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  • Writing Lessons Learned

    June 21st, 2011

    By Danny Manus

    Last week was my 100th Column for The Business of Show Institute. Two full years of writing articles every week. Added to my blogs and articles I’ve written for many other publications and websites, I’ve completed over 125 articles in 2 years. In case you’re wondering, that adds up to about 300 pages! So this week, I thought I’d tell you what writing all those articles has taught me and maybe you can relate with your own projects.

    Writing that much has taught me to be consistent, persistent, and open to ideas. It has taught me to be equally reactive and introspective, because when you can’t find the answers (or even the questions) within, you have to seek them from outside sources.

    They’ve taught me to set a weekly deadline for myself, which granted – I didn’t always make. I’m supposed to turn in my column tuesday morning – but sometimes it was wedneday night. Shit happens. Accept it, don’t beat yourself up, and look towards next week because it’s another chance to improve and hit that deadline.

    It has taught me to write from both my heart AND my head. And if you’ve read all my columns, you’ll know sometimes I write from a place that’s even further South. But that’s okay – because they are all parts of you and they all have something to say.

    It has taught me to do my research, know what everyone else is saying and teaching or preaching out there about the business and screenwriting, because it will only serve to inspire. It’s forced me to read others work and question it. It’s taught me that asking for help when you’re stuck or you have writers block or you think you’re just going back to the same well over and over again – is okay. And someone will be there to supply that help. In my case, it’s all of YOU!

    It has taught me that inspiriation can be found in the strangest of places. Not just in pitchfests and meetings and on the page, but in life. So never be so focused that you aren’t seeing the bigger picture, and never think of the big picture so much that you lose sight of the tiny details in front of you.

    It has taught me that not EVERYTHING I write is going to be spun gold. Some of it – is going to really suck. And that’s okay. I’d say out of my 125 articles, there are 25 or so that I’m not THAT proud of or that I didn’t think lived up to my standard. But it’s better to persevere and get it done than to pray for poetry every time. Because it’s not going to happen. Not everything works and not everything connects with the audience you are writing for. And that’s okay because the bad ones only make you feel THAT much better about the great ones.

    And it has taught me to use what I’ve written to make other things happen for me. I’ve turned some of my articles into full-fledged classes and workshops and I turned many of them into my book, No B.S. for Screenwriters.

    When I started writing my column, I told Marvin Acuna (who runs BOSI) that I didn’t think I’d be able to come up with more than 6 months worth of material.  I was wrong. And I have all of you to thank for that (take that however you’d like haha).  But I look forward to the next 100…one week at a time. And I hope this has helped you look at your writing in a different way.

    For my 100th Column, I recorded a special video recapping my experiences at the recent Great American Pitchfest. If you would like to read (or rather watch) my 100th BOSI video column, please click here – http://bit.ly/klb0HF

  • The Truth About Script Consultants

    June 1st, 2011

    By Danny Manus

    The release of “Hangover 2” has me feeling mixed emotions. I loved the first one, and hope that the second installment lives up to the hype.  But for those who didn’t know, last year I got into a bit of a battle of words with one of the screenwriters of the sequel, Craig Mazin, who had made some disparaging remarks on his website about script consultants after seeing Linda Seger speak at last year’s Austin Film Festival.

    He basically said that script consultants are useless and no one should ever pay to get notes on their script.  As one who could never keep his thoughts in his own head, I replied to his post, which set off a litany of responses (almost 500 comments in total).

    His blog wasn’t the first to bad mouth the consulting profession. Anyone who’s ever logged on to DoneDealPro or any of the other message boards out there can find some wannabe ya-hoo asshole (or perhaps even an A-List writer) trying to feel like the leader of some Lord of the Flies wannabe-screenwriters world by spouting off about how consultants are nothing but sharks, liars, cheats and hacks. Probably because no matter how many he’s paid over the years for notes – no one has liked his material.

    Or there’s the guy who was dumb enough to pay someone $5000 to read his script and give him a couple pages of notes because he chose to send his script to the first person who whispered the word “Hollywood” in his ear instead of doing his research before submitting his script.  I feel bad for people who have had this experience – but it’s their own damn fault.

    But for the rest of you out there, I wanted to give you the no bullshit honest truth about consultants and our role in a script’s development process.

    Script Consultants are your best friend – and worst enemy. We are there to help you, guide you and your story, improve your writing, and get your script to the next level. OR – we’re there to tell you it’s not gonna happen. We are there to be your personal development executive. And we’re there to do this BEFORE you exhaust the money, time and effort of sending (or pitching) your script to executives, agents or managers because with them you only get ONE shot. And you need to know if you’re ready. And your mom, best friend or even writers group – can’t tell you that.  We can be your first – or last – line of defense against rejection.

    According to the Creative Screenwriting Magazine survey that was released last year, there are well over 100 script consultants out there – and there are probably an equal number who weren’t even included in the survey. 200 Consultants?!  Holy shit.  And prices on the survey ranged from $50 to $5000. I’m proud to have been named in the Top 15 “Cream of the Crop” out of that list (and the most reasonably priced of the Top 15), but to people who think we are only out to steal your money, my ranking doesn’t mean shit.   

