Tag Archives: script options

3 Comments

Lately, there have been a bunch of experts, who aren’t, online espousing the supposed unbreakable “rules” of screenwriting. That if you do ANY of these things and break ANY of these rules in any way, readers, producers, agents, and managers will throw your script in a shredder, burn it, or put a hit out on you and your pets.

Of course none of it is true. So I thought I’d espouse on the subject myself. Shall we get going?

IF THE WORDS “WE SEE” APPEAR ANYWHERE IN YOUR FIRST THREE PAGES THE SCRIPT WILL BE DROPPED KICKED TO THE MOON.

Uh... no. I don’t use it because it’s a choice. But no, no one is drop kicking your script if it’s there. They’ll drop kick it if you use it and the script sucks, but then they’d be drop kicking it anyway. It’s also not a good idea to use it a lot because it takes a lot of white space you could be using for story, but if your script is great... NOBODY CARES. They care if the story is good or not. That’s it.

Nobody is rejecting your script just because you use it. Not happening. And I’ve read some spectacular scripts that used it.

IF YOU PUT ANY CAMERA MOVES AT ALL IN YOUR SCRIPT THEY WILL STUFF YOUR SCRIPT IN THE CLOSEST PORTA-POTTY.

I have put camera moves in my scripts occasionally. Even ones I’ve sold and optioned. OH NOOOOOO. I did it because I was writing a FILM and the way the camera was used helped tell the story I wanted to tell in certain places and helps the reader SEE THE FILM, which is exactly what you want. It’s not a good idea to do it a lot because again it uses the space you need to tell your story, but used occasionally for effect, NO ONE CARES.

Unless your script sucks.

IF YOU USE FLASHBACKS OR VOICEOVER THEY WILL FEED YOUR SCRIPT TO WILD BADGERS.

No. They won’t. If you use them poorly, they will. But c’mon. Think of how many wonderful films you’ve seen where both have been used to great effect. I’ve used them in scripts I’ve optioned and sold. Extracurricular Activities is filled with them and not one single person said a word about them. Why? Because they work and are needed to tell that particular story. By the way, it comes out next year.

One of my other scripts has flashbacks almost every other scene and my manager thinks it’s my best script. It’s not the USE of them. It’s how they are used, just like anything else. The screenwriting purists, most of which haven’t ever sold a script, will tell you they are the worst thing you can do.

They’re not. You can use them effectively, if you need to, to tell the story you want to tell... the FILM you want the reader to see. That’s the secret.

The worst thing you can do is write a crappy script, with or without flashbacks and voiceover, and send it out thinking it’s good.

IF YOU PUT IMAGES ON A TITLE PAGE THEY WILL STAB THE SCRIPT WITH HOT POKERS UNTIL IT IS DEAD.

Of course not. I had a studio executive I asked about this say to me, “If a reader did this on script I had requested to read I’d fire them immediately.” NO ONE CARES. They care about what’s IN the script, not what’s on the front page. There have been all kinds of scripts sold and made that had an image or two on the cover. Stop believing this crap. It’s passed along as cold TRUE fact when if you thought about it logically for even a second you'd know it’s ridiculous. I’ve never put an image on a title page because I haven’t written a script it would work for. But would I? Hell yes.

Ask Eric Heisserer how it worked out for him on Arrival. Nice image on the cover page. But why didn’t they throw it out? Because they don’t. It’s also one of the best scripts I have ever read and an Oscar Nominee. NO ONE CARES.

Unless the script sucks.

IF YOUR LOGLINE IS MORE THAN 25 WORDS THEY WON’T READ IT AND WILL PUT YOU IN A LOGLINE RE-EDUCATION CAMP IN KANSAS.

By a show of hands, I want you to name me a producer or agent or manager you know who COUNTS LOGLINE WORDS. None? You’d be correct. THEY DON’T CARE. They only care if it interests them or not. One sentence. Three sentences. 25 words. 50 words. They don’t care. Is it something they want to read?

I have one logline that’s 9 words. The script gets read and has been optioned. I have one that is three sentences over 50 words... It got made. You write your logline so they’ll want to read the script, not to solve some grammatical math problem. Be smart and economical, but NOT at the expense of your story. Again, if you just think about this, you wonder how crap like this got started.

There are more rules that don’t exist, but this is enough for now, as the sound you hear in the background are the “experts” whose heads are exploding.

Just write a great story. It’s the only thing that really matters.

Follow me on Twitter @bobsnz

What’s a Spec Script? I’ll tell you what I think it is.

It isn’t what's going to be shot, that’s for sure.

A friend of mine who is an exec at a big production company was telling me the other day how hard it was lately to even get through a lot of scripts to find the story.

And I’ve been hearing a lot of bad advice lately about what should or shouldn’t be in a spec script when only one thing should be in it.

STORY.

A story a reader can see. I didn’t say audience. I said reader. If you write specs you hope will eventually get made this is very important. The first people you need to get through to option a script are even called “READERS”. That’s why you need a slick fast reading script that’s not bogged down with all the crap you’ve been told by some people you need.

You don’t need overly long physical descriptions of your characters. Blonde hair? Blue eyes? Brown eyes? Red nail polish? I’ve seen it all. Waste of space. No one cares. Unless it has to do with the story, it doesn’t matter. In fact, these days the less you say is better. Why is this? Because as the READER is getting into the story, they get to picture the character the way they want to and that helps with the ease of the read. If there is a physical characteristic that is a story point, then by all means get it in there. Otherwise, let the words spoken and the actions, the story, define who the character is.

