Q&A with Screenwriter/Author Rich Whiteside...




Q: So, Rich, tell us about yourself—and why you wrote The Screenwriting Quick Start.

A: The Screenwriting Quick Start is written for those new to screenwriting and is based on twenty-eight years of uniquely-broad Hollywood experiences. I’ve been a technical and journalistic writer for more than thirty-five years. I have written or co-written a couple dozen screenplays. In 1998, Penguin Putnam published my book The Screenwriting Life—a look at the world of screenwriting. I have written for Script magazine (when it was in print form), screenwriting newsletters and screenwriting websites. Industrywise, I have acted on Prime-Time television shows, contributed story elements to television shows as a subject matter expert, pitched episodic stories, pitched series concepts to network television development executives, pitched feature concepts to drama development executives at major studios, had a feature script optioned and moved to production, and interviewed more than a hundred writers, producers, directors, studio executives, agents, screenwriting professors, and authors of popular screenwriting how-to books. I worked for more than a decade at Paramount Pictures and CBS/Paramount in Network Television Business Affairs and Network Television Legal. As to formal screenwriting training, I completed three years in the UCLA Advanced Professional Program in Screenwriting and have introductory experience with the USC World Building approach. I’ve long been an avid screenwriting student.
Over the past twenty-eight years, I have also had a fascination with story structuring and storytelling. My office bookshelves are filled with screenwriting and storytelling how-to books—heavily underlined, I might add—including many lesser known books, some dating back to the start of filmmaking.

Q: Who best benefits from your book?

A: I wrote the book primarily for vast audience of writers who are new to screenwriting. However, there are insights that will absolutely benefit the experienced writer. In fact, one of my test readers is a highly successful actress-writer-producer with pages of credits. When she read the chapters on Politics and Development, she discovered insight about how TV development works that she never knew. And those insights helped her make sense about why several deals went south. She told me that had she known what she learned in my book before going into those negotiations, it would have helped her tremendously. What I cover in this book I have not found covered well in any other book or publication. For example, I don’t know anyone who has talked about the prime-time major network TV year. In network television, there is a distinct TV year that begins and ends with the Up Fronts in mid-May.
The major seasons are pitching season, pilot writing season, and pilot production season. Then for running TV shows, there is a period for season development (plotting out the overall arc for the year), staffing season (when the show rehires staff, replaces staff and brings on an entry-level staff writer), and then the episodic writing and producing. And within each of these seasons there are a lot of moving parts that overlap and are interdependent. Understanding the vagaries of all this helps those who are struggling to break in. Understanding the system helps eliminate some of the frustrations by informing the writer when it is ideal to expend certain effort and when not to waste your time. For example, if you try to pitch a new pilot idea during pilot producing season (January to May), you are wasting your time.

Q: Why aren’t they taking pitches during pilot producing season?

A: The simple answer is that each network has a designated pot of money to pay for a pilot to be written. Once they have expended that pot, there is no need to take any more pitches because there is no money to pay for the writing. In general, pilots are pitched starting as early as June; pilot script orders could be handed out as early as then, but generally not until a bit later. Then, usually, by November all the major networks have handed out their allotment of pilot writing monies. After that, unless a studio is willing to pay for a script to be written, pitching season is over. When I worked at Paramount Network Television Business Affairs, the studio rarely paid for a pilot script, but it did happen. So, if you are a struggling writer and you are out there pounding on doors from November to May, they’re not going to open. I’d recommend they put their effort into something else to further develop their skills.
Now, all this only applies to prime-time, major networks. Today, there are many other episodic platforms, such as, Netflix, Amazon, and all the non-major network channels. I can’t speak too much about development seasons in these avenues because I have little experience with them. But I can tell a writer to not go after pitching to major networks outside of their pitching season. Instead, maybe invest time into finding ways to reach out to the other venues.

Q: Is there anything unique or new to the world of screenwriting how-to books?

