Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The New Speck Market -- and 13 Genres NOT to Write

Fellow scribes,

The Aug 31 2015 Scoggins Report just streeted, and to no one's surprise, things pretty much suck out there. 

So far, 2015 is the worst year for spec sales in the past seven years -- a full 30% lower than average.

Now that's pretty ghastly, but when I say to no one's surprise, what I mean is: as writers, we all need to be aware that the old model just doesn't work as well as it used to. If you think you're going to write a killer spec and sell it for a milllllion dollars, thus launching your career and allowing you to sing Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah all the way to the bank, well, mate, may I suggest jolly good luck with that, and dammit, I said extra foam on that mocha frappucino, chop-chop.

Gazing through the Coverage Ink spyglass, with its startlingly non-rose-colored optics, we can see what's going on, what this all really means and how it lays out for us all. And in so doing, I compiled a list of 13 genres you should probably avoid writing -- unless throwing away a year of your life on a quixotic quest seems like a smashing way to spend your time. 

But first, let's break down the WHYS.

LESS FLICKS. I'm talking about studio films specifically. There are still plenty of indie and DIY features being made, but the actual number of movies produced by the handful of remaining majors is a fraction of what it was 20 years ago. What did Paramount release this year, like TWO movies? Plus we all know what types of movies they're making: things based on source material. If the concept is already out there in the zeitgeist in some way, be it as a song, TV show, graphic novel, successful web series (10 million views or above), work of literature, whatever -- it immediately has more weight than an original spec script. For studios, the built-in audience that comes with a known property is reassuring when they're considering reaching for their checkbooks. 

In short: they're just not buying or optioning nearly as many original feature-length scripts nowadays. 


The new mindset among agents and managers is: they'll send out a piece of material, of course always hoping for a sale, but knowing full well that it's really just a writing sample. They're hoping to introduce the writer to the town, get a "bottled water tour" (meet n' greet meetings with creative execs,) and then, if the writer and the execs hit it off, maybe get the writer a job either developing one of the producers' ideas, or rewriting an existing project on the prodco's shelf.

This in and of itself is not terrible -- it just means we need to revise our expectations from "selling my script" to "getting in the door." Once in, it's up to your charisma, not what's on the page.

A prestige TV offering coming from Amazon.
MORE TUBE. Our entertainment options have changed dramatically. Sure, we still go to the movies -- try to find parking at any theater on a Saturday night and you'll clearly see people are still going out. But perhaps because a night out at the movies for two now costs in the $50 vicinity when you add in snacks and whatnot, going to the cinema has become more of an event experience. We go see movies in the theater that are big-budget extravaganzas (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Mission Impossible 5) or date-night picks (50 Shades, Trainwreck). That strands many genres which do not rise to the status of "event" movies in that "thanks, but no thanks" land, at least as far as the studios are concerned (see list below.) 

What's left? Comedy, Thriller, Action, "Elevated" Horror, Sci-fi and... um... yeah, that's pretty much it. 

Also driving this phenomenon is that fact that TV has never been better. Why roll the dice on a pricey movie in the theaters when there's always something decent on Netflix, Hulu, or YouTube? So while the hunger for original feature scripts drops like a dirigible mistakenly filled with concrete, the TV renaissance and increase in new TV networks means more openings for writers than ever before. Take five minutes to peruse the list of execs and what they're looking for on Virtual PitchFest. Three years ago, there were only a handful specifying they were looking for pilots. Now, virtually all will read them. This is a massive sea change. 

Or as Mitch Solomon from Magnet Management replied, when I asked what he tells his feature writers when they ask him if they should consider writing TV: "Do you like money?" 

BATTLE PLAN. Fortunately, none of this means we writers necessarily have to do anything differently. You can still write feature specs; just don't have unrealistic expectations. It will still act as a writing sample, and the best part is: the wall between TV and features has eroded to the point where agents and managers frequently submit feature specs to TV producers and TV pilots to feature producers as well. Good writing is good writing, and the snobbery of days gone by is history. So your feature could well get you a pitch meeting for that new Netflix show, for example. 

Do be aware however, that agents and managers are STILL looking for those feature scripts that MIGHT sell. Just because they know they likely won't sell doesn't mean they're going to take a flyer on your epic, non-branded (no known historical characters) period adventure. You will likely not even get a read unless your concept seems like a studio movie. 

Here are 13 things you should NOT be writing if you actually want people to read your feature script...

