How do you do it?

                Don’t worry, we’ll get to “Development Hell”. But this is something I’ve been meaning to write about for awhile, and after getting a few e-mails on the subject, I thought it was worth exploring (sooner, rather than later).

So I go on a great deal about querying; about what to say to production companies, managers, etc. There’s a lot of blogs that do that: talk about how to query or how not to query. But few talk about how to contact those you’re supposed to query. These blogs all assume that you just “know” how to do it, and I apologize because I have been no different.

When I got out of film school, I had no idea what to do with my first feature script. They sure as hell didn’t teach it in school, and when I tried Googling it, the results were vague. Why? Why don’t people like to talk about HOW to get ahold of these people? I have a theory: if you tell people your “tricks of the trade”, there will be just that many more sharks in the water. And who wants that? This field is already so damn competitive. So go figure it out yourself. (Or buy their list of production companies, for the low, low price of $100!! *Don’t do that.*)

Truth is, I should tell you. Querying is so damn hard already, and that’s just when you actually get ahold of them. Who cares if you get a slight leg up on finding out how to contact them?

So, here goes. You’ve got a brand spankin’ new script. What do you do? (After you’ve bugged your friends and family for a series of critiques, of course.)

First off, figure out what type of movie your script is and then make a list of others like it. Then, do some research and find all the people involved in making that movie: producers, production companies, agents, whoever. If they made a movie similar to yours (in tone or genre), odds are they’ll be more likely to give your script a shot. But how do you do this? Simple. GET A 2 WEEK FREE TRIAL TO IMDB PRO. I’ve done this on multiple credit cards with multiple e-mail accounts over the years. (Sorry, but that membership is too damn expensive for the small number of times I use it every year.) **NOTE: Remember to cancel it. I’ve forgotten a couple times, and it stings having to pay that membership fee.**

So, you start digging, and you make a list. But now you need to actually contact these people. **NOTE: Leave the big fish alone. Don’t go for studio or large production companies. Go for the mid-to-low level companies. They’re more likely to respond.** Problem is, most of them don’t list their contact information; just an info@companyname.com address. You can use this though. There is a pretty standard structure you can try out to most companies. Let’s say the person you’re trying to reach is John Smith (I’m a writer!). Here’s a few variations to try out:

Smith@companyname.com

JSmith@companyname.com

 John@companyname.com

JohnSmith@companyname.com

                You get the point. Just keep trying until something sticks. You can also try Googling “@companyname e-mail John smith” and see what bounces back. There are ENTIRE THREADS devoted to this on the Done Deal Message Boards. You can also use Done Deal to find out if the person you’re contacting is reputable, so you don’t waste your time.

Once you exhaust your list, you can broaden your search and start querying other companies, managers and agents. Keep it short and sweet. No big paragraphs. Don’t try to be cute and market your film either: “It’s (blank) meets (blank) and will make 52 million”. They just want to hear your logline and maybe a couple other enticing bits. Did you place in a reputable contest? Put that in there. And like I’ve said in previous entries: keep your query blasts small. Only do about 20 a day (if that). This way, you can see what works and what doesn’t. If you’re not getting a hit, maybe you need to change your subject. Or maybe your logline needs work. Don’t blow it by doing 500 in one day.

It’s tough, it’s rarely rewarding, and sometimes it feels downright stalkery. (Not a word.) But for a lot of us, it’s all we have. And most importantly: it works. I promise.

About the writer: A talented writer and 10 year veteran of the industry, “P.J. McNeill” has seen it all (and he’s ready to kiss and tell.) Got a question, a comment or just general bile /praise you want to spew?  Email PJ at pjscriptblog@gmail.com.

 

Adaptationing Night School

A screenplay writer runs into trouble when his lunatic twin stops by to help…

(Warning – adult language and situations)

Some scripts defy explanation. And logic. And sanity…. Yet somehow they still make sense (after a dose of LSD.) Some rather classic titles fall into this category: Blue Velvet, Donny Darko, and Being John Malkovich are some examples. While not universally loved – or understood – there’s a certain appeal that such scripts bring. When faced with a steady diet of Hollywood cookie-cutter films, craziness can feel fresh. And good.

