Tag Archives: Optioned Script

First of all let me thank everyone who reads this Blog. I am constantly amazed at the nice mail I get from writers. You have to look around my website to get my address (bob@bobsaenz.com, by the way). So you made an effort. I appreciate that. And some of you have asked questions. The ones about writing I’m happy to answer. Luckily, the personal ones mostly inquire about how my wife’s doing since her serious illness late last year. (She’s doing fabulously well, thank God)

So, let’s dive into three of the many writing questions I really received which I will paraphrase for brevity’s sake.

Dear Bob, What’s it like to write with a partner? How do you find a good partner? I know you write scripts on your own, but you’ve mentioned writing and selling scripts with other writers.

Well... it’s been a pleasure to write with other people when I have. I’ve sold one script I wrote with another writer, Jeff Willis. Jeff and I were friends (I went to his wedding) before we ever wrote anything. I also respect him as a writer and one day we decided to try and write together. We also decided on a style for writing, which consisted of me writing 5 to 10 pages, sending it to him, and then he edited my pages with his ideas and wrote 5 to 10 pages to add on to the story, and back and forth editing each other and writing until we were done. Then he did a polish and then I did a polish and then we discussed things and ended up with a first draft. It was about as smooth as you could imagine an experience like that could be. We’ve written three scripts together and all were that good an experience.

Good partnerships are born out of friendship and respect. Otherwise I don’t see them working. In order to do something as big as creating a film from nothing with another person both people have to be able to listen to the other person’s point of view and be open, understanding, and honest. Only with having true respect for each other’s talents can trust like this take place. Get to know the person you’re thinking of writing with. That means not just reading their work and liking it, but personal contact. Get to know each other as people, not just as writers. I’m about to embark on writing a script with a guy whose writing I respect a ton, but I’m also excited to work with him because I genuinely like him. And again we were friends before writing this script ever came up. The point is, don’t rush into any writing partnership. Feel each other out and get to know each other first.

Don’t go post on some board: Looking for someone to write a movie with. Or answer some Craigslist or Facebook post asking for a collaborator. You’ll most likely be sorry. Let it happen organically as you meet and get to know other writers. If it’s meant to happen it will.

Dear Bob, Do I need to BOLD my sluglines? I read a famous script and the Sluglines were in Bold.

Are you frigging kidding me? Really? This is what you’re wondering about as you try and write a script that you want someone to spend a million dollars or more to make? This also applies to Cut to:, and “We see”, and all those other things the “RULES” say you’re not supposed to do. First of all, please let me say this... There are no real rules about these things. Sorry.

The only thing everyone needs to do is to format your script correctly, meaning you use Final Draft or whatever screen writing software you choose and you don’t screw with it. Don’t screw with the font or font size or margins. Then... write what you damn please.

Cut to: “We see him writing in the correct format.”

The truth is, no one cares about these things if you write a fantastic story. That’s the only thing that matters. The story. Bold Sluglines? If your story is crap, does that matter? Nope. If your story is amazing and they can’t stop reading it? Does it matter? Nope. It’s your script. Do what you want. But damn, concentrate on story, ok? The rest is white noise to distract you.

Me? I don’t use Cut to: or We see or Bold Sluglines because I choose not to. Why? Because I choose that. I want the reader to see the film in their head as they read it and don’t want stuff in there that’s not story to take them out of it.

Last question for this Blog...

Dear Bob, Can I write a Batman movie? Will anyone in Hollywood read it?

Can you write a Batman movie? Sure you can. You can write anything you want. I’m not sure why you’d want to write a Batman movie except to see if you could do it. Will people in Hollywood read it? There’s a guy that lives in the bushes on Sunset, he might read it. He’s in Hollywood.

Ok. Seriously. First of all, there is no “Hollywood”. There’s no secret cabal of bigwigs who meet at a Starbucks on Ventura Blvd twice a week to decide the fate of the film business and who have decided you will never succeed. Sorry. Not real.

