“ASK THE SCRIPT MENTOR”- No. 9

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Appreciates the Advice:

Q- “Dear Geno (The Script Mentor);  I wanted to thank you for all the time and effort you put into providing insightful information to writers. It helps to have guidance, wisdom, and clarity regarding all spectrums, and you definitely cover many of them. To me, you are “Obi-Wan Kenobi” in our screenwriting world! I believe that our efforts are always matched, or surpassed, by the Universe, and that what you are doing will, through karma, be returned to you in a significant way. Regardless of whether you share these beliefs, I am grateful to learn from you, and I am very appreciative for your enlightenment and efforts, as I expressed. The “kindness of strangers” truly resonates with me. Thanks again for all.”

A- I don’t know about achieving “Obi-Wan” status, but I appreciate the kind words! I’m driven only by what I went through starting out, and how, one day, I asked myself “Why hasn’t anybody taken the time to warn me/us about this stuff- the wasted money on useless services, the true motives of some of these “consultants”, what contests are REALLY all about, not warning us about the scams that are prevalent in screenwriting, and- most importantly- how can a producer (or someone else) determine the difference between a PROFESSIONAL script from a newbie’s script? Since I was unable to find these answers, I decide to find them out myself, and instead of hoarding the answers, and perhaps getting far ahead of my peers (the more knowledge one has, the better prepared they are for success), I chose to share much of it.

I appreciate you noticing and acknowledging the time AND effort that goes into doing this, and its comments like these that make me continue the effort.

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Advice on Having Sensitive Information:

Q- “Hope all is well. Just wanted to ask if you have come across a (named casting director)?? He sent me a mail yesterday regarding an audition and working in Hollywood, but after doing some research, I came across some disturbing info. Just thought I’d ask as I you seem to be quite a resourceful person. Speak soon.”

A- I’ve not heard of (named casting director) before, and having done a quick b/g check reveals that “disturbing” information you speak of. Assuming it’s the same person, I must tell you as a former detective, “registered sex offenders” could encompass anyone from child molesters to someone cited for peeing in public! But let’s assume the worst- you’re not a child, and based on your profile picture, I’d be willing to bet you could take care of yourself in an uncomfortable situation through self-protection. So, I’d say it was your call. If I wanted it bad enough, I’d go, knowing I was armed with the knowledge of his past. Some people screw up in life and deserve a second chance. Not saying this is the case here. Just saying an Internet search gives you enough information to make one more aware. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Q- (follow-up question): “Thanks for the advice. Yeah part of me was thinking everyone does make mistakes! I guess the main thing to weigh up was the association with someone with such a past. Do you think it would be a bad idea to bring it to light that I have come across this piece of information?

A- (follow-up response): Maybe if you get the role, and still had some concerns about. He’s probably NOT going to inform you, as he’s not obligated to.

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Career Advice, and The Script Mentor Services:

Q- “Dear TSM: I get the strong feeling that this is NOT a career for an old-timer like me. Although I describe myself as the worst kind of screenwriter, I don’t actually call myself a screenwriter out loud. I would not disrespect the craft as I have not successfully written a screenplay. I am not a poser–at this point I suppose I even aspire to be a poser! So if you can help me, and I think you can, I would like to connect with you. I have a few very good film concepts. But my experience in the ad business producing TV commercials and radio spots tells me that a great movie idea is a long, long way from a produced film. It needs to be an idea with a script and a subsequent pitch that inspires someone with a lot of money to produce it. So my big question is: can you help me get a spec screenplay together, and what does that kind of coaching cost? Your thoughts?”

A: I can tell you that you are never too old to try it- this coming from a 54 yr. old who also started later in life; screenwriting/producing is actually my third career, following one in law enforcement and one in private business in executive management. It’s a long journey, and a craft that you have to learn from the ground floor and up, but we have something the young kids don’t- perspective. Our experience gives us knowledge and information that most of them have yet to accumulate. You have a very specific niche of interest, one that is pretty rare and getting rarer with the passing of each soldier from the Greatest Generation, and the baby-boomers of Viet Nam. While you may not have had field experience (that’s just an assumption on my part), you have studied this topic out of sheer love for it. I’ve amassed a treasure trove of mementos and collectibles on Elvis, but I never met him. Does this make me less knowledgeable on the topic? I doubt it. Actually, you possess a great foundation to do well in this business; you appear to be “mature”, varied life experiences, probably some college, a solid b/g in writing (albeit a different media), and practical knowledge about concepts.You’re absolutely right about a concept being far from a finished screenplay- but, having a good solid concept is the biggest hurdle, by far. Learning HOW to write a marketable spec screenplay is probably the EASIEST part of this venture.

