Archive for the ‘screenwriting contests’ category

Eyes on the Prize

October 7, 2015

I’ve been swamped with video production work, and taking care of business before my trip to New Jersey for a high school reunion, followed by a week in NYC where my wife and I will be seeing four Broadway plays. Even though I’m accustomed to high hotel prices since we live in Hawaii, I was surprised just how much it would cost us to stay in Manhattan (over $2,000 for six nights). Plus, we were paying premium prices for the theater tickets because I figured if we were going all that way, might as well get the best seats possible instead of trying to save a few bucks and sitting further back.

In any event, I should be excited about seeing old friends from NJ and my days in New York, but the truth is I was in a funk the past couple of months. After writing what I felt was some of my best stuff ever, I was disappointed when my screenplays didn’t advance in the big contests. On top of that, I had applied to a Hawaii-based accelerator program that is supposed to help develop local TV and film projects, and thought I had a very good chance to get in. I expected to be one of the chosen few… forgetting a zen saying I keep repeating to myself: When you cease expecting, you have all things.

Easier said than done! I suspect that if you are reading this blog, you are a writer and probably competitive by nature. Why else would you care what another struggling wannabe screenwriter has to say? Rather than dwell on my personal disappointments, however, I would like to share the positives that came out of my latest setbacks. Maybe it will help you deal with future rejections and close-but-no-cigar outcomes. In the past year alone, I’ve had three scripts get a fair amount of attention from producers and managers, who shopped them around — but no deals.

Anyhow, after I got the impersonal losers email about the Hawaii accelerator snub, I sulked a bit. Then I decided to play catch up on my journals. Each day I scrawl a couple of lines in a notebook to summarize highlights or low points of the day, just to keep track of my progress (or lack of it). When something significant happens or I have some down time, I transcribe my jotted notes to my computer journal entries. A funny thing happened though when I started typing up what I’ve been doing the past two months… I saw that I had actually accomplished a lot and should have been happy instead of fretting about what might have been.

For my monthly half-hour Career Changers TV show, which airs daily on Oceanic Time Warner cable in Hawaii, I had gotten to interview two Olympic gold medal ice skating champions (Kristi Yamaguchi and Brian Boitano, who had a TV cooking show and remodeling show as well) for a paid gig to produce videos about a benefit show they’re doing to help early childhood literacy programs; a week later, I was doing a story on a company started by a talented singer that offers Storybook princesses and superheroes for customized party packages; a couple of nights after that we were shooting a pro wrestling match for a segment about a local actor who runs the wrestling league while managing a self storage facility during the day; and I produced segments about energy and agriculture-related startup companies that are using innovative approaches to help make our world a greener, better place. At the same time, I was getting calls left and right from companies asking me to produce new videos and commercials for them.

Yet all I could think about was what I didn’t achieve or get because the dream of being a successful writer seems so much more glamorous and rewarding than being a mere video producer or copywriter for local commercials. What’s ironic is that the more productive I’ve become on the local level, the more rich and famous people I’ve gotten to meet and work with… and what I find is even Olympic champions aren’t really all that different than you or I once you get to know them. They put their skates on one at a time, they’re excited to be visiting Hawaii, they talk about the hard work it took them to get where they were. And then after they win the gold medal, they have to find new challenges in life. They look for meaning in what they do instead of resting on their laurels or counting their money.

It reminds me of a trip my wife and I took to Vegas when we were still newlyweds and not experienced gamblers like we are now. She sat down at a slot machine, but had her eye on another machine she really wanted to play. While she was watching the other woman plunking silver dollars into the slot, she bided her time by playing one coin at a time in the machine she didn’t want, just waiting for that woman to finish playing and move on… then my wife looked up and saw she had hit the big jackpot! Except nothing happened. No bells or music, no flashing lights. Turned out to win the big jackpot, you had to play the maximum number of coins: three bucks. Because she was fixated on the other slot machine, she had neglected to read the fine print and missed out on the jackpot right in front of her.

The takeaway is if you’re going to play to win, go all in. But don’t overlook the prize right in front of your eyes because you’re fixated on something that may only be an illusion.


Making Sense of Contest Results

July 18, 2015

It’s July, and for unproduced screenwriters this is the cruelest month when big contests like the Nicholl Fellowships and Page Awards send out their dinks or congrats emails for the first round of cuts. Like most of you who are reading this post and seeking solace for not getting the good news you hoped and prayed for, alas I didn’t advance either — in those competitions. Trust me, it’s not the end of the world or last contest you’ll ever lose.

