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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.

  • What Happens in Vegas Ends Up On the Page

    March 17th, 2014

    By Danny Manus

    One of the greatest themes explored in film is SIN. One of the tenets of a cinematic story is making it VISUAL and keeping the ACTION going. And one of the greatest things a writer can do to further their career, is continue to LEARN.

    What better place in the world to bring these three things together than Las Vegas?

    That’s why I will be returning to the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference for my third time on April 24-27th.  The conference, given by the Henderson Writers Group, is perfect for book or film writers and allows participants to take seminars, workshops, network, take pitch meetings with literary pros, and of course – enjoy all that Vegas has to offer.

    And if there is a town that can inspire excitement, originality, adventure, and interesting characters…it’s Vegas!

    I’m delighted to have been asked back and will be teaching two all-new courses; Writing Your Natural Story and Creating Compelling, Castable Characters.

    The first course will go through the nature vs. nurture of a script, explore story pitfalls, how to recognize when your story has gone awry, and how to make sure your story goes in the right direction. We’ll go through exercises that will ensure you’re always writing your natural story. And most importantly for book writers, we’ll discuss how the correct way to “write what you know” and the principles of adapting a book or true story to film.

    In the characters course, we’ll go through 10 great specific exercises to creating compelling, castable protagonists and antagonists and we’ll examine the 12 elements of strong, three-dimensional characters. We’ll also discuss how to create interesting antagonists and supporting characters.

    And perhaps my favorite thing about this conference is the first pages panel, where participants submit the first couple pages of their book (or script) and a panel of executives and agents listen as they are read and raise their hand when they would have passed. And then we critique the pages we’ve heard. It is a great way to get a guttural first reaction from professionals to know if your first pages are going to get past the reader. And it’s usually a good amount of fun too.

    I hope to see you all there April 24-27th. For more info and to register, go to http://lasvegaswritersconference.com/.

    And in case you haven’t been convinced yet, the last time I went to this conference, at least one best-selling author wound up in the trunk of a car. What happens in Vegas…

     

  • 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.

  • 5 Ways to Pitch for Success

    April 10th, 2013

    By Danny Manus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The Biggest Threat to Screenwriters in the Digital Age

    March 26th, 2013

    By Danny Manus

    It used to be that a screenwriter’s biggest fear was pitching or sending a script to a producer and them stealing their idea and making a billion dollars without them. But in the new digital, social media age where every week there seems to be a new website that writers can post their scripts on in the hopes of being reviewed, loved and discovered, the biggest threat to screenwriters – is other screenwriters.

    Between Amazon, BlackList, Talentville, Virtual Pitchfest, InkTip, Greenlightmymovie, Triggerstreet, SpecScout and many more – there are a ton of websites that promise (or at least intimate) you will gain access, attention, accolades and success from Hollywood heavyweights by using their sites and posting your scripts or pitches or synopses. And many of them do have great success stories. Some of them are even free. But there’s a downside to posting your script in a forum or on a site where ANYONE – not just Hollywood professionals – can see it.

    Let me preface this article by saying that I don’t have anything against any of the aforementioned sites and I have worked with (and continue to work with) a few of them. I believe the people running all of those sites have the best of intentions and are not doing anything wrong.

    However, this past week, one of my clients (who will remain nameless but I’m sure many of you reading this may know who I’m talking about) had an issue on one of these popular script-posting/review sites. She discovered that there was another project with the same title and basic concept, time period and protagonist posted onto the site months after she had posted hers. Now, it was a TV script and hers was a feature, and after reading both it was clear to me there were notable differences in the stories, writing and focus. But, they were definitely similar. And while it wasn’t a wholly original story, it was original enough – especially the title – to draw some ire from numerous writers.

    After much ado, and numerous emails between the parties (some of them contentious), the situation was looked into by the website and resolved as best as possible considering no one had sold their project yet and no one could actually PROVE anything. Though mark my words – if one of their projects sells, there will be a lawsuit. Which means both their projects are now tainted and if a production company hears there might be a registration claim against a script, they will most likely stay away.

    Writers need to know there is basically no recourse through the site when something like this happens (especially if it’s a FREE site), because most have terms and conditions you have to agree to before you post your material, and any smart site will include a big old paragraph that basically says – “Post at your own risk. It ain’t our fault if your story gets jacked.”  At least, that’s the legal terminology I would use.

