Thursday, December 27, 2012

Video rewind: The Liz Tigelaar interview

Hollywood has a reputation of being a town full of assholes.  I'm not going to deny that they're aren't some really nasty, unethical people out there, but there are a lot of really decent people out there too.  That's one reason I always get a little irked when I see an aspiring writer act like an jackass, either to other aspirings or even professional writers. There's this sort of "fuck the pros" attitude that crops up on screenwriting discussion boards now and then, with real ugliness directed at the pro writers.  This stands out to me because a great many of the nicest people I've met in the industry are working writers.

That's not to say that there aren't asshole writers out there.  There are always a few guys who delight in being jerks or acting like pretentious big shots.  Most of the time you can count on karma to get those guys.  And as one writer I follow on Twitter said, most writers realize they're incredibly fortunate to be able to do what they do and don't feel the need to be some larger-than-life ass just to draw attention to themselves.

So take a lesson writers - being an egotistical ass is not a prerequisite for getting this job.

Why am I talking about this today? Because TV writer Liz Tigelaar is pretty much the perfect example of a genuinely nice person who has made it far.  Over the past couple of years, I've gotten to know many people who've worked with Liz or interacted with her in the course of doing their jobs.  Pretty much to a man, every one of them has made a point of saying how friendly and personable she is, and how much they enjoyed working with her.

I can attest to this too, and it's one reason why I knew Liz would be a great interview subject.  It probably also didn't hurt that she was too nice to go back on my interview request once I informed her that (a) it was on camera and (b) she was going to be interviewed by a puppet.  (At the time I made the request, only "Shit Script Readers Say" had been posted and there was nothing I could readily point to as an example of how the puppet interview would work.)

I've done several interviews (an archive of which can be found here) and I'm proud of all of them.  However, this one is one of my favorites, both for the depth we were able to go into and also for the personality Liz brought to her answers.  Seeing her spend nearly an hour talking to a puppet with all the repor one would have with a normal interviewer really put my mind at ease that this crazy idea of a puppet interviewer would work.

You can find links to each of the 13 parts of this interview below, but I've embedded a playlist of the full interview here.  If you've got any interest at all in TV writing, you should check this out.  And thanks again to Liz Tigelaar for being so generous with her time.  You can find her on Twitter at @LizTigelaar.

Part 1 - Breaking in as an assistant
Part 2 - First Staff Writer Job on "American Dreams"
Part 3 - How Do I Get an Agent?
Part 4 - Selling a Pilot
Part 5 - Personal Themes in Writing
Part 6 - Genesis of "Life Unexpected"
Part 7 - First-Time Showrunner
Part 8 - Developing the second year of LUX
Part 9 - Dealing with network notes
Part 10 - Controversial LUX storylines
Part 11 - LUX lives on
Part 12 - Network overall deal, working on Once Upon a Time and Revenge
Part 13 - The Bitter Questions

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Video rewind: 12-Step Screenwriting

Continuing our look back this week, we come to my video series 12-Step Screenwriting.  This was designed as an aide for beginning writers who are trying to figure out the basics of storytelling.  Posting weekly, I also hoped to encourage writers to keep up with series and complete a screenplay over three months.  With any luck, it was useful.

In the series, I lay out the basics of three-act structure, using Back to the Future as an example as I discussing turning points, act breaks and raising stakes.  This isn't necessarily the only way to write a script, and I don't want to leave the impression that everyone has to follow this formula.  In fact, I tried to keep my explanations broad specifically so this wouldn't come off as one of those guru books that sells on you the "Magic Beans" of the perfect way to write a screenplay.  I fully concede that this method may not work for everyone, but I hope that it at least gets you thinking about how a script is constructed, and what you might be able to take from that.

Below you will find an embedded playlist of all 12 parts.  I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Video rewind: Shit Script Readers Say

As we approach the end of the year, I can't help but notice that the metrics indicate a wider audience discovered the blog this year, particularly during the last three months or so.  My best guess is to credit all the Black List coverage with reaching new people.

My big project this year was launching the YouTube Channel and I'm pretty happy with a lot of the content up there.  I'm also grateful to everyone who gave the channel a boost by promoting it, especially Scott Myers, ScriptChat, and Franklin Leonard via the Black List Twitter feed.  As most of my new audience seems to have arrived after a number of video segments posted, I want to take this week and give everyone a second chance to sample the channel, starting with my inaugural video, "Shit Script Readers Say."

Friday, December 21, 2012

Future Filmmaker Friday - Fifty Shades of Gandalf the Grey

Some of you might remember the young filmmakers behind Man Crush, a Campus MovieFest Award winner that I profiled earlier this year.  Well, I recently heard from Charlie Myers, who moved out to LA following graduation:

Since we've been out here we've been grabbing more people for our team and renamed ourselves Science & Fiction (for love of science and story). We've made a couple things but this is our first random short. 

It's a rather timely parody coinciding with the release of THE HOBBIT, entitled Fifty Shades of Gandalf the Grey.

Janell Lenfert - Anastasia Steele
Chris Kleckner - Gandalf
Joey Hodo, Charlie Myers, Charlie Mattingly shot and chopped it
Original score by Bo Jacobson

Charlie goes on to say:

If you'd like to see what else we've made it's all listed on our channel. The boys shot a web series called Stuck on Sycamore before I moved out. I cut it together and then we all collaborated on a sequel, which is long in duration but pretty fun. We plan on making a third and final installment in a couple months.  

I wish the best for these guys.  Man Crush was a great short under any circumstances, much less a one-week deadline, but even more importantly, these guys are dedicated to making more output.  They aren't just talking about shooting projects - they ARE making movies.  Keeping at it sometimes is the hardest part, and I really salute these guys not just for the product, but for the work ethic behind it.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Interview with Franklin Leonard of the Black List - Part 3 - The Black List Statistics

Part 1 - The Origin of the Black List
Part 2 - Criticisms of the Black List

In this final segment of my interview with Franklin Leonard, we discuss some of the statistics of the Black List.  Also, I pitch Franklin an idea for notifying the Black List winners that's even more unexpected than the Twitter announcement this year.  His response may surprise you.

Franklin also explains what he looks for as a development executive when he reads a script.

Thanks again to Franklin Leonard for being my first guest to return to the show!  I hope you guys enjoyed the interview.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Interview with Franklin Leonard of the Black List - Part 2 - Criticisms of the Black List

 Part 1 - The Origin of the Black List

So the new Black List is out!  You can find it on their website here or you can just mosey on over to Go into the Story for the details.

Every year, the release of a new Black List is accompanied by some familiar complaints (and if I'm being frank, some misunderstandings) about the selections.  While I had the list's creator, Franklin Leonard, in the hot seat, I couldn't resist asking him about this.  So if you are suspicious that agents and managers try to manipulate the list, or you hate the fact that so many established writers are on it instead of undiscovered ones, you probably should take a look at this.

The final part will come tomorrow!

Interview with Franklin Leonard of the Black List - Part 1 - The Origin of the Black List

Today at 9am PST, The 2012 Black List will be announced via Twitter at their handle @theblcklst.  It's the highly-anticipated list of scripts in Hollywood that have been voted "most-liked" by a survey of Hollywood industry professionals.

But while we wait for that, perhaps you'd be interested in hearing the origins of the Black List, which is explored in the first part of my three-part interview with Black List creator Franklin Leonard.  I've talked with Franklin before about Black List 3.0, but this time we're talking about the colonel's original recipe version of The Black List.

Part 2 - Criticisms of the Black List

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Black List will be announced on Twitter tomorrow at 9am PST

Tomorrow will see the release of the much-anticipated 2012 Black List and Franklin Leonard has come up with an interesting way to make the announcement.  Per their press release:

At 9:00 AM PST on Monday December, 17, the Black List will begin tweeting from its Twitter handle @theblcklst, in random order at a rate of approximately one per minute, the titles and authors of the scripts included on the 2012 Black List. Once every script has been mentioned, the top 10 titles and authors will be tweeted, in reverse order, at which time the complete list, including loglines and additional information, will be made available at the Black List’s website,

Now would be a good time to start following them on Twitter.  Also, I'll have an interview with Franklin that will be rolled out over the first couple of days this week, so keep an eye out for that.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Interview with screenwriter F. Scott Frazier: Part 4 - The Bitter Questions

Part 1 - His stats and process
Part 2 - "How do you get an agent?"
Part 3 - The Working Writer.

