Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Updates on TOBY IS NOW FOLLOWING YOU and an offer to read your script

So the last three weeks have been kind to TOBY IS NOW FOLLOWING YOU on the Black List site.  I just got my 16th rating, half of which are 8s and two of which are 9s. My average is 7.5 and I have 45 unique downloads from the site.  That's very promising considering the script has mostly only been promoted through this earlier post and my Twitter feed.

In terms of the stats, 45 downloads is really good.  According to the Black List's stats for their first year, only 15 scripts were downloaded 50 times or more.  The next lowest stat they reveal is that 122 screenplays had 20 or greater unique downloads, which would seem to indicate that at least as far as exposure, TOBY's in some pretty good company.  (In case you're curious 2744 screenplays were downloaded at least once last year.)

Also, TOBY is currently #1 on both the Top Unrepresented and Top Uploaded Lists on the Black List website for the Month to Date, #2 on both for the Quarter to Date, and #4 on the Top Unrepresented for the Year to Date. It's #6 Year to Date on the Top Uploaded List.

I'll do a more complete data dump on TOBY once I conclude hosting, if that interests those of you who might be curious about how the numbers break down week-to-week. I'm already setting up meetings for after the holiday break.

This feels like a good time for another pay-it-forward post.  Same rules as last time - if you have a script currently hosted on the Black List (and one that will be up for at least another week, preferably two), leave your logline in the comments between midnight and 11:59pm on December 31st. That's 24 hours.  When we enter 2014, you've missed the deadline - no exceptions.

Pay attention, because this is important - your logline must sell me on the script.  The only submissions I will read will be those with loglines that interest me, just as if you were sending me a query.  It might be a good idea to look through the comments on this earlier post, where I gave notes on every logline that was submitted.  It could give you a good indication of what I respond to in a pitch, as would this post on the 8 scripts I selected last time.

The genres I'm most like to respond to are action, rom-com, horror, comedy, thriller and anything "high concept." What am I less likely to be drawn to? Period pieces and torture porn.  So keep that in mind if you're considering joining the Black List just to take advantage of this opportunity.

Your comment must include the following - Title, Genre, Logline and a link to your script's page on the Black List.  And remember that a logline is a sentence or a couple sentences.  Be concise, don't write me a paragraph. 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.

My aim is to select the 4 loglines that intrigue me the most and I will read at least the first 15 pages of each of those scripts.  In the event that you guys deliver a lot of awesome loglines, I'll consider going over that limit, but they're all going to have to be really good for me to consider giving that much time.   I probably will let you know if your logline was or wasn't selected, but I probably won't go into much detail why.  Don't take it personally - some ideas aren't for everyone.

I will offer no comments on any of the scripts I didn't finish reading. 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.

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.

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 an 8, 9 or a 10 for me to do that.  I'll do my best to write a review that sells people on the script.  It won't be full coverage, and I won't spoil any major secrets or plot twists.  If you want to get a sense of how these read, check out my reviews of MCCARTHY, DEAD CORPS, ALICE OF OZ, CHAMBERS, H8RZ, and WHERE DEATH FOLLOWS.

So good luck, gang.  I hope to be very impressed by the submissions in the comments.

P.S. This goes without saying, but I'm not making any claim of who I will pass the script on to and I will not attach myself as a producer or anything.  No crazy promises - and no exploitation.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Spike Jonze's "Her"- Siri as Manic Pixie Dream Girl

There's an old expression that dissecting a joke is like dissecting a frog - you can't accomplish the task without killing it.  And so as I dive in to explore my feelings on Spike Jonze's Her, I fear that the same adage would apply to this film.  It's a fantastic film, one of the best films in what has been a terrific year for film.  The more you examine it, the more you're likely to marvel at how effortlessly it accomplishes some rather profound work.

I'm a fan of Jonze's directorial debut, Being John Malkovich, and though Charlie Kaufman scripted that film there's some value in contrasting it with the Jonze-scripted HerMalkovich is an absurd film played totally straight, and no matter how grounded it feels, it lives in a world rather different from our own.  That was perfect for the tone of that film, and so it's fascinating to see Her tethered to lees ridiculous world.  You won't find a 7 1/2 floor here, to say nothing of portal's into an actor mostly remembered for his role as a jewel thief.

Her could flippantly be described as a story about man who falls in love with his Siri.  That's not totally accurate.  The computer "operating system" Samantha is a few evolutionary steps above Siri, but not to a ridiculous degree.  Our lead character, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), is a lonely introvert who's still not made piece with his separation and impending divorce from his wife.  His day job involves writing romantic letters for other people to give to their loved ones on particular holidays.  He spends all day composing poetic and romantic speeches for those who apparently can't do it themselves and then retires to his empty apartment, where he retreats into video games and phone sex with anonymous strangers.

Every part of Theodore's world has a veneer of phoniness to it, so it's not terribly surprising that he'd bond with his newly purchased O.S. "Samantha."  Speaking with the smooth and alluring voice of Scarlett Johansson, Samantha initially seems designed to be a voice-operated program that merely handles all of Theodore's computer functions like organizing his email, keeping his calendar and so on.  And yet, there's something remarkably human about this artificial intelligence.

