Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Books for a young aspiring screenwriter

I got a Twitter question from @JulianRamos_

Any books or novels you would recommend a high school senior / aspiring screenwriter to read?

Boy, did you come to the right place. Thanks to membership at several very well-stocked libraries, I pretty much read every screenwriting book published by the time I was in my early-to-mid twenties. After reading dozens of those books, I came away with the feeling that many of the books were saying exactly the same thing. That theory was somewhat proven by my friend J.J. Patrow in this blog post. He compares the storytelling philosophies of Aristotle, Joseph Campbell, Syd Field, Blake Snyder, Peter Dunne, Drew Yanno and then visually demonstrates the similarities via chart. So know that while there are probably hundreds of screenwriting books out there, a lot of them are going to tread on the same ground.

First, formatting is something you want to have drilled into you early on so you don't screw it up. For that reason, I'd make The Screenwriter's Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script by David Trottier one of your first reads.

From there, I'd say that it helps to get a sense of three-act structure and what that means in terms of breaking and developing your story. There are at least a hundred books that'll cover this in some form - I recommend Blake Snyder's Save the Cat. He's taken some flack for the way he somewhat rigidly adheres to a formula, but I think it helps to give beginners some structure. His 15-point beat sheet is a good way to get the hang of writing a film. It also can be of use in helping you dissect films that you like, making it a stepping stone to getting inside the story and understanding why some screenplays work and some don't.

After that, I'd suggest immersing yourself in some more personal memoirs from working writers. It's always good to balance the nuts and bolts education with straight talk about what it's really like not just to develop screenplays, but also work in the industry. There's more to being a screenwriter than just writing scripts, if you know what I mean. To that end, these are among what I'd consider required reading:

Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman
Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman
Billion-Dollar Kiss: The Kiss That Saved Dawson's Creek by Jeffrey Stepakoff
Tales from the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories

Go to your local library and find where those books are. I can almost guarantee that you'll probably find a dozen other worthwhile books in a similar vein right next to those on the shelves.

Also, for extra credit, read Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon. It's not a screenwriting book. You'll find it in True Crime. Then, go watch the first season of Homicide: Life on the Street, the NBC series inspired by the book. There are a great many storylines and characters that are adapted quite closely from the book, but you'll also notice at least as many differences in character and plot. Some characters are merged, others are invented out of whole cloth. Make yourself aware of what changes have been made and ask yourself why those changes were necessary.

Hopefully, that'll give you some insight into how even the most interesting real-life stories often need to be restructured and re-conceived when adapted as drama. A lot of first-time writers try to adapt things from their lives without understanding that real life is boring and often without the construction that makes drama interesting.

That and Homicide's just an awesome show. David Simon wrote the book when he was a journalist for The Baltimore Sun, but when it became a series, he wrote a few episodes and this started his career as a TV writer/producer. He's since gone on to create The Wire and Treme.

That should be enough to get you started. Be warned that the more screenwriting books you find, the more tempting it is to say, "Well, I'll write my script after I read one or two more of these, just so I'm REALLY prepared." Don't allow reading these books to become an exercise in procrastination.

Does anyone else have what they'd consider essential reading?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday Talkback - Should studios inform the original writers when they prep a remake?

Sunday, Deadline posted a story about how screenwriter James Toback was rather upset to find out secondhand that Paramount was planning a remake of The Gambler. Toback was the writer of the original version, which he considers one of his more personal films. Chief among Toback's complaints was the fact that the studio didn't even offer the courtesy of letting him know about the remake before announcing it to the world via Deadline.

Legally, Paramount was under no obligation to do so. They bought the script. They own the property. In a legal sense, Toback has no claim to the material any longer so there's no reason they would have had to tell him - but would it at least have been the moral thing to do.

This isn't the first such case of this happening. Wes Craven was rather blunt last year when discussing the fact that he wasn't consulted about the remake of what is arguably the film most associated with him - A Nightmare on Elm Street. He not only directed the original film, but he wrote the script and created the character of Freddy Krueger. Considering the studio had been looking to jump-start the franchise, you'd think they'd have at least courted him in an effort to secure his blessing, yet all indications from Craven are that they didn't. But again, they didn't have to.

And of course, the people who hold the rights to the original film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer have been trying for a few years now to get their reboot off the ground - without the involvement of creator Joss Whedon. This again strikes me as a botched move, as not getting Whedon's blessing runs the risk of alienating his loyal fan base.

But what do you think? No laws are being broken here, so it's not as if the studios or producers owe the original creators anything in a legal sense. If you were in the studio's shoes, would you have given the original writers a courtesy call? If you were one of those original writers, would it bug you to find this stuff out from a third party, or do you think you'd accept that this is how the business works.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Reader question - Positive and negative changes in scenes and knowing when to end a scene

Jeff asks:

I'm confused at where sequences begin and end and how they exactly fit into scenes. I'm doing a heavy outline right now, and am a bit stuck on this, because I want to do it the right way, the professional way, the best way. So I want to make sure that every scene counts. And according to the many books I've read, if a scene doesn't turn form a positive to a negative, or vice versa, the scene doesn't do anything and should be removed. So is that all there is to it? Should I just be paying attention to the positive negative fluctuations, and when I can identify them, is that how I know where my scene ends? I just get a little confused when locations change, say, from going inside a house to a car.

Honestly, I think this is what happens when a writer follows a guru too literally. Too many books out there try to reduce writing to a mathematical equation. True, there is a structure to screenwriting, and in some cases those elements are fairly rigid. Blake Snyder's checklist of how to break down a film is one of the more useful tools, but following that "Beat Sheet" isn't the only way to write a script.

The same goes for the mandate that every scene should go from a positive to a negative or vice-versa. I agree that every scene should advance the story in some form, but I have to believe there's more to that than keeping track of positive to negative fluctuations.

I'm a little puzzled by your last two statements. Your scenes should end when they reach their climax. Once you've achieved the point of that scene, your objective should be to get out of it as soon as possible. Look at the scene in Back to the Future where Marty gets the critical exposition he'll need once he's stuck in the past. He's with his girlfriend in the town square, talking about their plans for the weekend and his family. They start to kiss, only to be interrupted by the woman soliciting donations to preserve the Clock Tower. In the course of doing so, she reveals important exposition about how that building was struck by lightning 30 years ago.

