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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!

  • Don’t Heigl Yourself

    March 27th, 2014

    By Danny Manus

    I’ll admit it. I love Grey’s Anatomy. Have from the first episode. I even stuck in there for those couple of crappy seasons (much like I did with ER).  And sometimes, since I have a home office, I watch the repeats of Grey’s on Lifetime at 1pm. Yup, I said it. Don’t judge.

    And you know what thought constantly reverberates while watching the older episodes?

    Poor Katherine Heigl.

    Katherine Heigl was Jennifer Lawrence before there was a Jennifer Lawrence. She was womanly, curvy, bubbly and beautiful, doe-eyed, quirky and smart, a strong actress who put craft before looks, and she was imminently likable. She was poised to be the next big thing. America’s Sweetheart with a slight edge – just how we like ‘em.

    The next big TV breakout star that would cross over into film much like predecessors Jennifer Anniston, George Clooney, Will Smith, Michelle Williams, Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell, etc.

    And at first, she played her cards perfectly. Her agents knew how to make her a star. She stayed quiet for a couple years, focusing on her TV work and building her sweet but sexy public persona. She won the Emmy in 2007 for Best Supporting Actress. And then while still on Grey’s, she filmed her breakout film role in Knocked Up, an R-rated comedy that connected with her target demographic but also made her seem cooler than her Grey’s character. And it was a huge hit.

    She followed that up with 27 Dresses, a more down the middle but funny and relatable romcom hit which grossed over $100M. She proved she could open a movie and was now the next big thing. She was on top of the world…right?

    Funny thing happens when you’re on top of the world. There’s only one way left to go.

    It all started with some public rants criticizing her co-stars and the writing staff of the show that won her an Emmy and made her a star. She angered her bosses and the people who put words in her mouth every week and so they turned on her, made her character an unlikable psychotic shrew with brain cancer who broke up marriages and then they wrote her off the show. She started being labeled as “difficult,” which is the only label in Hollywood you can’t shake.

    You can be a drug addict, a whore, a mental case or a talentless hack…but the one thing you can’t be is DIFFICULT. Diva behavior only works until your first failure. And then you’re just a bitch no one wants to work with. And guess what happened?

    Killers, Life as We Know It, One for the Money, and The Big Wedding. Each film a bigger flop than the last. And suddenly, not only was sweet Katie Heigl difficult, but she was box office Kryptonite.

    She tried playing it tough, she tried playing it sweet, she tried making up with Shonda Rhimes in the press. She even adopted an Asian baby.  But none of it worked.  Now, she’s starring in a TV movie and a commercial for a sleep aid.

    And you know who is responsible for this? Her mother. Or should I say, “Momager.”

    Notoriously known throughout Hollywood as being not only a horrible person (and business person) to deal with, but also an awful arbiter of taste, Katherine’s mother Nancy Heigl is the worst kind of parent. The kind who wants all the credit and thinks she knows best in every situation. And instead of listening to her agents or the rest of her team, Katherine fired them all, stuck by her mom, and made her a producing partner. In short, she Heigl’d herself.

    And it’s unfortunate because if you go back to the first 4 seasons of Grey’s, you will see a woman who deserved to be a big star and by all accounts should still be one.

    This doesn’t JUST go for actors, but here are some tips on how to make sure you never Heigl yourself:

    • You are your own brand.  First impressions matter big time. But you’re only as good (and as liked) as your last impression.
    • Never bite the hand that feeds you even if you see a bigger hand waiting with food.
    • Never burn a bridge you don’t know for sure you can rebuild – or that can be rebuilt without you.
    • Your mother should be your MOTHER. Ask her questions, take her suggestions, and then tell her to Fuck Off and listen to the professionals who do this for a living. The only successful Momager is Kris Jenner…and do you really wanna be a Kardashian?
    • Build buzz for your career in positive ways. Be endearing, quirky, and funny.  It’s okay to stick your foot in your mouth, as long as you do it in an adorable way.
    • Strike when the iron is hot, but don’t go too outside your comfort zone/demographic on your first project. Whatever your first hit movie role is, you’re going to have to play in that genre for a couple of years so get used to it and don’t badmouth it. But each role should expand your demographic slightly.
    • After you’ve had 2 or 3 modest to major successes, it’s time to branch out and do something against type to show just how much range you have. A dark indie, an action franchise, host SNL, etc.
    • Keep your fucking mouth shut in the press about any topics not related to whatever you’re promoting. Unless you’re Sean Penn or George Clooney, no one gives a shit what you think about foreign politics.
    • Your PR person is the most important asset you have. If she disagrees with your mother, fire your mother.
    • Surround yourself with people who have better taste than you do.
    • Be nice. Be cordial. Be self-deprecating without seeming too self-conscious. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Learn the crew’s names. Respect the writer.
    • Make it seem like you actually enjoy it and are grateful. We can tell if you’re not.
    • Never get bored. Always be learning. Always be improving.

