Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 in review and the power of Twitter

Well, it's the end of another year. I imagine this is one of those posts that'll get missed in all the holiday hoopla, so I won't waste everyone's time with a long year-end retrospective.

As I look back on the year, the posts I'm probably most proud of are the interviews. I did an in-depth interview with TV writer Robert Levine about his time on Jericho and Human Target. Later I interviewed fellow blogger and TV writer Margaux Froley about how the Warner Brothers Television Fellowship won her a staff position on Privileged. Both of these came about through fairly normal channels. Rob Levine is something of a casual acquaintance, and I had corresponded with Margaux through comments on her blog and a few emails here and there before arranging the interview.

Two other interviews I conducted came about through a more unexpected means: Twitter. I was somewhat late to embracing Twitter and finally joined a little over a year ago. I quickly graduated from tweeting mere updates to the blog and soon made it my mission to get responses from celebrities such as Wil Wheaton and Pat Sajak. (Mission accomplished in both respects, by the way.) As I write this, I have 1156 followers, which seems like it can't possibly be right... especially when I note a few verified celebrities are among my followers.

I can't swear to it, but I think I followed A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET's writer Eric Heisserer on Twitter first, and that likely led to my blog ending up on his radar. When Tripp Stryker filled in and gave an impassioned defense of reboots and remakes, Eric tweeted me, saying "Tell Tripp there's a signed poster in it for him if he likes the movie."

(I'm not sure if Tripp ever got the signed poster - but to be fair, Eric never promised it would be signed by anyone actually connected to the film.)

That was enough to open a dialogue, and I soon asked Eric if he'd be open to an email interview. He was quite generous, and in fact had the answers back to me less than 24 hours after I emailed the questions. As I had seen many reviews of the film - both positive and negative - I had the opportunity to ask him about some of the more controversial turns in the script. The result was a candid interview, and I'm left with the sense that Eric enjoyed being able to take us through his experience and show how the filmmakers arrived at the end result.

I didn't meet Eric in person until several months later at a panel of horror writers, and I found him to be an exceptionally friendly individual. We had traded a few emails before then, and he even took some time to offer some personal advice regarding some writing and career issues I was sorting out. Eric's one of of the good one's in my book, so if you ever have a chance to read an interview with him, or see a panel he's on - take it! You can find him on Twitter as @writerspry.

Twitter also put me in contact with Josh Klausner, the writer of Shrek Forever After and Date Night. If memory serves, he actually followed me first and I was ignorant of that fact until he tweeted a reply to some snarky aside I made. With the ice broken, I arranged another email interview, and Josh couldn't have been more generous with his answers. You can find Josh at @JcKlaus.

So that's a good use of Twitter - who knew? For an inappropriate use of Twitter, I could follow in the footsteps of a person a friend of mine was telling me about. This individual had over a 1000 friends on Facebook and decided to tell them all that if each of them gave him a dollar, he'd have enough for a new laptop. Classy, no? (On the other hand, I've got almost 1200 friends, so it strikes me if each person gave $.50, I could afford a new iPad... maybe class is over-rated.)

Anyway, I'm always humbled and flattered that people enjoy my writing enough to read my blog regularly and follow me on Twitter. If you haven't yet followed me, I'm @BittrScrptReadr on Twitter, and you can "like" me on Facebook by going here.

Let's hope 2011 is a great one for everyone!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Screenwriting Master Class with Scott Myers and Tom Benedek

I don't often endorse screenwriting products, programs or services on this site, and I usually try to have direct experience with a particular service before I offer any sort of endorsement. In the instances when I don't have that direct service, I make certain to admit that fact plainly and point out that my referral is based on the experience of others and not my own.

But there's one guy in the screenwriting blogsphere whose name is pretty much synonymous with "credibility" in my book - Scott Myers of Go Into The Story. Scott has been a long-time friend of the blog and his endorsement was key to putting this site on the map back in July 2009. Anyone who's read Scott's blog knows that he not only has a lot of screenwriting insight and advice to offer, he's also a damn good guy.

So that's why I have zero hesitation about endorsing his new Screenwriting Master Class before it even officially launches. I even wish I had the disposable cash to take it myself, but that'll have to wait for some future date.

So rather than offering my semi-uninformed take on what Scott and his partner screenwriter Tom Benedek have cooked up, I'll let their promotional email speak for itself.

