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  • All HBO Shows Ranked – Another TV Whore’s Opinion

    June 22nd, 2015

    By Danny Manus @Dannymanus

    Last week, a reviewer on Thrillist ranked all 54 HBO shows from worst to greatest. Upon reading this list, quite a number of things rushed into my mind. First – wow, HBO has had that many shows? Second – wow, I watch a lot of TV. Like, way too much TV. Though to be fair there were a few I had not seen and perhaps 2 I hadn’t even heard of. And third – wow, this guy who ranked these shows is kinda wrong on a bunch of ‘em. In my opinion.

    Here’s a link to the original post –

    So, I did what any self-respecting TV Whore with an extra 4 hours would do… I’ve made my own rebuttal list of the Top 51 HBO Shows of All Time. There were three shows – Generation Kill, The Pacific and John Adams – that the original poster included that I have discounted because they were mini-series and shouldn’t really count because that opens up a whole other can of worms. But other than that…here’s my list…

    51. The High Life – Yeah, I never heard of it either.

    50. Angry Boys – Didn’t remember this one either but it only lasted one season in 2011 apparently.

    49. Family Tree – Not even Chris O’Dowd could save this boring comedy with uninteresting low stakes.

    48. Doll and Em – Apparently Emily Mortimer did an HBO series before The Newsroom and this was it. For 8 episodes.

    47. Summer Heights High – Chris Lilley as a girl in a private school. Mockingly humorous at times, but I’d rather watch Amy Sedaris.

    46. John From Cincinnati – Ed O’Neill, Luke Perry, Rebecca De Mornay in an existential show with surfing. It lasted a season. I lasted the pilot.

    45. Tell Me You Love Me – Great cast, but the three couples were so whiny it quickly became the whitest show on HBO at a time when they were ALL white. It was In Treatment without the actual issues.

    44. Mind of the Married Man – Mike Binder doing his best Paul Reiser/Brian BenBen impression. Was amusing and introduced us to the ridiculously gorgeous Ivana Milicevic and likable Sonya Walger, but it turns out we already know what’s in the mind of married men…tits and sadness.

    43. How to Make It in America – 20 somethings in NY. Hmmm…where have I heard this before? I feel bad that Lake Bell has to keep this on her resume.

    42. Life’s Too Short – A mockumentary with Ricky Gervais and Warwick Davis, the original Leprechaun. Had some memorable, virally funny scenes but not enough for the show to rank higher.

    41. Hello Ladies – There’s something wonderfully, painfully awkward watching Stephen Merchant do anything – especially try to get laid in LA. Again, some great stand out scenes but a limited concept that went nowhere.

    40. In Treatment – I remember liking the first season or two, and then it all going to shit. Was perhaps the first drama to keep the concept and just trade its cast in every season save Gabriel Byrne, but it got too melodramatic. And made me hate my own therapist.

    39. Looking – Despite the last 4 episodes of Season 2 finally getting good, this show was boring, unsexy, and confused from the start with characters I never cared about. It was Queer as Folk if the whole cast had just been that one unsexy, white, boring, hipster dude who didn’t have a storyline or arc. When the straight woman is the BEST character…there’s some problems with your gay guy show.

    38. Enlightened – I get that Mike White is a genius, and created a great role for Laura Dern, but I couldn’t even make it to the end of Season 1. As the original post stated – I never felt compelled to watch the next episode.

    37. K Street – Political junkies like me and people who enjoy watching Carville and Matalin fight, loved it. But it wasn’t enough to save this slightly fictionalized show about real politics.

    36. Dream On – It was a trailblazer in many ways. So much so that I forgot it was on HBO. It was also one of the first shows I saw that had nudity, which was big for me at the time. Brian BenBen and that yappy blonde chick were a nice combo and it was a visually interesting show that did cutaways before they were popular.

    35. Flight of the Conchords – I realize my placement of this show is one that will anger many, but I truly just disliked it. I appreciate a couple of the songs, but I just didn’t enjoy the style of comedy or its cast.

    34. Luck – It’s a shame what happened to this show because it had great potential. But hey, ya kill a few horses and your luck runs out.

    33. Lucky Louie – A show ahead of its time, but it was my first experience with Louis CK, Pamela Adlon and Jim Norton and I loved every low-budget, white trash, overly sexualized, awkward moment.

    32. No 1. Ladies Detective Agency – Honestly, I watched the pilot and didn’t get much further because it wasn’t a show for my demographic (read: white male under 30 at the time), but it was original and had some much needed diversity and solid performances from people you didn’t think were actors.

    31. Bored to Death – It takes a certain type to truly “get” Jason Schwartzman and what this show tried to do, and I think there were a couple brilliant episodes but the show gets lost in the mix.

    30. Rome – It wasn’t my type of show, but it was grand and as the original article poster described it – X-Rated Masterpiece Theater. I’m not gonna try to do better.

    29. Carnivale – Much like the original article writer, I appreciate this show for its production design, deep messages and originality, but I never made it to the end of the first season. It gets placement at #29 because I know many other people really liked it and it was a cult hit.

    28. Getting On – This show took a while to find its groove and to find the funny in old people dying and the purposeful unlikableness of the characters, but Laurie Metcalf, Alex Borstein and the cast were so good and as it built to its conclusion, much like Grandma, I wanted it to stay around a bit longer.

    27. Hung – A one-note show about a one-note character. I like Thomas Jane and Jane Adams, who stole most of the show, and it had its funny moments with the pimps. But it just never hung in there. See what I did there?

    26. Eastbound and Down – This is the OTHER show whose placement I know people will argue. I like Danny McBride. I just never enjoyed Kenny Powers. I will say there are some hilarious episodes and lines in this show, and it had about one season of brilliance but the story went too over the top for me.

    25. The Leftovers – This show has room to grow still, and the powerful performances by Justin Theroux, the wonderful Carrie Coon and the powerhouse Ann Dowd highlighted a magnificent and compelling CONCEPT, but the backstory episode which came about 10 Episodes in should have been episode 2 and then the series would’ve made much more sense. Its dark nature wasn’t the problem – the problem was that every time we thought it was finally getting somewhere, it didn’t. It got way better in the last 3 episodes, but man it was a chore getting there. But those 3 actor’s performances made it easier. And I’m curious about Season 2.

    24. Arli$$ – Another show just slightly before its time which probably paved the way for Entourage, plus it gave us a young Sandra Oh. Sure, it probably wouldn’t hold up now and I haven’t seen it in 15+ years, but I remember it fondly. Arliss was the original Ari.

    23. Togetherness – I love this show. But it’s so new I couldn’t really rank it any higher. I’ll watch anything the Duplass Brothers do, and Melanie Lynskey and Amanda Peet are pretty fearless. Steve Zissis redefines the shlubby best friend role and almost feels like the lead at times as his love story with Peet’s character was far more interesting than the married couple. If you didn’t see season 1, go watch it.

