If you've read the Questions & Answers section of my other screenwriting blog, you'll know that I'm not exactly a huge fan of the myriad screenplay competitions. It seems contestants always pin so much hope on something that, ultimately, delivers very little return, if any. Sure, I do feel some of the better-established competitions definitely have their place, but still...

I've always been a bit hesitant to go further into my opinion of script competitions simply because I've never actually entered one. So, with that in mind, I interviewed ten screenwriters who have entered competitions, getting their points-of-view, both positive and negative, on what they thought of it all. These screenwriters are: Bob Saenz, Cindy Keller, Jacob Keller, Joseph Calabrese, Larissa Olick, Lonnie Turner, Matthew Stoker, Rob Bentley, Robert Newcomer, and Stephanie Dube. So, if you're thinking about entering your new hot script into a competition—and even if you're not—I think you'll find what these folks have to say both interesting and illuminating. OK, here we go...

Q: Which screenwriting contest(s) did you enter?

BOB: BlueCat and Cinequest.

CINDY: I've entered quite a few over the past four years. They are: Write Movies, 20/20, Scriptapalooza, A Feeding Frenzy, Gimme Credit, American Gem, PAGE International, and Hellfire's Short Horror Screenplay Contest.

JACOB: A short list includes: Fade-In Magazine Screenplay and Fiction Competition, Fade In Awards, Script Magazine’s Open Door Contest, 9th Annual ASA International Screenplay Competition, Slamdance Screenplay Competition, Slamdance Horror Competition, 13th Annual Writer’s Network Screenplay & Fiction Competition, and the Waterfront Screenplay Competition.

JOSEPH: Nicholl, Austin, Slamdance, Cinequest, PAGE International, Filmmakers International, Script PIMP...

LARISSA: Along with my writing partner, I’ve entered The International Shriekfest Film Festival, The Waterfront Film Festival, The Screenwriting Expo, Cinequest Screenwriting Competition, Acclaim TV & Film Competition, Austin’s Heart of Film Competition, Kairos, and of course, the Nicholl.

LONNIE: The 2005 Shriekfest Film Festival screenplay competition. The concept of the fest is to promote and/or discover up-and-coming talent in the horror, sci-fi and fantasy genres.

MATTHEW: BlueCat and the Nicholl.

ROB: Myself and my co-writer have entered Creative Screenwriting AAA Contest, Scriptapalooza (both TV and feature film), Project Greenlight 3, Nicholl, and Disney.


STEPHANIE: TV’s Spec Scriptacular and the People’s Pilot competition. Also the Disney Fellowship and the Final Draft contest, among others.

Q: How many screenplays had you written prior to entering your first competition?

BOB: I had four completed when I entered BlueCat. Eight or nine when I entered Cinequest.

CINDY: One. And looking back on it now, it was a real stinker. The funny thing is that it advanced further than the first round of judging. So I don't think they actually read it. Another funny thing about that contest [which is purposely remaining anonymous] is that I had ordered a screenwriting booklet from them, and never received it. What I did get from them was a copy of someone else's script. They never answered my e-mails about it either, so I haven't sent them any more of my scripts.

JACOB: I would say three or four. But I don’t often count those because the source material wasn’t my own and I never really took it too seriously. At that time, I was in this strange limbo between hobby and career. When I finally decided to get serious about two years ago, I treat that as the official start of my screenwriting career and in that case my screenplay was really, really good.


LARISSA: None. My partner and I entered our very first script—a sci-fi thriller— in the Acclaim TV Competition, and we ended up being semi-finalists. This is what really encouraged us to continue writing. It was a weight off my shoulders to know that our writing was at least “okay”—not great, but it wasn’t a complete waste of paper either. Acclaim gave us detailed notes about the script—what worked and what didn’t—and we used those notes when we did the rewrites. After our experience with Acclaim we decided to go ahead and try writing a feature script. With what we learned from Acclaim’s notes and a scriptwriting book we won, we wrote a horror script that eventually placed as a finalist in The International Shriekfest Film Festival.

LONNIE: I had stopped and started on at least a couple dozen, but had completed only one. The script I entered was only the second I'd ever completed. Screenwriting was more a hobby for me than anything, at the time.

MATTHEW: I had written a few practice scripts, none of them were very good.

ROB: None. We self-published our own comic book before trying our hand at screenwriting.

ROBERT: I entered the first feature-length that I had ever completed. But it was a third draft, and amended based upon feedback from readers at SimplyScripts.

STEPHANIE: Quite a few. I was a scriptwriter for a weekly children’s program at a megachurch, which was led by a man who used to write for a popular TV sitcom. Everything we wrote was in professional format, so I was quite familiar with the style before entering any competitions.

Q: If you sent one of your first script attempts to a competition, is this something you regret?

BOB: If I hadn't learned early on that I shouldn't send my first one in, I probably would have wasted my money and done that. Luckily, I had some very good advice from competent people very early in my career.

JACOB: The very first contest I entered with my very first screenplay was in 2001, with source material that was not my own. I was 18 years old and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Ignorance is bliss, but knowing stuff is a lot more fun. Compared to now, what I didn’t know then is staggering. And, of course, as a result, I failed miserably. I was crushed, to be sure, but I don’t regret doing it. I needed that failure to reaffirm what I didn’t know so I could fix it. I spent the next few years collecting all the information I could on all the ins and outs of writing for and entering a contest. I poured myself into my first original project and got a “do-over” in spring 2006. This is what I consider my first real contest of something I wrote from scratch all in my head. My “second” first-time was much more successful.

JOSEPH: Not really. My first script written specifically as a spec for sale (prior I wrote for my own productions) just happened to win third at Slamdance. It was a great career boost, not to mention an ego boost. I realize though it was a happy fluke and very rarely does a first-time writer win anything.

LARISSA: No way! It was a great learning experience. Even if we ended up not even reaching the semi-finalist stage, we still would’ve received feedback (it was guaranteed for all entries). That feedback was an opportunity to see what people (besides our friends) thought of our writing.

LONNIE: Definitely. I did well in the competition—I was told that though only the first and second place winners were named and awarded, my script was right in there up to the very end—but as I read back over that script now, it's easy to see why it didn't win. I still get compliments and read requests for the script and though it has its strengths, it also has some major weaknesses.

MATTHEW: It was probably my fourth or fifth, but no, I don’t regret it. I didn’t expect to win at that point. I mostly entered on a lark.

ROB: No regrets due to the feedback we received from PGL 3.

ROBERT: Not at all. But then, it was a decent script, too. A novice effort, to be sure, but polished and competent. I had taken the time to research the craft, which is an important step that many first-timers undervalue.

Q: If "yes" to above, do you feel it would have been best if you had more completed screenplays under your belt before entering?

BOB: See above answer.

CINDY: Of course.

JACOB: No. I know as a writer now, that if I had not taken the wrong path, I wouldn’t know what the right path looked like. Personally, I think that anyone in any business that either tries to avoid failing or ridicules those that do fail doesn’t really understand what real success is.


LONNIE: Yes. I honestly don't see how the script did as well as it did; I look at it now and am almost embarrassed at how amateurish it is. It may have been my story, but I wasn't a good enough writer at the time to do it any real justice. I think if I'd had more experience with the actual craft—building a story up, drawing a reader in, "showing" and not "telling"—the script may have done better.

Q: Did you receive any type of feedback on the script(s) you entered?

BOB: Yes, from BlueCat. It was interesting. I wasn't one of the finalists, yet the "review" of my script said it was very, very good and suggested only a few very small changes that didn't effect the overall script at all. My thought was, "If it was that good, why didn't it make it to the finals?" I let it go, but never entered again. Cinequest politely told me I didn't win anything and thanked me for entering. I optioned that same script to a large L.A. production company about a week later.

CINDY: Yes, from three of them, but the only useful feedback I received was from Gimme Credit and A Feeding Frenzy. Gimme Credit sent me my scores as well as a few paragraphs of helpful notes stating what they thought worked and what didn't. A Feeding Frenzy went way above and beyond (sending ten pages of notes). Both sets of notes helped me with the rewrites, and the scripts are much better now.

JACOB: No, and that is my number one complaint. I know there are businesses that offer those services for a fee but they are often very expensive. I just wish there was someplace to go online where you could post your screenplay or specific scenes and ask for feedback from people that are in the same boat as you, kind of like leaving comments for a video on YouTube or Break. But I also understand that it’s a double-edged sword too. There is a part of me that wants to know what people and professionals think. However, there is also a part of me that quite frankly is embarrassed by what I write, the subject matter I write about, and the way I write. It’s all very complicated in my mind.

JOSEPH: I did on Slamdance and ScriptPIMP. It’s really helpful to see what others think, especially those with some insight into the biz.

LARISSA: Acclaim and Kairos both gave written feedback. With Shriekfest and Waterfront we received feedback directly from the competition directors when we attended the festivals. Carrie Cook and Dina Chapman, the directors of Waterfront, were very happy to discuss our screenplay. They pointed out the weaknesses and strengths of the script, and provided comments that we took into consideration later when we did another polish on the script. I know some people didn’t like the feedback they received from Acclaim, but I thought ours was right on the money—professional, specific, detailed. With Kairos, though, I was disappointed with the quality of the feedback, especially since it sounded like the script wasn’t read past page one. This came across as a crummy deal to me, since it had a hefty entry fee. Recently, though, my opinion has changed about Kairos. I posted my experience on MovieBytes, and was surprised when Michael Trent, the competition director for Kairos, contacted me via e-mail. He read my comment, went back and looked at the feedback and sincerely expressed his distress at my negative experience. He informed me that the panelists who wrote the feedback were no longer with the competition, and assured me that he truly cared about writers having a positive experience with Kairos. And to prove this point he invited me to enter a script of my choice in this year’s competition sans entry fee. I thought this was a nice gesture.