     

  • Finding Inspiration, Motivation and Opportunity in Austin

    November 4th, 2013

    By Danny Manus

    Sometimes all you need to keep going is a little creative rejuvenation. A little brainstorm Botox. A writer’s reset button.

    That’s exactly what I found in Texas last week at the Austin Film Festival. It was an enjoyably exhausting vacation from the mind-fuck of monotony that sometimes plagues this business. It was a much-needed respite from the bad scripts and solitude of writing notes and a reminder of all of the best reasons I went into this business. It was, in the most basic of terms, an inspiration.

    It was basically non-stop from 8am to 3am for 5 days, with panels, screenings, parties, networking, walking, and lots of drinking. But sometimes that adrenaline, that insanity, that busy-ness, is what can unstick you from your creative rut.

    I went into this business to be heard. To be respected. To have a creative outlet and make a difference with my words. Or at least make a splash. I went into this business to work with the best, talk with the best, learn from the best. And find ways to improve my own talents, and help other improve theirs. And that’s what AFF is all about.

    I had never been to the AFF, despite a few years of campaigning. So when I got the invite this year to come and be a moderator on a few panels, I was really excited. I had heard so much about the creative energy and spirit of Austin Film Festival, as well as the HUGE A-list names that attend and speak every year, that I jumped at the chance to be a part of it. And then as the event neared, they also asked me to be a judge for their pitching competition and teach the Pitch Prep Panel alongside writer Pamela Ribon (Samantha Who), which was a great experience. In all, I was involved in 5 panels. Moderating two, teaching one, and pitch judging for two others.

    I had been to Austin once before, this past June for the Writers League of Texas Conference, which was a wonderful event though it was also 103 degrees in the shade with 140% humidity. I’m pretty sure that’s possible. But even as I sloshed my way through the city, I could feel an air of creativity. From the music to the art to the passion they show for books and films.

    But Austin Film Festival harnesses that creativity and produces a conference and festival unlike any other. It’s not as stodgy as Sundance, not as overhyped as Comic Con, not as expensive as Cannes. And AFF offers something you can’t get at any of those events….direct access.

    This year, the undisputed star and main-draw was Vince Gilligan, writer/creator/God of Breaking Bad. It didn’t matter who else was speaking, Vince Gilligan was the one person even the other celebrities were hoping to meet. I will speak about my experience with Vince in another article.

    In addition to Vince Gilligan, Will Ferrell was there, Susan Sarandon was there, Giancarlo Esposito, Callie Khouri, Barry Josephson, Elaine May, Paul Thomas Anderson, Jonathan Demme (who was perhaps the second biggest draw), plus major A-List screenwriters like Zak Penn, Scott Neustadter, Leslie Dixon, Leigh Wannell, Craig Mazin, John August, Phil Rosenthal, Shane Black, Scott Rosenberg, Terry Rossio, John Swetnam, Justin Marks, Kelly Marcel, Lee Aronsohn, Rian Johnson, John Hamburg, Robert Rodriguez, Roberto Orci, David Shore, etc., plus tons of agents, managers, producers, and industry leaders (if you don’t know those names, you’re not reading enough!).

    I don’t list these names to name-drop or make you jealous, I promise. I list them because they were (almost) all accessible and inspirational. If you couldn’t find inspiration in some form from listening to these people speak and meeting them and learning about their journeys, then you just might be dead inside.

    Sure, some were more guarded than others. But for the most part, everyone’s wearing the same badge and waiting on the same line and drinking in the same bar. And just being there, having that direct access, being able to go up to Terry Rossio and go “Hey, can I buy you a drink” is the very thing new writers and young producers dream about. Very few of those huge names turned people away.  Instead, they engaged in real conversation, answering questions and giving nuggets of encouragement.

    I watched Shane Black chat it up with newbies in the bar like they had known each other for years. I watched a socially awkward comic book nerd who (amazingly) didn’t even know who Zak Penn was, out-nerd him on a comic book question (a hilarious story you’ll have to ask me about in person). And I watched myself getting shit-faced with multi-million-dollar screenwriters and forging relationships I hope last a long time.

    I also got to finally meet many of my Twitter followers, which was great! And got to chat with some of the people I follow on Twitter and whose articles I read, like Scott Myers of Go Into The Story and Franklin Leonard, creator of The Black List. Was good to put some twitter-warring to bed and forge new relationships.

    Sitting in on a few panels, there were a few that truly motivated me and inspired me but for different reasons.