    In addition, if you’re posting into Facebook groups, screenwriting forums like the notorious Done Deal Pro or others, many people use screen names, fake names or pseudonyms – so you’d never be able to find out who actually took your idea.

    Let me ask you something – why the hell do you care what a fellow amateur screenwriter living 3000 miles away from you thinks about your screenplay? Do you know what their opinion means? Absolutely nothing! Many of these sites and forums are the blind leading the blind. And in the land of the blind, the one-eyed-man is king.

    Situations like the one I mentioned above seem to be happening on a weekly basis now – and it’s not going to improve until these sites take more control over what’s being posted and have a more in-depth system or screening process or algorithm to compare (or search for) projects. Or until writers realize that posting their script for peer reviews is mostly a waste of time and often opens them up to more harm than good. Everyone is so hell bent on getting feedback from EVERYONE and getting their script in front of as many eyes as possible, that they don’t realize some of the pitfalls of posting their projects or loglines or ideas online.

    And some contests aren’t much better. First and second round judges for many contests out there, are writers. Perhaps they’re writers with a couple options under their belt or a manager or agent, or some credits. But for the most part, it’s out of work writers trying to make some extra money. And the rest of the judges are readers, who get 20 bucks a script. It isn’t until the quarter or semifinal rounds where more major Hollywood professionals get involved in the judging.

    So this leaves burgeoning writers with two very important questions – How do you promote yourself, get read and try to break in while ensuring your ideas won’t be stolen? And are you sabotaging your career if you refuse to post your scripts on these websites or enter contests?

    The answer to the first question is just to be smart and protect yourself and always keep a paper trail! Know when you registered the script, know when you copyrighted it, know when you started writing it, know the first time you pitched it to someone. Know what sites, at what times, your script was posted and keep a log of who has seen it or read it or commented on it. And that goes for your writers groups and friends as well. Because if there is one thing I’ve learned after 10 years in this business, it’s that friendships don’t mean dick when there’s money at stake.

    Read ALL terms and conditions before you post. Try to post on sites where there is more DIRECT access to professionals or where it’s only professionals who can access your projects. Or where YOU can control the access. At least with Virtual Pitchfest, for example, your query letter goes directly to the professional and no one else is able to see it.

    The answer to the latter question I posed, is YES. By choosing NOT to put your script out there at all, you are cutting off your nose to spite your face. You can’t be THAT precious with your idea, because chances are it’s already been done anyway. And if you’re not trying to pitch and sell your idea, then what was the point in writing it? You can’t sit there and complain that you’re not being discovered if you’re not being pro-active about getting your script read. But again, you have to protect yourself.

    Do NOT post your brand new, unregistered idea or logline or synopsis in Facebook groups or on twitter or in ANY screenwriting forum asking for feedback. If you want to know if your idea or project sounds commercial and might be worth pursuing, or you want to brainstorm your story concepts (especially before they are written), then for the love of God – go to someone who isn’t a fellow writer! You’re not selling your project to other writers anyway – you’re selling them to execs, producers and reps!

    I realize I’m a bit biased here, but use a professional! Pay the $50 bucks and use a professional who can give you constructive feedback but will also keep your project confidential and won’t be wondering the whole time if your project and idea sounds better than the ones they are trying to write.

    Pitching to an executive or producer or submitting work to a script consultant or even your own personal writing groups is much safer than posting your story all over the internet. Why? Because the former all rely on their reputations staying intact in order to stay in business. And if someone in your writers group stole your idea – you’d know who they are, where to find them, and exactly how they got it. There would be a clear paper trail.

    Now, the law of averages – and the sheer number of writers and scripts out there – dictates that your idea was probably thought of by someone else, somewhere. Every few months, I get two clients that submit a similar story or concept and they live countries apart and have no connection to each other whatsoever. Even the most random of story ideas, has probably been thought of in some form by someone else. It’s just a coincidence and there’s nothing you can do about it. And just FYI, I do inform my clients when that occurs.

    This happens to professional writers and production companies all the time as well. When I was at my old production company, Clifford Werber Productions, I sold an “Oz” movie to United Artists. We were first out of the gate. But within months there were 4 other Oz projects set up and as you can see…ours didn’t win the race. We developed a revamped Jack and the Beanstalk…oh well. We developed a project called “Family Bond” and the very week we sent it out to the town, another script titled “Family Bonds” (with an S) was also sent around by another producer and the story was eerily similar. And just this month, a consulting client of mine submitted a script with the same concept as one I developed years ago at CWP. It happens all the time because as different as we are, humans all share certain experiences and people write what they know.

