Screenwriting as Scene-Writing

September 26th, 2016 by

Every time we sit down to write a script, we are faced with a scene. This can be a daunting task considering a script may have 50, 60, 70 scenes or more. In a very real way, screenwriting is at its core scene-writing.

Therefore it is essential for you to know how to handle writing scenes.

Beginning next Monday, October 3, I will be offering my 1-week online screenwriting course, Core VI: Scene. It is part of the 8-part Core curriculum which itself comprises the foundation of the screenwriting theory I teach in The Quest.

This class presents key guidelines to help writers develop a deeper understanding of scenes — what they are, how they function, and most importantly how to approach writing them.

* Learn six fundamental questions you should ask about every scene as you construct and write it.

* Put theory into practice by workshopping some of your own original scenes.

Six lectures written by Scott Myers
Special insider tips
24/7 daily forum interaction
Workshop writing exercises with instructor and class feedback
A 90-minute live teleconference between instructor and class members

Plus you can workshop a logline of one of your original stories and post it for feedback.

So go here and sign up now.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

Zero Draft Thirty 2016 Autumn Challenge: Day 26

September 26th, 2016 by

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 26.

September 1: Type FADE IN / The Beginning.
September 30: Type FADE OUT / The End.

30 days. 1 script. Movie script. TV script. First draft. Rewrite. Whatever.

Get it down. Get it done.

For background on how the Zero Draft Challenge came into being and what it is, go here, here, and here.

To download your very own Zero Draft Thirty calendars — created by Yvetta Douarin or Chris Neumann — go here and here, then keep track of your progress!

On Twitter, use this hashtag: #ZD30SCRIPT.

Facebook: Here. 1200+ members strong.

Join the conversation for a chance to win The Marion Award!

Today’s Writing Quote

“Each writer starts differently,
but the only valid way is start with character.
Character IS plot.
Character IS story.”
— Eleanor Perry

Today’s Inspirational Video

Joseph Campbell was born on March 26, 1904 and to celebrate his birthday, check out the conversation in the video above with one of the great thinkers about Story, Creativity, and Life.

Campbell said: “Follow your bliss. The bliss is the message of God to yourself. That’s where your life is”. As writers, we follow our bliss every time we sit down to engage our stories. In that enthusiasm, we come alive.

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Check back later for the winner of today’s Marion Award!

Spread the word.

Join the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group! Follow on Twitter: #ZD30SCRIPT!

Onward!

Everything you wanted to know about specs [Part 16]

September 26th, 2016 by

Spec scripts, that is. I’m guessing that perhaps 90% of the people who follow this blog at some point in their lives will write a spec script. And the other 10% are involved in buying and selling them. In light of that fact, last year I interviewed a top manager and some Hollywood screenwriters about the ins and outs of what is involved in bringing a spec script to market. I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to do something with that inside information, so when Vanity Fair recently came out with this article — When the Spec Script was King — a decent piece, but pretty surface level, I figured this is as good a time as any to dig into the subject in a comprehensive fashion.

In Part 1, we looked at the genesis of the spec script in Hollywood from 1900-1942.

In Part 2, we covered the emergence of the spec script market from 1942-1990.

In Part 3, we analyzed the Boom / Bust / Boom / Bust cycle of the spec script market.

In Part 4, we surveyed the buyers, both major studios and financiers.

In Part 5, we examined the screenwriter-rep relationship in terms of developing a spec script.

In Part 6, we explored rolling out a new writer’s spec script.

In Part 7, we delved into the subject of attaching producers.

In Part 8, we considered the value of attaching talent.

In Part 9, we learned about reps wanting to “own all the tickets”.

In Part 10, we dug into how reps generate buzz for a spec script.

In Part 11, we scrutinized the practice of slipping a script to someone.

In Part 12, we acknowledged the role that serendipity can play in the process.

In Part 13, we discussed the strategy of targeting specific buyers.

In Part 14, we drilled down into the strategy of going wide.

In Part 15, we indulged in the ultimate fantasy of a bidding war.