And now we come to the conclusion of my interview with F. Scott Frazier.

As I've said before, I'm a big fan of Inside the Actor's Studio.  It's my goal with these interviews to hopefully explore the craft of writing as well as James Lipton probes his subjects on the craft of acting.  To that end, I plan on concluding each interview with "The Bitter Questions," a series of serious and silly questions that will hopefully allow the writers to reveal something unexpected about themselves.

If you're interested in seeing how Liz Tigelaar handled the same questions, you can find that segment here.

And that's a wrap on F. Scott Frazier!  Thanks again to Scott for stopping by to chat.  Keep sending in follow-up questions today and I'll pass them on to Scott.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Interview with screenwriter F. Scott Frazier: Part 3 - "The Working Writer"

Part 1 - His stats and process
Part 2 - "How do you get an agent?"

Our chat with screenwriter F. Scott Frazier continues with a discussion of some of the realities of being a working writer, including going on meetings, dealing with notes, pitching for assignment work and dealing with rewrites.

As I said yesterday, feel free to submit follow up questions and I'll forward them on to Scott.

Part 4 - The Bitter Questions

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Interview with screenwriter F. Scott Frazier: Part 2 - "How do you get an agent?"

Part 1 - His stats and process

In this segment of my interview with screenwriter F. Scott Frazier, I ask him the question every writer gets from aspiring writers: "How did you get your agent?"

I've talked to Scott and he's agreed to answer any follow-up questions you guys have.  Just leave them as comments or email them to me and I'll pass them on for Scott to answer in a post sometime next week.

Part 3 - The Working Writer.
Part 4 - The Bitter Questions

Monday, December 10, 2012

Interview with screenwriter F. Scott Frazier: Part 1 - "His stats and process"

The new Black List is upon us and what better way to celebrate that fact than a chat with one of the honorees on last year's list, F. Scott Frazier.

Scott landed on last year's list with Line of Sight, which is currently in development over at Warner Bros., but Line of Sight was actually his third sale, and he's had three subsequent sales since then.  Yes, that means that Scott has sold six projects in about a two-year period.  A guy that successful might be someone you'd be interested in learning from, no?

In the first part of our chat, Scott and I run down his stats and talk a little bit about his creative process.

Many thanks to Scott for sitting down for our chat!  Come back tomorrow for more with F. Scott Frazier.  And I highly suggest everyone follow him on Twitter at @ScreenWritten.

Part 2 - "How do you get an agent?"
Part 3 - The Working Writer.
Part 4 - The Bitter Questions

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Webshow - "No one sets out to make a bad movie."

Considering the posts I've either linked to or hosted recently where professional writers like Geoff LaTulippe and Eric Heisserer have offered a peak at the development process that can cause good scripts to go bad like curdled milk, today's topic on the webshow seemed like an obvious one.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Screenwriter Eric Heisserer lifts the curtain on the studio film development process from a writer's perspective

Last week I pointed out a post on Geoff LaTulippe's new blog which peeled by the curtain on the studio development process, and it appears that I wasn't the only one impressed with it.  On Twitter, screenwriter Eric Heisserer made a passing comment that suggested he'd be interested in writing a similar piece.  Seeing an opportunity, I reached out to Eric and offered to host his essay here.  He responded with a piece that should be a must-read for anyone eager to understand what it's like to be a working writer on a studio film.

Eric Heisserer is the writer behind the 2010 reboot of A Nightmare on Elm Street, as well as Final Destination 5 and the 2011 prequel The Thing. Next year, he'll make his directorial debut on the Hurricane Katrina drama Hours.  Long-time readers of the blog might remember Eric from one of my earliest interviews, which can be found in two parts here and here.

Massive, massive thanks to Eric for this piece, by the way.

My friend Geoff LaTulippe recently posted on his blog about the process of working on a studio project, in an effort to help people understand how a bad movie doesn’t equate to a bad writer at the heart of it. Geoff illustrated the evolution/devolution of a script as it went through the gauntlet from first draft to production rewrites. (Play Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse” while you read it.) 

I want to chime in and echo some of what Geoff said, and provide a few specific examples of what it means to be a “professional writer” on a studio project and how one deals with elements beyond one’s control, while working to improve the things that are still within one’s influence. As in most parts of life, this is a hard lesson. 

You are brought in to pitch on a big studio project. It is most likely a remake, adaptation, or sequel. The studios have property and rights, and the way for them to hold onto those rights or to do something corporate-like and “leverage intellectual assets” is to dig into their own libraries. These are the jobs. 

Your agent tells you this is a great opportunity to get in good with a major studio. This is where the money is. This is how you will pay rent without taking a day job. In other words, don’t screw this up. 

The good news is: You’ve been brought in because someone already loves your writing. Maybe it’s the production company set to make the movie. Maybe it’s someone among the top brass at the studio. Whatever the case, you feel good—someone’s read and loved your script. Your voice is what they want. 

You pitch your take on their project, and it’s one you really want to write. You’re passionate and invested. Later you’ll realize that passion and excitement will often count more than story logic and in-depth character work. You get hired, and sent off to write your first draft with a few notes from the studio based on your pitch and/or outline. 

The first draft is where you prove yourself. This is one of the two drafts you will come to love most, because right now it has just your voice; your singular intended tone. 

That first notes meeting is illuminating. You learn right away who actually read your previous script and who didn’t. You also discover what the other people involved want the movie to be. NOTE: Rarely will everyone want to make the same movie. You’ll get notes like “Can we make it more like [popular movie]?” Or, “This feels like it should be more in the [obscure art film] neighborhood.” 

You are sent off to rewrite. You struggle keeping the movie together as a single organism versus a mixed-breed that may not work. (The phrase “fish with wings” is slang I learned about this problem; it’s a fish that can’t swim and a bird that can’t fly.) Hopefully you get it to a stage where it’s ready to be turned in again. 

Perhaps finally this is the stage where it goes to the top studio execs. You attend another notes session and are tasked with notes you feel you’ve already addressed. Things like, “I don’t know what the characters are feeling,” or “What is this person’s arc and why is it so hard to figure out?” Or occasionally, “This character isn’t likeable.” The notes can seem harsh if you take them as personal criticism. You must not. You must focus on the work. 

You must also know you’re likely at a crossroads. You can work hard to address these notes for the chance to continue being the writer, or you can push against them and walk away from the project (or be fired). This second full pass is where you’re tested. The biggest problem is realizing that some readers on the studio level don’t understand subtext. Or rather, they get it when they’re seeing a finished film, but with all the scripts they read (or coverage thereof) they have no subtext radar. It all blows by them. (Not every exec is like this, but it’s a common problem, and can sometimes extend to producers and other people in the process.) 

About this time, your agent calls again and says: Don’t screw this up. For both of you. 

Your new job: Spell out all the things you so artfully seeded through innuendo and subtle suggestion. Now you’re writing things in ALL CAPS and talking about how this is THE TURNING POINT FOR YOUR CHARACTER because she realizes SHE MUST BETRAY HER FRIEND to SAVE HER FAMILY. If you learned how to write from a certain LOST writer, you’ll be doing this already, along with statements like HOLY SHIT, this is the MOST HEARTBREAKING MOMENT WE’VE EVER SEEN. 

Reading the draft back to yourself makes your teeth hurt. This isn’t representative of your writing, it’s more like a transcript of some frat boy describing your script to his buddies. And yet this draft goes over like gangbusters at the studio. You are called and thanked by the studio, and then the producer. Once a director/movie star/both get on board, it’s all systems go for this project. 

Maybe that work has already been done, in which case, you’re getting notes from those people as well. If an actor is involved, the draft the studio loves to death will rankle the movie star. Why? Because in this draft you’ve written out all the subtext and given the actor no room for them to do their job. Actors hate drafts like this. It’s like a photograph of a starving child in some third-world country holding up a flag that reads “FEEL SAD.” Actors don’t want to be told how to play the role any more than directors want you to tell them how to direct. Your job is to do so as quietly and subtly as possible. HINT at where the camera will be versus saying “WE DOLLY IN for a tight MCU on our hero…” And so on. 

