Author Archives: thescriptmentor

About thescriptmentor

Screenwriter, screenwriting mentor, producer

Debunking Screenwriting Myths, No. 29: Deciphering Consultant-Speak

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In my efforts to improve the landscape of screenwriting consultants out there, separating the true professionals from the vast amount of frauds, I’ve been able to put my previous investigative tools to very good use.

I’ve come to be an expert on deciphering, what I call, “consultant-speak”.

To many folks, consultant speak is hardly noticeable, yet it is usually the one thing the consultant-shopping screenwriter points out as justification for choosing that particular professional; “Hey- he worked with Will Smith on HIS script!” In many instances, it is a decision they live to regret, and that’s when they contact me.

Many of these indicators are “tricks of the trade”- a marketing tool in an effort to beef up one’s experience and claims. If you’re choosing someone to help you, and paying them from $100 to up to several thousand dollars for that help, you want to make sure you are getting what you are paying for.

Here are some of those indicators:

  1. The “award-winning screenwriter” – This claim means nothing if the specific awards aren’t mentioned anywhere on their site or business profile. There is a huge difference between winning the Nicholl Fellowship or Scriptapalooza, and winning the “Oshkosh Screenwriting, Beer and Brat Competition“.

 

  1. “Development deals” – This is an impressive claim, and one might be inclined to take this type of consultant seriously and use them, since this is one of the goals most screenwriting clients have- but are you just going to take their word for it? I would want to know more about these deals, specifically who are they with, the names of the projects, and where they are in the process. Some might want to claim “privacy”, but if a development deal is ten years old, I don’t think privacy is a concern at this point. What if you want to hire this consultant to work with you on your project, but he’s suddenly called away to work on this “development deal” project? If you’re going to CLAIM it, better be able to back it up.

 

  1. “Considered to be the best…” – Okay…by whom? Normally, one doesn’t toot their own horn. Others who are pleased with your service are very willing to do so through recommendations and referrals. Check out if the consultant HAS any recommendations to speak of.

 

  1. “…has consulted with (fill in major studio names here)” – Again; an impressive claim. Is it true? Has the consultant provided specifics on these projects anywhere – as in, the name of the project, or what did the “consulting” involve? Did you punch up the script, or did you recommend a food catering company at the shoot?

 

  1. “Success stories”; “Past Client Successes”; etc. – All consultants like to “brag” some, and why not? They deserve it, if by working with a particular client, that client has gone on to some writing success of their own. Personally, unless I’m told specifically by a screenwriter that my direct involvement in their process led to getting a studio writing job, I don’t take credit for their successes. You never know exactly HOW many other people helped along the way.

 

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I also believe helping one on a specific script is quite different than having said screenwriter attend a seminar in which the consultant spoke at, or a workshop put on by this consultant. There is a popular filmmaker who runs a very successful filmmaking workshop that promotes two or three A-list celebrities as having “graduated” his course. He has received permission to use their names in his marketing, but one has requested that he stopped doing so, apparently believing it’s a bit of a misrepresentation (or he was not getting any fees for the use of his name).

If a consultant makes a career of putting on workshops, for example, where 20-120 or more people may be in attendance, then years later one attendee hits it big by selling a spec script, it hardly seems to be a “cause and effect”- unless, of course, that fortunate screenwriter is openly crediting that workshop consultant. If the claim is missing any of the particulars- like, the writer’s name or the name of the project, or even the production company or studio with which the deal was made, chances are there is no significant “cause and effect”.

In conclusion, these are but a few of the more common descriptors I see on the websites or profiles of some of the screenwriting consultants out there. I’m not at all calling these people “frauds”. I’m simply stating their marketing tactics are transparent, and if you have a healthy cynicism of the way consultants work, you’ll learn what to question. Give that screenwriting “guru” a chance to explain. Just ask. If they can’t, or won’t, give you a viable answer- move on.

 

 

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Don’t Be That Guy, #2: Hijacking a Thread

Hijacking Forum Group Threads

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Lately, I’ve noticed a number of LinkedIn members committing, what I consider to be, a most heinous and egregious “sin” when it comes to forum decorum- or just basic manners- in the forum groups. They do, what is referred to as, “hijacking a thread”.

When a group member takes the time to create a post, or ask a question in the group, the purpose of that thread is to initiate a discussion on that topic, shares thoughts and comments, or provide answers if the post is an actual question. The purpose of these exchanges is to get people involved in the group, to learn and/or teach, and to make the group far more interesting than a “post board” where people promote themselves and their businesses or projects.

