Friday, December 18, 2009

Holiday season


Ok... so I'm an awful blogger... I haven't had time to write anything here 'cause I've been super busy on other projects. So here's the update.... 1st Annual Script Contest was a success. Our winner T.L. Lewis wrote a masterful piece entitled "REBIRTH" set in the days of the Huguenots. It's brilliant.

Also we're now running a monthly contest that is doing very well... We'll be announcing our 3rd winner at the end of the month! The quality of script submissions is amazing. There are a lot of really talented and creative people out there... Sooooooooooooo... I'm reading and reading and that's an awesome thing.

Now for me... I am on the 3rd draft of the outline for my Pilot. That doesn't really sound all that impressive (3rd draft of an outline)... But if the outline sucks so will the script... Everything should be worked out ahead of time so you don't end up doing what I did with Ghost Hunter (we'll get to that in a minute). Also... when you have a good outline the finished piece practically writes itself. By the end of the outlining stage you should know everything you need to know so that all you have to do is drop in some of your witty dialog and BAM! 1st draft is ready for polishing.

Now... Ghost Hunter... It's my 3rd feature script. Post-apocalyptic Earth... A world shrouded in darkness... Well... Let me just say... don't start the first RE-Write if you haven't finished the 1st draft. I found myself re-writing the script before I had even finished the 1st draft. This lead to a number of problems not the least of which was the fact that some of the things I re-wrote in the early stages didn't line up with anything on the back end... So you have these things that seem like major plot points that vanish into thin air... Needless to say I have a Major overhaul to do on it before its ready to be sent off for its first round of coverage... If I sent it now... I would get a two word report back "EPIC FAIL!" - It's all good... I know its a hot mess... But its done! and the foundation is solid... Soooooo writing is re-writing... and I will do a re-write.

So... between polishing off the 3rd feature, getting 3 drafts of the outline for my TV Pilot and all the fun stuff we're doing on I've been a little busy... Too busy to blog... BUT once my vacation starts in about 5 hours and 57 min... I have nothing but time...

My goals for this vacation... Write an episode of Hotwheels: Battle Force 5, an American Dad, and outline an episode of Trauma... Also... finish the outline for the Pilot, and get the 1st draft of the script written! I only have 2 weeks... So I'll be happy with just getting the 1st draft of my pilot done... BUT you have to set goals! and the higher they are, the more you'll prove to yourself what you can actually accomplish if you set your mind to it.

Cheers! and have a safe and happy holiday season!

- G

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I'm still alive...

Ok... so I haven't blogged in a while. I'm REALLY busy though!

Let me summarize... I work at a University as a computer geek! (day Job), all the students are coming back in the next week. I have 5 Dept. to look after (mostly by myself), and they all want something NOW, or 5 Min. ago. Sooooooooooooooooooo... No time to blog... And really it is no time... 'Cause the other exciting part of my life right now is that every other waking moment I am learning to write for TV! I have been reading, and writing as much as I can! Thankfully I have a number of friends who work in the industry who are wonderful and fantastic enough to share their wisdom and scripts with me so I can learn the formatting and pace of TV Writing.

I have finished the 1st draft of the Re-write on Blood & Roses I started after the last contest results came in. It is obvious that there is something not quite right in the script. It makes it to the finals but is missing something the judges are all looking for to make it a winner... Sooooooooooo, re-write... and the 1st draft is done. Hurray! I have also been working on finishing Ghost Hunter. I have about 20-30 pages left on that one before I will turn it over to my script angel Xandy for her harsh and poignant critique (which is always right on the money). She, is a script saver! But... unfortunately for me, or rather fortunately for me, I had a brilliant idea about the story while waiting for the bus a coupe of days ago, so now I have to re-write a GIANT section of the script... so Maybe it's more like 50 pages.

Next, I have 2 spec scripts to write. 1 - 1hr TV Drama. and 1 - 1/2 TV comedy. I will likely do a Vampire Diaries for my drama... Looks like such a good series! and right up my alley. And an American Dad for my 1/2 comedy. I have been, for the last week and a bit, expertly guided into the wonderful world of Animation writing by Xandy's equally accomplished husband Stephen. Both have worked on some of my Favourite Saturday morning cartoons like The Batman, Ben 10, Superman: The Animated Series etc... Such good shows... So much fun! And I'm learning soooooooo much my brain can hardly contain the knowledge. I am also getting some good Q&A from both of them. I hope their investment in me pays off. I will certainly do anything and everything in my power to get to my goals... I have given myself 5 yrs to have one of my scripts produced into a Feature. I have my award speeches mostly written in my head...

"I'd like to thank the academy for this great honour, 5 yrs ago as I sat blogging about my writing career I never could have imagined the moment when I would be standing here..." So on...

I kid... but I do have a set, set of goals... (I actually carry them around in my wallet). I will accomplish every last one of them, and you know... I have set some pretty impossible goals out for myself before and blown through them like a F5 Tornado - Baby!... Soooooooooooooo... What if I do have my eyes set on that golden statue? I've got some good stories to tell. Now its on me to get them down on paper, and make them sparkle and shine like the Trophy itself. If I can do that, nothing can stop me...

Anyway... way off track... After I'm done the specs, I have to write my Pilot... Which I have also been working on. The universe is outlined, the characters are good... The working doc. is quickly turning into a Bible for the show. So it'll be a good reference to work with once I get down to outlining the pilot. Teh pilot will be quick paced and grab you before the teaser is finished... Once Esprit is introdced you'll fall in love and that will be the end of it... You'll be an addict! I promise!

So anyway, gotta jet...

KEEP WRITING!!!!! You know you want to!

- G

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Awesome Q&A with Canadian born Actor Noah Danby!!!

TGL - Today we have the pleasure of speaking with Noah Danby. Originally from Guelph, Ontario Canada (props to the hometown!), Noah has had an action packed career as a series lead on Painkiller Jane, as a regular on Stargate SG-1, and appearing on Sci-Fi hits like Smallville, The 4400, and Mutant X and in features like the upcoming release of Uwe Boll's Darfur. Thank you for taking the time to do an interview with us at

Writers often wonder what impact their words have on the people who bring them to life. As an actor, what makes a great script great? Is it well defined characters, good dialogue, or is it a script with more room for you to play?

ND - Well I think it’s all of the above but it all starts with a story. Dialogue can change according to the circumstances. Room to play is important but a lot of the time, trying to find what works with what is written is also challenging and fun. Well defined characters, is more like icing on the cake but at the very base of it all a story that people would take 2 hours out of their day to watch and listen to is what you want to go for. If you have that you’ve just up’d the anti for everyone working on the film and watching it.

TGL - It seems, at least from the sidelines that one of the major differences between TV and Features is that there is more collaboration between cast, crew, and the writers on a TV set. Have you ever have to opportunity to work with the writers to develop your characters and if so, what kinds of input can a writer expect from an actor?

ND - From my experience it all comes down to time. For feature films, there is a lot of time for development. So an actor can and should spend that time developing that character into something very different and unique. While with TV most of the casting is done the week before you go to camera so an actor is more inclined to spend his rehearsal time coming at the script from his or her own perspective rather than that of a fully developed and original point of view.

TGL - There was a really great episode of Painkiller Jane when your character Connor was suffering from hallucinations and almost took out the entire team in a hail of bullets. When you’re presented with material like that how do you take the written word and give it such emotion? Do you stick to the script word for word, or use it more as a guide and use your skill as an actor to provide the impact?

ND - I dare say that was some of the best material that Matt Hastings had ever shot. Those words came from his mouth not mine. After reading the script I had decided that I was going to bring everything I could to that particular scene and I did. We shot and shot and I went to that dark place for almost 16 hours. Wearing a body cam for 7 hours and then taking it off and shooting the rest of the material with the Vipers we had on set. But to answer your question. I don’t think anyone knew what was going to happen in this scene until they saw me do it for the first time. I ended up going above and beyond what was given to me in the script. We ended up shooting way past our time constraints for that day but Matt simply turned to the line producer who was questioning his decision and said “What do you want me to do, This is the best fucking footage I have ever shot. I have to keep rolling.” Out of all the work I did on that show that is definitely one moment that stands out.

