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  • 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, 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.

  • Screenwriting Expo 2010: Recap and a Recurring Problem with Writers

    October 12th, 2010

    By Daniel Manus

    This past weekend was the 2010 Screenwriting Expo, where writers from all over the world come to congregate, learn, network, get inspired, pitch, and try to break into Hollywood the old fashioned way – by paying for it.

    Before I get into my recap of the weekend, I’d like to congratulate my friend and client Tracy Reilly for WINNING the Expo’s 30 minute TV Script Category, beating out hundreds upon hundreds of other scripts and scoring the $1000 prize! It was a hilarious script and it deserved to win! And I’d like to congratulate my two other clients who were semi-finalists in the feature and short categories, respectively. Nice job guys! No Bull clients are making waves!

    Now, I’ve learned not to bite the hands that feeds me, but the Expo has changed significantly over the years. I personally had a great time, met some great new clients, writers, fellow teachers and friends and got to have a nice chat with great screenwriters Shane Black and Bert Royal (“Easy A”). And I sold a good amount of copies of my book over the weekend. But, it definitely wasn’t the Expo of old.

    I’ve been coming to the Expo every year since 2003 and haven taken pitches at every expo until 2009. Back in ‘04, the Expo had almost 5,000 writers and took over the LA Convention Center with big names like William Goldman, Aaron Sorkin, Paul Attanasio, Dean Devlin, Joss Whedon and Syd Field, had a pitching hall filled with about 80 companies ready to speak to writers, and an exhibition hall that felt like a convention within itself.

    This year, the Expo had about 700 writers (and that’s being generous), had John August and Shane Black speaking to a muted audience of 100 writers each, had only 35 companies taking pitches, and took over parts of 2 floors of a hotel near the airport. And the exhibition hall featured the Writer’s Store, CS Magazine, John Truby, and only about 6 other companies.

    There were reasons for the low turnout this year, though. Yes, the economy.  But there was also an unfortunate strike of hotel workers that caused the WGA, who had been supported by those hotel workers during their strike, to send out 2 letters to its members saying not to attend or speak at this year’s Expo. So, planned special guest speakers like David Milch, Jennifer Salt and William Goldman, stayed away. And this isn’t the Expo’s fault – it was the Hilton’s. But, the Expo certainly paid the price for it.

    But here’s the thing…without all the big name speakers and the huge list of companies to pitch to, the Expo turned into what it should have been all along – a chance for writers to LEARN something. But, once again, writers did themselves a disservice and didn’t show up because this year, there was less of a chance of them meeting a celebrity or landing an agent.

    And this is what is wrong with most wannabe screenwriters today – thousands of you that try to break in every year – you all want to be lazy about it.  You all want it to come easy. Many of you want to write a script in 2 weeks, sell it 2 weeks later, land an agent by Thursday, quit your job by the end of the month and trade your life in to party at the Palms. You don’t go to film school, you don’t take the courses or the seminars, you don’t move to LA and suffer as you work your way up, and you don’t attend events unless you think you can SELL YOUR SCRIPT.

    And it’s not JUST at the Expo. At the Great American Pitchfest earlier this year (whose overall turnout turned out to be higher than the Expo’s), there were about 450 people there taking FREE classes on Saturday, but over 1000 pitching on Sunday! I like to call the 500 some-odd people who just thought they could show up and sell a script – HOPELESS.

    There were some great classes at the Expo this year – including my 3 classes. And while mine were very well-attended on Thursday (in part because there were only 3 classes being given all day and writers from out of town were already there), the rest of the weekend found most classes half full (or half empty if you’re a pessimist). Yes, star speakers like Pilar Allessandra and Michael Hauge had some packed rooms (don’t get me started on the advice Hauge gives on pitching), but I don’t think any class had over 75 people in it. Years ago, most classes were standing room only (as my pitch class was on Thursday afternoon).  

    I sat in on some of these other classes, and I had my little spies around all weekend telling me who was worth seeing and who wasn’t. I’m not going to bad mouth anyone, but I will say I was highly impressed with new speaker Corey Mandell’s class. It was the only one where I actually took out my pad and pen and wrote stuff down. Pilar is always entertaining and engaging and knows how to grab an audience and make them feel like they are really leaning something. James Jordan is a No-Bullshit guy like me, and I respect that. And Hal Croasmun’s class was very informative.

