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Screenwriter’s Tale Of Win Over Credits

By | Tuesday March 26, 2013 @ 4:54pm PDT

Few screenwriters go public with details of the sorry state of the Writers Guild’s very arbitrary arbitrations over credits. But veteran scribe Doug Richardson does. He recently was one of the independent judges on a credits arbitration and blogs that “the awful process” made him recall his most memorable tale of woe. Even though he won. Here he explains why so many writers fight hard for credit besides recognition:

Money. The most obvious of motives are the hefty residuals that can be banked after a hit movie and also the potential for later employment by studios who generally prefer to hire writers with successful track records.

But there’s this other, less discussed, carrot-on-a-stick. It’s this little clause found in most screenwriter’s motion picture contracts called the “credit bonus.” Simply put, if the writer gets credit, the writer shall receive a big-assed bonus. Such is usually a last-minute negotiating giveaway to the writer in lieu of taking less dough up front. And it’s looked upon as funny money by industry lawyers because, by the time the movie gets made–if ever–who the hell knows how many writers might’ve worked on it, let alone how many deserved or could receive credit? Smooth, huh? Especially if it acts as catnip for snubbed writers who see the process of WGA credit arbitration as a potential lottery win.

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Screenwriters Part 1: Are Script Expos, Coverage Services & Pitchfests Scams?

By | Sunday February 17, 2013 @ 3:56pm PST

David Konow contributes to Deadline.

With the Writers Guilds West and East tonight presenting their awards to last year’s most respected practitioners of the craft, it’s a perfect occasion for Deadline to examine the cottage industry of screenwriting conventions, expos, coverage services, and pitchfests. They’re supposed to help writers learn their craft and get their scripts out into the world. It goes without saying that this is a hot button issue in Hollywood. “Those who can’t write, teach seminars.” That’s what John August, screenwriter of Big Fish, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, and Corpse Bride posted on his website under the category of ‘So-Called Experts’. As he further elaborates to Deadline, “Most seminars feel like scams, and pitchfests give me nightmares. I don’t know any movies that have come out of them. The important thing to remember is that pitching only means something when the person hearing your pitch already thinks you’re a good writer.”

Yes, the business of screenwriting will always attract shysters willing to prey on people with a dollar and a dream. Yes, there are many people who talk a similar rhetoric about ‘paradigms’ and ‘character arcs’ so it all feels like a con or cult built around scripting for showbiz. But some people must find it all useful, right?

Though it’s not clear when the industry around screenwriting may have started, but some feel it grew exponentially in the late 1980s after the Writers Strike. “The industry pipelines were dry and million dollar spec sales were the order of the day,” recalls Den Shewman, former editor in chief of Creative Screenwriting. “I still remember agents Alan Gasmer and Rob Carlson having some kind of uber sale competition, each scoring a million dollar spec sale a month.” Not to mention the big script paydays Shane Black and Joe Eszterhas which became the stuff of wannabe movie writers’ dreams. As recently as last fall, the well-known Black List launched a pay service for unrepresented screenwriters to have their work analyzed by industry professionals. Its first over-the-transom success story wasn’t: the scripter Justin Kremer (McCarthy) had previously been an intern there. On the other hand, Kremer had uploaded his script to the site and paid for a single read. When the screenplay got a high score, it was included in the site’s weekly member email spotlighting the highest rated scripts. After dozens of downloads from Black List industry members and more ratings from those who read it, McCarthy became the site’s highest-rated uploaded script. That’s when Kremer, who’d gone to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and graduated from the Dramatic Writing Conservatory at the State University of New York/Purchase, was signed by CAA.

It goes without saying to let the buyer beware when looking for a pitchfest, coverage company, or screenwriting teacher. “There were a lot of people in early 2000, even now, who decided to hang up a shingle and call themselves an expert,” warns Jim Cirile of the script coverage company Coverage Ink. “There’s 87 coverage companies out there right now. How many of them are run by people who’ve had a studio deal or have sold anything? How many of them are run by some college kid who figures he can make a couple of extra bucks by reading a screenplay?” InkTip’s Gato Scatena adds, “Before we allow someone to come in and teach at our seminars, we do vet them out and call referrals.”

