Secrets to Success: Always be Writing by John Montana

Always Be Writing  by John Montana

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Many times I hear writers say they are stuck or are in a writers slump, because no ideas are coming or they don’t know what to write. They want an original idea for a film that nobody has ever seen before. They want the next great original idea that rocks the film world. Some of them will wait for years for that inspiration for the next great film. Now…you might get angry with me for saying this, or you will probably vehemently disagree, but I don’t think this should be your goal. Of course it can be a dream that this happens, but most likely the story in some form has already been told before. Don’t sweat it!!! Really, don’t let it prevent you from writing. Just write… let the words just flow out of you. Edit it all later. Write gobble-dee-gook, write crap, write anything.

Just! Write!

You can worry about judging it after you are finished. When you are done you can go in and create a story that will inspire you to film. Think of it this way… A sculptor starts with a huge block of stone. This is your “gobble-dee-gook”. Then begin to slowly carve away the stuff that you don’t need. Carefully reveal the story you want to tell. In the end you will have something that you will be excited about putting on film. So don’t be obsessed with telling an original story or have an idea that nobody has thought of before. Because ninety nine times out of one hundred… its been done before. I make short films.

I enjoy shooting them and making them. But I am not under any illusion that these short films will make my career. I have 2 full feature scripts waiting to be done. I am using my shorts films to open doors and to gain experience on the set. Period! 99.99% of short films will never make money or be commercial. They are only a means to an end. A road to get someone to ask you this: “Do you have any feature scripts that I can read?” To generate interest in you and what you have written. So here is a saying that I have come across many times…”ALWAYS BE WRITING”. Treat your writing, or other creative work with the same kind of respect you have for your family doctor or dentist. Doctors, dentists… these people have studied hard for years and treated their work with respect and care.

So should you.

If you treat your writing with disdain and laziness, or as a lah-dee-dah creative artist that will get to it “when inspiration strikes”, then shame on you. Because all you are doing is confirming to society that artists are all flaky and emotionally high-strung…and that we are ultimately disposable as paper in an outhouse.

Try this Exercise:

For the next three weeks, set your alarm clock early in the morning and spend ONLY 15 minutes each day writing. Something…Anything…Just write! Don’t look at it and judge it as being either good or bad. That is not the exercise. The exercise is to try and create a HABIT of writing. Like you go to your job. It is an attempt on your part to train your body and mind for just 15 minutes each day to take your writing seriously and just write. And for those of you with the excuse “I don’t have time”… then here is another saying that I really love. TIME IS MADE, NOT FOUND! – You make the time by prioritizing it and writing.

Simple as that!

JohnMontana_011John Montana is an actor (and Talentville member) living with his wife in L.A. and has begun to make short films. His most recent film, “Hungry” has been accepted into 24 film festivals all over the world.Check out his short films at No Title Production Films.

13 GENRES TO AVOID WRITING (If You Want to Interest an Agent or Manager) by Jim Cirile

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Ah, the eternal quest for someone in the biz willing to invest time (or, perish the thought, money) in you and your project. At any given time, approximately 100% of the quarter-million screenwriters who register scripts with the WGA every year are attempting to corral an agent or manager. But here’s the Catch 22: while literary reps  are looking for brilliant writing talent and voice, they’re also looking  at how much time/effort it will require of them. In other words, how marketable is your script? You might have a brilliant piece of writing, but if it’s deemed a Sisyphean task to sell it, most reps will likely wince and move along to save themselves the heartburn.

A decade of writing Agent’s Hot Sheet for Creative Screenwriting magazine gave me a solid heads-up as to what types of feature specs tend to be a tough sell. But just to double-check, I sent the below list to I a couple of agent and manager friends, who confirmed its unfortunate veracity. Thus I present to you all this list of 13 genres you should probably avoid writing — unless throwing away a year of your life on a quixotic quest seems like a smashing way to spend your time.

