Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Coverage Ink/Writers on the Storm March Newsletter



MARCH GLADNESS! Get $20 off any coverage/story analysis submission to Coverage Ink now through March 15, 2014. Includes features, 1-hr TV and manuscripts. 1/2-hr TV, shorts and outlines are excluded. May not be combined with other discounts. Submit your script at www.coverageink.com and use code GLADNESS to get your discount. Coverage Ink -- The Industry Experts. 

Hi friends,

We’re very excited this month to bring you an interview with WOTS top ten writer Patrick Tobin (“Cake.”) Tobin’s script made the Black List late last year, catapulting him into orbit. “Cake” is now fast-tracked with a certain actress whose initials are JENNIFER FREAKING ANISTON starring and producing.

Yeah, holy crapola is right.

I think Patrick’s story will resonate with many of us. See, he is not what we would call “young,” at least not in Hollywood terms. He graduated film school in 1990. And we all know that Hollywood is a youth-oriented town. “It would be ridiculous for me to say that (ageism) doesn’t happen,” says manager A.B. Fischer from Shuman Co. “If they’re looking for the next up-and-coming writer, the 50-year-old person is probably not that person. But with an incredible piece of writing, it doesn’t matter.” Manager Ava Jamshidi from Industry Entertainment feels that it’s less about age than personality. “For me, the biggest thing is how they are in a room. If somebody’s awesome and dynamic and great in a room, then that’s almost as important as being a really good writer. Having a really good script gets you into the room, but if you can’t wow ‘em once you’re there, you’re never going to get the job.”

Ava put her money where her mouth is. She signed Patrick Tobin based on the strength of “Cake.” How about them apples? So for all of us out there who are noticing the gray hairs are beginning to overtake, check out what Patrick Tobin has to say.

One other thing. I asked Richard Arlook from the Arlook Group (who discovered last year’s Black List darling “Rodham” off a query letter) for the real skinny on ageism in Hollywood. “Let’s say Writer ‘A’ graduates USC Film School at 21 years old,” says Arlook. “He writes a spec, and it sells; he gets a couple of assignments. By the time he’s 25, he’s a working writer. Everybody that he knows (are now) VPs at the studios or working for producers or producers themselves. He continues to work and tends to get hired by his contemporaries. So now it’s 20 years later. He’s in his mid 40s. Meanwhile, there are other guys in their mid 20s that went to film school being hired by their contemporaries. The reality of it is that once you get to be in your 40s in this business, you’re working on a really, really senior level. How many guys in their 40s are reading samples and stuff like that? You can call it ageism. To me, it’s like a circle of life.” 

True dat. On the other hand, us writers in our 40s, 50s and 60s have that much more life experience and skill to bring to the table. As long as we leave our inner geezer at home, we should still be able to kick some ass. But I’ll let Patrick Tobin tell you all about that.

Fight the power, my friends!

Jim Cirile


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Whoa, the Tracking B early entry deadline is upon us. If you have a TV pilot, this one is a must-enter. See, Tracking B is the real deal -- a genuine industry tracking board. Their contest offers no prizes per se -- just access. Check out the jaw-dropping industry panel who will be reading the submissions, companies like Lionsgate, CBS, Gersh and many more. Tracking B's success rate puts every other contest to shame. Last year's finalist, sci-fi pilot EXTANT, was picked up by CBS after a bidding war with FX and TNT. The series launches mid-season. HURRY - enter now! And good luck.

Monday, February 17, 2014

AND EATING IT, TOO

Or, How Patrick Tobin Went From Struggling, Unrepresented Screenwriter to Hot Commodity With a Go Film Starring an A-List Actress

By Jim Cirile

Every now and again, we hear about a screenwriting overnight sensation, only to discover it took years of hard work to get there. Patrick Tobin is one such case. He’s been at it for over two decades, cranking out scripts, entering contests and honing his craft. In 2013, fortune smiled as he made the Zoetrope semi-finals as well as our own Writers on the Storm top ten, then got signed by WME and Industry Entertainment and made The Black List. As if that’s not enough, Jennifer Aniston will be starring in and producing the adaptation of his quirky drama CAKE for After Dark Films and Shenghua Entertainment.

Not a bad year.

We sat down with Patrick to get the skinny on this long journey and its amazing and well-earned pay-off.

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Jim Cirile (JC): You must feel pretty good right about now.

Patrick Tobin (PT): It’s been crazy this last year, things have gotten better and better since the end of the year. I’ve been getting lots of meetings, trying to get assignments, take the next step.

JC: Give us a quick overview of your screenwriting history.