Before long, Theodore is having ongoing conversations with her as if she was a real person, and she's taking it upon herself to read his emails and comment upon what's going on in his life.  He opens up to her about his feelings and desires and somewhere along the way, this relationship becomes as real to him as anything else in his life.  This is aided, of course, by Samantha's programming expanding as a result of their prolonged interaction.  She might be little more than a simulation, but feed her enough data and she can reasonably approximate what Theodore needs from human companionship.

Except that it's not real, and little-by-little it dawns on us that we're seeing a canny deconstruction of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. The term apparently traces to critic Nathan Rabin who identifies it as "that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures."  (Prime examples: Garden State, Elizabethtown). 

It's a subversion of the trope because even as we see Theodore coming out of his shell, we're aware of how artificial the relationship is.  Samantha isn't real. She can never be real.  The very nature of her programming would seem to make her Prime Directive to please Theodore.  That she's better at achieving the illusion means nothing.  There's as little substance to this as the phone sex fantasies that Theodore indulges in.  It's a healthy escape, but it's no way to live.

A lesser film might have had Theodore only confront the empty nature of his relationship at the film's climax.  Jonze actually has Theodore open his eyes to this a little more than halfway through the film, and its fascinating to see how that upsets his relationship with Samantha.  And at this point, we've reached the part of the film that I hesitate to examine too deeply.  I think what we take from the final 30 minutes or so of the film is largely going to be informed by our own individual experiences.

A lot of credit for the film's success has to go to Joaquin Phoenix.  He's makes Samantha's interaction so natural that it's easy to forget that most of his scenes have him essentially talking to himself (or likely, talking to an off-screen script supervisor reading Samantha's lines.  It's an even more Herculean task than an actor in a VFX film who is tasked with making his reactions to post-production produced environs believable because Phoenix has to make us feel human emotions for a totally artificial connection.  It's one of the year's best performances while simultaneously being one of its most subtle.

And who would have thought that one of Scarlett Johansson's most memorable and charming roles wouldn't involve her body at all? She's the other half of that connection, and if it wasn't for her interpretation of Samantha making the audience want to believe in this romance, even just a little, the movie would be far less effective.

There's a deluge of truly great films all coming out around the same time this year.  It's going to be really easy to fall behind.  (My personal "To See" list still includes: The Wolf of Wall Street, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, All is Lost and Dallas Buyers Club, as well as guilty pleasure Anchorman 2.)  As you're setting your viewing priorities, make room in the upper tier for Her. It's one that everyone's going to be talking about at Oscar time.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Webshow: "How to be a Reader"

One of the most frequent questions I get is "How can I be a script reader?"  Having just walked away from my reader jobs, this seemed like a good time to address that question on the YouTube channel.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Josh Abraham's "Screenplay Heroes" art

I don't usually promote reader's products here.  The real reason for that is that I don't want to open the floodgates to people asking me to spotlight their Kickstarter, their blog, and so on.  When I promote a short film, it's because I'm genuinely impressed with it and when I promote Kickstarters, it's only when I have personally donated to them.

But last week a reader named Josh Abraham sent me a link to his Etsy shop "Screenplay Heroes" and I found his product so damn creative that I just had to share it here.  He's created portraits of screenwriters drawn on excerpts of their scripts  They're available in his shop for $9.99. You can find a number of them on his tumblr as well.

Check out a few samples:

Joss Whedon

Kevin Williamson

Nora Ephron

You can find the Etsy shop here.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Writer/director Eric Heisserer gets a career-defining performance from Paul Walker in HOURS

For obvious reasons, this review is suddenly a lot more complicated than it would have been two weeks ago.

Some time ago, I was lucky enough to see an early screening of HOURS, Eric Heisserer's directing debut, an emotional drama about a young father desperately trying to keep his prematurely-born baby alive in an evacuated hospital during Hurricane Katrina. Heisserer adapted the script from his own short story and it's the perfect sort of material for a director to establish himself with. There are stakes, tension, a contained location, but still great production value. It also is largely a one-man show starring that young father, who for long stretches of the film, is only able to act against either a dog, or a prop baby in an incubator.

That young father is played by Paul Walker.

I haven't seen the film since before Walker's tragic death a few weeks ago. My opinions were set in stone long before he even began production on the seventh FAST & FURIOUS sequel. But most of the audience won't have that luxury. When an actor dies, their last few films are often reviewed kindly. The death brings a baggage that encourages the audience to feel the performer might have been cut down at the height of their potential. That even actors whose work was once maligned managed to offer hints of what they were capable of, if only fate hadn't denied them the opportunity to truly fulfill that promise.

Because of that, I know that it might be tempting to cast a skeptical eye to reviews of Walker's performance in HOURS. "Of course, he's going to be praised," you might think. "What heartless monster would bash a dead man mere weeks after he was buried?" You're probably right. But that doesn't mean these reviews are wrong.