While not as psychedelic as Naked Lunch, “Adaptationing Night School” falls into this general genre: a slightly unhinged breath of fresh air.

A strange little script, Adaptationing opens with nebbish protagonist Noel. Unattractive with a receding hairline, he’s Paul Giamatti on a real bad day. Plunking away at his laptop, he’s also a wanna-be screenwriter. His class assignment (adapting a novel) is due in only ten hours. And he’s barely gotten past fade-in. Enter Leon: Noel’s identical twin brother. Fun-loving and crazy, Leon’s everything Noel isn’t. Not to mention pushy. Within minutes of arrival, he gets an earful of Noel’s writing woes and takes charge. He dictates changes in the script and arranges a “school trip” to the local booze n’ dive: in the name of “research”, of course.

At that point, things get weird. Like they weren’t already. Guided by Leon’s voice-over narrative, a few characters (including Noel’s snarky writing teacher Sparkman) appear and disappear. When Noel refuses to meet cute with the local barflies, Leon impersonates his brother – and picks up well-endowed lush Maureen. The three head back to Noel’s with the intention of (cough) getting to know each other. What happens then? Well, everything goes even more to hell even more…

Will every audience like Adaptationing? Hell, no. Probably not even the majority. Scripts like this are an acquired taste: like Octopus and Thousand Year Old Duck eggs. But this script is a writing gem, full of quoteable lines. Sparkman’s are particularly standout. Check out Adaptationing if you like your stories somewhat skewed. And have David Lynch sensibilities… J

About the writer: Zach Jansen is an award-winning and produced screenwriter from Saint Paul, Minnesota.  He enjoys spending time with his kids, anything movies, and sitting at his desk pounding out his next script.  If for some reason you want to learn more about him, you can check out his IMDb page or quasi-frequently updated blog.

Pages: 17

Budget: About the only thing that’s not crazy about this script. Settings include an apartment, a bar and some street scenes. No FX needed. Characters include Noel, Leon, Maureen, Sparkman and a handful of extras.

READ THE SCRIPT HERE – AND DON’T FORGET TO COMMENT!!

FOR YET MORE SCRIPTS AVAILABLE FOR PRODUCTION:

PLEASE SEARCH SIMPLYSCRIPTS.COM 

OR THE BLOG VERSION OF STS HERE.

All screenplays are copyrighted to their respective authors. All rights reserved. The screenplays may not be used without the expressed written permission of the author.

Predominantly Blue

A mother makes a special baby quilt.

Writing a short screenplay requires specialized skill. Hyper-streamlined language – evoking a maximum of visuals. A defined beginning, middle and (satisfying) end – contained in the tiniest of boxes.

Imagine the box just got smaller. Much like the introductory scenes of Pixar’s “Up”, Predominantly Blue has all the emotional power of a big Hollywood tear-jerker. Delivered in less than two pages. And a scant two lines of dialogue.

The script opens quietly. Karen (30s) works late into the night sewing a baby quilt. The color’s predominantly blue. Her husband Greg sneaks in to check on her. Together, they stand at the foot of their infant son Michael’s crib. The perfect family personified. But there’s a shadow of something else in the room. Remnants of something that is no more.

Within the next half a page, the full meaning behind author Kay P. Mackie’s careful details are unveiled. Literally punching readers in the gut. Speaking as a veteran writer, I’ve reviewed hundreds of shorts. Yet Predominantly Blue has haunted me through the years. The sadness of the script never wanes. Your heart breaks over, and over again.

The perfect script for a “serious” director, PB features virtually no dialogue – relying on skilled cinematography and acting to tell its tale. Choose your talent for this one wisely. It’s sure to be a film festival favorite.

About the writer: California uber reader/reviewer KP Mackie is working hard on her animated feature. KP’s work is available at moviepoet.com… And kpmackk “AT” gmail.

