Saturday, September 30, 2006


On Sunday October 1, Turner Classic Movies is airing two Lon Chaney films, LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT and THE UNKNOWN.

Chaney was one of America’s first movie stars, who ruled the horror genre in its silent heyday. Known as the “Man of a Thousand Faces,” his most famous roles were the title characters in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. The protean actor created his own make-up designs, many of which included painful and even torturous devices to create his illusions.

LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT is legendary to horror buffs because it has long been considered a “lost film.” The version airing Sunday evening has been restored (recreated from production stills).

Theatrical films produced prior to 1951 were made on nitrate stock – a highly volatile substance prone to fire and decay. Almost 90% of all silent films have been lost. Occasionally, a rare print turns up somewhere - like in an attic (usually far from Hollywood). In the case of Carl Dreyer’s THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, a print was found in the closet of a mental institution.

Sunday night’s screening of LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (which was never purported to be a particularly good movie) will be the first time some fans have ever seen even a likeness of the film – 79 years after its initial release. Tod Browning - a collaborator of Chaney’s – directed the movie.

The double feature opens with THE UNKNOWN.

It’s a movie to which I often refer when discussing the idea of “brainstorming” and the concept of "unity."

The notion of “unity” often eludes writers, and their stories feel oddly disconnected from themselves.

I’ll often hear a pitch where the second part doesn’t flow organically from the first.

As an example, here is logline and my response from an earlier blog entry:

LOGLINE: After intercepting a ransom demand, a barber--masquerading as a private eye, reluctantly joins forces with an angst ridden teen in attempt to rescue the daughter of a stuffy millionaire at a fraction of the cost.

RESPONSE: Although the idea of “intercepting a ransom demand” has some sort of potential, there is little “cause and effect” within this concept. Everything feels slapped together. It isn’t clear why a barber is involved in any of this or why he poses as a private eye. Then an angst ridden teen enters the mix and has no obvious relation to the barber or the kidnapping.This might make a tiny bit more sense, for instance, if the angst ridden teen were the shampoo girl, and the kidnap victim the daughter of “Fantastic Sam.” At least there would be some connective tissue to the various parts instead of the disparate nature of the logline as presented.

This concept lacks a sense of “unity.”

When trying to define “unity” to students, I often refer to "THE ARMLESS MAN."

This is a reference to the character Chaney plays in THE UNKNOWN.

THE UNKNOWN (1927) is one of eleven films that star Chaney and macabre director Browning made together from 1919-1928.

In this film, Chaney plays an armless circus performer who falls in love with a beautiful trapeze artist (played by Joan Crawford).

In this excerpt from “Chronicles of Terror: Silent Screams,” author Steven Haberman writes about how Tod Browning and Lon Chaney would brainstorm story ideas.

“Browning stated that when he was working on a story for a Chaney film, the character would come first, and the plot would grow from that character. “When we’re getting ready to discuss a new story,” Browning told the press, Chaney would “amble into my office and say, ‘Well, what’s it going to be boss?’ I’ll say, ‘This time a leg comes off, or an arm, or a nose– whatever it may be.’ In the case of THE UNKNOWN, Browning said that he merely came up with the idea of an armless man and then created startling dilemmas for a person with such a problem. The character of the beautiful girl repulsed by men’s hands was a brilliant inspiration as a romantic goal for Browning’s armless man. As an added turn of the screw, Browning then decided that the man secretly would have arms. Why would he want to hide his arms? Because he is a criminal and could be identified by his peculiar hands. And what would this character do when faced with such a condition for the love of the woman he desires? He would have his arms amputated, of course. This type of insane logic seems to follow naturally in the story, so relentless is its construction around one single idea. Every subsequent plot twist puts another pressure on the man with no arms. What is the worst thing that could happen to him upon having his arms removed for the girls he loves? She overcomes her fear of arms and falls for the strongman, of course.”

Clearly, this is an example of "unity" taken to an extreme. But it makes a lucid illustration of how to brainstorm an idea with conflict, creating a "cause and effect" narrative that feels organic, connected and, of course, dramatic.

When brainstorming - remember THE ARMLESS MAN.

The great Lon Chaney died August 26, 1930 but lives again for a few hours on Sunday night.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Which contests /fellowships do you reckon to be the most respected /watched by story pickers?

In terms of notoriety, I would think story pickers keep a close eye on the Nicholl Fellowship first and foremost. The Disney Fellowship follows close behind.

But in my opinion, the Disney Fellowship gets the highest grades as a "contest" overall.

Disney offers fellowships in both screenwriting and television. The fellows relocate to Los Angeles and earn a 50K salary for the year with benefits (which increase the overall pecuniary worth). Aside from becoming chummy with staffers at Disney, the opportunity allows for a greater network expansion.

