THE WRITER’S BIO

quote-Muhammad-Ali-its-not-bragging-if-you-can-back-104890

One of the features of a query letter that is generally the most helpful has also proven to be the most annoying- simply because so few of the writers ever include one in their query. This is the “Writer’s Bio”, the two or three lines at the end of letter where you get the chance to brag about yourself a little.

And I mean “a little”; two or three lines, tops.

I have seen resumes that were twice as long as the query letters itself. I’m happy that you were the second male lead in your fifth grade school play where you starred as “The Pied Piper of Hamlin”. Awesome – but truly not necessary in a query letter. I see that you were optioned twenty seven times. That’s amazing! Can you name one of them for us, please?

The fact is these bios may just be the thing that TRULY separates someone getting their script read and someone who doesn’t, all things being equal. We like to know a little about the person submitting the script, so it’s incumbent upon you to tell us.

Here are some tips for a good writer’s bio:

1) Mention the contests you have won or placed in IF they are major contest- especially if the screenplay that won was the same screenplay that you are submitting.

2) If you were optioned, tell us the screenplay and who optioned it. Some due diligence is in order when a producer considers buying a project. This information WILL get verified.

3) If you have had successes with screenplays written in the genre for which you are submitting, we’d like to know that. Knowing you have six rom/com’s in your repertoire, when you are submitting a horror, is NOT important and can actually be viewed as a negative.

4) If you have really NO successes, then you’ll want to highlight your screenwriting education, be it formal (through film school or college) or through a particular course of study.

5) If you have no writing successes to speak of, and no writing education to really point to, it might help if you tell us why you wrote a screenplay about the Iraq war. Perhaps you were a soldier, or you lived in Iraq during the war. These are intriguing POV’s that would make most people sit up and take notice.

These are some things you DON’T want to include:

1) Do not simply add links to other pages. We’re not clicking on them

2) Don’t tell us to check out your IMdb for information. We’re not doing that either. If you include links AFTER you’ve told us a little about you, we’ll probably want to see more about you.

3) Do not tell us about the 25 YA novels you’ve written- when you’re marketing a screenplay.

4) Do not tell us about the eighth place finish of the “Oshkosh Screenplay and Bratwurst Competition.” Don’t care; ESPECIALLY if it’s NOT this screenplay.

5) Having spoken to Steven Spielberg once at a Starbucks is not going to help you get someone to request your screenplay… that is, unless he said “We’re shooting your script tomorrow, and Tom Cruise is playing the lead!” Then, you might want mention this fact somewhere along the line.

Screenwriting- For Money!

Wolf-of-Wall-Street-money
So, how do you get paid for doing something that you’ve been willingly do for free for all of these years? Well, you have to have a track record of some success first, if you intend to make substantial (i.e. livable annual salary) money. Hopefully, you’ve had some successes in contests or an option or two, perhaps a produced work, or some other kinds of credits that are easily verifiable. So, to achieve this, you should be writing marketable spec screenplays that are perfectly formatted for the spec market, with a strong concept and well-written.

Beyond that, you MUST network. I realize “network” is a nasty word to some of you who prefer the shadows of your writing hovel only to come out for the occasional Twinkie and Sports Center update. But, it’s true; you really need to put yourself out there, technologically-speaking. For example, whenever I come across an indie producer looking for a script, I contact them (especially if I don’t have what they’re looking for) and ask them if they would be okay with me helping them to locate the best script for them. Now, they always say yes- because I have a network of 20,000 entertainment-related people, mostly writers like you, and they know this. They always ask “what’s in it for you?” and I tell them: I want the lead role and $100K in cash only. No, actually I tell them I’m not looking for anything, except perhaps, their professional friendship and possible future collaboration of some kind. True. No money, no credits, nothing. It’s a ton of hard work I’m willing to do for zip. Their friendship, that’s it. Sounds corny; it may sound unbelievable, but I can give you a laundry list of those I’ve helped, and still stay in contact with over the years. Many of these producers have gone on to bigger and better things in the industry, and I knew them and helped them when they were doing ultra-low budget ketchup horrors. So, that’s one way of getting your foot in the door to nice paying assignment writing; offer to help them without any expectations on YOUR end. Believe me; they’ll remember you and you will cash in on that good karma soon.

You also have to go to where the jobs are. The sites are plentiful, and I mention them all of the time: Craigslist, Mandy, Elance, SimplyHired, Media Match, GetFilmJobs, Mooncasting and a host of others. Now, some of these may require a paid membership, but they almost always allow you to try it for FREE first. So, sign up, fill out your profile, and check out the jobs. Elance is by far the best for paying jobs in general, and they have a sweet set-up. Mandy is excellent for screenwriting jobs, specifically. On Craigslist, instead of checking just Los Angeles or New York, check out “classifiedadsnationwide.com” and do you search. I scour all of these sites, and many more, and try to provide only the PAYING screenwriting jobs or script searches on our LinkedIn and Facebook sites “Script Assignments and Searches”.

woman-covered-in-money-bills-wolf-of-wall-street

One last note: those screenwriting “job” newsletters like “International Screenwriting Association” (ISA) and Screenwriting Staffing Utopia (SSU)? Total scams. Don’t spend a dime on them, even though they BOTH ask for $100 for a “premium” account. ISA is owned and operated by an actor who simply cuts and pastes the ads found at the same websites we find ours. The difference is they withhold the contact information “for five days” unless, of course, you PAY the premium price, and then you’ll receive their contact information by accessing their website. Total scam, and the owner doesn’t deny doing this (well, he can’t because it’s true). So, save your hunnit and do the research yourself- 15 minutes, tops, once you get used to it.