    22. The Newsroom – My love/hate relationship with this show runs deep. I bow at the altar of Aaron Sorkin, but found myself tweeting all the regurgitated lines from West Wing, Sports Night, and Studio 60 after each episode of the first season. The pilot was brilliant…then it wasn’t. It was flawed structurally, and in its timeline of real news events. The second season got better, sort of. Watching Sam Waterston and Jane Fonda fight was fun, though Olivia Munn might have been my favorite character on the show. There were episodes I loved but I guess my expectations were too high because of his previous shows and this one just fell short of them. I still love you, Aaron…

    21. Big Love – No one does psycho Mormons like HBO. Except for Utah. I loved this show for the first few seasons, but it just went off the rails in a crazy way. I never saw the last 2 seasons (I cancelled my HBO for about 2 years), but this was a groundbreaking show in many ways and it made Ginnifer Goodwin a bigger star and somehow made Chloe Sevigny less insane, which is hard to do.

    20. Girls – The only HBO show that I look forward to hate-watching. It’s not really groundbreaking, it’s not really interesting, it’s not really sexy. It has moments of insightful brilliance in the writing, it is somewhat relatable for middle class, artistic, lost, white, Generation Y-ers in New York City, and Adam Driver is the biggest TV revelation of the decade in my opinion. But this show would be way more interesting if it was called BOYS and if someone lit the female supporting cast on fire. Yet, I still watch.

    19. The Comeback – I don’t think I fully appreciated the intelligence and comedy of the first run of this show, and it took a few episodes of the rebooted season for me to care, but it got there. Kudrow does seem stuck playing the same type of character with the same nasal annoying voice over and over, but Valerie Cherish’s arc this season was something so enjoyable and satisfying to watch.

    18. Treme – Brilliant look at a city that’s sometimes hard to watch. Great performances, inspired music, a great feel and setting, though it always seemed too preachy for me and is not in the top 2 of David Simon’s best shows.

    17. True Detective – This is a show that might be in some people’s Top 5. It was for the Thrillist writer. But I didn’t get what was so great about it. Yes, it had wonderful performances by two top notch actors. Yes, it had sharp and powerful writing from a new voice (despite the plagiarism scandal). And it introduced us to Alexandra Daddario’s unexpectedly perfect body for which I’ll always be thankful. But, the story was pretty boring and anti-climactic. It was well-shot, well-produced, well-written and well-performed. And yet, it didn’t seem as interesting as it should have been. I hope the new season is good.

    16. Silicon Valley – To be fair, I’m still in the first season of this show and I think it’s great, but it’s not the funniest show that HBO has ever had, which the original article stated. It’s smart, it’s timely, it’s well-acted, and I look forward to seeing more. But there have been funnier shows on the network.

    15. Band of Brothers – I know I discounted the other 2 war mini-series, but this was the one that started it all and it’s still the best. It deserved to be mentioned. It’s a masterpiece.

    14. Extras – Ricky Gervais. Movie Stars. British hilarity. The episode with Kate Winslet was everything.

    13. Entourage – Was it the best show on HBO? No. But it was iconic. Plus, it gave us the line “APA? Who the fuck invited you?” which was used for at least 2 weeks at every desk in Hollywood. Through its “star” Adrian Grenier, it ironically proved that good looks IS all you need in Hollywood to get work. And it gave those in the business a chance to look at themselves in a comedic and exaggerated way. And gave those outside the business even more reason to hate us. It was never a Middle America show, but it wasn’t supposed to be. However, it was entertaining, had memorable cameos, and I’ll be damned if Ari didn’t always make me laugh.

    12. True Blood – When it was good, it was f’ing great. It was Twilight before Jacob and Edward ever existed. But when it was bad…it was unwatchable. And I’d say the show balanced out at about 60/40. The faerie world lost me, and I’m still pissed about what happened to Tara. But this show was one of the first that reached new demographics for HBO, and made people excited for each season. It was sexy, gory and totally fucked up, but it launched a ton of careers and at least one marriage. And while it was definitely time for it to go, I still miss Eric and Pam just a little…

    11. Boardwalk Empire – Strangely, this has the same placement on my list as the original list. Coincidence. It’s not my type of show to be honest, and I haven’t watch the whole series, but I can appreciate what it was. Plus… Buscemi.

    10. Larry Sanders Show – Again, a match with the original article. This show was so before its time and so hilarious. I want to go watch it again right now. If there is ever an HBO show that needs to be rebooted – it’s this one. Plus, what would people say when they called Howard Stern without HEY NOW!

    9. Deadwood – This was the #1 show in the original article. And I feel like if I watched this again now, it might rank slightly higher – but never #1. Or even Top 5. David Milch has a specific, stylistic, powerful approach to words that either goes horribly wrong (like Rick Schroeder’s first season of NYPD Blue), or horribly perfect. And this show was one expletive-laden c*nt-fest of a script. In the best way. The gritty look and feel was so Western and yet not. If this show were on now, they would never let it end after 3 seasons, but the upside is it’s perfect for binge-watching.

    8. Sex and the City – It is the cornerstone comedy for HBO. It made them a household name network and made execs realize women watched cable too. It’s still used in everyday vernacular. Are YOU a Samantha or a Charlotte? Oh, and its first movie made $415 MILLION! It tackled superficial comedy, and also cancer. It made us – and I include men in this – actually give a shit if a barely employed, barely attractive shoe-fetishist wound up with Aiden or Mr. Big. AND DAMMIT WHY WASN’T IT AIDEN!!?? My point being, this show is too important to the TV landscape and the HBO landscape to rank less than 10.

    7. Curb Your Enthusiasm – Much like many HBO shows, when it’s at its best it IS the best. And when it’s not so good…well, Susie Essman is still pretty fucking funny. Larry David is a genius. I connect with him personally for many reasons. Mostly for his general hatred of small talk, bullshit, and people. I could have lived without much of the JB Smoove storyline but the fact this show is improvised and is still this funny is something I have to admire.

    6. VEEP – This show is easily one of the funniest on TV. There has never been an episode that didn’t make me LOL. And hard. Its cast and writing is second to none. You can argue that Silicon Valley is smarter, but it is not easy to keep the Jonah and Dan insults and the precisely perfect Gary moments that hilarious and fresh. And this season, watching Tony Hale finally fight with Julia Louis-Dreyfus was pure gold. Not to mention the molestation of Jonah. That’s why this is my highest ranked comedy.