LONNIE: Not really, no. I was kept informed during the judging process of where my script stood, but I never received any kind of coverage or analysis. Denise Gossett, who founded Shriekfest, told me in subsequent e-mails that the script stuck with her and she's referred me to a few prodcos and/or filmmakers. But the real feedback came subsequently, as I posted the script on various screenwriting message boards. Which I should have done before submitting it, because at the time I did so, I'd yet to take any time away from the script to be able to look at it objectively. People who've read it since, mostly compliment me on my style of writing and the strength of the general story, but the weaknesses are apparent to just about everyone who reads it.

MATTHEW: With the BlueCat competition I did receive a written feedback for my script. It was clear the reader had actually read the entire script from the feedback. They wrote both about the good and the bad aspects of the script. It wasn’t the most in-depth analysis I’ve received, but I did realize a few issues with my script that I hadn’t before.

ROB: Project Greenlight 3 was probably the only contest that we received enough feedback to fix problems in the script.

ROBERT: Yes, and I was satisfied with it. I was convinced that the reviewer had read the script, and they picked up on many of the things I was trying to accomplish. BlueCat may have a tendency to be a little too nice, beginning every review (that I have seen) with praise that may or may not be warranted. But there are worse sins, I suppose. And the second half of the review does offer suggestions for improvement that are generally sound.

STEPHANIE: Only on the Spec Scriptacular and the People’s Pilot. Larry Brody, who runs, sent me feedback on both my entries. One of them was ranked as a semifinalist and was only .25 points away from third place! His feedback was incredibly helpful, pointing out areas that needed improvement and affirming areas that were strong.

Q: Did the competition try to hit you up for any pay services, such as script consulting, proofing, representation, etc.?

BOB: No, they didn't. If they had, I would have had some fun with them before blowing them off.


JACOB: Slamdance offers those kinds of services but never tried to pressure me to get them or tack them on when I entered the contest online.

JOSEPH: No. Stay away from those. Do research before sending the check. Some services such as feedback for an extra fee is worthwhile if the competition is a noteworthy and legitimate one.


LONNIE: Not at all. I was at least aware enough of scam contests to check up on the comp. I can't vouch for any other script comps because I've only entered the one, but Shriekfest is on the up and up. I was never asked to pay for anything other than the entry fee, and there were no hidden clauses or tricks or confusing fine print. The comp is what it presents itself to be: a chance for aspiring writers and filmmakers to have their stuff seen.

MATTHEW: Nope, both competitions were completely professional and seemed legit.

ROB: I would hazard a guess that maybe one or two maybe have offered coverage through a third party when the e-mail arrived to announce the winners had been chosen.

ROBERT: I still get e-mail from BlueCat pretty regularly, but the feeling you get is more that they are trying to foster a relationship with the participants as opposed extract more money—although there are certainly opportunities to spend more, should you desire to do so.

STEPHANIE: For the TVWriter contests, you could pay a small extra fee for the feedback, but it was certainly worth it. The other contests involved no additional fees aside from entering.

Q: If “yes” to any of the above, did you take advantage of any of these services? Or do you feel like you were the one being taken advantage of?
JACOB: I have, once, through Slamdance. I never felt I was being taken advantage of. Perhaps, it was because of my naiveté. However, I probably won’t do it again simply because of the cost. At the time it really wasn’t beneficial to me because they were unable to answer the questions I had. It was too impersonal. But it’s certainly not their fault, it’s just the nature of the game. It’s kind of like high school. When I went to high school the classes were packed—30+ students—and the teacher would do the best job he or she could, giving notes on essays and such, but it was never anything personalized or one-on-one. It wasn’t until I went to a private college with 8 to 15 students per class did I get the kind of attention that I think every student deserves. But I don’t blame my high school teacher, it was just the nature of the game. With all the people that enter these contests, it’s just impossible to offer real, constructive, personalized notes for each and every person, especially when you don’t know them.

ROB: I never took advantage.

ROBERT: No, I have not. But I do not mind the messages, either. Occasionally they contain items of vague interest.

Q: If you won, or even placed high in the competition, did it have any positive effect on your budding career?

CINDY: Sure, I'm getting more reads, and isn't that what it's all about? Getting your script into the right hands. The problem is that there are a lot of wrong hands, too; so I've learned to be patient and how to deal with rejection. I'll keep on writing, sending out e-mails, and entering contests in hopes of finding the right hands.

JACOB: The highest I have ever placed was a semifinalist, beating out 1,700 other writers, but so far nothing has resulted from this placement. But that is the number one reason I enter, to get recognition. I think I am like most writers who enter contests, in that it’s not so much for the prize money (which is still nice) but the plethora of industry contacts that will follow.

JOSEPH: With Slamdance, yes, but only because I went to the festival and networked. If you win a script comp and don't toot your horn, no one will notice.

LARISSA: When my writing partner and I attended Shriekfest, Denise Gosset (the founder and director of the festival) made sure that we met everyone during the networking parties and pointed out all the publicity opportunities available. Along with some of the filmmakers, we did an interview with Tomorrow Pictures Television, and then an on-line interview with Dark Romance ( I met a lot of great people at Shriekfest and Denise made sure to e-mail us referrals from filmmakers interested in scripts similar to ours. So, Shriekfest was definitely a positive experience for us. With The Waterfront Film Festival, we were very excited with our finalist placement. This was a big moment for us because the competition wasn’t just opened to new writers, but to professional writers as well. Our script actually placed above a couple of professional writers, including a WGA screenwriter. I have to admit, it felt pretty cool. We really got to see how our work stacked up next to professional screenwriters, and since the prize was a possible production deal, whether or not our script had a commercial concept. From The Waterfront Festival, we made a lot of contacts, both at the parties and just walking around the venues. Another writer we met, whose script also did well in the competition, was kind enough to give us a referral to an agent friend of his. This was another big moment for us because it was our first agent referral. Placing in Shriekfest and Waterfront certainly didn’t hurt us any. Only time, though, will tell if any of these placements will benefit our “budding career.”

LONNIE: Yes. I didn't win, but the festival promoter (Denise Gossett) has subsequently contacted me several times referring me to prodcos and filmmakers she thinks may be interested in my script. And being able to mention having been a finalist in a comp in the "experience" portion of query letters garnered me several reads for other scripts. I even made my first script sale last year after a small prodco read the script and asked if I had anything else. I did, and they bought the next script I showed them. I didn't get rich—it was my first sale and I was (and still consider myself to be) an amateur writer, but it wouldn't have happened if they hadn't read the script I'd entered into the comp and asked for more based on that script's strengths.

ROB: The script we entered into Project Greenlight 3 made it into the quarterfinals of AAA and Scriptapalooza, but it didn’t advance further. The only positive effect it had on us was to continue to keep writing.

ROBERT: I did not win, and have no idea where I fell within the spectrum of entrants.

STEPHANIE: I am taking the feedback I received and am using it to improve my script, so I can enter it in future contests.

Q: Whether or not you won, what are some of the positive aspects of the competition you entered?

BOB: I took a chance. I was willing to put my original writing into the hands of contest judges to see if they liked them. That's a positive thing. To have enough faith in your work to put it out there.

CINDY: A chance at getting produced, representation, feedback, and money.

JACOB: Positive? I guess the only really positive outcome thus far is that I have refined my contest skills. I know the routine, what’s expected, the fees, dates, and basically all the little fine details that show I am no longer an amateur. I also know what the judges like and don’t like.

JOSEPH: The ones I placed on—even semi-finals—do give you something to add to a query, the ones you get feedback from give you insight to make your work better.

LARISSA: Well, since we placed in film festival competitions, we received tickets to the festivals as part of our prizes. This was a great opportunity to meet emerging filmmakers, new actors, and other aspiring writers. I’ve never done well in Nicholl, but it was still a necessary experience in my opinion. I think every writer should enter Nicholl at least once, and just see what happens.

LONNIE: Placing as a finalist in my first-ever script comp, using only my second-ever completed script, was a huge confidence booster. Though my day job and family life have prevented me from really pursuing a screenwriting career, that competition, plus the subsequent selling of my third-ever completed script, has led me to think maybe I can make a career out of this. And man, if I can get away from my day job long enough, I'd love to give it a go.

MATTHEW: The feedback from the BlueCat was helpful. Other than that, I can’t say it was really positive. It didn’t really change anything at all.

ROB: Positive aspects were getting some solid feedback on the script and seeing our names under the quarterfinalists.

ROBERT: I found the contest to be well run, and they delivered the results when they said they would.

STEPHANIE: Deadlines from competitions push me to complete my scripts much faster than I would on my own. By entering these contests, I have developed a list of spec scripts that highlight my talents. In addition, I received feedback that is valuable to improving my writing. These contests were definitely not a waste!