What I can tell you is that I walked into that screening many months ago largely wondering one thing, "If Paul Walker tanks it, I'm going to need to find something I can tell Eric I liked about the movie." See, Eric Heisserer's been a good friend of the blog. I don't know him terribly well. We've certainly interacted a lot on Twitter and traded some emails, but I think we've only met face-to-face perhaps three times. Still, he's been nothing but terrific to me when we have interacted and so I was really hoping HOURS was something I could praise honestly.

But it starred Paul Walker.

Oy. The fratty guy from Into the Blue, I thought. I haven't even seen those car movies he's in, but I don't think they're exactly leaning on his acting. I'm sure he's got his range but this intense drama feels like it's going to be WAY outside of his wheelhouse.

Less than two hours later I dined on crow.

The set-up is efficient. Hurricane Katrina is about to hit New Orleans as Nolan (Paul Walker)'s wife Abigail (Genesis Rodriguez) goes into premature labor and dies. While Nolan struggles to process this (there's a moment where he quite literally seems not to understand what the doctor means when he says there's nothing they could do for Abigail) the storm takes a turn for the worse, forcing an evacuation of the hospital.

There's just one problem - the newborn needs to stay in an ventilator that can't be evacuated with everyone else. The baby has to remain inside for 48 hours. Nolan is told to stay with her while everyone else leaves the hospital, promised that someone will return for them. And thus begins the one-man show portion of the film.

There's a wonderful moment where Nolan looks down at his helpless child and Walker doesn't play the expected note where this new father melts at the sight of his baby girl. Far from it. He tells the baby "I don't know you" and then says that he'd rather have his wife back than have the child. His wife was the one more excited about having a child, and Nolan is clearly angry not just over her loss, but the manner of her loss.

From here, the script turns into a master class of raising the stakes. Power fails and the ventilator only has a backup battery that can hold only a three minute charge. This means that every three minutes, Nolan needs to crank the generator in order to keep his baby alive. If he tries to get supplies, he needs to be back in three minutes. If he seeks out food, he needs to be back in three minutes. If he attempts to call for help, he must be back in three minutes. In one intense sequence, Nolan races to the roof to try to let a helicopter know there's still someone inside the hospital. Tell me, do you think it's easy to run all the way upstairs, get a chopper's attention and then make it back downstairs in time to recrank the generator.

Oh, and did I mention that three-minute time limit actually gets shorter as time pases? Nolan gets more and more sleep-deprived and hungry, but actually has to remain extra alert to keep cranking the generator constantly.

I confess, there are moments where the film does seem to cheat the three-minute limit. One moment in particular seems to stretch the disbelief that Nolan could not only get into a situation within the three-minutes, but that he would allow himself to not even attempt to return to the child until the time is up. Once his watch alarm goes off, Nolan encounters another delay that leaves the impression the baby was left off the ventilator for a perilously long time. But then, I'm not a doctor so perhaps it's entirely reasonable that the child could be revived within that window.

In any event, Heisserer knows how to generate tension far more effectively than pretty much any of the directors who've interpreted his prior scripts for the screen. However, his greatest accomplishment might be getting a performance from Walker that few would have though him capable of.  In fact, by the end of the film, Walker no longer seems an unlikely pick for this role so much as his film personae makes him the perfect person to headline this story.

When a sensitive guy cries, as emotional as it is, it's also expected.  For some reason it's far more affecting when the stoic or the unflappable types break down.  The cockiness that usually defines Walker's characters is present in Nolan, but this entire ordeal is an exercise in breaking down that armor.  These are the most important 48 hours in Nolan's life and little by little, Nolan endures increasing mental and physical exhaustion.  To Walker's credit, he's not scared to go to some very vulnerable places on screen to really make us feel that along with him.

I walked out of that screening both impressed by the film and humbled that I had been arrogant enough to presume the lead actor wasn't up to the task of carrying the emotional drama in the story.  I may have also been a bit smug, knowing that I had a head start on the rest of the filmgoing public in declaring that Paul Walker was an actor whom everyone had underestimated.  I definitely felt I'd witnessed something that would later be pointed to as a turning point in that man's career.

So much potential, snuffed out right on the verge of being realized.  One lesson to take from the story of HOURS is to never take our loved ones for granted. Nolan never expected to lose his wife on the day she bore their daughter.  I'm sure it goes without saying the posthumous release of HOURS itself carries a similar message.

Hours is opening in limited release this weekend and is available on a number of VOD platforms. For a list of theatres carrying the film, click the picture below:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Brian Scully's review of my script TOBY IS NOW FOLLOWING YOU

As I explained in yesterday's post, I'm not purchasing a review from the Black List readers, in part because the timing means that the value of the review might be questionable.  However, I've invited some of my trusted industry associates to offer their opinions on the script, starting today with Brian Scully.