My second choice would be the Nicholl Fellowship. Sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, this pays fellows 30K for the year. The Nicholl, however, isn’t a program that allows much interaction within the industry. But the contest is so prestigious that the industry often reaches out to the winners.

Just like the business itself, if the winning script isn’t marketable, it may not advance the career of the victor. Regardless, these two contests are the most high profile of the lot.

I’m currently judging the ten finalists of the Big Break Screenwriting Contest (sponsored by “Final Draft”) – which awards a top prize of 15K.

I’m an advocate of entering contests with big cash prizes. Since the odds are against a contest win launching your career, taking home the cash is a joyous consolation prize. The Screenwriting Expo has an annual contest that also gives away a generous amount of cash and prizes.

The fundamental flaw in screenwriting contests remains that the winning scripts are often projects Hollywood would never produce. Furthermore, as I’ve said in the past, contests do not necessarily reflect the quality of work on par with professional scripts circulating the town. The winners are often the best amateur scripts (the best of the worst) and cannot compete with the screenplays of Hollywood’s top scribes.

The irony here is that selling a script and winning a contest may not be all that different.


I recently finalized my travel plans for Screenwriting Expo. Will you be speaking there? What do you think of the conference? Anything I shouldn't miss?

The Screenwriting Expo is a great event for writers. It’s a place to meet with other scribes and hear some interesting writers and executives lecture – all at a very reasonable price. Furthermore, it features a screenwriters’ Wal-Mart (minus the “always low prices”) in which to buy all sorts of paraphernalia.

I have never attended the Expo, but I’ve yet to hear a negative review of the event overall. The Expo seems to lack the sort of “intimacy” that I prefer, so I have purposefully chosen to stay away.

I would avoid pointless lectures about how to format your script and gravitate toward speakers that rarely make public appearances. Many of the lecturers are authors (screenwriting books) who play the seminar circuit, making it easier to catch their act anytime of the year at a hotel near you or via their book. At these sorts of events, speakers are often using the platform as a way to sell their snake oil.

Allow your own inspiration to guide you to the right lectures – instead of the bells and whistles of empty promises.

Send me a full report on your experiences, so I can publish it here and offer a more educated answer to the question the next time it’s asked.


I thought this would be a fun question, but I'm also genuinely interested in your answer. I see that you'll be a guest at the Take-A-Meeting portion of the Austin Film Festival. So, in your words: Is it worth it? Is someone from outta town going to gain more from that, or would it just make sense to submit a logline, query, or phone call to the company you work for?

It certainly behooves the scribe to write queries and make calls. However, a captured audience is always the best opportunity for sharing an idea. An executive can still reject it, but it’s a little bit harder in person than over the phone. Conversely, I do believe that executives and producers who attend these events are actively looking for talent and material, which means they are, most likely, open-minded to any sort of correspondence that can put them in contact with writers and scripts.

It must be understood that these events can be brutal for the executive. The hours are long, they are not paid, the pitches are often terrible, and the task at hand is tantamount to bashing the skulls of baby seals. Since the majority of the ideas are not movie-worthy, it is stressful having to batter the dreams of clueless hopefuls that may have invested a substantial amount of time and money to attend the event. Furthermore, from the executives’ point-of-view, there are simply easier and more efficient ways of finding material.

Is it worth pitching your story at an event like this? It is if you’re pitching it to me. I don’t mean to be cavalier with that answer, but the truth is that I’ll provide valuable feedback on your pitch – especially in a one-on-one session that lasts fifteen minutes. My first intention at these events is always to educate. This is a rare opportunity for a writer to pitch her idea and get advice on the story and the performance too. The egotistical “showman” in me takes these events seriously (even the free events that I’ve sponsored), and my goal is that the writer exit with something worth her time and money.

However, I cannot speak for all who sit on my side of the table. The key to attending these events (for the writer) is to meet with a familiar name. I recently attended a pitching event (stepping in at the last minute for a co-worker who had to bail). I was quite horrified at the quality level of “executives” and “producers” present. Many of those listening to pitches had more important motives than finding material. For example, a well-respected production company sent an assistant (or the assistant merely chose to go without much support or blessings from the powers-that-be) – an aspiring writer himself – who attended the event merely to pitch his story to the other producers and executives in attendance. (By the way, this is quite clever, but it isn’t fair to the writers that have paid three hundred dollars to pitch for the weekend.)

There were several instances where I was being pitched a story by someone I thought was a writer but turned out to be an “executive.” Others attend because they have some sort of service that they’re trying to introduce to fellow execs and producers – using this forum as a good way to network.

Sadly, too often, writers are paying to pitch to “insiders” that have no clout, no acumen, and little interest in their story. It makes more sense to pitch to a name you recognize – rather than being seduced solely by the company name. The dilemma here is that rarely will these events offer names, because the lists are subject to change and attendance might diminish if it’s learned the “executive” is actually the agency valet.