I just read a script where every female character was described with some flourish to be as sexy or beautiful as she could be. It took me right out of the story. Why? First, I hate it. Lots of people who read scripts hate it because it’s unrealistic and cheap (and sexist) and if you look around you wherever you are, you aren’t going to see a lot of supermodels, so why populate your script with them. You want to write a story that resonates with real people? Write about real people. Real women. Real men. You can put them in unique and other worldly situations, but they still need to be real. Let the reader decide who your characters are inside and out by the dialogue and action and what they feel and see in their heads as they read.

You don’t need descriptions of what everyone is wearing unless it’s part of the plot. I just wrote a scene where a woman had a wedding dress on. Why? She was getting married as part of the plot. In every other scene she’s in? Not a word about her wardrobe. Why? It has nothing to do with story. It takes up valuable story space and it takes the reader... you guessed it... out of the story.

Capitalizing sounds? BAM. BOOM. Capitalizing props? CAR. BEER BOTTLE. SANDWICH.

I had one writer tell me those things need to be there for the Sound and Prop departments so they know what they are in the film. I hate to tell you this... but there are no Sound or Prop departments in a spec script. There are no departments at all. You only have those if the script sells and they go to a shooting script.

That goes to my next point... Spec scripts never ever ever never ever ever never get made the way you wrote it anyway. Never. Ever. By the time a Sound or Prop department sees the script it’s been rewritten so many times it often doesn’t resemble what you wrote in the first place. So ALL those WORDS capitalized in YOUR script JUST look RIDICULOUS and... yes... take the reader out of the story.

Don’t use character names that are unpronounceable. Don’t use words that the average reader will have to look up. I see these all the time. It’s not about impressing someone with clever names or vocabulary. They don’t care. Honest.

The purpose of a Spec script is for the reader to see and experience your story through your words. To see it in their head as a film or TV show. That’s it. It’s not anything more difficult to understand than that. It’s not easy to do, but that’s what gets you noticed and your script noticed. Lean and clean. Uncluttered.

You want a script they don’t put down. One that they want and need to keep reading. You clutter it up and make the read difficult and it’s too easy for them to put it down. Maybe to never pick up again. When they can read your script in an hour because it READS well, you stand a much better chance of moving it to a different level.

Leaving all this crap out is liberating. It actually sets you free to just concentrate on what’s important.

Story.

That's what they option. That's what they buy. That's what they want to see from a screenwriter.

Follow me on Twitter @BobSnz

 

Link

THE MOMENT

I did a Podcast last weekend for @FilmReverie with the lovely Mike and Brad, who were a joy to talk to. We mostly talked about my seeming career and my thoughts on writing. It was a lot of fun. I’ll link to it at the bottom of the Blog if you want to give it a listen. But during the hour or so we spoke, something we talked about got me thinking about why some great ideas hit and why some don’t. And most of the time, the randomness of it all.

There was also a post on DoneDealPro that spurred this. A writer who couldn’t understand why, given that everybody loved their pilot ideas and scripts, and even though they were getting in rooms and getting to pitch, they couldn’t sell or option any of them. There was more than an air of frustration in the post. They expected to do better. And as we all know, expectation is the mother of all frustration.

So, let’s get the a few things out of the way first before we get to the meat. In order to get turned down you had to make it a whole lot further that 90% of writers. And that took toil and sweat and damn hard work that paid off with the opportunity. I know that doesn’t help much when the answer is still no, but it means you’re seriously in the game.

And believe me, I understand the frustration. I’ve lived intimately with it, sometimes turned all the way up to 11. Every kind of writer frustration there is. And you know what? It ALL goes away the Moment someone says YES. It’s amazing how years of frustration can vanish when that happens. The problem lies in getting to that MOMENT.

The Moment. That instant where the word YES enters the head of a producer or actor or director or production company exec. The magic moment that can change your life. Or your bank account. The elusive Moment.

You can be spectacular in a room, have the greatest idea ever, a solid script, and you will still probably hear NO 99% of the time. It’s a numbers game. Hundreds of thousands of film and TV scripts in the system and only so many optioned and a lot less greenlit.

So you go into that room uber-prepared and give it your best shot. They’re smiling and asking the right questions... It’s all going like you imagined. And then you walk out empty handed.

What happened? Well... It boils down to what works for producers or network people at that Moment. If you're in there on the right day at the right time with the right idea for them at that exact Moment... you're gold. And you have zero control over it.

They don’t want you to fail. They want you to have an idea/script they love at that Moment. It’s true. But that damn numbers thing keeps rearing its ugly head. The people in the waiting area when you left? There to pitch their script or show. And the people arriving in the parking lot as you leave? There to pitch after them. And so on. The odds just by sheer numbers are against you. I was told over and over what an amazing fresh take my pilot was on the procedural genre. Never sold it. Never got close. Will I save it for down the road? Sure. And maybe somebody remembers it when they're looking for a procedural in 3 years. One can hope. But for now, deader than dead.

Experienced credited writers hear No most of the time. And like all serious writers, at first they look at all rejections as personal. Can't help it.  I know I do until I shake myself out of it, which sometimes takes a while. But the good ones regroup and move on to try again to get to the Moment.

It always helps to realize that there are thousands of writers out there wishing they were where you are. Getting to pitch seriously. But you also need to realize you aren’t the only one they’re saying No to. I know I forget that when I'm feeling sorry for myself. You’re not alone.

Like I said, I thought for sure my procedural would be my in to series TV. It would at least be optioned by someone. Even production companies who I’d worked for and optioned to before said they liked it. But when the Moment came... well... it didn’t come. But that doesn’t mean you don’t put your head down and look for more ways in. Never giving up.

