Tag Archives: writing

There’s a lot of talk out there about a WGA writer’s strike. The WGA and the producers are talking. They're not talking. Then talking again. The Union has asked for a strike authorization vote, something they NEED to have at the negotiation table by the way. It doesn’t mean they want a strike, it means the membership is standing together. A good thing.

I’ve never made it a secret, nor should I have, that I am NOT in the WGA yet. Everything I’ve done, I have done non-union. It’s just what’s been offered and what I’ve done. Will I join when I finally get a Union job? Damn skippy. Until then, I’m not there yet. And I’ve had a great career so far doing non-union jobs, I’m not going to hide that, but again I’ve also never been offered a Union job or sold a script to a Union shop.

I also believe in Union protection. And have since I became a member of SAG/Aftra over 20 years ago.

That said I want to give my personal perspective on a potential WGA writer’s strike as a non-member.

I completely support it if that’s what they vote for after negotiations fail. And if I’m in LA while it’s on, I’ll probably march with my friends who are members.

I also fervently hope it doesn’t happen at all. That cool heads will prevail on every side and a fair contract is pounded out.

The point, however, of this particular blog is not about whether a strike happens or not, but about non-union writers reaction to it. I want to be clear about this because for any writer you need to hear it:

This strike is NOT the way for you to break in. Period. To try and use the backs of the writers who blazed the way for you is the height of disrespect, first of all, and to think you can scab your way to success, secondly, is downright short sided and stupid.

Yes, you can maybe get something out of it for yourself in the short term, but long term? You’ve painted, rightfully, a big ass target on your back. And if you don’t think the Union won’t notice or know, you live in Fantasyland. Or remember? Yes, they will. As they should.

The WGA exists because of all the writers out there who’d write for free if they were given the chance. It exists because writers were taken advantage of in the infancy of the film and TV business and writers needed a way to collectively bargain for their rights. Otherwise, those big paydays you dream about as an unproduced screen or television writer? They wouldn’t exist at all. You need to thank and support these writers and the Union, not think of it as an opportunity.

Every writer, union or not, needs to make their own decisions on how they’d handle a work stoppage. I’ve made mine. I stand with my friends and the Union I am not yet a part of but fully expect to be in at some point in the future. As should you. Greed and selfishness for your own gain in a situation like this hurts everyone and in the long run, even you.

I get the producer’s side, too. They aren’t the enemy. Without them none of us have a job, union or not. And I understand any contract negotiation has to include a lot of posturing on both sides. My wish is no one is so intractable as to not come to an mutually agreed upon settlement.

Yep. I really hope there’s not a strike. I don’t want to see my friends suffer financially. I don’t want the industry to suffer. I don’t want my friends who are producers to go through this again. I don’t want to see the long term animosity the last strike caused. But if it happens?

Solidarity, baby.

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.


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.


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


Ok. Yes. I have been away from this Blog for about 6 months. Not exactly a vacation, but kinda. I did have an awful lot of work last year and it was the best year by far I’ve ever had as a writer, but that’s no excuse. I just got away from it. So, hopefully you’ll let me weasel my way back into your good graces.

The Art of Backtracking. Some history...

Last year sometime in the fall when I was back in LA, I was lucky enough to find myself sitting across a conference table from the head of a pretty big production company. His development exec had brought me in to pitch a couple of things she liked. In the room were the development exec, a sofa full of interns, the head of the production company, his assistant, and a well known actress that came with me because... well, it made sense since one of the pitches was with her in mind and she’s a good friend so it couldn’t hurt, plus she’s great to be with. They weren’t unhappy she came with me.

After some introductions, mostly the interns, and some idle chatter, I got down to business and pitched the movie idea I had with this actress in mind. I got about a minute into it and the boss turned to his assistant and said, “We’re buying this, let the business office know.”

Yes, my jaw dropped. The actress’s jaw dropped. Afterward, she said she’d never seen this happen in 25 years in the business. But there it was. They also asked for a synopsis they could approve before I started writing. At that point I probably would have agreed to anything because shock. So I went home and wrote one. Did I like it? Absolutely. To me, it worked. It worked for them, too. They said, “Get going on it.” I said, “Where’s the contract?” and unleashed my Rep to make a deal. Which after an extended time period, he did. And... a week and a half ago, after a lot of planning, I started on the draft.