Disclaimer: now of course this list is not an absolute. A powerful celebrity or director attachment, or indie or foreign financing, can get almost anything made. I’m talking specifically about what Hollywood reps are looking for in terms of things they can sell easily — or not. The evergreens: comedy, action, thriller, sci-fi, elevated horror, and pretty much anything based on well-known source material, are always going to elicit more interest than anything on the list below. Forewarned is forearmed. Let’s get to it.

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1) Anything topical. With the 24-hour “news” cycle incessantly bludgeoning us with stupidity and corporate/Pentagon propaganda, current events become stale very quickly. That topic that’s all the rage now will be, in six months, a “nothing-burger” (to paraphrase Kevin O’Leary.) Plus, as far as the studios are concerned, movies are escapism.

2) Terrorist-anything. See above. Unless it is a really unusual form of terrorist. Eskimos or Canadians or Venusians? Sure! But Muslims/Middle East/ etc.? Tough sell.

3) Traditional romantic comedies. Stale and formulaic. But find a way to change it up or make it fresh (e.g., “Trainwreck”) and you may have something.

4) Fantasy movies. BUDGET! Sure, these are huge box office, but they’re ALL branded. Unless you have the rights to “Dragonriders of Pern,” you are dead in the water. No studio is going to bet the proverbial farm on original material.

5) War or Period/Costume Epics. BUDGET! Sure, these get made, but not by the likes of us. I wish I had a dollar for every great WWII script I’ve read over the last decade. Sure, if someone powerful like Angelina Jolie attaches, it’s a whole different story, but try interesting an agent…  Consider restaging the conflict to a space station or another galaxy or inside a human body or something. Seriously.

6) Westerns. The genre is put-a-fork-in-it done theatrically and has migrated to TV.

7) Anything starring a cop or lawyer. Both are the purview of TV. Cop movies still get made of course, but there needs to be something really unique about it. A grizzled alcoholic cop, family falling apart, desperate to track down an elusive murderer? Ho-hum (unless there’s true-life source material.) Legal anything: unless adapted from John Grisham, it’s probably for TV.

8) Serial killer stories. Played out and also the purview of TV now.

9) Non-supernatural horror. Monsters and demonic forces are fine, but a crazed killer or slasher flick isn’t going to get in the door at most places (unless it can be done for a dime, in which case there are specific companies who do that type of thing.) Also includes psychological horror, although really visual Jacob’s Ladder-type stuff certainly has a shot.

10) Stories without Americans, in a country other than the US: America is a ridiculously xenophobic society. It’s fine to stage your story in Zimbabwe… provided your hero is American. But US studios will likely not be interested in a movie focused on another culture, with actors who are not Americans — unless (you guessed it!) there is source material, such as literature or a well-known play (e.g., “Les Miserables”.) The exception to this is British, provided it’s not about working class types or anything too Britishy-British.

11) Spy/CIA stories. Spy stories are so played out they were already spoofing them in the ’60s. And the CIA is such an overused element in screenplays as to elicit groans at the mere sight of the acronym. Invent your own agency or do some research — there are a hundred other lesser-known alphabet soup agencies. Unless there’s source material. “Kingsman: The Secret Service” was based on a graphic novel.

12) Dramas. Again, TV has sucked a lot of the air out of this once erstwhile genre; and while they do get made, they’re seldom rewarded at the box office, even with a Sundance pedigree or critical notice. That means it’s tough to interest an agent, manager or CE in reading them. However, if the project has any sort of buzz, that’s a different story — a Nicholl or prestigious festival award, and certainly if there’s a noteworthy attachment, or if you’ve DIY’ed it and won a passel of awards from film festivals, the picture changes. Skip the reps and query production companies who make those kinds of movies and especially actors’ prodcos (who may be on the lookout for awards-bait projects.) And finally:

13) Superhero movies. This might seem counter-intuitive at first, but if you’ve been paying attention you’ll realize that while superhero movies continue to dominate, they all have one thing in common: NONE of them came from specs. (Except Hancock, which took Will Smith to get made.) So unless your last name happens to be Lee or Ditko or Kirby, or you somehow got DC to part with the feature adaptation rights to Matter Eater Lad (that’s a real thing, believe it or not), then don’t waste one minute of your precious time writing a huge-budget superflick no one will even read.