TGL - You’ve done Sci-Fi, Action, Comedy, pretty much the entire spectrum. What type of script is your favourite? What captures your attention about it?

ND - My favorite material to work on, is the story that inspires. That, after watching, you think to yourself…”Yes I can!” Those were the movies that had the largest impact on my life and the least I can do, is return the favor.

TGL - If you could pick a role, any role from any movie or TV show ever made, what would it be? What aspects of the character, story line, and dialog makes that the role for you?

ND - My next role, is always the one I am most excited about playing because the possibilities are endless and it’s mine! ALL MINE!!!!!!

TGL - What advice would you give a screenwriter who’s just starting out in the biz? If you could offer any insight from an actor’s perspective what would it be?

ND - Work on your craft every day. Remain Disciplined with it. Like a workout or eating. LOL. Don’t sit and wait for inspiration because then it will pass you by.

TGL - What projects are you working on? Where can we catch up with you next?

ND - You can see me in the upcoming season of Flashpoint, The Bridge and in the Feature film Darfur. I am currently in preproduction on a reality TV show called Bounce set to start shooting this September.

TGL - Thank you again for taking part in this interview, we look forward to the release of Darfur, and talking with you again.


Ok... So work is starting to pick up and I'm falling asleep on the couch after dinner so I'm struggling to find the time and motication to write anything... That being said, I got another 10 pages done last night, and a bunch of re-writes from Act 1 done too. Sooooooooooo... Long story short... 30 pages to go and the new draft of the feature will be done. then... Re-write, polish, re-write, polish... over and over again...

Still no results from the 21st contest... That's ok... It's not even 9am in L.A. at the moment, but I'm getting anxious to hear the results. I know I've done really well. Making it to the finals is quite an acheivement... So anything else is just gravy! You know? But the words... CONTEST WINNER - Rogerson, Gordon - BLOOD & ROSES would be sweet!

To quote Stuart Smalley (SNL Character)... "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, doggonit, people like me!" *grin*

So... what to do... Well... I have an hour for lunch which I will spend reading the latest edition of Candaian Screenwriter Magazine, and wolfing down my Toasted Tomato sandwich. And the other 45min writing... I would like to get at least 5 pages done today! If I can do 5 pages a day for the next 4 days and finish up on Saturday and Sunday... I can sit down and write episode on of my Pilot series starting Monday! Hurray!!!!

I will write a nice blog about the Contest experience when the results are in.


- G

Thursday, August 6, 2009

No News

Ok... well the title is a little misleading... I have a modicum of news... My news is that I have gone back to the feature I have been writing for the last 8 months in order to push through and get the last 40pgs written.

Now that the foundation for the Pilot is finished, I've decided to focus on finishing the project I was working on when this new brilliant idea popped into my head. I am going to finish the feature, then write the first episodes of "Cabal". Reasoning... nothing concrete... just you should always finish what you start. I'm kind of like a cat or a bird in that respect.. I get distracted from what I'm doing by the shiny new idea... It's hard to finish something if your mind keeps coming up with NEW somethings just as fun... SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO... I am forcing myself to finish the feature "Ghost Hunter" (working title) before moving onto the series. :)

I would also like to mention that Blake Snyder author of Save the Cat! and Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies passed away a couple fo days ago. I never met him, but the lessons he shared with the Screenwriting community have played a big role in my writing career.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

An Interview with Director\Producer Michal Page

Today we're doing a Q&A with Michal Page, Director\Producer. Michal has worked in the Film industry for 14 yrs, and has an IMDB entry as long as my arm.

TGL - Hi Michal, thank you for taking the time to sit down with us, please tell us a little about yourself.

MP - My name is Michal Page. I've worked my way on set through the ranks of an Assistant Director to a Director/Producer & Production Manager. I've also dabbled in Acting but HATE IT. I've been in the 'biz' for over 14 years and known on set as 'Scoops', 'Dinky' or 'Dinkster'...and can be found in the credits usually with my name spelled wrong. I like long walks on the beach, surf n' turf, the REDWINGS and today I woke up completely hungover with little elves hammering away at the inside of my head and my stomach churning from some sort of cheap hooch and I truly feel like the most pathetic being on the planet. I get in the shower which has lost virtually all water pressure for some reason. I think back upon the previous evening's poor decision-making in which I ignored the voices in my head telling me to go home at a respectable hour, preferring instead to stay until the bitter end....huhhhhhhhh and as I stand under this little trickle of a lukewarm shower, a dark sense of gloom settles over me. some sort of regretful shadowy feeling. I think what the HELL did I do last night? Did I make out with a handsome and/or geek total stranger in some dark booth or in the ladies room? No. (dang) did I dance on the bar? No, no that's not it. (dang dang) Did I drunk dial an ex? Oh shit, no it's worse. I drunk POSTED a zillion strange men on Craigslist's Women Seeking Men. Shit. Shit. Now I will have an inbox full of dick pics and notes from lascivious stalkers...and what if I didn't spell check?? the spelling and grammar perfectionists will have at me next. and wait.. what exactly did I write? Oh god, I didn't reveal my long and agonizing stint of celibacy did I? How will I get to work in time to destroy all of the computers because I know my coworkers read CL all day. Surely they will know it was me. I'm packing my bags because now I need to change my identity and move out of the country but I will still remain hilariously awesome - just somewhere else.

TGL - Bahahahahaha *roflmao*... But seriously "Dinkster" How did you get into the Movie Making Business and what has kept you working in the industry over the years?

MP - Honestly, there was no magical wish I made nor did I know anyone in the biz....I was going to Ryerson University and just happened to walk into a lab at school and came across a flyer from a Production Company that needed PA's (production assistant) for the up coming Feature Film being shot in Toronto. I went for an interview and the interview I felt went okay - but as I was walking out to my car - this guy came running up to me in the parking lot and said, 'I'm sorry to run up to you like this, but I heard your interview...My name is blahblah blah, I'm the 1st AD (assistant director). I was wondering if you would like to be my TAD (trainee ass't director - in charge of getting the cast processed (hair/makeup/wardrobe/signing cast in&out etc etc, basically a glorified gopher) on set for the duration of the film?' I was like, 'HELL YA!' Well, I guessed I did something right, I did the entire film and they asked me back to do the next and then the next....Back then you only needed to finish 3 films as a trainee and 3 reference letters from 3 differ Guild members to get into the DGC Union (Director's Guild of Canada). I entered the union as an Associate Member and shortly after became a full member...Now, over 14 years later - I still the love rush of shooting and I am still plug'n away as an Assistant Director but now also have been a Production Manager, Producer and have even Directed. What keeps me in the biz? Passion, cool people, free food and travel on someones dime other than myself...Could anything be better? :p

TGL - Writing is a very personal experience for most writers. They put pieces of themselves into each scene, and character. When you have a script in front of you and you are thinking about how it should play out on screen, how do you interpret the Writers vision? What are some good tips for writers to keep in mind when they are creating a scene...

MP - Tips? For me, when I write things and want to bring it to life...I make sure to surround myself with a Production team that shares the same vision. It's So important to have a DOP (director of photography) and a Director that know how to not only bring the story out through actors, but also through all the other lil' effects you need to bring to life without words and scenery.

TGL - How much creative license is taken with a script once it leaves a writers hands? Is there an effort to stay true to the concepts and vision, or do you find that Directors take creative license with a script in order to bring their vision to life?

MP - Well if you have a great team that shares the same vision you'd stay pretty close to the story and vision on how you want to tell it - but unfortunately, budget always plays a HUGE roll in making that happen.

TGL - Creating well defined characters that stand on their own is sometimes difficult in writing. Separating one character from others is challenging in that you almost need to have multiple personalities yourself to develop a unique voice. As a Director\Producer how much is in the script? How much is Direction? And how much is Acting? Is it a chorus of all three, or a solo act?

