Friday, March 1, 2013

It's all about the Woosah!

Looking back at the packaging process there were a lot of crazy moments, a lot of learning moments, a lot of surprise moments and I took away something from all of those moments.  I gleaned as much information from every experience as I possibly could.

Especially so when getting advice from those who had been there and done it 100 times over.

I noticed something from the folks I had been speaking with, and we are talking an Oscar winning Producer, a PR Associate who ran PR for films such as Deer Hunter, American Graffiti,  Chicago, a few "A-list" talent.  What I noticed was their state of happiness, their contentment, their passion when they spoke.

Not only was their advice, counsel, suggestions invaluable, but it was their mindset, their "aura" that made each conversation invaluable.  These folks were happy, content, loving.

Even the two guest posters, Rob Tobin and Geno Scala.

Some may be asking themselves, "What does this have to do with packaging a movie?"


You want to surround yourself with experienced, grounded players who will champion your picture better than yourself.  You want a layered source of individuals who are better, more experienced than yourself.

A very successful Producer once told me that in order to thrive in this business I must have passion and want it like nobody else's business, and be extremely happy with what I am doing.

He told me to be happy during successes and during failures, to be happy even when it feels like the ship has hit the doldrums.  He said be happy and content in all of my accomplishments and steps I take.  

I know, I know.  Sounds like I have been sniffing pixie dust, but the man is absolutely correct.

Long to short.  I began to adjust my mindset and to respond and act accordingly to situations that would arise during the one year process it took to package the film.

Several people departed the project and people more qualified filled the void.

We went from a 450K budget to a 5M budget.

We picked up some more elements that would help with distribution, when the time came.

I was sleeping better at night.  It's hard work packaging content.  A mental workout.

Focusing on maintaining happy helped me tremendously and I called my Producer friend and thanked him for his advice that does indeed work.

Now, it's like Woosah.  I am no longer in a hurry.  I am no longer allowing external sources to cloud my decision making.

Staying happy has also allowed more time into my schedule, (weird, huh?), and now I am helping other people, writing this blog and doing a myriad of other things.

So, be happy with what you do in this business, no matter what it is.  If you can't, then move on.  No one will hold it against you.

Champion your career or movie with Happy!


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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Team

Team Building.

We finally got the script revised and now was the time to put together our team.  This was a process that was extremely crucial to me.  We needed the right people for this project and then needed to develop rapport at a faster rate than normal.

The decision was made instantaneously to hire young, fresh players, seek out qualified talent that had not been exposed, and expose them.

That in of itself is a twist of irony, since I myself was considered an "unproven", had not sold, nor optioned a screenplay before.  Only because I simply had not attempted to before.  Moving on.

If anyone is to ever ask you why, then the logical response can only be, "Why not?".  My validation and I need not justify myself anymore.

Understand that the only thing I had going for the situation was the script.  Myself, I am just another human being, no better, no less than the next person.

New Orleans, Louisiana.

I and my producing partner took a week and scheduled hard meetings with a lawyer, a UPM, and a potential funding source.  Now remember, at this point we had just our Leads LOA'ed.

Meet with the lawyer, presented the script and the library and he is "all in D".  Friday night we hit the quarter night life with the lawyer.  Obviously that went very well.

Next morning we meet with a UPM over breakfast and lots of coffee at Elizabeth's in the 9th ward, where after going through sides states, "This script is going to fly."  He loved the script and wanted in.  He is legit, the real deal.  Kosher.  The script was showing early positive effects on people who know scripts and deal with them on a daily basis.  Not bad for a man who has never tried to sell one.

That Saturday afternoon we were to meet with the potential funding source with just myself and my partner, but I had to let them know to now expect four of us.  Yes, our new lawyer and UPM wanted to be there!  Game changer!

The Meeting.

We meet with the prospect for the purpose of reconn.  I wanted to feel these people out, size them up, qualify them.  After all they made an initial offer, and we had no budget developed when they did.

The meeting is done, the dust settled and it boiled down to a shell game.  What they offered I had in my cell phone and ro-lo-dex back home.  And on top of it, their budget formula was out of balance expecting us to redistribute the budget to reflect 65% of the total just for production.

Well, my partner, our new lawyer and our new UPM approved on my decision and how I handled the meeting.  Moving on!

The UPM and myself go to task to craft three budgets; Low, Modified-Low, Standard, as well as locking in the Director, DP, and a highly reputable Screen score Composer who has guaranteed an original orchestrated score to give the picture a "big picture" sound after he read the script.

Once again, it was the script that hooked each player and that is why I stress so adamantly about the importance of the screen writing process. 

