The Screenwriter's Success Newsletter, July 16 2010 PDF Print E-mail
The Screenwriter's Success Newsletter - The Business of Show Institute

Dear Friend,

Tonight at midnight Pacific Time, "The Screenwriter's Secret Weapon" Series will be taken down!

And who knows when it will be available again!

So if you've been on the fence about investing in "The Screenwriter's Secret Weapon" Series — then you'd better make up your mind before midnight Pacific Time.

This could very well be the breakthrough that you've been seeking in your screenwriting career...

You can check out all the details here:

http://www.thebusinessofshowinstitute.com/secretweapon/

And here's what our team of experts have got for you in this week's Screenwriter's Success Newsletter:

Hollywood's Pastime: is this week's article by yours truly. This piece is about the rejection you will undoubtedly face as a screenwriter. It's just the nature of the business and there's nothing you can do about it. The only thing that matters is how you choose to accept rejection. This article will show you the best way...

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.

The Monthly Nut: 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.

We Don't Need More Drama in Our Lives: is this week's article from Director of Development for Clifford Werber Productions, 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? Writer if "Bring It On," "Stick It," and "First Daughter" — Jessica Bendinger!

The Scoggins Report: is our bi-weekly/monthly spec market analysis. Use this information to see what's selling, who's buying what, and what genre you should be writing for. This information 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...

The "Other" Action: is this week's article from our newest contributor — 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."

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? The Shortcuts to Success — Meeting with the Masters Mentoring Program! Hollywood's only screenwriting mentoring program where Marvin V. Acuna and his network of industry contacts will help you achieve the success you desire and deserve.

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 http://www.TheBusinessOfShowInstitute.com and have them sign up there.

May Your Life Be Extraordinary,

Marvin V. Acuna





Hollywood's Pastime

by Marvin V. Acuna

It may be hard to believe now, but growing up, I was shy. Extremely shy.

When I was in my very early teens, United Skates of America was THE spot to be. I'd skate, play video games, and... work hard to muster the courage to finally ask my teen crush, Sharon, to skate with me. She was unbelievably cute. But, I could never get the words out. It felt and looked a lot like this: http://tinyurl.com/n3unqo

The fear and humiliation of rejection can be so powerfully paralyzing that dreams can go unrealized... like skating with Sharon.

If baseball is America's pastime, saying "no, it's a pass" is Hollywood's.

Rejection is and will always be part of your journey as a screenwriter. That's simply a fact. But, you can use rejection to empower you instead of sabotage you.

Academy Award Nominated Screenwriter and ICON, Sylvester Stallone said the following about his view on the subject, "I take rejection as someone blowing a bugle in my ear to wake me up and get going, rather than retreat."

Here are a few tips on how to address rejection:

  1. As Zig Ziglar says, "Every 'no' that you receive is one step closer to a 'yes'" and more importantly closer to aligning you with the right executive, producer, manager, and/or agent.

  2. You've said "no" in the past. So think of a time when you rejected an opportunity that was presented to you - what was going through your mind?

  3. Be sure to put things into perspective. Avoid using 'always' or 'never' when you're talking to yourself about your career. For example, "Agents always reject me"/"I'll never sell my project."

  4. Remember that each experience can be a lesson if you're open to it.

  5. Don't take it personal. It's business. Solely business.

  6. Avoid phoning everyone you know to moan and prolong your suffering.

  7. Instead of self pity, indulge yourself in a self-esteem ritual... do something which makes you feel great.

I hope these tips are helpful; they changed my life. It's not going to be easy, it takes practice, it takes work, but doesn't everything.


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The Box Office Report




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Lessons Learned: One Writer's Journey

The Monthly Nut

by mc foley

He was considered the hustler. Everyone was awed by his jet-setting life, by the "self-employed" badge-of-pride he practically carved into his own forehead. He was the one, out of all of us, who made it big — right out the gate. There was no suffering the indignities of life as the newest peon in a production company, as the errand boy for a writer/actor/director celebrity, as a temp in a mailroom, a substitute teacher or lunchtime waiter in the small, back section next to the bathroom stalls — no, he was so good, that while the rest of us portioned out our earnings in order to splurge on the occasional $15 dinner, he was touring to NYC, Miami and Japan all in just over a month, all on someone else's dime.