There are, however, hundreds of producers, production companies, and directors out there, and they all want to make films or TV shows or Cable films or films and shows for the Netflix’ of the world and they hire writers and buy scripts from writers. They also want to buy and make things they own the rights to. So they don’t want to see any Batman scripts. Warner Brothers and DC own the rights to Batman so only they can make a Batman film. So the array of buyers you can approach with your Batman script is a little small. In fact, you can count them on one finger. Plus, they don’t want to read your Batman script ever. And if you try to sell it to them, they may have one of their many lawyers write you a nasty letter asking you to never darken their door again and to burn your script because you don’t own the rights. That should also figure into your decision to write it.

But I’m also not saying you shouldn’t write it if you think it will help you learn screenwriting. As a sample, it’s kinda worthless, but as an instructional experiment? If you want to do it? Ok. I think it’s a waste of time to write something you can’t sell or try to sell, but that’s me.

Well... that’s it for today’s edition of Ask Bob. Keep those cards and letters coming.


It is. And film and TV is a business. It’s not some fantasy world. It’s not streets lined with gold. It’s all about doing the work and working well with other people. The key word being WORK. And Research is part of that work. And just like good writers research their topics before writing something, a good writer who is on the outside looking in should also research what it takes to try and get into this incredibly competitive business.

I’ve talked about the business of the actual screenwriting before. About marketing yourself. And how any screenwriter needs to understand it. But would be screenwriters also need to understand what they need to do before jumping head first into the very deep LA screenwriting pool. They need to do as much research about the hardship of screenwriting in LA as they do their screenplay subjects.

Now... a commercial break:

This blog is brought to you by a young man who I think jumped in head first with cement attached to his feet.

He’s stuck in LA with no money, no prospects, nowhere to live soon, and no completed screenplays to his name. To his credit he's sold some short screenplays in the past. Now I cannot say to whom, but as someone who’s sold short screenplays, my educated guess is they sold for very little money to unknown local directors looking to show themselves off. That’s what short films are ALL about. Directing. No one ever really notices the writing in short films because there isn’t enough of it to make an impression. Again, short films are all about the director. You want notice as a writer you write full length scripts. Film or TV.

But our young man who traveled from some distant place to Los Angeles for fame and fortune with his short film sales, went there with just an outline for a feature and his what I think are unrealistic dreams.

He’s been in LA a whole month now and is disheartened that it isn’t working out and that he’s already out of money. He still has yet to start writing his full length script and was wondering how to get a writing assistants job maybe. He should have researched how writing assistant jobs happen before he thought about leaving home. They’re as hard to get as any job in LA. But... not impossible if you do your homework, WRITE A FEW GOOD SCRIPTS, and methodically work toward it. Even if you live in the middle of Kansas someplace.

As for money,  he’s discovered LA is the Dyson Vacuum of money sucking places and probably could have planned for it better. LA makes money disappear from your pocket with each step you take. Yes, you can live in LA on the cheap IF YOU DO YOUR RESEARCH and work a couple of jobs.

I feel for him. I do. I understand where he is and why he's there. I was there once. I sold the first script I ever wrote to a studio. I was sure riches, fame, awards, and red carpets were my certain future. Surprise. The film didn’t get made. And right after that no one in the industry knew who I was and didn’t much care.

I regrouped and learned from it. Deep and hard lessons. I also worked other jobs.  Jobs that paid. And I put my nose down and worked on my writing and my marketing and didn’t give up. Had some options that went nowhere and a few small writing jobs in the years after and a mere TWENTY YEARS later I had my first produced film. Now I have seven and it's my only job. There are a lot of reasons for this. One... this time I was prepared for it and I saved money. I also never stopped writing and learning and improving. Listening to any expert or near expert and took what I heard to heart. Then I wrote more.