MP - Again, the casting process is a complicated one. But all Producers, Director's and Casting have a huge part in who is cast and who can bring the 'vision' to life as how you'd want it portrayed... (so 100% pre production prod.dir.cast) but once cast, the actors, I think, are over 80% responsible for how the character comes to life. That's why it's SO important that it's made clear before hand who you want - nothing worse then not goin' to these meetings on who you want and what you want in pre-production - then, gettin' to set for Day 1 of shooting, and the actor can't act their way out of a trash can.

TGL - If 100 new scripts were handed to you, and you had to pick only one to develop and produce, what would you look for? What script characteristics make a project jump out at you?

MP - Huummmm - well the 100 scripts would have to be dropped off to me in person so I could see who I'm dealing with...Then, I'd pick the most good looking dude in the know, cause we'd be spending A LOT of time I better have some eye candy... Bah hahahaha!

TGL - There’s a big difference between what the US calls a Big Budget Movie and what Canada calls Big Budget. I heard that an average feature budget in Canada is around $2 Million vs. $25 Million in the US. How much attention to the financial side of things should a Writer pay when trying to market a film? Can a $25 Million dollar movie be made for $2 Million in Canada? Or are we just not putting as much production value into our home grown box office?

MP - Well you can't shoot a film like X-Men, Hulk or Superman on a 2 mil budget...Be realistic. I mean, you can put a plastic model Superman dangling on some fishing line but would you really want to? I mean, unless the Director or Lead Actor is George Clooney. Eye candy is SO important. :p

TGL - Are there many differences in working on a Canadian project vs. a US project?

MP - Yeah, the food...and a pay cheque. Oh, did I also mention George Clooney possibly shirtless?

TGL - Do you ever have the writer on set for last minute re-writes or consultations? Is that the standard or the exception?

MP - It's rare. If the production office happens to be close by, yes....but usually if re-writes are needed they will be faxed to the 2nd AD on set in the mobile AD/production office...or if minimal - the Director/Producer/Writer will conference call on set.

TGL - What advice do you have for writers who are looking to make it big? Got any secrets you wanna share? ;) Is there anything you’d like to say to the people who are reading this interview?

MP - Advice? Yep, don't expect to make it big. Having dreams and thinking positive of making it big is one thing, just don't expect it. Huummm - what would I like to say about anyone reading this interview...? Well, you just got a taste of how awesome I am and should we meet on set one day, I like my Starbucks '1/2 decaf venti, sugar-free vanilla, skim milk, 180 degree latte - in a double cup w/ a sleeve' and served with a smile...

TGL - Michal, thank you for taking the time to talk with us. As always it has been a pleasure.


Thursday, July 30, 2009


Okay... So as a writing exercise to get used to writing for TV instead of Features I am going to write an episode of "House M.D.". I love the show. I'm familiar with the characters, style, pace, act breaks. I've read a couple of House Scripts. (not as funny on paper - Hugh Laurie really makes it work).

I have been looking for really weird medical problems AND FOUND ONE!!! I have also worked through the A\B\C story arcs. Yippeee... So this weekend, I'm going to sit down and power through 60-70 pages of a House script.

Since he is in the loonie bin recovering from his addiction at the moment. The story will center around Chase, Cameron and Foreman. The B-Story will revolve around Cuddy with a hint of Wilson, and the C-Story... House playing with his Doctor's head.

FUN! I have never tried to write a 60 page script in 4 days... It's only 15 pages a day (I've done that in an hour before). If I play my cards right and get to work, I could have it finished by Saturday and have 2 extra days of polishing!

As a side note... I am losing my mind waiting for the announcement from! I made it to the finals. The script is solid and has a real market appeal at the moment 'cause Vampires are hot and so are Vampire Love stories so I'm confident I will do well in this last round. I just NEED TO KNOW HOW WELL!!!!! Anyway, without sounding cocky it's a sell-able script. As with EVERYTHING it could prob. use a little work, but the story is good, AND I've already outlined the sequel. :) I'm feeling confident in my ability as a writer. Not cocky. That's what I'm working with. There's no reason why Blood & Roses shouldn't win this competition. I just don't know how good the rest of the writers are. There are a lot of unrecognized Genius' out there and I could be up against all of them... You know what I mean? Plus, I already have plans for the prize money, and something on order :) Is that wrong?

Anyway, gotta jet...

Keep writing!!!

- G

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I don't have a life 'cause I'm creating the lives of others...

Ok... So, I spent the better part of my weekend and most of the last few nights writing and I have the foundation of what could be a really fun series. The Town of Gillies Hill Lives!

This is a Sci-Fi\Fantasy show. That being said, I think that most Sci-Fi fails to reach a mass audience because its just a little too out there. Alex Epstein said during our conversation (which I keep quoting) that the TV audience is a more mature audience than the movie audience which is comprised more of younger guys "who want to see things go boomie!". I agree... I like a good BOOMIE! :) And as he also pointed out with HBO programming it really opened things up and you can do more (and by do more I mean the Holy Trinity... coarse language, nudity and, violence...). Just look at one of my new favourite show True Blood... I don't think I've seen an episode in the last month without Anna Paquin's naked body flailing about... Anyway... the point I'm trying to make is that even the most Fantastical story has to be rooted in reality and a good way to do that is to create characters who are knowable, likable and familiar.

One of my proudest moments was when a contest judge told me that the characters in my screenplay felt like friends, like she had known them for a good long time. SUCCESS!!! If you don't have a protagonist that the people like the script isn't going to do well. If they don't care about the main character, why should they care about what they are doing... End of show...

My friends can attest to this... the characters I create all have a bit of me in them, and they certainly have a bit of my friends in them, and EVERYBODY I have ever met... For example, I went to high school with a girl who literally started ever sentence with "Well, if you think that's bad\good\sad\fun\- insert emotion, I....." she turned EVERY conversation into a competition. I once saw her try and top a girl who was talking about her Grandma dying! She actually said... "Well, if you think your sad, I had a dog when I was young and..." I think she went on to weave a tale of woe about how it got hit by a car and died in her arms at the bottom of their driveway... but OMFG! Really... You think losing a dog trumps a Grandma? Anyway, I 'm straying off course here a little... The point is that we all know people who are characters. We all know a public nose picker, we all know a sweaty girl, and a shy beauty... They live in our lives and the lives of everyone around us. Those are the characters you need to bring to the script. Flesh them out. Bring them to life. Once I finish the pilot and register it with the WGA and WGC I will post the character desc., etc. on along with the script for the pilot episode.

So I guess my tip for creating characters for the week is look to yourself, and write WHO you know. Another good step to take is to write out a little paragraph about the character. Here's a short one about the main character in my TV Pilot.

"Esprit Sparks grew up in a large home surrounded by several generations of her family in an almost communal existence. Privacy was and is a luxury. Esprit, named for her free “spirit”, longs for a normal life. Good luck! First, her pot smoking, tie dye wearing parents, David and Angela, gallivant around town in a Volkswagen Van that is older than they are. She’s their only child, and she shares a room with her Great Grandmother. Try to be a teenager in a house that smells of patchouli oil, Bengay Arthritis Cream and Weed. Normal isn’t a word that gets tossed around much over the bean curd and lentils at their vegan dinner table. Since attending a Birthday BBQ at Taylor Bowen’s house when she was 8 yrs old, Esprit has taken every opportunity to eat as much meat as she can, frequently ordering the double bacon burger at Gill’s for lunch."

Without going into detail and spoiling the plot and background info of the pilot you get a bit of a feel for Esprit's (Esspree) background and her rebelious nature. Accompanied by a character development sheet that describes her physical attributes, favourite things, close friends, biggest fears, etc. and you have a pretty idea of who she is and what she's about. Do this for your characters and they will suddenly come to life in your head and on your page. For me to be successful at finishing a script, I really have to be comfortabel with the people I'm writing about. I need to understand why the bad guy is a bad guy, and is he really a bad guy or are his motives just different than the main character. Why does the good guy or protagonist (not always a "good" guy\gal) want what they want? I don't think you can write good dialog and help the audience get to know the character and have them invest in them if YOU, the writer, don't know them. You know what I mean? But hey... I haven't sold a script yet and I'm certainly not a qualified Story Analyst (see my interview with Xandy Sussan). I'm just a guy who loves writing so take what you want from my advice, and go forth and write... and enjoy writing!!!


