Got a cool concept for a TV series? Worried it’s not getting the attention it deserves?

June 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

 blogger_guestScriptcat’s MY BLANK PAGE is blessed to have a guest blogger for the second time— the talented screenwriter Mark Dark ( @MarkDarkStory).

Got a cool concept for a TV series? Worried it’s not getting the attention it deserves?

Even the best ideas get rejected before that magical ‘yes’ comes. Some of the greatest books ever written were rejected: Watership Down, Harry Potter… we’re in good company. You can imagine some famous TV series being rejected by a studio exec who think he knows what’s gonna work and what isn’t:

“What? A mafioso mob boss goes to see a shrink about his depression? Get outa here!”

OR

“A chemistry teacher becomes a meth dealer to pay for his cancer op? Are you crazy?”

Here’s how I imagine another famous TV series being pitched, dropped, and crunched.

STUDIO EXEC

So, your hero’s a serial killer.

WRITER

Yep.

EXEC

No body likes serial killers.

WRITER

Sure they do.

STUDIO EXEC

Look, kid, I know it sounds crummy, but characters are like cookies, they gotta be digestible.

WRITER

Wow, characters are like cookies. Never thought of that before. Cool.

EXEC

We’re here to learn, kid.

WRITER

This character is digestible. He’s your boy-next-door type, good-looking, great job…

EXEC

What’s his job? Cop?

WRITER

Kind of —

EXEC

Two words. Cli. Che.

WRITER

But he’s not a cop.

EXEC

Cop but not a cop.

WRITER

He’s an analyst.

EXEC

Sorry, kid. Too Criminal Minds.

WRITER

Forensics.

EXEC

Too Bones.

WRITER

He’s a blood guy.

EXEC

Does he kill zombies?

WRITER

He doesn’t kill zombies. He’s a blood splatter analyst.

EXEC

People love zombie-killers. Think Buffy.

WRITER

The vampire slayer?

EXEC

Now, your regular, boy-next-door, blood splatter what-ever-you-call it… why does he do it ?

WRITER

Analyze blood? He’s —

EXEC

Not analyze blood. Kill, kid? Why does he kill?

WRITER

He kills bad people: murderers, rapists…

EXEC

He’s a vigilante ?

WRITER

Yep.

EXEC

Like Batman.

WRITER

Not like Batman. He doesn’t wear a cape.

EXEC

Shame. People love Batman.

WRITER

They do love Batman. He’s not Batman.

EXEC

Batman the Zombie Slayer… now that I could sell.

WRITER

Sorry… this guy’s… different…

EXEC

Everyone’s different, kid. This is Hollywood. I need the same. Same, but different.

WRITER

Right, er… got it.

EXEC

Okay, so… your hero serial killer, he kills bad guys. But why?

WRITER

He has a “ghost”.

EXEC

A ghost? Now you’re pitching. Paranormal Activity. Blair Witch. Big bucks, kid. Big bucks. Does he see dead people?

WRITER

He doesn’t see dead people.

EXEC

Shame. People love dead people.

WRITER

It’s not a real ghost… it’s… metaphorical… a past trauma… he watched his mom murdered when he was a kid.

EXEC

And his mom’s the ghost, come back to haunt him?

WRITER

Um… not exactly…

EXEC

Look, kid.  Don’t take it personally: your concept sucks. Write “Batman Kills the Zombies” gimme a call.

You know your idea is superb. Someone else will think so too. Don’t give up! You just have to knock the right door!

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markdarkMark Dark is an actor and a writer. He’s currently adapting his gritty, London gangland short story Man or Mouse into a feature film called The Judge of Petticoat Lane for a UK BAFTA nominated producer. He trained as an actor at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts and studied screenwriting at the New Producers Alliance, London.

His short story Man or Mouse also won the British Writers’ Forum Short Fiction Prize. Other writing awards include the Ether Books Award for “Best Use of Social Media.”