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There you have it. It’s a not-especially brave new world, but forewarned is forearmed. Consider carefully how to ford the raging rapids separating you from Hollywood’s fortifications. Beware the minefield(s) and proceed with knowledge of the way things are, versus the way we want things to be. There are still ways in — we just have to be smarter about our time and material. Go get ’em.

And hell, if you are writing Matter Eater Lad, then I want in!

– Jim Cirile

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Jim Cirile is a Los-Angeles based writer/producer. He owns www.coverageink.com, a leading independent screenplay coverage and development service.

He has been writing about the biz for 15 years.

The 6 Most Common Logline Mistakes by Angela Bourassa

Over at LA Screenwriter, we’re beginning our fourth monthly Logline Competition (sponsored in part by the good people here at Talentville), and I feel like I’ve already seen just about every type of logline imaginable. There have been some amazing submissions – high concept ideas presented with clear sentence structure and compelling language – but there have been a lot more submissions riddled with common logline mistakes.

I serve as the judge of the competition, so I’ve read every single logline that’s come in and provided every person with feedback. What has amazed me so far is how often I find myself giving the same advice. In the hope of nipping these problems in the bud, I’d like to lay out the six most common logline mistakes. Some of these are broad and some are nitty-gritty, but all are important. In no particular order, they are:

1. Naming your characters.

Do not name your main character or any other characters in your logline. Names are useless information. They don’t reveal anything about your characters. You only have a few words to tell the reader who your character is, so don’t waste any time on names. Instead, come up with a brief, telling description of your character.

The only exception to this rule is if your script is about a real person. If you’re writing a movie about George Washington, then you can say that directly.

2. Only getting across the setup.

In a perfect world, your logline would get across a sense of your entire script. In practice, it should cover up to the midpoint at the very least. If your logline only gets across the first ten to fifteen pages of your script, you’re in trouble. A character and a catalyst are not a movie, therefore they are not enough for a logline. You need to tell the reader what happens next. Continue reading

The Five Things you Must Know to Sell your Script by Gavin Wilding

After producing features and TV movies for 22 years, you learn a thing or two. I am going to share the most common pitfalls writers make with their scripts…. If you pay attention to these, you are more than half way to getting a script ready to attract a producer and financing.

 

  • GENRE – Stick to your genre! Don’t try and be all things to all audiences…. So many times I see a writer ‘cross over’ and shift genres, in the middle of a script! If it’s a comedy, give them a comedy, not anything else. When you go to MCDONALD’S, you’re expecting a hamburger (usually), so give them a hamburger

  • FIRST TEN PAGES – These need to be perfect!! They need to grab the reader instantly, so give it your very best stuff, because unless people know you, they won’t read past the first ten pages. Many times a writer will say to me… “But it really gets good around page 25”. Problem is, no one will wait that long for it to get good. They are on to the next script. No one wants to read another script, so make it great from the start. It can sag a bit after that because the audience will be engaged.

  • NO SCENES OVER 4 PAGES LONG! – Unless they are fantastic! And I mean fantastic! That goes for lines of dialogue too!! 4 Lines of dialogue is a ‘speech’, so be really careful of that. Continue reading

Writer Rob Edwards Talks Breaking In (and his upcoming Master Class)

I got this email last week from Justin H and I’m answering it on this website because there’s information here that should be helpful to many of the users of this site. Justin started his email with a compliment (the best way to start an email to me, by the way)..

Q: “Rob, I love your site ‘robedwards.net‘ — really insightful stuff, and I agree with a lot of it. I really appreciate the real/professional advice you give and how it is from a professional actually working in the busy and not a researcher/theorist/teacher preachy what they think is right, charging for coverage, but actually producing/creating/selling nothing.

I have a question since most of the time advice is asked/given about/for young writers. I am 31 years old and just getting into the groove of building my writing skills/body of work, what advice would you give to someone that is older, wanting to break in?