Moving to LA is huge step for any writer who doesn’t live there already. It shouldn’t be done without a realistic view of what’s in store. You’ll need plenty of money and the understanding that you’ll need to find gainful employment to support yourself as you try and make it. And as for success, well... it’s obviously not guaranteed, but please also understand that one or two options are not a career worth quitting a job or moving to LA for. 99% of options never get made. And of the ones that do, more than not, the films aren’t successful. Either not finding a legitimate distributor or an audience.

Set yourself a goal of money made on a consistent level before you decide to do this full time. And have some money saved. Because the time between jobs can be staggeringly long sometimes. And writing on spec doesn’t cut it.

Most film writers making a living in LA make that living with writing assignments, not their specs. But you knew that, right? And the competition for those writing jobs is staggering. Seasoned experienced writers are out there pitching themselves for those precious jobs every day. It is a LONG HAUL business. All (as in ALL) of the writers I know who are successful took YEARS to get there. YEARS. Not days or months. YEARS. Sorry if I’m overdoing it, but some people just don’t want to or can’t hear and understand this. You cannot count on being an exception either. So don’t.

You want to come to LA? I’m all for it. LA can be a pretty heady cool place. I’ve met some amazing people that will be lifelong friends. I’ve gotten to do what I dreamed for years of doing. Write films that people see. Does that overcome the years of setbacks and rejection? Hell yes.

But be smart about it. Be realistic about it. Do the research about what it takes to move to LA. Monetarily. And what you need in your portfolio. Finished, polished scripts that will make people notice you. Query from where you are first. Gauge the worth of your scripts. Get a manager from where you are if you can. That’s also not easy, but I know people out of state who have done it successfully. And when you move to LA have a plan. You can’t wing it. You do the work and research and you’re ahead of the thousands who try this without preparation and go home defeated when if they’d just done the work it takes, they might not have had to.

Made it through about 8 pages of a script I was sent a couple of days ago. I had to stop reading. It wasn’t the story, I don’t think. I have no idea because I couldn’t wade through the misspellings and atrocious grammar to get to it.

Maybe some of them were typos. There’s not a writer alive that can find every single typo in a script. But most of them were sheer laziness and probably based on the attitude of “If they buy it, they’ll fix it. It’s the story that counts.” I’ve actually heard more than one writer say this or something similar to me in the past.

They are wrong. Spelling and grammar matter in a script. It reflects on how serious you are taken as a writer. Making the read as smooth and mistake free as you can is essential to getting your story told. Every misspelling or massive grammatical error takes the reader out of your story and focuses them on how poor the writer is for leaving them there.

Your writing reflects you. And getting anyone, besides your family and close friends, to read your script is an accomplishment. What you want is for them to want to read more, to love what you do and your style, to get them on board with you as a writer. Bad grammar and spelling does the opposite.

Yes, scriptwriting is different. We can all acknowledge that. You can write in fragmented sentences. You can break any and all grammar rules in dialogue if you have to. You can even break some spelling rules in dialogue to get a character’s syntax across. That works. But systemic spelling problems on every page will get your script tossed, in my opinion. Ur is not a substitute for Your. Twitter speak in your action lines is not the best way to get your story across.

Every program has spellcheck, so I’m kind of amazed that the spelling errors are still so prevalent. But they are and mostly all in bad scripts.

The excellent scripts I’ve read in the past and three for sure in the past couple of months were, not surprisingly, about 99% mistake free. (Thumbs up to Mike Maples, Emily Blake, & Eliza Lee)

I’m not reading the rest of that script I got 8 pages into. I’m calling the writer and telling her why, too. If she fixes it, I will happily give it another try.

Ok. Spelling and grammar rant over. Now... let’s talk about budget.

This is one subject that really gets some people in a lather. Should you pay attention to the budget of the script you’re writing? Or... should you just write the story you want to write and to hell with how much it will cost to make?

There are compelling arguments on both sides, but I come down on the side of paying attention to it, with a BIG unless...