Uhhhh... no.

13 GENRES NOT TO WRITE IN 2015

(if trying to interest a Hollywood agent or manager)


1) Anything topical. With the 24-hour "news" cycle incessantly bludgeoning us with stupidity and corporate/Pentagon propaganda, current events become stale very quickly. That topic that's all the rage now will be, in six months, a "nothing-burger" (to paraphrase Kevin O'Leary.) Plus, as far as the studios are concerned, movies are escapism. 

2) Terrorist-anything. See above. Unless it is a really unusual form of terrorist. Eskimos or Canadians or Venusians? Sure! But Muslims/Middle East/ etc.? Pass.

3) Traditional romantic comedies. Stale and formulaic. But find a way to change it up or make it fresh (e.g., "Trainwreck") and you may have something.

4) Fantasy movies. BUDGET! Sure, these are huge box office, but they're ALL branded. Unless you have the rights to "Dragonriders of Pern," you are dead in the water. No studio is going to bet the proverbial farm on original material.

5) War or Period/Costume Epics. BUDGET! Sure, these get made, but not by the likes of us. I wish I had a dollar for every great WWII script I've read over the last decade. Sure, if someone powerful like Angelina Jolie attaches, it's a whole different story, but try interesting an agent...  Consider restaging the conflict to a space station or another galaxy or inside a human body or something. Seriously.

6) Westerns. The genre is put-a-fork-in-it done theatrically and has migrated to TV.

7) Anything starring a cop or lawyer. Both are the purview of TV. Cop movies still get made of course, but there needs to be something really unique about it. A grizzled alcoholic cop, family falling apart, desperate to track down an elusive murderer? Ho-hum (unless there's true-life source material.) Legal anything: unless adapted from John Grisham, it's probably for TV.

8) Serial killer stories. Played out and also the purview of TV now. 

Who expected this movie to be any good? We certainly didn't.
9) Non-supernatural horror. Monsters and demonic forces are fine, but a crazed killer or slasher flick isn't going to get in the door at most places (unless it can be done for a dime, in which case there are specific companies who do that type of thing.) Also includes psychological horror, although really visual Jacob's Ladder-type stuff certainly has a shot.

10) Stories without Americans, in a country other than the US: America is a ridiculously xenophobic society. It's fine to stage your story in Zimbabwe... provided your hero is American. But US studios will likely not be interested in a movie focused on another culture, with actors who are not Americans -- unless (you guessed it!) there is source material, such as literature or a well-known play (e.g., "Les Miserables".) The exception to this is British, provided it's not about working class types or anything too Britishy-British.

11) Spy/CIA stories. Spy stories are so played out they were already spoofing them in the '60s (Kingsman:The Secret Service was based on a graphic novel.) And the CIA is such an overused element in screenplays as to elicit groans at the mere sight of the acronym. Invent your own agency or do some research -- there are a hundred other lesser-known alphabet soup agencies. 

12) Dramas. Again, TV has sucked a lot of the air out of this once erstwhile genre; and while they do sneak through quite a bit, they're seldom rewarded at the box office, even with a Sundance pedigree or critical notice. That means it's tough to interest an agent, manager or CE in reading them, unless there's a noteworthy attachment, or if you've DIY'ed it and won a passel of awards from film festivals. And finally:

13) Superhero movies. This might seem counter-intuitive at first, but if you've been paying attention you'll realize that while superhero movies continue to dominate, they all have one thing in common: NONE of them came from specs. (Except Hancock. But that's a whole nother story.) So unless your last name happens to be Lee or Ditko or Kirby, or you somehow got DC to part with the feature adaptation rights to Matter Eater Lad (that's a real thing, believe it or not), then don't waste one minute of your precious time writing a huge-budget superflick no one will even read. 

There you have it. It's a not-especially brave new world, but forewarned is forearmed. Consider carefully how to ford the raging rapids separating you from Hollywood's fortifications. Beware the minefield(s) and proceed with knowledge of the way things are, versus the way we want things to be. There are still ways in -- we just have to be smarter about our time and material. Go get 'em.

And hell, if you are writing Matter Eater Lad, then I want in!