A: I left the compliment in there because I’m a praise whore and because I’m glad he got the point of why I write articles like this. I’m not a theorist or a guy who makes a living teaching screenwriting. I’m a working writer who thinks it’s important to take time out every once in a while to share what I’ve learned. More on that later.

Hey Justin. To sum up.   You’re…

  • 31-years-old,
  • You’re just “getting into the groove” and,
  • I believe you’re worried about breaking in as an older writer.

Let’s hit all of those in turn…

1) On being 31

From a writer’s point of view, being 31 can look like a liability. As a guy who reads screenplays by new writers all the time, I’ll tell you one of Hollywood’s dirty little secrets. Every summer the town is blanketed with specs written by promising young writing students from prestigious film schools. Most of the students research what sold last year and they crank out specs that are competent, well structured and professional looking… but they’re about 31-year-olds trying to solve crimes or deal with divorce or marriage or any number of things they only have tangential experience with. Certainly some of them have incredible insights into the details of lives they won’t live for ten years… but most don’t. Continue reading

NEW SITE FEATURE: Representation and Attachments for Screenplays

We just added more information that Residents can add to their screenplays, namely information about any Industry representation or Talent attachments.  This information is geared to those members who have had their scripts optioned, or for those members who have a manager, agent or perhaps a producer involved.

When uploading a screenplay, or when editing the info for a script already uploaded to our Library, you will find the following new section on the Upload/Edit screens:

Use this section to let others know what Industry professionals, if any, are associated with the script. Continue reading

SITE ENHANCEMENT: Optional accordion views for Member and Script pages

In order to attempt to improve the look of our site, we just completed adding a new ‘accordion’ display layout for both member profile pages as well script info pages. This new layout, which lays out information in expandable tabs vertically down the page, contains the same information as was previously shown in the tabbed-list layout members will be used to, but might be more intuitive and easy to navigate.

Note that the old tabbed layout is still around, and all members can switch between the two layouts as desired.

The pictures below shows the new look, but keep in mind, as mentioned, that you can switch between the old tabbed layout and the new layout using the Tabs and Accordion buttons at the top of listing. If you switch the layout, the site will use THAT layout for all pages of that type (user or script) until you switch back to the previous layout.

Profile Page Accordion Look

Note:  When bringing up a member’s profile page, the About Me tab is automatically displayed by default.  Click on any of the tabs to expand or collapse that tab.  In the near future, we will be saving the tabs you have open for every member’s profile you view, so open tabs will be shown the next time you view that member’s profile.

Continue reading

Battle of the Loglines – Winners Announced

Announcing the winners of our
Battle of the Loglines competition

Over the past two months, we have been running a friendly competition to find the best loglines from all the feature scripts at Talentville. Starting with a pool of 1500 loglines, over 5 bruising rounds we whittled them down to the top 18, as decided by head to head battles that pitted one logline against another.

The members voted, and we are pleased to be able to announce the best of the best.

Loglines in and of themselves do not always speak to the quality of the screenplays they describe, but intriguing loglines that feel fresh and new may just get an agent, manager or producer curious enough to give the script a look, especially when faced with an avalanche of loglines in the mounds of query letters that fill their inbox.

Would your logline have made the cut? Continue reading

As another year comes to a close…by Talentville CEO Ben Cahan

Looking back on 2014 as the year comes to a close, it certainly has been interesting and a fun ride for me, even if we did not have a breakout script sale that put our name in the headlines.  That will come in time, with a bit of luck and a tub full of elbow grease, on my part as well as yours.

Despite that, our membership is up, our level of activity and reviews continues to increase, and plenty of new features have been added to make the community more social and more useful.  The facebook-like News Feed, improvements to our Groups, an overhaul of the look and feel of the site and even smaller features such as our Top Script listing page and popups that make it easier to view information about members and scripts. Plus, there is our script access and sharing module as well as an increase in articles for our Gazette and University.

Also on the positive side of the ledger, a few of our members did achieve some level of success, whether professionally or in the script competition arena, and I do hope that the reviews, critiques and support the community provided had some impact on those small victories.