It should be noted that many of these events are not picky about who listens to the pitch – as long as they can advertise the company name. A respectable event will advertise the names of the executives and producers who will attend and even have them sign a contract to insure their attendance.

In the end, the thought of a writer launching his career from one of these events is slim-to-none. However, it is a rare opportunity (if the setting is genuine) to allow a writer a face-to-face meeting with someone who has the ability to impart valuable information.

If the session is judged more as a learning opportunity (like a mini-class) – rather than a chance at stardom – then the time and money are well spent.


You mentioned in your most recent post (Mailroom #7) that you often get requests from out of town writers to meet with them while they're in town. You didn't mention if, or how often, you actually take them up on that request. I'm just curious since it's a tactic I've seen mentioned elsewhere, and it makes me wonder how successful a tactic it might actually be.

Two factors go into meeting out-of-town writers. 1) My schedule. 2) Is the writer paying for my lunch?

I suspect my percentage is at about 60%. Interestingly, I don’t get as many requests as you might believe. Firstly, I’m not all that interesting – and most writers would rather spend their valuable time elsewhere. Secondly, most writers are shy and would never attempt to make that sort of contact. Actors, on the other hand, are fucking nightmares. They’re all extroverts and have no problem with calling and haranguing until they achieve their objective.

I met a writer at the Damah Film Festival who has been stalking me ever since. I’ve finally capitulated to his constant e-mails and we’re having lunch in two weeks.

One of my favorite stories belongs to TV and screenwriter Jeff Lowell.

When he was breaking into the industry, he wrote a rather obsequious letter to every TV producer in town – praising their work and asking if he could have a moment of their time. Many responded in the affirmative and several asked to read his work. (He had a funny SEINFELD spec.) One of these meetings landed him a staff writing job on THE GEORGE CARLIN SHOW. This led to other staff jobs on BLESS THIS HOUSE, THE DREW CAREY SHOW, CYBILL and SPIN CITY. He recently penned the feature JOHN TUCKER MUST DIE.

I think this sort of tactic can be effective, but many factors go into having the sort of luck and success that Mr. Lowell experienced. However, it’s certainly worth the effort.


Could you address the "rule" that writers shouldn't even bother querying agents until they have at least three exceptional scripts? I'm pretty sure I know where you stand--that the concept/logline of the script on the table is all that matters. But what about agents? Obviously you can't speak for all agents, but do you have any insights/anecdotes on how some of them feel about this?

I think it depends upon the type of script you’ve written.

Most agents usually sell one writer’s script at a time. So, one script is more than enough. But it has to be the right script. A high concept story with solid execution may be more advantageous than ten brilliantly written scripts about an Iowa earthworm farm.

It certainly behooves the scribe to have more than one script in his portfolio which can serve as writing samples. Each individual agent has his own standard operating procedures. The best way for a new writer to be prepared is to have several scripts under his arm. If an agent only requires one, the writer is ready. And if he requires more than one, the writer is also ready.


For the last year I have been developing a 30 minute 'serialized film' for Internet distribution. It is high concept and big budget. I strongly believe that the Internet is going to be the next big thing for Hollywood, once someone figures out how to take advantage of it. I have. My idea incorporates a framework with a hook that makes it necessary to be presented online. It fully exploits the opportunities that the Internet provides. My problem, and it's the same problem that everybody has, is getting it to the right person. I am at an even greater disadvantage than a feature spec writer since my market is totally unexplored. Warner setup Studio 2.0 recently to make short form content, so there is movement in this realm, but my idea is big. No one seems to be thinking about original dramatic content that is 30 minutes long that cost as much as a high concept TV show (I.E. Lost). Cold calling the major Internet players gets me the standard "We do not accept unsolicited material". Calling the major agencies is even worse. The few industry people I know love the idea but do not know what to do with it, except wait for someone else to pave the way. I cannot do that. This project needs to go into development soon (as in now) so that it will be ready in about year. At that time an Internet viewing audience will be firmly established and the unveiling of the show will be right on time. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions? I need to clear my corkboards of this idea, and I can't until it is made.

Impatience is both a blessing and a curse in this business. I’m in the same boat as most everyone; I know very little about the Internet.

At this point in time, I cannot see anyone spending a similar budget as LOST to produce a serialized program for the Internet. There’s no infrastructure set-up yet to insure that investors could earn back their (big budget) money. Agencies are still standoffish because no one is sure how to commission these sorts of deals. And although I think “Google” (and others) could be the movie studios of the future, I don’t think audiences will rush to their computer screens anytime soon to watch feature-length films. (That is sure to change when the Internet is fully integrated into our televisions sets.)

