Tag Archives: screenwriting

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.

 

 

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

Questions

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank YOU in Advance!

B. Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

trees-men-george-clooney-open-mouth-burn-after-reading_www-wallpaperhi-com_70

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

THE_SCRIPT_MENTOR_logos

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

Thanks for your time!

Rob

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Screenwriting Groups- Pros and/or Cons?

Lately, I’ve been asked getting a lot of questions about seemingly basic screenwriting issues, and they seem to be coming from writers who are a bit more frazzled and confused or frustrated than usual. When I ask about the source of their frustration, it seems to lead back to their writers group.

Ah, yes- the screenwriters group!

Monkeys-typing

Some find these groups helpful, educational and supportive. Others have walked away, kicking themselves for wasting their time, and shaking their heads at the nonsense that is being spread within these groups.

So, who’s right? Are the groups full of “pros” or are they full of…cons?

Let’s define the groups we’re talking about. I am including online groups, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Simply Script, Meet-Up and dozens of other writing and social media sites that provide group settings; as well as local community groups where people actually meet in church boardrooms, basements, bars, pizza restaurants, college classrooms (not affiliated with the school), or member’s homes.

Another quantifier is the individual member and how they respond to this kind of “learning” environment. The few groups that I have been a part of (live meetings) varied as far as someone leading the group, so it was often confusing and poorly run. This detracted from the overall experience. Personally, I normally excel in this kind of environment, so it was rather disappointing.

Of the screenwriting groups that I am personally aware of, I believe the large majority are guilty of “the blind leading the blind”. They have been organized by alphas who are very organized and structured people, with a strong leadership mentality, but they generally lack any real substantive working subject knowledge or record of success in the (screenwriting) industry. When you dig into their actual experience, they’ve attended a three-day seminar of one of the more well-known screenwriting “gurus”, read a handful of books, watched a number of videos, read blogs daily, have written or co-written two or three screenplays, but have achieved no real screenwriting success to speak of. They feel they can justify charging money to attend a seminar given by them, where they provide regurgitated information and, often, reprinted hand-outs from that guru workshop they attended three years earlier. They can’t tell you WHY you do this or that, or the significant differences in genres, or marketing strategies or even how to compose a proper logline, but they can cash your check, and that’s what’s really important.

Online groups are more about sharing information, self-marketing, and asking questions and getting answers, or so has been my experience. By being online, geography doesn’t come into play, and you’ll get input from all over the world. There usually is no “leader”, although there is generally someone responsible for the group (a founder or manager that maintains decorum and enforces group or site rules). In these groups, it’s best to ask questions that generate opinion responses, something besides “What’s your favorite Tom Cruise movie?” If it’s a question about Master Scene Headings, for example, you can ask what your problem is, and what you’ve been doing that now you’ve learned was incorrect. You should get quite a few responses to a broad question like that.

Here, in my opinion, are some keys to having an effective screenwriting group. Feel free to add some of your own ideas to the list as well:

1) STRONG LEADERSHIP: Strong doesn’t necessarily mean “tough”, “rude”, “or “harsh”. It just means someone who will stand by the rules, goals and principles of the group and continually move the group in a positive and forward direction.

 

1A) SKILLED LEADERSHIP: Not all strong leaders are skilled leaders, and not all skilled leaders are strong leaders. If you have a screenwriter in the group that has written several screenplays, or has been optioned, or sold, or has been paid for their screenwriting, or has been produced or has won screenwriting contests or has somehow in some way been recognized for their writing, you need to have them as one of your group leaders. If not an actual leader, than at least use their name. It will add credibility to the group and help membership, if you want to grow.

 

2) GOOD COMMUNICATION: Both in getting the meeting information out to the members in a timely manner, meeting minutes, and speakers at the time of the meeting. Know your speakers, and know they can do the job. Being nervous does not mean they’ll be bad. Some of the worse speakers I’ve heard were overly confident professionals who did it for a living.

 

3) RELEVANT TOPICS: If the group is a screenwriting group, the main discussion topic should be about screenwriting. Sounds easy, right? Then why do you waste forty-five minutes of the group’s time discussing the new “Star Wars” trailer?

 

4) DO SHORT, MULTIPLE TOPICS: Instead of a 30 or 60 minute discussion on “dialogue”, why not do fifteen minutes on dialogue, fifteen minutes on action sequences, and fifteen minutes on character names? This helps keep the meeting alive and the members awake.

