JUDY AND I RECENTLY DID AN INTERVIEW WITH A DELIGHTFUL WRITERS GROUP IN NORTH CAROLINA. HERE'S SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS WHICH YOU MAY FIND OF INTEREST.
Q: What are the most common mistakes that you see writers making?
Judy: I find that some of the most common mistakes are that writers rush
themselves, so they're in such a hurry to complete the material that characters
end up not being fully fleshed out, story lines end up having holes in them,
plot lines end up not completely hanging well or not making sense because there
are breakdowns in the logic. But of course a screenplay is such an unwieldy
thing to manage, that when you're swimming around in 120 pages, the details pile
up and it's easy for those details to fall through. Or, sometimes I see that
writers are really excited about a particular scene they have in their head, or
a particular character they want to write about, and they're trying to build an
entire script around that scene or around that character, but what ends up
happening is that they didn't spend enough time really fine tuning and
developing all the material that's going to surround that one particular scene
or that one particular character and so it ends up showing up in the work, where
you can tell that they didn't spend time turning that character into somebody
who is surrounded by other characters who can carry an entire film--or they
didn't take that one scene that they were really excited to write about and find
a way to actually develop it and deepen it and break it open into a full story
that has legs and can take up an entire screenplay. And so it ends up being a
lot of filler surrounding that one thing that captured their imagination. That's
my short answer.
Craig: There are many long answers to this. First of all, I want to say that on
our site there is a link called "Useful and Important Articles" and we have
about 50 articles that we've written pertaining to all these issues and I
recommend that you take a look. The first thing that came to my mind is that
it's about story. There are many writers who have good artistic talent, who can
develop a character, who have good ideas and decent concepts and good instincts.
There are not that many writers who can tell a good story. So, in line with what
Judy was just talking about, it's a matter of really doing the work and doing
the due diligence of developing story lines, in great detail - story arcs,
cross-checking them, arcing out each individual story and subplot, so you can
really see the bones of the story in order to really put together a good first
draft. And also, in doing that to remember that every scene has to have its own
magic. As Judy said, sometimes writers will put in a bunch of filler or they're
so in love with certain scenes that they think that's enough to carry the moment
and it's not. It's got to be terrific, and it's also got to be really well
developed. And a lot of the writers that I know spend more time on developing
the story than they do on actually writing the script. Also, as you guys
probably know, in Hollywood, even if you're doing a sitcom, you're going to do a
lot of story work and you're going to do multiple drafts of the story before you
get a chance to write the script. And if the story's not good, you may not even
get a chance to write your own script.
Q: What is the best way for a new writer to break into the business, or get
Craig: My answer is that it's to write something that is so terrific and
compelling that it somehow manages to supercede all the resistance that they
would normally receive. That is it. We have something on our site that says:
"The best marketing tool is material that works." And that may seem just like
advertising fodder, but it's absolutely true. If you have a script that really
makes it, and happens, and makes people feel something and turns them on and
makes them want to talk about it, you've got a ticket to ride.
Q: So once someone has a script that really works, what is the next step?
Judy: The next step is to write a really strong query letter and bamboozle every
possible address, contact, to just blitz the market place and to send it
anywhere and everywhere, to every possible person that you can get your hands
Craig: And that may sound cheesy - I mean, what kind of advice is that, to send
it to everybody? But you'd be surprised how many people are out there trying to
focus in on Tom, Dick or Harry out there, which is fine to do, and you can write
to people like directors who you think would be wonderful, or an actor in a
television series ready to break into a movie and this would be the vehicle, or
you can write to some agent that you read about, or whomever, but there's
nothing wrong with absolutely blitzing the marketplace and just kind of playing
the numbers. And you depend on the fact, you have faith in the fact that the
material will communicate what you want it to communicate.
Judy: Exactly, because it's about exposure. Enter it into as many contests as
you can afford because that guarantees that you're being read by somebody, and
it's a matter of the numbers. You're trying to get yourself as much exposure as
possible because you don't know what kind of doors are going to open. A contest
person could read your script, and even if you don't win that particular
contest, they could remember your script and recommend it to somebody they know
and you didn't even know it. You don't know where it will take you.
Craig: One of the secret things you need to know about "Hollywood," and it's
true that a lot of the people out there are really pains in the neck, and
difficult, and the business has become much more difficult because there are
only a few big companies out there now because all the rules have changed and
there are no regulations anymore, so you're really facing something that's
difficult to face. But a lot of people out there have gotten into the business
because they love it, or they think they love it, or they want to love it. They
fall in love with movies, and they fall in love with actors and they become
fascinated with things. And there's nothing like finding something that turns
you on and lights you up and makes you want to run around and show it to
everybody. And the most hard-hearted creative executive out there has that
vulnerability, and that's where you want to go. You want to have faith in the
fact that you've got something that really works, and that you're going to find
people who are going to respond to it.
Q: To that point, I know that there are major questions about making the script
great, or making the story great, before taking the steps toward marketing, so
that you're not wasting your time on marketing before you've actually taken the
time to make sure that your script it good. Can you talk to us about getting it
into the right format and packaging before putting it out there? How important
is it to do that?
