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  • But I Want to Write About Unicorns!

    October 30th, 2013

    By Danny Manus

    There once was a young child no more than 8 years old – let’s call her Susie – who loved to write. She’d write short stories, poems – whatever came to her. And she was obsessed with Unicorns – like, totally obsessed.

    One day her teacher gave the class a homework assignment – to write 1 page about their family. The next day, she presented her paper to the class. Except while everyone else in the class followed the assignment and spoke about their brothers and sisters and parents, and they all got gold stars, little Susie decided to write about unicorns…Because she liked them.

    The teacher scorned her, told her that the assignment wasn’t to write about unicorns and while she is free to write about unicorns in her spare time or for fun, when she’s doing her homework she needs to write what everyone else is writing. She needs to complete the assignments given to her. Or else no one will get to hear her stories.

    Susie cried and screamed about how she would only write about unicorns no matter what anyone said and no matter what anyone told her she should write about. And poor little Susie ended up with 14 books about unicorns that no one ever read, and sadly had to repeat the 4th grade.

    What’s the lesson here?

    Originality is a great thing and the thought of rebelling against the system or Hollwood machine can be intriguing. But if everyone is telling you to stop writing about unicorns because no one wants to hear about them…then maybe you should start paying attention to what everyone else is writing.

  • The #1 Reason NOT to Be a Screenwriter

    June 25th, 2013

    By Danny Manus

    There are a million reasons to want to try your hand at screenwriting; as therapy, as a creative outlet, because it’s been a dream of yours since childhood, because you just love telling stories in a visual way, because you want to leave your stamp on pop culture or create your legacy, etc.  Or maybe you just want to be famous and get your picture taken in US Weekly standing next to Kristen Stewart looking like she just ate a sour candy.

    But there is one reason that should NEVER come into play – Money.

    It’s time for some tough love, No Bull style. Lately, I’ve had a few clients who told me they NEED to sell their script and quick because they are having financial issues. They’re broke, they are getting evicted, they lost their jobs, they can’t find a new job, they need to pay their mortgage, their children are going to college, etc.

    Let me say this as clearly as humanly possible: If you need to sell a script in order to pay your mortgage…you’re going to be homeless very soon!

    Money is the LAST reason to go into screenwriting because chances are it’s going to take you YEARS to make any. And even if you do (by some miracle) sell or option your first script, it’s not going to be for much money, if any. We’re talking a few thousand dollars – certainly not enough to quit your day job or send a kid to school. Even if you got super-duper lucky and get paid WGA minimum for your script, it’s still less than you’d make as a first year school teacher in a bad neighborhood.

    And getting the movie made is a whole other process that can take anywhere from 2-10 years, so I hope you aren’t counting on those residual checks to pay your rent.

    If you are having financial difficulties, please – do ANYTHING else! You might as well get a job at Starbucks because you will make more money, get full benefits, and if you’re working at a Starbucks in Los Angeles – you’ll probably get to meet more celebrities than you will as a screenwriter anyway.

    Screenwriting is something you want to do as a career because you’re so passionate about it, you just can’t picture yourself doing anything else day after day, year after year and because you LOVE writing – not because you’ve tried everything else and writing is the only thing left and you think anyone can do it.

    Being a professional screenwriter isn’t about writing 100 pages. Anyone can do that. It’s about immersing yourself in the craft of writing and the BUSINESS of film and TV. You have to know what you’re getting into.  Being a professional screenwriter means you don’t just have ONE story to tell that you’d like to see get made one day. It’s about having so many ideas and inspirations and stories that your brain can’t hold them all, so they need to flow out onto paper.

    And if you’ve got tons of ideas but you don’t want to write them – then you’re not a screenwriter – you’re a producer! Ha!

    It’s fine to change careers in life and want to try something new, but screenwriting at a professional level is something that takes YEARS to become proficient at – much like I’m sure whatever your current profession required.

    No one leaves their job as a social worker and says, ‘Ya know what, I need to make more money – so I’m going to be a doctor from now on.’ And then immediately starts working on patients and gets paid a million dollars. So why do you think screenwriting would be any different?

    It takes MANY scripts, many rewrites, many classes, education, etc. Ask any professional screenwriter how many scripts or years it took for them to break in and finally feel like they were good enough, and I GUARANTEE you that none of them will say a number less than THREE.