We sought after team players who would champion the picture like we would, would stay the course like we would, and not abandon ship like we wouldn't.

Our Director negotiated a sweetheart deal with us and claimed he was a new fan of my "writing voice".  The DP, UPM and Composer also negotiated sweet deals with us.  The enthusiasm and energy surrounded the script.  Am I over emphasizing?  No.

The Director and I were instantly on the same page as far as color pallet, feel, sound, the characterization and talent, set-ups, and techniques.

The two main leads, Director, Production Designer, Composer, UPM and myself were all on the same page and it was organic.

We all understood that we wanted to put together a plan that would get this script to picture.  We all understood that we were assembling the parts of a product that would eventually make it to a market place.

The energy behind this project is because of the story, the script.  And I am eternally grateful to everyone who has seen the potential in the script and myself since the beginning.

It is because of the script that we were easily able to package it as thoroughly as we did without any development funding whatsoever, outside of my own resources.

The Team was ready to formulate the game plan.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Guest Post

Guest Post

Geno Scala

Geno is going to post on scripting, writing and formatting.  For beginning writers this is great info!  Check out Genos' site as well!  More great info hanging around there!

10 Quick Tips on Basic Spec Screenwriting Competency for Beginners

As a screenwriting mentor at The Script Mentor ( and producer with Shark-Eating Man Productions (, I review several original speculative screenplays, and dozens of first-ten pages a month. In fact, we offer FREE first-ten page reads, complete with constructive and thorough feedback notes on those all-important opening pages.

One thing I’ve found during this review process is the commonality of errors spanning the screenwriting experience spectrum: newbies and experienced writers alike make the same mistakes over and over again. I call these formatting errors. Formatting is not exclusively about the margin settings. In screenwriting, we are talking about the proper way to write sluglines, as just one example of formatting. Other repetitive errors include poor spelling, grammar, lack of punctuation, and overuse or misuse of a variety of acceptable screenwriting techniques.

If these errors are consistent throughout the first ten pages, no one of any authority will ever get beyond the first three pages, much less the first ten, so if YOU want to be taken seriously as a spec screenwriter, here are ten areas to look for, change, and/or improve:

1. Scene Headings (a.k.a Master Scene Headings, sluglines, or slugs):
Include camera location (INT, EXT, INT/EXT), scene location (BEDROOM, BUSY STREET, etc.) and time of day (DAY, NIGHT). Do NOT use any other TOD unless absolutely imperative in telling the story (if the killer only kills at midnight, and the killer is about to kill, then say “MIDNIGHT”)

2. Camera Directions (CUT TO, DISSOLVE, etc.):
Exclude all technical camera directions in your spec script unless IMPERATIVE to the IMPACT of the story. Limit yourself to “FADE IN:”, and “FADE OUT:”

3. Actor Directions (beats):
Do NOT include (beat) in dialogue. The actor is trained to act. Think of beats as dialogue speed bumps, and it slows the read considerably. Do NOT confuse this “beat” with a “Save the Cat” beat, or a beat sheet. You’re marching to the beat of a different drummer there.

4. “More white than black”: Target 150-180 words per page, and you’ll have a nice balance between blank space and ink. Anything over 200 words seems heavy; long paragraph blocks are deadly.  Keep scenes short; anything longer than three pages seems too long.

5. Screenwriting Technique/ Style:
Do not get carried away with parentheticals, CAPITALIZATIONS, flashbacks, montages, hyphens, ellipses and exclamation marks. If you need to use them, use them in moderation (sparingly).

6. Descriptions:
Provide enough scene description to allow the reader to imagine scene, and exclude details that do not add to the story. Try to keep all descriptions to two lines or less.

7. Punctuation:
Rules of punctuation still apply in a screenplay. Learn them.

8. Dialogue:
Avoid expositional dialogue; having one character impart information to another character; information that they should already know; for the sole purpose of informing the audience (“You know Mom died when I was only eight, so…”). Keep dialogue to four lines or less whenever possible.

9. Grammar:
Avoid repeats of words, such as “walks”,” laughs”, “looks”, etc. Write in the active tense “He knocks”, as opposed the more passive “He is knocking” (-ing words).