Pages: One+

Budget: Minimal.   Three main characters.  A house.  A church load of extras.  Make a small donation, and film on Sunday.

About the reviewer: David M Troop resumed writing in 2011 after a twenty-five year hiatus.  Since then, he has written about 50 short scripts, two of which have been produced.   Dave would like to make it three.  He is a regular, award-winning contributor to MoviePoet.com.  Born on the mean streets of Reading, PA, Dave now resides in Schuylkill Haven with his wife Jodi and their two lazy dogs Max and Mattie. He can be reached at dtroop506 “AT” gmail.com.

READ THE SCRIPT HERE – AND DON’T FORGET TO COMMENT!!

FOR YET MORE SCRIPTS AVAILABLE FOR PRODUCTION:

PLEASE SEARCH SIMPLYSCRIPTS.COM 

OR THE BLOG VERSION OF STS HERE.

All screenplays are copyrighted to their respective authors. All rights reserved. The screenplays may not be used without the expressed written permission of the author

 

 

Bringing Dad Home

A son arrives to collect his estranged father and his possessions – but finds something more. Old memories…

 A long, long time ago. In an era far, far away… There were a special breed of books, entitled “Choose Your Own Adventure.” Kind of like a video game, the reader was in charge of where the tale would lead. At certain pages, the narrative would split – leaving the audience to choose Path A or B. It was a brilliant novelty – loved by young readers of the time.

With Bringing Dad Home, screenwriter Zach Jansen brings this very concept to visual life… creating a narrative that must be shot for split screen. The premise of the story may sound basic. But the combined result is genius.

The script follows Richard – a man in his forties – as he arrives at a nursing home to pick up his Dad. As he walks through the facility, he chats with the nursing home administrator – the dialogue subtle and vague. Why has Richard arrived after all these years? That much (and more) isn’t clear.

Arriving at his father’s room, Richard rummages through a suitcase of belongings – including several photographs. As he fumbles through the faded pictures, Richard’s memories flashback. To a father who doesn’t believe in perfection. Who judges and criticizes his son at every turn. In a true Cat’s in the Cradle moment, Richard recalls an exchange with his own son; a turning point when he almost parrots his father’s harsh words. Then he stops and compliments the boy. The underlying emotional theme is a universal one: Richard’s scream and promise to the world that he won’t end up like his father…

But what comes next is less familiar. As the story morphs into it’s own Choose Your Own Adventure, the viewer is given a choice of two alternatives. One leads to reconcilation for Richard. The other to… we won’t tell. It’s a classic fork in the road. And no-one can dictate which path to take.

As is the case with real life, Bring Home Dad doesn’t wrap up ends nicely. It lacks that “Kaiser Soze – Sixth Sense” moment that shorts are so known for. But – if brought to life properly – it’s guaranteed to stand apart in festivals and short film competitions. It’s the sort of watermark script that a director can leave their personal stamp on. And leave the audience discussing long afterwards….

About the Writer: Zach Jansen is an award-winning and produced screenwriter from Saint Paul, Minnesota.  He enjoys spending time with his kids, anything movies, and sitting at his desk pounding out his next script.  If for some reason you want to learn more about him – which of course you DO! – you can check out his IMDb page or quasi-frequently updated blog. He can be reached at Zach.Jansen “AT” mail.com

 Pages: 6

 Budget: Moderate. You’ll need a several extras, a “nursing home”, and a handful of outdoor locations. But – as is true with most dramas – the most important ingredient will be the right actors.

About the Reviewer: Rod Thompson currently serves on Active Duty in the United States Navy, with fifteen years of honorable service. In the past ten years he has written numerous award-winning short scripts, with five (or so) having been produced. He recently won Best Drama in 2014’s “Table Read My Screenplay” feature length contest. Rod can be reached at rodthompson1980 “AT” gmail.com

READ THE SCRIPT HERE – AND DON’T FORGET TO COMMENT!!