I first met Brian via Twitter a couple years ago. I admit, after a few conversations, I followed him mostly because I thought he was the Brian Scully who wrote for The Simpsons, and after I'd discovered the truth it was too awkward to unfollow.  Fortunately he turned out to be a pretty cool guy, and a rather talented writer.  In fact, he started writing "professionally" at 14 when Star Trek: Voyager, and later Star Trek: Enterprise, gave him a standing invitation to pitch to them after submitting a spec to them.

Scully's script, COUNTERPOINT, a romantic thriller/drama, was recently optioned with financing currently being raised. It also was on last year's Hit List.  It's a really solid script, but it's nothing compared to his current spec, MERCIFUL, an action-thriller that is one of the best scripts I've read all year.

I was in awe multiple times while reading MERCIFUL, which is the story of a woman traveling across the post-apocalyptic remains of the country to reach the daughter she hasn't seen since the start of the chaos.  The script is full of evocative, visceral writing.  There are longer-than-usual stretches of silence, which really lets the visuals tell the story.  I told Brian after I read it that perhaps the biggest compliment I could give was that he genuinely surprised me.

So when it came time to give my script to people who were going to push me, Brian was at the top of the list.  The first few reviews came in and were very positive. You give a script to writers, you're going to get plenty of notes and suggestions because that's what writers do - but most people were really into it. However, I had one reader whose notes ran counter to that, and so I was pondering if perhaps the script needed an overhaul that the others were seeing.

It was in this context that Brian emailed me his notes.  He went in depth, not just talking about the broad premise and characters, but having notes about specific pages and scenes. Often he was writing stream-of-consciousness, describing his reaction to an event as it played out.  And let me tell you - he GOT it.  I don't think I've ever seen someone so completely understand what I was going for in a script.  Every emotion he experienced, every reaction he had, was precisely what I was trying to achieve.  And by this point, I knew that Brian knew what made a great script because he'd written one himself.

That review gave me a lot of confidence that there WAS an audience for what I was writing and that I shouldn't second-guess my instincts.  So because of that, I can think of no one better suited to tell industry members why they should download TOBY IS NOW FOLLOWING YOU on The Black List site.  Take it away, Brian...

We all love GROUNDHOG DAY, right? Everyone should, and if you don’t, you’re fired from life. Well, think for a moment about Bill Murray spending countless days following the same routine to glean even the tiniest new piece of personal information about Andie MacDowell as he attempts to seduce her, and with each new day and each new piece of info he’s “armed” with, he gets closer and closer to what he wants. 

…Have you ever considered how genuinely creepy that is? Ever stop to think that this efforts in slowly accumulating knowledge about her life in order to appeal to her more effectively is really, really disturbing? He’s earnest about wanting to know her better, he wants the two of them to click, so could his efforts really be so bad? Is it just an overreaction? 

Welcome to just a hint of what’s explored so effectively in TOBY IS NOW FOLLOWING YOU. It’s one of the most compelling dramatic thrillers I’ve read in a long while. The idea of our digital footprints, how detailed they are and how actual privacy has become a distant memory, is explored here from all angles, through numerous characters, but especially our rich and complex lead, Toby, and the woman with whom he’s become infatuated, Nina. 

What this script does is lead you gently to the top of what becomes a very slippery slope, letting you see why Toby is a legitimate hero (flawed as he is) and unworthy of scorn… and then the script gives that last nudge so you can start sliding down the slope. Over the course of a brisk and taut 90 pages, as personal lines begin to blur, the true horror of the film builds unrelentingly as Toby loses himself further and further in his obsession. 

But, Toby is no psychopath. He’s not some deranged criminal. He’s not a predator seeking to harm. There’s no malice. Toby is a legitimately earnest, heartfelt and charming guy who could fit very comfortably in even the safest of romantic comedies. And that is PRECISELY why this script becomes so damn haunting and unsettling — because Toby is not a monster. And yet, his actions become monstrous. By the time you finish reading this script, a terrifying realization dawns on you — Toby, by being so incredibly human and well-drawn throughout, could be your neighbor. He could be your best friend. Oh god, he could be your significant other. Oh god… he could be YOU and you’ve never even realized it. 

TOBY IS NOW FOLLOWING YOU is such a good thriller because it holds the mirror up to us and lets us see just how slippery that slope is with our own behavior in this digital age, how easily we may find ourselves crossing those lines in life, and how little we realize it. With our lives becoming more keyworded and searchable by the minute, and the myth of privacy becoming more and and more understood, there is no better time for a strong story to hit home about the world we live in, and TOBY IS NOW FOLLOWING YOU is that story.

Industry members of the Black List site can find TOBY IS NOW FOLLOWING YOU here.

Brian Scully is currently repped by Kathy Muraviov at The Muraviov Company. You can find him on Twitter at @brianscully

Monday, December 9, 2013

1000th post - My script - TOBY IS NOW FOLLOWING YOU! Come and get it!

Related: Brian Scully's review of TOBY IS NOW FOLLOWING YOU

[UPDATED at bottom - 5:25 pm PST - with FAQ]

Here it is, gang. The big one.

