Screenwriting : Weird Criticism or What? by Ginger Marin

Ginger Marin

Weird Criticism or What?

I submitted my drama/action script pitch recently and got back 2 comments -- "Not clear why this guy had to be a .... specialist." and "Why make her a .... woman?" - While I've omitted certain words - they pertain specifically to the supporting characters' CAREERS. To me this critique makes no sense. Why does a character HAVE to be anything? Because that's what we wanted to do; that's what made sense for the locale ....because ... you can go on and on. Why have the lead character a police man, for example ......yikes.... some feedback would be appreciated. Thanks, all.

Gretchen Elhassani

Sometimes you have to decipher criticism, in that a person has detected a real concern, but is not conveying that idea clearly to you. Othertimes, I think a reader brings his or her own values to the work and is not necessarily correct in their criticism. I'm not sure how to tell the difference, other than put it aside for a year or so and then go back to it with fresh eyes.

Ginger Marin

Thank you!

D Marcus

Two comments from the same person? Have you gotten similar comments from other people?

Ginger Marin

D Marcus - the comments in my post that are in quotes came from the same person in response to my pitch. I have never gotten such comments as those by anyone else nor have I ever seen them given to anyone else. That's why I made the post -- they seemed truly odd to me and beyond unhelpful.

D Marcus

Since that is the opinion of one person I believe you should dismiss the comments. People have their personal opinions and their own questions about a pitch. Now if several people reading a script all have the same comments...

Ginger Marin

Thanks Dan Guardino and D Marcus.

Billy Marshall Stoneking

see HOW TO READ (AND CRITICIZE) A SCRIPT at http://www.wheresthedrama.com/howtoreadascreenplay.htm

Ginger Marin

Thanks for the interesting link!

David Taylor

Unless the comments are realated to a perceived mis-match of motivation, they do sound a bit odd.

Ginger Marin

Thanks, David.

Michael L. Burris

Perhaps it was the capacity in which the support characters support the main characters or character making the thread a bit nonsensical as to their support in the story much as David meant by mismatch of motivation or lack of background bringing the supporting characters in with their specific support roles.

Orianna Morales

Hi Ginger, I would take the commentary with a grain of salt; however, and since I didn't hear the pitch I am going off of instinct and the commentary here, any supporting symbolism and or characters need to be relevant to the story. So, perhaps the reader was unsure of how they tie to the story. Understandably yes, secondary characters need to support your hero/heroine. But they also need to support the continuity. I would try the pitch again to your support group or people close to you that haven't heard it; then, get their feedback and ask them about the feedback you received. Sometimes, as you can imagine, it's hard to offer two degrees of commentary without being there. And yes, Mitchell offers one example of how the continuity may not have been clear.

Ginger Marin

Yes, I understand. Thank you, I will contemplate all.

Ginger Marin

Orianna: Thank you as well. I think the problem too is that the person giving me a two line critique didn't actually read the script. I have spoken to friends and everyone though thought the remarks were ridiculous. Nevertheless, the responses to my post have been helpful reinforcement as to scriptwriting essentials.

Hank Isaac

At one point in my career, I had to literally justify every line in the screenplay - with both the film's Director and the Producer. Sometimes the folks asking, "Why?" need the answers because someone upstream has asked them. Some people have deconstructionist personalities. I think the best thing you can do is just be ready with short meaningful answers. "Why a woman?" If there really IS a valid reason, just state it. "Why a ...specialist?" Same deal. But know that if there really is no valid reason, you're likely on shaky ground. Several films have gone from male to female leads, drama to comedy, one occupation to a different one.

Ginger Marin

Yes, Hank, but those decisions (male to female, changing character ethnicity, for example) are always made for marketing reasons and diversity casting. They have nothing do with what the screenwriter intended.

Tim Lane

It could also be that in pitch, where time/space is limited,those two details may have come across as over-emphasized or having so little importance that commentator was just wondering why you stressed/mentioned them? For example, if you had said, 'Sam, who is a woman ... ," I might wonder why the detail or why you picked Sam as the name. It might be clear as a bell in your script but in an pitch unnecessary detail or in the case of your commentator a detail that, as presented, needed more explanation. Was this an oral or written pitch? 'Submitted' suggests it was written. If so, care to share?

Bill Joyce

And therefore we stand properly poised for humility and take their commentary with a slight nod of the head and a whispered thank you... After they have departed we place their treasured advice in the only appropriate place it has value - the circular file... Not everyone will get the heart and soul of your message. You must persevere through this and continue your guest to tell your story. I do however make this one suggestion. Keep track of the times a scene or character gets questioned. Then in the comfort of your writing suite take time to reflect the flow of that particular part attempting to use fresh eyes. You might find an enhancement that you do like.

Tim Lane

Dan, there's a place for those things you don't want comment on ... your closet. Or was I not suppose to comment on your comment? We all put ourselves out there ... expose ourselves as it were. It's the tough part of being a screenwriter or even as a poster on an internet site. There are those of us who think we are just being smart asses but come across as assholes. It happens. Happens to me a lot. Can't figure out why. But, if it weren't for the comments we get, we might never know.

Ginger Marin

Yes, Tim, it was a short written pitch. Stating the careers of my supporting characters helps explain why they'd be inclined to help the protagonist. Additionally, I believe it shows a unique aspect to the story. I think this issue shows the limitations of pitches.