Although the name of the game is always about CONTENT, the Internet is only beginning to experiment with a system that allows viewers to watch current TV shows (and old favorites) on line – a service that will eventually carry a fee. Perhaps, if audiences demonstrate an affinity for that sort of distribution then more aggressive type programming will be born.

I’m at a loss as to how to help you here. If you have found possible interested parties (like Studio 2.0) that are requesting you submit through representation – then simply hire an entertainment attorney. He can officially submit your project. If your idea is as fully realized for the Internet as you believe, those in that business will recognize it.

Congratulations on your idea – which may be ahead of its time. You’re a pioneer – and like many pioneers, you’re basically on your own to forge new territory and will probably meet a horrific fate.


I've never had an agent, so I don't get it. Recently I've heard a story about a guy who turned his freshly polished (and 6 looong months nourished) script to his agent and she hated it. Not just some bits but everything from the page 1. I read about it all the time. Nope, I just don't get it. Don't clients discuss scripts with their agents? I mean, not just scripts, but concepts, synops, everything? Don't agents warn clients not to waste months of writing on something they can't possibly sell?

Agent/writer relationships vary. Some agents want to be involved in that process – helping a writer choose what concept would be best suited for the marketplace. Some writers aren’t interested in that sort of feedback – believing that writers should write and agents should sell.

When scribes spend six months writing a script, they expect their agent to perform. Working writers who have clout within an agency often demand their representation be successful. This can be very difficult if the script is not good. Of course, the difficulty quotient rises and falls based on the writer’s level of success within the industry. It isn’t easy to tell a working writer - whose salary contributes to the agency - that his script sucks. An agent might distribute the script to a select few to get some feedback, which he can then take to the writer. He might say, “The script isn’t getting good feedback and it might be smarter to put this project on hold for the time being. We don’t want to stall your momentum right now.”

But writers leave agencies all the time (in search of new reps) because agents will not go out with scripts (to try and preserve the writer’s image). Scripts not selling and projects failing to be realized (after being set-up) are other reasons that motivate writers to look for new representation. A script is a writer’s livelihood, so she has plenty of reason to have high demands. Conversely, the quality of the work an agent markets sets the standard for his business. Often, the writer’s needs clash with the agent’s – especially when the writer’s demands exceed the limitations of the screenplay.

Ultimately, the representation works for the talent. It isn’t the other way around. But it is often a complicated and emotional relationship which goes beyond the barriers of an agent simply telling his client to write a different script.


For the past several years now, you've made your presence known to new writers in a variety of ways....the college course you teach...The Inside Pitch TV show.....a growing presence on the Internet culminating in your heavy involvement in ....and now this groovy blog. You leave a bread crumb trail of e-mail addresses for newbies to pick up and you make no secret about who you are. Why do you think you do what you do for new writers, Christopher? Nobody else really even comes close to matching the energy you put into new writers. ALL your e-mail inboxes must be INUNDATED with queries...cries from the coal mine...pleas for help...and more queries....Do you ever regret putting yourself out there the way you have?

The one thing that might surprise you is that writers have always been respectful – which has fueled my continual efforts. There is very little sacrifice made by shedding anonymity and reaching out. My wife might disagree a bit, since I do spend a lot of time answering e-mails, but it’s a “hobby” of sorts. It’s something I do outside of work but within the parameters of my knowledge base.

If I were a plumber, I might use up my free time with “Habitat for Humanity.” Or if I were athletic, I might play golf. Instead, I choose to offer my opinions and feedback about scripts and the business. It’s no big deal. (In fact, it’s rather self-serving and maybe even a little sad.) But I enjoy it and have met a lot of talented people (from all around the world) over the years.

Furthermore, there has been a constant and happy kismet from my extra-curricular activities – which has kept my life interesting.

As for the hyperbolic notion of “putting myself out there,” I’m just sitting at a computer answering a few questions.


Could you give your thoughts on including character direction in action lines? There seem to be two schools of thought on this. For example, let’s say we have a scene where a man enters a room, reads a ransom note, and becomes upset. One way to describe this character is to list his actions: “He bites his fingernails, checks his watch, looks in the mirror and cries.” The other approach is to simply say “he reads the note with growing concern.” I understand that it isn’t the screenwriter’s job to interfere with an actor’s take on what their character would do, but I can’t tell which approach is less intrusive to that process. Any thoughts?

In my opinion, you’re not writing the script for the actor, you’re writing the script for the reader.

Your objective is to simulate the experience of a movie using the written word. Not an easy task. (The WGA had that great ad campaign featuring various scenes from the scripts of famous movies – reminding us that a writer was responsible for it.) There is no right or wrong way here. I’ve seen all sorts of methods used – including writers telling us the thoughts of the character.

The best method is the one that communicates the emotion of the beat to the reader.