    And if you suspect that one of your projects, ideas or scripts has been “stolen” in some way, the best way to handle it – is calmly. Don’t go threatening lawsuits or demanding anything – especially of the sites on which the projects were posted. First, read the other writer’s project to make sure it’s not just a similar title or same broad generic idea. Make sure there are REAL similarities throughout the script. Investigate, do your due diligence, go back thru your paper trail, and contact the writer or the site and try to come up with a resolution that benefits you all. And worst comes to worst, take down your project and just move on to the next one. Because if your script has been posted on a site for 9 months and NO ONE has read it or contacted you about it – it’s not doing you any favors anyway.

    In the 90s, it was snail mail query letters. In the 2000s, it was email queries and pitchfests. In the 2010s, the new norm of breaking in for writers without connections is thru social media and self-promotion thru certain types of websites. And the fact that new writers can more easily connect to big Hollywood players is a great thing. But with these new rules and opportunities, come new threats and problems that writers need to be aware of, and protect themselves. And hopefully now, you’ll be a bit better prepared.

  • Creating the Perfect One-Sheet

    May 7th, 2012

    With the Great American Pitchfest in less than a month, I know many of you are preparing your pitch, getting your script in shape, and figuring out what your strategy should be to maximize your pitchfest experience. But how many of you have completed your one-sheet?

    If your hand isn’t raised – you aren’t ready to pitch! One-Sheets are an absolute must if you are going into a pitch meeting, especially at a pitchfest event. It’s what you are going to give the executives at the conclusion of your pitch that will allow them to remember you and your story a week or two after the event, when they finally go through everything and decide what they want to read. If your pitch is your first impression, the one-sheet is your lasting impression.

    It’s the only way the executive, who has listened to 50-100 pitches that day, is going to be able to remember you after the salient details of your glorious 5 minute pitch have escaped them.  I write my comments on your one-sheet the second you leave the table – Yes, no, great concept, bad story, liked her, hated him, ask for script, totally retarded, smelled bad – whatever.   

    Your one-pager (another term for one-sheet) is your calling card and you should always keep one on you at all times. Even if the event you’re pitching at tells you not to!

    It’s not just a selling tool for your story, but also for yourself. It differs from a synopsis in a few ways. First, as its name dictates, it’s only ONE page.  Secondly, unlike the synopsis which is just about your story, your one-sheet can be a bit about you as well. It’s much closer to the query letter but without the letter aspects. You don’t need the greeting or closing, but a good one-sheet should include the following:

    –  Your name

    –  The title of your screenplay

    –  Your contact info including email (even if they have it already)

    –  The genre of your script

    –  The logline of your script

    –  If appropriate, 1-2 lines that state anything special about you that pertains to your story or the film business in general just like in your query letter. Or mention of any major contest wins, produced projects, etc.

    –  Then, 1-3 VERY short paragraphs (about 8-12 lines on the page) about your story, your world, your protagonist and what they must accomplish, what is against them, and what’s on the line.  It should be a bit more stylized than your synopsis, which means your voice as a writer should shine through. 

    –  Much like the query letter, you should not give away your ending, but you should tease and intimate your awesome ending – let the exec know that your story builds to something exciting.

    On a one-sheet, you can also include at the bottom a few more titles with genre and logline of other projects you have written (if you have others), because the executive might not like your project, but they might like YOU, and want to know what else you’ve done.

    And incredibly important for your one-sheet — no typos or grammatical errors!! If you cannot write a half a page without a typo or mistake, then you are sloppy or lazy and I don’t want to read your script. I know many execs who will throw away a one-sheet with a typo on it.

    Execs can tell if someone can write by their one-sheet, and they often will not ask for a script if the one-sheet is unimpressive, bland, boring, or doesn’t tell them anything.

    The paper shouldn’t be boring. You shouldn’t doodle little animals on it or anything, but I find that the one-pagers I keep and the ones I take more notice of have something different on the page. They are a bit more visual, perhaps there’s a picture or pattern on the page that connects with your story, or they are printed on a slightly harder stock of paper than regular printer paper. It doesn’t need professional graphic design, but I’ve seen many one-sheets that are basically the poster for the movie on one side and the synopsis and other information on the other.

