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Orange County Screenwriters Association


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OC Screenwriters - Articles

Articles

How To Sell Your Screenplay: An Interview With Film Insider Laurie Scheer


Q: Was there a working methodology you had for choosing screenplays and teleplays that were worthy of production?

LS: Essentially, it would be whoever I was reading for at the time. When you do reading, you are told by whoever you are reading the script for what it is that you're looking for. Working at ABC, you were looking for stuff to develop into series. Working at Viacom, you were looking for movie series. I worked for Meg Ryan for a while on a freelance basis.

I had to keep in mind [that] obviously a script about a James Bond character traveling around the world would not be perfect for her. You had to tailor what you were reading. Could Meg Ryan either act in this or would she be interested in producing this herself? The [question] is, why are you reading? Everyone wants a script that's going to open up with a huge blockbuster opening weekend.

Q: So, they didn't really lay down any specific guidelines?

LS: No.

Q: Would you use your instincts to determine what would be best for them?

LS: For the specific company or the actor. Unless you've been given a specific. Otherwise, it's just, 'Is this a good script?'

Q: Was there a submission process at the various companies you worked for that people had to go through? 

LS: Most of [the scripts were] being submitted through agents, but we did take a few scripts from unsolicited sources.

Q: And were any of those optioned?

LS: Not that I know of.

Q: In terms of pitches, did anyone come in personally to pitch to you and others? Or was it done mostly by phone?

LS: Yes, we had pitches. But, they were primarily arranged through agents or individuals who had made the calls to come in and see us. [They] did call ahead of time and say, 'This is what we have, and here's what we should take a look at it.' But, primarily, most of the in-person pitches were arranged through agents.

Q: Was there one pitch in particular that was successful or struck you as being well-executed, something that would leave an indelible mark in your mind?

LS: Yes. We had Paul Michael Glaser come in a few times and pitch. Starsky and Hutch had ended in the late '70s, and this was the early '80s and mid- '80s. He would come in and still continue to try to pitch ideas. And just having a star or someone that you knew from TV was always interesting. But it didn't make any difference if their pitch wasn't something that could be developed. So, I would just say the ones that were interesting were obviously stars that you knew.

Q: Did anyone use any unusual methodologies for pitching?

LS: A number of times when I worked at networks or production companies, I, for some reason, worked near the children's programming department. Every time there was a Barney-like character, you'd see maybe two guys walk in and then a huge alligator, or a chicken, or something. This is obviously the character that they had created—a friend of theirs in a suit. But it helped in the pitch to have the actual character, even if the character just sat there and smiled like a Disney character, waving or something. It helps for the executive to see what this animated cartoon is going to look like. So, there were memories of that kind of stuff happening, where people would bring in the actual character.

Also, whenever it was based on a true-life person, [the screenwriter] would often bring the person in. And [it] was always interesting to actually meet the person who had hiked the Rockies and maybe had one leg—whatever the feat was, whatever the interesting storyline was. The person would actually be there. That would be interesting because it's true and there's proof. There's the person that lived through whatever great thing the story is about.

Q: Is there a set of criteria or a methodology you would recommend to an aspiring screenwriter who has a completed script and would like to pitch the script in person to someone? Or is there a structure you would recommend to clients as a script consultant?

LS: The number one thing is [to] be confident. Just be absolutely confident. Know your story inside and out, and have confidence in it to support [it]. If I feel that you know your story and you're going to stand by it no matter what, I feel more confident in it also.

Q: Would you recommend starting out with a logline that segues into a long-format synopsis? That would be the standard format of a reader's report: logline, synopsis, comments. Would you recommend using that for a pitch?

LS : Absolutely. In fact, that's the best. Working with a writer and perhaps seeing the coverage. Work with a writer on what their logline is, what they see it as, and [how] the reader [interprets it]. Hopefully it's similar because the writer has relayed that, has said what they wanted to. But sometimes it comes off [differently]. The reader reads something into the script. You don't know.

Q: In terms of the script consulting you do, can you tell me what kinds of services you provide?

LS: I basically will take a script and read it from a reader's point of view, because I've done that most of my life, and I've done it as a reader. I've done it as an employee for a company. And, I've done it also for producers as boutique coverage.