Was really happy with the first 10 pages. It flowed. My female protagonist was sharply drawn, I thought. So far the supporting characters worked well, too. I had an ending that worked for what I wanted to do based on the synopsis and my bullet points.

But... and this is a big but... when I got to my male protagonist on page 13 and began to work on the meat of the story with the both of them, I hated him and what was happening to the story. A story I had well planned out. He was a nothing burger. They had zero chemistry. My fault, because I set him up to fail in the synopsis but didn’t realize it. And yet, I wrote on and was painting myself into a story corner because this guy was so lame. Dilemma? You bet. The deadline clock was running and they approved this storyline based on my premise which I still believed was rock solid, so I forced myself forward. As I did this I found it harder and harder to motivate myself to write. The lure of the internet, playing with Rocket the Dog, little chores around the house, screeners to watch. Anything but writing. Guilt? You bet. Admitting I was wrong? Not yet.

So yesterday I forced myself to open the file. To waste more time, I decided to reread what I’d written so far. And there... on page 7, it was. My “what if” moment. A three line minor character I put there to help establish a location greeted me waving his arms wildly and yelling, “Look at me!! What about me!!” And I said, “What if this guy was the male protagonist?”

I sat, my brain finally fully engaged in this writing process I’d been avoiding, and thought about the possibilities. And like a beautiful lightning strike (are there beautiful lightning  strikes?), the whole story opened up. A new much more meaningful emotional ending. A way to build this relationship surprisingly and with intelligence. The whole Magilla. It was all there. Zowie.

It also meant deleting 36 pages of script completely. Gone. Deleting 36 pages of hard struggle. Of hours and hours of work. And completely new story points to work out.

Took me about 30 seconds to think about it and do it. I hit the key. (I still had a backup) Victory was mine. Then I thought... “Uh oh.”

I needed to make the call to the producer to explain I was keeping the premise, the theme, and was completely changing direction in story and would you please let me. She was totally receptive as I explained exactly where it needed to go to work well, asked a couple of excellent questions as she always does, and then said, “I like it. Go and do it.”

I know it’s unfathomable to realize that writers, no matter how much they prepare themselves, can be completely wrong about their story after they’re into a second act. Sarcasm aside, you as a writer owe it to yourself, your characters, your story, to listen to that little voice that says “This is NOT working” when it happens instead of plowing ahead thinking you can write your way out of it. The delete key is your friend. “What if” is your friend. Don’t fear using them liberally if you have to.

This is not the first time this has happened to me, but never on this big a level or circumstances. I find new stuff and get new ideas, not just from me but from my characters, all the time in scripts as I write and go back and adjust. This time it was major. But after my Ah Ha moment I didn’t hesitate because you have to service your story before your ego. If I had kept going with my original storyline, the script wouldn’t have worked. And any rewrites would be based on a script that didn’t work. Plus I’m NOT going to turn in a script that doesn’t work. Neither should you.

Among all the other stuff you have to do as a screenwriter is question the honesty of your work as you go along. Be truthful with yourself. It’s not easy and it hurts a lot sometimes. But it also makes the big picture of what you’re trying to do better, healthier. If you see a character obviously not working, stop and fix it, even if it means radical change. Relationships in the story or conflict not working? Stop. If you force these things it kills good story and killing good story kills scripts, essentially wasting your time.

So, with a renewed sense of purpose I will plow new ground in this script, but this time won’t hesitate to zig in another direction if I think it gets off track again.

Glad to be back. Follow me on Twitter @bobsnz.

Not completely true. Here’s the thing. Writers respect writers. Directors, for the most part, respect writers. Producers love and respect good cooperative creative writers, know who they are, and remember them. Entertainment Executives like writers who know what they are doing and appreciate them. They also know and understand the necessity of the writer. Industry people from all walks pay attention to who writes what. They know. Serious film buffs know who some writers are, especially the A List ones.

A small percentage of the public will see something based on who wrote it. And by small, I mean, very very small. Bordering on microscopic when you take the population into consideration.

The public at large?

