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Archive for the Category "Industry Advice"

Turn Your Script Into A Novel & Sell It – This Guy Did! Oct 24

Interview with Paul A. Mendelson

Paul A. Mendelson (Photo by Mike Floyd)

Paul A. Mendelson is a professional screenwriter and a super nice guy to boot! He was kind enough to give us some insights into how he’s been able to take his scripts, turn them into novels, and get Hollywood’s interest.

If you’re thinking about taking this path and want to see how your writing stacks up, I would definitely check out Paul’s latest novel, A Meeting in Seville.

And now to the interview…

Scriptwrecked:

Paul, you’ve done something really impressive — you’ve turned a script into a novel, then sold it to producers interested in adapting it into a feature film. What’s more, you’ve successfully repeated that process several times! What’s your secret?

Paul A. Mendelson:

Thanks for this. Good question. But I think you’ve exaggerated my success a tad.

So far I’ve made one actual sale to producers of a book that began life as a script. It was my first novel, In the Matter of Isabel, published last year.

The other two novels-inspired-by-scripts are bubbling under – one is ‘in development’ in LA – and there is a lot of interest in my most recent novel A Meeting in Seville. I’m expecting them also to be optioned before long

Another children’s novel as yet unpublished, based on a TV treatment, is being considered now for a series.

Of course the producers who bought the first book were delighted that there was a script already written. (I did revisit the original script as writing the novel had thrown up many new and richer ideas). This was clearly a plus for me.

When you ask about my secret I think the novels gained a lot of strength from what I had learned writing the scripts. Before I even began the novels I had the characters, the structure and much of the dialogue fairly nailed down. And I owe a lot of this to feedback on the scripts from colleagues, agents and especially people such as BlueCat and Screencraft, whose contests I entered and whose excellent notes helped enormously.

I have to say the novels are works in their own right, not padded out scripts. My publishers had no idea they had even been scripts.

I am in no doubt that producers are hugely attracted to existing IP and that a book – if it’s good – makes the script easier to sell. I actually found my LA producer via linked in. She approached me after receiving a general email I sent to several of my connections when the book was published. I feel very fortunate as she and her UK partner are great and highly respected.

I hadn’t intended to turn my scripts into novels. I had written a family movie which was much liked but I was told by several people there are very few family movies which aren’t based on books. So I wrote Losing Arthur and now, via some colleagues, I have found a possible home. (I can’t as yet say where as we are still in discussion but it feels hopeful)

You ask what my secret is. I think it’s no secret. I just bit the bullet and wrote the books. I had no idea until I began that I was any sort of novelist. Now I’m starting to believe that I might be.

Interestingly people who have enjoyed my books tell me they can really ‘see’ them. So this is perhaps what a scriptwriter – and I’ve been one for thirty years – brings to the party.

Scriptwrecked:

Thanks for clarifying. If anything, I may have understated your accomplishments! Sounds like your screenwriting skills really informed your novel writing. But how much did your previous screenwriting success factor in to your ability to get producers to look at your novels?

Paul A. Mendelson:

I’d have to say that my track record in TV (and possibly script contests) was clearly a factor in getting my novels seen. And a BAFTA nomination doesn’t hurt.

But I still found I had to do most of the work myself – as opposed to agents etc.

I do have a script agent but found it really difficult to get a book agent. This was probably because I’m not ‘genre’ and at my age clearly don’t have decades of novel-writing ahead. They like youngsters they can nurture and mould. (It looks I will have one very soon – but only after having had three novels published). So I found the publisher myself, who liked my work enough to publish it. (The novels aren’t self-published – they’re properly selected, which of course was an endorsement for me)

Once In the Matter of Isabel was published I did, as mentioned, try to tell every contact I had about it. I suspect the LA producer I finally found, who had previously accepted my Linked-In invitation, might not have done so had not my own contacts and profile been in some way appealing. (I’ve created several long-running BBC comedy series, written some acclaimed drama for TV and radio and had movie scripts optioned.)

Regarding my children’s novel Losing Arthur, a script editor I know – who seems to rate my work and who edited my most recent novel – liked it and its scripted version enough to show it to some people who showed it to other people … etc etc.