It’s believed that pitchfests, where you meet face to face with industry professionals and try to sell your idea, started back in 1996 with the Writer’s Network. The argument for pitchfests is the supposed access you get to people who can potentially sign you or buy you. “It’s one thing to send out query letters. It’s another thing to literally get in an executive’s face and try to sell them on yourself,” says Cirile. “It’s a really fast way of opening some doors for yourself, and you get an unprecedented level of access.”

“Screenwriting is one art form. Getting out there and networking is a completely different art form,” says Gato Scatena, VP of Marketing at InkTip, a networking and pitching company. “Learning how to pitch, learning how to be comfortable in front of strangers, all of these things are important. It’s good to meet other screenwriters, it’s good to meet other executives, it’s good to meet assistants.”

Erik Bauer, who founded Creative Screenwriting Magazine, says the access you get to industry people at a pitchfest “would be very difficult for writers to arrange on their own. And some writers and filmmakers make good use of that access, showing trailers for their movies, and making contacts that helped them in their careers.”

Jack Epps Jr., who wrote Top Gun and Dick Tracy with the late Jim Cash, and who also teaches screenwriting at USC, says, “The expos that are well run bring in really good people, and it allows a very wide range of the public to take screenwriting classes. And for the cost, the access is pretty good.”

So those are the pros. But the first con is the costs, which can be $200-$500 a weekend and more if you’re traveling in from out of town. The second con is that pitchfests rarely produce made movies or even films in development. “I don’t think there’s been any big spec sales that’s come from any of these that I’m aware of,” says Cirile. “What happens more often is you make connections that help down the line.”
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Black List To Host Amateur Screenplays And Recommend ‘Best Of’ To Film Professionals

By | Monday October 15, 2012 @ 8:55am PDT

TOLDJA! Black List Launching Screenplay Services

LOS ANGELES (October 15, 2012) – The Black List founder Franklin Leonard and cofounder/CTO Dino Sijamic announced today the launch of a paid service that allows any screenwriter, amateur or professional, to upload their script to The Black List’s database. The script will be evaluated by professional script readers, and, depending on its evaluation(s), read by as many as 1,000 film industry professionals who are currently a part of the membership site.

Aspiring screenwriters will pay $25 a month to have their scripts hosted on The Black List’s website, accessible only by a closed community of Hollywood professionals. They can further pay $50 for evaluations by anonymous script readers hired by The Black List. Every read by industry professionals generated by those evaluations is entirely free. Moreover, The Black List will not claim a commission, finder’s fee, or producer credit on business generated by their service. “Writers retain all rights to sell and produce their work and are free to negotiate the best deal they can get. All we ask is an email letting us know of their success,” added Leonard.

“For years people have been asking me how to get their scripts to Hollywood. Short of endless rounds of unanswered query letters and screenplay competitions that may, in the best case scenario, attract the notice of a few people, I never had a good answer,” said Leonard. “We

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The Black List Launching Web Site That Tracks Most Popular Scripts In Real Time

EXCLUSIVE: Film executive Franklin Leonard has maintained The Black List for the past six years to champion hundreds of talented screenwriters and unproduced scripts. Well over 125 screenplays have been made into movies, and they’re responsible for 20 Oscars and roughly $10 billion in worldwide grosses. Today Leonard expands The Black List by launching a website that tracks Hollywood’s most popular scripts in real time. Blcklst.com bases its info on polling hundreds of high level studio and production company executives who are directly involved in moviemaking. The subscriber-only web site ($20 a month) will expand the pool of movie professionals to include agents and directors who will identify the scripts they like best. Blcklst.com algorithms will sort them by a number of criteria: most popular, and most popular dramas or comedies of the past week, month or whatever. For example, on Tuesday night, I broke news of the sale to Warner Bros of The Imitation Game about math genius Alan Turing. It has been the most popular available new script among several hundred beta-test users of Blcklst.com over the past couple of months.

