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Monday, June 1, 2009

High School Career Day Interview

So this very sweet high school kid from New Jersey or somesuch ["Somesuch??" Hey, we grow great assistants out there! -Ed.] emailed The Script Department with some very thoughtful questions about my company and being a writer. I wrote up the answers to his questions which of course I answered honestly but simply, since this is a teenager and when I was done I thought hmm...while simplified, this is actually not bad.

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What exactly is the role of your company when it comes to helping screenwriters get their materials to industry professionals?

The Script Department gives aspiring writers a sense of how their script would be received within the entertainment industry. We provide notes and feedback so that writers can address problems in their scripts – whether they be problems of execution or of plot, character or even the premise, so that when the writer then makes those adjustments, they have a professional, polished script to send out to decision-makers in Hollywood. Writers in the process become more adept at the craft of screenwriting. So often aspiring screenwriters have a skewed sense of just how original or accomplished their script really is and send it out to entertainment industry professionals only to get shut down immediately. We are there to help writers make a good first impression – and sometimes to tell them they are not quite ready to make any impression at all but should rather keep learning the art and craft of screenwriting. Writers who wish to be taken seriously and have a career in entertainment writing need to understand that the industry is quite competitive and shoddy work will tarnish their reputation.

What does your job at The Script Department entail?

I am the founder and director of the company so my job is quite detailed and complex but would include marketing and advertising decisions for my company, attending events and teaching classes, managing the readers who work for me, managing all financial decisions for my company and occasionally, working with clients one-on-one to provide story notes and consultations. In the big picture, my job is to keep the whole operation running on a day to day basis. I make sure our clients get what they paid for in a timely and professional manner, and I make sure my readers get paid well and on time for the work that they do. I also interact with other industry professionals making sure that they are aware of not only my company in general, but of a particularly good writer or script that I have so that I can make an introduction on behalf of the writer.

How many screenplays does The Script Department receive on a monthly basis approximately?

It depends on the month. Hollywood has seasons, just like other industries do. Our busiest time is in April and May because there are a lot of screenwriting competitions and writers want to up their chances so they get notes from us first. November, December and January are always a lot slower. In a busy month, we might evaluate about 100 scripts.

Are there any flaws you or The Script Department have seen in new screenplays written by new writers?

There are too many flaws to list here but the two most predominant ones are scripts that are not actually very original story ideas and scripts that are simply not executed well. That is to say, scripts with what we call “soft” structure, or under-developed characters or sometimes even formatting problems. The newer the writer, the more likely we will see these two issues.

Is there anything The Script Department is looking for in a screenplay when it wants to recommend a screenplay to industry professionals?

We are looking for a really great, really entertaining an original story idea and we are also looking for writers with what we call “voice." In the entertainment industry “voice” means a writer with a great deal of individualism on the page. Style, in other words. Hollywood loves writers with voice. The thing is, newer writers often have to learn the rules first before they can really depart and really let their own personalities through on the pages.

From what you or The Script Department have seen, is there anything high-level executives and industry professionals who make screenplays into films want out of new screenplays?

It’s simple. They want to be entertained. They want to not be able to put the script down. And they want to think to themselves that this script is very unique, and it’s cinematic and it will attract great actors and audiences are going to love seeing this film. The entertainment industry is all about dollars, at the end of the day. And movies are very expensive to make. So industry executives want to see potential return for their investment.

What is it like to be an agent who represents screenwriters?

It is a tough way to make a living. Agents are basically salesmen. They have to convince buyers (studios) that what they are selling (the script) is worth several hundred thousand dollars and that further, the script, once made into a movie, is going to earn the studio a great deal of money down the line. Agents make about 10% of the sale of the script. So that means if they sell a script for $200,000, they take home about $20,000. Not too bad but living in Los Angeles is expensive and agents often have to keep up their image with expensive cars and homes. So an agent might need to earn upward of $150,000 a year to support his or her lifestyle. So that’s making seven+ sales per year in order to support that. Agents earn 10% of whatever their client earns, so they can also earn money if their clients gets a rewrite job, not just an outright sale. But the bottom line is that agents have to hustle, every single day, to make a living. That’s why they are so picky when it comes to representing a writer. They can’t afford to hustle and make phone calls and sweet talk buyers if the writer isn’t original and compelling and talented.

What should a new screenwriter be concerned on when s/he is writing a screenplay?

