November 11th, 2015
By Danny Manus
If you’ve been paying attention lately, you surely noticed that the hottest thing selling in Hollywood…is books! And with the success of films like Gone Girl, Hunger Games and yes, even 50 Shades of Gray, more and more book writers are making the jump and adapting their own material or trying to get their books adapted to film.
And while the goal in both mediums is to create the best story and tell it in the most compelling way, there are some major differences between writing for book and film.
Whether writing book or film, you always want to think and write visually. As storytellers, we are always picturing whatever we’re putting on paper. But writing visually is not the same thing as writing cinematically.
Writing visually is making sure something is happening in the scene (or chapter). Writing cinematically is about making sure something is happening behind the scene. Writing visually in a book is about describing the scene – the location, the wardrobe, the way the moonlight shines in the effervescent blue sparkles of your character’s eyes. In film, it’s about expressing what’s happening in the scene in the fewest amount of words. It’s not about feelings or thoughts – it’s about actions and word choice.
With books, it’s often about writing a story that everyone can relate to and say, “I’ve been through that too, so I understand. This is like a book about my life.” It’s about creating a community of people who relate to what is happening in your story in some way.
In film, it’s about creating a story that no one else has gone through and then finding ways to make it relatable through your themes, characters and dilemmas. The threshold is higher with stories meant for the big screen, because people go to the movies to escape – not to commiserate. Ten thousand books a year can be published about fighting cancer. You know how many movies about cancer there can be in any given year? One.
Writing cinematically is about having moments. Yes, certain structural moments that keep a reader and audience engaged. But also, visual, impactful, shocking, powerful moments that people will be talking about or quoting later. It’s about bringing out the hook of your story and exploiting it to its maximum dramatic (or comedic or horrific) purpose. It’s about focusing your project down to its most important moments and details that create a world and tell a story and a character arc without feeling novelistic.
If you’re interested in adapting your book to a screenplay, this is how you need to think. You take your basic concept, your world, probably your main character, and the 5-10 major moments that define and exploit your hook and concept in your book – and you leave the rest behind. Sure, there are some lines of dialogue and description that will carry over. But adapting from a book is basically like writing an original screenplay inspired by a true story. Except it’s inspired by the book it’s based on.
And the great part about writing books is that even if no one else wants to publish it, you can still do it yourself and get your voice out there for the world to read. There’s always a pay off! That’s something you can’t say about a screenplay.
But to that end…No BullScript is here to help! After working with a number of book writers, speaking at numerous book conferences, and forging great relationships with publishers, editors and book agents around the country, I am thrilled to announce that No BullScript is now offering a service specifically for BOOK WRITERS!
If you have written a manuscript and want to know if your story and writing is strong enough to grab a publisher or agent’s attention, or if you’re thinking about adapting your book to a screenplay and want to go through how and if it’s worthwhile to do so – we can help with that! I will read your book and we will go through all my notes, chapter by chapter, over the phone (or Skype) to make sure your book is as strong as it can be. And if it is, I will help you get it into the right hands. *I want to make it clear, I’m not EDITING books. But if you are unsure about your story, characters, flow, overall writing, plot, or its ability to become a feature film, I am here to help! Please check out my services page for the NEW Manuscript/Adaptation Notes Service. And I hope to work with you all soon!
May 8th, 2015
By Danny Manus
Have you sent out dozens of query letters? Hundreds? Thousands?
And no response? No reads? No meetings? Not even a polite rejection letter telling you why they won’t read your material?
Then let me be clear…It’s YOU. Not THEM.
You’re the problem. Or at least, your query letter is.
There have been some articles lately about how the whole idea of a query letter in today’s Hollywood is a hoax. I don’t believe that. Why? Because while 98% of queries may go straight into the trash and the chances of them paying off are indeed incredibly slim… they’re no less valid than any other way of trying to get read, signed, produced or otherwise noticed. And they’re still the least expensive. Everything’s a long shot. Everything’s a crap shoot. Queries are no different. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a try. IF you’re doing it right. The problem is – 98% of you aren’t.
I recently agreed to help a boutique agency sift through their backlog of hundreds and hundreds of queries that were piling up – something I’ve done for other agents and managers in the past. I was asked to keep the ones I thought might be worth reading or contacting the writer about. I read about 550 queries just for this one company over the course of a couple weeks, and it quickly became frighteningly obvious how many ridiculous, unnecessary, sloppy, unprofessional, clueless, amateur mistakes writers were making with their queries.
For the record, of the 550(ish) queries, I gave 35 query letters back to the agent to look at. All the others are now sitting in my recycling bin. Except for the handful that were so ungodly awful, unprofessional or ridiculous, that they are now being kept in my folder of query gems that I use in my classes as examples of what not to do (don’t worry, I don’t use names).
But it doesn’t have to be like that. You CAN get read and noticed and even signed from your query letters. If you’re not committing any of the cardinal sins of queries listed below. A checklist I crudely call…
The 50 Reasons Your Query Letter Sucks. I hope you’ll forgive my foul language.