Except — the dimes weren't going — where we thought they were going.

And they didn't come from wealthy investors or billionaire clients.

They came from his mom.

And they paid for his rent.

His $1600 a month rent. Oh — and his utilities, cable, internet and parking spot. That is — the spot where he parked the car she'd purchased for him.

Unfortunately — (or fortunately, depending on who's speaking) — nobody knew. We were all sufficiently, expertly fooled. Truth be told, he never lied about it. He just — avoided certain topics. Forgot to answer questions. Shook his head with everyone else whenever we moaned about rent increases and the rising cost of central AC.

But I found out.

It was an accident. Nothing I can elaborate upon here. But one day, something slipped, the facade fell away, and bit-by-bit I better understood — that his lucrative career was nothing but smoke and mirrors.

After that discovery, I'd sit in conversations with friends and when the topic of the hustler arose, I'd feel a churning nausea in my gut as they praised his business acumen, his go-getter attitude, his ability to pull money towards him like metal to a magnet. During a particular conversation that revolved around his 'grown-up' furnishings and how much better his place was than all the rest of ours — I had to get up, walk away, and bite my tongue. For reasons too long to describe, I chose to remain silent. And in doing so, I probably looked like an envious prick.

Months later — I met another hustler. However, while Hustler #1 prided himself on his travels, Hustler #2 was all about the underground, the VIP, the 'in-the-know' party scene of LA.

He, too, had a swanky apartment with glossy leather couches, a flat screen bigger than my bed and two cars; however, while he said he sold luxury handbags for a living, this facade unraveled much more quickly. And it wasn't the life of a momma's boy, but a life precariously perched on pushing ecstasy and blow.

Meeting Hustler #2 gave me a better perspective on Hustler #1. And better perspective on my environment.

In short — I saw that it was pointless — to compare.

There was no need to flog myself for not 'making it' as quickly as them, for not being able to ease my worries with a pricey day at the spa, for not washing my car (because that six bucks could, instead, get me two sandwiches at the deli down the street).

All that mattered was — what — worked — for ME.

Because, aside from a handful of close friends, I have absolutely no idea how other people earn their money, spend their money, steal their money or scrape through another month with credit cards or calls to "Rich Uncle Joe." I have no idea if that Jaguar they're driving is actually theirs, rented for the weekend, or 'borrowed' from the boss because they're changing his oil. I have no idea if they're living rent free, via sexual favors, if they own a profitable oil field in Alabama or if they claimed bankruptcy.

I also — have no idea if they owe child support, the amount of their monthly nut and if they shoulder the cost of outrageous hospital bills or too many DUI's.

All that matters — is my own monthly nut. My own cost of living - and what I need to survive — as well as what I'm aiming for. Because with more money, comes more responsibility. And in that regard — exactly how much, and exactly what type of responsibility am I willing to bear?

Showrunners, for example, are some of the most — if not the most — powerful writers in the entertainment industry. But could I handle the "taking a ship (show) into battle" that is the showrunner's charge? Could I live the life of a freelance magazine writer? Constantly scouring the world for opportunities and haggling over 35 vs 15 cents a word? Could I lock myself away, working day after day in isolation, or alone in a coffee shop — writing the next great American novel that may or may not get sold / be adapted to screen?

In order to progress, I often remind myself to stop staring at all the glittery things that belong to other people (including the way they look and how far they've made it in their career) — and use my energy, instead, to answer these questions.

Answer the questions, I say to myself — understand the specific sacrifices — factor in the monthly nut. And then proceed.


-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

Question:
"Writers are encouraged to share their work with friends and family prior to submitting to publishing or film industry professionals. At what point does a family member's or friend's contribution considered sufficient to be considered collaboration? In other words, if a family member suggests changes that results in a substantial re-write, is that sufficient to warrant inclusion as co-author or collaborator? Should authors have an agreement with family members or friends who comment on their work to specify what types of contributions will result in a copyright and compensation arrangement?"

Answer:
In order for a work to become a "joint work" under copyright law, there are two elements that must be satisfied. First, the contribution of each purported author must be independently copyrightable, and second, the parties (all of them) must have manifested the intent that the results and proceeds of their contributions would be a work of joint authorship.

