Monday, August 31, 2015

Lancelot Link: Job Interview

Lancelot Link Monday! It's Back To School time, so I thought it would be fun to fill the links with Screenwriter interviews (plus *one* STAR WARS link). So here are a collection of links to interviews with people who have the same job as we do. Are they doing something that we aren't? While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

Here are a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Straight Outta.................. $13,240,000
2 War Room........................ $11,000,000
3 MI: Rhythm Nation................ $8,300,000
4 Nose Escape...................... $8,288,000
5 Sinister 2....................... $4,650,000
6 UNCLE (Man, not Vanya)........... $4,410,000
7 Hitman 47........................ $3,850,000
8 The Gift......................... $3,134,000
9 Jurassic Universe................ $3,120,000
10 Ant Man.......................... $3,054,000

The massively hyped "SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER for this generation" movie WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS *megaflopped* and opened at #13. It played in almost twice as many cinemas as JURASSIC WORLD (which has been out for 12 weeks) but still couldn't crack the top 10. Yikes.

2) TERMINATOR; GENISYS Screenwriters Interviewed.

3) Interview With Jeffrey Hatcher about MR. HOLMES.

4) Peter Hanson On What He's Learned Interviewing Screenwriters.

5) Tarantino On Screenwriting.

6) Interview With FAST & FURIOUS 7 screenwriter Chris Morgan.

7) STAR WARS In Chronological Order.

8) Robert Towne WGA Interview.

9) Interview With Terry Rossio.

10) Steve Zaillian Interview.

11) Interview With Billy Wilder.

12) Birthday Boy Preston Sturges...

And the Car Chase Of The Week:


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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Just Listen!

From 3 Years ago...

Now that my blood pressure is back to normal I can talk about it.

I hired someone to do some work, and gave them *very specific instructions* on what to do... and then they showed me the results it was as close to the exact opposite of what I asked for as you can get. When I mentioned this, they said that they were being creative - and thought I’d like their version even more than what I asked for. I did not. The reason why I gave *very specific instructions* is that I wanted it done that way, not some other way. Now I’m stuck with it done the wrong way, and have to undo it, then pay someone else to re-do it the way I wanted, and complicating all of this is that it’s a friend - so they will want to know why I changed it from their version. Here’s the thing - the reason why I went out of my way to give *very specific instructions* is that is how I wanted it. Not some other way. I wish my friend had just *listened* to my instructions...

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may remember the entry about trying to find a new place to get my hair cut when they closed the little barbershop I used to go to in North Hollywood. The woman who cut my hair in the little barbershop was a tejano singer, and this was her day job. And when I told her how I wanted my hair cut *that’s* how she cut it. After they closed I tried a succession of places (still really haven’t found a great one) and many of the places were *awful*. The worst was the most expensive haircut I have ever had - and the guy at the *salon* was an “artist” who cut my hair so that it was longer on one side than the other *on purpose*. I had to walk around with my head cocked to the right for a couple of weeks until I could get it fixed, and ended up with a sore neck. The salon guy was an *artist* - and his *vision* of my haircut was that one side would be longer than the other. That is not what I asked for at all!

The problem with artists is that sometimes they don’t listen.


Wait! Screenwriters are artists - are you saying we should just keep our mouths shut and do what we’re told?

No. That’s not the same as *listening*. The assignment I just finished began as an idea from the producer. I liked their idea, but had an interesting twist that wasn't part of their original story. Should I have just kept my mouth shut and done what I had been told? Well, when they told me the idea, it seemed as if this was just a general idea and I could play with it. It did not seem like their idea was *exactly* what they wanted, more that it was a jumping off point. But because I had never worked with them before, I asked “Hey, would it be okay if I did this?” before going to script. That way, if I had “read them” wrong, I wouldn’t end up with a completed screenplay that they hated. Saves *me* work. And their response was: “Cool!” Usually when they hire a screenwriter they don’t just want some typing monkey - they *want* someone who is going to come up with interesting ideas. Because I listened closely I heard that they would probably be open to my ideas - but I asked just in case.

