Ask “The Script Mentor”, Part IV

questions

Q.”What can we do to guarantee a good script?”

A. There are many things you can do to ensure having a “good” script, but what you really need to strive for is a “great” script. Here are some starting points, and this list is random and far from complete:
— High concept/ idea (unique; easily explained in one sentence; appeals to most people).
— Should have a easily recognizable, solid theme
— Should have a strong PROPER structure
— It should read quickly; lean and mean, with no extraneous scenes, characters or words.

As a spec screenwriter, you should also consider;
— Production budget; don’t include a submarine when a bicycle will do.
— Limited locations
— Fewest characters possible.
— Marketable genre
— Great, memorable title
— Great character names

How to achieve these things:
Get a mentor; someone who’s “been there, done that”
— Learn the CRAFT
— Understand the business
— Write everyday, or every chance you get
— Be passionate- about your project and your craft
— Study; improve language skills, grammar, punctuation, spelling
— Read- books, blogs, newsletters, and successful spec scripts
— Have a solid work ethic
— Don’t take everything personally; you WILL be critiqued, hopefully constructively
— Don’t be afraid to ask questions
— Be blessed with some basic God-given writing talent, and a bit of luck.

Q. I need a good spot to send my script to that will actually look at it.

A. A good spot? Hmmm…how about Boca Raton? Maui?

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I kid, I kid…

You probably mean a website or a producer, right? Whatever you do first- do NOT send it out to market. The number one mistake new writers make is sending their scripts out to be read by producers when they’re NOT ready yet.

And you’re not.

Know how I know?

Because you’re asking this question.

What you HAVE to do first is find out where you are with your writing:
– is it up to the acceptable spec screenwriting level (probably not);
– has it received multiple coverages resulting in several “recommends” or, at least, “considers” (um, no);
– has it won or placed high in several mid-to-high level contests that average 5K minimum entries (doubt it).

I’m not saying you CAN’T get to that level; most certainly you can. Just don’t make the one mistake that many, many other new writers make and set your career back a few years, or damage it to the point where you might end up quitting. Be happy knowing that YOU’VE completed the first screenplay of your life, and 95% of those who start one NEVER get that far.

Congratulations!

Now, you can search for a variety of consultants on LinkedIn or on the Internet, pay whatever coverage costs may be ($100- $300 range), and be told a number of things that are wrong, but not how to fix them…

…OR you can contact The Script Mentor (http://www.thescriptmentor@hotmail.com) and ask for one of their FREE first ten-page reviews. I’m sure others will tell you that you will learn more about spec screenwriting in this free review than anywhere else you may have to pay boatloads of money, but don’t take it from me alone, as I am not nearly unbiased in my opinion. All I can say is that it’s an option.

Q. “I’m finished with my first written script. I have done twelve rewrites and have ideas for another. Should I stay with what I have?”

A. This is a very common question. It’s not unusual to have several concepts churning in your head. Get used to writing them down as soon as they come, and when you have time, mull them over and try to come up with loglines to tell your story (30 words or less). You’ve done 12 rewrites, but where are you with the script? Many writers confuse rewrites with edits; moving words around or replacing one with another is not a rewrite. Usually, a rewrite entails complete reworking of plots, scene structures, adding and subtracting- or combining- whole characters. That being said, what has been the feedback from the “finished” version? Take a minute and refer to my blog entry on the topic of “Cheers, Peers and Rocketeers“, and you’ll get a good idea what needs to happen next.

As far as moving on, it always seems to help your current story by stepping away from it for a time- a month or more – then go back to it and read it again. Guaranteed you’ll have a different opinion on how it reads and if it needs work. When you’ve gone back to it, and it surprises you how good it is, then you’ve done as well as you could up to this point. Now, it’s time to get the pros involved. Find yourself a qualified “peer” or two (or more) to give you a good assessment of where you stand with the writing. Make sure those peers are more experienced and more knowledgeable about the craft than yourself, otherwise it’s the blind leading the blind.

Yes, consultants will often have varying opinions and suggestions; you have to take into account one’s objectivity (or lack thereof) and their personal tastes. That’s why you get more than one professional feedback. I’m not even suggesting our own “The Script Mentor”, because we don’t “consult” or review screenplays in that fashion.

While I, too, stress that the writer should be true to their vision, all too often this occurs at the expense of being RIGHT, or even GOOD. Many just haven’t taken the time to LEARN the craft, and this is where my service has proven to be very effective. We basically take the first five years of “OJT” training, where it could end up wasting thousands of your dollars and months and years of time, speed through it and shortening that learning curve by two-to-four years, at least.

If you feel that you know your craft and produce a rock-solid product, and this has been corroborated through contests or script requests or meetings with producers and talks about options, sales and writing assignments, than just forget everything you’ve read from me. The best I can do is wish you God speed and hope that you’ll remember us little guys when it comes time for seats at the Oscars! đŸ˜‰

Q. “I have many ideas for television and the silver screen. I purchased a notebook and I’ve been writing all my television and movie concepts down. My little beginner’s notebook is just about full of interesting odds and ends. But I’ve been having trouble formatting them and creating outlines for spec scripts. Anyone have any pointers on how to begin the writing process for a newbie?”

