Ask The Script Mentor, #15: Ghostwriting and Mentoring Services

Questions

Q. I see you offer ghostwriting services. I started a novel, and really don’t have time to finish it. Is that something you might be able to do- finish a manuscript already started?

A. Hello, sir. Very impressive website you have. You had asked, in response my article on hiring a ghostwriter, if helping you finish your book is something we can do. The answer is “Yes”, although it’s a somewhat unusual and rare request. I have an excellent novelist on staff that would be perfect for this type of work. I’d have to know where you are in the project, how many pages you are hoping to have when finished, and a few smaller details in order to provide you an accurate quote for the project. I’d also need to know what kind of budget you’re working with. I can work within most budgets, but it does affect some of the decisions we’d make going forward.

Thank you for inquiring about helping you with the project, and I look forward to working with you soon!

 

ILoveLoglines  Q. Hi Geno, I hope you are doing well. I’ve been busy the last couple of weeks, mainly keeping my head down and re-writing my script based off of your excellent notes. I’d like to sign up for your mentoring services, and re-send the ACTUAL “first ten” pages of my script for you to review, if you have time. I also have a logline that is much better than the one that the reader from the contest wrote. I used you logline formula and it was easy after that!

A. Hi K! I’m flattered that you’ve thought enough about our services to inquire about additional assistance. The interactive workshop is not scheduled at the moment, but I hope to schedule some in the near future.

We basically did the “first ten” pages (even though, technically, it wasn’t the first ten). You were given an idea of some of the real issues the script has from a SPEC screenplay perspective, so I don’t see a need to pay for- and receive- more of the same. At this point, all that would be necessary would be The Script Mentor Package or The TSM One-On-One mentoring, which includes the money-back guarantee in writing!

The Script Mentor Package, at $399.00 (originally $799) would give you a full review of the concept, screenplay and structure, as well as advice on a proper logline, query letter and synopsis. These three areas (L/S/Q) are instrumental in your marketing approach. After the screenplay is as good as it can be, we would also assist you in a networking and marketing strategy. With this package, you can continue working with The Script Mentor for up to one month.

The TSM One-on-One exclusive service at $1499.00 (originally $7500.00), provides you with the above assistance, and we’d assist you in choosing a minimum of ten competitions we feel is best suited to your screenplay, writing level, and most helpful to your writing career at this point. With this package, you can work with The Script Mentor for up to three months- no matter how many projects you’d like to work on.

Also, with this service, we would provide you with a written money-back guarantee if a certain level of success is not established with this screenplay. No other service in the world offers a money-back guarantee- ever. This is how strongly we feel about our mentoring assistance and program. Now, neither of these programs is inexpensive, so it would be an investment on your behalf, but if you’re investing in a career that you want, it’s a small investment.

Q. Hey Geno! Thank you. My name is B.C. My father was the former Underboss of themanuscripttomoviescript1 Colombo Crime Family in NY. He disappeared on May 26th 1999, and with my help, the government was able to bring the killers to justice. After 8 long years, we found his remains. Geno, so many people are sending me screenplay examples along w/ NDA’S, but I have not read one that feels right. I was hoping that maybe we can collaborate or maybe you can help put me on the right track? I feel lost if that makes sense. Hope to speak with you if you are interested.

Thank YOU in Advance!

B. Jr.

A. Hi B! I read your profile during my due diligence prior to connecting, and I appreciate you reaching out to me- both on this, and just for linking in. I’ve watched all of those mob history shows, so I’ve seen several of the shows highlighting your Dad’s story, and I know it well. I’m from Staten Island, and let’s just say my family and I and our friends have had a “colorful” past with the families as well.

I came across a mention of a book; did that ever get completed and published? If so, usually, you’d be looking at adapting that book into a screenplay. Book adaptations are a very specific type of screenplay writing, and most writers will tell you they’ve done and they’re good at it- but they’re not. Most haven’t a clue. I’ve done nine (9) in the past two years. I know how to do them, and it’s not easy. As for collaborating, the closest we get as far as collaborations are the ghostwriting assignments. We write the screenplay you want- it’s under your name, and you get all of the credit and retain all of the rights. This is what we do for a living, and we do it well.

Many of my clients are in the industry- actors, celebrities- many who can’t read or write well at all, but want credits for screenplays or have a pet project they want to star in, etc. Because I’m a ghost, my identity- and that of my client- is almost ALWAYS secret, but last year, we did four screenplays, a TV reality show outline and a TV bible for a celebrity currently starring in TWO cable shows running concurrently. My other clients include several A-list actors and authors who have never written screenplays before.

Normally, we would discuss the project, decide the actual story line, genre, etc. and as we write it, you would receive ten (10) pages at a time to review and suggest changes in direction, if any. We would do this for up to fifty (50) pages. When the project is completed, you’ll have an opportunity to review the screenplay in total.

You also have one FREE rewrite should you decide you do not like how something turned out, etc. We would work very closely most of the time, as the service is not inexpensive. I don’t charge the WGA rate, but as highly-recognized and multi-awarded writers, we ain’t cheap! We HAVE been able to work within almost any budget, though, and if I can’t, I can usually refer you to someone who can. We get at least 50% down payment to start and the balance prior to receiving the finished project. There will be a signed contract with strict deadlines, and we’ve never missed a deadline yet.

I also stay with the client through the marketing and networking strategy as well, which I also provide to them, and I GUARANTEE a certain level of success in the screenwriting contest world- a great way to gain exposure for the project. I also have hundreds of my own connections that I would help forward the project to, if it fits their interest. If this sounds about what you’d be interested in, hit me back. My email is thescriptmentor@hotmail.com. You can find my website(s) at www.thescriptmentor.com and www.sharkeatingman.com. I look forward to talking in the near future!

 

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Q. Hi Geno! I was going to contact you regarding adapting my novel into a screenplay. I saw that clicked on the book on Amazon, but didn’t buy it. I was hoping to get your feedback and evaluation of the story BEFORE I contacted you.

It probably wouldn’t break you to spend the three bucks to purchase the Kindle version of my book.  If you’re familiar with eBooks, you surely realize there’s an simpler way to distinguish good writing from all the crap that’s self-published every day.  All you need to do is click on the book cover, and you can read the first 10% of the book.

Since I saw no sign you’ve done the due diligence that could start an informed discussion about adapting my thriller, I’ve decided AGAINST using your services.

A. Hi, “D”- I’m really not IN the evaluation business, so it’s irrelevant to me HOW a novelist writes. Trust me when I tell you, most of the self-published “novels” and manuscripts/screenplays I’ve received from authors or celebrities who THINK they’re writers are practically unreadable.

Truth be told, I DID go to Amazon and I DID read the reviews, and your bio, and I DID read the Preface and the first couple of chapters. I even thought about buying the eBook, but I have about 70 eBooks on my Kindle that I’ve never read. Why? Because the dang screen is like a 3 x 5 postcard, and I can hardly see any of it. Adding “another” to that stack wouldn’t do me any good.

I am very busy myself, and said as much in my first email. We’ve been very fortunate to have started the year so strongly, and as of last night, we land a couple of more adaptation clients. As a rule, however, I don’t “buy” original source material and spend the time to read it. Time is money. As part of any contract, the original source material is always provided to us- free of charge- and we charge $250 for the reading of that material. This money is then applied towards the contracted total. It’s during this reading time where we actually evaluate and outline a potential screenplay, including characters, locations, main plot, subplots, develop a logline, a general synopsis, etc.

