Q & A with Anat Wenick of The Write Script

Anat Golan-Wenick started her career in the entertainment business working as a production assistant and researcher in a team that produced series for a large educational channel, while also pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Film/Television and English Literature. After graduation, Anat moved to Los Angeles to dip her hands into the screenwriting pool. Her screenplays have won or placed in contests like Sundance Table Read My Screenplay, StoryPros, Scriptapalooza and others, with one getting optioned by the producer of THE LAST WORD with Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried.

After taking a script analysis class, Anat discovered her true passion in the entertainment business: reading and improving other writers’ scripts. She became a reader for companies like Amazon Studios, Crispy Twig Productions, The Radmin Company, the Atlanta Film Festival and others, while developing connections with creative voices she aspires to bring to the big and small screens. In her spare time, Anat volunteers as the Secretary on the Board of the San Fernando Valley Writers’ Club (a chapter of the California Writers’ Club).

What’s the last thing you read/watched you considered to be exceptionally well-written?

Not really “the last thing”, but KIDDING on Showtime is a great example of how dialogue, visuals and story come together perfectly. Also on Showtime is I’M DYING UP HERE, which very skillfully weaves many plotlines together. Netflix’s SHTISEL is an example of how a story about a seemingly insignificant part of the world’s population can be made relatable. And for those catering to the younger audience, I recommend studying BOY MEETS WORLD. In terms of reading, THE CARTOONIST’S MASK by Ranan Lurie is a book I’d love to see adapted to screen.

How’d you get your start in the industry?

I always thought I would be a screenwriter. But an internship (followed by a full time position) at a TV station, working on a youth drama, set me on another course. I was a rookie intern when I was allowed to join my first script meeting. I sat quietly, just hoping to learn as much as possible, when the director, an amazing woman by the name of Yael Graf, turned to me and asked for my opinion. Without thinking, I said the solution won’t work. A second later, I was mourning the loss of the best (and only) internship I ever had, when much to my surprise, the director actually wanted to know why I reached such a conclusion. Based on my explanation, the script was revised.

A few years later, I took a script reading class. Based on my analysis, the instructor encouraged me to pursue this career. My hope is to move from script reading to creative executive so I can work with undiscovered writers to help bring their stories to the screen.

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

Akiva Goldsman once said: “Writing is both a pleasure and a struggle. There are times when it’s really aversive and unpleasant, and there are times when it’s wonderful and fun and magical, but that’s not the point. Writing is my job. I’m not a believer of waiting for the muse. You don’t put yourself in the mood to go to your nine-to-five job, you just go. I start in the morning and write all day. Successful writers don’t wait for the muse to fill themselves unless they’re geniuses. I’m not a genius. I’m smart, I have some talent, and I have a lot of stubbornness. I persevere. I was by no means the best writer in my class in college. I’m just the one still writing.”

You can absolutely become a better writer. But just like any other job – if you want to be good at it, you have to study it, stay on top of new trends, and practice, practice, practice.

What do you consider the components of a good script?

Visual over telling. Don’t say “he walks into a room,” say “he skips, dashes, stumble, falls, dances, shuffles into a room,” etc.

Know the genre you’re writing. Nothing wrong with a horror rom-com, but make sure characteristics of all genres are present in the script.

A well-executed “wait for it” moment. Scripts that constantly challenge me to wonder what will come next, even in based-on-true-event movies. Sure, we all know the Titanic is going to sink, but we wonder what will happen to the protagonists.

If you spent time developing your characters’ external and internal conflicts, make sure to address them during the climactic moment. In CASABLANCA, Rick must get Ilsa and Victor safely to the airplane (external), while saying goodbye and convincing the love of his life to exit his (internal).

Good balance between dialogue and action sequences. Allowing the two to play off of one another, rather than feeding viewer/reader with a spoon.

What are some of the most common screenwriting mistakes you see?

Excessive usage of voiceover for no reason. Personally, I’m not one of those “never voiceover” believers, but use it with caution.

Unimaginative character description (i.e. JANE DOE, 26, pretty).

Unnecessary camera and other directorial instructions as well as endless parentheticals in dialogue sequences.

Undeveloped subplots.

Usage of “Starts to,” “Begins to,” “Commences to,” etc. as well as “beat.” These phrases can kill the flow of a screenplay, especially when writing an action-adventure movie. Instead of using “beat”, state what causes it (i.e. biting lip, looking away, cracking knuckles, etc.). Instead of “starts to walk but rethinks it,” consider “marches off. Halts.

What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?

