Results may vary

crystal ball

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been involved in a few online discussions about posting and pitching one’s material via script-hosting and pitching sites (The Black List, InkTip, Virtual PitchFest, etc). I even featured a Q&A about it last year with a trusted colleague who also happens to be a very savvy writer (and had some moderate success in this area).

The primary question: are any of them worth it?

As you’d expect, there’s no easy answer, and everybody’s experience is going to be different. I can only speak for what’s happened to me.

A few years ago, I posted my fantasy-swashbuckler on The Black List, and paid for a review. Based on their comments, I was convinced the reader got to around page 22 or so, had no interest in reading any further, and then skipped to the last page. Biggest clue – no mention at all about anything that happened in the second act.

I griped about it on Twitter, which somebody at the Black List then responded with “You can’t make those kinds of accusations without any evidence to back it up!” (I love the idea that it was Franklin Leonard himself, but doubt he would have been spending his Sunday morning checking the Black List Twitter feed). Skittish newb I was, I backed down.

However, it wasn’t all bad. Through a series of interesting events, the script did get some positive reviews, which actually got me a manager. That was nice, but it didn’t work out, and the relationship soon ended. Since the script wasn’t getting much traction (read: any) on the Black List anymore, that subscription also came to a close.

I’ve also heard from other writers who got a 2 on one review and a 9 on another, or who’ve paid for reviews and heard nothing back. Then after asking about it, managed to get a refund; sometimes they’ll also throw in a credit for a free review as a form of apology. Are these commonplace or rare occurrences? Beats me.

I also signed up for the batch of pitches from Virtual PitchFest, and have so far only pitched to two production companies. While I felt my script was a solid match for the criteria they were seeking, each yielded the same response – “Nothing personal. It just didn’t grab us.” No doubt this is the generic rejection everybody gets.

I still have something like 10 or 11 pitches remaining, and if I opt to actually use them, will probably still be very selective about it. But I also suspect I’ll get the same boilerplate response.

I’ve written before about my experiences with pitching to Stage 32, so I’ll just leave this link here. I believe a lot of the points I make still apply. And at the time, I wouldn’t mention them by name. Things change.

Finally, there’s InkTip. I signed up and posted three scripts. Each subscription period is four months, and I did it two consecutive times. During those eight months, the loglines got constant views, which really doesn’t mean much, one script got downloaded once, and another had the synopsis downloaded twice – amazingly, on the same day, which was also two days before the hosting would expire.

*Interesting side note – If your synopsis or script gets downloaded, InkTip doesn’t want you to follow up with the company until at least three weeks later, and then ONLY by regular mail. I’ve always found that a bit odd, but I guess it’s to discourage bombarding them with constant emails. A follow-up to the prodco that downloaded the script yielded no response at all. A little disheartening at the time, but I got over it pretty quickly.

I also subscribe to the InkTip newsletter because a lot of the time there’s at least one or two listings on it that I can send to. That’s yielded a few read requests, but each of those has ended with “Thanks, but it’s just not for us.”

Between the two, I think the newsletter is the better choice. More options, more possibilities; especially compareed to the extremely low return for just having your scripts hosted on the site. I’ve since let those expire, with no immediate plans to return.

I’m sure there are those who think posting or pitching this way is their way in, and for some it probably is, but it can get a bit exhausting to keep shelling out bucks on a monthly basis and getting nothing in return. I’ve had better results with contests and query letters, and you know what longshots those can be.

What if you did this for a few years and still got nothing? Would you still think it was worth it? Sometimes on the InkTip newsletter, they’ll list “success stories”, which mention how long the writer has been a member. Some of them go back 10 to 12 years. That’s A LOT of money invested.

There’s spending money to make money, and there’s reaching the conclusion you’re just throwing money away. Despite the controversy surrounding the practice, I’d rather spend that money on quality notes, which in the end helps me become a better writer.

Like I said, all of this is stuff that’s happened to me. Your experience might be the total opposite. For all I know, you’re one of those “WRITER SELLS SCRIPT THANKS TO OUR SERVICES!” people. If so, great. You beat the odds and I’m glad it worked out for you.