A: Yes. Since 1989, I have invested thousands upon thousands of hours into studying nearly all the major story structuring and storytelling how-to books and programs. I also completed three years in UCLA’s Advanced Professional Program in Screenwriting and have taken classes on USC’s World Building approach. Also, over the years, I have helped new writers get a screenwriting start. As I looked back through all this experience, I realized writers pretty much fit into one of three groups when it comes to a structuring approach that best suits them. I also posit that the greatest value of any structuring approach is its ability to motivate the writer to start writing and keep writing. The only way to grow as a writer is to write. Structure books have little value if they fail to help the new writer start and keep on writing. I think that what I have added that is new is my belief that writers can be divided into one of three groups and then directed to structuring approaches that best fits their writing style.
When I looked back through all that I had learned and experienced, I realized that writers tend to fall into one of three groups (what I refer to as the three lanes in the structuring road): those who want the least amount of handholding, those who want some handholding, and those who want a lot of handholding. I believe that those who want the least handholding work best when given the basics and then are left alone. For this group, I’d suggest an Aristotelian approach—basically, Aristotle’s beginning, middle and end teaching. For those who want a little more handholding, I’d recommend a scene sequencing approach. This is the concept that stories can be broken down into a sequence of small stories that build to tell a larger story. In that approach, the writer identifies the sequences and then writes each short story—and each sequence will have its own beginning, middle, and end. And for those who need the most handholding, I’d recommend a roadmap approach. And in my book, I describe the basics of each of these approaches and recommend some books that I like.
This is not to put down any one of these approaches because each approach has generated a major hit. Again, keep in mind that the greatest value of any of these approaches is its ability to get a writer writing and to keep them writing.

Q: I see you have a section on Commonly Debated Topics. What’s that about?

A: I’m sure you can relate to this. How many times have you weighed in on questions posted online about theme that led to endless arguments over definitions of theme, premise, moral and message? Probably more than you want to admit. I have a chapter that lays out the basic conflicting points of view in the most often posted questions. I tried to be more of a journalist in this section and present the different points of view. I suggest to my readers that they read this chapter and then skip over all those online posts because they all end up as nothing more than angry back-and-forth exchanges. I’m convinced that most of those posters don’t really care to learn, they merely want to start threads that bring out bickering. I have wasted too many hours on these arguments when I could’ve been working on productive writing.

Q: How important is goalsetting?

A: I think it’s critical. The people I’ve met who do not have short-term and long-term goals tend to wait for inspiration that rarely comes. Without a disciplined plan, too many aspiring writers fall into the trap of writing only when inspiration and free time hit them—which is not often enough to grow and turn out enough product to launch a career. Goalsetting is a critical element of accomplishment. I wrote this short chapter to recommend that writers craft a plan for education, writing, and networking. I believe that a disciplined routine is the best way to succeed.

Q: Do you need to understand Hollywood politics before venturing in—or can you wing it and succeed?

A: No, but understanding how the system works will very likely help avoid wasting time and running down rabbit trails. It can also give you a level of comfort to know how the system grinds. Most things are out of your control. Understand and accept this and do what has the potential to move the needle forward for you. Accept the fact that, compared to the numbers who are trying, exceedingly few will sell a script or get staffed. So don’t waste time worrying about what you can’t control. Learn what you can control and do all that you can to become one of those few. Have a day job and invest time into writing, networking, and everything else that has the potential to open doors.

Q: How does TV development differ from feature development?

A: In short, TV development last for that year only. At the end of the TV year, 99% of that year’s unproduced deals are dead and put in storage, and the TV year starts out afresh. At the top of the year, networks are deciding what pitches they are open to and what ideas they are not interested in hearing. That is passed to the studios and agencies and pitching season begins. When a pilot concept moves into development, the studio development exec works with the writer(s) on the pitch. If a network likes a pitch and places a script order, the writer must address notes from the studio development exec as well as network notes. Then you wait to see if it gets a pilot order. If it doesn’t, that’s pretty much the end of the line.
In feature development, scripts can flounder in development hell for years or decades as the production company works to get a draft that has the potential to reach the demographics they need to meet to realize the predicted sales necessary to justify production and turn a profit. In the mix are bean counters who estimate what revenues can be expected to come in and what markets the story will work well in and which markets will it not work well in. From that, the studio may choose to give notes to the writer to address market weaknesses. This is where scripts can be improved or, frankly, fall apart. We’ve all see movies after which you wonder how the hell something so convoluted got made. I blame the bean counters and production execs trying to force a round peg into a square hole.
Feature development seems to be more about finding a vision that the production company will get behind and fund producing. For big budget movies, it’s also about locking down A-list talent (directors, actors, producers, etc.). Feature production is more like a putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Again, you can make better decisions the better you understand how the system works. The Screenwriting Quick Start provides a foundational understanding for those just starting down the Hollywood rabbit trail.