    5. Oz – Again, before its time and utterly engrossing with rich characters you love, hate, root for and root against in the same breath. It was HBO’s first dramatic series, it launched many careers including JK Simmons, Eamonn Walker and Edie Falco. It was the first series of its kind and went where no other would go. It didn’t glorify anything, didn’t condescend, and didn’t pull punches. If you’ve never seen it…it’s worth a trip to Oz.

    4. Six Feet Under – A simple concept with a well-balanced tone of darkness and light, clever episode structure and a family most couldn’t really relate to but always connected with. Even in its most morbid moments, the levity made us love it. And let’s face it – the series finale is still one of the best episodes of television ever and will make you sob like a baby.

    3. Game of Thrones – This series just keeps upping the ante in every way. This season made the Red Wedding episode look tame, and while it may have lost some of its female viewership this season for various reasons, I think the last few episodes of this season were some of the strongest episodes of the whole show. The scale and scope of this show is so hard to comprehend that often I don’t even try to follow it, I just simply enjoy it. It makes me want a dragon. And if I can’t have one, I’ll gladly take a Dinklage instead!

    2. The Sopranos – Yep, it’s #2. I had a personal connection to this show early on, but that wasn’t what kept me watching. Sure, it had its failed storylines. And sure, that whole fade to black in the last episode is STILL being fought over in some Jersey strip clubs. But this show changed the landscape of TV – and the quality of it. Watching James Gandolfini and Edie Falco was a masterclass. Watching Pauly and Big Pussy, Silvio and Bobby, and of course poor Adriana…it was appointment TV every week, every season. It changed the language of water-cooler talk from “Did you catch last night’s episode” to “Fuggedaboudit”.

    1. The Wire – I got to re-watch the whole series from the start this past December, since I had only watched the first 2 seasons when it was actually on. And I’m so happy I did. Masterfully crafted, powerfully written and acted, heart-breakingly executed. It is the ultimate lesson for writers in crafting an arc for a whole series. Omar, McNulty, Bunk, Daniels, Barksdale, Stringer Bell, and the kids. They’re unforgettable. David Simon wrote what he knew, and translated it beautifully. The fact that this show never won an Emmy is one of the Top 3 most shameful Emmy facts in history. But I’m making up for that now by making it my #1 show on HBO.

    Whew…made it! Did you agree? Disagree? I challenge you to make your own list!

  • How to Know If You’re Leading A Cult

    May 21st, 2015

    There are so many opinions out there for writers to listen to these days. So many voices trying to tell writers what to do, what not to do, how to do it, how not to do it, who they should hate, who they should respect, how to succeed, how not to succeed, etc. It’s coming from all sides. And some of those voices have begun to take a tone that, for me, seems almost unhealthy to listen to. I’m not sure when social media became the technological equivalent to a Branch Davidian compound, but it needs to stop.

    All writers want to do is connect. Especially those still trying to “break in”. But I think some of the recent rhetoric has made it hard for writers who are trying to get noticed, get read, learn, or make that connection with a professional they admire, to figure out when they are actually networking and learning…and when they are unknowingly part of a cult.

    To be honest, I don’t even think the professionals themselves are aware of their Jim Jonesy behavior and what type of self-aggrandizing, arrogant dome of cynicism and power they are creating. So, in hopes that there is still time to save others from drinking the Kool-Aid, and as a public service to inform those unknowingly responsible (on both sides), here are some ways to know if you’re leading a cult…

    – Your followers or fans have a collective name they are referred to by outsiders.

    – You have tried to preclude your followers, fans, friends, or people within your circles from communicating or forming relationships with others who don’t share your way of thinking. You make introductions and arrange “instant friends” for those you want to be part of your group. You make your world seem like a loving, supportive place to be. But if anyone disagrees with you or leaves your circle, they suddenly lose all their new friends. When support = control, it’s not a friendship or mentorship…it’s a cult.

    – You suggest your followers and fans not seek out or read outside information that disagrees with yours. Only information you provide is correct and will help your followers. Anyone else providing information is a false guru with a sinister motivation. Only your motivations are true.

    – You denounce outside education, classes, advice, feedback or knowledge from anyone other than yourself or those you have personally endorsed and deemed as worthwhile. And you discredit other people’s information or advice not based on how true it might be, but on the basis of how it supports your party line.

    – If you are attacked on social media, your followers quickly exact revenge on your behalf in heinous and personal ways without even knowing your attackers personally.

    – You cast aspersions on outside computer programs or software your followers may use (…and then launch your own and charge for it).

    – You advise your followers that they need to move closer to you, and can only truly be part of your world if they are living nearby in the same town.

    – You create your own terminology for words and concepts that don’t require new terminology (or perhaps your own font?).

    – You offer FREE information, FREE help, or FREE access to some higher power that can get followers closer to their dreams. All they have to do is believe and be loyal.

    – You often emotionally break down those seeking your advice by saying their chances of success is infinitesimal. That if they don’t have an innate talent, they are hopeless, and that the only people who can truly help them are people who won’t – except you.

    – Your group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader or group is on a special mission to save others from what you deem as making mistakes).

    – The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.

    – You enjoy being equally feared and revered by your followers. You make it clear you have direct access to a higher authority (like, for example, the Studios). Anyone disagreeing with you might as well be disagreeing with that higher authority. Questioning your authority or opinion is seen as a sign of stupidity, naivety or inexperience.

    – You are self-funded and use the fact that you are accountable to no one and have no direct allegiances or corporate ties to convince followers that unlike others out there, you have no agenda other than their well-being.

    – You answer logical reasoning or other’s valid points with your own brand of false reasoning, shaming, guilt, peer pressure or character assassination. In terms of character assassination, you may say things like, “Maybe the reason you’re not as successful as me is because you’re not doing it how I did it.” Or something like, “How could you possibly disagree with me? I’ve been doing this longer than you and at a higher level. You are obviously unsatisfied with what you do and are jealous of me and my success, and your rebellion to my opinion is only hurting yourself and others.”

    – Your followers display excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to you and your teachings and regard your beliefs, ideologies, and practices as The Truth.

    This list is obviously meant in a humorous way and should be taken as such. But if you take anything else away from it, let it be this… Those who spout off about how THERE ARE NO RULES – but then continue to tell you exactly what to believe and think and how to act and who to do business with – are either wildly hypocritical, or completely oblivious. And you don’t need to listen to either one. If you are worried that you or someone you know has been involved in cult-like behavior, please seek help immediately – and stay off social media.

  • 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, 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.
    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!

  • My Top 10 Films of 2014: A Breakdown

    February 11th, 2015

    2014 was a very interesting year for film. It was a grab-bag of wonderful cinematic experiences, powerful true stories, big comic book blockbusters, British invasions, and some movies that perhaps never should have been. And with the Oscars right around the corner, I figure it’s time I break down my personal Top Ten Films of 2014, and what screenwriters can learn from each.