And that’s the most important lesson in *listening* - it’s not only what they say, it’s how they say it. Two different producers may give you the same instructions, but one wants them followed to the letter and the other is just giving you a suggestion and *wants* you to play with it and come up with something even better. Part of a writer’s job is to get under the skin of different character and understand how they tick, so that we can write them truthfully - and those skills are required even when we are in a meeting! If you are not good at understanding other people, “reading them”, listening to the *way* they say things as well as what they say; you will have a heap-o-trouble as a screenwriter. A novelist can sit alone in a room and type, but a screenwriter is part of the team - we are making movies with all kinds of people and part of the job is *understanding other people*. That guy across the desk and those two assistants on the sofa are like your characters - you can’t just at them from the outside, you have to get under their skin. When they say something, you have to figure out what they mean... what they REALLY mean.

The good news is that you are allowed to ask questions.

The other good news is that assignments usually happen in steps - so if you completely screw up it’ll probably just be in the treatment stage, and you won’t have to throw a whole screenplay away. Some people dislike the steps in a step deal, but I love them because they prevent me from making a huge stupid mistake that requires I toss a whole draft. I can just screw up 15 pages and toss that. The problem with writing something for someone else (an assignment) on the fly - no outline or treatment - is that you can easily mis-read some small thing that is really a big things and end up writing something they hate so much they fire you. The ugly truth is that can happen even if you write exactly what they want - sometimes they read it and realize it doesn’t work (and *you* get the blame and fired rather than them admitting their idea stunk). But the more things you can do to give them the script they want, the better off you’ll be. And *often* what they want is something even better than what they can imagine - which is why they hired you and not a monkey.


But sometimes when they tell you what they want - that is *exactly* what they want! That’s why you have to learn how to read people. In the very same story notes meeting, the executive can tell you one thing that is a suggestion and another that is a requirement - and if you aren't listening carefully you may treat them the same. Often there are reasons and conditions they don’t tell you about - you’re only the writer. So on the rewrites to one of my scripts that sold, they had an actor in mind - but never told me this. Because the actor would want certain things in the script that were not in the original version, they mentioned them in the notes - and I wasn’t listening closely enough (and thought they were stupid ideas) and left them out of the next draft. They were FURIOUS - because they wanted to send that draft to the star, and now they couldn’t. Oh, I get it... so I included the stupid notes once I understood their purpose. By the way - the star said no, and another actor got stuck doing stupid things. I learned my lesson and listened closer and asked questions when I wasn’t sure.

Often notes have a practical reason, like snagging a star for less than their quote, and when they say they want something, they want *exactly* that! Sometimes there is a specific location or service or actor or some other thing that they need to make the movie (or sell it) and when they say they *need* a sex scene in a submarine, they kind of don’t want to hear the screenwriter’s smart ass response. That’s a great example - HBO demanded a sex scene in CRASH DIVE! And they were *funding the film*. As far as the producer knew, if he delivered a script *without* that sex scene HBO would pull the plug and there would be no movie. I could have killed the whole deal!

But usually when you get a note like this, it’s phrased as “We need a sex scene” rather than “We’d like a sex scene” or “What do you think about a sex scene here?” - but again, it’s often not the words but how they are spoken. You have to listen. There are producers and directors and stars who make everything sound like it’s just some minor favor they are asking you, when it’s really something that is critical and if you screw it up some other writer is working on the script next week. If you listen closely, you can tell which it is.

On every rewrite and every assignment there have been both notes that were suggestions and notes that were required.


If you don’t remember *how* they said the note, and forgot to ask (happens), all is not lost! You can often figure it out on your own. Just like with your characters, it all comes down to motivations - *why* would they say this? Thing about the note and the project and the person who gave you the note - look for reasons behind the note. We usually end up doing this anyway, because often notes are about the symptom but not the disease and our job as writers is to find the “note behind the note” and solve the disease which in turn solves the symptoms. Often that hidden problem solves all kinds of surface problems. But when the note doesn’t seem to be improving the screenplay, but changing it - sometimes that’s just a producer pissing in your script because they love the color yellow... and sometimes there is a hidden practical reason that you can unearth if you think about it.

The producer wants the protagonist to drive a *new* Ford Mustang instead of a cool vintage 1968 fastback. Well, any sane person would rather have him drive the vintage car... so maybe this note is really about product placement? On stuff like this, half of the notes will probably have some practical reason you can figure out and the other half will be pissing. But if you don’t stop to think about which is which, you could either end up leaving out several important things they need to get the film made... or filling your script with piss.