Remember that in the grand scheme of things, negative setbacks in any subjective venture judged by anonymous readers aren’t necessarily an indication that your script sucks. I know people who have never placed in a big contest and now have solid careers making money as produced screenwriters. And I know others who won thousands of dollars in prestigious contests, yet have zero produced credits or actual script sales.

What is particularly vexing for those who have previously done well in certain contests is how one year you could be a top finalist… and the next, zilch. No love at all for your masterpiece, which theoretically is even better since you have “improved’ it in the months between entering that same competition. Like hundreds — nay thousands of prior finalists — been there, done that.

I can see their perplexed, then anguished expressions as they click on the notification email, eyes scanning for one word: “Congratulations!” Once they see the dense block of copy at the top of the message, you already know it’s a fait accompli. Next, your eyes scan for the “P.S.” note saying although the script didn’t make the cut, at least one reader didn’t take a dump on it.

So, you’re sitting there hours or even days later, feeling like Job and wondering, Why hast Thou forsaken me? Listen, God doesn’t give a damn whose script was better. That is the nature of the universe. No one can answer that question. You just dust yourself off, look for other opportunities to sell your stuff or write another script with the hope it does have that bit of indefinable magic you sometimes achieve when all the stars align.

The simple truth is the odds are against you when it comes to the numbers game. To get the highest scores, you need the right person reading the right script at the right time and hope like hell the other scripts the judges also like are a tad less enamored with the competition. Different years, different readers, different results.

Meanwhile, before the latest round of dinks hit my email box, I was contacted by a filmmaker through InkTip. He has no produced credits as a director, but has been working in the movie biz for a few years and made enough connections to scrape together a small budget for his first feature project. He liked my logline and pitch for a big budget spec enough to read it, then gave me a call to see if we could work together to develop a very low budget genre movie. Was it my dream project? Hell, no. But it’s another chance to achieve my goal of writing a real movie, albeit a much smaller, less grand vision of Hollywood success than any of us start out with.

Coincidentally, I turned on the college radio station this morning and DJ Tanya, who I have a crush on because of her voice and musical tastes, was playing an old chestnut from 1980 by The Babys: “Back On My Feet Again.” I smiled, then sat down to write this post. To survive disappointments and rejection, you gotta be tough. You gotta be resilient. You gotta keep writing.

Dirty Water Dogs and Stub-Nosed Monkeys

May 15, 2015

Although I haven’t been posting any updates about my screenwriting projects of late, it doesn’t mean I’ve given up hope or stopped putting my stuff out there. When you’ve been at it as long as I have, you build up a body of work. If the scripts you wrote were any good, they should stand the test of time. With experience and distance from the original inspiration or catalyst that motivated you to crank out the first drafts, revisiting old material can yield fresh insights that improve the story and writing itself.

Since my last blog entry about renewed interest in my Menehune family feature script, I’ve signed a 90-day shopping agreement with a producer who is working with a Chinese multimedia company that is making low budget films in the USA. He found my Amish horror spec, SNALLYGASTER, on the Jason Scoggins Spec Scout site (free listings) and liked it because he grew up near Pennsylvania Dutch country, where my script is set. I used that producer’s interest to prod a small prodco to get back to me on my Muslim baby/doll murder mystery suspense script — and over the weekend, their director of development read it after he got back very good coverage from their readers. Now the doll script is also being shopped to distributors through the prodco. That lead came through the Inktip weekly e-newsletters (also free). And via another Inktip e-newsletter request for scripts, I got a producer request for a big budget sci-fi spec I cowrote.

I also continue to enter screenwriting contests while I’m still eligible — that is, I haven’t made enough from options or an outright sale to disqualify me. I’m in that lull stage where you have to wait… then wait some more for news. I don’t want to jinx anything by pestering the prodcos for updates, and cling to the hope that no news is a good sign that those projects are still in play. The benefit of being a more “experienced” writer (old guy) is I don’t lose sleep over it anymore. I get on with my life. Instead of thinking about my prospects of selling, I’m more reflective of my solitary place in the universe and how small we all are in the grand scheme of things.