In other words, individuals come to me with a project, and they want me to write the coverage so that it's favorable when trying to get a star attached or some director attached.

Perhaps I am working again for Meg Ryan's company, but she wants this book and she wants to get a director. I would sort of do in-house coverage to get someone else attached. I'm straying, but what I'm saying is that I will do coverage the way a reader does coverage. So, here are the notes. Here's what's working, what's not working, and what I would say to the executive I'm working with: consider, recommend, or pass. And here's what I feel is happening here.

Then [I'll] show you, the writer, why. [I'll say,] 'This is not strong at all. I get this from this sentence. Tell me that the person suffered three miscarriages. You need strong dialogue.' These kinds of things.

I'll do detailed coverage and then discuss it with the person. Feedback back and forth, back and forth. Let's talk about it. And when we [talk] over the phone, I will say: 'This is what I think you're writing.'  That's sort of a capsule of what the coverage would be. If it's not what they set out to write, then I feel they didn't express it in the writing they put together. So, I will give you real reader's coverage.

Q: Do you work only with industry people or with the general public as well?

LS: I do both. I have worked often—and I still do off and on—with Showtime, which has come to me a few times because of my connections in working with Viacom. [They'll] come to me with a script. They like it, but they just don't know what they are going to do with it. And, they've invested money in it. They've optioned it. They've put time into it. They don't want to let it go.

Q: They're trying to get out of development hell?

LS: Exactly. [They say,] 'Can you see something in here that we can't see, and can you find a story? Or, is there some angle that we're not seeing, or the way it works best for this actress over this actress, or that sort of thing.' I will work with companies on that level.

I have worked with writers who have representation through agents and are well known. They work fast, but they just need a slight kick in the butt. Mostly, I work with individuals through extensions, a lot of adult individuals I teach at the Writer's Center in Bethesda. Mostly older adults, professionals—helping them to hone the script. And then, of course, students.

Q: How do you divide your time between teaching at the various colleges you're affiliated with, mentoring the public, and mentoring film industry professionals as well?

LS: Primarily, I teach five or six classes a week in addition to promoting my book. For the past year, this has been my schedule. I'll do [seminars] to get my name out there in connection to [my] book. [My] time is divided half and half. I love teaching. I really want to encourage people to realize their dreams. It may not happen overnight, but they shouldn't give up.

I'm from Milwaukee. I had no money, no connections in the industry. I did it. I've had a very successful career. At any point in time, I can go back to working full time if I want to. I'm just saying I'm not bitter. I love it. I love the industry, and I just love to encourage [people]. I got a call from a student who graduated, say, in '97 from Northwestern [University] with a whole group [of students], and they're just doing great. That's really important to me.

Q: Are you saying that the film industry is accessible?

LS: Right. [The new generation of filmmakers are] not coming from families that are show business oriented. In fact, they're coming from good Mid-Western families. They got in their cars and went out there [to LA]. One is a junior agent at CAA. Another one is head of Disney story. Another one is a producer on the Universal lot. These kids are about 27, 28-years-old. They'll be fine. And none of them had any connections. They're just normal, hard-working kids, extremely talented in what they do, but working hard. If I can do it, they can do it. If you make that 110% effort, there's no reason why you can't sell your script.

Q: A lot of people visiting Scriptologist.com worry that they can't get past what they call the brick wall of screeners. Is there a particular way that you show people how to get past that?

LS: I will work with a number of loglines, a number of different high concepts catering toward a specific group, a specific company. The other thing that I'll do is take an hour—-2:00 o'clock on a Thursday afternoon—and I'll keep my phone clear. We'll do four or five mock phone calls. [The writer is] calling me. For the first [call], [I'll pretend] I work at Tom Cruise's company. For the second [call], I'm just a secretary at Universal. You know, the various situations where a writer would call to pitch a script. I pick up the phone and say something like, 'Mark Platt Productions.'

The writer has to do the shtick. We've gone through it. We've talked about it. And, it's up to the writer to go ahead. I can either be the real easy secretary or I can be mean and rude. But, it's an exercise of spending an hour, making four or five phone calls, and then learning from that. We hang up, call back, and say, 'Here's what you did right. You shouldn't have said that.' But, you learn from that. Then it's not so difficult making those first calls. And, once you start, it becomes really, really easy.