You luck out and are triggered for an optional rewrite step in your contract, and now have notes from various branches. The director wants the movie to feel more like it was in the first draft. The studio sees potential of this movie being more like some blockbuster and pushes you to make it quite different from that first draft. The actor has all sorts of thoughts, some of which are absolutely crazy, one or two which are brilliant but completely different from what either the studio or director wants. 

Now you’re feeling burnout, you’ve gone through dozens of drafts no one has seen, all in an attempt to keep this movie together. And you can’t crack it. You can’t make everyone happy, it just won’t work out. So you hedge your bets and go with whatever makes the best movie in your mind. If you have a halfway decent relationship with your director, here is where you have a private dinner meeting with them and discuss the elephant in the room and why you made the choices you did. With luck, the director understands and will fight the good fight. 

All the while, you may see several studio execs come and go, and other people involved are likely fighting their own battles. During the life cycle of THE THING (2011), we had five different execs assigned to us, one of whom lasted for only a month. Each of them had a different opinion of what the movie should be. Science fiction. Horror. Creature feature. One of them pushed hard to make the movie 3D. Every part of the movie is at risk of being abandoned or altered; nothing is ever guaranteed. 

The studio may ultimately like your latest draft but you aren’t seen as a “closer” in the business or your name isn’t big enough to be seen as “story insurance,” so they bring in someone else to tackle a few elements in the script. That writer lasts for two weeks and is replaced with another, to appease some new notes from the new studio exec / the big-name supporting actor / the director’s latest idea during prep. 

The last time you see your script, a frightening amount of your dialogue has been rewritten, scene locations have been moved around, there may be one or two new characters or a couple fewer characters, which subtly imbalance something you’d kept in harmony for the last ten months and three studio drafts. Most heartbreaking may be the clever setups/callbacks you’d written in that are now orphaned or widowed. And of course, all over the place you still see the SUBTEXT HAMMER describing action BLUNTLY so the speed-reader will NOT MISS THE IMPORTANCE OF THE SCENE. 

There is some great new stuff in there, too, you have to admit. Another writer had a clever idea with a subplot. Or a better ear for comedic dialogue. But you’ll realize that sometimes changes happen because people are just too used to the story after reading the script over and over. There’s no mystery anymore. Changes don’t always happen to make things better. Sometimes it’s just to make them different; new. 

This is typically your least favorite draft. In your eyes, it’s a wreck. And you fear it will get worse during production or reshoots, trying to find its new form. The movie at this point needs to shed its wings or its fish scales and commit to being one thing. 

Invariably, this is the draft that is leaked to the Internet. With just your name on it. Your writing is excoriated online by fans. They point out everything you already know is problematic with this draft, plus a few other problems. One or two clever commenters will wonder aloud why you didn’t do this or that with the characters… choices you made in your first draft. Still others will discuss why the script isn’t more like the source material, or why it should be very different from it, or why any of a thousand decisions were made. 

You can’t tell them anything. You can’t point to the twelve hundred script pages and notes where you explored all of these ideas and discovered why using them was a Bad Plan. Your significant other tells you you shouldn’t be reading comments online in the first place, what are you, crazy? 

The movie is released. Maybe it gets a good Rotten Tomatoes score but a low audience CinemaScore. Maybe it’s the other way around. Your name is on the poster either way. 

Your agent calls and says, Congratulations. You’re a professional writer. Someone wants to meet with you to talk about your next movie. 

And you go. Because your agent is right.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Read screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe's blog!

Earlier this week, screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe launched his new blog and one of his first entries was a reposting of something he said on the Done Deal Pro discussion boards.  Entitled "Mom, Dad? Where Do Movies Come From?" It attacks a myth I've also derided on this blog - the idea that Hollywood is only interested in buying terrible scripts.

I can’t stress this enough: most of the writers working professionally in Hollywood are on a scale from very solid to fucking amazing. Sure, there are some hacks, and sure, we all wonder how they got there; you’ll have that in any profession, creative or not. Hell, I’m probably one of them.

But for the most part, when you go to see a movie that just absolutely blows, you can bet good money on the fact that it didn’t start out as a piece of shit. Is this always true? Of course not. Generally? I certainly believe so.

[...]Most terrible movies start off as really, really, really good scripts.

For more, check out the rest of the post, where Geoff gives a painstakingly detailed breakdown of the development process that most scripts face on their way to production.  And while you're over there, bookmark Geoff's blog.   It promises to be a repository of straight-shooting advice that Geoff has gained via his time as both a professional screenwriter and a studio reader.  In fact, he's even soliciting questions, so if you've got any burning queries you'd like answered from someone who's sat on both sides of the development desk, now's your chance.

Even better for us, Geoff is incredibly blunt and he's definitely no bullshitter.  I don't expect much sugar-coating in his answers.  If you follow him on Twitter at @DrGMLaTulippe, you probably already know that about him, though.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Trust the audience

The Hollywood Reporter recently posted a fantastic roundtable interview with directors Gus Van Sant, Ben Affleck, Quentin Tarantino, Ang Lee, Tom Hooper and David O. Russell.  In my humble opinion, the whole thing is worth a look, but there's one section in particular I want to highlight.

THR: How do you deal with executive interference? When Django was running three hours and Harvey Weinstein was pressuring you to bring it lower, how did you handle that? 

Tarantino: It's not a big deal. I didn't want a three-hour movie, either. It's a big epic and everything, so I figured it would be around 2:45, and that's what it is. When you're cutting it down, at that moment in time, before you watch it with an audience, you know it's too long, but you can't imagine taking anything out. So then you watch it with an audience, and then all of a sudden -- "Oh, wow, that is kind of boring now!" or "No, this is not as suspenseful by the time we got to it as it needs to be." 

But you can only go so far in the Avid room on your own. At some point, you have to watch it with an audience. And then literally 15 minutes just come flying out, where before you couldn't imagine a minute leaving. (Laughter.) 

Russell: You sit through one of those screenings where all of a sudden everyone's bored, and then you come back and just like … 

 Tarantino: "I mean, guys, the story could never make sense if you take one more minute out of it!" And then you watch the movie and 15 minutes are gone by noon the next day! (Laughter.)

This is why I'm a big believer in doing table reads of your script once you've gotten it to the point where you can't imagine making any further changes.  Some of you might even remember a puppet offering up that advice.

I've done this a few times and it really helped with one script in particular.  I had sort of a tricky tone to balance between comedy and horror, and for the most part the table showed me that I was pretty on target.  Jokes landed as well or better than I imagined, the pace picked up in the right spots and the scenes had momentum all the way up to the shocking death at the end of Act Two.  In fact, going into Act Three you could really feel the low point.

And then came the scene that killed all the momentum dead.  When I wrote it, it made sense.  The protagonist pretty much just had his legs kicked out from under him.  All the easy solutions were denied him and his efforts to fix things not only resulted in at least one death that (hopefully) the audience didn't see coming, but it actually made things worse.  So I wrote a scene where the character goes to a bar and wallows in his situation.  The intent was to set up that he was ready to walk away rather than take one last shot.  And then after wallowing there, something leads him to another encounter which ends up provoking him to action.

Problem - the bar scene brought all the momentum to a screeching halt.  It was probably less than two pages, but it felt like ten.  With every syllable, I was aware of the energy being sucked out of the room and even when things got back on track, I could tell that this scene was a dud.  I never would have realized that without the read-thru because even though I was iffy about a few scenes, nothing made me especially concerned about this story beat.

Always trust your audience.  Be attuned to their energy.  If you can read a room, you can go far.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Webshow - "I hate flash-forward openings!"

The puppet is back again, this time ranting about one of those thing that I almost always hate to see in the early pages of a script.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tuesday Talkback: Getting started and choosing process

So I'm curious about your process.  I'm currently wrestling with an idea for a film that I really like.  I've got a really good set-up and I like how the characters are being fleshed out.

The problem is - as always - Act Two.  I've got a few different directions I can go in to get from Act One to Act Three.  The difference mostly is a matter of the degree of escalation - slow-building tension, versus just going for the big boom earlier and letting people react to it.

Basically, I have two potential movies that seem to share the same set-up, and I'm not totally 100% sure of either one.  Only once have I started a script without knowing the direction it was going to take.  That experience proved to be interesting, but I don't think it's an approach that would be advisable with this story.

