Announcing Flexible Payment from ScriptBird.com

Posted May 5, 2010 by Amanda
Categories: ScriptBird.com

Hey site readers,

I’m very happy to announce that beginning this week, ScriptBird will be offering a flexible payment option for script analysis. Not only is this option going to be easier on your wallets, but it will now be simpler to get exactly what you’re looking for without paying for feedback you don’t need. Rather than a flat rate for a script notes package, you will now have the option to pay on a per-hour basis.

I’ve been at this business for several years, and what I’ve found is that no two clients want exactly the same thing. You might be confident with where you are with a project, feel like you’re ready to show it to people, and simply want a quick and honest second opinion from a completely impartial expert — in which case, you don’t need to pay for several pages of development notes.

Or you may be mired in that familiar hell that many, many writers experience: you’ve vomited out a first draft, you see nothing but flaws, and you’re at a loss as to how best to start making changes — in which case, you need plenty of guidance.

To be honest, guys, I’m at a loss as to why more script analysis and coverage services aren’t offering this kind of option to writers already. It’s high time we did. Wherever stage you’re at, ScriptBird was created to encourage you in your goal to write a solid, memorable, marketable screenplay. Hopefully this will make it a little easier for you to achieve that goal.

Go here for more details on flexible payment

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Formatting: It’s All About the PDF

Posted May 3, 2010 by Amanda
Categories: Advice from a Reader

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Back in the day, if you wanted to submit a script for me to read and write notes on, I’d accept pretty much any format you pleased. Typed up on your old IBM Selectric, written with free software you downloaded off the internet (which I then had to download myself in order to read it), whatever. What mattered, I figured, was the content. Substance over style. Scripts can always be reformatted, but the value of what lies inside won’t be affected by what font you used to write it.

Sadly, those days are over. When I left my job reading scripts in the comfort of my own home to work at a studio, where scripts are submitted not by writers themselves but by agencies, producers and managers, what I realized is that there are guidelines to submitting a script. A couple of years back, for instance, the big agencies (WMA — now WME –, UTA, ICM, etc.) stopped sending out hard copies of scripts. Everything became email-based, which, in addition to being more environmentally friendly, also meant it was easier to submit one script to multiple parties. Now some even go one step further, locking scripts so they can only be accessed by outside parties via username and password.

Eventually I realized that it does a disservice to writers when I accept a script in any other format than what other professionals would expect. If I read your script, give notes and help you get to the point where you’re ready to shop it around or enter screenplay competitions, then fail to advise you about how to format your submission, I’m doing a terrible job as a consultant. So with that in mind, here are several tips for how to put your script together in a way that looks ready to present, regardless of who wants to read it — be it your friend, a screenplay competition judge, a potential agent, or a financier.

1. What software you used to write the script in doesn’t matter, as long it adheres to industry standards for formatting — Final Draft, Screenwriter, etc. Writing in Microsoft Word is generally a bad idea, because no matter how much time you spend tweaking the formatting to get it to look exact, it’s a whole lot of unnecessary effort and you run the risk of making some formatting errors and looking like an amateur. If you can’t afford screenwriting software, there are alternative options like Celtx. Like I said, it doesn’t matter what you use because ultimately you are going to…

2. Convert your script into an Adobe Reader PDF file. The days of submitting a script in Final Draft are gone. Everything is now sent as a read-only PDF, to prevent anyone other than you from making changes to the document. If you don’t know how to convert Final Draft into PDF, it’s worth the 10 minutes of time spent with Final Draft Help to figure it out. The only tricky part is figuring out how to tack on your title page as part of the whole body of the script — on my computer for instance, you do it by selecting “Print” and then, instead of printing to a computer, choosing “Final Draft PDF Converter” and clicking the option at the bottom to print the title page.

3. Register your script with the WGA and include the registration number on your title page. Lots of writers (producers too) get jumpy about the idea of emailing their script to anyone, because they mistakenly believe that sending hard copies will make it easier for them to keep tabs on how many copies of the script exist and who has them. For one thing, anyone can take a script to Kinko’s and make multiple copies of your script if they have a mind to; with a little effort they could even scan your entire script so it becomes a sendable electronic document, so there’s little point in trying to protect your property this way. The proper way to do it is to register your script online with the WGA, at which point you sit back, take a deep breath and pledge not to expend anymore wasted energy to worrying about someone else stealing your idea. I’ve said it before but it’s worth saying again: you cannot legally register a movie concept, and if you came up with it, someone else probably came up with something similar before you did. What you are registering is your own creative interpretation of that concept. So register that script, guys.

