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Archive for the Category "Industry Advice"

Tips from Screenwriter Rhett Reese (Zombieland) Jun 25

Rhett ReeseA few weeks back I went to the Great American PitchFest and had a blast. I posted my overall impressions here. And also discussed a couple of free classes I attended, here and here.

Today I’m writing about the third free class I attended — an interview with screenwriter Rhett Reese (Zombieland, Monsters, Inc., G.I. Joe: Retaliation). I found Rhett Reese to be an extremely affable and generous guy. He truly enjoys teaching and helping aspiring screenwriters.

Here are some random tips from his interview (along with my usual paraphrasing) that I found interesting.

Tip #1: On breaking out of one genre after you’ve found success there…

Hollywood straps you with the “golden handcuffs.” You tend to become associated with one genre. But it’s possible to “reinvent yourself by degrees.” For example, if you’ve had traction with an action movie, you could write an action comedy next. Then if that one hits, you could write a comedy, etc.

Tip #2: Before you send your script out to decision makers

… start on a new script. That way “it’s easier to take rejection, because you’re already invested in a new project.”

Tip #3: “Make your characters very entertainingly ONE THING.”

“Simplicity is your friend when it comes to character. Keep it simple.” Play up the one thing that makes your character stand out.

Tip #4: “Never write past your punchline.”

He gave the example of the following line:

“The last time I was in a woman was when I went to the Statue of Liberty.”

It’s less impactful if you were to say it as follows:

“The last time I was in a woman was when I went to the Statue of Liberty in New York City.”

End on the button.

Tip #5: To be successful as a writer…

… you need to be like the T-1000 Terminator. In your career you’ll be routinely shattered to a million pieces by criticism and rejection. The successful writers will be the ones who can “relentlessly and robotically let these pieces coalesce.”

Screenwriting Expo 2011 – Top 20 Agent Tips Sep 21

Top 20 Tips from AgentsAgents

Another post in the continuing saga of my experiences at the Screenwriting Expo this past weekend…

Today I’m excited to relay some excellent advice and industry insight from some Agents whose sessions I attended:

  • Victoria Wisdom, former partner at BWK
  • Emile Gladstone, ICM
  • Bob Hohman, Gersh

Just like my friend Michele Wallerstein, the first thing you notice about a successful Agent is that they’re all extremely high functioning and assertive. If you ever have an opportunity to meet with an Agent, make sure you’ve had a full night’s sleep, a double shot of Espresso, and are firing on all cylinders… or you simply won’t be able to keep up.

Wisdom (her real name), has a commanding presence that makes you sit up and pay attention.

Gladstone looks like Peter Parker, has an I.Q. that’s obviously north of 140, and is probably Kaiser Soze.

Hohman (the least intimidating of the bunch), made a joke in passing about his being a savant. (He probably wasn’t joking.)

After searching for some web links, I found Wisdom’s web site. I also found a great article/interview by Jim Cirile (who hosted one of the panel discussions) that features Gladstone. Be sure to read through these two sources for some of the same tips that were offered during their Screenwriting Expo sessions.

And now, without further ado, I present…

The Top 20 Agents Tips

Note: The following insights are my interpretations of what the Agents said. Any errors or omissions are purely my own.

Victoria Wisdom:

  1. The commercial market for films is about 70% overseas, and 30% for U.S. and Canada. That means you need to think about whether or not your movie will “travel well” — because the ones that do are the most likely to get made. Get global; write a story that’s universally understood.
  2. It’s dangerous to follow trends as a benchmark for deciding what movie to write next. However, if you’re trying to sell a script, it pays to reference current script sales and how they are relevant to your movie.
  3. Pitch the concept, not the plot. Pitch the concept in such a way that the story sells itself. Hollywood is very template-based. That’s why coming up with a concept that’s the “same, but different” is so important; something that can be summarized in a quick pithy line that Producers/Execs can understand. For example, the quick sell for The Bourne Identity is: “James Bond with amnesia.” Source Code is: “Groundhog Day with a sci-fi twist.”
  4. Do your homework on three things: 1) What are studios buying? 2) What are they making? 3) What was successful?