So here's today's talkback discussion topic: Have you ever found yourself torn about which direction to take a script? And if so, do you prefer to resolve that at the outline stage, or have you ever tried writing the script up until you reach that point and then seeing which way feels right?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Taking a look at the stats of the Black List 3.0

Last week, some stats were released about the first month of Black List 3.0.  If you want to take a look at the data, you can find it here.

A few things jumped out at me:

-Over 50% of all USA submissions came from California; 45% overall

- the most numerous uploads by genre were Drama, Comedy and Thriller.

- the mean of all ratings of uploaded scripts is 5.26 with a standard deviation of 1.90.  The fact that the mean lands right in the middle of the ten-point scale is a pretty good sign that there likely are as many good scripts on the site as bad ones.  That'll be a figure that will be interesting to observe in the coming months.

- In comedy, the drop in ratings is far more steep than any of the other categories, once outside the range of standard deviation (and it's a pretty steep slope even before getting outside that range.) Contrast that with the less severe slope on Drama.

- Very interesting that plot had the lowest Mean Component. Actually, I find the ranking of the Means on all of those interesting. Premise was the highest, so you could infer that the numbers are telling us that people have a lot of good ideas, but they're really falling down on execution.

 - I'll be curious to see how the figure of 13.9% of uploaded scripts being rated holds over the next few months. I saw some reaction to these figures last week, with people being concerned that such a small number of downloaded scripts were getting rated, but that actually feels right to me.  You have to assume that most of the industry pros are only going to read the script so long as it has their attention.  If they get 60 pages in and it's clear that they're not responding to the writing or the plot takes a turn that it can't recover from, or the tone is all wrong, or whatever, they're probably not going to finish reading the script just so they can rate it.

And that's a good thing for the writer.  It suggests that they'll get fewer bad reviews simply because the people responding most negatively to the script aren't going to be in a position to pass judgement on the writing if they decide to bail out early on.

- Also interesting to see that "Most Downloaded" scripts pretty much cut across all genres.

Overall, I'm pretty pleased with what I see here.  There aren't any immediate red flags in the data that have me concerned.  For me, the most interesting thing will be revisiting some of these figures six months in and see if there are any unusual shifts.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Webshow: Knowing when to give up on a script

It's been a while, but the time has come to launch some new segments of the webshow.  Over the next month we'll be rolling out at least one new video a week.

On top of that, we've got two interviews that will be coming your way next month in honor of the release of this year's Black List.  The exact release date of the List is never announced ahead of time, but to cover my bases, I've got some Black List-related content that'll cover a pretty wide spread around the likely drop date.  Previous Black List honoree F. Scott Frazier will be dropping by to talk about his writing process and his career.  Also, Black List creator Franklin Leonard will be back for another sit-down and this time we're going to talk about the "colonel's original recipe" Black List.

But all of that is still a few weeks away.  Today, I've got a video that talks about something that every writer needs to learn eventually - when to give up on a script.

Monday, November 19, 2012

MCCARTHY's Justin Kremer signs with CAA after being discovered via The Black List 3.0!

Related: Read MCCARTHY on The Black List site!

[UPDATE: 7:40pm PST - see my update below the press release for my reaction to recent developments.]

Well, it happened.  About a month after launch, Black List 3.0 has its first success story!  Congrats to Justin Kremer.  What follows in the Black List's press release.



(November 18, 2012) – Only one month after launching its new online service allowing unrepresented screenwriters to have their work considered by industry professionals, the Black List can announce its first confirmed success story. Last week, screenwriter Justin Kremer signed with Creative Artists Agency. In a twist worthy of a screenplay of its own, Kremer's script chronicles the rise of Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist fervor, the same fervor that wrought the Hollywood blacklist that partially inspired the Black List name.

"I submitted MCCARTHY to the Black List site out of sheer curiosity, and entered the process with absolutely no expectations," said Kremer. "The script had been completed for some time and was collecting dust in a drawer. The response I've received has been truly incredible. None of this would have been possible without the Black List site. The avenue it has provided has been invaluable, and one that I expect to breed many success stories."

The script was uploaded to the site on October 19, four days after its launch. Kremer paid for a single read from a Black List reader, and the high score that resulted merited inclusion in the site's weekly member email highlighting its highest rated scripts. After dozens of downloads from Black List industry members and further high ratings from those who read it, it quickly became the highest rated uploaded script on the site.

"We're incredibly happy for Justin and even moreso for everyone who will get to read MCCARTHY and the screenplays that he will have an opportunity to write now that he is represented by a major agency. He's a hell of a writer whose great work simply hadn't been exposed prior to his uploading it to our site. This is, simply put, why we created it," said Black List founder Franklin Leonard. "Beyond that, the coincidence of its content is just remarkable. My personal interest in this period of Hollywood history is no secret. It's part of why the Black List is called what it is. I'd be lying if I said I didn't read the script as soon as the review was completed to be sure someone wasn't playing an elaborate practical joke."

On October 15, the Black List, Hollywood's annual list of most liked screenplays, launched a paid service that allows any screenwriter to upload their script to The Black List's database, have it evaluated by professional script readers, and depending on its evaluation(s), have it read by as many as 1,250 film industry professionals currently a part of its membership site.

Since launch, over 1100 screenplays have been uploaded to the service, from 21 countries and 41 states.

Justin Kremer attended New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and is a graduate of the Dramatic Writing Conservatory at the State University of New York – Purchase. He formerly worked as an assistant at Teddy Schwarzman's Black Bear Pictures.

Over the last seven years, the Black List has become one of Hollywood's primary arbiters of taste in material. The Black List started as a survey of several dozen executives' favorite unproduced scripts, the 2011 edition surveyed over 300 executives, over 60% of Hollywood's studio system's executive corps.

The Black List, run by founder Franklin Leonard and CTO Dino Sijamic, now includes the annual list of most liked unproduced screenplays, the membership community and "real time Black List," and the Black List blog, home of Scott Myers's "Go Into the Story" and Xander Bennett's "Screenwriting Tips… You Hack," two of the premier and best-trafficked screenwriting blogs online.

Over 200 Black List scripts have been produced as films grossing over $16 billion in worldwide box office. Black List scripts have won 25 Academy Awards – including the last two of the last four Best Pictures (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and THE KING'S SPEECH) and five of the last eight screenwriting awards (JUNO, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, THE KING'S SPEECH, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, and THE DESCENDANTS) – from 148 nominations. It is also solely responsible for tens of thousands of yearly introductions of Hollywood actors, directors, producers, and financiers to new material and writers they were heretofore unaware of.


Update:  As The Site That Shall Not Be Linked has revealed, Justin Kremer had worked for the Black List briefly over the summer as an "intern."  Franklin Leonard has issued a statement that reads in part:

"From time to time, we put out calls for individuals to assist us with various tasks like transcribing interviews and alerting us to information about Black List scripts that comes up via the news. In exchange for such occasional assistance, we allow those individuals to call themselves interns though it is an “internship” in the loosest possible sense of the term."

Some people are alleging that this somehow is evidence of unseemly conspiracy.  I disagree, for the following reasons.

1) Even if Kremer had been a full-fledged intern, I don't think any of the Black List readers would know who he was.  I don't know the names of any of the interns working at the companies I read for.  What's more, I don't know the names of most of the READERS there.  My bosses like it that way, in fact, because it makes it easy for them to send one of us a script written by another reader and get unbiased comments back.

2) As I write this, MCCARTHY has 25 ratings on the site and has maintained a 7.7 average rating.  So even if we discount the Black List reader, that's 24 other ratings that have to be accounted for.  On Twitter, someone alleged that they had a lot of friends with access and if they wanted to, it would be easy for them to all rate the script a ten.  This overlooks the fact that if Kremer had 20-some friends important enough in the industry to have access, he probably could make use of those connections in better ways than manipulating a ranking algortihm.

Also, Franklin has indicated in the past that the algorithm is designed in ways that make this sort of ballot-stuffing ineffective.

3) Even if somehow Kremer pulled off the biggest con possible and managed to get his script to the top of the list undeservedly, CAA still had to make their own decision to sign him.  No agent is going to sign a guy who was a mere INTERN just because of his contacts.  Not possible.  I know guys who were actually employees of CAA who couldn't get signed there!  CAA signed this guy because he wrote a kick-ass script.  Period.

