The Screenwriter's Success Newsletter, February 17 2012 PDF Print E-mail
The Screenwriter's Success Newsletter - The Business of Show Institute

Dear Friend,

For many of us, our desire to succeed in Hollywood came from early memories and whispers.

At least that was the case for Steven Spielberg, who in this candid video, describes how an early encounter with cinema shaped his destiny.

He also talks about the power of your personal intuition, and why you need to listen carefully when it whispers to you.

When one of the most iconic figures in Hollywood shares success advice, it's usually a good bet to listen!

Plus, inspiration is great motivation =)

So, enjoy!

And with that, here's what we've got for you in this week's edition of The Screenwriter's Success Newsletter:

The Business of Show Institute Recommends: is the weekly screenwriting product or service that our staff has personally reviewed and feel you would benefit from. This week? Free video reveals the #1 secret to getting your screenplay read by top Hollywood professionals... even if you don't live in Los Angeles!

Check it out here:

Entering a Screenwriting Contest in 2012? Better Read This...: is this week's article by yours truly. Screenwriting Contests are a great way to gain exposure in Hollywood. But how do you choose the best ones to enter in 2012? This article shows you how...

The Box Office Report: gives you the latest feature film releases as well as the opening weekend projections, so you can be on top of this critical information.

Too Often When I Loved: is this week's article by mc foley. mc is an active writer and regular contributor to this newsletter. The title of her column is "Lessons Learned: One Writer's Journey".

A Legal Perspective for Screenwriters: is our column by entertainment attorney Gordon P. Firemark. To ask your legal questions, email us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it . If your question is chosen, it (and your answer) will appear in an issue of The Screenwriter's Success Newsletter.

When You Can Say No: is this week's article from Script Consultant and Producer Daniel Manus. The title of his column is "No B.S. for Screenwriters - The Executive Perspective."

Best Business Advice for Screenwriters: is dedicated to asking a top executive or successful screenwriter the absolute best advice they could give a screenwriter looking for success. This week's contributor? Academy Award nominated writer of "Shrek," "Aladdin," and "Pirates of the Caribbean" – Terry Rossio!

The Scoggins Report: is our weekly spec market analysis and/or pitch report. Use this column to see what's selling, who's buying what, and what genre you should be writing for. This real-time Hollywood market intelligence is pure gold...

Digging the Well Before You're Thirsty: is our column dedicated to tracking the promotions and movements of Hollywood's Executives. Use this market intelligence wisely...

Secondary Characters Need First Rate Writing: is this week's article from screenwriting contest judge and author of "39 Ways to Win a Screenwriting Contest & The Nine Mistakes New Writers Make" – Sean Hinchey. The title of his column is "Insights and Screenwriting Wisdom from a Veteran Screenwriting Contest Judge".

That's What She Said... A Look At Dialog: is this week's article by Manny Fonseca. Manny currently works for Kopelson Entertainment and frequently attends pitchfests on the Kopelson's behalf. The title of his column is "Confessions of a Hollywood Gatekeeper."

That's it for this issue, but we are dedicated to making this newsletter THE resource for aspiring screenwriters.

If you enjoyed it, and would like to pass it along to friends, please have them go directly to and have them sign up there.

May Your Life Be Extraordinary,

Marvin V. Acuna

The Business of Show Institute Recommends:

Free Video Reveals The #1 Secret To Getting Your Screenplay Read By Top Hollywood Professionals...
Even If You Don't Live In Los Angeles!

Click HERE!

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Entering a Screenwriting Competition in 2012? Better Read This...

by Marvin V. Acuna

There are hundreds of contests that are vying for your hard earned dollars in 2012. Here are seven tips to help you assess which ones will add value to your screenwriting aspirations:

  1. Since your primary objective should always be EXPOSURE, ensure that you have a clear understanding and accurate grasp of when and how the winners list is publicized. Ideally, the list is published in a reputable industry publication.

  2. Be certain that you are not paying simply to post your logline as an entrant. Only the winners list should be publicized, not all entrants.

  3. Ensure that the sponsors of the competition are legitimate entities. If no information is easily available about the sponsors, be cautious of submitting entry fees.

  4. Don't bother with any competition that does not guarantee that a winner will be chosen and an official winners list published and publicized.

  5. Review guidelines to determine how work will be selected and, specifically, by whom. Keep in mind that your chances of winning may be reduced significantly if judges are allowed to vote for those writers they may know socially.