My only concern is CONCEPT; whether or not a particular story would make a good movie. If the author thinks so, that’s a starting point. Going simply by the title, I thought it was an awesome title and the genre sounded like it was right up my ally. In fact, I have a screenplay that, based solely on your title, I see as possibly having some similarities. They may be 180 degree different but, again, I’m basing it only on the title.

Another thought that goes into the process of selecting a project is overall SALES. I have no idea what your sales are, but I can tell you, based on your LinkedIn profile, you don’t make it easy for someone to simply click and get to the book. It shouldn’t take that much to attach a link to the Amazon posting to you profile, or post it as an update. If you notice on several of my client’s work, I am part of their team in promotion as well. I post their book link, their audio link; I tweet out announcements. I probably do more marketing on social media on their books than they do!

I’m hoping, in the future, you might reconsider using our services.

 

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Q. Hello! I’m interested in having the first 10 pages of my in-the-works screenplay reviewed, and would like to also have my one-page synopsis (and logline) evaluated. Would you be willing to do that? If so, what would you charge?

Thanks for your time!

Rob

A. Hi Rob! Thank you for contacting us at The Script Mentor. If you go to our website at www.thescriptmentor.com, you’ll see our services for our first ten-page review. I will include the logline and synopsis review as part of that first ten page review, at no extra charge.

Simply pay for the First Ten-page review ($19.99) and then send the first ten pages (or more) in PDF or Final Draft, if you are using Final Draft software, to thescriptmentor@hotmail dot com. I am also sending you a short questionnaire that you can complete and send back as well. It’ll provide a bit more information about yourself and your writing background, and give us an idea of your baseline writing skills at this point, as well as some additional info on the script that we’ll need to provide a better analysis (such AS the logline).

We know it’s a lot to trust someone to allow them to read your screenplay, and we’re honored to do it. It’s an honor we do not take lightly. Give us 24-48 hours after receiving this information back from you and I hope we can get a solid review in your hands, with notes that will help guide you to the next step in your project.

quote-Muhammad-Ali-its-not-bragging-if-you-can-back-104890 Q. Thank you Geno for your honesty, and your interest in my project. You won’t get bored with this project. There’s a lot more to come when you consider I spent 28 years putting this project together….

Looking at your credentials I would assume that you have your shit together. Obviously this is probably one of the biggest projects that could ever be developed in the entire United States based on the fact that it’s been a cover-up for 30+ years are you ready for some sort of that kind of entertainment?

A. Whether I have my shit together or not, is not for me to say; I’m successful in my chosen third career and businesses and putting two (months away from three) children through college doing what I’m good at; writing screenplays and teaching screenwriting through my mentorship. I do question anyone’s claim that says “biggest project ever developed”, and that alone raises concerns of being realistic or having realistic goals for the project. I think you’d understand where I’m coming from if you knew how many scripts I’ve received as a producer from people claiming their script was the next “Star Wars” or “will win 10 Academy Awards when completed”, blah, blah, blah. I’ll reserve judgment until I read and watch all of your videos, but you’ve piqued my interest thus far. Again, I know nothing about THIS project, but looking forward to learn more. You’ve written books, and had a documentary done; what’s next?

Q. (CONT’D) Thanks for sharing your thoughts. My goal is to clear my name. Next I’mscreenplayjunkie5 going to prove how easy it was to use fabricated evidence to try and send me to prison for 67 years. Then we’re going to prove why this was done to me. I have one book published and 2 done and ready for ink. I’ll be chatting with our investigation team about your experience and offers. We’re going to make history with this investigation 28 years in the making. You will be part of our project; three (3) books and three (3) movies.

A. Adapting one of the three books (eventually, all three) into feature film screenplays DOUBLES your potential revenue stream. While you’re marketing the novel, the screenplay competitions and network/marketing strategy for the script makes inroads in that industry. The marketing of the screenplay, and any success it will achieve, helps the book sales, and the book sales help advertise the script.

To form the novel(s) into a marketable script is where the real talent comes from; THAT’S what you’re paying for, mostly. I’ll also need to know what kind of (realistic) budget you have to work with for these projects. You mentioned several different projects, so we could put together a package deal. This doesn’t include the research (I have a research assistant on staff), reading the original source material, outlines, loglines, query letters, synopsis, AND my 30-year Rolodex of contacts that would take ANY project I’m involved in and read it- no questions asked.

Now, if you’re looking for a writer for $1,000 or $1500, you will end up with a nice pile of paper for your bookcase. No one charging that amount knows how to write, and doesn’t have one fraction of the network I have. Most likely, they don’t know how to correctly adapt a novel INTO a screenplay, but they’ll tell you they do. Writing adaptations is a learned craft; I wrote four in 2016; nine in total. All of the authors saw a spike in the book sales as a result of the marketing strategy and publicity the scripts brought. The contests these scripts were entered into should start choosing winners soon.

One client really wanted his project in George Lucas’ hands to read. We knew someone who used to work for him, and were able to get it to him. That guy read it, and thought the script adaptation was great! We only hope YOU have the same reaction to YOUR screenplay adaptation once we write it!

 

Ask THE SCRIPT MENTOR, No. 14: Cheers, Peers, Rocketeers and Reindeers

Q: Geno, I’ve been poking around your articles on LinkedIn. You have some great insight, and I found your profile interesting. I have to say, I’ve never had any luck finding “real” jobs, film work, or screenwriting work via LinkedIn. Considering one of the points in the article you posted last week, if I’ve only got 2 hours to spend networking, is LinkedIn where it should go?

 Thanks in advance for any insight.

Bill

Script Analyst and Department Head

A: Hi Bill! Thank you for the kind words. The only “work” I’ve looked for thru LinkedIn was new clientele for my mentoring, and now, ghost screenwriting services, and I can say that a large percentage of them came from LinkedIn, as I do have a strong presence here. I run a few groups; been active in about 30 others (I’ve since cut back to less than five or six now), and built up a network of over 25,000 industry-related people.

There was a period of time a few years ago that LinkedIn was far behind technology-wise, and at the same time, my account had been hacked, so I was experiencing about a year of real issues. I mirrored some of the groups on Facebook, and started marketing outside more. I now know many of my connections quite well and these have led to many writing assignments and some truly amazing opportunities. It’s also allowed ME to help others achieve THEIR goals, which I find more exciting (I’m 56, so I’m not moving BACK to Hollywood again any time soon); I’ve helped many writers get their first paid writing assignments, their first script sale or option, their screenplays produced; I’ve helped eleven writers get representation, and got one writer her agent! I even got credit for helping a writer get her animated screenplay sold to 20th Century Fox, where she is now an Exec. Producer!

As for your own personal networking, I suppose it’s dependent on what kind of networking you hope to be doing. Being a Script Analyst with one of the most recognizable and prestigious competitions in the game provides INSTANT credibility to you (congratulations, btw), but I don’t see where you are operating your own “consulting” business. If this is what you’re planning to do, let me know, as I believe I can help you some more.