Not so much. They know SOMEBODY probably wrote it, but man, did you see those Dinosaurs? Or that explosion? Or how the actors in that scene made you cry? Or how cool the film looked? And how did they drive that car out of that plane?

They do notice writers when the film sucks. “Who wrote that shit?” But even then they don’t actually look and see who did.

And on the films or TV where they were entertained? Don’t kid yourself. They may look at the name, but it’s gone by the time they get home.

But Bob, there are screenwriting podcasts. And books. And websites. And seminars.

And blogs.

Those are all for those select few thousand (out of millions and millions) who care.

So why don’t people care who the writers are?

How do I count the ways. Writers are invisible. You never see them onscreen. Their names are on the film once, as the audience is walking in or walking out. The audience didn’t come to see the writer. They may have come to see the story the writer created but they never consider who wrote it. Or they go to see the stars, or the hype. The writer is never on Jimmy Kimmel to promote the film. You never see the writer walk the red carpet either. They do, but when that happens, it’s time to cut to commercial.

Writers do get to be on panels at Film Festivals, but those are for the small percentage of people who actually care who the writer is and want to hear from them. And mostly it’s people who want to be writers, too.

Do I sound bitter? Absolutely not. I started out as an actor. When I decided to try writing, I knew what the bottom line was. I knew where the writer was on the public’s food chain. I knew if I succeeded, I would have to be content having the industry know who I was as a pinnacle. I’m still working on that.

You don’t get into the screenwriting business to get famous. I got into it because I wasn’t that good an actor so I thought I’d try it because I LOVE movies and don’t want to do anything but work on them. What I found out was that I loved writing. I loved creating story. I loved fitting all the story elements together like puzzle pieces. And the first time I saw my script, my story, my characters, my dialogue on a screen, I was hooked. A junkie. I want it again and again and again.

Everyone has their own reasons why they write for film or TV. Getting famous shouldn’t be one of them. And being famous isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway. I’ve been out to dinner, played golf, and had drinks with some very famous people and I wouldn’t want that kind of public attention for anything. It might be fun for a while, but for me it would wear very thin.

So, for that group of writers, or would be writers out there who think it’s not fair that writers aren’t as publicly valued as actors and directors... Don’t blame the industry.

It’s the public. They don’t care. They just want to be entertained and thrilled and to laugh or cry or be frightened. No more. No less. And if you as a writer accomplish that and can sit in the theater or a home or a screening room with people watching something YOU wrote and they react to your work in any of those ways..... you’ve gotten everything you need from them.

You don’t need to be stopped in the grocery store or walking your dog for autographs because, well, it’s not going to happen.

And, to be honest... I’ve also noticed that most of the people who complain the loudest about no public recognition of screenwriters are the ones who’ve never sold anything or had anything produced.

Having the respect of industry peers beats the hell out of anyone recognizing you in Costco anyway.


Follow me on Twitter. @bobsnz

It’s that time of year when all screenwriting thoughts are directed towards snowflakes and candycanes and Reindeer and Santa... yeah right. Nope, if I remember correctly it’s about this time of year a lot of screenwriters look back on the year past and wonder why they still don’t have a damn agent or manager.

The screenwriting boards light up in Holiday multicolored complaints from writers who talk of how stupid agents are for not recognizing the brilliance of their scripts. Others lament how they query just like they’re supposed to but the damn managers won’t even respond or have the bad taste to pass on them.

That’s when the “You don’t need an agent, they just profit off of your hard work” and “They don’t do anything anyway.” comments spring to life. Or worse “You can sell a script to a studio without an agent or manager. Just buy my book.” offers spring up like ugly uncontrollable kudzu.

So in the spirit of the time of year I’m going to offer my thoughts on this topic.

First of all, Agents and Managers are looking for writers who will have careers, not one trick ponies. You aren’t going to get one from your first script unless it’s so groundshatteringly good that people read it and faint from ecstasy. This is not likely. In fact let’s be honest, it isn’t going to happen. Honestly, it might not happen for your first ten scripts.

For sure, it is about quality, but quantity counts, too. You have to have an answer to the age old question, “What else do you have?” besides, “Well, I got some ideas.” or “Isn’t this one enough?”