+++

Jim Cirile is a Los Angeles-based writer/producer and the founder of leading screenplay analysis/development service Coverage Ink, used by writers, prodcos and management companies to develop and hone their material. Coverage Ink Films is currently producing MALEVOLENT, the world's first US-made animated horror feature, starring Morena Baccarin (Deadpool.)  www.coverageink.com.

www.coverageink.com


Sunday, August 02, 2015

BRINGING THE GOODNESS: Interview with Stephanie Palmer

"Good in a Room" -- as screenwriters, we've all heard this expression, which simply means "be engaging when you meet people." Seems intuitive, right? Just be cool and tell a story well.  

Yeah, that's not as easy as it seems for many of us.

Enter Stephanie Palmer. A former MGM studio executive, Palmer founded Good in a Room ten years ago and since then has given workshops for the likes of Google, Merrill Lynch, WME, Disney and Warner Bros. The company may be an answered prayer for many of us. After all, writing a good script is only half the battle. 

We caught up with Stephanie to find out a little about her and how she works her magic.

Jim Cirile: So, Stephanie, fill us in -- what exactly is Good in a Room, and how does it work?

Stephanie Palmer: “Good in a Room” is a term that agents and producers use to describe writers who present their ideas well in meetings. The purpose of Good in a Room is to help screenwriters to get meetings, pitch effectively, find agents, and sell their work.

My philosophy is that there is more to being a successful screenwriter than writing well. You also need a strategy for your career, a networking strategy to meet the right people, and a meeting strategy to perform well in any situation where you are presenting your ideas.

To help writers to create commercially viable material - and to be able to get that material in the right hands - I offer a Screenwriter Starter Kit for newcomers to the screenwriting world who sign up to my email list, and an in-depth course How To Be A Professional Writer for the more serious writers.

JC: How did you come to work for MGM?

SP: My first job was an intern on Titanic. Then, I was an assistant at Jerry Bruckheimer Films. The woman I replaced at Jerry Bruckheimer Films told me about the opportunity to work at MGM. I started as an assistant, then was the Story Editor, and then the Director of Creative Affairs.


 JC: What's your best memory of your tenure at MGM? Worst?

SP: There were lots of terrific moments from my time at MGM. I loved getting to work with some incredible writers and directors — people who were real heroes to me. I loved working with the team of script readers. I got to travel the world attending film festivals; I met basically everyone I wanted to meet in Hollywood and I got to supervise projects from the inception of the idea until the films were released.

The worst moment… well, there’s a lot of competition for that award. As an assistant I put up with a lot of harassment and verbal abuse. One time I had a stapler thrown at me (I ducked).

For the last year that I was at MGM (when the company was for sale), it was very hard to get films made because the status of the company was so tenuous. There was also one morning when I came into work early and the giant MGM lion logo on the wall in the lobby had fallen off the wall and was lying on the floor. That was a bad omen. :)

JC: What was the genesis of your book?


www.goodinaroom.comSP: I was interviewed on NPR and an agent contacted me and asked me to write a book proposal. I wrote the proposal, went to NYC, and pitched it. My first meeting completely tanked because I got nervous sitting on the other side of the desk. The irony was not lost on me that I was pitching a book called Good in a Room… and I was not.

But then I went back to the hotel, followed my own advice, got my act together, and eventually sold the book to Random House.

JC: You're delightfully candid on your website. I love the anecdotes about the house you grew up in not having TV and your theater experience. So how did you come to Hollywood and the film biz? And why did you escape to lovely Santa Fe?

SP: My college advisor was a theater, TV, and film director. While I was sure I was going to move to NYC to direct theater after graduation, my advisor strongly suggested I at least try working in Hollywood before I dismissed it out of hand.

I interned on Titanic and I loved it. I loved the pace, that there were so many creative people working together really hard - it was really exciting. I lived in LA and was immersed in the heart of the film business for 12 years.

However, I was growing tired of the traffic and commuting. I was getting married and we visited Santa Fe for a weekend and fell in love with it. We found a house that first weekend, signed up, and put our place in LA on the market. Initially, it was really just for a break, but I came to love Santa Fe. I visit LA whenever I am needed and will be moderating the American Film Market Pitch Conference on November 7th.

JC: Do you think anyone can be good in a room? Are there some hardcases who are hopeless?

SP: While there are some people who are naturally charming, extroverted, funny, and really can “wow” in the room, the goal of being “good in a room” is to express your ideas clearly and succinctly. That is something I think almost anyone can do.

Yes, there are hard cases, people who have social phobias and anxieties, but for most people, it’s understandable to be nervous pitching ideas (that you love and have worked so hard on) to strangers in high-stakes meetings. The key is to learn how to practice so that the nerves decrease enough to be able to use that nervous energy in a constructive way. 


www.goodinaroom.com

JC: At what point do you recommend writers come to you, or can best avail themselves of your services? For example, if the writing isn't there yet, is there any point in learning how to better present?