To mention but a few:

Olympiad (AKA Pan Kratos), by Demosthenes Daskaleas, is still under option by J Todd Harris at Branded Pictures Entertainment, we hope his involvement will help find the script a studio home in the coming months (we’re certainly rooting for it!).

The Red Angel, by Andy Froemke, was optioned by industry member Kris Lippert at MovieRockets Entertainment, and is currently in the rewrite phase.

This Modern Man is Beat, a short by David Schroeder, was successfully funded via KickStarter and recently complete filming.  We look forward to seeing the finished film.

Cutting Numbers, by Morgan Von Ancken, won the 2013 Script Pipeline screenwriting competition and he has subsequently been signed by UTA.

Close Proximity, by Jack Comeau, was repped by WME and pitched as a mini-series to several networks.  It didn’t sell, but we still have high hopes for the project down the road, it truly is a top notch screenplay. Continue reading

SITE ENHANCEMENTS: Scripts Viewed Listing & Group Invites Listing

The following new features have recently been added to the site:

SCRIPTS VIEWED LISTING

We just added a new tab to every user’s profile (which only shows up when you view your own profile, others cannot see your view list) that lists the last 40 scripts you have viewed, along with the date of the last view, the last page viewed and the date you reviewed it (if you did review that script).

This will give everyone a quick listing that can be used to remind a member of what they have read and when they read it.

This supplements the RECENT menu that has been in the menu bar for some time.

GROUP INVITE LISTING

We added a new tab on Group pages that will show up for the owner and administrators of that group: Invites.

This new tab will show the list of all members who have been invited to join the group but who have not yet responded to the invite.

This tab is currently informational only, but soon we will add some invite management features to the list.

SITE ENHANCEMENT: Top Script Listing Page

To give both our members and our Industry Friends an easy one-stop shopping page that they can use to locate our top-rated scripts, either overall or by genre, we just added a brand new page to the site, the Top Script Listings page.

You can get to this new page by either clicking on the Orange button on the Home Page (right under the Town Census widget) or from the Community Menu.

This page contains a whole bunch of scrolling lists of scripts, all ordered by site score, in a variety of categories:

  • Overall
  • Recently Added
  • By Genre (Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Horror, etc.)

Note that most of the lists only contain Feature scripts, Dramas (TV 1 Hr) and Sitcoms (TV 1/2 Hr), not Short Scripts (which have a list all their own at the bottom of the page).

When the page comes up, it will look essentially as follows:

Continue reading

SITE ENHANCEMENT: Complete Revamp of our Script Sharing and Access Module

To give our authors more control over who can and cannot read their scripts, we have completely revamped our Sharing system, allowing authors to provide read access to both Talentville members as well as outsiders who are not members.

It starts with the View Settings

When a member uploads a script, they specify View Settings for various classes of members.  Tourists & Preferred members can read at most a 10 page preview, and a drop-down menu is used to specify how much of the script can be read by Citizens as well as Industry members.  The options allowed are:  Everyone, First 10 Pages, Friends Only or Invitation Only.

Of course, when a member is assigned to review a script, no matter their membership type, they can read the script in its entirety since they have to be able to read it to review it.

Note that if Friends Only is selected, non-friends in that membership class (Citizen or Industry Member) will default to the First 10 Pages if they are not site friends with the author.

Requesting Access & Granting Access

To give authors the ability to give specific members the ability to read their script, overriding the class settings, there are two ways that can happen.

Member Requests: The first is when a member requests access to read the script, using the Request Access button when they view the script’s info page.   If they do make the request, the author get a request email and then will have the choice to approve or deny the request from their Requests screen:

 If the author grants the request, the requesting member will be given access to read the script in its entirety, with the access expiring after 10 days.  The expiration date and access can be changed at any time, but more on that in a bit. Continue reading

MARKET YOUR SCREENWRITING CONTEST SUCCESSES by Dave Kline (co-founder Script Pipeline)

Q: “My script has done well in competitions, but I can’t get people to notice. How do I market my contest success?”