January 3, 2011 is the official launch date of Screenwriting Master Class and all but two of the inaugural course offerings are sold out. Thanks for your interest and support!

A few questions for you:

Have you ever started a script and not finished it?

Has it ever taken you 4, 5, 6 months or more to finish a script?

Have you ever gotten so lost when writing a story, you became incredibly frustrated?

Chances are you did not do enough story preparation. Don’t you think it’s time to approach writing like professionals do and break your story in prep?

We offer a 6-week online Prep: From Concept to Outline writing workshop, a step-by-step way to develop your story, enabling you to crack it before you type FADE IN. The beauty of this approach is three-fold:

* You can go into the page-writing part of the process with confidence because you’ve already broken the story.

* Since you won’t be overwhelmed with finding the story when writing pages, you can focus your creativity on characters, dialogue, mood, pace, etc.

* By devoting six weeks to prep, you will almost assuredly cut the amount of time you spend writing your script and increase the odds you will finish your draft.

At Screenwriting Master Class, we offer two concurrent sections of the Prep: From Concept to Outline class:

* Prep [Beginning to Intermediate writers]: Scott Myers is teaching this course from January 3-February 13.

* Prep [Intermediate to Advanced writers]: Tom Benedek is teaching this course from January 3-February 13.

There are a few spots available for both courses. We are also signing up writers for the next round of Prep courses beginning February 14. To enroll, go here.

Here are a few testimonials from writers who took the Beta version of the Prep: From Concept to Outline course:

“You gave us all just the right amount of ideas, encouragement, and support to discover, develop, and design a real workable blueprint to take into the page writing.”

-- David Broyles

“The Prep class has given me a set of practical tools to use to take the bare glimmer of a concept to outline in six weeks.”

-- James Tichenor

"I honestly can't wait to get started on this script now, and to use what I've learned in Prep to go back and rewrite other scripts."

-- Paul Labich

Approach your writing like the pros do: Break your story in prep!

Don’t forget, if you go to the Screenwriting Master Class website, you can sign up for our monthly newsletter and the free 28-page Spec Script Market Analysis.

Also follow @ScreenwritingMC on Twitter for all Hollywood lit sales – from spec scripts to pitches, novels to comic books – plus screenwriting business news.

If you have any questions, you may contact Scott and Tom here:

Best of luck with the new program, gentlemen!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tuesday Talkback - The worst of the year

I'm tired of debating the best movies of the year. Tell me, what films do you consider contenders for the Worst of the Year?

I think I actually did a pretty good job of avoiding the most universally derided movies of this year. Valentine's Day and MacGruber were probably the worst of what I saw, but there was a LOT I strictly avoided. If I saw everything that came out, those two probably wouldn't have even been in the bottom ten percent.

Bonus category - best bad films to Netflix and watch while drinking. Annnnnnd go! I need to fill up my queue.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Budgeting your time - try to write regularly

So I had a grand plan to finish writing a pilot before the end of this year. Not sure if that's going to happen. In theory I had plenty of time - two months. I'd even set a theoretical schedule, but that proved to be my undoing. I know that I like to write in long bursts - sometimes as many as 10-15 pages in a shot, so I convinced myself that any day I wasn't actually writing, I was still "working" as I was thinking about those pages. Thus, I was making it easier on myself because I'd only need three days or so to write the first draft.

Yeah, that was bullshit.

My problem was that I didn't set deadlines and stick to them. When I write for my writing group, I have a deadlines that six other people hold me to. With this, I was mostly on my own. Had I written only three pages a day, I would have written the theoretical 30 pages in the pilot within ten days.

Writing is like losing weight. You have to work at it every day. Working out ten minutes a day every day is far better for a weight loss plan, than cramming in one day a week of a 70 minute workout. Indeed, this blog is proof that I can stick to a deadline. I always try to make sure there's something new up here every weekday.

So my resolution for the new year is to be more disciplined about my screenwriting and TV writing. The binge and purge method I've used before has gotten results, but I feel I can be more productive still.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thursday Throwback - "Misogynistic violence against women"

This post first appeared on March 18, 2009.

