Ask an Ubiquitous* Script Consultant!

Danny Manus
*Seriously. The guy’s, like, everywhere. Podcasts, social media, online articles, you name it.

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 Danny Manus of No Bullscript Consulting.

Danny Manus is the former Director of Development for Sandstorm Films (The Covenant, 8MM2) and Clifford Werber Productions (Cinderella Story, Just Add Water), where he sold “To Oz” to United Artists. He’s the author of “No B.S. for Screenwriters: Advice from the Executive Perspective” and was ranked one of the Top 15 “Cream of the Crop” script consultants in CS Magazine. He was also named one of Screencraft’s “25 People Screenwriters Should Follow on Twitter.”

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

The best written things I’ve watched lately have been on TV. There are movies I’ve really enjoyed – Chef, Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy, Fault in our Stars, Bad Words, etc. – but none this year yet that I thought were OMG fantastic writing. To be fair, I haven’t seen Boyhood yet. But for me, TV is where the best material is these days. My favorite new comedy is You’re the Worst on FXX. I also really enjoyed The Last Ship on TNT and Masters of Sex on Showtime this summer. I’m sure there are wonderfully written books out there, but I don’t get to read them.

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

My first start was as an intern about 13 years ago at Columbia Tri-Star in TV Development and 20TH Century Fox Feature Casting. I was charged with reading everything that came in and doing coverage on them. But I used to go through their archive library and just read as many as I could, especially at Tri-Star. My coverage was liked by the VPs I worked under so much that they loaned me out to the SVP (Sarah Timberman at the time, who would not remember me if you paid her) and then the President at the time. Those gigs gave me enough coverage samples to land my first assistant job after I graduated.

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

Recognizing bad writing is something anyone can do. Recognizing great writing is something that can be taught and learned with time and experience. As a first year assistant and intern, I could tell you what was written poorly. But it took a few years of reading hundreds and hundreds of scripts to TRULY understand good writing. And many thousands of scripts later, I’m still learning.

You can’t read a book on screenwriting and think you’re suddenly able to be a professional consultant or reader or writer. There is no checklist given to new readers, it’s learned on the job – that’s why it’s SO important for writers to READ. Though I actually did develop a checklist I used to give to my interns. It was 110 items long. But if you’re a great reader, they are all just in your head and you notice them naturally.

4. What are the components of a good script?

There are basic elements everyone agrees on – a concept and hook that sparks a reaction and has potential to lead somewhere intriguing; compelling, three-dimensional characters who make you want to follow them; dialogue that feels sharp and precise yet natural and flows; enough growing conflict and high enough stakes to keep ones interest; and a plot that progresses throughout the script in interesting ways. Every script should have strong setups, executions and payoffs. But to make it go from good to great, it’s about the X-factor. Some of that is voice, but some of it is just the right writer writing the right story in the right way at the right time. That’s when true brilliance strikes. And it doesn’t happen often.

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

I see them all. I mean, the biggest mistakes are that writers are writing stories that aren’t MOVIES. They’re just not strong enough ideas or hooks to be movies in the current studio or indie marketplace. Or that the writer doesn’t know the hook of their idea. Or that the writer uses too many COINCIDENCES or serendipitous moments to create plot.

Actually, you know what the #1 mistake I see is? The use of YOU’RE and YOUR! I mean, WTF people – it’s not that hard to know the difference. Thinking that typos and grammar and format don’t matter – they do!

The biggest non-craft mistakes writers make is not doing their research and not knowing ANYTHING about the actual business. And secondly, submitting projects LONG before they’re ready to be submitted. Querying and pitching on a first draft or before a script is even written, entering contests with a first draft, posting their second drafts on websites. The biggest mistake I see is desperation and impatience outweighing common sense and good judgment.