Brand new screenwriters should know that their first script probably won’t turn out that great. They should know that it can take years to really become a gifted screenwriter and that even after that, they may never sell one single script. They should take the art and craft of writing very seriously and study it wherever and whenever they can. New screenwriters should read as many scripts as they can and they should write every day and see a lot of movies. Knowing a lot about movies, particularly the genre you most want to write will put you miles ahead of many other aspiring writers. New screenwriters should have fun and go for it but also be patient and know that this can take quite some time...

Is there anything agents who represent screenwriters want most from a spec script written by a new screenwriter?

A brand new screenwriter can be very attractive to an agent because he or she can say they rep the “hot new writer” in town. They want originality, personality and saleability - of the writer and the script.

Do you believe there is anything notable about a screenplay that is sold to a major film studio versus one that isn’t?

There is a saying in Hollywood that if we knew what made a hit movie, every movie would be a hit. People spend hours analyzing why some scripts get sold to studios and produced and others do not. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason or pattern that really holds up over time. Studios are drawn to movies that are what they call “four quadrant,” meaning the story should appeal to both younger women and younger men and older women and older men – the widest swath of audience possible. Give you an example: 8 MILE – not a four quadrant movie, right? But UP, the new Pixar release, is. Pixar is great at producing four quadrant movies. So studios do look for wide audience appeal but they are also surprised all the time by movies they didn’t think would appeal to a wide audience but do anyway, like JUNO. A script by an absolute beginner will probably not sell to a studio because the writer probably doesn’t have the skill, creativity and chops of a more experienced writer. But if you put two scripts side-by-side, both written by skilled, talented, experienced writers – probably the one that is both very unique and would appear to appeal to a wide audience will get that sale. “The same but different” is another adage out here in Hollywood, meaning audiences want to watch what they are familiar with – a buddy comedy, a super hero story, a romantic comedy - and yet with different twists, different characters, different settings, etc. DISTURBIA is an interesting example of “the same but different.” Being trapped in a location, unable to escape a menacing threat is not a new story idea. In fact, Albert Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW pretty much aced this story concept way back in 1954. But DISTURBIA put a new twist on it, and some new details that updated the concept but also put some new touches on it.

How should a writer treat rejection from an agency?

Writers should take rejection totally, 100% in stride. It is part of being a writer. Many very famous writers were rejected hundreds of times before they got published. Stephen King threw his break-out novel, Carrie, into the trash can, he was so frustrated by rejection yet again. Thank goodness he pulled it out of that trash can and submitted it – that novel kick-started a legendary and lucrative career. Rejection is part of life for a writer. You just keep moving on. Sort of like vendors selling balloons or churros or lemonade at an amusement park. You try to sell your writing and when you are rebuffed you just ask the next person if they want to read your story or script too. You have to be persistent, you have to have faith in yourself and you have to want it so bad you can taste it. Opinions are subjective; it only takes ONE person to say “yes” and there you will be – published, sold represented. Only one “yes”. Think about that. But the thing is, that “yes” will be buried under a pile of “nos.” You just can’t hear the word “no.”

I thank you a thousand times over for your willingness to assist me in my research.

You are so very welcome, Dale! I hope my answers have been helpful and good luck with your project!


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6 comments:

J.J. said...

I sorta wished that "Dale" had asked, "Why, The Script Department?" as opposed to the many other "names" who offer the same type service...

Toot your horn. Curious minds want to know, too.

Julie Gray said...

@JJ - Dale was just doing some sort of career research. How he wound up finding my company or wanting to know anything about us, I have no idea.

Why should a writer use TSD rather than another company when we all do essentially the same thing? We're younger, fresher, more fun, personal and responsive. You can actually get me on the phone to talk about your script or your questions. Our website is coolness and we know that. We give away candy and free brads at events. We're funny yet circumspect. We've been in your shoes. And we give a damn about you and your script. But other than that, all coverage companies are the same, really ;)

Désirée said...

Thank you for explaining to me what “voice” means.

Some years ago I got a “writer shows voice” in the feedback from a contest. It was on the positive side of the feedback, so I was sure it was something good, but not specifically what it implied.

If my “voice” was a result of poor English or something more lasting, time will tell.

alotstuff said...

nice blog and lots of stuff here....

http://bollywoodsprings.blogspot.com

PJ McIlvaine said...

Thank Tabitha King. She's the one who fished CARRIE out of the trash.

martinb said...

I always thought you had this glamorous lifestyle. Now I realise you have to work, just like everybody else.