Monday, March 30, 2009

Lesson #548 - A Good Editor is Crucial

I've heard this countless times. Every book I've read on how to sell your script, they say "make sure there are no typos". Every contest that I've entered, they say "make sure there are no typos".

I was convinced that I was typo-free. I had several people check it, and I fixed all that they reported. In fact, I was so confident that I was good to go, that I've been sending and entering this script all over the place. Then a friend, who turns out to be an amazing editor, read it. And he found a shameful number of typos. And phrase repetition. And characters who were not CAP'ed when first introduced. And more that I'm just too embarrased to share.

After a huge dose of gratitude to him, I realized that a good editor is gold. Not everyone is going to spot these indescresions. In fact, I venture to say, the average person reading a script won't catch much. Or they will notice, but not take the time and effort (and it is time consuming, and a huge effort) to make a note, and pass it on.

I shudder to think that there are professionals out there (hopefully) reading my script as it is now. I wish I could swap them all out for my shiney new clean-as-a-whistle version. But I've misplaced my magic wand. Obviously.

Many of these mistakes I could have tried to catch myself, if I re-read my script (for the bloody hundreth time) as an editor, instead of a writer. And now that I have discovered my friend is a brilliant editor, I shall abuse him as much as he will allow. It might mean the difference between looking professinal, and looking like a total country bumbkin.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A break from life

Yesterday was my birthday. I tell you this as a way of explaining myself. Let me back track a little.

I have a dear friend who is getting an undeserved beating from life right now. My mother's house was just robbed, her passport stolen just before we fly to my sister's wedding. Another close friend is struggling with nastiness all around her, to the extreme where she's decided to move countries. I could go on. But it's too depressing. I tell them to be good to themselves. To be generous and kind towards themselves, and give themselves lots of slack.

So, back to my birthday. I thought it was a good time to take a page from my own book of advise and take a day just for myself. A completely selfish day. Here's how it went...

It was Thursday. I took the day off work. Lovely walk in the park with the dogs, then I sat on my computer for a few hours, doddling through various sites and emails. Birthday cards and wishes. Finding info for my mom on getting a new passport. Printing a friend's script, etc. Then I hopped in my car, and went to town. I don't go to town often. Certainly for no reason, with no goal. It was a goergous sunny day. I went to my favorite shoe shop on Courtney Place. (yes, I am a girl!) and bought the perfect pair of boots. I wish I could explain to you men what that feels like. It's like the heavens just opened up, and sprinkled happy dust all over you, while playing harps that would make your heart burst. Wearing my new boots of joy out of the store, I walked all the way down Lampton Quay, get some more lovely birthday texts, poking in and out of here and there, book shops, the chocolate shop (where the wonderful chocolate lady gave me free chocolates on account of my birthday!!) all the way to NZ immigration. I had to get my residence sticker transfered to my new passport. I waited, and waited, but happily read my friend's script while waiting for number 8 to be called. Once that was acheived, I read some more while I waited for number 107 to be called. To be honest, not long enough for more than about 10 pages. Not bad. When I get to the desk, the lovely INZ lady tells me that my 2 year visa has expired (it's been 2 years!! Crickey!), so she can't give me a new one. I felt sick. I am traveling in less than a month (sister's wedding). She smiled and said I'll just have to give you your permanent reisdence visa. I couldn't believe my ears. "Can you do that?" She grinned. "Oh ya. We can do that." And she did. In no time at all, I became a full indefinate resident of New Zealand. Wicked cool! I went on my very merry way. Down to one of my favorite cafes, and had a big latte and a bowl of fries for lunch. Not my usual lunch, but today, all bets were off! I sat in the sun, dipping salty fries into aole dip, and read my friend's script. I felt fine. Once I'd had my fill of coffee and grease, I packed up and walked back towards the car, pitstopping into more shops and buying a few more wonderful treats, including a fantastic picture book on NZ history, (which will serve me tremendously for my next script!). I make it back to the Reading Cinemas just in time to catch "The Watchmen" at 4pm. Which I did. I was one of 5 people in the audience. God I love that. After the show, I go home, quickly change, and Pete whisks me off to our favorite restaurant for an incredible dinner. I go to bed completely stuffed and content.