SP: What makes someone right for Good in a Room is if they are serious about selling projects and becoming full-time writers.
 

A common misconception is that there’s the “writing phase” where you write the script, and then the “selling phase” where you pitch and sell the script. This isn’t completely true (as you know).

The truth is that pitching is an essential part of the creative process. Professionals pitch ideas and work out the kinks long before they go to script. However, for a pitch to generate constructive feedback, it needs to be pitched to the right people in the right situations. This makes a writer’s network and meeting strategy important because of how it helps a writer to focus on the right ideas and hone them, structurally speaking, before doing the heavy lifting of writing a draft.

The fact is that the choices one makes as a writer - genre, structure, even sequences and scenes - must be tightly integrated into your overall strategy for your career. The people you meet along the way and how you handle yourself in those interactions are factors just as important to your success as your natural writing talent and dedication to the craft.

JC: How do you feel about the state of features at the moment, and the rise of television?

SP: I think there are terrific films being made (though primarily outside the studio system). The rise of television has encouraged many clients and friends who were exclusively writing film projects to shift to TV. TV offers so much more creative control and opportunities. It’s understandable that many advanced feature writers are developing material for TV.

JC: Thanks so much, Stephanie. Any advice or words of wisdom you'd like to pass along to writers?

SP: My thought here is that it’s important for writers to have hope. The way I give writers hope is by telling them the truth about how to actually achieve their dreams - I don’t make it sound easy and simple and fun, because it’s rarely all three of those things at once. What I do is share my experience with how things work in Hollywood and reveal the strategies to get results.

Anyone who would like more information can start by checking out my free guide, 20 Screenwriting Terms You Must Know and taking a look at the Most Popular Posts on GoodinaRoom.com.


+++


www.coverageink.com

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Update from Brandon Barker

In late 2014, we launched our very first Get Repped Now! It was a new kind of promotion -- unlike a contest, there are no winners, no prizes, and you don't compete against other writers. The concept was simple: send in your script for coverage, and if it scores a 'consider' (or higher for script -- roughly 5% of submissions -- we'd pass along your script to our panel of managers, who guaranteed to read it. If you didn't score a consider, then you got 10-15 pages of detailed notes from our team telling you how to make your script better.

Right out of the gate, scribe Brandon Barker hit a grand slam. His script "Nottingham and Hood," -- in a nutshell, "Midnight Run" in Sherwood Forest -- was selected as one of five considers, and it promptly caught the eye of several of the managers. But it was Benderspink's Jake Wagner who moved like an arrow launched from Robin's own bow, signing Barker and sending the script out PDQ. Within three weeks of us getting Wagner the script, he'd sold the script to Disney (although we couldn't announce it until about a month later.) 

www.coverageink.com
Brandon Barker, deep within Sherwood (his backyard)
Barker e-mailed us today to give us a quick update on how he's doing:


Robin Hood (aka Nottingham and Hood - we don't have an actual title yet) may have a director soon. Fingers crossed. Hope it keeps moving up the ladder. The Disney higher-ups and producers at Picture Company have been awesome. No horror stories! Learning a lot. These scripts are definitely a team effort. I'm working with Alex and Andrew (Picture Company) on a new pitch. And working on another with Broken Road Prod. Jake has been great with his sage advice and setting up meetings. And a great side effect -- the spec sale has allowed me to work part-time at the current day job. Wa-hoo!


It couldn't happen to a nicer guy, and it proves that every once in a while, perhaps as rare as a humanely raised fast food meal with nutritional content, it really is about hard work and writing a good script, not just who you know. We're getting ready to sending the latest batch of Get Repped Now! scripts to our panel of top motion picture and TV lit managers right now -- ten damn good writers who deserve a shot. Will one of 'em be the next Brandon Barker? Stay tuned.

GET REPPED NOW RETURNS FALL 2015... Dates to be announced.

www.coverageink.com

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

PAGE Awards Quarterfinalists Announced

Validation! It's a wonderful thing, ain't it? Thus we were stoked to see so many Coverage Ink clients on the recently announced list of The 2015 PAGE Quarterfinalists.  

Our client Paul Moxham won the action category a few years back -- let's hope one of these guys does the same! Congrats to everyone on this list -- we expect greatness moving forward. No pressure.