10. Spelling:
Do not rely on spellchecking programs to do your spelling work for you.

Geno Scala has several completed feature film screenplays and television pilots. Two recent TV projects, (“Hell Hath No Fury”, “Sextracurriculum”) are under consideration by SPIKE TV for an upcoming line-up. His recent feature film screenplay, "BANKING ON BETTY" was the winner of the 2012 StoryPros Screenwriting Competition, and the top finalist in the 2012 Script Pipeline. As a producer, he produced the projects "Mi iV" Pilot (2012 TV series), "Depressing All the Wrong Buttons" (2012), "A Little Litigation" (2012), and "Scourge of Wrath" (2012). Mr. Scala spent twenty-two years in the Hollywood community, and during 1999-2000, was an executive director for the 72nd Annual Academy Awards. He held similar positions with The Soul Train Awards, The Grammys and The Blockbuster Awards shows. He currently resides in Huntsville, Alabama, with his wife and four children.

His IMdb page at  

Patience and Passion

If anyone was to ask me two character building traits one needed to work in the film industry, let alone be a screenwriter, I would have to say Patience and Passion.  Both will see you through.

Going to discuss this along with the genesis of the package, "Puzzle Vision"

I was in the third draft of PV, when it happened to capture the attention of a certain actress.  I had not revealed anything about PV to anyone, nor any of my other screenplays.

Was on set of a SAG ultra-low budget picture.  I was a producer, having procured gap funding and stepped into production as Gaffer/Key Grip.  The point is, I was on a set WORKING.  Not as a writer, I know, but I was working a hot set with principles.

Was on a break, reading the third draft of PV, making notes in the margins, when the actress noticed and asked what I was reading.  After a brief conversation she asked for a pdf copy, to which I obliged.

At this point I was working, doing my thing, above the line, below the line, and writing, writing, writing, writing.

It did not matter what department I was working in, I did my job, asked a lot of questions pertaining to my task and kept writing once I got home, off the job.  I did not solicit myself on set as a producer with a script.

When working on set I made an effort to network on down time, lunch, dinner, wrap parties, etc., etc.  I gave the man his time, and used mine to learn more.

Back to the actress.  It was not long after she read it that she called me and said she was going to put the script into the hands of an actor.  Notice that now.  She was going to vet me to an actor.

Why?  Because of the script and working rapport we had developed on set.  Bingo!  Fruit of the patience and passion!

Long to short.

The actor did ring me, discussed the script with me and when the dust had settled this actor had put their name all over PV.  This actor has marketable appeal and a television track record that is in the top ten, easily.

What has the start up of PV have to do with Patience and Passion?  EVERYTHING!

Think for a moment where I would be had I not stuck to my guns, not continued working ATL/BTL, not continued writing feverishly?  That chance meeting with an actress that translated into an attachment by a working actor, (who is best known for two stellar television series), for PV would have never happened.

One of untold billions of examples demonstrating Patience and Passion.

Now keep thinking and acting with Patience and Passion no matter what you do!

Once I had the actress and actor tied in it was time for reads and re-writes.  First, I had a reader go over the fourth draft.  Which ties into the next post.

Geno Scala.  Geno will be guest posting about script reading, scripting, formatting among other things.

You can check Geno out here!

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Rob Tobin

Rob covering screenwriting as only Rob Tobin can!  A lot of meat and potatoes here, folks!