But, here is a fitting cliché: Life is a marathon, and all marathons start with the first step.

What I do in my business is try to impart the wisdom that most people, if they’re lucky, will eventually learn after years of writing and floundering out there without direction, spending money needless on a bunch of unsuccessful consultants, etc. You have to learn what it takes to write the proper spec screenplay, because that’s what we all do.

As I rule, I don’t “teach” screenwriting, per se. I generally point out the faults of a screenplay and suggest corrective measure. Many consultants suggest reading produced scripts off of the “interwebbies” of your favorite movies; I don’t. In fact, I would encourage you NOT to do this, not if you expect to learn the right way. These are produced movies, and 99% of them are shooting scripts, a quite different animal altogether.

I would also encourage you to purchase “The Screenwriter’s Bible” by Dave Trottier, and refer to it daily. I’ve read it front to back a number of times, and STILL learn things (just like the other Bible)!

My mentoring service charges by the month or on an annual basis, and they’re posted at http://www.thescriptmentor.com website. My annual charge guarantees that you will reach a Quarterfinal finish minimum in any one of the 3500+ screenwriting competitions. That’s a huge accomplishment. Who is crazy enough to “guarantee” a certain level of writing success when it involves such God-given talent as writing? THAT’S just how much I believe in this system.

In April, we will be doing a series of online webinars on this very topic- “How to Write the Spec Screenplay that Producers Will Read (and Win a Few Contests Along the Way)!” There will be four sessions, covering four different topics, and it will be interactive between the participants and instructor(s). If you learn some of these keys, in the long run, you’ll save a ton of time, money and sweat equity, avoiding the mistakes almost everyone else learns a bit too late. Armed with these tools, I’d bet you’ll be able to produce an extremely viable first “vomit” draft, and we can go from there!

Hope this helps!

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Marketing Advice:

Q- “Hi Geno! I have been working in corporate affairs for several global companies, for 15 years but have also always had a passion for movies. I have written my second short film script and after more drafts than I care to recall I plan to pitch it and find a director/producer. The idea is to have success with the short, then turn the story into a feature.Do you have tips, on next steps? Thinking if I can get funding from the government but I assume I could pitch it to anyone that loved the idea. Any thoughts appreciated!”

A- Some thoughts based on what you’ve said:

In my opinion, the number one mistake new writers make is marketing themselves, or their projects, too quickly. I would make  sure you have the following in place:

1) The first thing a producer is going to ask is “What else you got?” You have to make sure you have a minimum of three completed projects to show them, to convince them you’re not a flash-in-the-pan and that they can work with you.

2) Has this script been reviewed and covered by professionals?

3) Has you received “recommends” or, at least, “consider”?

4) Has it won or placed high in a number of contests?

If the answer is “no” to these questions, and the concept isn’t so awesomely unique (haven’t found one yet that was), these are the types of writers you WILL be competing with- the ones with several “recommends” and a handful of contest wins. You might be a little outclassed in those terms; like being a rec league basketball player going up against Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

You have one shot at making a first impression, so make it count. There is no rush, unless you’ve been given six months to live. If that’s the case, chuck it all, pack your bags and go to Hawaii!

In the meantime, try and find two or three reputable coverage services, or at least a few pros that can review your short and tell you where it’s lacking. I’m not a fan of shorts, myself; I think they’re a total waste of time; but my first paid assignment was a short, so you have to start somewhere.

What I teach is the key to any spec screenplay is APPEARANCE. If it’s doesn’t LOOK like a professional script, it’s not going to READ as one, and it will be tossed aside. I can usually tell from the title page, and generally the first page, if it has that “look”.

For just a handful of pages, you probably don’t need any analysis, but rather someone just to see if it looks professionally written. If you’d like me to take a look at the short, I’d be glad to do so. You can forward a PDF to thescriptmentor@hotmail.com.

Just make sure you have something else. Generally speaking, one script is not going to get them excited about you.

Good luck!