My suggestion is to use LI to help with your main goal of looking for that all-important main job; obviously it won’t be your only source for job search (Careerbuilders, HotJobs, and hundreds of other sites and avenues). I would also use it to network with those who can help you in your writing career, as well. The “best use of time” question is for you to decide. It’s helped me tremendously, but probably not everyone. Managing one’s time with a real job outside of the home, writing on their own, and networking looking for paid gigs, is a TON of work, which seems to separate the contenders from the pretenders; the writers from the hobbyists. Add to that family obligations, or medical issues, or keeping up a house or a farm or caring for a sick parent- I know people in each of those situations- and you’ve got nearly impossible challenges against nearly impossible odds, but some don’t give up. People have seen enough in your skills to give you positions, so I think that says something. I wish you nothing but success moving forward!

Q: Geno- You asked why I used “CAPS” so often in my teleplay. The reason caps are used for a TV script is that those are effects and that helps producers get an idea of the costs associated with scenes as they’re putting a budget together. The people I’ve been dealing with at Netflix are quite adamant about it.

Thanks for your feedback!

Nicholas

Monkeys-typing

 

A: Hi Nicholas! I understand WHY some of those things would be capitalized – in a SHOOTING script – but this looked like a spec script to me. I didn’t know you were writing ON ASSIGNMENT from a producer from Netflix. That’s a major “get”; outstanding! I’m very proud and happy for you! You can get a lot of mileage with such an announcement by including that information with that post. Everyone would be very impressed to know that!

 

I brought it up in my post because these are the more common errors made by writers when writing spec scripts and it merely highlights their amateurism as opposed to showing their professionalism. A shooting script is the last thing written, and, most likely, it won’t even be written by you. What capitalizing 43 of the first 80 words on the first page does is make it VERY difficult for a PRODUCER to READ if HE chose to SIT down one DAY and READ the SCRIPT with the INTENTION of DECIDING WHETHER or not TO buy the SCREENPLAY. IT makes FOR a VERY SLOW and DELIBERATE read WHICH is the LAST thing A PRODUCER wants WHEN reading SPEC scripts.

 

Q: Hello, I have just completed a screenplay called (Title Withheld) that I would like to submit for your consideration. This screenplay won the Park Avenue Award (New York Screenplay Contest). Genre: Comedy Get ready for an absurd comedy of the likes you’ve never seen before…(Screenplay) takes us on a hilarious journey through the world of organized crime and foolish criminals. This is a movie that audiences will never forget… not even in their wildest dreams. Watching this movie, you will see reference to slapstick/absurd comedy classics like Hot Shots and Naked Gun throughout this movie. Yet, the overall tone of the movie and the dialog and quirky characters are something right out of a Coen brothers’ movie. Imagine a cross between Raising Arizona and Burn After Reading and you have (Screenplay)—a movie full of greed, fools, fun and laugh out loud absurdity. I also submitted this screenplay for professional analysis and review and received the following feedback: “A highly recommended script. A story full of highly original off-beat characters and wonderfully absurd situations. Potential to be a cult favorite and a worthy financial investment with low risk and high profit potential.” I believe this captivating yet humorous story will attract a wide audience and entertain people in a way they’ve never seen before. I hope you will give me the opportunity to share my screenplay with you. My script is registered and I’m happy to sign a release form.

Kind regards,

Peter

screenplayjunkie5

 

A: Hi Peter! Please take a moment and read my most recent (and appropriate) Pulse article regarding notes like these. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/10-tips-how-screenwriters-can-properly-network-through-geno-scala. I can tell you that query letter will do more damage to you that help you; you say many of the WRONG things in that letter that you may wish to reconsider saying in future query letters. I’ve seen “recommends” before, but this is the first “highly recommend” I’ve ever seen or heard. That’s an amazing accomplishment; sounds like a “can’t miss” future success story! It does sound like you’ve received ONE feedback review thus far, so I would encourage you to get at least two more. If I can of any additional help, don’t hesitate to ask, once you introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about you that I can’t find on your LinkedIn profile! 😉

Q- Hi, what is wrong with my query letter, because this query made for me company – http://www.scriptmailer.com/. I can also send you professional analysis of my screenplay also from this company. If you are interested I can send you my curriculum vitae. I would be more than happy if I could you send my screenplay and then you can send me feedback and your opinion. Please send me what is so wrong in my query.

 

A: I can tell you two things about that query letter. First, it’s not good at all. The concept itself is not good, but the query is poorly put together; whoever did it hasn’t a clue what they’re doing. Second, by writing me, asking to “link in”, then sending me a direct query, violated the exact protocol I just wrote an article about the day before, so it wouldn’t have mattered to me if the query letter was absolutely perfect, and the concept was perfect- I wouldn’t have responded anyway. You don’t reach out to someone, ask to join their network, then immediately hit them up for a favor. Can I borrow $50? I know you don’t know me, but we’re in the same network now- send me fifty bucks. Come on, we’re ol’ buds now. No- you just don’t do that, at least, not with me. That is why I sent you the link to the article, which I hope you read. More importantly, however, is this site, THE SCRIPT MAILER, with Jennifer Sloane, the owner. For someone in sales – and supposedly a registered agent – you can’t find ANYTHING out there on the Internet about her. Very strange- and suspicious to me. She doesn’t have profiles in IMdb, LinkedIn, or Facebook that I could find, based on the information I uncovered. I found plenty of Jennifer Sloanes, and any one of them may just be her, but beyond the name, none of them are agents, have anything to do with screenplays, live in Los Angeles or Nashville. As for those “testimonials”- I found several of the names to be quite ordinary- “C. Rodriguez”, “Jane Williams”, “Sarah Williams, “Jess Evans”, “Mike Richards”, etc. Most of these people could not be narrowed down and/or verified either, which makes these testimonials also very suspicious to me.

spam1

 

I’m quite familiar with emailing services- there’s many of them, and most of them are a waste of money. Why? Because the companies that receive these emails block them and they go straight to the trash file. I signed up for THE SCRIPT MAILER newsletter, and mine went straight to the junk file! Chances are the 800 or so emails that were sent out for you, less than 50 reached their destination. Have you received responses, beyond an auto response, to any of them? More than ten percent of them? Thirty-three percent?  How about fifty percent?

You can buy books- and now software- every year with these email addresses (which they do), and they’re simply loading it into their database and with your payment and a push of a button, off goes a terribly written query to 800 people, 90% of which will never see it. Sorry to break the news to you, but that’s the truth as I see it. At least they offer you a money-back guarantee, and if I were you, I’d take it and never look back. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of companies like these out there, and most of them are shams and scams. Read my blog; I try to uncover as many as I can. I was in law enforcement for several years, and have experience blowing the lid off of frauds. I’m reaching out to some of these successful “clients on the testimonials to determine if, in fact, they were instrumental in helping them secure an “agent”. I’ve gotten 11 writers literary management representation, and one I got agent representation. I also helped get a writer her animated feature sold and produced at 20th Century Fox, where she is currently an executive producer- but I’ve taken no money for this. I do it because they earned it. Anyway, you can believe what I say, or ignore it. I’m okay with it either way.

There are better, more effective ways are marketing and networking. Yes, it takes work, but it doesn’t cost you anything but your time and effort, and in the end, you gain a lifetime contact. Good luck!

(From my blog article https://thescriptmentor.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/ask-the-script-mentor-no-7-getting-reped-marketing-formatting/)

 

Q: Needing some advice on investors looking for ADV/touch of SCI/Thriller, screenplays (2), market viable, ready to go… know anyone, Geno?

Horsehead

I know lots, but who says they’re “market viable” screenplays? Here are some things you’ll need to have IN PLACE before you begin your marketing strategy:

1) Do you have minimum three (3) “Recommends” or at least “Consider” from reputable coverage readers or established cover companies?