By the time you’re done, what you’ve ideally got is a script between the length of 90 and 120 pages (okay, 130 — but only if you’re 100% certain that the story requires that extra meat), with nothing fancy on the title page save for the title itself, your contact information, and the WGA number, all saved as one .pdf file.

Wondering what you should title the file? Go for something straightforward and safe: if your name is John Smith and your screenplay is called RED LIGHT GREEN LIGHT, save the file as “RED LIGHT GREEN LIGHT J. Smith” or something similar. Don’t include the date it was written or descriptors like “rough draft” or “working title.” People reading your script are laboring under the pretense that they are reading the absolute best you have to offer and that you had the ultimate faith in your own material before you made the decision to submit it to them.

Good luck and happy writing…

Link of the Day: Screenline Insider Blog

Posted April 16, 2010 by Amanda
Categories: Link of the Day

Screenline has launched an interesting new feature: former Paramount distribution and marketing executive Ellen Pittleman will be examining a foreign territory’s box office trends each week. This week she takes a look at Brazil, which has seen a huge uptick in box office revenues thanks to an upturn in their economy and higher ticket prices from 3D Films.

Brazilian films took a 14.2% market share with 84 releases and 16m admissions, topped by Daniel Filho’s comedy sequel “If I Were You 2” which earned R$50.5m, had 5.7m admissions and placed second as the top performer for the year.

At number one was Fox’s “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” with R$81.1m gross and admissions of 9.2m.

Paris Filmes released “Twilight: New Moon” which grossed more in Brazil than all of the rest of Latin America to earn R$45.9m on admissions of 5.6m tickets sold. It was the best opening weekend of the past two years.

Brazil’s government supports the local filmmaking industry with tax incentives, and has recently come up with something they call the Sector Fund, an incentive-driven program geared to increase the number of movies being released each year capable of selling more than a million theater tickets.

It’s good reading, so check it out. And if you’re looking for more tasty links, remember to check out my links page, an up-to-date archive of resources and entertaining reading for screenwriters.

Spec Tracking, Week of April 12th, 2010

Posted April 14, 2010 by Amanda
Categories: Spec Tracking

Tags:

Sorry, folks, that it’s been such a long time since I posted loglines of scripts that are circulating in Hollywood right now. This so far has been the most popular feature on this blog, so I’ll try to remember to post them frequently. At some point in the near future I’ll be doing a week-long blitz with several dozen loglines for your reading enjoyment, so keep an eye out for that.

This week, we have a CIA action thriller (always a perpetual favorite; if there’s one thing people love to write about more than hit men, it’s spies), a supernatural horror period piece, and a rom com with a mediocre premise. People, if you’re going to write a romantic comedy, either your premise or your writing had better be pure gold. Oh, and for good measure, I’ve added a logline for the latest addition to the oversaturated “dance competition” sub-genre.

MORE IS NEVER ENOUGH
By Brandon M.
Logline: A formerly brilliant CIA agent, now a washed-up has-been, reconnects with his long-lost true love and estranged teenage son on a cross-country mission to save the world from imminent disaster.

EMPIRE OF THE WOLF
by John P.
Logline: Upon inheriting the empire, a Roman prince turns to his former bodyguard to escort him safely back to Rome, but on the journey they must survive six rogue Praetorians cursed with demonic powers and hell bent on killing the prince before he’s crowned `Caesar’.
The story is loosely based on a young Roman prince who inherited the throne after his father’s death.

GUITARS WICKED AWESOME DANCE CREW
by Philip S. and Chad D.
Logline: When Lance Guitars, a depressed and fame-starved choreographer, finds himself hounded by goons over a gambling debt, he assembles a rag tag crew to compete for the prize money in the national dance competition.

THE SUGAR DADDY
by Flint W.
Logline: A romantic comedy about a mild-mannered suburban dad who, in an attempt to lure back his ex-wife, decides to become the sugar daddy to an independent-minded but down-on-her-luck younger woman.