The other day while jogging to the beach, I counted my blessings and my mind drifted to dirty water hotdogs in New York City, where I misspent a good portion of my 20s before escaping to my present home in Hawaii. In spite of the jokes about the dangers of scarfing down those boiled frankfurters plucked out of the battered, weathered street carts, there was something I liked about the consistency and taste of those onions simmered in a red sauce that to this day, I cannot identify. It was the ideal hangover food after a night of partying and heavy drinking would leave me with less than three bucks in my wallet. No matter where the hot dog cart was — Downtown, Upper West Side/East Side, the Village or Soho — they always tasted the same.

Back then though, I never stopped to think about it much: how immigrants brought these sausages to the New Land, and renamed them for Americans; or the newer immigrants who took over the hot dog carts and introduced other foods from their respective countries; what it took for them to get that beat-up cart; where they got the red sauce recipe from — or was it sold by the originator? So, after my jog, I showered and Googled hot dogs and the red onion sauce recipe. Found some interesting tidbits too!

Snub-nosed Monkey19The dirty water dog memory stirred up a more recent image I recalled from watching a PBS Nature show about an orphaned snub-nosed monkey I identified with. I wasn’t abandoned and left to fend for myself like that poor little monkey, yet my days as a young bachelor in NYC, longing for connection and love, often left me feeling painfully alone. Drinking and partying was part of my survival mode. I convinced myself I didn’t need anyone, or their approval. In some ways, you could say it toughened me up for the inevitable rejections I would later have to endure as a writer. But damn, at the end of that nature show, I was really pulling for that cute little snub-nosed creature to find a friend and reconnect with his missing mother. And I think about that young lonely man, dressed in his business suit with day old razor stubble, savoring a warm hot dog with red onions, with no clue as to what the future might hold for him. Selling a screenplay was the farthest thing from his mind.

Proof of Concept

April 3, 2015

Before I pick up where I left off about my nearly disastrous presentation at the Global Virtual Studio Transmedia Boardroom Pitch in Kona, here’s some script sales news you can use: in the past couple of weeks I’ve seen at least two movie and TV deals that were attributed to “proof of concept” — a term I first heard in conjunction with high tech startups. But now that TV and film projects are becoming more franchise-driven commercial enterprises, it makes sense that investors are embracing the same “show, don’t tell” demo model for movies and TV shows.

An example of this would be THE LEVIATHAN teaser posted on AICN. You may recall that Neill Blomkamp, who is attached as exec producer, did the same thing with his DISTRICT 9 short, which then became a full blown feature. Proof of concept is just another term for movie teaser or short film that is meant to entice producers to invest in the filmmaker’s vision. I think all aspiring screenwriters — even book writers — should be thinking the same way, and coming up with their own creative, doable proof of concept pitches to promote their projects. It could be as simple as a sample book cover or movie poster. Or as elaborate as a short high def video with all the bells and whistles of a feature film. It might be a combination of text, images and video… say, a Powerpoint presentation.

Which is what I did at the GVS Boardroom event. Some of the other presenters had actual film footage to show. Others made short trailers to partially pitch their multimedia or transmedia projects — smart because they didn’t have to fumble through as much “live” talking as I did. The allotted five-minutes is not a lot of time to include everything they wanted: the elevator pitch (logline or premise); a synopsis of the story; how you would monetize the franchise; why you feel the market “needs” your product; and something about yourself. Still, I thought I had it all covered in the Powerpoint I put together the week before the pitch.

First mistake: just because you write something and read it to yourself, do NOT assume you can wing it when the lights come on. My excuse for not memorizing my pitch and practicing it out loud was lack of time. Another dumb excuse was that I didn’t want to sound too “rehearsed.” I figured if I got stuck, all I had to do was look at my PP slides and read the “notes” section on my laptop that the audience doesn’t see on the big screen.

Except when we did our practice run-through in the Kona studio, they had their own set-up for any media being used. There was no laptop screen on the podium, just a keyboard or clicker to advance the slides. They did tell us we could use our own laptop, but my screen was too small to read the notes and I didn’t want to put on reading glasses, since I already look old enough as is. However, I did print out my PP notes in large type just in case I couldn’t use my laptop PP Presenter’s View option.