    Just like with your pitch – the more visual a one-sheet is, the more memorable it will be. Is an exec not going to read your script because your one sheet isn’t visually stimulating? No, of course not. But you are trying to do things that make you stand out, in a good way. Executives may tell you it doesn’t matter, but subconsciously, it does. People like shiny objects. It’s how Transformers got made. So if there is something visually stimulating – not detracting or distracting – but stimulating about the page, chances are execs will pay more attention to it.

    But one thing you should NOT do – is put the actor you want in your movie on your one-sheet. Nothing will scream amateur more than a photo-shopped picture of Adam Sandler!

    However you design it, I cannot express to you the importance of having one. Writers always ask if a business card is good enough. As far as getting an exec your contact info, a business card works. But even if the title of your script is printed on that card, that’s not going to remind the executive about your story or your pitch or some of those key words you dropped during your pitch. Business cards get lost, they fall out of pockets or bags, get thrown away, etc. A one-sheet is a preferred.

    Some people say one-sheets are unnecessary and that if you don’t write them, an executive will have no choice but to ask for your script instead. Those people are complete morons. They have another option…not asking for anything! And if they were on the fence about your project, not having a one-sheet makes it that much easier for them to forget you were ever there.

  • Just Give Them What They Ask For

    June 21st, 2011

    By Danny Manus

    Today’s column comes from the “live and learn” files of Hollywood.  I recently had a client, who will remain nameless, who had sent her script to an executive, who read it and liked it and asked the writer to come in for a meeting. During that meeting, my client pitched the exec a couple of other projects she was working on and was also pitched BY the executive a couple of projects their company was looking to develop.

    This is what normally happens in a pitch meeting. Most production companies have internal story meetings where they come up with and pitch (to each other) story ideas that they may want to develop and find writers to work on. When I was at Clifford Werber Productions, I’d say at least one-third of our projects were self-generated between the two of us. Some were winners, some weren’t. But since A-List writers don’t write on spec and they usually only pitch their OWN original material – this is where YOU come in!

    So, my client was pitched this one idea (which will also remain nameless) and given a few specific (but basic) notes on what they were thinking. It was basically a “reversal” of a concept of a popular movie from years ago (and that is ALL the information you’re getting). Now, here’s what you need to know about executives – they usually don’t really know what they DO want – they just know what they DON’T want. 

    I had this original project idea at CWP that I had written a 3 page pitch document for which basically had the set up, much of the first act, and premise to the story and characters.  We pitched this to tons of writers and had 3 or 4 (over a year’s time) come up with a nicely-fleshed out treatment and pitch, but for one reason or another – Clifford didn’t like them. They just didn’t match with his vision for the project, even though he and I weren’t sure EXACTLY what we wanted that vision to be.

    But a good take on our story is like obscenity – we know it when we see it.

    Anyway, my client came up with a take on the project and presented it to the executive – but it wasn’t right for them. It wasn’t what they were looking for. But she was given one more chance. So, she came to me and we re-worked it and re-wrote it (No, I do not take co-writing or story credit), and I thought the idea that resulted from our 3 hour in-person consultation – was pretty damn solid. If it came to ME as an executive, I’d probably be pretty happy with it, though it was only a 4 page pitch and not an extended treatment. There were still many story specifics not worked out.

    Unfortunately, once again, the executive did not think it was what they had envisioned. And she’s right – it wasn’t. In my eyes, it was better. It took the one-line concept they had given my writer and (in my opinion) expanded it, gave a different twist to it, made it more castable, etc. But that’s not what the exec wanted.

    All too often, writers try to do something totally new and different – when all the executive really wanted was for you to basically regurgitate exactly what they asked you to do but in a more stylized and interesting way.  Sometimes this takes great control on behalf of the writer, but it could mean the difference between getting the job and not.  If an executive tells you they want a 16 year-old female protagonist, don’t change it to a 25 year-old male because you think it’s better – just give them what they asked for.

    What I tell my writers to do, and what I would have done with this client if we had more time (the meeting was in 2 days), is to come up with at least 4 or 5 different takes on the concept so that if the executive shoots down your first take in the meeting, you have fallbacks and options that you can immediately follow up on and pitch instead. They will be impressed that you gave it so much thought.  Perhaps in one, the focus of the story is on a different character, or it’s set in a different location, or there’s a different catalyst and inciting incident that sets up the story. It’s never a good idea to ONLY have one idea.