As far as SSU goes, well, they are just a bunch of criminals from the get-go. Jacob Stuart and Sarah Stutsman are the sleaziest assholes you’ll ever meet, so don’t EVER send a dime their way. They also “cut-and-paste” their ads, but they go one step further; they claim these leads as their own. They INTENTIONALLY try to deceive the public into believing they’ve cultivated the clients through their own contact- of which they have NONE. I know this because I was personally scammed out of $2600 from them by being a partner and Vice President of their business. He lied to me as well, folks, and once the truth was revealed, I left immediately, but far too late. He claims to have worked FOR ISA in the past, from which he was fired (a claim denied by the ISA founder) so he started a business mirroring the ISA model. Once I called them BOTH out for plagiarism, as well as fraud, Jacob Stuart and Sarah Stutsman began “re-writing” the ads in their own words (which, to no one’s surprise, are mostly misspelled) in an effort to avoid detection. FAIL- as so is their business! If YOU have been victimized by EITHER of these newsletters, demand you full reimbursement today! Let them know you can find the same jobs and opportunities on your own or on our LinkedIn and Facebook pages. When they refuse to comply and not return your money, let us know: we’ll tell the world…or at least 20K industry-related people!

We will be the “light” to these cockroaches!

ASK “THE SCRIPT MENTOR” No. 6 – COST TO HIRE A SCREENWRITER; CONTESTS, ETC.

questions2Q. I’m thinking about hiring a ghostwriter, and I was referred to you and The Script Mentor services. Can you tell me what a ghostwriting assignment might cost, in general?

A. I’m flattered that your friend was kind enough to refer you to us. I’d love to thank them personally. Regarding ghostwriting, it is something that I’ve done, and have arranged for other writers to do. I boast a network that exceeds 20K entertainment-related people, many of whom are writers of various talent levels. In the last month alone, I’ve arranged three such assignments, and the price/cost varies from case to case.

When you are hiring a ghostwriter, you must understand two things:

1) It will generally cost more because the writer is trading his or her writing credits for pay. While the general writing assignment may run anywhere from $500- $5,000 – and higher – you can expect to double that for not giving the writing credit and having it a ghost assignment.

2) The second thing is you get what you pay for. Rarely (although it DOES happen), you’ll get a very talented, experienced writer for the least amount of money. For example, I’ve completed ghost assignments for as little as $2500, though I recently completed a television writing assignment where I received $50,000 (1/2 down, half upon completion). That show will most likely get made by the production company who hired me.

The last two assignments where I found the best writer for the paying client were for $5000 and $1000, respectively. The $5K writer was one of those rare examples of a landing a great writer far below the writer’s market price, but did it somewhat as a favor to me. The $1K writer- someone who wrote one of the best spec screenplays I’ve read in years- had a lot of writing experience, but was getting back into the field after being away for a while.

I will do what I can for you, and thank you (and your friend) for allowing us to help you!


Q. Hi Geno! Do you think you can advise me about cost estimation to engage a writer, particularly for our “Animated Feature” project(s)? We are currently filling in our budget for those projects. There are the plans we have in mind:

  • Plan A: Script notes- We are developing the Script internally; planning to send out to someone to provide us the script notes. How do we estimate the cost from there? What is the cost range would be?
  • Plan B: Polish Up / Rewrite the script: We would like to engage someone experience to have a look on our Scripts and perhaps polish up from there. How do we estimate the cost from there? What is the range would be?
  • Plan C: Provide a treatment to the writer and the writer start writing script from there. How do we estimate the cost from there? What is the range would be?

We just came back May 2014 from Cannes Film Festival, where we had a booth in Marche Du Film. So what is your advice, based on above Plan A, B and C? No hurry at all, just share with me whenever you are available.

A. Thank you so much for allowing me to help you and your animation team with on your new animation project. As you know, I boast a network of over 20K entertainment-related people; many of whom seem to be writers of all levels. It includes professional writers currently working in all of the major studios and production houses to new writers writing their first scripts- and everyone in between! Just this year alone, I have assisted dozens of writers in getting new writing jobs. In fact, I just closed one last week- an adaptation of a client’s novel- that paid the writer $5,000 USD on a budgeted project of about $100,000.

Here in the United States, a truly professional writer and member of the Writer’s Guild (an industry union) is bound by certain laws that require the writer to make a certain amount per script. Studios use these writers, as money is no object to them generally. They can afford the $100,000 payday for a screenwriter. If you can as well, look no further. I’m your man! ;)

Realistically, though, it will depend on your production budget for the project, and what you’re willing to pay for the quality of the writing. As I said, my network spans the quality spectrum. But if you told me how much you think you can spend on the writer, I would make the effort on your behalf and secure you the best writer for that money, someone I know and trust and would stake my reputation on. This is a lot of work for me to do this, but I feel it is important, especially if my reputation is behind it, and I love to be involved in fellow professionals- like you- from around the globe.