    First, listening to Vince Gilligan speak and just watching him interact with the hoard of people who were trying to meet him all weekend (including myself), I was amazed at how sometimes, nice guys do win. If there was a more gracious, humble, kind man at this festival, I didn’t meet him. He was a lesson in how to be successful as a screenwriter, and as a human being.

    Best part? While listening to Vince speak about Breaking Bad and Bryan Cranston’s method and if the characters will live on in some way, I came up with a new idea for a script that came so quickly into my head I had to text it to myself right then so I wouldn’t forget any of it. You never know where the kernel of an idea will come from, and this time it came from Vince Gilligan. So I’ll be sure to thank him in MY acceptance speech.

    At the panel for those getting an award this year – Gilligan, Sarandon, Khouri, Demme and Josephson – what struck me most was that NONE of their stories of how they became who they are, were spectacular. They were all interesting and fun to listen to, but they all just seemed to take random opportunities when presented with them, no matter what it was. It’s all about capitalizing on opportunity. Jonathan Demme and Susan Sarandon spoke about their journeys to fame, and they both just kept saying ‘Yes’ to things. Sarandon never had any training, but she had innate talent and did shitty movies, soap operas – whatever she could to get that next job and learn. She didn’t wait around for that ONE big starring role to launch her career, she worked her way up.

    Demme was a film critic and had no wanting to direct, but he got put on a Roger Corman film to do publicity and eventually was just asked to fly to London, write a movie, and it got made. He was asked, ‘Do you think you can write a movie about motorcycles?’ and he said “Sure.” And that was it.

    I see new writers passing up opportunities left and right as they try to break into this business, because it doesn’t pay enough or it’s not a high-profile enough producer, or it’s “only straight to DVD.” Take every opportunity you can to improve your craft and get a foot in the door, because you never know which door will actually open.

    Vince Gilligan won a Virginia screenwriting contest over 20 years ago and it just happened to be that one of the judges was producer Mark Johnson (Rain Man), who went to the school and was doing them a favor. He liked the script so much, he contacted Vince months later and made the movie (Home Fries), and has been a mentor to Vince ever since, serving as exec producer on Breaking Bad.

    What I learned from these industry giants is that it’s not just about trying hard. It’s about having natural talent – an innate ability – and then having luck, good timing and opportunity. But once those stars align, you have to then be willing to work harder than everyone else and trust your own instincts and never quit.

    Another inspiration came from screenwriter Terry Rossio (Pirates of the Caribbean, etc). I have always been a fan of his and this year, he was doing the REWRITE class, and as someone who does a lot of rewriting, I was very interested to hear his technique and see what I could learn (even professionals are always constantly learning).

    Unfortunately, while Terry is incredibly likable and engaging on stage, I didn’t find the class to be as informative or on-point as I would’ve liked (and got into numerous arguments about it after). But Terry did do something no one else does – and that is polish a script sight-unseen right there live on stage. It’s an impressive feat that most couldn’t do. And while I didn’t always agree with the changes Terry made, and he admitted they weren’t so much rewrite changes as polishing changes, it inspired a new class for me to teach and a new way to teach it. Now I look forward to teaching my own rewrite/polish class in 2014!

    And finally, on one of my panels, The Spec Script, a writer named John Swetnam was one of my panelists. He had written 18 scripts – 18!!! – before he sold his first one. He admits he didn’t think he had that innate ability and had to learn it and work hard. He decided after those 18 scripts that he was going to put his producer hat on and write something he knew could sell and get made quickly according to the marketplace. And 8 months later, he was in production with Stephen Moyer and Radha Mitchell starring in his first film. Now he’s writing Step Up 5 and has completed a couple huge budget studio films that will be out in 2014 and 2015.

    It doesn’t always take 18 scripts. Another panelist, screenwriter Matt Cook, who has had 2 scripts appear in the top ten of The BlackList, wrote one script, gave it to the ONE guy he knew who happened to be an agent at WME, he got signed, and the rest is history. By the way, Matt still lives in Austin.

    Across the board from all the dozens of panelists and screenwriters and producers and agents at AFF, the one thing that become clear was that there is no ONE way to break in. But let me tell you, attending Austin Film Festival is one hell of a great first step.

    Just hearing all the stories from these pros and getting to really talk with them and hang out with them gave me a kick in the ass like I haven’t felt in a long time. It was exactly what I needed because to be honest, I’ve felt like I’ve just been treading water the last few months. And so if you ever feel that way, do yourself a favor, and book yourself a pass for next year’s Austin Film Festival. I’ll see you there!

  • The #1 Reason NOT to Be a Screenwriter

    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.

  • 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.

  • Stop Querying the Wrong Way

    December 19th, 2011

    I don’t like to bad mouth other companies or services too much – at least not in a public forum – but there is a not-so-new type of service out there that has grown in popularity and I’d like to stop all of your from being duped into wasting your money on it.