- G

Friday, July 24, 2009

Characters need a place to live!

Ok... so, I jumped a little ahead of myself. I have some characters named, but before I get into sculpting them into people, they will need a place to live. It's one thing to develop a good universe, but what about the city, town or burg they live in. That's gotta be real too... And really, my life was shaped and altered by where I grew up, so BEFORE I start getting into character details, and delving into their personalities, I should probably know where they grew up, what school they went to, who did they hang out with and where? That kinda of thing...

So, after doing a bit of research I have found some wonderful Ghost Towns that used to exist, but are no more that plaques on rough stone markers in farmer's fields. Because these old towns lived and died they come with a bit of history, and with a bit of fidgeting, creative license, and complete fiction you have your very own small town to build upon.

I gave the description to my girlfriend and she had 2 reactions... 1st, she wondered why I was sending her tourist information for a small town in Ontario. The next thing, she asked if we could move there. So I guess I'm on the right track.

Along with setting the scene as far as the town goes, I think you really need to create it like another character. I mean, each city I've ever been to has its own personality, so why not approach this like you would any other character?

I wrote and re-wrote and wrote some more and I think I've come up with a pretty likable, believable place. NOW its time to start creating some characters and giving them a purpose.


- G

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Characters - Love 'em or Hate 'em


So, I've been wracking my brain to come up with some likable characters to populate my universe. Interesting individuals who will bring the world I've created to life with their exciting lives and interesting mannerisms. I have a chracter development sheet on website in the download section that is kinda handy, but I want a little more detail for these characters since they will be living in the TV universe. Features require good characters with backstories and details, but they will not be scrutenized as much as a TV character that comes back week after week, season after season. TV charactaers have to have a deeper demension to them because the audience is going to spend more time with them, and if they are weak, or 2 demensional, they won't be appealing... Keep in mind that Giligan's Island ran for 3 yrs in the 60's and can still be seen on a couple of different TV channels... 40+ years of syndication! That's a lot of time for these characters to live... You know!? So, TV characters have to have a little more substance, depth, and consideration before making it to the page. Therefore... I have moved onto the 10pg. character outline sheet. Details like how would this characters freinds describe them, what is there relationship with their parents, what is their most embarassing momemnt. Those kinds of details. You have to know them intimately.

Another thing I have learned is that someone reading your script, without looking at the names of the characters should be able to say... Oh! That must be Jane speaking. Each character should be unique, and identifyable to the audience. I mean, if you're writing about a group of mindless automatons then I guess they should all sound alike and be identical, but other than that they should be individuals. That's not to say that groups of friends don say the same things, and do the same things. I mean, my friends are CONSTANTLY using my words and terms ;) in conversation. (Kiddin...) We learn from each other and use the same slang and turn of phrase because we are exposed to each other more. BUT we each have our own delivery and spin on the english language. We may use the same words, but we deliver them differently and individually... So that needs to happen with the characters.

I'm going to try and keep the number of characters in my story to a minimum. To many and following all the B-stories that you need to keep the characters alive for the audience start getting confuising. That's one of the reasons why Lost, lost me in season 2. That and the black smoke jungle creature that was never explained or seen again... wtf?

I think a small (5-6) collection of very well thought out characters that the audience can love or hate is perfect. There will be the episodic characters (like the crewman in Star Trek that dies on away missions) to support the stories and the main characters, but the overall arc will focus on just a few. i.e. House and his team, the Star Trek: TNG Bridge crew, Buffy and the Gang, and the Crew of the Serenity.

So... time to get to work... Lots to do!!!

Next... I'll need to give them all something to do, and give 'em a reason for doing it!

- G

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Setting the scene...


I sat down last night and started creating the Sci-Fi\Fantasy TV world my characters are going to live in. From what I've been reading, and from my own personal TV viewing a solid, believable, SIMPLE, universe is a really good place to start. One pitfall for some shows I've been a fan of is a distinct lack of continuity. One minute pigs can fly, the next they can't. So my goal is to establish a good set of rules and a good solid SIMPLE backdrop so that I don't have to take time away from the stories to explain the world they are happening in. Seems like a good idea to me... And as a writer I need to know the universe my story is taking place in. I have to live in it as well, at least as far as the writing goes. So if in the universe I'm creating pigs happen to fly, I need to pack a helmet and a large umbrella. Check! In my opinion you should know the world you are writing about inside and out, and I also like to have my worlds grounded in some semblance of reality. I think you should be able to sit down for an interview and have the interviewer throw 1000 questions at you about the world you've created and you should either have an answer, or be able to fill in the blank from the existing mythology you've created. Keeping thing grounded in reality even when you're creating a fantasy realm, allows you to exploit the audiences familiarity with their own world by overlaying it onto your own... So if pigs fly, there has to be a reason, and a logic, and if pigs fly, what other mammals fly? That kind of thing....

Now, one of the reasons I love my girlfriend is that when she is eating something, looking at something, smelling something, reading something, she doesn't like she gets this sour look on her face. Kinda like the one our Cats make when they have smelled something particularly obnoxious. We call it the "shit" face around our house... So I gave her the first draft of my Universe outline, and as she read along there it was... the shit face! I guess in my excitement and eagerness to drive home a particular point about the world I was creating, I deviated from the first concept I wanted to stick too... Keep It Simple Stupid! I got all wound up in the point I was trying to make in the outline, and left her saying "WTF??" soooooo... re-write... remembering K.I.S.S... and it passed muster. Thank goodness... Next... Characters... Now that I have a world that is fantastical, simple, and still interesting... It needs to be populated. Soooo... off I go to figure out the characters and their archetypes and what their back stories should be... Who are they? What did they eat for breakfast? What was their 1st grade teacher's name? you know... gettin' to know them as well as I know myself.


More to come...

- G

Pilot project...


So, I have decided to try writing a pilot. The reason... and interview with Alex Epstein... and my need to write things that I would like to watch. Alex said during our conversation that he plays a game with friends from time to time called, "what else could I do for a living?" and that the answer is usually "Frakked if I know"... Well, I have a day job (Sys Admin), and I enjoy it, but to be honest at the end of the day, when I have time to relax and do what I want, I'm usually still in front of a computer typing away or reading an article on writing. I'm not a professional writer, but I am a writer. There is a need to create, and desire to improve what I've written... No matter how many times I've been told that I can't, I have turned around and showed people I can and will no matter what they say... I'm accomplished in my own mind. I've won contests, finished 2 feature scripts that have been well received outside my family and friends, I've had a play produced (by an amateur theatre company), I've written a novel, and some really bad poetry... and it's something that I love. So hey! Why not throw my hat into the TV ring? I know what I like! I know what turns my channels...

Sooooooooooo... rant complete...

I am working on a pilot. It's for a one hour Sci-Fi\Fantasy show to fill the gap in my TV viewing left by the cancellation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Angel. There's a few really good shows on the air now. Fringe is excellent, Heroes is a little hit am miss lately, I'm enjoying Dollhouse, Terminator SCC has been good (although off the air now)... And there's a bunch of shows airing this fall that are going to be pretty interesting and I'm hoping will be good... The Vampire Diaries looks like it'll great fun! But now I want to contribute. I'd like to write something for the Buffy Audience, for the lovers of Angel, and good writing... You know? So here I go, off on my pilot project. Check back for updates on how it's going...


