Complications Ensue: The Crafty TV and Screenwriting Blog
Complications Ensue:
The Crafty TV and Screenwriting Blog



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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Friend of the Blog Guy Goldstein writes:
I'm a screenwriter and I created a website, www.ReadThrough.com, where real voice actors will perform scripts on-line. You get a full audio performance for your own edification, as well as to share with friends, agents, etc. (though scripts are private by default). It's free for the first month (no credit card required), and extremely cheap after that (less than $5/month).
Q. How many scripts can you have read during a month? How does that work?
Essentially as many as you want - 6 scripts at a time in the max plan, and up to 90 total revisions. Only one person's hit the limit, and we boosted them. How it works:
  1. Upload a script. We instantly perform it using computer voices, automatically cast by age and gender.
  2. Describe the script and characters you'd like cast for real. We recommend our "optimal" cast, but you can cycle through many options.
  3. Typically within a day or two you'll start getting actors performing their roles.
  4. You can review the recordings and add notes to any lines you want changed (or love!).
  5. Once it's ready, optionally add music/sound effects and share it. You can even track when guests access your script (and see how far they get).
Q. How can you possibly make any money doing this? Or even break even?
Short answer: it'll be tough. We're hoping that word of mouth (and helpful bloggers!) will get us enough sign-ups that we stop leaking money. We're doing an introductory price right now, which will go up slightly (but fyi anyone who signs up soon and sticks with us can keep the current offer). 
We also have plans for premium read-through services, but that's mostly to get actors paid (right now they're volunteer).
Long-term, we're hoping that studios will use ReadThrough to receive script submissions. By the time we transform the whole industry's script reviewing process, hopefully we'll have figured out how to make a few bucks ourselves. Or fled the country. 
But right now my focus is to make something really useful. Hope you'll try it for yourself!
Okay, so this is a classic insane Internet business plan. They are offering to record a reading of your script for nothing, but they'll make it up on volume.

 However, this is a huge opportunity for you guys to hear your scripts read out loud by actors. I highly recommend you guys try out this service before they come to their senses and realize they're giving away a service that's worth at least $250.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Incidentally, both CRAFTY SCREENWRITING and CRAFTY TV WRITING are now out on Kindle and other electronic devices.

I did a bit of cleanup on CRAFTY SCREENWRITING. It's not a second edition, but I have updated it where the industry has moved -- for example, queries are now mostly by email, and it's rare that you would actually mail someone a script.

Enjoy!

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Management consultant Rosabeth Moss Kanter formulates "12 Guidelines for Deciding When to Persist, When to Quit" in the Harvard Business Review. The article is partly about a business startup called Airtime, but there are some parallels both in whether to keep writing that screenplay, and ultimately, whether to keep pursuing screenwriting. The criteria are:
  • Are the initial reasons for the effort still valid, with no consequential external changes?
  • Do the needs for which this a solution remain unmet, or are competing solutions still unproven or inadequate?
  • Would the situation get worse if this effort stopped?
  • Is it more cost-effective to continue than to pay the costs of restarting?
  • Is the vision attracting more adherents?
  • Are leaders still enthusiastic, committed, and focused on the effort?
  • Are resources available for continuing investment and adjustments?
  • Is skepticism and resistance declining?
  • Is the working team motivated to keep going?
  • Have critical deadlines and key milestones been met?
  • Are there signs of progress, in that some problems have been solved, new activities are underway, and trends are positive?
  • Is there a concrete achievement — a successful demonstration, prototype, or proof of concept?
(Full disclosure: Prof. Kanter is a friend of me mum.)

I think these are often the questions writers ask themselves, though they look more like:
  • Does the creative project still seem timely? Or has it fallen out of the zeitgeist?
  • Has someone else scooped you? Is there another project in the same territory that's getting a lot of buzz, or has actually come out?
  • If this is a completed script, or a pitch that you are actually taking out to people, getting passed around by more and more champions?
  • Do you still love this idea? Not the project, but the idea. If you're even asking these questions, you're probably at the Sucky Point, and you hate the project. But is the idea still good?
  • Have you run out of cash?
  • How does your agent or manager or writing partner or writing group feel about it? 
  • Are you hard at work, or are you letting things drift because you're not that into it any more?
  • Are you discovering new things about your project? Are you making the script better with fresh ideas, a different perspective, new characters or fresh revelations about your characters?
  • How long has it been since you've had some solid form of encouragement -- someone asking to read it, someone asking to option it, someone re-optioning it?
Everyone asks these questions. I have projects I love that have just fallen out of the zeitgeist, or which I just can't make any headway on. At a certain point I start putting less energy into them.

But, generally, not before I've given them my best shot.