    It’s the automated query letter services that promise to help you “BREAK IN” by sending your query letter to THOUSANDS of execs, agents and managers and getting your script read. They want to open up their Hollywood rolodex to YOU… 

    What a load of complete and utter bullshit!!  These services – who are usually anonymous and do not tell you who even RUNS the company – are complete RIPOFFS! All they have done is re-typed the Hollywood Creative Directory or IMDB Pro into an email database full of email addresses that look like INFO@RANDOMCOMPANY.COM and they charge you anywhere from $50-$300 to “fix” your query letter and blanket the town with it.

    And even for those companies who have their own more specific list of email addresses of real execs, I promise you – those companies and execs and agents are not waiting by the fax machine for the newest random query letter from these companies. You know why – because no one uses a fucking fax machine anymore. 

    The letters they send are not personalized (to your project or to the specific company), they are not referrals, they are not recommendations, and they generally DO NOT GET READ! They are a constant annoyance to executives who go through hundreds of REAL query letters sent by referrals, reputable companies and writers every month.

    These companies – and there are plenty out there including Scriptblaster, Sellingyourscreenplay.com, Equerydirect, Screenplay Writers Connection, etc – are based solely on the fact that you’re a lazy fucking idiot and incredibly desperate.

    They are betting on the fact that you’re too clueless and stupid to figure out how to get in contact with anyone in Hollywood and they have convinced you that they have connections. They don’t. And if they did, they no longer do because those contacts are pissed that they have to deal with a constant onslaught of UNSOLICITED queries from these companies. That’s right, the letters they send out – are UNSOLICITED.

    I was talking about this with my friend Zac Sanford from Suntaur Entertainment (and Scriptchat) the other day and he told me he had “unsubscribed” from at least two of these services, yet he keeps getting these query letters – which go right in the trash! That’s $50 you’re literally throwing out.

    There are so many problems with using these services, the biggest of which may be that there is no quality control. They will send ANYONE’S letter out no matter how stupid, shitty, poorly written or just plain retarded your idea, story, writing, or letter is. Which means even if your query letter and project is FANTASTIC, the execs won’t read it because they’ve gotten SO much shit from that e-blast company already that they know the odds of it being good are slim to none. 

    These services are NOT referrals. They are just leaches trying to take your desperate-writer money and making a promise to you that is impossible to keep. Now, is it possible that out of the 500 companies they send your query letter to, that 1 or 2 will actually request the script? Sure. Perhaps an intern got bored or an assistant was in a good mood that day. But the other 498 companies now think you’re a stupid, desperate amateur.

    Now, there are sites that are different than these query letter blast sites that actually can be worthwhile. Sites like InkTip and Virtual Pitchfest for example are not query letter BLAST sites. These are sites that execs have actually signed up for and have agreed to read your query letter on (or synopsis on InkTip). They are not unsolicited or random query emails or faxes.

    Through my No Bull Hollywood Connection Program, any script that gets a “recommend” from me has its logline and query letter sent out to over 40 companies (not 4,000) that have AGREED to read them. And it’s a personalized email from ME to one of my actual contacts that I know personally. And, I can count on two hands how many recommends I’ve given, so execs are not being bombarded every week with dozens of emails. Oh right – and it’s FREE!!

    There are other consultants and companies out there that do similar services, some charge and some don’t, but at least they are making personalized direct contact with someone they actually know. Someone that might actually do something with your script. These query blast sites – are not.

    You know what using these bullshit query letter services tell executives – that you’re lazy and you don’t know anything about Hollywood. It says you’re so far removed from Hollywood, that you don’t even know when you’re getting screwed by Hollywood. 

    Breaking in and getting read isn’t easy and it’s not free either. But there’s no shortcut to getting read by 1,000 companies. These e-blast script marketing companies are just taking advantage of you, your project, and your wallet. Don’t be fooled by any company that says they can market your screenplay and get it in the hands of 500 companies at once. They can’t. They can only get their emails deleted by 500 companies at once – and then cash your check.

  • 100 Day Challenge – Fave Video of the Week

    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.

    1. 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!
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. Take a chance. Take a risk. This goes for your characters too. Your characters are taking a path they may not know.
    7. 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!!

  • Is Hollywood Racist? A Frustrating Chat with Screenwriter/Litigant Justin Samuels

    September 12th, 2011

    About a month ago, I wrote an article about a screenwriter who is suing CAA/WME for their racist practices which were preventing him from breaking in as a screenwriter. The writer’s name is Justin Samuels and he found my article and wrote me about it, and we proceeded to have quite a back and forth about the topic. Below, in its entirety, is our email exchange. I know it’s long, but please read the whole thing and judge for yourself who you think is right and please leave a comment….

