January 30


MYSTERY PEOPLE (Classic Post)

Mystery Man GifKevin of Cincinnati saw a listing like this on Craigslist:

Screenwriters Opportunity

Can you do it better than
the films you see?
Do you have the next SIXTH SENSE
or WEDDING CRASHERS?
Now’s your chance to prove it.

Award winning Hollywood producer/manager
Looking for motion picture scripts.
All genres. Send synopsis
plus contact info. Cinn.

Kevin asks:

What would you make of a posting like this; is it to be trusted? Is there any difference between a synopsis and an idea? Can a synopsis be legally more protected than an idea?

There are some legitimate managers who solicit via the Internet. However, a legitimate manager will share his or her identity and credentials, usually on a website, and these credentials will be easily verifiable. Also, usually, a legitimate manager will make the writer sign a release before submitting material.

I am not saying the person above is not legitimate. I am saying you probably want to learn more about the manager before sending in your material. Email him (or her, who knows?) and ask for the manager’s background.

Aside from the lack of disclosure about the identity and credentials, the fact that the manager is in Cincinnati is also a red flag, or at least a yellow flag. Managers must be in regular discourse with producers and other dealmakers. Most of these contacts are in Los Angeles (at least, for the American market) and, naturally, so are most successful working managers. (There are also a good number in New York.) While it may not be impossible to function as a legitimate manager from Cincinnati, knowing the manager’s credentials is even more important.

As for the last part of your question, I assume it means, “Do I have to worry about my idea being ripped off?” Any time you share an idea with an anonymous source, you have to worry about being ripped off. Irrespective of the legalities of intellectual property law, you normally would not send ideas or synopsis to an anonymous email address. You should always keep a submission log and know exactly where and when you submitted material, always submit material with a cover letter or email (of which you keep a copy), and always follow up in writing if you hear no response.

The bottom line on listings like the above: before sending in your material, inquire of the person’s identity and credentials in order to make an informed decision.

April 24


SCRIPT BY BLOG (Classic Post)

I have a screenplay that I am currently peddling and want to know what the ramifications of putting the finished SP on my web / blog. I am not overly worried about somebody stealing it but I don’t think many prospective prodcos would be happy at the thought of the script being out in the public forum.
Any thoughts?

Gary
Florida

Your instincts are correct, Gary. There is no good reason to post your screenplay on your weblog while you are marketing it to mainstream Hollywood. If the script is exceptionally good, it will circulate quickly anyway through the industry by being shared with, demanded by, slipped to and stolen for everyone who can get his or her hands on it. Good screenplays get around fast – whether they sell or not. Having people ask for your script is always good for you. Industry insiders are much more likely to remember writers whose scripts they have requested than those whose they are forced to read.

Even if it does not get that kind of reaction, you want to control access to your writing – at least while you’re breaking in. If you want someone to read it – you need to send it to her (provided she has agreed to accept it). If she won’t read it that way, she certainly will not read it on your weblog. In addition, posting your script will make you look like a complete amateur.

The last thing to say about this is, with all the rules, there really are no rules. While I think you are enormously more likely to damage the prospect of a sale by posting your script, at least a sale to mainstream Hollywood, you could be the first one to make a sale because of it. Your script might ignite an immediate buzz – your blog could get a million hits a day – and the phone could start ringing off the hook. Extremely, extremely unlikely – but weirder things have happened.

October 10


TECHNOLOGY AND SCREENWRITING (Classic Post)

S. Pettyway of Connecticut asks:

What’s the deal with that writing program “Dramatica Pro” and is it really worth it? Or Should an inspiring screenwriter such as myself stick with the old tools of the trade, my heart and mind.

After having played with many programs over many years, my feeling about software and technology in general is that the best thing it can do for you as a screenwriter is get out of your way. Screenplay formatting software (Final Draft and others) is terrific when it is not buggy because it just sits there and lets you write. Some outlining software is pretty good this way, too, but it does not seem to be much better than a legal pad or index cards.

Programs like Dramatica Pro seek to impose a particular story philosophy on you. In fact, that is their whole reason for being – to shape your ideas to fit their story philosophy and thereby make your task easier and make the result better. The problem is, part of being a writer is developing your own story philosophy. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work hard to understand as many well thought out ideas about story as you can, but I find any software that tries to marshal me into its story structure and concepts quickly becomes extremely frustrating.

There is no shortcut.

You are the creator of the story; you are not merely a scribe filling in blanks. This is not a moral position, but a statement of fact. Filling in the blanks simply does not work. Ideas about story structure are all imperfect – mostly after the fact analysis (even the old Aristotle). That means you need to invent each story you write – struggle through the issues the same as every writer, even the best of them, reinvent your personal story philosophy as you go, and no software, no book, no video tape, no CD will ever give you the answer. You must find it for yourself.

With all that said, there may be some successful screenwriter somewhere who made a sale using some story crafting software, but I guarantee it wasn’t because of the software. If you enjoy tinkering with new software (I know I do) and have a couple hundred bucks to spare – go ahead and play with it. Play is good and it might inspire you to create something. But don’t spend your food money or your school money or your mortgage money on it. Writing software is just a toy.

June 12


SCREENWRITING NEWS (Classic Post)

Here’s something new for the Thinking Writer: new feature, new category. A survey of news of interest to screenwriters.

Scary Story For Screenwriters – before you decide never to circulate a script again, my opinion is, this is still the exception.

Fear Strikes Out – passing of a screenwriter. We are part of a tradition. It’s good to see who comes and goes.

Richard Walters – on why he loves America…. (Hint: it’s the screenwriters.)

Akiva Goldsman on DiVinci Code – about adapting novels.