Unfortunately, there is this ongoing habit with some very rude, ill-mannered and disrespectful group members who feel the need to “hijack” a thread, usually by promoting their book or project of some sort, on a thread that has no substantive relationship to their post. They believe it will MAXIMIZE views on their project because the thread is very active with responses.

However, the exact opposite is true.

Within minutes, their post will be so buried, you’ll need an archeological dig to retrieve it. In addition, you’ve just pissed off a whole lot of people that are involved in the thread- including the group moderator or owner- and it will result in you being moderated from this point forward or banned from the group altogether.

These hijacking have been going on for a while, and it’s not new, but I had two recent instances of this very thing on the same thread, and in the same group! Ironically, it was a thread about techniques in networking through LinkedIn. Not only did these two people obviously not READ the article, but they did one of the more damaging things to their reputations and networking strategies by hijacking the thread. The group was “Film and TV Tech” group, of which I’ve been a contributor for years with various postings regarding filmmaking, production and screenwriting.

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The first hijack was perpetrated by a gentleman named “Kolawole” from Nigeria. I contacted him, and he promised to remove his post on the same thread, promoting his “talent agency”. The next day, the post remained. I reminded him that he said he would remove it and he responded that he had, but it must have been from another thread (apparently, he’s doing this a lot). I provided a link to the thread and will wait another day, but I believe he will make the attempt to remove it, or at least I hope so.

The second hijacker was “Mark”- a sci-fi “author”; you’ll see why I used the quotes shortly. I contacted him after seeing his post publicizing some book he apparently wrote, and asked him- politely- to remove the post because it had nothing to do with the conversation. I also suggested that he start his OWN thread about his book, as no one will ever really see it on this thread (maybe 10 people?). He responded with an apology and a promise that he’d fix it when he got home.

The next day, the post remained, so I contacted him a second time. He responded that he thought my request was just a “suggestion”. The fact that he promised to take care of it meant absolutely nothing, as he clearly had no intention of changing it.

I pointed that very fact out to him, and this was his response:

“Apparently you have to much time on your hands. First Grow the F#$* Up. Are you Stupid or what? Or don’t you know that Everybody on LinkedIn is On here Too PROMOTE Their Selves and PRODUCTS! Duh .. Ass Whole, remove it yourself,. However you see Fit D!ck Face!”

(The message WAS cleaned up some for posting purposes).

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Now, keep in mind- this person is an “author”. I think one can easily tell by his writing skills just how successful a self-published author he is. More importantly, this comment, and the previous responses, shows this to be a purposeful act, not accidental, as originally thought. It wasn’t even the case of a newbie not knowing any better. He just didn’t care.

These thread hijackings are very troublesome and need to be closely moderated by the group owner or moderators. I own and moderate four groups of my own, and while it is a lot of work, it’s well-worth it. The members see how much better a group forum is when moderated closely. Our discussions can run 30-40-50 comments without interruption. Most of the information is either brand new to the members, or timely reminders on strategies, screenwriting, networking, etc. The feedback from these groups is 100% positive.

In other groups, where these hijackings and random self-promotions are more common, the commentary rarely goes beyond the initial post, when another thread starts- and stops, and then another post, and on and on. Pretty soon, a question posted that morning is now dozens of posts deep, never to be seen or read again.

I ask that people using these group forums be respectful of other people’s threads, and don’t use these forums so much as a tool for self-promotion. That is what your daily updates are for. I also request that moderators and owners take more personal interest in managing these forums to prevent these hijackings and you’ll see a much more involved group on your discussions board.

 

Don’t Be That Guy

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You’ve noticed that I’ve recently written several articles on the “art” of networking and marketing, especially for writers trying to get their foot in the door, be it in the film industry with their screenplays, or through their novels. When I provide such advice, I generally design it to the “Do’s” and the “Don’ts” of the networking, etc.

One of the biggest “Don’ts” – and one of my PERSONAL pet peeves – is when someone reaches out to connect with me in some fashion; linking in or friending; and, when it’s accepted, almost IMMEDIATELY asks for favors. These favors often come in the form of solicitation for funds, requests to read scripts, requests for script analysis, feedback notes, producing their project or introducing them to some network connection. Never is there an offer of reimbursement, or ANY kind of offer to exchange the favor.