CONGRATS TO:

Darryl Anka
Tamara Shure
George Gier
Rod Thompson & Tim Westland
Helyn Dunn
Dan Longe
Holli Herle-Castillo
Julio Castillo
Joey Ernand (also a Get Repped Now! Top ten) 
Joe Borriello
Curt Burdick
Scott Burdick
George Covic
Jared Cohn
Alan Sproles & Lizanne Southgate
Lee Tidball
James Papa
Carlo Bordone
Lauren Hoekstra
Terry Kaufman

Go get 'em, kids!
 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

GET REPPED NOW! UPDATE

www.coverageink.com

Hey ho, folks, 

We are STILL digging our way out of the massive outpouring of submissions we received for Get Repped Now! The final scripts submitted by our May 10 final deadline will receive their coverage by mid-June. Yep, we are that far behind. We apologize to everyone for the delays. 

The awesome news, however, is that we have found TEN CONSIDERS (so far.) These impressive screenplays will be submitted to our manager panel as soon as everyone sends along their polishes, likely end of June or early July. We're really excited about this batch of scripts, a really diverse assemblage of awesome material. Hats off to our ten considers to date:

BLUE DEATH by Pamela Kay
FANGED by Joey Ernand
KILL TRACKER by AK Anders
OF HORN AND IVORY by Jason Gruich
PULL NO PUNCHES by Derek Craigie and P.J. Palmer
REEL AMERIKA by Keith Bearden and Joel Haskard
RIFT JUMPERS by Joey Ernand
SECRET AGENT MOM by Beth Szyperski
SKY THIEVES by Joey Ernand
THE BOOK OF REVENGE by David Keith Miller

And to everyone who submitted and is not on this list, let me say that overall, the quality of screenplays submitted this time out was a really high caliber. We had plenty of scripts that were Consider with Reservations and some right on the cusp of Consider. But look, even if you got a pass/pass, all is not doom and gloom. The coverage you received should be an important tool in the improving the script and in so doing your writing chops as well. Writing is work. It often takes many drafts, way more than we'd like, to get it right. The important thing is the effort. As painful as it is, getting in there and ripping it all apart is like writer cardio. We need to do this stuff to build, to get strong, to become champions.And we need to do it a lot. 

Persevere. 

And then dominate.

We'll keep you guys posted as things develop. Congrats again to our lucky 10!

--Jim C.

www.coverageink.com

Interview with CI's Jim Cirile on Maximum Z

Thanks, Paul Zeidman, for allowing me to mouth off in this interview. Paul's blog Maximum Z has a regular feature where he interviews story analysts:  "Ask a Straight-Talkin' Script Consultant". He was silly enough to inquire of me, so I left the filters off and let fly. A Nicholl top 15% writer himself, Paul provides an amazing service with his blog. Check it out.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

AGENT'S HOT SHEET: Wither Indies?

Yep, it’s hard as heck to break into Hollywood. But it’s even harder for someone with indie sensibilities. Come with us as we investigate how an indie-minded writer can make a living in the film business nowadays.

 By Jim Cirile


Wither indies? The answer, sadly, is yes. Indies, as we’ve always understood them, are not only withering, they’re pretty much gone. Over the past 15 years, many US-based indie production companies and distributors have shuttered. This leaves fewer and fewer opportunities for writers with a penchant for more provocative, out of the box, non-Hollywood studio system material. The path in is now longer and bumpier than ever -- but opportunities still exist for the savvy indie writer.

To begin, the big indie production companies have largely gone the way of the dodo. In the ‘90s, we had Miramax, Paramount Classics, Fine Line… every major studio had an indie division. But as the studios were swallowed up into corporate media behemoths, these specialty divisions, which maybe only returned a paltry few million in profit each year, were eradicated. The last two standing: Fox Searchlight and Sony Classics. “It was about business, not art,” says Adam Leipzig, CEO of Entertainment Media Partners and former CEO of National Geographic Films (March of the Penguins.) “When specialty division dollars were not (deemed profitable enough,) the studios started to abandon smaller movies and force their larger product onto the screens that were once available for indie films.” At the same time, exhibition chains took over independently owned theaters. Thus the number of screens available for indie movies shrank precipitously. And according to Leipzig, only about 1% of the 3,800-plus features submitted to Sundance this year will get any significant form of distribution, including Netflix. So while there is no shortage of indie filmmakers out there, getting those films seen is another thing entirely.