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

I could go the rest of my life without seeing another Geek to Chic Teen story. Or the Christmas tale of someone losing their Xmas spirit until X happens. Or the story of the struggling writer trying to break into Hollywood and X happens. The Screenwriter protagonist CAN work – but 98% of the time it doesn’t and I like to play the odds. In terms of character, if I never have to read about another female rape victim or domestic abuse victim, I’d be okay with that too. Those are so common in scripts it’s lost its meaning. But in the end, what I always say is – Don’t run from the cliché, just make it seem NOT cliché. That’s a writer’s job.

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

-It’s not called the artist colony, it’s called the Film Business. So treat it like one. And if you want this to be a career, treat it like one.

-Writing is rewriting and if you can’t take notes and really truly rewrite, you’ll never have a lasting career.

-Your first draft and first script is SUPPOSED to suck. If you think your first script is going to sell and make you rich, you’re living in a dream world. Just. Keep. Writing.

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

Absolutely. But most were already projects in development written by top notch writers. I have had a number of clients whose projects were Recommends – but none were like that on the first draft. I can’t really divulge the loglines though.

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

There are about 15 contests out there that are completely worth it that I highly recommend, and about 250 contests out there that aren’t. If you win a major, prestigious contest it can definitely start your career and get you noticed. But if you’re continuously a quarterfinalist or not even making the quarters, then you’re not ready yet. Or your script isn’t. Contests are absolutely worthwhile IF your script and writing is at a level where you can be in the top 100 writers out of 8,000. If you can’t say that, then you’re probably wasting $40. Keep in mind – the Top 10 contests get about 45,000 submissions total. And they give out about 150 prizes to finalists and winners. So, those are your chances. Your script has to be REALLY fucking good. But as someone who has had multiple major contest winners and finalists as clients, that’s what I’m here for.

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

You can always check out my website and services at www.nobullscript.net and follow me on Twitter @Dannymanus (I was named one of Screencraft’s 25 People Screenwriters Should Follow on Twitter).

And if interested, I’m running a 4-week online course “Creating More Compelling, Castable Characters” which starts Sept 26th and it’s going to be a great class. So, I encourage everyone to check out details at www.compellingcharacters.eventbrite.com

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

I’m an apple pie guy, though a good chocolate cream pie with the chocolate mousse and whipped cream…nom nom nom.

Meanwhile, 365 days later…

When exactly are the days of auld lang syne again?
When exactly are the days of auld lang syne again?

Things definitely changed for me during 2013, happily for the better.

-My script DREAMSHIP got me a manager, was a semifinalist in a high-profile contest and placed in the top 15 percent of the Nicholl. While I hope more things happen with it this year, I’m also pretty excited about the potential of the western spec and the two still in the rewrite/development stages.

Most importantly, I’d say I finally realized the true meaning of “write what you know”. A lot of what I write could fall squarely into the category of pulp material. A high-flying adventure guaranteed to buckle anyone’s swash. A western where you can practically breathe in the dry and dusty air and hear the thundering hoofbeats. A noir-style mystery that makes you want to hang on to your fedora as you toss back a shot of cheap rotgut.

I live for this kind of stuff, and strive to convey the same kinds of sensations and experiences in my work. It took a while to really understand this, but it’s made a significant difference for me and how I approach writing.

-Through this blog, assorted networking websites and writing forums, I’ve connected with a lot of extremely talented people from all over the world. Pleasantries, experiences and script advice have been exchanged, and I’m looking forward to continuing all of them (when possible, regarding the latter).

-Absolutely nothing happened with relaunching the podcast, mostly because I never found the time. Will do my best to change that.

-I ran 5 half-marathons, including two where I finally managed to break the 1:55 mark and set a new personal best – 1:51:10. I don’t know if I’ll do as many this year, but would like to try and at least hit 1:50.

-The running and bike riding definitely helped me stay in shape, and I attempted to maintain a semi-regular regiment of upper body work. Not as fit and toned as I’d like to be, but it’s helped a little. This will continue.

-The great baklava experiment was a smashing success. It’s been requested I make it again, this time with pistachios instead of walnuts. No reason that can’t happen. Still undecided about what new concoction to attempt this year, but baked alaska currently holds the frontrunner position.