This is one of those things that is hard to describe, but you definitely know it when you see it. My “best” example of such a scene was one scene where a woman met her end by being sliced in half lengthwise, starting at her genitals. If it wouldn’t get me sued, I’d describe that whole sequence in detail just to put in context how truly nasty some scenes can be. Rape scenes are also walking a fine line. It’s possible to handle them tastefully, but I’ve read a few where it’s felt like the rapist is standing in for the writer’s own fantasies – the kind of scene that after you read, you need to take a shower to wash the dirt away.

After more than five years as a reader, I now know far too many ways to mutilate, subjugate and sexually degrade a woman. I’m by no means a feminist, and there are plenty of instances where I’ve read an act of violence committed upon a female character and haven’t raised an eyebrow at it. Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not saying you should never hurt, injure or kill your female characters. That would be equally sexist. The problem sets in when it feels like the victimizer in the scene is a stand-in for the writer’s own sick desires.

This is one of those subliminal things that’s hard to point out without using specific examples, and unfortunately, to show the worst/best examples of such writing would likely get me sued. As blurry as the line gets, it most frequently gets crossed when some sort of sexual element is added to it. A scene where a woman is stabbed and her throat is slashed probably wouldn’t set off any alarms – but a scene where a woman is stabbed, then raped as the attacker takes obvious glee in her pain is going to be more repulsive.

Any creative attacks upon the vagina are also likely to trigger this response. Rape is a hot button for a lot of people, and doubtlessly there will be stories where such an act will serve the plot. (The Accused and A Time To Kill immediately spring to mind.) If you’re just trying to write a “fun” slasher film, I’d be careful about adding rape in there. If you’re writing torture porn, then you’re just a sick son of a bitch and there’s probably no saving you.

Yeah, I said it. I get the impression that torture porn gets bought less on the strength of its script and more on the cynical view of, “Well, this can probably make money in this market.” It seems like that genre is on its way out, and I for one couldn’t be happier. I don’t recommend writing it, but I don’t think too many readers like those scripts either, so you really don’t have anything to lose.

And don’t take it personally if agents, producers and managers who read the script think that there’s something strange about it. Readers often fancy themselves dimestore analysts, and we tend to think that a sick script is the product of a sick mind.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Overlooked Black List scripts

It's a holiday week and I don't have much enthusiasm for coming up with new posts. However, I have a number of blogs I read daily and it always frustrates me when they don't have new stuff, so how about some audience participation today?

I've seen a couple of Black List spoofs lately. You all seem like a very creative bunch - why don't you write in with fake loglines and titles for next year's Black List. Bonus points for coming up with a clever screenwriter to be the fake author of your premise.

I'll get us started:

"The British band "The Zombies" might be humanity's last hope when their reunion concert becomes Ground Zero for a zombie apocalypse."
AGENT - Endeavor
Manager - Circle of Confusion

DUDE, YOUR MOM'S HOT! by Jon Schlossberg
(Original title: "I'D TOTALLY F*** YOUR MOM IN THE A**")
"A high school freshman finds his popularity fluctuating when his classmates discover his mom's a MILF."
AGENT - Creative Artists Agency
MANAGER - Circle of Confusion

FRIDAY THE 13th by Oren Farmer
"A reboot of the classic 2009 reboot"
MANAGER - Circle of Confusion

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday Talkback - What holiday movie best describes your family?

One of the best things about the holiday season is watching the classics like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Home Alone, and Die Hard and arguing over which film seems to best capture the essence of your family.

For me, at times it seems like Christmas Vacation was written by people who'd taken to living in our crawl spaces and it's probably the most quoted Christmas movie among my family and friends.

So which classic best suits your family, and why?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Does the world need another _____ movie?

I have to admit, one of my biggest frustrations as a reader is that so much of what I read lacks any sort of originality. True, Hollywood tends to look for the same types of movies, and if one serial killer movie happens to hit it big, you can bet that similar films will be a hot ticket.

But my frustration comes in when dealing with a mundane genre and a lukewarm premise. For instance, I read TWO scripts last week about disgraced cops who have to put aside their differences to crack rampant corruption in the police department before they become the patsies for the impending internal affairs investigation that's close to catching the real cops who are on the take.

There was nothing original about this - the characters were bland, the plot was slow-moving and derivative, the action scenes too few and far between. Honestly, if I waited another week to write up this post, I probably would have forgotten both of these scripts! (Or I'd have confused them with the two dozen similar scripts I read earlier this year.)

I get that the writers worked hard on their scripts, but I doubt there are few readers who wouldn't conclude that effort was wasted. So when you're working on your new spec, please ask yourself one simple question:

"Does the world really need another one of these scripts?"