Tobin bakes one hell of a CAKE.
PT: I graduated from USC film school in ’90 and wrote a script in ’95 that was produced by Marsha Lucas, George Lucas’s ex-wife, who put up a million, called NO EASY WAY that Khandi Alexander starred in. It didn’t get into Sundance, but did get into South by Southwest. However, without Sundance’s stamp of approval it didn’t get distribution, which was too bad because Khandi didn’t get the recognition she deserved. In the late ‘90s, my brother had a tragedy, and my now-husband and I moved to Montana to be with him. My life went in a different direction; my movie career didn’t happen.

JC: Wow, heck of a way to get derailed.

PT: I pulled back a bit from screenwriting at that point. I started writing fiction and short stories that I could have more control over and some of them got published. “Cake” was actually my most successful story and (was published in) an anthology in 2008. I hadn’t thought about making a screenplay out of it, but it had a really good character. At the time my best friend was dating a German commercial director who wanted to make features, and he loved my short story. He had a book he wanted me to adapt into a screenplay, and while that didn’t go anywhere, it sparked my screenplay writing again.

JC: So you adapted the short story into a screenplay?


PT: I was working a full-time job and I literally finished a draft in 5 weeks. I would write at night and weekends and it was fun and like a hobby. I was with a writing group that would have actors come in and read for them and the great actress Deborah Geffner (PASSIONS, MONK) read CAKE, used it as an audition piece. The audience was riveted. I thought it might be a good springboard. This and a lot of things led up to it. But the first draft was like a disaster because the short story was like a last act and the character was really super unlikeable. A friend read it and loved the short story but not the script. I’ve been reworking it for the last 4 years because in between I was trying to shop a nonfiction book for a couple of years about my crazy family. I entered it in contests and it started being a finalist and year before last I was semi-finalist for Zoetrope’s top 30-35 scripts. I entered it in Writers on the Storm and CineStory and got a director who optioned it (Daniel Barnz, WON’T BACK DOWN) and got an agent at William Morris through him and then got on The Black List.

JC: How did Barnz become involved?

PT: He was a past winner of CineStory and he heard from (contest) judges how good CAKE was; he called and wanted to meet. We hit it off and did a rewrite. His agent at (WME) signed me and started sending it out as a sample (while) Daniel was trying to get an actress attached. Agents were really excited about the project, which is how it got on The Black List. I had about 30 meetings between October and December. 


JC: For folks who may not know, The Black List is a compendium of the industry’s favorite unproduced scripts that comes out every December. It’s become quite the tastemaker.

PT: So now I’ve got many different things I’m pitching at meetings now, book adaptations and figuring out how to make (CAKE). So I’m meeting with people, trying to get something in the interim so I can quit my day job. It’s tricky because I work in Anaheim, live in Long Beach, and have to go to LA -- it’s been a little crazy. But I feel it’s the most amazing opportunity I’ve been given. I’m not young and need to take advantage of it, so I can’t complain. I try to schedule the meetings on a certain day, have gotten to know the libraries, work on my laptop between meetings and it’s been nuts, but it’s been fun. My agents and managers have been very supportive of me.

JC: A lot of folks think ageism is a real concern in the industry.

PT: If I’d been 25, I don’t think I’d have the same opportunity I have now. I was worried about my age, but everyone I’ve met with are smart and engaged and just enjoy good movies. If you go in thinking, “I’m an old person,” they pick up on it. But if you go, “I’m a writer and I love good writing,” it makes a difference.

JC: It was announced at Berlin that CAKE is a go, and a certain actress with the initials “Jennifer Aniston” is attached to star and produce.

PT: I am BIG TIME psyched! Yeah, it's amazing how fast things are moving on the project. They're already in preproduction. It's surreal! But so cool too! I (knew) CAKE will be a great role for a good actress, and I’m so excited. Moving forward, I’ve got another script that I’m revising and I’m adapting another one of my short stories which I think has possibilities. It’s sort of a sci-fi horror story, like TAKE SHELTER meets LOOPER, and is way different than CAKE. Daniel is developing it with me. So I’m really excited for the future.

JC: Thanks so much, Patrick. Anything you’d like to say to your screenwriting brethren?

PT: My “words of wisdom” are: Don’t even think about the age issue and just focus on your writing and enter lots of contests. I never would’ve gotten anywhere without them or had the access I have now. I just kept working up the ladder to semi-finalist and finalist, kept entering contests and plugging away. 

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http://www.coverageink.com

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Ten Ways to Hit the Ground Running in 2014

by Jim Cirile
Coverageink.com


Ahoy, friends! The New Year is upon us, and that means it’s time to reflect on how far we’ve come in our writing and look at how best to move the ball down the field in 2014. Rather than make a list of resolutions (which you all know are never kept for long,) I always prefer to look back on the previous year to see what I've learned writing-wise.