 

5) FEEDBACK/CRITIQUE: Many groups feel an important aspect of screenwriting groups is the group “feedback and critique”. However, most of the complaints and arguments from members of screenwriting groups originate from something that happened during a feedback and critique session. IF the group is harmonious in every other way, I would STRONGLY SUGGEST TO FOREGO any feedback and critique sessions in your group. There’s too much of a chance of hurt feelings. Most, if not all, of the people within the group, are going to be at pretty much the same level, experience-wise, so all they can really render is a personal opinion based on taste, not a professional opinion based on quality. The difference between a professional critique and a non-professional is that a professional has to read something they really, really hate and give it an honest critique based on the writing- NOT the genre, subject matter, writing style or the personal feelings of the writer themselves- and that is as hard as hell to do!

When is a Screenwriting Contract NOT a Screenwriting Contract?

 

written-contract-600x276 Not long ago, I engaged in a long negotiation with an overseas production company- Templeheart Films based out of London, England, and their principle, Lyndon Baldock- regarding developing a new concept, story line and horror screenplay around a certain location in which they had previously secured for filming. This relationship was a long time in development for me at Shark-Eating Man Productions, as we had done several “freebies” along the way for them and their associates. I counted Templeheart producers and their stable of actors, directors and producers as valuable contacts and good friends, as we seemed to enjoy a symbiotic relationship of mutual support for a couple of years at least. Lyndon and I Skyped on several occasions; he seemed like a straight-shooting, trustful fellow, very pleasant and seemingly easy to work with. I immediately felt comfortable about the new business relationship and was excited about the future of the screenwriter/producer partnership.

Templeheart Films have about a dozen produced horrors, most straight-to-DVD, and have relationships with European companies as well as Red Box for distribution, so I was pretty sure this screenplay, if good enough, would be produced and, eventually, marketed and sold. A contract was submitted to me, and while the money was not what I’m used to, this wasn’t about the money at all. I was looking long-term and working with a reputable producer. One benefit was that I was able to bring along a couple of writer friends and give them credit as well, giving them their first produced writing credit, and this was exciting for me. I always find it a thrill to help others achieve their goals whenever possible.

Outside of the compensation, the contract stated some very hard dates regarding deadlines, and penalties should those deadlines be missed; penalties for the writers being late, and penalties for the production company being late in payments and/or notes. These are fairly common protection clauses, and the contract was reviewed by attorneys on both sides of the agreement. This contract was signed in May 2015.Horsehead

It was explained to us that the director had a screenplay written, and while he was a very talented director and self-promoter, he lacked any real writing skills, so they wanted to see what I could do. After a few weeks, and some brainstorming with the other writers, we came up with two very strong story lines, and submitted one- which Lyndon loved, much to our pleasant surprise. He emailed me explaining that he will review further and submit notes immediately.

I waited…and waited. No notes were forthcoming.

I sent a reminder email regarding the notes; still no response.

It should be noted that the first draft was written and forwarded for review PRIOR TO ever having received the down payment to start the project- which I NEVER do. In this case, I felt that we were more than working associates and more “friends” and felt I could trust them, perhaps more than I should have.

Also in reviewing the contract again, I noted that if the Mr. Baldock did not respond with notes within an eight-week time period, the draft submitted is considered final and acceptable, rendering the contract completed and making all payment immediately due.

After ten weeks of no contact, and no feedback notes on the first draft submitted- and, most importantly, NO down payment paid- I fired off an email to Mr. Baldock requesting immediate payment of the down payment and the payment in full for the contract, outlining where he and his production company breached his own rules:

“The engagement shall commence on the 12th of June 2015 (the “Starting Date”).
                 
1.1                    The Writer shall deliver the First Draft to the Company as soon as is reasonably practicable but in any event not later than six (6) weeks from the Starting Date and in this respect time shall be of the essence of this Agreement.

1.2                    The Company may within six (6) weeks from delivery of the First Draft give written notes to the Writer following which the Writer shall deliver to the Company the First Draft Revisions as soon as is reasonably practicable but in any event not later than three (3) weeks from the date of the said notes and in this respect time shall be of the essence of this Agreement.

1.1                    the sum of $xx,xxx payable as to $x,xxx on the delivery of the First Draft and $x,xxx on approval of the Shooting Draft or if no revisions are requested by Company six (6) weeks following delivery of the First Draft; and…”


In summary, Mr. Baldock failed to fulfill ANY of his legally promised obligations per the signed contract created by his own company’s attorneys. He failed to meet any of the deadlines HE set, and he failed to make any of the payments as promised. Eventually, the down payment was wired to my bank through a bank transfer, but this was months after the fact, and weeks after the deadline. Now, I was requesting payment in full, per the contract.

Screwed

What was Lyndon Baldock and Templeheart Films response to this request? They simply recreated a second contract, with NEW due dates and requested I sign that.

