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  • The Sentence.

    September 1st, 2015

    By New Writer on Message Board

    Hey guys, thanks for accepting me into your Facebook group. I’m new to screenwriting though I’ve read at least two books on it. Well, almost two books. And I read at least 3 scripts last year which I think really prepared me for my new writing endeavor, but I could use some guidance because…

    I just wrote a complete sentence and I think I really have something here.

    I know it’s not much yet but it took me 4 months and I think in the right hands, it has huge commercial potential and could sell. It’s certainly better than most of the crap Hollywood is churning out these days, which I can’t stand. It’s like there’s no originality anymore, right? I only want to write my own original thoughts. But I thought I’d ask you all for feedback and advice before I start sending it to production companies and agents.

    Be brutal – but kind. Because this is the first thing I’ve ever written – or at least the first thing I’m willing to show anyone – and I think it’s a pretty great sentence. Here goes –

    “No one else could possibly imagine the tortured pain he felt inside after she drove away.”

    What do you think? I’m really proud of it. I think it conveys a new type of character that’s never been seen and some deep emotion. I heard stories are all about internal conflict.

    But since I’m new to screenwriting, I was just wondering a few things. I hope you can answer my questions and help find me the success I know this sentence deserves.

    I heard Tarantino once wrote a sentence and it was bought for a million dollars. I’m not saying this sentence is as good as Tarantino’s of course, but who knows?

    First, do you think I should capitalize any other words in my sentence? I’m pretty sure I read that the first letter in a sentence should be capitalized in screenplays, but am I getting the format right? Should I capitalize DROVE since it’s a verb? Or PAIN so that the reader really knows what I’m going for?

    Second, I was thinking of Morgan Freeman when I wrote this sentence. I just think he’s brilliant and would really get it, ya know? Do you think he would be interested? And does anyone know how I could call his agent and send it to him?

    I heard that you should register everything you write. How do I go about registering my sentence? When I send it out, should I put the registration number under the sentence?

    How would you suggest I pitch this sentence? Should I read the whole sentence or just part of it and let execs ask questions about the rest? Should I send blind queries for it, and if so, would it help if I tell the execs that I’m currently working on the next sentence so that they know I really have a vision and I’m a hard worker who won’t give up until I’ve written a whole paragraph?

    Do you think agents will like my sentence? Do you know any I could email about it? I know CAA is the biggest, but I’m thinking maybe ICM would respond more favorably?

    In case you’re interested or know any investors, I also just launched a GoFundMe campaign so that people can donate to this project. Anyone who sends over $10 gets a personally written copy of the sentence. And a producer credit when it gets made. Please tell your friends!

    Hey, guess what? I just bought a $45 online pitch session. I was told all I need is an idea, but luckily I have way more than that with my sentence so I think the exec will be impressed. How many writers do you know that have optioned their sentence? Does it happen often? How long should I wait to follow up on the pitch of my sentence?

    That brings up another point – if my sentence gets optioned, should I move to LA? How much money do you think I should expect for the option of my sentence? I’m not looking for much, I’d rather just get my foot in the door. But if I move to LA, I’m going to need that sentence option money to get me through.

    Oh shit, guys! I just read my sentence in another script that has already sold. But I’m pretty sure I thought of this sentence years ago before that script sold or was even written. I can’t believe someone would take my sentence and put it in their own script. I really feel like this sentence means more coming from me than it does in this other guy’s script. I think I’m gonna sue…

    Does anyone know a good entertainment lawyer who will work for free until the settlement money comes in? I know it’s gonna be huge.

  • 50 Reasons Why Your Query Letter Sucks

    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.