Most new writers have the wrong idea about agents and managers anyway. They think that once they have one the heavens will open and manna in the form of instant sales and produced films and writing jobs will shower over them.

A good example of this kind of thinking is from something I actually witnessed in a different aspect of this business. I was sitting in my acting agent’s office one afternoon shooting the breeze (this was when I had occasion to actually make use of my acting agent, unlike now) and there was a commotion in the outer office. My agent, who although she’s about 5’1” and pretty petite but could probably throw someone through a wall, went to see what was going on. I followed.

In the outer office, as her assistant and the office manager stood between a young man and my agent’s office door, he waved something in the air. “I have my SAG card and I’ve CHOSEN you to be my agent.” My first reaction to this statement was to wish I was anywhere but there as I watched my agent’s blood pressure increase so much you could feel it in the air.

Then she wound up and delivered. “Get the hell out of my office! Now!” He looked like she’d shot him, which I believed she would have if she could get away with it. He slunk out. I think I started laughing until she gave me a look.

We went back in her office and she regaled me on how stupid wannabe actors can be. I guessed correctly that this was not the first time this had happened. She finally laughed, although it may have been an ironic one, and told me that most all of them were extras who got a SAG card by Taft-Hartley vouchers, not by actually acting in anything and believe once they are visited by the SAG Fairy they will instantly be cast in all varieties of film and TV, mostly as the star, and are blessing her by choosing her to represent them. She called it Psycho-SAG-cosis.

This is what a lot of screenwriters think is going to happen when they get an agent or manager. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you are good enough to get a good manager or agent all they can do is open some doors for you and advise you how to handle it. This IS quite important for sure, but you have to do the rest. They DO NOT GET YOU JOBS. You get you jobs by being great in a room, having what the people who you meet with want, and impressing the hell out of them with your personality and talent. If you can do this, then you get to keep your agent or manager to go out and do it again, keeping in mind that the person waiting in the outer office when you finish is there to do the same thing.

Yes, with an agent or manager the Opportunity Fairy can visit a lot more often and that’s a very good thing. But you as a writer have to be just as ready for an agent or manager as they are for you. Confident in yourself and your work, not ridiculous big ego confident, but sincerely there and humble confident. You have to be honest and tell the truth, not just say what you think people want to hear because that always bites you on the ass eventually. And to have enough faith in yourself to answer a question with “I don’t know, but I can find out.” if that’s the real answer.

These are the things, besides having some great scripts, that will keep you in good stead with any agent or manager. That and a real work ethic.

Writing one script doesn’t make YOU ready. Being desperate doesn’t make you ready. Everything is this business takes time, as I have said dozens of times before. You HAVE to be patient. There is no Agent Fairy to instantly make you a screenwriting star. Agents and managers are there to work with you in building a career one block at a time. You can’t sit back and wait for them to perform miracles, because that’s not their job. And you’re not their only client either. There’s nothing magical about it.

So if you think you’re ready, query managers and agents. They ARE looking for new talent all the time. And keep networking. I got my manager through a referral from a director. He had to read my work first and talk to me and do all those things they do before agreeing to represent you, but the referral got me through the door.

Getting an agent or manager is just another stepping stone in managing your own business as a screenwriter. A big one, but one that needs to come at the right time. Knowing that this is a long game, don’t be so anxious that you try before you or they are ready.

And Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from me and my family.

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

I read a script the other day. A script a friend of a friend asked me to read. The premise was pretty good. A solid idea.  The execution of the premise? Oh boy. Mostly not there at all with some passable hints of ok here and there. Spelling was atrocious. Dialogue nobody on this planet would say, ever. A LOT of exposition.  People telling people things they would already know to inform the audience. The worst kind of exposition. For a first script it was a pretty standard try.

We spoke. I told the writer the truth, in my eyes, what was wrong with the script. I started by telling the writer how good I thought the idea was. How I wish I’d thought of it. Then I started in, I think gently, to tell the writer how off the mark the script was and why. I didn’t get very far when the writer interrupted and said, “You’re hurting my feelings. Why are you so mean?” I am NOT KIDDING. I may have laughed for a split second. “Seriously?”, I said.


