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’.

Something to tide you over

Not THAT kind of tide
Not that kind of tide

I’m neck-deep in catching up with reads owed on scripts and pilots, as well as trying to finish up the outline for the low-budget comedy, so time is quite a precious commodity at the moment.

But since this blog is all about offering up high-quality material, here are two links definitely worth checking out:

-A cover story from the Nov 1 Los Angeles Times about MARLOWE, a great script written by Louise Ransil. If you like film noir, true crime and hard-boiled detective stories, then take a look here. The script was also a semifinalist in the 2013 Tracking Board Launchpad competition.

-If you’re trying to break into the TV industry, take the time to explore Fighting Broke, a new website that offers up some very helpful advice and insight in doing just that.

X + Y = you(r script)

Two individual great things combine to make a new great thing
Two individual great things combine to make a new great thing

Scenario time! You find yourself in the mythical elevator with the even more mythical open-minded Hollywood exec. Their attention is all yours for the next 30 seconds. Your moment to shine is at hand!

You give ’em your honed-to-perfection logline. They react with raised eyebrows, a slight tilt of the head and an intrigued “Hmm.” The fish is nibbling at that hook, but the deal ain’t sealed yet.

“How would you pitch that?” they ask. “What’s your X meets Y?”

In other words, what two movies does your script incorporate elements from while telling a unique and original story?

I’ve read arguments both for and against doing this. Personally, I don’t have anything against doing it, but usually try to avoid it, preferring to let the logline do the selling.

But sometimes you’re going to need those two points of reference to offer up a stronger idea of what somebody can expect from your story.

It’s also important to name films that are well-known, successful or both. Avoid box office flops and the obscure at all costs! There’s also the question of timeliness, but I’ll get into that in a second.

Case in point: The folks at the Tracking Board Launchpad gave each semifinalist script it’s own landing page, featuring a thumbnail sketch of details (logline, genre, contact info, etc.)

Part of what they wanted from the writers was their “X meets Y” pitch.

Since I couldn’t go with the phrase that served as my mantra during the writing process (retro sci-fi steampunk pirates), I thought “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN meets STAR WARS” summed it up nicely.

The response was that this was just “okay”, but the story didn’t seem as reminiscent of STAR WARS. Maybe there was another film that was more similar?

Fortunately for me, K was right there next to me during this exchange and suggested “How about ‘PIRATES meets THE LAST STARFIGHTER?'”

Yeah, that works. Definitely a stronger connection with my script on several levels.

Maybe my only nit to pick is that it’s not the most recent of films. 1984, to be precise. Almost 30 years old(!). But it’s still pretty well-known and is usually mentioned as part of “they don’t make ’em like that anymore”, so 2 points in my favor. If you’ve never seen it, you should really make a point to do so.

(And just to put it in perspective, STAR WARS is over 35 years old, but is probably a little more in the public eye.)

So take a look at your script. Put some thought into what best makes up your “X meets Y”.

That way, the next time someone asks “How would you pitch that?”, you’re ready to go.

One good turn

No problem. I'm happy to help.
No problem. I’m happy to help.

An incredibly amazing thing happened to me in a remarkably short timeframe.

My script DREAMSHIP is on the Black List’s public site. You have to pay every month to keep it on there, and if you want a professional reader to review it, you have to pay for that too.

My family’s currently involved in the ongoing economic recovery, so we have to be careful about where we spend money.

I was content paying the monthly fee, but reluctant to spring for a review or two.

Then came the results of the Tracking Board Launchpad contest. The whole manager thing. I liked how everything was developing.

I wanted to know more about some of the other scripts in the contest, so I checked out loglines and the pitch for each (“X meets Y”, which will probably be the subject of a post next week). Some of them sounded very intriguing, so I wrote to the writers asking to read their scripts.

One declined, wanting to wait until they signed. No problem.

Another was flattered, sent it, and asked to read mine. Again, no problem.

But this writer also noticed my script was on the Black List with an 8/10 score from one rating. Why didn’t I get a second review, which would make it more visible and raise its profile?

Two reasons: I was reluctant to spend the money, and even though I did well in a high-profile contest, I was still nervous about getting a bad review. The fear of rejection never goes away.

But I said I’d probably eventually bite the bullet and do it. Maybe the overtime from working July 4th & 5th would help.

So while I was working on the 4th, I got a very interesting email from someone at the Black List (who apparently was also working on the 4th).

Apparently this writer who had encouraged me to spring for a second review took matters into their own hands and offered to pay for my second review.

Gasp.

And the Black List folks thought this was so nice, they decided to give me the second review for free.

Double gasp.

Somebody I only know through a handful of emails did something extremely nice and generous that has the potential to make a significant positive impact on my career.

What can you possibly say to this? I was sincerely and honestly touched by such an act of generosity, and sent my thanks to both.

Hopefully someday I can return the favor to this writer in one way or another, and if things work out, try to help out others in a similar fashion.

Despite what you may think, not every writer is out to steal your ideas, or play dirty and step all over you just to advance their own agenda.

There are still nice people willing to help you out, sometimes when you’re not even expecting it. I’m all about helping others when I can, and an act like this just makes me want to do it more.

Destination: uncharted territory

And my journey continues…

First and foremost, thanks to everybody for the hearty congrats. Words of encouragement from one’s peers are always nice, doubly so when it’s from people you know are good writers.

I’ll also admit to sending updates of my recent accomplishments to my old writing group, more with the intent of “Hey kids, ain’t this swell?” rather than “Suck on it, losers!”

And a big mazel tov to the 24 other semifinalists, 10 finalists and the top 3 winners of the Tracking Board Launchpad contest. Best of luck to all of you on your future endeavors! Celebrate in your desired appropriate style. I find pie to always be a solid viable option.

Speaking of which (the writing stuff, not the pie), these are exciting times. I don’t think I’ve ever been this close to something potentially happening with one of my scripts before – he said with fingers firmly crossed.

There isn’t a writer out there, including yours truly, who doesn’t daydream about achieving some kind of success while they hammer away at their latest project.

But things are different for me now, and a new learning curve is underway.  I’m a bit nervous, but still quite psyched about it.

This is exactly what I’ve been working towards, and feel very fortunate to have even made it this far. I hope everybody can experience this kind of sensation at least once.

So all I can do now is keep writing and maintain a positive attitude while staying reasonably sane and level-headed.

I’m a huge fan of tales from the trenches, so any anecdotes of early-in-my-career experiences and such are more than welcome in the comments below.

-Movie of the Moment: MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (2013). I didn’t think there was really a demand for this; the first one seemed more than enough. Despite it’s box office success, I wouldn’t call this another home run for Pixar. A triple, maybe. And kudos to them for making the college experience as G-rated/Disney-safe as possible.

V was interested in seeing it, but she didn’t laugh that much. There were chuckles from both of us, but not as many as you would expect.

Still, glad we saw it, especially in 2-D, and at one of SF’s remaining single-screen theatres. We’re always happy to send them business.

-It’s heartbreaking on several levels to read how much THE LONE RANGER is sounding more and more like a train wreck (no pun intended). Hopefully this won’t be yet another death knell for westerns in 21st century, such as the one I’m working on.  I’m discouraged, but not defeated.