Monthly Archives: December 2013

Most people this time of year make New Year’s Resolutions. Me? I do my best not to because I know myself and I know I’ll never keep any of them. I never have.

I do have some goals for 2014 though. One of them is to make it as good as 2013, professionally.

Personally, 2013 mostly sucked gas, especially for my fabulous wife, lots of loss and health concerns. I won’t bore you with the details, but I am hopeful 2014 is better for us that way and especially for her.

For my writing career, it was nothing short of miraculous.  One sold script (with a writing partner), four production rewrite jobs, one cable TV series episode job, two produced films. I got to visit the set of one of those films for a day and see them film something I wrote. I never got to visit the sets of my first two produced films in 2012, even though I was invited. This year I got to. The producer was mega gracious and immediately asked a PA to get me a director’s chair and set it up next to his so I could see the monitors. The director pulled me onto the set and explained how he was setting the shots up. The crew was friendly and engaging. The actors thanked me for writing such a good script. (Whether they meant it or not is inconsequential) It was like hundreds of daydreams coming true. I pinched myself a lot that day.

My dark comic thriller sped its way to a 2014 start date with some amazing attachments. I got a nice acting job in a very funny film and enjoyed it a lot. It’s been three years since I did a film only as an actor and it was FUN.  I directed my first short film. It was a ton of work and a ton of fun and the jury's still out, in editing now.  I think it'll be funny. And this month, to put a big bow on the year and thanks to the Black List, I optioned a big commercial comedy to a very successful production company. And everybody paid me on time. A good year.

Uh oh. Did I dream it? I just looked at what I wrote and it seems too good to be true.

Well, I also got yelled at by my manager a few times. I didn’t write one original script the whole year. He also told me to either update my website (which I hadn’t done in three years) or dump it. I updated it and added the blog. I also lost out on some writing gigs and got some disappointing passes along the way, too. And I got rousted by US Marshalls at gun point while traveling on an AmTrak train, something I’d rather not have happen again. Hmmm, the list of not so good things is filling my head now, so I’ll stop ruminating about 2013.


Lose 40 pounds. Big one. Have to. For my health. For my family. For me. Not a resolution. A goal. This one is gonna be the hardest. Why I bought a treadmill and put it next to my desk in my office. It will NOT collect dust.

Write three new originals, at least one with my sometime writing partner Jeff Willis. (I’ll do a whole blog one day on how ultra cool this guy is and how much he deserves all the accolades he’s been getting lately.)

Have at least two films shot. (The aforementioned Dark Comic Thriller and a romantic comedy I wrote with Jeff that we sold last year)

Option a couple more scripts.

Get a couple of good rewrite jobs. Maybe get to adapt a book.

Maybe write a book. Maybe.

Get an agent. Yeah. I know. I still don’t have one. I have a wonderful manager though.

Couple of acting jobs would be nice.

Realize I’m asking for too much.

And the one that will happen for sure, keep trying to give back.

When I first started to try and do this writing thing a whole bunch of people in this business helped me out beyond what I could have ever expected. They encouraged me to keep at it. They championed my work. They got me through doors I could have never dreamed of getting to, let alone through. The help I received was staggering.

I promised myself I would do the same thing if I was ever in a position to do so. I’m not completely in that position yet. I’m still on the fringes of this business, but I do love to encourage writers and believe that there is room for anyone to succeed.

So… to my family, all my friends, colleagues, business partners, writers I know, writers I don’t know, I wish you all a beautiful 2014 filled with your dreams coming true and big pots of gold at the end of every rainbow. But mostly I wish you personal satisfaction, because that… is what pays the most.

Last week, I had the pleasure of getting lunch with a young man my youngest daughter had asked me to talk with about screenwriting. She’d had a conversation with him at her job and the topic got around to his dream of being a screenwriter for a living. She responded, “That’s what my Dad does.”, and thus our lunch.

He was all smiles, an earnest young man just out of the Marines with a tour in Iraq. I thanked him for his service. He smiled and said he had a lot of questions for me.

“I read up on you and you have a bunch of movies you wrote out there. That’s so cool.” Flattery will get me to pay for lunch, so he started off very well.

He took out a notepad and a pen and readied it to write down my infinite wisdom. I told him to fire away with his questions.

“Well,” he said, “I’m planning a two week trip to Los Angeles and before I went I thought I’d fill out the applications first and get them out. Do you know where I can get some?”

I was confused. “What applications?”

“Screenwriter applications. To get a job writing movies. I took a screenwriting class at my junior college and did pretty good.”