Re: Script Notes- If you have a script in place and require script notes on structure, formatting, plot and story, there are literally thousands of writers who offer to do this. Even I do this. The prices range from nominal to off-the-charts expensive. I can arrange to get you very solid notes from a contact whom I strongly recommend for about $150- $300 USD. It wouldn’t be me, but someone I think is very talented. I would make nothing on that deal.

Downside: The problem, of course, is getting one person’s point of view on a one-time read. If you wanted to go back to that person for follow-up notes (let’s say certain changes were made), you would have to pay that fee again, and again. This may not be the best solution in your case- but only you can say.

Re: Script Polish/Rewrite – Again, the number of writers I know, including myself, who could accomplish this is high. Generally, you’re looking at $1500-$2500 USD for this process, or more if you require a writer with vast credits and experience. As an example, I was recently paid $10,000 USD for this type of assignment.

Re: Treatment for a New Script: This may be the best move for your project. You can steer the final outcome of the script with much more control. These agreements are done in several ways. Most of the time, the writer accepts the assignment and is paid 50% of the agreed-upon fee up front. They are given a certain amount of time (for example, 12 weeks) to produce a first draft. The client reviews it, and asks for certain changes. The agreement generally calls for ONE FREE rewrite, where the writer fixes the script to your liking. Prior to the time of the final delivery, the remaining portion of the payment is made. The WRITER will generally request screenwriting credits, to be acknowledged through IMdb, our professional database for credits. This is very important to us, as writers. You could expect to pay between$2500 for a very new writer with little professional experience, to $100,000 for a working professional- and everything in between. This year alone, I was paid $5,000 USD for a rewrite of someone else’s script, and ten times that much for a brand new feature script from a very high-level production house with 15 shows currently running on cable television.

Another option is by way of a GHOSTWRITING assignment. Everything is the same, except the writer doesn’t get writing credits. In fact, no one knows they were involved in the project. You or your producer/director may wish to claim THEY wrote the project, and in exchange for money, we would agree to this. Of course, this is more expensive because we are selling our rights as writers. You might expect to double the writer’s asking price; my last ghostwriting assignment paid $10,000.

Summary: Your projected budget for finding and hiring a screenwriter for this animation project is all dependent upon the overall budget of the project. You’ll want to target about 2-4% of the budget; the higher end for the more talented writer. I would welcome the opportunity to find and help you select the lucky writer for this project. As a producer, I do this all the time with production companies and have assisted in getting many, many writers some great gigs, while helping production companies get the perfect scripts for their projects.

I’m very good at it.

Thank you for reaching out to me on this project, and I hope we can work together very soon!


Q. I want to thank you and The Script Mentor team for their help and guidance in finding my recent success at the Hollywood Pitch Fest. I received quite a few compliments on the pitch. A veteran writer I know looked at my script and commented on how much “white” there was on the page!

I had several fresh script requests at Pitch fest for both of my scripts. I was able to get one of them in the hands of Silver Productions (Matrix, V for Vendetta), and two other companies that did “300” and “Twilight” respectively. Morgan Creek also took both. Millennium’s VP was there and seemed enthused by the script, saying “this is exactly what we do.” He was very happy to take the one sheet (which he complimented me on, thanks again for your guidance!)

Again, I just wanted to thank you so much. I spread your name and company to a few writers at the event so I hope they get in contact with you.

A. Wow, that’s some great feedback- both on your pitches as well as our service in helping you to this point. I certainly hope your pals from the pitch fest follow up with your suggestion and contact us. I expect big things from you going forward, as I always thought having the Gods of mythology come alive in the present was something very unique and intriguing as a concept.

Continued good luck going forward!


Q. My name is Frank, I am a screenwriter, and I have been immersed in film and television since a young child as a hobby. I’m looking to place my work in some legitimate contest. If you have any ideas please send them my way. Thank you for your time, I look forward to speaking with you again.

A. I absolutely, one hundred percent, endorse entering contests. My own success through these competitions is directly linked to me recently landing several paid writing assignments. One client specifically sought out contest winners, of which I was one. In my opinion, it’s the quickest way to get recognized, get compared to your writing peers, and to get your projects read by executives and produces, who often judge these contests at the higher levels. In return, should you do well in them, the contest organizers themselves promote you and your work. Who wouldn’t want to lay claim that Frank’s project got produced after having done well in their contest? That’s their number one goal!

That being said, I would STRONGLY encourage some steps PRIOR to entering any contests that costs money to enter. I list these steps in my blog at http://thescriptmentor.wordpress.com. Before you even enter ONE contest, though, you’ll need professional feedback. Friends and family are nice, but they’re never going to give you honest feedback, and it is doubtful they know anything about screenwriting. Contest writing (and reading and judging) is all about the numbers. With an average of 5,000 entries per any mid-level contests, how can it not be? Therefore you can do certain things to ASSURE your advancement to the Quarter Finals round and beyond. We believe so much in our system at The Script Mentor that we offer a 100% MONEY-BACK GUARANTEE on that very thing! If a member of TSM followed our philosophy, we guarantee you a high finish in any one of the 3500+ competitions going today. So, get you screenplay reviewed by at least three professionals beforehand. We can help with that if you need it. We offer a FREE first ten-page review, which should give you a good indication where you stand, writing-wise.