But for the rest of us, how’s it been for you? Good? Bad? Somewhere in that nebulous middle? Have you had similar experiences with any of these companies, or any who aren’t listed? Did you get a read request? A writing assignment? Connect with a filmmaker or production company? Get representation? Can you point to an actual completed film and say “I wrote that!”?

Like I said way back at the beginning, it’s different for everybody. Is subscribing to any of these sites something you’d recommend, or would you deliberately steer people away from them?

Inquiring minds want to know.

O, the joy of a southernly jaunt

gable colbert
Fortunately, I didn’t have to resort to this

The suitcase is put away. The dirty clothes laundered. The thank-you notes sent.

All the result following your humble blogger’s recent trip to the land of potential future employment, aka Los Angeles, which continues to yield results and, hopefully, keep on doing so.

“Los Angeles? How in the world did that come that about?” you may ask, and probably just did.

I was invited. At the behest of a new media company (as in “new media” i.e. online content, not “a media company that is new”) called AfterBuzz TV that produces a myriad of programs about an even wider variety of topics – all entertainment-based.

This one in particular is called The Unproduced Table Read. As the title implies, after finding a heretofore unproduced script they deem appropriate, they assemble members of their core group of actors and do a table read of the script – first as livestream video, then viewable on Youtube. Following the read, there’s a brief q&a with the writer. Sometimes the writer’s there in person, or if they can’t make it in, done via Skype.

Seeing as how the City of Angels is an hour-long plane ride away, I opted to attend.

They’d found my fantasy-swashbuckler in the archives of the Black List website and thought it fit the bill. The producer contacted me earlier this year, and after some informative back-and-forth emails, it was all set.

Seizing the opportunity of being in town, I also went about setting up meetings of both personal and professional natures. Although the scheduling didn’t work out with a couple of potential representatives, I was able to have some very productive conversations with some exceptionally talented professional contacts.

Networking, people. Establish and maintain those contacts! SO worth it.

But getting back to the table read. It was great. And fun. The actors did a fantastic job, and as a bonus – they really, really liked the script on several levels. I’m quite thrilled with how it turned out.

Was it worth doing? I’d say so, and not just because it got an enthusiastic reception from the people involved. It’s probably a little early to see if it’ll contribute to the career-building aspect, but it definitely makes for a strong marketing tool.

If you ever get the chance for a table read to be done for one of your scripts, take it. You can even put it together yourself. It’s a great way to evaluate the material, plus the actors might provide some unexpected insight. All you need is a workable space and the ability and willingness to feed your performers.

While talking afterwards with the show’s producer and some of the actors, somebody asked what other scripts I had. I mentioned the western. “We haven’t done one of those,” was the reply. Thus raises the possibility of a return trip. Time will tell.

Q&A w/Phillip Hardy about Hosting vs DIY

Phil Hardy

Phillip E. Hardy is a four-time optioned screenwriter who also runs The Script Gymnasium script consultancy. His work has recently been presented to Jay Roach, William Morris Endeavor, Tyler Perry Productions and A&E Network. He has placed and won at 45 film festivals and contests including Page International, Austin Film Festival, Cannes Screenplay, Shore Scripts, Screencraft, Beverly Hills Film Festival and Sunscreen Film Festival.

Today’s post stems from a discussion between Phillip and myself regarding the benefits and drawbacks of posting your script on a hosting site or taking a more proactive role and doing the work yourself.

You’ve had some experience with both handling your own material and hosting sites. Do you find one to be more effective than the other, or is it more of a case-by-case basis?

I’ve had varying degrees of success with different hosting sites. But it’s a total crapshoot, especially with paid hosting and pitching sites. One of my colleagues swears by Virtual Pitchfest (VPF). And, at 10 bucks a pop for a pitch, they look attractive to writers on a budget.  I’ve done ten pitches at VPF and though I received some very good feedback on one of my period piece dramas, nobody at that website has requested a script read.