Mark currently lives in Cambodia where he spends his time teaching and working on the screenplay of The Judge of Petticoat Lane. Visit his website MarkDark.com and follow him on Twitter @MarkDarkStory.

Communiqué from the front lines: The continual process of work and meetings…

February 14, 2013 § 2 Comments

charlie_chaplin02As I’ve mentioned before in my blog articles, even with credits or not, a screenwriter’s job never ends with regards to either creating new material or constantly meeting, pitching and building an ever-expanding network of your “fans.” It’s days, nights and weekends, folks. These past few weeks have been on both the creating side and the meeting side of the process. On the work side, I completed a new story treatment with a book author based upon her book’s character and the project is shepherded by a director that I worked with before. He’s going to meet with an investment group next week and this project is one in his arsenal.  It’s been budgeted and once the financing is in place—release the hounds! The screenwriter then goes to work.

One of the two meetings was a pitch meeting and the other a follow-up meeting after the exec read my TV pilots.  Both meetings went very well and my manager and I are extremely happy to add two more places with open doors.  The pitch meeting was with an independent producer that I pitched to before and this time I came ready with five new pitches—all in the same basic genre for her to consider. Now, what could have happened is that I pitched all of my ideas and nothing resonated with her, but luckily for me she picked three to further develop. We’re moving forward with the three pitches and will work to tailor them to three specific networks with regards to their tone and scope.  I have produced credits in the genre I was pitching, so it helped to make her feel confident that I could write the ideas I had pitched. Once we have a more detailed story locked down and she’s confident with it, she will schedule meetings and take me into the networks to pitch with her attached as producer.  I now go into the important research process and have to watch a handful of the original movies that have aired on these particular networks to enable me to capture the tone of their material. I’ll bet you never figured one day watching movies would be considered research. It’s the best part!

The other meeting was a lunch with a development executive who works for a successful, old school producer with mega Hollywood credits. She read my TV pilots as they are branching into series television and she really liked the writing, but the projects weren’t the right fit for what her boss is looking to produce. She’s now a “fan” of my writing and we discussed in length the types of films/series ideas they do have in development and other important insights. Another invaluable door opened and a flag planted on the field of battle. I of course sent a handwritten “thank you” follow-up card to both as part of the professional code.

These are they types of meetings you will need to take on a regular basis to continue to build your network of relationships. Eventually one of your “fans” will buy your material or hire you to write their next project.  It will happen if you stay in the game and it’s happened for me nearly a dozen times being hired for screenplay assignment jobs. The process is ongoing and never ends as long as you’re writing.  As with anything in Hollywood, you never know how events will turn out—good or bad.  This is why early in my career I began to practice the art of detachment from any outcome of any meeting. This is important because it’s never going to turn out the way you envisioned.  Never.  Detachment is great for protecting yourself from the let down that so many meetings in Hollywood can deliver. You’ll want to wrestle control of your “highs and lows” to lessen the inevitable bumpy ride.  You must look at these meetings in the bigger picture of your overall journey and not just focus on the success of a specific meeting. Remember, success does not happen with one script or one meeting, as it’s a long process of many steps and many meetings—and a body of work that will show professionals you have something unique to offer.

So, dig in deep and get your latest project finished. Work on your pitches, treatments, loglines and completed scripts. Take the meetings and build your relationships. It’s all part of the process of a working screenwriter. Rinse, lather, and repeat. When it does finally happen, if it hasn’t already, you’ll take the meeting that launches your career when they tell you they’re buying your script or hiring you to write a project. Your screenwriting career is not a Dali-esque delusion, but the result of work, talent, focus, sacrifice, patience and luck. Keep writing and keep the faith. —Scriptcat

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“Loooooove your script. Simply love it. Can we change the ending?”

“It is one thing to study war and another to live the warrior’s life.”—Telamon of Arcadia, mercenary, 5th Century B.C.

