Monthly Archives: April 2014

who I never met or talked to in my life. The answer is No.

I cannot. I can’t give you any shortcuts either, because there are none. This is something you’re going to have to do yourself. But thanks for asking. Oh… do you know ANYTHING about me? Except the fact that you think I’m a working screenwriter? Did you think in our First Contact ever I was just going to say, “Sure. I’ll do everything in my power to get you a manager and agent.”?

Ok. I know that sounds obnoxious, but C’MON.

By the end of this year, I’ll have 8 produced and distributed films with my name credited as a writer. Eight. Most of them for Cable Networks for sure, but the ones released so far have great ratings. I have an original theatrical film that has a start date in June with a cast brewing I can only dream about. (Soon to be announced so I can talk more specifically) I have another original theatrical script optioned to a very good Production Company in New York who say they want to make it next year.

Now… you’re thinking this guy sure likes to talk about himself. There’s a point. I do not have an agent. Again… with all that… I do not have an agent. Can’t even get one interested. Why? Beats the hell out of me. One friend told me the other day he thinks I’m the “hardest working unknown screenwriter in LA”. I understand your frustration at being agentless, but when you have to ask a relatively unknown like me to help get you something I don’t even have myself? Just... wow…

Yes, I do have a manager. He’s been pretty good. Gotten me in a few rooms and I’ve turned those meetings into money for him.

How did I get him? By networking. After knowing a director for YEARS and him liking my work enough to option a script, he recommended me to my Manager. Then the manager read my work and liked it enough to take me on. I’ve had my manager for two and half years and in that time I’ve had multiple writing jobs for production companies, multiple rewrite jobs, and 4 produced films with 4 more on the horizon this year. Yes, a manager makes a difference.

He took me on because he read my work and thought he could make money from it. Not because I was a nice guy… or any kind of guy. He also liked the fact that I have a two foot tall stack of original scripts that he thought were very good.

YES. There are the exceptions you hear and read about, but I guarantee you the real story behind them is not unlike mine. Someone worked and worked on their craft and wrote and wrote and wrote and then networked or queried the right way. Most all overnight successes took years to get there.

You want an agent? A manager? Write GREAT scripts. More than one. Then query. And wait. And wait some more. Then query again. You can also spend money on something like the Black List, which for the right person with the right script can work, but again you need to write something GREAT. Not good. Great.

And don’t approach other people to do your work for you. People you don’t even know. Do the work yourself. Learn to network properly (see my blog on networking) and query intelligently. Learn about the people you’re querying. It’s all out there.

I wish you nothing but good fortune and success. There’s room for everyone to do well, but do it with a plan. And know it takes frigging time.

Thanks for letting me vent at your expense.

The amount of time between my Blogs varies. From as little as a couple of days to a couple of weeks. It all depends on what strikes me as a good reason to blog. I thought about it a few days ago when I was struggling to come up with a topic and decided to forget blogging until something happened organically.

Happened this morning. Another remark I read from a self professed new writer on Done Deal Pro. (Again, if you’re not visiting this website as a screenwriter you’re doing yourself an injustice, IMO). This writer had some innocuous questions about screenwriting and then got to his/her concern. Money. How much money will I make? Who gets paid the most, TV or Feature Writers?

Money. Riches. Some of that movie and TV money they throw in bushels at writers, who write while lounging in their opulent backyards by their pool.

You can generally separate new writers into two categories most of the time after talking to them.

1. Writers who love to write and create and want to see their work on the screen and are willing to put in the time and hard work to learn the craft of writing. Writers who would LOVE to make a living writing, but the money isn’t the ultimate goal. They live to write.

2. Writers who do it for what they think is the untold riches and fame they’ll get after they sell their masterpiece for millions.

If you’re in the first category, it’s easy to spot. You struggle over the craft. You vet every word of your script. Your worry about acts and turning points and character development and story. You care. You care a lot.

If you’re in the latter category. You want to know how big the checks are.

Sorry, Charlie. The checks aren’t nearly as big as you think. They can be good, if you can write well enough to get paid. But I’ve found the ones who end up getting paid are the writers in category 1.

And the chances are, even then, your first checks will be small. Non-union independent film small. A thousand to five thousand dollars small and maybe even less depending on who you deal with. I know because that’s where I started and where most of my friends who write started. Some are still trying to get started. Some have even given their scripts away for a writing credit. (Writing for nothing is another Blog, but know I am firmly against it.)

Chances also are very good your first check will be for an option and not a sale, anyway. Maybe for as little as a dollar or as much as a hundred dollars, with a few thousand due if they make the film. Most all (MOST ALL) optioned scripts never get made. Most all specs scripts never get made for that matter. So the chances are very good the most you might get for your optioned script is that dollar.

(By the way, to understand why specs have hit the tank and to understand from a knowledgeable insider why Hollywood has so radically changed in the last few years, I HIGHLY recommend Lynda Obst’s FABULOUS book, “Sleepless in Hollywood”. BUY IT. READ IT. It will open your eyes and scare you at the same time. I couldn’t put it down.)

