Monday, March 1, 2010

The Pitch

My absolute least favorite part of the entire process of writing/production is the pitch.  Why?  Because it's talking to someone you don't know, usually, about a project that's foreign to them.  It's like speed dating, and I'm no good on a first date.  Heck, I've been with my wife since I was 21, I couldn't remember how to act on a first date if I wanted to.  The only misery I have to remember the process is when I have to either pitch a project or go to a networking event.  

Still, the sticky wicket of the whole situation is that if you want to succeed in this town, you have to be good "in the room" as they say.  It might seem idiotic to think about, but if you can't pitch your project well, it probably won't get bought/made/optioned/looked at.  

Often, I hear my bosses talk about the difference between being good "on the page" and being good "in the room". Both are equally important, but think about it this way:  being good on the page gets you into the room for someone to hear your idea, but being good in the room gets your project bought. 

Why is this?  Well, because if I buy your project, I have to sit in the room with you, give you notes, talk with you, have meals with you, and generally be your best friend for the next few months to few years.  In addition, when I buy your project, I'm hoping to build a relationship with you that lasts for a long time.  Why would I want some dour apple that's a pill to be around for the next year?  I want fun, interesting, funny, exciting people who'll make me laugh, generally make the development process less he**ish, and who'll be amenable to change.  Development is enough of a headache with someone you like.  Trying to deal with someone you don't get along with is downright impossible.

To sum up, being great on the page is one thing, but it's certainly not the only thing.  It might not even be the most important thing.  After all, if you're a writer, you dang well better be good on the page. I wish I had advice on how to do this better, but unfortunately, it's just something you have to do.  Just like writing, you have to pitch and you have to get out there and meet people.  The more you do it, the easier it is.  End Rant Now.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Writing for Production

So, most of my life is spent writing, obviously.  I toil away in small, cramped spaces, devoid of life and light.  I come up for air long enough to deliver a draft and get copious notes.  Then, I crawl back in my hole and do it again.  However, every once and a while, I get attached as a producer and/or director to a project, have to dust off my goin' out pants, brush up on my producin' knowledge, and pound the pavement trying to get a project off the ground.  And it got me thinking about how different writing for sale and writing for production really are and I thought I'd share a couple of difference with you. 


When I was a noob writer, I thought about everything in terms of production.  Mainly because I came from a production background and wanted everything to be shootable.  Then, as time wore on, I realized that producers want to read cool, not manageable.  So, I started adding a lot of pizazz to the script which was usually wholly unnecessary, but much more fun to imagine.

But, here's the sticky wicket, when a project actually gets the green light, all of that fun, cool, interesting bs you added in is quickly yanked out to cries of "what were you thinking", "we can't afford that", and "you don't know the budget".  It's sad but true.  So, as a producer and writer, you have to scale back your writing and think about what can be produced.  That car chase ain't gonna work on this budget, maybe a run through the streets.  Oops, can't pull of 30 second flyover of Los Angeles.  All of those cool moments you added in as a writer immediately pop out of your head.  Even if you could afford the 30 second flyover, is there a better way to use that money?


Writing for the page and writing to be spoken are two very different things.  Things that sound good on the page and sound good in people's heads sounds terrible when spoken out loud.  Unless you're Tarrentino, maybe Kevin Smith, that dialog you love is gonna have to change.  Sometimes, you might have to make scripts much more dependent on dialog because you're locations fall through, or because the action can only take up 10% of the overall structure.  Other times, you realize too far into prep that the writer you cast can't act quite as well as you thought, and you have to start gutting dialog because it's too late to recast them.  Still at other times, maybe you wrote your script for a nerdy white rich teenager and you end up casting a street smart African American in his 30s.  Well, that's a big change in the script you have to deal with. 

In addition, you might have 50 speaking role in the project, but the budget can only support 10, so parts have to be hacked, melded, swapped, combined, and generally mutated to the confines of the budget.  


You're script calls for 20 locations, all of them with equal screen time.  However, your budget can only support 5 locations and only 2 main locations which have to encompass 85% of the script.  That's an issue.  What are you going to do as a writer and/or producer?  You gotta significantly change the script or scrap the project and chances are next to nothing you're going to scrap a greenlit project, unless you're either really well off or really principled. 

Why does it matter how many location you use?  Here's an non-exhaustive list: 

1) If you have 20 scenes in the same location, you can bang out a lot more in a day than if you have 1. 
2) Every time one changes locations in a day, the entire cast and crew has to move, called a company move, but that time, better spent shooting, is instead used to pack and unpack gear.
3) You can often store gear in a space overnight if you're shooting in the same location the next day, which cuts down on your tear down at the end of the night. 
4)  Locations are expensive, and the longer you can keep a location, the more of a deal you get on it.  A location could cost 10k for the day, or 20k for the week.  If you're trying to find a free location, it's a lot easier to find 1 free location than 20.  Trust me. 