In the situation where a friend, family member, agent, or even a producer suggests changes, offers ideas, or helps shape a concept, the test fails on the first prong... ideas, suggestions, and concepts are not copyrightable subject matter. Similarly if the material isn't "fixed" (i.e., written down or otherwise recorded in some medium), it is not copyrightable.

The second prong of the test really depends on the factual situation. Again, where a friend makes suggestions, or a family member offers an idea, it's unlikely that any of the parties have the intent to be treated as co-authors or collaborators. In most of the cases where joint authorship is found, the required intent comes from shared credit.

So, once you agree to give a shared or courtesy credit to someone who offers input, you open the door to the possibility that you'll have to share ownership of the material, and the money that it generates.

Of course, the best practice would be either to NOT accept or incorporate input from friends and family. The next best approach is to very clearly establish that it is and will remain YOUR script, and that you won't be sharing any of the proceeds from its exploitation.


Interested in how films get financed? Sign up for my free email mini-course on 6 Ways to Finance a Feature Film.


Have a legal question? Email them to: legalquestions@thebusinessofshowinstitute.com

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 entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles. For almost 20 years, he's helped creative and business people in the fields of film, television, theatre, music and new media achieve their professional and artistic goals. His practice focuses on negotiating and drafting entertainment contracts and business deals, film and theatre financing, corporate startups/operations, and intellectual property protection and licensing. Get more information at http://firemark.com/.


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No B.S. for Screenwriters — The Executive Perspective

We Don't Need More Drama in Our Lives

by Daniel Manus

A few weeks ago, I attended the 7th Annual Great American Pitchfest. And while it was a fantastic weekend, and I heard lots of good pitches, there was one cardinal rule that was broken again and again — writers didn't do their research. If anyone has been reading entertainment news over the last year and following the box office, or spec market sales on Jason Scoggins' report, they would know that the ONE genre that isn't selling — is DRAMA.

Yet, out of the over 60 pitches I took during the pitchfest, over 15 of them were drama. Indie dramas, coming of age dramas, true story dramas, etc. So either the writers are so full of themselves that they think their idea is so original and brilliant that studios will buy their drama script instead of those written by the A-list writers that they are already passing on...Or they aren't paying attention and doing their research.

Check out the article posted on Deadline Hollywood on April 10, 2010 (http://www.deadline.com/2010/04/%E2%80%98drama-is-dead%E2%80%99-say-hollywood-agents/) or in Hollywood Reporter back in April 2009 (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/film/news/e3i5d08aae04387a06dd7733dbe27fbca38). And there were a number of articles in between — a whole year's worth. But apparently some writers weren't paying attention.

And just look at the numbers. As Jason Scoggins has reported, there has only been ONE drama spec script sale so far this year. 2010 is half over and so far, of all the movies released domestically, less than 20 were straight dramas (meaning not dramedies like the Tyler Perry movies or thrillers like The Ghost Writer or Edge of Darkness or action-dramas like Book of Eli or Robin Hood, but just drama).

And only TWO — Dear John and Love Song (which starred teen heartthrobs Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfriend and Miley Cyrus, respectively) — were truly successful in the U.S. Even Remember Me, which starred the hottest vampire in town, Robert Pattinson, and had a good amount of P&A behind it, couldn't get any traction. Yes, when you include worldwide grosses, other dramas did fare a BIT better, but even with worldwide figures, only Dear John made over $60M.

I felt like a broken record at the pitchfest because I said the same thing to everyone who sat down and said they have a drama — dramas aren't selling and we're not looking for them. And do you know what almost every writer said back? "That's what everyone else said too." Imagine the time, money, and effort saved if they had just paid attention to what Hollywood was telling them.

Now of course, everything is cyclical. Which means that while dramas may not be selling right now, in a year, they may be what everyone is salivating for. Studios don't usually release their dramas until November-December for Oscar season, and it only takes one to start a trend. So, it's not bad that the writers wrote a drama, they just picked the wrong time to pitch it. Their flaw wasn't their idea or pitch, it was their lack of knowledge about the market.