2) How many, and which, contests did either of the scripts win/place/show?

3) What feedback have you received regarding logline, query letter and one-page? Are they up to current professional standards?

4) What marketing have you done to date, and for how long?

The answers to these questions will help determine your next step. I don’t deal heavily with investors to date, but I network like crazy, and they’re out there when that time comes. If you are ONLY looking for the investors, I’d get busy in some angel investor network groups. I can’t give any feedback on the loglines or queries since I’ve not read them. Usually, when it comes to the lack of interest in a viable, marketable concept/screenplay, the marketing material is flawed. Since we’re only dealing in generalities, as I know nothing about the story or even the genre, there are two things that you should do to generate buzz and interest:

a) If you believe your script is ready, find a handful of mid-to-upper-level contests with great reputations and start submitting them. You can check my blog at https://thescriptmentor.wordpress.com for more info on contests, which to submit to, what to look for, etc. Don’t waste your money if the screenplay is NOT ready. The benefit to contests is that many of the judges at the higher levels tend to be agents, managers, producers, studio readers or studio executives. Even if you don’t win, place or show, you will most likely get substantial sets of eyes on the script, which can lead to several great things.

b) The second thing I’d do is to make a list of the movies in the past 5-10 years that were similar to yours: in genre, style, subject matter, budget, etc. Perhaps you envision a certain actor as your lead. I would take this list, go to IMdbPro and start researching these other movies. Like Steven and TC, in many situations, producers, directors, cinematographers and even actors tend to work together over and over again. I would seek out their reps through IMdb and contact them with your story. It’s a needle in the haystack-type of process, but it beats waiting for someone walking up to your door and knocking, looking for a script! Beyond that, I would recommend networking every day; if you write 8-10 hours a day, you should network another 4-5.

Other articles include:

Query Letters: https://thescriptmentor.wordpress.com/2014/07/17/ask-the-script-mentor-5/

E-blast Query: https://thescriptmentor.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/debunking-screenwriting-myths-part-xiv-the-e-blast-query/

 

Q: Hello, my name is Alston and I’ve wanted to write scripts for movies as long as I can remember, but I live in a not-so-popular city. I’m still young and I am wondering on what the best way to get my scripts noticed. I can create a script for almost any genre ranging from horror to love stories. While I think they are good, I can’t trust friends or family to be brutally honest with me to help me get better. I’m not trying to get famous and rich, but I am trying to bring my imagination to the screen to make as many people happy and entertained as possible. Any way that you can give me tips on helping would be appreciated. No hard feelings if you don’t respond, I’m sure you get many emails like this all of the time, so I won’t be too upset. Thank you for reading.

Alston

A: Hi Alston! You say you think the scripts are good, but you don’t provide a logical basis for this; you seem to write well (this letter), better than most, I’d say, but it’s a small sample size, with basic wording and sentence structure. It doesn’t sound as if you’ve had any kind of formal “screenwriting” training, which makes it virtually impossible to be good at it. You might “write well” but screenplays are an extremely specific type of writing style and format. You can be self- taught- up to a point. With professional feedback, you would KNOW if you were good because so and so told you, or producer so and so hired you to write this or that.

You ARE right NOT to trust the opinions of your friends and family, though; very wise. They are your “cheers”, who will love you no matter what. Your “peers” will help give you an honest assessment, but some are also your direct competitors, so be aware of that. Your “rocketeers” are those in the industry who, by virtue of their assistance, or a hand out to help, or a solid recommendation or a referral, can rocket your career upward and forward. So, you’ll need to start creating a network and mentally dividing these people into these sections, and knowing who’s who.

While it’s sometimes fun to write in different genres, at some point down the line, it’s best to determine which genre you like best or write best in, and settle on that and stay in your lane. You want to be known as the “guy who writes _____ better than anyone else!” You want to be that go-to guy. Don’t chase a genre that’s hot now, because in two years, whenever a script you’re starting today might ever be ready to produce, it’ll be two years down the road, and “found footage” movies might be passe by then. Write what you relate to the most, what you enjoy the most. You want to have fun doing this because you’ll be doing this ALL OF THE TIME- talking about it, reading about it, posting and networking and promoting it. So, if you write rom/coms but find them stupid, personally, it’s not going to end well for you! I prefer Mafia-based crime stories, hostage stories, real cops and robbers stuff. No surprise, considering I was a police and private detective, so it’s in my blood and has been for 36 years now. I like comedies too, and feel I can write all genres. These days I do, because I’m paid to do so; I don’t stick to one genre, but when I write my own material, you can bet it is good versus evil, with a lot of blood, body parts, secrets, guilt, conflict, and a mean twist no one sees coming (I hope). If you want an “opinion” on your writing, I’ll read the first ten pages of anything you have and give you my opinion. If you want feedback with constructive notes, go to my website at www.thescriptmentor.com, and look under services for the first ten page read. Good luck to you, and I appreciate you reaching out!

 

Q: Hi, Geno, It’s Candy. I just read your 10 things NOT to do. Good advice, as usual! Question; I have spent two months now on LinkedIn Pro and made several valuable contacts. What would you think if I posted the first two pages of my script, (which contain the inciting incident) indirectly on my profile page, (A reader would need to click to it.) Then I would let all my contacts know my profile has changed. Good idea or not good?

Candy

A: Hi Candy! You would post the pages of the script (not a bad idea), then let everyone know your profile changed (sounds unnecessary to me, but if you want to drive them to read the script, sounds like a good tactic). Is that the gist- getting your contacts- presumably a lot of producers and decision-makers- to read these pages, and hopefully request to read the rest? I don’t see an issue with that as a strategy. It’s non-invasive, still gives them the choice to continue. I would want those two pages to be absolutely PERFECT; above all scrutiny, but I like the idea. I’d be curious if it leads to anything beyond. Keep me in the loop, if you can. Good job!

 

Q: What is the standard fee, if there is one, for an entertainment lawyer to review a contract for script purchase?

Thanks! Deen

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A: Hi Deen! Like any service industry, their fees change from attorney to attorney. They’ll probably charge hourly, but I would guess you’re looking at $200-300, depending on the size of the contract. I wish I could be more helpful.

 

Q: Hi Geno, Please know that you post great information and I appreciate it. It’s been a while since we last touched base. Since then, I hired a professional service for a Script Coverage Report for my TV drama pilot as I know that this is part of the process. They recommended my script for series, now they want me to pay them for additional consulting services to “tweak” it. If I gave you the name of the company, would you give me feedback as to their credibility? I paid $500.00 and now they want more money. I don’t want to get taken, but know I need the direction to move the project forward. Thanks, Geno! Please know that I respect your opinion as I know you’ve been in the industry for a long time.

Sincerely,

Dana

A: Hi Dana!  It sounds like you may have put the cart before the horse; doing the due diligence AFTER paying them $500. That’s too bad. I praying that it wasn’t $500 for coverage or analysis on the TV pilot. That’s 2-3 times what it the average cost would normally be. Of course, I could tell you what I know about them, recommend and refer others to you specifically for TV and look at it myself, and just give you informal feedback notes, nothing official as I won’t charge you anything, if you want. It’s up to you. If you’re on Facebook at all, you can check out my latest post on The Script Mentor Facebook page, regarding the notes I got when we recently pitched out TV pilot, “Bad Priest”. I knew it was good, but I didn’t know it was received that well. I hope you can check it out!