Well, naturally, you can imagine what I told them. I requested another Skype with Mr. Baldock, but suddenly, he was no longer interested in Skyping with me. I only wanted him to look me in the eye when explaining to me how he could lie and cheat me out of a legally binding contract. He must have known this too, which is why he refused. In his effort to get me to sign the revised contract, he stated “Let me know if you prefer something else and we’ll see if we can agree to something.” I told him what I preferred is that the other contract be satisfied, i.e. paid off as contractually obligated, before I’d even consider entering into another agreement. Needless to say, he refused. I took my script, and haven’t spoken to them since.

Now, many will say “sue the bastards!” This is quite difficult to do when you’re talking about another country, and they know this, which is why I handle out-of-country agreements quite differently these days. It’s a shame you have to find out the true character of someone through these kinds of awful experiences, but I trust this is not the first time they’ve done this kind of move. I now realize everyone’s your “friend”- providing you give them free work. When you start asking for them to pay for it, or pay for their mistakes, then you start to see what they’re really made of. Don’t think for a second that if I was late in my obligations- by eight, ten twelve weeks- or didn’t deliver at all as promised, they wouldn’t have had the same response. Of course they would. After all, this is still a business. Apparently, a business in which not everyone who passes themselves off as legitimate company can be trusted.

A signed contract isn’t necessarily a signed contract, unless, of course, you’re willing and prepared to chase it all the way in court at great expense. This is a slam-dunk winner, but far too costly and not worth it to me.

So I wrote about it instead.

 

FRAUD ALERT- Amlan Basu, Master Screenplay Writers Academy

thR2B8MJCFRecently, I accepted an invite to “link in” with a gentleman named Amlan Basu, who describes himself as a director and screenplay writer from the Master Screenplay Writers Academy out of Maharashtra, India. I then noticed that Mr. Basu was posting about ten screenwriting-related articles a day, most of which were informative, instructive and laden with screenwriting and filmmaking advice. I immediately thought two things; one-this guy seems to really know quite a bit about the craft and industry of screenwriting, even though I’ve never heard of him before, and two- he’s prolific in his article writing.

I reviewed as many of the articles as I could- and there were about fifty at this point, in a very short period of time- when I came across one that read very familiar to me. While checking it out, I realized this “article” was a word-for-word plagiarized writing of a blog article I had written years before. I then began checking each and every article that he posted and claimed to have been written by him. At no point in any of these articles was there a disclaimer indicating that the article was “reprinted from”, or “reprinted with permission from”, or credited in any way to the original source, or the original writer. Many of the articles were stolen from the blogs of Ken Miyamoto and off the Screencraft website, but the articles were plagiarized from all over the screenwriting world, going as far back as 2010.

thSS6CXK13

 

This is not the first time I’ve encountered and uncovered plagiarism in the screenwriting world. A few years ago, I discovered that a self-described screenwriting “guru” had posted a blog article written by another (published)screenwriter, and attempted to pass it off as his own. While highly questionable, we can’t prove it was anything other than a one time mistake. I also exposed a couple of screenwriting job newsletters who claimed certain jobs as ones that they had recruited, to the point that they wanted their clients to respond to the ads stating that they found the post through their newsletter. It was discovered that they were actually cutting and pasting from a number of different FREE sources, then selling this information through their newsletter(s).

Mr. Basu, however, takes plagiarism to a whole different level.

I reached out to Mr. Basu and informed him that I was aware that he had plagiarized my own blog article and reposted it- without crediting me- and ordered it removed immediately. I also informed him that I had checked all of his other “articles” and that he needed to immediately remove any and all postings on LinkedIn Pulse and everywhere else that he copies from other sources without providing the original source material proper credit. We’re not talking an aggregate site that accumulates screenwriting articles  re-posts them on a different site, with author credit. We’re talking a straight line, cut-and-paste job.

19d1d0a

Amlan Basu of “Master Screenplay Writers Academy

Mr. Basu responded, indicated that he would “consider removing the articles”. The next day, all but three of his first articles were removed, but then, he added two more posted Pulse articles. A quick and easy check of these articles revealed that they were compiled, word-for-word, from various Quora responses by screenwriters in a question posed on one of their forum discussions. You’ll notice, from his “article”, the advice he provides sounds very disjointed and random- and that’s because it is. It comes from several different people over several different months. It’s still all stolen words and concepts.

I reached out to Mr. Basu once again, and he responded by telling me “You can do it what you want. May I have taken some lines from Quora but my own views also there.”

He added “I have a credit of several full length script and I am teaching the screenplay writing successfully!!!!”

Ironically, in advertising his screenwriting master academy, he refers to himself as the “yardstick of originality and excellence”. This couldn’t be further from the truth, but I suppose when someone calling himself a screenwriter and director is plagiarizing original written material from other writers, it’s not a stretch to think that they’d make fraudulent advertising claims as well.