On a number of occasions, I have used my site to promote unsold scripts that have really impressed me, often by unrepresented writers.  It's something I've been happy to do, especially since the nature of the Black List website has made it possible for me to vet those unrepped screenplays as well as inform people in the industry of where they can find these scripts.  A number of those people have seen good fortune find their script subsequently.

As I've said many times before, having seen the Black List process up-close and through the eyes of readers who have benefited first hand from it, I absolutely think there's value in it.  I really think of a site or service marketed to amateurs that has a better method (and believe me, there are a LOT of them.)  I don't speak highly of the Black List because I'm paid to promote them, I speak highly of the service because I consider my blog a resource for amateurs looking to break in as writers and in my honest opinion, the Black List is the one site worthy of your money.

And now I'm putting MY money where my mouth is.

Right now, my script TOBY IS NOW FOLLOWING YOU is up on the Black List website. 

Logline: After a chance encounter, a young man becomes infatuated with an attractive woman and is determined to become the perfect man for her. His curious voyeurism turns obsessive as he exploits her online footprint to insert himself into her life. And the more success he has in manipulating her, the greater the temptation to go further...

It's a low-budget thriller that is essentially a stalker story from the point of view of the stalker.

I have had this script vetted by a number of fellow writers and other folks in the industry - many of them with professional credits.  The enthusiasm they had for the writing convinced me that it was ready for the Black List and the eyes of its professional members.  I have asked those individuals who liked the script to please rate it accordingly on the site.

And industry professionals who lurk around here, I hope that you will be interested in checking out the script, as well as spreading the word to reps, producers, filmmakers and actors who might be interested in reading it.  It's a brisk 90 pages so hopefully it won't take up too much of your time unless you read slowly.

And just in case a little audio/visual pitch might grease the wheels a little bit....

Honestly, my inclination is to keep the pitch brief, but for those who are interested in knowing a little bit more about the screenplay...

I wrote this script in part because I wanted to write something low-budget enough that it wasn't entirely impossible to direct it myself, should I scrape together enough money.  Most of my other scripts have tended to land in the mid-budget range. I didn't have a writing sample that was achievable on less than a $1M dollar budget, at least not without vastly compromising the quality.

After struggling with a few contained thriller ideas, I decided to tell a story with a little more scope but could still be done micro-budget under the right circumstances.  The basic concept of TOBY IS NOW FOLLOWING YOU grew out of my desire to tell a story about how much easier it is to dig up information on someone now than it was 10 years ago.

Facebook didn't exist when I was in college, so if there was a girl in one of my classes who I liked, I had to actually talk to her. I didn't have easy access to a self-generated stream of her thoughts. There was no site I could go to to look up the photos she took at wild parties or on the beach.  When these existed as physical photos, you mostly only saw them when people publicly displayed them in their homes, or let you browse their actual photo albums.

I'm drifting, but my point is that it's become more normal it's become to keep tabs on your friends (or people you might not even know) without actually having to interact with them to get that information. And that means that behavior that might have once made one feel like a stalker no longer seems as dirty.

I wanted to tell a story about a man who's gradually taken over by his worst impulses.  One small step leads to another, and another. Yet no matter how small the steps may be - they still are leading in a particular direction.  I've read a lot of thrillers about psychopath stalkers - guys who are just straight-up nuts. I think those stories are less scary because the bad guy is often unrecognizable as a normal person. This is not a story about a deranged madman.  This is the story of a very normal guy, a guy we might even sympathize and identify with, who makes some very disturbing decisions.

For now, I'm not able to put together the money to make this myself, but the very positive reactions I got from my trusted readers has made me think that the Black List might be the right place to take it first.

I like that the Black List makes it possible for me to publicize my work without having to make it available to everyone on the internet.  I want their users to access it, and so this will be the only place to get it. I'm not posting it anywhere else and if it does surface publicly outside of the Black List, I can assure you it is without my permission.

Regular readers, I know that might be frustrating to you, but one thing I will promise is to be as transparent as the situation allows. I will be updating you regularly on the traffic to my script and perhaps use this experience to give you even more information about what it means to have a script on the Black List site.  If you have questions about the experience, please leave them in comments and I'll do my best to be as open as possible.

And Black List members - it's your move.

UPDATE: Since this is the post that's getting all the traffic, it seemed prudent to add the FAQ here rather than create a new post.

The following are some common follow-up questions I've gotten today:

How was this timed so perfectly? You hit 1000 posts, quit reading, and announce this JUST as you top the horror charts on blcklst.com. Did you post the script in secret at first under a fake name or something? 

It was serendipity for a lot of it. I had been planning for a while to quit reading by the end of the year. (For tax reasons, I didn't want 1099s for the following year, so I knew I'd be ending by the start of 2014.) I had passed the script around to some friends in the industry who also have Black List access, and they were reacting to it well. I realized that if it was on the Black List, they'd be giving it pretty good ratings and that in turn could draw other eyes to it.