For all those reasons and more, less locations are more cost effective.  A small scale project in my eyes (and many others) is seen as under 8 actors and under 5 locations. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I love the pretzels in the lobby of my building.  German salt I believe they're called, but they could be called German Hairballs for all I would care and I'd scarf them down 2x a week.  During the daytime, work-week, hours nothing makes my day more than when I indulge in one. 

So, today I was downstairs talking with one of the baristas as they warmed one up for me and I noticed they changed their entire set-up.  The George Foreman moved to the right side of the bar, and the coffee machine moved to the left side.  So, naturally, I tell her how much I hate change, because I'm a positive kinda guy.  Immediately she asks is I'm an earth sign.  "Like from astrology?"  She nods.  "I don't know.  I'm a Virgo."  She laughs.  Apparently, Virgos are earth signs and earth signs hate change.  We talk for a little while longer and I tell her that I have absolutely no idea what the heck a Virgo does or is.

So, I come back upstairs and start eating my pretzel.  Let me tell's goood.  But, I keep getting this nagging knot in the back of my brain.  So, I look up Virgos and start reading.  Half of which is true and half of which is false and another half is tomfoolery.  Bored, I start looking around the internet at all the other signs.  Let me tell you, there is a treasure trove of untapped inspiration when you look at this stuff.  Every sign has very detailed traits, and they don't get along with this sign, and love this other sign.  Here's a sample:

"Has a very keen and sharp intellect. They are methodical and extremely precise. Slow t make moves, as they analyse their knowledge, as to apply it usefully. They are practical and imaginative and develop skills that enable them to improve their being.

Some Negatives:
Can be obsessed with the idea of ‘order’. Can do and will do anything to achieve this. Known to be nagging and fault finding. Most have shy tendencies, are very introverted and self conscious. Having hypochondriac illusions."

Naturally I have characters brewing in my head, so I start looking through these signs trying to pull usable information for my own scripts and projects.  I highly recommend it.  Whether it's hogwash or insightful, it's great material.  Astrologists basically created 12 archetypal yet very human characters.  It's a gift from 2 thousand years ago. 

Monday, February 1, 2010


When you work in any industry, trust is important, but I find it especially important when dealing with a film/tv/web series, etc.  Why?  Because you're judged not by what you've done, as much as what you've completed.  Starting 50 movies is great, but if you've never completed one, what good are you?  The answer, not very.  Let me tell you a few stories about projects I've worked on.  The names have been changed to protect the innocent. 

My first film, ATTACHMENTS, was finished shooting in July 2007.  It's still in post-production.  It'll hopefully come out this year... but who knows. 

TRIBE CALLED ?LOVE, my first TV show, was completed for a grand total of...not enough money.  Let's just say I was hoofin' it all over the nation's capital.  I WAS one of the innovators who used Google Maps to make my project work... mostly because there wasn't a budget for anything else. 

TULIPS AND DAGGERS, another TV show, didn't have enough gear to get through a proper production.  We didn't even have night camera to catch the contestants while the cameras weren't on.  Also, no confessional.  Then, when we got into post-production, I was awarded a grand total of one 2 hour editing session during the assembly cut.  It still isn't finished, save for a trailer. 

So, as you can see from this smattering of productions, I've done some small stuff, but it doesn't matter because either a) it's not good enough to show or b) it's not done so nobody knows it exists.  There are tons more stories that I have about falling in with an untrustworthy cat, but I won't bore you with them. 

What does this all mean?  Well, don't sign a contract with someone just because they wave it in front of you...or offer you a chunk of money.  See, once you sign, they sort of own you.  You'll be called in to do rewrites, or sit in on casting, or any number of things which eat away at your time.  Then, they'll get through the process and take a big fat dump on everything you've worked on.

My advice:  Look carefully at a producer, make sure they've done something, anything, that they've followed through to the end.  You don't have to produce AVATAR to earn my respect, but you do need to show that you've got your head on straight and that you'll see my project through to the BITTER END, before I agree to work with you.  That, or write me a big, hairy, ungodly check and then I'll shut my mouth because, well, I'm a whore.  

