SPECS, GRANTS & TRUST FUND BABIES (Classic Post)

Tavis from Portland has a lot to say about a number of challenges to breaking in. He says:

Everyone knows of the main catch-22 concerning screenwriting and agents. You can’t get one until you sell a spec, but to sell a spec you need an agent.

Not true, Tavis. You need a good screenplay and a referral to get an agent. You do not need a spec sale. Many screenwriters have entire careers without ever having a spec sale.

There is an initial quandary though, and that is finding the time to write a really great spec script while working a full-time job. I often find myself frustrated, thinking that if I could only spend 40-hours a week focused on writing I could really put something of quality together. But as it is I only have several free hours each day and they are after a mind-numbing full day at work.

This is a real challenge. Ron Bass, who is arguably the most prolific working screenwriter in Hollywood (and at one point was the highest paid writer), used to get up at 3:00AM to do his writing before he started his day job as an attorney. It took him 17 years to get his break. It’s hard, but it’s part of making it. You might consider doing your writing before your day job, too, so the writing is sharp.

So, basically this question is about funding and grants. Is it possible if you have a story which requires a good amount of research and is rooted in some sort of historical/factual/scientific background that a grant would be available to assist a writer in developing a project?

There are many grants and fellowships designed specifically to help emerging writers who show some promise focus on their writing. Alex Epstein at Complications Ensue recently ran this list.

I never hear anyone talking about these issues and just wonder are all the writers out there independently wealthy and can just spend their time writing whenever they want, or do they have spouses supporting them or what?

Of the working screenwriters I personally know, most of them were bartenders or production assistants (another low paying Hollywood job) before getting their breaks. None of them were wealthy.

Category: The Business


REWRITE = FOCUS (Classic Post)

DRAFT GIFIf you cannot rewrite, you are not a writer. The first draft of your script is virtually a practice run. No matter how excited you are to have written 120 pages of something, 120 pages of something is not a script. Your rewrite will always take a tremendous amount of frustrating work and the rewritten script will always be exponentially better than the first draft. If this is not the case – you did not do your job.

At the risk of being branded a “mentor”, I will tell you how to rewrite.

The purpose of a rewrite is to clarify and intensify every aspect of your story. In a professionally written commercial screenplay, each scene advances theme, character and plot. It does not merely advance them; it substantially advances them. Because a screenplay is short, each moment must carry a huge amount of weight – it must be filled with highly concentrated theme, character and plot. With the happening of each scene, the relationships between characters must deepen, the conflicts between them must intensify, and the protagonist’s commitment to his or her goal must become more obsessive. With each moment, the theme must be more severely tested; ignoring it must have greater and greater consequence.

The first draft of your script will not do that. It will sing-song, it will contain scenes that are really cool but unrelated to the theme, the story’s resolution may not even grow out of the theme at all, but just out of the plot. The relationship between the characters will be static or uneven or melodramatic (i.e. rely on stock emotions). In short, it will stink.

This does not mean you are a bad writer – it means you have written a first draft.

Before writing the next draft, you must thoroughly analyze your first draft and identify these weaknesses. How does each scene substantially advance theme, character and plot? What is the theme? (It usually changes from your first ideas about the story.) For each scene, how is the relationship between characters deepened even as the conflict between them is intensified?

You must invest the tremendous work it takes to answer these questions for each and every scene. If you cannot answer them, your story will be hopelessly muddled. It will not have an impact on your audience.

During this analysis you will identify strong scenes and weak scenes; you will learn what your story is really about. You will learn that much of the material has no place in your story – even scenes you thought were your best.

Now, you will create new material to fill in the many gaps, repair the weaknesses. Each bit of new material must adhere to this high standard you have set for yourself – it must fulfill the purposes of substantially advancing the theme, the characters and the plot. Only by fulfilling these purposes in every moment will your story be compelling, driven and satisfying to your audience. A story is tightly wound around a central unified core (theme) and this is the process of winding it.

Now, you will see your story begin to have true movement, not just movement of plot, but real story movement. The rewrite is hard – often harder than the first draft – but it is much more exciting. A properly performed rewrite brings the story to life. When you are done, you will see an exponential improvement in the quality of the story – that is the mark of a real rewrite (as opposed to mere tinkering).

Then, of course, you must clear your head, accept that this draft is not yet nearly at the level required to meet your competition, namely the best writers in the industry, and you must rewrite it yet again. You start by analyzing each and every scene….

Category: The Craft


GOT AGENT? (Classic Post)

If you don’t yet have an agent or manager, here’s a quick list of some things you need to know.

1. Many writers get their first breaks without an agent or manager, but having the right agent and/or manager sure helps.

2. The best and only way to find the right agent and/or manager is to write very well. Good writing always attracts attention. Attention gets you to a good agent and/or manager. If you don’t know how that works, you probably haven’t been writing enough yet.

3. The best way to submit material to an agent or manager is through a referral. The best way to get a referral is to write well. (See previous item.)Agent

4. Real agents don’t charge to read your material. Run away from the ones who do.

5. In Hollywood, agents are regulated by law and union agreement. They charge a 10% commission to shop your scripts. You only pay if the script sells.

6. Managers are different than agents. Managers are not regulated by law or union contract. Their fees vary, but real managers also only get paid if the script sells.

7. Technically, managers are not allowed to solicit employment for you, but they manage your career. In practice, managers always solicit employment for you.

8. Like a good agent, a good manager is a great ally, but anyone can call him or herself a manager. Make sure the manager has clients who sell scripts or get writing assignments on a regular basis.

9. Real managers also do not charge fees to read your material. Run away from ones who do.

Don’t freak on the agent/manager thing. Just work on the writing. The agent/manager will come.

Category: The Business


Aaron Likes Improv, But Not With His Scripts (Classic Post)

Our favorite uberwriter Aaron Sorkin is still hitting the airwaves hard in support of The Social Network. Here, BBC interviews him about improvisation. He says its great…as long as it’s in someone else’s movie. If you haven’t already O.D.’d on Sorkin, pretty good interview.

Category: People