- G

Monday, July 13, 2009

Q&A with Alex Epstein - Award winning Writer of Bon Cop / Bad Cop and the Book Crafty TV Writing

I'd like to welcome Alex Epstein and thank him for taking the time to speak with us. Alex Epstein is a writer for television and movies, and author of the books Crafty Screenwriting and Crafty TV Writing. He co-created the comic drama television series Naked Josh for the Oxygen Network (U.S.A.) and Showcase (in Canada); it ran for three seasons. He's been nominated twice for a Canadian Screenwriting Award for his work on the show and, he was Head Writer for a science fiction TV series, Charlie Jade. His insightful blog Complications Ensue: The Crafty TV and Screenwriting Blog can be found here.

TGL: Tell me a little about yourself? What is your background?

Alex: I started my career in L.A. as an assistant to an independent producer, co-dependent producer might be a better term, then moved up to vice-president of development, which meant that I read scripts and recommended which ones we should to try to option, and worked with agents, and tried to figure out how we could put together a pretty good script with an actor that would give us good foreign sales. We would then take the foreign sales to the bank and get the money for the movie that way. I did that for awhile for a series of producers and pretty much all of them were trying to make movies in Quebec. We were trying to take advantage of some pretty strong cultural support that the Canadian government gives to movies shot in Canada with Canadian scripts. I became aware of the warm fuzzy feeling you get writing in Canada opposed to the hostility you experience writing in L.A. So I moved up here and that turned out to be the best decision I have made, because I had been writing all along but it really took off at that point.

TGL: You went to school at UCLA?

Alex: Well oddly enough I was a Computer Science major at Yale, but have an MFA from UCLA.

TGL: What made you make the switch from Computer Science at Yale to UCLA?

Alex: Well, first of all, dating myself a bit, at the time computer games were nearly as much fun. I’m not saying Pong, but games did not have the AI’s that they have today, and the other things that you can do with computers were even less fun. So I won’t say I was bored, but it was not ringing my bell.

TGL: So you were more interested in Tron the movie than the game?

Alex: Well I always wrote. I wrote back in high school and just kept writing. Everyone always told me that I was a very visual writer so it seemed like a good thing to do. Also a pretty girl in Paris told me that I should go into film and when pretty girls tell you that you should do things, you should listen.

TGL: So writing and being a visual writer just kind of lent itself to writing for T.V. and movies?

Alex: I think so. It took quite a long time to turn that into reality. I would say the first 10 years of my career was less than spectacularly successful. I got paid to write some things, but I certainly wasn’t supporting myself.

TGL: Which medium do you prefer writing for? Do you enjoy writing for television or movies?

Alex: I prefer television. The comparison I like to make is writing a movie is like a one night stand. You put all of this work into it and then when it’s over, it’s done. Then you don’t see those characters again and you don’t revisit that world again. Maybe there’s a sequel, if you are very lucky, but very often you write the script and it doesn’t get made. With T.V., if you can get a T.V. show going, you get to play with those characters much more. If you get picked up for one season, say for an hour drama show, so that’s 40 minutes a show, for say 20 episodes, that’s 800 minutes instead of 120 minutes. So you are spending a lot more time with your characters, you’re learning a lot more about them, just a lot more time. So it’s like a marriage compared to a one night stand. It also doesn’t hurt that you get a whack more money.

TGL: So there is that difference as well?

Alex: When I was coming up, there was still this thing that T.V. writers all wanted to be movie writers, but they couldn’t afford it, because they couldn’t take the salary cut. T.V. writers no longer want to be movie writers because most of the interesting work is being done in TV these days.

TGL: Is that a global shift across the industry?

Alex: Yes. HBO really opened up story telling possibilities. So you can do a lot more things in T.V. now. Another thing about T.V. is the audience is older and more sophisticated. The movie audience, by large, are boys that want to see things go boomie. The pay cable audience is really quite sophisticated, and even the prime time audience is older and more demanding. So you can do much more interesting things with characters, and you can tell more interesting and rich, than you can with movies. It’s a bigger palate.

TGL: To go along with that, coming up with fresh ideas every week, and I have struggled with this, and I’m sure the people reading my blog have struggled with, writers block. I was watching an interview with Bob Moresco, who wrote Crash. He said that was absolute baloney, writers block is just an inability to sit down at a desk and write. What do you think about writer’s block?

Alex: I don’t believe in it. I don’t have it; I don’t know any professional writers that have it. If you’re a professional writer, you can always write. The writing may be crap, but you just don’t allow yourself to go “oh this is crap, I’m not going to write.” you just go “oh, this is crap, oh well, I’ll fix it later.” You know, a bricklayer can have a day when the bricks aren’t coming out right. But he doesn’t get to go, “oh, I’m just not going to work today because the bricks are coming out a little bit bad”. You know, show up for work, it’s a job. So you take that as seriously as any other job, you know, every other worker goes into the office, and you feel like crap and you feel like you’re not getting anything done, but you do the work and let other people decide if you are doing crappy work. They may even decide that, in fact, you are not doing crappy work. It is possible to be too critical of yourself. You may even write yourself out of your slump.

TGL: So you’re saying just sit down and get to work?

Alex: Yeah, you know, ass in chair, fingers on keyboard. ... But also, you develop tools for writing. You develop tools for looking at what you are writing and why does this suck? Or, how do I get an idea? Or, you have friends that you can bounce ideas off of. Because you have tools you can be a craftsman and you can respond if you are having a bad day, you’re not waiting for inspiration to strike. So a bricklayer isn’t just going into work hoping for inspiration, he has his level, and his trowel, and he knows the consistency that the mortar is supposed to be.

TGL: So if you have a good solid foundation and you know your plot outline and you know your characters, environment and things like that, and you invest time in those that the writing will just come?

Alex: Yeah. You develop ways to break down each problem until it’s small enough that you are not overwhelmed. What is the theme of this scene, what is the character working towards in this scene, why can’t he get it? If you answer those questions, you will be able to write the scene. So you don’t just go and write a movie, you write a 2-page pitch and then you write a 5-page pitch, then you write a beat sheet, then you turn that into a step outline, and then once it’s a step outline you only have to worry about the scene you are writing. You don’t have to worry about “what will I write.” You just have to worry about how do I get into this scene, how do I get out of this scene? Where do I want this scene to end up? You can start by figuring out where you want the scene to end up and then work back from there. Or you can place the scene that will get you into it. In my book, CRAFTY SCREENWRITING, I have a bunch of different things that you can do to start off to get into a scene.

TGL: CRAFTY SCREENWRITING that you wrote in 2002?

Alex: Yes. And also CRAFTY TV WRITING in 2006. So there are tools. So you develop your tools and they help you and you are not relying on talent to get you through the day. You’re relying on craft.

TGL: You offer a screenplay consultation service through your website

Alex: Why yes I do, thank you for mentioning it. It’s not cheap, but I think I get down to what’s really not working in a script, rather than just the symptoms of what’s not working, and I can often offer a way to fix what’s not working.

TGL: What are the most common problems that you see with a script?

Alex: Almost all the scripts that fail, fail with the elements of the story. The elements of story are, #1, you have the character that we care about. #2, that character has an opportunity, problem, or goal. #3, he or she faces obstacles and/or an antagonist. #4, he or she stands to win something they didn’t have before, which is what we call stakes. #5, stands to lose something they cherish, which is what we call jeopardy.

Almost all scripts that fail, fail because those elements are not strong enough. If I asked you what does the character want and you say you don’t know, then you don’t have a story. Or if you don’t know what the character is risking, or what he stands to gain, then you don’t have a story. A story is these five elements, and it fails if they’re not strong. I’m not saying that nothing is going on, I’m saying that there could be a whole screenplay full of things happening, but it still doesn’t have a story.

TGL: So what you are saying is the foundation of any real screenplay is going to be the story? If it doesn’t have those elements, then it won’t involve the reader or an audience?

Alex: You can have bad dialog, sure. But if you have a strong story, we can fix the dialog. And in fact, if the story is good, it almost forces you to have at least competent dialog. Whereas if you don’t have a story, it’s going to look like your dialog doesn’t work. And then you can spend a year working on the dialog and the dialog still won’t seem to work.