- TYSPOS. If yuo cant right one paragraf without dozens of tyspos then you’re script is probably illegidable. See how insanely annoying that is. Makes me sound like a fucking 4th grader, doesn’t it? Why would a manager invest their time in someone who writes like that? If you cannot write a half a page without correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation, I will not read your script. Period. Hire someone to edit your letter if you need to. You have no idea how many letters I read where the script’s own TITLE had a typo in it. There is NO excuse for laziness or stupidity.
- You didn’t include your EMAIL ADDRESS in your letter. Do yourself a favor and stop including a SASE with your query. No one is mailing you back. If we want to read your script, we’re going to email you and let you know. If there’s no email address on the letter, then guess what…we can’t contact you and you wasted a stamp. Of the 550 queries in this batch, well over 100 did not have email addresses and went right in the garbage. Also, make sure your Email address is appropriate and professional. If your email is Hottieforyou69@aol.com, do yourself a favor – get a second account.
- You’re writing stories everyone else is writing. Sometimes it’s just your concept or lack of originality. In this batch, there were some CLEAR trends. The most common concepts queried included: War/Soldier Stories (at least 15% of all queries received), Aliens/Robots/Sci-Fi stories (15%), True Stories likely based on the writer’s life (at least 10%), Bank Robbery/Heist stories (10%), Christmas movies (5%), Torture Porn (5%), Rape/Abortion Stories (5%), Sequels to Existing Movies (5%), etc. The other 30% were broken up between comedies, other types of dramas, thrillers, a few ghost stories, and TV pilots. In other words – most of the queries were for stories and genres that can’t sell.
- YOUR QUERY IS WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS OR SOME FUNNY FONT.
- You sent a handwritten serial killer-style manifesto. It’s called a computer. Use it. And stop torturing animals in your shack.
- You don’t tell us your genre and you don’t have a good logline (or ANY logline). The people you’re sending queries to have to pitch your concept to their bosses. That’s why your logline is so important. Plus, if your logline is truly great, the rest of the letter doesn’t need to be that long. But I can count on one hand how many of the 550 queries had a truly GREAT logline that made me excited to read more.
- Your query is written in all Spanish. No hablo, muchacho.
- The first line of your query is “I’m a first time writer…” – well then you’re not ready to be querying and definitely not ready for an agent or manager who don’t want to be your guinea pig.
- You’re querying agents about your first script. Do not bother. You need at least 2 polished and ready scripts for agents to care about you. You can query producers, but honestly, it’s probably not ready for them either.
- You are querying about an IDEA you have and not a script you’ve written. Thanks for the idea. Next time, write the script and register it. This is how ideas get stolen – and it’s YOUR fault. No one is going to sign you based on an idea. They are worthless.
- Your brief story synopsis is really just ONE scene or only covers the first 15 pages of your story and it doesn’t point out the situation your character must do/overcome/achieve or what your hook is.
- You’ve written a sequel to a major franchise, book, or film. STOP WASTING YOUR DAMN TIME AND MINE! No one is buying your Batman or Star Wars movie – CUT IT OUT! It makes you a fan, not a screenwriter. DO NOT write scripts for stories, characters or films you don’t own the rights to. Producers and studios have a prestigious stable of million-dollar screenwriters they want movie ideas from for their franchises and you’re not one of them.
- You’re querying about a spec you’ve written of an existing TV show because you want to sell it to the producers of that show. This is NEVER going to happen. If you want to be a TV writer, you should be querying about your ORIGINAL PILOT and as a 2nd sample, you can mention you also wrote a spec of an existing show. But you should never query an agent because of a spec of a show you want to sell to its producers.
- You included autographed headshots of yourself. Unnecessary. Unless you’re really hot.
- In your letter, you ask for DONATIONS to your Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign! I even got one letter that was a query asking for donations to his college education for film school. No joke.
- You’re sharing TMI or opening with something personal or embarrassing. If you have a legitimate mental illness – DON’T tell us about it in your query. I read at least 3 queries where the writer told me in the first line that they are bipolar. You’re a screenwriter – I already assume you have mental issues.
- You tell me to call your MOTHER. Yes, in one of the greatest/worst queries I’ve ever read, it was a 3 page hand-written letter on yellow legal paper and at the end, the writer – who is 27 YEARS OLD(!!) – says he lives in his mother’s basement and to please call HER cell phone and leave a message and she will pass it along. Seriously, Norman Bates? Would I have to ask your mother if you can come to a meeting too?
- You’re starting your query by telling me your whole life story. I don’t give a shit. And you’re not that interesting. I have only read 2 query letters ever where the life story was so moving and powerful I had to read their script. TWO. Out of tens of thousands.
- Your story is about rape, domestic abuse or abortion. Especially if you’re a male writer. These are NOT the most interesting things about women to write about. Even if you’re a female writer, it’s been done to death (no pun intended) and 90% of the time we know it’s based on your own true story. Not even Lifetime is making movies about rape and abortion anymore.
- Your whole query letter is one huge block of writing without any line spaces or paragraphs. I can only imagine what your script looks like.
- Your query is for a Game Show or (unmade) Short Film. No one represents short film writers or game show writers. Try writing something that can make you MONEY.
- You’re not using both capital and lower case letters like a normal person. The title of your script better start with a Capital Letter. It should also be in quotation marks and can be capitalized (though not necessary).