Further irony, in checking his Twitter account, on March 13th, he tweeted “Plagiariism (sic) is the malpractice for writer”– misspelling and all.

You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

His Master Screenplay Writers Academy (MSWA) blog can be found at mswainfo.blogspot.in. It has dozens upon dozens of screenwriting articles, none of which are credited to the original source. If you or someone you know writes a lot of screenwriting articles or advice columns on screenwriting, you might suggest to them to peruse this website and see if their written articles are being stolen and passed off as someone else’s work.

More than likely, they’re not even aware of it.

UPDATE: When last checked, Mr. Basu removed all but two posts, adding a third that was obviously his original article. One look at this article- less than 100 words, and clearly obvious that English is his second language- you’ll know immediately that it is more than likely original to him. We are pleased that Mr. Basu saw the error in his ways in attempting to pass of other writer’s hard work as his own and instead has decided to do the right thing and write original material. We will be keeping an eye on his posts to make sure he stays on this track.

ECCENTRIC STORIES- PART DEUX

scamalert  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.

The other day, I was contacted by Kenny Wilson, a most recent customer of Mr. Alexander, 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. Here it is in March 2016, and he has yet to see a written word.

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.

We will be assisting Mr. Wilson as much as we can in helping him recover his money and recover his project.

Some important points to consider when you’re looking to hire a screenwriter for a paid assignment such as an adaptation or a ghostwriting job. 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). I’ve done screenplays in six weeks, and I’ve done them in sixteen months. No one of any real skill level is going to charge $1000 to do that for you; that’s less than $1 an hour. I might charge $1000 just to READ a 700-page, self-published book, because I know what it’s probably going to read like!

Next, 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; half down prior to start; final pay prior to receipt of final draft;

E) Guaranteed first forty pages for review;

F) One (1) FREE rewrite

I will also tell you I have friends and connections in the business that I can send the project to if I believe it’s warranted, because I do. I have a number of people who will read anything I send them because they not only trust my writing skills, they trust my judgment of things I forward. There’s absolutely no guarantee of any option, purchase or production, unless I choose to produce it myself, and that’s not entirely likely either. Anyone who makes promises like that, are who tells you about all-expense paid trips to meet studio executives- take your money and run, because that’s what they’re going to do!

 

 

Screenwriters and Filmmakers Networking Through LinkedIn

Tom-Cruise-Steven-Spielberg-Producer-Post-SilhouetteThe art of networking- making connections within your industry- is a learned craft, much like the craft of screenwriting itself. There are many ways to “skin” that proverbial cat, but some ways are just better, more effective and less time-consuming than others.

Here are my quick-ten tips:

1. Accept the fact that it WILL take time and dedication: You HAVE to put aside a certain amount of time and do it consistently. If I’m scheduling a four-hour write day, I will factor in half of that time for networking: 4 hrs. writing, 2 hours networking.

2. Join groups: Perhaps ninety percent of all LinkedIn groups are total time-sucks. They are filled with self-promotion and re-postings of published articles. Join them, check them out, and after a few weeks if that’s what they are, then dump them.

3. Decide what you want from the group: If you are looking for helpful information, guidance, etc., find a group that is operated by a person in your industry. If you are going to treat it more as a social network, looking for friends, I suppose it doesn’t matter much.

4. Choose the group carefully: Check the profile of the owner and/or moderators of the group. If the owner is a legal secretary, for example, and they operate a group for screenwriters, chances are they’re not managing the group closely enough. With these sites, anyone posting a question is pushed off the front page- with no responses- in a matter of minutes. A closely moderated group will often prevent that type of thing from happening.

5. Reach out and “touch” someone: LinkedIn allows you to “endorse” someone. Do it! This begins a connection.

6. Welcome newcomers: Don’t post a welcome; send a personal message. Share your experiences. Make the note personal.

7. Do not hesitate to link in: If you are in the same group, that’s the opening you need. Don’t send the “standard” pre-written invite. Personalize it. Let them know you saw something in their profile that compelled you to want to meet them.

8. Review profiles thoroughly: I spend several minutes reviewing every profile before I send an invite. I look at where they live, their website, their employer, their other groups, their influences, and their other connections. I rarely invite someone with no previous connections.

9. Learn what and where the bogus profiles come from: If the person requesting a link in or group entry has no writing or entertainment background whatsoever, no information of their profile is available, and their photo appears to be less than legit, I avoid them altogether. Usually they’re from another country, and I don’t need to spam or the hacking worries.

10. If they could benefit by knowing someone else in your network, introduce them: LinkedIn has a way to do this through the site. Do it- it’s a nice thing to do.