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Seasons in LA - TV

LA is all about seasons. There's a rainy season and a dry season. Ba dum dum. I'm actually not kidding though. At least in the TV world, everything is based on seasons. Many people will tell you that TV has moved from a buying season to an all year development season. While this is true in many respects, MOST projects are still bought in the same way they have for 50 years. So, let's take a minute to discuss how this works. Instead of starting in January like a real calender, we'll start in May, or, the development season. It's important to note that these are just guesstimate dates based on my own experience. Networks have ordered series in June and given script orders in February.


After upfronts, where networks announce their line-ups for the following fall, all production company switch from competing to get projects on the air to developing projects for the next year. Even the companies with shows on the air have to begin preparing their shows for the following year. This involves more than just getting a killer concept. They also have to attach writers, get proposals written, and if possible both attach actors and get artwork for pitches.

If you've gotten shows on the air, you begin the process of setting the show up and staffing said show. This is the busiest time of the year for writers, because agents/managers/lawyers are shoving scripts in new showrunner's faces, trying to get their clients on their show. However, this is also a huge time for all crew members as they are vying for spots as PAs, catering, Grip, Electric, and all manner of crew positions.

Shows don't have much time before they are expected to be up and running, so things usually happen fact and furious and people slow to pull the trigger don't get the job.


After projects are set up and production companies are feeling confident, producers, with writers in tow, go out to networks to try to sell the concept. While some shows are bought in the room, the vast majority are passed on, or made to wait for weeks on end while networks hem and haw about whether to order a script. Even if picked, unless you're JJ Abrams or Seth MacFarlane, you're not going to get a series order in the room. You're going to get a script order.

A script order for a production company means little less than squat. They don't really made any money off a script order since they're paying most to all of it to the writer. Even if a script is bought, produced to pilot, and ordered to series, a production company is going to deficit that money for 4-5 years until it's bought to series, as talked about here.


Most script orders, though not all, are given before Thanksgiving with scripts due by Christmas to review over the long holiday. This is really an extension of Pitching season, however it's worth mentioning in it's own section.


Starting a couple weeks after the New Year, when executive have had time to read all the scripts, pilot orders start trickling out. When pilots are ordered, a little mini spike in production happens. By this point and at every major network, the thousands of pitches have been whittled down to 100 or so script orders and those have been whittled 20 or so pilots. By upfronts, those pilots will be whittled again to a handful of projects which will get on the air.

Interestingly enough, just because a project is ordered to pilot doesn't necessarily mean it has or will have financing. Many scripts come from producers or writers without studios or financing behind them. As we all know, most pilots fail, and most series fail. So, in order for a studio to come on board, they don't only have to believe in the concept of the project, but believe they can sell it internationally and keep it on the air long enough to make a profit. While most of the pilots will find financing, some of them will fall by the wayside. Even others will have to go to several studios to make their case. It's a strange little twist which most people don't talk about.


In May, every network has a presentation of their products, their schedule for the upcoming year. Some would say this is where the production companies who received series orders have won, but we all know that 90% of pilots fail, so it's a little presumptuous for that, wouldn't you say?

I'm sure film also has it's seasons, spec season heats up after Labor Day and dies down in May, but I find the TV season much more interesting. So, what do you think? Are there seasons in LA?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pilot Season

Since I'm waiting for notes on my script, I've had a chance to catch up on pilot scripts and review orders and I have to say, I'm shockingly disappointed with the quality and originality of what's out there. My manager has a mantra: "Don't show me anything unless it's shockingly original."

I wish these writers listened. Here's a smattering of pickups from the last couple days. Granted, some come close to being original, but the vast majority just seem like rehashing.

CBS has commissioned a pilot for a half-hour multi-camera comedy
entitled “Hitched” about a 20-something newlywed couple who,
surrounded by their family and friends, is still learning about each

ABC has commissioned a pilot for drama entitled “No Ordinary Family”
about a typical American family whose members have special abilities.

CBS has commissioned a pilot for an unnamed comedy about a widower
father who raises his 12-year old son while jumping back into the
dating pool.

Fox has commissioned pilot for multi-camera comedy entitled “Most
Likely to Succeed” about a group of friends who were superstars
growing up and are now dealing with the reality of adulthood.

Fox has commissioned pilot for half-hour single-camera comedy entitled
“Traffic Light” about three male childhood friends, now in their early
thirties, in different stages of his life like a traffic light: (1)
red light is for the one who is married with a child and whose life is
at a standstill; (2) blinking yellow light is for the one who is
living with his girlfriend and on an irreversible journey from
bachelorhood to marriage; and (3) green light is for the eternal

ABC has commissioned pilot for drama project entitled “Edgar Floats”
about a police psychologist who becomes a bounty hunter.

NBC has commissioned pilot for half-hour multi-camera comedy entitled
“Nathan v. Nurture” about a successful 35 year old heart surgeon who
decides to search for his biological parents only to find that they
had three more kids (all underachievers) and kept those kids.