- You INSULT other movies in your query letter to make yours sound better. You have no idea who’s reading your letter or who they’ve worked with or what movies they worked on or love. Don’t tell us your story is “like X movie but with a good story, more likeable characters and actually funny.” Makes you sound like a jealous dick.
- You promise us your script is the best script we’ll read all year. It’s not. I guarantee it. Don’t set the bar higher than you can reach.
- You tell us to check out your Tumblr blog or website or Twitter feed to find out about your story or download your script. Don’t troll for followers or website hits.
- You close your query with “Kiss, Kiss” or something stupid and immature. End your query with “Warmest” “Warmest Regards” “Sincerely” or “Respectfully” and then your name, email, and phone number. That’s it.
- You are LYING in your query and it’s really fucking obvious and insulting. Do not tell me in your query letter that you’re an award winning writer if that award is some high school competition or 3rd place in Scriptapalooza 2006. You didn’t win shit. Don’t say you have lots of agents begging to represent you or numerous producers clamoring for your story – because I know that’s not true. You know how I know? Because then you wouldn’t be blind querying me, would you!? Do not say studios or actors are interested if you don’t have a Letter of Intent. It takes ONE phone call to confirm you’re a liar. Do not tell us about what your “friends in the industry” said about the script. If you had real friends in the industry, you wouldn’t be querying like this. You’re trying to start a long-term relationship with someone – don’t start on a lie. This isn’t Tinder.
- Connected to that, you try to exaggerate to make yourself sound better by using words you think we can’t decipher. For instance, “My script is currently with X MAJOR STUDIO” – We know that means you randomly emailed your script and haven’t heard back. Or “My script is currently in contention for the Nicholls Fellowship” – which means you paid the entry fee and submitted.
- You say you’ve been inspired by God to write your story. God has nothing to do with it. Unless the God you pray to is Aaron Sorkin.
- You’re a repeat offender. If you have sent the same query letter to the same company 16 times – guess what? IT’S A FUCKING PASS! Take the hint. Stop sending it. You only seem like more of a desperate nut-job (I’m talking to you, Jack!).
- You don’t tell us anything that makes you stand out in a POSITIVE way or makes one think you have a strong enough voice or pleasant and professional enough disposition.
- You start your query with a ridiculous rhetorical question. “Ever wonder what would happen if your dog turned into a beautiful woman?” Umm…NO. No, I haven’t. Better question is – Why have you? We can’t answer you and if we answered NO, then we have dismissed your premise before reading your story. This is an antiquated way of writing queries – stop it!
- You offer to send me pictures of you, and ask me to send you pictures of me. It’s not that kind of agency, you creepy fuck.
- You make it feel like a form letter even though we know it is. Send your letter to a specific person and spell their name right! Don’t address your query to “Dear Sir or Madam” or to the wrong name or wrong company, and don’t address it to “Dear My Next Agent” or “Dear Gatekeeper” or “Dear Development Person.” Do your due diligence and research and know who you are sending it to. It’s called IMDBPRO.
- You’ve included random coverage reports and you didn’t even get a RECOMMEND! A CONSIDER is nothing to brag about. And those coverage/notes reports are private.
- You tell us who should star in your movie or who you wrote the characters for. If it’s well-written, producers will know who should play that role. The way to cheat this is when you describe your character, you can say “A Seth Rogen type” instead of “I wrote this for Seth Rogen” – because what if the agent or producer hates him?
- You tell us in your letter that you demand to produce/direct/star in the movie. I even had one letter where the writer said he would appreciate it if the hypothetical movie would be scheduled around his day job. INSTANT PASS. Unless you’re also financing the film.
- You’re writing your query letter in the third person. Danny Manus has written a wonderful new thriller that Danny Manus would like you to read…. Danny Manus sounds like a douche.
- You’re bragging that you got honorable mention in the Writer’s Digest Contest of 2006. Who the fuck cares? It’s not a major contest, you didn’t even win, and it was like 10 years ago. If you haven’t WON or been a FINALIST in one of the 10-15 major prestigious contests (or semifinalist in the top 3 contests) in the last 5-6 years then it’s not worth mentioning in a letter. It just tells us your script has been around FOREVER and no one has wanted it or signed you off of it.
- You’re not setting up a context for your script. Use “It’s this meets that” or “It’s in the vein of this and that” because it allows execs to see where your project fits in the marketplace. But use the RIGHT template films that show tone, genre and context.
- You’re making it sound like you only have ONE idea and want a quick sale and are only in it for the money. If you’re querying producers, that’s fine. But not if you’re querying reps because they’re in it for the long haul and want someone looking for a career.
- You include copies of your Library of Congress Copyright form, WGA Registration receipt, or anything else that makes it look like you’re expecting us to steal your idea.
- You’re including MULTIPLE loglines when sending to a producer. Your query to a producer should be about ONE project. If querying reps, you can include 1-3 projects in your query but more than that and it looks like a red flag that no one likes your work.