  6. Use the internet to review the list of previous winners. Do your own version of "where are they now?". This may provide tremendous insights into the scope and reach of the competition.

  7. If a cash reward is offered, assess the ratio of the entry fee to the value of the top prize.

Winning screenplay competitions is a very positive boost to the ego, but in the end that takes second position to the primary purpose: the EXPOSURE you deserve for winning. If done right, the competition is judging you on your talent from a level playing field.

Below is a link to an online source that may be of assistance to you in your search for the right type of screenplay competition in 2012:

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The Box Office Report

Wed, Feb. 15 Daily Total
The Vow $2,924,771 $59,013,106
Safe House $2,510,795 $51,712,035
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island $967,351 $31,972,276
Chronicle $690,233 $42,734,779
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace 3D $655,454 $25,155,949
The Woman in Black $539,906 $37,994,458
The Grey $405,022 $44,471,938
The Descendants $271,553 $71,793,268
Underworld Awakening $248,381 $60,005,122
Big Miracle $213,300 $14,176,870
Red Tails $212,521 $45,886,480
One For the Money $196,208 $24,462,959
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close $118,142 $29,866,686
Man on a Ledge $108,435 $17,925,926
Contraband $108,095 $65,112,515

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Lessons Learned: One Writer's Journey

Too Often When I Loved

by mc foley

"Looking back, I have this to regret, that too often when I loved, I did not say so."
(-David Grayson)

I've always felt that one of the greatest gifts given to a writer, is the ability to catch a fleeting moment, a passing chance, a fading dream... to catch something that, by its very nature, is temporary—

—and to enshrine it in a temple of letters — a feast of words — before it's gone forever.

As Greg Rucka (comic book writer/novelist: Whiteout, Queen & Country, 52, Wonder Woman, Wolverine, etc) once said, in reference to the English language, (and I'm mangling his words here): A writer uses 26 symbols to evoke emotion in another human being. 26 symbols ... instigating joy, anger, fear, love...

It's a powerful gift. An age-old skill, which has inspired revolutions, pushed legislation, elected presidents, eulogized heroes... and in my own case — saved me from prison time.

It was a fall afternoon in Virginia. I was about fifteen. And I'd devised a brilliant plan to — with the help of a friend — "borrow" my father's Hyundai, head to the nearest mall, and "borrow" some merchandise. Yes, I was an asshole. And I proved it by jacking over a grand in merch from a store, racing outside, and getting chased and dragged down by plainclothes police who cuffed my friend and I in front of a crowd of onlookers, pulled us to the backroom, and called our parents.

I don't know what was worse — getting arrested in front of a public crowd — having to face someone else's parents, who consider you a juvenile delinquent/bad influence on their angel — or having to face my own parents. Parents like my father, a man who'd served his country on two tours of duty in Vietnam, where he contracted the black plague (yes — that plague — the bubonic one) and almost died, who'd worked diligently, often seven days a week, for endless decades. Parents like my mother, who'd immigrated to this country and adapted to a series of cultural norms utterly different from her own — including the need to beat her own accent out of her speaking voice in order to be taken seriously in the DC government work world.

Charged with a felony, losing every shred of respect my family had for me, and having to quit my job at a local restaurant, was pretty gut wrenching for a freshman in high school. And as our official hearing neared, my friend and I were informed that a judge could sentence us to large fines, community service and jail time.

Faced with the foreboding unknown, I did what any traumatized, guilt-ridden, locked-down writer would do...

...I wrote.

I wrote a sixteen-page letter to the arresting officer (okay, okay — it was eight pages, double-sided). I poured my guts out on those pages. Lamenting the complete absence of judgment on my part, the lack of self-respect, the loss of discipline, the failure as a citizen. I did not simply apologize for breaking the law — I expressed that, in my opinion, what I did was a humiliating reflection of myself as a human being.

A few days after sending the letter, we got a phone call from the arresting officer. This was, he said, the first time he'd ever received a letter like this.

It's odd to relay an account of praise for something you wrote yourself — but to complete the story, I will just say: the officer was impressed by the letter. He used words like "sincere" and "moving." And when time came to finally stand in front of the judge, the charges had been dropped — to misdemeanor.

After the hearing, the officer took my friend and I on a tour of the jail. "Take a look," he said, "this is where you should have been."

How could I have known — that the simple act of committing pen to paper would change the entire outcome of one situation. A change, which, in effect, changed the outcome of not just my life — but also, my friend's.