Ginger Marin

Thank you Bill Joyce and Dan Guardino. But Dan I did ask for the opinion by submitting the pitch -- however as to your other point - I think they should buy the script and NOT arbitrarily change it to the way "they think it should be" -- that's often how good scripts get turned into trash.

D Marcus

Ginger, even when a producer buys a script changes will be made. Most writers see changes as arbitrary. Most producers see the changes as meeting the needs of the production and not as personal whim. But sometimes it is simply personal whim and makes the script worse. It would be nice (in some cases) if a producer bought a script and allowed no changes. We writers give up a lot when we sell a script.

JC Young

Was this from a reader or a producer? Often times a producer has an image in their head of what they want and your words are ruining their version of their image. This is nothing against you or your story or your writing. One of my own scripts involves a young joyrider who steals cars for fun suddenly caught up being a getaway driver. To make him more of a fish out of water, I wanted him to be a white suburban kid. But, a producer after reading it said, 'Hey can you make him black?' A majority of the supporting cast is black and I thought him being the minority worked better. So, what did I do? I rewrote it with the kid being black because someone who could get my script sold wanted it that way. Sadly, it didn't happen. But, at least I can ofter another version now. If you're getting feedback from a reader, take notes to heart. If you're getting feedback from a potential sale, you can stand up for your concept, but be ready to compromise. And Ginger, you're right. Many good scripts get ruined by suits who think they know better. I think some make changes simply so they can say they had input in the story, but understand that some things either can't be done the way you wrote them or would be easier to do if they changed.

Ginger Marin

D and JC. Thanks, believe me I do understand about changes to scripts. It's the arbitrary ones that irk me.

Demiurgic Endeavors

I had a similar critique to a script I submitted. Basically the reviewer wanted me to make the supporting actress the main protagonist. That would make it a completely different story. I beefed up the supporting actress role and kept my protagonist as is. I guess it comes down to how strongly you believe in the story you wrote.

Hank Isaac

@D.E... I would try to avoid changing a screenplay based on what a "potential" buyer wants. Why? If the buyer likes it well enough to want it tweaked, he should literally put his money where his mouth is. Revising to get an option or sale is a zero-sum game. So, what if you make your supporting character the protagonist? You spend a lot of time re-weaving the tale to accommodate the change. Then the guy says, "Thanks, but it's not what we want." So then you show your revised screenplay to ANOTHER "potential" who asks you to make the dog the main character. And you do. And they don't buy it. This can go on indefinitely. Stick to the story you like. If someone buys it, they then own it. THEY can make the dog the central character. And with your half-million dollars from the sale, you can buy all the DVD's in your town and burn them.

Ginger Marin

D.E., no, he didn't ask me to change the characters -- he was simply questioning why make them a certain career. I agree with Hank (and others on responding to my post), though, unless they're paying you to make the changes don't do it...UNLESS the changes they're suggesting make sense to you and will make your script better.

Demiurgic Endeavors

You're right.

Demiurgic Endeavors

@Hank Isaac you're right. The industry insiders know how much sway their suggestions have. Even if they never make a financial offer.

Kindari O'Connor

I can't speak for the original reviewer, but they might just be challenging you to choose your character's occupation based on how it is critical to the story. Maybe not "Why are they a cop?" but "Why MUST they be a cop for the story to work?" How does your choice impact and move the story forward? What do you think?

Ginger Marin

Yes, that's good - but since the reviewer never read the script to see how things actually unfolded, but only commented after reading a very short one paragraph pitch, I can't see that it's a valid question. I do believe our (my writing partner and my) character career choices lent themselves very well to the reality we constructed. -- thank you!

Mark Dowie

Half-read screenplays, followed by inane feedback are too common in this business. If you didn't pay for coverage move on. Not all readers are idiots.

Marla Young

I've learned that sometimes readers or producers or execs don't know what to say... so they come up with something. That's probably why it sounds so weird. But, the bottom line for them is they either didn't get it or weren't interested. But there's lots other out there waiting for a good story, so keep going. I always like to get feedback, and if I keep getting the same feedback, then I really pay attention, because that's telling me something isn't working with my pitch or script. Random feedback is... well, random. Good luck!

Elaine Haygood

I once sat in a story meeting where a studio exec immediately suggested a well-known White actress for a leading part that was obviously meant for a Black actress. When I pointed out the well-known actress was neither Black, nor known for doing SciFi/Horror, their response was that she was capable of getting a film made and folks into the theater. Unfortunately, most studio execs are not in any way, shape, or form, filmmakers. They don't get things like story/character development, etc,. What they KNOW is marketing-Usually to people just like themselves. That means, you're gonna get stupid remarks and cockeyed criticism and the best you can do is blow it off and decide whether you want to bother explaining the bleeding obvious.

Bill Hartin

My very first screenplay, THE TREE, was admittedly a terribly overwritten first effort, but during a pitch/synopsis/5-page table read at my screenwriting group meeting back then, a note made its way to me from the other end of the large boardroom-sized table; it read: Does it need to be a tree? I didn't care for the note at the time, but now, years later, as I sit at my computer pondering such things as story, characters, plot, subtext, continuity, dialogue, descriptions, etc., that note sits atop my screen monitor always reminding me to ask, "Does it need to be...". And if I can't answer that question with certainty, I reconsider what I'm trying to get across and make whatever changes I feel are necessary. That's not to say your commentators are/were right in questioning your characters' occupations, but as Star implies, they might just be saying that something isn't working for them. And, as always, consider the source before reacting or changing anything. Best of luck...