The thing is, the writers need a way to make sure Marty would remember those details, and in his current mindset, his focus isn't really on what the woman is saying - so they have the woman force a flyer on him, one that has all the information about the Clock Tower. But there still needs to be a reason for him to hold onto it. That's easily accomplished by having the girlfriend say she'll be at her grandmother's. She writes the number on the flyer. Thus, Marty has a reason to hold onto it rather than discard it in the nearest trashcan.

And what happens after all that's accomplished? They kiss, she leaves and the scene ends. The scene had to lay out exposition and give Marty a reason to hold onto it. Once that was done, they got out of it. There's no scene of Marty talking to other people in the town square. He doesn't buy a newspaper, he doesn't have a lingering conversation with his girlfriend about their homework. The scene has done its work and it ends.

Once you've accomplished what you need to, you get out of that scene. If you don't know WHAT exactly you're trying to accomplish in that scene, then you've got bigger problems than not knowing when the scene should end.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Free-For-All - A Salute to Wil Wheaton as he celebrates 10 years blogging!

This week was Wil Wheaton's 10 year Blog-Birthday. I really have to tip my hat to Wil because it was the fact that I got so much enjoyment out of his blog that made me really interested in starting my own. I found it around November of 2001 - and during that time, Wil was pretty much a struggling actor still trying to come to terms with what being a "teen idol" and one of the most hated Star Trek characters meant for his life.

For those of you who don't know, Wil played Wesley Crusher, a boy genius whose brilliance was so great he actually got to be an acting ensign on the Enterprise bridge at the age of 16. Unfortunately, this hardly endeared him to fans who felt that a child had no place on the bridge, and it didn't help that early episodes had the character be a bit of a snotty know-it-all. Worst of all, the kid practically saved the whole ship in the first episode. Fans resented him and Wesley never recovered from that. Wil, being a teenager at the time, also had trouble dealing with the hate mail the character would receive. I didn't come to TNG much later, so I didn't have as much trouble with the Wesley character.

So in Wil's early posts there's a lot of ambivalence towards his Trek history, compounded by the fact that he felt disrespected by some of the Powers That Be in Trek. It was a running theme in many of his posts, and it was fascinating to see Wil grow as writer. One of my favorite early posts are these two - featuring a dialogue between Wil and Wesley.

Mirror, Mirror
The Big Goodbye

Wil's blog has been a must-read for me since early on. It's a surprisingly personal blog at times, talking about the meaningful moments he has with his sons, his frustrations with the business, the joy of geekdom, and much more. Most of all, these past ten years have been about a journey that Wil has taken from a path that could have led to "embittered has-been actor" to "Geek Icon and All-around Cool guy."

Over the past ten years, Wil's readers have seen him go from struggling to get even an audition, to a successful career resurgence playing against type. The guy who had to struggle just to get into the room eventually had parts written for him on The Big Bang Theory and Eureka, among many other well-received gigs. The fans who remember the sad story of Wil canceling a family vacation to go on an audition where he got little respect probably take a lot of pride in seeing "Uncle Willie" get the acclaim he deserves. I've met Wil twice and he's been nothing but gracious both times. (And twice I've balked at bothering him at the comic book store we apparently both frequent.)

So I want to salute him this week, and I think of no better lesson to take from Mr. Wheaton than the journey he points out in his post:

"Ten years ago yesterday, I started my blog at WWdN. Ten years ago today, Metafilter declared that it was "lame," and most of the Internet was really shitty to me about the whole thing. I was so sad and hurt by how cruel people were to me back then, I almost gave up before I'd even started... but for some reason, I was stubborn and just kept going.

I'm glad I made it across what Ira Glass calls The Gap, because I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be going to PAX (or doing any of the wonderful things I get to do these days) if I hadn't. Thank you to everyone who has shared the journey with me; I hope to continue earning your time and support for the next ten years."

As a special treat, here's a live performance of one of my favorite Wheaton stories - the first time he met William Shatner. (A bit of mature language. Don't play this at work)

Or if you'd rather read it, it's available in two parts on Suicide Girls. (Also probably not safe for work). Personally, I think the live performance is hilarious and well worth the time it takes to watch.
Part I
Part II

I've very relieved to say that both times I met Wil, he was friendly, willing to pose for pictures, and didn't once make me feel like Mr. Shatner made him feel at that time. Wil, it's been a pleasure reading your blogs, Tweets and books, and enjoying your podcasts over the last ten years. You've evolved into a wonderful writer, and if you stick with this acting thing, who knows where it could lead?

In all seriousness, I think your recent success has been a direct result of all the good karma you put out there during those years when things might have been a little more lean. Seeing that paid back to you has been both rewarding and inspiring. Any actor and writer can identify with your struggles and yet also share in the hopes that if we put in the same work and positivity that you have, we may yet find the same success.

To ten years!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thursday Throwback - Ways to Get Read

Note: This post first appeared on Thursday, March 26, 2009

Last week I got a question from a reader named Ian:

Simply put, how does a script come into your, or any other reader's, hand? What is the route it takes? I feel it would be valuable for aspiring writers such as myself to know how to get to the gatekeeper in the first place. :)

Generally, it varies with the job. When I work for a production company, the vast majority of the material I read comes in through agents. At agencies and management companies, most of the time, those scripts are coming in through agents as well.

So how does one get a script to a reader when they don't have an agent? Probably the most common way would be through a personal connection. If you're in L.A., network; make friends with other writers, with agent and producer assistants. Once you're on good terms with them, ask if they'd read your script and give you their reaction. If they think it's good, maybe they'll pass it up the ladder to people they work for. I tend to favor asking the contact for notes first rather than just saying, "Hey can you show this to your boss?" In that case, you're basically asking them flat-out to cash in one of their favors, and few people in that situation would be inclined to do that without vetting the material first to make sure it's not a waste of their boss's time. Plus, your friend might have good notes, or maybe he'll like it enough off the bat to ask, "Hey, you mind if I show this to a few people at work?"

Contests can also be a way up to the Gatekeepers. Several of my previous employers have requested the top ten finalists from many competitions like the Nichols Fellowship. Strangely, despite the reputation those contests and many others have, rarely are those submissions as strong as the professionally-submitted ones. If you've got confidence in your writing, it might not hurt to pick a contest or two and see how you do. Just make sure it's one with a good reputation. It can cost $50 or more to enter some of these competitions, which is why I don't suggest going crazy with those submissions.