If you are writing your big budget script as a writing sample, using it to try to get a big budget writing job somewhere down the line, I get it. That makes sense. I have a couple of those.

To expect to sell big budget scripts is a whole different matter. The truth is that there are very few producers or production companies that can make big budget scripts anymore that are pure specs. Maybe 5 or 6, tops. Maybe. And even those will make a script based on a sequel or a well known novel or a comic book or a cancelled TV show or a video game or an iconic cartoon or an amusement park ride or a board game before they’ll make a big budget spec. Hell… they’ll remake a previously failed film before they’ll make a big budget spec.

Now, before you fill my inbox with all the exceptions, I am aware of them and also know I can count those on my fingers in the last 5 years. You don’t even have to be paying much attention at all to see this trend. And add in unproduced writer to your resume and the odds go down a lot further.

But, as a writer trying to break in, if you write your scripts, or most of your scripts, with a budget of a million dollars or so, some maybe even less, there are tons of producers and production companies that want to read what you have and they can actually buy them and make them.

I am convinced that as a new writer trying to get noticed and optioned, right now, at this time in the industry, writing a great low budget film is the way. That may change, although I doubt it, with all the studios making safe tentpole Spiderman 14’s rather than something they have to take a chance on.

A great big budget script can help you if it’s for a writing sample, so you have to weigh it. But getting a big budget script read is also harder to do, in my opinion.

Write what moves you, but think about writing something lower budget that moves you, too. There are a lot more people out there who can read and option those.


I decided on the topic of this Blog before the subject of the Ghostbusters gender change hit the fan. I think I was a day or so ahead of the curve. But a day or so late posting it. We’ll blame it on Rock and Roll. My band, The BSides, had great gig this weekend at the largest Art and Wine Festival on the West Coast. Three hundred thousand people over two days.

We got up on the stage and played some kick ass music for an hour and a half. Played Mad Dogs & Englishmen’s version of “The Letter” for the first time in public and nailed it, thank you. It was, on the music front, a Triumphant weekend. But it kept me from publishing the Blog over the weekend like I wanted to.

We can start on my opinion about Ghostbusters. I LOVE the film. LOVE IT. Loved it from the first time I saw it when it came out and loved it every time I’ve seen it since. I see no reason to remake it, period. But… saying that… if you were to remake it, why not with women?  New dynamic. New directions in story. A whole new feeling. It could be great. It could suck. Just like any other remake. But it’s not something to pull hair out over. I’m sorry it’s a big deal. It shouldn’t be.

It worked with the Odd Couple, as one example of many, very well. I’ve seen a couple of all female versions of it and it was very successful. So why not Ghostbusters, if they want to do it?

And I’ve already Blogged in the past about my love of great female characters in film. I love writing strong women and stories that center around them. More now than when I first started writing.

I think I wrote my TV pilot script while I was still working on Nash Bridges, between my third and fourth feature scripts. It was a new take on a police procedural, something that still hasn’t been done by the way, and a couple of Producers thought it was great. Nothing happened with it, but c’mon, nothing happens with TV pilots when you’re a tiny small recurring actor on a series and not a writer. Or what they see as a writer. So it went back in my pile of unsold scripts.

When I got my manager, he asked for all my scripts, well… not at once. He wanted them sent in order that I thought they’d sell... (boy, was a wrong about that, too). I never mentioned the pilot. Then one day we were talking about pilots and I told him I had one and pitched it. Like everyone else who heard the idea, he loved it and asked to read it. And since I hadn’t even read it in ten years, my guess was it needed some updating. I was right. So, with ten more years of writing experience behind me I read it and found it lacking in a lot of ways and proceeded to rewrite it with a more 21st Century feel to it.