It’s always fun to read screenplays of your favorite movies (after you’ve seen the film) to see how a particular scene or beat was written on the page. You’ll learn quickly that all writers have their specific techniques.

I have no opinion either way. Ultimately, I never judge these sorts of things until I see them in print and understand the way they work within the context of the script as a whole. These sorts of matters are often discussed ad infinitum by screenwriting teachers in an attempt to engender some objective rhyme and reason out of the very subjective craft of screenwriting. Your success depends on making the right decisions that communicate the movie in your head - via the page - to the reader.

There is no blanket answer – which is what makes the craft so unpredictable and wily.


I might have a chance to pitch to a production company, I would appreciate knowing your opinion of my logline: A TRUE STORY. In 1913, a friendship between a St. Louis housewife and a 17th century spirit from England becomes an international sensation.

The idea of a “true story” creates some genuine intrigue because of the supernatural element here. However, the logline itself is too vague.

A challenge the writer often faces is the amount of information she should include in the logline. In this case, there simply isn’t enough. This pitch fails to stimulate any interest because it isn’t clear as to what the story is about.

When I read a logline, I expect to find the dramatic “mission statement.”

The “mission” is focused on the protagonist and his pursuit of a specific goal – either physical or psychological. It is this goal – the mission – that creates the throughline, the conflict, the tension, and the “hope and fear” of the narrative.

In this case, “a housewife and a ghost become pals and create a sensation” doesn’t allow us to understand the conflict in the story. There is no dramatic "mission statement" here.

It isn’t clear who the protagonist is and what s/he strives for throughout the story (the mission). The logline doesn’t open a window to your story, allowing me to peek inside and envision the cinematic possibilities.

If a logline does not allow the reader to “see the movie” then it hasn't achieved its objective.


Send questions and comments to

Saturday, September 09, 2006


I have been studying screenwriting for almost six years now, and am starting to think that my knowledge and love of film and storytelling would be better suited more to the business side of the industry. Rather than writing and directing, my interests are drifting more toward the jobs of creative and developmental executives. My questions for you: How does one become executive story editor of ICM? Aside from film-related areas of study, will an English degree suffice, or are backgrounds in business and law preferred? What should a resume of someone hoping to land an executive job entail?

Like most jobs in Hollywood, one usually starts at the bottom to work his way up. As the business of making movies seems to be shrinking, so are the opportunities for creative positions - which are very competitive. Many creative executives begin life as assistants (or even interns) at production companies, studios and agencies.

Agency experience looks good on a résumé and many prodcos look for it (some even insist on it). If a creative executive (CE) position opens up, word of mouth spreads through the industry. Jobs are often filled internally. However, if a suitable candidate doesn't materialize, the interview process begins (résumés vetted first). When the applicants are thinned out, the lobbying begins. This is a process where the candidate has the most influential people he knows (who hopefully know the prospective employer) make calls on his behalf.

On my side of the business, it behooves a talent agency to place one of its exiting employees in a CE position. It means a direct pipeline from the agency to the prodco. This is a very strategic process. Conversely, the prodco is not just looking for a clever story mind but also hopes to find a candidate with an impressive address book.

Having an English or law degree is meaningless in most cases; some key elements to a landing a creative position are previous experience in the business, an opinion about story, contacts and a gregarious manner. In spite of my exemplary traits and winning personality, I weaseled my way into ICM thanks to the help of a friend and timing.

Ultimately, landing a job in Hollywood isn't as hard as keeping it.


Consider two identical query letters, one naming the writer as a member of the Independent Writers Association of Southern California and the Alameda Writers Group, and the other not. Would you be more likely to read the script with the professional affiliations or are they unimportant unless they're extremely exclusive and/or prestigious?

The only element of the query letter that will tantalize me is the logline. Although I wholly endorse writers' groups because they are a great way to meet with other scribes and industry personnel, exchange scripts and contacts, and commiserate, it doesn't mean the script is worth two-hours of my time.

The same is true of a writer who includes his MFA in screenwriting from USC (let's say). Although I might be more likely to cut an MFA writer a bit more slack (he has shown some dedication to the craft), my job only allows time for soliciting scripts based on whether or not the concept intrigues me.


Have I got a question for you. I'm a 23-year-old chick who's starting grad school at Tisch for Playwriting this fall. While I'm super psyched, there's a big part of me that has always loved screenwriting. I've done it for a few years, teaching myself from books and whatnot, have taken a few classes (one at Tisch's summer sessions...) and have got positive feedback and placed in a national contest or two (but who hasn't, right?). My question is...I've got a script that I'd like to push around, but obviously I'm not going to be inundated with time. Do you have any advice for me? I've worked in some literary offices in the big city so I know how much of an uphill battle it is, especially being young and female, and alone.