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”—Pablo Picasso

“When the last dime is gone, I’ll sit on the curb outside with a pencil and a ten cent notebook and start the whole thing over again.” — Preston Sturges

But the Artist cannot look to others to validate his efforts or his calling.  If you don’t believe me, ask Van Gogh, who produced masterpiece after masterpiece and never found a buyer his whole life.  In the hierarchy, the Artist faces outward. Meeting someone new he asks himself, “What can this person do for me?”  “How can this person advance my standing?”  In hierarchy, the Artist looks up and looks down.  The one place he can’t look is that place he must: within.”—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

“Believe me that in every big thing or achievement there are obstacles — big or small — and the reaction one shows to such an obstacle is what counts not the obstacle itself.”—Bruce Lee

The Art and Craft of Pitching: A dance with the devil inside the inmost cave…

July 20, 2012 § 2 Comments

Yes, pitching your screenplay ideas is an art and a craft indeed.  If you are lucky enough to get into a room and garner the attention of a producer or executive, you’ll only have a few minutes to hook them or lose them.  Always remember this fact going in:  Your idea is the most important thing in the world to you — it’s not to them.  They hear dozens of pitches a week and if they’ve been in the business long enough, they immediately know if your idea is right for them or not.  Do your homework before you take the meeting and know of the kind of material the company or producer develops.  You don’t want to pitch a romantic comedy to a company that produces action films, or pitch an hour police procedural to a TV company that produces sitcoms.

It’s also important to know who you are pitching to and their background.  Most likely unless you are an “A list” writer with heavy credits, they will only know your writing from what you submitted for consideration.  Get to know them before you take the meeting.  They’ll be impressed if you know their work and credits.  I always make sure I’ve watched their movie or TV show before going into a meeting just to familiarize myself with their work.  It shows respect for them and your professionalism as a screenwriter.  I also look up their credits and investigate if we’ve ever worked with the same people before.  This happened recently at a pitch meeting I took with a producer.  I learned that we both know a good friend of mine who used to work with the producer years ago at a studio.  It helps to break the ice and gives them a little more confidence in you.

MARK TIMEI hope it goes without me stating, but I will remind you it’s extremely important being on time for your meeting.  In fact, be early because it’s a given they will always make you wait much like you do at the doctor’s office.  It’s okay if they are running late, it’s not okay if you make them wait because you are late.  Once the meeting starts, always stay calm.  It’s easy to get nervous and lose focus.  You must know your ideas completely and answer any questions if they arise.  The worst thing is not to have an answer or a creative solution worked out before they start asking the hard questions.

Your show must be about

Your film or TV show must be about “something.”

The meeting will probably last twenty minutes and you’ll have about half of the time to pitch your ideas.  After the obligatory small talk, you should open first with a quick overview in a few sentences to prepare them for your presentation.  This is the short logline that sells the bigger concept so they know what to expect. As your time is precious and limited, using visual aids with your pitch is an effective tool to communicate your concept. You can present them on your iPad or laptop and they can include a sizzle reel, a mock trailer, photos, paintings, or a promo video with fast paced images to present the concept, characters, location, tone, and story arc of your film or TV series pitch. When they clearly understand your solid vision, it builds their confidence that you can write the idea you’re presenting and this can help to close the deal.

Then pitch the idea and take no more than about five minutes. Feature ideas should include the major beats and the act breaks to keep them focused on where you are in the story.  If you are pitching a TV idea, you’re pitching the pilot episode and the set up for the entire series. Again, include the major beats of the overall show idea and always leave them wanting more.

Keep your ideas well-structured, but also stay fluid and be able to improvise. If you’re pitching and suddenly realize that you’ve left something out, soldier on and try to make the save. It helps to give your ideas breathing room so the producer can fill in some of the blanks with their creative input as they hopefully see your story. Always practice your pitches before the meeting and memorize them like you would dialogue.