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A. You’ve developed an excellent habit of writing down ideas to flesh out later. Good for you! There are a million of “outlining” software out there to use, so I won’t begin to mention them all. I’m quite familiar with the Save the Cat formula of story beats, so I generally use this format myself, but to be honest, I rarely ever outline anymore- but really should, and you should, too.

Once you have a concept, ask others what they think of the idea. To some, it may conjure up another movie they saw, to others it may be really unique and exciting. If you get a lot of that kind of reaction, it may be worthy of pursuing.

Next, I would decide on a theme; what is it that you want your audience to walk away from the experience of your story having learned?

Then I would create a thirty word-or-less logline for the story, identifying the seven basic elements, especially the “hook”.

Assuming you have a working knowledge of screenwriting structure, I’d simply write down the three acts, and the basic walk-through of the 40-60 scenes and the story will write itself!

Now, obviously this is a highly simplistic list of how to accomplish the feat, as it may take several years of learning, or dozens of books to purchase and read, or finding a mentor to help you with your goal. But almost everyday, I read screenplays from writers having written their first script, and those people are in rare company, as 99% of those who START a script never FINISH the script. Out of those who finish their first script, 95% never go on to write a second. On average, it takes about 8 scripts to get it down and start achieving some level of success, however one might define “success”, but you’ll need at least three scripts in the same genre before you really consider marketing yourself to representation and so forth.

Hope this helps!

Q. “Hi! I am a writer, director, and producer and had a few questions for those who have produced film. I am thinking of using Kickstarter to fund my project, and I was wondering if anyone has used them before, and if so, what the pros and cons are with the website? Also, I was reading that it is helpful to have a Facebook/twitter account for the film, but I am not really sure if that is something I want to do. I am shooting the trailer for the film this June, and was wondering, what is the number one thing that I need to know/do before I shoot? Thanks so much for your insight!”

A. Excellent questions! Crowd-funding campaigns- yes, they can be effective. If you check out the “BLACK SALT” project on Indiegogo, which I am executive producing, you’ll see that we reached our goal five days after starting it, and we’re well beyond it now.

Re: Social media- Yes, creating a website to further promote your projects is just one idea that should probably be a part of a much broader marketing and promotion strategy, much like the crowd-funding. The more avenues you use to achieve your ultimate goal, the more chances of success in the end.

Re: Shooting the film- A few things to consider (you can decide what’s number one);

– “Does it matter?” Passion projects are fine- if you’re footing the bill. If you hope to get enough attention from real filmmakers, producers and investors, then you’ll have to make sure the concept is unique and that it appeals to those that extend BEYOND family and friends.

– Make sure the story and script are as good as they can be.

– If you don’t know everything, make sure you surround yourself with people who do.

– Your best hire for a film shoot is going to be your cinematographer.

Good luck!

Q. “Congratulations on the success of your “BLACK SALT” campaign – way to go! I wanted to know if you had any advice on branding, especially your production company, and where I might find out more about starting my own production company. I want to do this soon. I would really appreciate any advice on this topic. Thanks so much!”

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A. Thank you for this question. Setting up your own prodco is easy; come up with a name, start a web page and your in business. What you do with that business is the hard part.

In my case, my goal was to brand the company in a direction that ensured consistently high quality screenplays with an emphasis on leading roles that involved actors 55 yrs. or older. The abundance of great actors that I grew up with are now in that age range- or higher (Duvall, Pacino, Nicholson, Ah-nold, Streep, Van Dyke, Reiner, Brooks, Dennehy, Sarandon, etc.) and I wanted the opportunity to pitch to them someday. So, that was my stated goal.

The next thing was the networking; associating with those who share your vision, who are helpful for the sake of being helpful, and whom are quality people (hard to find, as I’ve come to discover). This is a judgment call most made from a chair planted firmly in front of a monitor on the internet. Not always the best POV – granted.

Then, you have to get involved; not only in your own projects, but with others as well. This generally comes in the form of money- financially assisting other filmmakers with their projects, promotions, etc. I would scan Indiegogo and Kickstarter or the Angel’s List and find projects that interested me and contribute whenever and however I could. You’ll want to find projects that will give you a minimum of Associate Producer credit, at least to start, then build from there. I communicate regularly with other producers who are much more entrenched in the industry, and as a result of these relationships, I now have 20+ production companies who are willing to read ANY project I refer to them. Over time, they’ve learned to trust my opinions and judgment. I do not use these relationships to further my own career, but rather to help other writers whose projects I believe are truly good. If you start sending over every crappy thing simply because you can, you’ll lose that connection and all credibility you worked hard to achieve. A week doesn’t go by when one of these guys (and gals) don’t pick up the phone to ask ME a question about contracts, or a particular writer, etc.

I also talk with people that “need” certain things, a certain type of script or so, Because of my network, I’ve managed to conduct script searches for several well-known producers and studio execs, and I did this through my production company, with no expectation of having the favor returned (it didn’t hurt having had my past involvement with AMPAS and the Academy Awards, I will admit). This has led to several writers whom I’ve helped getting options, selling their scripts and getting representation. Now, whenever they need something (script or project for development), they’re always sure to ring me up first!

In any event, I also strongly believe in “karma”, and by doing for others, this seems to come back to me ten-fold, and so far, it’s working out that way.

Hope this helps! Now, keep those questions coming, and feel free to contact The Script Mentor (www.thescriptmentor.com) for all of your screenwriting needs!

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