NBC has commissioned pilot for multi-camera comedy entitled “This
Little Piggy” about two adult siblings who move in with their eldest
brother after he inherits his parents’ large, rambling Portland,
Oregon house.

NBC has commissioned pilot for legal drama entitled “Pleading Guilty”
based on Scott Turow's novel, and centers on Mack Malloy, an ex-cop-
turned-attorney who works as a partner at a powerful Chicago law firm.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

102 pages

1-3/4 pages away from finishing the outline. There have been some -hiccups - along the way, but the format of this blog didn't work as well as I thought because there were very few. I thought it would be a torturous, laborious process to finish the first pass with work, but it really wasn't. partially, or mostly because I did 2 months of drafting an outline. I'm hoping the rewrite process has most hiccups and issues because who wants to read about a dude with no problems...nobody.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Little Snag

Well, I got a couple pages today. Unfortunately, I had to do an interview over lunch, and do a bunch of errands for my bosses, which is fine. Things are things. I'll keep churning away...chopping wood.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Act 2's butt kicked

It's getting a little sad how quickly I'm kicking this script's butt. After a slow go at first, my speed picked up. I'm 87 pages through the first pass in 2 weeks. 4 pages left to go in my outline. At this point, I'm not even bothering to write dialog or good action blocks, I just want to get it done, scrap my outline document, and work straight from the script.

I actually have, for the most part, liked this process, but I'm hoping where it will really be helpful is in rewriting. When I don't work from an outline, at least 3 drafts are spent just getting to a coherent structure, moving things around and making them work. With this process, I'm hoping I can get to the right structure much quicker. In general, also, I like the script as much as I thought I would on the surface. There's a ton of rewrite work to do and I'm not going to be able to work as fast when I actually have to craft the scenes, but I'm overwhelmingly positive about this draft so far.

I'll probably finish it up in about a week or so, depending on my schedule. There is no holiday weekend, so I won't be writing 40 pages in three days this weekend. I think I can finish during lunches this week, but I'm not sure. Definitely by next week, I think I'll be done this pass.

Monday, January 18, 2010

80 pages in

80 pages in under 2 weeks. Thank you holiday weekend. It's been hellish and grueling since I've only had an hour here and an hour there, never a good idea to be forced to write and not be able to let it flow. Luckily, and this is from the heart, I wrote a really long outline so I can just literally transcribe. It's really helped "zen out" and just keep plugging away.

At this point, I'm really just nervous about reading through it. It's going to be a show.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Nearly half done

52 pages in. Nearly half done with my outline. Still probably have 10 pages to go in script before I'm halfway through. I have off tomorrow so I'm hoping to write another 20 pages. I've honestly never written this close to an outline before. I find it easier actually because it's mindless. I'm literally just transcribing scene by scene. I never have to stop and say, what happens next, which makes my process much faster. Still rubbish though right now.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

10 pages on a weekend...what!

dog is gone, wife is gone, the day hasn't started yet. I actually had the whole morning to myself and got 10 pages of this script done. It is coming down. The page count is now just about 120 when I'm through this outline, which is where I want it. Usually, my first drafts are around 100 pages, but I really wanted to have some meat on this script's bones so I could cut and manipulate as much as possible. I won't say I like it. It is a garbage draft after all, but it feels really good to write. I forgot how much I enjoyed it. All of the prep/rewrite/slave to another master bs is gone. I don't have to worry about this being good for anyone but myself. And that feels good.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Taste that Act I

Alright, so it's not great. It's done on first pass, and it actually ended up about right. in the end of my first Act, the girl finds a tooth which she attributes to her father's real killer. It happens four-ish pages into the outline, or 30 pages into the script, which is just about the sweet spot. Of course, by the time I'm done, I'll have whittled that 30 pages down to 15 or 20 and gotten into the action much quicker.

So, my thoughts on Act I. Dialog is really bad. By the end I was just putting placeholder dialog in which conveyed exactly what I wanted said in that scene, but it was really generic, on the nose, and just plain terrible. Still, since I only started this script on the 5th, and I've only written during lunch breaks for the past 2 weeks, I think it's pretty mighty to accomplish a whole first act in what amounts to a grand total of 8 hours, minus that day or two I spent on the web series and the time sucked from me when I had to do work over lunch. Compound that with the fact that I had to get back in rhythm after being away from the project for so long and I'm kinda proud of myself for the effort. However, I will be the first to tell you that it's sh*t right now. That's why I have garbage draft written all over it.