Q: In terms of follow-up for pitching scripts, I would get a script into a production company, then four weeks would pass. How do you follow up in such a way that you imbue production companies with the sense of urgency that this is indeed a hot script?

LS: That's when you haven't stopped calling in that month. You get the script to fifteen or sixteen other places, and you call them back and say: 'I've got so and so over at Fox looking at it, and I've got TNT looking at it.'

But, you tell them: 'Hey, I've got other people looking at it. I need an answer.' And, you're not rude about it. Then they'll say, 'Oh, there must be something about it if somebody else is looking at it.'

So, you call back and say, 'I'd like to know what's happening because I've got it at other places, and I'd really like to work with you.'
 

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How To Format Flashbacks In A Screenplay


Here is an example of formatting a transition to a flashback and a flashback scene:

INT. SAIGON HOTEL ROOM – DAY (1983)

Kim gets up from the sofa. Crosses the room to the window. Gazes down at people
walking along the street. She stares at a mother and a young girl about her
own age.

                                                                                                       FLASHBACK TO:

INT. SAIGON HOSPITAL – DAY (1981)

Kim's mother is in a hospital bed. Kim is holding her hand, squeezing hard.

                                                KIM
                          Mother, mother open your eyes.

Kim drops her mother's lifeless hand. She stares with unbelieving eyes.
A voice calls her name, "Kim! Kim!"

BACK TO PRESENT

Kim turns away from the window. Steve is calling her name.

                                                STEVE
                          Kim! Kim! Are you okay?

                                                KIM
                         
Yes.

                                                STEVE
                         
You seemed far away when I called you.

In the above example, the present-time scene transitions into a flashback. Kim gazes out the window and sees a mother and daughter who evoke a memory of her own mother.

The words, FLASHBACK TO (all caps), appear at the right of the page, indicating that the next scene is a flashback. The flashback scene itself is formatted like any other scene. In this example, it is set in a Saigon hospital. We see Kim's memory of her dying mother. So the audience learns what happened to Kim's mother and how it affected her.

Notice how the flashback transitions back to the present-time scene. Kim hears a voice calling her name, calling her back to the present. The words, BACK TO PRESENT (all caps), appear on the left side of the page, indicating that we are leaving the flashback and returning to the present time. The transition is smooth because we see Kim turn away from the window where her memory was first evoked in a flashback. She turns away because a voice distracts her from her memory and makes her focus on the present time.

By reading screenplays with flashbacks, you'll learn how to transition into and out of them and when to use them effectively. They shouldn't be used indiscriminately. It's best to show action in present time and use flashback scenes only to give the audience information it can't get from present-time action.

To write a flashback scene, ask yourself several questions:

1.) What does the audience need to know about the protagonist's past that cannot be shown
      in a present-time scene?

2.) Where does the flashback take place? Describe the geographic location.

3.) When does the flashback memory take place? Pinpoint the time period. Did the event
      take place in the character's childhood, several months ago, or many years ago?

4.) Who are the other characters in the flashback and why are they important?

5.) How is the character's memory evoked as a flashback? This is known as the transition
      into the flashback. Does a place, sound, picture, or present event trigger a memory?
     How does the character return (transition) to the present from his memory, or flashback?
     Does someone call his name, telephone him, tap him on the shoulder?

Learn About Screenplay Formatting By Reading Screenplays In Our Directory

Screenplays> Action-Adventure
Screenplays> Animation
Screenplays> Biography
Screenplays> Comedy
Screenplays> Crime
Screenplays> Drama
Screenplays> Horror
Screenplays> Mystery
Screenplays> War
Screenplays> Sci-Fi
Screenplays> Western

People Who Read These Screenplays Also Bought Screenwriting Exercises

Store> Scriptologist.com Exercise Series
Store> How To Create A Dramatic Plot Structure
Store> How To Create Real-Life Dialogue
Store> Character Development Exercise
Store> How To Write A Screenplay From Your Personal Life Experiences
Store> How To Write A Religious Thriller

 

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How To Write A Screenplay About Factual Events

How To Write A Screenplay About Factual EventsJFK

Writing about factual events is both appealing and challenging for screenwriters. Many films have been promoted with the tag line, based on fact.