I write a lot more about contest tips; here are but a few:

1. Determine what your budget is going to be for the year. In 2013, mine was set at $500, because I felt I had a strong entry.

2. Sign up for Moviebytes.com. I’m a paid member (WinningScriptsPro) and it is a very helpful and informative site and service. They list most major contests, and offer ways to easily enter and track your entries.

3. Investigate each contest, including user reviews. User reviews are very enlightening, I assure you.

4. Determine what the prizes are and if that is what you are looking for. For me, money, recognition and exposure were my goals. I’m less concerned about table reads or free airfare to someone’s seminar in Cabazon, CA.

5. Calendar EARLY BIRD DEADLINES. You can save significantly if you enter early.

6. Spend any extra money on an occasional feedback. It might double the entry fee, or more, but in most cases, it is well worth it. My very first feedback, years ago, was from Script Pipeline (Script P.I.M.P. as it was known then). The script was awful, but the reviews made it sound like it had, and I had, potential. This was extremely important to me, because, like many others, I was feeling vulnerable when submitting my life’s dream- my first completed screenplay- up for ridicule. The feedback was spot-on, extremely informative, but more importantly, highly positive in tone. This was a major reason for my delving into another script, and another, and so on.

7. Read, accept and learn from the feedbacks, but do not dwell on them. Take the review to heart, because if it’s factually correct, it comes from a good place. Make an effort to make the improvements/corrections as pointed out in the feedback. Also understand not everyone is going to like it, and not everyone is going to hate it. Chances are that the reader probably knows a bit more than you, especially in the bigger, more prestigious contests.

8. Check out “Withoutabox”. This is a great little secret that everyone should be aware of. It makes sending scripts, tracking scripts, and paying for entry fees extremely easy and user-friendly. It’ll save you money to pay for $100 towards $120 worth of entry fees, as well. Cool site.

9. Read all of the contest rules. Some REQUIRE cover pages with info; some others PROHIBIT them. DO NOT get caught with your contact info anywhere on the script (including title page) or you’ll be disqualified.

10. Get confirmation on your entry, and save it.

11. Document your script entries. If you don’t use a contest entry program, create an Excel spreadsheet, and document script, contest name, date of submission, entry fee, costs for feedbacks, date of finals and any other pertinent information. By the way, contest entries with feedback are tax deductible as a business expense (refer to your tax professional for details).
Some of the more popular contests are as follows:

A. The Nicholl Fellowship (http://www.oscars.org/awards/nicholl/index.html) is widely accepted as the premier screenwriting contest in the contest, and how can it not be? It is owned and operated by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the same people who bring us the Oscars each year. This is a career “game-changer”. The downside is that it is an International contest and will receive close to 7,000 entries. The odds are long, so unless you’ve received several “recommends” from various coverage companies, I’d think twice about entering, at least in the early stages of your career. Previous winning entries include “Arlington Road”, “Finding Forrester”, and “Akeelah and the Bee”.

B. Scriptapalooza- another international contest with a solid reputation, but probably half as many entries. Past winning entries include “L.A. Confidential”, “Dark Woods” and “The Break-Up Artist”. They offer substantial prize money, and include several levels of winning, as well as several different genres winners.

C. Story Pros- Now in its fifth season, they boast of having the same contest “grade”, provided by Creative Screenwriting Magazine, as The PAGE, Scriptapalooza, Slamdance and Warner Bros. They offer $30K in prizes, and have a unique system that gives you up to 16 chances to become a winner.

D. Script Pipeline (formerly Script P.I.M.P.)- another solid contest, which boasts 2010 winning entry “Snow White and The Huntsman”, released this year, as well as the 2008 winning script “Killing Season” which is to star Robert De Niro. Pipeline is entering their tenth contest season.

You can review all of these and more at http://www.moviebytes.com.

(In full disclosure, it should be noted that I’ve won contests B, C and D, so while it may be slightly biased, few would disagree with these contests as being good ones for your career).

If “The Script Mentor” can help you or your writing career any further, please don’t hesitate to ask. Good luck!


 If you have any screenwriting questions, don’t hesitate to contact The Script Mentor @ thescriptmentor@hotmail.com. You can also join our LinkedIn pages at “Script-To-Screen Network” and “FADE IN”.

For PAID screenwriting assignments and notices of script searches (WITHOUT having to pay for a subscription to a  newsletter), please join the “Script Assignments and Searches” LinkedIn group, as well as the Facebook page of the same name. Everyday, new paid writing assignments or script searches will be posted, with the links available to the original ad site.

Please “like” The Script Mentor Facebook page, as well.

Jacob Stuart and Screenwriting Staffing Utopia Newsletter: An Expose of a Scam

scamalertRecently, our LinkedIn group was hacked into by an associate of Jacob Stuart- a “Ms. Allison Miles”- who deleted many of the group members, the forum posts and changed the title of the group page and email address. We know there isn’t a real “Allison Miles”, but this is, in fact, Jacob’s fiance, Sarah Stutsman, as she has done the exact same thing before to our Facebook and Twitter accounts after she was caught stealing $1600 from us. We believe the time has come to alert everyone about these two individuals.

Sometime last year, Mr. Stuart asked for an investment in a new business venture- a newsletter designed to provide original screenwriting-related paid opportunities to a network of screenwriters. After discussing the purpose and procedure of such a newsletter, I offered to buy in for $1000 investment, with a title of V.P. and a ROI of 10% of the profits every month.