    JUSTIN:

    You claim the education system is what diminished the pool of non white screenwriters, but I have a degree from an Ivy League School.

    So then, surely it’s not a matter of education.  A high school dropout could make a career as a screenwriter, IF he had the right connections (he’d have to read some book, do some workshops, etc but it could be done).

    If you read what I said, the major agencies do not accept any unsolicited submissions including QUERIES.  If you read what I said, I was told I needed an industry referral to be read by the top talent agencies.   But how likely am I to get such an industry referral unless I have a relative in the business?   The prominent people in the industry, with a few exceptions are white, and unless you’re related to them or grew up with them, you just aren’t that likely to be close enough to get such a valued connection.

    And for the record, I’m more than happy to bring attention to this issue.  It’s a basic issue of fairness.

    As for the diversity programs, don’t make me laugh.   What diversity programs?   Has anyone ever launched a career from a diversity program.  I think not.  And I would be the first to say diversity programs would be completely unnecessary if the major agencies would deal with unsolicited submissions! 

    DANNY:

    Dear Justin,

    I’m really glad that my article somehow made its way to you and I respect that you emailed me about it. But I have to tell you – I categorically disagree with your argument. And I’d love to discuss with you why…. (I know it’s a bit long, but please read this whole email)

    First, an Ivy League education doesn’t guarantee anyone anything in this town – unless you went to Harvard. And it especially doesn’t guarantee that graduates know how to behave in the real world.  You went to Cornell I see. I went to Ithaca College – and I know many Cornelians, a couple of my best friends went to Cornell. So I know they have a great list of alumni – a wonderful resource for referrals and connections in the industry… But let’s put aside the education factor.

    You’re absolutely right – a huge portion (not all, but much) of this business is about WHO you know. And you’re right, the major agencies do not accept unsolicited queries. But – they don’t JUST not accept them from minorities – they don’t accept them from ANYONE. It’s as colorblind a process as could possibly be.

    And let’s examine WHY they don’t accept unsolicited material. Since I’m sure you have never worked at an agency, management company, or production company, you probably don’t know that a BOUTIQUE Agency gets about 100-400 queries per month.  So, any idea how many the large agencies receive? About 5,000 – a MONTH! From people just like you – writers too lazy to break in the hard way and instead demand the easy pass route to fame and fortune. Well, let me tell you – there isn’t one.  And if agencies DID accept unsolicited queries, the wheels of Hollywood would cease to grind because it would take too much time to go through them all and nothing else would get done.

    Plus, the number of ridiculous lawsuits that would result would SKYROCKET and end Hollywood completely because litigious, desperate screenwriters would think – “Hey, I sent an unsolicited query letter about robots to an agent four years ago, so Transformers 17 must be MY idea that the agent stole and gave to his client.”  It’s not worth it – there are plenty of good ideas out there that the agencies don’t need the unsolicited ones.

    The system is in place to keep people who aren’t made for this business, out. It is NOT in place to keep minorities out. Just ask the 4,500 WHITE writers a month who don’t get their queries read.

    Of course, there are probably 40 OTHER agencies that DO accept unsolicited queries – have you looked into them? They are all listed on the WGA website. Of course, none of them will work with you now that you have sued the big agencies. But they would have. And since you know the business so well, I’m sure you know that the major agencies – ESPECIALLY CAA and WME -do NOT work with first time writers. They do not give people careers – they make people who already HAVE careers, into STARS! They do not work with baby writers and they do not take on people without any credits to their name. So, even if you DID get a referral to one of those agencies – it would do you absolutely no good. Instead of this lawsuit, why aren’t you spending your time working on your craft and trying to make connections at OTHER companies?

    Speaking of which – ok – this industry is based on referrals. So – why don’t you have any? It’s not that hard to make them. And it is absolutely RIDICULOUS to think that everyone who has gotten a referral is RELATED to someone in this business. Bullshit. VERY few people actually get in through nepotism on the business side (actors, granted, are different). I certainly didn’t have any family in the business and neither did ANY of my friends who are all very successful in what they do in entertainment whether it be as an agent, writer, producer, etc.  To ask how one could have connections in any other way than familial relation just proves how little you know about this business.

    It’s called NETWORKING, sir. It’s what this business is built on – and you clearly don’t do it, perhaps because you have told yourself that since you’re Black, no one will help you. Total bullshit.  You build your connections and relationships over time – through meeting and conversing – not through suing!

    And there are plenty of minority executives and managers and agents by the way, not to mention African-American actors and directors who have their own companies and executives and are ALWAYS looking for new minority talent to work with and mentor. (Will Smith’s Company, Denzel’s Company, Tyler Perry’s Company, Spike Lee’s Company, Lee Daniels’ Company, Queen Latifah’s Company, Jewerl Ross, etc.)