There are some creative people who are so self centered they never listen. I suspect my screw up friend falls into this category. They are always off doing their own thing... even when they are supposed to be doing *your* thing. There are screenwriters who get hired to adapt a book and instead focus on some minor element in the book they like and toss out the rest - which is the stuff the audience wants to see. So you end up with a script that just doesn’t work and gets shelved. If the writer is brilliant enough to write something amazing every once in a while, they don’t get kicked out of the business... but they end up with a bunch of producers who ended up with the weirdo drafts who will never hire them again.

I know a writer who got his big break - a producer read his spec script and hired him to write a genre script. Now, the writer was told *exactly* what subgenre this was, and the producer gave him a list of hit films in the genre they were hoping to make as much money as. But the write wasn’t listening. He thought the subgenre was played out, and wrote a script in a different subgenre (instead of buddy action, gangster film) and the producer exploded at him. Here’s the thing - when you hire a writer, you have to pay him for the draft... even if it’s not what you wanted. So this producer was out almost 6 figures on some new writer who couldn’t just do what he was told. The producer did not want to make a dark gritty gangster film, he wanted to make a fun buddy action film. The producer was not quiet about wasting money on this script, and the writer’s big break backfired on him. A few years later, when everyone forgot about his past screw up, he had another spec lead to an assignment... and this time he listened and wrote a script in the genre they asked for. I think he still screwed that up - by not listening to many small requirements and being replaced by another writer. If a producer asks you for a buddy action script, your job is to give them the most amazing and creative buddy action script every written. To be creative and give them something *better* than they wanted (but still what they wanted). I think this guy has problems with authority (don’t all writers?) and does his own thing just to screw the guy paying him. He’s all about himself - and doesn’t listen to anybody.


That authority/ego thing is strong in many creative types. There are writers who *refused* to listen, even if it’s for their own good. I can’t count the number of writers I’ve encountered on message boards who ask for advice or feedback on pages - and when they are told something they don’t want to hear they reject it. People try to help them, and they go ballistic! One guy who used to regularly post pages got the exact same feedback on every single draft - it was as if he *refused* to fix the problem that everyone pointed out, but changed everything else! Character names, locations, situations - all would change. The problem with the scene? Always remained. Always. The posted pages never got better - they just got different. Why he refused to make the change that would make them *better* is anyone’s guess.

I have said before that I think some writers are self destructive and do things like this on purpose - they *want* to fail. So when a dozen people give the same note, they fight it - because applying that note would improve their work... and they’d rather fail. Maybe they’re afraid of big failure so they put off any situation that would get their script into the hands of someone who might actually buy it or hire them by screwing up on a small scale so that people keep telling them they aren’t ready... No chance to fail big time (where it matters) if you fail small time (where it’s just a bunch of message board idiots). Whatever the reason, if people like this would just *listen* they’d become better writers. None of us are perfect, and if a bunch of people have the same problem with your screenplay there’s a pretty good chance it may need some work. Hey, maybe everyone is wrong - but hear them out. Give it a good listen and honest consideration. The amusing thing with this guy was that he kept posting pages with the same problems, so when someone new joined the group and read his pages, they’d say what dozens of people had said before... and the guy would go back and rewrite his script changing a bunch of things *except* the problem. It became free entertainment when the new board member would become angry and frustrated because this guy wasn’t fixing the problem.

One of the problems with people who are stuck in their own heads and don’t listen to the world around them is that they are usually crappy writers. They are not listening to the different voices and attitudes and cadences of the people around them - so all of their characters sound exactly alike. A major part of our job as screenwriters is to observe the world around us, and part of that is *listening*. If you have shut yourself off from the world, you have shut yourself off from life, I know an artist (sculptor) who seems oblivious to the world around her - and keeps destroying relationships because she just isn’t listening to her boyfriends at all. She expects to the world to work around her - and when some guy goes out with her and tells her something important she nods but is not paying attention. When the guy gets angry, she still doesn’t really listen to him... then wonders why she got dumped again. I think as artists we *do* live in our own little worlds sometimes, but we need to come out of them often enough to be part of the real world. Our work becomes better and our lives become better if we just listen sometimes.

I have a Script Tip in rotation called Listen & Observe about keeping your eyes and ears open for interesting things in the world around you. That’s such a basic thing for writers that it seems silly that I have a Tip about it... except I keep bumping into writers who need to be reminded to open their eyes now and then. I can’t imagine those people in some meeting where they’re missing all of the notes and the *how* of the notes - so when they turn in their next draft it’s *nothing* like what they need. Instead of a buddy action script, it’s about a musical about a caveman alone in a cave.