And then... I sold a pilot. One I hadn’t even written. How? By sheer good fortune. God. Right place. Right time. The moment. At lunch with a production company exec I'd worked with who'd just moved to a new company. At the end of the lunch she casually mentioned they'd just signed a deal with a BIG TV star. Household name big. And they already had a cable network on the hook for the show, based on his name alone and the agreed upon genre. Now they needed to come up with the series for him. They had a vague idea of what he wanted. By vague, I mean his 2 required elements. One kinda specific, a dog, and the other a general feeling of tone. That's it. Genre, a dog, and tone.

As the check for lunch came and we were getting ready to part, I asked her if I came up with an idea, could I pitch it? She said sure, they were out to other writers, but ok, send me a one page.

I went home and wrote one. I decided to go outside the box and do something a little weird because I knew other writers would be trying to stay in the box. They responded favorably and the dance started.

Over months and months of back and forth and some serious contract negotiations from my manager (Thank you, John), they bought the idea and I wrote the pilot, on a contract, for money. Now I wait to see what happens next.  And like all projects at this point, there are a million reasons it fails right here, and hundreds of miracles that have to happen for it to move forward. The rug pulled out from under the Moment. I hope not, but man it’s nice to get this far.

Don't let the Nos get to you. Easy to say, hard to do. Write more scripts, more pilots. Keep pitching the ones you have. Get to that Moment. And remember, nothing happens when you want it to. Ever. You hear no, punch something, preferably soft, and move on. Move forward. I get the frustration. Believe me.

Quite a few of my friends who are writers have gotten to the Moment lately and it makes me really happy. It can happen. It does happen. But only if you don’t give up.

Here’s the link to the Podcast: http://filmreverie.com/podcast/film-reverie-take-50-bob-saenz/

Follow me on Twitter: @bobsnz

It’s been over a month since my last blog and I apologize. Busy doesn’t cover it. Hopefully I will soon be able to talk publicly about this flurry of work I’ve done on three amazingly different projects, but I’ve learned my hard lessons about talking specifically about a project before it’s actually funded and cast and before cameras. Or announced in the trades, which one or more of these might be. Or not. This business is so strange.

The life of a screenwriter. Always on the edge. Always glancing beyond what’s on the page in front of them and wondering what will be next and where it will come from. Especially if you’re close to finishing something. That’s natural. What isn’t natural is subjecting yourself to endless angst when it comes to submitting your work to anyone... agents, managers, producers, contests, or online to any of the pay to get your script out there sites. As to the worthiness of these pay sites... that’s another blog.

This Blog is brought to you by the writers on screenwriting boards around the world who ask the never ending questions... “Once I’ve submitted something how long do I wait before following up? And can I call? If I submit something, do I wait to hear before submitting to someone else?” The list of this line of questioning goes on, but you get the gist...

After years of making the mistake of sitting by the phone or computer and worrying daily about every submitted script, I finally made the choice to Submit and Forget. It changed my life.

No more worrying about whether a producer likes or doesn’t like my script. No more waiting to hear what one person thinks before sending it to another. If I entered contests, which I don’t and in most cases can't, I wouldn’t be waiting for the results before I queried it to anyone.

No matter how many times you Email or call (don’t call) an agent or manager or producer or director about your script, it isn’t going to make them read it any faster or like it more or less when they do. Well, if you CALL (don’t) or email too much it might make them like it less because they won’t want to work with someone who doesn’t understand how all this works.

If they like it, no matter how long it takes them read it, you will hear from them. They WANT TO LIKE IT. They want great scripts and great innovative writers. If they see that in you, you will hear about it.

If they don’t like it they may never let you know, issuing you the dreaded “Silent Pass”. Not my personal favorite, but much preferable to the “We loved it, but it’s not for us, kill you with kindness” pass, which even with flowery kind words is still a flat out rejection.

Once I realized that there were only two answers and I can’t affect either of them, I felt... well... liberated. I no longer had to sit by the phone or check my email for a note from them all the time. Or email them myself. Or worry whether they liked it or not. Because, and this was the most stunning thing to finally realize,  what I think doesn’t matter to them.

The truth is, it can take six months sometimes for reads. It can take overnight. You never know. I once had a script optioned almost a year after submitting it to a producer because that’s how long it took for him to get to it. I’d forgotten I sent it to him. (BTW, It ever got made and I got the script back.) They aren't going to work on your timeline.

So if you get a read request, Submit and Forget. And keep trying to get that same script out. And write a new one. Or rewrite your old ones. Don’t wait around for answers. Chances are it’s NO anyway, since most of the time that’s the answer. You owe no one an exclusive. You owe yourself the freedom not to drive yourself crazy waiting.

I should have done this long before I did. When I was acting and auditioning a lot, I used to fret about every audition and wait and wait by the phone for the answer (again mostly NO, because all but one who audition hear NO.) And one day, before an audition I really wanted for a film I really wanted to be in for a director really I wanted to work with and for, I realized the chances of me actually getting the part were probably as close to zero as you can get. Again... Liberating. I thought, “If I’m not going to get it, I’m going to just go in there and have fun.” And I did. And I got the part. Revelation. So, the next 8 auditions I went on, I did the same thing... same mindset... I'm not going to get it so relax and have fun. I auditioned 9 times over that period and got 9 parts. My agent said at the time it was a record for her. When I audition now (rarely), I still do the same thing. Had my first audition in almost two years end of 2015 and went in to have fun. Got the part.

Took me longer to realize the same mindset could help relieve the stress of submitting a script. Chances are overwhelming it's going to be a NO, so I’ll send it and forget it. Much healthier.