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bravo, Jon Stewart

You did a good thing this week, Jon.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Worst Responders
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
9/11 First Responders React to the Senate Filibuster
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

Jon brought up a point that shocked and angered me - that NONE of the major news networks have given this a second of coverage in two and a half months. I'm disgusted by the way the Republicans have comported themselves in general lately, but frankly I don't expect them to act like human beings, or with regard to anything beyond scoring political capital. It's sad when a comedian behaves more like a responsible journalist than the three major networks put together.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Free-for-All - The Tommy Westphall Multiverse Theory

Some of you might remember that a while back I noted that actor/comedian Richard Belzer has appeared as Detective John Munch on six different shows: Homicide: Life on the Street, Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, The X-Files, The Beat and The Wire. The obvious implication of this is simple - via the transitive property, Law & Order and The X-Files exist in the same universe.

Better still, since Law & Order has crossed over with several other spin-offs (Criminal Intent, Trial by Jury, Law & Order: Los Angeles and Conviction) and The X-Files crossed over with Millennium and The Lone Gunman, that means that this TV universe contains at least 12 distinct TV shows.

And yet, Homicide has a few other crossovers to add to the mix - notably St. Elsewhere, and here's where things get interesting. See, St. Elsewhere crossed over with Cheers (no, really!). Cheers spun off Frasier and crossed over with Wings, and because of NBC's ubiquitous crossover and cameo stunts in the 90s, Frasier is linked to many other sitcoms.

So in theory, it's possible that Fox Mulder could have stopped into Boston and had a beer with Norm and Cliff, then headed to New York and butted heads with Detective Lennie Briscoe over jurisdiction.

(These are the things I spent my days thinking about when I was in college. All of this is from memory - not from research.)

Ready for me to blow your mind? In the final episode of St. Elsewhere, we were shown that the entire series had actually been a fantasy existing only in the mind of an autistic child named Tommy Westphall.

So in theory, not only do all of these shows exist in the same universe - they ALL exist in the mind of an autistic child!

One night in college I was poking around the internet, and I stumbled onto a site discussing this very phenomenon... but their take on the Tommy Westphall Universe was far more comprehensive than mine. I established connections based only on direct contact between the shows - they tend to be a bit looser, using common references between different series as enough to establish a link. Currently, the site alleges a link between 282 series!

So if you're into TV geekery and want to see just how you can get from All in the Family to CSI: NY, head on over to Tommy Westphall's Mind - A multiverse explored and drink in the TV trivia. They even have a handy chart showing how each show connects to the others.

UPDATE: Thanks to poster Nat G on Ken Levine's site, I've rediscovered another TV crossover site.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More on fan fiction as a way to make a name for yourself

After my recent post debating the merits of writing fan fiction under one's own name, I got an email from Susan Bridges of With her permission, I'm reprinting it below.

I saw your blog post with the question regarding fan fiction. My husband and I are kind of in the same boat in some ways.

See, we have a podcasting company --, which we founded back in 2004. It's not the "here's some guys talking about what they think" type of podcasts -- all the shows are scripted serials released monthly. Pendant started out as all DC fan fiction, but over time we added other original shows (and we still add the occasional fan fiction show as well, both DC related and in other genres). We also maintain a comic-type continuity among our DC shows.

While no one who works on Pendant shows is paid, it's, well... huge. We have writers, editors (including a continuity editor who focuses on all of our DC universe material), actors, directors, producers, and promotions people from all over the world. As far as podcasting companies go, we're very well respected, and nobody else puts out material on deadline so consistently -- we haven't missed a scheduled release date in years. We're also popular -- right now we are slated to have over 3 million MP3 files downloaded this year.

Currently we're leveraging Pendant to get in with comic companies. We've got some comic proposals put together with the help of some of our friends, and I mention to them that Pendant basically produces scripted original serials. By having some business cards and explaining a bit about Pendant, I managed to get our proposals to editors at IDW and Aspen. So I'm using Pendant to gain some leverage and set us apart from other unpublished writers, even though much of Pendant is fan fiction related. Whether or not it'll really work... well, it's too soon to tell, I suppose.

So perhaps I spoke to soon and fan fiction can be a legitimate way into mainstream writing. Time will tell, I suppose.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tuesday Talkback: Reader question - "Do I have to choose?"