When I first started out, I used Project Greenlight (PG), which was expensive and the responses I received were very sloppy and unprofessional. I did get one read request from a video game company. But I would never use PG again. I know of nobody who has scored with them.

Don’t ask me about the Black List. Okay, I’ll tell you. I hate them and everything they stand for. However, if you wish to pay their reviewers (frustrated writers with their own axe to grind) seventy five dollars a pop to review your script, then that’s the site for you.

International Screenwriter’s Association is fairly inexpensive for a premium listing. However, anyone that uses them can call themselves a producer or director. I’ve made several connections there but they led me nowhere and have netted no financial remuneration.

I’ve also hooked up with a few folks on Craigslist (CL), which can be a real pain and you have to answer a lot of adds to get any action. One of the best connections I made on CL was with one of the stars of the TNT show “Falling Skies”. So you never know who you’re talking to but you should vet them out before sending them your scripts.

I’ve had my best luck at Inktip, which allows you to list a script for four months at a price of sixty dollars for four months. Producers at Inkitp shop loglines and will read your summary or request a script read if they’re interested in your spec material. For example, I had multiple logline reads today and two of them read the synopsis as well. However, a lot of Inktip clients troll loglines and do little else. I’ve had a number of script downloads, which have also netted zippo. However, the Inktip Newsletter has been much more effective for me. The price is the same as the listing. The difference is you can pitch producers looking for specific genres and concepts. I’ve also written pitches for these clients, which led to a script option and three right-to-shop agreements with a producer that got my work into the hands of some big time production companies and cable networks. I’ve also bullshitted people and told them I had scripts I hadn’t written yet. And then banged them out in a week. This method is not for the faint of heart.

I’m sure most writers know that Amazon Studios has an open door policy about submitting television and feature screenplays. Unfortunately, that door leads to oblivion. And if you can locate one unproduced writer that has something produced by Amazon, I’ll buy you lunch at my local Sonic drive-thru. Several months back, I did some research on this and could find no unproduced writers who have made it out of development purgatory. And by unproduced, I mean you’ve never had a big budget movie made from one of your screenplays.

Lastly, I’ve used Stage 32 for paid pitch sessions and gotten script requests from four major players including Ridley Scott Productions and Good Fear Management. But if you do a written pitch, you better make sure your logline is catchy, your synopsis is clear and concise and you include the character arc for your protagonist.

The bottom line is use any means possible to get your work into the hands of people you are looking to make movies.

If you’re going the DIY route, what methods have worked for you?

Smack-talkin’, bold action has worked best for me. I hooked up with several producers looking for projects by telling them I had scripts already written about things they were looking for, including a story about Michael Rockefeller, who disappeared in the Papuan Islands more than fifty years ago. In this particular instance, the producer was advertising and I wrote a logline and synopsis in three hours and pitched it to the guy. He optioned the screenplay I wrote in six days.

In another instance, I did the same thing with another producer looking for an Angela Davis screenplay. However, when the producer asked me if I had a script, I said “sure, it’s sitting on the shelf with my screenplays about Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver.” He got the joke and we wound up working together on several different projects. The DIY Method should include whoring your wares at any given moment and making as many connections as you can. Also, make friends with writers like Paul Zeidman.

Never heard of him. Keeping that theme going, what do you recommend when it comes to using hosting sites?

Passive hosting sites where you don’t aggressively work the leads may be a waste of time. Just listing a script without supporting efforts offers little chance for anything happening to further your career.

What’s your opinion of hosting sites overall?

If you’re not living in Hollywood and getting meetings with producers, hosting sites, along with promoting yourself vigorously and IMHO, competing in film festivals and script contests to relentlessly build your brand, can be a very useful tool to get you access to producers and agents. As a direct result of hosting sites, I’ve had material read by A & E, History Channel, Emmett Furla, William Morris Endeavor, Jay Roach, Tyler Perry Productions, Ridley Scott Productions, Zero Gravity, Good Fear Management, Zane W. Levitt and many others.