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. YOUR QUERY IS WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS OR SOME FUNNY FONT.
    5. You sent a handwritten serial killer-style manifesto. It’s called a computer. Use it. And stop torturing animals in your shack.
    6. 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.
    7. Your query is written in all Spanish. No hablo, muchacho.
    8. 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.
    9. 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.
    10. 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.
    11. 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.
    12. 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.
    13. 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.
    14. You included autographed headshots of yourself. Unnecessary. Unless you’re really hot.
    15. 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.
    16. 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.
    17. 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?
    18. 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.
    19. 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.
    20. 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.
    21. 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.
    22. 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).
    23. 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.
    24. 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.
    25. 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.
    26. 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.
    27. 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.
    28. 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.
    29. 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.
    30. 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!).
    31. 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.
    32. 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!
    33. 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.
    34. 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.
    35. 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.
    36. 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?
    37. 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.
    38. 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.
    39. 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.
    40. 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.
    41. 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.
    42. 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.
    43. 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.
    44. 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.
    45. 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.
    46. 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.
    47. 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.
    48. 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.
    49. 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!
    50. 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!

  • 5 Ways to Pitch for Success

    April 10th, 2013

    By Danny Manus

    This weekend, there are two big screenwriting events – the Screenwriters World East Conference in NY and the Toronto Screenwriting Conference in Canada. And both afford writers the chance to pitch the pros.

    So, I figured it was a good time to whip out some quick pitching advice to keep in mind. There is no ONE set way to pitch your script that will guarantee your success, but here are 5 different pitching strategies or focuses you could use to grab, attract and impress the other side of the table. But you better know what your project’s strong suit is before you decide how to pitch it.

    1. Focus on Story, Hook and World. If you think you have a very high concept story and the strongest selling point about your project is your amazing, original hook, then focus on that. If you have a truly original idea that hasn’t been done or you have a crazy new twist on a great existing concept that when you hear it, you get the story completely, then all you will really need to do is give them an awesome logline that gets that across and some perfect comparison movies that get your concept across (it’s THIS meets THAT). If you have a truly original – and COMMERCIAL – concept, you will get a visceral reaction to your logline. If you get no reaction, then either your logline sucks or you don’t have an original concept that grabs people’s attention and you will have to go into more depth on the story. Try to go through whatever exemplifies what’s original about your story.

    Focus on the elements of your script that will make it stand out – the world of your script, the locations, time periods, twists and turns in the plot, etc. If you have written a futuristic thriller, and your world is so visual and creative that it jumps off the page – then focus on that world and bring the exec into it. Give them the highlights that will help them picture it and then go into the specifics of the story that will bring that world to life. Focus more on the actual plot and the build of the story to tell us why audiences will be hooked all the way through.

    However, you should never EVER pitch the structure of your story. It is a major amateur mistake to just go through the Save the Cat structural beat sheet instead of the actual PLOT. Tell them a story like you would describe a movie you just saw to a friend. You’d never say “And then as we broke into three, the character did this…”

    Examples of movies that would probably be pitched this way – Olympus Has Fallen, Alien, Shaun of the Dead, Taken, The Departed, The Help, The Hangover, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Looper, etc.

    2. Focus on Character, Arc and Relationships. Sometimes a project is more character-driven than plot driven and the new angle or most interesting aspect of your story will be the characters you create and the journey they embark on. Or perhaps it’s about a special relationship that is forged over the course of the story that will really touch an audience like in Thelma and Louise or Superbad (Side note: It’s often the creation of a great dynamic or relationship and putting that into a high concept story that makes the most sellable projects). In this case, you want to really make us love both your characters and get across their dynamic and backstory.

    Sometimes a character is so complex, interesting or relatable that it’s the casting possibilities that hook an executive. Sometimes it’s the specific goals they have to accomplish and the obstacles they face that will make a story stand out. Focus on your character’s life, their struggles, their goals, give a morsel of their backstory, and then tell us what happens that totally turns their life upside down (the inciting incident) and what they have to do now. Build them up, tear them down, and tell us why we will want to watch it.

    Very often, it’s the non-high concept or more indie films that might be better pitched this way. Or a film that’s based on a real person and their life story. Example include; Magic Mike, Little Miss Sunshine, Erin Brockovich, Castaway, Rocky, Jerry Maguire, Into the Wild, Lost in Translation, Royal Tenenbaums, etc.