I hasten to point out that even winning a competition doesn't necessarily mean much. The odds of a contest-winning script getting sold and produced are still pretty low. I come at it from the view that doing well in a contest at least gives you something to put in a query letter to an agent or manager. At the very least, it shows that someone with some experience in script reading has vetted the script and found good things in the material. It's a foot in the door - but be aware, query letters don't always have a very high success rate. If you get one response from every ten or fifteen you send out, that's pretty good.

Depressing, ain't it? Does anyone out there have any suggestions for other ways to get read?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Agency Promotion Hazing represents everything wrong with this town

I saw an "EXCLUSIVE" on Deadline the other day that really turned my stomach. This is the story of how one agency told an assistant they were promoting him to full agent. They called him over to one of the partners homes on a Saturday to build a swing set. Then when he showed up, several of the partners performed a "career intervention," (where he was no doubt made to feel incompetent and unappreciated) before ushering him out into the backyard for a "surprise" celebration with his friends and family.

Bullshit like this is precisely what's wrong with this industry. I don't see what's funny about hazing a hard-working assistant like that. And I'm sure the douchebags who concocted this master scheme thought they were so clever that they'd push this guy to the limits of his temper before saying "Surprise! You're one of us now!" but honestly, it's still incredibly mean-spirited. The promoted assistant is still the butt of the joke.

But that's not what elevates the brilliant minds over at this company to the title of "Bitter Script Reader's Asshats of the Week." If you want to conduct promotion ceremonies with all the dignity of Rush Week at Beta House, be my guest. If you get your jollies by pushing someone around just to see if he'll snap, or cry, or whatever, fine... doesn't make you any different from half the assholes in this town. No, what elevates this agency to the most classless operation in town is that someone said, "Hey, wouldn't it be great if we called up Nikki Finke and gave her this story exclusively?"

The Greek system at my college was loaded with assholes - it's why I pledged GDI - but there was at least one element of honor to the hazing: What happened in the house, stayed in the house. I'm sure pledges were made to endure many humiliating things, but no one called up the school newspaper and plastered it on the front page. Sad that this agency lacks the professionalism and maturity that even a 19 year-old pledge armed with ruffies can grasp.

Going public like this pretty much ensures that this whole ritual had nothing to do with the assistant at all. It was ALL about the perpetrators of this "genius" prank. Unsatisfied with merely getting their target embarrassed in front of his friends and family, they had to crow about it to the entire town!

Even so, the prank itself is still pretty tasteless. It's never funny when a boss "jokes" that one of his employees is about to be fired, or deliberately makes him feel like his job is in jeopardy just for kicks. It wasn't funny when Michael Scott did it to Pam in the first episode of The Office and it's not funny in real life.

I almost guarantee that the people at the top in that company are among the discourteous who insist "Thick Skin Required" when putting out job postings for their company. This is a sort of fine print that many in the industry use to absolve themselves of treating those in their employ like human beings. I've known plenty of CEOs and Company Presidents who've been able to get the job done and motivate their employees without resorting to dehumanizing them. What makes some Ari Gold wannabe so special that he can ignore basic human courtesy?

The worst part is that this sort of assy behavior is self-replicating. The abused become the abusers. The victims of pranks like this will turn around and do it to the next guy in five years, reasoning that it's okay because it was done to them. It's the same with salaries. "You're going to work 15 hours a day and take work home every night for the wage of a mere $9/hr. Why? 'Cause 'Fuck you,' that's why! I had to endure this years ago - what makes you so special that you're too good for this?"

Hey guys, how about you quit playing the part of "Poor Man's Ari Gold" in "The Me Story starring Me" and just focus on doing your jobs and appreciating your employees without publicly humiliating them? Maybe you're not all assholes over there, but everything in that article (including the fact it was made public) is exactly what an asshole would do.

I tell you this, though. I'm not going to be querying any of these agents. And I certainly wouldn't waste my time filling their inboxes with increasing worse pitches and made-up queries certain to annoy even the most hardened agent. Not even taking into account I know their email structure is readily available through IMDBPro.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tuesday Talkback - Kill your least favorite character cliches

I sounded off yesterday about how I hate Garden State-esque Quirky Girls in screenplays. Today, it's your turn. If you could permanently erase ONE character trope from cinema what would it be?

The plucky sidekick?
The fat friend who's there to make crude jokes?
The sex-crazed best friend who is basically Kim Cattrall's Sex & The City character with the serial numbers filed off?
The ugly girl with a chip on her shoulder?
The cocky douchebag who - against all common sense - is somehow the hero of the script?
The wise minority sage?
The stripper with the heart of gold?
The flamboyant homosexual who's basically the gay equivalent of Stepin Fetchit?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Why I hate Quirky Girls

It came up recently that I really don't like (500) Days of Summer and I'm not terribly keen on Garden State either. There's a common trope in both of those, and that element is a major contributing factor in my dislike - the Quirky Indie Pixie Girl. This is the type of girl that doesn't exist except in the minds of screenwriters - and a guarantee you that if they DID exist, you'd be less charmed by them than utterly annoyed by them.

Not sure of what I'm talking about. This short from Funny or Die should connect a few dots. (Fun fact: This features spoofs of not only the moment when I realized (500) Days was going to be a shitty, shitty film, but also the first time Natalie Portman was on film and my thoughts weren't "Wow, she's beautiful," but "I want this character to get off my screen RIGHT NOW!")

Somehow, this girl is the trope of choice for most of the wannabe hipsters who write these sorts of films. I imagine the thought process is something like "Ohmigod! A cute girl who isn't so hot that she's intimidating and is totally into the kinds of music and obscure movies that I like! That's what I want!"

Lonely and geeky "artists" of the world, you probably stand the better chance of finding a female gamer and comic book collector with the body of a lingerie model than you do of finding someone like the Quirky Indie Pixie Girl.

If you have this trope in your script, kill it. They're barely tolerable when performed by Natalie Portman. When they're nothing but text on a page, they're even more contrived and annoying.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reader questions: Can I make a living selling ideas and are internships illegal?

Nick asks:

Bitter Script Reader,

Long story short: I've got ideas and few outlets for them.