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What's the deal with logline sites where you basically put your idea up for the world to see. I write a motocross- themed story in 2001 and had an early version of it up on one of the "Lit Sales" sites. Never heard from anyone regarding it yet a couple years alter I see Corbin Blue (or Cordon Bleu) making a motocross movie all over my motocross magazines with a storyline eerily similar to the early version I posted on said site. 
If I get a hold of a copy of this film and see it was "borrowed" from my putting it up there I will be the most prolific antagonist they ever saw. Social media is a bitch and it can work both ways for writers who register and show proof of p regression to a story and show it was posted on said site to gain interest, not to be ripped off.
Well, this a good reason not to post your ideas on logline sites. I certainly wouldn't. If you have a great hook, you're giving it away. It would be all but impossible to show that someone from the other company went to the site and looked at your logline. And even if you could prove it, you cannot copyright an idea, and a logline is an idea.

That said, without knowing your story, there is another possibility, which is that sports movies tend to use only a few plots, usually involving a wise but flawed coach, a hotheaded kid, a team of misfits, and some overfunded, dickish adversaries. It's entirely possible that the other guys made their own motocross movie without any knowledge of yours, and its similarities come out of the genre. Most people who think someone stole their movie idea are wrong. It can happen, but it's rare.

And social media do not scare production companies at all. They call it "free publicity."

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Let's say I tracked down the production office addresses of some shows, along with the business phone and fax numbers/names and titles of some folks at work on these shows. What, would you say, is the best way to ship them my resume and get it into the right person's hands? Without getting it burned and danced upon? I'm trying to think of a professional, classy, non-creepy way to do this. Do you think faxing a cover letter and resume (addressed to each production coordinator, I'm guessing?) to the production offices will do? I'd guess these people are already bombarded with cold callers' resumes. And I actually hate bugging people. But letting this information go to waste feels spineless.
This is a tough way to break in. You're right, they're probably bombarded with cold calls and faxes. (Wow. People still fax things?) And generally by the time you hear about a production, it's staffed up. And you're right: contacting the individual production coordinator is slightly better. I'm guessing that walking a paper resume in the door would probably do heaps better, assuming you're perky and presentable. But how would you get in that door? And that's a huge investment of time. Really the way to get hired onto a show is to know somebody on the show. If you don't know anybody, the usual way is to offer to intern. Most people will listen to an overqualified person willing to intern. I have to say, though, that being a p.a. on a show is a bit overrated. There's a big divide between production and producing. Producing is mostly about development and working in regular offices. A writer can learn a lot from working for a producer. However, a writer doesn't learn that much from being a p.a. It gives you some stories to tell, but the people on a shoot, with the exception of the director, have almost nothing to do with how a show gets greenlit. The job you really want, assuming you're a writer, is writer's assistant, or writer's intern. Those jobs are even harder to get. Readers: I'm not being very helpful here. Does anyone want to share their wisdom? UPDATE: The comments below are FAR more useful than my post.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Q. I recently pitched an idea for a comedy series to a producer. He loves the concept, but thinks it will be a tough sell given my lack of experience in writing TV comedies. From his seat, the odds would greatly improve if I was partnered with a better-known comedy writer. From my seat, the odds of partnering with a better-known comedy writer would greatly improve if I actually knew one by more than name only. My two-part question to you: 
a. Would an experienced comedy writer be open to hearing a pitch from a writer who has no TV-comedy writing experience with a view toward partnering if the concept and personalities are a good fit? 
b. Is there a specific way you’d recommend to approach the more experienced writer?
I think it will be hard to find an experienced TV writer who wants to partner with someone inexperienced.

Most writers have a backlog of their own ideas. Lisa and I have a slew of ideas we haven't had time to write up. It does not pay us to push those aside for something we'd own only 50% of.

I get emails now and then offering a partnership. The few times I have actually partnered with someone inexperienced, because the idea was really excellent, I've wound up doing most of the heavy lifting. In a couple of cases the other person didn't come through at all, and the exercise was a huge waste of time.

So I think it's going to be tough.

I guess what you would do is try to pitch it to a TV writer's company, if he has one. Then they're set up to take pitches.

Otherwise, query by email. But that's tricky, too. You can't put the idea in the email -- they might forget it was your idea, and one can't copyright an idea. On the other hand what else will get them interested? It's a hard needle to thread. At least in this case you have interest from a producer.

Why not ask the producer if he could hook you up with a writer he likes? If he's serious about the project, he should do that; and the writer will be more open to an idea coming from an interested producer. If he's not willing to do that, he may just be brushing you off politely.




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Monday, October 08, 2012

Q. I'm a freshman in college, and I just figured out I wanted to go into screenwriting this summer. I've done a lot of research on the internet, bought a couple books, and recently finished my first screenplay, but I really want some actual education. While I've got a pretty good setup here at my university, it's pretty small and only offers one screenwriting class, and at most I can create my own film minor. I'm wondering if I should try transferring to a different school or just take summer classes at other institutes, but I've heard the latter's not that great for networking. I'm kind of at a loss here. Do you have any advice?
I think you knew the answer before you even asked it. Yes, you need to transfer to where you can learn what you want to know.

There are three things you probably need to be doing right now. The first is getting a great undergraduate education. Learning how to learn, learning things you didn't know you wanted to know: these make you a broader person who can write more interesting stories. If all you ever study is screenwriting, then you run the risk of writing only movies about screenwriters, or movies that rehash other movies.