After putting your script on a hosting site, what should you NOT do?

Don’t nag the contacts you make. Don’t be a pain in the ass if someone’s interested in your work.

As an experienced writer, what tips would you like to pass along?

-If you’re a delicate, sensitive woodland creature, then scriptwriting isn’t for you.

-Learn to suck up constant rejection. Never spend more than a few hours wallowing in rejection or failure. Remember, opinions are like assholes, everyone has one. With each setback, learn how to sally forth with renewed vigor.

-The best cure for rejection is writing; particularly if it’s better writing.

-Sometimes a script just sucks. Everyone thinks they have a great idea for a script. More often than not, they’re wrong. Sometimes a script just sucks, no matter how many times you rewrite it. Therefore, don’t attach yourself to any one effort too much. It may take writing fifty scripts before you find something that really resonates with readers.

-If you see writing scripts as a path to riches and fame, you may wish to consider other options.

-There ain’t no such thing as writers block. There are only writers that write and ones that don’t. Look at Bukowski. Drunk or sober, he did great work every day of his life.

-Writers who build relationships, maintain their humility and help their colleagues will do better than ones who don’t.

-If you keep losing script contests, then write better scripts until you win one.

-Read books, take classes, seminars, and good advice about scriptwriting and then march to your own creative drummer. If I listened to every asshole who told me I couldn’t do something, I’d never accomplish anything.

What are some absolute “Do NOTs”?

-Don’t tell anyone “this is my first script”. But don’t think you’ll set the world on fire by writing one script.

-Don’t write something because you think it will have commercial appeal. Write something you believe in.

-Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Endeavor to be an original.

-Don’t ever rest on your laurels. Keep writing until it becomes second nature AND you can produce even under the most adverse or stressful conditions. You may one day have a job that presents you with just that set of conditions.

Ask a Master of the Ultimate Editing Tool Script Consultant!

Erin Whittemore

The latest in a series of interviews with script readers and consultants who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape. Today’s spotlight is on agency reader-turned-consultant Erin Whittemore of Red Pen Script Consulting.

“I have a B.A. in film and screenwriting from the University of Michigan, and am also the proud recipient of the Hopwood Award in screenwriting that boasts such alumni as Arthur Miller and Lawrence Kasdan. After graduating, I relocated to Los Angeles, where I worked for United Talent Agency as a freelance script reader. Two of my own scripts have been produced as short films and premiered at film festivals.”

1. What was the last thing that you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well‐written?

I loved Nightcrawler and The Lego Movie as scripts. Nightcrawler’s story was really lean and mean and practically seamless, and The Lego Movie was not only a great narrative in itself, but was also incredibly cheeky and self‐aware at the same time. In terms of TV, Marvel’s Agent Carter put other network shows to shame. In my humble opinion, of course.

2. How did you get started reading scripts?

After spending two arduous years as a pre‐med undergraduate, I finally became so miserable that I switched to film and never looked back. I learned to do coverage through screenwriting courses, and was lucky enough that UTA was hiring part-timers after I graduated. Full disclosure: I did know somebody in the story department, but even then I almost didn’t get the job due to the amount of competition for the position. It all comes down to your “test coverage.” (When an agency gives you a sample script to cover.) If you’re aiming for reading professionally, make sure you have your own sample coverage ready to go as well, preferably showcasing two different genres.

Eventually, though, I needed a better‐paying and more stable job, but I wanted to continue reading scripts as well. Having been a part of “the system” I knew it could take up to three months for writers to get any feedback on their submissions, which is kind of agonizing, especially if the writer ends up getting rejected. I figured, why not give writers a chance to see what a professional script reader would say about their material before sending it out to agencies and production companies? Thus, Red Pen was born!

3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?

I believe if you’re willing to be taught, you can learn. You have to watch a lot of movies and read a lot of scripts, and you have to learn to think critically about what you ingest. It’s not enough to say “I like this” or “I don’t like this,” you have to think about why. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, you have to ask questions like “why does this work” or “why doesn’t this work?” and “how could I make it work?” Some people naturally think this way, others have to train themselves to make it a habit.