This past year has been pretty good. 1) Learned how to write comic books. Had two published. 2) Am learning how to write 1-hr TV drama. This is a bit more daunting than I thought, but am working on it. 3) Learned how to create TV bibles and pitch documents. 4) Set aside 2 hours for writing every day (this has been the absolute hardest thing to maintain.) 5) Developed two horror features, over 20 drafts each, as well as a comedy spec (in the works.) 6) Made some great friends/strategic partners.

So that’s the good stuff. The bad stuff includes the inevitable barrage of passes on this project and that (I’d be lying if I said they didn’t all sting a little bit. I mean, two decades in Hollywood definitely imbues one with a thick skin, but even so, every rejection is another tiny knife-twist;) a couple of projects that went nowhere, and of course a ton of time wasted on procrastination. And believe me, I am a professional crastinator. But I’m not the only one. Every time I log onto the abhorrent social media time-suck that shall not be named, I get another notice telling me that one writer friend or another has hit level 87 in Candy Crush Saga. Hmm. (If you detect any trace of judgment in that, please note the hypocrisy of my logging onto the social media time-suck to observe such behavior in the first place.)

http://www.coiverageink.comBut the passes, man, oy. At some point the enormous weight of realization hits us – that this crazy writerly path we’ve chosen basically amounts to a mighty and indefatigable torrent of rejection, relieved only by occasional, brief moments of false hope. LOL, I’m kidding of course. Sort of. Far from the joy of creation that we all feel while working on a script, the reality of trying to be a successful writer really kinda sucks. This is why six years ago I said Screw Hollywood. Tired of the grind of sending out spec scripts and more often than not getting nowhere, I decided to take the power back and start producing. So we made two shorts, “Showdown of the Godz” in 2008 and “Liberator” last year, both featuring geek icons (like George Takei, Lou Ferrigno and Peta Wilson.) “Godz” underperformed, but “Liberator” won awards and led to a successful comic book series, international distribution (coming soon) and potential series which we’re shopping now. Yeah, we’re still in the hole on these projects in a big way. But the main thing is, we didn’t have to wait around for someone else to say yes. It’s sort of like when you get stuck in traffic. You feel powerless. Now if you manage to pull off and take some crazy-ass side-street detour, you feel much better simply because you’re moving -- it may take you just as long to get there, but at least you’re not sitting there.


Our most recent production "Liberator", a gritty superhero short, winner of 10 awards.

Most importantly. “Liberator” led to meeting our producing partners on “Malevolent,” our upcoming motion comic feature to be directed by “Liberator” director Aaron Pope, which shoots this year.  It’s all very exciting and brings us one step closer to our goal of turning Coverage Ink into a full-fledged prodco. Of course, we’re still writing and shopping projects to Hollywood as well. So none of this DIY stuff is instead of. It’s in addition to. As creators, we need to use any and every avenue available to us, because you never know when one project might open the door to another one.

So moving into 2014, how can we hit the ground running? Here are ten ways!

1) First things first - are you REALLY ready? I’m not trying to sell coverage, but I am saying that ideally you should have a consensus opinion from your trusted advisors, whoever they may be, that your script is FREAKING GREAT. There’s no shame in doing another draft or ten. My producing partner Tanya Klein and I  have literally been working on the “Malevolent” script for a year and a half. Coverage is great, but if you have free options, such as knowledgeable friends or peer-to-peer websites, go for it. It's all good. If you need more training, don't be afraid to take a class. To quote Animal House, "Knowledge Is Good."

2) Plan your attack. The industry basically comes back, ready to read, after Sundance, meaning that’s a great time to send out material -- whether you have representation or not. Make a list of companies that have made projects similar to yours in the past and then call or query the lowest person on the totem pole there. Why? Because those are the guys who actually read, not the established producers. And in a few years, they’ll be the execs. Right now they’re looking to discover an awesome piece of material that they can champion (and hopefully make them look good.) You can search similar movies and TV projects on Netflix and Hulu, then find company rosters on imdbPro (a $129 annual subscription.)



3) In general, querying agents is a waste of time. Most established agents are too busy servicing their client list to read anything unsolicited. The only way to get to them is by referral. Instead, focus on managers and junior creative executives at production companies. Their job is to read and find new talent. However, don’t overlook agent’s assistants. That’s right, these people are all learning the ropes and have plans to be agents someday soon. Many are quietly building their own lists and hip-pocketing clients. So befriend the assistants and get them invested in your project by getting their notes and then actually taking their advice (and let them know it.) Within a year or two they’ll probably be promoted and you’ll be along for the ride.