    3.  Focus on You and your personal story. Sometimes it’s not about making them love your pitch or your project, it’s about making them love YOU. I can’t tell you the number of pitches I’ve taken where I hated the story, but there was something so charming, relatable or likable about the writer that I asked to read a writing sample anyway. If you can come off as comfortable, professional, collaborative, fun to be around (without being an over the top clown who is trying to hard), and someone who truly knows their shit – then they will want to deal with you more. If you mind your manners, have a pleasant disposition, are decently attractive, dressed normally, have done your research, and just have a disarming way about you, that will often get you further than a great logline.  It comes down to three things – don’t be combative, don’t be desperate, and don’t be crazy.

    If you have real experience in the film industry or with writing in general in other areas, then you want to stress that. If you’ve won MAJOR contests (and I said WON), you want to mention that. If there’s something that is special about you or that you can claim that no one else can, then mention that.

    And if there is something about your life or your personal story or experiences that inspired the script you have written that will make us connect with you, you should share that. If you wrote an international action movie and you were a soldier fighting overseas, then that’s great to mention. If you wrote a sci-fi thriller and you’re a scientist or engineer who has been studying the very field you are writing about, then say that. If you were in a bank when it got robbed and it inspired you to write a heist movie, share that story. If you were witness to some huge event in time and you have a specific point of view or new information and your life rights are truly important to the story, then share that. If you are an EXPERT in a certain field, let them know.

    However, there are some major exceptions to this rule!! If your script is about a woman who got beaten, raped, divorced, diagnosed as clinically insane, was sold into sex slavery, raised in a cult, got cancer 17 times, etc., and it’s your own personal true story – keep it to yourself. Keep it light, but meaningful. This is not a therapy session, it’s a pitch meeting. You want to share something that will inspire a connection and confidence – not pity.

    Especially if you are pitching an agent or manager, you want to pitch YOU much more than a single story. Show them you have a real vision for your career, know what type of writer you want to be, what genres you want to write, whose career you’d like to have in 10 years, and what you’ve been doing to work towards that.

    4.  Focus on the Trailer Moments. Sometimes the plot and the characters may not insanely original or strong, but you have some awesome moments in your script and story that are sure to get people into the theater. This usually applies more to comedies, action films and horror movies, but if you know you have created some amazing set pieces or huge scares or amazing original action scenes, then that’s what you should highlight in your pitch. Don’t go through a character’s backstory or the beat by beat story – give us a logline, a quick overview of the story and then give us more of the specific, visual, compelling examples of the best parts of your story. Treat your pitch like you were writing a movie trailer. Set up the world in 1 line, set up the protagonist in 2 lines, give us the inciting incident that kicks the story into gear, and then give us the trailer moments and build to the amazing climax.

    Examples of movies that would probably be pitched this way include Project X, The Expendables, Evil Dead, Spring Breakers, Fast and the Furious, There’s Something About Mary, etc.

    5.  Focus on creating a relationship. This is where instead of sitting down to rapid-fire pitch a memorized speech for 4 and a half minutes and hope for the best, you just want to take the time to culture a relationship and create a connection. Get to know the person, learn what they look for, what type of project they’ve always wanted to find, what their pet peeves are, ask for general career advice and try to make yourself seem like someone who isn’t trying to SELL them something, but instead is someone they might want to get a drink with. This especially works if the conference you’re pitching at is NOT in LA, because those execs WILL be going to get drinks later and if you seem cool enough, they may invite you to come with. The best sales jobs are the ones where you’re not actually selling anything…while selling everything. The key to this kind of ballsy pitch is to make it seem natural – and they will know when you’re putting them on. But let them know you’re working on some new projects and that you’d love to contact them at some point in the future, etc.

    Whether you’re in NY or Toronto this weekend, or any other pitching situation in the future, know what your strongest selling points are (and your story’s) and let that dictate what kind of pitch will be the best fit.

