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!