TGL: One of the other things that I have been told is also very important is that once you have a your screenplay, you’ve spent the money and got the coverage, worked with a story analyst and polished and, polished and, polished until you just don’t want to look at it anymore, you have to have a good query letter?

Alex: Now I go back and forth on this. I don’t know how many scripts have been picked up by querying something out of the blue. It’s a very high hurdle if you’re sending in a query letter from Kansas City. If you possibly can, try to find a friend in showbiz who can tell an agent or a producer, “Hey, this guy doesn’t suck, read him”. With this, I think, you’re going to have much better results then send out a whole bunch of queries. So when someone says you have to have a great query letter, I don’t know, does having a great query letter make it happen? I got my first few agents by querying them, and you may actually be in Kansas City, so you’re sort of stuck with sending query letters.

And by letters, these days, I really mean emails.

Certainly, though, a bad query letter dooms your query. And more importantly, if you’re having trouble coming up with a good query letter, then dollars to donuts your story isn’t working, either. Part of my evaluation service is a query letter evaluation service. I almost always wind up making more comments on what the hook actually is than how it’s phrased.

A great query should really spell out all the five elements of story. This kind of guy has this kind of opportunity, problem or goal, but he faces these obstacles or this antagonist. And if he succeeds he’ll win these stakes but he faces this jeopardy. Sometimes the stakes or jeopardy are implicit, but all the elements should be clear from the query.

TGL: So if a good query letter isn’t going to land you a job...

Alex: Now are you talking about T.V. or film now?

TGL: That’s a good question.

Alex: Because you don’t really get a job in features. You sell a script. If you can sell a pretty high profile script you might get on “the list” for rewriting other people’s features, but short of knowing a lot of people in the biz, you’re not going to just get a writing job in features.

TGL: Ok, let me rephrase it. If it’s not going to get you a job writing for a T.V. show...

Alex: What’s going to get you a job on a T.V. show is really awesome spec scripts and maybe a spec pilot. You get those to an agent, when they’re not too busy, they read you, they like you, and they start sending you out for staff jobs.

TGL: How important is an agent in this business?

Alex: You can’t do anything without an agent. Theoretically around the edges you can get a non-union gig, but only if you have a lot of contacts. And this would be a low-budget feature, maybe, but really not without an agent. It is extremely difficult to do anything without an agent. Why would a producer have anything to do with someone without an agent when they can get someone that has an agent? An agent means that someone is vouching for you, someone is depending on you to make money. There are plenty of people that are just as starving as everybody else who have agents, so why not start with them? Why hire people who can’t get an agent?

That’s why you don’t really query a TV spec in the way you query a feature spec. I mean a feature starts with a hook, to get someone to read your feature. With a T.V. spec it’s not going to be about the hook, it’s going to be about the...”I have a “HOUSE” spec in which House has a brain transplant, and a “CRIMINAL MINDS” about an evil clown, wanna read them?” If an agent is looking for clients, and the episodes sound reasonable at all, they want to read them. Because they aren’t looking for a great hook, they are looking for great writing.

With TV, they want to see great writing because they’re trying to sell you as a writer. With features, they want a great hook, because they’re trying to sell your script.

TGL: If you could travel back in time to the beginning of your career what would you tell yourself?

Alex: Don’t waste your time on features Alex, you’re a T.V. writer.

TGL: Is that because you have tried features? You co-wrote BON COP / BAD COP, which broke Canadian Box Office records.

Alex: I got the BON COP / BAD COP gig because the director and I had worked together on a TV show. I met Erik Canuel while we were both working on CHARLIE JADE down in Cape Town. So when he was looking for a quick re-write on BON COP / BAD COP, he told the producer, I want that guy from Charlie Jade, he can write fast and well.

TGL: So is that the key to T.V. writing, is writing really fast?

Alex: If you can’t write really fast you’re not a T.V. writer. You also want to be, you know, good. But if you’re good but slow, then you’re a feature writer.

TGL: What’s the turnaround on a T.V. script?

Alex: You have, at most, a week per draft. Say a week for the beat sheet, a week for the first draft, a week to rewrite it. There will be a writing staff, so you may have three weeks for the whole script, that’s multiple drafts that you’re dealing with. The fastest I’ve ever written a production script, from conception to FADE OUT, was 24 hours. There were three of us banging it out. I’m not saying it’s the best thing I ever wrote on, but they shot it.

TGL: Is there any advice you could give someone that is starting out?

Alex: I don’t think people need to go to film school, I think people need to work in the business. I think you learn more from working in the business than film school. I don’t think that you need to work on a set; I don’t think that is necessarily helpful. Working for a producer, working for an agent, that will get you the experience you need. The thing that I really recommend is working for an agency. Nothing makes you aware of what people are looking for and what they aren’t looking for. How precious they’re not being. How little time they take to look at the material. People who put all these precious things into their script, they’re just going to throw your stuff away. I don’t think people realize how little time they have to impress people or how much competition there is. Back when I was reading scripts, you had about five pages to convince me that I should read the rest of it. And I wasn’t being sloppy: in my experience scripts that failed to convince me in the first 5 pages never got good enough to pass along.

TGL: I heard ten pages.

Alex: Honestly, if it didn’t rock in five, it wouldn’t rock in ten, or twenty. I mean, why shouldn’t it grab you in three pages, or two pages. Or look at it this way: if the writer doesn’t know to create exciting drama, tension, mood, mystery, something, in three pages, then they don’t really know their craft.

TGL: Looking back over your career, are you excited where you have come from and where you are headed?

Alex: I have a lot of very good things in the works. Will they get picked up or not? I don’t know. So I am somewhere between excited and terrified.

TGL: Would you suggest screenwriting to anyone as a career?

Alex: No, because what I would say is, if you need to do it, you’ll do it. If I tell you not to do it, and you need to do it, then you’ll do it. If you need me to tell you to do it, you shouldn’t do it.

I mean, I have no idea what I would do if I couldn’t get paid to write. Every now and then my friends and I will play “What Else Could You Do for a Living?”, and the answer for most of us is, frakked if I know. It’s like acting, if you have to be an actor, if it’s as important to you as breathing, then you will find a way to be an actor. You may not be a rich actor, but you’ll work. If you don’t have to be an actor, for God’s sakes don’t be an actor, because it’s a really crappy life if you don’t absolutely need it. I mean it took me ten years to get to a point that I could support myself writing and that’s not at all uncommon.

Also, if you don’t have to do it, why not save room for the rest of us that do? If you need to do it, you’ll find a way to make it work. And if you don’t need to do it, that’s going to come across, and you’re not going to get the job. And if you do get the job, sooner or later someone who needs it more will kill you and eat you.

TGL: So it’s the passion and drive that makes it work.

Alex: Yeah, whatever I have to write, I’ll write. Whatever I have to do I’ll do. That’s what gets you through. When people reject you, if you don’t have to do it, you’re going to think, frak them, who needs the stress? But if you need to do it, you’ll think, oh my God I have to fix this, how how how?

TGL: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us.

Alex: You’re welcome.

Monday, June 22, 2009

An Interview with Writer\Script Coach\Story Analyst Xandy Sussan

TGL - Today we have the pleasure of interviewing Xandy Sussan - Writer, producer, story analyst. Xandy tell us a little about yourself, how you got started and what has kept you working in the industry over the years?

XS - I’m Xandy Sussan, a produced writer and script coach / story analyst with I always knew I wanted to be a writer. When I was 10, I saw Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” and I was hooked! I grew up surrounded by movies (my parents are both huge movie buffs) and I was a self-confessed TV junkie by the time I could speak (I think that was my third word… eek), so there was really only the one direction to go in. I would say, if anything keeps me going it is that I continue to write movies and television I would want to see made. It’s really as simple as that.

TGL - As a professional reader I’m sure you’ve had the opportunity to read some really good material over the years (in between the nightmares I’ve sent your way). What makes a good story stick out? Can you identify a few commonalities between one good script and another?

