Jeff Buitenveld of ScriptArsenal is an independent producer and former development executive with over 15 years of experience on some of Hollywood’s biggest films. He is currently a producer on the upcoming thriller The Kimberlite Process. After graduating with an MFA from UCLA’s Producers Program, Jeff worked in various capacities on numerous productions for Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner including The Last Samurai, Mission Impossible 3, Jack Reacher, Valkyrie, Lions for Lambs starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, Ask the Dust starring Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek, Death Race starring Jason Statham, The Eye starring Jessica Alba, Suspect Zero starring Aaron Eckhart and Ben Kingsley and many more.
What’s the last thing you read or watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a blast. HBO’s Barry is a funny and oddly haunting series. I recently re-watched/re-read Hell or High Water, which is a deceptively simple, sad, and suspenseful story with rich, complicated characters. Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House delivered the goods on scares and family dysfunction for me. Issa Rae (“Insecure,”) Jill Soloway (“Transparent,”) Amy Sherman-Palladino (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,”) and Andrea Savage (“I’m Sorry,”) all have unique, exciting, and powerful voices.
How’d you get your start in the industry?
I didn’t know anyone in LA when I first moved here but developed a sci-fi project that was quickly optioned by an Academy Award-winning producer (and never made). During that time, I was also accepted into UCLA’s Producers Program where I took Meg Le Fauve’s (“Inside Out” “Captain Marvel”) Development class, which was instrumental to my growth and understanding of cinematic storytelling and how to work effectively with screenwriters. I started cold-calling various companies for internships and was lucky enough to land positions at both Artisan Entertainment and Mike Medavoy’s Phoenix Pictures. Back then, Artisan had a deal with Marvel and I was immediately thrown into pitch meetings with various notable writers/directors on properties like Thor, Hulk, The Punisher, Black Widow, and Iron Fist, etc. I was also taking pitches at Phoenix – it was an incredible learning experience. I eventually became an assistant briefly to a Hong Kong action director and then used those experiences to land a job with Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner once I graduated from UCLA.
Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?
Though having an eye for quality material can be a natural instinct, it needs to be honed. I ultimately feel that recognizing good writing can be learned and taught.
What do you consider the components of a good script?
Generally speaking, a good script maintains a captivating concept, and a flawed but likeable hero with a concrete objective attached to grave stakes (whether intimate or epic). The hero’s emotional flaw is often rectified as a result of him/her achieving their practical goal (he/she should also be active, resourceful, and exhibit a range of change). It’s helpful if the hero’s goal is time-sensitive and somehow socially relevant. Lastly, if the script is a feature, it should adhere to a three-act structure.
What are some of the most common screenwriting mistakes you see?
Too much description, on-the-nose dialogue, flimsy structure, and the lack of a flawed hero with a concrete objective, attached to grave stakes.
What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?
I’m not at all opposed to writers using things like “one last job,” “a reluctant hero who can save the world,” “a family in peril,” or “a fish out of water,” etc. The familiar can be very accessible and., if used effectively, can lure a reader into the story. The trick, however, is to infuse that story with other unique and complex qualities so that it unfolds in fresh and unexpected ways. What can make your story different or set it apart? I always urge writers to challenge the reader’s expectations or preconceived notions as to what type of story they’re entering!
What are some key rules/guidelines every writer should know?
-Use Final Draft.
-Study the most notable screenwriting books and authors.
-Read every script you can get your hands on whether good, bad, or mediocre.
-Have conviction but be open to ideas – ultimately this is a collaborative industry.
-Don’t be afraid of genre and don’t be afraid to push the boundaries on the tenets of said genre (but know what those tenets are).
-Actively seek feedback and don’t be precious.
-Strive to be both clear and complex in your writing and understand the difference between the two.
-Don’t be a hater – watch all kinds of movies and TV shows, and be mindful of those that are both commercially and critically successful as well as those that aren’t.
-Read the trades to better understand the marketplace.
-Don’t chase trends – write from the heart.
Have you ever read a spec script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, what were the reasons why?
“Recommends” are a rare breed. Those that do qualify show a master of the craft, are usually somewhat familiar but also somehow unique, tend to maintain complex characters, rich themes, and have an easily identifiable position in the marketplace (you can visualize the poster, trailer, audience, etc.) That being said, most of the scripts I’ve read, even from the most notable A-list writers in the industry, still needed some further development.
How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?
I think it can be incredibly important and worthwhile, particularly for young writers, to enter screenwriting contests. However, I would also encourage writers to do some homework on which ones are notable and relevant so as to not waste too much money and time.
How can people find out more about you and the services you provide?
Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?
Given my mid-section I generally try to stay away from sweets, but a few years ago, I had some homemade pecan pie (numerous pieces actually) for Thanksgiving and it was an absolutely transformative experience…a chemical portal to another dimension that somehow transcended the time-space continuum…okay, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic but damn, it was good!