Part 16: Preemptive Purchase

It’s January, 1987. Through sheer serendipity, the spec script K-9 has wound its way from a low-ball offer from 20th Century Fox, to a threatened lawsuit from Fox, to them relinquishing all rights to the script, to everyone in town reading the script, so that when I drive my 1978 beat-to-shit Ford onto — ironically — the Fox lot on Pico, that tiny part of the universe known as the Hollywood movie community is pretty much abuzz about the 112 page screenplay I co-wrote.

And at noon today, the bidding period is scheduled to commence.

This is heady stuff for a guy who has a lifelong passion for movies, but barely any understanding of how the movie business works. Plus there’s this: I’ve got maybe $500 in my checking account [making a living as a stand-up comic can do that]. So the figures my agents are batting about in terms of potential deals for K-9 — $100K… $150K… maybe even $200K — sound astronomically delicious to my ears.

I am twitching with excitement as I edge into the expansive offices of the project’s producer Larry Gordon, former head of production at Fox [hence the location and opulence of his digs]. But as soon as I enter, I hear this:

“THE FUCK YOU WILL!!!”

It’s Larry. Yelling into his phone. The person on the other end is screaming back. I can tell it’s one of my agents, Marty Bauer. The fact I can hear his voice is noteworthy… seeing as he’s not on speakerphone. Rather the decibels he is creating, which I can hear clear across the conference room, are emerging like a shrieking pterodactyl from that tiny phone speaker.

Back and forth they go, Larry and Marty, dropping F-bombs at each other, Larry red-faced, Marty doubtless as well.

I turn to one of Larry’s people, utterly confounded.

“What’s happening?”

“Larry and Marty are negotiating his producer’s fee. Marty wants 10%. Larry only wants to give up 5.”

At that precise moment amidst F-bombs and other expletives being flung about by these two cinematic warriors, I see my bright shiny future flying out the window before I’ve even had a chance to experience its delights.

I turn to Larry’s guy.

“This is not good, right. I mean could this cause everything to like… go south?”

The guy smiles at me.

“Nah. Don’t worry. Larry and Marty are friends.”

Sure enough, after a few more expletives, the guys settle their deal, and that’s that. All smiles.

Welcome to Hollywood, Mr. Myers.

It’s now 11:50AM. Larry sits at the head of his long conference table. Seated there are his people, one of my agents Peter Benedek, and my writing partner and me. Larry is fielding calls, his assistant poking her head in the door every few seconds.

“Sherry Lansing on line 2.”

That would be Paramount’s president of production.

“Dawn Steel on 1.”

That would be Columbia Pictures.

TriStar… DEG… Eddy Murphy’s people…

Larry rolls calls, each one about 30 seconds, quick inquiries about the script.

“Lansing says she doesn’t want to get into a bidding war. She’ll call back.”

Assistant enters.

“Sherry Lansing on line 3.”

Larry winks. Picks up the phone.

And the clock keeps ticking toward noon…

Suddenly the door bursts open. It’s Dan Halsted, the junior agent at Bauer-Benedek who signed us after reading our script.

“Universal made an offer.”

Beat.

“All in, seven-hundred-fifty thousand dollars.”

A long silence as we take turns looking at each other.

Larry says, “Well, boys, like the sound of that?”

I turn toward  Peter and Dan. They’re smiling like cats who just caught a pair of birds.

I tilt my head toward my writing partner. He looks like Nosferatu, the blood drained from his face.

$750K can have that effect on a person.

I shrug. He shrugs.

Larry slaps the table and says, “Looks like a deal to me.”

And that, my friends, is what you call a preemptive purchase.

When a studio has a strong interest in a spec script or other type of literary material, and they want to avoid getting into a bidding war where the sale price can get jacked up and up, sometimes they will decide to step up to the plate and make a substantial offer. Their hope is the amount of cash and other benefits will be high enough, the sellers decide to take that deal and forego putting the script on the open market.

There is risk involved in this type of strategy on both sides.

For a buyer, they may in effect be bidding against themselves as they don’t know for sure what sale price might transpire in an auction environment.

For the seller, if they accept the preemptive offer, they may be losing out on the potential for more money in a competitive bidding scenario. On the other hand if they opt to pass and go out wide, there is always a chance the script could end up not finding a buyer.