Since then, I've often turned to those 26 symbols. In times of great joy, in times of crisis, in times of love... both experienced and impossible...

Other writers undoubtedly do the same... writers like Alan Ball, who has said in interviews that he was sitting in NYC's World Trade Center Plaza one day watching a plastic bag blowing around in the wind... and that image ultimately became the unforgettable — and achingly beautiful — "dancing bag" scene in American Beauty.

Writers like Stuart Beattie, who has spoken about a sudden thought he had one day, while sitting in the back of a cab in Sydney: what if I was a killer? — a thought, which, years later, morphed into the film Collateral.

Life, as we all know, comes with messy, unexplained twists and turns. It comes with unfathomable sadness. It comes with magic. Luckily, for our tribe, the tribe of storytellers, we have been blessed with the ability to encapsulate those ephemeral chapters — to distill the essence of thought — into a character, a landscape, an embodiment of something or someone on this Earth who we loved... who we lost... or who we could never have...

...until we wrote.

-mc foley

About mc foley:
Melinda Corazon Foley was born in Cebu, Philippines, raised in Virginia and currently resides in West Hollywood, CA. In 2005, MC Foley was named East West Players' James Irvine Foundation Mentee affording her the privilege to craft a new original stage play, the result: "Down and Out." It debuted at the Union Center for the Arts. Foley was then awarded the Asian American Writers Workshop Scholarship, which she utilized to re-imagine the aforementioned play into a web based series incorporating verse, motion graphics and comic book illustrations. Recently Ms. Foley completed work on a debut YA novel, The Ice Hotel. The novel is a fantasy adventure written especially for readers experiencing the profound pain of loss. In the book, a family, reeling from their eldest son's death, escapes to the Ice Hotel, where an age-old, arctic magic connects this world to the next. The Ice Hotel is now available at Amazon. Order your copy here.

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A Legal Perspective for Screenwriters

by Gordon P. Firemark

"Can I simply pay an attorney to send out a few query letters to producers and actor's agents for me seeing as they all tell ME a script needs to come to them through either an attorney or another agent?"

I wouldn't waste the money on having a lawyer send out query letters. Get yourself an agent to represent you. Doing so isn't easy, but it's the right path to take. Pound the pavement 'till you find someone who believes in you and your work.

In the meantime, if you're talking about sending the actual script to a producer or rep who's expressed interest, but insists on it coming through an agent or lawyer, then by all means, find a lawyer willing to submit your material, pay his or her fee, and hope for the best.

Have a legal question? Email them to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

The foregoing is intended as general information only and does not establish an attorney-client relationship with Mr. Firemark. This information is not a substitute for a private, independent consultation with an attorney selected to advise you after a full investigation of the facts and law relevant to your matter. Neither Mr. Firemark nor The Business of Show Institute will be responsible for readers' detrimental reliance upon the information appearing in this column.

About Gordon P. Firemark:
Gordon Firemark is an attorney whose practice is devoted to the representation of artists, writers, producers and directors in the fields of theater, film, television,and music. He is also the publisher of Entertainment Law Update, a newsletter for artists and professionals in the entertainment industries. His practice also covers intellectual property, cyberspace, new media and business/corporate matters for clients in the entertainment industry.

Mr. Firemark serves on the Boards of Governors of The Los Angeles Stage Alliance (the organization responsible for the annual Ovation Awards for excellence in Theater), and The Academy for New Musical Theatre. In the past he has served on the Board of Governors of the Beverly Hills Bar Association, where he served as liason to the Association's Entertainment Law Section (of which he is a former chairman).

Mr. Firemark holds a B.A. in Radio, Television and Film from the University of Oregon, and earned his law degree at Southwestern University School of Law. Before opening The Law Offices of Gordon P. Firemark, Mr. Firemark was a partner with the Business Affairs Group, a boutique entertainment law firm in Los Angeles. He has also worked in the legal and business affairs departments at Hanna Barbera Productions and the MGM/UA Worldwide Television Group, and started his legal career as an associate at Neville L. Johnson & Associates, a West L.A. firm specializing in entertainment litigation.

For more about Mr. Firemark, visit

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When You Can Say No

by Daniel Manus

Two weeks ago, one of my comedy writer clients (who will remain nameless) was contacted by a production company because they were looking for a writer to do some heavy rewrites of one of their romantic comedy projects.

They gave her their script to read, told her what basic direction they were looking for by referencing a couple other movies, and told her to come up with some ideas. Then they set a date for a conference call between her and the three producers.