Why isn't drama working right now? Well, there are plenty of reasons. But the most obvious is that the country has been going through some serious drama of its own the last few years. And when that drama hits home — when the economy tanks, people lose their job, their houses, etc. — they react. And the first thing they lose interest in, is fictional drama. Reality shows get ratings because people like to feel better about themselves by watching other peoples REAL drama, but the fictional kind only reminds people of their own issues.

The financial strain has also played a part. With theater prices sky-rocketing, no one wants to pay for two people to see a movie. And adults these days would rather sit at home with their big screen TVs and Blu-Ray players and comfy couches. That way they don't have to take the chance of spending $50 on a shitty movie or having to listen to the annoying fat guy next to them chomping popcorn like a Hoover sucking up a penny. If the movie sucks at home, all they wasted was a few bucks and 2 hours.

With the improvements in home entertainment, Netflix, Video on Demand and those nifty Red Box kiosks, people are willing to wait the 2 months for anything that doesn't seem truly visually compelling that might be enhanced by seeing it on the big screen (or in 3D). And dramas don't fall into that category.

Another reason drama isn't doing well in theaters is because, quite frankly, TV does drama better. You get to become invested in characters and follow them for years instead of just 90 minutes. And with hundreds of cable stations, you can find a drama that interests you and connects with you personally. Wives can watch "Army Wives" while their husbands watch "Breaking Bad."

I've said this before, but Hollywood is about supply and demand. And American audiences are, by and large, stupid. We like fast shiny things that go boom and then go boom bigger. We thirst for high concept material — we want to be able to understand a story in one sentence — and dramas aren't usually high concept.

Another reason why dramas haven't been working lately is because of the unpredictability of big name actors' abilities to draw crowds. Some very high profile dramas, with very high profile actors, didn't do well at the box office. The Taking of Pelham 123, State of Play, Body of Lies (though part action), Duplicity (though part comedy), The Soloist, Amelia, Brothers, Extraordinary Measures, etc. All had huge box office stars, all underperformed to say the least. Even the adult dramas that garnered awards and nominations didn't perform. Oscar winning Hurt Locker only made about $20M at the box office, Invictus underperformed, Nine, The Road, and A Single Man — none made over $20M.

Yes, there are exceptions — Precious, The Blind Side, Up in the Air, Gran Torino, etc. And who knows why they did well — probably a combination of a bunch of reasons. But none of them were sold at a pitchfest. And with the possible exception of Precious, they all had A-List attachments before they were set up at a studio.

I'm not saying there aren't some companies looking for drama — of course there are. But do your research and know that there is slimmer chance right now of finding success with this genre. And as a wise woman once said, save the drama for yo' momma.


About Daniel Manus:
Daniel Manus is the Director of Development for Clifford Werber Productions (Cinderella Story, Sydney White). CWP recently set up a family fantasy/adventure project at United Artists which Daniel is attached to co-produce. He is also attached to produce several projects independently including "Dreams of an Aspiring Romantic," starring Emily Osment and "Strange Fruit," written by J.S. Cardone (Prom Night).

Daniel recently started his own script consulting company - No BullScript Consulting, which can be found at www.nobullscript.net. He has been a freelance script consultant for years, working for companies such as ScriptShark and Script Coach and teaches courses to writers at conferences around the country.

Daniel was previously Director of Development for Sandstorm Films, which had a first look deal at Sony Screen Gems and a development deal with Top Cow Comics. Raised on Long Island, NY, he holds a BS 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

Jessica Bendinger — writer of "Bring It On," "Stick It," and "First Daughter" — on her best business advice for screenwriters:

"...the reality is that screenwriting is a very social business, and ultimately, you want to be the best writer you can be. But good is not enough. Just being a good writer isn't enough, unfortunately.

"You have to be excellent to kind of break through the fog, or either excellent at point of view or excellent at mode of structure or excellent at set pieces. You have to have something you're really good at, not just good at, excellent at to kind of get through the huge swamp of okay-writing. Right?

"So that's a. Be excellent; b. Get feedback to make sure you're excellent. Get discerning feedback from somebody who's really in the business, not somebody who's a fiction writer, not your cousin, not, you know, — send it to scripture. Send it to, you know, there are lots of reading programs. (Find a job?) has a great reading service, as well. Send your script out to people who read scripts for a living and get some feedback.