    **On Saturday, April 13th, I will be teaching a LIVE in-store class at The Writers Store in Burbank. “12 Steps to a Screen-Worthy Script.” If you’re in LA area, you should be there! Sign up now and you get a free Logline Critique! We’ll go through different exercises and the 12 steps to getting your script to the next level. For more info and to register, click here – http://www.writersstore.com/12-steps-to-a-screen-worth-script/

  • How to Launch Your Career Correctly (And Why Jennifer Lawrence’s Reps are Brilliant)

    February 27th, 2013

    By Danny Manus

    Ask any agent worth their salt and they will tell you that there is a right way and a wrong way to start, build, and grow a career in Hollywood. Sometimes it takes a perfect storm of variables to make it happen, sometimes it’s dumb luck and good timing, and sometimes it’s about having a winning strategy and having something special to offer.

    This week, the young, talented and ridiculously beautiful Jennifer Lawrence, 22, won her first Best Actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook. And it solidified what I have believed for a couple years now, which is that Lawrence’s reps are some of the best in the business and her rise to stardom and success is EXACTLY the model that should be used not just with actors, but writers and directors as well. Whether you’re a representative or fledgling talent, there’s something very valuable to learn from Jennifer Lawrence’s career.

    Before we get to the actual process of her success, let’s stipulate that the person trying to break in has to actually BE talented and trained. That goes without saying. It also obviously helps that Jennifer Lawrence is model gorgeous! If she wasn’t, would she have the success she’s has? Probably not, at least not in the same way. But good looks doesn’t guarantee you anything in this business – beautiful girls are a dime a dozen in Los Angeles.

    If you have seen Lawrence in interviews or her hilarious Jack Nicholson meeting after the Oscars or have read her quotes on her IMDB page, you know there is much more to her than a pretty face and acting chops. This is a charming, witty, funny, sarcastic, intelligent woman who knows how to handle the media and more importantly – knows how to handle herself and the pressures of Hollywood with humility, humor and honesty.

    I don’t want this to turn into a total love letter to Jennifer Lawrence (those I keep in private), but what makes Jennifer Lawrence difference from many of the other gorgeous actresses in Hollywood is that she has that special THING. That special QUALITY that extends past beauty and makes her relatable and versatile. She has great innate comic timing, but she can do drama or horror or action as well (and has). And one of the reasons her reps are so fantastic is because they recognize how versatile she is and have lined up different types of movies to show off her many different talents. She’s the actress version of Allan Loeb (look him up).

    When describing actresses, you often here the saying “Girls want to be her and guys want to fuck her.” And, yes, those are true with Lawrence. But what she has that doesn’t come along too often in Hollywood, is that both guys AND girls want to get a beer with her and hang out. Why? Because she seems cool and unaffected. The type of girl next door who could kick your ass, chug a beer and then put on a dress and win an Oscar. And that’s what guys love and girls respect.

    There are very few actresses whom you not only want to sleep with, but also want to be their FRIEND. Sandra Bullock, Emma Stone, Cameron Diaz, Anne Hathaway, Natalie Portman, Chelsea Handler – they have that quality (in my opinion). It’s that thing that Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson, Kristen Stewart, Nicole Kidman, Katherine Heigl, Megan Fox, and others, still lack. And you can’t fake relatability too long – you either are or you’re not.

    Same with writing – either your stories and characters and conflicts have that THING that just engrosses you and makes you care, or they don’t. And if you try to force it (usually thru exposition and overwriting), it becomes painful and obvious and makes one care even less. There has to be something connectable and relatable about your writing.

    Possibly the most respectable thing about Lawrence, is she is a TRUE movie fan. She throws out quotes and movie references like a 50 year old critic. She’s a fan of what she does – and what other people around her do – and that makes for a great actress, much like it makes for a great writer or director.

    But let’s see beyond the looks, the talent and the likability factor and examine the way she and her reps have positioned her career. Whether you’re an actor, director or screenwriter, the key to breaking in and making it big, is about breaking in the right way at the right time to be able to capitalize on one’s success and become a star.

    Jennifer Lawrence was about 19 when she filmed Winter’s Bone. And if you remember, she wasn’t the only actress to burst out on the scene a couple years ago. Hailee Steinfeld from True Grit, Shailene Woodley from The Descendants, etc. And what have you heard from them in the last year? Not much.

