Friday, October 27, 2006

Another fellowship that rhymes with Nicholl (kind of)

Although Kira from Fresh Hell won't need to apply, now that she's been accepted into the Warner Brothers Writing Workshop (woo hoo!), for those with an interest in animated or live-action comedy television there is this: the Nickelodeon Writing Fellowship Program. Spec -- funnily -- a current half-hour live action show, or 11 or 30-minute animated series, and maybe get a salaried position for up to a year at Nickelodeon. Where, as a fellow, you'll get experience in writing scripts, pitching new ideas, and all other sorts of tasks related to show development. This fellowship also places an emphasis on cultural and ethnic diversity, so there's that. Submissions for the next period, which begins in October 2007, must be made between January 2 and February 28, 2007. With the holidays coming up, that will be here before you know it.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

365 + 1

Yesterday was the anniversary of this blog's inception. But since I was busy seeing The Decemberists, no time to post anything meaningful. Feel free to check out some pics I took at the gig. The Portland group has a new album out, The Crane Wife, which melds lead singer Colin Meloy's literate storytelling with some retro prog-rock sounds. It works better than you might think.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I stole this

. . . from Max. But since she said it was okay, it's hardly like stealing at all. Funny every time I watch it.

Screenwriter -- Hero of Action!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Chin music

Survived my two minutes on the spot at ScreenplayLab's pitchfest with Chris Lockhart. For $20, it's an astoundingly good value, whether you pitch or just sit and watch the carnage onstage. I hung back for the first two hours to try and gauge the quality of pitches and pitchers. When it became apparent that I stood as good a chance as anyone who had gone already, I hopped into line and gave it a shot. Didn't slobber down the front of my shirt and stammer but my title and concept were ones that Chris had seen all around town of late. No surprise there, admittedly it's a premise to whom I would certainly not be the first person it has occurred. Then, as Chris said, it's a question of what's "on the page" more than what's on the stage. But a good experience for me just in the preparation and delivery of the pitch itself.

A few things I took away from watching other attempts (some of which are also essential questions any writer should be asking themselves as they draft their script, outline, treatment, etc.):

1. What is your story about?

The crucial information you need to convey to your audience. Note, this not the same thing as telling your story from start to finish in abbreviated form. We attorneys call long passages of factual allegations that don't do much to further a legal argument the "who shot John?" The pitching equivalent is just getting up and regurgitating every plot point and character action in excruciating detail. Don't do that. Do understand what the heart of the plot is and be able to state that in one or two sentences that draw the listener in to wanting to know more. This includes things like "What is the genre?" The fewer the better. "World War II action-adventure romantic comedy" is not really a genre (except at pitchfests, apparently).

2. Who is your protagonist and what do they want?

Too often, Chris would ask a pitcher either who the protagonist of the story was, what their motivation was, or what they would have to overcome to achieve their goals. If your answer to that question is "stuff" -- as was one person's -- your script has some issues. Why do we care about your hero? What obstacles will they encounter along their journey? What makes it imperative to the story that they overcome those obstacles? How will their character be transformed in the process? Again, be able to state these points clearly in one or two sentences. Conversely, know and be able to respond intelligently to similar questions about your story's antagonist.

3. What makes your story different than every other one like it?

As I learned for myself, as great and original you may think your idea is, odds are it's been done before in some fashion. Or is about to be done. That's okay. What's not okay is being unable to explain how your twist on a concept or genre that has been done to death deserves to be produced. As the old saw goes, they want something like everything else, but different. Along the lines of not mixing too many genres, there are also some genres and story elements that are so common that, if you are going to use them, you better have a watertight premise and better write it better than anyone else. Including but not limited to:

a. vampires
b. zombies
c. the Old West
d. comas
e. time travel
f. Nazis
g. traveling back in time to kill Hitler and, thus, destroying the Nazis
h. elves
i. gnomes
j. other variations on the wee sprite theme
k. body switching
l. hidden codes in lost historical texts that have the potential to destroy humanity as we know it unless the dashing historian and his comely student decipher it in time
n. aliens