4) Pitch away. Pitch fests are pricey, yes, especially if you’re flying in. But you literally get five minutes of face time with a panoply of key industry people. If your concept is strong and you present well, this could lead somewhere. I met one of my best industry connex at a pitchfest a dozen years ago. Great American Pitchfest, InkTip Pitch Summit and Ken Rotcop’s Pitchmart are all worth looking into. Of course, if you’re a natural schmoozer, then get yourself on the list at some parties or go to Sundance and work it, baby.

5) Consider pay for access. InkTip.com, Blklst.com (The Blacklist) and virtualpitchfest.com can all open doors – or they can be a waste of money if you’re not ready or your material doesn’t have a strong hook or that certain je nais sais quoi. InkTip specializes in smaller, “below the radar” prodcos not serviced by agents and managers, so they’re a good place to post your dark, indie crime thriller or low-budget horror script. Blacklist has had some amazing successes and their process is smart, but the odds of getting anywhere are low. Virtual PitchFest offers queries to key industry folks who actually read for about 10 bucks each, with a guaranteed reply (although that reply is often ‘no thanks.’) I know it works because a top CI associate got signed from VPF.

6) Contests. Well, there are 457,322 contests at last count, and only about seven of them are worth your money. While it may help your ego if you make the top ten of the Terre Haute Screenwriting Jamboree, it probably won’t do bubkis for your career. We recommend Scriptapalooza, Tracking B (feature and TV,) Final Draft Big Break, Script Pipeline and the Nicholl Fellowship (our own Writers on the Storm is on hiatus in 2014.) As for the others, save your $$$.

7) Write the best damn query in the world. Keep it short and sweet! No more than three paragraphs. The first paragraph is your intro (in which you convey a very brief and fascinating snippet about yourself); the second, the logline and mash-up (It’s “Gunsmoke” meets “The Poseidon Adventure”!), and finally, the thanks and witty rejoinder. Remember, you have about 5 seconds from the time the Creative Exec opens your mail till the time she hits delete. If your query looks pro, and by that I mean tight, snappy, and shows off a clever concept, you’ve got a shot. Remember, last year’s Black List darling RODHAM was a query sent to our own Agent’s Hot Sheet panelist, producer/manager Richard Arlook from The Arlook Group. Arlook never reads scripts off queries, but this one he could not resist.

By the way, did you know that Coverage Ink will review your query letter for free? Feel free to send it along to info@coverageink.com. Just another of our premium services we don’t bother to charge for. And we won’t try to upsell you, either.

8) Multiple irons. Despite all this, you’re still going to get a lot of passes and “silent nos” (you never hear back.) So buck up, bucko, and move forward regardless. It helps to have several projects going in different stages, so that while one is out for coverage you can work on something else, etc. This also makes it easier to shelve something that’s not working for whatever reason and move on to something else. We all have to back-burner projects from time to time (a movie with a similar concept comes out, meaning you’re dead for the moment, or you get burned out on the rewrite process, etc.) Accept this as part of the cost of doing business. You may be able to recycle that material in the future. But the main thing is, if you have other things in progress, it’s easier to adopt a “screw them” attitude towards the naysayers. Remember: you’re an unstoppable freight train, and you ain’t slowing for anyone. Everyone best either climb aboard or get the hell outta your way!

9) Shake it up. If you’ve been in the same pattern for a while and haven’t been getting any traction, man, do something else. There are a million ways to be a writer or creative-type. If you’re a would-be or even working feature scribe, well, features are getting harder and harder to move, while TV is more and more in demand. Sketch out a pilot idea. Or maybe you’re sick of writing thrillers. Try a comedy. Perhaps you’re bored with writing Hollywood formula. Try a novel or 1-act play or graphic novel or a web series. And friends, there is no better solution to the feeling of writing inertia than to write a scene or a sketch, shoot it in an afternoon and post it online. Talk about instant gratification! That becomes a work, something to show off, which could potentially lead to other things. And that leads us to…

10) DIY. Who says you have to wait around for an agent, manager or producer to get behind your script? Eff that noise. Hell, if you have a smartphone, you can shoot something and edit it yourself for next to nothing. If you want to do something a little more ambitious, maybe even with names, sets and lighting – you can STILL do it. Even if you’ve never taken a filmmaking class and don’t know a gaffer from a gopher, you can ally with people who do know this stuff (try craigslist.) Look, the budget on “Liberator” was about the same as the cost of a nice new ride. If your car broke down tomorrow, you’d find a way to pay for repairs or buy a new one if you had to, right? Because you NEED it. Well, how much do you need to be a screenwriter? Think about that.