    The problem with breaking into film at 15-17 is that you are too young for most of the good, adult, meaty roles that win awards and get critical acclaim so people will take you seriously. But you’re too old for the tween roles that launch huge followings and make you a teen star. And so if you aren’t at the top of your game at that age, you don’t get the few great roles out there and your career stalls. Jennifer Lawrence happened to be at the tip top.

    Actors (and writers) often feel like if they haven’t landed a starring role (or sold a script) by the age of 19, they will never make it. But it’s the actors who don’t find their big break UNTIL they are adults who are the ones who stick around and have real careers. Olivia Wilde, Emma Stone, Teresa Palmer, Elizabeth Olsen, Rooney Mara, Anna Kendrick, etc. Now look at the actresses who hit it big as young teens – Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes, Olsen Twins, the High School Musical kids, etc. Sure there are exceptions – Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Saoirse Ronan, Mia Wasikowski (though the last two are Irish & Austrailian, so it’s a bit different) – but sometimes it’s the maturity to know oneself and one’s talent and goals that make one ready to truly break in. And most don’t have that before they’re 20 years old.

    Look at Jennifer’s career in comparison to the other franchise lead and young superstar, Kristen Stewart. She’s not a bad actress, but she was a child actor from a very young age, so by the time she was 18, she was so jaded and cynical about the industry she could barely force a smile when cashing her $10M checks. And people hate her.

    Writers are the same – they try to rush it, try to force it, try to insist that they are ready when they just aren’t mature enough on the page (or in the room). And they try to break in by doing the wrong types of material, and that’s why their career stalls. Or they refuse to pay their dues and work for nothing starting out, which will stall a career before it ever starts.

    Jennifer started as many young actresses do – modeling and doing commercials. She did a few crappy commercials, got a couple small TV roles, and that led to her moving out to LA and finding a part that meant something to her and she fought for it (Winter’s Bone). She didn’t snub her nose at the tiny budget or harsh shooting conditions or the hell she had to go through to nail the role.

    She paid her dues and got discovered the hard way. Of course once Winter’s Bone (and her Oscar nomination) happened, she was snatched up by CAA and then the strategy begins. She did a couple more high-profile indies (The Beaver, Like Crazy), then a mainstream horror movie, got a supporting role in a huge blockbuster to increase her public profile and bankability (X-Men First Class), then landed a franchise lead role of her own with Hunger Games, which they knew would be huge based on the success of the books (and Twilight). And in the middle of Hunger Games madness, she returns to the smaller side of things to do Silver Linings Playbook.

    And now she has an Oscar, a 4-film franchise, plus a larger role in the next X-Men Days of Future Past, and her pick of any movie, director and co-star she wants.

    It’s actually the same type of career trajectory that Halle Berry attempted. She broke in the hard way, doing small roles and TV jobs, then got supporting roles in bigger movies (Last Boy Scout, Flintstones, Executive Decision), then did a smaller passion project that she felt connected to and loved and fought for (Dorothy Dandridge on HBO), which got her critical acclaim and led to her Oscar-Winning feature role in Monster’s Ball. She capitalized on her success with big roles (but not lead) in major blockbusters to increase her public profile and relatability (X-Men, X2, Die Another Day, Swordfish). And then she got what could have been her own major franchise – Catwoman. And that’s where things went sour. When that went horribly awry, she tried to increase her likability by doing a few thriller/horror movies (Gothika, Perfect Stranger, Dark Tide) – all of which bombed. Her upcoming The Call is tracking softly, and she’s had personal issues in the tabloids. So now she’s trying to reboot her career again, returning to big budget projects like the new X-Men. It just goes to show that it’s all about picking the right projects at the right times.

    Writers can actually learn a great deal from this career path.

    –          Learn, train, practice, grow, move to where the jobs are (if necessary).

    –          Pay your dues and take any writing job you can, even if the money sucks.

    –          Write material (or take roles) that bring out and highlight the natural sides to your voice and personalities (all of them). Something that means a great deal to you. I would suggest smaller, commercial projects (thriller, horror, action, comedy) or really unique indies that show off what you can do. Do not write the billion dollar trilogy franchise action movie FIRST.

