to spot.

I think the best way to demonstrate a good concept is via visual aids.

I'm going to break down concepts into THREE visual categories.

Let's begin with Halle Berry.

For all intents and purposes, she is a GOOD CONCEPT.

Most who see her will find her attractive and want to get their hands on her.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so there are some who will not be attracted to her. However, the percentages are low.

Writers want to strive to find that Halle Berry.

So not to be sexist, George Clooney also represents a good concept.

Like Halle, if George were at a bar, most women would glance his way.

Maybe not all. But most.

A concept needs to do the same thing. It may not be able to attract all, but it should attract the majority.

If you're going to a party, you want to have Halle (or George) on your arm.

Trouble arises because most people have a distorted self-image.

This means that they believe they resemble Halle or George. My wife, on occasion, will ask the dreaded question, "Honey, am I as good looking as Halle Berry." My reply is, "If you were, we wouldn't be on opposite ends of the couch."

This distorted self-image plays a role in the way a writer might envision her concept. In other words, most writers think they have a good concept, when, in actuality, they aren't even close. That's why they often pitch terrible ideas with such passion and zeal.

And writers can rationalize almost any concept, trying to spin straw into gold.

"So this is a true story about a boy's coming-of-age on an earthworm farm. It's a story that will attract all sorts of people. Those who live in the city will be fascinated with life on the farm, and those who live on the farm will love to see their lives on the big screen. With characters ranging from a young boy to a grandfather, it'll attract a wide demographic. Plus entomologists will want to see the movie, and since it deals with the earth, so will everyone on the planet."

98% of all writers do not have a Halle or a George.

Instead, they have:

The Jocelyn Wildenstein concept is less likely to attract as many people as Halle. That's not to say it will not attract some.

But if both Halle and Jocelyn are sidelined at the prom, Halle will probably be asked to dance more frequently than Jocelyn.

In Hollywood, a concept needs to attract as many suitors as possible. Ultimately, the odds of Jocelyn being asked to dance - compared to Halle - crashes at catastrophic proportions.

It should be noted that Jocelyn has worked very hard and continues to try and tweak her appearance, but it simply never turns out right.

Most concepts in town are Jocelyn Wildenstein.

The final concept is:

Can an ugly woman make a beautiful painting?

This concept is the kind that isn't all that attractive and forces one to look below the surface - where a treasure of substance and art exists.

For example, there are certain scripts that do quite well on the contest circuit, but at the end of the night don't go home with a partner. Likewise with films that receive excellent reviews but fail to attract audiences.

While some might opine that she has a degree of rustic beauty, it seems certain that the Mona Lisa will be one of the last chicks to get laid at the MTV Beach House.

While Mona ranks higher than Jocelyn, it's clearly Halle for whom one should strive -if one wants to turn heads.

Here is a list of a few Halle concepts (maybe a Mona or two) currently in pre-production.

Comedy. A low rent lounge singer becomes stranded on a remote island with a group of supermodels. (Title: DON’T SEND HELP.)

Action/Comedy. A spoiled housewife, in desperate need of cash, teams with a cat burglar and robs the homes of local snobs. (Title: LOWLIFES.)

Comedy. After being laid off, a nebbish seeks revenge by becoming a pirate and robbing his former boss’s yacht. (Title: MIDLIFE PIRATES.)

Dramedy. True story of an 18-year-old from New Jersey who becomes a successful train robber. (Title: CONRAIL.)

Comedy. An ad exec, embarrassed about introducing his fiancée to his family, hires actors to portray them. (Title: WE ARE FAMILY.)

Comedy. An unscrupulous real estate developer finds himself under attack by forest animals when he prepares to plow down the land for new homes. (Title: FURRY VEGEANCE.)

Action/Thriller. The son of the governor teams with a hardened criminal to stop a group of inmates, who have taken over the prison using a “Scared Straight” program as their cover. (Title: SCARED STRAIGHT.)

A romantic comedy between two heterosexual men. (Title: MANCRUSH.)

Dramedy. After quitting his mundane job to follow his bliss, a man is slapped with a lawsuit by his disappointed father who sues him for all the money he invested in his upbringing. (Title: THE BILL FROM MY FATHER.)

Comedy. After a bizarre accident magnetizes a man and he unwittingly erases all the videotapes at the local video store, he and his friend set out to replace the films by recreating them using the townspeople as actors. (Title: BE KIND, REWIND.)

Thriller. An unscrupulous divorce attorney struggles to find his kidnapped wife before he pays the ransom: he must commit suicide. (Title: TWO SECONDS TO MIDNIGHT.)

Romcom. A woman finally meets the man of her dreams – only to discover she recently had a one-night stand with his father. (Title: A FAMILY AFFAIR.)

Action. When the USA is attacked by an electromagnetic pulse, which disables modern living, the Secretary of the Interior must wage war with antiquated combat methods. (Title: LIBERTY.)

Comedy. Two straight men pose as a married gay couple in order to receive employee health benefits. (Title: I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY.)

Dramedy. A simple man is thrust into the spotlight when his single vote will determine who is elected the next President of the United States. (Title: SWING VOTE.)

Comedy. Three high school boys hire a solider of fortune to protect them from bullies. (Title: DRILLBIT TAYLOR.)

Drama. A college student investigates the identity of her grandfather’s best friend – a 20-year-old who thinks he’s elderly. (Title: OLD MAN JOHNSON.)

Thriller. After his daughter is kidnapped by sex-slavers, a neurotic dad reveals his black ops past and sets out to save her life. (Title: TAKEN.)

Being mindful, once again, that beauty is an individual experience, some might feel there is a Jocelyn or two in the pack. However, most would agree that these are Halle concepts.

They are simple, easy to pitch and convey a movie.

I know I'm in trouble when it takes the writer twenty minutes just to relate his concept and then he says, "It sounds bad only because I had to leave out the good stuff."

Writers don't even have to work that hard to come up with "Hallewood" concepts.

For instance, there are tried-and-true concepts that are recycled over and over again. Look at movies like BIG DADDY or THE PACIFIER that create that fish-out-of-water scenario dramatizing an independent adult who must suddenly deal with children.

Here are a few currently in pre-production.

TRUCKER, a drama about an independent female truck driver who must care for her estranged 10-year-old son after his father is diagnosed with cancer.

BREAKFAST WITH SCOT, a dramedy about a gay former hockey player who is forced (with his partner) to care for an 11-year-old boy after the death of his mother.

ROCK AND ROLL NANNY is a comedy about a down-and-out rock star who takes a job as a nanny.

FATHER KNOWS LESS is a dramedy about a legendary music producer whose wife leaves town forcing him to care for his two kids in the middle of a career crisis.

SUMMER MOON is a drama about a selfish celebrity chef who struggles to connect with his estranged daughter upon her return.

SAY UNCLE is a family comedy about a kid-phobic bachelor who must take care of his brother’s children for a few days.

FOOD FIGHT is a family comedy about a fastidious celebrity chef who volunteers to teach children how to cook.

GREAT WITH KIDS is a comedy about a man who can only marry the woman of his dreams if he wins over her obstreperous children.

While writers might have a difficult time discerning whether or not they have a good concept, it isn't so difficult to see the difference between Halle, Jocelyn and Mona.

Start judging concepts that way.

And if a screenwriter can't tell the difference between Halle and Jocelyn - he's in the wrong business.

Coming up with a concept that resembles Halle Berry is not easy - for the same reason the beautiful Oscar winner is one-of-a-kind.

But work endlessly to find it. Never give up!

After all, Halle Berry came in second place in the 1986 Miss USA Contest.

Send questions to: theinsidepitch@sbcglobal.net

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