For today's Tuesday Talkback, I'm going to do something a little different. I got a reader question that I don't have an especially good answer for, so I'm going to poll you guys and hope you've got some good tips.

Erika writes:

I write prose fiction, have attempted to write novels, and have recently started screenwriting. How do I know which form is right for me? How long do you think I should try to do both?

I'm not sure if someone else will ever be in a position to tell you what's right for you. It's one of those things where you just... know. If you've tried each form, have you found a particular form more conducive to communicating the sorts of stories you're interested in telling? Do you find it difficult to work within the constraints of some of those mediums?

It's also possible you might have an affinity for several. There's no rule that says you have to choose just one. I've got a friend who writes scripts and prose novels and he's pretty adept at both. It just takes practice.

What do you guys think?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Reader question: How to keep a silent scene with long description from being too hard to read?

I've got two questions that pretty much tread the same ground, and what's more, it's ground I've mostly covered before. As such, I'll present both questions today:

Ceinwen asks:

I was wondering about your opinion on action direction/big print. I try to keep mine as minimal as possible while still giving the reader a good idea of what should be happening visually, but I'm currently writing an action/horror which I feel requires me to write more than I usually would. How much is too much, and how much would turn off people of interest?

The only rule is always keep it easy to read. "Too much" is a subjective term. Look at Wall-E. Over half that film is "silent" so one presumes there's a lot of description there. The trick is making sure that your writing flows. Scripts like Wall-E and Alien are know for their tight prose style - a lot of one-paragraph sentences and a lot of short succinct sentence fragments.

Since I'm always looking for an excuse to link to Scott over at Go Into The Story, I'm happy to offer this relatively recent article from him, which discusses the issue in great depth.

Long paragraphs tend to be hard on the eyes since they're single spaced. A good trick is breaking things up... as my next reader's question discusses...

Beaten by Quakers asks:

Screenwriting analysts tend to advise first-timers not to make your screenplay, and especially your first ten pages, not look like a novel structurally i.e. leave a lot of white space. However, my latest script has a dialog-free and relatively lengthy first scene.

What'd be your suggestion in making sure the description and scene action doesn't pile up into novel-like paragraphs?

I've heard everything from simply breaking up descriptive passages to make it appear more spacey to including a note on the query letting the reader know the first scene is silent.

I wouldn't include a note on the query. Let the first scene speak for itself.

As far as your larger question - always break up descriptive passages as much as you can. Use short phrases and be visual. Even if those sentences were grouped together into large paragraphs, they shouldn't "read" like something cribbed from a novel. The grammar of a screenplay and the grammar of a novel are very different, so make sure you're writing in the proper style.

Here's a key trick someone told me a while back: start a new paragraph with each new action. It really works to help pace out the beats of the scene. It's a subliminal little trick and it prevents skimming on the part of the reader. You'll find that most of the time, this will keep your paragraphs to under three lines. If you find you're still writing a lot of long paragraphs, you might want to reassess your writing style and make sure you're writing visual description that conveys what you're trying to do with a minimum of words.

For more on writing action paragraphs, check out these posts:

Choreographing fight scenes
Reader question - vertical writing

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Free-for-All: Workshop: the series

I'd like to make more of an effort to spotlight some webseries that I've come across. I have a lot of friends who work in casting, so it wasn't a surprise that Workshop: The Series landed on our radar. It's built around a group of struggling actors in LA.

I know, I know... there are too many webseries out there that are little more than transparent attempts by struggling actors to promote themselves. I was at a panel on webseries where you could figuratively see one cast deflate as a panel participant noted that even if a webseries concept became attractive to a network, likely the first thing they'd do is recast. So I admit, I went into Workshop expecting to be turned off by all the meta humor that surely would dominate the project.

But when I realized I'd just watched five episodes in a row and was still interested in seeing more, it was clear that this was worth spotlighting on the blog. I admit, some of the humor is going to be more potent if you've either tried to make it as an actor, or worked in casting, but I'm sure it's still accessible to "civilians."

You can find out more about the show at their website. This is the first episode.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Reader question - Better know a bitter script reader

Daniel asks several questions:

Hello Bitter, I'm sure you've covered some of this before on your blog, but please refresh our memories.

On average, how many scripts do you read per week?