    –          Get discovered by an agency or manager who thinks you have promise.

    –          Win a couple contests, maybe option your first project for little money, build a bit of buzz and get whatever exposure you can.

    –          Get discovered by a bigger agency who poaches you from first agent and understands your vision for your career and supports it, while always thinking outside the box.

    –          Be versatile and eclectic and get as many logs in the fire as possible, but never veer from doing what speaks to you.

    –          Write bigger, visual, commercial projects that can sell on a larger scale and that can get packaged within the agency and impresses everyone. Hopefully one gets produced.

    –          Get hired on big rewrites and projects that expand your public profile.

    –          Once it’s paid off and you’re in demand, go back to where you started and do a great indie or drama or project that will gain you critical acclaim and awards.

    –          NOW it’s time to write or adapt that big franchise.

    –          And through the whole time, be collaborative, courteous, courageous, humble and witty. Luckily, writers don’t have to be gorgeous. But never forget that you chose this profession because you love it. Those who choose it for other reasons, don’t last too long.

    While sitting at your computer typing up a new idea, you might not think you have anything in common with my future wife, Jennifer Lawrence. But think again. Because breaking in and igniting a successful career is all about talent, timing and tenacity whether you’re an actor, director, or screenwriter. But it’s also about having that X factor and choosing the right projects and the right people to have your back who can see the bigger picture. And always remember, the material comes first.

  • What You Can Learn from the 2012 Black List Scripts

    December 21st, 2012

    By Danny Manus

    This past week, the heavily publicized 2012 Black List was released. 78 scripts made the list this year, and what an eclectic bunch. Much like the last two years where I’ve analyzed the Black List scripts, this year’s crop raises a number of points, questions and lessons for writers…but perhaps the largest lesson this year’s list can teach us is — Hollywood’s just a popularity contest and no one really knows what the fuck they want.

    And just because something’s well-written does not mean it’s sellable.

    For the last 8 years, the Black List has not just been a barometer of talent, but of trends. It’s been a launching pad for careers – of both writers and reps – and it’s been a great way to discover new voices and praise the voices Hollywood already loved. It’s often been a predictor of what projects would be put into production the following year. And sometimes, it’s been a great way for producers to find awesome commercial projects that didn’t sell on the spec market and give them a second chance.

    I still think reading the Black List scripts is a great way to learn how a great voice can make a project stand out and jump off the page – even if it’s not commercial or original. And it may be a strong indicator of what types of projects agents and managers are attracted to.

    If you’d like to see the full list of scripts, click here – http://www.deadline.com/2012/12/black-list-2012-winners/

    This year, however, it feels much more like a popularity contest than ever before because most of the projects on this list would never get made (even if they did sell), and are simply not commercial in any way. And surprisingly, quite a few feel very cliché – though this may be due to their not-so-great loglines (which are created by The Black List).

    A disgraced cop goes after the serial killer who killed his partner; A teen tries to lose his virginity to the girl of his dreams; A man goes to the wedding of his ex-girlfriend to stop her from getting married; Geeky female high school outcasts decide to get revenge on the bully Queen Bee; After being dumped, a guy’s best friend devises a plan to get him laid by as many women as possible.

    These are the cream of the crop? Really? I’m not saying the concepts aren’t brought out in new ways or with great voices – but these concepts have been done a million times before.

    While it is executives and assistants who vote on these scripts, my guess is that these same execs PASSED on the script when it crossed their desk. Sure, they loved the writing and wished they could have gotten them made – but they couldn’t. They couldn’t sell them.  How do I know? Because if they could’ve….they’d be sold.

    Only about 50 of the 78 scripts listed have a producer attached, which is a lower number than previous years. And keep in mind, having a producer attached does not mean the producer will be able to get the project made. It just means it’s in development. Only about 25 of the scripts actually have financing (or companies that finance) behind them.

    The reason this year’s Black List scripts are such a paradox and hard to learn from is because they break all the rules. From formatting to voiceovers to genre to period to types of characters to page counts to rights issues…this year’s scripts broke all the rules.