Being young, female and alone can only help you in this business.

I graduated from the same program you're entering. It was a very valuable experience for me, and one of the few smart decisions I've ever made. Although you probably won't appreciate my advice, I suggest you be patient.

A common flaw in the strategies of new writers is: Too much, too soon. Use the next two years to improve your craft, set-up a network, and take lots of screenwriting classes. Exit the university with several marketable scripts. This time will not come again. Marketing a script is almost full-time work and you'll have the rest of your life to devote to it. For now, your energies need to be focused on 721 Broadway.

Good luck to you and give my regards to Gary Garrison.


What does Hollywood really think of InkTip?

It would be rather bold of me to speak for all of Hollywood, but I'll offer up my opinion.

For those who don't know, INKTIP is an online business that charges a fee for writers to post their screenplays in a safe environment where producers and executives in the market for material can shop using an organized search system.

Jerrol LeBaron is the President of INKTIP, and he is a very sincere individual who works very hard at marketing his service - not just to writers - but to producers and executives. (Only writers pay. The service is gratis for those in the industry looking for material.) He even publishes a colorful magazine that features loglines for easy perusal.

INKTIP boasts a lot of success stories. In the April 2006 periodical, INKTIP states that 13 projects were produced in the last 13 months. (The odds changed drastically sixty-days later when the magazine's cover boasted "Two films produced every month.") However, the majority of the production companies are relatively unknown and it seems unlikely that these projects get theatrical distribution. However, that doesn't always seem to be the case.

Here is a quote from its "Recent Successes" section: "Haxan Films has finished production on the horror picture 'Altered,' which was penned by InkTip writer Jamie Nash from a story he created with 'The Blair Witch Project' co-creator and Haxan Films' Eduardo Sanchez. Sanchez discovered Nash on InkTip. Rogue Pictures, the genre arm of Universal speciality unit Focus Features, has picked up worldwide rights to 'Altered....' "

I think it's fair to say that INKTIP could be a way to help a writer break into the business, but it seems unlikely that it will help him pay off the mortgage, since, I suspect, many of these options are free or low dollar and salaries are deferred or negligible.

The biggest downside to INKTIP is the quality of projects it hocks - which is not a reflection of its business practices . Most of the featured loglines are badly written or pitch inane concepts.

I think that INKTIP has remained rather elusive to mainstream Hollywood. However, those outside of the system - who do make movies (even if we've never heard of them) could snatch up your script. Overall, I think it's the individuals who operate INKTIP that instill it with most of its credibility.


A producer recently looked over a novel that I have written and asked me if I have ever written a spec. I said no. He said go for it. So I did. OK here's the question: Do I use card stock covers on both sides? Title only on the title page? I got the brads down and the format of the page down, but the proper aspect of the "cover" has me confused.

If you've just completed your first spec and the biggest challenge you're facing involves card stock, I think you'll be a great success.

There are no guidelines here. It is personal preference.

Most agencies and prodcos make their own copies of the original and bind them with their own protective covers. Regardless, if you'd like to adorn the script with card stock covers (to prevent the title page and/or back page from being torn off), no one will hold it against you. The title on the title page alone will suffice.


I have an idea for a script to enter in the Disney Fellowship Program. I did this for my kids, what do you think of this story line I came up with? It's about Socks that come to life after a father makes them into hand puppets and uses them on a blue moon. In the end the Silk Princess gives up her life to save the house from robbers.

SHREK began life as a bedtime story.

But then again so did LADY IN THE WATER.

As a logline, this is a little scattered. There is no connective tissue between the father's sock puppet and the Silk Princess. (Does the dad wear silk stockings?) Plus, I don't have a clue as to what the story's about. You've left out the entire mid-section (your second act).

I think you certainly have your heart in the right place. It's very sweet that you've written this story for your children (who might seek retribution as adults). If it's something you must commit to the screenplay format, then do it and see how you fare with Disney.

However, in my opinion, this could be the kind of story better off kept between father and child.


I'm wondering if there's any possibility you can accept a treatment for one of my works that can lead to getting me hired or the screenplay getting produced in some way. The story I'm talking about is unfinished, though I have written several screenplays in the past without really trying to get them out there; written them more for learning-purposes. But what I want to "pitch" or send a short treatment on is something I've been outlining during the last year. Almost everything is set up, every scene, character, even some of the dialogue, but since I'm done writing for fun I want this great idea on the market. I want to know if there's any serious interest. After all, there are so many great ideas out there, I want to choose my time carefully. So, to get to the point again, can you take and make anything out of a treatment? If there's any serious interest, I'm willing to write it in no-time.

No interest from me.

I'm not a fan of treatments as a tool to sell a screenplay - not from an unestablished writer anyway.