It varies with submission volume. There were about two or three years when I was covering at least 12 scripts a week, and often as many as 15 or 16. These days, unfortunately, it's been less. I try to get at least ten a week, but it's not unusual for me to fall a bit short of that.

Do you find time to work on your own scripts in between reading, and is it distracting/frustrating/tiresome reading other people's work all the time?

It is both frustrating and tiresome. I won't lie about that. After a full week of reading scripts, often the last thing I can make myself do is sit down and write my own script. Once I've gotten some momentum going (usually after I've gotten the first act done) it's a bit easier to keep the words coming. It's also less taxing to get motivated to do rewrites than it is to finish that first draft.

I've pretty much found that when I'm ready to move to the script stage with a project, I need to pick 3-4 days where I can just focus on getting started. That means putitng reading on hold and either reading a lot ahead of time and banking money, or putting stuff aside and catching up later.

I've also learned that the creative part of my brain is far more active at night, which is no doubt a learned process from when I'd stay up until 3 or 4am in college. Once I get a project going, I can sometimes work and write in the same day, provided I finish work around seven, take two or three hours to veg, and then dive into the writing for three or four hours.

How many scripts have you written? In what genres?

As far as specs that I'd be willing to show an agent or producer? Let's see... probably four, maybe five feature specs. Those include a comedy, a comedy/thriller, a fantasy/action film, a legal thriller/superhero film and a thriller. Looking at my list of unwritten projects, I see a lot of comedy and thriller ideas, as well as a few genre-mixers so I guess you could call that my wheelhouse.

I also have one thriller TV pilot that I need to rewrite with a writing partner, a half-hour comedy pilot I'm currently writing, and a spec script for Law & Order: SVU that I wouldn't dare show around town.

That's not all I've written though. I've got two completed screenplays that I wrote with different partners. One's a horror, one's a romantic comedy. I'm not especially happy with how either of those turned out, so they'll probably never see the light of day. I've also got a few completed short films and some unproduced scripts for a few webseries.

As I assume the case is with most writers, there's a pretty big chunk of my writing portfolio that isn't strong enough for me to ever consider showing to someone. I learned plenty from the experience of writing those scripts, but they're not worth the effort to go back and revive. I'd rather just move forward.

What made you want to be a writer?

I've always enjoyed reading and telling stories, so I think it was a given that I'd end up as a writer. In school, I always worked on the school paper, often was the editor of the paper, and frequently got praised for my writing.

I even discovered that some of my English teachers were holding onto some of my papers and giving them out to subsequent classes as examples of what their writing should look like. My younger brother was rather dismayed when his 9th grade English teacher gave his whole class a copy of my character study of The Scarlet Letter's Roger Chillingworth, as it meant he would not be able to copy my work without being caught.

But if I had to guess, I'd say that being a winner in a national writing contest when I was in fourth grade was probably the moment that my creative impulses were really stoked. My teacher that year was very big into creative writing. Unfortunately, few of my subsequent teachers were as encouraging of the practice until I got to high school.

With my interest in film, it was only natural that I'd look to screenwriting as a career

What are some of your favorite scripts? Favorite movies?

My mind goes blank when I try to think of favorite scripts. I think it's a defense mechanism because I read so much. Last week, I got an email from a producer responding to coverage I'd sent him less than two days earlier and it took me a full five minutes to recall the particulars of that screenplay. (And that was a Consider!)

As far as favorite films: Superman, Jaws, the Star Wars trilogy, the Indiana Jones trilogy, the Back to the Future trilogy, Scream, Ghostbusters, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Terminator 2, That Thing You Do, Dumb & Dumber, The Silence of the Lambs, Jurassic Park, True Lies. Those all pretty much fit the bill of a film I can turn on at any point and just sit there and watch, no matter how many times I've seen it.

Also, assume that for every film I listed, there were at least two or three that I forgot.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Reader question - Should there be questionnaire for submitting scripts?

Christian H asked:

Why do you think HWood is not demanding a form to fill out before sending a script? It could have questions that would tell you if it's worth it. Kind of like a Coverage sheet but with things like:

Last Theory
Last Book Read
Define a transition, etc.

It would be a lot easier to determine the proficiency of the writer BEFORE AND AFTER reading the script.

A movie is a script written with care and technical proficiency. It should have character contrasts, scene transitions(auditory and visual) and above all should have bad grammar and sentence fragments in the dialog.