Never allow their reactions (good or bad) to affect your pitching.  If it’s going badly, it’s extremely difficult to receive that immediate feedback in your face as your idea is clearly going up in flames. I was in a pitch meeting where the producer was staring into space with a vacant expression and playing with the couch cushion during our pitch.  It looked like my then writing partner and I had put her in a trance. We obviously were not hooking her with the pitch and I felt like Daffy Duck in that Bugs Bunny cartoon “Show Biz Bugs”  where Daffy keeps trying to win over the audience’s approval with even more daring stunts. The producer sat politely and listened and when we finished, she immediately thanked us and ushered us out. Keep faith in your idea because a pitch meeting is like rolling dice — you never know how it will turn out.

Pitch meetings can become bizarre experiences that leave you wondering how did it go so well or so wrong?  I recently pitched two TV pilots to a very successful film/TV production company and it was my best pitch meeting ever. I knew going in that my original pilot they were considering was not the kind of show they would produce, but I wanted to showcase my writing ability with a heartfelt piece of original material. If I was lucky enough to get a meeting, I wanted to have in my arsenal, two follow-up pitches of the kind of shows they actually do produce.  Luckily, the executives liked my writing and brought me in for a meeting.

I rehearsed the week leading up to the meeting and when I was waiting in the lobby, I centered myself and did not have any expectations about the outcome. This removed any fear. I wasn’t even stressed they were running late.  When I pitched, I was calm and focused on every point. They took detailed notes and the meeting was a success.  I walked out feeling a creative high because the outcome didn’t matter. I had accomplished exactly what I set out to do: Showcase my writing and offer up more ideas for consideration. I never thought for a minute they would buy my pitches just from this one meeting. A few days later they got back with very kind words and will keep me on their list for staff writing positions.

Sometimes it doesn’t always go that well.  Here’s one that goes down in the history books—my worst pitch meeting ever.

After a pitch meeting, the producer or executive may give you constructive criticism, but they will never say “No” or “It’s not for us” to you directly. They will always follow-up after with your agent or manager with their answer. They also don’t usually make an offer for your pitch at the meeting either. No reputable producer will ever force you to make a decision about anything at your pitch meeting—unless they offer to buy it “in the room.” That means they make you an offer on the spot and you decide to take it or leave it. That’s rare, but your representation should always handle any further discussion. It’s part of being a professional screenwriter.

That’s all you can hope for in most pitch meetings. It’s all about putting your face and personality in front of the potential buyers. If they read your writing and like it, you’ll get a pitch meeting and a chance for an audience.  If they pass, you move on to another producer or company and try again. Selling a pitch is extremely difficult if you are a writer without credits because producers need to know they can trust to you deliver the goods as pitched. So, if you don’t sell your pitch but they like your writing and ideas, you just opened a door and a place to revisit with your next idea or script. One meeting begets another and you start to build your network of possible employers who start to know your writing.

Mastering the art and craft of pitching is an important part of your screenwriting arsenal. Practice, do your homework and always be professional. The ability to pitch will serve you well during your entire career.

Scriptcat out!

“What they now tell you is the agent got a date with an executive and you’re going to pitch a story.  Pitch?  The pitch stuff used to be Sandy Koufax.  He was pitching.  Me, I’m no pitcher.  Most of the time you sit there and pitch to the executive, and you know his face and you study it, and then finally you figure out where you know his face.  He was the mail boy at William Morris, and now you’re pitching a story to him.  Then suddenly you’re so ashamed of yourself you say, “Forget it. You wouldn’t like it anyway,” and walk out.”—Billy Wilder in “The Great MovieMakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age” by George Stevens, Jr.

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“The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then.”—William Faulkner

Hemingway said it best, “I still believe, though, that it is very bad for a writer to talk about how he writes. He writes to be read by the eye and no explanations or dissertations should be necessary. You can be sure that there is much more there than will be read at any first reading and having made this it is not the writer’s province to explain it or to run guided tours through the more difficult country of his work.”

