Wednesday, January 31, 2018

How to Write a Screenplay In One Minute

Image result for school kids in school pics

Just a little story of how to write a screenplay in one minute!

Yes. You'll try it too. No kidding? Well, a little bit of kidding.

Some years ago I had a niece in 7th grade who asked me to talk to her fellow students. But by the time I finished, I discovered something quite unknowingly. How to write a screenplay in one minute.

First of all, I am a professional screenwriter with around seventeen written scripts for motion pictures, blah, blah. I also taught extension screenwriting at UCLA. But this one turned out different.

I began talking about the film business but it was quickly dying as one young girl rolled her eyes in complete boredom. Like she'd rather be dead or listening to Taylor Swift. Then, for some unknown reason, I had an idea. I stopped talking about movie business and instead, I approached the blackboard and said “Give me a boy or girl”. Someone said “Boy”. Okay, I then wrote on the board again and asked them what his name was.

A couple of students shouted out, “Bobby”. I wrote his name.  Then I asked them what he wanted more than anything. Someone again shouted eagerly, “He wants to be a basketball player.” I wrote on the blackboard again. Then I asked them what is stopping the boy. And this time, a great answer, “he’s short.”

I wrote again. Then I said, simply, “You all have just started to make a movie with a screenplay.” The assignment later went to a dozen or so 7th graders who wrote different ends of the story.

Well, okay maybe not the "Whole" screenplay, but enough to say it's a good start to a screenplay  Well, 4 of the students actually finished their story later and mailed their answers. 

So what-ya think? Try it on a group and see how far you go. I tried it on a group of 40's to 60's people and they did the same thing.


Monday, January 29, 2018

You want to learn how to write?

Something just came up with me, a few of my writer friends have always suggested that I go back and teach screenwriting again. As some of you know, I taught screenwriting for UCLA way back and quite enjoyed it.

But it began to get in my way and since then and now finding some time to consider it. You've read a few of my screenplays on the previous blog so you can see I can write, according to readers.

So I'm going to look around and see if there's yet another way to get students to learn to write. Or to polish up some older screenplays. Maybe it might be fun or maybe not. But I'll toss in my book for free as well.

Or not. You never know.

It won't be free, but it won't be expensive either. 

I'll also help "clean up" a screenplay for you. And again, you can go back to 2009 and start reading 10 years of a lot of things that can be useful in your own time.

Think about it. Maybe not. Here's some background...

And more... eh?

Naturally I show you the best one. 

By the way, the first image on the blog shows two guys who made a short film and was a finalist in the 1976 Academy Awards. The guy with bushy hair is Phil behind the older lady and the other guy behind the blonde is me. We were the only two who failed. 

We were the only ones from the class who actually made films.  

Life is funny.

Friday, January 26, 2018

What did I do?

I went into the devil's dance by putting a fair amount of $$$ to try and get some action from my screenplays. I have a stack of scripts, all of which have been seen and half of them optioned for a year or two or more.

So I go into this with eyes wide open and figured that me, a writer with 18 movies and bunches of episodics might be sold. Or looked at. Or a single line. What came out was a handful of interests and for the rest...

"Didn't grab me".

Yes, that's the answers, I'm talking 100 shots at dozens of companies.

"We're not looking for this kind of work"

"Didn't grab me".

I have never heard "didn't grab me" so much, in fact that I figured that it was really one person deciding. 

You can say that my scripts weren't good, but a dozen had good comments from The Black List and a few other companies who optioned them.

So, I'm gonna see what you say about some of my scripts. Imagine they're real.



"When 12-year old Matthew hears a radio broadcast proclaiming the Emperor of Mars is coming to Earth, he begins to notice strange happenings in his little town of Empire. But he’s not alone as someone else in town has noticed too. Someone with a secret."

Book Reviews: “Emperor of Mars has now been added to one of my favorite and memorable books. It has been several decades since I was 12 but reading this book brought me back to simpler times.” “What a great and easy read.” “ It is such a sincere and magical look at an age gone by that it made me think of the beauty of the work of Norman Rockwell mixed with the modern cynical perspective of Stand By Me.” “The characters, Matthew, his friend, Nicodemus and his teacher, Miss Major were developed in such detail, that it didn't take me long to identify with them.”I recommend this book not only as a simple and pleasurable read for adults but also for kids



FUND (Foundation to Underwrite New Drama)

"With great sensitivity the writer weaves this group of characters together, drawing us into their desires and dreams, creating a powerful picture of fragmented love in the transient modern world the large cast of key players are all distinct, keeping this very conversant narrative very compelling‑the writer's keen sense of detail and subtle action makes the small human drama rich in scope."

Sundance Institute

"This piece offers a lot of interesting and potentially compelling characters and situations ... there is great potential in this script‑bas the potential to be a study in Americana that is somewhere between Robert Altman and Horton Foote and George Lucas."