XS - Well, a good story has compelling characters, solid structure and leaves you satisfied at the end, making sure to use everything. Most new writers think it’s okay to just have a notion “a single mom balances her job against her kids” and that’s enough to rest a whole project on. Well, it’s not. They say “God is in the details,” and never more so than in screenwriting. It’s not necessarily the freshness of the story (although that helps a ton) but it’s also the execution. If you can’t figure out how to craft this single mom so that she’s gripping, likable and worth rooting for, if your structure doesn’t flow, and if you mention details that don’t pay off, no matter how excellent your premise is, your script will never be a success.

TGL - There are a bunch of myths and legends about making it in Hollywood. Is it true that 98% of the scripts that make it to Hollywood end up in the trash before they even make it to a readers hands? What are some of the common pitfalls a newbie writer will make that will guarantee their material will end up being filed under “G” for garbage? Are all Studio Readers really Film School Interns unwilling to risk their reputations on a new writers work?

XS - This is really a two part question. It’s more like Studio Readers are frustrated writers who hate you and your work, just because it’s yet another script they have to read. They’re tired, they’re blind, they’re poverty stricken, and they’re having just as hard a time getting their agent on the phone as it took you to get your script past the door. It’s harsh to say, but mostly true. There are many production companies and talent agencies that use interns to do coverage. These kids are usually still in college or recent college grads and wouldn’t know a good story from their elbow, but they’re cheap labor and that’s what makes Hollywood go ‘round.

Part two: Okay, so how does someone with no connections get past the lions at the gate? I’ve just relearned this recently, it’s amazing what happens when you cold call. Most times, 97 times out of 100, you’ll get rejected and hung up on, but those other 3 times, someone might be interested in checking out your work.

Rule #1, don’t contact anyone about anything, until such time as you have the script perfect (I don’t mean that your mom liked it, I mean that there’s no typos, it’s in the correct font, it’s been checked out by an independent professional etc.) There’s nothing worse than getting someone on the phone willing to look at your work, but the script isn’t finished. Then you have to rush it through and it’s a waste of everyone’s time. Make sure the work is ready to go and you should have no problems.

Rule # 2 You should have a solid query to go along with your script already prepared before you call anyone. Same rules as above apply. You don’t want to get caught with your pants down. A friend told me there’s a simple rule to writing a query… short, short, short. Your logline should be no more than 2 sentences and 55 scintillating words making your story seem so sexy and exciting that how could they refuse. I know that sounds impossible, and trust me, it ain’t easy, but it’s doable. And you should keep at it until it’s perfect.

Rule #3 Always charm the assistant of whomever you’re trying to reach. The assistants are the gate keepers and they decide what gets through and what doesn’t. The first time you call, get their names and keep good records. If when you call, you say “Hi Jill, it’s Xandy Sussan, we spoke a few weeks ago about my script” you’ll get a better response than “Hi it’s Xandy Sussan, I’m calling about my script.” People love to be addressed by name, and it makes them think they should know you, since you know them. It puts you in the power position.

Rule #4 There is a fine line between stalking and following up. Stalking is calling every day. Following up is every 2 weeks. Don’t be a stalker. But that being said, you should always ask when would be convenient for them for you to follow up, then do as they say. Patient yet persistent, but don’t be a stalker.

And the rest is luck and tenacity. If you’re a quitter, don’t bother. Show your script to your friends and family and let them pat you on the back for being a genius. If you are a rabid dog, who never quits and always perseveres, keep at it. You’ll eventually make enough connections to get through to someone.

My one last pearl of wisdom for newbies, never get off the phone with someone who said “no” without asking them who else you should call. You never know what will happen. This is where being both pushy and charming comes into play. Best case scenario, you get another contact, worst case, they say, “bye” and you’re no worse off than when you started.

TGL - A lot of my readers probably don’t know the importance and usefulness of script coverage, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to get an EXPERT’S opinion of why getting coverage will benefit ANY writer, new or veteran, but also to get some clarity about some of the terminology.

XS - What is script coverage and why is it a good tool? Script coverage is, usually, a two page (or so) report about your script and is largely used by agents, managers, prodcos to manage and evaluate their script submissions. For screenwriters, it’s a tool to help you asses where you are with your work. It will contain the basic information, writer’s name, reader’s name, date, logline, a synopsis and comments.

The logline is a quick sentence that describes your script. For example the logline for “Tootsie” might be “When an unemployed actor needs to raise money, he poses as female in order to get a job on a soap.” It’s just the basic essence of your story. Don’t worry if the reader doesn’t address your multi-leveled pathos in the logline. It’s really just the gist of the story.

The synopsis can be helpful to new writers because often times they’re unable to see a better way to tell their story. They’re too close to it and can no longer see what’s really on the page. A synopsis will provide the chance for the writer to see how another person views their story, thusly illuminating a path to salvation.

The comments section is the bitter pill to swallow for most writers. Everyone is very sensitive about their work, even me, because it’s so personal. You spend 100’s of hours working on something, only to have someone shit all over it for what feels like no reason. Here’s the deal with comments, and I say this all the time when people have several opinions and they’re trying to reconcile them: take what feels right to you. You know in your gut if something’s not right with your script. You know it, even if you don’t want to admit it. So, when the reader suggests that there is a problem, listen to what they have to say and take the comments that feel organic to you. The others, you can ignore. But that’s why having a reader you can trust is so important. You want someone who sees scripts non-stop and knows their stuff. Your friends will tell you your script is great because they love you. And while that’s sweet, it doesn’t help you get your script sold. You want tough harsh critics who will push you to your limits.

So, while Script coverage is a useful tool, you also have to pick your story analyst very carefully. Anyone with $10 and an internet connection can set up a script coverage / story analysis website and claim to be a “professional.” Always check out your reader before you hire them. See what they’re charging. This isn’t one of those instances where cheaper is better (and I’m a bargain hunter through and through). What you’re looking for is someone who can inspire you, has inspired others, has a track record of success and someone with whom you feel simpatico. Your relationship with your reader is going to become, best case informative and speedy. Worst case, it’s gonna be co-dependant. You need someone who understands your goals, your script, and knows how to get you there. Think of your reader as a personal trainer for your writing muscles. If they don’t, or you don’t get a good vibe, or they seem slim shady, whatever, don’t go with them. Keep hunting until you find the right person for you. In most cases, your reader is going to become your confidant, teacher, and someone more emotionally intimate with you than your mate. You want someone you want to spend time with and someone who knows their stuff.

Also, try not to argue with your reader about their notes. I know it’s very personal but, if you’ve done your homework and you’ve found your reader soulmate, you should trust that they have your best interest at heart. I, personally, never lie and I never couch my words. It does my clients a disservice if I kiss their asses and tell them their scripts are great. It doesn’t help them and it doesn’t help me. However, when I’m brutally honest, and tell them it sucks, once they finally get it right and hear from me “I loved it!” they know they’ve really got something then. Honesty is what you want, even if you’re sensitive and have easily hurt feelings. Otherwise you’ll never grow or reach your writing goals.

Last thing you want to look for is someone willing to do a call with you after you’ve read the report. You’ll have questions and you’ll want access to the reader to discuss. Usually an hour is standard and included. If they don’t include a call, or they charge extra, beware. They’re just out to take your money. So choose wisely and you’ll go far.

TGL - Pass\Recommend\Consider... These words seem relatively self explanatory, but they hold a little more weight on a coverage report. Can you give us a little detail on their significance?

XS - Pass means it sucks and it shouldn’t be made or passed along to anyone until the corrections are made. Depending on the reader, and the situation, pass can mean two things. For me and my writer clients, when I “pass” I mean they need to work out their script issues before anyone else should ever see it. For a production company, when I say “pass” I mean “Throw out this piece of trash, I want my two hours back.”

Consider means that there are some positive elements. The story could have a good premise but fail to deliver in certain places. The characters could be great, but the story needs some work. It’s really a middle of the road sort of comment and normally just ends up being a pass, unless it was written by a celebrity, in which case, it’s a greenlight. But a consider could also mean they would be willing to see something else by you in the future, because you don’t totally suck.