    Yes, there were a few classes and teachers that had no business being there or who weren’t very informative or entertaining, but hey – that’s why you have a choice of 10 classes to attend every 90 minutes.  

    I know the problem writers have with the classes is that there is SO much conflicting information – everyone has their own style, their own opinions, their own formats, tricks and rules for writing and pitching – that it all gets confused and writers don’t know who to listen to. Well, I can’t tell you who to listen to (listen to me), but I can tell you that getting every perspective and deciding which works for you is still much more valuable than staying home and getting none of them.

    If you are serious about this business, then you need to LEARN this business! You need to do your research, you need to network, you need to become the best writer you can be. And you can’t do that sitting at home typing away and reading a 20 year old copy of Robert McKee’s book. You can’t. So, even if it means you’re not going to get famous in one weekend, you should still be attending these conferences and learning what you can. If you learn 3 things that make you a better writer and make you see your script in a different way, then it was worth the money!

    I hope to see you there next year! Thanks to Bill, Danny, Tee and everyone else who helped put on a fun event!

  • He’s Just Not That Into You…Or Your Writing

    July 3rd, 2009

    For a writer, dealing with an executive is often a bit more like dating than business. And in a courtship, sometimes less is more. And much like in dating, making the wrong move at the wrong time, or sending the wrong message, can often end a relationship prematurely. One of the biggest concerns of writers – and understandably one of their biggest frustrations – is what to do after they’ve actually submitted their script. You’ve gotten the okay to send the script, you’ve made sure it’s professional and ready, and you’ve sent it with a lovely cover letter. And now…you wait. Sound familiar?

    How long do you wait? Do you make contact first? Is there a three week rule the same way there’s a three day rule before calling a girl back? The honest answer is – in general, you wait until they get back to you. But this all depends on the situation. If you are represented, you should have your agent or manager get in touch with the exec in about 2-3 weeks time. If you are unrepresented but had an actual in-person meeting with the exec, during which they gave you his or her card, then you should follow up yourself in about three weeks time. If the exec promised to get back to you in a couple of days, then maybe follow up in two weeks instead of three. If your submission resulted from a pitchfest or cold query, then I would probably wait about a month to contact the exec you sent the script to.

    So, let’s say hypothetically, you met with an exec, but you’re not represented. It’s been three weeks and they have not gotten back to you (and by the way, holidays are not counted in that time so if you submitted your script the Monday of Thanksgiving week – don’t even bother counting it). What should you do? Write them a very short and sweet email with the subject line being your script’s title and maybe something quick like “Checking in.” And in the email, all you need is one succinct and respectful line that goes something like:

    “Dear So and So,
    Just wanted to drop you a line and see if you’ve had a chance to read “my script.” I look forward to your thoughts.
    Best regards,
    Your Name.”

    That’s it. Do NOT point out that you submitted it over a month ago. Do not point out that the exec had promised to get back to you in a week or two. Do NOT reiterate what your story was, how great it is, or how perfect it would be for their company. You already made your pitch – that’s why they’re reading the script. All you need to do is gently remind them that they haven’t responded yet, and that one line will do that.

    Here’s what NOT to do:

    “Dear So and So,
    I submitted my script “Called This” over a month ago and I haven’t heard back from you yet. You had given me your card and thought it was a great pitch. I really think that “Called This” is the perfect script for you. It’s incredibly original with great characters and blah blah blah. I hope you get back to me soon.
    Your name”

    Writing something like this shows a lack of professionalism and tact and your script will probably be tossed in the pass pile. And even more important than not writing something like this, is not writing more than ONE follow up email. So, keep it short, sweet and professional…and then wait. Patience is a virtue. Execs read anywhere from seven to 25 scripts a week so you just don’t know if you’ve caught them on a busy week or not. Don’t think that just because he hasn’t gotten back to you, that he’s not interested or didn’t like your writing. Now if it’s been over three months, then chances are your writing was so bad that the exec didn’t feel he needed to waste time responding, but don’t get paranoid if it’s only been a few weeks.

    Getting a second “date” with an exec isn’t hard – you just have to make a good first impression.

    And maybe wear something low cut. No not you, sir. Just kidding.

    Best of luck and keep writing!

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