Reader’s Report

The dialog is absolutely enchanting due to the author’s fine ear for natural rhythm and the region. The large cast of key players are all distinct, keeping this very conversant narrative very compelling. The writer has handled the characters dialog and the evocative


The President's Heart

While attending a conference in Luxembourg, President Carolyn Crockett suddenly collapses and is secretly hospitalized. European and U.S. media are fighting to find out what’s wrong but no official word. Truth is, she’s had a massive heart attack and needs a transplant now. And the only American doctor they can find in less than an hour is an ex-alcoholic who’s drying out in a Paris bar

“The premise of a presidential heart transplant is strong and commercial. It takes a personal need with a ticking clock, and transforms into a global crisis with a journey at its center. It's a smart base for an affordable political thriller which still has worldwide stakes. Making the protagonist a doctor was an intelligent decision, and introduces a fish out of water element that always plays well in a thriller. The setting - a chase from Paris to Luxembourg - is perfectly commercial.” The Black List  reader report.


Side by Side

 Logline:  A hitman arrives in Niagara Falls to carry out a hit on a union agitator but accidentally rescues the agitator and develops a friendship with the man he's set to kill.  But he also falls in love with a lonely woman who’s too attached to her sister. Nobody said it was gonna be easy.

Reviews: “this thing is quite good”, “reminded me a lot of Chinatown with it’s film noir slant and grotesque bizarre edge”, “this script is great, the story is great”, “the concept is original and although it made me a little uncomfortable at the beginning, the human aspect of it won me over”, “the progress of the story became a very enjoyable experience”, “this story and the author’s screenwriting technique are excellent”, “the story captivated my imagination”.

Okay, enough, I can write. But being able to write doesn't mean someone can look at the title and say "Didn't grab us".

                           Nobody knows anything
                               - William Goldman 

 Spend your money wisely

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Testing -- something is wrong

I'm not sure what's going on. It seems that Monday's blog is stuck. I can't seem to move the blog for some odd reason, but Google isn't helping.

I'm pushing to fix it, first time a blog stopped.

Can't imagine why anyone would try to mess a log? Any hints?


Monday, January 22, 2018

A new way to get a script read

Or at least a shot at it. 

With a lot of information and hope for the script you have sent to "them". Them is a whole new sort of way to get your script glance by a production company. All it costs is $15.

Sounds good. But there are catches.

Take one called Virtual Pitch Fest, wherein you can get your script read, maybe. It works like this, you pay $15 to send your "pitch". Well, not really. I know someone who pitched a hundred scripts over a year and got a few people who liked it. But nothing happened.

I really don't know if anyone ever gets read, probably some but a very small group. Still it is a way to get a script at least almost seen. The thing is that you don't really get much to say. All you get to send them is a title, a logline (story line) and a "query", which is a few sentences or so that explains your script.

It sounds great again, but mostly from what I hear, very few if any get their script to someone.

So that's one way. At least it reaches someone. I think you can try it for $15, which at least you can say you sent a "script" to someone.

But I think the oldest way is still the best. Mostly that it helps if you have other writers to exchange battle stories. As I said in a past blog, it's best to have a partner, either with you in town or wherever you can find a partner. Always try to have that, it's something to keep you going when you have someone else who wants the same thing.

There are several ways to get some attention;

First you can send $15 to Virtual Pitch Fest and see where it goes; then you can try to contact production companies and maybe get responses or you can write or call or email or text or FB or any other place where you can show your script. Free.

And I repeat that having a partner is so important, someone to cry on your shoulders when you need it.

The best way, almost impossible for someone from outside, is having friends who have friends and who can share. Virtual also has a pitch for agents, which is not bad, but not really helpful either.

The weakness to Virtual is this; you pay $15 and get someone to read your logline. In the "old days", I could get my agent to read my script then send it around town until a company says yes. Then you would get a meeting in which they like you or not. I had a few companies who didn't like my script but wanted to write something for them. 

You can always contact a company by searching for those companies who accept material that might be interested. There's a lot of lists online to find them.

That's what's missing in Virtual, you get only a one-line read from a reader and that's it. You can also send scripts to Amazon, Netflix, and other streamers. There's also Blacklist, where you can post your script for a few bucks and get it read (for around $50), I've had a script there for a year and got good comments which helps.

I still go for the buddy system and also a few directors and producers who read my stuff, but then they have to look for producers to put the money up. 

Stick with the buddy, even if you're not in LA. And ultimately post something like "Selling Screenplays" and there's enough information there for a year or so.

Yeah, I know, pushing my screenwriting book, based on my UCLA on-line courses. I'm not even telling you where to find it. Well, maybe. Besides there are about 50 or 60 books on screenwriting. 

