Heywell Film Scripts Blog

Comedy. Drama. Horror. Suspense. My life AND my scripts.

Couldn’t have said it better myself …

Posted by bobheske on December 2, 2007

Thanks to writer/artist/pal Dany Boom for this entertaining and brutally honest rant by Harlan Ellison at Warner Brothers regarding “doing it for nothing”. Enjoy!

Editor’s Note: In a cruel ironic twist, I regret to say that I did not pay Harlan for posting this interview which I took off YouTube.


Posted in Independent Films, Screenwriting | Leave a Comment »

WGA Strike – Fast Answers for the Uninformed Screenwriter

Posted by bobheske on November 11, 2007

If you are like me (a non-WGA writer), chances are you’re in the dark on the recent WGA Writers Strike and the impact to WGA and non-member writers. What is the strike about? What is the impact on striking writers and those of us not yet in the WGA club? What should writers do during the strike and is there any chance to get scripts sold without being labeled as a “scab”?

For a quick primer on the WGA strike, check out the YouTube video below called WHY WE FIGHT:

If you have a free hour to spare, listen to this audio where Strike Captain X Gives the Inside Scoop in the Writer’s Strike.

Or, if you simply want a fast read, read this article from Creative Screenwriting’s weekly e-newsletter, CS Weekly:

The Answers You Seek: The WGA Strike FAQ
By Peter Clines
CS Weekly tries to clear up some of the mystery and questions surrounding the WGA strike.

The writers strike has left many aspiring writers a bit confused about where they stand and what they’re allowed to do. In the days leading up to the strike, and especially in the days since, dozens of questions have popped up on message boards, in live chats, and some have even been emailed directly to our offices. CS Weekly has spent the past week prodding experts and gnawing through the WGA’s block of strike rules (available for download here) to provide our readers with simple, straightforward answers to their questions. In the days and weeks to come, we’ll add to this list on our website. Check for updates here.

Why is the WGA striking? What’s the issue? There are two main issues that the WGA wants addressed. First is the residuals paid to writers for the sale of DVDs (established after the 1988 strike at four cents per sale), which they would like increased to eight cents. It’s worth noting that just before the strike, the WGA removed this proposal from the table, but negotiations ceased almost immediately afterwards.

The second issue is the increasing use of the internet as a medium for both viewing and sales. At present, since this is new territory, writers are paid nothing when their work is “aired” online. The WGA wants to establish payment and residual guidelines for material used or sold in this way.

Q: Does the strike affect every studio in Hollywood?

A: No, it does not. The WGA is striking against the specific studios that it has signatory agreements with, a complete list of which is available here on the Guild’s website. There are still several production companies that operate independent of the WGA, which are often referred to as non-signatory companies.

Q: What is a signatory company?

A: Signatory companies have agreed to the terms of the WGA’s Basic Agreement. These terms include minimum pay rates, pension and health plan contributions, and residuals. All of the major studios and networks have signed this agreement with the Guild. During the strike, all signatory companies are being struck.

Q: What is a scab?

A: Anyone who performs screenwriting services of any kind for a struck company is considered a scab, whether they are a Guild member or not. Guild members who scab write will be punished, while non-members will be barred from future membership.

Q: Can I sell to a non-signatory company?

A: WGA writers cannot write or sell work during the strike, but non-guild writers can still sell to non-signatory companies, since this violates neither side of the signatory agreements.

Q: I’m not a member. Can I still sell to struck companies, or does that make me a scab?

A: Non-member writers who sell scripts or perform any sort of screenwriting work for struck companies will be considered scabs and barred from future membership.

Q: I won a screenwriting contest that promises money and production as their prize, but what if they don’t pay me until after the strike starts? Am I a scab?

A: If the production company that would make the movie is one of the struck companies, then, yes, this would be scab work.

Q: I’m a non-guild member, someone bought my first script and I’ve already signed a contract. Can I still do rewrites?

A: If the purchasing company is a struck company, doing rewrites would violate the strike and be considered scab work. Guild members who perform scab writing will be punished, while non-members will be barred from future membership.

Q: A company in another country wants to buy one of my scripts. Would that make me a scab?

A: There are signatory companies outside of the country. If the purchasing company is a struck company, selling a script would violate the strike and be considered scab work. Guild members who perform scab writing will be punished, while non-members will be barred from future membership.

Q: Can I just work for free now and get paid later?

A: The point of the strike is not to perform any work, not to avoid being paid for work. Anyone who performs screenwriting services of any kind for a struck company is considered a scab. Guild members who scab write will be punished, while non-members will be barred from future membership.

Q: Can I still try to get an agent or a manager during the strike?

A: Yes, you can. Some reps have even said they’ll be using the time they aren’t working on deals or contracts to catch up on their reading and submissions. However, others warn that they are focusing even harder on their existing clients to be ready once the strike ends. In short, the challenge will still be attracting someone’s attention with good writing.

Q: The WGA says if I scab I can never be a member, but aren’t all the studios allowed to buy specs from non-members anyway?

A: Technically, this is true. However, non-guild members cannot be hired for any assignments or other writing work once the strike ends, receive no benefits, and have no retirement plan.

Q: Will joining picket lines get me into the WGA?

A: No. While the writers appreciate any support, the normal rules and requirements for WGA membership are still in effect.

Q: How long will the strike last?

A: No one can say for sure. Many industry experts are already predicting five or six months, while some hold out hope for a quicker resolution. At the moment, neither side has announced plans to resume negotiations.

