Jun 122005

Vincent from USA asks:

Ok, so I am in a weird place right now. We (co-writer and myself) had a spec go wide a few months ago. Lots of meetings, no offers. We were approached by a good size producer, with several film credits of substantial size, who is moving into tv more and more. He has 2 new shows coming out this fall.

So, he is interested in adapting out script for tv, however not necessarily with us onboard. At first we said, NO WAY. But, the more we think about it, we’re both at a point in our careers where the “BREAK” has not yet come, and therefore we’re living very much day-to-day.

My agent suggests he wants us to sell the rights/pitch to someone and have them write the pilot. By someone I’m assuming a network? Anyway, what I’m wondering is IF we sell the rights for someone to bring to life for a tv series or at least a pilot, what kind of money is that?

Selling what essentially would probably be a pitch for tv. At this point we hate to do it, but really see the freedom a little money would give us to move a few other things forward.

I’m not quite clear on the question, so I’m going to state some assumptions on my part. As I understand it, a highly qualified producer wants to adapt your feature script into a television pitch but does not want you involved beyond selling the initial idea. Your agent suggests that you sell the rights to someone to write the pilot.

From your scenario, it’s hard to tell whether you are selling anything at this point, or whether a producer and your agent are just asking permission to present ideas to others for possible exploitation as a TV show. You need to clarify what is actually on the table. The important part of this process is always to pin down what is real and what is just an aspiration of the people that want a piece of your creativity, often for nothing up front. There is nothing wrong with deciding to let them have a piece as long as you know what is really happening and decide that’s what you want to do.

Here are some questions you should answer before you make a decision:

1. Is the highly qualified producer willing to pay you now to develop your script or does he intend to develop it and pay you only if it gets picked up?
2. Why are you assuming the “someone” is a network?
3. Are you guaranteed credit for being the concept creator?
4. At what points in the process do you get paid? When does the first money come into your pocket and what has to happen for that money to be real?
5. What kind of money can you expect?
6. At what point in the process does the amount of promise of money get reduced to a written agreement?

You will think of other questions, too. Anytime people are throwing around concepts you don’t fully understand, make your agent explain them. Don’t be intimidated into thinking you should know so it is dumb to ask. You are a writer, not a producer, and, especially in television, you may not have any idea how the process works.

All that having been said, if a real sale is on the table, if you haven’t sold anything yet, selling something to mainstream Hollywood is generally a good thing for your career, especially if it puts enough money in your pocket to allow you to focus on the next writing. As far as what kind of money they are talking about, I can’t tell you. You need to clarify that with your agent. It is likely no one has any idea at this point and they just want to know whether you are open to moving forward on a TV concept without you being attached to write it. If you are only willing to do it for a lot of money, say so and work with your agent to get some clarity on what “a lot of money” means to you. You do not want producers or agents who are excited by your work to start shopping something you are really not willing to sell.

Lastly, advice (including this advice) is just advice.

Good luck and congratulations on being in the game.

 Posted by at 8:12 am
Oct 232010

Screenwriting Award

Photo: David Ortmann @ flickr.com

AMPAS announced the five Nicholl Fellowship winners:
* Destin Daniel Cretton, San Diego, Calif., “Short Term 12”
* Marvin Krueger, North Hollywood, Calif., “And Handled with a Chain”
* Andrew Lanham, Austin, Texas, “The Jumper of Maine”
* Micah Ranum, Beverly Hills, Calif., “A Good Hunter”
* Cinthea Stahl, North Hollywood, Calif., “Identifying Marks”
They beat out 6300 scripts submitted to win the award. Was yours in the pile?

 Posted by at 1:38 am
May 042005

If your story idea is not sufficiently remarkable, it really doesn’t matter how well you write it. The story will not sell.

That’s nothing new, yet it is the costliest mistake a spec screenwriter can make – especially writers that have developed some writing chops but have yet to make a sale. It is costly because it leads to months and months of useless work.

At one point in my producing duties, I ran across an excellent writer who had ten completed scripts, no sales. I requested one script after the other, looking for something our company could use – really wanting to give the guy a break because he wrote incredibly well. I really liked his scripts – but one after the next, they were not remarkable. We had to pass. It is impossible for almost any producer to get a story made – no matter how well written – that is not remarkable. It was a valuable lesson and one I take to heart every time I start to write a new project.

The question I ask myself is, “If this script is written very, very well, will it make a great motion picture?” The answer is “NO” unless the story idea is remarkable.

So what does that mean – “remarkable”?

Dictionary.com defines “remarkable” as:

1. Worthy of notice.
2. Attracting notice as being unusual or extraordinary.

These are good definitions – only make the standard even higher. A remarkable idea demands notice. The best way to explain it is by example. Here are three recent spec or pitch sales (as reported by Done Deal), all of which are remarkable:

A SWAT team’s top cop, who is incapable of feeling emotional or physical pain and is thereby revered for his fearlessness, undergoes surgery that will allow him to feel everything he’s missed in life. (“No Pain, No Gain”)

The chief executive of a company is demoted to the mailroom and has to work his way back up. (“CEO”)

A man learns to appreciate his life when everything in it is suddenly the opposite of what it normally is. (“Opposite Day”)

Whatever you think of the film that may ultimately result, what there is to learn is that these concepts are (a) highly focused, (b) fresh, (c) whole and complete in themselves, and (d) engender emotional values that are familiar and known.

So how do you create a remarkable concept? People do it differently. There is no one right way.

Here’s how I do it. I think of interesting ideas, write them down, then from the list, pick the one that most interests me. Now the real work starts. I write the idea usually as a single sentence in the form:

When a ______ does _______, he or she _________(active verb) in order to ___________.

Then I begin to hone the idea, sometimes for hours at a time, day after day, removing the clichés (we all write in clichés until we force them out), changing concepts that are not particularly interesting to ones that are more interesting, changing general ideas to specific ones. I write one version after the next, resulting in pages of versions of the concept. I usually arrive at more than one version that suggests a remarkable idea. When I get to one, I check it against what I thought I wanted to write – see if this version is still something I want to write (just because it is a remarkable concept does not mean it is for me), and either stop if all is good, or keep going. Sometimes I back up, if it has gone off track, and take it in a different direction.

I keep going either until the versions lead me in hopeless circles and collapse or until I get to a finely polished concept that excites me and will now lead me through outlining and writing the script. This process involves a great deal of thinking ahead – looking at where the concept will lead me in the writing – and stepping back and looking at just the concept as a producer or agent or audience member would look at it. I try to be very hard on myself and say, “Would I go see that? Would my friends go see that?” I do not cheat on the answers. Unless the answers are both a LOUD yes, I keep developing.

If you don’t create your own process for getting to remarkable concepts, you are likely to create your own mountain of well-written unmarketable scripts.

Enough. Now go write.

 Posted by at 9:47 pm
Jul 102009

Screenwriting WikiPlease visit and contribute to the Screenwriting Wiki. It takes a little learning to get used to posting and editing wiki posts, but the result is worth it. You will be building a long-term resource for screenwriters, created by and owned by screenwriters. The wiki includes articles on craft and the business, and essays on important produced screenplays from the perspective of the screenwriter.

NOTE: The ads placed on the site are put there by the web-hosting service to pay for hosting the site. Like this website, The Screenwriting Wiki is non-profit for those creating and contributing to it (including me).

Enough. Now go write.

 Posted by at 11:19 am