    To make real money as a screenwriter – and by that, I mean quit your day job money – you need to perfect not just your writing, but your rewriting, your pitching, your selling, your polishing, and your networking skills. And if you think you can do that by reading Save the Cat and downloading Celtx – you’ve got another thought coming.

    It’s incredibly easy to write a script. It’s insanely difficult to write a great script at a professional level. And it’s ten times harder than that to sell it. And ten times harder still to get it produced, released and be successful.

    The competition even between amateur (non-professional) screenwriters increases with every year. Just five years ago, the total number of submissions for the top 4 screenwriting contests was about 15,000. Now it’s over 30,000. The number of consultants out there offering to help has increased from about 50 to over 300. And for a buck, many are ready and willing to pat you on the head and tell you you’re wonderful and talented and are gonna be rich and famous.

    But they’re wrong.

    I’m not saying this to dissuade you from screenwriting – it is a wonderful profession that can be incredibly satisfying, creatively fulfilling and fun. I’m saying this to make sure screenwriting is something you are so passionate about that it’s not your answer to being broke – it’s the thing WORTH being broke for.

  • The Greatest Hollywood Meeting I Ever Had

    August 16th, 2012

  • Don’t Worry About Them – Just Do You!

    April 16th, 2012

    By Danny Manus

    Two weeks ago, one of my best friends in the world got engaged. Three weeks ago, another good friend of mine had a baby. That makes (no exaggeration) – 13 friends in 8 months to have babies.  So this week, I want to pass along some advice that applies to both your writing and your life. It’s advice that I’ve personally never been able to follow, but am really trying to make efforts to do so. And the advice is…

    Stop worrying about where you’re supposed to be, and enjoy where you are.

    I have struggled with this for over 20 years now. I have never, ever been able to live in the moment – it’s just not who I am. When I was in junior high, I wanted to be in high school. In high school, I was raring for college. In college, I couldn’t wait to move to Hollywood and finally start writing for a living.

    And now I’m in my 30s doing something I love, but never planned on doing.  I’ve always been so worried about what everyone else is doing and how I’m matching up to them and where I’m supposed to be at this stage of my life and at this stage of my career, that I haven’t been enjoying what I’ve accomplished.

    Yes, a couple of my friends are selling scripts for a million dollars. Yes, my old assistant is now a staff-writer on a major network show. Yes, almost all of my college friends are married and/or pregnant while I’m still trying to find the next first date. And no, I didn’t win an Emmy by age 30 like I had planned. But, I have been working full-time in Hollywood for almost 10 years. I run my own successful business and brand that I built almost completely on my own. And sometimes I have to take a breath and just appreciate that.

    I’m sure you all have your individual accomplishments that when you think about them, make you proud of yourself. So you have to let go of the 5 and 10 year plans and focus on what you’re accomplishing right now, today.

    And the same goes for your writing. Don’t worry about where you THINK you’re supposed to be at your given age or point in life. Don’t worry about if you planned to have sold your script by now or have an agent. Don’t even worry if your progress on the script you’re writing right now isn’t on target yet. Just be content with the progress you are making and the improvement of the quality of your work from when you started writing.

    We’re not all on the same time schedule of life. It’s something I’ve had to come to terms with and realize in the last couple years, and it’s still seeping in. But if you can just be happy with the work you’re doing, the life you’re living, and if you’re still inspired to work hard to achieve your dreams, who cares if someone else has achieved theirs first?

    When you get stuck and you’re feeling like the writing is hopeless or everyone around you is eclipsing your success or talent in some way, just think – “Okay, fine, today is their day…But tomorrow can still be mine.” Good luck and keep writing!

  • The Greatest Myth in Hollywood (And The Idiots That Believe It)

    July 14th, 2011

    By Danny Manus

    Welcome to Los Angeles – land of the rich and famous – where we all live fantastic lives dining with millionaires on the finest sushi in the world and snorting coke off the asses of Brazilian supermodels while our butlers and drivers wait outside in our Bentley convertibles and everyone gets their own reality show and three-picture deal and we all have Spielberg and Bruckheimer on speed dial.

    Welcome to the biggest load of shit myth ever invented. And what’s more astonishing than the myth itself, is how many truly fucking stupid people out there believe it and judge us for it. Like if we DON’T live this life, we aren’t successful.