Emile Gladstone:

  1. Packaging (attaching an actor or director to your movie) is good for getting a movie sold, but not necessarily for getting a movie made.
  2. Often you’ll have to do multiple drafts of a script, simply to appease the Actors, Producers, Directors, Executives, etc…. knowing full well that some of these drafts will never see the light of day.
  3. If you’re a writer that wants any semblance of control, you should write a TV pilot. In TV, writers are the “directors” (i.e. they have the creative control). Film, is a director’s medium.
  4. If you want to sell a script, figure out which production companies are making the movies that are most like yours, then get in touch with the lowest Creative Executive on the totem pole, and try to get them to read it.
  5. Best selling scripts: Tentpole, High Concept, Genre-bending
  6. These days Hollywood uses a “P & L” (Profit and Loss) risk assessment to determine whether or not a movie can be made. He cited an example of a movie that the studio wants to make, has an A-list actor attached, but that they can’t get made because it doesn’t satisfy the risk profile.

Bob Hohman:

  1. The number one job of an Agent is to explain showbusiness to the client. (i.e. What Hollywood is buying, what just sold two weeks ago that’s exactly the same concept as yours, why you shouldn’t write that period piece, etc.)
  2. You need more than one script to show that you’re a writer.
  3. You’re in the business of making things up. Don’t write strictly personal stories that are only powerful because they happened to you.
  4. Don’t write your script alone and think you’re done. Generate fans of your work. Managers, Producers — they are all friends to help you write your screenplay and get it sold.
  5. TV is more concerned about a compelling idea than a script. Often networks won’t even read a script before they start developing. TV loves development (opposite of movies).
  6. For writing assignments, there’s no work in the middle pay bracket right now. So A-List writers are working and C-List writers are working.
  7. Aspiring screenwriters should have jobs with zero responsibility, while they’re trying to establish themselves. Save your brainpower for your screenplay.
  8. Always exceed expectations (e.g. If you’re given 10 days for a rewrite, get it done in 8).
  9. Unlike film, Cable channels will buy a pitch from someone who’s not famous. They’ll just pair them with an established showrunner.
  10. Most of his clientele who are making money are in their 50’s. Alvin Sargent is 83 years old and gainfully employed. It may be a youth-driven industry, but really it’s all about your energy.

Did you attend any of the Agent sessions? What was the best advice you heard?

Tomorrow’s Edition: Pitching Advice and Horror Stories


Previous Screenwriting Expo 2011 Posts:

First Impressions
How do you get a Manager?

Screenwriting Expo 2011 – Why and How to get a Manager Sep 20

How do you get a Manager?All this week I’ll be providing you with insights and stories from this past weekend’s Screenwriting Expo in Los Angeles.

In yesterday’s post, I discussed my first impressions of the conference. Today I’ll share some terrific insights from the several Managers’ panels I attended.

What is a Manager?

What is a Manager and how do they differ from Agents? Others may have something different to say about it, but here’s my simplified take…

A Manager wants to guide your screenwriting career, work with you to develop great scripts, and help you find an Agent.

An Agent wants to make sure you’re working on a script they can sell, so they can sell the shit out of that script.

Managers tend to have fewer clients than Agents, because they need to spend more time with each client.

Why do you need a Manager?

Managers have their fingers on the pulse of the marketplace. Maybe you’re planning to write a vampire epic as your next script. A Manager can tell you that the marketplace is saturated with scripts about those moody, fangy bastards and save you 3 to 6 months of your life. (There is some overlap with Agents in this regard.)

They will also work with you to make sure your script is as great as it can be before it goes out. This is important, because studios aren’t interested in development. They’re interested in booking slots for movies. So the more polished a script is before a studio gets their hands on it, the less time will be spent on the script in development, which means there’s a greater likelihood that the script will actually reach the production phase.

Managers also have connections with Agents. If you have a proven track record of producing quality scripts, and have a killer script ready to go, a Manager can refer you to an Agent who can take your career to the next level.

How do you get a Manager?

Ah, the million dollar question.

First, it’s probably easier to get a Manager than an Agent. But “easier” does NOT mean “easy.”

Managers, like all non-vampires, only have a finite amount of time. So they can’t be spending their time reading every single script that comes their way to determine if the writer is any good.

That’s why they rely on two primary sources for new clients:

  1. Referrals
  2. Contest Winners

Referrals

This is the biggie. If someone they know and trust recommends that they take a look at a particular screenwriter, then that means that screenwriter has already been vetted to some extent.

Okay so how do you get someone to refer you to a Manager?

Answer: Be a great writer.