    I want to preface this list by saying there are about a dozen high profile films I (shamefully) still have not seen including Inherent Vice, Interstellar, Big Eyes, Fury, Snowpiercer, Jennifer Aniston’s Cake, Maze Runner, Obvious Child, Unbroken, and Edge of Tomorrow. So I reserve the right to change this list slightly in the future. But, I don’t I will. Here we go….

    10. The Babadook – The best horror movie I’ve seen since The Conjuring. It does what possession films have been trying to do for years and very seldom succeed at. Besides a performance by star Essie Davis that could rival most of the Best Actress nominees, this is a great movie to watch if you’re writing horror/thriller and want to learn how to create tone, build suspense, employ frightening visuals, and how directing can really make a difference. I’m not sure I loved the last 10 minutes, but it is a scary film reminiscent of The Shining and Bug.

    9. Wild – While I think it is the directing and acting that make this film more than the script, it’s a great example of how to bring a powerful emotional journey to screen in a satisfying way. Though it’s a small, personal story, the writer creates moments of tension, fear and raises the stakes even when there’s no actual threat.

    8. The LEGO Movie – For me, the biggest snub of the year and while based on the well-known toys, its writing is beyond original and clever and takes characters we know and love and gives them a whole new spin. It exemplifies animation that is just as enjoyable for adults as it is for kids. And it will only give you half an epileptic fit. The voice casting was pitch perfect, and it had a powerful, relatable theme driving the story. In Lego Movie, everything is awesome.

    7. The Imitation Game – The first British invasion film on my list, and one of the fascinating true stories this year. It’s a great example of creating characters that should never be sellable on film, and making them compelling. It’s also a great example of how to make every character, no matter how small a role, matter and add to the whole of the plot.  Trying to craft strong supporting characters? Check this one out.

    6. Captain America: Winter Soldier – My favorite of the comic book movies this year. It’s a complete film with magnificent action, huge visual, exciting set pieces, strong chemistry and levity from the characters, and it doesn’t feel longer than it needs to be (I’m looking at you, Dark Knight Rises and Avengers). I liked it even better than the first Captain America.

    5. Boyhood – I saw this movie long after everyone else did, so I guess I was expecting a little bit more. But I still really enjoyed it. As a filmmaking gimmick, it’s brilliant. It’s original, it’s compelling even though very little is actually happening in many scenes. There are only a few real “movie moments,” but it’s theme and gimmick and Patricia Arquette’s realness make it enjoyable and Linklatter is a great storyteller.

    4. Theory of Everything – Another true story British film about a character that doesn’t sound like one who would make for a watchable film. But is. What could have been a 90 minute montage of a movie as time passes, instead became a thoughtful and moving love story. It’s damn near impossible to make an audience invest in a love story in a way where viewers are still happy even after they divorce and still root for each of them to be happy with other people. This is a great example of how a writer took a three-prong approach to the theme and story, and wove all three elements of the plot together in a masterful way. And Eddie Redmayne’s performance is simply perfect.

    3. Gone Girl – A controversial film that many of my friends HATED, but I thoroughly enjoyed. Besides some great performances and being beautifully shot, I was riveted by the story (and never read the book). This a great example of how to create morally bankrupt characters and keep them compelling while creating a strong mysterious tone that makes you constantly question everything. If you’re looking for an example of how to incorporate twists and turns and how to structure a mystery, read this script. The fact that she was not nominated is a damn shame.

    3. Whiplash – Yes, fine, it was a tie. I couldn’t decide. Another small story, well-told and well-acted. It’s compelling, powerful and sometimes cringe-worthy in a good way. If you want to know how to write roles that attract actors while still writing low budget, this is one to watch – and read. Could there have been other subplots or more depth to the female character? Yeah, maybe. But this story is about two relationship dynamics – student and teacher, and music and musician – and their consequences.

    2. Birdman – What can I say about Birdman that hasn’t already been said? Its filmmaking gimmick wasn’t as well-publicized as Boyhood’s, its characters were fascinating in their unlikablity, and its ending is purposefully open to interpretation. But it is captivating filmmaking, acting, and a premise told in an original way. Would this movie be as good without Michael Keaton? Fortunately, we never have to find out. If you like movies that think outside the box while still connecting to those inside the box, this is your movie.

    1. Nightcrawler – Yup, this is my #1 choice. A script that broke all the rules because it could (the writer, Dan Gilroy, also directed). It is a perfect example of how to create tone, how setting can impact a story, and how to craft an anti-hero in a whole new way. It’s a great example of how to tell a story where the protagonist is not only the antagonist, but also has no arc. Gilroy has said that he thinks character arcs are fallacies, and while I may not totally agree with that, I love how he brought that to screen in this film. It walks the most perfect line between satire and psychotic and its view on society is gripping. If you haven’t seen it and read it – you should!

    Okay, those are my picks! What say you? And before you start to rebel in outrage or question the voracity of some of my snubs…read this –

    *Almost made the list – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes could have made the list if the human characters weren’t drawn, written, and tracked so poorly. American Sniper probably would’ve made the list if I had seen the movie before all the social media attention and true life details of Chris Kyle were brought to light. And I still liked last year’s Lone Survivor much better. Ditto for Selma, which is a very good film and Ava and David should’ve been nominated, but I think the (social) media outrage set up expectations for me that it didn’t QUITE live up to. I was expecting the greatest movie ever snubbed, and it’s just a good movie. Chef – another good movie, but the plot and goals were too easily achieved.

    *Movies I Thought Were Overrated – Foxcatcher, Guardians of the Galaxy, Grand Budapest Hotel, Into the Woods. I liked Guardians – it was a ton of fun – but there were issues. The rest just didn’t do it for me.

  • Screenwriting As Sex – The Second Act – Foreplay At Its Best

    December 1st, 2014

    By Danny Manus

    Last we left off, you were trying to get laid and made it past the inciting incident, got asked back to her apartment (or you asked him back to your apartment), and while making yourself comfortable and beginning your mission, the first major turning point in your courtship reared its ugly head – she’s got a live-in boyfriend who’s supposedly away for the weekend. But you decide to forge ahead anyway into heavy foreplay – welcome to your Second Act.

    Your Second Act is about progressing your story forward and keeping the audience – or the person you’re with – invested and engaged as you and your character make your way through unforeseen obstacles on your way to the promise land.

    This is where many lesser men (and writers) falter and fail. You (and your character) may be deterred, distracted and even in some way defeated – but you keep going and try to build that momentum and pressure until you just can’t take it anymore.

    As Chris Vogler says, it’s about your “Approach” and the “Ordeal” you need to go through to claim the “Reward.” Ding!