Ginger Marin

Thanks, everyone.

Greg Hickey

I'm assuming the omitted words are adjectives, like "fingerprint analysis specialist" and "businesswoman." Some writers may make very specific choices about their characters' traits and life decisions that convey something more about them. So maybe the critic is asking why your heroine chose to go into business (or whatever). Of course, maybe you made her a businesswoman because that seemed like the best way for her to meet the hero. Anyway, yes, it does seem like a very particular and odd critique. If that's the only problem, I would think you've got a great script!

Billy Marshall Stoneking

Every authentic meeting between storytellers and characters is an act of "making present", or what Martin Buber has referred to as an "I/Thou" relationship. Simultaneously, the character-as-writer encounters the writer-as-character (both, as real or as fictional as one another, depending on one's bias), which gives rise to their final cause, the defining identity of which is the story itself. As the illusion of separateness - between storyteller and character - is stripped away, the utterly manipulative and chauvinistic tactics of the would-be writer are necessarily set aside, replaced by a profound holistic vision in which both story and writer are actively and empathetically engaged in the realisation of each other. The act of entering into this relationship also requires that the storyteller engage with those other characters who, in relationship with the writer and the characters-in-the-script, are necessary and sufficient for the birthing of any successful (i.e.: emotionally meaningful) screenplay, namely one’s audience and one’s tribe. In the process of building and energising these relationships, one might be tempted to suddenly marvel in recognition at the profundity of one's actions. But the experience of recognition is merely one of any number of illusory by-products employed by a self-defeating ego. Indeed, the mental sensation of what passes as understanding - where understanding signifies a degree of control over the language systems germane to dramatic storytelling - is itself a diversion. One is either IN THE DRAMA or secure in the belief that one has gained a measure of mastery in the application of the knowledge of how to write a screenplay, but not both. The art of becoming a medium has nothing to do with knowledge. In fact, it is not so much a matter of recognition or understanding as it is of self-forgetting. From a creative point of view, every dramatic encounter is a relation-event. If the storyteller enters into an authentic relationship with his/her characters, including his/her audience and tribe, then the story that arises from these relationships produces a relation-event that IS a story with its own ability to create relation-event with its own audiences and tribes. For just as the storyteller has an audience to whom his/her story is addressed, and a tribe who speaks through him/her, so too do the characters in the script have those to whom they address their actions and words and tribal groups for whom they speak and who speak through them.

Bill Hartin

Zzzzzzzzz...

Billy Marshall Stoneking

When you write a screen story, there’s always at least two stories - the story that you’re writing, and the story that you tell yourself about why you’re writing it. You have to work on both simultaneously, sensitive to the the fact that they are inextricably linked. Everything is a work in progress. You are a work in progress. If the story you’re telling yourself about why you’re writing the story isn’t adequate to the job of inspiring and exciting you about what you are doing, re-write it.

William Martell

Impossible to figure out what the note meant, so this is just a comment that maybe has nothing to do with your script. Everything is connected to the story, including a character's occupation. It's unity, all things are connected. Here's Chris Lockhart's on Unity and THE UNKNOWN: http://twoadverbs.blogspot.com/2006/09/armless-man_30.html It may be that the reader didn't see the connection between the character's occupation & the story... but who really knows?

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

I wouldn't take it too seriously. I had a Blacklist reviewer tell me something I wrote last year was a piece of shit. This same screenplay placed at Austin Film Festival, Screencraft Action Contest and Richmond Film Festival. That is the first and last time I'll ever pay for script coverage. Remember, most readers are also writers. One person hates your script another person loves it and so it goes.

Valerie Clare

Here's a note to think about..Opinions are like ASS%%^&^..everyone has one. So don't take it to heart, move forward.

Scot Byrd

Have you obtained professional independent coverage on the script prior to submitting it to producers? Producers are entitled to their opinions, but when you receive comments aka "notes" like this, it can be an indicator that they're looking for an excuse to say "no" or "it's not for us." Independent coverage will let you know if the script is ready for the marketplace.

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

Valerie: A quote to live by.

Ginger Marin

That's right, Dan, the odd comment was made based on a logline and very short paragraph pitch.

Billy Marshall Stoneking

“A collection of clichés and stock characters which I can’t see being anything but a disaster.” — Ian Main, Comedy Script Editor, BBC in script notes for John Cleese and Connie Booth’s Fawlty Towers - READ MORE NOTES OF CLUELESS STUDIO EXECS at http://flavorwire.com/378212/hilarious-notes-on-modern-classics-from-clu...

James David Sullivan

After reading all of the above comments, and thinking about it, my conclusion is this: You have precious little space in a screenplay. Everything you write should be related to the story. If something doesn't relate, why tell me (the reader) about it? A screenplay isn't a leisurely novel; it needs to be extremely focused. In a logline or a synopsis, this is even more important. Everything should be have some reason to it. If nothing else, why did you tell me (the reader) about it? Maybe that's what the reader was getting at.