Buy it on Amazon today!




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No witches, warlocks or vampires...
just a sexy tale about a guy trying to live the Hollywood dream...

"The Words"...





There’s this glorious and astounding magic that happens when I put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard...

I go to this alternate realm of consciousness. 


It’s where I meet characters who speak to me, who take me to interesting places, and who introduce me to compelling situations. 


I’m not certain where any of this comes from because none of it was there when I sat down, when I was convinced I didn’t have any words in me. 












But still, it's all there. 


So even when the thought of a blank page makes me feel a little queasy, I force myself into that chair anyway... 


...and it's after a minute or two of laying down those once elusive words that I have to wonder what all the fuss was about. 


The words come...



...they always do.









Copyright © 2017 by Jim Vines

Q & A with...Mark Sanderson



Q: So, Mark…what influenced you to become a screenwriter?

A: My interest to become a screenwriter and filmmaker started when I was just eleven years old. My childhood best friend, Matt Reeves (director of Cloverfield, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and War for the Planet of the Apes), received an 8 mm film camera from his grandpa, and it’s the event that sparked our passion to become filmmakers. We started making short films, writing screenplays, and became part of a collective group of pre-teen filmmakers on the Westside of Los Angeles that included J.J. Abrams (Star Wars Episode VII) and Larry Fong (Watchmen, Kong: Skull Island). It culminated with a big screening at the historical Nuart Theater here in Los Angeles. The sold-out screenings even garnered a feature article in the L.A. Times and showed Hollywood that we were serious about our craft—even as teenagers. I continued to write and direct my own films throughout my high school years and then when I attended UCLA Film School. Screenwriting has been a huge part of my life, and I was blessed from an early age to be able to pursue my dream of being a filmmaker.

Q: How-to books: a help or hindrance?

A: Well, considering that I just published one on Amazon—they’re a help! My new book, A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success: Tips, Tricks and Tactics to Survive as a Working Screenwriter in Hollywood is the culmination of my past twenty years working professionally in Hollywood. My desire is to help aspirants by offering my advice so they can avoid some of the nasty pitfalls that can hinder many screenwriters from realizing their dreams. I think that all aspirants should read the well-known books like Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story, and Robert McKee’s Story, but also read screenwriting blogs and as much as you can from other successful screenwriters about the craft and the journey. Be warned—you shouldn’t think it’s as easy as following one screenwriting formula and you’ll end up with a fantastic screenplay. As they say, you have to know the rules before you can break them. There’s so much more involved in the craft than a simple storytelling formula. Study the various storytelling techniques and use what you agree with, and discard the rest. Over time and with experience, you’ll form a style that’s uniquely your own and influenced by those you admire. That’s my recommendation.

Q: What is a “marketable” screenplay?

A: It’s a viable screenplay ready to go out into the marketplace that could be purchased by a producer or company based upon its high concept and near perfect execution of that idea. It’s also written in a genre that sells or is in demand today in Hollywood. The screenplay must reach the largest audience possible to have a return on its budget. Every film has investors and a lot of money rides on the success of the final product. Remember, Hollywood is running a business and not a charity. You want all of your screenplays to be marketable to compete in a very competitive industry.

Q: What are five big blunders most neophyte screenwriters make with their early scripts?

A: 1.) They don’t respect the craft enough and believe that one screenplay will jump-start their career. If you don’t even know proper format, how is anyone going to take you seriously as a screenwriter.

2.) Before they commit to an idea, they don’t consider “why” they are writing their particular story or who their audience is. “I thought it would be a good idea for a movie” isn’t enough these days.

3.)  They don’t create a solid story treatment before starting to write pages. When they reach ACT 2, they get lost and their story collapses.

4.)  They believe that every screenplay they write is going to sell for a million dollars. The truth is that most of what you write is not going to sell. If it opens a door or lands you a job—that’s success.