And that's when the panic began.

My client is a talented writer, has written a handful of scripts, placed in some contests, has pitched at a few different events and had some success getting read and getting meetings around town (despite not living in California), but she hasn't really broken out or had that first BIG break or writing assignment.

And this could be it. A real paying gig from a real production company with a chance at real credit. So when she told me that she wasn't sure if she could do it and was wondering when or if it's okay to say NO, I told her to snap out it. If I was facing her at the moment, we would've had a total Moonstruck moment.

If you are a struggling first time writer (for all intents and purposes) and you are offered a chance to get PAID for a REAL writing gig – even if it's not your favorite project in the world – just shut up and say YES. At the very least, you have a chance to impress producers who may use you on a different project some other time. You've gotten yourself on their radar and showed them that you have good ideas.

Even if the ideas don't come to you immediately, you should still say YES! Now don't misrepresent yourself and tell them you can do something you truly can't. Don't OVERSELL yourself. But be honest and positive and believe in your talent.

A few months ago, I was hired to write a script (which I'm still working on). Now when the project was first brought to me, I thought it was fine but it wasn't something I truly fell in love with. There was a good idea there and an interesting setting, but the story didn't jump out at me enough. But I said yes anyway. You know why? Because I was confident that I would figure it out. And it was a paid writing gig on a project I could see had real potential. Did I know EXACTLY how to tap into that potential the first second I thought about it? No! But I knew it would come. And after some did.

You have to have the confidence in your own abilities. If not, no one else will. And confidence is a hard thing to have in this industry no matter how trained or seasoned you are. You're not alone. But you have to put it aside and get the job done.

My client was worried that she'd never be able to write a romantic comedy like Richard Curtis or Woody Allen. And you know what – she never will. Because she has her OWN voice. Don't think of the 5 greatest writers in your genre and wonder if you'll ever be as good. Think about the tens of thousands of other writers out there you know you're better than! Use the greats as inspiration, not as excuses to say no.

The producers who contacted my client told her not to feel encumbered by the draft she read and just go to town. This should be even more inspiring, but instead it made my client more nervous. What if her original story isn't as good? What if it's not like the movies they referenced? What if they hate it?

Well, then at least she tried and gave it her best shot. And maybe that brainstorming process will let her come up with exactly the right story they were looking for. You can't shut a door before at least peeking to see what's on the other side.

Are there times you can and should say no? Sure.

If you are strictly a drama or horror writer and someone wants you to write a slapstick comedy – then, that's completely out of your wheelhouse and it's a genre you are not comfortable writing. There's something to be said about trying to stretch yourself, but if you're not a comedy person then you should say no because you're not going to be able to show off your talents in a good light.

If you truly hate the story or are personally offended by it and the producer isn't open to changing it AND they aren't paying you, then okay – you can probably say no.

But other than those two scenarios – you can't say no. You have to at least TRY.

Even if they end up not hiring you, every opportunity is a chance to learn, meet new people you may work with later, and impress producers with your talents as a writer and your collaborative nature. And if you make a good impression, they'll remember you for next time. They'll remember you when other producers ask them if they know someone they could recommend.

If you say no, you've lost your shot. Chances are, they're not going to call you again.

My client obviously made the right choice and decided to go forward and try her best, write up a storm, and see what happens. My personal answer to ‘When is it okay to say no?' – is ‘When you're successful enough to have other people to say no for you.'

***Join me Wednesday Feb 29th for my Writers Store Webinar, "What the Heck are Executives Thinking?" It's your chance to learn how to think, read, and write from the Executive Perspective, uncover 15 notes execs most often give and how to avoid them, and learn what to expect and how to survive the development process. And you can do this from ANYWHERE! Best part is you get access to the course for a whole year even if you can't make it live! Click here for more info -

About Daniel Manus:
Daniel Manus is an in-demand script consultant and founder of No BullScript Consulting, which can be found at and was ranked one of the Top 15 "Cream of the Crop" Script Consultants by Creative Screenwriting Magazine. He was the Director of Development for Clifford Werber Productions (Cinderella Story, Sydney White) and is attached to produce several projects independently. Daniel was previously a Development Consultant for Eclectic Pictures and DOD at Sandstorm Films, which had a first look deal at Screen Gems. He is the author of the E-Book "No BS for Screenwriters: Advice from the Executive Perspective," and teaches seminars to writers across the country. Raised on Long Island, NY, in an amusingly dysfunctional household, Daniel holds a B.S. degree in Television with a concentration in Screenwriting from the Ithaca College Park School of Communications.