I had been thinking of doing something big for my 5 year blog anniversary in January, and I briefly considered posting the script then. Once I realized I was coming up on 1000 posts, it occurred to me that I might benefit from pushing the script out as the year winds down, before the yearly Black List release. I posted the script to the Black List site on Saturday and alerted my industry readers (well, the most effusive ones at least) that it was up and asked them to rate it. Two of them did so before the blog post went live. Two ratings is the minimum to be visible on the site's top lists, provided the scores average out at a certain number. In this case, my first two ratings gave me an 8 average, which was high enough to qualify.

Will you make the script available to Black List members who are fellow writers? 

I have to admit, though I remembered the announcement that writers could choose to make their script downloadable to all, I had completely forgotten about that feature. I won't be using it, though. Right now, this is targeted at the industry pros who can rate it. Frankly I don't see the advantage for anyone giving that open access to their script. If you were looking to workshop it, sure, but I don't think the Black List site is a place to put a script that you're still contemplating major revisions of. I'm aware that there are plenty of people in the industry who read this site, though, and so it stood to reason I could get a lot of downloads from them by publicizing it here. (Early numbers seem to back me up on that supposition.)

Honestly, I don't see any benefit to making the script available to people who can't rate it. If there are industry pros who are not a member of the site who are interested in reading it, they can contact me directly. The more exclusive a script is, the more valuable it is. Remember that when you upload your own work to the site.

Will you be purchasing reads from The Black List? 

Not as of yet, for a number of reasons. Because of this, I realize I am forgoing certain benefits. Since I have not purchased a read from one of their readers, then my script will NOT be featured in the weekly email announcing the scripts that have been rated highly. Also, I believe that this means I will not show up in the Top Uploaded List, even though I will show up in the top genre lists.

Part of this is simply due to timing. It can take 10 to two weeks to get back coverage. Because I wanted to upload the script as close to the 1000th post as possible, it meant I didn't have much lead time. This also means that any review would probably come back during Christmas week - a completely dead period of the year. It just seemed like it would be a waste to appear in that email. And if the Black List decided to hold off on that weekly email until the following week, then there would potentially be twice as many scripts pushed in that first email of 2014. It seemed like it could be lost in the shuffle there.

Knowing the people who frequent my site, as well as those who follow me on Twitter, I gambled that I'd be able generate a fair amount of traffic to the page based on my own visibility. (Also, by not promoting my script through the site's reviews/emails, this means I can really get a good idea of how much influence my blog carries - how many people in the industry I really have lurking here. There's a part of me that really likes the opportunity to study this.)

So we'll see how things go over the first month, which will then give me a good idea if it's worth it to continue for a second month, and possibly purchase a read from the site.

With all your industry contacts, if the script was 'great' wouldn't they just have passed it on to their reps?

I know writers and people in the biz, sure. But even counting everyone I know with access to agents and managers only gives me a direct line to a very small fraction of available people. With the Black List, I'm casting a much wide net. It's always good to have options, you don't have to dance with the first one who asks, yada yada...

Also, though some of my professional contacts may have passed the script on to reps, some of them cautioned me "My reps take forever to read stuff." I understand that. Even with some of my friends' scripts I put off reading for a few weeks jut because I don't feel any kind of ticking clock. By putting TOBY out there publicly like this, I've added some urgency.

Before I had a few reps who had this great script on their To-Read list and as far as they knew nobody else had it. Now, everyone who's seen this post knows that if the script is really good, someone else might beat them to it. Never underestimate the value of urgency.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Post #999 - "Script reader... NO MORE"

Okay, so maybe the blog title is a little dramatic, but I couldn't resist the Spider-Man allusion. If I could actually draw, you might have gotten a sketch of the Bitter Puppet walking away from a trashcan full of scripts.  Instead, you get the copyright infringement above.

[Update: a very kind reader, AP Quach, did a sketch much as I described.  It was kind of a kick to see!  Check out more of her work at http://www.sassquach.com.]

For some time now, I've talked about how the market for script reading is drying up. Sure, you can always hang out your own shingle and take payment directly from people interested in your feedback, but the days of supporting yourself on just a couple regular script-reading gigs with agencies, production companies and studios are fading fast, if not gone entirely.  It's why when people have written in asking how to become a reader, I've told them, "You don't want this job."

Things have been going down this road since the writer's strike.  For a while, I was able to compensate thanks to the sheer number of freelance jobs, but I've been aware of the ticking clock.  Each year, it became more and more difficult to make a full living off of just my reading gigs.  I've pursued other jobs within the industry, particularly with the goal of becoming a writer's assistant.  I got maddeningly close several times, close enough that I convinced myself I just needed to stick with the freelance jobs a little bit longer because surely my objective was within my grasp.

But as the years wore on, I enjoyed reading less and less.  The scripts seemed to get worse, and I found increasingly less satisfaction in what I was doing.  The companies I read for were unfortunately very stable in their development departments, which meant there was little opportunity to convert my reading gigs into some sort of Creative Exec position.  I'd love to work in Development if the opportunity presented itself, but I'm done being just "the reader."