Of course, it helps if you have a few other talented and supportive folks on your team. Got no connex or like-minded friends? Take a film or writing class or find a writing group. I met the award-winning editor of “Liberator,” Mark Oguschewitz, in my old writing group. If you will something into existence, others will see your drive and want to jump aboard. Getting a little money is relatively easy -- credit cards, Bank of Dad, crowd-funding, what have you. But the force of will must come from you. So. How much do you want it?

I hope these tippers may have ignited a few synapses amongst you guys. I look forward to hearing lots of awesome success stories, as well as commiserating over a beer or two on the near-misses.

It’s a new year. Freaking own it.

Best regards,

Jim Cirile
Coverage Ink.com

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www.coverageink.com

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Five Ways To Get Your Script Read

by Jim Cirile
Coverage Ink

"How do I get people to read my fricking script?" I've been asked this question an awful lot lately -- even more than "How do I get an agent?" Yerp, it's harder than ever to get people to read. The reasons for this are many, but in short: rampant media consolidation means fewer buyers. As well, there are pretty much no major indies left; many veteran producers have lost their studio deals and discretionary funds, and the ones that remain -- the big guns -- are well serviced by agencies and management companies. So they don't need to really look outside the box (although a few still do, thankfully.) All of which means that agents and managers don't necessarily have to read as voraciously as they once did, because they're having enough trouble keeping their current clients working. Vicious cycle, eh wot? 

Still, all is not gloom and doom. Though there may be fewer studios making less movies, there are film funds and foreign coproductions and crowdfunded projects and webisodes and so forth, and that means there are still pathways to get material made. So while you might be sitting there stewing in your own tantalizingly icy gazpacho of frustration, as we all do at times, keep in mind that all these obstacles are merely that. They are there partly to screen out the chumps -- the people who don't want it enough, who don't do the heavy lifting. We just have to be cool with the fact that while the jolly act of screenwriting means instant gratification, getting your stuff read is the exact opposite -- a slow, painful grind. Don't expect anything to happen on your wish-list timeline, sister.

With that, here are five things you can do to get your script read. Warning -- some of these are going to require effort and investment in yourself. Good luck.




5) PAY FOR ACCESS. This is a broad category which includes pitchfests, websites and more. There are a few companies out there who do good work and do actually have a pathway in. In terms of pitch fests, Ken Rotcop's PitchMart, Great American Pitchfest and InkTip Pitch Summit may not be cheap, but represent an awesome way to get in the face of creative execs. At these events it is up to you to sell not just your story idea but you. If no one bites, it means one of three things: they're not interested in your material (write something else,) you did a cruddy job of conveying it, or there was something about you personally they didn't spark to (ouch). But the potential access is there -- it's up to you to sell your project so compellingly that they must read it.

Black List's Franklin Leonard
You can also pay for posts/pitches, such as on Black List, InkTip.com and virtualpitchfest.com. All these sites have had successes. Black List really is becoming Hollywood's great unwashed slush pile, and their process is smart. Scripts do get elevated and found. InkTip has a great community of "below the radar" producers especially, so it's a great place to post low-budget, horror or indie type material that wouldn't necessarily work as a big Hollywood spec. And Virtual Pitch Fest pays producers a fee in exchange for responding to every query submission (although that response is often "No thanks.") But I know it works, since a top CI analyst got signed to a major management company from using VPF.

Warning: beware anyone who says they will shop your script for a fee (especially lawyers.) These people have zero juice, and your dough will disappear faster than a Popsicle in a blast furnace. 

4) CONTESTS. There's good news/bad news in this department. The good news is, most reputable contests do actually read your script, and if you place in the top ten, you get bragging rights and occasionally even some exposure to the town. Amass a couple of top-3 showings and it looks great in a query letter. The bad news is, there are about 40,000 goddamn contests right now, and only about a half dozen have any value at all. Your chances of winning or placing are low (although you can tip the odds in your favor with some elbow grease -- see #1 below.) And finally, entering more than a few can get costly, the waiting times are long, and the giddy thrill of rejection is ever-present.


Ask any industry people about contests, and they will inevitably tell you they are totally useless. For people in a certain rarefied strata, that is true. Certainly most A-listers can't be bothered with contests, unless it's the Nicholl Fellowship. Hell, I sat at the same table with Gale Anne Hurd and Sid Ganis at the Nicholl awards dinner a decade ago. But the truth is there are plenty of companies who will at least look over the loglines of any "real" contest. So, we recommend Nicholl Fellowship, Scriptapalooza, Script Pipeline, Austin, Final Draft Big Break, the TrackingB feature and TV contests, and of course our own contest Writers on the Storm (on hiatus in 2014.) For all the others, proceed with caution. I know how easy it is to rack up $700 on the ol' American Distress card on Without a Box, desperately trying to advance our careers. Amazon (owner of WaB) thanks you, but your pet lizard Goober, who will have to subsist on floor sweepings for the next month, likely will not.

http://coverageink.com/ebooks.html3) QUERIES. Finally, something that doesn't cost anything! Guess what -- good news/bad news here as well, and you already know what those are. Good = free. Bad = no response. Yep, you've got your imdbPro subscription (Amazon again, sigh) and you're ready to blast out those 100 queries to prodcos who have made movies similar to your script. Guess how many responses you're likely to get? If you guessed a big fat whoppin' zero, pat yerself on the back. 