Craig: You make sure that the script is typed correctly. But if you get five pro
scripts and you line them up on the table, you will find that the formatting is
slightly different, that it's not all the perfect Final Draft or whatever it is,
but I think the script has to look professional, obviously, and to me that's
formatting and that's presentation.
Judy: Make sure you have a cover sheet that indicates the writer's name and
address, its WGA registration number, that it's copyrighted. One thing to note
about the packaging is do not include photographs, or clippings from newspapers,
or any supplementary material, sheets of music, anything like that.
Craig: Well, that's mostly true. There are times, you know, if you've discovered
some story somewhere that no one knows about and is totally shocking, and you
make reference to it in a (hopefully) tightly written cover letter that says
exactly what you want to say and makes it nice and punchy, where you don't go on
and on, the script will speak for itself, and you want to include the fact that
there are three articles from the New York Times or the Washington Post or
Newsweek or some transcript from 60 Minutes...I mean, Judy's right, most of the
time when people send stuff like that it seems hokey, or they put on
weird-looking covers, or they send long biographies of themselves - none of that
is good. But there will be an exceptional case, if you have something really
extraordinary, where it might be okay to include a clipping or two.
Q: You mentioned about getting your script registered and having your WGA number
on there. How important is that, to have it registered or copyrighted?
Craig: It's important to us. One of the things about tonight was that I didn't
want anyone to call up with their "greatest idea" and tell us over the phone
something that's not registered and not copyrighted, and it's just a good idea
to do the due diligence of protecting your material before you start sending it
Q: As far as you know, have you noticed any difference in script sales or in
people or producers looking for scripts because of the economic downturn? Is
there less opportunity?
Judy: I haven't noticed any difference in opportunities out there.
Craig: The only thing that I've noticed, and I read about this in an article on
CNN, is that showbusiness is having a very good year and it seems to be that in
hard times, people are flocking to something to make them forget about what's
going on out there. So isn't that what entertainment is all about?
Q: Are there producers, studios, agents, etc. who are more open to receiving
scripts from unknown writers? And, on the flipside, are there ones that you know
who are completely unresponsive and a waste of time for a new writer?
Craig: They're all unresponsive and it's all a wonderful waste of time that you
have to overcome by having material that is so compelling that it's going to be
noticed, and where you go through all the avenues of contests, and anybody you
know who can make a connection, and writing passionate and fascinating query
letters and getting your foot in the door, somehow, someway. But the bottom line
is you need the product - period.
Q: If material is initially rejected and you do the rewrites that were perhaps
suggested, is it in bad taste to send it back? How often do you approach the
same person or company?
Craig: How many times would you ask someone out on a date before they said no or
they finally acquiesced? I just think there's no rule or anything - I guess the
rule is if you have a really great piece of material, and you're on fire with it
and you've done a great revision, I just think you have to communicate that.
You're writers, you know how to communicate, that's what writing is about. So
you find a way to honestly communicate it in some kind of a letter, or whatever,
and you hope that what comes from one heart reaches another. You really have to
depend on that because the whole business is impossible, it has always been
impossible. I was an agent, some young, wet behind the ears agent, trying to
find talent in comedy clubs, and make a splash, and not be completely ignored
all the time. But you keep trying and if you have the product, people are not
stupid. And one of the great things to remember about the whole deal is that
they need you as much as you need them. This is not a one-sided thing. Those
people may be sitting up there in their fancy offices in their studios, but
they're depending on some writer somewhere who's sitting in Charlotte, NC, or
Buffalo, NY, who has a terrific idea and has developed it and has really made
something out of it, who really has a sense that there's a possibility that this
thing is going to really happen because it's good.
Q: Have your writers gotten deals?
CRAIG-We've had our share of movies made and have a zillion writers who have
gotten development deals, or managers, or agents, or have won other contests, or
whatever. I'm really happy when somebody writes a great script, and I'm also
really happy when we deal with nonprofessional writers who somehow, at some
point make that transition in writing an actually professionally written script,
and that gives me a tremendous amount of satisfaction. So we always tell
writers, "you'd better look for any light." If anybody gives you a compliment,
or they really like something and you can really tell that they do, or you win a
contest or you're a runner-up in a contest - that really counts for something. I
had a guy call me one night and he was complaining about some actor, it was
actually Roy Scheider, and he said that Scheider had gotten wind of his project
or something, but that it turned out to be a bunch of bologna. And he felt that
he had been BS'd. And I said to the writer, "Take a bow for getting BS'd by Roy
Scheider, and realize that there's significance in getting BS'd by anybody
because there are people out there who never get BS'd." So my point is that you
have to kind of grab the goodies as they come and recognize what the positive
manifestations are, even if they seem modest.