I know that there is a lot of shit in the world. Life can be so unfair, and create such heartache. We live in chaos without things making much sence, we are programmed to persevere, but not necessarily to the ends of being happy. But every now and then, you have to just say to hell with it all, and have yourself a most awesome day. A day that you do whatever you want, not what you should. That you act like a tourist in your own city, that you take a long drive without a destination, that you do whatever you feel like, with a completey self serving frame of mind. These rare sort of days remind us why we struggle so hard. They remind us that life can be grand. That change is inevitable. Anything is possible. You can decide to take this day just for you. Take a break from life. It helps to feel possibilities and refresh your perspective.

I hightly recommend it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pitch Night - Totally Anti-Climactic!

OH. MY. GOD. What a panic. So, here's how it worked... in a private back room of the Southern Cross (bar and restuarant) three tables were set up in a semi-circle at one end of the room, with the Pitchees sitting at each one. At the other end of the room were all the pitchers. Chatting nervously, trying to remain calm. Or maybe that was just me. I had downed a half a bottle of rescue remedy on the way, which actually did help. I could feel my insides trying to panic, but were just not able to muster enough energy. The rules were given... each pitch got three minutes. Then you switched. The three minutes would be strictly enforced. And the first up were two names I didn't know, and me. Oh shit! Which is actually what slipped out for all to hear. Ops. But come on! I'd never done this before, and was hoping that I could watch at least one round so I could better prepare myself! No such luck. Evil people prepared that list. I quickly took off my coat, and tried to gather my visual aids, but that apparetnly was eating into my first 3 minutes. I sat down, and managed to get out my TV series pitch notes, and luckily for me, the guy I was pitching to (which was a last minute replacement that I had no idea who he was!) was really nice!! I somehow got through my pitch. Sean, the stopwatch keeper announced 30 seconds remaining, which was great, and I hurried up the last bit of my pitch, to get it all out just in time. The lovely man asked me a hurried question, I gave a hurried reply, and then I stuffed all my visual aids into my bag and moved onto my right - which bloody way was right? I saw the only desk left available and figured that was it.) The Film guy. He'd done a lot of films, and I was nervous as hell to pitch my script to him. I told him I loved "River Queen" and he rolled his eyes, saying that was a whole other conversation. HAHA! Right. Pressing on, I had a logline typed out on a card to give him at the end of my pitch, but without thinking, I shoved it in his face, and he was forced to read it! Nice start to a "pitch". Make him read something. DOH! I found my pitch notes, and was off to a bumpy start, but managed to get it all in. Poor guy. I'm sure he felt like he was watching a huricane. I don't know if I even made sense. He seemed to nod a few times, so I'm guessing I might have. Then ops! 30 seconds, and I hadn't come to the end of my story... I rushed along, and blurted out the end, before time was out. I offered for him to keep the card, which somehow I felt was presumptuous, but he kept it anyway, and I was off to the next table, back to my TV series. At this point, I'm thinking this is stupidly funny. It all felt quite riduculous actually. I greeted the last group with a cheeky grin. I pulled out my TV series props and notes. I was off and running again. I got through the pitch, and they were both lovely. Smiling and nodding. The lady asked me a good question. I left them a post card with my info and a brief blurb about the show. AND I WAS DONE. 9 minutes. Here's your coat, what's your hurry? Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. I had forgotten to give the first TV guy his post card. I didn't even get to give them the whole package I'd carefully prepared. In a nice plastic folder. They were still sitting in my briefcase, untouched. I had no idea what just happened. I felt the need to run away. Which I did. All I could think about was a much deserved glass of wine. As I was driving away, it occured to me, I'd just let a bar! I could have gotten a drink, and then gone back in and watched how other people pitched! What an idiot!! But by then, I was half way home, and it felt just too silly to turn around. Crap! I was spent. I felt somehow ripped off. I'd prepared hard for this night for a week. And it was over all said and done in a half an hour. Litereally. I checked. I felt like it was a blind date gone bad. And I had to find the door myself, without even a kiss good night. I have no idea if my pitches were good or if they stank. I guess if I hear nothing from any of them, then I have my answer. But that's like sitting by the phone waiting to see if the bad date calls me. I'll take it as the learning experience it was, and move on. Well, like my friend Charlotte said, it helped me hone my story down to one page. Now if anyone asks me what my story is about, I can quickly tell them with confidence. And she's right. I also got a good logline out of it. That will serve me well. Will I do another pitch night? Like a glutton for punishment, damn straight I will.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pitch Day