    And by the way, out of ALL the Disney Fellowship Winners last year- there was ONE white male. And he is one of my close friends – from Ithaca. Nickelodeon Fellowship winners last year? ONE white male. So, don’t tell me Hollywood is racist and there are no diversity programs.  PLENTY of people have launched careers from diversity programs in this town – and some of them – weren’t very talented.

    And I’m willing to work with you – but first, I’d like you to answer the following questions I have:

    1.      Do you live in Los Angeles?  (If yes, continue on. If no, then you have no right to complain because you’re not serious enough about the business)

    2.      How many years have you been trying to break in?

    3.      How many fully finished, polished scripts have you written?

    4.      How many Cornell Alumni have you contacted and met with to develop those relationships?

    5.      Have you looked at the WGA website for companies that WILL accept unsolicited queries and have you sent them your query letters?

    6.      How many and which pitchfests have you attended? How many pitches have you given at these events?

    7.      How many and what contests and fellowships have you entered? What contests have you been a finalist or winner of?

    8.      How many classes and networking events in LA have you attended at places like Writers Store, Writers Junction, etc? How many WGA or Creative Screenwriting Mag or Script Mag events have you gone to?

    9.      What screenwriting group are you apart of?

    10.     How many and what internships have you had in the industry? How many agencies/ managers/production companies did you apply to work at as an assistant? Have you ever worked at any?

    11.     What professional script consultants with Hollywood Outreach programs have you used to help work on your projects and query letters to make sure they are ready and professional?

    If you can honestly answer all of these questions for me, I will make you a deal – I’ll read your script – for free – and IF it is good, I will pass it along to some of MY extensive connections at agencies and production companies (of course you’ll have to use a pseudonym because your lawsuit has probably gotten you blacklisted from most major agencies and studios). But if it’s really good – I will help you get to them. I don’t have a dog in this fight, and as you can see from my article and my website (www.nobullscript.net), I am honest and blunt – so if it’s good, I’ll be the first to say so! But…if your script is truly AWFUL – if it truly sucks and the talent just isn’t there at a professional level – you drop the lawsuit.

    Deal?  I look forward to hearing from you.

    JUSTIN:

    Daniel,

    Yes, the major agencies don’t accept query letters from anyone they don’t know.  However, the impact disproportionately affects non whites, since those who know major players in the industry are most likely going to be white.  According to the Guild, by 2011 only 5% of film writers were non white.  A low percentage compared to the general population.

    In terms of there being many blacks who have their own companies in the industry, the most lucrative parts of the industry are summer blockbusters/actions films.  I can see only two black actors who have had significant roles in those genres in recent years, Will Smith and Halle Berry.  Queen Latifah, Tyler Perry, etc have yet to work on a film with top ticket sales like Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, Iron Man, etc.  Basically, they are on the fringe of the industry.  A number of black actors, including Miss Oscar Winning Halle Berry, have said they were turned down for certain roles because of their race.

    In terms of answering your questions, and letting you read my best script, and agreeing to drop the suit based on whether you think my work is good or not, the answer is no.   Because this isn’t about just about me.   This is about a process which has a disproportionate effect on non whites.   This needs to continue through the courts, and they will ultimately decide either in my favor or against me, or perhaps the agencies will settle.  But I simply cannot settle with you.

    And I would never send my work out with a fake name.  I always use my real name out of principle.

    For the record, I do not currently live in Los Angeles, but I have. Didn’t meet any people powerful enough to do an industry referral.  I did work, and even had a few marginal entertainment jobs, but again, nowhere near one powerful enough to do a referral. So I’m happy living in New York.

    Would I live in Los Angeles again?  Sure, if I had a good job lined up.  Los Angeles is an expensive city (high cost of living, plus one must drive) Not joining the other wannabes downtown in skid row.  LOL

    DANNY:

    Justin,

    While not surprised, your response not only disappoints me, but it tells me what was obvious from the lawsuit in the first place- you don’t take writing or this business seriously enough and you are only in it for a quick pay off. You really have absolutely no idea how this industry works and instead of LEARNING it and working hard like everyone else – you just crossed your arms, and said “It doesn’t matter – I’m Black.”

    I think the people who would take the MOST offense to your lawsuit ARE the minorities working in Hollywood because you’re right- they probably had to work a little bit harder than everyone else. But they DID it – and now they reap the rewards. And you won’t.

    It’s fine if you don’t want to take my deal, but I would love for you to answer ANY of the other questions I posed. Any contests? Any pitchfests? Any alumni? Any script consultants? Any screenwriting groups? Any networking events at ALL? If not, then you’re just not doing YOUR job as a writer and therefore, you don’t deserve to get read or have a career. And if you didn’t notice, I gave you 10 steps – 10 critical things to do to break in. And I’m willing to bet good money you have not done more than 2 things on that list.