So now I’m trying to do the same with my newly published novel A Meeting in Seville. People do seem to like the book, I’ve written the script, so I’m about to put it out there. Like Losing Arthur, the script was a Screencraft Finalist, which may also help. And, of course, I have an excellent script agent.

So in answer to your question, I doubt I would have got this far without my previous success. However, had I been able to find a good book agent then they would have made the contacts for me and my track record would have been less important. (It would be more relevant in giving me credentials to script the novel they’d just bought!)

Scriptwrecked:

Success definitely begets success. But indeed, there’s also no substitute for good old fashioned hustle. Leveraging LinkedIn is a nice tip for finding publishers and networking with producers, etc. What other advice would you give to screenwriters who are not credentialed pros with any helpful contacts yet are thinking about turning a script into a novel in order to gain traction in Hollywood?

Paul A. Mendelson:

Tough one.

I would have to suggest trying to get the novel published, which most probably would mean either finding an agent (they read hundreds of manuscripts but take on very few) or – as I did – a legitimate publisher who likes the work. But again they have hundreds submitted.

At least this way the uncredentialed, unconnected writer would have someone who does have the contacts – especially if it is a reputable agent.

And it’s not credentials or a track record that get you agents or publishers. It’s the quality of what you send. Unlike film companies, agents do read unsolicited, unrepresented work – or at least the first three chapters/10000 words. Just check out their requirements and submissions policies.

Or, of course, one can self-publish, so at least you have something other than a script to tout around. The trouble with self-publishing is there is no quality control (some call it vanity publishing). But these days with Amazon etc you can build up a huge raft of positive reviews which causes other algorithms to kick in and the book takes on its own agency. This can actually lead to heavy-duty publishers taking an interest and taking the writer on. Which of course would interest the film companies.

I’m not sure how much attention film companies would pay to a self-published book unless you could get some legitimate mainstream reviews from respected celebs, reviewers, critics etc to go with it.

So basically it’s still a lottery. But what I would say is that writing the novel not only gives you something real, sold and ‘actual’, a work of art that exists its own right, like a painting or a sculpture – it will also probably make your script a lot better when you revisit it once the novel is done.


You can find out more about this talented screenwriter and novelist at paulmendelson.net.

Insights from the 2013 Black List: Title Pages Feb 04

Recap

This series takes a look at current trends in screenwriting and screenplay formatting, by examining the 2013 Black List scripts.

The Black List 2013 – Part 4: Title Page Formatting

Black List 2013 - InsightsSoooo… title pages. The various formatting books I rely on consistently prescribe title pages where the title of the script is:

  • all uppercase
  • underlined
  • written in a standard 12 point Courier / Courier New font (or equivalent — like Courier Final Draft or Courier Prime)

But as anyone who reads professional scripts on a regular basis will tell you, that rule is routinely broken.

You might be inclined to say — “Yeah, but the pros can get away with it, but we can’t.”

And you might be right.

Speaking in generalities and from my experiences, the farther up the chain you are in Hollywood, the less likely anyone is to treat such a thing as a red flag.

So depending on where you’re at, and your level of confidence with the important stuff that comes after your title page, you may want to just stick to the standard formatting so you don’t inadvertently annoy anyone.

Having said that, I almost never use Courier 12 pt for my script titles!

I feel it’s the one part of the script where I can shed the rigid confines of standard script formatting, and add some flavor. After reading the first page of one of my scripts, I doubt that any reviewer is still going to be agitated by my flamboyant font use.

The 2013 Black List Title Page Stats

So where do we stand this year for title page formatting practices? The investigation yielded some surprising results:

  • Of the 72 Black List scripts this year, only 14 used “standard” formatting for their script titles (19.4%)
  • That means 58 used non-standard formatting (a full 80.6%)!