There are a lot of articles and books about screenwriting technique and theory out there, including two of my own, “The Screenwriting Formula” and “How to Write High Structure, High Concept Movies,” but few articles or books really address the current day realities of the film industry. I don’t know what all of those realities are, but as a former development exec and currently a screenwriter, I’ve run head on into a lot of those realities and it's shocking but true: few so-called "experts" are willing to really discuss them openly. Allow me to do so in this article.
One cautionary note: this article is about my personal experience with the industry and is thus necessarily colored by my perceptions, prejudices and by the fact that life is often like that story of the blind men examining an elephant. One blind man touches the tusks and describes the elephant one way, while another blind man touches the elephant’s tale and describes it another way, and so on. My experience similarly has a certain specificity to it that may not be applicable to all the readers. However, there are also experiences that all or most of you will encounter or have already encountered, and I’m hoping that this article will give you at least a bit more information than you may already have. Another note: I have very little experience in the television industry so I will confine my remarks to the film industry.
The film industry right now is very much like the old California Gold Rush: a limited amount of gold, and a seemingly unlimited number of gold diggers (pun unintended). Do you know who made the most money from the Gold Rush People like Levi Straus, who basically invented blue jeans and sold them to prospectors -- prospectors who for the most part didn' t make a dime off that gold rush.
The film industry is a bit like that now: the people making the money are not screenwriters, but rather people who give seminars, write books and create software to enable screenwriters to write their scripts. It’s only rarely that screenwriters actually make money. No-one wants to hear that, but until you really understand the reality of the industry, you’re going to go to a lot of different streams, spend years panning for gold and end up an old man or woman wondering what the hell happened to your life.
It doesn’t have to be all negative. Knowing that there are only a limited number of gold bearing streams isn’t a bad thing. It helps you realize the reality of the situation and plan accordingly. You may not spend quite so much money on equipment. You may think twice about quitting your day job and moving to California to find those 50lb nuggets you keep hearing stories about. You may do more research before going off half-cocked and fully loaded. You may take more time to learn the art and craft of gold digging, buy more maps, ask more questions, become better informed, find out where prospectors have already gone and failed, so that you don’t duplicate their mistakes and end up at some stream that’s already been proven to be a dud gold-wise.
If most of the streams in California do NOT contain gold nuggets, it’s not negative to SAY and ADMIT that most streams will not give you what you want. Admitting that these dud streams exist allows you to avoid them, thus narrowing and focusing your search and improving your chances.
Again, the film industry is like the Gold Rush. In what way? Well, and this is a statement I originally made in a column some time ago: there are more NBA players than there are feature film screenwriters who make a decent living from their writing. Now please, stop a moment to consider that. It is actually easier to get drafted to play in the NBA than it is to become a financially successful and self-supporting feature film screenwriter.
Here’s another statistic. On average, a produced screenwriter writes ten screenplays before being produced. That does not mean that writing ten screenplays automatically gets you produced. But that is the learning curve and amount of work you have to do in order to have even a slight chance of getting produced.
"Wow, I don’t care what you say, Rob, that is way negative." What? You didn’t want to know the odds of success? How much work is involved in getting produced? That’s okay. If you’re half blind and you refuse to put your glasses on before going for a walk, that’s your prerogative, but the consequences can vary from bumping into a telephone pole, to being run over by a garbage truck you just didn’t see coming.
The consequences of not knowing and/or of being in denial of the reality of the film industry might not be as fatal, but it can be a lifetime of futility and disappointment. The choice is yours, of course: take the time to figure out what you're doing, or just go to Starbucks and start writing that brilliant first or second script of yours, without outlining the story, without studying the market, without taking into account budgets and genre. Maybe things will just work out for you anyway.
Or not.
Now, for those of you who want to know the truth about the film industry, read on. For those in denial… well, read on anyway, unless you’re afraid to. 
The reality is that the vast majority of screenwriters will never earn a living from screenwriting (and remember I’m talking about feature film screenwriters here, television is a different beast and there are more writers working in television than in feature films, though I’m not sure if the odds of success there are really that much greater). Most screenwriters will never get an agent or manager. Most screenwriters will never get a script optioned, much less produced or even sold.
Do I saw this because I want you to fail? No, I say this because I want you to have the greatest chance of succeeding. I also want you to have an exit plan, a day job, and anything else you need to continue earning a living, because again, the odds of making it as a feature film screenwriter are pretty slim.
Okay, enough hammering you over the head with this, let’s move on to some things you can do to improve your chances of success. A lot of these suggestions you’re not going to like, I guarantee it, but… c’est la vie. And I mean that literally: it’s life, at least life in the film industry.
Unless you’re already successful, have already written at least ten screenplays, have consistently finished in at least the quarter finals of major screenwriting competitions, and have already studied the craft of screenwriting and the current state and structure of the film industry, here are a few suggestions for increasing your chances of success in that industry.
First, some people win the lottery, and some people get their first or second or fifth screenplay produced. I’m not sure how the odds of each accomplishment compare, but let me be clear: nearly no-one gets their first script optioned, sold or produced. Or their fifth. It always amazes me that someone writes or even contemplates writing their first screenplay and thinks they’re going to sell it. Look, you ain’t winnin’ the lottery and you ain’t selling any of your first five scripts.
