Ask “THE SCRIPT MENTOR” – #16

5-stupid-questions-sales-people-should-stop-asking

Q. How can I sell my script to a producer?

A. Answering this question is like asking “how does one become an astronaut.” There are entire books and careers based on answering this very question, so it’s not likely you’ll find ALL of the answers in a single response, but considering I provide this kind of information every working day through various outlets, I’ll do what I can here.

In this microwave world of instant gratification, text messaging, IM’s and 24-hour instant news cycles, the craft and business of screenwriting needs to catch up. Many writers are hesitant and fearful of starting their journey, knowing that there is no guarantee of success at the end of that journey, and it will probably result in years (not weeks or months) of time and dedication to the craft.

Anything worth doing and worth doing well is going to take a major investment of time and resources; of that, there is no question.

These are but a few points of helpful advice that I have learned and developed along the way that might — just might — help save YOU a significant amount of that time and those resources.

These points are in no particular order:

1) You must write something worthy of being purchased, or write with a fresh voice or style worthy of getting paid. This means that it is unique, fresh, perfectly formatted, grammatically and punctually correct, exciting and appealing to the masses.

2) You must write a perfectly constructed logline that highlights all of the elements, including the “hook”- the one element that separates your story from all others in that genre.

3) You must prepare an excellent query letter, preferably in the format that is now considered the best for a query letter (from recent polling data).

4) You need to develop a networking and marketing strategy and stick to it, spending a set amount of time each day to nurturing it, and as much time as your spend writing. You should do both concurrently.

5) You should explore multiples avenues for marketing and/or breaking in. This includes contests, offering assistance, writing assignments, adapting source materials, etc.

6) You must understand that there are many ways to achieve your goal (whatever goal that may be), and that your avenue to success is as different as there are goals. In other words, someone wanting to work as a script reader may have a different tact than someone wanting to sell spec scripts for a living.

7) You should understand that because one person wrote a script this way, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Writing spec scripts are much different than the way QT or Cameron write theirs.

8) You need to develop your three completely separate support systems we like to call our “cheers”, “peers”, and “rocketeers”, and build that circle of trust around you.

9) People may offer constructive criticism and sound advice to your writing, but the vision is yours. Stick to the vision.

10) You have to be someone that others WANT to work with. Be polite and professional, and people will know you as such.

If you follow thescriptmentor blog, you’ll get a lot of other helpful articles along the way. Good luck!

Q. Why is selling a screenplay so difficult?

A. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

 

Q. As we are designing our online screenwriting classes, what Top Four things would you list that need to be learned by new screenwriters (remember – this is a writing course, not a filmmaking/production course)?

A. I find it odd that someone creating a course to “teach” screenwriting would look for input on what OTHER people consider to be important topics to cover. It seems a bit like going to a driving instructor, who then asks others “What does this foot pedal do?”

If you’re going to create a course, I would suggest that you first know the topic that you are teaching. Being that you’re designing it, it should come from YOUR theories and beliefs; this, in the long run, is what is going to separate you from the other thousand online screenwriting courses- most of which do not have it right. It’s all regurgitated pablum from other courses, famous quotes you find when you Google “screenwriting”, and arbitrary and random nonsense. Sorry to be so blunt, but that’s the way it is.

I read hundreds of scripts a year from writers who have never had a screenwriting lesson in their lives, and hundreds from those who have taken all of the courses and webinars, and read all of the recommended books. I can count on one hand how many were worthy of reading all of the way through- because the writer had never been taught how to write a basic spec script, and what gets their script read. You can’t sell a script if you can’t get it read.

If you were to create a course that dealt with how to write a spec script- and if you KNEW how to write a spec script well enough to create such a course- I guarantee your course would be the most popular- and profitable- course online today. It would be the ONLY online course to actually TEACH one how to begin to be successful in this business.

Most everything else is fodder, filler and bullshit.

Q. Does it matter how many camera directions you put in a script that is directed by you? Would this affect the ability to get it sold to a producer?

A. Yes, it matters, and outside of “FADE IN” and “FADE OUT”- as a spec script- there shouldn’t be any other camera directions. The one exception is that you NEED a particular camera direction to emphasize a key moment or the story is not properly told. Even then, I can’t think of a reason/situation to use as an example. Camera directions sound FX, title credits, etc. or NOT part of a spec script, although so many new writers want to include them. Camera directions will come later in the process when a “shooting script” is written.

Whether you direct it or not, is generally not up to you, unless it’s a deal-breaker regarding funding. Good luck in that case, unless you’re a recognized director of some acclaim. It also depends upon the expected budget- “The higher the budget, the bigger the names!” In other words, no one is going to fund a $50M movie with Joe, the neighborhood guy who videotaped my daughter’s wedding, “attached” as the director.

Assuming it’s a great script, perfectly written (sans camera directions and “beat” and a host of other spec script mistakes), your first concern should be getting it optioned or sold. In order to do that, it has to be damn near perfect. Camera directions are not part of that equation.

