I’m always keen for a good movie-watching recommendation, especially if it’s something I’ve never heard of, or at least heard of but haven’t seen. We all know a few of those.
So here’s your chance to shed a little light by a film (or films) that you’ve always enjoyed, but a lot of people may not be too familiar with.
Here are three of mine:
The Kid Brother (1927) An amazing piece of work from Harold Lloyd. Worth watching for the boat sequence alone. Plus it has a monkey in it.
ffolkes (1979) Roger Moore at his most un-James Bond-iest. A somewhat dated but still very entertaining action-thriller.
Whip It (2009) A charming and fun story that combines equal parts comedy, drama and women’s roller derby. Features a lot more name actors than you realize, and Drew Barrymore’s directing debut.
It doesn’t have to be a classic, nor does it have to be “a cinematic masterpiece”. You get a kick out of it, and think the rest of us would too. Just write down the title and what you like about it in the comments below.
I read about other writers who’ve gotten reads, representation, options and even production. There must have been something quite special about those letters (and scripts) to get those machines in motion.
There are also a select number of writers who’ve never had to use a query letter. Bully for them, I say. But I’ve never fallen into that category, so I’m firmly planted in the “those who send” group, which is still fine.
Taking a look at the somewhat limited results of my past efforts and reading about others’ experience makes me wonder in a “big picture” way about the nature and concept of the query letters themselves.
Are they worth the effort?
Naturally, if something happens as a result, of course they are. But even that appears to be a needle-in-a-haystack kind of scenario.
(Incidentally, any tales of query success are more than welcome in the comments section.)
There are so many factors to take into account, including but not limited to:
-who you’re sending to
-what kind of material they want
-they’re intrigued enough to want to read the script
-your script is a good match (or at least close enough) to what they want
-they think your writing’s strong enough
-they think they can make something happen with your script
Several years ago, an agent who’d struck out on their own (along with a sole assistant) told me that their office received approximately 75-100 queries a week. From around the world. Some were good, most were awful. A significant part of each morning was spent sorting through them. As you’d imagine, finding one, possibly two, that clicked seemed to be the norm.
Remember, this was a two-person operation. If they were getting that many, imagine how many the mega-agencies were getting, and still are. Possibly in the thousands.
The chances of success are minuscule, and grow smaller with each progressive step. Those not exactly in the know are more likely to think they’re the exception, but those of us who’ve been down this road before know better.
This isn’t to say that queries never work, but the odds definitely appear to be not in our favor. Luck and timing seem to also play significant parts. Maybe the person you’ve sent to just happens to be looking for a script exactly like yours. I’ve heard it does happen; just not very often.
But the dedicated, persistent and determined among us, including yours truly, will keep at it.
Even though my success rate hasn’t been the best, I’ll continue to do the research, find potential recipients, craft what I believe is a solid query, and send it out.
All that’s left is to wait, hope for the best, and keep busy working on other scripts, each of which will probably also have its own respective query letter get sent out sometime in the near future.
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 Phil Clarke.
Phil Clarke is a UK-based script consultant and screenwriter with over twenty years’ service to cinema. After years working on such features as Sleepy Hollow, Enigma, The Beach and two of the biggest box-office franchises: Star Wars and Harry Potter, he turned to writing – both for the screen and the page. His screenplays have spent time with production companies both in the UK and Hollywood, including a James Bond ‘scriptment’ considered for the twentieth entry in the franchise. As a script consultant for over a decade, his clients have won or placed highly at major script competitions, had their projects optioned, while others have gone on to be produced, the best débuting at Cannes.
1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well written?
The last film I thought was particularly well put together was Palm Springs — a kind of Groundhog Day rom-com featuring Brooklyn 99’s Andy Samberg. That felt very fresh and kept me deeply engaged. I’ve also recently watched the Johnny Worricker trilogy starring Bill Nighy and written by the playwright David Hare – Page Eight, Turks & Caicos, and Salting the Battlefield. These are three espionage dramas in the vein of Le Carre rather than Ian Fleming with superb dialogue (as you’d expect from an award-winning writer for the stage.)
2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?
I started reading screenplays as work following my years working on the sets of movies like Sleepy Hollow, Enigma, Star Wars and Harry Potter. For example, on the latter I was Chris Columbus’ on-set personal assistant.
3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?
Absolutely. But you do need to be willing to be taught. Many aspiring screenwriters seem too keen to find a shortcut and bypass the learning side.
4. What are the components of a good script?
Tough to answer succinctly in a Q&A like this, but a good script tends to be well structured, have a well-executed and compelling premise along with engaging, relatable protagonists.
5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?
Generally speaking, I see too many new writers wanting to rush through the process. Consequently, they submit their work too early when several rewrites would have immeasurably improved the project. More specifically, I see poor grammar and spelling, inadequate formatting, poorly defined characters with unclear goals and a lack of conflict in the scenes and in the story as a whole.
6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?
Personally, my heart always sinks when I see a script open with a voice-over narration. It’s often a sign that the entire script will be uninspiring and derivative. While it’s a way to convey a lot in a small amount of time, most writers don’t use it in the right way. Dream sequences and flashbacks more often than not annoy because of the way they’re usually handled. Cutting back unnecessarily to explain or overload with exposition certainly grates.
7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?
It’s hard to limit it to just three, but I would say:
1) know your story inside out and the reason for your story
2) above all else, make your story entertaining
3) never stop trying to improve your writing. Continue to hone your craft, and never think you’re the finished article.
8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?
Yes, of course. I would be most disenchanted with my job if I hadn’t. But these stick-on, guaranteed ‘recommend’ reads are rare. As for the loglines, I’m afraid I am unable to give you one.
9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?
It depends on the contest. Some are beneficial, others – not so much. Make sure to research which ones offer you the most for your time and money. If they can guarantee your script will be read by those who can help get your script sold then they’re definitely worth it as that’s what all writers are aiming for.
10. How can people get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?