May 11


ARE THE GATES OF HOLLYWOOD CLOSED? (Classic Post)

Yes. Almost. At a minimum, they are utterly clogged. Every agency, every producer and every studio exec gets scripts by the truckload. The city hires a literal army of readers to read the mountains of material flowing in.

And most of it stinks….

That’s right. More than 90% of it is written so poorly it is barely readable at all, let alone able to be made into a movie. The way into Hollywood is so jammed with crud, the industry is forced to spend millions each year just to sort through it. Hollywood is constantly on the verge of drowning in submissions. The only way to stay afloat is to erect as many obstacles as possible – as many barriers as the industry can dream up – to keep new screenplays away. It’s no wonder that no one here gets excited when an unknown writer from Iowa tries to submit a script. Everyone already knows it probably stinks. It’s probably a waste of paper, a crime against nature, two hours of an underpaid reader’s life she’d rather have back.

SO WHY BOTHER TRYING TO GET IN?

Because of that little word “probably.” Underneath it all, Hollywood is desperate for the new voice, the unknown writer who brings something fresh to the table, the new undiscovered talent. It is a great part of what keeps the industry going. Careers and fortunes are made on discovering and exploiting talent – and writers are talent. That’s why Hollywood spends millions searching for it. The industry needs it. And nobody knows where the next one will come from. They have no choice.

They must keep reading.

Their careers and fortunes depend on it.

But don’t tell anybody. Let them think the gates of Hollywood are closed. It’s less competition for the rest. Okay?

July 19


NO FREE LUNCH (Classic Post)

QUESTIONJoseph from Los Angeles asks:

A production company has shown interest in optioning my script. They seem very enthusiastic, but have little experience as producers and want me to option my script for free. I have looked at a few sample options online. However, since this would be my first option, I still have a few questions.

1) They mentioned when I met with them that if they are able to set up a deal with a studio they would like to purchase my script for a flat fee (as opposed to a percentage of the film’s budget or script’s selling price). If they state this in the contract, what would be a reasonable fee to pay to a screenwriter who is un-produced? Should I even agree to such a deal or should I hold out for a percentage of the film’s budget or a percentage of what the studio pays for the script? What is to keep them from stating in the contract that they will buy the script from me for 50 grand, but in a year’s time they find a studio that is interested in buying it for 100 grand or more?

2) During the optioning period am I allowed to use the script to try and get an agent or writing assignments?

3) Is the option agreement my only time to negotiate or do writers usually re-negotiate with the studio once the screenplay is sold? In other words, do I need to take care of re-write clauses, sequel rights, screenplay credit, etc now or will this happen once the script is actually purchased?

I plan to find and meet with a lawyer once I get the contract (which should be within a week) but would like to iron out the contract as much as possible beforehand because I am of limited income.

Thank you very much.

Joseph –

(Standard disclaimer – this is not legal advice, just thoughts on a blog.)

Congratulations on getting interest in your screenplay. Chances are, others will be interested, too.

Your questions present common dilemmas for beginning writers. Many writers (including me) feel that the producer should always pay something for an option. If they were WGA producers, they would be prohibited from asking for a free option. Why should a producer (especially an inexperienced one) have the right to tie up your screenplay for a long period of time without paying you anything? What do the producers intend to do during that time? Based on what they have told you, which is that they want to set it up with a studio, they do not really even need an option. If they want to present your script to studios, you can give them permission to do that without an option. Let them tell you who they wish to take it to and, if you want them to submit it, give them permission to submit it. Then, once they present it, you are free to negotiate your own deal as they are free to negotiate theirs. This is a common practice in the industry; it happens every day.

If, on the other hand, they intend to “package” the project themselves (which means, they intend to raise money and attract talent, director, and distribution without a studio), they should pay you money up front, especially if they have never packaged a film before. This is not a matter of greed or materialism on your part. Rather, it is a reality of the producing business that producers lose interest in projects when the next best thing comes along. They are not lying to you when they ask for the option. They are just under a tremendous amount of pressure to find the right project and, two months from now when they have gotten nowhere with your project, they are likely to feel they have a better shot with something else. If they have paid you money, they have a much stronger incentive to keep working on your project instead of jumping to the next thing. In addition, at least to a small degree, you are compensated for the lost opportunity.

If the producers are as excited about your script as they say they are, they will certainly not let it get away because you ask for a few thousand dollars up front. If your request makes them go away, that should tell you something about their real level of commitment.

As for the answers to the specific questions you asked:

1. If you enter into an option, percentage of the budget deals are not very common. A good place to start for your writer’s fee in the event the option is exercised is 110% of WGA minimum with negotiated bumps for specific events, which can include budget bumps, sole writer bumps, and box-office performance bumps. (For example, if the budget exceeds $75 million, you get paid an additional $250,000.)

2. If you enter into an option, you should make sure before you sign the option that you are entitled to present the script to agents and for writing assignments. If not, you should be compensated at the time you enter into the option for this additional loss of opportunity.

3. The option agreement is ordinarily the only time you negotiate your fees (and credits). If you enter an option, you should make sure it is a deal you can live with if the option is exercised.

Good luck….

December 2


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….

November 23


Who Wrote The King’s Speech? (Classic Post)

King George VI
flikr|steve greer
The Jewish Journal has a fascinating article about screenwriter David Seidler, who escaped from Nazi’s, was almost torpedoed on his way to America, and grew up escaping into writing as a refuge from his own speech impediment, then later drew from these experiences to write the screenplay for The King’s Speech. It is worth a read.

February 19


TWO BOOKS ON DIALOGUE (Classic Post)

Writing Dialogue
by Tom Chiarella, Story Press

The book is perfect for both novice writers and more experienced writers who have simply never specifically studied dialogue. It is a wonderfully clear treatise that will provide the committed screenwriter with many new tools for crafting effective, engaging dialogue. Tom Chiarella breaks down dialogue into a number of basic concepts essential to crafting effective speech. These elemental concepts are well explained, with clear examples throughout. Although the work is written for fiction writers generally, and not speciifcally attuned to screenwriters, it is worth studying and keeping on your shelf.

Writing Dialogue for Scripts
by Rib Davis

Although not as clear as Tom Chiarella’s book, this book is also worth reading and keeping on the shelf. Davis surveys many of the pitfalls of bad dialogue (including what Davis calls “Ping-Pong” dialogue, which is one of the most common dialogue killers) and also discusses the driving forces behind dialogue. The reader will quickly see how the form of dialogue can and must be coupled with the deeper purpose of the dialogue and the underlying “agenda” of each character . Through clear examples, the reader can easily grasp the basic concepts that elevate dialogue from purely expositional to dramatic.

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