Dana Follow-up: I fear I may have been taken for $500 bucks. The company is [EDITED OUT]. Please let me know if you have any feedback for them. Thanks you. I’ll get back with you after your response.

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A: I see their Pulse articles every week, which are just the same ads for their services. The site is terribly confusing to me. Personally, I wouldn’t make any changes until I got the three feedbacks, then compared the notes. If there was a common theme to the feedback (for example- poor formatting, or dialogue issues), I would concentrate on those fixes. If these suggestions are based on one’s personal “taste” and NOT technique or story, then ignore it. Sometimes it’s hard to give notes and NOT express personal preferences. As for [COMPANY], if you are pleased with what they provided, and depending on how much the next charge is, it might be worth it to have them “fix” it. If you no longer want to go with [COMPANY], send me the script in PDF and their notes and I’ll look them over this weekend. I have two deadlines coming up on two screenplays, but I can find time for this- if you want me to.

WRITER’S BIO: Geno Scala has over two dozen completed feature film screenplays and television pilots. This year, he’s completed five ghostwriting adaptation projects; novels-into-screenplays, and counts many celebrities among his vast clientele. His most recent television project, “Bad Priest“, was pitched to and reviewed by several executives, who provided the following feedback: “Overall, this pilot is compelling and clear and offers just enough to tease us with where these stories and characters might go. It begs for a full season, which is a huge accomplishment.” Two other TV projects, (“Hell Hath No Fury”, “Sextracurriculum”) are under consideration by SPIKE TV for an upcoming line-up. His feature film screenplay, “BANKING ON BETTY” was the winner of the StoryPros, the Script Pipeline and a top finalist in the Scriptapalooza. Mr. Scala spent twenty-two years- plus in the Hollywood community, and during 1999-2000, was the executive director for the 72nd Annual Academy Awards. He held similar positions with The Soul Train, Grammys and Blockbuster and Saturn Awards shows. You can find his IMdb page at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5346759/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1.

He currently resides in Huntsville, Alabama, with his wife and four children.

From our family to yours, we wish you all a merry Christmas, happy holiday season, and a happy and safe New Year!

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10 Important Screenwriting “Rules” You Really Should Follow… (No Matter How Much of a Rebel You Want To Be)

As a screenwriting mentor at The Script Mentor (www.thescriptmentor.com) and producer with Shark-Eating Man Productions (www.sharkeatingman.com), I review over 300 original speculative screenplays annually, and dozens of first-ten pages a month. In fact, we offer a service that includes first-ten page reads, complete with constructive and thorough feedback notes on those all-important opening pages.

One thing I’ve found during this review process is the commonality of errors spanning the screenwriting experience spectrum: newbies and experienced writers alike make the same mistakes over and over again. In general, I call most of these formatting errors, since formatting is not exclusively about setting margin anymore. In screenwriting, we are talking about the proper way to write slug lines, as just one example of formatting. Other repetitive errors may include poor spelling, grammar, lack of punctuation, and overuse or misuse of a variety of acceptable screenwriting techniques.

Many of these are also considered “screenwriting rules”, but some don’t like to refer to them as such. You see, they’re the “rebels” of the screenwriting world. They are the ones with whom “rules” don’t apply- you know, like Hillary Clinton and the law, or Donald and basic manners. I call them “rebels without a clue”!

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However, if these rules are consistently violated throughout the first ten pages – and beyond-  no one of any authority will ever get past the first THREE pages, much less the first ten. They won’t even consider purchasing or producing your screenplay until they’ve read the entire thing, so you’re basically shooting yourself in the foot before you even get out to the dance floor.

If YOU want to be taken seriously as a spec screenwriter, here are ten RULES of basic SPEC screenwriting that you need to know and adhere to going forward:

 

  1. Scene Headings (a.k.a Master Scene Headings, slug lines, or slugs):
  • You MUST write a proper Master Scene Heading. These include camera location (INT, EXT, INT/EXT), scene location (BEDROOM, BUSY STREET, etc.) and time of day, or TOD (DAY, NIGHT).
  • Do NOT use any other TOD unless absolutely imperative in telling the story (if the killer only kills at midnight, and the killer is about to kill, then say “MIDNIGHT”).
  • Always keep these to one typed line.

 

       2. Descriptions:

  • Provide enough scene description to allow the reader to imagine scene, and exclude details that do not add to the story.
  • You must also describe your characters. The descriptions do not need to read like a police report; blue eyes may be described as “blue eyes”, “like the deep pools of a Caribbean inlet”, or simply “Newman-esque”.
  • Limit this to major characters; often those with more than one line of dialogue and more than one scene. It is not necessary to go into detail describing the grocery store and the check-out girl if they are basic “set pieces” in a scene that your character stops in and out of briefly, and one time.
  • Try to keep all descriptions to two lines or less.

 

 

      3. Camera Directions (CUT TO, DISSOLVE, etc.):

  • EXCLUDE all technical camera directions in your spec script unless IMPERATIVE to the IMPACT of the story. Limit yourself to “FADE IN:”, and “FADE OUT:”. If it’s imperative to use a “BLACK SCREEN” midway through the script, then show a slow FADE IN: into the next scene, because this will improve the storytelling dramatically, then that would be the exception. Unfortunately, many people think their exception IS an exception when it is not. It’s better to err on the side of caution and NOT include an unnecessary camera direction, then to include one.

 

4. Action Text:

  • When writing you action text, avoid repeats of words, such as “walks”, “laughs”, “looks”, etc.
  • Write in the active tense; “He knocks”, as opposed the passive “He is knocking” (-ing words).
  • Try to keep your action text to three typed lines or less, on average.

 

5. Dialogue:

  • Avoid expositional dialogue; having one character impart information to another character; information that they should already know; for the sole purpose of informing the audience (“You know Mom died when I was only eight, so…”).
  • Keep dialogue to four typed lines or less whenever possible.

 

 

 

  6. “More white than black”:

  • Target 150-180 words per page, and you’ll have a nice balance between blank space and ink.
  • Anything over 200 words seems heavy; long paragraph blocks are deadly.
  • Keep scenes short; anything longer than three pages seems too long.

 

      7. Actor Directions (“beat”):

  • Do NOT include (beat) in dialogue. The actor is trained to act. Think of beats as “dialogue speed bumps”, and it slows the read considerably. Do NOT confuse this “beat” with a “Save the Cat” beat, or a beat sheet. You’re marching to the beat of a different drummer there.

 

 

 

       8. Screenwriting Technique/ Style:

  • Do NOT get carried away with parentheticals, CAPITALIZATIONS, flashbacks, montages, hyphens, ellipses and exclamation marks. If you need to use them, use them in moderation (sparingly), and only if you know how to use these techniques properly. If you don’t, do not try them.

 

 

 

       9. Punctuation:

  • Rules of punctuation still apply in a screenplay. Learn them.
  • If you can afford an editor to check for grammar, punctuation and spelling errors, you should make the effort to hire one.
  • Do not rely on spellchecking programs to do your spelling work for you.

 

 

 

 

     10. First Ten Pages:

  • Make sure the first ten pages capture the reader’s attention
  • Make sure that the Inciting Incident is in these first ten pages, or close to it.
  • Make sure the tone and genre of the story is clear by these ten pages.
  • Make sure most, if not all, of the major characters, have been introduced to the audience in some fashion in these ten pages.