Here's the thing. While most queries are instantly deleted, a small percentage are not. That means you've got literally about 5 seconds to impress that creative exec with your email. It may be a shot in the dark, and most execs, agents and managers will say they never read queries, but guess what? RODHAM, the Black List darling of 2012, soon to be a movie, was a query (discovered by our own Agent's Hot Sheet panelist Richard Arlook from Arlook Group.)

So HOW do you sell yourself and your idea in 5 seconds? 
  • Be CONCISE. Three short paragraphs: intro, logline/idea, and thank you.
  • Give them WHAT THEY WANT.  Study the execs' taste at that company and target accordingly. Study the biz and see what's selling. The bull's-eye is narrow.
  • Be AMAZING. Your writing needs to crackle in those few sentences. If the electricity jumps off their smartphone and fries their eyeballs, hell, you've got a shot. Use your VOICE. You're a writer. This is your audition for the goddamn Carnegie Hall here. Sing your damn heart out or go home.
Write that tight, killer query, have a logline that kicks 97 different kinds of ass, and watch your success rate skyrocket to 3, maybe even 4%. (Hey, four bites out of a hundred queries ain't chump change.)
 
www.inktippitchsummit.com2) DIY. The interwebs and cheap HD cameras have returned a certain amount of power to us writers. We no longer have to wait around for someone to "buy our script." Now we can shoot it ourselves and throw it up on the web. Maybe no one will ever see it. But maybe, just maybe, it might go viral. According to Robyn Shwer from Mace Neufeld Productions, ten million views is the magic number to get most major prodcos in town to pay attention. Easy-peasy, right? Um... 

Anyway, the point here is, so maybe you shoot a short version of, or a trailer for, your movie. Asking for a 3-minute time commitment is way easier than asking folks to give up two hours to read a feature script. And if they like it, heck, then they might actually read the full-length version. Hollywood has definitely become Short Attention Span Theater. And "test reels" are more and more common. Even Edgar Wright had to do one to sell Marvel on his vision for "Ant Man," which is now greenlit and coming 2015 (I guess Marvel didn't see Wright's recent turkey "The World's End.")

Hell, you can even shoot your own feature(s) using your own money or crowdfunding, etc., and start your own production company. That's what we did here at Coverage Ink -- after doing two shorts with big geek names like George Takei and Lou Ferrigno, we're shooting our first feature in 2014. In that case, who needs anyone to read your script? Ahem, well, except for the 14 Coverage Ink readers who read multiple drafts and helped us develop it. Which brings us to...

1) THE CREAM STILL RISES. Yeah, yeah, I know many of you were expecting to see "Be the college roommate of a prominent agent or studio exec" or "Have rich, well-connected parents" at number one. And shit yeah, those things are absolutely true. But I'm going to assume these do not apply to you. If they did, you'd be too busy doing rewrites on 6-figure assignment gigs to bother with this article. Good for you.


The rest of us have to settle for doing the hard work and making our stuff as good as it can possibly be. You bet that's a pain in the rump! It means not settling for first or even tenth draft. It means NEVER sending out a script until it gets consistent "considers" or raves from everyone who reads it. Truth is: the reason most people never get anywhere is that we send out our stuff before it's ready. Only much later do we get some notes back, and we go, "Oh, right. I guess I do need an Act II." But by then you've blown out the script to everyone you know, and those few industry friends have passed and You Are Done. 

But now suppose you sent out something which was the superfarfalating antimatter bomb of awesomeness? Suppose you did twenty drafts on that puppy over a year or so, and ironed out every imperfection? Well... most people would still pass. But a few would be like, "Whoa, Nellie!" See, here's how you know when your script is really ready to go: when other people enthusiastically volunteer to help you. Until that time, as painful as it may be, you just gotta keep rewriting. 

But when people are willing to make calls for you, to stick their neck out? You're in. 