One thing, though, Leonard’s website will not be open to the general public, however. Verified membership will be expanded to include agents, managers, directors, actors, and writers who will rate scripts according to what they like best. Additionally, the verified subscription format is designed to prevent data manipulation. Interestingly, there will be no “worst of” categories. (Gee where’s the fun if there’s no trashing or bashing?) The parameters … Read More »

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Does America Owe Hollywood Its Gratitude?

By | Wednesday May 4, 2011 @ 5:30am PDT

I know it’s fashionable in some political circles to slam Hollywood at every opportunity. But al-Qaida expert Lawrence Wright says America owes a debt of gratitude to screenwriters who helped the CIA imagine Osama Bin Laden scenarios after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That’s right — screenwriters. Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross interviewed Wright because of his 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaida and the Road to 9/11, his one-man play turned 2010 HBO film My Trip To Al-Qaida. But Wright also wrote the 1998 movie The Siege, directed by Ed Zwick, about a secret U.S. abduction of a suspected terrorist and how it leads to a wave of terrorist attacks in New York. Though a box office failure, Wright has claimed it was “the most-rented movie in America after 9/11.” It also drew the attention of the CIA, relevant this week because of the pundit debate over whether the U.S. should have taken Bin Laden dead or alive:

GROSS: How did the reality of [Bin Laden's] demise compare with some of the scenarios you’d imagined?

WRIGHT: Actually, Terry, I think it was in 2006, the CIA came to me to write a scenario, in their words, about what would we do if we got Bin Laden because this has been a subject of concern within the intelligence community. What if we did get him? How would we treat him? Where would we take him? Would it be better to take him alive or dead? And because I had written this movie,

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That Amazon Studios Screenplay Contest: Heavenly Or Hellish? Scribes Weigh In…

So Amazon decides to form Amazon Studios and to give away $2.7 million to wannabe screenwriters. (Here’s the actual 21-page Amazon Studios Development Agreement contract they have to sign.) Sounds good, right? Not necessarily creatively or financially. It’s easy to understand why Amazon wants to get involved with the creation of entertainment and not just its distribution. Or why filmmakers would want to break into the biz through this contest that gets them noticed, lets them win money, and maybe even lets Warner Bros release their movies. But a growing echo chamber of Hollywood scribes is warning wannabes to beware because of problems with copyright, authorship, Amazon Studios’ free 18-month option on a writer’s work the moment it’s uploaded, and rewriting by Amazon readers. Here’s some of the most confounding language:

Amazon Studios invites filmmakers and screenwriters from all over the world to submit full-length movies and scripts, which will then get feedback from Amazon readers, who will be free to rewrite and amend. Based on reaction (“rate and review”) to stories, scripts and rough “test” films, a panel of judges will award monthly prizes… You agree to be automatically entered into any future contests for which your work is eligible. The specific contest rules for future contests will be posted on this page when they are announced.

Prominent scribe and blogger John August asks this: ”Do you really want random people rewriting your script? To me, this feels like the biggest psychological misstep of the venture… Sure, most aspiring screenwriters … Read More »

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Scripter John August Bitchslaps Jessica Alba

By | Monday November 8, 2010 @ 7:27am PST

It wasn’t unprovoked. Actress Jessica Alba dissed screenwriters to Elle magazine. Here’s the posting from Big Fish and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory scripter John August’s blog:

Oh, Jessica

I have to believe she was misquoted, or excerpted in some unflattering way, because Jessica Alba couldn’t have actually said this:

Good actors, never use the script unless it’s amazing writing. All the good actors I’ve worked with, they all say whatever they want to say.