There are times in your life you are faced with telling somebody something they don’t want to hear or are not prepared to hear. Sometimes you feign ignorance to get out of it or soft peddle it keep from hurting someone or stomping on their dreams. Sometimes, you wince, bite the bullet, and storm forward. As he sat there, across from me in the booth, all smiles, I stormed forward because in the long run it was the right thing to do.

“There are no applications.”

Then I explained to him the realities of the job. The only way you get a job as a screenwriter is to have a bunch of great screenplays already written, and then become a business person and market them and yourself to the industry. Then if they like the way you write, they either buy one of your screenplays (and let someone like me rewrite them) or they like your style so much they hire you to rewrite a script, probably one of mine. I chuckled at my joke. He didn’t. His smile was now half gone.

“Oh, I don’t have any scripts written.” Then he perked up. “But what if you have some great ideas?”

I explained that nobody buys ideas from first time writers, they buy the realizations of those ideas, that you can’t even copyright ideas, and that as a writer what makes you special is how you take those ideas and use them to write a completed story that is unique.

One quarter of the smile was left.

“That could take a long time.”

“Yes”, I explained, “it does. It took me eighteen years.”

His eyes flashed sideways like he was looking for an escape route. He steadied himself and looked back at me. No smile now. He was in serious mode. “Ok. Well then, I guess I need to write some scripts.”


Then the other shoe dropped. “Ok. Then how do I get my Star Wars idea to the Star Wars people? I have the perfect idea for the next set of films.”

Man, he was not going to make this easy. And I was off, explaining to him that the Star Wars people didn’t want his idea, didn’t need his idea, and would never ever look at his ideas, which was upsetting to him. I explained to him about intellectual property and how Star Wars was a business. Just like a bakery or an automobile factory. You wouldn’t walk into either and tell the owners to how to bake their cakes or design their cars. I explained to him that the whole movie industry was a business. A big money making (sometimes) business that, despite how much we sometimes don’t want it to, operates like any big business, not some heaven-like playland where you apply for screenwriting jobs and the next day they’re making your film starring whatever actor YOU want. Now he was frowning.

It’s not fun smashing someone’s preconceived notions. Especially a young man so well meaning and genuine. But he rallied, much to my relief, and said he was ready to learn.

So he used his pen and pad and wrote down everything I had to tell him about getting started. Some good books to buy, where to read scripts, websites to share scripts and get feedback after he’s done, about doing research, about writing what you know, about using his Marine experiences to maybe write a good yarn based on what he saw and experienced in Iraq…

He took it all in and wrote it all down. And… I think he’ll follow up. I hope he does. I told him how hard it was going to be, but also told him, “Hey. I do make a living at this, so it can be done.”

I paid the check, we shook hands, and parted ways. I wish him nothing but success. He’s a nice young man. And I feel good I opened his eyes and got him pointed, at least, in the right direction.

Welcome to my inaugural Blog. Why am I blogging? I love to write. And while I do write for a living, thanks to the kindness of the film and TV industry (and some miraculous help from God), sometimes when I’m stuck on a project or between projects, like I am now, this will give my writing psyche an outlet.

Luckily, something great happened to coincide with the timing of this first blog. Something to talk about.

As a screenwriter, besides writing a good script (which is the single hardest thing to do), the next hardest thing to do is to get your scripts out to be seen. Not just seen by people who would read them, but by people who would buy them and make them.

So let’s start with the understanding that you already have a great script (hard to do) and it’s ready to be exposed to the world. Now you want to sell it. How do you do that? (For all you experienced writers out there rolling your eyes because I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, I have a lot of non-industry friends who will read this.)

The standard ways:

Query: You put pen to paper (or nowadays fingers to keyboard) and write a compelling two paragraph note to producers, production companies, or potential agents and managers explaining why they should read your masterpiece. This does work, but you better be one damn outstanding letter writer. I’m not. I’ve never written one, but would if I had to.

Networking: This is where you ACTUALLY MEET PEOPLE IN THE INDUSTRY AND CULTIVATE RELATIONSHIPS. The CAPS were there because a lot of writers think networking is meeting someone in the industry for the first time and expecting them to do anything you want to make you successful and rich. Nope. Not it. Doesn’t work that way. Networking takes time and effort and developing genuine friendships with the people you’re networking with. Anything other than that is taking advantage of people. And the people in the industry know this and don’t like it. They don’t like it a lot.

Manager and Agent: To get one see: Query & Networking.

The non-standard ways:

Contests: Tough one. There used to be only a few of these and they meant something. Now there are too many to count and they don’t. If you win The Nicholl it still means something, but again… I think at last count there were 7000+ entries last year and one person won.