Q: What has grabbed you about the scripts that have won the contest on
Craig: We're just like anybody else who reads material. We put on the other hat
now, we become the readers, the temporary judges of the material, and any script
that becomes a winning script is a script that we like, you know. We're turned
on to it. How do you describe that except to say that you find the idea
compelling, the characters are punchy and relevant and you feel them and you're
tuned into them and you care about them, the story is intriguing and you keep
turning the pages because you're fascinated and you care about what happens to
them and you're curious about what's going to happen next in the story - so
there's something invisible about making that judgment. It's what gets you in
the heart, and that's what we go with. So it's hard to describe. But you can
take a look at some of the coverage of the winners' scripts on the website.
Judy: Basically, over the years the people who have won the contest have been in
all different kinds of genres, styles - it's run the gamut. What they share in
common is that they're all very polished and tight scripts, they have been
really fine-tuned, and all of them have great stories to tell, great characters
who are very alive, very cinematic, and most importantly have gotten under our
skin and crawled into our guts, made us feel like, "Oh my God, what a wonderful
piece of work, we want to share it with the world!"
Craig: And we tell people when we send them winning letters, "This is not the
end-all be-all thing." It's another feather in your cap. It's some
acknowledgement, we do send the material out to a lot of people, we have a deal
with Scriptblaster and they send it out, we have a deal with Inktip, they
feature it. And I think that it gives you a little bit of a leg up that you won
a contest somewhere. You can always use that in your letters and resumes or
whatever, the coverage stays up for a very long time so somebody can go to a
link and refer to it. It's a war that you're in in trying to make these things
happen, and the process is that you just keep doing the next right thing,
whether it's a contest, or a great query, or whatever it takes to communicate,
predicated on material that really works.
Q: If you could give two bits of advice to a writer, what would be your best
advice for the creative writing process, and what would be your main advice for
the sales/marketing process?
Craig: The advice I would give, the prototype persona of the writer I would
advise you to be, would be someone who loves what they do, who has a real work
schedule, even if they have other jobs, etc., where they keep processing
material, growing ideas, keeping files, being alert and aware of stuff, who is
not in a hurry, who's willing to do the dog-work and the due diligence and all
of the drafts that need to be done, who's not obsessed with the marketing
process and getting over the goal line, but obsessed with making the script
magnificent, and then while they continue to be creative they spend a good
10-15% of their time marketing. But the marketing is not the end of the world
marketing, the big one, it's got to happen next Tuesday, it's got to happen next
year, you move to a motel room in LA because somebody breathes right on the
phone and you're so hungry to get this to happen that you're going to jeopardize
your entire life because you want it so bad. It's a lot steadier and a lot more
productive just to keep knocking out the material, to get better and better, to
keep doing the next right thing, to do the marketing thing from a very objective
and impersonal point of view, where you just keep doing it and doing it and
doing it, and you understand that you're fighting a war and it's okay because
you are, hopefully, enjoying the process, and you have faith that you will make
a connection, that something good will happen if it's in the cards for you. And
if you've worked where I've worked, and you sit around on a movie lot and you
look at thousands of people over months and years, you realize that every single
one of them came schlepping in from Kansas City, or Canada, or God knows where,
and all of them were fighting huge odds, and somehow they got through because
they did the work, they had the talent, and hopefully they got the break,
obviously they got the break.
Judy: That's a wonderful answer so I'll be brief. My one bit of advice, just in
terms of the writing process, is that it's really true that you should write
stuff that you're emotionally connected to, because I find that a lot of times
people will have it in their heads, "Write things that you're emotionally
connected to," but then they abandon that because they get caught up in the
whole marketing thing that they start writing stuff they think other people will
want to see. They start writing characters that they think are the popular
characters to write, and plot lines that are the popular plot lines to write,
and before they know it they're writing recycled material, and it shows up in
the pages, it totally transmits. As a reader, even if, on paper, technically,
that character should be somebody who is familiar to us, and we've seen that
character in a dozen popular movies, they're not flying off the page - they're
flat. And it's the same with the plot lines or story lines that are manufactured
or contrived. So when you're sitting down to write, even if the marketing voice
in your head is saying, "Oh, but nobody wants to know about that kind of
character, the popular ones are these guys!" try and shut down that voice as
much as you can and just get down and deep with yourself, and start combing the
experiences of your own life, and the things that have made you feel the most in
your life - the people you've encountered, moments you've encountered,
experiences - and use that as your material to write from because it will fly
off the page. The emotional gold will transmit and it's a magical thing, but it
happens. I really believe that movies that are really great, when you sit and
break them down, and you look at the incredible characterization or you think,
"Oh my God, how did they come up with that?" - I would bet that that writer, it
was coming right out of their history, and they were so close to it that it just
shot right into you. So that would be my advice.
Craig: Another Hollywood secret is that as much as they will try to corrupt you
into doing what they want, or the most marketable thing, or the next thing in
vogue or whatever, they depend upon the writer to hold up their part in terms of
coming up with material that comes out of passion. That's a big deal. And you
will be tested to go away from that, to be convinced to try other avenues, and
more commercial methods, to do what they want you to do - but they will always
respect you when you come in with stuff that just knocks their socks off. That's
what they want from writers.