I'm all the time coming up with clever story ideas but have next to no time to actually flesh them out and write a feature--mainly because they come too fast and I get too excited about the newest one. I have two flash drives full of loglines and story notes and I just keep adding to them, fearful that if I forgo an idea, it will be "the one."

My question is: Can I make money doing this, just selling my ideas? Can I get a job just coming up with ideas for television and film?

The only people I know of who have made a living just off of ideas have been those who've proven their mettle elsewhere in the industry. If you want to make money just by coming up with ideas and having someone else write them, become a producer.

Like I've said elsewhere, "Ideas are cheap."

Raider Jane asks:

I have a question that I think deserves attention on your blog and let me know if there is a better way to ask it (so that it gets published), but basically I am wondering if it is indeed *illegal* to be an unpaid script intern? Are there instances when it is not? Can you clarify this matter for me and others who are not clear. Is it a case of everybody is doing it anyway (in the industry), or is it frowned on by legit companies. Do you have suggestions for getting your foot in the door as a legitimate staff reader or Union reader? Thanks again!

A while back, The New York Times ran an article about the possibly illegal nature of some internships. I didn't really cover it at the time, but Amanda over at The Aspiring TV Writer and Screenwriter Blog did, so I'll direct you here if you want to see everything she had to say about it.

I haven't been an intern for a long time and I'm not really in the office much these days, so I'm not the guy to ask about how educational the average internship really is. I don't doubt that there are places that are using these interns basically like free labor. Everyone's cutting costs, and I'm not aware of any permanent fallout from that article. I do get the sense that most legitimate companies at least try to provide a worthwhile intern experience.

As for "How to I become a reader" questions, go here and then check out this follow-up post where I explain that you don't really want this job.

As for becoming a Union Reader, I'm not one so I couldn't tell you. I do know that it's a very hard circle to crack into.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

So how long are the long odds anyway?

Clint asks:

A question (sorry for the long wind up):

There is much chatter about how intense the competition is in the screenwriting world. All the books and blogs talk about how there are 764,898 screenplays written each month and just 40 movies produced each year. A screenplay contest like the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting gets 6,000+ entries.

Yet I've read how winning most screenwriting contests doesn't boost your career because sooooooo many of the screenplay are total crap and even the top 10 percent are pretty bad.

So, while the raw numbers are daunting, what is the competition really? If 80 percent of screenplays are improperly formatted, littered with poor grammar, written in Magic Marker and such, how big the field of real contenders?

If, in your career, you've read 1,000 scripts, how many are just illiterate crap from the get-go?

My thought is that much of the "competition" is just clutter and static. Am I close, or am I among the deluded thinking I got a shot?

No, I pretty much agree with your assessment. I've probably read over 3500 scrips in my career. I'd be fairly stunned if a look at the raw numbers showed my consider rate to be much above 10 percent. That would mean that if I was reading 10 scripts a week, one of those would get a consider. That sounds more or less right to my thinking. Some weeks I give more than one, but then I'll have a drought of good scripts for weeks. Figure maybe another five or ten percent for "Consider With Reservations."

On the outside, where does that leave us? With an 80% pass rate. There's probably a pretty wide spread of quality within that 80%. Some are irredeemable, some might be within a draft or two of a consider, and some might have been passed on for reasons beyond the writing quality

So while the raw numbers of aspiring screenwriters makes the competition look fierce, if you're a good writer, you're not really competing with 80% of the pack. It's that excellent, good and almost-good 20% that you have to beat.

Stuff like this is why sometimes it's best for a writer to adopt the mentality of Han Solo while navigating an asteroid field. (That is, "Never tell me the odds!") Good writing rises to the top. Sometimes it takes a little longer for some writers than others. Some good writers might have connections and relationships that get them to the top sooner, but in the end, it's going to come down to talent.

Worry about your talent and your abilities. Keep pushing yourself. If you need to keep an eye on what scripts are out there in order to motivate yourself, then do so, but focusing on the numbers and stats of how many aspiring writers you can find in the LA area isn't helpful.

Think of how many wannabe actors there are out there. With so many of those folk competing for the same parts, the odds seem astronomical, but only if you start with the assumption that each person has precisely the same ability (and thus, the same chance) as every other aspiring. Some people are simply better than others. If you were to count every aspiring actor as competition for someone like Meryl Streep, then she would seem to defy astronomical odds every time she booked a role. I think we'll all agree that Meryl isn't defying long odds even when she just beats out competition among working actors.

Joey Tribbiani does not have the same odds of landing a role as Leonardo DiCaprio. When you're Leo, it doesn't matter how many Joeys there are.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tuesday Talkback - Retitle Classic Films in the style of the Black List

The Black List has become known for outrageous titles along the lines of F**kbuddies, and I Want to F*** Your Sister. Often, the brash titles like those can help the film stick in the mind of a reader or a development executive, even if that catchy title is going to be homogenized by the time the film sees release. Case in point, F**kbuddies was retitled something so bland that I had to look it up to remember it was released as No Strings Attached.

So as a fun exercise, why not retitle classic films in the crass style of The Black List? See if you can recognize these classics and no-so-classics.

I Will Become My Mother Even if it Kills You
Escape of the Face and Liver-Eater
My Mom Has the Hots for Me
I Want to F*** My Daughter's Classmate
Eddie Murphy and Four of his Favorite Co-Stars
Naked Kate Winslet Comes Before Sinking Seamen are Swallowed Up
Dead People Have Issues Too
Everyone in LA is Racist
Fat Guy Fall Down (Kevin James attached)

I had some for Rain Man and Forrest Gump that were SO wrong, but so Black List-y, but I imagine I'd have gotten some sternly written emails over them... and probably a call from my mother.

Let's see you guys get creative.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Reader question: Should all readers recognize the same script as strong writing?

Matt asks:

A screenplay I submitted to Nicholl made semi-finals two years ago. I re-wrote the heck out of it, again, and again, and again, figuring out of ten sps this was the first to get any attention, so I might be onto something.

Submitted it again this year, and it went out the first round.

I realize there were over 6000 entries, what one reader likes, another hates, etc... Question is: If a script is really "that good" should it be recognized as such by most trained readers? Was it most likely a fluke it even made semis before (like maybe the subject matter hit the right reader on the right day cuz of something in his/her personal life etc)??