 

If you follow these ten rules to the letter, I guarantee you will have a well-written screenplay on your hands!

 

 

Debunking Screenwriting Myths, Pt.XII: We Don’t Need No Stinking Rules!

This is one of the more common exclamations bantered about on screenwriting boards every day, and those usually spouting this one are the writers who like to consider themselves “different”, and “above the norm”. I think they actually BELIEVE this platitude, and how could they not, after a lifetime of winning tenth place participation trophies in junior soccer or bell-curved C’s when scoring a 69 on a mid-term. I don’t blame them, but I do just want to open their eyes – and their minds – a little wider and be more accepting of the truth.

You’re NOT different.

You’re NOT above the rules.

You’re NOT the exception to these rules.

And yes, my little screenwriting snowflake, there are rules.58499170

What other profession are you aware of that attracts so many potential members across the globe, lives by a set of standards and practices, yet denies the existence of these standards and practices to such a degree that most of the “members” swear that no standards of practice exist? Why the secrecy? Why do writers, gurus, and many consultants go to great lengths to tell you that, to be successful, you need to stand out and break convention, but then refuse you entry into their “club”, largely based on the fact that you defied that very convention?

Because there ARE rules, and those in Hollywood – especially writers – would prefer to think of themselves as “rebels”, when they’re really just “Rebels without a Clue”. Unfortunately, you can’t go online and download a PDF of these “rules”, nor can you order the rule book on Amazon, like you can for the International Rules on Competitive Wife Carrying.

You can do the next best thing, however; The Screenwriter’s Bible by Dave Trottier. These are the expected guidelines for writing a spec screenplay and, by now, you should have these committed to memory.

Most of these screenwriting rules are picked up along the way, although The Script Mentor tries hard to share these rules with fellow screenwriters through blog articles and script reviews in hopes of enlightening a few along the way.

Many of these foolhardy souls believe that ancient platitude “great writing trumps all”. You might have the next “Chinatown” on your desk right now, but if you’re writing on spec, and you’re ignoring the accepted standards and practices of writing a spec screenplay, who on earth is going to read it? No one with any significant pull or power in the community is going to sit down and waste valuable time to read through a draft overstuffed with wordweight, boring characters, poorly formatted slug lines, and an unstructured story. It is just not happening. That pile of crap on your desk may contain the greatest lines in the history of cinema…

… but no one will ever know it.

So, do yourselves a favor before you start typing your new “Star Wars” concept: learn the rules, of which there are many.

Learn what a marketable concept entails;

Learn which genres sell faster and easier, and why;

Learn the art of a great opening, character development, structure, formatting, and dozens of more.

If you are writing on spec, to get read, to get noticed and to be appreciated and respected, you need to know the basic rules of the game.

Only then, will great writing trump all.

*In my next article, we’ll address the more important rules of spec screenwriting and provide tips on how to achieve them every time out!

Debunking Screenwriting Myths, Part X: Writing is Rewriting

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As one who is so tired of this overused screenwriting homily, often provided by lazy screenwriting consultants who feel the need to justify their expenses through the tireless repetition of overused screenwriting homilies, I felt that it was time to take on this platitude, in all of its blusterous splendor, and debunk it once and for all.

Writing is not rewriting.

Writing is writing.

Editing is revising.

Rewriting is a combination of both. You are writing, but on another level from your original story. Oh, sure, a minor technicality, but it’s true. Esoterically, all rewriting is writing, simply by the act of putting pen to paper, or four thumbs to a keyboard, as in my case.

But, to truly commit to a screenplay rewrite – ah, that takes skill — and a plan.

First you have to take an objective view of your story, and see if the whole package actually works; is it entertaining? If it’s a comedy, is it even funny? Is your theme addressed, and is this the message you want to impart?

Assuming all of the above is to your satisfaction, you must then come to the realization that:

YOU CANNOT BE OBJECTIVE!

You wrote the damn thing. Go get your “peers” and “rocketeers” to give you feedback and see if THEY think it hits these marks.

Rewriting may actually involve changing the protagonist or the antagonist. It may involve adding or deleting major scenes. During one of my rewrites, the first draft was written as a violent Mafia crime family drama, the second draft more of a dark comedy, and by the final draft, it had transitioned to a buddy-buddy, cross-country comedy involving the Mafia. THAT’S a rewrite!

Once that is done, review the story to see if your story beats are in place, assuming you even bother with beats.

Review for conflicts. A great screenplay will have conflict in every scene, on every page, in every exchange of dialogue. At some level, someone is trying to do something and someone else is trying to stop them.

Next, review your characters. Are they unique? Are they compelling? Do they speak with an individual voice? Do they have subtext, either in their actions or their dialogue? Do they serve a purpose to the story and help move the story forward? Do you have your characters interacting with each other? Are any or all of your characters written in a way that will attract the A-list actor to want to play them?

When stepping back and looking upon your story, is the theme stated and supported throughout? Does it ever stray off message?

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Check your action scenes. Do they even qualify as action? It doesn’t have to require a shoot-out or a fight scene to be action, but it does require movement, and that movement of some sort should be exciting, compelling and entertaining at some level. I once read an action scene that involved only the movement of the eyes of a paraplegic character, but that was all that was needed to define the action.

You’ll want to review the dialogue. Do you find anything overtly expositional? Are your responses “on-the-nose”? Are the lines delivered in a way that is consistent with your character? I like going line by line, word by word, and make sure this is the best WORD for this character to use in this situation at this time in the story.

Lastly, wordsmith your project. Having the Master Writer software or a solid online thesaurus is always a good idea at this stage. Try your hardest NOT to repeat any adjectives throughout your screenplay, if at all possible. Stay away from cliché. If it sounds somewhat familiar to you, scrap it; it will be familiar to everyone. Check for spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Then, do something that no one has ever told you to do before: count the words. Not individually, dummy-dog. I copy the entire screenplay and shove it into a word document, then press the word count button. Divide your total word count by the number of pages written (hopefully, between 90-110 pages tops). If you average between 150-180 words per page, my guess would be that it is a lean, mean fighting machine of a screenplay. It may not be the best writing, but readers and producers will sit down with this first, based on the overall “more white than black” appearance.

These are steps your “RE- writing” process should take. You want to maximize what you’ve already written, elevating it to another level of greatness. This is why I do NOT ascribe to the myth, “writing is rewriting”.

TSM Interview With Anthony Crossen; Nicholl Semifinalist (So Far)

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Recently, The Script Mentor spoke with Anthony Crossen, a screenwriter whose current war drama OP Winchester has been impressing the judges in the Nicholl Fellowship, so far reaching the semifinals; the top 150 0f approximately 7000 entries.

Anthony and TSM’s working relationship goes back several years now, and we were among the first to read his completed initial draft of this screenplay. Over the years we’ve engaged in discussion, debates and even an argument or two over our beliefs in screenwriting, filmmaking, politics, and even the roles of law enforcement and the military in today’s society. In the end, Tony is a very good friend, a talented writer and an even more talented filmmaker.

Background

519_665601206806625_518426291_n Anthony is a 23-year Army veteran; retired. He is a former tank commander, platoon sergeant, and urban operations live-fire trainer. He is also a 3X decorated combat veteran;  “My military journey initiated with my desire to attend film school, which I did in the early ’90s.  I retired from the Army five years ago and have been practicing my craft and beating my drum as loud as I can ever since.”