Treatments are helpful to a writer while plotting out his story. Treatments are often a "step" in the studio development process. However, at that point, the writer has already been hired based on writing samples. The challenge with an unknown writer landing a job via a treatment is that it doesn't prove his ability to write dramatically. All of the story points can look more than effective in narrative form, but when the writer translates it into a dramatic format, many things can go awry (like exposition, dialogue and character development, to name a few).

In my opinion, a dramatist using a treatment to sell a script is tantamount to a songwriter tap dancing his ditty instead of singing it (presenting it in the true form in which it is meant to be expressed). If you believe it is a great idea and a good story, I suggest you write the script.

Now that your days of writing for fun are done, you must begin the next step on your journey to writing professionally: Work for free.


I truly appreciated the "A" List of questions to ask when a screenplay is finished. The most intriguing, to me, is the last: "Does it avoid conversation?" I'm not entirely sure what you mean by "conversation." Are you referring to pages of inane chatter, a la Kevin Smith, or pages of sparkling dialogue one finds from Billy Wilder or Aaron Sorkin?

Yes, I'm referring to pages of inane chatter.

The function of dialogue is to forward the plot, reveal character and exposition - amongst other things. It is not designed to be purposeless - unless there is a purpose to it. Leave conversation for conversation sake to the auteurs. As a scribe writing a spec script to turn heads - it is not advised.


The A LIST is a great tool for the drama in a story but it doesn't delve into the thematic aspects of the story beyond: "Is the story about something? Is there a "theme?". I think you should consider adding a THEME category to your list. Here are a few suggestions:

Does your theme have a structure?
ACT I Presentation of the Theme

ACT II Argument of the theme,
ACT III Conclusion of the theme)
Is there a relationship between your character's internal struggle and your theme?
Does your character's actions argue and communicate your theme?
Is your theme clearly connected to your plot points and climax?
Is there an image that communicates theme?
Is your theme articulated in dialogue?

I think this is a great addition to the list.

In the A LIST blog, I stated that the list included items that I look for when reading scripts. To be frank, I don't consider the particulars of theme.

I only pay attention to theme in the most basic sense. It only seems to rumble around in my head if the script seems devoid of one. (I often ask myself, "What the fuck is this script about?")

In my experience, I have not seen script notes (from execs, let's say) that contemplate theme. It's often too personal and esoteric. I certainly think theme is important for the writer. It is the soul of his screenplay.

But Hollywood is souless - which explains the limited involvement of "theme" on my list.


I get the idea of the Halle concept. I love big movies. I know what makes me want to see a commercial movie. I get it. I come up with these great concepts (really, I do). Two of them are on your list. One of them I actually wrote the script. And that's the problem, the time between getting the idea and the time it takes to write the script. More time than not, I read on "Done Deal" that the idea was just sold. Now, I know this is an age-old problem and you just gotta deal with it. I get that too. My situation is that I have a great idea (forgive the lack of humility for a moment). I think the title role is something that actors will be clamoring for. It's based on existing material with a new angle. The few people I've told about it come back and tell me they can't stop thinking about it. So I wrote the script and it's good. It's really good. It's all there...but it's not perfect. Should I send out a good, but not perfect, script with a concept that's Halle quality or take a few months to re-write it and risk reading it was sold? I mean it's a great concept, I could tell you the title and you would get it. What do you think?

Your question left out the "Halle" concept. I could have judged a bit better with more information and less hype.

I suspect that your definition of "good" varies greatly from my definition of "good." I have a fairly high set of standards, since I'm reading scripts from the town's very best writers. And so are most of the people to whom you'll send the script. So, you better be damn sure that your definition of "good" is as "good" as mine.

If you really are working with a "Halle" concept, you're off to a better start than most writers. However, often, by page ten, the "Halle" mask is removed to reveal a "Jocelyn."

It's like that commercial where guys on the beach are checking out this hot chick sunbathing face down and topless. When one of the horny guys tries to pick up on her, "she" rolls over only to reveal a skinny dude with long hair, Speedo, and a hairy chest.

Bait-and-switch is commonplace in Hollywood. Take a month to rewrite the script. (For a script this good, a month seems like plenty of time.) During the process, commence with marketing. By the time you've gotten any bites, you'll be finished with the rewrite. A week or two delay in sending out the script to those interested will not crush your chances.

Don't worry about other writers and their (similar) projects. You have no control over the competition.

Screenwriting is not an interactive sport. It's more like golf. You're competing against yourself.

At this stage in your career, you owe it to yourself to make the script the very best it can be. Because even your best may not be good enough.