So effective immediately, I'm ending all of my freelance reading jobs.  I'm not going to say no to any permanent positions that come my way, and you can bet your ass I'll be looking for writer assistant gigs come pilot season.  The difference is this time I'll be doing it without a net.

When I made this decision, I honestly felt like a great relief.  In the past, my writing has definitely been better for the brief hiatuses I've taken from reading.  But it's not even the reading that really wore me down. It's the futility of being that first filter.  Most of what you read is crap, and even when you find the good stuff, there's little reward or opportunity to develop it.

Fear not, this blog isn't going anywhere.  I've got a decade of experience in the industry and I'll continue to draw upon that here.  I'll always be willing to give the benefit of my experience.  But the days of enduring multiple scripts a week (most of them sub-par), being paid by the script and then having little stake in what happens to it afterwards are over.

You can't start a new chapter without ending the old one first.  As such, I have decided that, at least for my career as a freelance reader, this is definitely the end.

See you on Monday for Post #1000!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Post #998 - A Shameless plug for my friends' new movie DEVIL'S DUE

My friends at Radio Silence have released a new trailer for their upcoming horror film DEVIL'S DUE, hitting theatres January 17th!

The film is directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett of Radio Silence. The other members of Radio Silence are Justin Martinez (Executive Producer, Cinematographer and Visual Effects Supervisor) and Chad Villella (Executive Producer.)

I think the guys have cooked up something pretty exciting. If you've seen their work in the final segment of the first V/H/S you know they're a clever group of filmmakers and from talking to them, I know they are really trying to deliver a horror film that makes you care about the character, played by Zach Gilford and Allison Miller. They star as a young couple whose pregnancy starts to take a dark and supernatural turn.

And how about that international poster? (Warning, probably not safe for work.)

Post #997 - Some thoughts on Superman vs Batman vs Wonder Woman

Uh oh. The internet's being cranky. Someone must have announced some comic book movie news.

Yesterday Warner Bros announced that Gal Gadot will be playing Wonder Woman in the still-unnamed Man of Steel sequel which everyone has been referring to as Batman vs. Superman.  Right now it's starting to seem significant that WB has conspicuously not affixed that moniker officially.  At ComiCon, the announcement was made by way of a logo mash-up featuring the Bat symbol and the Superman crest.  Beyond that, we don't know much more except that David Goyer's writing, Zack Snyder's directing and Ben Affleck is joining the cast as Batman.

If Wonder Woman is now also a part of the cast, could this mean that the true title of the film will end up being JUSTICE LEAGUE?  It's kind of exciting to consider that possibility because I like the idea that the studio has been able to keep so many details out of the public eye and thus far is releasing information on their own terms.  As much as fanboys scream and cry that they want to know everything now (probably so they can begin their manifestos on how it's not what THEY would do and thus it's therefore wrong) there's something to be said for the joy of filmmakers completely surprising their audience.

My take: I think Gadot could have the right look for Wonder Woman.  Sure she's skinny now, but the right trainer could easily put her in Sarah Conner-in-T2 asskicker mode.  She's got the right kind of exotic beauty and she's enough of an unknown that she brings little baggage to the part.  I've already seen fanboys whining that her boobs aren't big enough, but I think we need to focus on what really matters - the fact she's got a butt that can pull off the tight and revealing Wonder Woman trunks.

I kid, I kid.  Though that cheap joke would be more out of line were it not for the fact that her character's biggest contribution to the Fast & Furious series was using that asset to get a criminal's fingerprints onto her bikini bottom.*

*This is why real spies don't wear thongs.

Bottom line: I'm rather bewildered by all the venom directed at Warners about this casting. Some people hate the actress. And some people are pissed that Wonder Woman is making her big screen debut as a supporting player in a male hero's film.  I guess I can't say I'm surprised - fanboy overreaction has been a tradition since back before the outrage over Michael Keaton's casting as Batman - but it feels like a real waste of energy to be this angry when we really still don't really know anything.

I'll admit, as someone who loved Man of Steel it does bother me a little that instead of getting a straight-up Superman sequel, the new movie is more of a stage-setter for JUSTICE LEAGUE (if not JUSTICE LEAGUE itself.)  My preference would have been a bit more world-building of the Superman mythos, especially considering the first film didn't do anything with the Clark Kent reporter disguise.  My immediate reaction is that it feels too soon to crowd the movie with other characters.

However, I'm open to the possibility that Snyder and Goyer have somehow found a way to tell a story that explores the Superman mythos while also integrating Batman and Wonder Woman.  As nothing has been released about the story, it's not worth getting worked up over what I presume they might be doing.

But I also don't want another Iron Man 2, which pretty much stands as one of the weakest Marvel movies - in large part because it was forced to give a lot of screentime over to connective tissue to the other films.  The vast majority of material involving S.H.I.E.L.D. and Black Widow was there mostly to lay pipe for The Avengers.  Hopefully Warners and DC Entertainment are capable of learning from Marvel's mistakes as well as their successes.