Q. How can I describe my girlfriend in one (1) movie title?

A. Hard to say. I don’t know your girlfriend.

If you want to describe her in a way that might MAKE a great movie title, keep it short (less than four words, so it’ll fit on a marque), pithy and make it have a double meaning, or “two-sided”. “American Beauty” was the name of the rose the wife obsessively grew in her yard, but it also aptly described the husband’s underage fantasy girl.

It would also help if you can find irony in the title, such as “The Book of Eli”. Eli possessed the last written works in his post-apocalyptic world, and protected it with his life. We come to learn (irony) that Eli is blind, and can’t read written words. The end reveals a twist that compounds the irony that much more.

Short, two-sided with a splash of irony. That would be your movie title.

 

Q. How much should I pay a ghostwriter for a 5000-6000 non-fiction word eBook?

A. The average word count per page for an eBook is approximately 250. At 6000 words, you’re looking at a 24–25 page non-fiction eBook.

Sounds more like a pamphlet.

Would the need for a ghostwriter be because you can’t write 25 pages, or is it that you don’t know how to create an eBook? If it’s the latter, it would behoove you to write the “book” first, then hire someone to create the eBook for you, or learn how to do it yourself, getting the right software, etc. If it’s the former, then you probably can get a decent writer- even a newer writer- and get it done for far less. Let’s be honest; you won’t need an established professional writer (My projects run between $20K-$40K, and I have plenty of work to keep my writers busy) to pen out a 25-pager. You just need someone who follows your direction, knows sentence structure, has a novel or two under their belt, and spells correctly. There are plenty of writers out there who would be THRILLED to do the project for you for $20-$50/a page. Good luck with the eBook!

 

Q. Should I take a screenplay class before writing my first screenplay?

A. Absolutely. You need a solid foundation of knowledge before even attempting to write a screenplay. A course at a local college or an on-line course/seminar/webinar will all be beneficial (just don’t waste your time or money with Hal Croasmun’s “ScreenwritingU” if you don’t know how to write first). But, keep this in mind; none of these courses will teach you how to write a SPEC script, which is what you’ll be doing most of the time should you continue in writing screenplays. The BEST tool is “The Screenwriter’s Bible” by Dave Trottier ($20–30), Read it through-and through, several times. If you like screenwriting, you’ll love to read it. Memorize it. Keep buying the updated editions, as these “rules” change on occasion.

If you put into practice what the book teaches, you will be miles ahead of almost everyone who writes spec screenplays.

Q. Is it popular to sell scripts to movie producers and executives and use that money to produce one’s own movie? I read that many screenwriters who are professors, lecturers and consultants sell scripts and concepts just so they can finance and produce their own movies. Is this popular? Can I do it? I have certain scripts and concepts I’d be happy to sell the complete rights to for decent cash.

A. Many people, at your level, finance their own projects. We’re talking short films, zero budget or extremely low budget projects (less than $10K), for film festivals, web projects, etc. Anything beyond that would – in all likelihood – need to be financed by others, and you may STILL be able to do it. Selling your current pile of screenplays is quite different than having a garage sale to raise money. If you’re sitting on a pile of scripts that you haven’t marketed to this point, I’d wonder why. Is there a diamond in the rough in that pile? Possibly, but not likely. You already know my strategy:

  • Get the scripts reviewed for notes;
  • Make the suggested fixes you agree with;
  • Enter as many screenplay competitions you can afford for that script;
  • Once wins and high finishes pile up, build your buzz and your network;
  • Market the script with a great logline, proper synopsis and proper query;
  • Use as many of the services, like “Ink Tip”, you can afford;
  • Review IMdb Pro for prodcos who have produced similar concept films;
  • Review IMdb Pro for actors and crew involved in similar concept films;
  • Target market those people;

If these scripts are good enough, you might get an option for $3500 or so, or a sale- but it won’t come from a studio. It’ll come from a small prodco or a producer interested in filming that kind of story.

But, it all starts with the script…OR a rich uncle.

Q. Is it true Marilyn Monroe had an IQ of 168?

A. Highly doubtful. Born to an unwed mother, she spent most of her childhood in foster homes, bouncing around in the Los Angeles area. She attended over ten different schools during that time, culminating in her dropping out of University High School at aged 16 and getting married. This is NOT conducive to a solid education, and IQ tests are largely based on learned knowledge.

What you see advertised as her reported IQ test is simply known as “click bait”, designed to get the reader of the ad to click on to the ad for marketing purposes. Names like Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, John F. Kennedy and even Madonna and Kim Kardashian, have been proven to be among the most Googled people in history, both for name recognition and general knowledge. Therefore, it makes sense to attach an ad with someone as easily recognizable as MM. By claiming she had such an outrageously high IQ- with no proof to support or deny the claim- it’s safe to claim. Common sense will tell you that, while Marilyn was reported to have been “intelligent” (meaning she stood upright and could carry on a conversation), she probably was more wise than smart. If you want to learn about a particularly intelligent actress of that same time period, research the life of Hedy Lamarr.