NB: If your premise is an amalgam of any two or more of these concepts, e.g., a young elf boy switches bodies with Hitler when he goes into a coma, put down your pencil and stop writing. Also, do not try and pitch that concept to Chris if he holds this event again next year. He is not mean, but he can be brutally honest and is likely to call it "dopey" in front of everyone else who has come to participate. Really, though, if you ever anticipate being in a meeting with the opportunity to actually pitch your script or concept, you will thank him for it.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

One page that Mark Foley hasn't IM'd

Just because I'm busy with several things (some writing-related, others work-related) and because I didn't participate last year, I'll take this opportunity to post my contribution to Red Right Hand's "One Page 2006". From the first draft of my rom-com, which lies fallow at the moment as I work on writing and rewriting a couple of other projects.

Friday, October 06, 2006

It was 79 years ago today . . .

On October 6, 1927, The Jazz Singer opened in theaters. It was the first motion picture to employ recorded sound, ushering in the era of the talking picture. And, because actors now needed words to accompany the pictures more than ever, the date also marks the beginning of screenwriting as we know it. Although films in the silent era had screenplays, labor was often divided between the scenario writer, who was tasked with coming up with the story, and the intertitle writer, who penned the dialogue and other information that appeared on the title cards between the action. Like many actors of the period, some writers flourished under the new form, while others failed to successfully make the transition to "talkies." I'm embarrassed to say that I've not seen the original "Jazz Singer," though not as embarrassed as I am to admit that I have seen the 1980 remake starring Neil Diamond and Olivier.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Alright meat, show him your heat

For those in the L.A. area, the always-helpful Infolist gives this heads up for what sounds like a pretty worthy event, courtesy of ScreenplayLab:

"ScreenplayLab Second Annual Pitch Contest

with ICM Executive Story Editor

Chris is back! Our most popular event last year. Check out the prizes this year! ICM executive story editor Christopher Lockhart hosts a live event in which the audience is invited to pitch to him and gets immediate feedback on the effectiveness of their pitches. A documentary that aired last year about Chris and his pitching process was nominated for an Emmy. For the audience this event is a great educational opportunity, a lot to learn whether you pitch or not.

Sunday, October 15, 2006, 3pm to 6pm

Raleigh Studios
Van Ness Gate
Chaplin Theatre
5300 Melrose Avenue (across from Paramount)
Hollywood, California
Free parking available on the street
Parking on the lot, if available, costs $6

Tickets cost $20
Purchase online at:

Chris picks who from the audience pitches during the event. There isn't time for everyone to pitch. Chris decides the winners with the help of audience applause. His decisions are final.

The three finalists with the best pitches get meetings with agents. Getting an agent is the best ticket to success in Hollywood, but how does an unknown writer get a one-on-one meeting with an agent? Finalists get real meetings with agents at the agent's office. (This is not like a pitchfest where you may meet with an agent for five minutes in a noisy room at the event.)

Each finalist will get a meeting with at least one agent. Agents choose which of the three finalists each agent will see. Agents from multiple talent agencies are participating.

The winner also receives a copy of Final Draft software.

Christopher will offer the winner industry coverage on the project.

Each finalist will also get a DVD of the Emmy-nominated documentary 'The Inside Pitch.'

Note there's no actors workshop reading during this special event.

About ScreenplayLab:
ScreenplayLab is a 1,000-member film industry coalition with the mission of making the world a better place through comedy in motion pictures and television. Our workshop readings present 30 new pages from selected scripts that are cast with working actors. More than two dozen actors
and writers have gained agent representation by getting noticed through ScreenplayLab.

Robin Rowe, co-founder

If you're not familiar with Chris Lockhart (and you should be), get thee to his blog, The Inside Pitch, and Two Adverbs site pronto. Both are invaluable online resources on the art of the pitch, logline, and query letter, all of which any screenwriter has to learn (if not completely master) if they hope to effectively market their script and themselves to "the suits." Even if not one of the lucky ones picked by Chris to give it a shot, sounds like it will be worth the price of admission to see how others do it and maybe hear some feedback from the pros on their performances.