So I’m standing at the podium facing over 5o empty chairs, plus two long tables in front of me for the panelists who would be giving us feedback and asking questions about our franchise pitches. To my right, slightly behind me is the big screen to display the PP slides. To my left, sitting at the end of the panelist table is a GVS staffer holding a digital clock showing us exactly how much time we have left. Also, there are cameras that are going to be trained on us since we will be shown on the video screens as well. The first three presenters get through their practice pitches without much problem.

Then it’s my turn. I hate public speaking or getting in front of groups. That’s one reason I’m a writer. My gut is churning, I haven’t eaten for hours because I’m afraid it might come back up at an inopportune moment due to nerves. I purposely wear an aloha shirt with a black background to hide my armpit sweat stains. Yet I smile and exude fake confidence as I recite my opening from memory while clicking to the next slide… I turn to look back at the screen — that’s not the right slide! Click again. No, no, no. Try to back click. There is a delay in the clicker that I didn’t know about, and now I’m off track. I glance to my left and see the staff holding up the clock, and I’m running out of time. I try to jump ahead in my presentation, but it’s hopeless.

I can feel the pity from the other seven presenters and the GVS staff who watch helplessly as I flounder. After I step down, they all assure me it will be okay. The remaining presenters get through their pitches just fine. I’m the only one asked to stay after they’re done to try it again. This time I ditch the clicker and use the keyboard arrows to advance the slide, which works better for me. Still, what I’ve written in my notes is way too long now that I’m reading it out loud.

For a few moments, while the panelists and audience members took their seats, I considered bailing. My excuse would be I wasn’t feeling well. But years of rejections, being picked on as a kid, being told I wasn’t big enough to play sports (then making the football team) or good enough as a screenwriter to advance in contests (then winning and placing in a bunch) had prepared me for this. I got up and did it. It wasn’t perfect. Still, the panelists said they loved the concept and that once I stopped reading from my notes, my passion and knowledge came through very well.

And here’s the kicker: the Boardroom pitch wasn’t meant to be anything other than a means to get feedback from people with investment backgrounds, which could help the presenters when it’s time to apply for the GVS Transmedia Accelerator program later this year. However, the following day after I returned to Oahu, I got an email from an audience member. It turns out she loved the pitch for my Menehunes movie franchise — and she has connections in the entertainment industry. Stay tuned!

Filmmakers, Inc.

March 17, 2015

Years ago, when I began writing screenplays I had no ambition to be a director or producer. I wasn’t interested in getting a camera or learning how to edit on Final Cut Pro. All I wanted to be is a writer. But times have changed, and to make money I started my little Career Changers TV show, which airs daily on Oceanic Time Warner Cable in Hawaii. Although I hire cameramen to shoot our segments, I had to become an editor out of necessity. The money is decent, but more importantly it taught me to think differently about writing for television or films, and it opened my eyes to practical realities such as, “How the heck are we gonna shoot this?”

Since my show is about career opportunities and entrepreneurial types, I became familiar with the start-up world about four years ago. It was mostly driven by high tech applications for computers and mobile devices. When we shot segments about events such as Startup Weekends (groups self organize to vote on ideas and create a new biz in 48 hours) and new “accelerator” programs (essentially incubators that provide seed money and other resources in exchange for equity), I was struck by the similarities to things we do as screenwriters: the “elevator pitch” was pretty much a logline for the proposed business; followed by a more detailed outline or synopsis of the business strategy; then the actual pitch to investors — grab their attention up front, reel them in with a story about why the market needs this product, and why they should fund it.

The biggest difference though is the panel judges — often venture capitalists and “angel” investors who might actually pony up money — grilled the presenters on how they would monetize their project. As writers, I think a lot of us focus on the art and don’t like the idea of bean counters controlling the creative process. Well, get used to it, because there are now accelerators for TV and film-driven franchises, and they are using the same model as tech startups. If you know how to package your project — especially multimedia type stories that can go from webisodes to TV or be spun off into video games or apps for smart devicees — this can be a very good opportunity for writers.

On the Big Island, we now have the Global Virtual Studio Transmedia Accelerator program, which had its first cohort last year. They select up to six teams that receive $50,000 over a six month period to develop their project, and provide work space, mentoring and business advice in exchange for 10 percent equity. You have to be incorporated to give shares of your project to GVS, and to receive payment.

The founders have solid experience in the movie and television industry. But when I was invited to pitch my Menehune feature film-driven franchise to a panel for feedback, none of them actually had hands-on experience making films. They were money people, not creatives. That’s not to say they weren’t creative or very smart and very good at what they do. However, it was more like pitching on “Shark Tank” than pitching to studio heads.

