Welcome to Screenplay.com!
Cart Subtotal: $0.00

Screenwriting Questions and Answers

Script-a-WishScreenwriting Questions & Answers
by JUNE 2012

QUESTION:

Good Day Sir,

There is no place like L.A., especially if you’re currently living in snowy Grand Forks, North Dakota. Your articles intrigue me. I am sitting on several scripts that are quite unique BUT my wanton desire for success can’t seem to diminish my fear of having my scipt ideas stolen or misused. I am looking to move to L.A. if I can buy the wife enough jewelry to make her forget how much she loves ND. With ALL that said, what is a piece of advice that you can give me to just put it on the line and start sharing my work?

-ND

ANSWER - - - - - - - - - - - - -

ND,

Thank you for emailing me. That is actually a question I get a lot, and the answer is simple: 99% of people in the industry have no interest in stealing anyone’s work. In fact, it’s counterintuitive and disadvantageous to do so. Consider this: if a producer or agent or executive, etc. reads your script and likes the idea, its MUCH easier and MUCH cheaper for them to option it from you for a dollar and work with you, than to risk a lawsuit by stealing anyone’s ideas. It’s simple math – spend a dollar here? Or risk thousands/millions in a lawsuit there?

The other key point to consider is that it is much simpler and FASTER for a producer, etc. to option someone’s script and work with them than it is to steal the idea and start from scratch with someone else. And you can always count on industry people to do the easier, faster, simpler way.

So when it comes to people in the industry, you’re safe. In general you are pretty safe, but some rare and unscrupulous non-industry people need to see a “WGA registered” on the cover page to know not to even entertain the idea of stealing. Again, if it’s registered with the WGA, you have written proof that an idea is yours, and IF it ever comes to a court battle, you have the proof on your side. In the end, while you don’t NEED to register your script with the WGA, it’s always good insurance. Don’t let propagated fear of having your ideas stolen keep you from succeeding at becoming a professional screenwriter. There are real battles to be fought when it comes to going from an unknown to a card carryin’ WGA writer – this isn’t one of them.

I would like to add something very important, especially after reading about Paramount’s “First Man”. I read a script awhile back from a very talented writer named Jon Simpson called First Gentleman that was optioned a few months ago. As you can tell just from the title, it was similar in nature to Johnny Knoxville’s “First Man”, and it too was about a female president who had a husband that was a bit of a screw up. Your initial thought might be “it was stolen,” but I know for a fact that no one stole Jon’s idea based on discussions with other colleagues. There are going to be times like these, where you’ve written such an easy to identify commercial concept, that someone else has thought the same thing. It doesn’t mean anyone stole your idea, it just means it was such an obviously great idea that more than one person came up with the same thing. As far as I know, there are actually at least three versions of this idea floating around out there, for example.

Let the lesson be that if you come up with a brilliant idea, you need to get down on paper ASAP and then get into the hands of people who can help you, like me or others.

As well, most of the time, the idea isn’t what makes someone like a script. Oh sure, it’s necessary to have a high concept idea in order to sell a screenplay, but there are about 100 bank heist scripts I’ve read in the last five years. No, it’s not the idea – it’s how it’s written. The style, the flow, the pace, the confidence – and NO ONE ELSE can write like you can and no one can steal that from you. So don’t be paralyzed by any fears of idea pirates. Go for it, and go all in.

If you have any questions of your own, please feel free to email michael@scriptawish.com. I’m here to help.


MAY 2012

QUESTION:

Dear Michael,

Greetings from Ireland. I hope you’re well. I found your latest article in Scriptmag very helpful. I’m currently working on a few feature scripts but have been concentrating on making my own short films up to this point, one of which will screen at the Irish Film Festival of Boston.

I was wondering if you could offer some advice… I have gone to festivals in the USA before (horror is my thing and I won an award at a competition in New Jersey and also went to the NYC Horror Film Festival with my last short), and done some good networking, but unfortunately LA has eluded me so far.

I’m torn at the moment between going out to present my latest short in Boston  (not LA or even NY, I know), in the hopes of drumming up contacts and interest in my work, or saving the time and money to polish a few scripts and maybe head out to LA for a couple of weeks instead and try and get meetings etc. But, of course, I have no contacts in LA…

I’d really appreciate any help.

Best,

Rob

ANSWER - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Rob,

Thank you so much for your email and kind words on the article! I truly appreciate it.

To be perfectly blunt, unless a short is in a major festival like Sundance, it’s best to save your money. While networking is important, unless it’s in a major festival, the networking you’ll be able to do will not be beneficial enough to warrant a trip (and certainly not one from Ireland!).