4. What are the components of a good script?

A good script generally has an intriguing premise, strong characters, and an original and compelling execution. As a script reader, I look at character, story, theme, dialogue, visuals, and tone to determine what areas need work. In general, a great script knows exactly what it is and what it’s trying to achieve

5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?

-Unlikable, uninteresting characters that do uninteresting things. This doesn’t mean your protagonist can’t be an unlikable character, but they must be at least be interesting and do interesting things. (See There Will Be Blood, Nightcrawler.)

-Exposition in dialogue. The golden rule of screenwriting is “SHOW, DON’T TELL.” A little exposition is usually necessary, but too often I see writers trying to cram entire backstories or plot elaborations into a talking scene. Firstly, we only need to know what’s relevant at the time, part of the fun of watching a story unfold is piecing things together. Secondly, remember, it’s a movie. It’s much more dramatic and emotionally immediate to watch a sequence about something important than to hear a character talk about it.

-Inconsistent tone. Is your script Silence of the Lambs or Fargo? Guardians of the Galaxy or Interstellar? 12 Years A Slave or Django Unchained? When a script yo‐yo’s back and forth between tones, or spends the first half of the movie a comedy only to turn serious drama it can be very confusing for the audience and takes us out of the story. Know what tone you want your script to have and stick with it.

-No structure. A story is more than just a series of events, it’s a series of events that influence each other. If you’ve ever had a friend who is terrible at telling stories, they most likely sound something like this: “So Jack and Jill fall down this hill. No, wait, sorry, first they go up this hill. Then Jack falls down. And then Jill falls down. And then they get married.” As opposed to someone who might say, “Jack and Jill grew up together as next door neighbors and they hated each other. They were mean and played pranks on one another until Jill left for school. Jill married an orthodontist, but got divorced soon afterward because life became too predictable for her. Jack had a string of girlfriends but nothing ever seemed to stick, especially since none of them seemed to appreciate his sense of humor. Having both moved back to their hometown at a low ebb in life, one day Jack spotted Jill on top of a hill while walking his dog in the park. Jack smacked Jill in the back of the head with a snowball. Jill yelped, slipped, and tumbled headfirst down the hill. Alarmed, Jack rushed to her aid only to slip and fall, himself. The two ended up in adjacent hospital beds and wouldn’t speak to each other, until they both started laughing. Soon after, they fell in love, and have been married for 35 years.” In other words, remember that each beat of your story should make sense and be relevant in the larger context.

-It’s a movie not a book. Give us just enough flavor text so we get the atmosphere and the characters, but don’t go overboard. I should be able to read your script in the same amount of time it would take to watch the movie, if not less. Don’t bog the reader down in unnecessary description. That doesn’t mean what you write can’t be poetic and evocative, but just remember to keep it lean and mean. If you’re lucky, the type of person reading your material will give it their full attention, but this is not often the case.

6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?

Okay, first a disclaimer: most stories are tropes in one way or another. There’s an adage in Hollywood that goes “give me the same thing, only different!” What that basically boils down to is, “give me something I can latch onto, but surprise me!” It’s okay if you have an “everyman protagonist” (The Lego Movie) or if your story is about a rag‐tag bunch of people in space (Guardians of the Galaxy, or alternatively, Star Wars) – what really matters is the execution, or what you do with those characters and set‐ups. That’s where the originality comes in. That being said, here are a few that leap to mind:

-Women with no agency! Or alternatively, women who are portrayed with agency only to have it stripped from them at important points in the story by male counterparts.

– Actually, on that note: stereotyping certain genders, races, or sexual orientations into negative tropes like “the magical ethnic minority” or “token black person” or “exceptionally shallow and flamboyant gay best friend” at all. For a comprehensive list, Google “gender/racial/ethic/gay/transgender/bisexual tropes in media.”

-“You were really working for the bad guys all along.”

-Gritty for the sake of gritty, not because it actually works or makes sense.