    But keep in mind, ALL of the writers who made the Black List already have great agents and/or managers behind them and many of the writers have been produced, sold or optioned before.  The writer of the #1 (“Draft Day”) has even won a Pulitzer. So for the most part, these aren’t novice writers. But sometimes, the key to having a voice that screams from the page…is breaking some of the rules.

    The biggest rule broken, however, was subject matter and genre. For the last few years, anyone will tell you that the number one genre that is impossible to sell – is drama! And period dramas? Fuhgedaboutit.

    Yet of the 78 scripts on the list, well over 20 are straight dramas (not including dramedies) and almost 25 are period pieces (not including scripts set in the future).

    Also interesting to note – there are way more male protagonist stories than female on the list, and almost all of the female protagonists are either slutty or total basket-cases or overwhelmed mothers dealing with death. The only two real exceptions are the Hilary Rodham Clinton story “Rodham,” and “The Keeping Room” which is about 3 southern women who defend their home from the Union Army while their husbands are fighting in the Civil War.

    Here’s my full breakdown for those interested –

    –          23 period pieces (non-future)

    –          19 titles that start with ‘THE’

    –          11 True Stories

    –          9 Sci-fi scripts

    –          8 Small-town stories with large personal/emotional stakes

    –          6 Straight comedy or Romcom scripts (not including dramedies or mix-genres)

    –          6 Stories based on well-known real life people

    –          5 Projects based on already existing intellectual property

    –          5 Projects with veterans or soldiers as protagonists

    –          3 Political stories

    –          3 Projects with characters dying of cancer

    –          2 Sports stories (including the #1 script on the list)

    –          2 Handicapped main characters (mentally or physically)

    –          …And a partridge in a pear tree.

    While the Black List has always been – and still is – a great deal about “voice,” it used to ALSO be about scripts that COULD sell and get made, but just haven’t yet. Much of this year’s crop, however, lacks the high concept, pitchable quality of projects of yore.

    If you still don’t believe that The Black List has become a popularity contest that agents, managers and their assistants lobby (heavily) for, think about this –

    72 of the 78 scripts are rep’d by the 6 Major Agencies.

    40 of the scripts (that’s more than half) come from the same 9 management companies.

    Luckily, The Black List is no longer the only barometer of great unmade specs. The last couple years, there has also been The Blood List (for genre films), The Brit List, The Spec Scout Top 10 List and The Hit List, which comes from TheTrackingBoard.com.

    Despite both Spec Scout and Hit List predicting that their top scripts would also land at the top of the Black List…that wasn’t the case. Only 30 of the 84 scripts on the Hit List made the Black List as well, and only 3 of the Top 10 matched. Only 4 of the scripts on the Blood List made the Black List (the only 4 genre scripts that made it). And only 3 of the Spec Scout’s Top 10 scripts even made the Black List at all.

    This would indicate that the voters for Black List are a bit more snobby about their favorite material than those voting for other lists. It’s like the difference between the Nicholls judges and the Page Award judges.  Reading through the other scripts on The Hit List, voters clearly preferred more commercial and genre projects. And there are TWICE as many industry voters for the Hit List as the Black List.

    No matter what list you’re reading, the important part is that you’re reading tons of scripts. Whether they teach you what to do – or what not to do – reading scripts that are getting attention and praise in Hollywood can help improve your story skills and instincts and help you develop your own voice that perhaps will land you at the top of one of these lists next year.

  • Why the Free Option Isn’t A Bad Option

    May 2nd, 2011

    By Danny Manus

    I am sick and tired of hearing people advising first time writers NOT to do free options (or dollar options as they’re often called) when trying to break in. Here’s the deal – if you’re a first time writer with no credits, no contacts, and no representation – what the hell do you think you’re gonna get? A million dollars? It’s never EVER going to happen.

    And if you notice, the people that advise against these free options are usually lawyers or agents. You know why? Because they can’t commission air. And if they could, an agent would find a way. And while they are working for you, they are also working for their commission. Producers, on the other hand, are working for your project – whether they pay you for it or not.