James David Sullivan

Here's an example of what I am getting at. Suppose a protagonist (not yours, just an example) has a dog and feeds it. Why show this in a story? But if the protagonist is especially caring towards the dog, and the point it to demonstrate the protagonist's love for animals, that's great. If the dog later saves the protagonist's life, that works great. But if the dog is just there, well why have the dog there? The dog should be more than a cute set piece; the dog should add value to the script in some way.

Bill Joyce

He killed her. The end. Per David suggestion I removed the non-essential characters and scenery from my script. We are moving why out on a limb here in this discussion. The author has both the right and the choice to embellish and enhance the scene as they see fit. The reader (or critic) can say what they want. The editor or script consultant has a much more difficult line. They need to thread their commentary and guidance in through the fabric of the author's ego and conviction. The dog may end up on the cutting room floor in the movie, BUT avoiding incidental characters and moments of insight would be a terrible suggestion to come from an advisor and confidant. In the end the character belongs to the writer and they may create them in the image they see for their artwork. If you asked me, Picasso would not be on walls in museums - but who am I to tell a painter how to paint...

Anthony D Paul

I like the way you think Philip. But when you don't offer ideas on what can make the script better than it's like, what did I pay for?

Ginger Marin

Re: Scot Byrd's comment "Independent coverage will let you know if the script is ready for the marketplace" - you really think so? Independent coverage is as varied as anyone else's opinion. It has been my experience that producers don't need specific excuses to say "no" -- any excuse will do. And by any excuse -- how about this one -- "you're a new writer; go away!" They don't even take the time to read a script, therefore their reason to say "no" is just bullshit.

Ginger Marin

As for the discussion of writing a dog into a script - a character's interaction or NON interaction with the animal says a lot about the character itself, assuming the author even thought about that in the first place and my guess with respect to the Jesse Stone series that Star mentions is that the author did indeed think about including the animal. When I first made my original post I was clear that the omitted words I used in my pitch pertained to the supporting characters' careers. They were indeed relevant to both the story and the logline/pitch because they showed a level of expertise that would serve to SUPPORT the protagonist and the action. And in the case of the female supporting character ... why she would even be part of the it all. I have never before or since received comments like the ones I posted in my original from anyone. At the same time, I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the comments from others posted here because they serve to remind all writers that nothing should be random about what one puts on the page. So again, I thank you all!

Hank Isaac

Advice in this biz is like snow. Really pretty at first, but then you remember you have to drive home in a foot of it. In the dark. Truth be told, I don't think it really matters what you write. If you can sell enough of the "right people" on your story, your film WILL get made. There's the standing axiom of: "Write for a name actor and your film will get made." Uh, huh. IMHO, the odds of getting your $500,000 film made are way greater than your $200M film. Why? There are fewer name actors than there are good unknowns. And more people have half a million dollars than have two-hundred million. You can ride the carousel all day trying to grab the brass ring until you realize the tin ones on your shelf work just as well. Keep making connections 'til you stumble over the "right" one.

Scot Byrd

Ginger Martin - yes, I really think so. It will show you where the script is weak and what is working. Caveat - I'm talking about getting your coverage from pro script analysts who read and cover a lot of material for the studios. They're not hard to find via the net. What makes them better than your writing group, or family and friends? It's an objective analysis based on what's on the page. They don't know you and owe you nothing but good analysis. Have you tried pro script coverage?

Hank Isaac

A brief anecdote about coverage: A WB development exec. once showed me his coverage book (yes, not supposed to take them out). His reason was all about the extreme subjectivity of coverage - "professional" or not. He pointed to one set which he himself had written. I don't recall the exact words, but this is close to the closing summary: "This is nothing more than a "B" western shoved into a modern setting. Pass/Pass." So they passed. A small British production company eventually made the film. And thus The Terminator was born and created a new sub-genre as well as a franchise. So who was right?

Scot Byrd

Again I ask, have you had your work covered? I have, and it's been an indispensable tool for rewriting.

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

Ginger: Regarding this quote: "It has been my experience that producers don't need specific excuses to say "no" -- any excuse will do. And by any excuse -- how about this one -- "you're a new writer; go away!" They don't even take the time to read a script, therefore their reason to say "no" is just bullshit." - I have to say I agree. I just had a top ten agency's reader provide such non specific coverage that is was absolutely useless. To paraphrase, it was something akin to "these grapes are not right for us... and they're sour too. " And Hank's comment about the terminator speaks volumes. If you think coverage is the way to improve your work then God bless. I say write a lot and put your work out there until something sells.

Hank Isaac

First, I apologize for shoving my personal experiences into the discussion. Several years ago, I was a reader for a boutique management company in LA and later an actor's production company in NYC. In the first instance, I was a "gatekeeper." In the second (strangely), I was a can-we-fix-this-and-make-it-work sort of reader. I bring these up because, no matter what I thought of my skill level at the time, it was still MY opinion. For the management company, I was mandated to read and cover the whole screenplay. I couldn't fake it. Not really. So imagine how I felt when, before I got to the end of the first page, I knew this writer couldn't write. I STILL had to read the whole thing. It's a wonder I didn't become a heavy drinker. Story problems are EASILY repaired. But when a writer's "voice" sounds like a car crash, it's like having to eat a bad piece of fish while smiling at your host. For the actor's company, it was a matter of deciding if there was enough there to bother taking the time to make it better, then supplying notes on how I'd go about fixing it. Accent on HOW I WOULD go about it. Again, not necessarily the definitive solution. I just have a problem with all the online "experts" charging desperate screenwriters rather healthy sums for "opinions."