-Teen love triangles.

-The ex (Marine, Army, Navy, etc.) whose family or significant other is kidnapped or killed, and must rescue them/seek vengeance. (Sorry, but I’ve read this script a hundred times)

-Scripts that are mostly music‐video segments strung together without much story.

-Manic Pixie Dream Girls

-Inexplicably bloodthirsty military males

-The scientist who knows everything. Ever.

-The brooding, emotionally unavailable romantic interest with no reason to be brooding or emotionally unavailable.

-The hacker who can hack into anything. Ever. Also, it’s probably a guy who lives in his parents’ basement.

-The magical cure‐all that can bring everybody back to life if they die, so there are no consequences or stakes!

-The love interest because there needs to be a love interest.

-The unnecessary cliffhanger, because it’s an unnecessary trilogy!

7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know? 

-Write.

-Rewrite. One of the most common things I hear is “I hate rewriting my material.” Nobody likes taking a chainsaw to their baby, but more often than not it’s a vital part of the creative process. Let’s face it, we’d all like to believe we’re capable of writing a perfect first draft, but in reality turning out something great takes a lot of work and usually a good number of drafts. As a script reader, I see that squeamishness about rewriting get in the way of some good scripts, and that’s a real shame when they could be great scripts. Just “polishing” your material is sort of like watering around a sick plant and expecting it to improve.

-For screenwriters: make every scene worth watching. Almost every scene should a) have some sort of conflict, be it internal or external, b) move the story forward, and c) tell us more about the characters involved.

8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without‐a‐doubt, “recommend?” If so, could you give the logline?

I have actually read several, but most of them were under an NDA, so unfortunately I can’t share any loglines. Sorry.

9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?

The Nicholl is definitely worth submitting to, as there is some fairly significant exposure in the industry the farther you make it into the competition. I would also recommend submitting a polished script to the Black List.

10. How can people get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?

You can get more information at www.redpenscriptconsulting.com or send me an email at redpenscriptconsulting@gmail.com. I also have LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. If you’re just looking to get your script proofed, though, I would check out my friend’s fantastic service at www.scriptproofed.com

11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

Strawberry‐rhubarb is always an instant win with me, but sometimes I like a good old-fashioned apple topped with vanilla ice cream. Am I allowed to have two favorites?

Ask an In-the-Director’s-Chair Script Consultant!

Jeff Richards

The latest in a series of interviews with script readers and consultants who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape. Today’s spotlight is on writer-producer-filmmaker Jeff Richards.

Jeff Richards is a story consultant, filmmaker, and writer with over twenty projects either optioned, produced, or sold. His clients range from award-winning novelists to creative writing professors to screenwriters working for major studios. His own writing includes feature films, TV series, graphic novels, and short stories, as well as writing for children’s animation and computer games. His background includes information technology, a decade as an opera singer, and he is an honorary member of the Takaya Wolf Clan of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation.

1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?

The Karla trilogy by John Le Carré, and if you ever need a lesson that character is king, look to those. The books are often very low on action; they largely consist of dialogue (most of which is people recounting events, as you’d expect in a book about counter-intelligence) and the characters are so magnificent you don’t care that you’ve just spent hundreds of pages essentially listening to people talk. The protagonist for two of the books, Smiley, often isn’t even doing the talking; he’s merely listening. Yet it works.

As for watching, I’ve been re-watching Doctor Who, and “Blink” is possibly the best hour of television I’ve ever seen. Stunningly imaginative and original, incredibly atmospheric, and one of the very best examples of burying exposition I have ever seen in any medium. If I write something that good, I’ll die happy.

2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?

I spent several years as an independent filmmaker and although I did write most of the projects we were developing, I’d occasionally work with an outside writer and help them. That made me realize that I could apply what I’d learned as a writer to helping others with their scripts.

3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?