"But just know that those writers aren't the most successful writers. The most successful writers are often these really social animals who have the ability translate five different points of view into a coherent piece of material that may or may not suck."


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The Scoggins Report

Spec Market Roundup: June 2010

by Jason Scoggins

Let's just jump right in with June's raw numbers:

  • 37 specs hit the tracking boards, none of which sold
  • 2 past specs sold (1 each from April 2010 and May 2009)
  • 5 additional spec sales were reported

June's spec stats are on par in a couple of ways. First, they're almost identical to June 2009's numbers, when 39 specs went wide, none sold, and 6 additional sales were reported. Second, the numbers are back to normal for the current market after May's rather odd dip (in terms of both new specs and spec sales, as reported in last month's Roundup). Since March 2009, every selling season month except May 2010 has seen between 40 and 48 specs hit the market.

There are a couple of items worth mentioning here before getting to the details. Double Nickel announced the acquisition of two specs at the end of June, which ties the company with Paramount for the most spec purchases among all buyers so far this year. And WME's Mike Esola had a phenomenal June, with three spec sales within about a week. Congrats to him and to WME — I haven't compiled my year-to-date Scorecard yet this month, but it looks like that jumps WME into the lead among the agencies for spec sales in 2010.


Weekly Spec Script Breakdown:

Week of May 31:

  • 8 scripts hit the tracking boards, none of which have sold
  • 1 additional sale was reported ("Layover")

Week of June 7:

  • 13 scripts hit the boards, none of which have sold
  • 1 additional sale was reported ("Now You See Me")

Week of June 14:

  • 7 scripts hit the boards, none of which have sold
  • No additional sales were reported

Week of June 21:

  • 8 scripts hit the tracking boards, none of which have sold
  • 5 additional sales were reported ("Ion," "Step Dawg," "Hell To Pay," "The Return of the Magi" and "The Legacy")

Week of June 28 (Short week — Independence Day):

  • 1 script hit the boards and hasn't sold
  • No additional sales were reported

Genre Breakdown

  • 2 — Comedy
  • 1 — Drama
  • 1 — Sci-Fi
  • 3 — Thriller

Buyers and Sellers

Two of the studios bought spec scripts in June:

  • Fox 2000 bought its second spec of 2010: Will Dunn's sci-fi romantic epic, "Ion," out from WME and The Safran Company. The script originally went out in May 2009. Dunn's reps took it back out this year in the wake of Avatar, with Scott Free's Ridley Scott and Tony Scott attached to produce and Channing Tatum attached to star.

  • Summit bought its second spec in two months: Edward Ricourt & Boaz Yakin's action thriller "Now You See Me," out from CAA and The Gotham Group. Kurtzman/Orci's Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci will produce and the company's Bobby Cohen will executive produce, as will the writers.

June's other five sales were made to Other Buyers:

  • According to Variety, Double Nickel announced the acquisition of spec scripts by two high-profile mystery authors at the end of June:
    • Greg Hurwitz's crime drama "The Legacy."

    • Patricia & Traci Lambrecht's Christmas-themed script, "The Return of the Magi." The mother-daughter team writes books under the pen name PJ Tracy.

  • Endgame bought its second spec of 2010: Zach Dean's action thriller, "Layover," for Basil Iwanyk's Thunder Road to produce. UTA and Madhouse took the script out at the end of April.

  • Mandate bought its first spec of the year: Sibling writing team Charles & Vlas Parlapanides' thriller "Hell to Pay," out from WME and Underground.

  • Morgan Creek snagged Jeff Tetreault's comedy spec "Step Dawg," out from WME and Energy.


About The Scoggins Report:
The Scoggins Report is a terribly unscientific analysis of the feature film development business (spec script and open writing assignment activity in particular) based on information assembled from a variety of public and non-public sources. The numbers in the reports are by no means official statistics and should not be relied upon as such. Past editions of The Scoggins Report can be found in the archives of The Business of Show Institute as well as on Jason Scoggins' website: http://www.lifeonthebubble.com.

Details on each person, project and company in the Report can also be found at www.itsonthegrid.com, a database of feature film development information including active open writing and directing assignments in Hollywood. Click here to explore the IOTG blog, which includes a daily post that highlights recent database updates. Subscribe to the blog's feed via email here.