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

Hank: Great comment and I agree with you about online experts (particularly with dubious credits) charging money to help people improve. I too have had to read full scripts that I hated after a few pages. However, no matter what the writer's skill level, I will always render constructive feedback without passive/aggressive, sarcastic a-hole remarks that I have so often seen. This is a great example of two very different opinions about my screenplay “Once Upon A Time In LA”, which won a gold medal for best thriller at the 2013 Beverly Hills Screenplay contest. This is script coverage from another well known contest, from two readers with their thoughts about my ending: Reader #1: “The twist with Perry being a killer is too force-fed, especially without him being the strangler. It's pretty clear that Perry is a misdirect. And then the killer comes back at the end? People want closure.” Reader#2 The final reveal that Perry was not the killer, and that he’s still on the loose, was great. Particularly because the ending might read as too easy to achieve for the characters, it’s a nice touch that it’s merely an end to Rachel’s part of the story, and not the killer’s.

JC Young

Hank thank you for giving us your background. I myself do not like the idea of having to pay to be critiqued let alone decide my fate. I know some writers have had good luck from event like pitchfests for instance. But think about it. You're paying to query production companies and agencies. So does that really help find the best writers and scripts? A couple of companies have told me that's the only way they do it now. So if you're broke as a writer are you just screwed? And what does that bode for the future? Will companies begin to auction off pitch sessions?

Marla Young

I find it interesting that there are so many comments on this post -- I believe it must be because it reflects our experiences as writers, and yes, there many out there trying to make bank on our desires to succeed. I've had great notes from producers and directors, then notes that have destroyed a script. I've paid for coverage and found some very good, and others, terrible. But, when I hear the same note twice (or other multiples) that's when I listen and take another look at my work. Then it's my choice to decide if I want to act upon it. As an earlier post said, you can't change this and that for every person making a comment, or you will have a Frankenstein-like script built from broken parts. I have a friend who is an INCREDIBLE writer... it makes me want to quit the pursuit when I read his stuff. But he is bounded by: fear someone will steal his work, and totally against anyone changing his work. It hurts me, because his talent is so immense, but.... where will it go? Nowhere, likely. (Although we continue to argue these points to this day--at least it's not boring!) We do have to remember to believe in ourselves, listen to our 'inner voice' but not be oblivious to others' comments. It's all about balance, I believe. I used to be on a film commission and helped start up a screenwriting competition (when these were still relatively new) -- it went on for years, and we had a 'day' where we brought pros from LA for judging, discussions and roundtables, etc. I read many a wonderful script back then--I always knew who would 'win' because there were standouts. But there were many, many more that didn't work--story weak, delivery not competent, too many errors (so distracting), etc. Our rules would say "no more than 120 pages (back in the day when this was the norm) yet we'd receive 145 handwritten pages. Automatically ruled out. The writer I'm sure would say, "But it's a fabulous script!" Didn't matter. It didn't fit in the parameters set forth. As writers I believe we truly have to push the boundaries... but we do have to know which ones to push. :)

Ginger Marin

Scot Byrd - re pro coverage - short answer No, I haven't. Not only couldn't I afford it at present but I wouldn't know who to solicit - what criteria do you use? How do you know who to trust? And Hank Isaac makes a good point.

James David Sullivan

@ Bill Joyce - Do you have any produced or optioned (not crowd sourced or self-funded) scripts? Do you have scripts which have placed in contests? If so, please state what they are. I am interested in what your credentials as a screenwriter are.

James David Sullivan

@A.D. Paul - The original question had to do with a pitch. Shouldn't a producer want to understand the story? And why would someone pitching bring up facts that aren't germane to a pitch, which usually lasts only a few minutes. Who do you think provides most of the notes/feedback from contests? It's writers who are looking to make a few bucks, many of which have virtually no credentials. You can get the same or better from your colleagues. If you want quality feedback, you need to pay someone in the business - and that typically is not a contest reader.

James David Sullivan

@Ginger - there are services that are widely respected in the industry. Many are not.

James David Sullivan

@Ginger - if you have valid reasons for the protagonist having a certain career (i.e., reasons that support the plot), why didn't you just tell the persons you were pitching to that? In a written pitch, ask yourself, how can I make it clear why this is important to put in a pitch. A pitch should be bare bones. Everything in it should make your story look as great as it is. And if you keep thinking about what you want to do, you need to change your focus. It needs to be on your ultimate customer, the audience. What do they want? People are not going to see a movie that makes you happy, they want to see a movie that makes them happy - or at least feel they got their money's worth.

James David Sullivan

@Hank - have you sold your script?

James David Sullivan

@Ginger - Script Shark. http://www.scriptshark.com/ If you don't have the money for script coverage, you're in the wrong business.

JC Young

Hey James, your IMDB link on your profile is broke. I hate when that happens. I keep finding typos on my own profile seems like all the time.