    Some say not to do the free option because if the producer doesn’t have any money at stake (no skin in the game so to speak), they will have less motivation to work hard and get your movie made – what a bunch of bullshit! Anyone who says this — is an idiot.

    Indie producers don’t get paid unless the movie gets MADE – not set up – MADE – so they have EVERY motivation to push hard or else what’s the point? Why would a producer option your material for a year and pour in their sweat equity doing draft after draft for FREE if they are just going to sit on it and don’t think they can get it going? It’s not like they make any money doing that.

    I’ve never paid for an option. I’ve paid for an extension on an option, but never on the original option. Chances are your first option is going to be to an independent production company. It’s rare that you get your FIRST option from a studio, and it’s even rarer if you don’t have an agent or good manager.

    And I don’t know of any independent production companies (unless they have a studio deal) that pay a baby writer to option their first project. And IF they do, it’s not gonna be for more than $1000.  Even if a studio wants to option your project, they don’t really pay more than $5k unless you have a great agent. The exception is if you’re optioning a successful book, graphic novel, etc. –then you can make some nicer money.

    Assuming the person or company offering this free option is an upstanding and worthwhile producer, it’s in your best interest to have him or her on your side, championing and developing your project with you. And believe me, a good producer works just as hard on your project as you do. We have to go through it line by line, draft after draft, and come up with extensive notes plus do the pitching, selling, submitting, etc. Any writer who says execs don’t have to be creative — can go fuck themselves.

    Now, there are some dangers to the free option and you need to do your due diligence and protect yourself!!  But the same can be said about the options you get $5-10k for. In fact, there’s a BETTER chance that if a studio is paying you real money for an option, it could fall by the waist side because they have 100 other projects they are working on and $5k doesn’t mean shit to them, whereas $500 means a whole lot to an independent producer.

    Plus, if a studio offers you real money for an option, it could be because they are trying to bury the project to get it out of the way of a competing project they are already working on with a bigger writer.  This happens WAY more than you think it does.   

    But when you are deciding whether or not to sign with (and work with) a producer, especially on a dollar option, there ARE some things you should research and look for:

    1. Does the producer have a track record of getting movies sold, made, etc?
    2. Do they have the necessary contacts to package a project and get it set up OR do they have access to financing (if they don’t have financing themselves)?
    3. Do they give clear and creatively smart notes that improve the project and do so in a somewhat timely manner (a few weeks IS timely)?
    4. Do they truly love and “get” the project and do you get along with them?
    5. Do they have a PLAN for the project – places they want to submit it to, actors or directors they think are right for it, etc.

    If all of these can be answered affirmatively, then why WOULDN’T you want to work with them? Are that many other people knocking down your door?

    Now, even assuming all of the above are true, you still need to look closely at your contracts and protect yourself.  You need to make sure what rights you are signing away and for how long. Most options last 6 months to 2 years. Anything more than that and I’d be wary because then they COULD just sit on your project for a while. I’d also suggest making sure that if the option lapses and rights revert back to you, that you ALSO get the rights to all the subsequent drafts, notes and improvements that have been made during the option period.  This is where some producers get sneaky, so you should always have a lawyer look at your contract.

    Do you need a signed contract before you do notes? No. And you probably won’t get one.  I never send out contracts until after I get the second draft back because I don’t want to be contracted to a writer that can’t take or address notes or doesn’t know how to rewrite. That kind of writer is useless to an executive, especially at an independent production company where they are not going to hire another big-money writer to fix it. But I’d probably only do ONE draft of notes before asking for that contract.

    Personally, I would suggest that instead of entering into an option, you go for the easier and more mutually-beneficial agreement – which is an Attachment Agreement.  An exclusive Attachment Agreement protects us all – producers are exclusively attached to develop and try to sell your script but you retain your story rights. And no money exchanges hands. I’d suggest pushing for these instead of the dollar option.

    I hope this debunked some of the myths on options that seem to be out there. Just remember — protect yourself, protect your story…but don’t be a diva.

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