Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Besides pitching to filmmakers seeking scripts through lead services, exciting others with your story at festivals, finaling in contests, and joining local groups like CASA (Colorado Actors and Screenwrites Assembly), you can seek out the help of an agent, manager, or an entertainment attorney.

A Hollywood agent helps find someone to purchase your film.  One who is a Writers Guild Signatory charges 10%, no reading fee, and has a 90 day termination clause.  Hollywood directories will tell you who’s who and give contact information.  Consider attending film festivals.  I pitched to a Hollywood agent at one.  He represented me for about a year.  During that time he brought a romantic comedy (written with Christian Lyons) to Barry Sonnenfeld (MIB), a sci-fi farce (written with Janet Fogg) to James Cameron (Titanic), and a supernatural thriller (written with Janet Fogg) to Sony, HBO and Showtime.

Christian and I were told our script was considered in the final three, but Fun With Dick and Jane (Jim Carrey and Téa  Leoni) won out over ours—a great movie, so I can’t complain too much.
Managers are not WG Signatories.  They typically charge 15%.  Their role is to nurture your career.  They may also help make connections.  They can’t sell your work without an attorney.   By CA law, if a manager ends up producing your movie, she can’t charge you the 15% fee.  It can create a conflict of interst if your manager is also producer on the project; she is trying to limit budget and that includes the purchase price of the screenplay. 

Also producers bring scripts to actors or directors.
An entertainment attorney can play several roles.  Protecting your interests should be paramount.  An attorney I signed with when producer Ken Berk took my story under his belt years ago also helped market work as part of his practice, sometimes even books to N.Y.

If you get yourself out there and expose your talent to people who can help you market it, you may well break in with a spec script as your advertisement. 

 Another way to break in is to write an adaptation of another work.  Your own or someone else’s.  I’ll discuss adaptation in the next few posts.  Meanwhile, keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief.  Don’t step on the director.  Avoid dusk and dawn.     ---   from the Inkpot

(first published on the Writing From the Peak Blog April 4, 2011)

Friday, October 26, 2012


Now that a good draft of your screenplay is completed and protected, it’s time to get it some exposure. There are many ways to do this.

One four-pronged approach includes contests, conferences, script consulting and coverage.

Network through conferences and writers organizations. I met talented writer/director Jan C.J. Jones (co-producer of Walt Disney Treasures – 50th Anniversary ) at a conference and have considered her friendship, advice, and encouragement invaluable in my journey. Join local groups devoted to film-making. Colorado has a thriving community, CASA, Colorado Actors and Screenwrites Assembly. I’ve made several valuable connections through this group. You can find them on line. Broader groups, such as Boulder Media Women, are terrific sources for networking.

Contests vary in their value. Some, like the Nicholl Fellowships, Sundance, Slamdance, AAA, and Reel Women are prestigious—often quarter finalists are approached by producers and directors. BlueCat Screenwriting Competition offers an evaluation every bit as helpful as industry coverage. Entry fees vary from early entry fees of $30 up to late entries of $75 or more. Format requirements vary, Word/Final Draft/ RTF/PDF. Regardless of cost and feedback, you’ll want to be sure the finalists are read by industry insiders with the power to buy and produce your screenplay.

Contests are often associated with screenwriting conferences and film festivals. Workshops and screenings alongside schmoozing and pitching are great vehicles for exposure. A pitch to an agent at a film festival where I volunteered my time landed me a Hollywood agent. Good screenwriting conferences/film festivals include Sundance, Toronto, and Santa Fe.

Consider paying to have a script consultant evaluate and make suggestions for changes. Think of them as script doctors. One of the pioneers in this business is Linda Seger. She has written several helpful books that offer a head start on evaluating your script. I recommend her Making a Good Script Great.

Another useful evaluation tool is coverage. On the surface, getting help from a script consultant sounds similar to getting coverage but they are different services serving different purposes. Coverage is not a tool for the writer so much as a market evaluation for the purchaser. Usually a page or two long, coverage includes the evaluator’s take on the script, a log line, short synopsis, weakpoints and strengths, and an honest, industry-savvy opinion about the script’s demographics, timeliness and overall marketability.

Unlike script consulting, it doesn’t involve any tutoring through changes. It is simply an evaluation and a marketing tool. The purchaser of coverage owns it and is not obligated to show the author. Authors can buy coverage, however. My last agent got coverage for all my feature length scripts. I was lucky she shared the one-page evaluations with me. With both consulting and coverage, their strength and usefulness vary (as can book doctors’ feedback) so get recommendations and always remember coverage is one person’s opinion - though an educated one, ideally.

Next time I’ll discuss represention: producers, agents, managers, and entertainment attorneys. Meanwhile, keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief. Don’t step on the director. Avoid dusk and dawn.

From the Inkpot
(first posted on the Writing From the Peak blog, Feb 28, 2011)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Screenwriting: Protecting Your Work

I have an idea for a great movie. I have my pitch all ready to go. It’s high concept. I even have a rough treatment (synopsis) and a catchy title. I’d like to stir up interest in the idea, then write it. I plan to pitch it at the Monterey Bay Film Festival. Should I?

