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Archive for February, 2010

Multiple Ideas – The Harrison Ford Lesson Feb 21

A True Story

It was the 90’s. Spec script sales were booming, and through an amazing convergence of events, a friend of a friend of mine (we’ll call him “Screenwriter X”) managed to get his script to Harrison Ford‘s people.

At the time, Harrison Ford was one of the biggest names in Hollywood, having starred in blockbusters such as the Star Wars saga, Indiana Jones trilogy, The Fugitive, Clear and Present Danger… He was a guy who could get movies greenlit.

As luck would have it, he read, and LOVED, Screenwriter X’s script!

The meeting was set. Screenwriter X was picked up in a limousine and brought to a fancy restaurant in L.A. It was like a dream — he got to the restaurant and Harrison Ford himself, opened the door for him.

They sat down, had a pleasant conversation. Mr. Ford, and his Manager beside him, proceeded tell Screenwriter X how incredible his script was and how much they enjoyed it.

This was the big moment!

Then Mr. Ford said: “However, we’ve thought about it and feel that my fans just aren’t ready to see me in this type of role.”

Harrison Ford continued with the fateful words: “But we love your writing… What else do you have?

And that was it. Screenwriter X’s once in a lifetime chance to rocket to the top of the Hollywood food chain was dashed. He didn’t have any other scripts.

What’s worse, he didn’t have any other ideas. Nada. Zilch. He was woefully unprepared for the meeting. To this day he laments about what could have been.

Lessons Learned

1) Have multiple scripts.

2) Have multiple ideas.

3) If you get a meeting with an A-List star who loves your script, it’s probably a good idea to have an agent.

I was reminded of this story after attending Michele Wallerstein’s great talk yesterday at the CBS Studio Center. She has a wonderful formula.

When you’re pitching, you should have a total of 10 ideas ready:

– 3 polished scripts — all in the same genre

– 7 great ideas for other movies

Are you going to be ready when your big moment comes along?

Category: Industry Advice  | 2 Comments
Q & A with Michele Wallerstein Feb 19

Do you have a question that you’d like to have answered by a longtime Hollywood literary agent? Send it in!


What is the best way to get my multiple part book series to the screen and/or to the premium television networks?

Answer: (Michele Wallerstein)

A published, or unpublished book may be submitted in much the same way as an original screenplay.  The use of QUERY LETTERS to producers and agents is always good.  The writer must make sure to write a clear and concise paragraph that describes the project without going into too much detail.  Make sure the recipient of the letter has a way to reach you.  In the event that you don’t hear back it is imperative that you wait about two (2) weeks and then follow up with a phone call.

The next idea is to attend PITCH FESTS where you will get the chance to tell your “story” to great connections in the Hollywood community.  Be sure to practice your verbal, five (5) minute pitch, prior to attending these events.  The agents and production companies in Hollywood are very open to new ideas and projects.  They are always looking for good pieces and great new writers. Maybe yours will be the one they want!

Michele Wallerstein is a Screenplay & Novel & Career Consultant and author of “MIND YOUR BUSINESS: A Hollywood Literary Agent’s Guide To Your Writing Career“.

Web site:

8 Rules Behind the Success of Paranormal Activity Feb 19

Author Oren PeliRobert Pagliarani discusses the eight rules that allowed Paranormal Activity writer/director Oren Peli to turn $11,558 into $100 Million:

  1. No excuses. There are always a million and one reasons why now is not the right time. The truth is it will NEVER be the right time. The stars will never align and you won’t get a sign from heaven. There will always be a reason why it doesn’t make sense to do it, but now is always a good time to create something in your other 8 hours.
  2. Find affordable help. Oren held open casting calls in LA and found two unknowns to star in his film. You too can find great talent and they don’t have to cost a lot—can you say Elance! Sell them on the idea. Inspire them. Get them involved and give them some ownership.
  3. Be flexible. Oren had a rough idea for the plot, but didn’t get bogged down in the details of a script. In fact, he didn’t have a script. When it came time to shoot the film, he told the actors to improvise. Don’t get so caught up planning and strategizing that you never actually do anything. Sometimes you have to get out there and see what happens. Make mistakes; adapt; repeat.
  4. Ownership is everything. When you can take some money off the table, do it, but always keep your upside protected. Oren sold the film for $350,000. By itself, that would be a nice return, but Oren also gets to share in the profits. Unless you’re getting the offer of a lifetime, try to keep some ownership.
  5. Get a cheerleader. The life of a entrepreneur can get lonely and depressing. That’s why it’s so important to get a cheerleader or two on your side. Oren got Steven Spielberg. While you may not get someone like this to back your idea, the goal is to get someone who believes in you and what you’re doing. Get them to make calls on your behalf, to open their Rolodex, and to give you advice.
  6. Open to feedback. Spielberg loved Oren’s film, but he thought the ending needed a bigger kick. Even though this film was Oren’s baby, he followed the advice. You don’t have all the answers. At some point you need to take advice from others. There’s a fine line, though. Don’t take advice from someone unless you really think they know what they’re talking about. Time and time again I’ve seen entrepreneurs take advice from people they didn’t like or respect, but because they were unsure, they followed it.
  7. Use other people’s money. It’s important to have some skin in the game, but whenever possible, use other people’s money. This protects you in case things don’t go as planned. That ending Oren had to re-shoot? Rather than spend more of his own money, he took $4,000 from Paramount (the film’s distributor) and re-shot it.
  8. Know your audience. Paranormal Activity didn’t initially go toe-to-toe with the big budget horror flicks. Instead, they capitalized on their tech-savvy audience and launched a limited release in just 13 college towns. They then provided the audience with tools to spread the word. Focus on your market. Can they become your cheerleaders? What tools can you give them to help them spread the message?