“Don’t focus on where you’re not (famous or A-list writer)—focus on where you’re at—hopefully screenwriting. Regardless of success or experience, we’re all equals in front of that blank page channeling the muse.”—Scriptcat

“Most directors do not want to rewrite the script. They have more pressing commitments on the sound stage. The writer’s best insurance against a rewrite is to have an understanding of the directorial problems. Write a scene that can’t be played, no matter how beautiful the words or thoughts, is begging for a revamp.”—Jerry Lewis

How to take a successful meeting in Hollywood…

April 11, 2012 § 8 Comments

Meeting in HollywoodI remember the early days in my screenwriting career when I was so excited to get a meeting—any meeting.  It was my chance to get inside the inmost cave, behind the gates, and for a brilliant few minutes, I’d have the undivided attention of some Muckety-Muck:  Noun  (mə-kə-tē-ˌmək\:  “A person of great importance or self-importance : A big Hollywood Muckety-Muck.”

I quickly learned after the first dozen meetings that sometimes a meeting is just a meeting.  In fact, there are people whose job it is just to take meetings.  They have no power to green light a project or kick it upstairs, they just meet daily with prospective aspirants and hope one will eventually deliver their next successful hit.  If they like you and what you do, you just opened an important door.

I’ve met with everyone—from assistants, low-level creative executives, producers, directors, actors, VP’s, heads of development, to presidents of production.  Hollywood meetings are necessary to put a face with a project.  If your material sparked their interest, the meeting will be your audition to sell yourself, live in front of them.  You hear about “being great in a room” and it’s necessary for them to like you and remember you for possible jobs in the future.  Your script gets you inside and everything else is up to you.  You’ll spin plates, tap dance, juggle, fold balloons, breathe fire and perform your special magic on them.  It’s what us writers do, right?

MARK4Always show up early to the meeting and come prepared.  This means know your pitch inside and out.  Be ready for any questions they may throw at you.  Always have a reply and prepare for back and forth improv a meeting can present.  Know who you are meeting and a little about their background.   Take a few minutes to Google them and in the meeting, reference some of your knowledge about their experience or career.  They’ll appreciate your respect and be impressed enough to remember you as someone who values attention to detail.  Muckety-Mucks like writers who have their shit together and present themselves as a confident professional.  These are people they want to work with and can trust as team players.

Some meeting types are the general meeting, the pitch meeting, the “moving forward” meeting, and the notes meeting.  The general meeting is just as it sounds:  A meet and greet between you and the Muckety-Muck.  They may have read something of yours or maybe not, but they just want to get to know you and keep you on their radar.  It’s not about a specific project or job, but a chance for both of you to connect.  Hopefully they tell you, “Keep in touch, we’d love to read your next project. The door is always open here.”

The ubiquitous pitch meeting is just as it sounds:  They’ve usually read something of yours and liked it enough to take a meeting where you pitch another project to them.  You may or may not have already written it, but they only want to hear a quick pitch.  Keep it short and leave them wanting more.  Pitch meetings are necessary, as it’s a chance to dazzle them in person with your ideas and memorable personality.  They want to like you, but look for any reason to dislike you so be great in the room.

The “moving forward” meeting happens after a few early meetings and now it’s the big pow-wow to announce they’re putting your script into development and you’re getting paid.  This is usually followed by the “notes meeting” where the producers or executives unleash their script changes, you take it on the chin and go off and get the work done.

Once your agent or manager sends out a project and casts the net wide, they wait for the feedback to trickle in.  Getting read in Hollywood seems to take forever, as there’s a bizarre time warp when it comes to business dealings.  But it’s understandable when you consider there’s tens of thousands of projects bouncing around town.  While your project is out there being considered, focus on your next piece of material and keep writing.  The distraction will help you from going crazy when it’s silent for a few weeks.

Once the feedback trickles in to your representation, they will set up meetings with everyone who wants to meet you—and you’ll take all of them.  It’s your job to get in front of the Muckety-Mucks and dazzle them.  Spin your plates or do hand stands for them.  Your script got you behind the gates, now be great in the room.  In fact, be fantastic.  You want to kick open as many doors as possible.  Your script may not sell this time out, but the rounds of meetings you will take are the next important step in building a screenwriting career.  It’s an numbers game at best, but if you’re constantly out there, mixing it up with the gate keepers with new projects, you’ll be holding new ground and advancing toward a sale or a writing assignment.