More importantly, they are asking this of a COMPLETE STRANGER to them. I’ve never minded helping a friend, a colleague or a peer- even if they were new connections, but in those cases, some sort of rapport was established. I was familiar with a post or two they made, or a comment or response on a thread. They showed interest.

Case in point: I just received a message/request through LinkedIn from someone we’ll call “JC”. I’m calling him that because I don’t want to divulge his identity and embarrass him, but also because that’s his true first name on his profile! 😉

Here’s the message (some edits were made to make it legible):

“Geno – I’ve got a new project I wanted to get your opinion tell me what u think. I also have a video and TV streaming service, just finished filming in Flint, MI about water crisis…Do u mind if I send the sizzle to you thanks. If you can’t do anything with it can u forward it to others please…Also have a cannabis educational Video company were turning into a 30 min show traveling across the world to 420 sites shoot me your email I’ll send info Thanks for your time have a great day today and a better tommorow!”

Besides the obvious misspellings and grammatically horror story this is, the edited portions included the names of six or seven other projects he was “pitching”. What started out as a general request for “feedback”, turned into a full-blown pitch on, at least, eight different projects!

It was also VERY obvious to me, by the spacing of some of the sentences, that this was, in fact, a “cut-and-paste” letter, which included one piece of personal exchange: my first name.

Here was my (edited) response:

“Okay- there’s a lot of information here in this cut-and-paste form letter. Not sure what it is exactly you’re looking for. Are you hiring me to do something for you? I’m not sure we’ve even ever chatted or sent prior messages before this, so it’s somewhat a blast out of the blue.”

Not the friendliest of responses, but I’m not going for friendly. I’m going for facts.

His response to my questions was to send me a link to his promo video and his screenplay- both unsolicited. He didn’t even bother to respond to my questions.

I wrote back, and, yes, I was a bit testy. I already know what I was ultimately going to do with these requests, but he really pushed the envelope.

“Did you even READ my message to you? You didn’t answer my questions. I realize you’re a very busy professional, and it’s easier just to send attachments to save time, but you really should READ the message and at least TRY to answer the questions first before sending attachments w/o NDA’s and such…”

Finally, his next response made it clear that he discovered the errors of his ways, and he was falling all over himself in apologies, embarrassment and shame for his total unprofessionalism.

“Geno I appreciate u looking at Chasing Glory I have other projects can u also forward to your connects”

Needless to say, I tossed the attachments, and never once viewed either. He’ll wonder why he’s not getting any responses to his professional queries and he’ll brag about his vast network (we’re NOT connected anymore, but I don’t want to block him just yet).

The answer is because this guy is a tool; a total dick. Don’t be this guy. Don’t be a dick.

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Welcome to River Oaks Film Studio!

Welcome to River Oaks Film Studio, a brand new film studio in Savannah, Georgia!

Georgia has seen a boom in film production since 2008 when new legislation offered 30 percent tax credits to production companies. In 2016, Savannah added a local film incentive that is offered on top of the state incentive to help grow the industry in the region. The film and television industry is responsible for more than 79,000 jobs, roughly $4 billion in wages and has helped bring 120 more films to Georgia in the last seven years (according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.) In 2015, the film and television industry was responsible for more than $58 million spend in the Savannah region.

 

River Oaks Film Studios will offer production companies different amenities including 6 sound stages that will house mill shops for the creation of props, office space for makeup and dressing rooms, and more. The space also boasts 29 ft. ceilings, silent air conditioning, sound proof studios and ample parking. It will also provide a base camp for crews, as well as truck parking with 24-hour security.

River Oaks Film Studios will provide over 150,000 sq. ft. of space where production companies can film television series and movies that may be more appealing and cost effective than larger cities like Hollywood, New York City, or even neighboring Atlanta.

 

What the studio offers now is only the first phase of the plans for the River Oaks Films Studios. A 100,000 sq. ft. space will become available toward the end of 2017, which will offer production companies a campus like setting with multiple buildings including all of the amenities of film studios in larger cities but more cost effective with tax incentives in place. The expansion will also further the stability for skilled workers to find full-time employment in the Savannah market by bringing in more jobs.

 

The studio is the brainchild of Rodney Dickey, a serial entrepreneur with thirty-five years of warehousing and operations experience. This newest business venture will also be a family affair as his two daughters will play vital roles in the success of River Oaks Film StudiosAllison, who has worked as a production assistant and in location management, has relocated from Los Angeles, and will act as liaison for the studio and the production companies. She will work with the writers and producers to find out their needs, and to be sure Savannah’s newest film studio responds to those needs. April, the eldest of his two daughters, is a publicist in Tennessee, and will provide the company publicity it needs to help Savannah’s film industry grow.