Is there any hope for a writer who dislikes Halle movies -- i.e. finds almost any movie that can be pitched in a crisp logline to be fairly uninspiring, forgettable, and usually even downright awful? What if you've tried to write a couple Halle movies but find yourself drawn again and again back to Jocelyns because those are the types of movies that you love and therefore have the passion to write? Are you screwed? And what if you actually happen to write a brilliant Jocelyn? Will anyone give a shit? Wasn't "American Beauty" a Jocelyn? My understanding is that this script created a lot of buzz when it got shopped around.

Let's not confuse "Jocelyn" with "Mona." "Jocelyn" refers to an unattractive concept made worse by poor execution. A "Jocelyn" is bad all around.

A writer does not want to aspire to create a "Jocelyn," though most unwittingly do.

"Mona" refers to an unattractive concept that hides a great work beneath the surface.

Based on my silly illustrations, if you desire to write "Jocelyn," it would be difficult to get your career off the ground. AMERICAN BEAUTY is definitely not a "Jocelyn." It's more of a "Mona." (The concept is rather provocative and intriguing, however.)

Is there hope for a "Mona" writer? Of course. "Halle" isn't for everyone. But "Mona" is all about the quality of writing - which means the script has greater chances of failing; the odds of a new writer having a script as well-written as AMERICAN BEAUTY are slim to none. In my opinion, it's a lot easier to come up with a high concept and less-than-middling execution - like BRUCE ALMIGHTY - than it is to write a sophisticated and provoctative screenplay like AB.

But that shouldn't discourage you. However, a new writer has to work much harder to get a "Mona" project off the ground, because "Halle" has an easier time finding dance partners.

Although Alan Ball was introduced to features via AMERICAN BEAUTY, he was not a new kid on the block. He cut his teeth on more mainstream fare like TV's CYBIL and then segued into AB. (Most recently Paul Haggis made a similar metamorphosis. )

Alan Ball didn't have to peddle AB through a series of query letters. Many working writers who find the likes of "Mona" attractive have strong connections in the business, enabling them to bring their projects to fruition.


I've been developing a thriller spec script with a manager not affiliated with a major firm. Had him 'checked out' and he has a few legit clients, but (like myself) he's just getting starting. Up until recently, he's given constructive notes that have really moved the script forward. In our recent meeting, though, not only did he have very little positive to say, but (more importantly) was also very patronizing and distracted. As a gut check, I had an agent and another manager review the script and they were very enthusiastic about it. What's the right way to give this manager his proper due for helping developing the script (which he did), but continue to work on the script without him for the spec market?

That depends on the contract you might have signed. Some managers can lock up a screenplay for a period of time. However, if you didn't sign a contract, you owe him nothing but a "thank you." (Even if you did sign a contract, a "thank you" might be sufficient.)

Being a manager is similar to being a realtor. A realtor can invest months of time and money in trying to sell a house (or find one). However, if the seller decides to pull the house off the market or the buyer chooses to give up his search, the realtor is out of luck and a commission. That's the risk of the business.

Any development notes the manager might have given to you were provided gratis. If you're not happy with his performance, take yourself and script elsewhere.


What strategy would you advise, if you were a newbie writer, with no rep nor contacts, and wanted to make a sale within the next year? What would be the building blocks - and how would we go about building them - to get to that industry sale?

This is a facsimile of the most popular question asked. And, of course, there is no answer.

The two most important things you must do is 1) Write and 2) Network.

And you should be doing them simultaneously.

Assuming you have a viable project (a "Halle," let's say), it is important to have a network of connected people who can read the script. This business operates on relationships. A day doesn't pass at work without an e-mail going out asking, "Does anyone here have a relationship with...?" The more connected you are, the better your situation.

Writers who live out of town are at a disadvantage when it comes to networking, but there are industry events (with limited access), telephones and e-mail. I often get letters from writers - total strangers - who visit town for various reasons and ask to meet with me for a short time. Each writer must devise his own plan of networking with people in the industry.

Your goal should be to eventually bypass the process of the query letter and simply call your network and distribute your screenplay. And, hopefully, half of those people will pass it on to others they know. Even writers with strong roots in the community struggle to earn a paycheck, so being a complete stranger to the town only makes the journey longer and more arduous.

Setting time limits (sell a script within the year) might work for some, but, realistically, Hollywood has its own internal clock which ticks like no other time zone on earth. You might be better off setting goals within your control.

For instance, set the goal to complete two polished screenplays within the year, and/or enter two or three important contests/fellowships, and/or set out to make contact with four new industry people a month - which will offer an expansive network by the year's end. (Also, remain committed to staying in contact with those you meet.)

Work hard at both writing and networking. And be patient. The journey through Hollywood is neither a sprint nor a marathon - it's a death march.


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

Ed Benedict, 94
Naguib Mahfouz, 94
Sig Shore, 87
Gerald Green, 84
Joseph Stefano, 84
Ralph Schoenstein, 73
Robert K. Hoffman, 59

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