    It was frustrating when I got the call from the executive, who was nice enough to give me a heads up because she is a personal friend of mine (yes, she knew I was working with the writer as a story consultant).  She didn’t love the pitch we had come up with – I was honestly very surprised. But it wasn’t my place to fight the points she raised – it was my job just to listen, smile and nod and hopefully learn a bit more of what they actually did want.  I could have argued, but I didn’t want to screw my client over, who was meeting with her the next day. Know your place in whatever situation you’re in.

    But the phone call I received also illuminated a few things I did not know previously, including how my client had actually been pitched this project THREE months ago and was finally getting back to the exec.

    Here’s the thing – if an executive tells you they want to hear your take on their project – they want to hear it SOON! Not the same week, of course, but probably about 2-4 weeks later. If you are taking more than 4 weeks to come up with a take, that exec is going to expect much more than a 3 page basic treatment. They will want a fully fleshed out story and characters and probably a 10 pg document.

    Also, if it’s not an idea that you truly spark to – DON’T force it. I know you all want to make the executives happy and get on their good side and create that relationship. But they will respect you even more if you say “that’s a great idea, but I’m honestly not sure it’s an idea that’s right for me or one I can connect to enough to do a great job.” They would rather find something else you both agree on and have a vision for than waste their time hearing a take on something you don’t even like.

    You need to know the politics and expectations of meeting with executives. You have to respect what they are asking you to deliver, you have to deliver it within an acceptable amount of time, you have to be incredibly prepared, and you have to know when it’s not a good fit.

    How do you do this? Well, much like my client did, you live and you learn.

  • The Ultimate Do’s and Don’ts of Pitching at Pitchfests!

    June 1st, 2011

    By Danny Manus

    DO:

    1. Have a FINISHED script in proper format.
    2. Know your target. Do your Research.
    3. Embrace the “Alternate” and use it to your advantage.
    4. Try to get a pitch session before lunch, but not the first session of the day.
    5. Know your story!! Backwards and forwards. Characters, arcs, plot, story, ending, act breaks, etc. No using Cue Cards!
    6. Be open to constructive criticism on your story, characters, pitch, and even your personality.
    7. Have an excellent and visual one sheet with your contact info, email, title, genre, 1-2 paragraph synopsis, additional project loglines, any relevant background info, etc.
    8. Ask us if we want to take your one sheet if we haven’t asked for it already. Or at least leave a business card with contact info and your project’s title.
    9. Dress appropriately. No costumes. No flop sweat. No spittle. Bring some hand sanitizer too!
    10. Make us think you’re from LA, or at least would move there.
    11. Make sure you can pitch in English. At least coherent enough to understand.
    12. BE NORMAL!!!
    13. Know what the hook to your story is, what the original twist to your story is, and highlight that.
    14. Make sure your first minute contains: your name, your project’s title, any pertinent background info, whatever sets you apart, your project’s genre, the logline and hook, one or two comparison films, etc.
    15. Make sure the rest of the pitch contains: your main story line, descriptions and arcs of your main character(s), some of your big set pieces, funniest/scariest moments of your script, etc. The most commercial and original parts of your script. The trailer moments!
    16. Prepare to answer questions about you, your story and your writing process.
    17. Make sure your TV show idea can last 4 seasons before pitching your premise.
    18. Gear your pitches to agents/managers so that it’s more about YOU and your vision for your career than a specific project.
    19. If we ask for it, send us your script within 2 weeks.
    20. Respect the pass if you get one at the table.
    21. Say hello if passing us in the halls after your pitch. Act normal and smile.
    22. HAVE FUN! RELAX!