However, writing those first five or ten scripts is crucial to your chances of succeeding in the industry, if you use the writing of those scripts as an education in the art and craft of screenwriting. There’s an old story of two employees at a company. One employee has been with the company for twenty-five years. The second employee has been with the company one year. The boss promotes the second, younger employee. The older employee storms into the boss’ office demanding to know why the younger employee was promoted over him, and that the older employee has twenty-five years of experience. The boss smiles and says, “No you don’t. You have one year of experience twenty five times over.” Meaning that the older employee had stopped learning and advancing after his first year on the job.
Don’t be like that older, bitter employee. Don’t write your first script ten times over and then think you have the experience and skills of a writer who has written ten very different scripts, each one better than the previous one. That is where accepting the reality of the situation helps you. If you know that on average you’re going to need to write ten scripts in order to develop the skills to write a production-worthy script, you’ll relax, you won’t stress, you’ll take time to learn from the weaknesses of each script so that your skills improve and each new script is better than the last. If you actually believe you have a chance to sell your first script, you won't even be aware of the weaknesses that need to be corrected, because you’ll be too obsessed with the "brilliance" of your first script. You’ll be the employee with one year of experience twenty five times over, except that you’ll be the first time screenwriter ten times over.
Worse, you may never even get to the second script, because you’ll still be trying to pitch and sell your first one… maybe for years… getting more and more frustrated and bitter with each passing rejection and wondering why these idiot film people aren't recognizing your brilliance. Seriously, there are people like that out there. I run into them all the time. “It's my first script. I’ve been working on this script for five years and I think it’s finally ready to be produced.”
So, my first suggestion is this: treat your first through tenth scripts as lessons, as part of getting your PhD in screenwriting from the College of Hard Knocks. Now, don’t take that the wrong way. Don’t take it as a suggestion that you write one draft of your script and then abandon it and go on to the first draft of your next script. That is, again, being the guy with one year of experience twenty five times over. Write at least five to ten drafts of every script. In fact keep writing until you can honestly say that you cannot make it any better. Now, that is a bit of an art: knowing when you’ve done everything you can with a script. You can err on either side: thinking it’s the best you can do when you know deep inside that it isn’t; or beating a dead horse.
It’s your first script. By its very nature it’s going to be limited. You should still write at least five drafts of it, but more for the experience than because you think that this brilliant, flawless, inspired first script is going to get anyone other than you and your mother interested in it. When a pianist practices scales, she does not believe that she can sell a recording of her practicing scales and have it become a number one hit. Well, writing your first several scripts is a bit like doing scales. It’s absolutely necessary to the process of your improving as a screenwriter, but the odds of any of the scripts actually selling? Not so much.
Now, in keeping with the musical analogy, let me ask you: before you start practicing your scales, what should you do? Right: learn the scales, learn how to read music, learn the individual notes and chords. Learn your craft before and as you practice it.
Same thing with screenwriting. A lot of writers – lazy writers – believe all you need in order to write a screenplay is a keyboard and time. It’s art, after all; there is no “right” and “wrong,” no structure, no rules, no confining walls. Did I mention lazy? Let’s see, that is equivalent to saying I can sit down at a piano without knowing anything about music and be able to create new songs. Yes, I can. And the odds of anyone liking those songs? Not great odds, I gotta’ tell you.
So why do some screenwriter think they can create viable stories just by sitting down at their keyboard and pounding away? The only answer I can come up with is, again, laziness. And arrogance. It’s the equivalent of claiming you can build a massive bridge or a rocket or a great symphony without training or knowledge. Engineers, rocket scientists and professional musicians would undoubtedly be insulted, and I suspect professional screenwriters would be too. It trivializes their training and experience, all in the name of avoiding the work necessary to become a commercially successful screenwriter.
So don’t be that lazy, arrogant wannabe screenwriter. Google the best screenwriting books and read at least three or four of them. Read about script formatting and make sure you format your scripts correctly. Learn about characterization, theme, dialogue, subjective and objective storylines, three (or four) act structure, protagonist, antagonist, life changing event, enabling circumstances, and other story elements and the proper relationships between them.
It’s okay to be unorthodox. But be intelligently and successfully and efficientlyunorthodox; don’t be blindly unorthodox. Picasso’s father was a traditional, formally educated painter. He taught Pablo everything he needed to know about perspective, color, the use oflight and shadow, and so on. It was only after learning how painting was traditionally done that Pablo veered off the path. Knowing what rules you’re breaking allows you to break those rules intelligently, to have a good idea what effect breaking those rules will have, and allows you to repeat that rule-breaking and build on it.
If you just sit down and write without knowledge of what has come before, it's like starting to build a house without knowing about structure and about the history of house building, of housing styles, of engineering, load bearing timbers, types of materials, and so on. It can be liberating to just go at it with no education, research, preparation or tools, but how many people will feel comfortable living in the house you make? About the same number of people who will feel comfortable reading your script. Not many.
