Scriptshadow Success Stories – part 2

image courtesy of Springfield Punx
image via Springfield Punx (http://springfieldpunx.blogspot.com)
As one of the multitude of screenwriters working on establishing a career doing exactly that, I’m always exploring different potential avenues to get that first break.

In recent years, the website Scriptshadow (and its moderator Carson Reeves) has offered writers the chance to submit their script for review and feedback. While most are sent back to their keyboards with suggestions of potential fixes for the next draft, once in a while a script garners approval, hopefully leading to continuing success for the writer.

Today’s spotlight is an interview with two of four writers who fall into the latter category: Matthew Ballen, whose script placed in the site’s recent Top 10 Amateur Scripts EVER, and Louise Ransil, whose script was a semifinalist in the 2013 Tracking Board Launchpad competition and was recently profiled in the LA Times (see below).

1. What’s the title and logline of your script?

Matthew Ballen (MB): FATTIESWhen a lonely masochistic chubby chaser is abducted by two fat lesbian serial killers, it’s the best thing that ever happened to him.

Louise Ransil (LR): MARLOWEBased on a True Story:  African American P.I. Sam Marlowe shows novice writer Raymond Chandler the realities of detective work, juggling gangsters, corrupt politicians and movie star Jean Harlow to find out who’s burning farms along the Arroyo Seco Canyon.

2. What did Carson think of it?

MB: Carson said he couldn’t put FATTIES down and that it was really memorable. I made a lot of unusual choices, and I think this clicked with Carson because he sees a lot of scripts that in his opinion play it too safe.

LR: Carson’s reaction was mixed. He was completely honest, saying the noir genre wasn’t in his wheelhouse. He seemed to enjoy the dialogue and elements of style, but was put off by the dense and complicated plotting. He suggested I streamline the plot.

3. Did you find any of the reader comments useful?

MB: Carson thinks FATTIES may be one of the most polarizing projects he’s had on the site. My favorite reader was probably the guy who said “It’s stuff like this that makes me question the fate of Western Civilization.” I found that strangely flattering. Fortunately, a lot of readers liked it though.

LR: Reader reaction was fairly positive. Carson has a very knowledgeable reader base.  Some commented on how the script’s style and structure fit classic noir. There was discussion on whether the genre was relevant to current audiences. I found the comments useful, and overall reactions reflected those I’ve gotten elsewhere.

4. What’s happened with the script since it appeared on Scriptshadow?

MB: The review couldn’t have come at a better time. I was up for my first major re-writing assignment, and the producer and director who hired me each saw the SS review on their own. I should clarify that I already had a relationship with these people, but I didn’t have any produced credits and they were taking a big chance on me. My Scriptshadow attention made everything feel a little safer for them.

I’ve since done a deep polish on FATTIES, and it’s attracted some nice attention from a couple of producers, but nothing concrete yet. I’ll probably wind up directing it myself when my writing gigs slow down, but I’m still interested in finding a home for it if something cool comes up.

LR: Since my script appeared in Scriptshadow, it was featured in a Front Page L.A. Times article. This created some buzz for it, so I’m now shopping it around.

5. What’s going on with your writing career now?

MB: I’m currently writing a screenplay adaptation for veteran Academy Award-winning producer Arthur Cohn. The project’s a complex period drama, almost the polar opposite of FATTIES, though I think unexpected humor and a certain humanity to the characters might be the bridge between them.

LR: I’m working on other scripts now.

6. How can somebody get in touch with you to inquire about this or other scripts of yours?

MB: If anyone wants to reach me about my projects, rewriting, script doctoring, or watching their pets when they’re away, I can be reached at ballen.matthew@gmail.com.

LR: *editor’s note – Louise has opted to not include her contact information.

7. Is submitting a script to Scriptshadow something you would recommend?

MB: Absolutely! I think Amateur Friday is one of the best ways to get attention and feedback on an amateur script.