I would read anything, but if you’re going to write about vampires or zombies, make sure you put a fresh spin or angle on the genre. WARM BODIES and INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE are two good examples. If writing a romcom, love doesn’t have to be the ultimate goal. In WORKING GIRL, the protagonist wanted a career, and along the way she found love.

What are some key rules/guidelines every writer should know?

Read, watch, internalize, and execute in your own writing, repeat.

Connect with other professionals. You never know when an early connection will lead to a later opportunity.

When receiving comments, always thank the person even if you don’t agree with them.

Your work may get rejected not because it’s not great, but because it’s not what the company is looking for. Do your research before sending.

Entertainment attorneys are a lot more approachable than agents and managers, and often can get your screenplay to the right hands.

People will have a more favorable view of you if when boasting about your achievements, you take a moment to acknowledge others. So when posting “my screenplay just advanced to quarterfinals/semi-finals/finals in “this and this” contest, add “congrats to all others who advanced” or “thank you for this opportunity, etc.

Even if making the slightest change to your script, make sure to save it as a new version. You never know when you may want to refer to an older version.

Always email yourself the latest version of your script, not just in PDF format, but in the writing-program-of-your-choice format, so you can restore the file if the software fails to open.

Ever in a slump and can’t come up with an idea? Public domain is your friend. Either adapt a project, or use it as the base for your own interpretation (e.g. how EASY A was inspired by THE SCARLET LETTER).

Have you ever read a script where you thought “This writer really gets it”? If so, what were the reasons why?

The number of scripts I recommended can be counted on one hand. However, I have yet to encounter a project that was not salvageable, even those I scored extremely low. I encourage all writers to watch Toy Story 3: Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned to realize we all struggle to “really get it.”

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

Winning a contest can do wonders to boast the spirit, but winning alone will do nothing to advance a writing career, unless you build on the momentum. I recommend listening to Craig James, Founder of International Screenwriters’ Association (ISA) advice on Screenplay Contest Strategy.

How can people find out more about you and the services you provide?

I mostly read for agencies, studios and contests. Screenwriters often don’t want to hear the truth about their screenplays, they just want someone to say they’re great, as Josh Olson wrote in his article “I Will Not Read Your F*%!ing Script”. However, I have done quite a few free readings for aspiring screenwriters. They can find me through my website The Write Script, social media like LinkedIn and Twitter, or through the San Fernando Valley Writers’ Club, where I volunteer as a Board Member. Writers don’t have to pay big bucks for a quality reading. Join a writing group or a writing community like Talentville that tells it like it is, and swap screenplays.

Do your research if you plan to pay for someone to read your script, especially if they boast about recommending your material to their contacts within the industry. I once encountered a person advertising his reading services on known screenwriting platforms, stating he was a final-round reader/judge for the Austin Film Festival and an Emmy Award Winner. Since the prices he charged were low for someone with such experience, I researched his claims and found out they were far from true. This is not to say the person didn’t give good feedback, but writers can receive the same type of professionalism for much less, or even for free.

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

I have yet to find a pie I haven’t liked, and not for lack of trying. I volunteer as a tribute to boldly go where no pie lover has gone before to try new flavors. Has hazelnut chocolate cheesecake pie been invented? (Editor’s note: it has.)

Networking: a DIY project

For the past few years, I’ve organized a networking event for Bay Area and northern California screenwriters and those in fields connected to screenwriting, always in a charming deli a stone’s throw from the Pacific.

I got to meet a lot of great people, and stay in contact with many of them to this day.

Normally, I’d be in the early planning stages to do it again in early December, but the current world situation has made that pretty much impossible. Even more tragically, the deli had lost so much business over the past few months, they had to shut down for good.

So no networking event for the foreseeable future.

But that doesn’t mean writers can’t still connect with other writers. All it takes is a little organization, strategy, patience, and manners. Actually, it takes a lot of all of those.

Luckily for you, I’ve written about this sort of thing before – several times, in fact – so here are some informative networking-related posts from the archives.

Enjoy.

Getting to know you

Try the direct approach

Lattes, lunches & kindred spirits

Hey! Long time no (preferred form of communication)

Opportunity’s knockin’ once again. You ready?

A few months ago, I presented an extensive list of film & TV scripts as part of an effort to help each of those writers spread the word about their work.

It offered up an amazing assortment of scripts, and some of the writers asked if there were any plans to do it again. Which brings us to today.

A post just like the last one is in the works, and slated to go up on Oct 30. If you missed out last time, or have a new script you’d like to submit, this is your chance to be included.

Here’s how it works.