"But structure is so confining." So are the sides and bottom of a coffee cup, but we all recognize the usefulness of a cup, don't we? We don’t think that the cup harms the coffee or limits it in any way. We think, quite rightly, that the cup actually aids the drinker in drinking the coffee. Try this: pour coffee from a coffee pot onto the floor. Now… drink the poured coffee. You may be able to lick a certain amount fo the coffee from the floor, but I guarantee the experience will be somewhat less pleasant than sipping the hot java from that horribly confining cup.
Two things to take away from this metaphor/allegory: first, structure (including the structure of a coffee cup) can be useful and maybe even crucial to the enjoyment of a product, whether that product is coffee or screenwriting. Second, structure can vary tremendously and maybe even endlessly, and content can vary even more.
What do I mean by that second point? Well, is coffee the only thing you can put into a cup? Of course not. You can put the worst red eye whiskey, or the finest Chablis. The quality of the content is independent of the cup, but the ability of the drinker to enjoy the beverage is dependent on the ability of the cup to confine and deliver the beverage.
Screenplay structure is a lot like that. What you want to say has no limit. The structure of the screenplay does not lessen the content of the screenplay, it just makes it easier for the audience to understand and enjoy that content. And that structure is a lot like the cup in that the cup can be any size, any color, and a wide variety of shapes. Now it’s true that having no bottom to the cup, or huge holes in the sides limits the effectiveness of the cup in holding and preserving the contents so that those contents can be enjoyed by others. Similarly, though you have a huge latitude in creating your story structure, there may be certain “rules” that when broken cause more headaches than they solve… like that bottomless cup.
But you know what? Again, just as Picasso used his knowledge of traditional painting to know how to break the rules of traditional painting, so too, even the most radical cupmaker uses his knowledge of traditional cupmaking to know which rules to break and which rules not to break, like that rule about cup bottoms being kinda’ useful.
So learn your craft. Read successful screenplays to know what’s already been done and how it was done. Read about major screenwriters, from Dudley Nichols (who wrote for everyone from John Wayne to Katherine Hepburn) to Paul Haggis (“Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash”). Don’t just watch the movies. Read the scripts. You’ll see what a huge difference there is between script and screen. You’re not making a movie, you’re writing a script. Unless you intend to direct and shoot your own movies, it’s more important to know about screenwriting than it is to know about filmmaking.
That said, it’s also important to know about filmmaking; budgets, directors, actors. If possible, take some acting classes and even a directing class if you can find one wherever it is you live. Why? Because screenwriting is more than just screenwriting; it is pitching your scripts after you’ve written them. And pitching is more than just pitching; it is the act of asking someone to do something, and it is crucially important for you to know what it is you are asking. You are asking someone to spend thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions and tens of millions of dollars and perhaps years of their life to produce your writing. 
Again, I suggest you stop and really consider that. I doubt that many of you would go up to a stranger and seriously ask them to give you ten million dollars and five years of their life. And yet that is basically what you are asking them when you hand them a script.
You shouldn’t let the enormity of what you’re asking stop you or intimidate you, but you should respect the person of whom you’re asking it. You should also, of course, respect the value of your own work, but never at the cost of respecting the person you’re pitching to.  Just remember: millions of dollars, years of time. Look, it's this simple: when you pitch a script, don't have in mind your welfare, but rather have in mind what the producer needs and pitch from that place.
So, you’ve read the best screenwriting books, taken at least a couple of the best seminars and/or watched the best screenwriting DVDs. You’ve read tons of the best screenplays with a discerning eye, really actively looking to see what previous great screenwriters have done and how they seemed to have done it.
Now what? Well, if you haven’t yet written that script, create an outline. I can’t stress enough the importance of outlining your script in detail before writing it. It is true that there are natural born writing geniuses out there who can sit down with a keyboard and just write a masterpiece, and I hate these people as much as anyone else does, LOL. But they are like the lottery winners – the exception.
Take your time. If you’re in a hurry to write your script, it’ll turn out like most things that you rush: not so well. But that means don’t just take your time in writing the script, take your time in outlining it. Make sure you put down the essential elements of the script: hero, hero’s ally, lifechanging event, hero’s flaw, jeopardy, opponent, enabling circumstances.
Create in-depth characters, with their own backstories, backstories that actually make sense, given who they are now. Ideal upbringings might not work for a character who is highly dysfunctional. Conversely, healthy, stable characters don’t always emerge from horrible childhoods or even adults lives filled with misfortune. Be consistent.
Make sure your dialogue fits not just who your characters are, how old they are, where they were brought up, who brought them up, etc., but what they’ve experienced in their lives. A female teenager who was raped as a child is not going to speak (or act) the same way as a teen virgin.
Make sure you understand what your characters’ points of view are. Again, all of this will be contained in the better screenwriting books, the ones you will, of course, buy and read.
So, you’ve outlined your script, created all your elements, and you’re about to begin writing. One more word of advice before you put pinkies to keys: be aware of budget, genre, politics and a host of other things. It’s okay to write a script that would cost $250 million to make. After all, it’s your script, write whatever you want to write. But… be aware of the extremely small chance of a $250 million script by an unknown writer ever getting made. Remember what you’re asking of the person you pitch the script to: money and time. The more money and the greater the amount of time your script takes, the less chance there will be that someone out there will be willing to sacrifice that amount of time and money on the off chance that he or she will be able to recoup that investment at the box office.
It’s like everything else in life: the easier you make it for others, the easier they’ll make it for you. At least in theory.