Sometime soon after the meeting, maybe within a week, send a “thank you” card to the person you met with to show your gratitude and to gently remind them of you.  Most people in today’s world pay no attention to the small details of etiquette.   It’s very old school to send a card and that’s exactly why it’s important.  Executive’s assistants sort the incoming mail and the hand-written notes are always stacked on the top of the pile and read first.  When the Muckety-Muck is busy with a thousand other distractions in their daily commitments, your card will arrive and you’ll be a nice blip on their radar.  They’ll appreciate the gesture and recall that not only are you a talented writer, but you’re respectful of their time and the opportunity they presented you.

You’re now acting as a professional, and preparing for when they allow you to play in the their big sandbox with their toys.  As you continue these methods, they will become effortless and you’ll build a reputation that will eventually get you hired.  You’ll step through the door you just opened into the coveted world of a working screenwriter in Hollywood.  Welcome, it’s a nice place to be.

Scriptcat out!

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“The professional prepares mentally to absorb blows and to deliver them.  His aim is to take what the day gives him.  He is prepared to be prudent and prepared to be reckless, to take a beating when he has to, and to go for the throat when he can.   He understands the field alters every day.   His goal is not victory (success will come by itself when it wants to) but to handle himself, his insides, as sturdily as he can.”— Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

New opportunities for screenwriters: The web series…

March 17, 2012 § 2 Comments

The proliferation of new media has created another opportunity for aspiring screenwriters to begin a writing career in the newest distribution model of entertainment.  Every studio and network is developing content for the web and working in this new cyber world is akin to riding into the new frontier of the Wild West.  The entire business model is still new, un-chartered territory as the major players try to figure out how to turn it into a successful revenue making business.

The recent democratization of filmmaking has certainly helped the ability for anyone to create content and put it up for a global audience.   The same problems remain as with any new distribution mechanism—how to harness the awesome power to connect people on a global scale and how to drive traffic and find an audience.  The axiom remains true, just because you put something up on the Internet doesn’t mean people will watch.

What’s the great news for aspiring screenwriters?  Content is still king.  In this Wild West of online entertainment, a web series is a good place to hone your skills of storytelling and actually get involved with big players who are small players on the web.

In addition, a web series must tell compelling stories and entertain to find an audience—perhaps even more because the episodes are under ten minutes each.  Much of the new investment in these shows involves “Branded Entertainment” and the money comes from advertisers that pay for the production costs of a show based around their products.  The attraction for an audience to watch comes from the well-known actors, directors and writers who create a series that may run only eight episodes for its season on the internet.

Yet, it’s been difficult for TV networks to crack the secret code of how to develop original programming that works as well online as it does on their network.  The upside for the studios and networks is they have a laboratory to “incubate” series ideas and have the sponsors pay for the budget.  If the web series is a runaway hit, the network can push the idea over to their network division and develop the web series as a television show or movie.

What does it mean for the aspiring screenwriter?  It’s fertile ground to find opportunities to become a writer on a series or even create content of your own.  You’ll find the money is not great, but you’ll have to weigh it against the opportunity to work with some top people whom you might not be able to work with otherwise.

I recently experienced this scenario when I was involved with developing a web series—an original project from a well-known TV actress who already had the idea, a treatment and the players involved.  A mutual friend brought me on board to help shape the treatment and create new ideas and the actress and her team loved my contributions.  My work on the series development was purely on spec, meaning I did not get paid, but the players were actors whom I would have never worked with at this point on any of their network television projects.

Again, most of the work you will do on developing a web series will probably be on spec, until the show has an actual budget and they pay you to write episodes.  The web series I worked on fizzled at the studio for reasons out of our control, but I was able to open a new avenue of contacts for possible future work with some well-known players.