If you are a filmmaker in the southeast, or anywhere in the country looking for value and a professional location for your filmmaking needs, look no further than River Oaks Film Studio. They are currently scheduling shoots and events, so contact them as soon as possible through their website at https://www.riveroaksfilmstudios.com.

We look forward to working with them in the future!

(article edited; reprinted from website; photos property of River Oaks Film Studio)

Fraud Alert: ECCENTRIC STORIES Claims Another Victim!

About a year ago, I posted an article about my suspicions over an ad found on Craigslist from a “John Alexander” of Eccentric Stories. He advertised various screenwriting services, including adapting books into screenplays and ghostwriting. At that time, I placed a call into Mr. Alexander, and within a few short minutes of time, it was fairly obvious he knew very little about the craft of screenwriting. He didn’t seem to have a grasp on the common terminology often used in screenwriting, and was less than forward with his pricing schedules and due dates, etc. It was clear to me this was a scam, and said as much in the article.

Then, I was contacted by Kenny Wilson, a customer of Mr. Alexander’s, who expressed his sincere regrets of not having seen my article prior to signing on with Eccentric Stories and paying a hefty sum for a screenplay adaptation of his novel. Now, there were many red flags along the way, as Mr. Wilson now admits, but at the time, he was a bit more trusting of the man. As with many con artists, they have a skill to win people over and convince them they’re on the level, which is why they are so successful, after all. Mr. Wilson paid John Alexander the sum of one thousand dollars ($1000) to adapt a 700+ page Action novel into a screenplay, and this transaction took place at the end of 2014. As of March 2016, he had not written a word of the script. Mr. Wilson has managed to get a hold of Alexander during much of this time, and he was strung along, being told the project was coming along fine. Towards the end, when Mr. Wilson had had enough, and demanded his screenplay, he received a call from a “family member” of Mr. Alexander’s, claiming that he had a heart attack. Mr. Wilson was able to speak with him later still, when he was told that the script was done, and he (Alexander) was flying him (Mr. Wilson) out to Los Angeles- all expenses paid- where he had scheduled a number of meetings with various studio executives interested in purchasing the script. Mr. Wilson was highly skeptical, but he did re-arrange his work schedule to be on the safe side.

He never heard back.

 

Now, fast forward to April 2017, when I had written an update on the on-going “Eccentric Stories” fraud. I was contacted by Jackie Bohacek, who had retained John Alexander’s services after reading a Craigslist ad. She was hoping to get an original short story written about a boy coming to America from her homeland in the mid-19th Century. They agreed to a sum, of which she paid $500. She provided Mr. Alexander with many of her original documents and research. After several months of not hearing from him, she finally, she got a hold of him, and was told that his residence burned to the ground. After further unfulfilled promises of updates, he told her that his car was stolen and all of his writing- as well as her original documents and his cash- were in the car.

First, a heart attack, then a house fire. Now, his car was stolen, along with all of his writing, her documents – and $4000 cash.

What a string of bad luck- or is it?

Ms. Bohacek wasn’t taking these excuses lying down. She did her own investigation, and learned that NO vehicle was reported stolen by Mr. Alexander. The fire department also stated that there was no reported house fire in the past year from Mr. Alexander’s neighborhood.

 

It was during this investigation, however, when she discovered my articles reporting “Eccentric Stories” as a suspected fraudulent writing service. She contacted me, thanking me on the previous articles, but saddened that she wasn’t aware of these articles BEFORE she paid him some money. They have exchanged multiple texts regarding him completing the assignment- of which I have possession of- and he keeps insisting he is sending what he had written- and saved- to Ms. Bohacek. He keeps insisting on more funds, which she refuses to send, and although he claims to have sent the material back to her, he cannot produce a tracking number or receipt.

Ms. Bohacek requested that write another article exposing this crook, in hopes that it will prevent additional victims. She is following up with Craigslist to have him banned from advertising there, and is following up with her State’s Attorney General to have them investigate him for mail fraud.

If anyone has additional information or reports regarding “Eccentric Stories”, or John Alexander of Portsmouth VA, 23703, please contact us right away.