I think I'm as ready as I'll ever be for my first pitch session. A few practice runs at lunch with Pete and Charlotte and bob's your uncle. Good to go. To be honest, I'm just looking forward to it being over now. It's completely distracted me all week, to the point of missing a meeting I really shouldn't have missed. Damn.

In a companion article on Pitching by Christopher Lockhart (again thanks Julian for sending me the link!) he had many words of wisdom that I shall try to follow tonight. Here are my crib notes from the article: "The Construction of a Pitch"

  • Be Organized.
  • hit the most crucial aspects of the story.
  • Blossom from rudimentary to more complex.
  • Avoid the desire to tell too much.
  • Use visual aids to provide greater comprehension.
  • Don't express the theme of the piece.
  • "Less is More"

And here's his recommended Pitch Order:

- Present the Genre (very important)
- Open with a question or an "imagine" scenario to engage them.
- Present the rudimentary storyline - the logline.
- Introduce the Protagonist. Can include the fundamentals of the protag's arc
- Then go into a more detailed account of the story throughline.
  • Take the simple route.
  • Convey the major conflicts
  • take the story to the conclusion
- AFTER the beg/middle/end, then you can add some details.

There seem to be as many rules to selling a script as there are to writing one. I guess it's like learning new terminology at a new job. Once you know how it works, it becomes second nature, and you forget about all the restrictions, and get on with the task at hand.

Still, does sort of make me want to work on my novel instead. ;P

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

the elusive log line

Exercise 2 of my online class... write a log line for your story.

Thanks to Julian, and Christopher Lockhart, I knew a lot more about log lines than I had before, which was nothing. I made a few notes from Mr. Lockhart's article called "I wrote a 120 page script but I can't write a logline: The Construction of a Logline".

Logline must have three main things.
Who is the story about (the protaganist)
What he strives for (his goal)
What stands in his way (Antagonistic force)

Who: DO NOT use character names. (Doh! The first thing I changed in my logline after reading this article!) Use well chosen adjectives for the character.
Goal: find the ONE major goal. This is triggered by the inciting incident, or the turning point.
Conflict: what prevents the protag from reaching his goal.

Some tips:
Use visual/external aesthetics
Makes ure the Protag initiates the essential action of the story
For an ensemble, better to focus on one protag, or central character than the ensemble.
Physical goals ("Hero Archetypes") are prefered in Hollywood over psychological goals.

Sounds easy enough, ya? NO! It's still really hard. But thanks to this and my online class, I have a much improved log line now.

The Tea Group:
A shy bookstore owner has quietly conducted hypnotic readings for years, but when one of the ladies dies, leaving him a fortune, an investigation into his troubled past leaves him struggling to find the courage to face the woman he loves.

Of course, if you have any suggestions, I'm all ears, and grateful for the help!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Social Writer

So since I decided three (??!!) months ago to really try to sell something I've written, I've joined, subscribed, blogged, and entered more than I ever imagined was even available.