I also want to point out that it's not surprising to me that an aspiring writer would sign up to do free work for The Black List, or that such a person would be among the first people to roll the dice on a new service.

And it ain't like The Black List picked ONE script and only one script to single out.  The weekly emails generally push at least ten scripts, and the site generally lists the top 15 uploaded scripts on one of its main pages.  MCCARTHY was one of fifteen and it kept gaining momentum.  If in the face of all of that, someone STILL wants to allege "bullshit," I sincerely doubt it's possible to make an argument that will satisfy them.

Bait-and-Switch scripts

Reading through the Black List submissions recently reminded me of a subset of scripts that I might have touched on before - the "Bait-and-Switch" screenplays.  These are the scripts that start off seeming to head down one genre, only to reverse that head-fake and pull out a twist that upends everything.

It's probably fair to put The Sixth Sense in this category.  At first glance, it probably appears to be a standard drama about a psychiatrist looking to help a troubled kid.  Though there are hints dropped along the way, it's not until near the film's midpoint that we learn that the kid sees ghosts.  Thus, a supernatural color is added to the palette, paving the way for the film's memorable twist.  Of course, the logline for that film probably blows the first surprise, as it almost certainly would have revealed that the boy sees dead people.

The Truman Show is another good example of something like this.  We're thrown right into Truman's world, experiencing it as he does.  Like Truman, we take the world at face value, though every now and then some... oddities crop up.  Eventually we get an explanation of what's going on - from birth, Truman has basically been the star of the most elaborate reality show ever conceived.

I read at least one script that didn't stick the landing on it's bait-and-switch.  This script masqueraded as a simple character drama for well over half of its run.  Honestly, had I suspected that it was a mere character drama, I'd have stopped reading by page 30 because the characters and their dilemma weren't grabbing me.

So what kept me going?  There was a small mystery running through the script and the logline gave away the big twist that was to be the payoff for that mystery.  When I read the logline, I assumed that plot turn would occur around the end of the first act, so I resolved to see how that card was dealt.

Yet the script kept going with its head-fake.  The deeper I got, the more impatient I grew for the big twist.  Early on, I appreciated the script's efforts at doling out clues slowly to maintain suspense, but as time passed, I began to fear that this card was the only card the script really had to play - and I knew that wouldn't be enough for me.

This is kind of a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't situation.  If the logline didn't reveal the twist, I wouldn't have knocked the script for keeping up their pretense for so long.  But then, as I explained, the character work on its own wasn't enough to keep me engaged - which is another problem.

So giving away a big twist in your logline might get you read, but it really helps if everything setting the stage for that twist is equally inventive.  This is especially important if you're writing a straight-up drama, because that genre is probably likely to get tossed aside if the reader isn't drawn in quickly.

I wish there was a solid lesson I could give here.  It does occur to me that if you feel it utterly necessary to sell your script to someone on the basis of a logline that reveals a twist deep in the second half of the story, you might already know that the early parts of the script need work.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What do you want to know about Black List 3.0?

As we approach the end of the first month of The Black List 3.0, Franklin Leonard has been soliciting questions via Twitter and Done Deal Pro.  The Black List is prepping their first data blast next week and Franklin really wants to know what data and figures would be useful to you.  We've had pretty good participation on some of the other Black List threads, so this seems like a good place to prod for feedback.

I've seen a couple of good suggestions, such as a comparison of how many reads a script that paid for coverage got versus a script that was merely hosted there.  Along those lines, I'd be curious to see more about how big a spike in impressions and downloads follows the script being singled out via the email blasts and placement on the "Top" lists.

You guys are smart and inquisitive - what data would be most useful to you?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Check out DEAD CORPS on the Black List website

I got through another chunk of Black List 3.0 scripts and I'm very pleased to report one script kept me turning pages all the way through.  In fact, it even ended up at Consider-worthy level.  There are a couple things I want to reiterate before I get to discussing the script in brief.

First, I was very, very excited by a lot of the loglines I saw in this batch.  There were some clever ideas and also some new spins on familiar genres.  Of the 17 or so I read this time, probably at least half were scripts I was eager to dive in after seeing the logline.  So good job getting me on your side before I opened the script.

Second, I think the problem with.... you know what?  I'm not comfortable with the term "problem."  Let's try this again.  For me, (ahhh, now I get why Randy Jackson always starts critiques this way) the reason why I didn't get past p. 30 or 45 on some of those often had a lot to do with the script coasting a little too long.  There were some choices made that were perhaps a little too safe.  In other cases, I got a good portion of the way into the script and it didn't feel like a movie to me.  And I know that's a bullshit critique - so again I urge all of you, keep writing.  This is just ONE person's rejection.  And a person who can't even take the time to provide you with detailed notes.

Third... if at all possible, I'd like to keep a tone of positivity in the comments here.  I know that the script I'm about to announce is probably not going to be everyone's cup of tea.  All I ask is for an open mind.

The script in question is called DEAD CORPS, from writer Christopher Hinz.  This is evidently based on a DC Comics series written by Hinz, though I must admit, I'm unfamiliar with the comic.

Logline: A murdered cop, restored to life by technology, is torn between living and reanimated girlfriends while trying to stop his killers from murdering him again.

Yes, we're dealing with a zombie script.  And a zombie script based on a comic book at that.  Those are two of the most overdone genres in development.  Believe me, I know how this looks.  So without giving away too many spoilers, let me explain how this script rose to the top. (And yes, since this script isn't out there to the general public, I'm going to be very vague when discussing the plot.)

1) It created a textured, believable world.  In this society, post-mortum reanimation is commonplace enough that the revived zombies, or "Transmortums" are their own social class, and an oppressed social class at that. It sort of reminds me of how Mutants are regarded in the X-Men movies, and while that's familiar, the script keeps tossing in little touches that show the ripple effect of this change throughout society.  I think a frequent failing of scripts that put supernatural elements in "the real world" is that there isn't enough time spent on creating those ripples.  In fact, I see franchise potential here because the script leaves open a lot of loose threads introduced as part of this world.

2) Lots of motion, lots of visual action. This is where I think the script benefits from being adapted from a comic.  Even with exposition moments, the script rarely falls into a rut where scene after scene mostly deals with characters talking to each other.

3) Strong turning points.  The end of the first act is when our hero - who is a Special Agent who's charged with enforcing the "Transmortum Civil Rights Act" - is killed and then revived as a Transmortum himself.  Yes, it's fairly inevitable, but it's also a great character irony to play with. But the scene that really got my attention is a twist that came around p. 55.  I'd rather not spoil it, but a new element was introduced to the story and it really got my attention.  I'm not sure if the way that detail is handled in the final five pages or so makes for a satisfying resolution, though.  My gut reaction is that could stand to be fixed, but it hits close enough to the mark that I'm not going to doff it too much.

For much of this script's run, it was gunning for an 8 rating, as my giddiness wore off, I started feeling like 7 might be more appropriate and after writing this review, I'm left with the sense that 7.5 is about right.  But we've gotta work with whole numbers and out of fairness to the writer, I'm gonna round up.

A word about the remaining scripts - I haven't put a stop to this in the original thread, but several people have continued to post loglines there.  Per the instructions I posted, I'm only reading what was submitted before the deadline.  Why haven't I told people to stop posting?  Because I've heard firsthand of managers scoping out those loglines and actually reading some of the submitted scripts on their own initiative.  My feeling is that it can't hurt you guys to have your loglines posted in a public place.

That said, I had 74 scripts submitted before the deadline and as of this writing, I'm in the early 50s.  probably going to be a couple more weeks before I'm fully caught up.  I'm already thinking about different ways to approach doing something like this early next year, so if you didn't get read this time, keep your eyes open.

Those of you with Black List access, check it DEAD CORPS here.

For my reaction to the first 25 submissions and an endorsement of MCCARTHY, go here.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Thoughts on Emily Blake's "How I lost my faith in Scriptshadow."

Emily Blake dropped a helluva post on her blog yesterday, entitled "The Scriptshadow: How I lost my faith in Carson Reeves."  It's an incredibly well-written editorial that pretty much hits on a lot of the recent incidents that should give even former supporters of Carson Reeves pause.  Her post is coming from the perspective of someone who used to support and - I believe - even defend Carson Reeves's practices and that makes her revulsion at what the site has become that much more potent.