Q: What do you feel are some negative aspects, if any, of entering a competition?

BOB: The rejection might slow up a writer that wasn't as self-assured. BlueCat at least gave a little feedback. I've seen other feedback from them on other scripts by friends who entered, and it was like they hadn't read the same script.

CINDY: Not all contests are equal. Anyone who wants to enter a contest should check them out beforehand at Check to see what other writers have to say about them, and make sure they are a reputable competition.

JACOB: Any negative aspects that I am forced to complain about is the intangible that often plagues any creative-based industry. What makes a good script? What makes a winner? Often those scripts that are picked to win are for reasons that often escape the judges. On the same token, scripts are chosen to either be bought or produced, not because they are the best written, or the most brilliant, but a million other reasons that beginning writers have no control over. Unfortunately, there is only so much talent, hard work, and studying one can bring to any contest. The other parts we have no control over and it is often just pure luck based on the reader’s tastes, how your style comes across, and how well the image you are trying to create is communicated.

JOSEPH: The time it takes to hear any news on it. There are a lot of no-name and, dare I say, scam contests. Be picky and do research on the comps you choose and choose the ones which have a track record of having scripts in your genre that have won. Don't submit a horror script to Nicholl—it just won’t get any tracking there.

LARISSA: High entry fees annoy me. One of the things I like about The Disney Fellowship is that there is no application fee. Also, I don’t think competitions can really determine if a person is a strong writer. Advancement depends heavily on the opinion of readers—or sometimes just one reader. A person with a solid script might not make it past the first round, while a person with a mediocre script makes it farther. So, contest placement isn’t really accurate in gauging whether or not a person is a good writer, and the same goes for not placing in a contest. Look at Euripides—there were a number of dramatic contests he did not place in, but today he is considered one of the greatest Greek tragedians.

LONNIE: Couldn't tell you. I try to see everything as a learning experience. Losing showed me where my weaknesses as a writer were, while placing as a high finalist showed me that regardless, I'm a better writer than I thought I was. Losing isn't a negative thing; it's an educational experience.

MATTHEW: I just think you need to choose wisely on which contests to enter. Check out the reward, and how many people win, and what the ultimate upside of winning really is. Not just financially either. You want to enter contests that a prospective buyer would find respectable. At this point there are only a few contests I would seriously consider entering.

ROB: The negative aspects for the other competitions (beyond PGL 3) are that they didn’t offer written feedback. I know that’s a lot of work for a lot of scripts. Other competitions offer coverage for an extra fee, but you would think for fees being charged you’d get some verbal do's and don’ts, even if it is a form letter with check boxes.

ROBERT: It is not so much a negative as it is a learning experience, but in the future I will choose the contests I enter more carefully. I am primarily a horror writer, and there seems to be a "drama" bias amongst many of the top-tier contests. I will probably choose a contest that is more geared towards horror scripts next time. And it may just be a sour grapes thing, but looking at the winning entries, dramas are all you ever seem to find—and I cannot imagine that there are not some worthy horror scripts out there. But then, the horror writers themselves also have to bear a fraction of the blame, I suppose. There is plenty of dreck out there in Horrorland, and I am sure just about any reader greets a new horror script with a roll of the eyes—whether they admit it or not.

STEPHANIE: Really, none. I’d caution people who have “thin skin” to prepare themselves before receiving feedback. You have to be able to accept constructive criticism and learn from it.

Q: Based on your experiences, would you recommend screenwriting competitions as a way for budding screenwriters to further their career?

BOB: No. I haven't heard of anyone's career "furthered" by one of these contests. There might be a couple of people over the years, but when I read or hear about a writer "making it," I never hear about any contests they won, but about the quality of their work. I would advise young writers to save their money and spend it on postage to send out their query letters or to spend it on quality coverage.

CINDY: To further their career? I'm not sure about that one. There are some screenwriters who get noticed and produced after entering a contest, but there's no guarantee and the numbers aren't that great. I think a finalist or winner status is helpful in getting read, and I also think that when a writer does well in a contest it sort of gives them a nudge to write some more.

JACOB: Absolutely! Until a screenwriter enters a contest, it is almost impossible to know if you’re even relatively good or have what it takes to be a writer. Unless you know someone in the business, or have read a lot of different screenplays, there is really no other way to tell where you are in the grand scheme. I have learned so much from entering and even the slight amount of feedback I have received has given me the confidence to press on with whatever I am doing and also seek representation, knowing that I am no better or worse than most screenwriters working today.

JOSEPH: Definitely, especially if they are legitimate and noteworthy ones, or if they have festivals that you can network at.

LARISSA: If you do enter competitions, I recommend competitions that are held in conjunction with film festivals. This way, if you place, then you can attend the festivals not just as a “filmgoer,” but as a finalist—or even better, a winner! Film festivals offer great networking opportunities, and the people are usually very friendly. Festivals are the kind of places you can just walk up to someone and initiate a conversation without being considered aggressive.

LONNIE: Based on the sole comp I entered, yes, I would. The entire experience for me was a pleasant one. I know I never would have gotten the subsequent read requests or even had my first sale if I hadn't put my work out there to be seen. You'll never know how good or bad you are until you let others read your stuff and comps—the honest ones—allow you to do exactly that.

MATTHEW: Tough question. You always need to be using the alternative routes as well. Just waiting for those competitions every year is going to be an incredible waste of time and ultimately, probably a disappointment. If you know your scripts are terrific and you can afford the entry fee, then yeah. Just be picky on which ones you enter.

ROB: I would recommend Nicholl and Disney Fellowship as two competitions, since they are free and offer the best exposure. Exposure is better, in my opinion in the end than prize money or fourth place with a subscription to a screenwriting magazine. I would not recommend entering every single competition willy-nilly, I’d recommend looking at the rewards and then make your best choice. If you’re a struggling screenwriter then there’s no need to waste money down the drain on a contest that offers nothing in return. In the end, it’s not the contest that gets you found, it’s the script.

ROBERT: From the standpoint of a pure novice, with no connections, it seems like the only way to get noticed. The Internet is changing that to a certain extent, and I have received e-mails regarding works I have posted on public forums. It seems to be a lot like fishing. All you can do it put yourself out there and wait for nibbles. But I will continue to enter contests now and then. Maybe even BlueCat, should I write a nice drama someday.

STEPHANIE: Absolutely! Screenwriting competitions aren’t guaranteed methods for jumpstarting a career, of course. In fact, the chances of winning are pretty slim. However, the feedback you receive from some can greatly improve your writing skills. In addition, I would encourage aspiring screenwriters to check out and Both Web sites contain a wealth of information, including competitions screenwriters can enter, where they will receive valuable feedback on their scripts.

* * *

There you have it, a revealing peek into the world of screenplay competitions. I know I learned a thing or two and I hope you did too. Big thanks to Bob, Cindy, Jacob, Joseph, Larissa, Lonnie, Matthew, Rob, Robert, and Stephanie for their participation! -- JV


APRIL 2015 ANNOUNCEMENT: My debut novel, Luigi's Chinese Delicatessen, is now available in paperback from and Kindle e-book! (You're gonna love it cuz it's all about Hollywood and screenwriting!)

A little HONESTY can go a loooong way...

Other than local news, an occasional reality show, a few classic retro shows (TV Land!), and some great stuff on HBO ("Entourage," "Curb Your Enthusiasm"), I’m not much of a television watcher. Life’s far too short to sit numbly in front of one of those things for too long. However, sometimes you just want to veg out, kick back and see what’s on. I usually do this just prior to going to sleep. So, at 4:30 a couple mornings ago (yup, I keep some very odd hours), I caught a showing of “American Idol Rewind.” I’m sure pretty much all of you are in on the “American Idol” phenomenon. I am not. But I sat through 30 minutes of this show the other morning and watched as contestant after contestant did their best to impress Simon, Randy, and Paula. Most of these contestants failed miserably. Some of them sounded like dying yaks, some sounded like air escaping from a balloon, and some sounded like...well, I’m not really sure what they sounded like. Needless to say, I was truly amazed—no, truly appalled—by what I heard. Do these people actually think they have any singing ability? Do they actually think they will be the next American Idol? Yes, sadly, I think most of the really do. This brings me to my word for the day: DELUSIONAL.

For some inexplicable reason, these people are dead certain they have true talent. They think their voice sounds like honey dripping down silk when, in fact, it sounds like corroded metal bolts clanging around in a clothes dryer. They are absolutely convinced they have what it takes to be lauded and praised from Nome, Alaska to Boca Raton, Florida. It’s the same thing with many of the budding screenwriters of the world. A vast majority have little or no talent whatsoever. Sure, most will read the books, take the classes and courses, but when all is said and done, they still won’t have the ability to write a saleable screenplay. To wit...

Today I did a critique on a TV script. After reading a mere few pages, I felt like I was Simon Cowell with one of those dreadful “singers” shrieking into his ears. This was a bad script, folks. Forget about the poor execution and the misspellings, I’m talking about mind-numbingly awful, thoroughly unrealistic scenes where you couldn’t care less what’s happening (or what was about to happen), and dialogue that reads like something ripped from a fifth grade school play (one actually written by fifth graders). I’ll tell ya, when a scene is built upon fart jokes, you know you’re in trouble. (To think this writer actually got the script registered at the WGA. Trust me when I tell you that nobody—and I mean nobody—is gonna steal this script. N-O-B-O-D-Y.) Sadly, this type of writing is the rule and not the exception. But the question I have is: Does this wannabe screenwriter actually think what he’s written is any good? Is he that delusional? Is this the best he can come up with? You might be thinking, “But surely writers improve with each script. The next one might be pretty good.” Actually, that’s not necessarily true.