Was it like my auditions and suddenly I got more Yeses? No. of course not. I have gotten my share of yeses these last few years, but only after years and years of mostly No. I still hear NO a lot more than yes. But NO don’t bother me nearly as much because I know how hard it is to get a yes. And how nothing I can do or say, beyond writing the best script I can, will make anyone do what I want them to.

The people you submit your scripts to are happily living their lives and aren’t worried about what you’re putting yourself through at all. At all. They not only don’t think about it, they actively don’t care and never will. The only one putting stress on you is you. Don’t do it. Don’t spend valuable time you can’t get back worrying about what you have ZERO control over.

Submit it and Forget it.

 

Follow me on Twitter @bobsnz

Formula. Food for babies so they get all the nutrients they need. A blending of chemicals to make a drug. A specific path to follow to make beer or wine. A way of rating race cars. In Mathematics, a rule or principle, frequently expressed in algebraic symbols. A formal statement of religious doctrine.

A way to write a successful spec script? Not so much.

I know this may rub some writers or some script gurus the wrong way, but in my opinion a spec script written to a formula is never going to be anything special. How do you write a creative story that lets your own unique writing voice sing out if you have to write it according to some formula? If the story reads like everyone else who’s used the same formula, it most likely can’t.

I’m not talking about format. You need to follow that.

The reason for this Blog is a couple of emails I got and an advertisement I read online all touting to have the secret of getting your script sold and made. All by people who’d never had a screenplay produced, or if they did it was in 1986. They were pushing their formulas. Not unlike Save the Cat, which personally I also think stifles creativity and good storytelling.

Now. There are people who will tell you certain genres have Formulas you have to follow. Where did these formulas come from? From writers who went out of the box to begin with to find success. And when it worked, others followed. Thus becoming formula. Does that mean other new things in that genre won’t or don’t work? Hell no. This is about going out of the box or being a follower with your own spec scripts.

When you get to the point of doing some writing for hire for producers, or studios, or networks, some will have you follow their formulas, their rules for what they want in a script. Some cable networks actually have them written down. Most every TV show has them in stone.

The problem with actually getting these jobs is that you have to get noticed for your own spec work to get them. And believe me, the people who would rep you or hire you are NOT looking for formula from new writers. They’re looking for exciting great stories they haven’t read before told with a unique voice. Your voice. Not a Tarantino clone. Not a Shane Black or Tony Gilroy clone. The one you’ve developed by writing and writing and writing and letting go of preconceived ideas and releasing your own creative voice. One of the best compliments I ever got about a spec script I wrote was from a producer who said she knew I’d written it about five pages in by the voice and style. She also optioned it.

Then there’s my spec script that’s responsible for EVERY job I’ve ever gotten, EVERY room I’ve ever been in, got me my Rep, and is in some way responsible for everything else good that has happened to me in this business. What about it? Readers have trouble deciding who exactly the Protagonist is. When they finally decide it’s one person, that person dies. The main character, who may or may not be the Protagonist or may be the Antagonist, has NO ARC. He doesn’t change or grow or learn a damn thing. In fact, in his last line of dialogue he tells the audience that in so many words. Did I write it that way on purpose?

No, not really. I’m also not sad it turned out that way. I just wanted to write a great story that would be great on screen. Something I’d never seen before. And I came up with something I believed in, something if it worked that would make people pay attention to me as a writer. Does it follow any formula at all? Well, I guess it has three acts. Inciting incident? Page 37. Oh… it has specific music cues in it. An opening scene where the first characters introduced never say a single word for their entire time on screen in the film. Are they important characters? Yes.

And guess what? No one has cared. No one. It’s been optioned 8 times over the last 16 years by 8 different producers or production companies, including a studio. In the past, I’ve had producers in line waiting for an option with another producer to lapse so they could option it. I got a call a month ago asking if it was available. (it's not) And it’s never been made. No one made it because... well... the story itself is a wee bit controversial too.

Something else I did on purpose. I really never meant for it to get made. I meant for it to get me noticed. It did. The fact that it’s getting made next year, by the 8th production company, is a bonus.

A spec script these days has a very slim chance of getting made. Just the way it is right now and for the foreseeable future. Yes, there are some that get produced. Hell, I’ve had some produced. But selling specs is a very very tough road to go down. What you want from a spec is to show people, people who could hire you for writing jobs, that you have skill, imagination, a unique voice, and the strength to go out of that formula box, even though they may put you back into it to work for them. I know, it’s weird. But true. Ask any writer who’s broken out lately if they didn’t throw some formula to the wind to make the spec that got them noticed something different and special.

Formula has a place. You will be asked to use it for writing jobs. So you should know it before you ignore all or parts of it for your spec. It’s there to make familiar things happen that audiences are used to in certain kinds of films. Things everyone has seen before. It’s there because some people think it has to be there for your story to work cinematically. I personally don’t believe that.

But if you stick to it in your specs, trying to mold your story around it, Producers and Reps probably have nothing special to notice.

Follow me on Twitter @bobsnz

I go out to breakfast with bunch of guys occasionally, friends who are not in the Film or TV business. They’re always interested in what I’m doing because as my friend Chris says, “Nobody else we know does what you do.” My question back was, “What do you think I do?”

Before I reveal their answers, I’ll pass on an experience that I had not long ago. We were out at a social gathering, again not an industry gathering, and an older woman my wife and I have met before but don’t really know that well came up and asked me, “Are you still writing your skits?” I told her I was and she smiled and said, “That’s nice. What do you do for a job?” I thought about my standard answer “A jockey at the dog races” and decided not to be a smart ass and tell her the truth. “I am constantly looking for new jobs.” She looked confused, smiled, and said, “I had no idea. I hope you find one.” and probably went off to gossip about how I was an unemployed bum. Which at the moment is true. So ok...