But when the offer is for three-quarters of a million dollars, that’s pretty much a no-brainer.

We take the preemptive offer.

For 16 posts in this series, I’ve been taking you through the ins and outs of the world of spec scripts. I have four more posts planned to round out the subject

17: Write what they’re buying.

18: Sell them your dream.

19: The value of a spec script… even if it doesn’t sell.

20: The value of a spec script… if it does sell.

If you have additional questions or areas you want addressed related to spec scripts, please post in comments, and I will be happy to consider adding however many more posts to respond to your inquiries and concerns.

Zero Draft Thirty 2016 Autumn Challenge: Day 25

September 25th, 2016 by

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 25.

September 1: Type FADE IN / The Beginning.
September 30: Type FADE OUT / The End.

30 days. 1 script. Movie script. TV script. First draft. Rewrite. Whatever.

Get it down. Get it done.

For background on how the Zero Draft Challenge came into being and what it is, go here, here, and here.

To download your very own Zero Draft Thirty calendars — created by Yvetta Douarin or Chris Neumann — go here and here, then keep track of your progress!

On Twitter, use this hashtag: #ZD30SCRIPT.

Facebook: Here. 1200+ members strong.

Join the conversation for a chance to win The Marion Award!

Today’s Writing Quote

“Drama comes from objectives and obstacles.
The stronger those two elements are,
the more engaging the story.”
— Nick Palmer

Today’s Inspirational Video

Talismans. A physical object with symbolic meaning. Here a lanyard. Wonderful.

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Check back later for the winner of today’s Marion Award!

Spread the word.

Join the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group! Follow on Twitter: #ZD30SCRIPT!

Onward!

UPDATE: The latest bit of fun emerging from the ZD30 Facebook group is this courtesy of Ricardo Varma:

Dubbed Scamper the Hamster in honor of the zero draft approach to writing sprints — we prefer to scamper in order to bring both motivation and fun to the process — I decreed Scamper to be our official #ZD30SCRIPT mascot. And that has led to this:

Hamster on a swing

And this:

And this:

Which has led to this: Ricardo is today’s recipient of the Marion Award!

AA Francis Marion Varma

For your chance to win the Marion Award, one given away each day during the Challenge, post something inspiring — even with hamster! — here on the blog, via Twitter, or the Facebook group.

Congratulations, Ricardo!

Spread the word.

Join the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group! Follow on Twitter: #ZD30SCRIPT!

Now everyone go write!

Only 5 days left!

Zero Draft Thirty 2016 Autumn Challenge: Day 24

September 24th, 2016 by

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 24.

September 1: Type FADE IN / The Beginning.
September 30: Type FADE OUT / The End.

30 days. 1 script. Movie script. TV script. First draft. Rewrite. Whatever.

Get it down. Get it done.

For background on how the Zero Draft Challenge came into being and what it is, go here, here, and here.

To download your very own Zero Draft Thirty calendars — created by Yvetta Douarin or Chris Neumann — go here and here, then keep track of your progress!

On Twitter, use this hashtag: #ZD30SCRIPT.

Facebook: Here. 1200+ members strong.

Join the conversation for a chance to win The Marion Award!

Today’s Writing Quote

“My best writing has been on the scripts
I wrote as suicide notes to the industry–
sort of, ‘Fuck you, guys, I’m outta here.”
— Marc Norman

Today’s Inspirational Video

One of the most memorable moments in baseball’s World Series history. Game 7, Pittsburgh Pirates vs. the mighty New York Yankees, tied 9-9 in the bottom of the 9th inning, Bill Mazeroski steps up to the plate. I saw this as 7 year old boy and can still remember it to this day.

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Check back later for the winner of today’s Marion Award!

Spread the word.

Join the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group! Follow on Twitter: #ZD30SCRIPT!

Onward!

UPDATE: Here’s an important reminder from Lindsay McRae at the Facebook group.

For that, Lindsay is today’s Marion Award recipient!

AA Francis Marion McRae

For your chance to win the Marion Award, one given away each day during the Challenge, post something inspiring, here on the blog, via Twitter, or the Facebook group.