The trick is this: do not look for others to create or imbue value in your work. You have to do that. You have to ask yourself: in what way will this script make the producer’s life easier? What does this script offer the producer? He or she is not there to do you a favor. Chances are they don’t even know you. Why would they take time away from their family and careers, and money out of their bank accounts (or the bank accounts of others) just to make you happy? The only acceptable answer to that question is that your script already has such value in it that they are willing, no eager, to grab it from you.
See, part of the reason that Hollywood has restricted itself almost exclusively to doing sequels, prequels, reboots, remakes and adaptations is that they perceive a built-in value in those projects. The value is that these projects have a built-in audience. Whether it is “Charlies’ Angels” or “Twilight,” these projects have pre-existing audiences. That means they have great value to the studios and production companies. You may not be able to bring a pre-existing audience to the producer, but that only means you have to make your script even better, because quality is the only value you can offer, unless of course you’re Tom Hanks’ brother in law and can attach him to the script.
So, you’ve done all your homework, and you’ve written a solid, structurally sound script with deep, interesting characters. You’ve rewritten it at least five times and preferably many more times than that. Now what? Now you test drive the little beast.
"Great, Rob! I want to submit it to Spielberg!" Good luck with that. No, don’t let me be flippant about that. Let me be serious: if you submit your first or fifth script directly to film producers, executives or agents, you may be slicing your own throat. Why? Because they will judge you thereafter based on that script. If you submit a script that is “not ready for prime time,” you will be known as a “not ready for prime time” kinda’ writer. And even if you later significantly improve, you will be remembered by at least some of the industry gatekeepers as a subpar writer and they will either refuse to read your scripts, or read it with the preconception that you are not a top notch writer.
I don’t think you want that. At least, you shouldn’t want that. Not if you want a career and respect by film industry people. So what do you do? You start submitting your brilliant little script to screenwriting contests. This is a great way to get your script out to the ‘industry’ without risking your reputation. You see, industry people expect scripts submitted to contests to be amateur scripts, so if they’re not up to snuff, there is much less risk of them dismissing you. They assume that you are being conscientious and are simply in the process of learning your craft and improving yourself.
So, go to There you’ll find what is probably the best list of screenwriting contests around. The site even ranks the contests, using four or five criteria such as relevance, professionalism and feedback, on a four star system. Pick say, five highly ranked competitions, making sure that they are also highly ranked for feedback. It may cost you something like $50 a pop for these contests, but what you’re getting for that $50 is invaluable: you’re getting an unbiased, risk-free industry evaluation of your script. Something you’d otherwise pay hundreds of dollars for.
What are you looking for? At least a quarterfinal finish. Consistently. I would not submit a script directly to a producer until that script had finished consistently in at least the quarterfinals of severasl significant screenwriting contests. Another benefit of this is that you get to put it in your screenwriting resume: “Quarterfinalist, Acme Screenwriting Contest.” It may not be quite like winning an Oscar, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Now, while your script is making its way through the seemingly interminable judging process in these contests, start your next script. Seriously. Do not sit around waiting for the results of your last script. Start your next script, and make sure that the next script is even better than the previous one. Then when your second script is done, start submitting it to five contests and start your next script.
It ain’t glamorous, granted. It’s expensive, admittedly. It can often be disappointing. Why disappointing? Because the odds are that your first or second script will not make it to the quarterfinals and you will be tempted to be really pissed off about that. "Damn it, Tobin, I just spent $250 submitting my script to contests and I didn’t finish well in a single one!"
Hey, remember how I told you that denial is not the best way to approach your screenwriting career? Well that still holds. If the industry is telling you you’re not, at this point in your career, a good enough writer, you should listen. And then use the feedback to make your next script better, and then the next and the next.
Now, there may come a time (in fact odds are that there definitely will come a time) when you have to face the fact that you’re not talented enough as a screenwriter to make a living or even to do well in amateur screenwriting competitions. Depending on how committed you are to screenwriting, that may be a devastating moment, and it may send you skydiving right into a bottomless pit of depression and self-pity. At this point you have a few choices: you can quit. Or, you can stop entering competition and start submitting directly to the industry because what do those stupid contest judges know anyway? Or you can go back to writing with a vengeance and a commitment to greater excellence in your writing.
It’s up to you what you do. There’s an old saying that if you feel like quitting as a writer, you probably should. There’s some truth to that, I suspect, because as a writer my feeling is that I don’t have a choice about it anyway: I can’t quit. It would be like quitting eating. Sure, I can do it, but I’ll eventually die from the lack of it (food or writing). But even if you’re that committed, the chances of your making a living from it are slim. Sorry to burst your bubble there, kiddo.
How many kids are so committed to basketball that they eat, drink, breathe, sleep and dream basketball? Of all those thousands of kids for whom basketball is not just a dream but a reason to live, how many of them make the NBA? Right. And don’t forget what I began this article with: an absolutely true statement that there are more kids who will play in the NBA than will make a living from screenwriting.
Deal with it. But deal with it intelligently, with a plan, with dedication, but also with open eyes, not with denial.
Rob Tobin is a produced, award-winning screenwriter, published novelist, former motion picture development exec and the author of "The Screenwriting Formula" and "How to Write High Structure, High Concept Movies," both available on, and book stores near you. Rob is also available for writing assignments and consulting. Contact him