LR: I definitely recommend Scriptshadow. It’s good exposure and a balanced critique.

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

MB: Fresh strawberry pie from a farmer’s market in June. Oh, and every other kind of pie.

LR: Pecan.

Scriptshadow Success Stories – part 1

As far as I know, Mr. Reeves does not know what evil lurks in the hearts of men. I , however, do.
As far as I know, Mr. Reeves does not know what evil lurks in the hearts of men. I, however, do.

As one of the multitude of screenwriters working on establishing a career doing exactly that, I’m always  exploring different potential avenues to get that first break.

In recent years, the website Scriptshadow (and its moderator Carson Reeves) has offered writers the chance to submit their script for review and feedback. While most are sent back to their keyboards with suggestions of potential fixes for the next draft, once in a while a script garners approval, hopefully leading to continuing success for the writer.

Today’s spotlight is an interview with two of four writers who fall into the latter category: Joe Marino and Alex Carl, whose scripts were voted 1st and 3rd, respectively, in the site’s recent Top 10 Amateur Scripts EVER.

Part 2 will post tomorrow.

1. What’s the title and logline of your script?

Joe Marino (JM): A Rose in the DarknessA secluded boy’s way of life is threatened when he befriends Rose – the girl who his parents have imprisoned in the family attic.

Alex Carl (AC): Fascination 127A group of men are hired by a mysterious client to remove Jim Morrison’s casket, give it to him for 24 hours and then return the casket into the ground before it is publicly exhumed to be moved to the United States.

2. What did Carson think of it?

JM: Thankfully, Carson loved it. I got the email from him the week of 2012’s Thanksgiving (a few days before the review came out), where he told me he was ecstatic about it. I ended up getting an “Impressive” rating (a score that, at the time, was only shared with “The Disciple Program” in non-pro scripts). It was surreal, to say the least. All writers dream of the day where their work is publicly appreciated – and I never thought I’d be among the lucky ones to have it happen to me.

AC: Carson’s reaction was great. I believe he tweeted out late at night after he’d finished it, saying some very encouraging things. I wasn’t on Twitter at the time and so didn’t see anything until his posted review in the morning with a grade of [XX] Worth the Read.

3. How about the reader comments? Did you find any of them useful?

JM: The SS comment board was extremely helpful in making suggestions to better develop the draft. They’re a smart and observant crew, and it was an honor to have them focus that attention on my work. “A Rose in the Darkness” definitely came out of that experience a better script.

AC: The readers were fantastic with input and constructive critiques. I used many of the notes in the comments section during rewrites.

4. What’s happened with the script since it appeared on Scriptshadow?

JM: The script had a healthy thrum of interest. In the end, though, interested parties either went with other projects they liked more or decided to wait until further notice.

AC: Since the review, the script’s been optioned, placed in the top 25 of The Tracking Board 2013 LaunchPad contest and placed in the top 15% in the 2013 Nicholl. It got close to a sale twice when it was under option and received several reads based off SS, but ultimately I believe the story may be “a little too out there” to ever get made. It’s “too big a budget to take a chance on” is what I’ve been told repeatedly.

5. What’s going on with your writing career now?

JM: I’ve been focusing a lot on TV pilots this past year. Been trying to remain as prolific as possible.

AC: I’ve written two other specs currently under option, and am co-writing a pilot.

6. How can somebody get in touch with you to inquire about this or other scripts of yours?

JM: Manager Brooklyn Weaver brought me in as an Energy Entertainment client, which has been a huge boon in helping me find a voice and develop scripts that have the best chance of getting sold.

AC: Email me at hagpok@hotmail.com

7. Is submitting a script to Scriptshadow something you would recommend?

JM: Absolutely. I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in or have the opportunities I have without Carson. If you believe in your script with unbiased eyes, I’d highly recommend it. My biggest suggestion: don’t submit your script unless you’re 100% certain it fully conveys your vision. Don’t send if there’s even a moment in your script where you just went “it’s good enough.” Being satisfied with “good enough” will kill this wonderful opportunity for you. Reach for the stars and don’t allow yourself to be satisfied with inferiority.