NO, NO and NO.

Titles and ideas are not protected. Hollywood is notorious for stealing and running with ideas. You are much better off waiting until you have a completed product. It’s probably cheaper to pay you for the draft than to be dragged through a lawsuit. Speaking of lawsuits, be prepared to sign a waivor. Hollywood types are paranoid about lawsuits and usually want you to release them of liability in case anything they are developing looks like your idea. Sounds like a bum deal. Right? But look at it from their POV and sign it. As my mentor, Jan Jones, once preached, you can’t get exposure if you don’t allow yourself to feel a little vulnerable. Dealing with known entities helps you protect yourself.

Once you’ve written your screenplay it’s important to protect it. The legal issues of ownership are no laughing matter in Hollywood. Art Buchwald sued Paramount in 1990 claiming they stole his script idea and made it into Coming to America. He won the breach of contract lawsuit and sizeable damages.

You can copyright your script, which gives you dated evidence that holds up well in courts. Also register your screenplay with the Writers Guild of America (West or East). The Guild serves many purposes for its members (such as pensions and health plans). For nonmembers, they will hold your material (now electronically, five years, $20). If ownership of the material or primary versus secondary writer position are ever in dispute, the WGA will negotiate based on what and when the claiment has registered.

As protection for both parties, some producer/directors will ask for your WGA registration number when they request your script. It shows you’re a professional if you have one.

Once you’ve protected your script, it will be time to get it evaluated and exposed. I’ll discuss ways to do that in my next post. Meanwhile, keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief. Don’t step on the director. Avoid dusk and dawn.  ----   from the Inkpot

(First posted on Writing From the Peek February 7, 2011)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Screenwriting: How The Industry Works

In past postings I’ve discussed the technical aspect of writing original scripts as well as adaptations. Once you’ve written a screenplay you’ll want to understand the market. If you’ve adapted someone else’s work (with legal permission) you may already have a contract in place, actors attached, and producers gathering money for the project. Lucky you!

If you are on your own, however, it’s even more important to understand how the industry works. First I suggest that you explore your own desires for your career. Is your goal to write in a particular genre? Are you in L.A.? If not, are you willing and able to travel there for meetings? Having a presence there is important for pitching and rewriting. Remember, film is collaborative. And being in L.A. is essential if your ultimate goal is to write for T.V. series.

There are several ways to market using your script. 1) outright sale 2) a development deal using your script as a lure to pitch your ideas 3) audition in which your sample script secures you an audition for a writing assignment – using one of my comedy scripts, I won a writer-for-hire comedy script contract. 4) option in which the producer or director pays a fee to keep the exclusive right to buy your script for an agreed-upon time (typically 6-12 months and anywhere from $0-$20,000). When the time limit is reached the producer needs to pay the agreed upon purchase price or pass. If it’s a pass, the writer keeps option money and all rights go back to the writer.

Next posting we’ll discuss what’s hot and what’s not and what makes a screenplay “high concept.” Meanwhile, keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief. Don’t step on the director. Avoid dusk and dawn.   So says Inkpot....

(First posted on Writing From the Peek January 17, 2011)

Friday, October 19, 2012

SCREENWRITING: The Formula: It's Less Intimidating Than You May Think

Aristotle’s Poetics is required reading for students in programs such as the UCLA School of Film, Television and Digital Media. In it you’ll find the formula that has traveled through the centures and still makes for a satisfying story.


Though novels allow much more leaway and often get away with meandering plots, screenplays tend to succeed best when they stick to a three act formula.

ACT I is the story set up. It establishes the premise and introduces the main character.

ACT II can be the most challenging to write, as is the murky middle of a novel. It incorporates confrontation, adds complications, develops subplots, and rides a wave of conflict up toward a crisis.

ACT III is the conclusion and resolution of story questions and conflict. For simplicity, let’s assume you are writing a two hour movie. You have 120 minutes to work with. At one manuscript page per minute you have 120 pages (this would be a rather long script, especially for a romantic comedy that often falls closer to 80-90 pages).

Assuming 120 pages, ACT I is the first 30 pages. Near the end of ACT I (page 25-27) comes a plot point. That is an incident that spins the story in another direction. For example Luke’s family is killed by the empire in Star Wars. Another plot point comes between pages 85-90 spinning things toward the end, FADE OUT.

In The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger Cyborg emerges from the fire unexpectedly as the metal robot that he truly is. This spin is also called a reversal. Rick Reichman, author of Formatting Your Screenplay, suggests having an action or psychological reversal in every scene to make the plot really roll along and surprise the viewer.

That brings me to another element of a screenplay, the scene. A sequence is a series of scenes tied together as a unit by a single idea. It may involve changing locations – from a living room out to a car and down the street. A scene is the action at a singe location. A scene is signaled with a primary slug line.