    Without momentum, your second act will stall. And if you can’t build momentum, you allow too many moments where your partner could change her mind and ask you to leave. And the last thing you want when getting it on – is a bathroom moment.  How do you keep momentum? Your scenes (or your movements) need to seamlessly flow into one another. There should be a give and take between your protagonist and antagonist – and between you and your partner.

    This is also where your B Story may be introduced. And throughout your Second Act, you need to come back to this B Story and interweave it through your “A” Storyline so that it pays off in the end.  Perhaps you’re texting your best friend this whole time letting him know what’s up and he’s giving you advice on how not to fuck it up (not that I’ve ever done this). And in the words of the late structure guru Blake Snyder – pgs 30-55 or so is where you have your “fun and games.” So whip out the naked Twister!

    This Second Act is about creating a lot of action – not just talk. Amen, brother! Talking is for the first act – now it’s time for the good stuff! This can’t just be a personal, private journey (unless you’re alone) – but you and your character take the next steps in your arc to reach your objective. And we all know what that is…

    In the first part of your Second Act, your character usually confronts or reveals his worst nightmare – like maybe realizing that chick you’re mackin’ it with has an Adam’s apple.

    But it’s also about courting (compliment her even if you don’t mean it), preparing (breath mint, hand lotion, condom – check, check, check!), complications (like those damn button fly jeans and unfortunate lighting), and going through some sort of test or obstacle (like her saying “this isn’t just a one-night stand, is it?).  And since we all know that half of what a woman says is in what she DOESN’T say, you must use and understand subtext!

    I think Chris Vogler, author of The Writer’s Journey, proves my point about how connected screenwriting structure is with sex as he uses terms to describe the second act like “temptation, synchronicity, discomfort, threshold guardians (you mean, like Trojans?), and the Secret Door” – and we ALLLL know what the Secret Door is!

    Okay, so you’ve reached the midpoint – you’ve past second base and you’re heading towards third. You’re halfway to the big finish. The point of no return. But your midpoint better be exciting and you better show your partner – I mean, your reader – that you know what you’re doing because if you can’t keep their attention here at the midpoint, they might doze off before you reach your climax.

    This midpoint is where the stakes are increased. Physical, emotional, mental – it all gets kicked into high gear. And another wrench is thrown into the mix – maybe she starts to get cold feet.

    At your midpoint, your hands start to make their way south and the pressure mounts. You – and your character – plan your next move. But don’t forget – your B story is also developing – and the bad guys are coming. Maybe that out of town boyfriend isn’t so much out of town.

    Structure guru Marilyn Horowitz says the second half of the Second Act is about what your characters would die for. And every guy in the world knows that if we have to go, we want to go while getting lucky. That IS what we’d die for. So you disregard any red flags or warning signs and you forge ahead.

    Then you need a twist. Something special. I suggest going counterclockwise. Maybe she brings out the handcuffs and blindfolds – twist! Don’t go too far with the twist though just yet – you want a game changer that increases the physical and emotional stakes, but it still needs to be the same game.

    At the third turning point – as you break into your third act – something big happens. Perhaps you (and your hero) find yourself in a moral dilemma (like maybe you realize you’re both pretty wasted). Or perhaps she turns the tables and takes over. Either way…you overcome it.

    Then – as Vogler himself says – it’s time to “Approach the Inmost Cave.”


    And at this point, you can see your reward – it’s within your sights. So you “seize your sword” and go for it. And through whatever darkness or hairy situations you might encounter, or whatever low point you might reach as you go down into the abyss – you and your character must put an end to your foreplay and persist into your Third Act.

  • Screenwriting As Sex Part 3 – The Third Act: Make Me Climax & Leave Me Satisfied

    December 1st, 2014

    By Danny Manus

    There are many different and often confusing opinions on what the third act is all about and needs to include.

    Blake Snyder said that after the Dark Night of the Soul, you Break into your Third Act on pg 85, have the Finale on pgs 85-110 and then your final image.

    Chris Vogler says the third act is about the Character’s Road Back, his Climax/ Resurrection, and his Return with the Elixir.

    Michael Hauge says the third act is about the Inner and Outer Journey, where the Outer Journey is the story’s final push to reach its goal, how it hits the climax and deals with the aftermath while the Inner Journey is about a character living one’s truth with everything to lose and achieving his destiny having completed his journey.

    And Robert McKee uses a graph with a bunch of squiggly lines and ellipses to basically say the same thing as everyone else.

    But in the end, what happens in your third act is really just a metaphor for a good old fashioned slap and tickle. That’s right…it’s all about making whoopee on the page. Don’t believe me?  Well, just answer these simple, completely sexually-charged questions about your third act…

    –          Was there a build-up and progression of emotional and physical tension until your characters’ instincts and better judgments took over?

    –          Did it lead to a satisfying climax where your characters release everything they have?

    –          Was there an unexpected or surprising twist or moment that makes one look at things differently?

    –          Who was left on top? Was there a winner?

    –          After it’s over, was it worth it and did it leave me satisfied? Or was it just wham, bam, thank you ma’am?

    –          And were there enough moments to make for an engaging or exciting 3 minute movie trailer?

    If your answer to all of these questions is YES, you mostly likely have a strong third act…and a fantastic Friday night.

    If your First Act is all about first impressions, the tease, and the seduction, your Second Act is all about foreplay – starting out with an exciting moment and progressing ahead hot and heavy with your mission – emotionally, mentally and physically.  And then there needs to be a natural build up and flow from the end of foreplay and your Second Act into the start of the Third Act – and you’re on your way home. If the Second Act ends with the hero at their lowest point – on the bottom – then the Third Act is where the hero suddenly comes up with a plan to get back on top.

    Executives don’t care if the climax occurs exactly on page 89 or 94. What they care about is that no matter what genre you are writing (or whom you’re with), you have built up events to an exciting and dynamic point where there’s a great payoff.  The climax has to involve your protagonist – because if your partner is alone and you’re not included – it doesn’t really count, does it? And naturally, your protagonist has to be the key to the climax and success.  It doesn’t count if someone else does it for him.

    The climax must resolve – or at least bring to a head – the main conflict in your story. And it has to be a big moment. All too often, the note executives give is that the climax is just anti-climactic. The resolution is achieved too easily. That’s what she said.

    Missionary is fine, but everyone knows how to do that. Being by-the-book usually isn’t enough. You have to stand out if you want to “work” again. So what makes you special? What’s that special twist in your third act that’s going to wow executives?

    Having those big trailer moments in your climax and third act is crucially important. In a two and a half minute trailer, a solid minute of that is probably going to come from your third act. So if you don’t have enough highlights and great moments in your third act to add up to ONE minute – well…there probably won’t be a sequel.