He loved it and now so did I. The one thing I didn’t notice, that I should have, was that the females were all background players. It was a Boy’s Club of monstrous proportions. I took what I had written twelve years before and updated the story, but not the diversity that it desperately needed. My bad. Despite that, it’s gotten some really nice reactions so far, but no bites. A couple of pretty front lines actors have championed it, but again to no avail. Then a woman exec at a network told my manager she liked it but they were looking for female centric series right now. And that brought about a conversation between my manager and me about maybe turning the pilot on its head and gender changing the main character.

It would immediately make the script kind of controversial because of the subject matter and the main character’s occupation. A woman in an extremely man-centric job. I couldn’t wait to do it.

The last two weeks have been spent doing just that. Turning the pilot on its head. Rewriting. Rewriting. And rewriting. His name was Jack. Her name is Althea. He was tough and strong. She’s tough and strong, but in a way more dynamic way. He was begrudgingly welcomed into a man’s world. She’s not going to be at all. His wife was understanding, but concerned at what he was getting into. Her husband is having all kinds of problems with it.

I’ve never had so many wonderful things open up in a script. Storylines have blossomed. I have two seasons worth of ideas of ways to make this woman singularly different from anything on TV now and that’s pretty exciting. It’s been a revelation.

Was I an idiot for not thinking of this in the first place? Maybe. But it was also twelve years ago and they probably would have told me to make it a man. Who knows.

All I know is that I love the pilot now and I can’t wait to see the reaction to it. It has a feeling of new to it, not just to me, but to the genre. A nice feeling if you’re the writer.

It’s been more than a couple of weeks since I’ve last blogged. Not that there weren’t things to write about, but it’s been deadline-mania around here lately. The last one went in Monday and I find myself truly unemployed for the first time since January. During that time it’s been a cornucopia of rewrite work for Production Companies, Producers, Development Execs, and Directors. Work on five different films, four of which are my original spec scripts (one written with the wonderful Jeff Willis). Two of them for cable networks and two that are theatrical.

The other was a hired page one rewrite job on someone else’s script for a production company which I may or may not get screen credit for. (However, the checks cleared). And it looks like maybe three of them are heading for production this year, one starting July 30, for sure. The other two of the five put off until 2015. Or not made at all. That’s what’s so hard about this business.

And as I look forward to a little time off, I also worry about where the next job will come from and when it will come. That’s the lot of anyone who works as an independent contractor, like most film writers do. I may not work again this year. I hope so, but there’s nothing on the horizon right now. So I’ll be writing more specs, reworking my pilot, and rewriting older specs in the meantime. Use it or lose it.

As I have said before, all of my produced/credited films have been for Cable Networks, mostly for the Hallmark Channel, which has been interesting because my natural proclivity is toward darker material. All of my optioned feature specs… hell… my entire two foot tall stack of specs are all kind of dark and/or twisted, including the comedies. So having to NOT write like that for Production Companies and Networks with a narrow brand has been good for me, expanding my abilities to keep my own voice yet walk those lines drawn that you cannot color over.

Where is this going? To talk about what happens to YOUR original when you option it to a Production Company or Network who wants it to fit their brand. Which is all of them.

Jeff Willis, who is a VP at a very well known and large Production Entity, is also my sometimes writing partner. We met on an Internet Board years ago and a real life friendship came out of it. And out of that, and I can’t remember which of us said it, came, “Hey. Let’s write a script together.”

We proceeded to write three over a couple of years. A dark funny anti-romantic comedy, “The Right Girl” where the two people don’t get together at the end. A Monster Movie, “The Ogre”, with a great original premise, that’s sly, violent, very funny, and gruesome. And a big grand Action/Adventure Spy Movie, “Family Bonds”, with a killer premise. Two of them are still available, by the way. The anti-romantic comedy is going into production July 30. Only… it’s no longer an anti-romantic comedy. The two people do get together and love wins. How did that happen? Not by accident.