During the first several months, I was more of an “advisor” to him, personally, and to the company. He generally accepted most of the advice and implemented many of my ideas. He ORIGINALLY told me, when asked directly, that he cultivated these leads through “friends” from various production crews.

This was later proven to be untrue.

He shared the idea of an on-line pitch fest, and decided, on his own, to implement it- against my better judgment- right before the Christmas holidays. I know he took $15-30 each from participants, and none of the “pitches” were ever viewed by any producer of merit.

He instituted a “screenwriting contest”, even advertising me as one of the three final judges, and I know several people paid a lot of money to enter. I did not read a single screenplay. None were ever forwarded to me, and no winner or placements were ever advertised. Just another scam.

Concurrent to these happenings, and while I became more and more suspicious of his activity, I developed a friendship with his girlfriend, Sarah Stutsman, who calls herself a PR and Marketing expert. I know they were struggling together financially after some hard luck events (karma, I suspect), and we worked out an agreement where she would be The Script Mentor’s public relations professional. I outlined a rough agreement as to what was expected, and she agreed to accept $1300 for working our account for one year. I made the payment in three stages; the last of which she begged for, since she had bills to pay- including rent. She confided in me at this time that Stuart had taken all of their rent money AND my previous PR services payments- and lost it all at the craps table in Las Vegas. It should be noted that, during this time, I had received abut $45 of the ROI on the initial $1000 investment, so clearly things were NOT going well.

After hearing about the gambling problem, I decided to end the relationship. I requested my full reimbursement of the $1300, which the final payment ($300) was forwarded to her via Pay Pal less than 24 hours earlier. After she balked at writing a contract, I was, in fact, terminating our agreement. Well, wouldn’t you know- she didn’t have the funds to repay me, after accepting the funds less than 24 hours before.

After many exchanges between myself and them- all of the emails accusatory, insulting and unprofessional for the most part (on both ends), they eventually agreed to a repayment plan. I rounded off what they owed from the total of $2600 down to a mere $1000, willing to accept it in five payments of $200 each; I have all of the documentation to support this agreement, including comments written by them on one of the Pay Pal payments. After the initial payment of $200- nothing.

We have retained an attorney and have filed a lawsuit for theft of services and fraud.

Since that time, however, Ms. Stutsman gained access into my Facebook account, deleting “friends”, spreading lies, and changing my profile. In one comment, already knowing my wife was battling breast cancer, she wished cancer on us, hoping we would die.

Sweet. Her parents must be proud.

In the meantime, Stuart has embarked on his own scorched earth campaign of filing fake rip-off reports under various names (none of them were ever actual clients, mind you) and group emails filled with vile hate and venom.

The theft of money and services aside, Stuart has also received payment from at least nine other people for his annual newsletter subscription, and all nine have been refused delivery. He took the money fast enough, though. Repeated emails and attempts at phone calls from every one of these clients have yielded no results.

You see, what this scammer does is he cuts-and-pastes jobs from other well-known job sites and claims them as his own leads. He begs his subscribers to advise the job to which they apply to to lie to them and tell them they got the lead through him, even though it originated somewhere else. He goes one step further; he not only doesn’t cite the originating site, he plagiarizes the ad itself. This is a “company” that encourages other to send in their loglines and screenplays for reviews, yet he plagiarizes on a regular basis for profit.

We keyed in on his activities and have been promoting many of the same posts in our LinkedIn group, “Script Assignments and Searches”. We scour the same sites and promote many of the same ads, but herein lies the difference: we do not charge anyone anything for this information. More importantly, we provide the link to the original ad and website, thereby giving the job site credit for filling the advertised position. In doing so, apparently it’s had the wonderful benefit of not only helping fellow screenwriters immensely, but must be having a severe affect on his company’s bottom line to resort to hacking into a group, deleting it’s membership and sending off libelous emails. We’re not worried, as a team of attorneys at this very minute, along with LinkedIn security personnel, are ultimately going to shut him down for good.

If you have any stories you’d like to share about SSU, or any other fraudulent screenwriting service out there, please send them in. Getting the word out is our best defense against these predators.

 

 

So, You REALLY Want My Feedback?

feedback-cartoonOften, I’m asked to provide my opinion, insight or what we call in the screenwriting industry, “feedback” on a particular screenplay, logline or project concept. I’m always very willing to oblige, but more often than not, I realize it was a mistake.

You see, in most of THESE cases, the writer wasn’t asking for MY opinion. They were asking me to echo THEIR opinion. They were really asking me to agree with what everyone else said about their screenplay- even though “everyone else” was their mother, sister, husband and best friend.

Had I known what they really wanted, I probably would have continued to enjoy the occasional short conversations and updates on their social media pages, and would still be responding to their numerous questions (even though they wanted to argue the responses when they admittedly knew nothing at all about the subject of the question to begin with).