Frankly, I don't think the people requesting the scripts would have the patience to vette the submissions so thoroughly. I also don't really know if a questionnaire would be all that useful. At the end of the day, it's going to come down to two factors: (1) how good the writer's ideas are, and (2) how strong the quality of their screenwriting is.

The way I'd screen the submissions is have the writer send me only the first ten pages of their script once I deemed their query letter intriguing enough to follow up on. Ten pages is more than enough to weed a weak writer out from a strong one. Best of all, it only would take ten minutes of my day per script (possibly fewer if the writer was really bad.)

No one in development will care about what film classes you've taken, what books you've read or what film theories you subscribe to. There are probably some very good writers who don't have an exceptionally comprehensive film education and there are definitely some very well-educated people who couldn't write an interesting screenplay if the fate of the free world depended on it.

When I sit down to read, no documentation of the writer's educational credentials will make me think, "Wow, even though I'm yawning and re-reading the same passages multiple times, I'm not really being bored to death by this script because the writer's questionnaire shows he knows what he's talking about."

It's all about the writing.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tuesday Talkback: How do you get published?

Usually I answer your questions about writing, but today, I'm hoping that some of my readers are savvier than I am when it comes to knowing how to get published. I'm pretty well-versed in the screenwriting resources on the internet, but when it comes to book publishing, I know rather little.

So is anyone able to point me in the right direction to find out the best ways to approach non-fiction publishers? This includes what said publishers are looking for - a completed manuscript? A proposal and chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the book? Market research showing there is a market for a book in the proposed field.

And please, don't limit your suggestions to the web. If you know of some good books to pick up, please tell me. Or if some of you happen to work in publishing, feel free to drop me a line directly at

Thanks in advance everyone.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Reader question - Writing a big-budget writing sample

Claire asked:

What are your thoughts on ambitious projects to really show off your voice vs realistically-might-be-bought-from-a-first-time-writer?

If the initial goal is really to be noticed, surely a big budget period epic will serve your writing better if that's what you really want to write, rather than coming up with a low budget containable thriller or something for the sake of it. Or would the big budget period epic risk making the new writer look as though they don't understand budgets/the market and therefore unprofessional?

When I see a big-budget period epic spec from a first-timer, usually only one thought passes into my head: "Ugh. This will be a waste of time that can only result in a PASS." It's pretty much as you describe in your latter sentence.

The market for period pieces? Dead. D-E-A-D. Unless you're hired on assignment I wouldn't write one because it will probably be a waste of your time.

Writers are typecast as much as actors are. If you submit a writing sample that's some 16th Century epic drama, it's probably not going to do much for showing how you might write a thriller, or a romantic comedy, or a horror film. As a writing sample, all it really shows is how well you write that sort of period drama.

On the outside chance that the writing is superb - and I'm talking "can't-put-this-down-I-have-ever-reason-to-PASS-and-move-onto-something-marketable-but-I-can't-stop-reading" superb - yes, you might be invited to submit another spec script

But guess what? All that means is that the other spec you send them is going to have to be more in the vein of what they want. And honestly, if you had something that they were more likely to respond to on its own, why on Earth didn't you submit that first?

Sci-Fi is another genre that's risky to spec, but at least there's more of a market for sci-fi than for period epics. If my two specs were 2012 and Robin Hood, I'd lead with 2012. I know that I personally would probably be more likely to give a recommendation of "Let's see what else they've got" if their submission was a marketable genre (if not for a newbie) than if it wasn't much of a viable project at all.

Ambitious projects are only worth writing if you've really got the goods to pull them off. Most of the time, a writer will need to have been around the block for a while before they've reached that level.

For some other thoughts in this vein, I'll direct you to these two posts:
Everyone starts somewhere, so don't insist on being pretentious right out of the gate.
Everyone starts somewhere - even Undressed has distinguished alumni.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Free-for-All: Hanukkah Carols

We're in the middle of Hanukkah, so what better way to mark the occasion with one of the traditional holiday classics, two great Hanukkah songs from South Park: "Lonely Jew on Christmas" and "The Dreidel Song."

And as a bonus, here's "The Hanukkah Song" by Adam Sandler.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Reader question: mistakes on treatments

Escarondito asked:

What are some common mistakes that people make on treatments? And if you don't know that. What is the one thing that automatically when you see it in the first 10 pages of a script you already know it's over(their chances).