I was one of eight project creators that was selected to take part in the GVS Boardroom Pitch last month in Kona. Originally, they were going to have video-conference sites set up on Oahu and Maui, but decided a week before the event to fly us all to the Big Island instead at their expense.

To get in, I adapted successful e-queries I had sent out to promote my Menehune script — queries that got me a manager, an option, and many script requests (including Dreamworks Animation). So I felt good about my chances, especially since I was able to include visual images to go with my synopsis that showed spectacular shots of Kauai for my proposed IMAX 3D movie.

I’m not sure how many applied, but the other seven chosen were pretty impressive as far as their credentials and proposed franchises. Some had made short films to be shown as part of our five-minute pitches (to be followed by 12 minutes of questions/comments by the panelists). Although our presentations were not part of the application process for the next cohort, the intent was that feedback from the Boardroom panel could help us hone our project pitches for the real thing. It was a no lose situation.

Except I almost blew it. I’ll tell you about that in my next post!

Blacklisted: Blood Moon Revenge!

October 8, 2014

To paraphrase Heidi Klum on Project Runway: One week you’re down, the next week you’re up when you are a writer. In my last post, I expressed my disappointment that the spec script I wrote for the Industry Insider contest (Sheldon Turner round) didn’t win the whole shebang or seem to garner any attention when results were announced. But in my heart, I felt it was good work — so I took another shot at the Black List. If you aren’t familiar with it, you can click here for background info.

Aside from the Nicholl Fellowships competition, the Black List is one of the best ways for unrepped or unproduced screenwriters to get their scripts read by legit industry professionals — managers, agents, producers, development execs. However, on their 1-10 rating scale, you need at least one evaluation score of 8 or higher from their paid readers to really get noticed. Two paid evaluations at $50 apiece can put you on their Top Lists page if the average score is over 7. Of course, a dynamite logline and catchy title can generate downloads by professionals even before you get your paid reader’s scores.

I had submitted other scripts before, and the best I did were 7’s across the board for my coming-of-age dramedy, LOST IN THE SUPERMARKET, which made the Nicholl quarterfinals in 2013. (I bring that up because I attended a University of Hawaii weekend workshop with the writer/director of SHORT TERM 12, who won a Nicholl Fellowship in 2010 — which inspired me to resurrect that old LOST script because of his success. More on that workshop in my next post!)

To be honest, I was half-dreading what the Black List readers would grade it because I had just gotten an e-newsletter from a screenwriting “consultant” who proclaimed that you should never have flashbacks, visions or dream sequences for any characters in your script other than the protagonist. In this consultant’s view, it would “confuse” the reader and shift the focus from the hero. But what if the hero isn’t really a “hero” in the usual sense, and perhaps the secondary characters’ backstories are equally essential to the story?

That was the case in my BLOOD MOON draft. One of the big takeways I got from working with a Writers Store story specialist as part of the Insider contest was the need to develop my characters more fully. Normally, I don’t like using voiceovers, flashbacks or dream sequences. To me, those are kind of cop outs. Yet more and more, I’ve noticed in good TV series and many films that those techniques are being used to tell non-linear story lines that eventually merge together in the present and can deliver a powerful payoff when used right. Admittedly, it was a bit risky to give my supporting characters equal flashback/dream sequence time in the script since I was challenging the reader to see the parallel plot lines between the protagonist and antagonist(s).

My first Black List evaluation came back with the 8 score that had eluded me all this time. The second reader’s comments were in some ways even more positive and could be seen as a “consider” or “recommend” (excerpts from both below) but came in at a 7. Those two scores put it on the Top Scripts page for awhile, which has gotten me about a dozen pro downloads in the past week. No contacts though, so maybe nothing will come of it. However, it does illustrate how subjective this business is. Even the Black List evaluations can be puzzling when the reader’s scores don’t seem to match their comments.