You see, here’s the thing: I thought if someone asked me what I thought about something, they were truly interested in what I thought or what I had to say. If I’m asked to read the first ten pages of a  screenplay and provide feedback, which we do all of the time for free, I generally address the screenplay in sections: logline, concept, title, character names, structure, formatting, marketability, etc. and close with more specifics about any of the more major issues with recommendations on correcting all of the above. I also include some personal thoughts as well. Sometimes, a screenplay may be written horribly wrong (the writer’s first attempt; the writer never had any training or never read a screenwriting book; etc.), but the overall concept has potential and the writer may have had a solid grasp of writing “funny”; always helpful in a comedy.

It’s never my intent to purposely set out to damage one’s inspiration, call the dog fugly, or insult one’s religion. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve done any of that- and I’ve seen some damn fugly-looking bowsers! You might think this is what happened, though, by some of the responses we’ll get in return.

The height of this insanity came recently, not in the form of a screenplay review, but as a result of a question. An actual, living, breathing OPINION question, on a social media page, and in a screenwriter’s group. The question:

“What did you think of the movie “District 9″?

That was it.

No addendum, no hidden agendas.

To me, it can be paraphrased “What is your opinion about the movie “District 9″? Without really reading beyond the first couple of responses- because an opinion question is NOT dependent on anything written beforehand so it is virtually irrelevant to me- I responded. I wrote two very short sentences about my personal experience of having seen this movie with my daughter soon after it came out.

You would think I threatened the Pope, or Obama (or is that the same thing?). The responses to MY response was incredible. Not so much in numbers; a handful, perhaps, directly mentioned me or what I said specifically. What was hard to believe was the tone and vitriol about my response. After reading the fifty or so previous responses, my opinion was clearly in the majority (ironically, though, NOT far different from the original poster of the question).

However, it wasn’t acceptable that my opinion was different- no. It was along the lines of maybe I thought I “may have gone to see a TV drama”. Yes, that’s right! My daughter and I drove for several miles to a movie- in a theater- paid the $20, sat in amongst a theater filled with sweaty strangers, thinking that I was really at home watching CSI. Of course!

One person suggested I was a “xenophobe”. So, by that rationale, we can test everyone to see if they are, in fact, evil xenophobes by forcing them to watch “District 9″ giving them the reaction dials on whether or not they enjoyed it. From there, we can either set them free, or have them executed. That’s sounds sane.

The other responses were quite similar, but the point has been made.

As screenwriters, you have to develop a thick skin to legitimate feedback. The key to this success, and when you know you’re getting to be a good writer, is when the positives clearly outweigh the negatives, AND most of the feedback was given to you by people with no axes to grind, no skin in the game, not pushing a service or a product AND who don’t really care if you like them or not afterward. When you get to that point, then you’re on to something.

In the future, if you ask for feedback- on ANYTHING- tell me if you REALLY want to know the truth, or only want to hear the truth as YOU see it.

I’ll live longer.

Ask The Script Mentor #5

questions

A continuation of previous articles that include a sampling of questions sent to “The Script Mentor”, with our corresponding advice/suggestions. Some of these may be the burning questions you’ve had…but were afraid to ask!

Q. Where can I find good examples of query letters? I’ve never actually seen one. Any advice?

A. Like almost everything else in screenwriting, you’re going to get a thousand different answers from a thousand different people- each one telling you the other answers are wrong. The right answer is- any query letter format or style you use that gets a producer to request to read your script is a good query letter.

Beyond that, I can tell you that I teach and promote a particular style of query letter, one that was constructed based on the responses to a recent polling of hundreds of executives, producers, producer assistants, gatekeepers and anyone else whose responsibility is to read query letters.

The following is an example of the new style query that executives and others look for in the “perfect” query letter. It is designed to include all of the necessary information, provide a clear and concise structure, and help highlight what THEY are looking for. It is the format I use. You don’t have to use it; yours may be perfectly suitable.

STEP #1- Contact Information

Name
City, State, Zip
Hm Tel #/ Cell #
Email addy

You’ll want to center your contact info first. This is for two reasons:
1) Many people actually FORGET to include contact information altogether. This way, it’s there!
2) It’ll take up some room on the page and help prevent you from “over-writing”.
STEP #2- Query Letter Intro

“Dear (You’ll address them as they signed their email):
I am offering this (award-winning) screenplay, “TITLE”, for your review. “

(If you were referred to them, or are responding to their request, you’ll want to say that here).

“I was referred to you by actor Sean Penn, who related that you were interested in the perfect project to film in the Puerto Rican jungles…”

STEP #3- Logline

At this point, I like to include my perfectly constructed, 30-word-or-less logline.

STEP #4- The Body of the Query

“Hook #1: Write out the one of the three main hooks here
(Highlight your main “hook”- one element that separates your story from all others of this genre)

In the following sentence, explain the hook a little more without repeating yourself
(Your hook will be followed by one or two sentences that explain the hook in greater detail)

Hook #2: (Repeat above)

Hook #3 or Hook/Twist: (if you have a killer twist to your story)”

STEP #5- Closing Remarks
“If you like the concept, I would be happy to send you a PDF of the script.”

(Personally, I’m not a big fan of the “mash-up” lines like “Total Recall” meets “The Matrix” or, in mine, “The Transporter” meets “Driving Miss Daisy”. Some are real clever, but my first reaction is always “Oh, really? You’ve written the next ‘Driving Miss Daisy’? Get over yourself!”…but maybe that’s just me)

STEP #6- Writer’s Bio

WRITERS BIO: Write this BIO in the third person, similar to a press release. You’ll want to highlight any writing successes you may have had. I would leave out the “placements in contests”, unless they are finalists or winning scripts, and only in major or middle-tiered contests (4,000 entries or more). I would include any other significant writing you’ve done, any published articles in your field, or a brief mention of why you think you are more qualified to write on the subject that you’ve written about in the screenplay. You MUST be selective, as you don’t want to go more than three lines here.