To put this in even starker contrast, when people ask me about short films, I always tell them one thing: unless you’ve got a feature script behind it, nobody in the industry much cares. Even when people get their shorts into Sundance, many times ALL that comes from it is the networking they manage to do while there – a festival winning short doesn’t launch as many careers as it once did.

On the flip side, if you do create a brilliant short, you will get 100 times more traction and career launching using the internet than you can from a festival. Especially if you’re talking genres like comedy, horror, or sci-fi, which you are.

As well, if someone sees a brilliant short at a festival, they’ll contact you using the email address in the festival program, so you don’t even have be there anymore anyways.

Lastly, if you do have a brilliant short, and people are emailing you about it (whether from a festival or the internet), the ONLY question that every industry person will ask you is: do you have a feature script? Even if it’s not a feature version of the short, the only currency in this business for filmmakers is a feature script.

Now, with all of that said, I would post your short online using vimeo, start trying to get websites and blogs to link to it, and let it take on a life of it’s own. Before, during, and after all of that, I would focus on finishing your features. Again, that’s the only currency you have as an unknown filmmaker, and your biggest asset.

Lastly, I wouldn’t just come out to L.A. and try and drum up interest and meetings while you’re here. I would use the features and short to drum up interest and meetings BEFORE you ever think of buying a plane ticket, so that you guarantee that your trip will be well worth your time when you come.

It sounds to me like you’ve definitely got talent (having been in multiple festivals), so it’s what you do with your talent that will make the difference. The time right now is crucial, because I can’t tell you the number of filmmakers who had a couple great shorts in festivals and then never finished a feature (and thus their festival successes never went anywhere). Getting a short or feature in a festival is the easy part – the networking you put into the event is the moderately difficult part – the hard part is finishing a fantastic feature that you can use when drumming up interest with your short.

Hope that helps,

Michael


APRIL 2012

QUESTION:

Hi Michael, I've been enjoying your articles online. I was especially intrigued regarding your tip about mentioning it in a query letter if anyone's currently reading your script. Do you feel that's valid even if it's only one person? I've often worried about doing this, since people often 'pass' without even informing you. Plus I read once or twice that producers keep tabs and share their readers' comments with each other. Do you know if this true? If it is, it would mean that pitching a script you've improved thanks to some good feedback is a waste of time. Unless there's some way around it (rename the script), I'd love to hear your take on this. Thanks again for those great articles and please keep them coming!

Gail

ANSWER - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Gail,

Thank you for your kind words on my articles, and your questions are all great. I’ll go through each, one by one.

  1. Yes, absolutely mention who’s reading your script – even if it’s just one person. The caveat being that it better be someone great, or from a company with credits. If it’s a well known person, make sure it’s someone who requested to read your script, not someone you just sent it to (and never heard back from). This is an important distinction, precisely because of some of the points you raised. Yes, that person may have “passed” and not told you, but if it’s true that they requested a read, then I would use that for all it’s worth. Now, there is a timeline on this precisely for the point you raised, so I would use it for a maximum period of 3 months, lest they forget and get asked about it.

  2. Yes, it’s absolutely true that people keep tabs on everything, and everyone talks to each other. Think of Hollywood as one big high school cafeteria, where everyone knows everybody’s business, and rumors and gossip and news and information spreads like wildfire (usually via instant messaging between assistants, who then tell their bosses).

  3. As far as looking at this as a hindrance to rewrites, there are a number of strategies. First, you have to factor in that unless your script is terrible, you should be fine. Nobody talks about the mediocre scripts, and if a script is that category of “good but not there yet”, again, it won’t count against you. If your script is great, that news will certainly spread like wildfire. Now, I doubt this is the case for you, BUT – if your script was given a terrible review or coverage, AND you are passionate about the project, the very first thing to do is change the title. Then get impartial, unbiased, excellent story notes (like my 10+ pages service) that will give you the detailed feedback you need to make your passion project better. And, I would definitely NOT res-send it to whoever gave you bad coverage. Get the new draft read somewhere else, and get a good review. If you are passionate about working with the company that gave you the original bad coverage, I would wait until after getting good reviews from other companies around town before approaching them again. By then you can let them know it’s been completely rewritten and given good reviews by X company or Y agent.

When we’re aspiring writers, our whole mountaintop is to finish the script. Then it’s to actually get it read by Hollywood. Then it’s crossing our fingers that they love it and want to make sweet money babies with our screenplay. But we never focus on what happens next, which can be just as nerve racking. My job is usually focused on helping writers with that front end, so when this question came in from a client of mine, I wanted to share it with you guys.