    So I think it’s time for someone to defend the profession.  I am sick and tired of being called a “failure.” Just because I haven’t become an A-List writer making millions for my screenplays doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m talking about. It doesn’t mean I’m not qualified to help a struggling writer. Or a professional one. And by the way, just because someone DOES make millions as a writer, doesn’t mean they have any business teaching anyone else how to write!

    Are there consultants who charge WAY too much for WAY too little? Absolutely! Is anyone worth $5K to read your script and give you notes? NO. I don’t care if their last name is Seger, McKee or Vogler – your script should not cost as much as your car! But there are very few who charge that much money.  Are some script consultants failed producers? Yes. Are some failed writers? Yes. And I’ll say it – McKee, Seger, Hauge, Rotcop – they are all a bit antiquated. But there are new voices out there that can help. 

    But beware – there are some new consultants out there (who will remain nameless) – people who have only spent a year or so working as an intern or reader or glorified assistant for some production company – and all of a sudden they think they are qualified to read your script and give you notes. They’re not. I don’t care how loud, outspoken or opinionated they might be – everyone’s got an opinion – but they don’t have the right to charge someone for theirs yet.

    If someone says they were a Hollywood READER – that means they have read a lot of scripts. But here’s the thing – readers don’t give notes! They don’t meet with writers or hire them. They don’t develop projects or sell them. They JUST read and write “coverage” – which is much different than writing notes. So, don’t be fooled by people that say they’ve read for CAA – they might have and that’s great – but that doesn’t mean they know how to make your script better.

    I’ve been in this industry almost 9 years and I’ve worked my ass off to build my company. So I take it as an insult when someone whose only experience is that they watched a lot of Tarantino and Woody Allen in college, thinks they can do what I do just as well as I do it.

    Writers should do their research and due diligence and find a consultant that’s right for them. But a professional writer like Mr. Mazin shouldn’t dismiss a whole profession just because HE hasn’t needed to use one or because he got a bad taste in his mouth from one overpriced consultant.  I haven’t had to use a cosmetic surgeon, and I think many of them are unethical heathens harping on people’s insecurities to make money for unnecessary procedures.  But I don’t discount that they are educated or that some people genuinely need them and that some do truly great work.

    The same thing that makes for a good writer, makes for a good script consultant.  We watch and study movies. We read thousands of scripts – the good, bad and truly ugly. But we also follow the marketplace, the trends, know what’s selling, what isn’t, who’s looking for what, what contests and conferences are rip-offs, what’s in development, etc. And of course, we have to know good writing and how to fix it when it’s gone astray.  Just because I don’t choose (or can’t currently make the time) to use my talents to write my own brilliant screenplay, doesn’t mean I’m not qualified to help others do it.

    It would be WONDERFUL if every writer could read scripts and automatically know what works and what doesn’t about it, and know how to relate that to their own writing and make their scripts shine on their own. But 99% of writers don’t. Professional writers of Mr. Mazin’s caliber do – as he’s been doing this for quite a while at a level that 99% of writers don’t get to work at. But for everyone else, that’s where we consultants come in.

    We provide a service. We provide guidance and (hopefully) constructive, valuable feedback. And most of us deserve to be paid for this. Screenwriting might be free, but breaking into Hollywood certainly is not.

    To those who bad mouth consultants, I have an idea – how about YOU offer to read every wannabe screenwriters’ scripts for free and give them comprehensive, constructive notes.  Oh wait…you don’t have time? You don’t want to? You’d rather stab yourself in the eye with your WGA Award?  Gee, I guess it’s a good thing there are people who will do it then.  And if you DID offer to do that, you’d quickly realize you deserve to be paid!  Or you’d turn into Josh Olson and rant and rave like he did about how he “doesn’t want to read your fucking script.”

    Consultants need to be honest with you, though. I’ve branded myself as a “Simon” (referring of course to Simon Cowell). If I think a writer is wasting their time, I have no interest in taking their money and giving them false hope.  Not everyone is supposed to be a writer, not every script – no matter WHO works on it or “fixes” it – is good enough to be submitted (much less bought or produced). There are people out there telling the truth. Yes, I can count them on one hand, but we are out there.

    And on the Simon Cowell note…He’s not a singer, musician, songwriter, or performer- but he knows what the hell he’s talking about. He’s been AROUND those musical types and even though he’s the least musical of the bunch, he’s the judge everyone respects.  I also like the NFL Coach analogy – you don’t have to win a Heisman Trophy to be a great football coach.

    Writers don’t like when they are all grouped into one category and painted with the same brush, and neither do consultants. We’re not all the same. People who are out to harm each other in this business – whether they are consultants, agents, teachers or writers – should be weeded out. And so should those who try to take advantage of unsuspecting writers. But no one should degrade consultants just because they haven’t needed to use one yet.

    That’s being said, I’d like to wish Craig luck with Hangover 2 and despite our difference in opinion, I’ll still be buying a ticket to check it out opening weekend. And if it sucks…well…I can suggest a good consultant for your next project.

    *Do you disagree with me? Do you love me or hate me? Do you have something to say? Have an idea for a column? Leave a comment or email me at Daniel@nobullscript.net. I want to hear from you!

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