I’ve come across many actors who have web series development deals with studios, networks and production companies.  It’s an attempt to gain control of their careers through creating original content—projects they develop, act in and produce.  After the Writers Guild Strike of 2007-2008, the studios and networks cleaned house and dropped most of their in-house development deals with actors, producers and writers.  The industry filled the void with online entertainment development and it’s no surprise to find so many actors with a web series development deal.  I recently had a pitch meeting with another well-known TV actress who has a web deal at a production company and was looking for a vehicle to star and produce.  She really liked my idea and sent my pitch document to her manager and her other potential co-star to read and we’ll proceed from there.

These opportunities are great for the screenwriters.  It opens a door to pitch ideas to those who have deals and you can work closely with them on creating specific content.  Again, the money is little or nothing to start, but invest as much time as you are willing based upon the players involved.  It’s worth your time dealing with a well-known actor and forming a working relationship that could lead to other projects.  During the process, always be a professional and don’t allow anyone to take advantage of you—or your precious time.  Any work other than crafting a short treatment and doing revisions is asking for too much.  If they want you to write spec episodes, tell them you’ll need some level of payment.  If episodes need to be written, it’s a sign the series is fully developed and moving toward production.  It’s time to get paid for your efforts.

Take some time out and watch various web series and study the structure and arc of their season.   You can find dozens of series on sites like Crackle, Hulu, MySpace, and The Web Series Channel.  Many of the studios and networks craft these web series in-house as a result of their rigid guidance from their sponsors for branded entertainment.  In addition to your feature scripts, feature pitches, TV scripts and pitches, add a few web series to the mix.  You’ll have a diverse and well-rounded offering to any agent, manager or talent.  Craft a few pitches for web series and maybe even write one episode from your own pitch to have in your screenwriter’s arsenal.

Also you should write your own web series and post it on the internet. Why not? No one can stop you and it can showcase your talent or brilliant idea. Make it easy and develop an idea that doesn’t take a big crew, lots of actors or locations. Focus on the storytelling and writing. Also make sure your sound is superb. I’ve seen too many web series that look great visually, but the sound is horrible. If you can get the visuals to look professional you should also do the same with the sound. It’s vital.

Remember this last nugget of advice—if you pitch a web series you created and it’s picked up for development, make sure you retain some control and stay on board—especially if the show goes on to development for broadcast network television.  Your entertainment attorney will surely help with this and it’s a perfect time to retain the services of an entertainment attorney to protect you.

Scriptcat out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The wind up, the pitch — strike out!

March 13, 2012 § 6 Comments

I had a good laugh today remembering a bizarre pitch meeting that I experienced years ago with my then writing partner. Now, I’ve probably had seventy-five pitch meetings over the years, but this was straight out of an alternate universe. Luckily, our agent at the time (we later found out his best days were back in the 70’s in television) got our comedy spec to an “A” list producer with a long and successful track record of films. This guy’s poster wall stretched down a very long hallway and contained an impressive collection of $100 million earners. While they were considering our spec, they believed we were perfect to write the next in a long series of successful dog films headed straight for DVD. Apparently, we were “the guys” and they “loved” our writing — especially the comedic tone of our writing. They wanted the same tone for this dog film.

Well, they passed on our spec and the deal fell apart when the studio dropped the project and they told us, “the studio said they don’t know how to make such a small budgeted film.”  I recall the budget hovering somewhere around five million dollars. I still laugh.

CUT TO: A year later — we’re making the rounds again with a new pitch and now meeting with the same “A list” production company. We arrive at their new Beverly Hills digs to find our guy in an office, behind a large window and busy holding court to a table of suits. The receptionist politely notifies us, “He’s in a meeting and will be out soon.” So, we sit and wait.  After a few minutes, he spots us in the lobby and quickly pulls the blinds in the office. Okay, weird.

So, we wait… and wait… and wait. It’s now been twenty minutes. My blood sugar has dropped through the floor and I’m in panic mode shaking with sweats. I tear into the pantry and grab a juice and rifle through their cabinets desperately searching for a protein snack. I find some cookies or chips, I don’t remember… but now we’ve been in this Godforsaken lobby forty-five minutes when our guy strides out of the meeting and says, “Gentlemen, good to see you. Come on down to my office.”  Whew, okay progress—we’re going to have the meeting.