I entered the Scriptapaloza Contest, and the Page Awards Contest. I've subscribed to InkTip's magazine, and have been put in their magazine that goes to producers, and listed both scripts on their site, (which I compulsively check to see who's reading my loglines), I joined an online course for how to write treatments, which has become it's own little world unto itself, I joined the New Zealand Writers Guild, and I get The Write Stuff, I love the forum, and have sinced also met with a cool writer's group in Wellington, and will even do a pitch night, I've started this blog, and Karen (friend in LA) and I have started Shrinking Violet Films, I get Storylink, and Final Draft's newletter, and I now have a list of blogs that I just gotta read.

Christ!!! It's wicked cool. Who knew that a writer could so easily become... social!? And the more I find, the more I find, if you know what I mean. People are passing on incredibly usefull info, and I now have more reading material than I know what to do with!

Which makes me wonder... how am I going to find time to actually be reclusive and write!!? I have a new story idea that I'm very excited about. Weekends were the usual time for me to write, and last weekend was completely taken up with the above. Plus, preparing for pitch night.

Next weekend I'll turn off the internet and put all the books away, and say hi to my characters, and close the door on the real world. At least for a day.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Log lines, sysnopsis, and treatments.

I've been so focused on learning how to write the actual screenplay, that I've given no thought to log lines, synopsis, or treatments. Turns out they are all crucial to the process of selling a script, they must be highly crafted, and are excruciatingly more difficult than I originally thought they'd be!

Log lines aren't quite as hard. I've done a few versions now, and I think I might be getting the hang of it. Keep it short (1-2 lines), simple, to the point, and leaving them hanging on something they need to know the answer to.

Synopsis are not so easy to grasp. I found some great tips on's site. Here was what they said on one particular synopsis that worked...

1) There is always an interest in a script that can result in many more films, based upon the same premise and characters with a different situation (franchise potential - like the Bond, Mission Impossible, Die Hard, Superman movies, etc).
2) It told the basic idea of the story in a page or less. (The industry standard for a synopsis is usually one page.)
3) Even an idiot could read it and know what the story was about.
4) The development person or producer could easily pitch the story to others (such as: an American James Bond).
5) It did not contain specific details which would factually require further explanation, causing the synopsis to be longer than it should be. Nor did it leave the reader wondering what the writer meant by a particular paragraph or sentence.
6) It did not unnecessarily complicate the explanation of the story by including every important character or detail in the script.

Keep it simple stupid. The KISS principle. BUT... make it intriguing, emotional, commercial, and have that "I gotta read this" quality about it.


Treatments have whole books written on them. I've started reading up on it, but as well, I've signed up for an online course with the Writer's University, which I found through The Writer's Store on Writing the Screenplay Treatment.
It's just started, and so far, so good. There are a dozen or so of us "in" the class, and a mix from everywhere, doing everything. We got our first assignment...

Week One: Exercise 1

Write a brief (1 page) description of the project you’ll be working on for this class. Describe the genre, plot and characters, and discuss the theme – what is this movie about? Write it as if you were telling a friend about your upcoming project – answer the question: “So, what are you writing next?”

I'm late already... I will submit mine at the last minute. Thank God NZ is a day ahead.

The idea is that we'll start with something really crap, and then end up with a brilliant, script-selling treatment. wicked. Bring it on!!

Any tips/thoughts are most welcome on this elusive and tricky writing art form.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

to pitch or not to pitch...

So, there's this pitch meeting next week. I've never done a pitch, but I have pitches, I'm sure of it. I have two completed scripts, and one outline for a TV show, and I'm working on an outline for another script. Or two. I have stuff. I've read up on pitching, I went to a very informative meeting of writers who have pitched. They lived. They even enjoyed it. I know it's a good skill to acquire. I know I should go for the practice. And who the hell knows, right?

Wrong. I keep finding reasons not to go. I know nothing about TV other than the fact that I watch it. I don't know the New Zealand scene of producers/tv folk. I'm a writer damn it, not a shmoozer. I hate shmoozing. I hate selling. Read the damn thing. It will sell itself. Or it won't. But I won't be tourtured by my pounding heart and stammering words, and blank stares from across the table, stifled yawns. Oh god, my worst nightmare.