Oh, Jessica. Where to start?

Scripts aren’t just the dialogue. Screenplays reflect the entire movie in written form, including those moments when you don’t speak. Do you know the real reason we hold table readings in pre-production? So the actors will read the entire script at least once.

Following your logic, you’ve never been in a movie with both good actors and amazing writing. That may be true, but it might hurt the feelings of David Wain, Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller.

You’re saying your co-stars who delivered their lines as written are not “good actors.” Awkward.

You’re setting dangerous expectations. So if an aspiring actor wishes to be “good,” she should say whatever she wants to say? That’s pretty terrible advice.

Screenwriters can be your best friends. We are pushovers for attractive people who pay attention to us. I wrote that bathtub scene in Big Fish because Jessica Lange made brief eye contact with me. So if you’re not getting great writing — and honestly, you’re not — ask to have lunch with the screenwriter. I’ve seen you on interviews. You’re charming.

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Academy Narrows Field For Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowships

Mike Fleming

Academy Announces Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship Finalists for 2010

Beverly Hills, CA – Ten writers have been selected as finalists for the 25th annual Don and Gee Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Their scripts will now be read and judged by the Academy’s Nicholl Committee, which may award as many as five of the prestigious $30,000 fellowships.

This year’s finalists are (listed alphabetically by author):

Art Corriveau, Santa Fe, New Mexico, “Nicky Flynn Finally Gets a Life”
Destin Daniel Cretton, San Diego, Calif., “Short Term 12”
Sebastian Davis, Los Angeles, Calif., “Drunk-Dialing”
Marvin Krueger, North Hollywood, Calif., “And Handled with a Chain”
Andrew Lanham, Austin, Texas, “The Jumper of Maine”
Tim Macy, Kansas City, Mo., “The Last Queen”
Micah Ranum, Beverly Hills, Calif., “A Good Hunter”
Cinthea Stahl, North Hollywood, Calif., “Identifying Marks”
Logan Steiner, Redondo Beach, Calif., “The Promise of Spring”
Sage Vanden Heuvel, Ann Arbor, Mich., “Inner Earth”

The finalists were selected from 6,304 scripts submitted for this year’s competition. The competition is open to any individual who has not sold or optioned a screenplay or teleplay for more than $5,000, or received a fellowship or prize that includes a “first look” clause, an option, or any other quid pro quo involving the writer’s work.

The Nicholl Committee, chaired by producer Gale Anne Hurd, is composed of writers Naomi Foner, Daniel Petrie, Jr., Tom Rickman and Dana Stevens; actor Eva Marie Saint; cinematographers John Bailey and Steven B. Poster; executive Bill Mechanic; producers Peter Samuelson and Robert W. Shapiro; and agent Ronald R.

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Broadcast Networks Are Open To Pitches …But Where Are The Available TV Writers?

By | Thursday August 5, 2010 @ 12:30pm PDT
Nellie Andreeva

It’s like broadcast TV industry’s version of a hangover. It’s already August, the marketplace should be bustling with business but only a few pitches have trickled in so far. “We’re very late this year,” a network topper tells me. Why is that? Some point to the last selling season which was so long and bruising, by the end of it everyone felt exhausted. “We all took a collective break,” one top TV lit agent says. Also, there are a lot of new scripted series — 38 — picked up by the broadcast nets for next season, almost 60% more than the 24 new series ordered last year. That, coupled with the increased volume of original series on cable, made fewer writers available to develop this year. A non-writing producer told me he has never gotten so many “not available” answers from TV lit agents when inquiring about writers.

What’s more, I hear the major studios this year don’t allow writers staffed on first-year shows to develop. The general practice had been for scribes working on new series where they would be paid as much as $40,000-$50,000 an episode to regularly take time off to pitch their own projects or work on drafts of their own pilot scripts. “We don’t want them distracted, we want them focused on those 13 episodes,” a studio head said. Read More »

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