A production company optioned The Right Girl about a year and a half ago. In that time Jeff and I have done six (6) paid full rewrites of the script for them, taking it from the snarky anti-romantic comedy it was to the still kind of snarky in places fun true romantic comedy it has become. More than a few different people from the company and the network have given us notes over the last 18 months at different times. Our main Protagonist, a woman who travels from narcissist to empowered woman (with or without a man) has basically stayed put. (She was the reason they bought it to begin with and I’m glad they kept her journey reasonably the same). She’s a lot less profane and all of the overly sharp edges have been ground down, but her personal journey to redemption still isn’t powered by her growing love for a man. The real love happens between them because she’s changed on her own.

But beyond that… if you read our original optioned draft and the production draft I sent in yesterday, you’d barely recognize it as the same script. Our major original premise point is gone, replaced by a different one they wanted instead. Our antagonist doesn’t even exist anymore. Characters and their arcs we loved are gone. Gone. Replaced by other new and different characters that fit the new paradigm. Characters retained have different agendas and needs. Some have changed sex. Some have changed age.

Don’t get me wrong. Jeff and I were given fairly free reign to make these new characters and their story arcs our own, as long as we stayed inside the lines. We skirted the edge and got away a lot of it, but we always stuck to the spirit of their notes, which is what you do when you want to keep doing this.

And we did a good enough job that they didn’t bring in any other writers to rewrite us. We wrote every version from the original to the production script. The Production Exec told us that’s never happened with them before. They always bring on other writers. So we’re feeling pretty damn good about that.

But if we had been so married to our original that we couldn’t or wouldn’t have made the huge wholesale changes that have been made to it to get it where they’re actually spending millions to makes it, we would have been replaced faster than you can imagine. And the new writer or writers may have gotten writing credit for the film with us.

Your original script, no matter how much you love it, cherish it, and do not want to see it changed, is only a suggested starting point if you want to see it get made. Unless YOU put the money up yourself, it is going to get changed and probably changed as much as ours was. As a screenwriter you have to learn to live with that or have a very very short career.

Do we like the new version? The one THAT’S GOING TO GET MADE and play on Cable for years and years to come? Yes. We do. It’s not the film we originally wrote, but it’s a damn good script. The notes we got work for what the Network and Production Company need. Did we get notes we thought were wonky at times? You bet. But we fought for what we wanted, still understanding our limitations, and most of the time prevailed. It’s going to be a cute funny film and better than a whole lot in the same category, I think. The Production Company thinks so, too. They’ve told us as much.

They are building the sets on soundstages right now. Offers are out to stars. Casting is in full swing. A director I like a lot and have worked with before has been hired. And we’re been invited to set anytime we want to go. We’ll be taking them up on it.


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.

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.

One of the most frustrating things about screenwriting is the time it takes for anything to happen. Anything. It takes time to figure out what to write. It takes time to research it. It takes time to write it, always longer than you think. Then come your rewrites. Time. More time.

Now you want someone to read it. It takes time to build a network of writers and trusted people in the industry to vet your work before you try to get it out to be optioned or sold. And then it takes time for them to read it and get back to you because they’re busy, too. This is if you want to do it right.

This doesn’t take in the time you need to write a bunch of scripts to get good enough to be able to maybe sell one. That’s a long time, too.

Now… You can write a script in two days and be done, have no one but your friends and family read it and then try to send it out. The chances it will not be complete crap are infinitesimally low, but you still have to sell it. And that’s where time really slows down.

And here we get to the most frustrating thing about dealing with new writers. Most expect instant gratification. They have no idea about the reality of film and TV production or they think their script is so good, that even knowing how long might take, they will be the exception to the rule. Nope. Not going to happen. Not. Going. To. Happen. Either way, their thought is: I will write this script. It will sell. I will be on the red carpet at the premiere in six months. Ok, three months.