Which makes me wonder, where the hell did my balls go? I think they up and trotted off without a sound, as I don't remember the exact time I became shit scared of my own shadow. I used to go for it. I used to throw caution to the wind. Ah, screw it. I shall go and pitch my little pounding heart out. Maybe I'll find my missing balls in the process.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

WOWING THE BUYERS: Positioning films in a competitive marketplace

Held at The Film Archive on Taranaki Street in Wellington. It was... enlightening.

"Chaired by NZFC's Tim O'Brien this lunchtime panel discussion will include the following guest speakers: James Brown from UK distribution company Metrodome; Carl Hampe an independent producer and film consultant from LA, formerly Director of Acquisitions at Warner Independent, and Ray Strache, also from Los Angeles, Vice President of Acquisitions at Twentieth Century Fox."

Big Cheeses all of them. Very exciting. As I have such an incredibly appauling memory, I always take notes. If I ever have to remember more than three things, I need a list. That's the rule.

So, here are my crib notes (all VERY Paraphrased! And just the bits I caught or found particualrly interesting) from the panel discussion yesterday. It was an eye opener for me!

Tim: How do you deal with the volume of films that you guys get?

James: I watch everything I get sent. I have no life other than movies.

Ray: We use a lot of filters. People we trust, film festivals... Just to get an idea of the volume, out of 428 films, we bought 4. (I forget the context of this, if it was from a film festival or something else. ops. Told you I had a horrible memory.)

Carl: It's important to raise the profile of your film, so it doesn't get lost in the volume.

Tim: Not lost in the shuffle.

Ray: It's Art vs commerce. There are aprox 600 films at Cannes. We try to think of how much money can this film make?

Tim: What kind of films are you looking for?

James: Our company takes on anything that will make them money. I have a lot of leway, but I can't pick up anything that will loose money. There was a film I loved. A spanish, 2.5 hour film about a little girl who dies of cancer. I loved it, but it won't sell. So I can't buy it.

Ray: There are two kind of releases in the US. A wide release, or a platform release. Platform releases are work of mouth films. Napoleon Dynamite was a platform relelase. Now there were 540 free screenings of that movie to generate word of mouth. We look at a film and say, can I do something with this? Expose it to critiques.

Tim: What about critiques?

Carl: Get your film into festivals. Get critiques to see your movie. He mentioned press kits that he got at festivals to entise him to go see movies. Press kits that included one liners of people who's seen the film and loved it. People who are known in the business. Get a publicist. Get people talking.

James: that doesn't work for us. We are a small company. We need to get films before they reach the critiques and get good reviews, or else we won't be able to afford them. I have to watch a film, and know within a half hour if we should buy it. That way we can get them cheaper, and we're not competing with the bigger distributors.

NOTE TO SELF: Maybe wait for reviews before selling. Don't jump on the first offer. yikes!

(my notes jump a bit here, seems like a segway, but it's just a gap in my notes. But I think the topic turned to what kind of movie are they looking for?)

Ray: People want to be entertained. Times are tough. People want to have fun! Dramas are hard to make work. Comedies are easy to make work, but hard to make! Movies are not for everyone. If someone comes into my office and I ask them who is their target audience and they say everyone, I tell them to get out. You need to get specific with your target market analysis. And you need to make the audience CARE - focus on what you want to make the audience take away with them. Make them "in it" from beginning to end.

Carl: Well, Fox Searchlight focuses on the "Populace" movies. Warners were kind of like the drunken sailors. When they read "Slumdog" it made you feel a little smarter at the end of reading it. Originaly SDM was not happy in the end. He either got the $ or the girl, not both. They made it more "populace" (I think that was the word he was using?)

Ray: ya, it was a hard sell. It was foreign looking (even though it was english) and expensive, so we passed on it.

Carl: We were the drunken sailors and loved it so we made it. We focused on supporting filmmakers.

Ray: We also focus on relationships with filmakers, but it was in the high teens to pick up. As much as we love Danny Boyle.

Carl/Ray: It was in the high teen Millions to pick up. Like closer to 20 Million.