Some great rules… but perhaps there should be a number 9 — luck.

My understanding is that the original movie was purchased by the studio with the intention of remaking it with a bigger budget. It was only after the execs saw how people were reacting to screenings of the movie that they decided to release the original film.

Link to full article at Elance

Making it in Hollywood Feb 18

This Saturday, Scriptwrecked‘s regular contributor Michele Wallerstein will be speaking at the CBS Studio Center.

Today’s your last chance to RSVP for this can’t-miss event!

Do you have what it takes to make it in Hollywood?

Michele Wallerstein will share the insider’s information on making it into the world of professional screenwriting in Hollywood.  Learn how to navigate the business as well as the creative waters of your career.  Learn how to make a Hollywood meeting really work for you. Learn how to keep your momentum going with the studio community, and much more.

Michele Wallerstein is a screenplay consultant (, whose work with writers includes helping them get their work into shape so that it is marketable for the Hollywood community. She has been a guest speaker at numerous film festivals, pitch fests and writer’s groups all around the country.  Michele teaches the ins and outs of the business of your writing career as well as how to get the most out of your material.

Prior to becoming a consultant, Michele was a Hollywood literary agent who represented writers, directors and producers in motion pictures, movies for television and television series.  Michele served as Executive Vice-President of Women In Film and was on the board of directors for many years.

Michele owned The Wallerstein Company and guided the careers of writers such as Larry Hertzog, Christopher Lofton, Peter Bellwood, Ronnie Christensen, Carol Mendelsohn and Randall Wallace.  Known as a very nurturing agent, with a vast knowledge of literature and movies, Wallerstein was responsible for selling million-dollar screenplays and elevating her clients up the ladder of success.

Wallerstein’s new book titled: “MIND YOUR BUSINESS: A Hollywood Literary Agent’s Guide To Your Writing Career“, will be published in July, 2010 by MWP Publishers.

For more information, and to RSVP, please visit the Scriptwriters Network event page.

Category: Events  | 3 Comments
Kill Your Darlings Feb 16

Cave Life

As writers we spend our lives in a cave, hammering out stories. But it’s a misconception to think that we’re alone in there. Oh no, we’ve got our little darlings to keep us company.

You know, our darlings… our cherished characters or moments that got us writing the script in the first place. Sure, other characters and moments come along, but often we like those initial darlings the best because we’ve been with them the longest.

That’s why it’s so hard to kill them when they’re dragging our script down. And kill them we must.

The Tribe of your Script

Most writers know that you have to embrace humanity’s caveman instincts to craft great stories: greed, love, lust, revenge, pride, glory, jealousy,  survival… You have to get primal! The same lesson applies to dealing with your script darlings.

If movies have taught me anything about Anthropology, it’s that life was tough for our cavemen ancestors. If any members of the tribe couldn’t keep up, they were left for the Orcs to eat… or something like that.

The point is — you have to treat your screenplay the same way. In the tribe of your script, it’s all about assembling the ideas most likely to help you succeed in battle (i.e. Hollywood).

How do you know it’s time to get out the cave club?

It may be time to kill (or change) your darlings, if:

1. … every time you try to figure out what’s wrong with your script, you’re led back to that one story darling (e.g. a “cool” character that goes nowhere; a “sweet” action sequence that feels forced or out of place; a “powerful” scene or image that no longer fits with the story or theme or structure; etc.).

2. … you pitch your idea, structure or draft to other writers, etc. and consistently get critical feedback pinpointing that darling of yours.

A Quote From Blake

In July 2009, Debra Eckerling interviewed Blake Snyder (author of the must-read screenwriting book: Save the Cat!) for Write On Online.  I thought I’d give Blake the last word with his quote from that article:

The first mistake writers make is in the concept. We are inspired to write for all kinds of reasons, and not all of them should wind up in the final product. I call this the “smell of the rain on the road at dawn.” You’re driving down the street and see some guy wearing a t-shirt and you go, “That’s a movie.” And maybe it’s not.

The second thing is in terms of story execution, which is corollary of the first idea: you are the small “g” god of this universe. You can change it any way you want to change it. And your prime directive is to tell a good story. A lot of writers—myself included—fall in love with stuff: that scene, that sweater that guy’s wearing; sometimes you don’t realize you can swap it all out for something else and make it work.

I think you’re only real goal is to tell a story about transformation and to make that transformation huge. A guy starts out one way he ends up another way. It’s important to keep those things in mind as you create. Just because you thought of it doesn’t mean that’s the way it has to stay.

Often, just being aware of this bias for your original ideas is the key breakthrough your script needs. Do you have a story darling that needs to be whacked?

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Category: Writing  | 5 Comments