- You’re pitching multiple scripts in multiple genres. This is what I call spaghetti queries because you’re just throwing a bunch of shit at the wall and seeing what sticks. You can include more than 1 logline to a rep, but if it’s 4 projects in 4 genres then you don’t know what kind of writer you are yet and you’re not ready.
- You bad-mouth an agent or manager you USED to have. It’s a small world in Hollywood. Keep that in mind and don’t be that guy.
- Your query letter is longer than ONE page. Some people send treatments, some send packages, some send the first 10 pages of script (not ONE of them were good). All you need to send is a ½ to 1 page query letter. That’s it.
- You tried to be overly clever – and failed. Comedy is subjective. Let the comedy of your story and concept sell us instead of you trying too hard to make me laugh.
- You try to promote or sell your personal agenda, message, political affiliation, or social beliefs instead of telling a story. That’s not what screenwriting is for. Write a blog. Because no one gives a shit.
- You quote box office grosses of movies because you think it means yours will be likewise successful. Just because Saving Private Ryan made half a billion dollars does not mean YOUR war story will. That movie had the biggest movie star in the world and the biggest director in the world. You cannot in any way compare your movie to that one. And you don’t have to tell us how successful other movies were – we know!
- You’re just not a good enough writer. Brutal, but possibly true.
Let’s be realistic – there are upwards of 60,000 scripts registered every year with WGA plus thousands more that are not registered. Agents, managers and producers receive many thousands of queries each year and 90% of them don’t even accept unsolicited queries. The competition is staggering. The window is small. So just having a good idea, good script, or good query simply is not enough. I’m not telling you to stop writing or stop querying – I’m just begging you to be better. Be better than the 550 queries I just read. Be ready. Be professional. Heed the above list and give yourself a shot. Write a query that no one can resist…and no one will. Or, you can just keep writing queries that suck.
***This month, No BullScript Consulting is launching an exciting new Second Reader Service, where you can purchase a one-hour phone/skype consultation with a working Development Executive or Manager who will read your script and discuss their constructive notes and answer your questions! No assistants, no middle-men, no B.S.! Make it a combo and get TWO sets of comprehensive notes at a discounted price! Check out the Second Reader Page for more details!
January 4th, 2014
By Danny Manus
2013 was an excellent year for movies – perhaps the best in quite a few years. And there are many films that I would be very content with winning the Oscar. But for me, the best movie of the year is Her. And no one is more shocked about that than I am.
I went in doubting the hype. I’m not a huge Joaquin Phoenix fan and Spike Jonze is the kind of manic eccentric genius that sometimes doesn’t translate to a relatable cohesive story. And considering his writing credits include the Jackass movies and Where the Wild Things Are and his directing credits include Adaptation, Being John Malkovich and dozens of music videos, who could guess that he’d write the next great American love story.
The best compliment I could give Her is that it makes me never want to write again because I don’t think I could ever write something as good that works on so many levels. It is a touching, amazingly relevant, powerful and complete love story that engrosses you more than most love stories where there are TWO people present on screen. It is beautifully crafted, beautifully acted and thematically impactful. It’s a love story for the ages, and the age that hasn’t come yet.
And I realized there are some specific reasons why this movie works so well.
1. It creates an interesting, expansive world but only explores one tiny piece of it. There are so many lovely nuances to this futuristic Los Angeles setting. The green screen backgrounds shows how much LA has changed in the near future, with its endless glittering lights and cell towers pinging like shooting stars. Every single person is engaged in a schizophrenic-like experience talking to their own ear pieces and personal OS systems as they walk down the street completely oblivious that anyone else exists. The sharp, ultra-functional, ultra-modern, color-infused world of the apartments and offices underline the isolation that seems to exist between its residents. There are friendships and dates and social interaction, but the closest relationship people seem to have in this world is with their tech gadgets.
Other nuances like how email is read and categorized, how fast technology works and is able to absorb and grow and adapt, how people get around, etc. only further help flesh out the world. Jonze clearly knew every little aspect of his near-future landscape before he wrote this script and was able to pick and choose which ones would highlight his theme and story and characters in genius ways. There are probably tons of other aspects of this world that could have been explored, but limiting it to what is directly connected to the love story makes it all the more intriguing. When writers know how to create a truly intriguing world that is special yet relatable, different yet plausible, and that world matches the story that is occurring within it, it’s a winning combination.
Many of the scripts I’ve read lately have these expansive futuristic/dystopian/post-apocalyptic worlds, but they aren’t really necessary to the story – the writers are just hoping that their “awesome” worlds will mask what’s lacking in the narrative. Jonze chose a time and world that complimented the story in perfect fashion and made it feel MORE believable and viable instead of just distracting us from it. Jonze created a big world but made it feel small, while creating a small story and making it feel big. That’s one of the keys to successful world building.
2. Timing. Is there a more relevant love story right now than that between man and technology? It’s the right story at the right time. The themes and societal questions raised and explored of what makes for a genuine relationship, what defines a happy couple, what makes for true love, and what constitutes an acceptable love dynamic in society is done so in beautiful ways. At a time when gay marriage is a hot button issue, Jonze takes the concept two steps further and makes relationships with OS’s (Operating Systems) the next issue to be tackled. It’s talked about and accepted by many in this story – but it’s still not the thing everyone is comfortable with. It’s still somewhat taboo and embarrassing for Phoenix’s character. There’s still that unsure “Ohhh…umm…okay” reaction when people hear about this relationship.