Congratulations, Lindasy!

Spread the word.

Join the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group! Follow on Twitter: #ZD30SCRIPT!

Now everyone go write!

Zero Draft Thirty 2016 Autumn Challenge: Day 23

September 23rd, 2016 by

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 23.

September 1: Type FADE IN / The Beginning.
September 30: Type FADE OUT / The End.

30 days. 1 script. Movie script. TV script. First draft. Rewrite. Whatever.

Get it down. Get it done.

For background on how the Zero Draft Challenge came into being and what it is, go here, here, and here.

To download your very own Zero Draft Thirty calendars — created by Yvetta Douarin or Chris Neumann — go here and here, then keep track of your progress!

On Twitter, use this hashtag: #ZD30SCRIPT.

Facebook: Here. 1200+ members strong.

Join the conversation for a chance to win The Marion Award!

Today’s Writing Quote

“Every day I get up and put myself
in a frame of mind for inspiration to come.”
— Tim Blake Nelson

Today’s Inspirational Video

An incredible scene from the #1 movie on the IMDb Top 250 Movies.

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Check back later for the winner of today’s Marion Award!

Spread the word.

Join the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group! Follow on Twitter: #ZD30SCRIPT!

Onward!

UPDATE: Simple but true:

Courtesy of Jeremy Noel who is today’s Marion Award recipient.

AA Francis Marion Noel

For your chance to win the Marion Award, one given away each day during the Challenge, post something inspiring, here on the blog, via Twitter, or the Facebook group.

Congratulations, Jeremy!

Spread the word.

Join the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group! Follow on Twitter: #ZD30SCRIPT!

Now everyone go write!

Everything you wanted to know about specs [Part 15]

September 23rd, 2016 by

Spec scripts, that is. I’m guessing that perhaps 90% of the people who follow this blog at some point in their lives will write a spec script. And the other 10% are involved in buying and selling them. In light of that fact, last year I interviewed a top manager and some Hollywood screenwriters about the ins and outs of what is involved in bringing a spec script to market. I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to do something with that inside information, so when Vanity Fair recently came out with this article — When the Spec Script was King — a decent piece, but pretty surface level, I figured this is as good a time as any to dig into the subject in a comprehensive fashion.

In Part 1, we looked at the genesis of the spec script in Hollywood from 1900-1942.

In Part 2, we covered the emergence of the spec script market from 1942-1990.

In Part 3, we analyzed the Boom / Bust / Boom / Bust cycle of the spec script market.

In Part 4, we surveyed the buyers, both major studios and financiers.

In Part 5, we examined the screenwriter-rep relationship in terms of developing a spec script.

In Part 6, we explored rolling out a new writer’s spec script.

In Part 7, we delved into the subject of attaching producers.

In Part 8, we considered the value of attaching talent.

In Part 9, we learned about reps wanting to “own all the tickets”.

In Part 10, we dug into how reps generate buzz for a spec script.

In Part 11, we scrutinized the practice of slipping a script to someone.

In Part 12, we acknowledged the role that serendipity can play in the process.

In Part 13, we discussed the strategy of targeting specific buyers.

In Part 14, we drilled down into the strategy of going wide.

Part 15: Bidding War

This is it: A screenwriter’s fantasy. You write a spec script. Your reps send it out. Then more than one buyer compete against each other to acquire the script, jacking up the purchase price. That, my friends, is a bidding war.

Some notable examples in the recent past:

“White House Down” [James Vanderbilt]: “In what amounts to the biggest spec deal of the year, Sony Pictures has closed a $3 million deal to acquire “White House Down,” an action spec from “Amazing Spider-Man” scribe James Vanderbilt that had studios buzzing this week. Heated bidding came down to Sony and Paramount.” — March 29, 2012

“El Tigre” [Aaron Buchsbaum & Teddy Riley]: “The project is an action comedy about a family vacation gone wrong when the father is mistaken for Mexico’s most ruthless drug lord, El Tigre… A bidding war broke out between multiple suitors, including Sony, Paramount and MGM. The sale price was in the mid-six figures, according to sources.” — April 27, 2012

“Glimmer” [Carter Blanchard]: “The logline is unknown but is described as Amblin-esque… The bidding came out down to DreamWorks and Paramount, with DreamWorks closing a deal a progress to production term.” — June 6, 2012

I got a behind-the-scenes look at the “Glimmer” deal when I interviewed its screenwriter Carter Blanchard:

Scott:   Let’s jump to June 2012. Your script ends up in a bidding war between DreamWorks and I think Paramount was involved?