Because of these factors, most agents and managers don’t want anything to do with indie scripts. At some point, pretty much every rep has invested years of his or her life championing a brilliant little gem they truly believed in, a Sisyphean task with often little or no reward. Few are keen to repeat that experience. “It is the more difficult, if not most difficult path (to break into the business,)” says agent Mike Goldberg from APA. He advises that indie writers need to manage expectations “as far as how difficult the path will be as well as how long it will take. Patience is absolutely key.”


Manager Jeff Belkin from Zero Gravity tells us about one client, a multi-contest winner, whose period piece drama was so great he couldn’t not represent her. “I said, this is the most amazing writing. I love this script,” Belkin recalls. “I’m a popcorn movie guy. I like summer movies, so for me to get involved in a period biopic -- ridiculous! But if something spectacular crosses my desk, I want to get involved. So the next step was, who the hell do I give it to?” One person he gave it to was producer J. Todd Harris, whose credits range from Dudley Do-Right to The Kids Are Alright. “He and his partner Mark Marcum just flipped over it. It’s been long process of trying to get the financiers, the agencies, the talent, what have you. They’re still very much passionate about the project, and we’re hoping, fingers crossed, that it will happen very soon.”(We're happy to note that Belkin did indeed set that project up -- after about three years of effort.)

Despite that, Goldberg agrees with the battle plan. “You have to (partner with) a very talented, well-connected, hardworking producer who (has a hand in) the more independent arena. That producer has the know-how and the contacts and the diligence to help put the pieces together to move your project forward.” He cautions that whether it’s a $30 million dollar project or a $300K project, “it’s going to take the same amount of work, just the people involved are going to get a lot less money. You have to find those producers who do it not to make money, but do it for the love of film and good film, that are willing to roll up their sleeves and put the projects together.”

So how does one’s indie script get the attention of Hollywood? With great difficulty, of course. One good way is by getting validation from an outside source. High-profile contests like the Nicholl Fellowship remain a great way for indie voices to get exposure. “(Actor/writer/director) Tom McCarthy wrote and directed a tiny little indie movie in The Station Agent,” says The Arlook Group’s Richard Arlook, “that he wrote in his trailer while he was making the first Meet the Parents or something, and he made that movie for under half a million dollars. It won the Waldo Salt writing award at Sundance. As a result of that, it sold to Miramax and launched him as a real filmmaker (Win Win.) You don’t hear about it, but he works consistently, and gets compensated very fairly, to fix up studio scripts.”

Indeed, it’s a fairly open secret that some successful indie filmmakers pay the rent as script doctors for studio films. Says Leipzig, “To do that, that screenwriter has to write sample scripts that really show that he or she understands the commercial requirements of the business, so the writer can get an agent and get submitted for (that) work. I think that there is a potential business model for this writer to kind of do one for them, one for me, one for them, one for me.” Arlook adds, “John Sayles probably made more money over the years writing and fixing studio scripts than he ever did as an independent writer.”


This could be a really splendid solution for indie-minded writers -- the crossover. “There are definitely some writers who can do both independent and commercial films,” says Belkin. “I have some clients that do and some that very much do not. In a perfect world, it’s wonderful to introduce yourself to Hollywood in a more commercial way, because you have more chance of exposure and being read by an agency.” Leipzig feels that screenwriters need to determine if they are writing to try to get movies made that they deeply care about, even if they are not going to be very commercial -- or if they view writing as a business. “Let’s assume this is an (indie-minded) person who still wants to pay the rent by writing. I think that this person now has to think about bifurcating their work. There is not a great business for independent screenplays. Even if the movie gets made, the writer does not get paid that much, so that’s not really (the best way) to make a living. But there is a potential business for a screenwriter with really good character sensibilities to do studio rewrite and assignment work.” To do that, you will need to generate a sample script that really shows that you understand the commercial requirements of the business. “There’s still a lot of assignment work out there,” says Leipzig.

Another way to get the attention of the biz is to DIY. Don’t wait for someone to come along and give you money. Unless it’s a big-budget period piece, chances are you can shoot your script yourself on HD. “Get the money through friends and family, through credit card debt, loans, Kickstarter,” says Goldberg. “It’s been done in the past; it’s done every day. The most important thing is trying to get your film made, and if you can do it by yourself, great. If you can’t, try and find the right people that can do it with you or for you.” And if it comes out good enough, a few festival awards later and you may very well have a calling card.