Email the following info about your script here with the subject line “Maximum Z Script Showcase”:

Film or TV

Title

Author(s)

Genre

Logline

Awards (if applicable)

Your email (in case somebody would like to contact you about reading your script)

Two very important details to keep in mind:

ONE SCRIPT PER PERSON. Sorry. No exceptions.

and

DO NOT SEND THE SCRIPT!

Submissions will be accepted until Thursday, Oct 29.

So don’t delay, send it today! Or at least reasonably soon.

Don’t be that person

yelling

The story you are about to read is true. Only the names have been omitted to protect the innocent.

The script of a friend of mine has had some positive results in the contest world, and the most recent venture was getting professional analysis on it, resulting in somewhat decent scores.

I’ve read this script, and it’s very, very good. It takes a classic story everybody knows, and then examines what happens AFTER the events of that story. There’s a lot to like about it, and my friend is doing what they can to get it out there.

Part of their effort is seeking advice from those with more experience. Sometimes it’s via social media, private online groups, or public community forums. We’re in several of the same groups, so I’ve seen a lot of my friend’s posts.

Not that I consider myself to be especially ‘experienced’, but since becoming connected with this person, I’ve done what I can to be supportive and helpful when applicable.

Earlier this week, my friend came to me with a dilemma.

They’ve been frequenting a community forum where one of the members regularly belittles or downplays any form or announcement of good news posted by another writer. Sometimes it’s along the lines of “”Look, this is a tough industry. If you can’t take the criticism, you’re totally in the wrong field, which it looks like you are.”

I also marveled at how much time people tend to spend on these forums. Many comments tend to be of the “I know better than you, so bow before my obvious superiority” sort. This was a big part of why I stepped away from them. I’d rather spend my time, y’know, actually writing.

Quick side note – the person claims to have representation, and some optioned scripts as well as a news release from a few years ago about their latest script being shopped around. Both my friend and I scoured IMDB Pro for any mention of them at all, but…bupkis. Take from that what you will.

As much as I consider every other writer to be my competition, I don’t think I’d ever actively try to dissuade somebody from trying. Would I remind them this is an extremely tough field to break into, let alone thrive in, and that their overall chances of success are very small? Yes.

I’ve also dealt with “professionals” who’ve talked down to me and told me my story ideas were stupid and worthless, using the reasoning “I’m just treating you the way somebody in the industry would. If you can’t take it, maybe you shouldn’t be trying.”

Not having as much experience as some, the people I have encountered were actually polite, helpful and supportive. If something didn’t work for them, I’d at least get “thanks, but no thanks.”

This does compel me to ask:  is that really how the industry treats most people?

This most recently came to a head when my friend asked about suggestions for how to use the positive results they received from a reputable script analysis service as a marketing tool.

The same person was the first to respond, saying the concept wasn’t that original, so the script didn’t have much of a chance, and marketing it would be a very tough sell. When asked what they would recommend, they seemed to just repeat the same things.

My advice to my friend was to ignore 99 percent of what that other person said, but keep in mind that yes, the field for potential interest in their script is limited, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t at least try. There’s no guarantee, but you never know who might say yes.

I made some suggestions of possible strategies, and summed it up with the standard “if they say no, you move on to the next one.”

As many of you probably already know, I’m a big believer not just in networking, but also in supporting the writing community. I try to help when I can any way I can.

This other person seemed to run completely counter to that. I just don’t see the point in why they would. To make themselves seem important? To show off their accomplishments? Wouldn’t they rather be seen in a positive light, rather than a negative one? I know I would.

I also mentioned to my friend that treating people like that could eventually backfire. Just because you might be a nobody today doesn’t mean you couldn’t be somebody important tomorrow.

And writers have long memories. We tend to remember those who leave bad impressions.

The best I could offer my friend was that I was there to help them and offer encouragement and advice when needed, and I hope other writers feel the same about their friends as well.

-The fine folks at Shore Scripts have a couple of deadlines coming up fast.

For all you filmmakers, tomorrow – 29 August – is the early deadline for their Short Film Fund 2 competition. Here’s a link to an article about Lindiwe Makgalemele, the winner of Short Film Fund 1.

And for writers of film and TV, this Monday – 31 August – is the final deadline for the Shore Scripts 2020 Feature & TV Pilot contest.

From out of the archives

speedreading

The latest draft of the horror-comedy is complete – clocking in at a respectable 102 pages. It’s out to my savvy readers, so now the focus shifts to some semi-overdue reads for a couple of colleagues.

So while I dive into those, here are a few classic posts from days gone by…

Enjoy.

May I be of some assistance?

More work now, better results later

I know the rules, and do not hesitate to break them

Same destination, different route

Send it. Forget it.