FOR YET MORE SCRIPTS AVAILABLE FOR PRODUCTION:

PLEASE SEARCH SIMPLYSCRIPTS.COM 

OR THE BLOG VERSION OF STS HERE.

All screenplays are copyrighted to their respective authors. All rights reserved.

The screenplays may not be used without the expressed written permission of the author.

Always Bad

A woman searches for her missing daughter… with a child predator on the loose.

Where is my child?

It’s a question – THE question – that no parent ever wants to have to ask themselves. Almost daily, parents lose track of a child for a few seconds. In those moments, your throat parches worse than the Sahara, the world spins like a Kaleidoscope, and the muscles in the back of your neck pull piano-wire taut. If you’re a parent, you’re familiar with the sinking feeling: the last fleeting microseconds before falling into the pit of pure panic.

Zach Jansen’s Always Bad evokes those distressing sensations… seen through the eyes of Mary, a single mother whose young daughter is lured away from home by a mysterious stranger known only as “Kevin.”

As the script opens, an exhausted Mary washes dishes in the sink – keeping one eye on her daughter Anna Beth, playing with dolls just outside. A lot can be read from the weariness in Mary’s eyes. There’s a darkness somewhere in her past. An evil that just won’t go away.

As Mary focuses on her chores, Kevin emerges from a wooded area nearby. A soft spoken man in nice clothes… clearly out of place. A Wolf in Grandmother’s clothing. Stranger Danger personified. Engaging Anna Bell in casual conversation, he asks her to help him find something he lost… and leads the unsuspecting girl away.

Mary looks up. Anna Beth’s gone. A parent’s worse nightmare!

Rushing outside, a terrified Mary searches the neighborhood – fearing she may already be too late.

One of the cardinal rules of film-making is to “show it, don’t tell it.” Words may be powerful… but visuals – when done properly – are mightier. And so it is with Always Bad, a story driven more by emotion than dialogue. Though he speaks little, Kevin’s character shines through before his third line of dialogue. And Mary? Well, her actions speak louder than words. Actors crave characters like these – as will your audience. With the right casting, Always Bad is one drama that speaks to the most primal of a viewer’s fears. For parents, anyway.

About the Writer: Zach Jansen is an award-winning and produced screenwriter from Saint Paul, Minnesota.  He enjoys spending time with his kids, anything movies, and sitting at his desk pounding out his next script.  If for some reason you want to learn more about him – which of course you DO! – you can check out his IMDb page or quasi-frequently updated blog. He can be reached at Zach.Jansen “AT” mail.com

Pages: 5

Budget: Low-to-No Budget: only three characters, and two settings (an apartment and a yard outside.)

About the Reviewer: Rod Thompson currently serves on Active Duty in the United States Navy, with fifteen years of honorable service. In the past ten years he has written numerous award-winning short scripts, with five (or so) having been produced. He recently won Best Drama in 2014’s “Table Read My Screenplay” feature length contest.

READ THE SCRIPT HERE – AND DON’T FORGET TO COMMENT!!

FOR YET MORE SCRIPTS AVAILABLE FOR PRODUCTION:

PLEASE SEARCH SIMPLYSCRIPTS.COM 

OR THE BLOG VERSION OF STS HERE.

All screenplays are copyrighted to their respective authors. All rights reserved.

The screenplays may not be used without the expressed written permission of the author.

Yeah, STS is on a roll…

Since the site went live, we’re thrilled to say our reviews have helped multiple writers get their short scripts optioned, as well as facilitating several indie director/writer connections and options-in-the-works.

But… we need your help, in two very important areas:

Give us some damn’ good scripts!

A site is only as great as its content.  So we need good scripts to review.  Lots o’ them.  Tons of them.  Short and feature length.  We wanna drown in (good) scripts like it’s a mega-budget producer’s slush pile. Our mission statement at STS is to find the best, highest quality short (and feature length) scripts for review.  So if you have a gem that’s really ready for prime time (or have someone you want to recommend)the link below for submissions. (Don’t forget to include a URL link to your script!)

http://simplyscripts.com/submit_your_script-sts.html

Give us a few damn’ good writers!