When people are talking to you, listen! You may listen closely and decide they were just making a suggestion instead of telling you a requirement - but how could you tell if you were not paying attention? You can be an artist and be creative, and still be part of the team making a movie and listen to others on the team. And when someone gives you *very specific instructions* on what to do - realize there was probably some reason they went to all of the trouble to be so specific. Because that’s what they want. And instead you gave them something else - like a haircut that requires them to cock their heads to the side for a month until their hair grows out!

- Bill




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Only $9.99 - and no postage!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Lancelot Link: Slow News Week.

Lancelot Link Monday! This was a slow news week for film, a busy week for TV (lots of casting new) plus Screen Actors Guild held an election that was a squeaker... with Ken Howard retaining his office by a hair. Will he run for President Of The United States next? Ronald Reagan began as a union leader, President of SAG, and then ran for Governor Of California and President. WHITE SHADOW in the White House? While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

Here are a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Straight Outta.................. $26,760,000
2 M:I: Rogue...................... $11,700,000
3 Sinister 3...................... $10,633,000
4 Agent 47......................... $8,200,000
5 U.N.C.L.E........................ $7,420,000
6 American Ultra................... $5,500,000
7 Gift............................. $4,300,000
8 Ant Man.......................... $4,088,000
9 Filet Minons...................... $3,710,000
10 F4............................... $3,650,000

I guess no one saw AGENT 47 because they hadn't seen the first 46 movies in the series...

2) The Next TERMINATOR Movie May Be In Mandarin....

3) Summer Box Office Round Up!

4) Interview With Bobcat Goldthwait On CALL ME LUCKY.

5) SpectreVision Horror Film Fest Line Up.

6) Almost 100 Remakes In The Works As Hollywood Plays It *Ultra* Safe.

7) TV Stocks Fall... Is TV In Trouble?

8) You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover... Because So Many Use The Exact Same Art!

9) Amazon Films To Release Through Open Road.

10) TV Deal Makers.

11) Colin Trevorrow Dust Up On Women IN Hollywood.

12) Shannyn Sossamon On SINISTER 2.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

You know Kern Howard from WHITE SHADOW, I know him from THE MANHUNTER.


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Monday, August 17, 2015

Lancelot Link: Straight Outta...

Lancelot Link Monday! STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON did superhero business over the weekend, leaving everyone else in the dust. No one expected it to do this much business, and going into the weekend some were called crazy for thinking that it might make as much as $40 million. So it made over $56 million!

This has caused Universal to think about sequels, and at first the plan was to turn it into a trilogy, but taking a page from Marvel and Star Wars they are no looking at the "Compton Universe" and the idea of making dozens of sequels and spinoffs and parallel films the way Marvel has done with the Avengers characters and the way Disney is doing with STAR WARS films like ROGUE ONE and the BOBA FETT film (etc).

Universal is also taking a page from Disney and STAR WARS when it comes to theme parks... just as Disney announced they would add a STAR WARS Land to all of their theme parks, Universal is now planning a Compton Land to all of their theme parks the way they added the FAST & FURIOUS movies to theme parks earlier this year. No word on what Compton Land would feature, but there's a good chance park patrons will spend part of the adventure in handcuffs making asphalt angels on the street... While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

Here are a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Straight Outta.................. $56,100,000
2 M:I Rogue ...................... $17,000,000
3 Ant Man From Uncle.............. $13,535,000
4 Fantastic 4...................... $8,000,000
5 The Gift......................... $6,500,000
6 Ant Man (no uncle)............... $5,517,000
7 Vacation......................... $5,330,000
8 Minions.......................... $5,200,000
9 DC's Ricki & The Flash........... $4,570,000
10 Trainwreck........................ $3,800,000

2) F. Gary Gray Interviewed On STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON.

3) D23 News: STAR WARS Land @ Disneyland & TOMORROWLAND Director @ STAR WARS.

4) PAGE Award Semi Finalists List!

5) Writing Award Winners Announced!

6) Terry Rossio on Screenwriting.

7) Walter Hill On Directing.

8) MAD MEN Creator Matt Weiner On Breaking In.