As always, I’d like to thank you for coming along with me on this thrill ride of an experience, and hope you stick around because 2014 holds bigger and better things.

Happy new year, and see you on the other side.

I’ll take “Potpourri” for $300, Alex

All this AND he plays hockey
All this AND he plays hockey

-I’ve been burning through my stash of unplayed podcasts at a rapid pace (including Scriptnotes), so I’m looking to add maybe one or two more to my library. Any suggestions?

-Since my current project has a 40s/50s noir vibe to it, playing era-appropriate music on Pandora really helps capture the mood (dig that crazy sax, man).  I may even don my fedora while I write to complete the transition.  If I enjoyed scotch or bourbon, there’d definitely be a glass of it on the desk. Guess a stiff cup o’ joe will have to do.

-My original intent with the rewrite was to completely start over, but the more I read the previous draft, the more potential I see. For now, it’s all about figuring the best way to combine ideas and elements from both.

-If there’s a writer whose work you really like, find out if they have a website, blog or on Twitter and send a friendly note telling them exactly that. Everybody likes a little compliment now and then.

-Could somebody please tell Netflix to get their act together and put Season 3 of THE WALKING DEAD and Season 7 of DOCTOR WHO on streaming? Haven’t we waited long enough? This might be my chance to finally start watching BSG, BREAKING BAD or MAD MEN.

-Definitive sign autumn is here – pumpkin pop-tarts (or toaster pastries, if you want to avoid the copyright infringement) at Trader Joe’s. They’re…okay. Maybe I’ll just make more pumpkin bread instead.

-Hope your latest project is going swimmingly. Enjoy the weekend, and try to write something.

Silent no more, or at least for not much longer

The tool of my other trade
What I use when I’m not writing

The first draft is coming along quite nicely. There was a little bit of writer’s block that held me up for about a day, but I managed to work my way through it (which included the creative placeholder SCENE INVOLVING BAD GUY & HIS GANG. This was the scene before the one giving me trouble.)

The current page count is somewhere in the mid-40s, and maybe about 5 pages off from where it should be, which actually isn’t that bad.

At this point, I’m not even thinking about a potential end-date because I don’t want to be disappointed if I go past it.  So for now, it’s all about cranking out a few pages a day.

In summary – this thing’ll get done when it gets done, and I don’t want to rush it.

Keeping that in mind, there’s now a slight chance this could all be delayed, but just by a little bit.

After way too much procrastination, and the realization that I’m actually capable of setting up a schedule and sticking to it, I’m going to complicate things even more by devoting a small portion of each day to finally getting my podcast up and running.

Learning the basics still seems a little overwhelming, but this phase is always an awkward time.  Like with most things, it’ll get easier the more I work at it.

No proposed launch date for this either, but hopefully soon.  I’ll keep you posted.

Just wondering – what podcast(s) do you enjoy and/or recommend?  They don’t have to be screenwriting- or film-centric. As long as they’re entertaining.

Blink and you’ll miss this post

Current script status: up to page 7, and getting ready to introduce my bad guy. Oh, this is going to be fun.

My page-a-day method seems to be working out nicely. Some days it’s perfect, while some days it’s just enough.

-Got to read a fantastic script similar to mine in a handful of details, while the rest is totally different.  Nothing to worry about.  If anything, it’s a great example of what works to tell this kind of story.

-Been woefully lax in getting this podcast up and running. Have to set more time aside for it. Just need another 1-2 hours in the day. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

-Movie of the Moment – CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010) Man, did this suck.  Almost feel compelled to see how the sequel compares. Almost.

I’m guessing this was a result of studio interference, since Travis Beacham, the writer of A KILLING ON CARNIVAL ROW and this summer’s highly-anticipated PACIFIC RIM, was one of the writers. I’ll stick with the 1981 version with Harryhausen effects, thanks.

-Since you’re in the know about my stuff, how is YOUR latest project coming along? Good, bad, need help? Let’s work together, gang.