And this is where we get to my good news.

For a long while in Hollywood there has been a short list of the best unproduced screenplays, for that year, published every December. Writers kill to be on it. It means instant legitimacy. It’s called “The Black List”. (More experienced writer eye rolling allowed here).

Well, with all this goodwill in the industry and only being a yearly thing, the man who runs the Black List, Franklin Leonard, came up with a way for writers to get their scripts out to the industry all year long. The Black List 3.0. A paid service where you can get your script hosted on the site and then, if you want, get paid reviews by professional readers employed by the Black List. And if your reviews are rated 8 to 10 (on a 10 scale), you make their published “Top List” and your script goes on a weekly Email blast to industry professionals. And sometimes those scripts get picked up (optioned) by those companies. A good thing.

I have a great manager, John McGalliard of Chaotik Management, a man who I got through networking. (Thank you Jay Lowi) He’s the man who got my work out to production companies and how I got my first credited produced film (hell, he got me four credited produced films) and all my wonderful rewrite and write for hire jobs. He’s my friend and very good at what he does. The only thing wrong with him is that he’s in too good physical shape. No one should be that fit.

So, after reading about this service and reading other writers discussions, pro and con, about it, I decided to see what it was all about myself with what I call “My Black List Experiment”.

Like most writers, I want to see what people think of my work and at the same time I’m scared to see what people think of my work. What makes the Black List different is that this is a place to find that out and maybe sell something at the same time. So, I placed one of my original scripts, a very big broad commercial comedy, on the Black List... and, to my relief, the readers rated it with 8's and one 9. (I like these readers)

I hovered near the top of their “Top List” and was included in the email blast a few weeks in a row. More than a few downloads by industry pros later and… Holy Smokes… got an email and a call from a production company that has made and distributed eight films in the last three years, some of them very successful. Not some fly by night wannabes, but real industry players. They wanted to option the script with every intention of putting it on their film slate and making it in the next couple of years. (Movies take a long time)

They sent a contract. Time to call John. I did. He handled the option negotiations with his usual care, toughness, and fairness, which ended up being a more than a month long. And now… thanks to his due diligence, the contracts are signed.

(fireworks go here)

My two foot tall stack of original scripts now has one less script on it. Yay. It also means I have to write more.

The Black List Works. It worked for me. It’s not going to work for everyone every time. It can’t. But it’s a viable new way to get your work out there. And real honest to goodness moviemakers are using it to find content. Thank you Franklin. I owe you a drink next time I’m in LA.

Writing Outside of LA, My Interview with Bob Saenz

Screen shot 2I had the pleasure of discussing screenwriting with Bob Saenz, a Bay Area local, actor, screenwriter, and all around great guy. In my quest to capture the screenwriting activities of folks in the Bay Area and prove that it can be done without living in Los Angeles, I interviewed Bob about his experience and advice for those of us trying to make our first sell. I am sure you will find his comments useful!
Justin: You have proven that you don’t have to live in Los Angeles to write screenplays. Do you feel this can be attributed to any one aspect of your career/one choice?
Bob: Yes. I don’t want to live there. Easy as that. I love the Bay Area. It’s my home and with skype and email and conference calls and Southwest Airlines at my beck and call, I’ve never had anyone blink twice that I live here instead of LA. Doesn’t mean it will always be that way, but so far so good. I’ve only had to be in LA the next day once and I made the meeting. Oh… I also wrote good scripts that people wanted and where I lived didn’t matter as long as I had those. 

Justin: That is great you have been able to make it work. Like you said, the good script is key! I understand you have acted as well. How much do you feel your acting has helped with your craft as a writer? How much has it helped with the networking to establish yourself as a writer? Did you act only in the Bay area, or did you live in Los Angeles at some point?

Bob: Yes, I started out as an actor. I’m a 20 year SAG/Aftra member. Being on sets has helped me as a writer more than being an actor (I’m not that great an actor anyway), and I’ve been lucky to have been on sets, both film and TV,  with some iconic

directors and actors and kept my mouth shut, for the most part, and my eyes open and gotten an amazing education on how film and TV operate. And yes, the networking I did on set was crucial to my writing getting seen by the right people. I’ve been fortunate to have never sent a query letter to anyone. Most of my acting jobs were here in the Bay Area, but I have been hired to act in LA films and gone there to do it. Fortunately, for the viewing public, I’m not acting much anymore. Too busy with writing jobs, thank you God.