I was flummoxed. Never heard this one before. He went on to explain that all his friends and family thought the script was great and would be a wonderful film. All he had to do was get it to an agent or studio and let the nature take his predetermined course. Why was I being so mean? Just because I was successful, I didn’t have to lord it over him. Why couldn’t I just read it and pass it on. Or NOT read it and pass it on. This was his honest thought process.

I said, “Is this a joke?” I was trying to think of which writer friend of mine would have put him up to this and how I was going to get them back.

He assured me it wasn’t a joke and I said, “You know, I went easy on you. A reader would have just thrown your script in the trash and never said anything to try and help you. A producer wouldn’t have been that nice. This is a tough business and you have to be tough with it.”

He said, and I kid you not, “I understand it’s a tough business, but you’re not a producer and this isn’t business so you could be nicer and more respectful.”

It was about then I started picturing in my head the walls of this young man’s room, lined with participation trophies and ribbons that told him he was a winner no matter where he’d placed in anything he participated in. This person had never been told he’d didn’t win. He expected a participation trophy from me.

He didn’t get one. I told him to grow up. I told him the real world didn’t give out participation trophies. That he’d have to measure up to industry standards or be left behind and that meant listening to honest constructive criticism and leaving his “Feelings” at the door. He honestly didn’t understand. You could hear it in his voice. This isn’t the first time I’ve run into this out there.

I told him I wasn’t sending it anywhere. I told him if he did send it out he was going to hear a lot worse that what I said. And that he didn’t even let me finish and tell him how he could fix it, although I don’t think he has the ability now. I told him I was going to delete his script from my computer and I would take my mean old self as far away from him as I could. I wished him... I don’t think I wished him anything... I just ended the call.

I’ve said this before. I was given a tremendous amount of help and advice when I was first starting. Help from some amazing pros who didn’t have to, especially considering where my stupid ego was after selling my first script out of the box. But they did. And I listened and I learned and I made mistakes and I fixed my mistakes. Because I had that kind of help.

So in this vein, I also visit some screenwriting boards and butt in when I see something I can comment on that I have experience with. Some young person had posted that you HAD to put camera angles and POVs and camera pans in your scripts so the director knew what you wanted to do. This WAS the industry standard and that Syd Field’s book was the way you HAD to do things or you wouldn’t succeed in Hollywood because they knew if you were using Syd’s book or not by the way your script read. He was “the industry’s guru.”

I have a lot of friends who are writers. Most of which who are better than me and have more experience and there wasn’t one of you that wouldn’t have commented on this. I did. I said that wasn't true. I didn't sugarcoat it, but I wasn't nasty about it. And was met with the same kind of crap I got from the writer on the phone. That I thought I was some ego maniac big shot writer who was trying to tell them what to do. And in a mean way. If he was wrong why couldn’t I sweetly tell him with a private message or something instead of embarrassing him. He came back and said some snotty thing like “My Bad”.

So I answered it like this, “No, not at all. You're learning. You're anxious to get going in the industry. You're eager. You're motivated. Those are things that will help you move forward. Don't change that. When I was first starting I also was free in giving out advice because I was excited about what I thought I had learned. I was wrong. And I got shot down because I gave advice without the industry experience or screenwriting work history to back it up. Plus it was erroneous advice because I didn't really know crap. You're just starting. My advice to you? Read scripts from films you like. Read bad scripts to see what people did wrong. Read any scripts you can get your hands on... Then write write write. Learn the business end of screenwriting. If you want to be screenwriter, that means you have to be an independent businessperson. Just writing a script is the beginning. Keep going and I wish you nothing but success.

And it started an avalanche of comments from a bunch of wannabe writers on another thread dedicated to complaining about how experienced writers thought they knew soooo much. And how they never liked the loglines people posted and were probably stealing them and never said anything positive (meaning what they wanted to hear) and on and on...

What it taught me was... never again. I’m not reading friends of friends scripts anymore. Just not. I’m past done doing that. I’m not visiting that screenwriting board anymore either. Doesn’t mean I’m done giving back, just going to be more careful and selective.

When you write and want honest feedback leave your ego and feelings at the door. Tough to do, but every writer I know that’s successful does it. Why? Because you'll learn something. You'll get better as a writer. But mostly because if you don’t, you won’t survive.