Carter:  Yeah.

Scott:  Could you maybe walk us through a little bit of the chronology of how that deal happened and what that experience was for you?

Carter:  Well, I was thinking about going back to Boston and teaching before it happened. My buddy teaches at BU now. That was a compelling option.  I was out of money, drawing off my IRA. I had a good feeling about “Glimmer,” but you never know. It went to producers first and by the end of that day, I was getting an email from Adam saying, “This is blowing up all over town. Sit tight. Stay positive.” It felt like good news, but because he added, “Stay positive” I got worried, because I’m used to someone saying “stay positive” as a sign that things are not going well.

The next morning, my phone rang at 8:30.  It was my lawyer, my agent, and my manager.  They said, “Okay, DreamWorks made an offer.”  I was jumping up and down saying, “Great, take it!” They said, “No dude, this is only the first studio to respond.”  We talked about some details and then they said, “Go back to doing your thing. Don’t worry about it.  Just always have your phone ready.”

I was meeting a friend for lunch when I got another call from the team saying Paramount and DreamWorks both wanted it and I had to make a decision on the spot. Paramount was offering a little more up front, but DreamWorks’ was a progress-to-production deal, meaning they had to start shooting in 12 months or I got the script back free and clear.  Then Boxerbaum [agent] said, “You’re also going to meet Steven Spielberg tomorrow if you go with them.”  So then it’s not even a question anymore.  DreamWorks! [laughs]

My favorite movie of all times is “Jaws.”  Hands down. That movie is ultimately why I went into the movie business, if you go back to the real origins of what inspired me.  So this whole situation was so great.  It was just an amazing thing.  The deal closed in the middle of lunch and my friend was like, “You’re buying.”

The next day I went in and met Mr. Spielberg.  He was incredibly nice and really complimentary about the script. I kept thinking maybe he wasn’t really there and I was talking to a hologram because it was so surreal.  I had another meeting five days later and then I was commenced on the rewrite. It was the fastest I’ve ever been commenced after a spec sale before. Usually it takes months.  And DreamWorks’ notes have been excellent.  The script has improved enormously under their watch.

This brings up another point: If your scripts creates a bidding war, it’s not just the purchase price that’s in play. It’s everything. You can try to get a producing credit. A progress-to-production deal. Even a meeting with Steven Spielberg himself!

There are very few times when a screenwriter finds him/herself in a power position. One of them is when they have multiple buyers vying over their spec script. It’s like this little corner of the universe — the Hollywood acquisition and development community — casts a lion’s share of its focus on your 100 pages or so of written content. It’s an experience that can completely transform your life… as well as your checking account!

Next week, something akin to a bidding war: Preemptive purchase.

Zero Draft Thirty 2016 Autumn Challenge: Day 22

September 22nd, 2016 by

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 22.

September 1: Type FADE IN / The Beginning.
September 30: Type FADE OUT / The End.

30 days. 1 script. Movie script. TV script. First draft. Rewrite. Whatever.

Get it down. Get it done.

For background on how the Zero Draft Challenge came into being and what it is, go here, here, and here.

To download your very own Zero Draft Thirty calendars — created by Yvetta Douarin or Chris Neumann — go here and here, then keep track of your progress!

On Twitter, use this hashtag: #ZD30SCRIPT.

Facebook: Here. 1200+ members strong.

Join the conversation for a chance to win The Marion Award!

Today’s Writing Quote

“Forget every rule Syd Field, Robert McKee
or any other screenwriting guru ever taught you.
Except one:
Never be boring.”
— David Mamet

Today’s Inspirational Video

A favorite scene from one of my favorite movies: Singin’ in the Rain. And the whole point of this sequence is about finding inspiration when things aren’t going your way. But the physical gyrations of Donald O’Connor… amazing!