When a writer can tap into the zeitgeist – and what could be NEXT in the zeitgeist – in a way that examines an issue in a brilliant way without ever mentioning the issue, that shows true talent. The concept of the OS/Human relationship is discussed, but it’s more about the doubt the Human and the OS have in their own feelings than their worries about what the outside world thinks. It’s about being comfortable in your own love and your own mind and letting everything else go. And if that’s not an important and relevant message and theme to explore today, I don’t know what is.
The beauty of the way Jonze explores this theme, however, is how he has elevated the genre and the discussion. Which brings us to…
3. It defines elevated storytelling. And that’s not easy to do with romance or romantic dramas. If you’ve ever seen a Nicholas Sparks novel brought to life on screen, they all have strong emotional hooks. They all have an internal dilemma and external conflict that rips the lovers apart only so they can find a way to come back together. But almost none of them feel realistic or relatable. His books explore life-threatening illnesses and death. They are female fantasies underlining the power of true love. None of them are overly intelligent or complex. They connect on an emotional level but that’s about it. The beauty of Her is that it connects on an emotional level AND a cerebral one. It makes you feel, it makes you cry, and it makes you think at the same time.
Hollywood always says it wants ELEVATED material. This is a romantic drama on an elevated level. Elevated means there is something smarter and deeper about the story than the normal, down-the-middle boy meets girl story. And Her delivers on that in spades.
4. It tells a complete love story. It’s boy meets girl (ish), but in a whole new way. But the beauty of the structure of the story is that we really get to experience their whole relationship. I don’t want to give anything away about how the film ends, but every time you think the story can end, Spike Jonze finds a believable and relatable way to throw another plot twist into the mix that progress the arcs of both characters and raises the stakes. And they all feel like REAL twists that would plague any real-world human relationship which is what makes it feel so genuine.
It doesn’t take much to believe that a person can fall in love with a voice on a computer. So once you swallow that premise, the rest is a rollercoaster ride of emotion from beginning to end that probably feels like a love story you’ve experienced. Or maybe that’s just me. It uses all the tropes of romantic drama – loss, death, cheating, conflict, temptation, realization, growth, change, love and sex – but there’s only one physical person involved. It’s a focused story, but a complete story. And that’s what you should be trying to do with your scripts.
5. It gives its actors immense room to play, react, feel and emote. Movies don’t get made without stars these days, and to get stars you need characters that stand out and give them something to do. A new situation or mindset for them to explore emotionally. And too many writers focus on the action of what the characters do in the scene and not enough on the REACTION the actors get to portray in their quiet or reflective moments. And all of the actors in this film have those moments and play them perfectly.
Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams (who looks more like Cameron Diaz in Being John Malkovich than the glam roles she usually plays), Olivia Wilde, Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt and especially Scarlett Johansson are all pitch perfect (and listen for the greatest voice over cameo ever by Kristen Wiig).
The fact that Scarlett Johansson can’t be nominated for an Academy Award is a damn shame. Personally, I’ve never been a big Joaquin Phoenix fan. I find him intense and creepy to watch but not in a fun way (like Daniel Day Lewis). But the man knows how to genuinely emote on screen like very few others can. He’s so open and able to commit to the words, it’s powerful to watch. And I’m not sure if Scarlett was in the room or speaking to him through the ear piece or if it was all done in post, but you’d never know he was the only person in the room.
Phoenix’s character has a simple enough backstory – a nasty divorce from the love of his life has left him somewhat of a recluse and emotionally crippled. It’s not a hugely original backstory. But when combined with the world created, it’s all you need. The OS Samantha, played by Johansson, has just as much (if not more) or a character arc than the human characters. It’s her character that grows and changes the most. As I said, it’s a complete love story told from both perspectives, even though we are only SEEING one on screen. Give huge credit to Scarlett for bringing a character to life that isn’t even alive and that we never see. If you can write characters like that, you will get a major actor attached to your script.
6. The dialogue will affect you. I don’t want to ruin anything, but I will leave you with two quotes that stand out. “Love is a form of socially acceptable insanity.” This line is brilliant not just because it’s accurate, but because the whole story is about a guy talking to an ear piece, which makes him look even crazier yet in this world it’s socially acceptable. And “The past is just a story we tell ourselves.” It’s one of those lines that stay with you, that become part of the way you think. The script is full of these, and that kind of dialogue is what powerful films are made of.
Hopefully I’ve convinced you to go see Her, but also to read the script and learn how to craft a story that deserves Oscar gold.Life in Hollywood, New Announcements, Random Ramblings, Screenwriting Tips, Uncategorized Amy Adams, character, Danny Manus, Dialogue, Drama, Her, Jaoquin Phoenix, Love Story, Nicholas Sparks, Oscar, Romance, Scarlett Johansson, Screenwriting, Spike Jonze, Story, Storytelling, Technology, World Building, Zeitgeist
June 25th, 2013
By Danny Manus
There are a million reasons to want to try your hand at screenwriting; as therapy, as a creative outlet, because it’s been a dream of yours since childhood, because you just love telling stories in a visual way, because you want to leave your stamp on pop culture or create your legacy, etc. Or maybe you just want to be famous and get your picture taken in US Weekly standing next to Kristen Stewart looking like she just ate a sour candy.