AC: Most definitely. Some incredibly talented writers on there who will give insanely constructive notes, not to mention Carson’s insightful review.

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

JM: It’s a tie between peanut butter chocolate and strawberry rhubarb (particularly Amish-made).

AC: Oh, that’s easy. Key Lime. I lived in the FL Keys for a bit, and Key Westers are as protective of their claim to the best Key Lime Pie on the planet the same way Buffalonians will defend their crown of ‘best chicken wings’.

Wanted: wonder, fun & excitement

Seeking this kind of vibe
Seeking this kind of vibe

This was parent-teacher conference week, so my after-school parenting schedule was shaken up a bit. As a result, not as much time to work on the mystery spec rewrite.

So in an attempt to make the most of my limited time, and without my laptop with me, I opted to tinker with the outline for the monster spec.

Like any good writer, I had my ever-present notebook and story notes with me. Seriously.  I keep them in my bag for just such a situation.

The first act is really coming together, with most of the focus now on working out the details of the gaps between the plot points of Act Two. And as happened before, I’m having a blast.

At its heart, this story is a pure pulp adventure, which is exactly the mood I’m going for. Grab you from page one and not let go as it gains momentum from there on, building and building until finally culminating in a jaw-droppingly amazing, can’t-believe-I-just-saw-that finale.

Simply put, my objective is to create a simple-yet-solid story with three-dimensional characters, using the spectacle aspect as support that keeps things interesting.

Similar to how it was with the western, I’m a huge fan of the genre and know what I as a member of the audience would want to see. I’m not looking to reinvent the wheel here; just tell a fun story. Hopefully my appreciation and knowledge of this kind of material will come through on the page.

What it really boils down to is the more I can make this a smart and exciting thrill ride, the better.

As I work out the story details, I’m keeping this in mind: If there was a free-of-plot-details trailer for this, you’d be overwhelmingly compelled to want to see it.  (Sort of what they’ve done for GODZILLA and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.)

“She pressed a couple of 38s against my chest…

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

…and then she pulled out some guns.”*

*I heard this joke years ago and still find it extremely hilarious. To commemorate Mickey Spillane’s birthday, I once used it at the end of a traffic report on a public radio station. The program director was not amused.

With company coming, I was forced to finally get around to unloading some more boxes from our semi-recent move. These just happened to hold books I’d amassed over the years. Many of which could be classified under the category of ‘the pulps’.

It’s been a long time since I read any of them. If you’ve never experienced the sensation of immersing yourself in a world of tough guys, brassy dames, femme fatales and itchy trigger fingers, then you’re really denying yourself one of life’s simpler pleasures.

There’s a definite charm to this kind of storytelling. Since the writers got paid by the word, not only did they have to be prolific, they had to also make sure the writing was strong enough that you’d want to keep coming back for more.

I also love how even though the stories are from the 30s, 40s and 50s, once you get past the time capsule aspect, they still read as fresh and exciting.

But I’m positively ecstatic when it comes to ‘men of mystery’ stories like The Shadow, The Spider and Doc Savage.  Give me a stack of those, a comfy chair, and maybe a properly-made gin and tonic, and I am one happy guy.

I never really made the connection before, but I suppose the scripts I like to write could kinda-sorta be considered variations on pulp stories. Or at least leaning in the direction of the fantastic.

A rip-roaring adventure involving flying pirate ships. A revenge-seeking woman in the Old West. A scientist battling monsters to literally save the world.  They all sound pretty pulp-y to me.

At first it seems too challenging. “I’ll never compare to those guys!”  But if you take the aspects of what you like in those stories, put your own personal spin on them, and let your imagination run wild… voila!

A pulp story all your own. In my case, one in screenplay form.

Remember the old adage: Write what you know.  You probably know more than you realize.