So… If you’re trying to be a “screenwriter” for the big bucks, I’d reassess my goals if I was you. A Producer friend said to me not too long ago that “Screenwriting is the new Acting” when it comes to people trying to break in for the fame and fortune of it. (There’s a joke in there someplace) He’s never seen so many scripts. Well, bad scripts. Great scripts do tend to find their way to the top. There’s just damn few of them. Of all the scripts writers have given me to read in the last five years, I can count the great ones on two fingers. Not good ones. GREAT ones. And both of those were period pieces that right now are almost impossible to sell. (READ Lynda Obst’s Book)

Writer John Gary (@johngary on twitter) wrote a series of really harsh tweets you should look up and read on what he calls the Hope Machine, warning writers how impossible it is to attain their dreams of writing for a living. That if they’re going to write scripts, they need to do it for the joy of creation, not hopes of careers or money. (If I got your point wrong please excuse me, John) It was terrific and depressing at the same time. And a really good lesson in reality. (And read Lynda Obst’s BOOK, which I am NOT getting paid to shill, by the way)

Don’t chase dollars. It’s a chase you will not win. Yes, I will admit, I do make a pretty ok living as a screenwriter. But only in the last few years. It took me twenty years of writing poverty to get there. And… I’m still not in the WGA and have only had representation for maybe two years. After TWENTY YEARS of working at it. Learning. Writing and writing and writing.

Now… The film I wrote that goes into production later this year changes that, but for now, I get paid semi-well to write for non-union, mostly cable TV movie houses. It’s great work. Abundant work for me and an incredible training ground in Production and Development. I worked my ass off to get here and if all I was chasing was money to begin with, I would have given up a LONG time ago and be working at Home Depot.

Oh and I do have a pool, but not because of my writing.

Sometimes, writers ask me for advice of all kinds. More lately since I started the Blog.

Anyway, this last week I heard from a writing team who had written an adaptation based on a true story that was brought to them by a producer and the person whose story it was.

These writers did research. A lot of research. Worked hard on crafting the script. Took it to their writing group, workshopped it, got a lot feedback, and used those notes to improve it to the point where they thought they had a pretty darn good script.

Sounds pretty good, huh? Now, the producer wants the script and the owner of the story wants to bring on another writer to look at their script and possibly do a rewrite. All normal things for people to do trying to get a script ready for possible production.

Except… The writers have no contract. They were promised one. Never got it. Wrote the entire work without a deal in writing from anyone. They also accepted payment of one dollar. That they got. They said they’ve asked for the contract on numerous occasions and have gotten the run around. They have no manager or agent to help them either. Having either or both negates this whole blog, by the way. This is for the majority out there without representation.

So... Now the writers don’t want to send the script. They asked me what I would do. I told them I wouldn’t have written a damn word without a signed deal in the first place. They said they registered the script with the WGA, wouldn’t that protect them? From what? They accepted the dollar. They don’t own it. It’s a work for hire based on someone’s life they don’t have the rights to. All they’ve done is register their version of the story, which the producer can’t use without paying them. And that’s good. But they still don’t own the story and can’t sell it to anyone else.

So I told them, if it was me, I’d say, “Be happy to send the script when I get the contract that was promised.” So they did that. They heard back from the producer first. He said that he was dropping out of the project and goodbye. Don’t contact him again.

Next came a letter from the lawyer of person whose story it was. It said, “The project is dead. Don’t contact my client again.”

So, where does it leave these writers? With a ton of hard work and sweat gone and a script they can’t do a damn thing with. Time, and I’m sure money, they could have spent on their own original scripts.

Is this an unusual story? Not at all. These are smart, capable, nice people who have a dream to write films that get made and seen. A small example of the thousands and thousands who have the same dream. Heck, it was my dream.

The lure and promises of possible production and paid jobs is hard to resist for a screenwriter with a dream. I know. When I first started, I fell for it, too. Fell hard. Promises by “producers” who couldn’t buy their own coffee, but talked a good game. Only once I wrote while waiting for a contract that never came. Learned that lesson fast.

The lure. The dream. The excitement. It’s so easy to fall into the trap these writers did. That I did.

Then I got smart. No writing without a contract. None. No writing without a paycheck of some kind. Didn’t have to be a lot, depending on the project, but money needed to change hands. If someone doesn’t have a financial investment in what you’re doing for them, they can drop it without blinking an eye. Doesn’t hurt them one bit. You’re the only one who’s out. Your valuable time and effort wasted. Do you want to be in that kind of arrangement? Too many writers get into them every day. Are there exceptions that work out? Sure. But the percentage is so incredibly small, to me, it’s not worth the risk.

Finally, I also realized you can turn people down. Really. And you have the right to check out the people you’re dealing with. To ask them who they are and what they’ve done. To ask for references. If they are legit, they won’t bat an eye.