If you have to mention in your romantic comedy’s logline that it’s a romantic comedy, it’s probably not a good sign — the movie’s description should give the genre away without needing to explicitly specify what that genre is. Of all four, the one with demonic Praetorians is the only one that sounded even mildly interesting, but I predict it’s the first script that will sell the fastest. What say you?

The Gross-Out Comedy: How to Do It Right

Posted April 12, 2010 by Amanda
Categories: Advice from a Reader

Tags: , , , , ,

The R-rated comedy has rarely, if ever, been more popular. What began with classics like Porky’s in the 80s found a renaissance in the 90s with the creation of the “American Pie” franchise. From there, filmmakers like Todd Philips (with “Old School” and “The Hangover”) and Judd Apatow (“Superbad,” “Knocked-Up”) turned the genre into an art form — still going strong with the recent “Hot Tub Time Machine” and the upcoming “Get Him to the Greek,” just to name a couple.

Marketing is greatly aided by red-band trailers, which are ostensibly for viewers over 17 but, ironically, succeed by luring audiences not yet old enough to buy tickets for said movie without an adult present.

Writing a raunchy comedy can be a great way to establish yourself as a writer, but the new writer should take caution: they aren’t as easy to write as they seem, and can very easily go wrong. A comedy script relying on gross-out humor and ignoring all other conventions of screenwriting isn’t worth the Final Draft software it was written on. Shock value doesn’t redeem a bad script.

We’re all familiar with the “getting there” model of comedy: a group, usually made up of guys in their 20s or 30s, has to get from Point A to Point B; what happens in between is the funny part. The road trip comedy is only one variation; you’ve also got Guys Go on Vacation or To College, Guys Get Stoned and Confused, or Guys Get Lost Somewhere and Find Themselves Terribly Out of Place.

What makes these movies so tempting to write, besides their frequent onscreen success, is the fact that you know these guys. These guys are your friends. You can write a movie about your friends. It’s easy!

Only — it’s not, because just about everything funny that has happened to you or your friends is either not funny enough to belong in a movie, or has already been thought of. Therein lies the secret difficulty of writing this kind of movie: how to come up with jokes we haven’t already seen done 100 times? We’ve seen characters get drunk and puke on each other, sleep with people they’re ashamed of in the morning, get uncomfortably affectionate with each other, go to prison, get in fights where their asses wind up kicked, or some combination of the above.

One way to get around this obstacle is to take the joke further, and somewhere unexpected — not for the sake of shocking us, but for the sake of surprising us. Having the main characters in “The Hangover” be pursued by bad guys is not inspired. Having them negotiate their freedom by agreeing to submit to a taser demonstration before a classroom of children? Inspired. Writers should never be afraid of going above and beyond silly into the awesomely weird — if it’s funny, we’ll happily take that ride with you.

Where many writers go wrong is to believe that rather than introducing a standard movie setup and taking it somewhere uninspired, what audience really want to see is something bigger, badder and grosser than anything they’ve ever seen in a movie before. I’m thinking of calling this “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” Syndrome after the eponymous movie that, thank God, grossed about nothing at the box office. You could also call it the “Freddy Got Fingered” Disorder.

I recently read a script in which two lesbians had sex bent over a sink with the use of a marital aide, a man having sex with a morbidly obese woman rolled out-of-control down a San Francisco street as horrified onlookers watched, and an elderly couple engaged in a sexual act known as “chili-dogging.” (If you don’t know what that is, I recommend you don’t look it up.) This all happened before page 30.

No. Mistake.

Gross-out comedies are still movies, and when writing them you must still obey standard screenwriting rules. This involves a workable plot, of course, and a basic grasp on everyday logic (say, when your character appears at point A in one scene and at point B in another, we must understand logically how they got there).

But more importantly, gross-out comedies still have heart. A screenplay is a narrative, and a narrative has a central conflict, a resolution to that conflict, and a redemption for the main character. You must make time to introduce the characters, to show us what makes them funny and appealing, and to get us invested in their story, before you begin slopping bodily fluids willy-nilly around the page.