Back to my friends at breakfast. When I asked, “What do you think I do?” I was met with some interesting answers from all them.

“You get to hang out with movie and TV stars.” Uhhh. NO. I’ve met some. I’ve worked with some. Because of the TV series I did I’ve remained good friends with some. But that’s not my job.

“You write movies, so I guess... you write what they say?” No. I write the whole story. I write everything they do and say.

“Doesn’t the director come up with what they do?” No. I write what they do and the director films it the way he or she wants to. True, most of the time the director can change any of it. But to start with, I write the whole story.

“Wow. I thought the actors made up a lot of what they said.” No. They don’t. That’s why there are writers. For most TV series there’s a room full of writers mapping out everything that happens on the show including everything they say.

“Ok. But like for your Christmas movie, all the magic stuff like her book and the purse that made money and her ears changing (at least he watched it), you made all that up?” I did.

“That must be hard.” It isn’t easy to do it well.

“So you write everything they say and do. I never knew that.” That’s ok. Most people don’t. In our insulated world we like to think they do, but in reality, they don’t. Not a clue. And to be honest, most don’t care. They just want to be entertained and the writer is last person that comes to mind.

On my way home, that exchange got me thinking. What do I do? I came up with an answer I think is true and scary at the same time.

You really want to know what I do? I ride a rollercoaster. That’s my job. A business and emotional rollercoaster that can never stop, because if it does, I’m through.

You want to be writer? Grab your ticket and come aboard. This rollercoaster goes higher and dips lower than any amusement park ride ever. It corkscrews longer and when you get to the upside down loop it sometimes stops and leaves you hanging, making you sick on occasion. And if you’re not ready for it, it can toss you out on your ass. Or... you have the ability stop it and walk away. Not many do that because once you get to one of those high parts, you want to get there again.

New writers are anxious to hop on, in the front seat if they can, anticipating that rise, their arms thrust up high, thinking the exhilarating ride with be nothing but joy with bags of money tossed on board as the ride takes them on red carpets with cameras flashing.

Wow. Does that sound bitter? I hope not. I don’t want it to.

I’ve had some pretty great highs. Wind rushing through what’s left of my hair. A feeling like no other. I want it again. And again. I look at the stack of DVDs on my desk of the films I wrote or wrote on and I still have to pinch myself sometimes. It is the best part of the ride.

I’m sitting on the edge of a few more highs right now. Not there yet and because it’s screenwriting it’s NOT on my timetable. Yes, it’s frustrating. Kinda like the slow ride up that first climb and never getting to the top. Or hanging upside down. Or both at the same time.

I also experienced an unexpected huge dip in the ride last week which left me uncharacteristically angry and depressed. This is the part of the ride my wife hates because she can’t make it better. Not that I haven’t been there before, because every successful writer has been there and will be again, but this was so unexpected and so disappointing that it made me think, just for a split second, “Do I need to get off?” or worse “Am I being thrown off?”

No. I’m not getting off. I’m sitting down today and starting a new script. I’m riding the climb from the bottom back up and I’m reaching out for new gold rings and having faith that the old gold rings that have been promised will be there. I’m been on the ride too long to do anything else.

You want to be a screenwriter? This is the ride. This is what you get on. And it’s powered by your creativity, your hard work, your determination, endless patience, luck, skill, networking, and your ability to endure a wide array of emotion. How you handle the highs with humility knowing they don’t last and your ability to survive the subterranean valleys. And your determination to grab onto the ride and swing yourself back on after you’ve been thrown off if you have to.

And it’s a ride that’s operated by people who control all of it and none of those people is you. You do have some control over the quality of the ride however. How you conduct yourself on it. The quality of your work. How you interact with the ride supervisors as you pass them by, reaching for that golden ring they hold out.

And the movie going and TV watching public? They have no idea you’re even on it.

Follow me on Twitter. @bobsnz

Been a little bit since my last blog. Lots of stuff happening. Finished a brand spanking new, kinda based on a real thing, comedy script spec I love with a new writing partner that I love writing/working with. Multiple trips to LA. Surprising meetings with studios. Meetings with some people I want to work with and meetings with people I never want to see again let alone work with. Meetings with cool friends I cherish. New life on a dark/comedy pilot I thought might go away, which is a good thing because it’s a killer concept. Other projects seem to be moving forward, one in particular is speeding, and loads of people I respect are asking/demanding to read the new spec.

Some personal family health hurdles to get over, which they did and received a Gold Medal for. Thank You God.

Life is good. I know you didn’t ask, but I need to announce it from the rooftops.

Now, let’s talk about being the Exception.

You know, those writers who dropped their script into the lap of a sleeping star on an airplane and it was made into a hit film. Or the writer who put their script into a pizza box and delivered it to CAA and got signed. Or the writer who slid their script under a restroom stall to that big director who made it his next film. Or the writer that got a star map, printed a dozen scripts, and threw them over the walls and fences at the Stars homes and the bidding war for the script that ensued afterward. Or the writer who made like he was delivering a singing telegram to a producer and ended his song by handing his script to the producer and the joyous celebration the two of them had afterward.

Yes, these things have all happened... the results didn’t, but the writers did make fools out of themselves trying these desperate and really unprofessional ways to get their work read.

There has been nothing that hasn’t been tried unsuccessfully, many times. Nothing. You may think it’s original, but it’s not. I have heard the stories from people who have been subject to this loonyness. It amazes them, it frustrates them, it pisses them off. In Amy Poehler’s new book, she talks about this invasion of personal space with an example of the time she was asleep on a subway in New York and someone dropped a script in her lap, waking her up. She was not happy. She was not nice. And I don’t blame her.