    If you lived in LA (or even NY) and you couldn’t/didn’t meet ANYONE – then either you’re just the type of person no one wants to be around, Or you’re just clueless about how to deal with people. Because it’s IMPOSSIBLE not to meet someone out here. There are 10 writers at any starbucks at any given time you could talk to in this city. You don’t have to meet SPIELBERG to break in – you just have to meet SOMEONE.

    Who cares if only 5% of writers are non-white? Do you think the white people in this industry won’t talk to you because you’re black? If so, then you are just another self-defeating racist yourself and you don’t DESERVE to be in this industry.

    Tyler Perry is hardly on the FRINGE of Hollywood – he’s one of the highest paid producers/ directors in town and his movies (even though they suck) have made a TON of money. And maybe you’ve heard of Oprah? Owns her own network? You’re only seeing what you WANT to see- instead of the truth of the situation. There are SO many people out there who would have been willing to help you, but you didn’t ASK for help – you wanted fame and fortune at the highest levels or nothing at all. Well, now you have nothing. And I can guarantee – the agencies won’t settle with you. So, the ONLY thing you have done is RUINED your reputation and made yourself a Pariah in this industry whom no one will touch. And your lawsuit will RUIN chances for equal opportunity for minorities.

    And by the way…Morgan Freeman, Samuel L. Jackson, Taraji P Henson, Denzel Washington, Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, The Rock, Vin Diesel, Ice Cube, Jamie Foxx, Martin Lawrence, Tyrese Gibson, etc have ALLLL been in huge blockbuster/tentpole movies. So, your argument holds no water. You are just uneducated about this business.  Yes, they are turned down for certain roles – but so is EVERY actor – it’s part of the business.

    Eventually, you’re going to realize all have you done with this lawsuit is destroyed any chance you had at a career, and set back the movement of non-whites in Hollywood 10 years. If you can live with that, great. But realize this – a white person working IN the industry who has great contacts and reputation OFFERED to help you, offered to read your script and get it into the right hands, and you turned it down because of your “principles.”  So just MAYBE we’re not ALL bad, and it should make you think about what your principles really are.

    JUSTIN:

    Dude, when I was in Los Angeles I was working 10 hours a day, at times, and commuting 3 hours a day.

    I had bills, including rent to pay.   Maybe because I had a job I didn’t have that much time to lounge around starbucks?   Yes, if you’re a rich white heiress like Paris Hilton who doesn’t have to work, I suppose you can go to the most expensive clubs, party all night, and meet all sorts of people in the business between gigs.  I wasn’t in that category, and didn’t have that opportunity.

    DANNY:

    Justin,

    You’re not getting it – EVERYONE works 10 hours a day. It’s industry standard. We ALL have bills to pay! It’s those who work HARDER than that who make it. It’s those who work 10 hrs a day and then go home and read 2 scripts a night or write for 3 hrs a day that break thru. And I never said anything about clubs or partying – do I look like a hot, rich heiress to you?? Do you really think that’s all white people do? You went to Cornell – you should know better!

    Please, let me post our correspondence – let’s open up the discussion you say is so needed! What do you say?

    JUSTIN:

    I never said all whites party all the time.  You were the one bringing up the networking, the meeting people, and living the fabulous life in Los Angeles.  You were saying I didn’t do those things, that I’m not a social person, and that’s why I didn’t meet anyone important.  So, from what you were saying, you seemed to have unlimited time to just meet people.

    Some of us, after working 10 hours a day and commuting 3 hours, need SLEEP. Also, I didn’t have a job that deal with scripts, so why would I read two scripts a night?   I don’t know what you’re talking about.

    DANNY:

    Exactly, you dont. Listen, because I really am trying to help you – If you want to be a writer, you should be reading scripts constantly and writing as much as you can – that’s how you learn. Doesn’t matter if your job dealt with scripts or not. I never said anything about living the fab LA life – I certainly don’t. I’m talking about going to Business events where there are networking opportunities. Pitchfests, screenwriting groups, classes, screenings, etc. Some are even free or on the weekend. Networking doesn’t equal partying – that’s not how you meet people and forge relationships and maybe that’s where the misconception is. Of course we need sleep – I love my sleep. But when I moved here and got my first job, after working my producers assistant job from 830am-7pm, I then went to “drinks” with other assistants and execs and got to know them to build my contacts. And then I got home at 830 or so and would read 1-2 scripts a night. And that is what people do. There is no shortcut.

    I’m sure commuting was a bitch – but this is LA – commuting sucks. You deal or you move closer to work. I’m saying, it seems like you have a very skewed idea of what Hollywood is and how it works and never really tried hard enough through proper ways before reverting to suing.