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Copyrights and Registrations

Q- “Hello, I hope all is well. I will have my first script ready for copyright this week and was wondering what they (prospective producer) need. I went to their website, but I am not sure. I know they need the full script, but do they need the full FINAL script? It doesn’t look like it but I want to be sure. I am still tweaking mine. For my second script, would it be OK for me to send them the 30-page treatment to get the story copyrighted, or do I have to send the entire script? Thank you!”

A- Copyrights and registrations only protect WRITTEN documents. In the case of a shortened script, or treatment or outline, if the main focus of the story is within that document (the “hooks”, as it were), then it should be alright. I don’t see any reason to protect something NOT completed, since you should never be sending out work that is not completed, so there’s no reason to share it at this time.

By the way, in my opinion, the overall thought of having work “stolen” is a total waste of your “worry” time. Very few writers have such a unique story idea that ten other writers- or more- haven’t written about already. Relax. Just get it written, and when the final, FINAL draft is done, register it with the WGA, then send it out for coverage and/or analysis.

Hope that helps! Good luck!

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Is This an Effective Service?

Q- “Hello, The Script Mentor! I’ve been working on my feature length script for almost two years now and over the last few months have been actively trying to sell it. I was wondering if you have ever submitted a script to the website: “The Black List”. I hear it’s the best route to selling a script but wanted to reach out to you and see what your opinion was. Have you ever dealt with this website before? Is it worthwhile? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for your time,

A- I appreciate you requesting my advice on this. At one time, it was an honor to be posted on “The Black List”, as it represented the BEST spec screenplays that were NOT sold or optioned. Many well-known movies emerged from the BL after having placed high on this list at the end of the year. The scripts were judged by professional readers entrenched in prodcos throughout the industry, and pretty soon, word would spread on a great script that no one was pulling the trigger on. They devised a point system, and at the end of the year, the Black List was formed of the scripts with the highest points.

In my opinion, it has now turned into just another money-making venture, where you submit your script, get judged by a panel of employees (not necessarily professional readers working in the industry), and you’re given a score.

You also have the option of paying for screenwriting services to “improve” your score. It’s just another money-making service that entices the screenwriter into believing a good score will get you noticed, while promoting services to make additional money. Scoring “high” on the BL does nothing anymore as a result of this change; their judges are no more or less knowledgeable than StoryPros, Script Pipeline or any of a hundred other services.

I am not familiar with the claim that more scripts are “sold” off of the Black List than other sites/services, but I suspect Ink Tip has them beat significantly. Whatever you can afford to have your script marketed, it’s always good to have many irons in that fire. Ink Tip’s clients tend to lean towards budgets under $5M, so if you have a studio-level concept, it may not do well at either place.

My question to you is, are you sure it’s ready to market? Have you received coverage, and if so, did you receive three “recommends”, or at least, “considers”? How about contests- have you won several or placed high in several? If the answer is “no” to any of these, marketing your concept now might be a mistake. You might have a great concept, but when they read the first page and see mistakes, they’ll trash it.

Just giving you a head’s up. The number one mistake of most screenwriters is marketing their stuff before it’s ready.

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What Companies Do I Target?

Q- I am on my first class, 3rd week at a well-known screenwriting program, and my homework is asking for information like what companies would I like to work for? I’d love to write television series but what screenwriter wouldn’t so in the meantime can you suggest anything.

A- To answer such a general question, two responses immediately jump to mind.

The first response would be “any job that pays!”. If you’re working in an industry that you want to work in, doing what you want to do (writing and developing television), than it probably wouldn’t matter which one, at least not initially. In time, if you get that far, you’d probably end up working for a majority of different production companies anyway.

The smarter approach is as follows, though: I assume you have ideas on TV shows you’d like to create of your own (why else would you have gone down this path?), so you’ll want to create a list of the shows that are currently on TV that are similar to your own concept.

For example, if it’s a reality-based competition show like “Survivor” or “Biggest Loser”, you’ll want to research those production companies that produce those shows. Mark Burnett Productions does “Survivor”, The Apprentice”, “Shark Tank”, etc. ; semi-scripted reality shows that feature a competition between the participants.

The same rule of thumb goes for most scripted shows, like dramas and comedies. It’s not often that a prodco will do a half-hour, one-camera comedy…as well as an hour-long political drama.

This holds true for most feature film companies as well. The producer finds a genre they like and excel in and concentrate on that area of expertise. Doesn’t mean the writer may not write a drama and a comedy, but they’ll usually end up going to two different prodcos.

I hope that helps answer your question, and thanks for reaching out. Good luck to you!

Geno

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