A couple years ago, over a period of several months, I did three critiques for one writer. The writer got progressively worse with each script. No joke. I've found that a majority of writers’ script attempts start off in the Man, that’s really dreadful category, and after a few years of study and cranking out a handful of scripts, they’ll work their way up to Ouch, that still really sucks category. That’s not much of an improvement. I’m here to tell ya that being a dreadful screenwriter, or any variation thereof, just ain’t gonna cut it in Hollywood, New York, Canada, England...or even Bollywood!

I think back to when I first threw my hat into the screenwriting ring. I spent months on that first script. I was excited by the words I was slapping down on those pages and thrilled with how it was all turning out. But when all was said and done with that first script, I wasn’t satisfied. I just didn’t feel it was ready. Sure, a couple of friends told me they thought it was good stuff, but I knew I wasn’t ready. Not yet. So I wrote another script. That one was definitely better than the first. With what I learned on the second script, I went back and revised that first one. Both of those scripts eventually ended up in a drawer. I just knew they weren’t in any shape to be seen by anyone other than a few close friends. Point is, I didn’t delude myself. I didn’t finish the first draft of that first script and say, “Man, this is one $#&@%$ great script!” No, I was completely honest with myself. I had to be. Everyone in the world can (and will!) lie to you, but you—yes, YOU—have to be honest with yourself.

Still...knowing the humiliation they potentially face, I wonder how many “American Idol” contestants will continue to fool themselves and push forward with their dreams of stardom. I wonder how many budding scribes will keep pushing forward and never write anything of merit. My guess: plenty. So, this means “American Idol” will have its steady stream of atrocious singers searching for stardom, budding screenwriters will keep churning out unmarketable trash (and the WGA will keep collecting those registration fees!), and that’s just the way it’s gonna be. I suppose I have to admire the “never say die” attitude some of these folks have. Oh well.

Write on. Sing on.

My book, Q and A: The Working Screenwriter -- An In-the-Trenches Perspective of Writing Movies in Today's Film Industry, is available at!!



I recently read a book titled Writing Drama: A Comprehensive Guide for Playwrights and Scriptwriters, by Yves Lavandier. This is a comprehensive book that truly digs deep into what successful dramatic writing is all about. The book weighs in at about 530 pages—and that’s not including the index and glossary—so it’s something you’ll have to take a bit of time with, but I assure you, it will be time well-spent. So whether you’re a screenwriter, playwright, or novelist, I’m certain you’ll find Writing Drama valuable, insightful, and a worthy addition to your bookshelf. For more information about Writing Drama, A Comprehensive Guide for Playwrights and Scriptwriters, CLICK HERE!


A few months ago, I posted about a podcast interview I did on the Movie Geek United Show. Let me tell ya, this has turned out to be one heck of a fantastic series of shows. In recent weeks, the Geeks have interviewed directors Brian De Palma and John Badham, composers Howard Shore and Mark Isham, writer/producer Michael Grais (Poltergeist), producer A. Kitman Ho (Platoon, JFK, Born on the Fourth of July), horror actor Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), actor Joe Pantoliano...and the list goes on and on. If you haven’t checked out this show yet, I strongly urge you to go to the Movie Geeks site and download what you’ve been missing. And for those of you who didn’t catch the interview I did, simply go to the August 19th podcast and download away! (Included on my interview segment is screenwriter Allison Burnett, screenwriter of Autumn in New York, Resurrecting the Champ, and Feast of Love.) To visit Movie Geeks United, CLICK HERE!

And finally...

My friend Craig and I were at a housewarming party last night. This being Los Angeles, we got to talking to some young “movie people.” One fella was an actor, and another was a film composer, another was a budding filmmaker/screenwriter. We all got to talking about our respective favorite movies, soundtracks, and actors. Craig and I both got some blank stares after mentioning some of our selections.

I’m always left just a little incredulous when people (usually those under 30) have little notion of who Steve McQueen, Henry Fonda, or John Wayne were; or no real awareness of fantastic films such as The Great Escape, Midnight Cowboy, Rosemary’s Baby, Marathon Man, Three Days of the Condor, or, going back even further, Meet John Doe, Sullivan’s Travel’s, and Red River.

I mean, if you’re a filmmaker, screenwriter, actor, or film composer, you should have a decent grasp on movie history, right? Sure, there have been lots and lots of fantastic movies made in the last 20 years...but movies did exist back in “olden times.” If you’re not aware of some of the great films from the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, then you owe it to yourself as a filmmaker to do a little exploring. I’m sure you’ll like what you discover.

With that in mind, I thought I’d have a little fun here, so I culled together clips and trailers from some of my all-time favorite movies. These are just a very few of the movies that sent shivers down my back in dark movie theaters, sparked my imagination, and ultimately, guided me to a career in filmmaking. I hope you’ll watch some of these clips. I hope you’ll watch all of them! Then perhaps you'll watch some of these movies; and I hope they’ll spark your imagination, thrill and delight you as they did me.’ll notice that a few of these clips contain images of my all-time favorite actor—the late, great Steve McQueen (The Great Escape, Bullitt, The Towering Inferno). When it came to screen presence, he was the king. When it came to “cool,” he was the king of that, too. Enjoy!

Trailer for Midnight Cowboy (1969):

Trailer for The Towering Inferno (1974):

Trailer for The Poseidon Adventure (1972):

Trailer for Bullitt (1969):

Trailer for Rosemary’s Baby (1968):

Trailer for The Great Escape (1963):

Trailer for Goldfinger (1964):

Trailer for Marathon Man (1976):

Trailer for Electra Glide in Blue (1973)

Segment from the motorcycle chase from The Great Escape:

Tribute to Steve McQueen:


Remember earlier this week when I told you how one of my projects had been derailed? Well, a couple days ago my rep got word from the producers that they’ve had some very encouraging meetings...and the project is moving forward once again. Of course, this is all subject to change at any moment, but right now things look pretty good. The nutty roller-coaster ride continues. I’ll keep ya posted.

READER QUESTION (and some fun stuff)...

Michael wrote, asking: “I’ve just started writing a feature screenplay. How many pages should I write each day?”

Every writer has to find what works best for himself. The advice I usually give is to write something every single day. Rain or shine, night or day, in sickness or in health, even if it’s a third of a page, get something down on paper.

As for myself, every day I do something that brings me closer to my goal of getting a project completed. Even if it’s just notes, I get something done. If I’m working on a first draft of a screenplay (which is usually handwritten), I’ll typically spend 3-4 hours a day cranking out pages. At that pace, it’s not unusual for me to complete that first draft in about a week.

There are times when the going is a bit slower. Maybe some days I’ll work for just an hour a day and that first draft takes a few weeks longer. However long it takes is how long it takes. I’m happy as long as I’m getting something done on a consistent basis. But do what works best for you.

By the way, I don’t necessarily believe in setting a page-per-day quota. If I tell myself, “Today I’m gonna write fifteen pages,” and then I only write six, am I supposed to beat myself up over it? No way! Don’t you dare do that to yourself. Look, getting a script written can be difficult enough; there’s no need to make it even more difficult. So, my advice here: no quotas. Just get into the habit of writing something every day.
Every day until you get it done.
Bit by bit.
You’ll get there.
Probably quicker than you expect.

Thanks for the question, Michael. Good luck!


So last night I was once again out with my friend Craig. Late in the evening we stopped for a refreshment at a restaurant/bar in Beverly Hills. As usual, I had a cranberry juice, and Craig had...well, something that smelled like paint thinner. Anyway, there was a large table near us with about twenty people seated at it. Among them was actress Tia Carrere (True Lies, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”). Let me tell ya, she’s a nice lookin’ lady. Then another familiar face showed up: Francis Fisher (Titanic, and Clint Eastwood’s ex-girlfriend). Judging by the way she was being treated by everyone (and by how she was treating them), she seems to be an absolutely lovely woman. And oh, speaking of lovely: Earlier in the evening, Craig and I were at another restaurant, having something to drink, chatting away about this crazy WGA strike, and we kept noticing these unbelievably gorgeous young women walking up the stairs in front of us. One, then another, then another, then another. They just kept coming! I mean, we’re used to seeing gorgeous women at this particular establishment, but even this was a bit much. (Not that I’m complaining, mind you.) Anyway, we asked our bartender, “So what’s going on here?” He told us, with a big grin on his face, “Victoria’s Secret is holding a little party upstairs.” Yup, I guess that’d explain it. Only in La La Land, folks.

And finally...

There’s a new trailer for House at the End of the Drive. See it here:

The Reality of a Screenwriter’s Life...