5.)  They eagerly rush through their script and present it to Hollywood before it’s ready. This will harm the project and your reputation as a professional.

Q: Before querying agents, managers, and/or producers, how many marketable screenplays should a screenwriter have available—and why?

A: I would have three solid screenplays ready before you ever go out with just one. I’ve seen writers who finish their first screenplay, think it’s amazing, and start approaching agents. It’s too early. Agents and managers want to see that you have a solid body of work that shows your talent but also shows your serious attitude about a career. After you go out with a script and it gets you meetings, you will need a follow up project and new pitch ideas. It’s going to take maybe three or four scripts (with many drafts of each) just to get a handle on the craft. The worst decision you can make it to approach the industry before you are ready. The competition is too intense and you’ll get eaten alive. In addition, you’ll waste the precious time of those who agree to read your script and it’s probably not ready to compete professionally. Aspirants need to learn and practice patience. This is not a sprint, but a long haul marathon to reach any level of success.

Q: Are screenwriting competitions—e.g., Nicholl, Austin, and BlueCat—the magic bullet for a budding screenwriter’s career? 

A: No, just because you win or place in a contest does not mean you will instantly sell scripts and have a career. What the competitions offer is a fantastic way of getting noticed and then it’s much easier to get agents, managers, and producers to read your work. Consider the competitions as another tool in your arsenal to open doors in Hollywood. Back in the day before I was a working screenwriter, I entered my script in the prestigious Academy’s Nicholl Fellowship with the hopes of winning one of the yearlong fellowships. My script ended up being a semi-finalist, placing in the top 1% of all entries as a top twenty screenplay out of thousands entered worldwide, but they picked the top nine writers for the fellowship that year. I could have looked upon this as a complete failure, but I used my script’s advanced placement as a successful step forward and was able to get agents and producers to read it because of my achievement. A year later, I sold my script as my first spec sale. The film was produced and later opened the Palm Springs International Film Festival, premiered on cable TV in the US, and was distributed worldwide. So, yes—if you can win or place in the competitions, it can certainly help your screenwriting career.

Q: Just because you have an agent and/or a manger, that doesn’t mean the writing gigs will come flooding in. How much truth is there in that statement? 

A: There is a lot of truth to that statement. It’s vital to eventually sign with an agent or manger to establish a career, but even then you have no guarantees. You will be competing with other professional writers, sometimes going after the same jobs, and the clock will be ticking for your rep to secure you employment. If you go out with two or three scripts that do not sell or land you assignment work, the agency might grow cool and drop you as a client. Agents or managers survive on their commissions from clients and rarely look to “break in” an unknown writer—it’s just too much work. They also look for a client who is a talented workhorse and ultimate professional. They don’t want any surprises once you secure a job and then your attitude or inability to execute notes gets you fired. I’ve had agents in the past who I thought were working daily for my best interests, but I later found out they were not. The key is to come with a solid body of work or job offers that you’ve found before you solicit an agent or manager.

Q: Actually getting out and meeting people in the film community face to face and getting them to read your scripts—as opposed to posting loglines and/or scripts on sites such as InkTip—is one of the best ways to launch a screenwriting career. What are your thoughts on this? 

A: I think a combination of both is a good plan. I’ve always secured jobs from the contacts that I’ve personally made and not from an agent or manager’s efforts. These personal relationships that you form and the networking that comes from face to face meetings is vital to your success. It’s all about timing, having a viable project that someone wants to produce, and being ready when an opportunity crosses your path. That’s why it’s important to live in or near Hollywood, close to the action, where you can meet people in the film community every day. You also need to surround yourself with like-minded people, establish good contacts, but also be a good contact yourself. If you want your film industry relationships to last, they can’t be one-sided. Help others who deserve your time and remember those who helped you. While you’re networking in person, you can also post your projects on the sites like InkTip.  They are a good way to have your scripts or pitches out there in the marketplace, but it’s a still numbers game to be seen by the right producer who wants to make your film.