I could probably offer some long-winded thesis about criticism, personal tastes, and how the varying quality of submissions between the two years can contribute to these different results.... but I won't. This is the sort of answer that's bound to drive some aspiring writers nuts because they DEMAND automaton-like consistency from readers.

Here's the thing - that's not possible. Sure, you'll probably find general agreement about the very best screenplays and the very worst screenplays, but there's a whole middle section of that curve that's neither enough fish nor foul to get the exact same reactions from a plurality of readers.

The very best writing - the strongest writing that's eventually going to send those writers onto their career - will probably garner similar reviews from readers. Is it likely that all the scripts at the semi-finals are at that top level? Personally, I wouldn't stake my rep on it.

I'm not saying you're not a good writer, or that your work doesn't show potential. It might just be that you're still in the middle of the pack. You show promise, but you're not quite ready for "the show." Yet.

You also have to look at the fact you didn't submit the exact same script both years. You rewrote it, which could account for the difference in reactions. Maybe there was something in that more raw version that the readers were responding too. Perhaps the rewrite took some passion, some edge or some urgency out of the script. I've seen it happen before.

But look at this - you got to the semi-finals. You hit near the target. If you were an archer, you'd keep drilling, keep firing arrows until you hit dead center more consistently. Put the reader out of your head. Yes, sometimes you might get a crap reader. Sometimes you might get a good reader on a bad day. But none of that really matters.


Because there's nothing you can do about it. You accomplish nothing by worrying about this. Reasonable, intelligent people will sometimes come to very different and still valid conclusions about the scripts they read. I took a quick look at the comments at Scriptshadow and saw plenty of evidence of this. You see evidence of this in movie reviews. Heck, I'm willing to bet that there are movies that you love that your friends can't stand.

I've got a friend who will argue that Armageddon is legitimately one of the best movies ever made. Yet he and I agree on many other films. Corner him at a party and bring up (500) Days of Summer and you will see him physically react with disgust and contempt for that film. (So he's not ALL wrong in his cinema critiques.) Me, I'm stunned so many of my film classmates had near-religious experiences during Magnolia. I hated that film so much that it's pretty much put me off of Paul Thomas Anderson's work for life.

Seriously. You will have to drug me and throw me in a straight jacket to get me in that theatre. I don't care if the film gets 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Blame everyone who put their hand to their heart in Oscar season 2000 and said, "SUCH a brilliant movie. Magnolia was incredible."

Liars. Every last one of them.


Keep writing. Keep working. And when you're really good, you won't have to worry about getting the "right" reader. Even bad readers recognize a home run.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Reader questions: Are all readers writers? How much to establish in action lines? Can I make a character randomly ethnic?

JamiSings asks:

Are all readers hopeful writers, or are there some that just like to read, have good ideas for corrections, but no desire to actually write anything?

Most of the readers I've known have been writers or aspiring writers. There might be a few who fancy themselves future producers or development execs, but if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say a fairly sizable percentage of people who share my job love to write and want to write professionally.

Ben Ritter asks:

Let's say a character in one of my scripts enters a kitchen, talks to her roommate, then later uses the stove. Do I need to mention the stove in the action line after the slug, or can I just say, "She turns on the stove" when she interacts with it?

Let's say instead of turning on a stove, she throws an eggbeater at her roommate. Should I just say, "She throws an eggbeater at her roommate"? Not every kitchen would have an eggbeater, so it seems weird to have one materialize if the reader had been picturing a kitchen without an eggbeater.

In most cases you probably don't need to establish it - if it's common to that environment. No one's going to cry foul if halfway through the scene, your college student character opens up the previously-undiscussed mini-fridge in his dorm room. If he turns around and pets his llama, then you might have a problem.

In your case, an eggbeater is a pretty common thing for a kitchen so you don't HAVE to set it up. If I was writing the scene, I might have the lead character doing some bit of business with the eggbeater just so it's established on screen before being pulled out of nowhere, but as far as the read goes, you're probably safe.

Teddy Pasternak said...

Hi Bitter,

In the comedy I'm working on, I was considering making one of my characters Australian. There's no story reason for him to be Australian per se, the story takes place in the States, and he could be any nationality really, I just pictured him as an Aussie for some reason.

There are a couple of reason I'd like to do this; I have some jokes that would work, and I think it might be a good way of making this particular character stand out. It's a small part but he must be memorable since he plays a pivotable role in the story.

I could make this character unique in other ways, of course, and I don't want it to seem like a gimmick. Is it a bad idea to pick a particular nationality? It feels a bit like a copout. What is your opinion on assigning character traits that doesn't have anything to do with moving the story forward?

I don't see anything wrong with it. If it makes the character more unique, I say go for it. I'd point to the example of Bridesmaids, where the cop whom Kristin Wiig becomes involved with is actually British for no particular reason and it doesn't hurt the film in the least. Wiig's roommates are also randomly British, but again, I doubt few people came out of that film going, "What was up with all the accents?"

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Reader question - What's my process for coverage? Is there a checklist?

MalcDelNorte said:

I'm similarly intrigued as to what is your streamlined process for script triage. Do you have some kind of check list so you can justify your decision on the script in an objective way. Or do you just read until your gut feeling tells you the script hasn't made the cut? Cheers! Malc.

When I'm reading something that has been submitted to one of my bosses from an agent, manager, actor, director, etc, I HAVE to read the whole thing. Ditto for agency coverage. An official submission of that nature needs to be written up and documented. Ergo, a synopsis of the entire script and an evaluation of the project both need to be completed. There have been rare instances where I've been able to go back to the development exec who gave me the script and say something like, "He opens with the brutal torture murder of a baby and then tries to turn it into a rom-com. Oh, and half the dialogue is in Romanian."

If you run across an obvious turkey like that, you might be able to cut corners and stop early. This works best when the exec has a full load of stuff he wants you to read for him and recognizes he'd be wasting both your time on this trash. More likely, he'll just give you the go ahead to do the "skim treatment." Different places have different was of breaking this down, but I know it as the "10, 25, 50, 75, 90 rule." Essentially, you read the first ten pages, the last ten pages and a few pages where each major act break is supposed to go.