    JUSTIN:

    I have read scripts, produced scripts of films, I was an office pa for a film so I read that script.  I’ve read books on screenplays and done screenwriting workshops.  And I have participated in peer review exchanges of scripts, on triggerstreet, zoetrope, and on Amazon Studios.

    You can read reviews of my scripts, my posted scripts, and other scripts on those forums.  My works went through different stages, so some things posted are early drafts, others are much later drafts in response to what feedback I got.

    And yes, you can post our correspondence.

  • The Age Old/Old Age Question

    January 8th, 2010

    I was recently asked by one of the writers in my seminar – “Am I too old to be writing screenplays and trying to break in to the business? Am I too old to get hired?” And my short quick answer was NO! However, the longer answer is a bit more involved and not quite as inspiring.

     

    Of course you are never too old to write – even if you’re too old to hold a pen, you can still write. And there is no age limit on creativity. A writer can be prolific at any age and if you’ve been writing for 30 years, you’re probably a lot better then you were when you started. But writing isn’t the same thing as breaking into the film industry. There is no question that Hollywood is an ageist industry. If you START writing screenplays when you’re 60, you’re going to have a harder time than those trying to break in at 22 or 25 years old. This business is run by billionaires over 60 and executives under 35.  In most industries, the older you are, the wiser and more experienced people think you are. In Hollywood, the older you are, the more detached from the prime demographic you are thought to be.

     

    There are a few reasons why being older makes it harder to break in (though definitely not impossible).  First, as you get older, chances are your connection to what’s “hip” and what can sell gets that much more removed. Do you know the hottest TV shows, movies, books, music, actors, internet sites, words, phrases, lingo, etc.? Probably not.

     

    Writers write what they know or what they would like to go see themselves. The problem with this is that if you’re over 50 or so, chances are what you like to see isn’t the same as the prime 18-49 demographic. Most writers over 60 that pitch to me have either written a period piece, an autobiography or story about something that happened to them, or a family drama that suspiciously sounds like their own family. And these aren’t what sell. You know how when you go over to Grandma’s house, sometimes she wants to whip out the old home movies…well…if your grandkids don’t want to watch them, why would kids all over the country? It’s just about connecting with what sells (see my previous articles on the period piece and autobiography for more on this).

     

    Second, because executives are usually 25-35 years old, sometimes it’s hard for them to give notes to their grandparents. And speaking from experience, the older one is, often the more “stuck in their ways” they can become and to succeed in Hollywood, you have to be incredibly collaborative, malleable and willing to completely change everything. In other words, don’t be that old curmudgeon on the porch who screams and rants about “those crazy kids.”

     

    Lastly, and this is going to sound harsh, but if you’re first breaking in at age 65, then an agent or manager has to look at how many productive and creative years they have left to work with you. Most agents look for clients that they can have a long, productive and profitable relationship with. And five or ten years isn’t that long if you’re still working on only your second script.

     

    Something I’ve discovered is that everyone wants to leave a legacy. Everyone wants to leave their stamp on the world in some way (other than just having children) and screenwriting is a great way to do that. I think this is why so many people, upon retiring from their different chosen profession, choose to start writing. The day job is over and now they can write and tell their story, express themselves, etc. It’s the legacy they want to leave. If you get a movie made, your name is forever and always on that project in the history of Hollywood (for better or worse). And this is completely understandable and commendable. However, I will point out that Jay Leno had a chance to be remembered as one of the great late night personalities of all time, and now he will be remembered as the person who not only killed NBC, but perhaps killed primetime.

     

    Now before all you AARP members throw your Final Draft CD away and come after me with pitchforks and torches, I want to give you the upside. Companies are so hungry for new, original, well-written material that they don’t care who or where it comes from. A couple years ago, I was queried on virtualpitchfest.com and I asked to read the script. It was a young, female-skewed romantic comedy. I loved it, my boss loved it and we optioned the script. Six months later, the writer, who lived in the Midwest, made a trip to LA and we finally met – and he was a tall, older man – easily in his 60s with pants higher than my grandfather’s. Ya know what? It didn’t matter. His script was great. I connected him with a manager, who got him an agent and he has gone on to write numerous projects for Hallmark Channel and is now writing full time.

     

    Screenwriting contests and query websites are completely anonymous. No one knows how old you are or where you’re from. They only know if you can write and tell a good story. If you are a finalist in the Nicholls or Disney Fellowship or some other prestigious contest, you’re going to get representation and meetings no matter how old you are. So, at the end of the day, while it is harder, you can absolutely still break in at an older age. You may just need to go about it a different way and you need to pay attention to the marketplace and pop culture even more than your younger competition so that no one can say that you’re out of touch. Now let’s go grab that early bird special and get to work!

     

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