It tells the director that this is an interior INT. or exterior EXT. shot. It also tells location and what time a day. Dawn and Dusk are hard to capture, so often recommended against.
The character who speaks, a parenthetical (a personal direction to the actor), dialogue and direction are formatted like this.

Speech goes here and needs to be snappy, pithy.
Rarely are long speeches appropriate.

Here the direction tells what’s necessary to know about the surroundings and action in the scene. For scene setting, often no more detail is necessary than simply “typical teen room.” Action would include who’s on scene (first appearance in CAPS) and what they do.

The character cue is all CAPS. The parenthetical involves attitude or instructions to the actor and is frowned upon unless absolutely necessary because it bosses around the actor. The dialogue follows directly and is set inside specific margins. Avoid large chunks of direction. If you need more than four lines of it, break it up into 4-line chunks so that it’s easier to read.

FADE IN: starts your script. FADE OUT. ends it. There are many special slugs. Common ones include: MONTAGE (scene broken to show passing of time), BACK TO SCENE (after coming out of flashback), SPFX (special effects), MOS (German for without sound), SFX (sound effects), MATCH CUT (use of physical object to bridge shots), V.O. (voice over), Fades and Cuts (limit use of these, they step on director), CLOSE UP (only use when it’s absolutely necessary).

I wrote most of my screenplays using Word. I simply tabbed over as needed. If you are willing to fork out about $80-$150, you can buy Final Draft or Movie Magic, easy to learn programs that format for you. Details change over time so try to get the newest version. www.Zhura.com has free screenwriting software. There are also formatting macros that work with Word programs (about $40). Learning the format is easy. Pick up The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier and you’ll find all you need to know to get started.

Next posting I’ll discuss the industry, marketing, and types of representation. Meanwhile, keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief. Don’t step on the director. Avoid dusk and dawn.  ----  Inkpot

(This post originally appeared in the Writing From the Peek blog Dec 16, 2010.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Screenwriting: Would You Hesitate?

None of my extensive experience collaborating with writers was as fun and rewarding as when I teamed up with my sister of the quill, Janet.  Folio and I worked on a few screenplays, winning awards and generally having a great creative time.

I never thought of myself as a screenwriter; I happened into it.  I've written over a dozen collaborative and solo scripts.  I've had one short script produced by director Erich Toll and another I worked on behind the scenes produced.   I wrote a series of screenwriting posts for PPW's Writing From the Peak Blog beginning in November 2010.  Over the course of the next several days I'd like to reshare them with our readers. 

I was a novelist and food writer. I never intended to write screenplays. The format and story formula seemed like foreign languages. The industry insiders were untouchable. The prospect of marketing (rent The Player) intimidated me. Why would I, a mere land-locked Coloradan, consider taking a peek into big screen craft and that clicky California world?


I may never have explored screenwriting if it hadn’t been for a pitch practice session at a writer’s conference and a Hollywood producer intrigued by my log line for a novel in progress.
Enter KEN BERK who offered to get my story into the right hands if I would write it as a feature-length script. There’s not enough room in this blog entry for the number of exclamation marks I felt at the offer. Did I hesitate?

Not for one BEAT. I saw dollar signs and my character MATCH CUT with JULIA ROBERTS. I drove home—floated home—and crash-learned the industry expectations. I cut the story down to two hours, one page per minute. I made it more visual with pithier dialogue, vivid action, and grand reversals.

About the time I was doing my fourth polish of ACT I my screenwriting career was punctuated by its first dramatic reversal. I received word that ACT III had ended too soon for the young producer. Not exactly the climax I’d hoped for and not the one expected by any of us who know him. Ken Berk, my “inciting incident,” my connection to the industry, and, at the time, my muse, had died.

I could have let the pursuit take a quiet FADE OUT. But I didn’t. Thanks to the inspiration of Ken, and another screenwriter I met through PPW, Jan Jones, I continued writing in this new and dynamic form. I’ve had the absolute pleasure of writing (and co-writing) eight completed feature-length screenplays in six genres (several more in progress) and five short scripts. I’ve been represented by a Hollywood agent, an entertainment attorney, and NY agents who sell books to Hollywood. I’ve worked on short scripts with an indie producer and an indie director—one script was produced. I’ve been honored with a dozen screenwriting awards and am now using many of the screenwriting skills to power-up my fourth novel.

Have you ever seen one of my stories in a movie theater? No, but I hope you will in the future.
The side-trip took quite a bit of time away from my novels and literary cookbooks. If I had the chance to go back in time, would I hesitate to make the same decision? Not for one BEAT.
There’s power and excitement in learning a new skill.

Would you hesitate?

If not, check in on my future blog entries in which I’ll discuss the basics of screenwriting format, the business, story expectations, representation, and adapting your novel, short story, or memoir into a screenplay. Most importantly, I will encourage you to take a valuable detour, write a screenplay and see how it will improve your storytelling and prose. Until next time, keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief. Don’t step on the director. Avoid dusk and dawn.

Inky will tell you why you should avoid dusk and dawn in a future post.