9) Sharon Stone On Being Naked... heck, pictures of her naked... and she's my age (qualified to be an AARP member).


11) Don't Fear The Development Notes.

12) Death Of "The Bond Girl".

13) TRUMBO Trailer:

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

The movie they thought would open at #1.


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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Original Black Swan

From 4 and a half years ago, when I saw BLACK SWAN...

BLACK SWAN is like BAD INFLUENCE meets REPULSION meets REPULSION again... and maybe a couple of more times... in the world of ballet.


I liked it. And not just because of the sex scene (why did Portman keep her bra on?) and not just because it has every nerd's wet dream woman in it - Winona, Natalie, Mila... and a nightmare version of Hershey for us old farts (hot in THE STUNTMAN, BOXCAR BERTHA, and THE ENTITY - but what happened to her face? Bad plastic surgery?)... but for that wacked out Polanski style stuff like the toe nails splitting in half, the hangnail from hell, the toes fused together, the goose flesh, and all of the rest of the madness. The strange thing about the film is that I was worried she would break her leg in many scenes - when that was never part of the story. The film just made me paranoid that bad things would happen for no reason. The movie got into my head! Under my skin!

As I left the cinema, I passed a guy who looked just like me... but dressed in white!

Here is the trailer for REPULSION for comparison...

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Story is Change - and INVICTUS.
Dinner: China Wall.
Pages: Finished 2 articles for Script Mag over the weekend! Now back to the spec - which is almost finished.
Bicycle: No. Rain.
Movies: Yes, and some reviews are coming soon.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Lancelot Link: Not So Fantastic?

Lancelot Link Monday! Okay, let's say you are making a movie and the script leaks and a bunch of people online bitch that it's not what they expected and the studio worries that it's not what the audience expected so they have the whole last half rewritten and reshot and now it's maybe exactly what the audience is expecting... but is that a good thing? What if they ruined the film? What if he film flops? Loses money? What if the boss was wrong? Can you fire the boss for screwing up? While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

Here are over a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 MI: Rouge Nation................ $29,400,000
2 FANT4STIC 4..................... $26,200,000
3 The Gift........................ $12,007,000
4 Vacation......................... $9,145,000
5 Ant Man.......................... $7,826,000
6 Minions.......................... $7,400,000
7 Ricki............................ $7,000,000
8 Trainwreck....................... $6,300,000
9 Pixels........................... $5,430,000
10 Southpaw......................... $4,764,000

The only other Marvel movie that Fantastic 4 did better than on opening weekend was GHOST RIDER 2... and you probably didn't even know they made a sequel to the first one. F4 got a C- from the audience (through pollster CinemaScore), and even PIXELS ended up with a B! The biggest indicator that word of mouth killed this film is the major drop off from Friday to Saturday... it usually works the other way around, with Saturday posting higher grosses than Friday! So this is a *major* flop... and someone at Fox should not only lose their job, they should be kicked out of Hollywood for life. At #3 THE GIFT did great, it's one of Blumhouse's $5 million or less budgeted films. No one else in Hollywood seems to be able to make films in this price range... it would be a $30 million film at any other studio.

2) Managers: Here's A List Of Ones To Know.

3) The Far Side Of Joel & Ethan Coen.

4) What Movie Are You Seeing At The End Of 2017?

5) Edgy 70s Directors... Like William Friedkin, tells all!

6) Edgy Indie 70s Writers Didn't Outline, Right?

7) Wim Wenders Early Films Are Some Of My Favorites... And They Are Being Rereleased!

8) From Ian Fleming to Len Deighton: Screenwriters Wade & Purvis. SS:GB is one of those cool "What if the Nazis won WW2?" novels like FATHERLAND, for those who haven't read it. John Garner (who wrote some Bond novels) has a page turner called THE LAST TRUMP where Russia wins the Cold War and takes over the UK, which is also similar.

9) The First 2 Years Of A Screenwriter's Career.

10) When Demme Met Herzog.

11) When Billy Ray Met Reality.

12) When We All Met Reality????


14) Island Of Lost Films... Jerry Lewis' THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED May Get Released In The Year 2025... If Mankind Is Still Alive.

15) Is Tweeting That The Studio Ruined Your Film Career Suicide... If The Film Flops? 16) Tweeted To Death? And the Car Chase Of The Week:

Improved by dubbing?


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Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Pecking Order

From 4 years ago... Emily has made more films since then. Check out TENSPOTTING!