MARCH 2012

QUESTION:

Good Day Sir,

There is no place like L.A., especially if you’re currently living in snowy Grand Forks, North Dakota. Your articles intrigue me. I am sitting on several scripts that are quite unique BUT my wanton desire for success can’t seem to diminish my fear of having my scipt ideas stolen or misused. I am looking to move to L.A. if I can buy the wife enough jewelry to make her forget how much she loves ND. With ALL that said, what is a piece of advice that you can give me to just put it on the line and start sharing my work?

-ND

ANSWER - - - - - - - - - - - - -

ND,

Thank you for emailing me. That is actually a question I get a lot, and the answer is simple: 99% of people in the industry have no interest in stealing anyone’s work. In fact, it’s counterintuitive and disadvantageous to do so. Consider this: if a producer or agent or executive, etc. reads your script and likes the idea, its MUCH easier and MUCH cheaper for them to option it from you for a dollar and work with you, than to risk a lawsuit by stealing anyone’s ideas. It’s simple math – spend a dollar here? Or risk thousands/millions in a lawsuit there?

The other key point to consider is that it is much simpler and FASTER for a producer, etc. to option someone’s script and work with them than it is to steal the idea and start from scratch with someone else. And you can always count on industry people to do the easier, faster, simpler way.

So when it comes to people in the industry, you’re safe. In general you are pretty safe, but some rare and unscrupulous non-industry people need to see a “WGA registered” on the cover page to know not to even entertain the idea of stealing. Again, if it’s registered with the WGA, you have written proof that an idea is yours, and IF it ever comes to a court battle, you have the proof on your side. In the end, while you don’t NEED to register your script with the WGA, it’s always good insurance. Don’t let propagated fear of having your ideas stolen keep you from succeeding at becoming a professional screenwriter. There are real battles to be fought when it comes to going from an unknown to a card carryin’ WGA writer – this isn’t one of them.

I would like to add something very important, especially after reading about Paramount’s “First Man”. I read a script awhile back from a very talented writer named Jon Simpson called First Gentleman that was optioned a few months ago. As you can tell just from the title, it was similar in nature to Johnny Knoxville’s “First Man”, and it too was about a female president who had a husband that was a bit of a screw up. Your initial thought might be “it was stolen,” but I know for a fact that no one stole Jon’s idea based on discussions with other colleagues. There are going to be times like these, where you’ve written such an easy to identify commercial concept, that someone else has thought the same thing. It doesn’t mean anyone stole your idea, it just means it was such an obviously great idea that more than one person came up with the same thing. As far as I know, there are actually at least three versions of this idea floating around out there, for example.

Let the lesson be that if you come up with a brilliant idea, you need to get down on paper ASAP and then get into the hands of people who can help you, like me or others.

As well, most of the time, the idea isn’t what makes someone like a script. Oh sure, it’s necessary to have a high concept idea in order to sell a screenplay, but there are about 100 bank heist scripts I’ve read in the last five years. No, it’s not the idea – it’s how it’s written. The style, the flow, the pace, the confidence – and NO ONE ELSE can write like you can and no one can steal that from you. So don’t be paralyzed by any fears of idea pirates. Go for it, and go all in.

If you have any questions of your own, please feel free to email michael@scriptawish.com. I’m here to help.


FEBRUARY 2012

QUESTION:

Dear Michael,

Greetings from Ireland. I hope you’re well. I found your latest article in Scriptmag very helpful. I’m currently working on a few feature scripts but have been concentrating on making my own short films up to this point, one of which will screen at the Irish Film Festival of Boston.

I was wondering if you could offer some advice… I have gone to festivals in the USA before (horror is my thing and I won an award at a competition in New Jersey and also went to the NYC Horror Film Festival with my last short), and done some good networking, but unfortunately LA has eluded me so far.

I’m torn at the moment between going out to present my latest short in Boston  (not LA or even NY, I know), in the hopes of drumming up contacts and interest in my work, or saving the time and money to polish a few scripts and maybe head out to LA for a couple of weeks instead and try and get meetings etc. But, of course, I have no contacts in LA…

I’d really appreciate any help.

Best,

Rob

ANSWER - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Rob,

Thank you so much for your email and kind words on the article! I truly appreciate it.

To be perfectly blunt, unless a short is in a major festival like Sundance, it’s best to save your money. While networking is important, unless it’s in a major festival, the networking you’ll be able to do will not be beneficial enough to warrant a trip (and certainly not one from Ireland!).

To put this in even starker contrast, when people ask me about short films, I always tell them one thing: unless you’ve got a feature script behind it, nobody in the industry much cares. Even when people get their shorts into Sundance, many times ALL that comes from it is the networking they manage to do while there – a festival winning short doesn’t launch as many careers as it once did.