Oliver Stone based the script for his film, JFK, on two non-fiction books: Jim Garrison's On The Trail Of The Assassins and Jim Marrs's Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy. The mainstream news media tried to discredit the film before it had even been released. But the media only succeeded in drawing attention to the film, ensuring its success. When Stone published the script for JFK in book form, he included 340 research notes with supporting facts for the story, as well as news articles written by high-profile journalists who chose to attack the film.

In writing the script for JFK, Stone condensed a large number of events and characters from the Kennedy assassination. He chose New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison as the protagonist (hero) and businessman Clay Shaw as the antagonist (villain). Garrison was the only person to ever charge and prosecute anyone for involvement in the Kennedy assassination. He charged Clay Shaw for conspiring with other people to murder President Kennedy. Shaw was the director of the International Trade Mart—a business organization—and worked for the CIA.

Oliver Stone uses Jim Garrison's investigation of Clay Shaw as the main focus of JFK. In the film, Garrison determines that Shaw planned the Kennedy assassination with David Ferrie, a CIA agent who knew Lee Harvey Oswald, the man accused by the U.S. Government of being the lone gunman in the assassination.

Stone uses the trial of Clay Shaw in the film to show that multiple gunmen were involved in the assassination. In the court room scenes, Jim Garrison tells the jury that the assassination was carried out through the use of assassins firing guns at President Kennedy from three different locations in Dealey Plaza. Garrison explains the actions of the assassins by showing and analyzing the Zapruder film, a real-life 8mm film in which President Kennedy is shot to death.

By focusing on Jim Garrison's investigation and the trial of Clay Shaw, Oliver Stone clarifies and dramatizes factual events from the Kennedy assassination. By choosing Garrison as the protagonist and Shaw as the antagonist, Stone avoided using too many characters. The result is a film that shapes facts into a riveting story.
 

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How To Introduce A Character In A Screenplay


In a character introduction, the name of the character is stated first. The description of the character follows the name. The character's name is written in capital letters the first time it appears and before the character speaks for the first time.

Example:

KELLY BRANDT clutches her camera as she pushes through a crowd of people who are gaping with shocked expressions at flames leaping from a nearby building. KELLY's  stark beauty and intense blue eyes are illuminated in the firelight as she presses forward, determined to get her first story assignment on the front page of tomorrow's Daily Gazette.

In the character description of Kelly, her age isn't specified. But the description of her beauty, her eyes, the way she  moves with determination, and the fact that this is her first story assignment provide clues that she's young. When Kelly "pushes through a crowd," we learn that she's assertive and ambitious. Kelly's personality characteristics are defined by her actions here, as well as by the physical description of her.

It takes only a few sentences to describe a character. But keep in mind that you need to carefully choose the descriptive words that best define the character and his or her personality.

Example:

Down the street, ALLEN  MARSHALL steps out of his jeep. ALLEN is thirty-two years old, unshaven, dressed in faded jeans, T-shirt, boots, and a cap emblazoned with WBBD Radio. He moves with long, confident steps toward the crowd and the burning building.

In the description of Allen, his age is stated. The way Allen is dressed and the fact that he is unshaven tells us a great deal about him. Also, he's driving a jeep—another expression  of personality. We can see that Allen is defiant, cares little about what others think of his appearance, and is very confident, which he expresses in the way he walks. The cap he's wearing provides clues about his job and complements his personality. The jeep fits in well with Allen's unshaven face, his faded jeans, and his boots.

Screenwriters can benefit from reading published screenplays to learn more about how characters are introduced and described.

To introduce a character and write a description, ask yourself several questions:

1) Who is your character? Is this character the protagonist, the antagonist, a supporting
    character? What is the character's name? Describe the character's physical
    characteristics and personality characteristics.
2) What does your character do for a living? What is he trying to achieve? What is his
    goal?
3) When does the story take place? Does it take place now, in the past, in the future?
4) Where is your character located? Describe the physical location.
5) Why does your character look or behave the way he does? What is his motivation?
6) How do your character's mannerisms or actions define his personality?

Creating Characters Based On Personality Type

          

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