You have the right to negotiate, in good faith, a contract you’re both happy with and walk away if you’re not. Save yourself some grief.

One of my scripts, one that’s been optioned by six different companies, taught me how to do it. One very well known producer wanted to option it for his company. He sent me the contract. Not bad, but it had two sections with what I call “pull the wool over the naïve and excited writer’s eyes” clauses. Clauses like this are in a lot of contracts because like any good business, the business is going to try and get away with all they can. I don’t get mad about stuff like this. It’s business. And not just the film business. All big business.

We sat in a nice LA restaurant with a couple of his assistants and I looked him in the eye and slid the unsigned contract back over to him said I couldn’t sign the deal with those clauses the way they were. Sorry. The assistants were shocked. Shocked. Wasn’t he doing me a favor to option my script? Nope. It’s business. And you as a writer are in BUSINESS for yourself and you need to treat it that way. The minute you get emotional about it, you lose.

The producer smiled and asked me what I would suggest the clauses say. I told him one had to go completely and how I would redo the other. He asked “Would you walk away from this deal if I didn’t do it?” I smiled and said, “Only after dinner’s over, I’m enjoying the company.” He laughed. One of his assistants asked me if I was serious. The Producer looked at me and then at his assistant and answered for me. “Yes. He is.”

The bottom line, we came to an agreement that was satisfactory to both of us and I signed the contract. Movie never got made. Not that they didn’t try hard. And they paid me well for the option and I was happy to do rewrites for them.

Now, that same film is getting made this year with one of the people I met through that deal.

You want to be a pro writer? Act like pro writers do.

Get it in writing. Get a contract before you do any job. Treat it like the business it is. And negotiate the best deal you can. Remember, people can promise you anything verbally. Make them write it down.

… and don’t be like me.

Not quite true. I keep ok records. I back everything up. When I’m actively working on a project, I triple back it up every night. A few years ago I lost 20+ pages of a script rewrite that I was blazing through with spectacular results. Then… it was gone. No back up. Nothing. I threw things. I pounded on the floor. Guess what? Still didn’t have the pages.

And I’m convinced what I wrote to replace them wasn’t as good. So now… I’m uber-careful about making sure I don’t lose what I’ve written.

This is less about backing up your work than it is about backing up your ideas. Keeping good notes. Dating them. Filing them. Having them at your fingertips.

I’ve been living an adventure this week because I didn’t bother to record on paper an idea I pitched off the top of my head in a meeting with a production company six months ago.

It was one of those meetings where I went in with a planned itinerary of ideas and completed scripts. I was going to dazzle them.

Wrong. Didn’t respond to any of them. So I made something up on the spot, knowing what they kinda were looking for.

Now comes my warning. If you’re going to wing it, remember what you said. Apparently, I pitched one great idea. Not that I knew it at the time. Not so good that I thought they’d buy it or was something I’d write for myself in the future. So I promptly forgot about it. Didn’t write it down. Didn’t save it or even make notes afterward about the meeting.

Fast forward to last week. Six months after the meeting in question. A call. A call from the Development Exec at said Production Company. “Hi Bob. We were talking about your pitch and it’s been decided that we’d like to move forward with it. So we’re sending contracts (for money) to your manager and would like a full treatment in a couple of weeks because we think we’re going to fast track it.”

“Wow. That’s great,” I responded. “Which pitch?” Then...  the words I didn’t want to hear. A four word description… “The film about _______. ”   Huh? What? Now… in the deepest recesses of what used to be my mind, I recalled something about this topic. Not sure what.

One of my biggest strengths (and problems) in creative meetings is that my mind flies. I mentally sort ideas at computer speed looking for the one that works at that minute. And if you’re dealing with a rewrite meeting, it can make you look like a frigging genius. But I also take copious notes at those meetings, because ten minutes after that meeting I wouldn’t be able to tell you anything I said.

For this pitch, I took no notes because I READ THE ROOM INCORRECTLY and thought, “Ok. No harm. No foul.” My bad.

Back to the call. Instead of going into a catatonic state, which I considered, I did have the presence of mind to say, “Do you have your notes or a logline you’ve developed so I can compare them with mine? So I don’t go someplace with it you don’t want me to.”

They did and thought it would be a good idea if I had them. Whew. So now, I’m writing the treatment. I’ve also called them twice and asked if I could make radical changes in the story I don’t know, to make it a story that I CAN make work. They loved the ideas. Whew again.

This makes me lucky. A lucky idiot. This could have been a major embarrassment. I have instituted new rules. You say it, you write it down.

I already have my indispensable white board in my office filled with specs I’m working on, writing assignments, deadlines, page counts, and script ideas. My wife bought it for me a couple of years ago. One of the best gifts ever.

Now, I have binders. One for ideas and future pitches. One for what I said in ANY meeting or was said to me. Kept by date and time.

KEEP GOOD RECORDS. Keep them. You will need them. Especially if you don’t have them.