And that's how every single one of us who does not have the benefit of being Harvard mafia or the son of a studio exec's nanny's gardener breaks in: hard, hard work and a passionate advocate or ten. It can and does happen all the time. But writers hate this because for most of us it seems unattainable, because we don't think we'll ever get there. So we take the easy way out and send our early drafts to contests and so forth, assuming it's like a lottery. It's not. No one wins by random drawing. You win by quality. And quality will win people to your side, who will compel the movers and shakers to read your script.

Best of luck to all and happy holidays!

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Jim Cirile is a writer/producer and founder of screenplay analysis/development service Coverage Ink and Coverage Ink Films. Their award-winning short LIBERATOR is now on DVD. Jim also writes for Creative Screenwriting and has two e-books, "The Coverage Ink Spec Format & Style Guide" and "Agent's Hot Sheet -- a Decade of Wisdom From Hollywood's Top Reps."

http://www.coverageink.com

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Coverage Ink Magic Movie Formula

We've had quite a few scripts coming in lately where we've had to review basic structure. This is not a ding against anyone, since we all have to start someplace, and God knows my first couple dozen scripts were pretty amateur-hour. But when I started 20-plus years ago, there were precious few resources for writers beyond Syd Field's Screenplay books, which provided a good but fairly insubstantial structural template. Nowadays, there's really no excuse for anyone not to have access to the info they need.

So we assembled our own Coverage Ink Magic Movie Formula for our CI Spec Formula and Style Guide (our own indispensible and dirt-cheap -- $3.95 -- go-to reference for screenwriting awesomeness.) Our Magic Movie Formula is coalesced from several sources, in particular Blake Snyder's Save the Cat!, Chris Vogler's The Writer's Journey, as well as what I call "The UCLA Method"-- the structural paradigms taught by Kris Young and Tim Albaugh as part of the UCLA Professional Program in Screenwriting.

Basically, if you follow this template and hit all these way-points, you can't go wrong. Well, you still can, but it makes it a bit harder to go off the rails! Most features made today more or less follow this template. Now a word of warning. Yes, this is FORMULA. And as I like to note, you've gotta know the rudiments before you can solo. But the best musicians are known for pushing the envelope, and so should you. Do Elvin Jones, Herbie Hancock, David Gilmour and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name a few, color inside the lines? Damn right they do, but they also cut loose and bring their own thing, which makes their music unique and brilliant. This formula is not the be-all and end-all. Break the rules when you have a good reason for doing so. Learn to anticipate that others will anticipate the formula, and change it up when we least expect it. Boom! You'll win over readers every time.

But above all, realize that formula is formula because it WORKS. So embrace it, and use it as an important tool in your screenwriting arsenal (and a way out of the corner we all inevitably paint ourselves into in Act 2.) So here's the formula. If you're interested in checking out the other 80 pages of our Style Guide, just click here.

--Jim C.



A complete screenwriting how-to book in a page or so? We proudly present you with our Movie Formula. I’m sure many of you out there hate formula, and don’t want it anywhere near your movie. That’s fine, unless you want to someday be paid for your work. This formula applies for many kinds of movies, and these benchmarks are fairly universal. Make sure your script hits these marks. Page numbers are approximate.
 _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

1) THE HOOK. Pages 1-3. A cool or visually interesting scene that grabs us and makes us want to know more. Could be a precredits action or horror or comedy sequence, or showing the protagonist doing what he does best. Above all, set the TONE for rest of the movie here, and once you establish the rules of the world, stick to them!

2) GETTING TO KNOW YOU. Pages 3-9. Showing the protagonist in his or her KNOWN WORLD. The everyday life before the storm hits. Also in these pages indicate the main character’s PROBLEM. For example, “If only John wasn’t so arrogant, maybe he’d get that damn promotion.” Whatever he is NOT able to do here, he should be able to do at the end of the movie.

3) INCITING INCIDENT. Page 10-12. AKA “The Catalyst.” This is the monkey wrench that comes along and sends the protagonist’s world spinning. After this, life cannot remain the same. This then forces the character to make a decision: accept the challenge or not. Remember STAKES! In movies, the stakes must always be high. If the protagonist does not succeed in his mission, the consequences must be DIRE for the protagonist. If the hero can just go back to life as it was, then you shouldn’t be writing this movie.

4) HERO REFUSES THE CALL. Pages 13-17. Per myth, the hero doesn’t WANT to risk everything to set off on this dangerous adventure and has to be convinced into doing it by a MENTOR or other forces. The hero likely has to overcome his fears. Or another event occurs that gives the hero no other option but to take on the danger.

5) HERO PREPARES. Pages 18-25. Accepting what he must do, hero prepares—rallies friends, gathers necessary materials, etc.

6) END OF ACT ONE. Page 25-30. Hero debarks on The Journey, accepts the call to Adventure and sets out from the safety of his known world into the unknown new world of the second act. Note that this can come as early as page 22 or so, but not much earlier.