Absolutely. The love of words is probably pretty difficult to instill in an adult, but if someone is already interested in it, then it is definitely possible to learn to recognize good writing. The secret is to read widely and actively, both good and bad material; once you’ve read and analyzed enough writing, and worked out why it works or doesn’t, you start to see the patterns very clearly, particularly in screenplays. Objectivity about our own writing? That’s trickier…

4. What are the components of a good script?

What’s most important, and what I don’t see enough of, is a unity of character, plot, and theme. People talk about “character-driven scripts” or “plot-driven scripts” when, in reality, they should driven by the same engine.

As for the rest, it’s about what you’d expect; an active protagonist, strong pacing, dialogue with subtext, an original concept, rising stakes, good conflict, a surprising but inevitable ending… all that sort of thing. However, the only absolute must-have is that it is interesting. For every other must-have you’ll see on a checklist, you can usually think of a great script that didn’t have it. Passive protagonists are death… unless you are talking about The Graduate. Or Being There. But these are scripts by master writers; you need to be very sure why you are going against the grain, and how it makes your story better. (And, as you can tell by the age of the examples, rule breaking isn’t that popular anymore in Hollywood.)

5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?

Going back to the previous point, a disconnect between character, plot, and theme is common. This usually causes protagonists with unclear goals and flat second acts. However, the most common thing I see is on-the-nose dialogue. Characters who say exactly what they feel and think, or who sum up the central conflict in a speech. If you ever read “You know what your problem is?”, then that’s probably a bad sign.

6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?

I think I’m almost unique in that my answer is “none”. Every trope is ready for a great script to make it fresh. Amnesia is the most tired device in writing, yet The Bourne Identity comes along and is fantastic. There’s always room for a great script.

The thing that tires me isn’t story tropes, but clichéd dialogue. Don’t have lines from other movies in your movie. Be original.

7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?

-Read widely; lessons are everywhere, and most of them are outside your genre and format. So if you’re a sci-fi feature film writer, read historical fiction. Read detective comics, manga, sitcom scripts. Expand your brain.

-Writing is rewriting; every first draft is a huge bundle of problems waiting to be solved. So solve it. And not by editing, but by rewriting. Changing words in action or dialogue is just editing. Changing characters, plot points, deleting or adding scenes, that’s rewriting. Do multiple passes, focusing on a different thing each time. One pass (or several, more often) for plot, one for each major character’s dialogue, one for action lines… if you’re building a shelf, you don’t sand and paint at the same time.

-Don’t get hung up on systems. Read how-to books, sure, but pick and choose your advice. Being a slave to a particular checklist is usually indicative of poor writing. If I can tell that you’ve read Save the Cat by reading your draft, then there’s probably too much Snyder and not enough you in your script.

8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?

Unfortunately, I can’t share loglines due to confidentiality. But for me, “recommend” can’t focus too much on the logline. Concept is important, sure, but the writing is what matters, what makes it a “recommend”. I’ve had writers with straightforward concepts come to me and, after we hone the execution, they get jobs at major studios or get 10 on The Black List. That doesn’t come from the logline, but the execution, how they wrote (and, as per rule 2 up there, rewrote!) Chinatown’s logline doesn’t set the world afire, yet it is generally regarded as one of the great scripts. So a logline wouldn’t really illuminate why I feel a particular script is great. Loglines only show whether something is the type of script an exec should read (e.g. it’s high concept sci-fi and that’s what they’re looking for). The logline gets you the look; the writing gets you the job.

9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?

I personally don’t do them very often. I have in the past and placed well, but I never found the contest actually led to a job; what worked for me was my personal networking. However, every path is different and obviously you hear success stories. What is important is that you put in the time, both into the writing (mostly) and into building your career, whether that’s contests, pitchfests, networking… Whatever seems to be working for you, do that. If nothing’s working (and the writing is genuinely where it needs to be!), then change things up.

10. How can people get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?

*Editor’s note: Jeff is no longer actively seeking clients, but is still open to receiving requests via his website.

11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

Pumpkin, no question. With fresh whipped cream. A great pumpkin pie will turn me into the seven-year old kid who eats so much he feels sick. It is inevitable.

I probably need help.