But if one hasn’t won an award or gotten their film onto the festival circuit, you can still act as your own representative. “When I was a writer, coming out of film school, nobody told me how to find people,” said Belkin, who started out as a writer. “Nobody told me about the Hollywood Creative Directory or IMDBPro. I went through the usual query letter course and all that stuff. But the HCD is great in terms of finding companies, and IMDBPro is invaluable when it comes to finding producers with similar sensibilities (to your own.)”

There is another area where indie filmmaking is thriving -- anywhere but the USA. Seeking out overseas financing or coproduction money is one way US producers are still able to get non-superhero, non-based-on-a-hit-book properties made. Other countries seem to have less of a focus on the bottom line and are more willing to take risks and tell a story. If you manage to score a savvy producer, he or she will hopefully have the hook-ups to explore alternative financing options. 

Lastly, we should mention TV as the place where some of the most creative indie writing is taking place. No, not network -- with a few notable exceptions, they're still just as stale, formulaic and stilted as they ever were. But thanks to the brilliant offerings of HBO, Showtime, Netflix originals, A+E, Amazon, and all the rest, there is actually hope for more out-of-the-box writing nowadays. Of course, it will take an agent or manager with juice to get you in there. Which brings us right back to start.

The path in remains an uphill one to say the least. “To assemble a feature film from idea to execution takes an average of seven and a half years,” says Goldberg. “An independent film may take even longer.” So gird yourself for a long, tough battle, and consider, if you can, bending a little bit towards the commercial side. Above all, hang in there and keep working at your craft. Concludes Arlook, “Every once in a while, (a script comes along) that is just so wonderful that it’s undeniable that the writer has talent. Those scripts get passed around, those scripts get represented, those people get in rooms and book jobs. It’s very few and far between, but it can happen. The bottom line is that if you write something that’s great, doors will eventually open.”

www.coverageink.com



Tuesday, April 28, 2015

FROM PASS TO KICK-ASS

Or, Why Getting Coverage on Your Script May Be Just the Ticket 

By Jim Cirile 
www.coverageink.com 

We’ve all been there. We write “Fade Out” -- our new, fantastic, awesome spec is done. Then we hand it to our respective boyfriends, girlfriends, and “it’s complicated” others; they love it. Mom adores it. We’re ready for the big time. But just to be on the safe side, we send it out for coverage and wait with bated breath. Surely, it’ll be a “consider,” maybe even a “recommend.” 

The coverage comes back -- and it’s “pass/pass.” A pass for script and for writer! A knock to the ego, right? Maybe. Hard to Endure? For sure. Just what you need? Damn right. WTF? No, seriously. Read on… 

Of course, there’s only one explanation: the reader is a complete moron. An imbecile! Some frustrated hack, who is just jealous and will likely pilfer the script idea and write her own version of it and sell it for a milllllion dollars. We rail and rail and rail. A couple of weeks go by and maybe we take another look at the coverage and concede that maybe, possibly, there might be a miniscule microbe of a chance that there might be ONE valid point -- the reader pointed out that having a character names Belinda and Lebinda in the script might be confusing. Fine. Goodbye, Belinda; hello, Quelgha. Dissimilar enough for ya, reader? Hmph. 

But in the process of going back over the notes again, a few other things kinda stick in our craw. So we slowly start making a few other recommended changes. Before long, three hours have gone by and you’ve addressed all those notes. Sure, the notes were terrible, but hey… for sure, the script is perfect now. Just to be on the safe side, we send it out for coverage and wait with bated breath. You know of course what happens next. Wash, rinse, repeat. Yes, it’s frustrating when you find yourself on draft 21 and it still comes back pass/pass. You want to bash your head against the wall, throw in the towel, use your laptop for archery practice and ream out the moron who just sent you six pages of notes, single-spaced. 

Look, I get it. Not only do I get it, I’ve been there. Yes, full disclosure: I own a coverage company. But as Sy Sperling from Hair Club for Men used to say, I’m also a client. You work your butt off and create something you’re really proud of and then somebody essentially poops all over it. At least, that’s how it feels. That’s the point when you need to ask yourself if that’s reality or a hurt ego talking. Perhaps you’ve heard this hoary old cliché before: writing is rewriting. Hold onto your ass, because I am about to impart a dollop of reality. Here it is:

Neither you, nor anybody else, will likely hit a bull’s-eye with your first draft. 