Some writers might consider it a benefit that in most cases, the reader has to take in the entire submission. They'll call bullshit on me and other readers when we say that you're playing a dangerous game by taking 30 pages just to get your story started. Their retort is "Hey, you've gotta read the whole thing anyway, so who are you to tell me what to write?"

I'm the guy you've gotta get past, jackass. And once you get past me, you then have to impress my boss. Trust me, unless I write up the most positive review you can imagine, an exec or agent will be even less charitable about a flabby script than I will. Write as if the reader can toss the script away at any point.

But to get to the heart of your question, let's talk triage and checklists. I think there are a lot of disgruntled writers who try to interpret coverage as if it's some sort of mathematical proof. You can spot these guys because they ignore most of what's written in the comments and try to argue the merits of what the coverage grid shows.

(Sidebar: writers often manage to get copies of their script's coverage illicitly. All it takes is for them to be connected to the right assistant or intern and a review that's supposed to be internal can leak out. This is why many, many companies set it up so that the reviewers name does not appear on the coverage. I've heard horror stories of agency readers being tracked down and chewed out over the phone by angry writers.)

Here's probably the simplest way to explain the review process - the reaction determines the review, not vice versa. What I mean by that is that before I've written up my actual notes and done the little grid, I KNOW whether the script is going to get a PASS or CONSIDER. For the better scripts, I know it's a CONSIDER well before I'm done reading the script. I'm pretty sure most readers operate the same way. When they finish a script, they know whether they like it or not - just as any of you know whether you liked or hated a movie as soon as you finish watching it.

What I don't do is finish the script, write up a paragraph or two each on the Characters and the Plot/Structure and Concept and say, "Hmm... based on what I just wrote, this is probably a Consider." Nor do I go through the grid and say: Premise: Good, Plot: Fair, Characters: Fair. Structure: Good. Marketability: Fair, and then go "Well, based on the point values of each of those elements, this grades as a Consider."

2 "Goods" and 3 "Fairs" could be a CONSIDER, but there are circumstances where it could be a PASS. Maybe there's a circumstance where 5 Fairs could squeak by as Consider, where 1 Good and 4 Fairs could be a PASS. So if you happen to get a copy of your coverage and the grid scores for yours are lower than some other coverage you saw that got a Consider, don't try to argue you deserve a consider on those merits. Despite all the formulas aspiring writers are fed for writing their script, this isn't how coverage works.

So that's the long way around saying I don't have a "checklist." Obviously there are things I will look for - such as engaging characters, strong voice, interesting premise, good pacing - but I don't sit there and go "Character's flaw established by p. 7: that's 3 points."

In a case where there's a lot on my plate and I know I might have to give the weaker ones the skim treatment in order to spend time with the ones more worthy of my attention, here's what usually comes into play:

Is the protagonist clear? I've read scripts where 15 pages in I'm still not sure who the main character is. Can you watch any movie where you don't know within ten minutes who the lead character is? There are some writers who you could give the plot for Back to the Future, and you'd get to p. 20 not knowing if the star is Marty, old George McFly, Doc, Jennifer or Biff because they have no idea how to focus their story. That's a big problem.

Are the genre and tone clear? The first 10-15 pages are crucial for establishing the kind of world your character lives in. Is it slapstick or serious? In a comedy, a character might be able to take the sort of physical abuse that would leave them maimed or in a body cast in a drama. Dumb & Dumber doesn't read like Sense & Sensibility. Even before the story really gets going, I should be able to sense the tone.

Is there a clear hook or jumping off point for the story? One that establishes a firm direction? Marty McFly ends up back in time and averts his parents first meeting. Ferris Bueller plays hookey. Jerry Maguire gets fired from his high-paying job and has to start all over again. The arrogant warrior Thor is exiled to Earth. Usually by p. 15 your reader should have a pretty good idea what your script is about and by p. 30 the main plot should be very apparent. New writers often make the mistake of writing scene after scene that doesn't clearly go anywhere. Story momentum lags, making a less engaging read.

Is the dialogue natural or does it feel stiff and expository? I think this one's pretty self-explanatory.

Those are probably the biggies. And if you manage to screw up formatting and the proper way to write action paragraph (hint: don't tell me what your character "thinks."), that'll also probably also hurt you.

But to give a short answer, it's probably more of a gut thing. After all, I have to like it if I'm going to tell someone to "Consider" it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tuesday Talkback - Do you seek out spoilers?

We live in a world where the internet has made it harder and harder for film and TV spoilers to be preserved. News travels at the speed of a tweet. Two decades ago, if a Batman movie was shooting out in the open in a metropolitan area, there might have been some local news coverage and a few lookey-loo passerbys, but the public at large wouldn't have a front row seat to the proceedings. Now with YouTube, Twitter and dedicated spoiler sites, all it takes is one guy with a camera phone and suddenly footage of Batman and Bane fighting before the cameras is there for all the world to see. Studio lots aren't safe either. All it takes is one visitor to snap a picture of an actor wandering about in costume and suddenly the world gets a sneak peak at the latest villain in a franchise.

And that's not even getting into the whole issue of people posting scripts or script reviews of films still in production.

But at a certain point, doesn't this rob the movies of their fun? I admit I took a look at a few of the Bane pictures from The Dark Knight Rises shoot, but I've made it a point to avoid all of the video and most of the other paparazzi shots. If someone sent me the script today, I probably wouldn't read it until after I saw the film. I don't need to unwrap my Christmas presents early. I'd rather be surprised.

So who's like me and who's the opposite of me? And to those people who do make it a point to hunt down every illicit spoiler and try to snag a copy of the script a year before it comes out, why do you do that? Curiosity? Bragging rights to saying you saw it first?

If you've sought out spoilers before, have you ever felt they hurt your enjoyment of the film (or TV show)? Have they ever enhanced your opinion of the final product?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Reader question - Writing group etiquette

Script Tease asks:

I think it would be great if you would or could address Writing Group etiquette. There's no rules on paper but most writers are in a group and the rules vary. However, I seem to run into problems and have witnessed many "verbal" death matches over notes. So if you can give your opinion on 1) how to politely handle a script full of toilet humor 2) How to tell a writer they've written a novel - not a script 3) How to handle getting booted out of a group (yes, it happened to me..but like my mother says..."They were just jealous! lol)

First, go read these posts from way back:

Writing groups: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

As for your questions:

1) Some writers are sensitive, others you could say, "This is shit" too and they'll want the detailed autopsy notes. Definitely know which breed you're working with.