For her, the sea change came after Carson's efforts to promote The Disciple Program landed its writer representation. 

Suddenly, his cost for notes went up and up until he was charging $1,000 a pop. The ONLY reason you'd pay that much for notes is that you think he will pass your script onto his contacts. (As a contrast, the well-respected Screenplay Mechanic's MAX price is $325.) 

Then it started to feel like Carson was the one who made The Disciple Program happen. He posted entries less about Tyler's success and more about his own genius in finding a great script, as if this was somehow a really amazing skill, more amazing than actually writing the script. I'm pretty sure Marceca would have been found eventually, by someone. 

Carson's tweets became more and more self-serving, until they started to make me uncomfortable.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll know that I've had my issues with how Carson operates. Following John August's posts about Scriptshadow, I realized that there were unintended consequences to what Carson does.  In fact, I wrote not one, but two posts about it.

That's one argument against him - that he harms working writers.  And yes, if you dig through the history, you CAN find working writers attesting to how the site made difficult for them.  Had John August not removed all the comments from his site, you could read an account from one writer of how an SS review torpedoed a pending deal. (Anyone know how to retrieve that somehow?)

[Update: someone did know how.  Check out comment 100 here by Michael Gilvary and comment 44 by "Working Writer" might also be of interest too.]

There's also this testimony from Marianne Wibberly. Screenwriter Gary Whitta talks about feeling violated by an unauthorized review. And someone posting on Done Deal Pro claiming to be an agent talks about a deal directly going south because of Scriptshadow reviews.

Other pros have weighed in on these two threads on Done Deal Pro.  PLENTY of pros have spoken out about how Scriptshadow makes their livelihoods difficult and how the dissemination and review of their intellectual property hurts them.  So know this - I do not recognize the validity of any counterarguement that says "I don't believe these reviews and script leaks hurt anyone."  Multiple people actually working in the industry at various levels have told you it does.  Accept it. 

But you know what? I'm gonna make it easy.  You can completely ignore that arguement.  There are plenty of other completely independent reasons why people in the business are not fans of Scriptshadow.

If you've read my blog for a while, you'll know I'm not a fan of people who charge insanely high fees for "coverage" while using the promise of access as bait.  Well, Carson charges $1000 for a few pages of coverage, promising to push the script out to his contacts if he likes it.  No one's notes are worth that much.  And it may be your money to spend, but this is a clear demonstration of Carson's credibility lapse.  Talk to any produced writer and they'll tell you you're a fool to pay that much for feedback (Justin Marks, Geoff LaTulippe and F. Scott Frazier are among those who have said so on Twitter) and only an unscrupulous opportunist would conduct themselves in such a manner.

But forget that too.  Remember all my posts about slimy "Producers in Name Only" who just want to attach themselves to your work and ride your coattails?  Scriptshadow wrote a post where he proudly declared he wanted to do just that.

Seriously, read that whole post.  I want you to look at that through the eyes of an industry professional.  Not only does Carson imply that being a producer is easy, but he flat out admits that he doesn't know what a producer does, then reveals his grand plan is to hook up with a bigger producer and take advantage of their hard work.

More than anything else, that post utterly destroys any credibility that Carson Reeves could hope to have in the industry.  It reveals him as a poser who knows nothing about what he's trying to do, all while arrogantly declaring it'll be easy for him.  He might as well have written a blog about how he planned on playing in the Super Bowl, so long as Tim Tebow took him under his wing.

Let's not forget that his notes service continued to be active even after this declaration.  This now made Carson Reeves a producer who was charging for notes.  That's one of the first things aspiring writers are told - "No reputable producer charges for access or notes."  It's incredibly unethical, as it would be if Jerry Bruckheimer ran a service where he'd read your script and give you notes for $1000.

No one who considers themselves a professional would ever do business with a "producer" who represents himself in that manner.  And then he doubled down on that last week by posting about how he'd gotten an early look at a script that was circulating town and thought it was brilliant.  This is exactly what he said:

Really hoping something good comes of it. And if not, well, that's not so bad either. Maybe then I'll be able to convince Todd to let me jump on board. This is the kind of franchise potential project producers dream of. I want to be involved! :) :) :) 

So he basically roots for this script to fail when it goes out wide so that he can attach himself as producer.  But why?  Just because he happened to look at it first?  What does he bring to the table?
You'd never see a post like that from Jon Landau or Jerry Bruckheimer.  But that's a bad analogy anyway - their attachment actually adds value to the package. Aspiring screenwriters - this is not a guy who can help your script by being attached to it.

I reiterate - no one in this town with any real power or professionalism would risk their reputation by pairing up with a guy who acts like that.

Which brings me to "The Industry Contest, presented by The Tracking Board and Scriptshadow."

Tracking Board has just announced their partnership with Carson Reeves for yet another opportunity for writers to separate themselves from their hard-earned cash for a shot at "breaking in."  Full details have yet to be announced, but considering the many concerns about Scriptshadow's professional credibility, I'd be wary of any competition that uses a partnership with him as a selling point.

Most of you who are active in the screenwriting blogosphere are probably aware that the Scriptshadow debate has been a fairly persistant one in recent months - on Twitter, on message boards and on blogs.  It's unlikely that someone could be active in the screenwriting community on the internet and not be aware of this.  Ergo, unless they are completely oblivious, Tracking Board should have had an inkling of this.

And if they aren't oblivious, then they partnered with him in full awareness of the many ethical concerns and debate about Carson, his notes service, and his producing aspirations.  It's worrying to me that none of that gave these so-called "professionals" pause, for it means that those legitimate concerns either meant nothing to them, or they were banking on people not raising those concerns.

Or to put it the way The Daily Show would - it seems that Tracking Board is either evil (for pairing up with someone who has huge ethical issues attached to them) or stupid (for not being aware of said issues.)

Other people have pointed out another concern with Carson's attachement.  What assurances does any writer submitting to this contest have that their script won't end up on one of Carson's "super-secret mailing lists?"  He sends out a weekly email with links to scripts he intends to review, as well as other desired scripts around town.

Let's say the next Tyler Marceca happens to submit to this Tracking Board competition.  Heck, maybe the script doesn't win, but somehow it manages to get some heat around town thanks to the writer passing it to the right person.  So it's the hottest spec in town, sells for six figures... and Carson Reeves has a PDF of it sitting in his hard drive.

How fast do you think he'd push that script out to his newsletter?  Does anyone think he wouldn't review it for his site?  It would be entirely consistent with his past behavior to do so.

There's too much potential impropriety here.  Which is why I'm urging that so long as Scriptshadow is attached to this contest, you're better off avoiding it.

Scriptshadow no longer has the luxury of sticking his head in the sand and waiting for this storm to pass.  His own words have left him more vulnerable than any attack from a John August or other blogger.  This is not an operation that any reputable industry pro would want to do business with, and it is not to your benefit to associate yourself with such an individual.

Monday, November 5, 2012

"Who cares if my script is cliche? So is everything Hollywood makes!"

I spent last week reading through another batch of Black List 3.0 submissions and my experience of the previous week was a pretty good forecast of what I got in this stretch of scripts.  In brief, there were a lot of loglines that got me excited, but based on what I read, most of these scripts need a little more time to bake.  I can't really recall any scripts that sent me fleeing from my computer in horror, but I did come away disappointed.

My agenda was to find a strong, commercial, compelling original script in the bunch.  I know there have to be a few of them out there.  Looking through the loglines I can see that a lot of you are good at coming up with ideas that could yield interesting stories and characters.  A fair number of them sound like they could be marketable too.

I ran into a dilemma with one of the scripts that made it past the 30-page mark with me.  As far as the screenwriting mechanics, the writer had it pretty solid.  Scenes were well-paced, characters had distinct voices, good visual description... It was all there.  The problem was... the script had a lot of elements that felt familiar to me.  In fact, if you started describing the script's plot to me, I very likely would have dismissed as too much of an indie cliche.

(Out of fairness to the writer, I'm not going to identify the logline or discuss the specific premise.  The Black List 3.0 embraces the premise of "do no harm" and I take that seriously too.  Plus, I don't have the heart to publicly attack something submitted by a presumably loyal reader.)