Follow Bob 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.

Here’s my conundrum. Do I be blunt about how bad it is to be a desperate screenwriter or do I softpedal it, so I don’t get anyone mad?

Why, you ask, would I be concerned about getting anyone mad? Well, my last blog about the lack of a conspiracy to keep new writers away from Hollywood did, amazingly enough, make some people mad. Some really mad. And I heard from them. In fact, I was accused by more than one of being a shill for the conspirators.

Yep, a shill for the mean, nasty, uncaring managers, agents, agencies, producers, directors, and studios that spend their days not working on films and TV, no, but gleefully spending their days together laughing like hyenas at all the screenwriters whose scripts they have refused to read for NO GOOD REASON.

Yeah, you found me out. A shill. A shill for the same directors and producers and studios who I struggle with everyday to get my own work read. That makes sense.

Actually, when you think about it in terms of this Blog’s topic, it does make sense. Desperate people do, say, and think stupid things. And accuse people of things that if they were thinking straight, they would never dream of doing. But for a certain percentage of writers, logic and thought go right out the door when it comes to their scripts.

I do understand how much work it takes to write and finish a script. Most scripts. I read one a while back that the writer bragged he’d written in two days. 144 pages. It just came as a “stream of thought and is destined to be a hit”. All you can do with writers like this is smile, point and say “Look a Producer”, and run away when they look.

Most of the time it does take a ton of work to finish a script. And when you’re done, it’s your new baby. You love it and will do anything to protect it and get it seen, even if you can’t realize it may be ugly.

One my dearest friends is an Exec at a prominent production company. To say he’s bombarded daily with read requests is a gross understatement. Most of the time he rightly says No. That can be based on many things. His time (he works damn hard) and his interest in the logline (and it better be a damn good logline). Sometimes he reads things as a favor to someone.

When he does consent to read a script he’s very clear that it’s not in any way shape or form an acceptance to buy that script by his company. Yet, when he tells the writers no, and 99.99999% of the time he tells them no, some act like he’s gone back on his word to them. He’s likely to hear back from them either anger that he doesn’t know a good script when he reads it, how wrong he is, sob stories, begging, rage, insults, threats, and other acts of desperation that insures these writers that my friend (and his company) will be ignoring them for now and evermore.

I understand desperation. I understand waiting for an email or waiting by the phone for a call. I started off as an actor. I’d audition for some film or commercial or TV show, desperate for the job, then go home and worry and fret in desperation to hear if I got it. I didn’t get them and I finally figured out why. Desperation shows on camera and casting people and producers and directors HATE IT. It was only when I decided “Hey, I’m probably not going to get the part anyway, so why not have some fun with it” that I started getting some parts. BIG wake up call. I still didn’t get the majority of them because nobody does, but I got my share.

The same goes for writers. Desperation shows. It shows in your attitude. It shows in your query letters if you’re not careful and smart. It shows when you try to network. Bugging people and refusing to take no for an answer is the ultimate act of desperation and makes you look crazy and no one wants to work with crazy.

NO. NO. NO. Get used to this word. It’s what writers hear 99% of the time. It’s what actors hear 99% of the time. Believe it or not, it’s what Producers and Directors hear most all of the time. NO.

It’s not personal either. Unless you’re desperate, then it’s a little personal because no one wants to be around it. No mostly has to do with the quality of your work or where that work fits into need or timing… a million things have to go right to get a yes. But you have more of a chance if your script is truly great and you’re NOT desperate.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard not to be desperate in certain situations. I get that. But you just can’t act like it or show it. It will affect outcomes and relationships. It can kill some relationships before they have a chance to start.

Nothing get accomplished or changed when you beg or argue with someone who has said No. In this business they’ve already moved on the moment they decided No. Whether it’s deciding not to read it at all or during reading the first ten pages or seriously contemplating it after finishing a read, then saying No, you need to lick your wounds and move on like the pros do.

There’s no conspiracy. It’s just plain hard to option or sell a movie script or TV show. It’s really really hard. It gets harder if you’re desperate.


(follow me on Twitter @bobsnz)


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.