Who wants their personal space invaded? No one. Yet some writers seem to think this is fair game because once they heard a story from someone or another who knew a guy who knew someone who gave Coppola a script on a plane and it got made. This is how urban legends live on, because people need them to be true to justify their desperate actions.

Do people throw their software ideas over Bill Gate’s fence. Or their design ideas for a new Tesla under Elon Musk’s bathroom stall? Hell no. Why is this industry any different? Well, because it isn’t.

What the writers who try this craziness don’t realize is that producers buy writers as much as they buy writing. Why do you think they want to meet with the writers before they buy or option anything? To get a feel for who the writers are and if they can work with them. You know what they think of writers who do these over the line things to get their script read? Not a hell of a lot. The line, “Get off of my lawn!” comes to mind.

Hollywood as a business is amazingly risk averse right now, as if you couldn’t tell with all the sequels, remakes, and comic book films. One of the things they are really averse to is the uptick in law suits from writers who are sure their idea or script was stolen. That’s why no one will take any script that hasn’t been requested or brought to them by someone they trust. It’s too risky and they’d be flooded with scripts. They get enough scripts the right way as it is. Why do you think it takes so long to get a read once you’ve sent a requested script?

But... But... you don’t understand, Bob. I’m going to be the exception to the rule. It’s going to work for me because I’m brilliant and my script is brilliant and my film needs to be seen by audiences everywhere.

I can't tell you how many times I've read or heard this attitude. And then when their script get no traction, it's always everything but the script's fault.

I will say what I always say and will continue to say, GREAT SCRIPTS FIND A WAY. They don’t always get made, but they can make careers. If you’re not getting traction from your script from querying or reads or contests or sites like the Blacklist, you need to take a hard look at yourself and your script and face the fact that maybe it isn’t the people rejecting the script, but the script itself. Every writer has had to face this. Every writer who is a success now. What did they do? They didn’t get mad and feel sorry for themselves or blame anyone else. They pulled up their big boy/girl pants and wrote another one. And another one, working to get that one great script to get them noticed. Work.

You aren’t going to be the exception because there are none. You hear a story about some writer who sold his first script for big money? Chances are he spent as much or more time networking and querying to get it read and then was GREAT in the room. And as I’ve said previously, networking is nothing more than developing genuine relationships with people. Something that takes time and effort. Expecting someone with contacts to do something for you out of the blue is not networking. It’s insanity. Networking is work. Just like querying is work. Sites like the Blacklist cost and not a little. You have to invest your hard earned money for maybe no results. It’s what screenwriters do when they understand the business they’ve chosen. When they don’t understand, they throw scripts over fences.

Follow me on Twitter...... @bobsnz

Let me state right up front that these are my OPINIONS. They are based on my experience, but they remain my opinions. I will also be up front and say I have in the past written for free at times (not for a long long time and not ever again) and if I had to do it over again...

I wouldn’t do it.

So... let’s talk turkey about writing for free or optioning your work for free (or a dollar).

It’s not fair to you.

Let’s talk about script options first.

A guy walks into a shoe store and says to the owner, “I want your best shoes, but I’m only going to pay you a dollar or maybe take them for free and rent them for a year and in that time I’m going to let other people wear them for a day or two to see if they like them and if one of them does and wants them permanently in that year, I’ll pay you your regular price for them and give you credit for renting them to me. If no one buys them, then you get them back and you can keep the dollar, unless you agreed to let me take them for free, and then you can try to sell them again, but not to me. And by the way, we return 99% of the shoes we rent.”

Sound like a good deal to you?

If you’ve invested exactly NOTHING in something, how easy would it be to give up on it? Pretty damn easy. If you invest actual money in something that you will lose if you fail? You’re going to try a lot harder. If you really believe in something and value what it took for the person you’re getting it from to create it, you’re going to reward them for their effort. Even if it’s minimally.

When you option your script for zero, what you’re telling the person optioning it, is that you are placing your worth at zero. You’re setting your quote.

Believe me, if a legitimate production company balks (and legitimate ones don't) at giving you (if you are new and not WGA) $500 to $1000 dollars for a 12 month option they aren’t that crazy about your script anyway. Plus now they have skin in the game. They invested money. It’s not as much the amount as it is the psychology of it.

And this doesn’t take into account the “Producer” who may be offering you $100 to $1000 dollars to BUY your script if the project is super low budget. NEVER accept, even if it’s a super low budget film, just “Screen Credit” as pay. That producer or director offering that is using YOUR script to make a film that they want to advance THEIR career. Not yours. Don’t let someone make their bones on your back. Even if the budget is 10K, you need to get your 2 ½% ($250). Fair is fair and your work is the BASIS for the film. Get paid every time.

I know I’m making it sound like there’s an adversarial relationship between writer and producer. If the producer is a legit producer, it’s not. Any producer, and I mean ANY producer, who can get work for free is going to try. Hey. I had one try with me a couple of months ago. Right after they did it and I laughed and said no way, we got serious about fees and it was a quick negotiation. It wasn’t a problem. There were zero hard feelings. It’s business. Would I have passed on the job if there was no pay, but just promises? Yes. My personal view is no pay, no work. Promises don’t pay bills. If I’m going to work for free, I’ll write a spec script that’s all mine, not owned by someone else when I’m done.

They aren’t going to get pushed out of shape or hold it against you if you stand up for yourself as a business person and ask to get paid for your hard work and imagination. It doesn’t have to be a lot when you’re first starting, but it should be something. If someone wants your work, then you have worth. They’re telling you that by wanting it.

Now... let’s talk about writing a script for a producer for free.