Now, some important points to consider when you’re looking to hire a screenwriter or a ghostwriter:

– To read a 700-page book and then adapt it into a viable screenplay beyond a first draft is, at the minimum, a four-to-six month job (length of time varies depending on the writer, of course). No one of any real skill level is going to charge $1000 to do that for you. That’s less than $1 an hour.

– You should ALWAYS get a written contract, outlining EXACTLY what you’re going to get for your money. I will give you an idea of what I always provide in my contracts:

A) The start and end date(s);

B) The hourly rate;

C) The number of hours expected for the project;

D) Payment terms; down payment; balance payment schedule, if any;

E) Guaranteed first forty pages for review;

F) One (1) FREE rewrite

Note: While THE SCRIPT MENTOR does provide a money-back guarantee based on a specific expectation of success of the final screenplay, as outlined in the agreement, NO ONE can guarantee an option, purchase or production. Anyone who makes promises like that- take your money and RUN, because that’s what they’re going to do!

Ask “THE SCRIPT MENTOR” – #16

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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.

 

 

The Pros and the “Cons”; WILDsound’s Toffolo Interview- “I Sucked!”, I and II

An article series based on one man’s opinion

This Week: Interview w/ Matthew Toffolo, WILDsound Owner

Recently, out of the blue, this blogger received a lengthy email from Matthew Toffolo, the current head of WILDsound Festival and website. You might be familiar with WILDsound, if not through their endless spamming, or their multiple LinkedIn and Facebook “employee” profiles, but perhaps through several articles written here, and elsewhere, describing some of their shady practices in operating screenwriting contests. The list of complainants about this company is practically endless, and many of those have chosen our various threads to air out some of those complaints.

Now, I haven’t had any contact with Mr. Toffolo for well over two years- and never on a personal basis- so his email did take me back.

“Hi Geno. Just wanted to reach out to you…but I wanted to talk with you before a column is posted about this site and yourself.”

What is this all about? As the email continued, he explained how he was contacted by Jacob Stuart of Screenwriting Staffing – telling him as wanting “revenge” – and was asked to join forces with them to have his WILDsound “website traffic to help respond to you”. This is Jacob Stuart and Sarah Stutsman, two thieves that I successfully sued, weak attempt to have as many “bad reports” out on the Internet, so anyone wishing to Google me or my various companies will see fake reports and claims of rip-offs and complaints. They’ve tried this several times in the past, and continue to fail epically. Matthew called me “amazing” but, apparently “polarizing”.

 

He also admitted to having heard/read all of the things I, and many other people, have been saying about WILDsound- presumable about their sleaziness, lies and questionable business practices- and stated, unequivocally;

“Your opinions of WILDsound have some validity.”

BINGO!

WILDsound has made its mark by operating over twenty contests (24, to be exact), which can easily be considered “money mills”. You’d be hard-pressed to find ANY announced winners of their “Poetry Contest”; their “First Ten Page Contest”; their “Best Novel Contest”. Yes- they have come up with a contest for just about every writing format.

We anxiously await the “Best Sanskrit Contest”.

While they promote these contests through a series of heavy spamming via emails, tweets and Facebook posts, one could assume they have professionals on staff who are “experts” in each of these formats. You can’t really verify this through their website; hell, you can’t even find a contact email on their site other than general information. They do expect the writer to submit their payment (from $10-$60 on up) depending on the contest, and await some results.

These results would rarely come, unfortunately.

After I began writing about my personal experience with WILDsound and my email exchanges with Mr. Toffolo, many, many people began speaking up, and I soon realized this wasn’t an aberration, but more of a pattern; a sleazy, disgusting pattern of scamming screenwriters.

As Matthew and I exchanged emails, I explained my original situation with their organization, which he quickly side-stepped, claiming that he did not come into control of WILDsound until May 2012. Now, here is where the confusion starts: my email exchange with him took place in February 2012. He quickly back-tracked and said that previous employees, who he claims were doing some “sketchy things”, including attaching HIS Twitter handle on all of their fake profiles (ahem), was now responsible for attaching his email signature on these communications, which he had never seen until now.

Where I come from (law enforcement), we call that “implausible deniability”- in other words, “the bullshit meter is off the chart”!

He sadly admitted also that winners of his various “contests” were not announced for as much as six months at a time. He ended this first email with a request for us to bury the hatchet, as he was “wondering if we could come up with some sort of arrangement”.

Tune in for the next posting to see EXACTLY what this “arrangement” entailed, as well as my very detailed and specific response to his letter.

Part II: WILDsound’s Toffolo- “We Made Mistakes…and I Sucked!”