A: As some of you guys in the writing community may know, Script Pipeline is contacting every entrant of our recent writing competitions. As Co-Founder of Script Pipeline, I’m personally making those calls so writers can have a conversation about screenwriting and, most importantly, the business of screenwriting. I’m now at over 1000 calls and not a single writer has sent me a box of chocolates. And that’s okay. The conversations have been stimulating enough. At least for now.

The question about how to market contest success is one that I’ve been getting a lot recently. Here’s the not so short answer. . . .

It helps to think like a rep. Or more specifically, how to think like an assistant to a rep, as they’re the ones doing the scouting. All the big agencies and management companies have assistants that are tracking contest winners. So who are they tracking? And why aren’t they tracking you? Continue reading

Do aspiring screenwriters need an agent or manager? Not necessarily.

I have seen so many articles scattered about the internet on the topic of getting an agent.  How do I get an agent?  A manager?  Will they read unsolicited scripts?  What is the difference between an agent and a manager?  How do I write a query letter?  What will they do for me?  And on and on.

From my perspective, I think those discussions are asking the wrong question, putting the horse in front of the cart, the stick in front of the carrot, the entree in front of the appetizer.  The articles on the subject are often written by folks already in the industry, already with produced credits and a deep contact list they can call or email when their next spec is ready.  They have a history, they have proven themselves, and for those folks managers and agents are a valuable part of their team in terms of getting ongoing work (and thus a paycheck).   Them talking about agents is like them talking about what to do after you sell your first script:  interesting, but not completely germane.

For unproduced aspiring writers with maybe a few spec scripts in their arsenal, still waiting to be discovered and perhaps still in the process of honing their craft, the likelihood of getting signed by an established agent or manager is a rarity, mostly because it is tough for them to promote a new writer in an industry with plenty of folks who have credits and who are also looking for their next gig or assignment.  Keep in mind, the guy (or gal) writing the article about getting an agent might just be your competition.  Will a just-greenlit TV show hire a newbie writer for a staff position, or a studio give a plum writing assignment to someone who has never sold anything?  I imagine it has happened, but then extinction-level asteroids have also hit the Earth, just not often.  Continue reading

Your first chance to impress (or infuriate) a producer is not your screenplay, it is your logline. Make it great.

The other evening, when I had a bit of down-time, I did what I do every now and again: I headed to the Talentville Script Library and perused loglines at random, looking for a few that piqued my curiosity enough to jot down on my list of scripts to check out.  I didn’t worry about whether the scripts had any site reviews (positive or negative), I just wanted to find a few that made me go “hmm, that sounds interesting, let’s see if the script is any good.”

What I found, to be honest, was more than a bit of a letdown as I scanned page after page of search results, failing to be the least bit inspired as I read a plethora of loglines that just didn’t get my juices going, didn’t make me click to find out more.  Some were too long and detailed, others were ridden with typos or grammatical errors, and even more were actually too short or said little to nothing about the plot or theme of the script.

Let’s face it, loglines in and of themselves do not always indicate the quality of a screenplay, I’ve seen uninspiring loglines for worthy scripts and I’ve seen great loglines for poorly written scripts.  However, the logline is your first chance, as a screenwriter, to hook me, to get me to click and look, and the fact is that whether it is myself or some other producer or manager, I certainly can’t option your script if I don’t read your script.  Sure, getting high review scores, making the weekly Top Ten list or even becoming a Script of the Month finalist is one sure-fire way to get me to give your script a peek, but with 400 rated scripts out of 1800 uploaded scripts in our Library, I occasionally broaden my horizons and scan loglines of the many hundreds that were uploaded and that sit collecting dust, unreviewed and unrated.  There’s always a chance that a hidden gem will emerge and separate itself from the pack, plucked from the hordes because the logline compelled me to give it a chance.  Trust me, I never choose scripts to read completely at random, especially with so many to choose from.  Other Industry Pros who visit our site do the same, I promise you. Continue reading