STEP #7- Closing Signature/Contact Info
Name
Email address
Home number/ Cell number

*************************************************************************************
To demonstrate this format more clearly, the following is a sample of one of my recent query letters:

Geno Scala
(Physical Address, City, State, Zip)
sharkeatingmanroductions@hotmail.com
(818) 602-3221

“Dear Producer,

I was referred to you by (name), who informed me that you might be interested in reviewing contest-winning screenplays. As a result, I am forwarding my logline and synopsis for my award-winning action adventure/comedy “BANKING ON BETTY” for your perusal.

Logline: When an ex-con is arrested the day before his wedding, he is forced to drive a witness — the mob boss’ mother — cross country, dodging bullets, corrupt cops, and one very scorned lover.

HOOK #1: A third-strike felon is forced to drive a mob witness to court.
Jack Reese, a Hollywood stunt driver with a passion for fast, sexy — and “hot” — cars, has been popped for what could be his final strike. The F.B.I. does offer him a way out, however. All he has to do is drive a federal witness to court.

HOOK #2: The witness is an 80-yr. old buzzard of a gal with a saucy mouth to match.
Betty Rosenthal is no ordinary witness. As the one-time accountant for the mob, she’s being forced to testify against her “family”- and against her will. With her unique- but fading- photographic memory, Betty is the ONLY hope the government has to finally break the Fiorelli crime syndicate.

HOOK #3: Betty is a kind of mother only the Godfather could love…and he wants her DEAD!
What Jack doesn’t know that his “package”- the witness that can take down the biggest crime syndicate in the country- just happens to be the mother of the Godfather himself!

Together, Jack and Betty form the unlikeliest of road teams; they despise each other, but need each other to survive a pursuit that includes rogue cops, hired hit men, and one scorned lover. Along the way, Jack and Betty develop a bond of trust, but that bond is tested when they come face to face with the Godfather himself.

If you like the concept of the action/comedy “BANKING ON BETTY”, I’d be happy to send you the script.

WRITERS BIO: Geno Scala’s “BANKING ON BETTY” was the winner of the 2012 StoryPros Screenwriting Competition, runner-up in the highly regarded 2013 Scriptapalooza Competition, and a top finalist of the 2012 Script Pipeline Competition. It was also a semi-finalist in the Screenwriting Goldmine and Screenplay Festival competitions.
Mr. Scala currently writes television and feature film screenplays on assignment for several different production companies.

Respectfully,

Geno Scala
(Physical Address, City, State, Zip)
sharkeatingmanroductions@hotmail.com
(818) 602-3221

Q. Hi, Script Mentor! I will soon be completing my third screenplay. My thinking is that I need to get an agent to help me get noticed. I have been in contact with an agent out of the Seven Bridges Group and have had some moderate success there, but still no representation. Any suggestions?

A. Yes. Don’t waste your time trying to get an agent. You’re not there yet.
Agents are not interested in writers unless and until they start making serious money with their writing. If your screenplay is involved in a bidding war, an agent will step up, or if you start selling a number of scripts, someone will contact you. You’ll know when you’re at that stage; they’ll be calling you.

In the meantime, you need to build your own buzz so people know what you’ve done or accomplished. Three scripts is a start, but it’s the tip of the iceberg. Hopefully, they’re all in the same genre, and you can start becoming the “go-to” writer for that genre. You’ll need to start getting job assignments. I started with a $200 script job a few years ago, and today, I’m writing an episodic TV drama for big money. Not bragging; just telling you that it’s completely possible.
Beyond that, you’ll want to look for a literary manager. They will work on getting your career going, and they are the conduit to agents, as that’s what THEY do. You’ll want to find one that is small, boutique, perhaps starting their own agency looking for active writers wanting to take the next step in their careers…

…and that sounds like YOU!

Q. My friend paid $10,000 to this company New Show Studios. I googled them and saw so many bad reviews of people being ripped off. I cringed and told him, and he believes his script was in front of a production company now. Do you have any information on them?

A. I could have seen these guys coming from a mile away. This is a great example of what a few pics with celebrities, a hired Daytime TV actor, and a shiny new website can represent.

The first red flag was the claim that “Pittsburgh was the New Hollywood”!
Really? Since when?

Next, the CEO’s claim to fame was the “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” video. He and SFM (the parent company) are distributors- good to have once you’ve made the film, but they have nothing to do with production or evaluation of scripts as far as I can tell.

In my opinion, what your friend has done was pay $10K for about $1K worth of work, including printed materials and a “how to” DVD. I suspect they may ask for more money down the line, but for your friend, it may be too late.

Some companies prey on the desperation of those of us willing to do just about anything to get famous, and it makes me very sad. After dealing with crooks and victims for years in fraud, both as a police detective, and later as a private investigator, there is no end to this sadness. These companies spring up, take what they can, then disappear.