Tuesday, February 5, 2013



Still covering screenplays and writing them, since they are the foundation with which every project is built upon.

Our first guest post will be from Robert Tobin

Rob is quite the accomplished screen writer and author.

Please keep your eye here, as I await Rob's post so that I may post it up!

While we wait please go visit his website above!

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The one thing that makes all Producers equal, no matter who they are in the industry, is the necessity of a screenplay.

The screenplay is the initial component necessary in order to develop, produce and distribute a film, or television program.  Everyone has to have one, whether they option, purchase, or write one themselves.  That is an enormous and complex thought.

I have been diligently writing screenplays since 1990.  At this point I have amassed 14 in my library, and am actually stewing development on a new one.

During my course as a writer I have heard so many people talk about writing scripts with a budget number in mind.  Or about writing scripts for No/Low budget "ideas".  Have even had people tell me they were "low budget script writers".

And that always throws me a curve.

So, some back story on my writing discipline to help you understand me, as a writer.  And yes, it has everything to do with Independent producing.

I was introduced to Esther Glaser in 1989, a retired CBS studio writers block member for over 20 years.  She was part of the writing team that brought us such shows as My Three Sons, Petticoat Junction, Eddy's Father, and more I need not list, as one should get the point.

Esther mentored me in screenwriting for over four years before her passing.

I followed that up by buying the book, "Screen Writing 434", written by Lew Hunter; UCLA Professor Emeritus of the prestigious graduate program, Screen writing 434.

Here is an amazon link to a paperback edition of the book-

Here is an amazon link to a Kindle edition-

I followed Lew's book diligently, and forged friendships with alumni of the graduate program.

As of late I have been described as a "veteran writer", folks that matter say that I have found my "writing voice", and I owe all of that to Esther and Lew Hunter along with his book.

I simply followed Lew's simple advice.  Write, write, write, write, write.

Developed a discipline by doing it.  I wrote around eight screenplays before saying or announcing it to anyone. 

I don't totally agree with writing for any particular budget in mind.  I prefer to keep it simple.

I write whatever I am tasked to write, or decide to write, just for the sake of the enjoyment and pleasure I get from it.  Some people do MMA, I do writing.  In fact I am enjoying this right now.

Of course I do understand that a short would naturally cost lest than a feature to get in the can.

I do as Lew advises, and that is to go OTT, shoot over the moon, use the world as my oyster, because somewhere there is a Line Producer and UPM who can bring it into any accepted budget.

I simply do not worry about the beans or bean counters.  They have a task, as I do.  I write.

I write to entertain people for a certain amount of time.  I do that by writing for my characters,  and their humanity.

It does not matter if the script is a short, full length feature, MOW, or a mini-series, write that "calling card" script.  A calling card script is the writers business card and resume rolled into one.

I liken a script to a blue print, a set of house plans, if you would.

You can take any set of house plans and come up with several different budgets by simply using builder, custom, or commercial budgets.

Same principle applies to a screenplay.  Differences in ATL and BTL elements create differing budgets.

My advice is to just write and don't get distracted by numerical values, except for page counts.

Now if one is obsessed with writing a "low budget" script then I offer these few pointers.

Compress the story line time frame as much as possible.
Be non-descript about the location and use as few locations as possible.
Fewer scene elements;  fewer background, fewer supporting characters, etc., etc.

We will give this subject matter more coverage from other guest writers, as it is imperative to know that the script is the bedrock, the foundation for every film project out there.

I was able to package "Puzzle Vision", not because of me as a writer, but because of the script alone.

One of my leads, called me after reading it and put their name all over it.  Even have a LOA from them on it and another one, as well.

So, remember, it is all about the screenplay!

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