Or fifth. Or even tenth. 

There’s a word for this process. It’s called “work”. Some writers get so discouraged, they shove that cursed script into the drawer never to look at it again. Some hire us as ghostwriters to get them over that hump (great way to not learn your craft.) And many just flip the proverbial bird to the story analyst and send the script, unchanged, to every agent, manager, and production company they can find an email address for. Worst move of all. A script that hits the town before it’s ready can not only do its creator considerable harm -- a bad first impression is difficult to rectify -- it’s also dead in the water once everyone’s passed on it. At that point, you can’t go back and “fix” it. Once a company passes, it’s pretty much toast there for good. 

Your script may well look like this after getting coverage back.
But then there are the superstars -- the few who roll up their sleeves and get to work. They do a draft, send it in for coverage; and after the requisite agonizing, they do the notes. Oftentimes improvement takes several drafts. But eventually, if you actually listen to the notes and are not afraid to throw out whole sections of the script and rethink them, that needle will tick over into the ‘consider with reservations’ zone and even ‘consider.’ Granted, this is a slow, agonizing and costly process. But it is also a proven way to improve your script, and in so doing develop your craft. And THAT, amigos, way more than sending out half-baked scripts to a town that doesn’t care, is what will eventually get you where you want to be: a working writer. 

For proof, you need look no further than me. I send my own scripts in for coverage to our team. It generally takes me about 20 drafts/script to Get It Right.

Here are the advantages of taking the stony road to success as opposed to the instant gratification highway to failure: well, the nomenclature says it all, the difference between success and failure. Let me briefly soapbox here: if you want to be a doctor, you spend years in medical school and then slog away on 36-hour shifts in a hospital during your internship and then, eventually, eons later, you’ll be a full-fledged M.D. The same long, intensive study and dues-paying is true for… well, pretty much every job there is. Yet, somehow, in this lovely business of ours, someone can wake up one morning and decide that they’re now a writer (or actor or director). Huh? Would you walk into the O.R. tomorrow and demand to be given a scalpel, simply because you’ve been to a few doctors and have seen them on TV and thus have an idea of what they do? Hell to the no. Then why would you assume that a script you spent only a few months on should be worth professional-grade $$$?

This guy learned all about doctoring from watching "E.R."
With a few exceptions that make us want to bash our heads against the wall, the writers making the big bucks have proven their mettle and are worth every penny. Being able to take and implement notes is an art all of its own. One that it takes a while to acquire, but which is vital for a career, because as a working writer you’ll be dealing with agents, managers, producers, directors, stars and their respective entourages, all of whom will be giving you (sometimes conflicting) notes. And you better be able to handle it. 

A hackneyed phrase about heat and kitchen comes to mind. 

So, what next? Get feedback on your script. There are hundreds of coverage companies out there and even more one-man or one-woman shops. Don’t overlook writing groups and peer to peer sites -- free feedback is a beautiful thing (sometimes.) Yes, some of these “analysts” deserve their air quotes. Some flat-out suck. Others are clearly using you as a punching bag to work out their own issues. You know what? Doesn’t matter. It is your job to differentiate between good and bad notes, and do the good ones without letting your ego get in the way. You also need to be able to take that (figurative) punch in the gut and keep going. This is Hollywood, not grammar school. You don’t get a medal just for showing up. 

Now, to those of you who are yelling at your computer screen right now -- “But all of those Hollywood hacks with their half-baked ideas are being paid a lot of money to write really bad movies” -- let me address that sentiment. You’re absolutely frigging right. If your college roommate is now a hotshot agent (or is abfab in conning people -- oops, I meant networking,) then, no, your work doesn’t have to be top-notch -- and by the way, bite me. Since you are reading this article, I’m assuming you don’t belong to that category. If you’re not on the nepotism freeway, then, sorry, the only other road open to you is that aforementioned painstaking road of learning your craft and being the best darn writer you can be.

So take the notes and implement, brothers and sisters. 20 drafts? Heck, just part of the process. Find the courage to get in there and do One More Draft. You’ll know when you’re ready to go: when those coveted words “consider/consider” appear at the end of the coverage report. Turn that pass into kick-ass. 

+++ 

Jim Cirile is a Los-Angeles based writer/producer. He owns www.coverageink.com, a leading independent screenplay coverage and development service. His latest movie is the animated horror feature MALEVOLENT starring Morena Baccarin (Deadpool.) 

www.coverageink.com