Let’s see how it plays out. Maybe I’m 100% wrong, and this friend will have a movie made and it’ll be distributed by the thousands as a straight-to-DVD. Based on what I’m seeing, even in my most desperate of days, I never would have done it, personally. The salesmen over the phone are very, very good, and even I can be very gullible at times. As a rule, no one should ever have to pay to have your script considered or produced, unless you are investing in the project as a producer. The idea of a production finding potential in your screenplay is that they are willing to invest in the production.

Q. What do you mean by the “look” of a professional spec screenplay? Are you talking specific formatting issues (like the size of the action blocks, etc.), or the overall flow, or something else?

A. There are some easy fixes to your screenplay. I’m simply addressing issues that have been noticed by others, but they weren’t as willing to point these problems out to you.

The Query Letter: Yes, books and blogs all suggest certain ways of writing these things, but if I told you that a recent poll asked for input from thousands of producers, producer assistants, professional script readers, gatekeepers and those on the front lines of the industry, and a preferred query letter format was devised, would you believe it? If you did, would you use it?
Well, that poll WAS conducted a few years back, and today, only a handful of writers know it, have learned it, and currently use it. It is a major piece of what we teach at The Script Mentor. The new form is designed to highlight the points that these people are looking for in a query letter. They want to know what separates YOUR story from every other story in the genre ever written or that is currently being shopped around. We do this by highlighting the “hooks”- preferably three of them. The “hook” is that single element that makes you screenplay different.
If it’s like the three little pigs and the big, bad wolf, and the wolf gets his house blown down by the pigs – THAT would be your hook.

In 1975, if you wrote a horror story that took place at a beach during the 4th of July weekend where a killer was terrorizing a town by killing the inhabitants, it might be one of twenty such pictures. If you made the killer a shark, and the person chosen to save the town is a sheriff- whose deathly afraid of the ocean- you’ve got yourself two great hooks (no pun intended), and an instant classic in “Jaws”. So, you’ll need a query letter that highlights at least three major hooks of your story.

The Logline: I read about 1 in a 100 that is even close to decent; most are laughably horrible. This is the single most poorly-written facet of the screenwriter’s marketing plan, and it can arguably be considered the most important.

So, why do people struggle with it?

I don’t think they fully comprehend the “rules” for creating a logline and the purpose for using it. At The Script Mentor, I developed and copyrighted an easy formula to assure the writer of getting a good logline every time out, in a matter of seconds.

Overall Spec Screenplay Appearance: To your final question- when I talk about appearance, I do mean “first impression”- the flip-through of the first ten pages. I immediately noticed that:

- The parentheticals were wrong:

- The master scene headings and sub-headings were incorrect;

- The lack of real descriptions;

- Sound effects as dialogue:

- The over-capitalization of words;

- The incorrect action tense (noted by excessive “-ing” ending verbs);

- Extraneous words/ heavy word weight (you averaged 200 words per page in Act I; 188 words in Act II; 230 words in Act III. The target number of words is 150-180 per page, on average, throughout).

So, that was MY first impression.

You’re a good writer; much better than most. It’s these little things that separate the really, really GOOD writers from everyone else. It is my belief- one that is borne out every day in this industry- that you can have a truly great concept and twist in a story, but no one may ever know it.

Why?

Because if the writing violates most, or all, of the spec screenwriting protocols, no producer worth his salt will read beyond the first ten pages, or even the first three.

Conversely, a spec screenwriter can write a perfectly formatted screenplay; it’s very lean, moves quickly, has the right balance of action and descriptive text- but the overall concept might be played out some. I’d bet it will still garner the attention you seek from producers and contest judges, etc. These writers are most likely going to get writing assignments and possibly staff writing jobs, if that’s their calling. Eventually, a writer like this will hit on a very original concept, or come up with a twist on an old concept, and get it optioned and/or sold, perhaps even produced.

You want to be THAT writer.

 

Client Seeks (2) Scripts For Production!

We are seeking TWO scripts for a fellow producer/client; A-list talent is ready and waiting!

One script should be a Western/Comedy or Western/Action film. This will have an OPEN budget.

The second script is budgeted at $3M. The client is seeking an Action/Comedy that can be shot in and around New Orleans. If your script is not specific about location (or if the setting is not particularly integral to the story), we would encourage you to submit it if it’s an action/comedy.

YOU: You should submit your title, a well-constructed logline, a professional query letter and one page synopsis- and let us know WHERE YOU SAW THIS ANNOUNCEMENT. Please attach a PDF of a minimum opening 10 pages of screenplay to be considered. The evaluation process will be based upon these items and these items only. You can forward submissions to sharkeatingmanproductions@hotmail.com. In the subject section of your email, please include “(Title) as referred by SEMP”. Please include all contact information, including mailing address (see next).

US: Once the client determines those projects they wish to review, we will be sending out “submission packages”, snail-mailed to your physical address. The package will include an official request to review the completed screenplay and a signed release document to be signed and returned to the production company.

At that time, you will be given/have direct contact information with the client.

NOTE: Neither Shark-Eating Man Productions nor The Script Mentor are in any way affiliated with the client production company conducting this search.

This search will continue through the end of July. If you have any questions, feel free to email us.

*Those who have been notified of a request to review material, and/or asked for mailing addresses, no need to re-submit, unless you have new scripts you want considered.

Thank you, and good luck!