    DO NOT:

    1. Set yourself up for failure.
    2. Cry while pitching.
    3. Use Cue Cards. You should know your own story better than that.
    4. Act your pitch. Just tell a story and have a conversation. Also, no singing, dancing, or funny voices necessary.
    5. Tell us that this is the first time you have ever pitched this to anyone. We shouldn’t be your first pitch.
    6. Use a gimmick. No posters, toys, props, etc. Trailers are okay and drawings are okay if you are a professional FX Artist.
    7. Fight with fellow attendees, even if they are taking up your time.
    8. Fight with execs and argue about their take on your story or pitch. Don’t tell them that you don’t think they’re right. Keep it all inside and just smile and nod.
    9. Start your pitch with something incredibly personal or embarrassing.
    10. Start your pitch with a rhetorical question!
    11. Ask execs to take your script at the table. And don’t beg.
    12. Ask execs for their card more than once.  
    13. Pitch projects that are not appropriate for pitchfests (period epics, sci-fi trilogies, Hollywood insider movies, Oscar-type Prestige Dramas, Autobiographies that haven’t been published/covered somewhere – a book, article, short film, doc, etc)
    14. Deny execs your big twist ending.
    15. Have typos or grammatical errors on your one sheet!!
    16. Insist on directing or acting in your script.
    17. Make execs regret saying yes. Don’t be annoying or email/call incessantly.
    18. Under any circumstances, pitch execs in the bathroom or on a cigarette break.
    19. Become a horror story.

  • Perception is Reality

    February 26th, 2011

    By Daniel Manus

    The key to getting someone to like your script…is finding someone else who likes it first. Hollywood is an institution that runs on word of mouth and is basically based on jealousy, insecurity, and the need to prove oneself.  So the best way to entice someone to read your script is by creating the perception that it’s a hot piece of material.

    What – you mean just lie?  Noooo, not LIE. Not…exactly. It’s just using the truth to your advantage.

    Subconsciously, people will be more hesitant to say something sucks when they know someone else loved it.  

    But the person who loved it has to matter – it can’t be your family, friends, trusted writers group or anyone on your payroll. One of the biggest turn-offs for me is when a writer tells me they gave their script to their kids and colleagues to read and everyone loved it. Now, instead of creating the perception that someone in the industry likes your work, you have created the perception that you are so far removed from the industry that you actually think that matters.  It doesn’t.  

    But I digress…

    Do you know why some of the scripts on the Blacklist were so well-liked? It’s because the writers were rep’d by powerful agents and managers – and they must know what they’re talking about…right? Some were well-known, A-List, produced writers…so what they write has to be good…right?  Some scripts tackled really important subject matter – so it must be powerfully written…right? 

    Well that’s the perception so it must be true…right?

    Personally, I thought there were a few downright shitty scripts on the Blacklist this year (I will cover the Blacklist in more detail in a future column).

    Do you know why so much shit gets made in Hollywood? Because someone important with bad taste reads the script and likes it, and so many others just fall in suit.  Or because when it’s dressed up and advertised as something GREAT, you feel like an idiot if you think it sucks – and no one ever wants to be the one to rock the boat in a room full of execs that “love” a script – so they keep quiet and shit gets made that no one actually thought was good.

    The studio exec doesn’t want to piss off the agent, so he says it’s great even though he hated it. The agent tells the junior executive their boss loved it, so the jr. exec is forced to say they loved it too. Now a script is being developed that everyone actually hated.

    So, what’s the key? Make your shit look and sound great. FOOL people.

    There’s a trick producers use to garner interest in their projects from studios and/or talent. We’ll call up a TALENT AGENT and pitch our script for one of their clients and they request it.  Then, we call up STUDIO GUY and pitch them the same script, except now we get to say that A-List Actor Man is currently reading it. So the studio requests it. We hear back from the agent that they like the project but want to know where the money is. We tell them that Studio Guy really likes the script (which is a pre-mature stretch, but they liked the pitch and requested the script, so whatever). Great. So, we call back the studio and tell them that A-List Actor Man really likes the project and is interested (he’s not yet, but his agent is – and that’s good enough). Now, the studio is even more interested in the project because they see the packaging opportunities.

    No one ever said they want to make the script or that their client even read it – but they requested it and have shown some level of interest in the project. So we leverage that perceived interest to garner interest from others. And that’s what you should be doing.

    There was a script called “Pierre, Pierre” which sold in 2008 for a MILLION dollars. It now has Jim Carrey attached. And it’s awful. Awful. But Ivan Reitman liked it and attached himself, and it sold. Reitman has since fallen out, but this was one of those projects that most execs actually hated, but we didn’t want to seem like the stupid kid in class who didn’t “get it” – so we all said it was brilliant.

    It’s all about perception. Advertising executives learned this a long time ago – People like what they are told to like.  If someone more important than you liked the script, then there must be something you’re not seeing, right? You don’t want to look stupid, so you say you like it too…and it goes from there.