    Your third act must wrap up not just the main objective of your A storyline, but all of your subplots as well and draw the clear connections between them and how they affect each other for the progression of the story. And it’s where your main protagonist AND your main antagonist resolve their character arcs. They become different people after having gone through what happened between them.

    The final image should be a powerful moment. It’s the last thing the reader or audience is going to experience so you better make it meaningful.  You can use a circular ending where you finish the way you started – perhaps with a romantic kiss? Or you can finish big and go out in a blaze of glory.  But any way you finish, your job is to leave your partner – I mean, audience – feeling an emotion, whatever the correct emotion for the moment might be; love, warmth, security, happiness, anger, emptiness, confusion, etc.

    After the final word, executives must feel like the ride was worth it and that they’d like to do it again. Practice makes perfect, but follow the steps above and you will be one step closer to a finished screenplay and one hell of a good time.

  • Confessons of a Contest Judge: The Differences Between Semifinalists & Winners

    September 9th, 2014

    By Danny Manus

    The last couple weeks I have been judging the semifinal round of the prestigious PAGE Awards in the Horror/Thriller category. It’s my fourth year as one of their judges and I have had a pretty darn good track record in choosing the top scripts, picking the winners 2 out of the last 3 years (this year’s still being decided).

    I know contests can sometimes feel like this vague guessing game to writers. They’re subjective, often inconsistent, some have anonymous readers and judges, and there are SO many out there, each with their own lofty promises and prizes, that it’s hard to know which are worthwhile and which are a waste of $40. And with every year, there are more submissions and increased competition to overcome.

    When I started reading for PAGE just 4 years ago, there were just 4,500 submissions. Now, there are over 6,000. Six thousand writers vying for 31 prizes, including the grand prize of $25,000 and of course all the access and accolades that go along with that. But those are some daunting odds – 31 out of over 6,000. THAT’S how good your script needs to be. And those are better chances than most other contests which only have a couple prize winners and don’t break it down by genre. This is also why submitting to nationally (or worldwide) recognized, prestigious contests have become a launching pad for new talent – because you have to be better than SO many other writers that Hollywood is almost forced to take notice.

    Yes, some good scripts don’t get through that should. And that goes for EVERY contest. I have a couple clients that won or were finalists in one prestigious contest that didn’t get to the quarters of another with the same exact script. It happens. Sometimes it just comes down to the reader and there’s nothing you can do but brush it off and try again next year.

    Contests aren’t a shortcut to getting discovered, but they are one major avenue that didn’t really exist 10 or 15 years ago that writers can use to break in. The prestige and results that winners of the PAGE Awards find, and the level of writing in the semis, is the reason I continue to judge for them (I’ve judged for other smaller contests as well over the years).

    However, the reason I wanted to write this article is to share with you some lessons and trends that I have noticed, especially this year, as well as give you some insight into what judges are looking for when they read and why, perhaps, your script has been a consummate quarterfinalist or semifinalist, instead of a winner.

    A script wins when the right story, writing, character, commerciality, voice, timing, and luck all come together. And you only have control over a few of those, which I know is frustrating. You could write an amazing script, but if it’s exactly like the film that just came out 2 weeks ago, you’re probably not going to win.

    Semifinalists are scripts with really strong writing and story and resonance for a reader. Winning scripts just have that something extra. They don’t read like a contest script – they read like a professionally written Hollywood film that just hasn’t been made yet. There are a LOT of really GOOD scripts out there. Winning scripts feel like films.

    I can’t speak for other categories, but every year in the horror/thriller section, there are clear trends that stand out. This DOES NOT mean that judges or readers are looking for any specific type of story – especially since there are so many different readers involved before the 25 semifinalist scripts make their way to my desk. Some of it may relate to what is commercial in the marketplace, but it really just comes down to the writing and hook on the concept.

    My first year, the trend was clear – zombies, vampires and werewolves. Those 3 types of stories made up for at least 10 of the 25 semifinalists (the winner that year, by the way, was MAGGIE which comes out this November and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin).

    The following year, there was an increase in creature features of the non-vampire/werewolf variety and that seemed to be the trend. Last year there were more supernatural projects and found footage stories, as well as a higher number of thrillers than horror.

    This year, the trends were glaring and possibly clearer than ever before…

    By FAR the biggest trend this year…was children. 13 out of the 25 scripts were based around kids being kidnapped, murdered, brutalized, and/or needing to be saved from something. Add three MORE to that list if including the unborn, older teens, or adult children of the protagonist.

    That is a HUGE number. And I think the reason is pretty clear. It’s not because the judges are sadistic or are enjoy reading about murdered children – believe me, that’s NOT the case as some were very hard to read no matter how well-written. The reason is because what could create higher stakes or more fear or emotional resonance than a missing, abused or murdered child? What could make for a stronger and more relatable motivation for a protagonist than trying to rescue their child or seeking vengeance for their death?

    There have always been “evil child” movies and they’ve always done well. But after the success of films like Taken (and its sequels), Prisoners, Gone Baby Gone, Lovely Bones, Insidious, etc., films about children as victims instead of being the evil entity themselves, are also succeeding. And this year, they have clearly succeeded in this category.

    Along the same lines, the second biggest trend this year was REVENGE. It was the guiding motivation, theme or driving force behind 12 of this year’s semifinalists. In thrillers and horror, revenge is always popular, and it was exploited in different ways in this year’s offerings. Revenge by the hero, revenge by the antagonist, revenge by society. It’s an emotion everyone can grasp and get behind. What makes it stand out is HOW it’s used – not why.

    Trend number 3 was a massive increase in the brutality of the action and gore contained in this year’s scripts. In a year where 15 scripts involved children or teen victims, the amount of sheer brutality and detail involved was sometimes a bit shocking.

    Brutality is different than “torture porn”, however, which hasn’t been selling for a few years. The difference between brutality and torture porn is purpose, context and literary quality, which can often bring out one’s voice. Torture porn is about finding new disgusting, extreme ways of torturing or killing people or ripping off their body parts for gruesome shock effect. It’s about resonance on a visual scale.

    Brutality is often about resonance on an emotional scale. It often makes you uncomfortable or makes you cringe – but not scream. It could be the same repeated simple action – a punch to the face – but when done 15 times, the description of the consequences of that punch become increasingly brutal and visceral. That being said, I feel like many writers were trying to get their Tarantino on this year – and for some it paid off, and for others it really didn’t.

    The final two story trends aren’t new, but combined made up for about 6 of the 25 scripts. These are – Military experiments gone wrong; and haunted locations. What’s odd is that the haunted locations were all the same type of location, and the “creatures” were all somewhat similar, which for me, made the scripts harder to stand out despite some very nice writing.