But there is one reason that should NEVER come into play – Money.
It’s time for some tough love, No Bull style. Lately, I’ve had a few clients who told me they NEED to sell their script and quick because they are having financial issues. They’re broke, they are getting evicted, they lost their jobs, they can’t find a new job, they need to pay their mortgage, their children are going to college, etc.
Let me say this as clearly as humanly possible: If you need to sell a script in order to pay your mortgage…you’re going to be homeless very soon!
Money is the LAST reason to go into screenwriting because chances are it’s going to take you YEARS to make any. And even if you do (by some miracle) sell or option your first script, it’s not going to be for much money, if any. We’re talking a few thousand dollars – certainly not enough to quit your day job or send a kid to school. Even if you got super-duper lucky and get paid WGA minimum for your script, it’s still less than you’d make as a first year school teacher in a bad neighborhood.
And getting the movie made is a whole other process that can take anywhere from 2-10 years, so I hope you aren’t counting on those residual checks to pay your rent.
If you are having financial difficulties, please – do ANYTHING else! You might as well get a job at Starbucks because you will make more money, get full benefits, and if you’re working at a Starbucks in Los Angeles – you’ll probably get to meet more celebrities than you will as a screenwriter anyway.
Screenwriting is something you want to do as a career because you’re so passionate about it, you just can’t picture yourself doing anything else day after day, year after year and because you LOVE writing – not because you’ve tried everything else and writing is the only thing left and you think anyone can do it.
Being a professional screenwriter isn’t about writing 100 pages. Anyone can do that. It’s about immersing yourself in the craft of writing and the BUSINESS of film and TV. You have to know what you’re getting into. Being a professional screenwriter means you don’t just have ONE story to tell that you’d like to see get made one day. It’s about having so many ideas and inspirations and stories that your brain can’t hold them all, so they need to flow out onto paper.
And if you’ve got tons of ideas but you don’t want to write them – then you’re not a screenwriter – you’re a producer! Ha!
It’s fine to change careers in life and want to try something new, but screenwriting at a professional level is something that takes YEARS to become proficient at – much like I’m sure whatever your current profession required.
No one leaves their job as a social worker and says, ‘Ya know what, I need to make more money – so I’m going to be a doctor from now on.’ And then immediately starts working on patients and gets paid a million dollars. So why do you think screenwriting would be any different?
It takes MANY scripts, many rewrites, many classes, education, etc. Ask any professional screenwriter how many scripts or years it took for them to break in and finally feel like they were good enough, and I GUARANTEE you that none of them will say a number less than THREE.
To make real money as a screenwriter – and by that, I mean quit your day job money – you need to perfect not just your writing, but your rewriting, your pitching, your selling, your polishing, and your networking skills. And if you think you can do that by reading Save the Cat and downloading Celtx – you’ve got another thought coming.
It’s incredibly easy to write a script. It’s insanely difficult to write a great script at a professional level. And it’s ten times harder than that to sell it. And ten times harder still to get it produced, released and be successful.
The competition even between amateur (non-professional) screenwriters increases with every year. Just five years ago, the total number of submissions for the top 4 screenwriting contests was about 15,000. Now it’s over 30,000. The number of consultants out there offering to help has increased from about 50 to over 300. And for a buck, many are ready and willing to pat you on the head and tell you you’re wonderful and talented and are gonna be rich and famous.
But they’re wrong.
I’m not saying this to dissuade you from screenwriting – it is a wonderful profession that can be incredibly satisfying, creatively fulfilling and fun. I’m saying this to make sure screenwriting is something you are so passionate about that it’s not your answer to being broke – it’s the thing WORTH being broke for.
May 7th, 2013
By Danny Manus
All good things come to an end, as they say.
After just about 4 years and 180 articles, my column at BOSI has officially come to an end. There will be no final article, so I’m posting one here instead.
It’s been a fantastic run, we’ve covered tons of great topics, I’ve made some wonderful friends, gained hundreds of wonderful clients, and launched numerous programs and classes. And I’ve written over 450 pages worth of material all for you, and all for free!
I’m not going to go through all the reasons or details as to why the column is ending. Sometimes, it’s just best to appreciate what it was and move on. Though I get pretty chatty when I’m drunk. Haha!
I want to graciously thank Marvin Acuna and James Lee for inviting me into the BOSI Community and allowing me to post my articles here and for helping to really launch No BullScript four years ago. Their support, friendship and promotion meant so much over the years, and I wish them much success.
For those who don’t know, I became involved with Marvin after we both were part of a panel at the Screenwriting Conference in Santa Fe in 2009. I had met him briefly before that, but it was after the panel we became friends. He liked what I had to say and invited me to get a drink with him a couple weeks after the event. And as we got shitfaced on a Monday at 4pm in the middle of West Hollywood, he offered me a weekly column in this new endeavor he had started. I needed the promotion and the audience and he needed the content…BOOM. Done.