    Yes there are people who live like that. But I can’t tell you how many people who live outside of Los Angeles literally believe that everyone here who is in the business, is rich and powerful. And more so than that, believe that ONLY the rich and powerful are adept at giving them career advice, notes or help.

    Last year at a pitchfest, a woman came up to me after one of my classes, gave me a sob story and asked me for help. Not being a totally heartless prick, I gave her my card and told her to email me. After a number of increasingly infuriating emails, she wrote that she found out that I (and a number of other consultants and executives at the pitchfest) don’t even live in mansions and don’t drive luxury cars, so how much help could we actually give her and why would she take advice from us?

    And then just this week, I got an email that made me so angry at the sheer stupidity and gall of the writer, that I’m going to post the email here….ready? I am reprinting this verbatim – typos and all!

    “Most of the Judges in script contests got zero clue about film-making. Why are they judging screenplays. They are not super rich or well connected in Hollywood or understand the costly business of film-making, so why should we listen to them? When I google them, they are not famous or rich or power brokers like Jerry Briekheimer or Michael Bay or George Lucas or Zack Synder… Why are you using low-key Readers to judge amateur scripts in your contests? If you ask a top producer or director to read one your winning script from your contest(s), they would probably use the script as toilet paper. Really, they have said that behind closed door. I refuse to buy false dreams.”

    This writer’s name is Bill. I truly debated about whether or not I should give his full name because I’m so tired of stupid fucking people writing shit like this and we should weed people out like this immediately…but I won’t give his last name here (I did on my Facebook and Twitter though!).

    But he made me realize that some people outside of Hollywood think that only the rich and powerful are worthy of reading their scripts, that only the biggest names in Hollywood could possibly help them and be worth seeking out.  Anyone who thinks this – please – do as I told both of the above-mentioned writers – and get the fuck out! Turn around, go back to whatever US-Magazine-ridden-dumb-fuck-cave you crawled out of and stop trying to be a screenwriter – because it’s never EVER going to happen.

    Saying that you won’t enter a contest because the people judging aren’t power-brokers and therefore can’t help you is like me saying, “Well, you’re not rich or famous so how could you be a good screenwriter? Good writers are rich and famous.” It’s INSANE!

    Here’s the skinny on Los Angeles for those of you who don’t know…

    –        Many producers, managers, consultants and writers (even big name ones) work out of their HOMES. They traded their big offices for low overhead.

    –        A PA or entry level assistant at an agency or production company makes an average of $500/week.

    –        A nice ONE-bedroom, ONE-bath apartment in a nice neighborhood in Los Angeles rents for $1200-1500 a month ($1300-1700 if really close to the beach).  We are probably the fourth most expensive city in the country to live in.

    –        A two-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath house in COMPTON goes for $250,000!

    –        An AVERAGE 2 or 3 bedroom house in an AVERAGE neighborhood – goes for $400,000.

    –        Parking to go out for a night on Sunset Blvd costs $25. Two drinks – another $25. Dinner with friends when you’re NOT splurging or celebrating something special – $40/each. The parking ticket you get for parking illegally because you didn’t want to pay $25 – will cost you $60!

    –        And a fucking Grande Frappachino at Starbucks is $4.85.

    And what do we get as a payoff for being forced to live like this? Well, we can drive 10 minutes in most directions and be on a beach, we can smoke weed on the street without worrying about being arrested, and we get to see celebrities walking around and sitting at our local restaurants and movie theaters.  Worth it?  Your call.

    So yes, many of us live in one or two bedroom apartments. If we all lived in some rural shack town in the Midwest, yes, we could probably afford a pretty nice fucking place. But in LA, we’re just scraping by like the rest of you! And many of us went to good film schools, which means we owe Sallie Mae a fuck-load of money every month.

    Personally, I live in a one-bedroom apartment with a view of an angry cat next door who likes to MEOW at me through the window like I just stole his mouse wife – but it doesn’t mean I can’t help you, your script, and your career.

    Everyone thinks it’s Los Angeles that’s superficial – and in some ways it is – but we don’t measure someone’s ability to help by what kind of house or car they have. And as soon as you forget about the MYTH of Hollywood and buy into the reality, the sooner you will be able to become one of us.

  • Just Give Them What They Ask For

    June 21st, 2011

    By Danny Manus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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