I also wonder (oh shit, pun TOTALLY not intended, but I'm too lazy to think of something better) if the fact that they're introducing Wonder Woman here means that the studio is further along in developing a Wonder Woman script than they've lead on.  For all we know, her role in Batman vs. Superman is little more than a cameo that sets up a solo feature that will go into production right after BvS wraps.  I'd feel a lot better about the state of DC films overall if something like that is in the works.

Or it could just be a trial balloon designed to see if it's even worth the effort to develop a Wonder Woman standalone.  I guess we'll just have to wait and see.  This might be a good time to revisit my old post at Film School Rejects, "The Biggest Challenges Facing a Wonder Woman Movie."

Can we at least agree that if Warners does develop Wonder Woman, we'll force Emily Blake to tell us her pitch if someone else lands the assignment?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Five to go... Post #996: A look back at a good script's journey to being a bad movie

Friends, the post before your eyes right now is my 996th post.  Four posts to the big 1000, which will be arriving on Monday.  It probably would be a good idea for me to do something big and unexpected then, wouldn't it. Hmm....

In the meantime, how about a trip down memory lane to spotlight some older posts that might have eluded more recent visitors to this blog.  About a half-year into the life of this blog, I conducted an interview with screenwriter Dan Callahan.  With his writing partner Adam Ellison, Dan wrote a pretty good script called COLLEGE that got turned into a rather terrible movie.

I feel bad saying that, but Dan basically says as much over the course of this interview.  Rotten Tomatoes agrees, rating it at just 5%.  I've read the version of the script that sold, and while it's probably not anything that would make the yearly Black List, it is a perfectly good teen comedy.  It was rather fascinating to read that draft and then see what resulted on-screen.  There's a lot to be learned just through examining that development process.

Unfortunately I can't provide a copy of that original draft, but I can provide the next best thing - an in-depth interview that covers everything about the script's development and how certain plot points that once made sense became inexplicable on the journey to the big screen.  All is revealed in this five-part interview.

Part I - The Writing Process 

"There’s writing and there’s the business and they go hand in hand. The more professional your scripts look, the more seriously you’ll be taken as a writer. Reading scripts was the first thing that got me… before I ever wrote College, I had read a ton of scripts. Nowadays with the internet and having access to scripts online, there’s no reason someone can’t go and find scripts and read, look at it, and go get Final Draft…. Access to interviews of writers, and some of my favorite books are just interviews with writers and how they did it."

Part II - Getting an Agent and Selling the Script

"She passed the script off to a colleague of hers at ICM... He read it on vacation and came back and was like, “I’ll take it out next week.” It literally was that quick. He read it. He knew what it was. He liked it. I don’t even remember if he had any notes. If he did, they were minor. Stuff we could fix in a week. He basically said, “Fix this. Get it ready. We’ll take it out next week.” 

Part III - Notes, Rewriting, Casting and SUPERBAD

"I think in general we probably didn’t agree with most of the notes. We’d never been through the process of getting notes from producers and because it’s your work, you think you know better. You think you know the material better, and at the end of the day, you DO know the material better… as the writer. You know the characters better, the story better. Anything they suggest you’re generally going to have an answer for right on the spot." 

Part IV - More Rewrites

"The other thing that happens is in these writing sessions you’ve got a lot of people’s opinions and the script often becomes a mishmash of people’s opinions. And as the drafts go on it becomes a Frankenstein of all these versions. We went through two directors, so you’ve got notes from the first director that might still be in the script and then you bring on a new director and they’ve got their own notes. Then the guys from State Street who were set to produce ended up pulling out because of differences they had with the producers at Element so now you’ve got so many people coming and going. And you’ve got a draft with so many opinions in there that it really is a struggle to keep it fluid. It’s never quite what it was before… and that’s the hardest part.

"But what are you gonna do? You don’t want to get fired. You want to get paid."

Part V - Release and Reaction

"I didn’t look at the box office. Adam did. We both were in Chicago that weekend visiting family. A news channel wanted to do a story on us because we were local guys, and we flew home to do that. I did go see the movie with my parents sitting behind me, which… if you’ve seen the movie…  I had already told them I didn’t want them to see the movie because it was obviously inappropriate for them. But they insisted on coming and it was… it was tough. It was tough literally having your mom behind you with some of the stuff going on."

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tuesday Talkback: So what have you done this year?

We've begun the final month of the year.  The clock is ticking on those screenwriting goals you laid out in January.  How many of you will be rushing to keep resolutions of that nature?

My completed writing goals include:

- completing several drafts of a new screenplay.  Much to my relief, it's been met with good reviews from some of my writing peers and even some professionals who have read it.  I've got high hopes for this one.

- Completed a massive overhaul on a comedy pilot I'm working on with a co-writer. Notes are coming back on that and revisions are underway.

- Completed an entirely new pilot, for which I will be getting reactions very soon.

And though they don't count as much, I've begun outlining a couple other ideas which will be on my agenda for 2014.

What have you accomplished?