But you know what? I found myself easily tearing through 30 pages and then 45 pages.  Even as my concerns about the premise and some of the plot lingered I really felt like I should give this script a shot.  Eventually I had to admit that I was dealing with something that was at best, "Consider with Reservations."  I don't think it's really fair to the writers to give a lukewarm recommendation on the blog.  For all I know, there could be a writer out there who'd really take to the material, so why dissuade potential reads by saying "eh, it's good, but it's not earth-shatteringly great."

I mentioned my dilemma on Twitter, noting that I liked the voice but that the script was making a lot of common and expected choices.  This provoked a couple reactions.  Some asked if I could PASS on the script, but CONSIDER the writer.  I can't.  On Black List 3.0, you can only rate the script.  So if I give something a high mark, I can't just be saying, "Hey, I like this writer."  It's gotta be "I love the whole package."

A second sentiment was essentially an observation that the industry only seems to turn out derivative product, so why should that concern me at all?

I. Hate. This. Argument.

You might as well go to an audition for Idol and when they tell you that your singing is off-key, complain that they set such a high standard because they could easily fix the voice with autotune.  Hell, take a few shots at Nicki Minaj's voice while you're at it, or go to X-Factor and complain that if Britney can get by with autotune, it's unfair that you actually have to sing well.

It's relatively easy to write the poor man's version of any familiar premise.  If all you can do is Xerox, then what are you bringing to the table at all?  There are plenty of people already in the industry capable of doing that.  I'm not looking for a voice I can autotune - I'm looking for a voice that can make the notes new.

To be fair, until you've been on this side of the looking glass in some capacity, you really have no way to appreciate just how many aspiring scripts go for the predictable beats.  Once you've read a hundred or so romantic comedies, you've gotten attuned to the obvious rhythms, even in the cases where the writer might think they're being clever.

A good script reader has probably seen hundreds of scripts in any given genre.  We've seen the character dramas with the same sorts of family strife.  We've read the horror films that all try the same clever tricks to hide the killer's identity. We sat through a lot of the same sorts of tricks in a romantic comedy designed to bond and break up their lead couples.

"Good enough" isn't really in our vocabulary.  We're not paid to find "competent writing."  We're paid to find GREAT writing.  It's the difference between being a great college athlete and being a professional level athlete.  And just as every pro scout wants to find that phenom - every script reader dreams of being the one to spot that future gem.

So know that as I make it through the rest of these submissions (probably at the rate of about 10 scripts a week), I am really pulling for you guys.  I know there's a very real chance that by the time I get to some of the later scripts, the writers might have removed them from the Black List due to their initial month running out.  I'm really sorry about that, but with the demands on my time, I can't move much faster.

Good luck, folks!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tuesday Talkback - which shows have improved since their pilots?

It was reported earlier today that the ABC sitcom The Neighbors has secured a full-season order.  Not to sound like a dick, but that was not a headline I expected to see after viewing the pilot earlier this year.  I also have to admit that I didn't anticipate the success of Revolution, which I had pegged as this year's The Event.

When watching a pilot critically, it's important to be able to tell the difference between a weak pilot that has immense potential for growth and a weak pilot that is so misguided that it would be nearly impossible for a series to recover.  This year, it seemed like there were a lot of shows that fell into the latter category.  I don't want to name names, but most shows of this type were easily distinguished by the unflinching and often amusingly brutal reviews that the critics posted.

I've only kept up with a few new shows this season, so I have to admit I'm curious if anyone stuck with any of the iffier shows and was rewarded with improvement.  Did The Neighbors find a way to make the premise play beyond one joke?

666 Park Avenue was another show where the pilot didn't blow me away, but of the new fall shows, it seemed to have some of the strongest potential for improvement, provided the writing staff that was hired figured out a way to develop genuine tension and build to unexpected payoffs.  There were the building blocks of a better show there, but the story presented in the pilot was a little too tepid for my tastes.

I also wrote off Guys With Kids because it too seemed to be built around a one-joke premise that was already well-worn territory years ago.  Did they find their creative groove or is it just a case of the show being placed in the right timeslot?

So let me know what shows have gotten better since their pilot, and if possible, explain why you think the changes they made facilitated this.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Read MCCARTHY on the Black List site! And an update on the other submissions

Well, I made it through the first 25 scripts that were submitted to my post on Black List 3.0.  I have to admit, the response was far beyond anything I expected.  I wasn't sure 25 people would even take me up on the offer, let alone the 60+ requests currently sitting in the comment thread of the earlier post.

I want to say right off the bat that I was somewhat impressed with the overall level of writing that I saw in those 25 submissions.  I've read for a contest or two and I've got plenty of experience with amateur-level submissions, so a part of me fully expected to be screaming "Oh dear God! Why did I sign up for this!" well before I got through ten submissions.  As a group, you guys are far more promising than most of the people submitting to contests and I saw blessedly little of the horrible newbie mistakes that drive me to drink.

Upon reflection, that makes sense.  The people responding fastest to my offer were more likely to be regular readers of my blog.  Thus, it's a good sign that what I've been bitching about for four years has really sunk in with you people.  For starters, I don't think I recall a single gratuitous mention of a woman's cleavage.

Of the 25, I think there might have only been two - perhaps three - scripts where I knew within a few pages that this was going to be a pass.  I expected at least a third of the scripts would have me stopping after a few pages to ask, "wait, what did I just read?"  So good work in not embarrassing yourselves.

I promised everyone I'd give them ten pages.  More than half of you had me intrigued enough to keep going further, just to see if your execution showed signs of living up to your concept, or just to see if you could sustain some of the positives of your script.  I'd say at least fifteen of you got me to page 20 and at least 8 of you had me reading past p. 35.  I considered announcing which scripts had me reading deeper into them, but I realized that probably wouldn't be helpful.  In some cases, it was the concept that kept me going, only for me to realize by p. 60 that things were being developed too conventionally or too slowly.  In other cases, a script started with a very strong first act, only to meander in the second act long enough that I knew it wouldn't be a high consider.  So I didn't want to leave anyone with the impression "You had me until p. 44, but p. 45 is where you fucked up, so fix that."

This is because I wasn't just looking for "okay" writing, or "decent" writing - I was looking for strong writing.  More than that - I was looking for a strong script.  After all, giving a good review to the script is like throwing up a flare on that specific idea.  Those of you guys with stronger concepts obviously had a distinct advantage here - especially those of you who communicated those concepts well in your logline.  Generic or familiar-sounding ideas had me less enthused from the start, but there were plenty of loglines that had me thinking "I can't wait to see how they develop THAT!"  (Not coincidentally, those were the writers who often got 30 pages or so to make their case.)

The flip side to this is that there were a number of concepts that faced an uphill battle with me for one reason or another.  In some cases, the issue was that the story was just too mundane or "small."  In other cases, the factor was a genre I didn't have a particular affinity for.  For instance, I'm not a huge Western fan - but at least two Westerns got me to page 25 or further.  I bring this up to underline that just because I didn't respond to a particualar idea, it doesn't follow that everyone will be as apathetic.

I was reading these submissions specifically with an eye to finding scripts that would rate at 8, 9 or 10.  I wanted to find the real undiscovered gems that could stand up to scrutiny once passed into professional hands.  I'm optimistic that there are a lot of 6s in those submissions, and 6s that could easily make it to a rating of 7 or even 8 with some rewriting.

Also, one writer let me know via Twitter that he'd seen a marked uptick in traffic to his script and even heard from an agent after submitting his submission in the comment thread last week.  He seemed to believe that there was a direct connection between the two, and while I'd love to crow about that, I've not seen many instances of reps following up on material promoted on my site before.  (Having said that, traffic was WAY up on Friday.)  But if anyone else has something like that happen, please let us know, okay?

But what you really want to know is did I find that undiscovered gem?  Yes - sort of.  MCCARTHY by Justin Kremer was the clear winner in this showdown of the first 25 scripts.  In some ways I'm surprised and some ways I'm not.  This script was spotlit in an email the Black List sent out last week to all their professional users, following a very positive evaluation from one of the Black List readers.  Also, the Black List algorithm predicted that I'd rate this script as an 8.3, which is more or less accurate.