Emily over on Bamboo Killers recently had some writer query her “production company” to see if she wanted to buy their screenplay. The initial problem with that is that Emily is a screenwriter who has produced one of her own short scripts and probably hopes to be involved in the production of her feature scripts. (Don't tell producers this, because there is already a “producer credit glut”, but if you are a writer you are creating and developing material and that makes you a producer, too – if you can convince the actual producer with the money connections. Nothing wrong with asking.) But just because you have those $20 business cards that say you are a writer-producer doesn't mean you are in any position to buy some dude's epic screenplay for a cool million – you're trying to sell your own scripts! The very first rule of querying is *NOT* to query blind – do your homework, know everything about the production company first.

If this person had just read Emily's blog (probably where they got her e-mail address) they'd have discovered she's a high school teacher trying to break into screenwriting. She's not going to buy your script. Emily wouldn't have made that mistake. She's smart enough to research first... and that's what her current blog entry is about.

Emily is great, and went out of her way to help this guy with his query letter so that when he *does* send it to someone who might be interested in buying his epic blockbuster script, he'd have a better chance... and the guy shot back an angry response! Hey, no good deed goes unpunished.

Meanwhile, on a messageboard, there was a recent post was about taking advice from idiots on the web. Only problem is - who are the idiots? The web is a great thing because a new writer can learn from a more experienced writer, but also – because of the anonymous aspect – you may be learning from an idiot... and learning how to do things wrong. And what is interesting about all of this is that often on message boards there will be someone who has had a small amount of success (optioned a script or something) who is giving advice on production rewrites – something they know nothing about. Now, this person may have all kinds of good advice on getting your script optioned, but they know nothing about production rewrites. And here's the thing – we are all idiots about something. There are things that we know nothing about... and you probably shouldn't trust us about those things that we have no experience in. I know some famous pro writers, and one in particular had an interesting "in" to the business but has no idea how someone who was not born with his connections would get in – so he never gives advice on that subject. I'm not going to give you advice on how to deal with $20 million movie stars... but if you want to know how to deal with Gary Busey...

Emily has found representation and her work has got her some meetings with actual real-live producers and at one point – almost an assignment. So, she knows something. The guy should have taken her advice, because that's stuff she knows about. Her blog entry gives great advice on all of those scammers out there who claim to be producers and want you to pay packaging fees or pay for coverage services. Make sure you do your research before you query... and remember that money flows *to* the writer.

There are levels of experience – and if someone has more experience than you do they may have good advice. A pecking order, if you will. Some people know more than others, and their experience makes their advice more valuable.

The thing about advice online is that you should never blindly believe *anything* – use your head! But also consider the experiences of the person giving the advice. There are a lot of people who use Stephen King's advice from ON WRITING for their screenplays – and although King knows everything about writing novels, when it comes to screenplays we are talking MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE... so maybe that novel advice doesn't transfer well to scripts? Think it through – maybe some of it does, and some of it doesn't. And sometimes the advice from someone who isn't as famous as Stephen King may be better than King's – look at the advice as well as who is dishing it out. But usually there's that "pecking order" at work, and the person with the most experience will have the better advice. IMDB the person to see what they've done, and if they're a one hit wonder or have a lot of experience in the biz.

If someone is a professional screenwriter, they probably know more about writing a script than someone who has never sold anything. There is some *reason* why they are a professional screenwriter. One of the strange things about advice online is that often the loudest voice is what people listen to... and usually the loudest voice belongs to the person with the least actual experience. On one message board I frequent there is a guy who starts a half dozen threads a day, all centered around him and his writing genius. But, um, he has never sold or optioned or got a meeting or (as far as I know) gotten a read off any of his scripts. Maybe you shouldn't follow his advice? Maybe the reason why he has had no success is because his advice is just plain wrong?

Also - watch out for people who have a lot of experience in one area, but none at all in another. They may have great advice in their area of expertize, but awful advice on subjects they don't know about.

Are you listening, Stephen (MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE) King?


There's a company I've had meetings with that promoted to a *suit* to VP of Development, and this guy has zero story experience but is still in the position to give notes – and his notes suck. He knows all about what sells, but nothing about *how to write a screenplay that works*. So his notes usually make the script worse - and the films made from them *don't* sell as well! He's using his "apples" experiences to grow "oranges" and it's not working. If I were him, I would find some assistant who knows *everything* about story and leave the notes to them. That way, he still gets to be the boss – but also gives better notes that don't end up trashing every script he touches.