    The Amazon Studios screenwriting contest recently announced their first winners, and one of their winners is a man named Richard Stern, who was VERY active on many boards and websites talking positively about the contest and (in a not-so-subtle way), was promoting his script and talking about how he’s gotten really high ratings and votes and people seem to like it. This caused anyone reading his posts to go check it out and if they saw that 100 people voted it the best, chances are…they will vote that way too.  And guess what – he won! He created the perception (whether true or not) that his script was a favorite so far and people really liked it (btw, it is a good script).

    You have to hype your script without overhyping. Tell people that so-and-so really liked the script, but don’t tell them it’s the greatest script ever written – you can’t live up to that hype.

    There is a bias against first time writers who aren’t rep’d and who live in bumblefuck towns outside of LA or NY. There just is. So…what should you do about that?

    Well, if you’re at a pitchfest or just making cold calls, there is an easy way to hype your script and change the perception of your work. First, don’t tell them you’re NOT from LA. Second, tell them you used to be represented. If or when they ask which agency, you can tell them it was just a small boutique agency that doesn’t exist anymore or a small agency outside of LA (and that’s why you left). They really won’t know the difference. Just make sure you have a plan for what you’re going to say. And third, slip into conversation (in a subtle and natural way) that so-and-so over at such-and-such company requested the script already.

    If you cold-call a company and they tell you they don’t take unsolicited scripts, say something like, “Oh ok, no problem, I understand,  I had just been talking with THIS other company and they requested it, so I thought I would give you guys a try as well.” This MAY make them think twice before hanging up. If you hear them pause or say “oh…well…um…” – that’s your cue to give them one final push on the script in a nice, polite and professional manner. You’ve made them rethink their policy concerning your script, now you have 10 seconds to capitalize.

    Companies who know that they are competing for a project are more likely to request it, read it quickly, and get back to you. It’s the basis of how and why the spec market was created and worked for so long. And it creates the perception that you and your project are something special. And in Hollywood, perception is reality.

  • I’m Back Teaching at the Screenwriting Expo! Get the Info Here!

    October 3rd, 2010

    It’s the largest screenwriting conference of the year with tons of great speakers, seminars and exhibitors, so you knew we had to be there!

    If you haven’t bought your tickets or gotten your passes, please click the link below to do so!

    http://csorders.com/cgi-bin/sc/ref.cgi?storeid=*166792a1603291a807d0a44e61&name=2010ExpoAffiliate-DanielManus 

    WHEN: Oct 7-10, 2010

    WHERE: The Hilton Hotel at LAX

                 5711 West Century Blvd

                 Los Angeles, CA 90045

    I’ll be teaching 3 seminars over the weekend – 2 on Thursday and 1 on Friday! And if you want to have a successful Expo, they are not to be missed! Here’s the lowdown –

    Thursday 1-3 PM – Loglines, Query Letters and One-Sheets…Oh My! 

    Class will cover how to construct proper loglines, query letters and one-sheets, what to include and what not to include, the difference between loglines and taglines, what executives are looking for in each, and how to write ones that grab attention and sell! Writers should bring their loglines with them and we will go through and improve them in class!

    Thursday 4-6 PM – No B.S. Guide to Pitching and Pitchfests

    If you’re pitching this weekend, you HAVE TO take this class!!

    Topics include: The Do’s and Don’ts of pitchfests, Who should be pitching and who shouldn’t, what you should and should not be pitching, what execs are looking for at a pitchfest, How to prepare your pitch (everything before you sit down), What to include in your first minute and making first impressions, Making the most out of 5 minutes, The top 15 concepts execs have already heard, The Magic One Sheet and Horror stories and Success stories!

    Friday 11am-12:30pm – Become Your Own Development Executive

    Writers always ask, ‘What is an executive looking for? How come they don’t see what I see?’  This class will teach writers how to think, read and write from the executive perspective. Topics Covered include:
    How a Development Exec reads a script – what they’re looking for and the difference between how a writer reads and an executive reads; The 3 questions executives think of while reading; The Top 13 Notes an executive gives and how to avoid them; How an exec hears/interprets a pitch; What it takes to get a “recommend” from a script consultant/reader; The development process – giving and getting notes – what to expect and how to survive it with flying colors; Q&A.

    Hope to see you there!!

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