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Best Business Advice for Screenwriters

Terry Rossio – Academy Award nominated screenwriter of "Shrek," "Aladdin," and "Pirates of the Caribbean" - on his best advice for screenwriters:

"Coincidence. It's a screenwriter's stock in trade. It lies at the very heart of storytelling; it's been around even before Oedipus slept with his mother. It's the essence of the ‘what if.' Coincidence comes into play for inciting incidents, chance meetings, clever plot twists, surprising revelations. It's a very necessary dramatic tool."

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The Scoggins Report

February 2012 Pitch Sales Scorecard

by Jason Scoggins & Cindy Kaplan

As promised, The Scoggins Report has switched to a weekly publishing schedule so we can cover pitch sales the same way we've been tracking the spec market for the past several years. This week's edition is our first monthly Pitch Sales Scorecard, with year-to-date numbers through February 11 along with year-over-year comparisons and combined spec and pitch sales tallies.

Here are the numbers that leapt out at us from the below grids:

  • More than twice as many pitch sales were reported last month as in January 2011, continuing the hot pace for spec and pitch sales overall. The year-over-year comparison of combined pitch and spec sale numbers is even more dramatic: Three times as many pitches and specs sold in January 2012 as in 2011.

  • WME is in a class by itself this year, with half a dozen spec and pitch sales each. To put it another way, the agency's 12 combined sales account for over 44% of this year's lit sales activity. Its nearest competitor is CAA, with 1 pitch sale and 2 spec sales so far in 2012.

Overall Pitch Numbers :

Here are overall pitch sales numbers through February 11 on their own...

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total 2011
2012 Pitch Sales 9 2                     11 106
2011 Pitch Sales 4 8 13 7 8 15 10 4 5 10 8 14 106  

...and here are combined spec and pitch sales numbers for the same period.

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total 2011
Specs 12 4                     16 119
Pitches 9 2                     11 106
2012 Total 21 6                     27 225
2011 Total 7 21 28 16 15 28 20 9 12 30 16 24 225  

Pitch Sales By Genre:

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total %
Action/Adventure 1                       1 9%
Comedy 2 2                     4 36%
Sci-Fi 4                       4 36%
Thriller 2                       2 18%

Pitch Sales By Buyer - Studios:

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total 2011
Columbia 2 1                     3 9
Disney 1                       1 9
Fox 1                       1 8
Paramount   1                     1 12
Universal 2                       2 12
Warner Bros. 2                       2 13

Here are the combined pitch and spec purchase numbers for studios that have bought at least one of each:

  Pitches Specs Total 2011
Disney 1 1 2 11
Universal 2 1 3 19
Warner Bros. 2 1 3 30

Pitch Sales By Buyer - Other Buyers:

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total 2011
Reel FX 1                       1 0

Each of the following production companies has been attached to at least one pitch sale so far this year:

JC23 Entertainment
LBI Entertainment
Overbrook Entertainment
Original Film
Palermo Productions
Panay Films
Strange Weather Films
Strike Entertainment
Vertigo Entertainment

Pitch Sales by Seller - Agencies:

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total 2011
CAA 1                       1 25
ICM 1                       1 14
Paradigm 1 2                     2 4
Verve 1                       1 5
WME 5 1                     6 28

Here are the combined pitch and spec sales numbers for agencies that have sold at least one of each:

  Pitches Specs Total 2011
CAA 1 2 3 50
ICM 1 1 2 27
Verve 1 1 2 9
WME 6 6 12 50

The following 20 agents have been involved with at least one pitch sale in 2012:

Mike Esola

Billy Hawkins
Bryan Besser
Christopher Smith
Daniel Cohan
Danny Gabai
David Karp
Elia Infascelli-Smith
Emile Gladstone
Ida Ziniti
Mark Ross
Matt Rosen
Rob Herting
Rowena Arguelles
Sarah Self
Valarie Phillips

Pitch Sales by Seller - Management Companies:

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total 2011
3 Arts 1                       1 6
Circle of Confusion 2                       2 6
Generate 1                       1 1
The Gotham Group 1                       1 5
H2F 1                       1 0
Kaplan/Perrone 1 1                     2 5
Rich Demato 1                       1 0
Mosaic   1                     1 5

No management company has sold both a pitch and a spec yet this year.