I’m not saying your characters have to stop and have a heartfelt sit-down that stops the action dead in its tracks and makes us all forget to laugh. If your characters are strongly written, then the aspects of them that are funny will infuse even the more serious scenes with humor. You shouldn’t be afraid to address real, genuine problems within a raunchy comedy. Think of Seth Rogen fighting with Katherine Heigl about responsibility in “Knocked Up,” the genuine love behind the dysfunctional family members in “Wedding Crashers,” the angst and humiliation suffered by Jason Biggs’ character in “American Pie.”

Without heart, what you get is an endless string of Saturday Night Live sketches, what script readers and executives refer to as an “episodic” script, meaning comic setpieces are strung together for their own sake rather than each vitally advancing a story. Don’t make this mistake — take it in a different direction. There’s still plenty of room for innovation and originality within this genre, and at its best, R-rated comedies are hilarious to read long before they’re ever played out onscreen.

Why Letters of Intent Don’t Work

Posted April 6, 2010 by Amanda
Categories: Advice from an Executive, State of the Industry

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One of my favorite film bloggers, Jeff Steele, has a lovely piece in The Wrap about why, if you are a producer, you shouldn’t bother trying to lock down a letter of intent from a star.

Assuming you, reading this right now at your desk while possibly wearing sweatpants, are not a producer trying to get Rob Pattinson to commit to your independent romantic drama, it’s still interesting reading. Producers and screenwriters often fall into the same trap of believing that if they have a recognizable talent attached to a project, the project will be easier to set up with a buyer. The opposite is true: buyers typically few an attached actor or director as a liability, not an asset.

As for letters of intent, they are inherently meaningless when you’re dealing with an indie. If a buyer wants to go after a big star for a project, they will get on the horn with that star’s representatives and hammer out a deal that way. Getting a celebrity to vocally endorse your project can raise interest in the project itself, but the celebrity’s agents and managers don’t like it — why tie up a bankable star with a million-dollar project when they could be going after tens of millions of dollars scoring a part in a tentpole studio film?

Anyway, Jeff Steele says it better than I could:

Actors are paid to act; any agent can tell you that the script is the least important part to them. When it comes to the principal cast (upon which the sales and financing are predicated), unless I can call the agent or manager directly myself and verify, there is no real attachment. The exception being a Spielberg or a Scorsese, whose stature in the industry could reasonably facilitate any star interest.

I had a project recently where the director was lifelong friends with a breakout star, who had committed to doing the film. The agency was noncommittal. Why? Because the agency didn’t want to tie up a month of the actor’s time for a measly million bucks, when they could be getting 5-10x that from a studio for the same timeslot. A lot of money and time was spent pre-selling territories and shoring up the financing, only to have the star drop out, under CAA’s (er, I mean a random agency’s) pressure.

So don’t kill yourself wondering if your project would become more viable if you could only score five minutes of an A-lister’s time in the gym locker room or in line at Starbucks. Focus on getting the buyer interested instead.

Two Blogs for Monday

Posted March 29, 2010 by Amanda
Categories: Link of the Day

One of the most frustrating aspects of trying to learn about Hollywood is the veil of mystery that seems to shroud it. While you can learn plenty by reading books, magazines and websites devoted to the craft of filmmaking, this usually does little to illuminate the experience of what it’s really like to work in the trenches. What do working writers experience every day? What is it like to work for a studio and evaluate scripts for a living? Or to be a producer?

Personal blogs kept by working Hollywood employees — the writers, the executives, the assistants — are chock full of useful information and good dirt that you often won’t find in other sources. They can offer you a second-hand glimpse into the workings of the entertainment industry without its usual veil of mystery; they’re unpolished, sometimes anonymous, and, because they’re not being written with any particular agenda, usually quite upfront and honest.

One such blog is I Liked The Trailer Better, kept by two producers who also have great senses of humor. Their written dialogues about movies and the process of making them is entertaining in and of itself.

Another is StephTVFilmWriter, which is tough to beat for straightforward dish about what it’s really like to try to forge a career as a working writer. Steph’s smart, savvy, resourceful and tells it like it is. She also doesn’t pull punches when it comes to discussing the mistakes she’s seen other writers make, but somehow does it without coming across as discouraging or negative. Definitely a recommended read.