James David Sullivan

It's not broke. I pointed link that to one of my YouTube videos. I don't have any IMDB credits yet, and I don't think you do, either. I have had one of my videos in two different film festivals; however, neither festival qualified for IMDB credit. :-( You are welcome to look at a list of my screenplay contest placements: http://www.stage32.com/profile/176941/Screenplay/DONNA-ROSE-QUEEN-OF-HEARTS http://www.stage32.com/profile/176941/Screenplay/These-Kids-Are-Dangerous By the way, I wouldn't put too much faith in Nashville Film Festival. How many movie producers do you think are in Nashville? So, where do you think they get their readers from?

James David Sullivan

With respect to "CUT TO:" - it's used exactly twice in "Dallas Buyer's Club" - http://focusguilds2013.com/workspace/media/dbc_final-script_-12.02.12-.pdf I'd say that's rarely used.

JC Young

James, you have a very harsh negative attitude. I was merely wanting to look at your IMDB page. If you didn't have one, I would not have said anything. I thought it was a bad link. You've been attacking a number of people here and you are correct. I have been sadly snubbed from my optioned works getting to the production stage. The principals from Ridgerock Entertainment decided to buy Black Mass instead to make a Whitey Bulger pic and let our option lapse. DIMI Entertainment which picked up my Cementville adaptation folded before beginning production of their first slate. Ironically, one of the other films on that slate The Fifth Beatle is going to be made. Vivek turned his script into a graphic novel and in turn it has won numerous awards this past year. It was great to see him turn a tragic blow into success. I've always tried to be very supportive of other writers though I'm not a fan of the cottage industry at exploits them.

James David Sullivan

@JC, I made a comment above about trying to make sure that details in a logline, pitch, synopsis, and script focus on the relevant details of a story. If I were a producer, and someone pitched me a story, I would expect that person to make the best use of time, and providing irrelevant details is not a good use of time. In response to that, I have been relentlessly attacked, implicitly and explicitly, and apparently by some people who haven't even completed a screenplay. I've pitched to probably 30 different producers, and I don't cry or whine if that producer doesn't like what I pitched (for whatever reason). I just keep looking for someone who does like what I do. I think I may have found someone recently who does like my work, and I hope that pans out. If not, I will keep looking for another producer. Movies are major investments involving millions of dollars. Deals fall apart. That's part of the business. We can take it personal or we can keep knocking on doors. Guess which approach is more productive. Congratulations on "The Fifth Beatle". Your work seems to have paid off. I can say to you that you could have sent your note to me using the private messaging system. Instead you inserted it in the middle of several criticisms directed at my post. What did you expect me to think? You need to be aware of the context in which you are posting. And unless you were commenting on my credibility, how is your comment relevant to this discussion thread? Supporting a writer without talent is just as bad as an exploitative cottage industry. All too many people think that because they can type, they are a writer. Big difference! That cottage industry arose in response to those who don't have a realistic appreciation of their own abilities. There are posters above who have a lot of credibility. It's easy to see from their past successes. And there are others who have yet to demonstrate their credibility, yet they offer their advice as if it were as valuable as more seasoned individuals. If that's negative and harsh, so be it. I prefer to think it is rational and realistic.

Hank Isaac

@James: Not sure what you mean by, "Have you sold your script?" I have way more than one, including features, original pilots, etc. I've been optioned twice, and one short screenplay which won the British Short Screenplay Competition, was produced by someone other than me. The film was an official selection in ten international film festivals, winning "Best Live Action Short at Palm Springs" and "1st Prize - Screenplay" at Rhode Island in the same year. Both were Academy-qualifying festivals. At this point, I prefer to produce my own work rather than sell a stack of paper and so far, three projects have been official selections in multiple film festivals with both festival awards and multiple non-festival awards - for me, my team, and my actors. All told, I've had projects in 19 international film festivals since 2009. I have a project about to screen in Dubai at the end of April. I'm currently working with a producer in the UK to develop one of my features, in development here in the states on a small feature, and about to film the pilot for a New Media series this summer. I've taught screenwriting and additional filmmaking skills at the college level as an Assistant Professor. Which basically means I've read well over 35,000 pages of other people's screenwriting efforts. I was a member of American Zoetrope's Virtual Studio for four years. I was fortunate to have had three feature film screenplays read by Zoetrope and while a member of the site, I provided in excess of 1,000 pages of story notes in the peer review process. Subsequent to that I was a professional reader for three years for two companies and can't even remember how much coverage I submitted. Nor do I wish to. If you're indirectly asking whether I'm competent or not, know that I'm not claiming to be anything. It would please me no end to NOT have to read anyone else's work and provide notes - even for a fifty-five gallon drum of Krugerrands. :-)