Mr. Producer has a great idea and he needs a writer to write it. He likes your work and comes to you and says, “There’s no pay upfront, but if we make it you’ll get paid and get credit.” Uh huh. Again, he has ZERO invested in this besides thinking it’s a great idea. ZERO. How easy is it for him to give up on it? Pretty damn easy. Yes, sometimes a one in a million shot happens and the film gets made. But I’ve heard from countless writers who spent months of their time on other people’s projects for free and got paid exactly what was promised. Nothing. And they didn’t have any ownership of the script either. Less than nothing.

The vast vast majority of these projects go nowhere, just like the vast majority of most projects go nowhere. But if you get paid for your work, you still have something to show from it. Even if it’s a minimal amount like $500 to $1000 dollars (depending on budget) for a new writer.

Plus, you’re going to work harder on it and do a better job, knowing you’re being treated as a professional.

Yes... You’re going to hear people say, “But writing for free is paying your dues.” No, it’s not. It’s setting your worth at nothing. What other business would take something that you spent a lot of time to create from you for free? I can’t think of a lot of them. Hell, I can’t think of any.

How hard do you have to work to finish a great script? A script someone might want. A script that’s a good enough sample to get you write for hire offers? Why would you give it away? Even for 12 months.

I have worked with some amazing producers and directors in my short career. Some smart wonderful fair people. I’m working with some now. This business is filled with real business people who are fair when you ask to be treated fairly. Will some of them lowball you? You bet. It’s in their interest to try. Are they upset when you don’t agree? Nope. It’s business. And I have to tell you, a lot of the time you will get fair offers to begin with.  I'm just talking about the times when you don't. And when you get a manager and agent and a lawyer, they’ll handle it anyway. But even if they handle it, YOU still have to agree. You are the one who signs the contract. You still have to look after yourself and ask the questions you need to ask and be satisfied with the outcome. It’s YOUR career.

Someone offers you nothing for your script or nothing to write for them? Your choice. I always say no. I’m worth more than that.

Is there a Hollywood conspiracy against new writers? An organized effort to thwart new writers from breaking in? Is it a closed industry dedicated to keeping new writers out? I know this is a question every writer has asked themselves. Well, every writer except me and a few thousand other relatively sane writers who have a reasonable grasp on reality.

Let’s get this out of the way right now. There is no conspiracy. NO cabal of producers who sit and twirl their mustaches and plot to keep spec scripts from being read or optioned. People who want to keep the industry closed to new ideas or new writers. Yes, the industry is hard to break into. But any big industry is hard to break into. It takes work and perseverance. Patience and more hard work. Talent and even more hard work.

You mean I have to pay my dues? I don’t get what I want because I want it? Now? Then there must be a conspiracy.

At a writers board I lurk on sometimes to see what people are asking and thinking (and to get Blog topics on occasion), I was not surprised to see the often asked question, “Why won’t Hollywood just open its doors for new writers?” “Why do they keep going back to the same things all the time?” “Why don’t they buy spec scripts?” or... “Why don’t they buy MY spec script?”

I’ll tell you why they don’t buy your spec. It probably sucks. You probably queried it or networked to get it read before it was ready to be seen or you wrote it about a subject matter no one wants to buy. Tough words, but the main reasons why spec scripts don’t get optioned or sell.

There are so many things to consider as a screenwriter before you ever write the first word of a script anyway. And you have to be honest about it. Is this idea viable? Is it something people would pay to see? Do I know enough about this subject to write intelligently about it? What kind of research do I need to do? What new things can I bring to this idea that will make it stand out? Who is the audience I’m writing for? These are real questions to ask yourself when thinking about the film you want to write. I can’t tell you how many scripts I’ve read that were written without the author thinking about these things that, out of the gate, killed their script.

I’ve read police procedural scripts that have been done a thousand times before. Films about hobbies or about car repair or painting murals or the world of flower arranging. (really) Fast and Furious copies. Tarantino copies. Raunchy comedy copies that brought zero new ideas or concepts. Zombie films with nothing new. The list goes on.

If you write about hospitals, find out how they work for God’s sake and don’t make it up. If you set your script in a real place or real occupation (that’s interesting) find out how it works. I half read a script about scrapbooking and finally couldn’t read any more because it was too painful.

I’ve read scripts about people’s personal fetishes (get help, some of you). NONE of them put any thought into the fact that people have to read these and decide to INVEST MONEY in them. And I’ve been taken aback by the profound anger of these same writers when I’ve dared asked them who they thought would want to see something or invest in something like they wrote, not even taking into account the quality.

This is the hard work and honest thought needed before you write that most people don’t think about or want to do because it doesn’t lend itself to the instant gratification they’re looking for.

Again, I have seen real anger from people who can’t believe their script (usually their first script) isn’t the toast of Hollywood immediately upon its completion. I mean, sometimes it’s pure rage. I often see posts from writers who say, “Hollywood needs to be changed. I say we writers band together and change it.” and I ask them, “How would you change it?” They say 100% of the time, “Open it up to everybody. Have the studios stop making remakes and sequels and superhero movies and start buying specs again and make original films.”

I point out that the studios make these kinds of films because they’re profitable, there’s a demand and an audience for them, they’re safe investments for their investors, and... they’re private corporations who get to make what they want no matter how many writers “band together”.

More honesty. Producers LOVE new writers. They really do. But... it’s new writers who are great. And being great isn’t easy and it isn’t something that happens overnight. Sure, there might be some element of luck involved, but you still have to deliver to cash in on that luck.

I have a friend who’s a reader for a BIG production house. BIG. She says in the last three months she’s recommended ONE script and read well over a hundred. And she’s a good reader. In the past year I’ve read three scripts I thought were great, out of the close to a hundred I’ve read. And two of them were from previously optioned writers. It’s NOT easy.