STS requires a ton of readin’ and reviewin’, so we’re gonna need a bit of help.  In addition to script showcasing, STS also features occasional interviews with indie directors and industry related book reviews.  If you feel you’ve got a knack for any of those three writing areas – and want to contribute – send us a sample of your work for consideration using the URL listed above.  No, it’s not paid.  But you’ll get credit for your article and press.  And in this biz, that’s a pretty good thing….

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Dinner with a Development Executive

So, you’ve sent your script off to a production company, crossed your fingers, and now you spend your days religiously checking your e-mail, hoping for a response. (First off, stop that. Forget you even sent it. It can sometimes take MONTHS before you get a response.) Odds are, your script is going to be read by an assistant or unpaid intern. Someone like you. Probably even the same age as you. In fact, they’re probably a writer just like you, with their very own script. (Spoiler alert: they think their script is better than yours.)

If the assistant likes your script, they’ll pass it on to their boss. Who’s their boss? Odds are, it’s a producer or development executive. And their time is precious. They only have time to read the best of the best. (In fact, you might have to make it through a couple readers to get to them.) But when you do, that’s your shot. Wow them, and you’re golden…until they have to show it to their boss: the head of the company. They have to like it too. (The take-away here: your script goes through MANY hands when you submit it to a production company. It can’t just impress one person. It has to be so good that multiple people feel compelled to pass it on.)

But the development executive is your best cheerleader. Odds are, they know what the head of the company likes. They probably wouldn’t have their job if they didn’t. And once you get them on your side, you’re odds of snagging that sweet, sweet option increase ten-fold.

I’m currently in development on my latest script and had the opportunity to sit down to dinner with the development executive from the production company that optioned my script. He was kind of enough to talk a bit about the querying process.

For starters, they are a mid-level production company, making films with budgets ranging from 3-10 million dollars, with theatrical distribution at the studio level. They receive roughly 100 queries a week; so think about that when you draft your query letter. As I’ve said before, making even the smallest attempt to stand out does wonders.

He told me that the worst thing you can do is badger them. Don’t ask them too many questions, what the status of your script read is, or why you were rejected. You’re lucky that they’re even taking the time to write you about your rejection (most don’t), so don’t try and get coverage out of them. He told me the story of one person who just would not let their rejection go and absolutely had to know why he was rejected. The executive gave in and gave the guy a fair critique of his screenplay. The writer flipped out and sent the executive an angry response, cursing him out. The crazy thing was, several months later, the writer actually queried them AGAIN with a different script. Obviously, he didn’t get a read. The exec’s overall advice: a courteous reply goes a long way towards possibly getting another read. Remember: they don’t owe you anything.

Here was my favorite part of the dinner: I asked the executive if he cared if a script started with FADE IN. No. What about parentheticals? No. How about orphans? Do you care about those? No. He said he cares about story. Period. He said he’s waded through some pretty bad scripts, formatting-wise, because the story has shown promise. He said if they like the story enough, they can always option the script from you and fix it up in the development phase. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t try hard to adhere to proper formatting, but it is not the be-all and end-all. Your story is.

If an executive rejects your screenplay but tells you they like your writing, keep that person in mind for future scripts. Drop them a quick e-mail, reminding them who you are, and telling them you’ve got something new. Don’t abuse your relationship with them. If you strike out with the next screenplay, it might be time to move on from them. I know it can be alluring: gaining access to an executive’s personal e-mail (and bypassing the assistant), but know when to walk away.

But maybe, just maybe, you’ll beat the odds, get an option and your script will enter development. From there, it’s all cake. Fluffy, delicious cake. Trust me.

Next week’s article: Welcome to Development Hell

About the writer: A talented writer and 10 year veteran of the industry, “P.J. McNeill” has seen it all (and he’s ready to kiss and tell.) Got a question, a comment or just general bile /praise you want to spew?  Email PJ at pjscriptblog AT gmail.com.