James David Sullivan

@Hank - you have one logline listed on your profile. That's the script I was referring to. Congratulations on your contest wins and placements. I think it would be more credible to list them on your profile, rather than detail them as you did above. I'm puzzled that you can find the time to write them in response to my question, yet you haven't taken the time to put them on your profile. I don't view university courses are of much value to the movie industry. Most of the important things are taught by industry professionals. I have a writing colleague who just finished a course with a producer. The producer is working to help her get one of her projects produced. I seldom hear that as a result of students who just graduated from college. The script readers for the Austin Film Festival read thousands of pages of scripts, too. But roughly 90% of those scripts never reach placement stage. So 3,500 pages of great scripts is more impressive to me than 35,000 pages of student scripts. And remember, you are the one who brought it up. Of the productions listed on your profile page, most seem to be projects that did were not produced by the studio system. If I am wrong, please correct me. I certainly don't remember seeing any of them in US theaters. And please correct me if I'm wrong, but I think anyone can join the Zoetrope Virtual Studio. Working for a coverage company is impressive, but you didn't mention which ones they were. There are some very good ones out there, and there are some very bad ones out there as well. The things that impress me the most is: contest placements and wins; and the ability to use wins and placements to get the scripts produced. My conclusion from your comments is that you haven't had a producer, other than yourself, turn your scripts into movies. It does seem that you are on the verge of two productions, and I both congratulate you on that and wish you the very best of luck in those endeavors. One more thing, by "New Media" I presume you are referring to a Web-based project, such as something that will appear on Vimeo or YouTube. Am I correct on that?

James David Sullivan

I want to thank all of you who have helped me see the errors of my ways. I apologize to one and all. I now understand that the writer needs to do whatever he or she pleases. The writer is the only one that matters. I am going to start putting ducks into all my scripts because I like ducks. They won't have anything to do with the plot or characters; they'll just be there to make me happy. And I am sure I will brain storm other such great ideas as well. Why should I concern myself with what a producer wants? Just because he or she puts his or her reputation on the line and risks potentially millions of dollars is no reason for me to make any changes in my loglines, pitches, synopses, and/or scripts. And the audience will come and pay good money no matter whether they like the movies made from my scripts or not. I believe this is what people call an "epiphany".

James David Sullivan

HYPOTHETICAL SITUATION #1: A certain producer knows a major male actor and sure-fire hit-maker likes working with her. She reads a great script and wants to put the actor in the film. Unfortunately, there is no character in the script that would be a good role for the actor. But what if one of the female leads could be changed to be a man? So she asks the writer does character X have to be a lady? Writer's response: "That's a weird idea." Producer decides to keep looking for another script. After all, there are about 1,000 scripts floating around Hollywood all the time. 999 more chances to find a script that will work for the producer. HYPOTHETICAL SITUATION #2: Another producer doesn't understand why a certain character in a science fiction story is an attorney. He asks the writer why the character is a lawyer. Writer's response: "That's a weird idea." Producer decides to keep looking for another script. INSTANT REPLAY #1: Writer's response: "What are you trying to achieve?" Producer: "I have a great actor who would be perfect for the part if it were a man instead of a woman. I think I can put this deal together with that change." Writer's response: "I can do that for you in a few days." Done deal. INSTANT REPLAY #1: Writer's response: "The protagonist acts as an attorney on Planet 8903." Producer: "Okay, that makes sense." ============================= I'm not saying these were the reasons for the questions. I just want to point out that there may be good reasons for the questions. Or the producer may simply be an idiot. But why not give the producer the benefit of the doubt?

Hank Isaac

@James: James, you may want to rethink the world if you believe a profile on Stage32 defines someone's life and work. The extent to which you generally "miss the point" almost defies response. I suspect you may be more interested in seeing yourself "speak" than actually understanding what you read. I've never worked for a "coverage company." The purpose of a management company is not coverage. Coverage is a tool. Likewise for an actor's production company. Just a tool. The point about Zoetrope is not about who gets to join, but rather about what one does once there. And by the way, the person writing a "student script" may someday pen the next blockbuster. If you feel only projects produced in the "studio system" are worthy of notice, I feel sorry for you. Likewise regarding your fondness for contest wins. Did you even consider that the screenplays for the greatest films of all time never won a single contest? Based on the tone of your posts, you seem more concerned with status than actual success. Because, James, your opinions about what success is or isn't aren't really the benchmark for success. And honestly, and I mean this most respectfully, why would anyone wish to impress you?

James David Sullivan

It's the job of a writer to use a pitch, whether written or oral, to convince the producer to read the script. " I do believe our (my writing partner and my) character career choices lent themselves very well to the reality we constructed." Then sell the producer on that! It doesn't matter whether you believe it, it's up to you to convince the producer to believe it!

James David Sullivan

@Hank - I am not saying that a profile defines someone's life and work. But it does provide an opportunity to demonstrate credibility. If two people tell me different things, I look for who is the more credible. You have experience in the academic world. Surely there you stressed the importance of using credible citations, and I would like to believe you taught your students how to evaluate different materials as to their credibility. They do that now even in high school. Please don't blame me for missing your point. If you have a point to make, please do so in a way that leads directly to it and is well supported. Otherwise, you didn't really make your point. For example, here's your exact quote regarding your coverage work: "Subsequent to that I was a professional reader for three years for two companies and can't even remember how much coverage I submitted. " Nothing in that quote would indicate that you were working for a management company rather than a coverage company. You are the one who did not make it clear that is was a management company. I agree that a student script might well be a blockbuster. And I can even provide an example to support you on that: "Good Will Hunting". However, those are extremely rare cases. How many of your 35,000 pages of student scripts were blockbusters? I watch a large variety of both indies and studio-produced scripts. But I believe any writer who has important messages to tell wants to deliver them to the largest possible audience, and that is currently through theatrical releases. And a lot of indies are just not that well done, either from a story-standpoint, a technical-standpoint, or both. That's why so few receive wide theatrical releases. I value contest wins as one gauge of a writer's ability. And they can be used to persuade a producer to read a script. Other than that, they are of little value to me. Most scripts that receive wide-theatrical release come from established writers. So you are perfectly correct, they did not win contests - except perhaps the OSCARS, etc. I am not looking for people to impress me. I am looking only for the credibility a person has. By the way, phrases like "I...can't even remember how much coverage I submitted," which do not supply quantitative information, seem to be more like what someone who is trying to impress someone else would say, rather than what someone who is trying to supply factual information would say. And exactly how do you know that your opinions of success are any more valid than mine? That seems like an extremely arrogant attitude on your part. As is your comment about feeling sorry for me. Can't you state your case without making such unnecessary personal attacks? I would have thought you would have learned to do that during your academic career.