    When it comes to similar concepts, what makes them stand out is the originality in hook and voice. Sometimes the hook is related to the location or time period, sometimes it’s what the characters must accomplish or how or why they must accomplish it, sometimes it’s the characters themselves, and sometimes it’s the combination of two hooks that really elevate a project and make it different than the others. That was definitely the case with some of the stronger scripts this year.

    Another very interesting trend this year wasn’t so much story related, but structure. It felt like some writers hoped that judges would only read the first 20 pages and the last 10, and that is NOT the case. We read every word. There were a large number of scripts that had an AMAZING first 15-20 pages – but just couldn’t keep up that level of skill or consistency in tone, voice or plot throughout the rest of the script. You need to make sure that you’re not just starting strong with a great set-up, but that you have an EQUALLY strong execution and pay-off throughout the script. Keep in mind, writers – EVERY sequence needs to be as strong as your opening and closing sequences.

    At the end of the day, it comes down to the X-Factor. The voice. That THING writers have where you know it when you read it, and it just jumps out at you and grabs you (often) immediately. It’s a gut reaction and connection I get to scripts and the writing, and after doing this for over a decade and reading and evaluating many thousands of scripts, my instincts on voice and story are pretty darn strong.

    Sure, I look for strong complex characters with strong goals, motivations, and deeper needs and flaws. Sure, I look at the originality of the concept and hook on that concept and how that is brought out in the story. Sure, I look at the dialogue and if it flows and feels natural and genuine and tight and powerful and if it’s full of personality and DISTINCT character voices. Sure, I look at transitions and themes and structure and if the script moves well and is an easy, enjoyable read. And sure, I take into consideration if it’s something that could sell or garner attention in the marketplace or by a manager or agent. But then there’s the X-Factor. The question I ask myself is – if you had to stake your name and reputation on a handful of these scripts, which ones would they be? Those are my top choices.

    The past two years have been MUCH harder to judge and pick a winner than the first two years where it was pretty darn obvious (to me) who the winners were. Why? Well, with the increased number of submissions, it really is the cream of the crop rising to the semifinals. My first two years, I was scoring scripts in the 50s and 60s. This year, 73 was the lowest score I gave.

    For the first time, I could probably count on two hands the number of typos I found between ALL 25 scripts! That was NOT the case 3 years ago, believe me! It’s certainly not the MOST important thing, but if you’re not meticulously proofreading your scripts and making sure your formatting is professional, it may be the thing that keeps you from advancing to the later rounds. I’ve got 2600 pages to read – your job as a writer is to make reading them easier and fun.

    This year, it was a hard choice as all of the top scripts were executed well, but I am very content with my picks. I was so pleased with the quality of the writing this year and I look forward to seeing what takes home the big prize.

    In the meantime, good luck and keep writing!

    ***If you are a perennial quarter or semi-finalist, I encourage you to check out my services page and sign up for my 4-Week online course “Create More Compelling, Castable Characters” – guaranteed to help you create stronger, more elevated characters and stories to help get your scripts to the next level. Begins Sept 26th! Click here for more details –

  • 4 Types of Depression

    August 12th, 2014

    I hope you’ll excuse this long, somewhat depressing post that has nothing to do with screenwriting, but in the wake of Robin Williams’ death, I felt it important and maybe it will shed some light on things….

    Depression is a claimer of hearts, bodies and souls. I believe there are 4 types of depression. The first is the fleeting, momentary type everyone in the world experiences over tiny little stupid normal life things. The second is the slightly more prolongued type of depression where something specific happens and it makes you want to sleep, stop eating (or eat more), curl up and cry, and be left alone for days but you know eventually you’ll snap out of it and get over what’s happened. Most people will experience this a few times in their life.

    The third type is more clinical. It’s like type #2 but it doesn’t take a sad acute event to bring on – it can just hit. And it hits hard, and it sometimes hits often. There are triggers, but you couldn’t list them. It’s a depression that lingers with you at lower levels even in happy times, and then flares up like a virus to take you down. And sometimes it feels like it has and you’re not sure you’ll ever shake it. You feel lost and sad and hopeless, but you know somewhere deep inside there’s something worth fighting and living for…

    But the 4th type of depression most people will never know, and thank God for that. Because once you’re inside the 4th type of depression, it’s already too late. Relief no longer comes from seeing the faces of your family or friends or playing with your pet or being great at your job. It doesn’t come from fame or fortune. It doesn’t even come from drugs or alcohol or rehab or therapy. It comes from death.  It’s not about the laughs you’ve had or brought to others, or the love you’ve experienced or given, or what might be waiting for you tomorrow. You can no longer focus on how other people will feel once you’re gone – only how YOU will feel once you’re gone. Relief….

    For reasons we may never fully know or understand, a great shining talent like Robin Williams found himself at Type 4 Depression. He’s not alone. If you feel you are slipping into Type 4, call a hotline, call a doctor, seek out help before it’s too late. That is all.

  • The Network TV BloodBath Analysis (Part 1 of 3)

    May 21st, 2014

    by Danny Manus (TV Whore)

    The last two weeks have made the network TV landscape ironically resemble an episode of Game of Thrones. The blood and guts of writer’s hard work spewed everywhere as we say quite a few shocking goodbyes while a little person bangs a hooker in the corner. Okay, well maybe not that last part.

    As the networks plan for the upcoming 2014-2015 season, hard choices and painful decisions must be made. There’s only so much time and so much money, and so much attention span viewers have. Because of that, over 40 shows were cancelled from the big four networks with 22 cancellations coming in the last two weeks. Some deservedly so, some somewhat expected, and some utterly unfortunate and disappointing.

    I will address the network’s new offerings in a different article. But as someone who wastes far too much time getting hooked to network shows just to see them disappear 3, 8, 13 or 22 episodes later, the least I could do is tell the networks why they are wrong and how they could have saved the shows they seemed so high on a year ago. Or why they never should have been on in the first place. Or what should’ve been cancelled instead. As always, I don’t write about the CW because I don’t watch anything on the network and, well, who gives a shit?

    NBC –

    Total Cancelled Shows: 12

    Community, Revolution, Dracula, Crisis, Believe, Ironside, Camp, Growing Up Fisher, Welcome to the Family, Sean Saves the World, Michael J. Fox Show, Million Dollar Quiz

    The Breakdown:

    Perhaps their fates were written on the wall, but there were a few winners in this pile that could have been saved…ya know, if I were running the world. Then again, I didn’t want them to cancel Smash.

    Community – I get the reasons for and against, and yes it’s a cult show. But basically everything on networks these days survive with smaller but rabid cult followings. And this past season, for the most part, was pretty brilliant and back to its glory days. If you didn’t see their GI Joe episode, you’re missing one of the best 30 minutes of comedy all year. We will miss you, Greendale. I would’ve given it another 13 episode season to go along with Parks & Rec.