Well, I don't read many treatments, but I think there are two mistakes people are likely to make with treatments.

1) Not making them detailed enough - if they haven't produced a full breakdown of their story with all the plot twists and character arcs, the result might be a thin script with little depth. The idea is to come up with enough details so that your scenes don't come up woefully thin when written in script form. If you can, use the treatment to highlight how every scene provokes a change in the story and relates to the protagonist's arc.

2) Spending too much time on them - writing treatments can quickly become an exercise in killing time. You might convince yourself that doing all of this prewriting is saving you a headache in the long run. You'll spend months on the treatment, all under the claim that it's helping you write a better script, when all you're really doing is procrastinating. Prewriting is important, but there comes a time when you have to stop easing yourself into the cold pool that is the script and just dive in and get used to the water.

As for the second one, what can tell me in ten pages that a script is beyond saving?

- Bad formatting
- Terrible, terrible dialogue - especially bad exposition in dialogue
- An excessively long script. A script over 120 with more than one these problems is on shaky ground. ANY script over 130 will suck, and if your script is over 140 and you STILL submit it, you have a bright future in writing argumentative emails to me telling me I don't know what I'm talking about.
- More than one instance where an action paragraph is more than five lines long.
- Description of a main character's breasts or ass that is longer than the description of any of the other main characters.
- Any sort of extra materials like concept art, a CD to listen to, or a market research pack. ("No, really. I SWEAR there's a market for this!")

Oh, and if they do what this genius did. Just go read that entry. I can't do it justice with a summary.

Great question. Keep 'em coming, folks!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Reader question: using prior experience to get an agent and how to dodge the moving to LA issue

Hoss has a question:

About ten years ago, I wrote a couple of screenplays that were made into B movies, then I got sucked into an 8 yr Deadbooks web project, now I'm free again and am back to screenplays...

And need to get an agent.

If you were querying - which I'll probably have to do -

Would you mention the movies?

The web project?

And since I have no intention of moving back to LA, but love to visit ( I know the obstacles that that will create), when would you mention that?

Thanks for your help

Yes, mention any relevant experience. I've you've written professionally, mention it, scream it from the hills. Anything you can do to show that your hand has been stamped by someone on the inside can help. Having a few B movies produced gives you a serious leg up on a lot of the wannabes who are submitting.

Depending on what the web project is, I might suggest mentioning that too. I'm not very familiar with Deadbooks, but if money exchanged hands for you to produce some sort of creative writing, that speaks in your favor.


Agent seeking is not the time to be modest - you've got an edge, so use it.

As far as not wanting to move back to LA... don't put that in the query. Don't put anything in the query that gives someone a reason to consider not representing you. Don't even bring it up until they ask. If you're lucky, that won't happen until they've read your stuff, decided they love it and might even have a stake in working on it even if you refuse to move to LA.

But if you tell them beforehand, "I'm not moving," what they hear is, "I am making this harder than it needs to be" or worse, "I have a naive view of how this business works." (You note you know this comes with problems, so I'm not calling you naive.) If you can hook the agent before this becomes an issue, then it means your writing is strong and possibly marketable.

90% of the people who tell me, "I want to write but I never want to move to LA. Why can't I just do everything over the internet?" are the sort of pie-in-the-sky dreamers who'd probably never cut it in this business even if they were in L.A. If I was in the business of responding to queries, I'd never request anything from someone who actually put that in their query because the numbers tell me that the writing wouldn't be worth the time it takes to skim.

(Yes, I'm sure that you, sir, the one about to write me an angry comment or email, is a complete exception to the rule and that once you lay out all the particulars of your situation, I'll have no option but to concede you know what you're talking about more than I do, but surely even you can agree that 90% of the people like you aren't that exception.)

I never would have said, "I'd love to play for the Detroit Lions, but I hate Michigan. Can't I just work from Seattle?" or "I one day want to be a Silicon Valley CEO, but can't I just do that from Vermont? It's all computers anyway." And I sure as hell wouldn't bring it up in a job interview.

But let's say you're a tech CEO who's so brilliant that the company is beating down your door. Then you can name your terms. You can say, "If I'm so awesome, I'm going to telecommunte from home and you can all work around me." When you're coming from a position of strength, you can make demands like that and be taken seriously.

In other words, with regard to your residency, if they don't ask, you don't tell.