The following 9 managers have been involved with at least one pitch sale in 2012:

Britton Rizzio

Aaron Kaplan
Alex Lerner
Chris Fenton
Jeremy Platt
Michael Lasker
Peter McHugh
Rich Demato
Sean Perrone

About The Scoggins Report:
The Scoggins Report is a terribly unscientific analysis of the feature film development business based on information assembled from a variety of public and non-public sources. The numbers in the reports are by no means official statistics. Caveat emptor. Molṑn labé.

Details on every person, project and company covered by the Report can also be found at, a proud division of The Wrap News, Inc. IOTG is the only place mere mortals can find listings of Hollywood's active open writing and directing assignments, not to mention comprehensive spec market data; active film development information; and relevant credits for released movies going back to 1988.

The IOTG newsfeed ( includes daily highlights of recent updates to TheGrid. You'll find buttons to subscribe to the feed right where you'd expect them. Follow our Twitter feed here:

About Scoggins:
Jason Scoggins recently launched Eureka Canyon Enterprises, a literary management, production and consulting company that represents feature film and TV writers, directors and producers. He also founded and runs, the aforementioned database of feature film development information. Jason got his start in the entertainment industry in 1995 as an agent trainee at ICM, which led to stints as a TV Lit Agent at Gersh and Writers & Artists. He left the business (and California) for several years in 2000, returning in 2007 as a partner at Protocol, a literary management and production company. Follow him here:

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Digging the Well Before You're Thirsty:

Tracking the Movement of Hollywood's Executives

What do you do when a friend gets promoted or moves to a new position? You congratulate them right?

What else might you do? You might send them a card telling them how excited you are for their new position. Later, you might follow up with that person to see how they're settling in. Then, you might send them an interesting article once in a while.

Why would you do this? Because that's how relationships are nurtured and developed. (They're not developed by asking for favors before the relationship has matured)

So we'd like you to help us in congratulating the following executives who have just been promoted or moved positions.

The Business of Show Institute Congratulates the Following Executives in Their New Positions:

Tim Warner
CEO, Cinemark International

Hamish McLennan
Executive Vice President, Office of the Chairman, News Corporation

Glenn Curtis
President and CFO, Starz, LLC

Elizabeth Gabler
President, Fox 2000 Pictures (re-upped)

Jessica Goodman
Executive Vice President of Production, Fox 2000 Pictures

Marisa Paiva
Director of Development, Fox 2000 Pictures

Troy Zien
Manager, 3 Arts Entertainment

Shari Kaufman
Vice President of Talent Relations and Special Events, Showtime

Kate Meyer
Vice President of Awards and Film Festivals, Showtime

Jessica Lacy
Head of International and Independent Film Department, ICM

Mary Daily
President and Chief Marketing Officer of Worldwide Marketing, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

Jamie Horowitz
Vice President of Original Programming and Production, ESPN

John Fremes
Head of International, Nu Image/Millennium Films

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Secondary Characters Need First Rate Writing

by Sean Hinchey

You've spent hours crafting the perfect protagonist, and you've written a solid villain. What about the other people in your script? Too many writers entering screenwriting contests have thrown in secondary characters, also known as supporting characters, that bump around their script like props with legs.

While the good guy/bad guy dynamic in any screenplay is important, you can't pepper the rest of your script with two dimensional characters. On the other hand, you can't over develop them either, so that they overshadow the main message in the story.

The solution is to find a balance. Keep this in mind, the purpose of creating a solid, supporting character isn't to make the job of writing harder for you. It serves Three vital purposes in the art of storytelling.

First, the supporting characters are doing exactly what their label implies; supporting the journey of the protagonist. They may hinder, but for the most part, they are there to help push and nudge the protagonist through the entire screenplay. Think of the supporting character — Marvin — played by John McGinley — in Wall Street. He's Bud's best friend, and at times he goes along with what Bud is saying and doing, but during the story they have a severe falling out.

Do we know anything about Marvin? Is he single, does he have a pet, does he like Thai food? No, we don't get that involved in his character. But his relationship with Bud offers us a glimpse into who he is. We know him well enough that we could decide if we would want to be friends with him.

Second, the secondary characters offer a touchstone for us to understand where the protagonist came from. This has been employed in many comedies where the main character returns home. It helps illustrate what they left behind — for better or worse — and shows us why they went out into the world to better themselves.

