June 12

TO SELL OR NOT TO SELL…. (Classic Post)

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.

November 7

The What Festival?!? (Classic Post)

Apollo Rocket
flickr: mfrascella
Here’s a sentence you don’t see everyday: “Screenwriter Brian Miller came to the project after winning the inaugural Astana International Action Film Festival screenplay competition in Kazakhstan, founded by Bekmambetov.” Via Hollywoodnews.com, the project is being produced by The Weinstein Company and includes allegedly authentic recently unearthed secret government footage, a cover-up conspiracy, astronauts and alien life forms. It’s got everything.

March 11


Before you get too attached to an idea for your next spec, remember you will be investing months of work into it and repeat the following:

1. Studios are not more likely to buy my script because I think it has great sequel and franchise potential. They are more likely to buy it because it is a solid concept that is well written.
2. If I am not a novelist, I will not write my story as a novel first in order to sell it to Hollywood. It is no easier to sell a first novel than a first script.
3. Studios will not buy my script because it has a good message. They will by it because it is a solid concept that is well written.
4. The fact that I can say my idea in a single sentence does not mean it is a good idea.
5. Evil corporations are lousy bad guys.
6. The fact that it really happened does not mean it is a good idea for a movie.
7. The fact that it is “just like” a highly successful movie is not necessarily a good thing.
8. I will not come up with an idea that is just what the market is looking for. By the time I’m done writing it, the market will not be looking for it.
9. I will not write something because the top A-lead likes to play that kind of a role. The top A-lead is unlikely to see my script or select it out of the barrelfuls shoved at him/her on a daily bases.
10. I will not write a script because it is an easy no-brainer that is guaranteed to sell. There is no such thing.

The only reason to select a particular story idea for your next spec – “I really really love it.”

June 17


Apple GifMariner Software is beta testing new screenwriting software for Mac computer users. I have downloaded it but have not had a chance to play with it. Generally, in my opinion, technology is not that important to writing a good script. Some of the best were written on note pads or using Underwoods. Nevertheless, if you enjoy playing with the latest toys (as I do), you can get the download from Mariner software here.

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….