Why don't I write at home? I live in a 1 bedroom apartment with a wife, 2 bunnies, and a dog. Work is the least hectic place in my life. There is nowhere to hide.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Chopping Wood

23 pages into the first draft today. 2+ pages through the outline. It's coming down. I'm only looking at a 180 page screenplay now on the first draft, down from 400.

As predicted, I've been getting on a roll lately with the writing. Now that I know the characters, they keep speaking to me. Writer's block be damned. I'm writing mostly junk, specifically for one of my characters whose characterization is all wrong, but at least he's a minor character. Plus, that's stuff I don't have to think about for a couple weeks until I'm done with banging out this draft. I found a pace that works for me, since the only real writing time I have is during lunch, and I can crank out 5 terribly inadequate pages in that time. I'm very lucky that in my mind, pages don't have to start taking shape until the 3rd or 4th draft.

I'm still looking at more rewriting for the web series and producers engaging in rewrites for my feature and TV shows, but for now I can bowl ahead with the script and at least be writing something. I'm actually thinking about turning this into a book now. I think it could be good. Writing delusions, you are my best friend.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

That was exhausting

Let me tell you, if you ever have a chance to deliver a new script in 3 days...pass. Luckily the script was only 17 pages long, 6 episodes (of which I only rewrote 5), but the pace was long and rewriting is always a crapshoot for me. I tend to write fast and then see what I wrote and say "this is good". I step back and come back and say...this is sh*t, tear it down and start fresh. That process continues until my fragile ego is beaten lower than a bow legged caterpillar and I eventually get to deadline with something I again think is good, but wish I had one more crack at.

It's always the same. I try to psych myself up that this time will be different. Maybe next time will be. Now, back to my baby, which I'm beginning to pitch around a bit and getting nothing but head shakes and sighs. Hey, it's not a commercial movie, but I've never cared about a project more. And when a story stays with you for years, it's something that needs to get out on paper.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Rewriting woes

the problem with rewriting based on notes is that you have to assimilate your taste with the taste of the producers on the project.

***NOTE: I think the producer of this web series is really open to ideas and I enjoy working with him very much because he will at least listen to an idea before he tears it down and is always up for spirited debate.***

Now, when you're always functioning on all cylinders and see the projects the same way, it's great and things get done quickly, but it's almost like sitting at work and having your boss tell you what she wants on you desk without describing it well. You might get it in one shot, or you could bumble around trying to figure out the right thing for an hour. It can get frustrating at times and it's very often like pulling your hair out.

Moved away

So, I had a meeting about my web series with its producer and now have to switch gears to focus on that for the weekend. Hopefully I'll be back to writing this script by Monday, but rewrites of real projects come before writing by baby.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


So, I wrote a little more at lunch today. I'm now 11 pages in. I'm 1/2 page through my 18 page outline, which means I'm looking at a 400 pages script. Suck on that 110 pages!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

6 pages

So, for lunch today I had a steaming pile of completed six pages of the first pass. Why do scripts always suck when you're writing them but feel better when you read them? I have a habit, which I've found works for me. Whether I go back and reread a script while I'm writing or not, I never change anything, except typos, on the first pass. First drafts always suck, but I started and that's the hardest part. Once I'm past 30 pages, it turns easier. Hemingway said first drafts are shit, and I believe him. Only problem is, I'm not so sure my final products aren't equally shit, polished to a streak free shine. We'll see.

Also, I've pretty much decided I'm going to turn this blog, at least for the time being, into me expressing my dread over writing this script. Hopefully, it will keep me motivated and give you an insight into my addled mind. If nothing else, it'll help me.


My computer is looking at me out of the corner of it's eye. Sitting at work, my boss out, I brought my laptop in today planning to finally crack this script over an early lunch. But I haven't, and my computer keeps looking at me, disappointed. I don't know what it wants me to do? I'm busy. Okay, I'm not really that busy. I should put it away, before it starts yelling at me.

Monday, January 4, 2010


So, I haven't written anything recently except outlines, treatments, rewrites, and blog entries. Mainly, nothing impressive or important. It's not because I don't have something to write. I actually have a banged out 18 page outline which I can start writing tonight if I wanted.

Why? I tell people it's because I'm blocked, but I think it's because I'm scared. Right now, I'm at a place in my career where I should be (in my mind) be selling a script. 9.5 features, a bunch of tv, web series, produced movies, options, etc. Plus, I'm turning 28 this year, and almost everyone I respect broke around 28. So, it's a little nerve-racking.

I'm not really giving out advice. I'm going to try something new this year on this blog. I'm just going to be honest. No advice, just my thoughts. I'm scared of this year as much as I am excited. Now, I'm going back to work.