I didn't study screenwriting in college. I studied Computer Science and English. Then I got an MFA. I'm still using crafty tools I learned in Comp Sci and in English in writing my screenplays.

The second is writing screenplays. Most people need to write, oh, ten feature length screenplays, or the equivalent in TV, before they know what they're doing. So, just write'em. You don't need a course to do that in. But a course does give you room and time to do that.

The third and most important thing is making short films with buddies who are also interested in film. A great film professor can give you lessons, but making your own films will show you more about what you need to learn than most film professors can. Hanging around film fans and filmmakers will involve you in endless discussions about what kinds of films you want to make and they want to make and what's good and who sucks and did you check out that weird film from Croatia? Cross-fertilization, baby.

So yes. You need to be at a school with film clubs and film fans and film makers, and video equipment. More importantly, a school in a city with all of those things.

Look, seriously? You should probably be going to college in LA. You will bump into people in the biz. There are a bazillion actors willing to act in your short because they're desperate for credits. There are film students who may crew for you. Or you can crew for them. You can intern for agents and producers. You can take acting classes.

If LA doesn't work for you, then go to New York. Every coffee shop around NYU, they're talking about movies. Nothing beats being where people actually make films. They are your search engine and your support network.

There are probably excellent programs outside of the cities where people make films. You can learn a lot at them. There are probably amazing filmmakers and film clubs in Austin, Texas. There's a lot of film production going on in New Orleans. And so forth. If you have a choice, though, I'd go to the heart of the biz.

I think the biz is changing. Video production is getting super cheap. You can get very decent footage with an iPhone, a filmmaking app like Filmic Pro ($4) and an external shotgun microphone. You can edit on your computer.

I think more and more people will want to see what you've made, not just what you've written. The writing is still crucial -- your writing has to be great -- but it's not the only thing. You learn more by doing, and you have more to show.

I'm not saying you have to be a director. But every screenwriter should know something about directing and editing, just as every screenwriter should know something about acting.

Good luck! And good on you for figuring this out so early.

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Monday, October 01, 2012

Friend of the Blog Shaula E engaged me in a bit of conversation about Tiny Speck's cartoon MMO, Glitch. I thought her email was worth posting:
It's an odd little game. And a lot has changed in the course of a year, especially with the in-game economy, which drives gameplay now in a much larger way.

It is definitely a grind-heavy game, although it is much less so in light of changes made in the past year. Players can run their own stores, so lazy players (like me!) who don't like to grind to harvest some of the basic materials can buy them from other players. That change opens the game up to a lot of different kinds of gameplay.

One of the most interesting game design choices to me is that Tiny Spark has gone out of its way to foster collaborative game play. Some of the recent changes have made that less "pointless" and built more obvious rewards for players. There is an alt currency, called imagination points, that can be earned in many ways, and spent on in-game upgrades (that significantly enhance gameplay), and some of the consistently most efficient and profitable way to earn these points come from assisting other players. It's an incredible exercise in social engineering, and I've wondered from the start if Stewart Butterfield hasn't fielded it as a "game" as a front for experiments in gamification and behaviour modification; I really hope they've got some good academics riding shotgun and studying how the community works and how in-game incentives affect player behavious, because some really cool stuff is going on in there.

Basically, it is more like an MMO civ game than anything else, where there are no warfare options, but a lot of incentives to trade and barter and collaborate. (Only I doubt the players think of it that way at all.)

The strength of the game is the environment: the developers have built a really rich world with great visual and auditory details. It's incredibly immersive. For example, some areas are built on the "toxic moon" background (party packs and individual players' streets), which has a built-in soundtrack of the 2001: Space Oddyssey theme arranged as a disco song played by banjos and a horn section. Hard to imagine. It cracks me up every time I hit one of those areas.

It isn't a game you can "win", and it suffers from all of the limitations of sandbox games. From the outside (I have no inside lines, btw), it looks like the devs are working on releasing a steady stream of micro-quests for achievement-oriented players; there was a period where most beta testers had accomplished the majority of the in-game goals, and that lead to a lot of grumbling, and any reviews that came during that time period will be pretty negative.

Their financial model is interesting, too: you can play for free with a rich game experience, but if you choose to pay money, you get some cool extras for it. Tiny Speck has stated that they are committed to keeping the free play model valid--Glitch is the antithesis of, say, Farmville in that regard.

I find the theory of the game fascinating. And I play because, at the moment, I'm having a lot of fun with the game economics (I imagine that will plateau for me eventually), but most of all because the game environment is awesome.

Glitch is ultimately more of a "toy" than a "game", though, by my standards, and I wouldn't want to try to predict if Tiny Spark can make a go of it financially or not. They have been in beta for a LONG time, and their commitment and standards are high. I just don't know if the game will have enough appeal. I expect a lot of industry observers won't "get it", either, because it doesn't fit a conventional game model.

I don't know if I love it, but I respect it! How's that for an answer. And so far it is really intriguing.

The game got savaged last year in Rock, Paper, Shotgun; here's hoping they've used the year to fix the issues.

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