For example, here’s quotes from the “Strengths” and “Prospects” comments by both. Guess which was the 8 and which was the 7 rating — and remember, 8 is a reader saying they recommend industry pros take a look at it…

Strengths: With its neo-noir setting, flashes of deadpan wit, and spring-loaded plot, this is a terrific script with lots of potential. Above all, its characters are excellent. Michael McVay, an opiate-addicted detective in perpetual withdrawal throughout the story, makes for an excellent hard-boiled-style protagonist, one whose cynical demeanor masks his underlying decency. The other characters – Jack, Willow, Benjamin Mori – are equally good. Benjamin Mori makes for a complex villain whose motivations are not so cut-and-dry as to be entirely unsympathetic… Prospects: The prospects for this script should be quite good. Although it may be old-fashioned in certain ways (for one, it isn’t spectacularly over-the-top in its gore or its premise), it never feels irrelevant or outdated, but merely modest in its ambitions… It would be quite cheap to produce, and with the right cast and director something extremely good could come of it. Although there is still plenty of room for improvement, this is a terrific script that deserves to be given a close look.

Strengths: This script pens an evocative modern Film Noir. Its strong characters and moody world tie an equally strong premise, plot and dialogue into the tight and requisite story rope that makes for a very compelling film outing. Yet MICHAEL’S goal to solve the Yakuza-cursed murders simultaneously unfolds as a personal road of redemption; both his gritty past and tragic losses finding a spiritual rebirth in his fulfilling the Blood Moon curse…albeit through death. The material also does a masterful job of creating an intricate tableau of humanity where good guys turn out to be bad and perceived villains leave one breathless with a surprising good turn. Prospects: As penned, this script connects and executives/producers alike will be drawn to its story locale and cultural interplay. Additionally, this script stands as an excellent writing sample. If an outright spec sale does not materialize, a writing assignment may emerge. This material comes across solid on both fronts and collaborators can revel in this accomplishment while moving onto another project, knowing that they have their “calling card” script already in the bank…

Both readers pointed out weaknesses and made some good suggestions — which also contradicted each other. To me though, that’s a positive since they both saw the potential to go in different directions. And keep in mind, I wrote over 50 pages of the first draft in one week in order to meet the contest deadline. Anyway, the first comments were from the 7 rating and the second one gave me the 8.

They both focused on the characters more than the plot or hook, and I have to credit my story coach from the Writers Store for hammering that into my head during our weekly phone sessions. Which just goes to show that even old dogs like me can learn new tricks if they keep an open mind. Speaking of which, in my next post I’ll share some things I picked up this past weekend from Destin Daniel Cretton, the Nicholl Fellowship winner and writer/director of I AM NOT A HIPSTER as well as SHORT TERM 12. It may change the way you approach screenwriting.

Flogging the Blog

September 22, 2014

Did you miss me? Probably not. With the incessant barrage of Tweets, Facebook posts, Linked In messages, etc., blogs like this one are slowly fading away. I used to bookmark lots of bloggers, while maintaining three separate blogs of my own (one for the daily newspaper in Hawaii to promote my Career Changers TV show and another about public beach access issues in the islands). But I have little time these days to dash off pithy dispatches to feed the social media machine, or follow blogs that continue to churn out stuff worth reading.  So why bother, you ask?

When I first started Squashed Gecko about four years ago, the intent was to share my personal stories of frustration and failure in screenwriting as a motivational tool for myself. It was like the Alcoholics Anonymous approach to self-help: you get better by sharing your experiences with others. Paradoxically, the more you give, the more you get in return. Call it karma. And some of the online connections I’ve made here, have indeed helped me keep writing through those rough patches where you want to give up.

Yet there’s another reason I have recounted stories of semi-success and near misses: self-promotion. Once in awhile, you hear about an unknown writer like Diablo Cody or the woman who wrote the book “Julie & Julia” (which became a Nora Ephron movie starring Meryl Streep) being discovered through their blogs… and you think, hmm, why not give it a shot? Drop some names, find an angle, maybe Google will be your magic link to the Big Time.

Well, it almost happened for me. I alluded to being contacted by a famous producer some time ago through Facebook, but withheld the name since I didn’t want to jeopardize any potential deal. That contact never panned out, so I have nothing to lose by naming names now. It was Don Murphy — yeah, THAT Don Murphy (produced TRANSFORMERS, REAL STEEL), whose first major credit was NATURAL BORN KILLERS after he and his producer partner picked up one of Quentin Tarantino’s first scripts out of a pile that was lying around the house.