I had a bit of a setback last week. Actually, a major setback. A script I’ve had under option for something like three years—and a script that was oh-so-close to obtaining its full financing—sort of fell apart on me. Yup, we got word several days ago that the first group of investors has backed out of the deal; and now the other group is having second thoughts about the whole thing. We’re not down for the count just yet, but it ain’t lookin’ too good. The producers say they’ll have to kick the project loose if this second group of investors decides to drop out. All the meetings, all the phone calls, all the e-mails, all the script submissions and meetings with big-name actors...and this is what it’s come down to. But ya know what? Like it or not, that’s the way this business of film works. Up one minute, down the next. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. Not just to me, but to every other screenwriter—every other filmmaker—trying to eek out a living in this cockamamie business. (And make no mistake about it—this business is cockamamie.)

A few hours ago, I got off the phone with a friend of mine who happens to be a film director. He’s done a few movies in the last handful of years. You’ve probably seen at least one of them. But anyway, here’s a guy with a halfway decent track record and even he’s struggling like crazy. Up until about a week ago, he had a pretty big movie lined up. An Academy Award-winning actor was set to star. It was a greenlit picture. Then, CRASH, it all fell to pieces. Back to square one. But again, that’s how this business works sometimes.

As for yours truly...well, I spent about twenty minutes kicking the furniture. But then I put myself back into the proper mindset and got creative. All I could think about was, “How can I get this project back on track?” “Who can I call?” That’s pretty much the only path you can take, otherwise you close up shop and sell insurance for the rest of your life. Lemme tell ya, that ain’t gonna happen. (No offense to all you insurance salesmen out there.)

But I do have other scripts in the works. As I posted in a recent blog, I just had a table-read of one of these scripts. It went very well and the producers were very happy. So I’ll press forward on that project and a couple of others I’m cranking on. Yup, it’s a lot of work, and things usually move at a snail’s pace (and that’s an awfully frustrating part of this job), but this is what I do. I have to put up with the disappointment. No real way around it.

That’s why I laugh when some newbie writer—who’s written maybe two scripts in his entire life— tells me he sent out 25 query letters and has yet to received a response. Boo hoo, I’m heartbroken. C’mon, snap out of it. Send out 25 more queries. Send 100. Send 200. Hit the streets and knock on some doors. Make some phone calls. Do what it takes. Build up your immune system. You’ll need it if you are lucky enough to join the big boys.

If you’re not willing to get your hands dirty and your hair mussed, then a cozy cubicle at ACME Insurance awaits. For me, it’s onward and upwards.


Carlo is a university student and teacher in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He has a “safe” job...but would “much, much rather” move to L.A. to be a screenwriter. He wants to know if he must live in L.A. to write. If he moves here, what are the risks? What kind of money will it take to live here? Here’s what I had to say:

No, you do not need to live in Los Angeles in order to write. You can write from anywhere in the world. My questions, Carlo: Do you have two or three really great scripts in your briefcase? Not decent scripts—great scripts; scripts that will thoroughly impress the movers and shakers here in Hollywood. If those scripts aren’t top notch, you might as well stay in Toronto. (By the way, I’ve kinda covered this ground already on my website and in this blog. If you have yet to read through them, I suggest you do so at once.)

The fact is, there’s a ton of competition here in L.A. The good news is, about 99% of the budding screenwriters in this town have scripts that are various shades of dreadful. If you’re one of those 99%, you have no business being here. If you’re of the one percent that actually has a really great script (one that screams: “I AM A MOVIE—MAKE ME!!”) then you have a pretty decent shot at some sort of success.

As for life in L.A.: Well, it’s darn expensive. I don’t know what kind of rent or mortgage you pay up in Toronto, but a 2-bedroom apartment pretty much anywhere here in town will run you roughly $2,200 a month. Sure, you can find areas that are cheaper (and some that are even more expensive!), but not by very much. The median price of a home in L.A. hovers around $500,000. In Orange County (south of L.A.), the median price is roughly $425,000. So, not exactly cheap.

Then you have transportation. Everything is so spread out around here, so you’ll need a car (and lots of $3.30/gallon gas to go in it). Sure, we have buses and a subway and train system here, but it’s only so effective; not exactly practical, especially if you have a family.

Speaking of family, you’ll want to settle in a “safe” part of town. They exist, but ya gotta do your homework. (I’m a big fan of Simi Valley, just over the hill from the San Fernando Valley. Very safe, very clean, very family oriented.)

Anyway, I think you can see where I’m going with all this. My advice is to get those scripts written, save a ton of cash, do some major homework on L.A., Ventura County, and Orange County, then get your tail down here. By the way, did you say you were married? If so, only make the move if your wife is 100% behind you. If she’s not, divorce her immediately. (Just kidding.)

I truly think it’s important for all of us to go after what we MUST have in life. If writing movies and/or television is something you absolutely MUST do, come on down and give it 110%. Life’s an adventure; if you’re just gonna play it “safe”...well, um, let’s not even go there.

Thanks for the question, Carlo. Good luck!


Got a screenwriting question you’d like answered on this blog? Great—send me those questions!


An early morning rambling...

So, yesterday I did an on-camera interview for House at the End of the Drive. If a DVD of the movie ever gets released, the interview will be part of the supplemental material. At least I’m assuming the interview will be included. I mean, I’m only the screenwriter, so ya never know. But the interview went fine. Brief, but fine. Afterwards, the producer and I viewed several hours of behind-the-scenes video footage (again, for use on the DVD). I’ll tell ya, I can’t believe the guy who shot this footage actually got paid. I’m serious. Of approximately 14 hours of footage, maybe 90 minutes of it was actually watchable. Hey, I liked the videographer very much—he just doesn’t belong behind a camera. But I got a big kick sifting through all that footage. Some fun memories. That was a fun (albeit hectic) shoot and I enjoyed working with those people. Well, most of ‘em. There were a couple crewmembers I’d like to see drawn and quartered...but I guess you have to expect that sort of thing on a movie set. Some of the behind-the-scenes footage included Lance Henriksen. Man, what a really good actor. A really nice guy, too. It was fun having him on the set for an afternoon. I guess that’s what I enjoy most about this whole filmmaking thing. It’s not necessarily the finished product (which is usually not as good as you’d hoped), it’s about the people you get to know. Once a project is over, some you’ll never see again. Some you’ll work with again on another project. Some you’ll bump into on the street or at a screening or at a party and you’ll recall the fun experience you shared once upon a time. Every so often you’ll establish a connection that blossoms into solid friendship. Back in 1988, I met an actor on a low-budget horror flick. We’re still friends to this day. Funny, on that same movie, I worked for several days with Len Lesser. You know him as Uncle Leo on “Seinfeld.” I knew who Len was when I was working with him. After all, he’d been in some very big movies back in the 60s and 70s. I felt bad that he had to work on this ultra low-budget piece of garbage. Just a few short years later, he’d become a household name with Jerry and the gang. Good for him! Len is living proof that if you keep at it, anything is possible. Look at Rodney Dangerfield. Sure, he’d had some nice success in his 30s and 40s...but he didn’t hit it really big until he was nearly sixty! Many budding screenwriters in their 50s and 60s have asked me: “Aren’t I too old to be a screenwriter?” My reply is always: “Heck no! If you’ve got the talent, Hollywood wants you.” As I write at the end of my book, Q & A: The Working Screenwriter: Follow your dreams. Live your dreams. Always. Ya know, that ain’t half bad advice.

Why do they call it La La Land, Daddy?

I stopped by the American Film Market (AFM) late yesterday. I entered the lobby of the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel and stepped into a sea of film distributors, lower-tier producers and directors, and slinky “starlets.” I’m not complaining, mind you. I mean, it’s an interesting place to hang out for an hour or two; and if you do it right, it can be a good education into how the B-movie market works. But hang out I did, out by the pool, overlooking the ocean and a beautiful setting sun. I’ll tell ya, there are only a handful of things about L.A. that I truly love and sitting on the beach on a crisp fall day, watching the sun set, is one of ‘em. So there I am out by the pool...people around me were schmoozing, making deals, and smarmy types from far-flung countries were hitting on fledgling actresses. But as enjoyable as all this was (cough, cough), once that gorgeous red sun sank beneath the horizon, I was outta there. I then took a walk up to the Coffee Bean on Wilshire and 9th, parked myself at a table, and proceeded to work on a script. My buddy Craig joined me a couple hours later. We did what we always do: talked about movies, talked about writing, and talked about a road trip we’ll eventually take. At one point in our conversation, I glanced up and saw somebody I recognized coming towards us: a heavyset man with close-cropped blonde hair. Philip Seymour Hoffman, ladies and gentlemen. He sat down at a table behind us. Now this is one actor I think very highly of. If you’ve ever seen him in anything, I’m sure you’ll agree he’s pretty amazing. I loved him in Boogie Nights. I thought he made a great bad guy in Mission: Impossible III. He was heartbreaking in Love Liza. Heck, he’s always so good. Yup, Philip Seymour Hoffman...and there he was sipping flavored iced tea at a coffee house on Wilshire Boulevard. Well, I guess this is one more reason to enjoy living in La La Land.

“WE SEE” (and other “rules”)...

The debate rages on and on and on and on. “Never use ‘we see’ in a spec script!” “Put ‘we see’ in your script and readers will toss it into the trash bin!” “Only rank amateurs put ‘we see’ in a script!”