Here’s how it broke down:

  • 20 script titles used a font size that was larger than 12 pt (28%)
  • Of those, 14 used a font other than a Courier variation (19.4%).
    Note: No scripts used a non-standard font while keeping standard point size. If a non-standard font was used, the font size was always greater than 12 pt.
  • Of those, 2 used a graphic image for their script titles (2.8%).
  • 4 of the scripts that used a non-standard font — used the font for more than just the script title (5.6%) .
  • 3 of the 72 scripts used a space between the letters of their titles (e.g. E X T I N C T I O N) (4.2%)
  • 8 scripts used a Mixed Case Title (11%).
  • 17 scripts used bold for their script title (23.6%)
  • 38 scripts did not underline their script title (53%)

… And of course, unless specified above, there’s a lot of overlap (e.g. some scripts used both bold and Mixed Case).

Non-Standard Fonts

For those who are curious, here’s a list of the non-Courier fonts that were used (excluding the two that used graphics in place of their titles), in alphabetical order:

  • American Typewriter (Bold) 56 pt
  • Arial Black (Bold) 14 pt
  • Arial (Bold) 24 pt
  • Arial Unicode MS (Italics) 28 pt (Mixed Case)
  • Bleeding Cowboys 28 pt (Mixed Case)
  • Cooper Black MS (Bold) 18 pt
  • Dense 64 pt
  • Georgia (Bold) 18 pt
  • GillSans 14 pt
  • Oriya Sangam MN 24 pt
  • Times New Roman 32 pt (Mixed Case)
  • Wide Latin 26.04 pt (Mixed Case)

Do you find these types of stats to be helpful?

Insights from the 2013 Black List: Scene Spacing Jan 22

Recap

This series takes a look at current trends in screenwriting and screenplay formatting, by examining the 2013 Black List scripts.

The Black List 2013 – Part 3: One or Two Line Spaces before Master Scene Headings?

Black List 2013 - InsightsI was originally going to look at the prevalence of using non-standard fonts and font-sizes on title pages, but I’ll do that next time. Since I looked at the incidence of bold, underlined and bold and underlined scene headings last time, I thought it would be better to look at something somewhat related — the spacing that comes before master scene headings.

Why is the discussion somewhat related? Because I found a not-so-surprising correlation between using only one blank line space and using bold scene headings.

First, let’s look at the numbers:

2013 Black List - Blank Lines Before Scene Headings

  • Of the 72 scripts, 59 used two blank lines before master scene headings (81.9%).
  • That means 13 — used one blank line (18.1%)
  • Of the 13 scripts that used one blank line space, a full 8 of them used bold scene headings (61.54%).
  • That’s almost double the overall percentage of scripts that used bold scene headings this year (33.33%)! [See previous article]

So why are scripts that use a single line space almost twice as likely to use bold scene headings?

It’s simple — the whole point of having two blank line spaces is to break up the pages, inject some white space and make the script feel less dense. If you use a single line space, then adding bold to the scene heading helps to do the same thing. It visually “chunks” up the page and makes it easier for the reader to see when a new scene starts.

Page Count and Spacing for Scene Headings

If you  look at the median page count of those 13 scripts that used one blank line and compare it to the median page count of all the scripts in the 2013 Black List — the number is the same: 110 pages.

In a typical script if you change from triple-spacing (two blank lines between scenes) to double-spacing (one blank line between scenes) you can actually cut your page count by two or sometimes three pages. I may be wrong, but I suspect that at least a few of the writers opted for double spacing and bold scene headings, versus triple spacing and no bold, to lower their page count.

Final Thoughts

No readers really care if you double or triple-space your scripts (i.e. use one blank line or two before scene headings). They might not even notice. What they do notice is the amount of white space in your scripts.

If you’re consistently using 5 to 8 line paragraphs in your scene descriptions, you run the risk of irritating a reader. It won’t matter if you’ve left two blank lines between your scene headings because the script will just feel dense. Try to limit your paragraphs to 3 or 4 lines.

It’s worth pointing out that the script that topped the 2013 Black List — Holland, Michigan by Andrew Sodroski — used the bold scene headings and single blank lines approach. I have no idea as to Andrew’s thought processes, but the script clocked in at 117 pages. And 117 pages has a whole lot nicer ring to it than 120 pages — which it might have been if he had used triple-spacing (two blank lines).

Then again, he might have just liked the way it looked.