About Scoggins:
Jason Scoggins recently launched Eureka Canyon Enterprises, a literary management, production and consulting company that represents writers, directors and producers for feature films and television. He also founded and runs www.itsonthegrid.com, 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: http://twitter.com/itsonthegrid.


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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:

Emma Conway
Vice President, Kinetic Content

Heather Downie
Manager, Kinetic Content

Arash Ghadishah
Senior Vice President, Kinetic Content

Marc Helwig
Agent, ICM

Michael Lazo
Manager, Untitled Entertainment

Karen O'Hara
Vice President, Original Movies, Syfy (New York)

Kathleen Burns Rohr
Chief Operating Officer, Kinetic Content

Pete Ross
Director of Development, IMG

Steve Ross
Director, Book Division, Abrams Artists Agency

Jerry Shevick
Principal/President, Chevick Zupon Entertainment

Carrie Stein
Head of Global Management and Packaging Arm / Manager, 3 Arts Entertainment

Billy Taylor
Senior Vice President, Kinetic Content

Mark Zupon
Principal/CEO, Chevick Zupon Entertainment


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Insights and Screenwriting Wisdom from a Veteran Screenwriting Contest Judge

The "Other" Action

by Sean Hinchey

If your script is lacking the punch it needs to cross over from semi-finalist to finalist in an upcoming screenwriting contest, it may be the action that is lacking in your screenplay. Am I talking about car chases, and shoot-outs? No, I'm focusing on something a little bit different.

I'm talking about dialogue. Wait a minute, didn't I say we'd be talking about "action"? Well, we are. Dialogue, the words that people speak in your screenplay, is a form of action.

Scripts are different from books. All we are allowed to know is what is on the screen. Unless there is voice over, we don't know what the character is thinking. We only learn about their past through flashbacks or their words. When a character makes a statement, that is a form of action. "I'm going to track down the killer and catch him myself!" Has the character actually accomplished that yet? No, but it doesn't matter at this point.

The words become a dynamic part of the story. They person speaking only has two choices — they can do what they say they'll do, or they won't. If they are all talk and no follow through, that speaks volumes about who they are. If they do it, then they are people of action — they don't mince words.

Now you may be scratching your head, saying to yourself, "I get that their words define who they are, but how is that action?" It's a valid point. In a screenplay, every character is trying to attain something. How they act and react to different situations creates action in relation to what they want. Therefore, their words are actions. To many, this may sound as though hairs are being split. But this is an important concept to recognize when writing. Not every action has to be played out through physical action.

If a person picks up a phone and gives someone an order, they have created an action with their voice. That tells the person reading your script, such as a contest judge, that a particular character wields a great deal of power. The less your character has to physically do, and the more action they can create with words, equals greater power. When that character actually has to get their hands dirty and do the job themselves, that indicates that something is awry and out of balance.

When a character declares that they want to do something, they are setting other actions in motion. For example, if a person says that they want to win a college scholarship so they can get out of their dead-end town, that sets their mind and will into action. We know that every scene in the screenplay will be about them working towards that goal. The script will be filled with successes and setbacks as they go about that process.

Use the words from the mouths of your protagonist, and antagonist, to drive your story forward. This doesn't mean you have to create on-the-nose-dialogue. It means reveal more through the interactions between characters to show us the authentic person; their strengths and their weaknesses. Don't always rely only on their physical actions to move the story. What a person says, and often times doesn't say can increase the impact of your message.

That is the difference between creating an award winning script that will get noticed by the contest judges versus another ream of paper that goes into the recycling bin.


Everybody wants their script to win a screenwriting contest, and most people get bummed out when they don't win. It could be something as simple as having too many characters that have names. What am I talking about? Read my next article, Not Everyone is Important.


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 in Spring 2010.


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The Business of Show Institute Recommends:

After mentoring dozens and dozens of successful screenwriters over the past 15 years, I can honestly say that you're probably just 1 good contact away from achieving the screenwriting success you desire.

Just one good contact who can introduce you to the right network of people, and finally help you penetrate the infamous Hollywood "Insider's Club"... even if you don't live in Los Angeles!

And if you let me, I'd like to be that contact for you.

HERE'S what this is all about...


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