Ray: We like to keep a family of directors. Move them along in their career.

Tim: From a script level, not a finished film. How do small distributors get involved vs studio involvement?

Jamie: We look at anything that comes in. We have only just gotten into pre-bought films. But it's better to go to them when already in production, with a star. It makes it less expensive to buy, as there's already money being used to make it. They don't have to fund the whole thing.

Carl: Hopefully, there will be a new wave of distributors over the next year.

NOTE TO SELF: Christ! Wouldn't that be nice!!

Carl: Meddling comes from trying to make the movie work. Smaller distributors can't afford to re-do movies.

Ray: Well, Fox meddles.

(here I almost fall off my chair from laugher!!! No shit!!)

Ray: But they do it because they want to make the film work better. They do it based on feedback from previews and screenings. They don't do it because they want to be the creative guy. They are too busy. And I think (pauses) that we've never cut out the opinion of the creative people, the director, etc. We have to ask, when suggesting a change, is the change a big enough deal that it is worth doing. Will it make up the $ spent on it.

(At this point I stopped writing. I've worked on too many Fox shows I guess. )

Ray: Big placed don't really pre-buy.

Tim: What about digital Projection?

Carl: Film now is problematic. It's $2000/print. It's expensive. If festivals are digital, that saves a lot of $. And there's more choises available with digital.

At this point there were questions from the audience.

Q: (sorry, didn't really hear this one, but it was about the govenrment supported film industry I think, maybe?)

Jamie: I was a filmmaker in Australia before becoming a distributor. In Australia, the government film world, and the real film industry are very seperate. My advise is to be in an international head space.

(He talked more about how Aussie films funded by the government don't really get exposure, no one sees them. At least this was my take on what he said.)

Q: was something about "Waitress" being a soft movie... was good, but surprising that it got picked up.

Ray: Waitress was a soft movie. But it had a target audience, one that they could tap into for marketing. They found an angle that worked. Find a way in. Get your target market interested. Who's the movie for? Figure this out.

Jamie: But DO NOT send me your marketing material. Don't tell me how to market your film. It's insulting.

Ray: Absolutely! It should be obvious that you've thought about who your target market is by the material.

Q: What do you think of the internet for marketing?

Ray: Focus on proper marketing. The internet is very tricky. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. But only put clips on there, not the whole movie.

James: DO NOT put the whole movie in it's entirety on the internet, or it won't get picked up.

Carl: Everything is shifting. The internet is untapped. Distribution won't touch you if you put the whole movie on there, but there are other places, Magnolia, IFC, that are starting to experiment. At this point, it's an unknown.

And that concluded a facinating hour.

If you were there, and I've gotten things horribly wrong, PLEASE correct me. I did have one question that I'd hoped they would touch on... perhaps you lot can help me...

Q: I keep hearing about "front end" vs "back end" and that low budget filmmakers don't make their money on the front end, they make it all in the back end. Do distributors really give out percentages of the profit? Or is it usually a one shot deal? Do they arrange different deals with different players (ie, writers, producers, directors) or is it a group deal, sort it out for yourselves?


Why Blog?

Wikipedia says:
Blog: A blog (a contraction of the term weblog) is a website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order.

Web Log. Right. Got it.

So, why blog?

Because we sit behind our little desks in our own little world, slowly retreating, comfy in our comfort zones, not mingling, not sharing ideas, not meeting new people. We are becoming the cliche sci fi society. Big heads with long fingers, and fat round little bodies that can't move anymore. So, blogging is a way to reach out without actually getting off our asses.

And what the hell... Blogging's fun.

I am going to blog about all the crazy things I'm learning as I ride the rollecoaster of trying to sell a script. I've been asked to share some of my notes from seminars, meetings, etc. Once is an email, twice is a blog. I'll include some things that I've been doing that work, or haven't, or I'm holding out hope for. Hopefully, you'll do the same.

And I have questions. So many questions. So, please, great bloggers, I hope you will humour me and enlighten me.

Blog on!