Yes, you should definitely avoid using we see in your scripts. But the real problem isn’t the use of we see. Fact is, if it’s used properly a few times in a script, it’s not such a big deal. The reason it doesn’t work in your script (and virtually all newbie scripts) is because all the other words around it are so poorly chosen and so poorly placed. This is why we see is overlooked in pro scripts—because everything else reads so darn well.

For example, in the screenplay Heat, Michael Mann breaks every rule in the book, including multiple uses and variations of we see, but we don’t care because a) the story is so good, b) the characters are so well-defined, and c) the action makes this an exciting page-turner. Here's an example of Mann's “overuse” of we see...

CERRITO'S POV: As we approach the street, an armored truck passes by. We fall in behind. At this point we realize these men are going to pull down and armed robbery of this armored truck. But, we turn LEFT. The armored truck went straight. Then we turn RIGHT. However we SEE the armored truck again. It turns left. Our paths will intersect at 90 degrees.

Mr. Mann also grossly over-describes his settings and characters...

Planes ROAR overhead in landing or take-offs. Yellow vapor lamps glare. It's gaudy with lights. Neil and a man named NATE are parked next to each other facing opposite directions. Nate's 50 -- an ex-prizefighter with his nose all over his face in a silver Mercedes. His big muscles have gone to flab. He wears a yellow rayon shirt. He's deeply tanned and pock-marked. Nate functions as a middleman and fence for Neil. All calls from people who want to contact Neil come to Nate. Right now he examines the manila envelope from the armored truck. Neil's in a Lincoln Town car, gray suit, white shirt, no tie.

....and Mr. Mann also uses "CUT TO" after every scene!

So there you have it. Lots of broken rules, even some sloppy writing ("...his nose all over his face in a silver Mercedes."), but when a script works so well, when the characters are rich and the story compelling, we're willing to overlook such sloppiness. (You could argue that Mr. Mann wrote in this manner because it was a script he was directing himself. Still, it's a pretty fab script.)

Here’s another example of “we see” used in a perfectly acceptable manner (from the screenplay Vacancy, by Mark L. Smith):

Amy snuggles close against David. They sit together in the darkness...staring at the door.

AMY: What are they doing?

David glances up to the video camera, aimed toward them.

DAVID: They’re enjoying themselves.

We pull back away from David and Amy...back up toward the camera...farther...into the camera. David and Amy grow smaller...then darkness takes over for a moment...

...until we see David and Amy again...this time they’re lit with a green glow, like we’re watching them through nightvision goggles.

And we pull back farther...realize the image is on a VIDEO MONITOR...we drift back even more...past the head of the MAN, watching the screen.

So please, folks, don’t get soooooooo stressed out over breaking a few of the so-called rules. Nobody really cares. Just worry about the other 14,000 words in the script and you're golden.


APRIL 2015 ANNOUNCEMENT: My debut novel, Luigi's Chinese Delicatessen, is now available in paperback from and Kindle e-book! (You're gonna love it cuz it's all about Hollywood and screenwriting!)


A little observation yesterday...

So I was at a coffeehouse, seated across from a guy who was at a laptop and working on—yup, you guessed it—a screenplay. At least I think he was working on it. I say this only because each time I glanced over at him all he seemed to be doing was admiring the screen of his laptop. I mean, if he had actually been writing a screenplay, wouldn’t there have been some actual fingers upon keyboard action going on? Well, maybe this fella was just having an off day. Or maybe he had more pressing matters on his mind. Or maybe he was just stuck on what to write next. Actually, that’s probably the most reasonable explanation.

Believe me, I see this sort of thing often: the glassy-eyed stare, agonizing over just the right word, just the right sentence, just the right line of dialogue. The writer will type something, delete it, write it again, delete it, then...the blank stare. OK, sure, fine, I can understand agonizing over individual lines of action and/or dialogue when you’re at work on a fourth or fifth draft, or fine-tuning your submission draft, but if you’re in the midst of the first or even second draft, well...

I'm a firm believer in racing through early drafts, especially the first draft. Stalling out can be the death knell. When you hit a snag, it’s important for you to put something down—anything—and move forward. For instance, let’s say you have a scene where a character reads a poem. Don't stop and spend hours coming up with just the right poem. Simply write Insert Great Poem Here and move forward.

If your character tells a really funny joke, don't pace back and forth trying to come up with the joke. Simply write Insert Really Funny Joke Here and move on.

If you get to a scene but you're not quite sure how it's going to wrap up, just write notes to yourself (i.e., “Joe realizes he was wrong and tells Jill how much he truly loves her”) and move to the next scene.

Or if you have a police captain bellowing orders to his men, and you don’t quite know the appropriate cop jargon, don’t worry about it at this point. Just slap down something that sounds halfway decent and you’ll fix it later.

The point is, do not stop the progress of the script. Vomit up those ideas. Just get ‘em down. Think of the first draft as a long crawl across a scorching desert. Your only goal is to get to that oasis on the other side. Stop in the middle and you're D-E-A-D.

Believe me, I’ve seen my share of screenwriters get frustrated and overwhelmed by relatively insignificant moments in a script, then they'll stuff the script into a deep, dark drawer. So do yourself a favor: on that first draft, quit staring at that blinking cursor and move forward, forward, forward. The oasis awaits!

And while I have your undivided attention...

Pssst. How’d ya like to sit down to coffee with 16 working screenwriters? Great! And hey, you can do it without leaving the comfort of home. Yes, my book Q & A: The Working Screenwriter – An In-the-Trenches Perspective of Writing Movies in Today’s Film Industry is available online wherever fine books are sold. That’s right, ladies and gents, Allison Burnett (Autumn in New York, Resurrecting the Champ), Katherine Fugate (The Prince and Me), Brent Maddock (Tremors, The Wild Wild West), John Rogers (The Core), David J. Schow (The Crow), Stephen Susco (The Grudge), and ten other working scribes have much to say—and they’re saying it to YOU. Question is: Are you listening?

Buy Q and A: The Working Screenwriter here!

The script read-through...

Yesterday I had a table-read of a script I was hired to write. The purpose, obviously, was to hear the script out loud and see if there was anything that just wasn’t working – perhaps some clunky dialogue (in my script??) or scenes going on too long or passing too swiftly (in my script??). But wait, I need to back up just a bit.

The meeting was scheduled for 3:30. I got into the general neighborhood of the studio by 3:00 but decided to park a few blocks away and walk. (I’m the only person in L.A. who actually likes to walk. Seriously, I used to walk from Beverly Hills to Santa Monica and back, a 14 mile round trip, just for fun.) So anywho, I’m walking over to the studio and my cell goes off. It was my manager. Here’s our brief conversation:

ME: Hey, what’s up?
HER: Where are you?
ME: I’m walking over to the studio now.
HER: Are you trying to be fashionably late?
ME: Late? It was for 3:30.
HER: No, 3:00.
ME: 3:00?!
HER: We’re all here waiting for you.
ME: Yikes! OK, I’ll be there in ten minutes.

Now, you have to understand that I’m never late for anything. When I say I’ll be somewhere at 3:30, I’ll be there at 3:30. If for some odd reason I am late (abnormal traffic, nuclear attack, etc.), then I’ll call and let the other party know. But 99% of the time I’m there when I’m supposed to be. Anyway, I started jogging to the studio. Actually, I think running would be far more accurate. I got to the main gate, was waved through, and then did a swift walk across the lot to the producer’s bungalow. As I’m moving through the lot, I passed several security guards. Some were patrolling around in golf carts, some were directing traffic…and all I kept thinking about was how much I’d like to be out there with 'em. (For those of you who don’t know, I worked studio security at two huge movie studios for five years. I loved every minute of it.) But anyway...

I arrived at the bungalow, walked in, went to the large conference room…and found seven actors, three producers and my manager waiting. As I stepped in, everyone looked at me. “Well, look who decided to show up!” Nobody seemed genuinely perturbed, but still. “Hey, don’t blame me. I was told three o’clock.” So I took my seat and the reading began.

About 95 minutes later, the words Fade Out and The End were uttered, and a huge round of applause went up. I applauded right back. Those actors did a really good job. Then we all discussed the script. Some of the actors had questions about a few of the story points. Nothing major, just some things they had concerns about. I’ll admit, it’s a pretty trippy script and it’ll throw you for a loop. But hey, that’s what I want. That’s what my producers want.

Before leaving, all the actors came over to shake my hand and tell me how much they enjoyed the reading. Once the actors were gone, I sat with my producers and manager. We discussed some story points and ways to bolster them. I'm sure I can make the changes easily enough. (At least I hope so.) But my producers were very pleased with how things went. So was I.

And finally...when I got home last night, I checked my old e-mails and saw that I was correct – the start time I was told was definitely 3:30. Somebody obviously made a change and forgot to tell me. Typical, isn’t? The writer is always the last to know.

K.I.S.S. = Keep It Simple Screenwriter

Budding writers will ask, “Is my idea original? Do you think it could sell?” And that’s when I ask, “Will this be your first script?” If the answer is “yes,” then I’ll tell them, “I wouldn’t be too concerned about coming up with an original, saleable idea just yet.” Then I’ll tell them, “Your chances are pretty high that whatever you write at this stage in your career won’t be worthy of showing to anybody in Hollywood. Right now your goal is (or should be) to write a structurally sound and coherent screenplay.” Hey, it’s tough enough just getting that screenplay written – one that makes any sense whatsoever – so why make it even more difficult by racking your brain, trying to come up with some highly original, slam-bang idea? (I always find it odd how some novice writers tend to pick the most complex, “original” storylines for their first venture into screenwriting.) So for now, leave that “ultra hot idea” on the backburner and choose something simple and uncomplicated for that first script.