My connection is I was repped by QT’s original manager, Cathryn Jaymes, after he ditched her and signed with WMA. Long story short, Don admired CJ and wrote a nice eulogy to her when she passed away. I wrote my own piece about her and linked it to his blog… which is how I think Don found my post. He was probably Googling reactions to Cathryn’s death or his own blog. My post was about how CJ first contacted me to request a script I wrote about the mythical little people of Hawaii called the Menehune (I used an equery service that sent my pitch to thousands of agents, managers and prodcos). She loved it and asked to see more of my scripts.

So Don was curious I guess, and via Facebook sent me a personal message: “May I read your Menehune script?” That was it, along with his email address. Ironically, I was working on a script at the time that was similar to REAL STEEL with a couple of twists, for a friend who was working as Eddie Murphy’s personal assistant… and I’m thinking, holy crap, what if Don likes the Menehunes script? Maybe I can slip him the girl/mech fighters twist on REAL STEEL too!

I tried to play it cool though, and sent the Menehunes pdf with a short email saying I liked what he wrote about CJ in his blog. No response. Waited a couple of weeks… still, nada. Sent a short follow-up email asking if he had received the script. Nothing. I understand he’s a busy man, but the least he could do was simply acknowledge he got it, read it, passed or whatever. It takes what, five seconds to do that? When these people who request your script won’t respond, it winds up being even more of a time waster for everyone. Believe me, I don’t want to pester people with follow-ups — but I’ve also encountered situations where someone said they didn’t get an email or script, and asked me to resend it after a follow-up.

Anyhow, I presumed his passive-aggressive lack of response was a “soft pass” and figured I’d take another shot just to see if he was checking that email account. I sent a short email saying: Amish horror. Easter. “The Blair Witch” meets “The Village”… you know you want to read this. Attached was my SNALLYGASTER creature feature script (btw, that spec was a Top 50 Amazon Studios contest semifinalist — twice).

A few minutes later, I get his reply: Do I know you? Where did you get this email from?

Before I could even explain that he had contacted me first about the Menehunes script, he sent another email: Never mind. I figured it out and fixed it.

By which he meant he had blocked me from sending him any more emails, I surmise, and un-friending me on Facebook. Oh, well. At least I know he was getting his emails. Still, he could have just said the Menehunes script was a pass and I would have let it go at that. I can laugh about that Unsocial Media exchange now, but it just goes to show you never know who may be lurking on your blog or other blog sites you visit.



I also blog to help myself get over the latest rejection or near miss. As it happens, I did not win the Sheldon Turner round of the Industry Insider contest (see last two posts for background and details). It was a great experience, however, and the Writers Store story specialist/script coach really did give me valuable tips that will make me a better writer. From the first phone session until the last, he reminded me how tough screenwriting is and said I should consider making the Top 10 finalists a win in itself since I was getting the weekly notes/feedback for free. He also noted that some of the prior winners did not score major Hollywood deals, so winning was no guarantee of a breakthrough either.

This one hurt though. I put everything I had into this script, and thought I had come up with unique twists that Sheldon himself would be impressed with… if he got a chance to read it. I tend to do better with produced screenwriters as judges than consultants or paid readers because I think pros look for unusual concepts or big ideas, and don’t get so caught up in the technical details that readers/consultants like to dwell on.

My only criticism of the contest was that we didn’t get any feedback on our final drafts. Just a short condolence email saying we were not the winner. For our first draft, they gave us coverage style notes with an interesting chart that showed the reader’s “emotional response” throughout the script. The reader gave my rough draft a “consider” despite pointing out major flaws in the plot. I spent the next two weeks rewriting to address the notes, and felt it was much stronger. However, the Writers Store didn’t tell us who read the Top 10 finalist scripts or give us any indication of how we ranked in the end analysis. Not that it matters much in winner-takes-all type contests.

I’ve been a Top 10 finalist in over a dozen different contests, and came in second or third in four of those, but never grabbed the top prize. I suppose there’s some consolation in knowing that each time, there were nine of us who felt the same way — close, but no victory cigar. It’s bittersweet. All you can do is keep writing, keep trying, keep hoping that the next time you’ll come out on top. But it gets harder and harder to even make the finals cut because the competition keeps improving too.

The Writers Store announced that in the next Industry Insider round, which offers three loglines to choose from, all ten finalist scripts will be read by execs from 15 different companies — some of them being major players. If only that had been the case for me in their last contest!  Here’s the link to that contest, which I highly recommend… even though I lost. Again.