And the angry writers say to this... “Then why is there so much CRAP made?” Well, first of all, crap is in the eye of the beholder. Lots of what you may think of as crap has an audience and makes money and that’s the whole idea of the film BUSINESS. The rest of it? I’ve seen great scripts turned into not great films over and over again. But they were great scripts to begin with.

It’s easy for me to say... just write a great script. It’s much much harder to do. Those great scripts you’ve read? They didn’t just appear. The hours and days and months and years of damn hard work to get there aren’t charted on the cover page, but you can see it in the content.

No one is trying to keep you from succeeding. And the competition is ferocious for sure. But great scripts with great ideas do rise to the top. They don’t always get made, but they do rise and get noticed. And those writers who can consistently deliver on the promise of that great script do get to make a living writing for films and TV.

But there’s no conspiracy and it’s never ever easy.

Yes, it was an interesting year. Filled with lots of work, a long stretch without work and that awful writer’s fear that they found you out and you’ll never work again. (Every writer knows this fear, get used to it.)

But overall it was a great year for rewrite assignments. Between January and July I had non-stop work. Assignments and Rewriting other people’s work is the bread and butter of most screenwriter’s lives. It pays the bills. Do I feel guilty sometimes taking another writer’s hard work and removing and replacing most of it? Yeah. I do sometimes. I know how it feels. It’s been done to me. But it’s also an everyday practice in this industry and as a screenwriter you need to understand it and live with it. Sad, but true.

Between July and December was the LONG Fall and Winter. Nothing. Nada. No paid work at all. My yard looked great though. My original feature was to have gone during this time, but circumstance and fate and… etc…etc…etc… stepped in. And voila, it was postponed. Another lesson for the anxious screenwriter out there. Nothing happens fast or on schedule, and steps backward are the norm. And... it often happens suddenly and without warning. I'm still hopeful about it though.

Lots of close calls for paid jobs this year, but I either lost them to other writers or the project stalled or dropped off the face of the earth. This is also normal. As a working writer you will read a LOT of scripts your manager sends you and you’ll take your notes on how to fix them and sometimes you’ll actually get to pitch your notes, sometimes not.  Sometimes you get hired.  OR they’ll ask your manager if you’d mind rewriting them on spec (FOR FREE) with money on the backside. (haha) And I will tell you, with total commitment, that writing for free is your choice of course, but something I do not recommend (or ever do) as it sets your price and worth to whoever is asking you. And it doesn’t pay bills. I’d rather write an original spec that I have an emotional connection with, than write for someone for free because 99% of the time it’s a colossal waste of time.

Ok. Enough of that.

2014 also brought the filming of Jeff Willis’ and my script, The Right Girl. An original non-romantic comedy we wrote that the production company turned into a romantic comedy after having us do 6 (six) paid rewrites.

I had some other films premiere on cable this year with my name on them as a writer, most that actually had words I wrote in them, one not so much. Screenwriters! Attention!! When you watch a film you worked your ass off on and NOTHING you wrote is in it at all but your name is still on it, just take the money, put it on your resume, and don’t tell anyone when it plays.

This year, I also sold a pitch ten months after I pitched it, forgetting completely what I said in the meeting and scrambling to figure out what I had specifically said, learning the BIG lesson that as a writer you need to take notes about anything you say in one of those meetings. Learn this, too. Don’t get that feeling in the pit of your stomach like I did when they were offering to BUY a script from an idea I couldn’t remember. It's turned out ok, because the script I ended up writing for them  has been completely thrown out and they’re paying me to write a new one because I have a new development exec.

On a personal note, I lost my writing partner Bonnie the dog, a Golden who spent the better part of her 13 years on earth in my office with me while I wrote. There for love when I needed it and a dog smile whenever I looked. She was as close to the perfect dog as there ever was. I will miss her forever. This month also saw the arrival, six months after losing Bonnie, of Enzo the wonder dog. He’s small, fast, funny, and a bundle of love who, happily enough, lays at my feet while I write, just like the amazing Bonnie. He knows. Been here a week and he knows. He’s there now. You have no idea how comforting it is.

This year also saw my friends Gary Graham, Mike Maples, Eliza Lee, and Mike Le move forward on their passion projects. I couldn’t be happier for them. Getting a film made is as an impossible thing as there is, especially an original spec, but you see, some people are doing it giving all writers hope. Teaches you not to give up. It can happen.

And this year has given me so many new friends in the business I can’t count them all. Friends who I’ve had the pleasure to drink and eat with and get to know. Writers and actors who share the same goals and dreams. People who I wish nothing but success for. You know who you are.

Now on to 2015. Wow... 15 years since Y2K. So much has happened and not happened. Only God knows what’s in store in 2015. My feature, long delayed, is maybe going to go. I have at least two cable films scheduled to go, including the pitch I forgot. I’m up for at least a half a dozen paid jobs I haven’t heard from yet. I’ve been offered the opportunity to write the pilot of a limited cable series based on a film with development starting in January.  And I still have a couple of optioned scripts out there that might become something, but maybe not. It's the film business. Many more die than live.

And I’ll continue to blog as long as I keep getting the great feedback and the great numbers of readers. Many thanks to everyone for the blog support. I’ve already got a topic for the first one of 2015 about one of my pet peeves (one of many) I see in spec scripts. May not be a rant, but it will be close.

So I bid adieu to 2014 with my best wishes to all. Keep writing. Don’t despair. If you write a great script, it will find a way. And I wish everyone a happy, healthy, lovely 2015 filled with all you hope for.