Sounds like an exaggeration, right? Yeah. Ok. It’s a pretty harsh assessment. But it's what I hear. All the time. It's the expectation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard writers complain they haven’t heard anything from a reader and it’s been a WHOLE WEEK. Or the manager who requested it hasn't gotten back to them in a month. Or why can’t they get anyone to read their script right now? Why do I have to wait? Why is it so unfair that you can’t send an unsolicited script to anyone you want and have them read it the next day? Ok… I’m exaggerating again… but not by much.

The system is set up the way it is so that producers, production companies, agents, and managers are not so overwhelmed with product that they can’t read anything. There are hundreds of thousands of scripts out there looking for a home. And every writer of each of these believes they have the next hit film. That includes me. You should believe in your work. It’s essential to success. But the industry doesn’t believe you. Thus all the checks and balances and brick walls put up by the people in the film and TV business. It’s self protection from the avalanche of scripts that would engulf them.

And… getting through those checks and balances and brick walls takes time. A lot of time.

Want to know how long? It’s not weeks or months. It’s years. Mostly years and years. Yeah. That much time.

As a new writer who’s trying to get read by a manager or agent, if you're lucky enough to get a request based on your query, you need to know it could take weeks or months to get to the top of their pile. If you get read sooner, it’s a bonus. Once you have a manager or agent and they send your work out, it can still take weeks or months to get read. And longer after all the passes, because you have to do it all over again. I heard hundreds of no’s. Still do. You have to be patient. It hurts, but you have to.

Yes, there are fabulous sites like the Blacklist that may speed up the process, but nothing is guaranteed and it's a tough process to get through them, too. Still, I wish they'd been around when I started, but hey… c’est la vie.

But now, you hear yes. And you’ve optioned a script. Congrats.

Once you option something, even if it’s shortcutting time on the Blacklist?  Time? TIme slows to a crawl. You have no idea.

Someone has finally said, “YES”. Well, it’s not a real yes. It’s a qualified yes. They have notes and you need to rewrite your script to satisfy those. Whoops. Nice try. We need a second rewrite. More notes. Now another year has passed, good thing you gave them a renewal for another year. We might get Denzel, you need to rewrite it for him. More notes. Another three months. We didn’t get Denzel. But we have more notes. Another six months.

We have a director. He has notes and is going to do the rewrite himself. You sit and hear nothing for another six months. You email and call and they tell you to be patient. If you email and call too much, they’ll shut you out completely so you have to be careful. Then they hire another writer to rewrite it. And then they renew for the last yearly option. You’re in your third year. They tell you that they’re close to having financing. And another year passes and they say, “Sorry, we tried”. You get the rights back. To your original script. They still own all the changes you made based on their notes. You can sell the original again. And process starts once more.

This is the norm. A small percentage of scripts optioned actually get made. I optioned multiple scripts multiple times to Studios and BIG and small production companies for eighteen years and never got one film made. Made some good money, but never had an original script of mine made.

That changes this year, but that’s another blog. And yes, I have a bunch of credited films to my name. By the end of this year, I’ll have eight. Most of them are films where I rewrote the original writers so drastically that I got credited as a writer with them.

Getting a green light on a film is an amazing experience. You don’t believe it when it happens, even if it’s a script you rewrote. Seeing your storyline and characters and dialogue on screen is surreal. Why is it surreal? Lots of reasons, not the least of which is all the time it took.

There is NO instant gratification. There are no overnight successes. Everyone spent time becoming an overnight success. More time than you think.


For the people who aren’t writers and read this, NOTES are the sometimes mandatory changes to a script you get from producers, directors, development execs, the guy who waters the plants at the production office, other writers, your friends, your ex-friends, actors, and anyone else you can think of that might have some fleeting interest in the film and TV business. Notes you can get at every stage of production. Notes you can get up to and including the day they get shot.

They can be as small as a change of a word in a sentence to changing the entire story. And all you can think of in between.

Yep. THOSE notes.