    Revolution – I DVR this show and find myself begrudgingly binge-watching it and fast-forwarding through half of it. The concept got too tedious and it felt like even the writers weren’t sure what it was about anymore. But it was the time slot change that killed it.

    Crisis – This show could’ve worked. Should have worked. The problem? They made Gillian Anderson play 4th banana behind TV Show Killer Rachael Taylor. This is her 4th show and 4th cancellation in 4 seasons. Why do people keep casting her? If Gillian Anderson had been the lead, people would have cared. And if Dermot Mulroney wasn’t billed as the lead yet so awkward to watch as a bad guy, the show could’ve connected more. A great cast wasted; a decent concept that didn’t have enough legs.

    Believe – It just wasn’t as good or interesting as Resurrection and they went head to head with similar themes. I never made it past the pilot.

    Welcome to the Family – Of the THREE shows about stupid teenagers who get pregnant, this was the most schmaltzy. I loved Mike O’Malley and Mary McCormick, but a Latina teenager getting pregnant and keeping it is hardly earth-shattering original TV.

    Sean Saves the World – I like Sean Hayes. I really do. But as the sidekick. And I love Megan Hilty. I really do. But I love her more when she sings and gets to be sexy instead of playing off someone who is clearly not going to find her sexy. It was painful to watch. Glad it’s gone.

    Michael J. Fox Show – This should have been given more of a chance. A funny show with an obvious hook, it didn’t know exactly what it wanted to be about. It tried to make it less about MJF’s disability, but those were the jokes that were the funniest.  NBC paid a hefty price for cancelling it. Literally I am surprised this didn’t last longer. So was Michael.

    Growing Up Fisher – There was only ONE problem with this show and her name is Jenna Elfman. This show was cute and funny at times, but the promos were vague, the posters told us nothing about the hook, and Jenna Elfman being married to a blind J.K. Simmons is about as believable as… Jenna Elfman being married to a blind J.K. Simmons. Plus the little Asian kid had the worst teeth on TV and was really hard to watch. If they had cast it better, this could have been a hit. But seriously – give J.K. Simmons something else, cause I’ll watch it.

    Should’ve Been Cancelled Instead: Is there anything left?  Parks and Rec and Parenthood each have one more 13-episode season and then they’re gone. How many hours of Hollywood Game Night can you possibly show?

    New Hits: The Blacklist, About A Boy, Chicago PD. Big fan of all these shows. Glad they’re giving About A Boy another shot. It’s not a hit at all, but it’s good enough to try again.

    Summary: With a little help from The Voice, Blacklist, Sunday Night Football and the Olympics, NBC landed at the #1 spot again. Amazing, considering they cancelled more shows this year than any other network. But they have strong branded, tested shows like SVU and Chicago Fire still burning strong and a nice crossover companion show with Chicago PD. Basically, after 25 years, NBC traded in NY for Chi-town and it seems to be working. Going 1/10 in the hit department isn’t something to be proud of. But at the end of the day, the only show cancelled that will be missed for more than 10 minutes is Community.

    Next, in Part 2, I cover CBS….

  • The Network TV BloodBath Analysis (Part 2 of 3)

    May 21st, 2014

    By Danny Manus (TV Whore)

    CBS –

    Total Cancelled Shows: 7

    The Crazy Ones, Hostages, Intelligence, Friends with Better Lives, We Are Men, Bad Teacher, and How I Met Your Mother (ended run)

    The Breakdown:

    CBS knows its audience, and while they attempt to try new things, it rarely works for them. I’ll be honest – the only CBS shows I watch are The Good Wife, Amazing Race, Survivor (though I skipped this season), Blue Bloods, Mom (which I’ll discuss in a moment), and the now defunct HIMYM. But with the success of Elementary and their CSI/NCIS world, they don’t need to change much. And they’re not going to.

    There’s only one show that was cancelled that I really take issue with –

    The Crazy Ones – Robin Williams led a pitch-perfect (no pun intended) cast that had one of the best chemistries in comedy. Their gag reels at the end of the episode were worth watching the whole show for. And they truly seemed like they were having fun, which translated onto the screen into each episode. I think it was far too heavy on the promotional tie-ins and obvious corporate sponsorship, but the writing was really strong and the improv was even stronger. I will miss this show and hope its cast find new comedies quickly, especially James Wolk and Hamish Linklater.

    As for the others…

    Hostages – Wonderful pilot, strong second episode. But man did it go down the shitter from there. If it was any longer than 15 episodes, I would have hurt someone. This was an 8 episode show stretched to 15 that wishes it could have been like 24, but really wasn’t. Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!

    Friends With Better Lives – After James Van Der Beek’s HILARIOUS turn on Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23, he proved his comedic chops. But this show wasted every single one of them. Kevin Connolly looked uncomfortable, Zoe Lister-Jones is quickly becoming the Rachael Taylor of sitcoms, and Brooklyn Decker…well, who cares? She’s Brooklyn friggin’ Decker and I’ll watch her do anything. But these friends didn’t seem to actually have better lives. Hope to find the Beek on a better sitcom very soon!

    How I Met Your Mother – I want to stroke its head and tell it, “You weren’t cancelled, little baby, you just ended. And we’ll always love you. Even if some nasty people hated your last episode.” This is a show that will be missed by viewers, by the network, and by its producers especially now that their spinoff has not been picked up (possibly the biggest CBS shocker of the year). So long, Robin Sparkles. So long, Barney!

    Should’ve Been Cancelled Instead – Nothing jumps out, but I could do with one less NCIS.

    New Hits – One of my favorite new comedies – MOM. It’s not full-on comedy – it has a lot of drama and heart mixed in with raunchy fun and inappropriateness. But man, I love the way they do it. I will watch anything with Allison Janney, and I love that they are bringing this show back. I also love that the daughter actually gave away the baby. We’re The Millers has also become a hit, though I stopped watching a few episodes in. Lucky for them, they are owned by CBS. It’s not bad, it’s just very….CBS. It’s the same reason I don’t watch any of their other comedies anymore. Under the Dome is a big summer hit, though I didn’t think it was as strong in the end as it was in the beginning.

    Summary – Unlike the other networks, CBS has strong 10pm shows that anchor their nights better than any other. Hawaii 5-0, Elementary, The Mentalist, Person of Interest, Blue Bloods, NCIS, CSI, etc. They know their audience. None of these shows are Emmy-worthy (though The Good Wife deserves one for this season’s shocker), but they get the job done. The execs have it pretty easy over at CBS, where their biggest change is going to be losing Letterman. Though I’m sure next year will be the end for Mike & Molly since Melissa McCarthy has grown too big for her britches. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

    Stay tuned for Part 3 – FOX AND ABC!

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