* * * 

Mark Sanderson (aka @Scriptcat) is a Los Angeles based screenwriter, author, script consultant, and sometimes actor blessed to be living his childhood dream of making movies with thirty-three screenplays written in genres ranging from comedy to drama. His work includes writing sketch comedy and performing as founding member of The Amazing Onionheads, writing for MTV, his spec sale, and seventeen screenplay assignments with television premieres and worldwide distribution of his nine emotionally compelling films—the WWII indie feature I’ll Remember April, Lifetime Network's holiday films An Accidental Christmas and Deck the Halls, the stylish indie noir feature Stingers, action-packed thrillers USS Poseidon: Phantom Below (aka HereTV's Tides of War) and SyFy Network's Sea Snakes (aka Fox's Silent Venom), LMN's Mother of All Lies, last year’s highly-rated Lifetime thriller Mommy's Little Girl, and his new movie Fatal Mistakes.

Mark's films have premiered on Lifetime Network, LMN, SyFy, Fox, HereTV, HBO Canada, Christmas 24, and NBC/Universal and have been distributed globally. His films have also been recognized at festivals including a premiere and opening the Palm Springs Int. Film Festival, premieres at the Hawaii Int. Film Festival, St. Louis Int. Film Festival, The Rainbow Festival in Hawaii, Newport Beach Int. Film Festival, Fort Lauderdale Int. Festival, and nominated for the Starboy award at the Oulu Int. Children's Film Festival in Finland.

Mark’s long association with award winning Hollywood filmmakers dates back to his first produced screenplay and has since worked with Academy Award® winning producers, veteran directors, and has written films starring Academy Award®, Golden Globe®, and Emmy® nominated actors.

Mark has five projects in development including among others the sci-fi TV series 

Paranormal X with director Dan Harris and producer Mark Harris (Crash), and the web-series Tribulations with director Joe Palese. Mark's new book, A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success, is now available on Amazon. He was also named one of Screencraft’s “25 People Screenwriters Should Follow on Twitter.” Check out his popular screenwriting blog MY BLANK PAGE, picked by Script Magazine as "Website of the Week," and he offers screenplay consulting/editing services, workshops, and webinars here.


Mark Sanderson interviews ME! 
Read it on his screenwriting blog!



No witches, warlocks or vampires...
just a sexy tale about a guy trying to live the Hollywood dream...







"Hollywood Lunch"

 
 
 
I heard a quote recently that really struck a chord with me. It goes like this: “In Hollywood, if somebody takes you out to lunch, enjoy the lunch.”
What exactly does that mean?
It means the manager, agent, producer, or director taking you out to lunch is going to blow smoke up your rear end. It means they’re going to make all sorts of promises. It means they’re going to paint a glowingly rosy picture about things—your project, your career, whatever—when things, in reality, aren’t quite that rosy.
I know this all sounds a bit harsh, perhaps even a bit grim—but hey, welcome to Hollywood.
Bon app├ętit!
 
                                                              — Jim Vines
 

Script-selling services: Yay or Nay?



It sickens me whenever I hear of a novice writer asking about script-selling services such as Scriptblaster and InkTip. I see these writers throwing away their hard-earned cash. Sorry, but this is not how you sell (or option) a screenplay. So, how DO you sell a screenplay? You do it by getting involved in the film community, meeting people face to face, impressing them with your intelligence and your writing talent. People in Hollywood (or whatever film hub you're targeting) want to work with people they know and like. Virtually all of the sales, options and assignments I've racked up over the years have been a direct result of PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS. This, friends, is where you should put your time, energy, and money.

OK, I know, you don't live anywhere near Hollywood, right? So get on a plane and come visit for a week or two. (But don't come here until you've set up some meetings and/or some film-related events here in town.) Come here and meet people, schmooze, and strike up lively conversations. Yes, have some scripts and synopses on hand...just in case. But most of all: MAKE CONNECTIONS.

How did I sell my first screenplay? Good question and thanks for asking! Well, I had met this producer who was looking for thriller scripts. I sent him one. He liked it but it wasn't something he could sell at that time. He called me a year later, said he needed a script...and was I interested. Yes, I was. So I wrote it. Three weeks after I turned in my submission draft, he sold it to the prodco. Why did I get the gig? I got it because this producer knew me, liked me, and liked my writing. This...THIS…is how you launch a career and sell/option scripts.

Face to face connections and personal relationships. Remember that.

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No witches, warlocks or vampires...
just a sexy tale about trying to live the Hollywood dream...