Finally, supporting characters by virtue of having their own characteristics help the contest judges enjoy the story. Look at it this way, you are attending a party and you've spent most of your time catching up with an old friend and perhaps the host of the party. However, the people also attending are bringing their own joy to the party. There might be one man who is cracking jokes that you hear bits and pieces of. A woman might be holding people's attention with her stories of a recent trip.

By the close of the party, you may not have talked to either of these people nor even have known their names. But they brought life to the party.

In your script, the supporting character bring that spark, that sense of a world beyond what we are seeing through the window of your screenplay. It's not about over developing your secondary characters, its about making them real.

Does it seem like your script doesn't have an end to it, or your current ending goes on for too long? It's time to focus on your Ticking Clock angle, to let the contest judges know that your screenplay will have a definite, and satisfying, ending.

About Sean Hinchey:
Sean Hinchey has been a script consultant for International Creative Management (ICM), Miracle Entertainment, Nash Entertainment, and Viviano Entertainment. He's also read the preliminary drafts of Michael Crichton's best-selling novels, State of Fear and Next and has performed extensive research for the stage plays and screenplays of writer/director Floyd Mutrux (American Hot Wax, Million Dollar Quartet).

Sean's expertise has made him a highly sought after judge for such prestigious screenwriting contests such as: The Big Break Contest, The Miramax Open Door Contest, Artists and Writer's Contest, Energy Contest, Smart Contest and The Chills and Thrills Contest. Throughout his career, Sean has read over two thousand scripts, giving him an insight into what it takes to become the winner of a screenwriting contest.

Three of Sean's screenplays have been optioned and one was a finalist in the Film in Arizona Screenwriting Competition. He won an award for his first non-fiction book, Backpacking Through Divorce.

Drawing from these experiences, he's written a book, 39 Ways to Win a Screenwriting Contest & The Nine Mistakes New Writers Make, set for publication this year.

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That's What She Said... A Look At Dialog

by Manny Fonseca

So this week is going to be all about dialog. Gonna show you a couple of things that will help spice up your dialog and make it pop. Instead of the usual fanfare, let's just jump in and get to work.

First things first, let's talk about heavy dialog scenes. I shouldn't have to tell you this, but the first thing to cut out of your dialog is entrances and exits. Watch any movie or TV one EVER says "hi" or "bye."

If you have a character sitting down at a table and saying "hi"...


You don't need it.

In the same respect, don't have them leaving and saying "bye." In any form. No "see ya later," no "peace out."

You don't need it. It's a waste of time to write it and a waste of time to read it.

This is especially important when dealing with phone calls. No one ever says good bye on the phone, they just hang up. I remember growing up thinking that was pretty rude of characters, but alas, now a screenwriter, I understand.

You want your dialog to be clean. You want it to POP!

Once you've gotten through that whole mess, it's time to look at your sentence starters. I've spoken about these before. Let's look at this made up scene and I'll show you what I mean...

Okay, now...what do I mean when I say sentence starters? Can you see them? No? Okay, here they are:

These are phrases that we use to start dialog because, well, that's how people talk. It's natural for us to use these to pause in order to collect our thoughts or think about the right way to say something.

Also, as you can see, I've also thrown in a couple of sentence enders. They're not as common, but they can still clog up your dialog.

Here's the thing...

Your characters aren't collecting their thoughts or figuring out what to say next. They know what the next line is because you've already written it for them.

Now, I know what you're going to say..."I want my characters to be REAL, I want them to be flawed and other arty pretentious bullshit."

Yeah, I get it...but fuck that. That's a lazy way of saying I don't want to edit my shit.

Again, watch movies. Does any character ever think shit through? It's called ACTing for a reason people. They are ACTING and REACTING...never thinking.

Okay, now, let's look at the same scene with the bullshit shaved out.

Do you see how much tighter the dialog is. It's crisp and flows better. It's not bogged down with useless words.

Another thing you have to watch out for is characters sounding too much like one another. One of the hardest parts to writing dialog is separating the voices in your head. They can't all have YOUR voice.

Now, for the record, this doesn't always mean you should give characters crazy accents or have them be over the top in order to separate them, but you do need to be conscious of the fact that you are writing two separate people.

Sometimes you can create characters through the amount a character speaks. Woody Allen is a genius at that.

Here's one of my favorite scenes from Annie Hall. While you're reading it, I want you to think about all of the information you get from this exchange.


Brownstones, a school; people mill about, some strolling and carrying bundles, others buried. Two pedestrians, indistinguishable in the distance, come closer and closer toward us, recognizable, finally, as Alvy and his best friend, Rob, deep in conversation.