When I first came to Los Angeles after selling COURTING DEATH to Paramount, I was looking around for some writers to swap scripts with to get feedback. It's kind of like dating to find a girlfriend – you go on a lot of bad dates! One of the “bad dates” was a husband and wife writing team who had zero luck so far getting anything sold or optioned, and I thought I'd be getting *two* opinions for the price of one. But after trading a couple of scripts, I realized they were not a good match. There was a reason why they had never had anything sold or optioned – most of their notes on my two scripts consisted of turning what was interesting and different into boring cliches - "What if he's a private eye?" "If you give him a pet dog he'd be more likeable!" - and the scripts of theirs that I read were trite, boring, and bland. It's like whenever they had a decision between interesting and seen-it-before they went with seen-it-before. Anything that was potentially interesting got sanded down to bland. And the problem was that they thought they were *right* - they thought their bad notes were good notes... and didn't realize that what they thought was good was actually bad (and vice versa). The *liked* boring cliche characters! They *liked* dull dialogue! They *liked* "low concept". Their notes on my scripts were all about turning it into mush. "You need to take out the exciting parts..."

This may be the same problem Emily's query letter writer has – he's defending his bad query letter instead of learning from someone higher up the pecking order who has more experience in these things. Know your place! If someone has more experience than you do, they probably know more - so you might be better off listening instead of talking.

After reading two of their scripts and getting their notes of two of my scripts, I figured it was not a match and moved on. As far as I know they never sold or optioned anything - which makes sense because they argued with all of my advice on how to improve their scripts. They *liked* bland and boring! And they wanted everyone else to write bland and boring, too.

I think it's important to consider the experience of whoever is giving you the notes or advice. If someone who can't get anyone to read a script off a query letter is telling you how to write a query letter – take that advice with a grain of salt. If *you* are giving the advice, make sure it is based on your actual experience and if you are posting under a pseudonym maybe mention your level of experience so that people can gauge your advice. And beware of giving advice to someone with more experience in whatever the subject is – hard not to look like an idiot when you do that. There's a guy on a message board I frequent who is always handing down proclamations way outside of his pay grade - and to most of us he looks like a complete idiot... but some people may think he knows what he's talking about. That's kind of frightening.

If you don't know what you are talking about, maybe you should shut up and listen?

We can all learn from people who have more experience than we do – as long as we don't fight the knowledge and acknowledge that we don't know everything. If you are below someone in "the pecking order" they may have knowledge and experience that you can learn from... and maybe you should pay attention to their notes on your query letter. You might learn something.

Oh, and here's Emily's latest, TENSPOTTING!

- Bill

Monday, August 03, 2015

Lancelot Link Monday: GOAT PROTOCOL

Lancelot Link Monday! Tom Cruise is still a movie star. Remember back when Cruise had done that crazy sofa jumping on Oprah's show and his career was over? Then he played Les Grossman in TROPIC THUNDER and people thought he was cool again? Okay, what can Adam Sandler do that will do the same for his career? What sort of role could he play? While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

Here are over a baker's dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 MI: Rogue Nation................ $56,000,000
2 Vacation........................ $14,850,000
3 Ant Man......................... $12,619,000
4 Magic Minions................... $12,200,000
5 Pixels........................... $10,400,000
6 Train Wreck...................... $9,700,000
7 Southpaw......................... $7,519,000
8 Papaertowns...................... $4,600,000
9 Inside Out....................... $4,517,000
10 Jurassic World.................... $3,800,000

2) Christopher McQuarrie Interview.

3) Spy Movies Vs. Real Life...

4) Has Hollywood Forgotten How To Plot?

5) Indie Film Box Office.

6) Inside the PSYCHO House!

7) Student Academy Award Finalists.

8) Screenwriter Susannah Grant On Stages Of Her Career (so far).

9) 25 Best Action Movies Of The Century! (so far)

10) And The Best Crime Films Of The Century! (so far)

11) Mark Hamill's Autographs.

12) Indie Horror Films: Better Than Ever!

13) The ORIGINAL Harry Potter returns!

14) Reviewer Pissed At Quote Pulled Out Of Context.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

The last time Ethan Hunt was on a motorcycle...


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