On the flip side, if you do create a brilliant short, you will get 100 times more traction and career launching using the internet than you can from a festival. Especially if you’re talking genres like comedy, horror, or sci-fi, which you are.

As well, if someone sees a brilliant short at a festival, they’ll contact you using the email address in the festival program, so you don’t even have be there anymore anyways.

Lastly, if you do have a brilliant short, and people are emailing you about it (whether from a festival or the internet), the ONLY question that every industry person will ask you is: do you have a feature script? Even if it’s not a feature version of the short, the only currency in this business for filmmakers is a feature script.

Now, with all of that said, I would post your short online using vimeo, start trying to get websites and blogs to link to it, and let it take on a life of it’s own. Before, during, and after all of that, I would focus on finishing your features. Again, that’s the only currency you have as an unknown filmmaker, and your biggest asset.

Lastly, I wouldn’t just come out to L.A. and try and drum up interest and meetings while you’re here. I would use the features and short to drum up interest and meetings BEFORE you ever think of buying a plane ticket, so that you guarantee that your trip will be well worth your time when you come.

It sounds to me like you’ve definitely got talent (having been in multiple festivals), so it’s what you do with your talent that will make the difference. The time right now is crucial, because I can’t tell you the number of filmmakers who had a couple great shorts in festivals and then never finished a feature (and thus their festival successes never went anywhere). Getting a short or feature in a festival is the easy part – the networking you put into the event is the moderately difficult part – the hard part is finishing a fantastic feature that you can use when drumming up interest with your short.

Hope that helps,

Michael


DECEMBER 2011

QUESTION:

Hi Michael,

I've been enjoying your articles online. I was especially intrigued regarding your tip about mentioning it in a query letter if anyone's currently reading your script. Do you feel that's valid even if it's only one person? I've often worried about doing this, since people often 'pass' without even informing you. Plus I read once or twice that producers keep tabs and share their readers' comments with each other. Do you know if this true?

If it is, it would mean that pitching a script you've improved thanks to some good feedback is a waste of time.
Unless there's some way around it (rename the script), I'd love to hear your take on this.

Thanks again for those great articles and please keep them coming!

Gail

ANSWER - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Gail,

Thank you for your kind words on my articles, and your questions are all great. I’ll go through each, one by one.

  1. Yes, absolutely mention who’s reading your script – even if it’s just one person. The caveat being that it better be someone great, or from a company with credits. If it’s a well known person, make sure it’s someone who requested to read your script, not someone you just sent it to (and never heard back from). This is an important distinction, precisely because of some of the points you raised. Yes, that person may have “passed” and not told you, but if it’s true that they requested a read, then I would use that for all it’s worth. Now, there is a timeline on this precisely for the point you raised, so I would use it for a maximum period of 3 months, lest they forget and get asked about it.

  2. Yes, it’s absolutely true that people keep tabs on everything, and everyone talks to each other. Think of Hollywood as one big high school cafeteria, where everyone knows everybody’s business, and rumors and gossip and news and information spreads like wildfire (usually via instant messaging between assistants, who then tell their bosses).

  3. As far as looking at this as a hindrance to rewrites, there are a number of strategies. First, you have to factor in that unless your script is terrible, you should be fine. Nobody talks about the mediocre scripts, and if a script is that category of “good but not there yet”, again, it won’t count against you. If your script is great, that news will certainly spread like wildfire. Now, I doubt this is the case for you, BUT – if your script was given a terrible review or coverage, AND you are passionate about the project, the very first thing to do is change the title. Then get impartial, unbiased, excellent story notes (like my 10+ pages service) that will give you the detailed feedback you need to make your passion project better. And, I would definitely NOT res-send it to whoever gave you bad coverage. Get the new draft read somewhere else, and get a good review. If you are passionate about working with the company that gave you the original bad coverage, I would wait until after getting good reviews from other companies around town before approaching them again. By then you can let them know it’s been completely rewritten and given good reviews by X company or Y agent.         

When we’re aspiring writers, our whole mountaintop is to finish the script. Then it’s to actually get it read by Hollywood. Then it’s crossing our fingers that they love it and want to make sweet money babies with our screenplay. But we never focus on what happens next, which can be just as nerve racking. My job is usually focused on helping writers with that front end, so when this question came in from a client of mine, I wanted to share it with you guys.


NOVEMBER 2011

QUESTION:

Hi Michael,

I have a meeting with [Manager] this Thursday. Thanks for helping to make that possible! Do you have any additional advice for me going into the meeting or anything I should anticipate? Thanks!