Justin: Haha, I am sure the viewing public misses you! But as someone who has acted and now writes, I completely agree that sometimes writing can be more fulfilling. I understand you have adapted fiction and non-fiction works for the screen. What is the biggest challenge of doing this? I have considered approaching one of my published friends about such an endeavor. Would you advise aspiring writers try this as another way to get their foot in the door?

Bob: It’s a fabulous experience and one that any writer hoping to do this should try at some point. I’ve adapted a non-fiction book, working with the author to make sure I did it justice and adapted a novel without the author’s help. Both times I had to learn to combine events and plot points and characters, add scenes and characters, delete subplots, you name it…. all to make a book fit a two hour viewing window and try to not lose the original material. And if you have the rights to a great book and can turn out a great script based on it, YES… it can be another way through the door. I just optioned the rights to a story that was in the newspapers all over the world last year.


Justin: I look forward to discussing this further, as I have some ideas in mind for books I would like to option from an author I know. It certainly seems a smart way to go. IMDB shows your movie “Help for the Holidays” came out in 2012 and “Extracurricular Activities” is in production. That is very exciting! How many scripts did you write to get to this point? Are you willing to share any particularly interesting adventures you have had along the way?

Bob: Help for the Holidays was a Hallmark Channel Christmas film in 2012. It was the number one rated original film on Hallmark in 2012 and the number 10 rated Hallmark film of all time. It did help that Summer Glau starred in it, but it was an unqualified hit for them. And didn’t hurt me much with them either.

And I just got a director’s cut last week of Cupid’s Bed & Breakfast, the next film I wrote for them. A romantic comedy/drama that’s not as cutesy as the title might make you think. It’s not even on IMDb yet, but will be soon. I am unbelievably happy with the way the film turned out.

I sold them another original script, “The Right Girl”, a romantic comedy that I wrote with my good friend (and great writer) Jeff Willis. We’re doing paid rewrites on it as we speak. It will shoot sometime in the fall. And Extracurricular Activities is scheduled to shoot about the same time. It’s a theatrical film. One that will be released to theaters. Hopefully, a lot of theaters. I’m really happy with the well-known (Oscar nominated) actors involved but can’t say anything public yet about it. It’s being packaged by CAA.

All I can say is that it wasn’t an overnight thing. It’s taken close to 20 years. Lots of rejection and lots of incredible heartbreaking moments when something almost got made but didn’t and lots of fakes and charlatans along the way who prey on new writers (luckily I got good really fast at spotting them),  and through it all I never gave up. I have a couple of dozen scripts and four original pilots all ready to go and ideas on my white board for many more scripts, including two true stories.

And this week, signed a contract to write an episode of a new hour long cable network series for the fall… can’t tell you what it is yet, but will be able to in the near future I think. And… a couple of really good and successful directors who say they have ideas for me when I come up for air.

Justin: That is wonderful! You have accomplished a great amount and I can’t wait to hear more about this cable network series. Congrats! You seem to have a talent for writing movies that are contained, meaning there are no alien’s blowing up the world or massive car chases. Is this part of your strategy? Do you have any words of wisdom to share with aspiring screenwriters regarding this?

Bob: There’s a very good reason for this. Big movies can only be sold to four or five people in the industry. Small films can be sold to a whole lot more. I’ve chosen to go after the better opportunity. I always have a budget in mind before I even start a script, so I know I have to write a great script within those numbers.  It works for me.  Producers can always make something bigger as they develop a script. I’ve found they don’t buy something with the idea of cutting it back. It’s easier to sell a lower budget film. It’s a fact. Oh… I do have a very funny massive car chase in one of my scripts, but then it’s one where I said, “To hell with the budget”. But it’s the only one of my originals with that kind of budget…. all the other ones are a lot smaller.

Justin: Finally, do you have any other advice to other screenwriters in the Bay are that want to get established here without relocating?

Bob: Keep at it. Write. Write. Write. Read good scripts and see how it’s done. Read awful scripts and see how it’s not done. Write. Write. And write. Don’t give up. And when you think you have that one great script… get a manager. Query them with it. My manager, who I got on a referral from a director, has made a world of difference to my career. And it all came from one script I wrote that everyone loves in Hollywood, “Extracurricular Activities”. And I never told people I lived in Northern California before they read it. They never asked and I never told them. Afterward, it didn’t matter. Oh and you need to have money to get back and forth to LA. I go every other month or so for a week at a time. It can be expensive.SONY DSC

There you have it, words of wisdom we can all learn from. I plan on meeting up with Bob in the near future and getting to know him better. He seems like a great guy and even plays in a band called The BSides – check them out if you get a chance, and watch some of his films! It is comforting to know we have folks working outside of Los Angeles.


This interview appeared word for word on Justin’s site,