Now you’re asking: “Like what?” I suggest you take an event from your life. Perhaps a story all about the first girl (or guy) you fell in love with, or perhaps your first crazy week of high school or college, or the first days at some mind-numbingly boring (or intoxicatingly exciting!) job you once had. Whatever. Point is, write about something you have first-hand knowledge about; something where the story is literally at your fingertips. The rest – structure, character arc, realistic/plausible dialogue, etc. – you’ll have to eventually figure out; but believe me, all that stuff is a heck of a lot less difficult to navigate if you know your story inside and out.

Always remember that this early phase in your career is all about learning. It’s about trial and error. It’s about discovering what works for you and what doesn’t. Don’t worry if your writing stinks at first. Your job now is to find out why it stinks and move forward. Also remember that you’ll probably have to write a few scripts before you really get a handle on what this screenwriting thing is all about. You might need to write a dozen scripts. There’s a very good chance you’ll never get a handle on it. Sorry, that’s just the way it is.

Also, when you write your first script, you might consider writing a short, something in the 40-page range. Your first act will be roughly five pages, your second act will be roughly thirty pages, and your third act will be roughly five pages. Yup, a short is very doable, very manageable – and you’ll have the satisfaction of having a completed script in about one-third the time!

So keep it simple, Screenwriter. For that first or second screenplay, aim for a coherent, readable script with a relatively simple storyline and save the intricate political thriller for another day.

Don’t worry, you can thank me later.

There's more to a good script than formatting...

All of us hope we’ve got a fabulous story poured into a page-turning screenplay. The reality is, a relative few of us have the former; fewer still have mastered the mechanics of the latter. As a script consultant, I’ve read my fair share of badly executed scripts. Unfortunately, my experience has shown me that “badly executed” is the rule and not the exception.

Below you’ll find an example of what a novice screenplay can read like. Some read better, some far worse, but this example is fairly typical. Except for the dialogue, the formatting in this particular example is pretty much on target – and let’s assume the story is something we’d pay ten bucks to see in a theater – but there’s more to a saleable screenplay than a solid story and proper formatting. After all, a producer can forgive some basic formatting errors, but if the overall execution is severely lacking, if you are unable to convey your ideas properly, there’s a very good chance he won’t have confidence in the remainder of the script and will toss it in the trash bin before page ten. With this in mind, let’s take a look at our sample...


It's your typical bar. Joe walks into the bar and looks all around the place. He remembers what it was like the first time he came in here years ago. He turns to the left and sees a woman sitting at the bar. Her name is SHEILA (about 52) and has long red hair. She’s an alcoholic.

Joe wanders around the place a little then sits down at a table. He waves his arm to a passing WAITRESS (short blonde hair, attractive and in her 20s).

WAITRESS (to Joe): Hi, welcome to Frank’s Bar. What can I get for you?

JOE: I’d like a beer. A light beer. And I’d like some information about something.

WAITRESS: Information about WHAT?

JOE: About Larry.

WAITRESS: Larry? What about him?

JOE: Bring me the beer and I’ll tell you. I'll even give you fifty dollars for your time.

The waitress walks away to get the beer. Joe SITS at the table for a few minutes as he looks around the bar. There are lots of UNUSUAL PEOPLE there. Joe smiles.

OK, so let’s take a closer look at this example...

Don’t tell us it’s “MONDAY NIGHT” in your scene heading slug. If it’s truly important that we know it’s Monday night, and it probably isn’t, then superimpose that over the scene itself, like this:


Don’t be lazy in your descriptions. Don’t tell us it’s “a typical bar.” What’s typical? Is it a classy bar? A bleak, depressing bar? You don’t need to go into great detail, but paint a thumbnail picture of the place.

The word "bar" is used twice in one line. Then it's used again a few lines later. Don't repeat words!

How do we know Joe remembers something from years ago? We don’t. If we can’t see it or hear it, then it doesn’t belong in the script. (Well, 99% of the time, anyway.) If you’ve set up in an earlier scene that Joe has a history at this bar, then you can have him look around the place and smile. If you set it up right, we’ll connect this to his past history there.

You don’t necessarily need to get overly specific with character’s movements. We don’t care if he turns to the left or the right. Just tell us “he turns" or "he glances over."

I love it when writers tell us the specific age of an insignificant character. At this point, we don’t really know if Sheila is important to the plot, but let’s say she’s not. We don’t care if she’s “about 52.” (Why “about 52?” Either she’s 52 or she’s not!) Just tell us she’s “early-50s” or just tell us she’s “middle-aged.” Also, do we meet Sheila later in the story? If not, we don’t care what her name is. You can just refer to her as the "middle-aged lush (a more descriptive word than "alcoholic") seated at the bar.” Sure, you could tell us she's got red hair, but it's not really pertinent. Let the director, casting director and wardrobe people come up with a look for Sheila.

Why is Joe wandering around the bar? Why are we wasting time with this? Is he doing anything? Is he looking for something or at something? If so, tell us what he’s doing. If not, then keep things moving and get him seated at the table.

Why is Joe waving his arms at the Waitress? This is something so many novice writers do. They describe an action incorrectly or they exaggerate the action to comic proportions. Joe’s not waving his arms; he’s simply motioning to the waitress, or he catches her attention.

Now, is the age and appearance of the Waitress of importance? Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. Again, don’t get bogged down in your descriptions of insignificant characters. With the above example, you could simply write, “Catches the attention of the cute, 20-ish WAITRESS.” We don't care if her hair is blonde, brunette, short or long (again, unless it's pertinent).

Is it necessary Joe order a “light” beer? If not, cut it. Besides, it makes him seem wimpy. Is he a wimp? Then OK, light beer is fine. But if you’re making a point of it and it’s not part of the character or plot, get rid of it.

Now let’s look at the dialogue...

We know the Waitress is speaking to Joe, so there’s no need for the parenthetical. We know where Joe is and Joe knows where he is, so we don’t need the Waitress wasting time with “Welcome to Joe’s Bar.” In reality, what waitress is gonna say that? “What can I get for you?” is awkward dialogue. “What’ll it be?” or “What can I get ya?” would be more realistic. Write the way people actually talk.

Why does Joe ask for information at this point? There's probably no need to waste time with this additional dialogue. Joe can simply ask for the info when she returns with the beer a moment later.

Should you cap the word “what”? Nope, no need to.

Back to the stage directions/actions...

No need to tell us the “Waitress walks away to get the beer.” Too wordy, too awkward. We know where she’s going. Just tell us “She moves off.”

Why are you capping "SITS"? Stop that.
Why are you capping "UNUSUAL PEOPLE"? Stop that.

We know he's sitting at the table, so there's no need to remind us.

Do we actually watch Joe sit there for “a few minutes”? If Joe looks around the room and observes the odd people surrounding him, that’s fine, but we’re not gonna take three or four minutes to watch him do it. Describe in real time, folks.

OK, so here’s a quickie rewrite of the above scene:


Dark, seedy, a pit of society. Joe comes in, takes a look around. A thin smile comes to his face.


He moves to a table, takes a seat. He motions to a passing WAITRESS, a leggy cutie in a mini-skirt. She steps over, flashes perfect teeth.

WAITRESS: Howdy. What can I get ya?
JOE: Beer.
WAITRESS: Comin' up.

She moves off. Joe scans the place. There’s a middle-aged lush at the bar, talking to herself. At another table, a creepy guy nurses a drink. Joe seems amused by it all.

The Waitress returns with the beer, sets it down.

WAITRESS: Anything else?

Joe slaps a fifty on the table.

JOE: Need some information.

She eyes the cash.

WAITRESS: This about Larry?
JOE: Yeah.

She swipes up the fifty.

WAITRESS: Not here. I get off in fifteen minutes.

OK, so there you have a one page example. Just extrapolate these handful of problems over the subsequent 100 pages and you’ve got a script that needs plenty of work. Scripts that need plenty of work generally don’t make it past the gatekeepers. So yes, have a really hot story idea, be concerned with format, but get those 15,000 words laid out in a manner that makes your screenplay a swift, entertaining read. That's half your battle. Maybe more.

* * *
APRIL 2015 ANNOUNCEMENT: My debut novel, Luigi's Chinese Delicatessen, is now available in paperback from Amazon.con and Kindle e-book! You're gonna love it cuz it's all about Hollywood and screenwriting!


To those of you attending the Screenwriting Expo next week...

The fine folks at the Writers Store have asked me to stop by their booth during the Expo and sign some copies of my book, Q and A: The Working Screenwriter: An In-the-Trenches Perspective of Writing Movies in Today's Film Industry. I’ll try to be there on Friday, but more than likely I’ll be there on Saturday (late morning). So I hope you’ll stop by. If I’m there, pick up a copy of my book and say hello. If I’m not there, pick up a book anyway!

Making the cut...

Last night, sitting alone in a producer’s screening room, I watched yet another cut of my horror flick House at the End of the Drive. There have been three previous cuts. The first was the Director’s Cut. After a big screening at the DGA, we realized this cut wasn’t quite on target. So we tweaked a couple of scenes and shot a couple days of additional footage.