Often times you’ll hear people talk about networking. And networking is important, but really the best networking happens as an ongoing result of developing your writing skills (going to conferences, participating in writing groups, meeting people in the industry). As I’ve written before, Hollywood uses a self-authorizing password.

If you have talent, and put in the time, you’ll learn to walk the walk, speak the lingo and come across as a professional writer. On top of that you’ll have a few quality scripts that prove you’re a writer and not a dabbler.

Success is where preparation meets opportunity. When you’re ready, you’ll have all the knowledge and the contacts you need to get a Manager. It’s not a magic bullet, but it is what it is.

Contest Winners

This is an interesting one. Many of the Managers said that they find new clients from screenwriting contests.

So if you’ve won a screenwriting contest, you’re all set right? Nuh uh. Doesn’t work that way.

I said that the Managers find new clients. If you’re sending them a query email or letter, odds are it’s going to get deleted or trashed. One Manager said that he only took on one new client based on a query letter in the last fifteen years. And he was the generous one.

Managers are bombarded with dozens of emails every single day from people who have won contests. And not all contests are created equal. If you’ve just won the Podunk Screenwriting Contest, it doesn’t mean anything.

Here are a few contests that the Managers said they look at (it’s by no means all inclusive, but it is listed in approximate order of mention/importance):

  • Nicholl Fellowship (They all look at this one. Even the runners-up.)
  • Script Pipeline
  • Script Shark (Not a contest — but if you pay for their script service and your script is good enough, they may forward it to their roster of agents, managers, producers, executives…)
  • Final Draft
  • AAA (Creative Screenwriting)

Did anyone else attend the Managers’ panels? Do you already have a Manager? Let me know if there’s anything important I left out.

Tomorrow’s Edition: Important Tips from Agents
Is Netflix the best resource for screenwriters? Aug 08

The DialogueNetflix. What is it good for?

Absolutely… something!

Netflix has received some (probably warranted) bad press recently, due to their significant price hike. But if you can afford to shell out the cash for at least one more month, you’ll be able to take advantage of one of the best resources for screenwriters anywhere.

I’m not talking about their movie selection (though that’s good too). I’m talking about one specific set of DVDs known as The Dialogue.

The Dialogue: Learning from the Masters

Hosted by Mike De Luca (Producer of dozens of diverse movies including: Boogie Nights, American History X, Austin Powers, The Social Network), the series consists of in depth interviews with some of Hollywood’s elite screenwriters.

Here are just a few of the 27 screenwriters interviewed:

– Simon Kinberg (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Sherlock Holmes)
– Scott Rosenberg (Gone in Sixty Seconds, Con Air)
– David S. Goyer (Blade, Batman Begins)
– Paul Haggis (Crash, Casino Royale)
– Sheldon Turner (Up in the Air, X-Men First Class)
– Peter and Bob Farrelly (Dumb & Dumber, There’s Something About Mary)
– Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci (Star Trek, Cowboys & Aliens)

The DVDs are only few years old, and will give you the best bang for your Netflix buck.

Not only are the interviews insightful as to the process of screenwriting, they will certainly open your eyes to the business of screenwriting as well.

I can’t recommend these DVDs enough. Each 80 minute interview is jam-packed with incredible tidbits of knowledge you can only learn straight from the pros. These are MUST SEE DVDs guys.

Note: The full set of DVDs are also for sale on Amazon.com.

Update: Apparently Amazon isn’t selling these interviews in DVD form, but they are streaming and making them available for download (for a small fee). Here’s a link to one of my favorite interviews, Nicholas Kazan (Matilda, Fallen).


Professional script critique, logline and page notes for $59.
(Yup, the rumors are true. It’s the best frikken deal on the web.)
The Three Ps Aug 06

The Three PsThe Glee Project

Is anyone else out there watching The Glee Project? For those who don’t know about it, The Glee Project is a pretty cool little talent show on the Oxygen network that gives the winner a seven episode character arc on the upcoming season of Glee.

Now that’s what I call a prize!

The Three Ps

Anyway, there was a recent episode where Max Adler (who plays the closeted bully, Dave Karofsky) was giving some advice to the contestants, and mentioned the three Ps, as the secret to success.

Passion

Persistence

Patience

How excellent is that?! I’d never heard that one before. A great reminder for actors, singers, screenwriters and anyone else pursuing a dream.

Do you have all three?


Professional script critique, logline and page notes for $59.
(Yup, the rumors are true. It’s the best frikken deal on the web.)
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