ANSWER - - - - - - - - - - - - -

First, do you have a list of potential script ideas? If you have a list I can help you weed it down, and if you don’t have a list we need to come up with one as soon as possible. It’s going to be vital that every idea you bring up during the meeting has the same commercial sensibility: high concept, with mass appeal, and it’s easy to see how the movie might play out from just a couple sentences.

On top of that, while it’s okay to be nervous, you should know that they are also going to evaluate how you come across “in the room”. I had a client once who was a absolutely brilliant comedy writer, but he came across very serious and stilted when he went out on meetings. He basically went from a sure thing to getting the gig to “we’re still evaluating” and then eventually losing the job. It’s a common thing, and many times jobs are won or lost based on how good someone is “in the room”.

What that means is:

  1. Are they funny themselves, or humorous in general (do they laugh at others’ jokes)?

  2. Are they easy to talk to?

  3. Do they have good stories (both the script ideas you bring up, or personal stories that are funny/captivating)?

  4. Do they have a good sensibility for what makes a good story, and for what makes a good commercial story, etc.?

  5. Are they confident? (This can be either about their own ideas, or their own ability to write.)

Now, I said before that it’s okay to be nervous. But you need to not appear like you’re about to have a nervous breakdown. And even if you aren’t feeling confident, you need to at least appear confident. I’m not saying you can’t be yourself – I’m saying you need to be the best possible version of yourself.

When it comes to meetings, it’s going to depend on who you’re meeting with to know what to expect and what they want to see. Because you’re meeting with a manager (and this is true of agents as well), they are evaluating whether:

  1. They think they can work with you – your personality, your temperament, your expectations, etc.

  2. You’re more than a one or two trick pony (the script or scripts they read and liked isn’t the extent of your talent, that you have more great ideas).

  3. Your demeanor/ability “in the room.”

  4. What your ultimate goals are, and if that will make them money or leave them wishing they never spent 5 minutes on you.

  5. What your other abilities are.

Number four and five are important to you because you’re also a great director, and have shown that ability by making an award winning short film.

Which leads me to my last point: What To Bring. Make sure and bring with you:

  1. A DVD of your short film: you may not watch it together, but I’ve seen it and it’s definitely worth leaving behind if they ask for it.

  2. A list of your ideas: make it bulleted, with little to no description. You just want it to jog your memory when you’re talking about it, but if they ask for you to leave it behind, you’re not leaving a document that reveals great script ideas in someone else’s hands. One of the main reasons I recommend NEVER leaving any documents behind if that someone may absolutely FLIP over a movie idea you present in a couple sentences, but if you leave behind a document that goes into more detail, all you are doing is giving them a reason to fall out of love with you and your idea if you took it in a different direction that what they have in your head.

  3. A great attitude

  4. Dress “Hollywood Writer Business Casual” – Dont wear a suit, but definitely don’t wear flip flops and shorts either. Nice jeans, nice shoes, and a nice shirt (it doesn’t have to be button up). If you want to wear a suit jacket or sport coat over a T-Shirt, that’s the norm and I say go for it.

Also, if you can rattle off great ideas without ever pulling out a bulleted list, that’s way better than going over them while you hold a sheet of paper. Several reasons:

  1. You keep eye contact (very important).

  2. You look like you know your stuff (also important).

  3. It looks like they are more than just slivers of ideas, but like you’ve had them in mind or been working on them for a long time (even if you just came up with it 2 seconds ago).

Next, when you get there or while you’re waiting to be called in, make sure and be friendly to everyone – ESPECIALLY the assistants and interns. Many times, industry players rely on the opinions of others, and sometimes that means their assistants or interns. If you’re rude to them in any way, it could hurt you big time.

As well, if it helps make you less nervous, think of this whole thing as a game. It makes the whole thing seem less daunting, and I know that has helped other clients in the past.

Finally, enjoy yourself. You’ve been working on this script for a long time, and we went through a couple drafts to get it to where it is now. You’ve worked your butt off, so enjoy the fruits of your labor. No matter what, you’ve earned this. So have fun.

Alright readers: if you have any questions for me or to be featured in this column, email me at Michael@scriptawish.com. Happy writing!


A former Hollywood Lit Manager, Michael started ScriptAWish.com as a way to help other writers get their foot in the door and has helped several writers sell their scripts (like Travis Beacham of PACIFIC RIM) and set up projects with producers like Academy Award Winner Arnold Kopelson. The mission of ScriptAWish.com is to help aspiring writers get their scripts into shape and then get their foot in the door. His new venture is a collaboration with several professional screenwriters called StudioGhostwriters.com and is intended to help producers get their movie ideas on paper or their drafts polished for production.