Several months (and a significant amount of money) later and we had the Producer’s Cut. Luckily, I was able to work my way into the editing room on that one, making a few suggestions here and there. Happily, several of these suggestions were incorporated. Then we had another big screening. The audience seemed to respond quite favorably. Sure, there were still things I thought should be reworked or tweaked, but we had a pretty solid product on our hands.

Then the producer decided to put the movie into the hands of some people who he thought could make some changes that would make the movie more attractive to distribution companies. In the film business, this is what we refer to as A BIG MISTAKE.

Several weeks ago, I watched a partially completed version of what I refer to as the Piece of Sh*t Cut. I was so upset as I watched it, I fought hard to sit still and not climb a wall. Luckily, the producer was almost as livid as I was. These goofballs apparently had no idea what a movie was. They somehow managed to turn a decent little horror flick into a major piece of trash. I won’t go into detail about what they did cuz it’ll just raise my blood pressure, but lemme tell ya, it was baaaaaad.

Happily, in recent weeks, the producer has been able to restore the movie to pretty much the same shape as it was during its Producer’s Cut phase. There are also a few nice additions that I really liked. There are still some moments that make me wince, but I’m hoping they’ll be fixed – or completely excised from the final cut. (Sadly, one of the things cut from this version happens to by my police officer cameo at the start of the movie. Such is life, eh?)

Look, this is a B-movie. I don’t expect it to win any awards or rack up huge grosses, but it's a fun little ghost story. It’s entertaining. Or it will be. At least I think so. I’ll keep you posted.

Ladies and Gentlemen...The Shins!

The other night – the night of the near miss with Ivan Reitman – my buddy and I went to a very plush bar at a very plush hotel on the edge of Bev Hills. (FYI: I don’t drink, but my buddy does. So I just watch him drink while I down diet soda and/or cranberry juice. Don’t want you thinkin’ I’m a lush.) Anyway, we’re sitting there having a nice chat...and the guy sitting next to us joins the conversation. Turns out he’s from New York City. Just so happens I’m (originally) from New York City, so we talk about what a great city it is. He’s buying us drinks and we’re buying him drinks. He eventually tells us he’s the manager for a band called The Shins. I’ve never heard of The Shins. Hey, I barely know who Avril Levigne is, so no big deal. Anyway, one thing leads to another and our new pal invites us to see The Shins play Sunday night at The Greek Theater.

I need to point out that I don’t go to concerts. I’ve seen very, very few in my lifetime. Let’s see, I saw ELO back in 1981...I saw Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick several times in the 90s...I saw Eric Clapton back in about 1993 (cuz my friends had extra tickets and I went along for the ride)...I saw the Monty Python troupe at the Hollywood Bowl back in 1982...and I’ve seen maybe two or three other live stage performances...and t-t-t-that’s all, folks. So yeah, not a big concert-goer. But hey, our pal from NYC is a nice enough guy, and my buddy loves live sure, I’d love to go!

So last night we went. Let me tell ya, the Greek Theater is a lovely venue. It’s outdoors and nestled in the Hollywood Hills. (Last time I was there was in the mid-70s. I saw Carol Channing in some live comedy show. Whatever.) When we picked up our tickets from the will-call window, we were pleasantly surprised that our NYC pal also left us passes for the hospitality area. Nice. Lots of arty types. I overheard a guy ask a young gal: "So, what do you do?" The young gal responded with: "I’m a writer." (When people ask me what I do, I tell ‘em, "I clean toilets at the airport." They tend to leave me alone after that.) After a bit of time hangin’ in the hospitality area, my buddy and I took our seats. We we’re just a handful of rows from the main stage. I was feeling a little too old to be in this particular crowd of 20- and 30-year-olds, but I felt a lot better when I spotted a 70-year-old guy sitting a few seats behind me.

Anyway, the boys from The Shins eventually came onstage and played their first number. I’ll admit, I liked what I heard. Keep in mind, I don’t like about 98% of what I hear these days. But I liked the persona this group had. They seemed fun, good-natured, professional; they didn’t seem like they were trying to act cool. They merely played their music...and they did it well. My buddy and I wanted to beat the mad rush out of The Greek Theater, so we left after about an hour. While The Shins don’t play music I’d rush out to buy, I will give them a thumbs up. I wish them much success.

So, what was the point of this little story? Um, actually, there was no real point. Not really. But I guess it kinda backs up what I always tell people: If you’re a screenwriter, you can’t hole yourself up in your room day and night. You need to get out in the world and meet people – shmooze a little – cuz the next guy you meet might be a hot-shot Hollywood director or the manager of a big-time pop band...and those are two business cards it can’t hurt to have in your Rolodex.

Of course, this "getting out into the world" thing really only works if you live in Los Angeles. If you live elsewhere – for instance, Ames, Iowa – then you're pretty much up a creek without a paddle. Sorry.

Visit me at -- a site for the pre-pro screenwriter!

Script length: the debate rages on...

Budding writers continually ask, "What if my feature script is only 70 pages?" Um, 70 pages, for a feature screenplay? Nope, sorry, too thin. If you adhere to the minute-per-page rule (which isn’t all that accurate), then you’re gonna have a movie that’s an hour and ten minutes long. Not even Woody Allen cuts ‘em that short! Besides, if you send a 70-page script to an agent or producer, they’ll label you as a rank amateur. When you’re trying to get a career off the ground, that’s the last thing you want. An intriguing, well-told story (for a feature-length screenplay) typically has peaks and valleys and twists and turns. It’s difficult including those things in a swiftly told story. So if thin scripts are your thing, go ahead and write short films. Nothing wrong with that. Just don’t pass ‘em off as features.

So why is your script so short?

Flip through the script. How’s your action to dialogue ratio? Is it a little heavy in the ol’ chit-chat department? I find that many budding scribes rely too heavily on dialogue to tell their story. Not too long ago, I did a critique on a horror screenplay that was 98 pages – and 95% of it was dialogue! Screenplays are not about dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. Screenplays are about actions. They are about people doing things. Things are happening. This is why we call them motion pictures. If the writer of that 98-page script had bothered to include sufficient directions/actions, he would’ve ended up with 130-pages...and that’s waaaaaay too long for a typical horror script.

So no, 70 pages ain’t gonna cut it for a feature. You’ll have to bring up that page count at least another 15-20 pages.

In a previous blog (3/26/07), I offered page counts suggestions for various genres. I also discussed the one page = one minute of screen time "rule." If you haven’t read that particular entry, I suggest you do so.

Only in Hollywood...

Last night I’m with my buddy at this sushi restaurant in Beverly Hills. (I should point out that I am not a fan of raw fish. One or two pieces and that's pretty much it for me. But whatever.) So, we were sitting at the sushi bar, gabbing about all the usual stuff: movies, screenwriting, travel, the drop-dead gorgeous hostess who seated us. Then, just as we’re about to get up and leave, producer-director Ivan Reitman comes in and sits down right next to us. Sure, you know Ivan Reitman, the guy behind such films as Ghostbusters, Animal House, Stripes, and Dave. Now, what makes this story kinda sorta funny is this: mere minutes earlier, my buddy and I had been discussing the script for Distrubia, a nifty little thriller that came out earlier this year. Mr. Reitman just happened to be the executive producer on that film. Great, the executive producer of Disturbia (not to mention a few dozen other movies) sits down next to us...and we’re just about to walk out the door! Ohhhh, if only my friend had just one more glass of sake!

My book, Q and A: The Working Screenwriter -- An In-the-Trenches Perspective of Writing Movies in Today's Film Industry, is available at!!

Interview: Writer's groups...

Here's an article from that I think you'll find interesting. I was one of a handful of writers interviewed for the piece. Oddly enough, I kinda forgot about the interview (which was done a couple months ago) until someone alerted me to it earlier today. But I'm glad they did cuz I think there's some good stuff there for anyone thinking of starting or joining a writer's group.

Always room for improvement...

I wrote a horror script a few years back. Well, more than a few. More like seven. In the last few years I’ve optioned this script a number of times. At one point, the script was oh-so-close to selling and going into pre-production. The script was under option with yet another producer until just two months ago. That’s when I decided to give the script a read-through (it’s been a while since I’d read it) and see where I could make some improvements. A tweak here, a tweak there...just clean it up a bit before I start sending it back into the world. Now, you might be asking, “If you’ve been getting such a positive response from the script, why mess with it?” Sure, I’ve had my fair share of producers rave about the script. They love it for its creepy mood and, as with all my scripts, its succinct, page-turning style. But still, there’s always room for a bit of improvement in any script. So I sat down with the script last week, red pen in hand, and got to work. Believe me, a significant amount of time away from a script is a very good thing. I guess I’ve become a better writer in seven years (I’d hope so!) because I found a few things that really made me cringe. When all was said and done, I had laid down a decent amount of red ink. No, I didn’t find anything significant to change. The story worked just fine and the characters were well-defined, but I did find some awkward lines of dialogue and some slightly unwieldy descriptive passages. (If you can cut 27 words down to 22 words, do it.) I also found a story point or two that I could bolster and clarify. By the time I was done with the revision, my script was even better than before. Good thing too, cuz I already have a producer interested in giving it a read.