Anthony continued, “I tried to do ‘film things’ while I was in.  I taped a lot of field training exercises, and tried to continue my film education but, the war ‘fighting business’ always got in the way.  When YouTube kicked off the digital revolution, I found a way to practice and publish craft.”

His resume of deployments includes stints at the Los Angeles Riots, 1992; Kosovo, 1999; OIF I/II, 2003 – 2004; OIF V/VI, 2005 – 2006. His long list awards are highlighted by a  Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, 4x Army Commendation Medals, 8x Army Achievement Medals, and 5x Army Good Conduct Medals.

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TSM: What is the title of the script you’re currently working, and what’s it about?

AC: I have a script going around town called OP Winchester.  It’s doing extremely well at the Nicholl Fellowship this year, it’s up to the semifinals at this time.  The Nicholl Fellowship is a screenwriting competition put on by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – “The Oscars”…  It’s also at Zero Gravity right now.  I’m getting offers.

“OP” is a military acronym for Observation Post.  Often times, points on a map often serve as verbs, there are missions or TASKS assigned to those points.  They are often given code names, “Winchester,” in this case.

Anyway, the script is an Afghan war drama about two soldiers who have an intense dislike for each other, who become trapped behind enemy lines.  One is a millennial, the other is old school, a sergeant who came up during the Cold War.  Here’s the actual logline:

“Left behind after an attack on a remote U.S. outpost, an entitled, young soldier is forced to man-up by his tough-as-nails sergeant when an enemy compound housing a wanted Taliban warlord becomes the key to their rescue.”

 

TSM: Can you share with us any advice on the process of actually getting the option deal/ offer or doing well in the Nicholl? 

AC:  Well, Winchester is doing both. It’s been optioned three times, and now it’s doing well in competition.  And I’m getting option offers again. Personally, I think the key is coming from a point of perspective.  Write what you know, right?  That’s the case with OP Winchester.  That knowledge or point of view really comes out in your pitch.  Yes, the logline, but be able to talk smartly and passionately about your subject– and what is your subject?  Sure your movie could be about a haunted house, but isn’t it really about a woman who’s suffering from something else and suddenly has to deal with this situation?  She is your subject.  Be able to talk about it.165561_183502168349867_3417563_n

Winchester’s first option came after a pitch.  I didn’t pitch to sell.  I hadn’t even written it yet.  I pitched it to start a conversation; to garner interest in me, my “brand” as the modern euphemism is, and the story, to talk to the gate keeper and prepare him for my arrival- which is exactly what happened.

Of course, the final step is delivering a killer script.  You have to back up your words with action.  Character is action; “I am what I do”.  So, I delivered a kick-ass script!

 

TSM: How long did it take you to write the script?

AC:  OP Winchester took about a month.  I was clearing, conducting final out-processing from the Army towards retirement.  I was able to knock the first draft out in about 30-days.  The producer read it and loved it.

 

TSM: Did you write an outline beforehand? How many drafts did you write?

AC:  Yes.  I went to film school and took a couple of writing classes, but for the most part I am self-taught.  I leaned heavily on Syd Field’s book series because that’s what was selling at Barnes & Noble at the time.  Yes, this was before the internet, when you had to buy books from bookstores!  There really wasn’t a lot of information out there, or ways to get information.  Now everything you ever wanted to know is online for free!

Anyway, I began with the Syd Field 4-page treatment.  I never hold to that though.  If I’m seeing the scene unfold, I don’t hesitate to write it all out.  I may end up with a 10-15 page treatment.  Much of it, I’ll simply copy and paste into Final Draft while writing the script.

 

TSM: Where did the original concept come from, and how did you develop it? What was your process?

AC: Op Winchester stems from my reaction to The Hurt Locker.  It’s a direct rebuttal, actually.  I was active duty at the time and fresh from my second tour in Iraq.  I was an armor Platoon Sergeant, in charge of an M1 Abrams tank platoon.  Anyway, Winchester is my anecdote on military leadership and why young men choose to serve despite the horrors of war- and they’re reenlisting in droves.  I had dudes in my platoon who wanted to stay in country – and we’d already been there a year!13932849_1239029359463804_5703973592357618348_n

I’ve led millennials.  There’s a marked difference in their psychology and needs vs guys I knew coming up during the Cold War.  That’s what I wanted to write about. So, 4-page treatment with free association; lots of wall staring, long baths, and plenty of Hans Zimmer’s Gladiator soundtrack.  It was an anecdote.  Many of the sequences I experienced personally while in the service are in this script.  You often hear how a story writes itself-  OP Winchester was a prime example of this.

 

TSM: Did you receive any assistance along the way from friends, relatives, or screenwriters that you’d like to credit or thank?

AC: Sure! You (TSM) and I worked early-on on the logline for OP Winchester.  I hung the script on Inktip.com and it wasn’t getting any play.  You can move your script to the top of the listings from time to time, and you can edit your logline whenever you want.  So I wanted your help with the logline, hoping to get more traction.

The Script Mentor’s logline methodology is what I use when developing my scripts.  If you can find one better, please share it with me!

 

TSM: Nice of you to say, and it looks like you added you own unique twists to the logline, so I’m glad it’s working for you. What’s the best tip or advice you’ve ever received when it comes to screenwriting or something to do with the screenwriting business?

AC: It’s very important to be perceived as a team player. Be willing to take notes and make logical changes.  Understand that individuals have their own reactions to stories and that they won’t be the same across the board.  Notes will come out of left field.  You’ll get notes from one person saying change this, while another will say they love the original, don’t change a thing.  It’s all subjective.  So don’t delete any files or drafts.  Keep them all and be prepared to implement a change which you just removed two months ago.

 

TSM: Are you a “formula” or “non-formula” person when screenwriting? Can you tell us why or why not?

AC: I guess I’m a formula guy, for now. For me, structure makes things easier. It keeps my stuff lean and focused on arriving at the next beat on time.

 

TSM: What kind of software did you use to write the script, if any? What other kinds of writing software do you use?

AC:  I only use Word for the planning stages and Final Draft for the script.  I use the Warner Bros. template.  There was someone who posted formatting questions on a LinkedIn group.  They were using Final Draft, but got notes that their screenplay format was out of whack.  They asked how to properly format a screenplay. I mentioned the templates in Final Draft.  They didn’t seem to know it had any.  Instructional videos are on YouTube.  Let Google be thy friend.

 

TSM: Do you write every day? How many hours per day?

AC:  I do write almost every day, but most of the writing I do is on social media.

 

TSM: Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with that?

AC:  I don’t know if it was writer’s block per se, but I have been stuck on a scene which really threw me for a loop.  This was still in the outline stage.  It got to the point where I didn’t want to think about it.  I actually avoided this project for 3-4 months.  My problem was, I was writing a crime drama, not my genre, and I hate being cliché.  I went round and round with it.  I think I shared the beat sheet with you, Geno, because I knew you were a police detective. Your help was valuable, but it finally took me sitting down and confronting the problem head on and it I finally worked it out.

 

TSM: Have you written any other screenplays or television scripts?

AC: Yes.  My first feature script was a horror yarn.  Pieces of Silver, about a latch-key kid in the ‘80s who learns his estranged father is a serial killer…of sorts.