7) ACT TWO FIRST HALF. Pages 30-55. Several things happen here. First is we pay off the premise and have some fun. So if your movie concept is about a man dressing up like a chimp and going to live with apes at the Zoo, then these scenes show fun antics of what that’s like. Think ‘trailer moments.’ Secondly, here we need to again emphasize the protagonist’s dramatic flaw, which others are aware of, but HE is not—yet. Third, the protagonist makes allies here—new traveling companions or others met along the journey who could come in handy. And finally, the bad guy steps it up and tries to stop the hero. All the while, the hero is actively pursuing his or her quest. A passive hero makes for a lame flick.

8) MIDPOINT ACT 2. Page 55-60. The high point of the second act. Here we have a huge twist or change or a big set-piece. This is also generally where the hero finally begins to become self-aware—he finally starts to comprehend and accept what his problem is, although he still can’t fix it yet. The hero makes a move to take control of the emotional dilemma—generally followed by an immediate reversal to challenge that decision.

9) ACT TWO SECOND HALF. Pages 55-75. Fun and games are over. The conflict suddenly amps up. Bad guy strikes back. Hero is forced to zig when he wanted to zag. The conflict expands and escalates.

10) THE FALSE ENDING. Page 75. It appears the protagonist is going to pull it off. He’s within sight of his goal. He’s overcome obstacles and is about to win. But, no such luck…

11) THE BLACK MOMENT. Page 85-90. As we roll into the end of Act 2, everything starts going wrong. Allies abandon the hero. Hero’s plans fall apart. Perhaps he, or an ally or love interest, is captured. By the end of act 2, the hero should be at the farthest possible point from his goal. Despair and as Blake Snyder puts it, “a whiff of death” here.

12) ACT 3. Page 90-110. After the hero hits rock bottom, he has to pick himself up by his bootstraps. This often comes in the form of a mentor character imparting sage wisdom that enlightens and empowers the character. Thus the character CHANGES, and overcomes his dramatic flaw. In so doing he is now finally able to see how to defeat the menace. Also here allies met along the journey come back to help the protagonist succeed. Finally, and this is a MUST, is the showdown—the confrontation between the good guy and the bad guy.

13) TAG, YOU’RE IT. End of script. The protagonist succeeds and returns back to his known world of Act 1 a changed and better man, bringing with him “the elixir,” or in other words, the spoils of his successful quest. He is now able to do the thing he was NOT able to do in the first few scenes of the movie.


http://www.coverageink.com

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

SONS of ARANCHY pilot script

We're getting a lot of pilot submissions lately, and many folks ask us, where can we get pilot scripts? Just look around the interwebs! You can find a ton of them for free. Study them carefully, because TV structure is a very specific, formulaic animal. Check out Drew's Script-O-Rama TV page for tons of stuff. Apologies in advance for the pop-ups and pop-unders. I guess Drew needs to pay the mortgage somehow.

With no disrespect to BREAKING BAD, MASH, DEXTER, etc. SONS OF ANARCHY is probably one of the best-written shows in TV history. Here's the pilot. Free! Download it. Study it. Be inspired. You'll be glad you did.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Steve Kaire on Character Arc

Character arc is the change one of your main characters goes through from the beginning of your story until the end. Every well-written screenplay should have at least one character who learns something major and changes his behavior or attitude in the course of the script.

In the drama “Rain Man,” the Tom Cruise character starts out mistreating his autistic brother who he’s kidnapped and holding for ransom because he feels cheated out of an inheritance. By the end of a cross country adventure, the Cruise character learns to love his brother and ultimately turns down a large check in order to maintain contact with him.

In the movie “Liar, Liar,” Jim Carey plays an attorney who is forced to tell the truth for twenty four hours because of a wish he makes to his son. By the end of the film, Carey has not only exhausted all the comic potential that this high concept idea generates but he becomes a better father in the process for his honesty. That is his character arc.

Even though virtually every story has one character undergoing an arc, there are a few notable exceptions. James Bond is essentially unchanged from beginning to end in every film of the franchise. In “Godfather 2,” Al Pacino’s character stays ruthless throughout the movie and has no arc at all. In “The French Connection,” Popeye Doyle’s character remains a reckless, obsessive detective until the closing credits despite having just accidentally killed a fellow officer.

Despite these exceptions, your scripts should have at least one major character who goes through a change in his belief or behavior.

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Steve Kaire is a Screenwriter/Pitchman who’s sold 8 projects to the major studios on spec without representation. His CD, “High Concept -- How to Create, Pitch & Sell to Hollywood” is available on his  website along with more articles. HighConceptScreenwriting.com