I’ve been on both sides of them. Getting them on my scripts and giving them on scripts I didn’t write, but would like to rewrite and get paid for. The giving part usually happens when a production company contacts me and wants me to read a script they’ve bought or optioned and then wants me to give them my opinion on it. This also happens, most of the time, after the original writer has been given a chance to do it but can’t or won’t change it the way they want.

For some writers this is a hard thing to do. Change their baby. Take something they slaved over to create and then have to throw out or change huge portions of it to fit what the people PAYING for it want. These writers think that their work is sacrosanct. And when I was first starting out I felt the same way. It’s perfect the way it is and shouldn’t be TOUCHED. I learned fast you can't think like that.

The only way it will stay the way you wrote it is if you put up the money to produce it yourself or lock it in a drawer and never have it see the light of day. Every script gets changed. Every one of them. And they all get changed in significant ways.

Which brings me back to notes.

When I get a script to rewrite, I get notes from the development execs and the producers to start. They’re usually very general and sweeping, otherwise they wouldn’t be hiring me. I do, mostly, what are called “page one rewrites” where I usually take the original author’s script and change it so much it's unrecognizable to them.

I don’t do this lightly and I always feel badly for the original author, but… they again, most of the time, have had their chance to do this and wouldn’t or couldn’t. Plus they’re still going to get a screen credit and paid. Often more than me.

So how do I do this?

I take their general notes, combined with the notes I gave on the script which the producers liked, and I write a draft. Then I write another one based on more notes after they read the first draft. Then another draft with more notes. And then if they don’t give it to another writer to rewrite again, I do a polish. Or rewrite it again.

Then the director might do his own draft or give me more notes to change it again to fit his vision. Then maybe another polish. Then a production draft… then… you get the drift. Any remote resemblance to the original script is a miracle.

This happens with almost every single script. Even most writer/director ones. Don’t worry about the exceptions because you know already if you’re one of them and you aren’t reading my blog.

I’ve been on the other side, too. I’ve had to rewrite my original scripts. Some more than others. A couple of times making them unrecognizable to me and I did the rewrite. Did these notes make my scripts better? In most cases I have to be honest and say they did. The notes made a few of them MUCH better. In one case, they made the script so much better I’m grateful to have worked with this director to get it to this point. And we’re on something like draft 31, I think.

And then there are the notes that make you wonder why the hell they even bought your script in the first place.

Yep. You can get notes that may turn your script into an award winner. And notes that may make you throw up in your mouth.

Again, a fact. If you option or sell a script YOU WILL GET NOTES. How you respond to them will have a great deal of influence on your career and maybe if you’ll even have one at all.

So you need to mentally set yourself before you get notes. KNOW they are not going to be what you want to hear. You have to be open minded and not instantly reactive. Give yourself time to think about them. I know when I do that, after some serious thought, I can often see how to use them to make the script better. Even when I hated them on first take.

And then if you truly hate some of them, fight for them not to be used. But don’t do it emotionally. If you do that, you lose.

One way to do this is to know your script and story and characters so well that you can intelligently and CALMLY explain why some notes will not work if they want to keep the story you wrote. How one change they want can have a ripple effect on the whole script, changing things they may not want changed. Or that the characters just wouldn’t do that and how it would affect the story. But you really do have to know your script inside and out so you can rationally explain why. This does work because I do it all the time and, more often than not, win those arguments.

BUT… if they want the changes, it’s up to you to implement them to the best of your ability, even if it hurts. And it does sometimes. You, as the writer, are one cog in a huge machine that is film and TV. You cooperate to your best ability and do the best job you can making the script the way they’ve asked for it to be and they will expand the way they use you. They will learn to trust you and might ask you for your opinion on things that may not even have to do with the script. It’s happened to me. It’s happening to me now on the script I have shooting in May.

As a screenwriter, the sooner you realize that script notes are an integral part of your job, whether pointed at you or coming from you, and realize it’s up to YOU to be cooperative and innovative in seeing those notes through, the sooner you are going to be recognized as a pro.

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.