I distinctly heard it. He muttered under his breath, "Jew."


You're crazy!


No, I'm not. We were walking off the tennis court, and you know, he was there and me and his wife, and he looked at her and then they both looked at me, and under his breath he said, "Jew."


Alvy, you're a total paranoid.


Wh- How am I a paran-? I pick up on those kind o' things. I was having lunch with some guys from NBC, so I said ... "Did you eat yet or what?" and Tom Christie said, "No, didchoo?" Not, did you, didchoo eat? Jew? No, not did you eat, but Jew eat? Jew. You get it? Jew eat?


Ah, Max, you, uh ...


Stop calling me Max.


Why, Max? It's a good name for you. Max, you see conspiracies in everything.


No, I don't! I was in a record store. Listen to this -so I know there's this big tall blond crew-cutted guy and he's lookin' at me in a funny way and smiling and he's saying, "Yes, we have a sale this week on Wagner." Wagner, Max, Wagner-so I know what he's really tryin' to tell me very significantly Wagner.


Right, Max. California, Max.




Let's get the hell outta this crazy city.


Forget it, Max.


-we move to sunny L.A. All of show business is out there, Max.


No, I cannot. You keep bringing it up, but I don't wanna live in a city where the only cultural advantage is that you can make a right turn on a red light.


Right, Max, forget it. Aren't you gonna be late for meeting Annie?


I'm gonna meet her in front of the Beekman. I think I have a few minutes left.

So what did you learn from this scene? What do we know about Alvy?

He's paranoid, high strung, talks a lot and has wild flights of fancy.

What about Rob? What did you learn about him?

He's calm. Cool. An optimist. Doesn't need to say too much.

Okay, now what did you learn about their relationship in this scene?

They're clearly really good friends. It's safe to say that, not only has Rob heard all of Alvy's shit before, he's probably pretty use to it. He almost has a sort of blasé approach to dealing with Alvy. Go through and re-read the scene again. Rob's dialog is pretty much "uh huh, yeah yeah, blah blah blah."

Do you see everything you can learn in ONE scene between two characters, just through a conversation? What are we learning from YOUR scenes? Go back through and read your dialog scenes. Try to figure out what we're getting out of them. Better yet, have a friend read the scene and then ask them, "what did you learn?"

And don't let them off the hook. Press them with follow-up questions, don't let them get all stupid on you and stare blankly back at you....actually it's better if you pick a smart friend rather than someone who's going to give you an "I don't know."

Okay, let's look at a couple more things real quick...

Here's another scene between two iconic characters. This is obviously an extreme example of character difference because the two characters are so far apart in personalities, but let's look at it anyway...

In this scene, again, what do we learn besides the expositional shit? This is the first time these two are meeting face to face.

The Joker clearly likes the sound of his own voice. Batman on the other hand, is all business.

The Joker, for all its worth, is trying to reason with Batman. He's attempting to "enlighten" him into his fucked up (albeit somewhat truthful) way of thinking.

This is kind of the important part of this scene. Up until this scene, The Joker has pretty much been just one liners, lies and anarchy. This is the first time where he's actually being truthful. He's actually sharing his "world view." In a way, all of the bullshit he's being doing has been to get in this room with Batman so that he can just talk to him. He actually respects Batman because to him, he's an equal.

So much can happen through dialog. It's not JUST about the words they say, but reading between the lines and getting to know the characters better. Hope you're applying this to your work.

Look for Part II on dialog next time because there's just so much more to say on the subject. Also, let me throw it out to all of there something you want to learn about when it comes to writing? Having trouble with action? Or dialog? Anybody want to send me a scene and I'll red marker it up and everyone can learn together? Just drop me an email and I'll do the best to help any way I can.

Till next week...

About Manny Fonseca:
Manny Fonseca hails from Dearborn, Michigan and now lives in the glamorous Hollywood. Always knowing that he wanted something more than a menial job in retail or the auto industry, he attended Ohio University where he received his M.F.A. in screenwriting.

He quickly navigated the industry, landing a job at Kopelson Entertainment where he plays mild-mannered exec by day, constantly looking for the next big script and turns into Screenwriter by night. You can often find his foul, yet honest, opinion at pitchfests around Los Angeles. You can also retain him for script consulting/developing services as well as pitch consulting services.

For info, have a question or just want to tell him you love him, drop an email to or find him on Facebook at

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