With regard to a script full of toilet humor, the first question I have is, "Is it funny toilet humor?" You could try to diffuse the harshness of your critque by saying that maybe toilet humor isn't your thing, but does the problem go deeper than that? Is the toilet humor organic to the story? Is the gag plausibly staged, or is it just put in there for shock value?

For instance, I feel like a lot of the toilet humor in American Pie is horribly strained. The titular joke alone with the pie feels very forced, even with the conversation that's supposed to set it up. I don't believe a guy would do that. The earlier gag with the substance in the beer cup is set up a little more organically, but it's still paid off with a lot of sitcom hackery. The "coffee gag" in the second Austin Powers film

Over the years I've seen a lot of poorly motivated toilet humor. Too often, it's clear that the writer came up with the punchline ("Hey, let's have the prom queen get splattered with semen shot out of a reversed vacuum cleaner!") and then worked backwards from there. Unfortunately, the puppet strings are often very much in evidence.

But I'm drifting... my point is that perhaps you should explain why that concept isn't working for you rather than just make a blanket "anti-toilet humor" statement. If you go in with some form of "This sucks because it's toilet humor," then anything you say will probably be ignored. I don't like toilet humor much either, by the way, so I'm not criticizing you for taking exception to it.

2) This is a delicate thing too. I think a good way to start is by pointing out any unfilmables with in the script (descriptions of inner thoughts, backstory details in the action paragraphs.) Writers who write novelistically tend to make these mistakes, and so if you express that none of this comes across visually, they might understand your point. One technique might be to ask them to do a reading or a performance of the scene for the group. Then, compare what someone reading the script would understand versus what someone watching the movie would be able to intuit.

3) As for getting booted from a group - the best thing is to not take it personally. Sometimes people don't mesh, and if the group booted you, I'd bet that there were chemistry issues on both sides. Maybe they were frustrated with your notes, but I'd bet you were probably equally frustrated with them ignoring your notes.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Reader question - doing coverage for an internship

I got an interesting question via Twitter from @codyisdead. He says:

applied for intrnshps in LA. Most req coverage of scripts. Do you have a sample cov. On ur site? And, can I intern for you?

140 characters is often quite limiting so I might need clarification on one point. Are you saying that you're being asked to do sample coverage as a prerequisite for getting an internship? That seems... odd. I never heard of anything like that back when I was an intern.

Granted, when I was an intern, the hottest song on the radio was Evanesence, Katie Holmes was at the top of my celebrity list, and everyone anticipating that the second Matrix movie was going to be awesome. In other words, things change.

To just get off on a tangent, I hate "audition coverage." There are times I've seriously wondered if a company pulls this just to get free coverage of their script backlog by calling in people for a job that doesn't really exist. It's ridiculous that an applicant has to do for FREE what they are paid to do as their vocation. If it's so important to get someone with experience and they want to see how the person writes coverage, prior samples from other jobs should be sufficient. You don't ask an applicant for a Development job to bring in a script and package it for free, do you?

No one should expect an intern to be brilliant with coverage, so perhaps you mean that coverage is required if you get hired. If that's the case, don't sweat it. These people will teach you how to do coverage and you'll get to see plenty of samples of what's acceptable to them. You're there to learn and they'll help you do that.

The basics of coverage are usually 1-2 pages of synopsis and one page of comments. The format for comments is most commonly: Introduction paragraph, character notes paragraph, plot/structure/concept notes paragraph, conclusion. (The middle two paragraphs may be transposed.

I'm sure if you poke around the internet you can find some professional examples. I don't have any on my site because legally, I don't own my coverage. It's all the property of the companies I've generated it for. I would just advise you to be aware of the difference between a review and coverage. The stuff you find on Scriptshadow isn't coverage, and I single him out only because he's probably the best-known script review site. I've also seen some confusion about this fact in a few private emails to me and elsewhere on the internet.

Oh and I wish I had need of an intern - or that I had enough pull in this business that it would mean something for someone to have interned for me.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Is the Warner Bros plan to make all comic book movies "dark and edgy" a smart move?

The L.A. Times had an article yesterday about how Warner Bros. is still planning Green Lantern 2, but that they intend to make it "edgier and darker" than the original.


This, of course, is the big lesson WB took from the billion dollar worldwide take of The Dark Knight: dark and edgy = better. If that song sounds familiar, it's because that's what they said a couple years ago when announcing their intentions for the next Superman movie. I'm also pretty sure this isn't the first time, they've said all their superhero films will be "dark and edgy."

It's ridiculous that is their only judgement on why Green Lantern underperformed. I don't think the problem was that it wasn't dark enough, it's that there wasn't enough sense of fun and adventure. Oh, and the second act had problems.

Why did people like Iron Man? Because it was fun and because Robert Downey Jr. was charming and charismatic. The Spider-Man movies are among the top grossing films of all time and they were plenty of fun too. "Dark" works for Batman because that's the world he inhabits. But it's not Superman's world, it's not Spider-Man's world, and it's not Green Lantern's world. At least not in the degrees that Batman's is.

If you apply this sort of "one size fits all" assessment to every underperforming comic book film then you fail to examine each one as a unique property and a unique story. "Comic Book Movie" isn't a genre in the sense that "Horror" and "Comedy" are genres. If you equate Green Lantern to The Dark Knight, you might as well try to find a common element in the failures of The Godfather part III and the Star Wars prequels.

As I joked on Twitter, WB could make a Holocaust film about Hitler raping dead gerbils and when it failed at the box office, they'd think the problem was it wasn't edgy enough.

The comics have gone dark - sometimes successfully, sometimes not. The DC miniseries Identity Crisis was effectively dark and edgy when dealing in the moral greys that the Justice League was revealed to trade in, to say nothing of the shockingly brutal murder of Robin's father. It was less successful when the story's twists included a completely unnecessary violation of a beloved female character.

The Star Trek franchise succeeded when went darker with Deep Space Nine and used that to explore greater moral complexity during wartime. It was less effective in the final Next Generation film Nemesis, which featured the completely unaffecting death of one character and the mental rape of another. (Hmmm... I see a disturbing pattern developing.)