Q. What was the best horror movie you’ve ever seen?

A. This is such a subjective question. While the original “The Exorcist” and “The Omen” were tops back in the day of my youth, horror movies have progressed further than any other genre except for science fiction. The word “horror” means different things to different people, too. In my book, if it’s outright scary, it IS horror- and it doesn’t necessarily need blood or creatures to be scary. Two movies come immediately to mind- “The Others” and “The Strangers”- neither of which I would watch alone at night. To scare the crap out of me, a movie has to be based in reality, as it relates to MY personal belief system. To someone who doesn’t believe in Heaven or Hell, movies about the Devil may not be as frightening. I am a believer, so if it includes the devil, chances are I’m going to be uptight about it. I’m not necessarily a “ghost” believer, but “The Others” had just a great story, it just made it that much more tense and suspenseful. Movies that involve particular crimes get me, as I lived this in my past. I’ve seen what some evil people in this world are capable of doing, and this is a thousand times more frightening than a giant gorilla, a blood-sucking man in a cape, or a burn victim with garden shears for hands.

Q. Since actors in movies that feature heavy CGI content know what was done behind the scenes, how do they feel when they watch their films?

A. Most actors understand that creating a film is a collaborative effort- from the make-up crew to the camera crew and all point in between. Most aren’t so vain as to think they’re the sole reason for the success- or failure- of a movie. As a result, when they see themselves interacting with a dinosaur on screen and know that, during filming, they were talking to a tennis ball hanging by a string to create an eye line, and regurgitating brilliantly funny dialogue that came from the mind of the talented screenwriter, they are as impressed as the rest of us. The FX people, like most people involved in the filmmaking process, are at the top of their profession and generally the best in the world at what they do.

If they aren’t, they don’t last long.

Q. Is talent a must in screenwriting? What are the core elements to be a good screenwriter?

A. I believe everyone has God-given talents in many areas; storytelling can be one. Screenwriting is a learned craft, and I believe one could do it with even the minimal amount of “creative writing” talent. I don’t believe you need to be a “talented writer”, per se, to be a successful screenwriter. I know many comedy screenwriters who write severely funny scripts, but are the most unfunny and least entertaining people in person. Ultimately, talent is probably going to be the factor that separates the wheat from the chaff at the professional level, but, like everything else in life, hard work at improving one’s skill often overcomes any lack of given talent.

As for the “core elements” to a good screenwriter:

a) Know HOW to tell a basic story.

b) When learning how to write a screenplay, get a solid foundation in knowing what is needed/wanted in a SPEC script. Dave Trottier’s “The Screenwriting Bible” is just $20–30, and it gives one everything they would need to learn how to write a basic spec script. Of any “online” course, Jeff Bollow’s “FAST Screenwriting” is the only one you should consider. The rest are garbage.

c) Develop a concept that has never been explored before. If you have a story that HAS been done before, than do it differently. The story of the three little pigs and the wolf who blew their houses down has been told- but it’s never been told from the wolf’s perspective! Stories like “The Mummy” have been told ad nauseum, but Tom Cruise has turned that tired, cliché-ridden concept on its ear! You’ll never think of “The Mummy” as some gauze-wrapped creature dragging his right foot as he “chases” his victims ever again!

Do these three things first, and you’ll be off to a very fast start; faster than 95% of your competition.

Q. How can I be attached to direct my own written screenplay financed by producers? Not a big budget picture…but more like an independent film trying to attach investors for a festival debut.

A. Producers are investors; they are not likely to risk millions of their dollars, or OPM (other people’s money) on the ego of a screenwriter who thinks he/she can also direct. If you have a proven track record, and have directed some good stuff, then your chances increase, but in all likelihood, if we’re talking about a multi-million dollar budget, then in order to secure financing at that level, the financiers are going to want a couple of “sure things”- be that a few name talents, a name director and probably a name cinematographer. The more money your film wants, the more names they’ll want, and it’s only practical. However, if the script is so good that they HAVE to have it, you’re in the driver’s seat and can make certain demands before selling it. Even then, you might have to be happy with an AD or 2nd Unit directing title.

Q. Why do people prefer new films instead of old films?

A. To a certain extent, they do, but “Gone With the Wind” and “Citizen Kane” continue to rank one and two as the greatest films ever made.

There will always be “new films”, as the original “Star Wars” is already 40 years old, and truthfully, that one hasn’t aged well. There are so many classic B&W films starring REAL stars, and not these Internet-created personalities. That’s one reason, actually. Back in the 40’s and 50’s, the stars were mysterious. The only time you actually saw them was in the film. Your imagination convinced you that John Wayne lived on a ranch branding cattle all day, when, in fact, he was in California on a boat most of the time. We didn’t have “paparazzi”, TMZ, websites devoted to nude celeb hacked phones, etc.

Today’s movie have the advantage of advanced technologies, which most people find more appealing, but it’s no mistake when critics and film historian continue to worship many of the great film of the old days. The writing, directing and actor were held and shoulders above today’s films. They know that even the crappiest of crap will make money in PPV, Red Box rentals or internationally.

 

 

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