Now, this guy was their “head of talent” or some bullshit title. His claim to fame was discovering an actress who is very talented and if I mentioned her name, you would recognize her and know her work. Cool. Good for him. He keeps a photo of her pinned up on his corkboard as some badge of achievement or something. Weird. I also recall this guy always wearing a sports coat that was strangely two sizes too small and looked like it belonged on a child. His loafers were horribly run down and I recall him always complimenting me on my nicely polished shoes. And they were always nicely polished for a meeting. I believe in the little details of life and always being a professional. You can tell volumes about someone just from their shoes. Ever see a guy in a $1,500 suit trying to sell you something and his shoes are cheap and worn? As writer Joe Gillis says in my favorite film Sunset Boulevard: “Rudy never asked any questions.  He’d just look at your heels and know the score.”

Our guy starts with, “So guys, what do you have for me today?” That’s our cue to start our pitch. My writing partner swings into action and begins the dog and pony show.

pitchIt’s going well, and it’s about thirty seconds in when our guy stands up from his desk and shouts, “No, no, it’s bullshit, all bullshit.  It’s fake. Fake!  Nobody wants to see fake!  Just stop, I don’t want to hear anymore.”  He rounds the desk and grabs his crotch and shouts, “It doesn’t have any balls!” My partner and I stare in wide-eyed disbelief.  Now, during our past meetings we’ve had producers look bored, roll their eyes, shift their focus, even squirm in their seats, but NEVER cut us off at the start of a pitch and NOT want to hear the rest. We tried to cover our shock the best we could, but this train was already off the rails and was now a smelly, hot and steamy mess. We had no clue how to recover from this train wreck.

Our guy apparently knew. He regaled us with a story about a nephew who recently sent him a ten page e-mail about an elaborate story involving a guy who shined shoes at the airport — yes, my friends our guy was now pitching us. We listened politely, but in retrospect we should have told him that his “idea was bullshit,” turned over his desk, and broke a window or two as we stormed out. We continued to listen.  At the end he asks, “So do you guys think you can do something with that?” My writing partner and I share a glance and he replied, “Maybe.  Let us mull it over.

The meeting was over. Our guy walked us to the elevator and rode down with us to the parking garage. We said our good-byes and drove off. We never saw our guy again, nor did we ever have another meeting with this “A” list company.

We eventually parted ways with our agent too, but that was okay.  I always believed that he retired fifteen years earlier and never told anyone at the office, but just kept coming in and using the phones. I did like that he always returned our calls when he was our agent. I have to give him props for being old school in that regard. You always step up to the plate and hope for the best, as you never know how a pitch meeting will go, but this one went down in the archives under “most bizarre.”

Keep writing and learn how to hang on during the hard times.—Scriptcat

SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)

Norma Desmond: “You’re a writer, you said.”
Joe Gillis: “Why?”
Norma Desmond: “Are you or aren’t you?”
Joe Gillis: “That’s what it says on my Guild card.”
Norma Desmond: “And you have written pictures, haven’t you?”
Joe Gillis: “I sure have. Want a list of my credits?”
Norma Desmond: “I want to ask you something. Come in here.”
Joe Gillis: “Last one I wrote was about Okies in the Dust Bowl. You’d never know because when it reached the screen, the whole thing played on a torpedo boat.”

You’ll find that you may not like suggestions about changes to your script.

Scriptcat out!

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You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Get it right.”

“Tomorrow morning the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page. Nothing matters but that he keep working”—Steven Pressfield

“Don’t mind criticism.  If it is untrue, disregard it.  If it is unfair, keep from irritation.  It if is ignorant, smile.  If it is justified, learn from it”—Anonymous

“I love criticism just so long as it is unqualified praise”—Noel Coward

“He has van Gogh’s ear for music”—Billy Wilder

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