James David Sullivan

@Star - First let me take a quick look at your credibility. You don't have any loglines or scripts posted. You show nothing on your profile about any education or experience in any aspect of the entertainment business. That doesn't mean that you don't have any, but it makes me wonder if that is the case. I can't find anything you have credit for in IMDB. I don't either, but I have posted two loglines and the screenwriting contests awards I have received, and I provide Web links to verify them. And, although I haven't posted a link to it, I have a YouTube video with over 100,000 hits. Not a viral video obviously, but one that has received considerable interest. I agree that it is possible to get a script produced without coverage. However, I think that is a very rare. Without some good coverage notes or some contest placements, it's not that easy to get your script noticed. Many script consultants, managers, and agents suggest purchasing notes. And I have had producers ask me if I have coverage notes that I can send them, clearly indicating that they value such notes. So, I think that believing that coverage notes aren't a valuable, if not essential, part of preparing your work for submission to producers is naive. My personal opinion, but I think it is widely shared by those who have been actively involved in promoting their scripts for any significant length of time. And I know at least one well-regarded screenwriting teacher who believes good coverage notes are a great way to get a manager or an agent interested in you. Thus, I think anyone who doesn't have the money to pay for coverage notes is not making the kind of sacrifices necessary to succeed in this business. I know a lady who has had several of her scripts produced for TV. She is currently trying to sell a movie script. She happens to be on disability right now, but she still sent her script in for coverage notes because she knows how important they are. I realize that there are a lot of charlatans when it comes to coverage notes, but finding out who can provide credible and reliable notes is also part of the business. I think that statements such as "I feel sorry for you" are clearly the sign of an arrogant individual. Likewise, statements that imply that my concept of success are misguided similarly display arrogance, because such statements imply that my concepts are wrong and someone else's are correct. We all are entitled to our own opinions as to what constitutes success. Finally, I note that your last post resorts to name calling.

JC Young

James. I have tried to be quiet but what is wrong with you?

James David Sullivan

What kind of a question is that from someone who claims to support his fellow writers? This thread was started to address an issue Ginger Marin had as to whether certain feedback was weird. You switched topics totally and asked me right in the middle of this about my IMDB page, instead of sending that to me directly through a private message. In the context you sent it, it appeared to be some sort of put down. So, I ask you why would you break the chain of the discussion with such an off-topic question? In other words, what is wrong with you? Some of the people who have commented on this thread act as if they had years of experience in this field and are the sole source of knowledge about it. There is at least one person who hasn't even completed a screenplay, but has no problem giving advice about it. One person responded to my comment about keeping only the relevant items in a logline, synopsis, pitch, and script by making a ridiculous comment - ""He killed her. The end." Almost any knowledgeable screenwriter teacher or consultant will tell you the advice I gave is sound. The who, what, where, why, and how are extremely relevant. But there are plenty of things that are not and should be cut out. A producer will judge you based upon your ability to focus on the important and eliminate that which does not help the story. Sure, an author can crowd source, but that typically provides funding of a million or less. Most movies designed for theatrical release require a lot more than that. So, whether we like it or not, we need to be able to work with producers. And that means giving them the benefit of the doubt, not telling them that as writers we can write whatever we please and make no accommodations to someone whose reputation and potentially millions of dollars of funding are on the line. I would love it if producers would just fork over the money and allow the creative people to do their work. But they don't because they have too much at stake. And sure,they make mistakes. Who doesn't? Buy maybe I'm playing in the kiddie pool, where no one is truly interested in getting their scripts made. Maybe that's what's wrong with me.

James David Sullivan

@Dan - The more I think about it, the more I would like to know what she didn't tell us. Why hide this information from us? How can we come to a valid conclusion if she leaves out what could be key words in this conversation? Maybe the omitted words are irrelevant, but how do when know when she doesn't want to tell us?

James David Sullivan

@Dan - a oral pitch is almost like going through a Ph.D. oral exam. You have to know every detail of your script and be prepared to answer succinctly almost any imaginable question they throw at you - typically in less than 10 minutes.

James David Sullivan

@Dan - if you have some other way to get your scripts produced, then you definitely don't have to do them!

Ginger Marin

I started another post a couple of of days ago to show precisely who is reading our scripts. Check it out https://www.stage32.com/lounge/screenwriting/ShowBiz-Interns-Class-Actio...

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