Insights from the 2013 Black List: Bold Scene Headings Jan 14

Recap

This series takes a look at current trends in screenwriting and screenplay formatting, by examining the Black List scripts.

The Black List 2013 – Part 2: Bold and Underlined Scene Headings

Black List 2013 - InsightsToday, I’m going to look at the practice of using bold and underlined scene headings.

As trivial as this issue is (especially compared to the importance of quality writing), I do often get asked about the prevalence of such formatting in modern scripts. Screenwriters want to know if the practice is common enough to not get flagged as an annoyance by purists who might be reading their screenplay.

While it’s plain to see that using bold, underlined (or both bold and underlined) scene headings are definitely gaining in popularity, I was curious to see how common these formatting devices were in the 2013 Black List scripts.

Here’s how it broke down:

One third of all the Black List scripts used bold scene headings!

That was surprising. Things have really changed. I’d say that if a third of any community engages in a practice, then it can safely be described as mainstream.

  • Of the 72 scripts, 24 of them used bold (33.33%)
  • 19 used bold exclusively (26.39%)
  • 5 used both bold and underlining together (6.94%)
  • 1 used underlining alone (1.39%)

Final Note

I have two versions of Richard Cordiner’s terrific script, The Shark Is Not Working. The earlier version of his script used bold. The later version, with the cover page changed to show his agent and manager, did not. I was curious about the change… Was he given some sage advice to remove the bold?

Nope. Richard kindly responded to a tweet I sent him explaining that it was simply a stylistic choice: “Hi Trevor, no reason, just prefer the old school look I guess.”

He then went on to provide a great reminder about the importance of such matters in the grander scheme of things:

https://twitter.com/richardcordiner/statuses/422957492843204608

Do you obsess over these kinds of details, or do you always stay focused on the bigger picture? Or both? Let me know.

In the next issue I’ll look at irregular fonts and font sizes on the title page.

Insights from the 2013 Black List: Page Count Jan 07

The Black List 2013 – Part 1: Average Page Count

Black List 2013 - InsightsIf you’re reading this blog, then odds are you already know that at the end of every year, the Black List gets published.

While it claims to not be a “best scripts” list, it certainly receives more industry attention than any other. As such, the scripts on this list set the standard for what Hollywood is looking at, and looking for. That makes it perfect for learning about the current trends in screenwriting at the highest level.

Therefore, I’ve decided to do a series of posts, using the Black List as a guide, that will answer peculiar questions that many screenwriters find themselves asking. Things like… What’s a typical page count? Is it safe to use bold or underline headings? What about non-standard fonts on my title page? How many lines per paragraph should I use for scene description?

Obviously, using acceptable benchmarks and conventions in your script come a distant second to a compelling concept and stellar writing, but if you’re as obsessive as I am over these details, hopefully you’ll find these posts to be insightful.

Now that that’s out of the way… On to today’s question!

What’s the average page count?

In the past, writers would aim to bring scripts in at 120 pages or less. These days, the conventional wisdom is that a spec script should clock in at no more that 115 pages, and ideally, it should be 110 pages max. Aiming for 100 pages, for some genres, is even better.

So how does the 2013 Black List stack up to conventional wisdom?

The median script length was 110 pages (111 pages average).

110 pages!

When I provide script notes or proofread scripts, I’m constantly amazed by how many of them are 120 pages or more. The first thing an overworked script reader does is look at the page count. If you’re submitting a script that is upwards of 120 pages or more, you’re starting from a position of disadvantage.

Rewriting is hard. No one likes to do it. But your script needs to be tight — especially if you’re an unrepresented writer. Aim for 110 pages or less.

Breakdown

Here’s the 2013 Black List breakdown by page count:

2013 Black List - Page Count Breakdown

Note: For page count, I used the last numbered page in the script. So the number of pages does not include the title page, agency page, or any other extra pages that may have been included in the PDF file.

Do you find this type of stuff to be helpful? Have you read any of the 2013 Black List scripts? I’m currently compiling a breakdown by genre, so if you know the genre of any of the scripts (after having read them — not by guessing from the logline provided), I’d love to hear from you. Thanks!

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