It’s been a long, strange, and mostly fun journey since. Marvin has taught me a great deal about the business of show, perhaps the most important lesson being – ‘business is business.’ And you have to protect your brand, your name and your integrity with everything you have. I tend to take everything personal and internalize and analyze – when in the end, there’s always a bottom line to pay attention to.
Most of all, I want to thank all of YOU! The BOSI Readers and Community. You’ve put No BullScript on the map. You’ve emailed me questions and article topics and great feedback and encouragement when there was an article you loved (or hated). And you’ve made me think much deeper about this business than I ever had before. And I am so thankful to the thousands of you who read what I have to say every week. And I hope to work with each and every one of you!
In these 180 articles, we’ve discussed almost everything I could think of. But I’ve still got a few more tricks up my sleeve, so I invite ALL of my wonderful BOSI readers to follow me to my new column on ScriptMag. The title of my new column is “Notes From the Margins.” And I’ll be going through all the tips and things you need to know to make your story shine. So you can check that out twice a month (starting this week) on www.scriptmag.com.
As you’ll notice, Manny Fonseca has also ended his podcast and column on BOSI but he is still doing his podcast and I hope you follow him too.
It’s unfortunate that things have to end sometimes, but life goes on. And as I always say… Best of Luck and Keep Writing! I know I will.
November 4th, 2011
By Danny Manus
This blog is especially for my 100 Day Challenge Program participants, but also applies to everyone else as well.
My favorite video of the week and one of my favorites from the whole series thus far, is not just about YOU but also your CHARACTER. And it’s the video about Comebacks, Second Acts and Redemption.
This is what your character arcs are all about. Characters that fall from grace in some way that must fight their way back. The themes that cause our real-life comebacks, obstacles and redemptions, are the same universal themes that can (and should) be worked into your story to make your character more relatable and your story more universal – meaning sellable overseas.
The 7 steps laid out in the video to stage a comeback are incredibly relevant to what your characters should be doing. And quite frankly, what YOU should be doing personally as you try to break in and work in this business.
- Refuse to Die – this is the attitude your characters must have, that inner motivation that no matter what happens – they will not die. It’s what makes them a hero. They accept disaster and then go from there. You need to have this attitude in your own life as well!
- Decide to fight – it’s the acceptance of the adventure we talked about and managing their (and your) fears through the adventure. Regroup and plot and plot again. This is what your character should be doing – and also what you need to do every time you get a rejection letter.
- Get Mad – this is one of the parts of the 5 stages of grief your character experiences that we talked about a few weeks ago. Use the emotion as fuel for your story and character.
- Get Creative. Duh! Hello! This means don’t JUST have your character do what’s expected – get creative with it. Stay natural to your story, but find creative and visual ways for your character to do what they need to. And, get creative in how you’re breaking in and forging new relationships and promoting yourself and your work.
- Focus on Results – know the character’s motivation and what the ultimate physical and emotional result for your character is. But also for you writers yourselves – know what YOUR end goal is. Is it to sell your script, is it to break in, is it to get hired for other work, is it just to finish a script and say you did it? Is it to make this a career or just to have a creative outlet? Know your goal and focus on your results. Because if you focus on your process, it’s probably going to be very hard to see the end goal and succeed.
- Take a chance. Take a risk. This goes for your characters too. Your characters are taking a path they may not know.
- Enjoy the ride. Not only should your character enjoy the journey, or at least how they get out of it, but the audience must enjoy the ride. And while the journey of breaking into Hollywood is not always fun or enjoyable, if you don’t find the business an enjoyable ride – then you won’t be in it for very long.
And as the video says, look at every obstacle, setback, rejection, and constraint as an opportunity to show your character’s true colors, make a connection between them and the audience, show emotion, flesh out their arc, and really make a compelling character and story.
And for you as real live people, the same should apply. Look at all the setbacks and rejections you get and wear them as badges of honor, because you can’t get rejected unless you’re in the game. So as long as you’re getting rejections, you’re still IN it. Maybe not in the way or to the degree that you’d like yet – but much like your characters and their goals, you’re working towards it. Good luck and keep writing!!
January 13th, 2011
Happy New Year!
I’d like to take this time to send a big THANK YOU to all of my readers, clients, students, twitter followers, and writers in general who have kept me going and kept me inspired. The end of the year is a great time to look over what you’ve done and what you’ve accomplished, give thanks to those who helped you accomplish it, and make plans to get everything done in the New Year that has escaped you thus far.
It’s been a truly crazy year for me and No BullScript. We went from just being one of the hundreds of other consultants out there to one of the Top 15 “cream of the crop” consultants. I’ve written over 80 weekly articles for Business of Show Institute, as well as articles for Script Magazine, Moviebytes, Storylink E-Zine, Logline E-Zine, Virtual Pitchfest, and more! I’ve redesigned my website, I’ve brought on a new script analyst in Naomi Beatty, and I’ve produced a short film titled “Wake Up.” And in the last year, I’ve taught hundreds of students all over the country at events like Screenwriting Expo and Great American Pitchfest and to groups in LA, NY, Vancouver, Chicago, Santa Fe, Portland, Idaho, Dallas, etc.