YouSuck2

After receiving an email from the owner of WILDsound Film Festival, Matthew Toffolo (see Part I), where he wanted to discuss my very public opinion about him and his organization, supported by many others as proven through their comments in various threads on the subject, he offered a “peace offering” of sorts. Calling it “an arrangement” he proposed the following:“I can always help you out with garnering more traffic to this site (www.thescriptmentor.com) and your Facebook/Twitter pages.”

He added:

“And I LOVE, to give you a new set of notes on that script you sent us awhile back and forward them to a new set of reading. Free of charge, of course.” (This is verbatim, complete with the misspellings, sentence structure errors, and punctuation issues).

In return, he wanted to “chat” to give him the opportunity to explain some of the various “half-truths” in previous postings and articles. After his opening salvo, which I took as some sort of threat of writing some sort of “column” about me (I’d love the publicity, but does he really “know” me?), I responded with an email of my own. The email basically highlighted what I know are more lies from just his first email;

1) He claimed he had NOTHING to do with WILDsound prior to May, 2013, yet he sent a total of five emails, complete with his signature and from his email address, all in February 2012.

2) He admits that the previous employees were sleazy; he called them “sketchy”, and is at a loss as to why they all had fake profiles on many of the social sites, and why they all used his Twitter handle “matthewtoffolo” as their own.

3) Even while calling these employees “sketchy”, he would neither confirm nor deny whether they were STILL employed at WILDsound (we have since confirmed that many ARE still working there).

4) When presented with copies of the emails from 2012, he still denies sending them: “And the amazing thing is when you originally submitted to us and had the issue of coverage, I wasn’t around- but you think it was me!”

We exchanged our personal telephone numbers with one another, and I encouraged a Skype session, so I could look him straight in the eye as I offered up these facts. I’m pretty much an expert in interrogation, or in this case, simple “questioning”, and very few are able to bullshit me for too long. There are hundreds of felons still in prison as a result of this particular skill set.

Needless to say, I did not hear from him again.

I wrote back several days later, reminding him that he had failed to respond to my follow-up inquiries- after all, he reached out to ME initially. I received an onslaught of emails, explaining why he took so long to respond (“this is just my YouTube account”, even though I just hit “reply” to the email he sent ME). A second email minutes later attempted to explain how WILDsound has been advertising “winners” to their contests- over 70 in the last 18 months. The winning entry in any of their 24 contests results in having your script/novel/poem/first scene/TV script) read aloud by a table of (unknown) actors. He, once again, reiterated that he had “ZERO idea of who signed off” on those emails to me, adding “It angers me, actually!” Apparently, so angry, he’s not attempting to find out who did it. Truth is, he knows he did- “But why would you believe me? You don’t have a reason to.”

He’s right about that.

He continues to avoid any responsibility for any past misdeeds, and instead lives by the theory that if you say it long enough, people will eventually believe it. He claims that this is the “magic of the Internet, it’s free speech and you can say whatever you feel is right and the truth.” Actually, Matthew, you can’t, and I suspect you’re saying that as you and Jacob of SSU prepare yet another public relations attack on me and my family, or attempt to destroy my reputation. One cannot just “say what they believe” if it is damaging to one’s reputation. That is illegal. What I say is truth, as it is backed up by mounds of documentation. I suggest you have the same should you consider such a strategy.

Since his last email, dated 10/16/14, I have called him several times, and texted him at all of the available numbers provided by him. I have checked the site again, and noted recent announcement of “winners” who have had their “winning scripts” read. Perhaps he is making an effort in changing, but much more has to change in order to undo the damage he did to his reputation over the past several years. The list of unhappy customers or harassed writers is disturbingly long.

Most recently, I received an offer to network with an unnamed person from “Open World Toronto Film Festival”. Nowhere on their site is a name offered- anywhere. Before accepting the request (through Stage 32), I asked who was in charge, and have yet to receive a response. Now, I have no proof whatsoever; consider it a gut feeling; but I think there is a connection between this anonymous company that runs a number of contests- with the prize being a trophy and a certificate- and someone like Matthew Toffolo.

If I find out otherwise, I’ll make sure to update you.

Update: Be advised that WILDsound has created at least two additional twitter addresses from which to recruit additional victims to the number of (questionable) contests they run. These new address include “1st Scene Contest” and “Writing Festival“. We’ve taken the liberty of blocking both Twitter addresses, for fear of excessive spamming.