Dark is overrated. Sure, everyone remembers The Empire Strikes Back as their favorite Star Wars film, but they conveniently forget that when they were seven years old, that shit on Dagobah was boring as hell. It might be fun to rip on Return of the Jedi and the annoyingly cute Ewoks, but to the average 10 year-old who saw those movies as they came out, Jedi was probably the more exciting and "better" of the two.

Imagine if the same studio execs working on Green Lantern today had been put in charge of Return of the Jedi, and that Empire Strikes Back had been hailed as the superior Star Wars film as much as it is today. The Ewoks would either have been replaced with more ferocious, brutally violent beings, or we'd have seen the Empire's troops plow through the Ewok forces with all the intensity of the D-Day sequence in Saving Private Ryan. Jabba the Hutt would have raped Princess Leia, Han never would have survived the unfreezing, or would have done so with a horrible disfigurement, and Luke probably would have killed his father, only to end up in the Vader suit himself by the end of it.

Okay, maybe that wouldn't have happened. But must we always go "dark?" Don't we need some tonal balance in our superhero films?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tuesday Talkback - Mr. Rogers Neighborhood

You're summoned to the office of a studio exec with an idea that he calls brilliant. When you show up, he says he's excited about bringing a well-known children's franchise back to theaters via a reboot movie.

Intrigued, you lean forward. Artistic integrity be damned. You've seen the Smurfs and Alvin and the Chipmunks movies bring in a lot of bank. Whatever this guy wants, you're going to pitch him. You'll collect a nice payday and get some breathing room for a premise you really want to develop.

"Hit me," you say.

"Three words," he responds. "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood."

Have at it, folks. What's your pitch?

(I deliberately picked this because there's probably ZERO chance of it ever happening, thus, no one should have to worry about getting their ideas stolen.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Reader question - mentality of a reader

Pliny The Elder asks:

What insight can you give into the decision making process behind the reader's job?

What kind of scripts make it past the reader, and which ones fail?

Do you err on the side of passing a script upwards, if it has a glimmer of potential? Are you told to favor various genres?

All good questions, some with more complicated answers than you might expect.

The number one credo every reader has to live by is to serve the client. Sure, we're there because we've proven our worth and our input is valued... but we're also there because the really important people simply don't have time to go through every submission. We're there to take the bullets on the bad scripts so they don't have to.

You know how on the old Star Treks there'd be a landing party that consisted of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy... and some guy in a red shirt you never saw before? Remember why that "red shirt" was there? So that when trouble came along, the red shirt was the one who got killed and the Captain could go about his business. In many ways, the reader is the red shirt. If something gets past us and threatens the Captain, it had better be something he wants to deal with.

This is why readers are so hard on the scripts they see. If we're saying something is worth the boss's attention, then it had better be damn good. You know what? I'll amend that slightly. It doesn't need to be across-the-board impressive, but it had better have something in there that makes it worthy of the boss's attention.

This is the second aspect of serving the client - know what your boss is looking for. Most production companies have fairly defined identities. That's easy enough to suss out just by looking at the sorts of films the company has made in the past. Granted, some are more defined than others. If you're reading for Platinum Dunes (Michael Bay's production company), you'll probably be getting a lot of action submissions and a lot of horror submissions. Here's PD's resume of released films:

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The Amityville Horror
The Hitcher
The Unborn
Friday the 13th
A Nightmare on Elm Street

Only two of those are not remakes and pretty much all of them are horror/thrillers. The IMDB Pro page also lists several scripts and pitches which they've purchased, most along the same lines as the examples above. Bottom line: if you're a reader at PD, you're probably going to be less inclined to pass a romantic comedy or a character drama up the ladder unless it's extremely well-written. (And yes, for unfathomable reasons there are plenty of production companies that get submissions that are "off-model" for them.)

Also, there's probably a chance that you'll go a little easier on some horror films or thrillers. The writing might not be perfect, but maybe there's a premise you see worth developing. Perhaps it simply looks like it could be done on a low budget and is essentially actor-proof. Maybe you read a script and think, "Not my cup of tea, but the company knows how to sell this kind of thing and there's a market for it." Cases like that are what "Consider with Reservations" was made for. Then you can hammer the weak spots in your coverage but still point out the potential the material has.

A company with a less rigid identity - like Imagine Entertainment - allows for a slightly different approach. There you might be open to a wider variety of genres, but as a consequence, you'll probably be more discriminating about the writing quality. Good writing will rise to the top, and as a reader in a place like that, you're probably going to be holding back the Consider ranking for a script that you'll remember for a long time.

For the writers, this is where most of the lessons I've tried to impart in this blog come in. Do you have a solid hook? Do you have vivid characters? Is your pacing effective? Does your story have strong structure? Is it visual? Is it memorable? Is there a market for it?

If I'm reading for Platinum Dunes and I get the script for Friends With Benefits, it probably doesn't stand much chance of doing better than "Consider with Reservations" since it's so off-brand for the company. On the other hand, at Imagine the brand is so diverse that Friends With Benefits just has to be a good script for me to run it up the flagpole.

That's on the production company side. The agency side is somewhat different because when you're dealing with established, repped writers, then all kinds of politics get involved. For the unrepped writers submitting, the focus is less on specific genres (unless you're writing unmarketable swill like 150-page period costume dramas) and more about proving you can write excellent. And if you can't write excellent, you'd better be able to write commercial.

As for if I error on the side of passing a script upwards, if it has a glimmer of potential, that's something that's judged more on a case-by-case basis. I always look at it from the point of view of, if my boss calls me into his office and says, "You like this? Why?" I should be able to defend it. If I'm half-hearted about it, I'll give it the "Consider with Reservations" treatment and be very specific in my coverage about what I think has merit while pointing everything wrong with the script.

I think the times when I'd err on passing the script upwards would be if it was a really original, clever screenplay. If you could feel the talent coming off of the page, even if the pace was a little slow, or the idea just a little bit odd. But honestly, if you've been reading for the same people for a while, you'll start to pick up the kinds of things they respond to and the sorts of things they don't care about at all. Some execs might be drawn to the quirkier material from raw writers, while others simply aren't inclined to take a chance and nurture something like that.

I hope that gives some insight into the process. There are so many variables in the reading/coverage process that it's sometimes hard to give a general one-size-fits-all-answer.