Recommend, and that’s a rare one, means this script is so excellent, so wonderful, that if someone else higher up doesn’t read it, they’re missing out. I would say, in my 10 year career, I’ve recommended 7 scripts, 5 of which got made. The other two won at festivals. So, getting a recommend is a coup, to say the least.

TGL - Being a writer\producer and professional reader, what do you look for in a good coverage report?

XS - The comments mostly. If the comments are thoughtful, make sense and are helpful (offering suggestions or alternatives) that to me is the best sort of coverage. It differs between production companies and writers. Prodcos are just looking mostly for a “yes” or a “no”. Writers need more help and guidance. Indie producers are looking for a mixture of both. They often work with the writer and it becomes a team effort, in which each member has a say and they collaborate to make it great.

TGL - Loglines... What makes a good one great? What do you think the key to writing a great logline is?

XS - Quick and to the point. My example above is the perfect logline. It gives the gist of the plot without focusing in too much on the details of the script. The details come later in the synopsis and comments section.

TGL - Why is a coverage report a good idea? What can a professional reader offer that your best friend or mother haven’t already told you?

XS - The truth! Ha! Your best friend and mother love you. They’re so proud of you that you decided to do this creative thing, and while they might know all the lines to “Gone With The Wind” that doesn’t make them industry professionals. Now, if your mother or best friend is a story analyst, professional writer or development exec, (as mine are) then listen to them. They probably know what they’re talking about, but even then, take from their comments what feels right to you.

I don’t think my mother has ever said she loved anything I wrote. No, I take that back. I wrote a nighttime soap in college she liked a lot, but I didn’t care for it. It’s been downhill since then. She doesn’t even like the stuff I’ve had produced, so of course, she’s my go to gal for notes because she always tells the truth, harsh as it may seem. But again, I have to take what she says with a grain of salt. As a professional writer, she understands story, structure, and character development, but her taste is wildly different from mine, so that’s where we clash. I’m young and write with slang and a patois that makes her cranky. So, when she says she doesn’t like a line because the grammar is bad or the slang is incomprehensible to her, I always have to explain, that’s how that character speaks. But when she has a solid note about my end of act two dark moment, I have to listen because she’s right.

Most people don’t have so many writers in one family. My husband is a produced screenwriter and my mother is a novelist and magazine contributor. One of my best friends works in development at Warner Bros., so he’s my go to guy for notes as well. So, if this isn’t your story, seek out a professional if you want the truth about your writing. If you want hugs and cookies for writing a movie, regardless of its merit, go see your mom. She’ll kiss you and then post your script on the fridge and you’ll get the love you’re looking for. If you want to achieve your goals, seek out professional help from someone you trust.

TGL - Where do you see most new writers losing their way in a script? Is it the second act slump? Is it in the first ten pages? What can they do to avoid making those mistakes?

XS - As of today, I’ve read 1779 scripts. That includes the 300 rewrites I’ve read of the same script over and over… I kid, but you get the point. But no, really, 1779. I can tell by page 1 if the script is going to be worthwhile. That being said, I find that most writers lose their way with structure. They have good ideas but poor execution, and that is always their downfall. The three act structure is there because it works. I don’t want to hear “waa waa waa, three act structure is a formula and I’m so creative I’m doing alternative structure.” I don’t want to hear it because there’s one David Lynch and one Tarantino. When you become the third guy or gal in that group, do what you want. The thing about the three act structure is that, even in alternative structure stories, they’re still told using three acts. They’re just better writers and are able to disguise that so you can’t tell. And if you want to really look down the rabbit hole, each act should have three acts, but that’s another story for another day. Don’t be fooled by bells and whistles. All scripts have a flow and if you fail to use it or can’t get it right, you’re done. And any reader worth their fee will know it right off the bat.

TGL - Formatting? Is it as important as the internet makes it out to be? Will they burn you in effigy if you aren’t using ACCO 1 ¼” Brads?

XS - Uh, it’s the MOST important thing. I know that seems dumb and superficial, but it’s Hollywood. It’s all dumb and superficial. My first agent almost fired me when my partner and I sent over materials and all we had were the super long brads. I cut the brad down so it would be the right length. Well, she cut her finger on it and called me screaming. Her point was, imagine if she was not her but someone I was trying to sell to and my idiocy had maimed them. My career would be over before it began. I kissed her ass and apologized to her, but it was a lesson well learned.

Formatting is the most important thing you’ll never realize you’ve done wrong, until you fail and get called out for it. No clever fonts ever! Courier 12 or Courier Final Draft 12, and that’s it. No colored cover pages. 1 ¼ brads, always. 2, not 3, 2 brads. The center is left empty… why I don’t know, but that’s how it’s done.

The thing is, there’s a 100 reasons for them to say no before they even crack open the script. If you get as far as someone willing to read it, and they open it and find the whole script is in 30pt circus font, you know the person is an amateur and you’re done with them. My feeling has always been, if the writer has typos or weird fonts or other formatting faux pas on the first page, then they’re not worth my time. And their script could be the next “Citizen Kane” but I would never know, because I’d pass immediately. Don’t ever give anyone a stupid reason to pass on your script. There’s plenty of valid reasons coming down the pike.

TGL - Looking back over your career, knowing what you know now, what would you tell yourself if you could go back in time to when you first got the spark for the Movie Industry? What gems of insight would you give yourself?

XS - Well, huh, that’s a tough one. I’ve always marched to my own drummer. I’ve always done what I wanted. I’ve always been intrepid and adventurous with my life. I mean, seriously, choosing this as a career was deranged, but it’s worked out so far to some degree. Apart from not being a millionaire yet, I’ve hit my major goals. I made it into the WGA before I was 30. I’m sold, produced and continue to work as a paid screenwriter, so there’s that. I love my business and helping other writers achieve their goals.

But, I would tell myself not to take everything so seriously. I would tell myself to work out my issues with my parents 10 years ago, when normal people did it and not measure my success based on their yard stick. I would tell myself that being able to write a significant piece of material takes time, dedication and patience and that to rush because I have an opportunity never served me well in the long run.

Honestly, I would do most of it, my career stuff, the same way, only I would’ve been more tenacious and less afraid of repercussions. I would have written more and tried harder to get noticed (half the battle in Hollywood). It’s been my experience that story editors, prodcos and the like, are attracted to a healthy sense of moxie and determination. I would make better use of that, as my moxie and determination are my greatest skills.

And I would tell myself that no matter how much I fail, there’s no other life out there for me that would be nearly as satisfying or rewarding, no matter how much I have to starve or suffer to have it. It’s always worthwhile, the second someone says “yes.” And they do say “yes” sometimes. The trick is not allowing yourself to go nuts in between the yeses and doubt yourself and abilities.

TGL - Thank you so much for taking part in this interview... What can we look forward to from Xandy Sussan? What are you currently working on?

XS - Well, thanks for having me. This has been a challenging set of questions! I just finished a 30 minute dramedy pilot for cable that we’re shopping, I’m writing a feature film based on a Poe poem, and I’m writing my own passion project: a super secret comedy that I’ll talk all about once it’s done! Plus, I’m always available to help other writers achieve what they want out of their own writing. It helps, on the days when I’m blocked, to focus on somebody else’s story problems!

TGL - Cheers! And thank you again.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New Website is done...

Well, I've been working away and working away at developing a new "cleaner" look for the GreenLight... And I think I've got it.


I just have a little tweaking to do... I have to create absolute references for ALL the images so I can use the URL masking for domain... Too much GEEK SPEAK! Yeah! That's my day job...

SCREENWRITING is my passion! ;)

So in the site, you'll find Screenwriting links, Screenwriting Info, Articles on Screenwriting, Interviews with Producers, Directors and Actors about Screenwriting and Screenwriters. Of course there's an entire section devoted to MY Screenplays. AND LETS NOT FORGET MY SCRIPT CONTEST!!!!

Hundreds of $$$ in cash and prizes. Coverage reports, script blast, ink tips listings... You want EXPOSURE! 1st annual Screenplay Contest is the one for you!



- G