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Check back later for the winner of today’s Marion Award!

Spread the word.

Join the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group! Follow on Twitter: #ZD30SCRIPT!

Onward!

Courier 12 Screenwriting Conference

September 22nd, 2016 by

The DePaul University School of Cinematic Arts is hosting the 5th Annual Courier 12 Screenwriting Conference on October 8, 2016 here in downtown Chicago.

Courier12-Promo-v3 Small

We are finalizing the schedule, but I know I’ll be moderating a panel featuring two screenwriting icons: Steven E. de Souza, whose credits include 48 Hrs. and Die Hard, and Jack Epps, Jr., writer on the movie Top Gun.

More information upcoming, but suffice to say a great opportunity for aspiring movie and TV writers here in the Midwest to interface with Hollywood writers and industry insiders, as well as network with your peers.

Hope to see you there!

Everything you wanted to know about specs [Part 14]

September 22nd, 2016 by

Spec scripts, that is. I’m guessing that perhaps 90% of the people who follow this blog at some point in their lives will write a spec script. And the other 10% are involved in buying and selling them. In light of that fact, last year I interviewed a top manager and some Hollywood screenwriters about the ins and outs of what is involved in bringing a spec script to market. I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to do something with that inside information, so when Vanity Fair recently came out with this article — When the Spec Script was King — a decent piece, but pretty surface level, I figured this is as good a time as any to dig into the subject in a comprehensive fashion.

In Part 1, we looked at the genesis of the spec script in Hollywood from 1900-1942.

In Part 2, we covered the emergence of the spec script market from 1942-1990.

In Part 3, we analyzed the Boom / Bust / Boom / Bust cycle of the spec script market.

In Part 4, we surveyed the buyers, both major studios and financiers.

In Part 5, we examined the screenwriter-rep relationship in terms of developing a spec script.

In Part 6, we explored rolling out a new writer’s spec script.

In Part 7, we delved into the subject of attaching producers.

In Part 8, we considered the value of attaching talent.

In Part 9, we learned about reps wanting to “own all the tickets”.

In Part 10, we dug into how reps generate buzz for a spec script.

In Part 11, we scrutinized the practice of slipping a script to someone.

In Part 12, we acknowledged the role that serendipity can play in the process.

In Part 13, we discussed the strategy of targeting specific buyers.

Part 14: Going Wide

When most people think of a spec script, their image of what transpires as it goes to market is this: Going wide. Sending the script out to multiple producers who then take the script into multiple buyers. Why? Screenwriter Justin Rhodes explains:

The advantage of going wide is that, if you get multiple buyers interested, you can have them bid against one another and end up getting a lot more money for selling the same thing. The disadvantage of going wide is that you basically get one shot at it; if everyone passes on the first attempt, the script gets taken out behind the shed and shot (although it’s really sad, and the script looks you in the eye, and kind of makes you cry, but you have to kill it anyway, on account of what it did to the Ellis boy.) So, like gambling, going wide is big risk/big reward.

All you need to know about this strategy is the last two words of Justin’s explanation: Big reward.

First off, this approach gets the script in front of a maximum amount of eyeballs. Even if the script doesn’t sell, that can be a win because — assuming producers and studio execs like the script, even if not enough to acquire it — that can lead to a round of meet-and-greets. And there is no telling what any one [or more] of those meetings can lead to, all part of the magical mystery networking phenomenon that is such a crucial part of a screenwriter’s life.

Of course, there is the “big risk” possibility as well by going wide. The script goes out. Everyone passes. Crickets chirp. If a screenwriter can be perceived as a hot commodity, they can also easily lose that heat and become cold. And going wide with a spec that lands with a thud can turn down a writer’s heat in a hurry.

But there is a rep’s wet dream: To get more than one potential buyer vying for a script. And that is simply the most awesome thing in a writer’s life [and his/her reps] where for a holy rolling moment in time, the entire focus of the Hollywood movie development community is on your script.

Not to mention six, even seven figure deals.

It’s called a bidding war. And that’s the subject of tomorrow’s post in this series.