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Most of my stuff since OP Winchester have been short scripts.  Abel’s Promise, a short thriller about a cop who discovers his wife is having an affair with someone close to the family.  Great twist on that one.  I’m developing that into a feature – which is where that writer’s block episode hit me.

Satellite – “In a post 2nd Civil War wasteland, a band of orphaned misfits accidentally steal part of an advanced secret weapons program, uncovering a larger threat to humanity from off-world.”  This is a logline for a feature script, but I wrote a short as a proof of concept.  It’s great, full of high energy sci-fi action.  My ode to Macross and other sci-fi anime.


TSM: Do you live in Los Angeles? If not, do you have any plans to move there?

AC:  I live outside LA.  I’m originally from Orange County, “The OC”, but my time in the service has weened me from the big city.  It’s okay to visit, but I need space and easy access to the outdoors to really live. It’s great seeing all the landmarks, the Hollywood sign, the “Nakatomi” building from Die Hard, and everything, but in the end, the city is a hassle.  I hate it.

 

TSM: Not sure if I ever told you this, but my my old Beverly Hills office used to look out to that “Nakatomi building. It’s part of 20th Century Fox, now, and I would go there often. So, what’s next? Are you working on a new script?

AC: I’m actually doing my first adaption.  It’s a spec to be sure, but I’m in a panic to have a great follow up to OP Winchester.

My first script was horror.  I really like the story, but I wrote it first, before writing the logline.  Now, I’m having trouble nailing down a concise logline, which is crucial to being able to pitch it.  Without a good logline, I can’t properly market the script.  It’s a perfect example of why the logline should always come first.

I was also approached to do a spec trailer for someone’s project.  I edit and direct as well as write.  Now, a trailer, if your followers don’t know, is a visual representation of the logline.  It’s true!  But trailers are more compelling.  Go watch some trailers, like The Judge (2014), Robert Downey Jr, Robert Duvall.  It has every logline element.  And they use music to set tone, from character, in the opening, to hope, towards the end.

Anyway, I asked for the logline to formulate a plan for the trailer.  What I was given was a brief synopsis with every element in the script, not the main arch of the story: protag, antag, mission, stakes, irony, etc.

So I asked, if they’d written the script first or the logline?  They said, script.  Ah-hah!  So another lesson, another point of evidence towards creating the logline first.  It keeps your story grounded and focused.  It doesn’t let it take off on a tangent which, maybe, should be its own script.

I wound up reading the entire script and sending them a logline.  Not sure if they dug it.  Haven’t heard back.  It’s tough when you’re married to your work, then someone objective comes in and completely destroys what you thought you were doing.  It sucks.  Which is why writing is so difficult.

But that’s why you have your stuff read before you put it out there.

They say writers should stick to the genre they know.  I know military, so this adaption I’m doing fits in a roundabout way.  Presenting a horror script as a backup doesn’t sound smart for me.

Now, I’m hesitant to give the title because the property is public.  It’s so old and forgotten (hopefully), that no one has the rights.  The story takes place in 13th century England.  There was an attempted coup which failed.  The king’s loyalists are scouring the countryside for conspirators, which is where our story opens.  Here’s the logline:

“When the teenage son of a fallen noble is sent away to knight school, he discovers he’s the key in a wider plot to restore his family name and exact revenge on his father’s nemesis through trial by combat.”

It’s a childhood favorite.  It could easily be Disney fare, but I plan on putting my gritty, no bullshit spin on it.


Q: Well, I’m pretty sure it’s NOT “Pete’s Dragon”! Do you have any favorite stories or life lessons related to the industry that you’d like to share?

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AC:  Three things –

Character is action – Syd Field is right, but not only in writing, in life!  It’s what you do that matters, not what you say.

You get what you pay for – so so true.  Referring to the above, filmmaking is hard work.  It’s like working construction.  When passionate volunteers learn that filmmaking sucks, and that it’s non-glamorous, they won’t return for Day 2.  They may not even return after lunch!  When you’re in a time crunch and you need to get the shot the first time, you need professionals who are going to get it.  Passion does not equate talent, and startups need to understand and be prepared for that going in.  Pay for pros to head key departments on your shows.

Don’t be married to your work – film is a collaboration.  If you’re lucky to have a say after you’ve sold your script, you’re in a very small club.  Everyone will have notes for you.  Everyone wants story changes.  How you fight for your story will determine your career path.

So, it comes down to how you define success:  You’ve never been produced, but you script-doctor and ghost write for name brands.  Now, you have $4M in the bank, and you and your family can do whatever you want?  Are you vying for that Oscar?  Are you looking to direct?  Don’t get disillusioned about the biz.  Learn how movies are made, and learn to make your way through that process.  Don’t get butt-hurt when they change your shit.  That’s how it’s done.  Be a team player and move on.

 

10 WAYS TO NETWORK WITH PRODUCERS

Recently, in our LinkedIn group “Script-To-Screen Network”, the discussion of sending out screenplays came up, as it often does. One member “warned” against sending scripts to any producer that the writer didn’t know personally, then shared the fact that he had not one, but TWO scripts “stolen”.

Then another member then asked a very succinct question:

How can you get to know producers without sending them your work?

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I jotted down ten (10) quick responses to this, but there are dozens more. Here are a few ideas on how you might want to “get to know” a producer- or for that matter, anyone- in the business. Most of these are “common sense”, but we know just how “common” that sense is sometimes:

1) RESEARCH. Find out about their prodco; check their website and IMDb; review their LinkedIn profile, Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, etc. You know that you’re on these time-suck sites all day long, at least put some of that wasteful time to work for you!

2) “LIKE” OR “FOLLOW” THEM. I don’t mean stalking. Also “like” or “follow” their projects. Send a short note (“short” the operative word here):

“Saw your website today. Nice. Love the title of your current project. Take care!”

Trust me; they’ll remember your name next time you write them.

3) BE SINCERE. Anyone can spot a phony from miles away.

4) PAY IT FORWARD. If they are currently searching for a particular script- which does not fit the script you are marketing- reach out to your network. With the exception of having your OWN screenplay discovered, to me, nothing is more rewarding than introducing a fellow writer with a great script to that producer looking for that kind of great script. Most of my closest friendships with producers have been forged this very way, and you’ll often see them contribute to various discussions while also being very complimentary to me at the some time. I still help them whenever possible, and ask for nothing in return.

5) SHARE. If they post or tweet something on social media that you can support, share it!

6) ASK FOR ADVICE. Most people LOVE to give advice, especially if they can be helpful in any way. Keep it brief, and don’t be disappointed if you don’t get a response.

7) KNOW THEIR SPECIALTY. Do NOT send a horror producer your Rom/Com screenplay. Don’t send them a manuscript if they produce movies. Don’t send them a short if they produce features.

8) VOLUNTEER. If they are a small prodco, and they are filming in and around your area, offer to volunteer at the shoot. Do anything- drive people, run errands, make coffee, grip, security, make-up, etc. Do NOT ask to rewrite the script or to direct, however, unless they specifically need that and you have that experience to give them.

9) DON’T RUSH IT. Water finds its own level. If you come off as too needy, too helpful, too “stalker”, the relationship will never develop.

10) BE KIND. Thank them when you’re done. Be someone that someone else would want to work with.

There are many producer networking groups on LinkedIn, so don’t hesitate to join those as well. You will also meet producers at pitch fests, seminars, webinars, etc. Once that “friendship” develops, you’ll soon see that it can be mutually beneficial.