Beyond that, I'm not big on political scripts.  Despite COLLEGE REPUBLICANS being #1 on the Black List two years ago, I wasn't really a fan of it.  So it's not like I'm predisposed to the material - plus I had to look at COLLEGE REPUBLICANS through the marketability lens, and political material is kind of a powder keg these days.  My feeling is Repulican viewers would claim that the film was an unfair, propeganda-driven hatchet job on Karl Rove (oh, the irony!) while Democratic viewers would take issue with the fact that it doesn't depict Rove as half the sub-human pond scum we know him to be.

(And if you take issue with that characterization, look up what the man did to John McCain in the 2000 primary election.  It was a vile, evil act of race-bating that not only relied on the worst elements of his party, but in fact fed those fires to make those elements a dominating force in that party.  I've always loved Cindy McCain for saying, "No, I'd stab him in the front," after being asked if she ever would be tempted to stab Rove in the back.)

But a bio-pic of noted asshole and Senator Joe McCarthy is a different prospect, because nearly everyone with half a brain agrees that McCarthy's anti-Communist witch hunts were an horrific abuse of power and a dark time in our nation's history.  (Those lacking that half a brain can be discovered here.) But there's something fascinating about exploring a person who more or less branded himself as a larger-than-life defender of freedom while basically making his name synonymous with the most egregious and repugnant forms of political grandstanding.

This is not only a well-written, well-paced script - it has what every script needs: a fantastic villain.  One scene in particular stands out, about 30 pages in, McCarthy's grandstanding has already begun to make waves.  A campaigning Dwight Eisenhower is so disgusted by his actions, he doesn't even want to be photographed with him.  Instead, the Presidential candidate requests a private meeting with the Senator, during which he essentially says "The fuck?!" and "No, seriously... the fuck?!"  He basically tells McCarthy that he doesn't agree with what the Senator stands for and isn't scared to say that in public.  He demands McCarthy apologize to the people he's hurt and McCarthy's response can pretty much be translated as, "Eh, bite me" and "Suck it, Ike."

So McCarthy has to introduce Eisenhower at a rally and he does just that and only that.  No puffed up speech.  No "I endorse this guy." Pretty much "Here he is.  He's running for President."  And then the amazing thing happens.  Eisenhower comes out ... and basically endorses everything that the slimy Senator stands for.

That set of scenes alone ensured that I was gonna stick around to see Jackass Joe run out of town on a rail when the the wheel of fortune eventually turned against him.

Those of you with Black List access can find McCarthy here.

I'll gradually work my way through the other submissions.  November's a busy month for me and I know I won't be able to blow through 25 scripts as fast as I did before.  I'm still optimistic I can find one really good script that hasn't yet been spot-lit by Black List readers.  I recognize that to pull that off, I'm going to need to move fast though.  I'll keep you guys updated as I go.

Friday, October 26, 2012

I will read your script on the Black List

Okay, I'm about to propose an experiment - and like some experiments there's a chance this could fail.

Several of you have scripts up on the Black List and as we've seen, it can help a script immensely if it gets a positive review.  The problem is that it's hard to get people to notice your script before a paid review is complete.  Also, there's no guarantee that the paid review will be a positive one.  However, in clairfying the way the review metric works, Franklin Leonard revealed something very interesting over at Done Deal Pro:

"Any script that gets a particularly high rating from any individual reviewer can expect that script to get spotlighted to our industry professional members. Practically, if you write a script that gets a 1 from one reader and a 9 from another reader, that script will still be included as part of our email spotlighting recent scripts that got a strong review. Presumably people who are interested in your genre and logline will download it, read it, and rate it, which will then result in your overall rating changing over time based on those members thoughts on your script."

In practical terms, this means the paid reader could HATE your script, but if someone else really likes it, you could still get an endorsement.  So here's my offer to you....

I will read the first ten pages of ANY script linked to in the comment of this post.  If I think the script has promise beyond those ten pages, I will continue reading until I feel my interest wane.  This means that if I get to the end, presumably I'll have a positive impression of your script and I will rate it as such.

The conditions:

1) the link to your script's page on the Black List MUST be in the comments.  Do not email me. Do not Tweet me.  I will ONLY read scripts publicly pointed out here.  Feel free to include a logline or any other information.

2) I will offer no comments on any of the scripts I didn't complete.  Don't ask me what you did wrong. Don't ask me for feedback.  I doubt I'll have time to respond to everyone, and so to be fair, I will respond to no one.

3) I will be holding all scripts to the same standards as the material I read for my job.  There's no such thing as "good for an amateur" on this scale.  Scripts will be judged according to how they measure up to professional submissions.

4) This offer is good until noon on Tuesday, October 30.  If I get a huge response, it's going to take some time for me to work through these scripts.  I'll do my best to be prompt, but know that it could take a week or more if a lot of you submit.

5) If I really like your script I will spotlight it in a post on my blog, but know that it would probably have to rate a 9 or a 10 for me to do that.

Other readers and industry pros with Black List access, I encourage you to join in the fun and check out some of these submissions.  Let's see if we can help someone get discovered!

Addendum: Okay, seeing how I got about 8 submissions in a half-hour, I think I'll need to moderate expectations.  I'll promise to make the first 25 submissions a priority.  Anything that comes in after that, I'll make an effort, but know that they'll probably be a lesser priority unless a logline really catches my eye.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The most amazing saga of slimy producers I have heard

Remember back when I talked about parasite PINOs - Producers In Name Only - and how their attachment to your script can often cause more headaches than benefits?  Well, I recently came across an amazing series of blog posts from writer Doug Richardson

As Doug introduces the story:

I’ve written about theft before. Both stories and ideas nicked by scumbag producers without consequence. What follows is an epic tale. All true. With multiple endings that, to this day, still leave me and others gob-smacked.

Set aside some time and read this.  It's an amusing, at times barely believable story.  But it's also a cautionary tale. Some of you may have already read it.  For those that haven't, I do not DARE even think of ruining all the twists and turns in this epic.

The Smoking Gun - part 1
The Smoking Gun - part 2
The Smoking Gun - part 3
The Smoking Gun - part 4

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Black List questions and strategy

Jeff asked the following question in the comments of yesterday's Black List post:

I uploaded my screenplay on Oct. 15 and just got my first rating today - a respectable 7 (not great but still just above the community average rating). And while I'm completely satisfied with the feedback I received (you can read it here if you're interested:, I can't help but think, "what now?" I mean, is a rating of 7 high enough to get noticed on the BL? Should I get a second opinion and shell out $50 for another review? Is there anything else I can do to be more proactive about getting my script read by the right people? 

I think it's a little early to make a call if a rating of 7 is high enough to get noticed or not. I know that I've set my preferences to alert me about anything good that gets a 7 or higher, but 8 might be the cutoff for other people. Given what I understand about the site, you can see the number of hits to the script. I'd let it ride for a little and see what kind of traffic you get. At the very least, I urge against making any knee jerk reactions. It's still early in the site's life, so you might want give it some time and let everyone feel out how the site is most effective for them.

Also, I saw that someone else's screenplay got a rating of 9, but in the 'Prospects' section of their review, the reader made the comment that while the script was extremely well done, "it may have difficulty finding a large commercial audience were it to be produced." In the 'Prospects' section of my script's review, the reader said "The script is well done and can find a commercial audience..." So what do you think is more attractive to industry professionals: a script with a high rating but lower commercial appeal, or a script with an average rating but with more commercial potential? Thanks in advance for any response to my questions.

I think that the answer to your question is going to vary depending upon the individual user. It's not going to be a "one size fits all" answer. I will say that if someone gets a lot of 9s and 10s, there's a good chance that they're doing a LOT right. If their only "sin" is that they wrote something that's not marketable, someone might be inclined to give at least the first 10 pages a read and see what it's like.

There's also different degrees of "not marketable," so again, the severity of that detriment might vary script-to-script. Adult dramas and action movies with women in the lead are often considered less marketable, but I could see someone taking a chance on an exemplary one of them. But a Biblical epic, or a three hour movie about Pompeii? Yeah, that's aggressively unmarketable to the degree that the quality of the writing probably won't help as much.

As for writing something of average quality but with commercial appeal - if you've got a brilliant concept, maybe you could get away with it. Just don't forget that Hollywood is filled with scripts that are "average." So if you've got a low concept idea and a so-so write-up, it might not be enough that you're writing in a marketable genre.