Best book is the old standard - The Art of Dramatic Writing
Syd Field - Screenplay is also old, the first book on how to write screenplays
The Screen Trade - is a good study from a great screenwriter.
How to Make a Good Script Great - I still use it.

There, even. I like mine too. Very different in that I break apart a screenplay from after the film I wrote was made and I divide it into the 3 main parts. And a lot of information about the screenplay I wrote how and why and why not.

So there.  

Friday, January 19, 2018

So I had an agent -- sort of.

Okay, so now I got the agent but he's not very good. Which means bottom. Which means I gotta find some one new. A friend suggested a small agency that was okay. I met the guys, one had a huge stuffed boa constrictor on his wall. But the other guy was great. In a sort of way.

He dreamt he was the biggest agent in town. Well, another guy. But he did get meetings for me, tons of them and I stayed with him for about 4 years. But he too had a big of ego. And I got meets but no jobs. But he did get me known, even though nobody wanted my script. 

The script was one everyone liked, but nobody wanted to make it. It was called Emperor of Mars and you can see the book version on Amazon. It has now been about 11 people who optioned my script, once almost it was made with me director.

Just then, his new kid appeared and he was a nice guy and honest. So he left and so did I. Needless to say, my agent was not happy. Actually he has never spoken to me this day. After 20 yrs.

Is it nice? Was I bad? 

Would he dump me if he decided to?

Of course the new kid stayed with me for over 10 years, and with a good agency, Paradigm.

Which is actually a good agency, 160 agents! And this went great for a long time. I had a good run as they say. I got jobs from 1988 to 2010, then it slowed down. Probably age but I'm still writing.

What happened was this; The Death of the TV Movie.

This was when Survivor appeared. The show where they took ordinary people to survive for a month or something. Forgot it.

But the networks found a cheap way to make TV. And they did.

We WGA writers held a party at the Roosevelt Hotel across the the famous Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. It was over for those who did TV movies and although I did a few features, it still spelled death.

Which left a whole lot of us not working. And my agent quit Paradigm to do a below-the-line agency which looks for jobs for cameramen, editors, AD's, all those who aren't in the big payment window. Producers, writers,directors and of course, actors.

Which leads to today. And back to agents and us.

Naturally he didn't need me. 

A lot changed with the loss of tv movies but scripts kept coming to those who knew somebody, anybody. But then another change came. It was something different and maybe another chance for us writers. 

For one thing, netflix started to make movies and then others and others. So all of a sudden scripts were in demand with streaming companies like Amazon and others. But it has it's own rules. And lots of books and booklets as these.



Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Trying to get someone to read my script

Back to how to get someone to read your screenplay. Without too much waste of time. Well, maybe some waste of time. Or maybe a lot of waste of time.

I got my first screenplay made by getting money. 

I made the damn movie. Yeah. Ghostkeeper. I was writer and director and owned the company.  But don't think I had a lot of money. I was broke and took a little bit of the $650,000 ($1.7 million in today amount).

I think I took around $5000 for everything. Not a millionaire. You would think a film company would hire a guy to make another movie. No. Nobody. That was my fault and this is an important thing.

Nobody wants to read a script that comes from nowhere aka everywhere away from LA.
Yes, the best place to be with a screenplay is LA. You need to have 310 and 818 phone numbers. Those exchanges are in areas where studios and most of the film industry lives in. 

But you know that already. ?

And being in those two exchanges, you might think it's a done deal. Again, no. In fact it's easier to get someone to read your script easier. And again, no. But there is a possible because if you have friends in LA, they might help.

They can be friends who have friends, etc, etc. And it does work. But not often. Because your friends aren't all that close.

So how did I get a read? Remember Ghostkeeper, I was the big guy in Calgary Alberta but had no agent nor anyone else. Mostly because in Canada at that time, the film industry was in Toronto and Vancouver and Montreal.

And I wasn't in any of those places.  Until I met a director, Paul Lynch, who was a friend of another writer who said I was a good guy. Paul was in Toronto and was returning to LA and said he'd get an agent for me.

I was happy with that. I returned to Calgary, Alberta and tried to finance another movie but couldn't raise the money. And I had another script but again, I was in Calgary, Alberta and no agents would take me. Mostly because they were model agencies.

After a week or so I got a phone call (this was a long time ago) from an agent. It turned out to be Paul's agent. And he will be my agent. But the hook was that I had to be in LA. Same old story. But at least I had an agent but long distance. Didn't do much.

Then I just decided to go to LA and snoop around. Paul would help me again. So there I was, in LA with an agent. It sounds good.

But it turned out my agent wasn't all that good, he had a partner who would leave for another agency. And I had "him". Problem was that he was not a great agent. I had meetings with guys living in empty houses or cheap cafes. One guy asked me to pay for lunch as he was just about ready to get a big bunch of money.

This was what my agent sent me?