And while it’s not screenwriting related, I’ve lost 30lbs and…I turned 30. Ok this last one I’m still iffy about.
So what about YOUR goals? What did YOU get to do this year and what do you need to do in 2011?
With every New Year, come new resolutions. Though many of mine look a hell of a lot like they did one year ago, so that’s probably not a good sign. I think my resolution for 2011 is to be more positive, optimistic and disciplined! Here goes…we’re all going to be become rich and famous and sell our scripts and books and studios are going to open their doors to every unrepresented writer out there and No BullScript will become the number one script consulting company in America! Whew! Okay…I got that out of my system… now back to reality!
It’s a good idea to have realistic goals and resolutions much like it’s a good idea to have realistic expectations about your projects. When a writer asks me how quickly they think they will sell their first script, my eyes roll to the back of my head. I wish everyone could sell their first script, but realistically, 99.9% of first scripts don’t sell.
You should certainly try, but you shouldn’t get down on yourself if it doesn’t happen. Your first script is practice. It’s about getting your ideas on the page, finding your rhythm and technique and a process that works for you. It’s all about the learning and growing experience and whatever you learned on your first script, you will bring to your second and hopefully have more luck…I think that’s as optimistic as I get. Ha!
It’s good to set realistic and do-able timelines to get things done so that you don’t become overwhelmed or disappointed, but instead stay productive and inspired. Create a routine for yourself that optimizes your productive and creative swings. This has always been my personal downfall despite the OCD-like To Do Lists I’ve been making every day since I was 11 years old — so let’s create a new routine together.
Are you working on an outline for a new project? I am. So let’s set a realistic goal together – in three weeks, we will all have finished our outline. Are you working on a first draft, trying to flesh out your storylines and characters? Set a goal of two months, which is probably an average amount of time. Everyone works at his or her own pace, but sometimes the smell of a new year makes people anxious and excited to start a new project. So cash in on that excitement while it lasts. Good luck and keep writing!
October 3rd, 2010
It’s the largest screenwriting conference of the year with tons of great speakers, seminars and exhibitors, so you knew we had to be there!
If you haven’t bought your tickets or gotten your passes, please click the link below to do so!
WHEN: Oct 7-10, 2010
WHERE: The Hilton Hotel at LAX
5711 West Century Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90045
I’ll be teaching 3 seminars over the weekend – 2 on Thursday and 1 on Friday! And if you want to have a successful Expo, they are not to be missed! Here’s the lowdown –
Thursday 1-3 PM – Loglines, Query Letters and One-Sheets…Oh My!
Class will cover how to construct proper loglines, query letters and one-sheets, what to include and what not to include, the difference between loglines and taglines, what executives are looking for in each, and how to write ones that grab attention and sell! Writers should bring their loglines with them and we will go through and improve them in class!
Thursday 4-6 PM – No B.S. Guide to Pitching and Pitchfests
If you’re pitching this weekend, you HAVE TO take this class!!
Topics include: The Do’s and Don’ts of pitchfests, Who should be pitching and who shouldn’t, what you should and should not be pitching, what execs are looking for at a pitchfest, How to prepare your pitch (everything before you sit down), What to include in your first minute and making first impressions, Making the most out of 5 minutes, The top 15 concepts execs have already heard, The Magic One Sheet and Horror stories and Success stories!
Friday 11am-12:30pm – Become Your Own Development Executive
Writers always ask, ‘What is an executive looking for? How come they don’t see what I see?’ This class will teach writers how to think, read and write from the executive perspective. Topics Covered include:
How a Development Exec reads a script – what they’re looking for and the difference between how a writer reads and an executive reads; The 3 questions executives think of while reading; The Top 13 Notes an executive gives and how to avoid them; How an exec hears/interprets a pitch; What it takes to get a “recommend” from a script consultant/reader; The development process – giving and getting notes – what to expect and how to survive it with flying colors; Q&A.
Hope to see you there!!
October 3rd, 2010
What’s better than getting professional, constructive feedback from an executive? That’s right – getting it from TWO! So I am thrilled to announce that No BullScript Consulting is now offering a Two-Reader Conference Call Service. And I’d like to introduce and welcome Naomi Beaty to the No Bull Family!
Naomi Beaty was a development executive for Madonna and Guy Oseary’s Maverick Films working on numerous projects, most notably Twilight. Before that, she worked for producer/manager Craig Baumgarten (Hook, Shattered Glass). Naomi has covered material for Ice Cube, Ray Liotta and Madonna and was also a script analyst for The Script Department. Naomi worked closely with the late Blake Snyder on his 2nd best-selling book in the Save the Cat series and has taken pitches at pitchfests across the country. But now, I’m thrilled that out of all the consulting companies she could work with, she’s decided to join No BullScript!
The Two-Reader Conference Call Service works like this – you submit your script and both Naomi and I will read it, make our notes, discuss your script, and will then have a 60-90 minute conference call with you to discuss them! We’ll go through all the important elements of your script that need fixing and even some page by page notes! Get the full “development notes call” experience just like you would with a studio!
Please note: the service does not include written notes.
We both look forward to working with you!!