Q: Does this mean I’ll never learn how Sylar lost his powers?

A: Possibly. Several television series have already stopped filming for both political and practical reasons, while others will continue to make episodes as long as they still have scripts. Some showrunners (such as Tim Kring of Heroes) made last minute changes before the strike began so their shows can have a degree of closure if there is an extended work stoppage.

Finally, for a list of struck companies go to this link on http://www.wga.org.

And if all else fails, keep writing and building your portfolio until the dust settles.

Posted in Independent Films, Screenwriting | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Screenwriting Slippery Slopes

Posted by bobheske on June 4, 2007

Well, it’s been awhile.

Several months in fact. But hey, what’s a few months in virtual time?

I’ve been busy with several (free) rewrites, co-writing a new short (Bern in Hell) with my wife, and writing a new comedy. Some positive things are happening, but for now I’ll focus this entry on a recent example of screenwriter scam.

In a nutshell … a few months ago I received an email from a gentleman (we’ll call him “Mr. Hassan”) congratulating me with the great news that he had read my script off triggerstreet.com. He had another writer whom he was raising funds for, but he wanted to option my horror script for a 3-month “free look” period while he gathered funds and found me an agent. His company (we’ll call it “The Wizard of … Motion Picture Group”) was hard to find on the Internet. And talking to this secretive dude was even harder. He didn’t want to divulge details or talk on the phone. But promised he’d respond to my queries via email. He promised me $20K to $200K, depending on funding secured … guaranteed.

He even gave me a name of another “winner” I could email … but told me (“hush-hush”) not to tell her that he was planning a fundraising concert in her honor.

I emailed this writer to try to find out details. She was very close to the vest – not telling me anything. Meanwhile, another producer whom I knew a little bettter loved the rewrite of this same script and wanted to do a co-creation agreement to turn it into a comic book. No pay up front, but we’d split all profits 50-50, plus it would be a great way to market the feature to the studios (ever notice how many films get made out of graphic novels these days?).

In short, I took Door #2 and went the comic book route. I had my manager contact “Mr. Hassan” and he actually sent a gracious email wishing us luck, and saying he didn’t have funds available now but was working on it. In my experience, most screenplay sales leads end up in quicksand … so I soon forgot about it.

Then today, I received an email from Mr. Hassan’s other writer / “winner” who offered this eye-opening update:

Wizard of… Motion Picture Group was a scam … He was vague, sketchy–the kind of guy who answers with a question or sends a lot of nothing paperwork to pretend he is holding fund-raising events he is not. I never received a penny on the 21k award he represented. He now says he has no money and never did … Not a single penny, just story after story after story for five or six months. No agents either–just more stories.

The writer turned out to be a nice person (at least, from the emails we exchanged). Now, tired of the crap chasing down Tinseltown, she’s decided to write a book instead of a movie and is pursuing self-publishing. God speed and much success to her! (Tip: Lulu and iuniverse were two sites she recommended.)

So SCREENWRITERS BEWARE of the “free option” and the dangling carrot of “guaranteed moola.” If nothing else, have your manager or pay an entertainment lawyer to contact these charlatans before you get caught with your pants down.

Here’s a few other things to steer clear from:

  • Paying Script Consultants Who “Love Your Contest Script BUT …” – My professor at Emerson College warned me but I didn’t listen. After entering my script Love Stupid in the San Diego Film Festival Contest I got a nice email from a consultant who told me my script was one of a handful that she read that had promise and she could right the script with a screenplay consultation for $250 – satisfaction guaranteed or my money back! My professor told me that it was just a scheme and, judging from the email I shared with him, it was odd that she liked my script very much but didn’t say one single thing identifying she’d read it or remembered it (e.g., the email she sent was a form note). I didn’t listen … and boy, was I wrong. During the call, the writer got thru Act One and said, “And well … the rest of the story needs to be rewritten from here.” It was clear she’d only gotten partway through my script and the rest of the critique was generalities you’d find in any screenwriting tome. So lesson learned – submit to contests but don’t pay for script consults as a post mortem – whether you win or lose!

  • Writing Treatments for Free – OK, in chapter two of “I’m an idiot” make sure you never, ever do this: find a producer who likes your script but has another idea they want to explore instead. They want you to either: a) write their short story idea or b) write a treatment or script for a little idea dancing around in their head. I’ve done both faux paus – for a short and a feature treatment – and nothing has come out of it. Why waste your time writing a script on spec for some dreamer who talks a great story but never follows through? Not only have I lost time writing the damn stuff, I lost money doing agreements with my entertainment lawyer that were never, ever responded to. Trust me. Your time is more important. Write your own story. And if someone wants you to write their script – do what I do now: point them to the rates on your website. They’ll disappear faster than free pizza at the office.

  • Don’t Pay A Manager (Unless You Can Afford It) – I’ve been told this one by many people but it took firsthand experience – and several thousand dollars out of my personal savings – to learn the lesson myself. It’s always a compliment when someone “in the biz” likes your work and wants to represent you. I had an experience with a person whom, personally, I liked very much and who I am sure worked very hard and was fair in billing me. However, over the course of two years I spent enough money to make my own short and never even got a whiff of a live pitch. Sure, I had several nice notes from prodcos and studios who liked my work and wanted to see more – but this was the only work the manager represented. If I wrote another script, it would take several rewrites to “get it right” and, thus, represented. Hence, in retrospect, for me this was a bad move. If you have the money to blow – go for it and follow your dream. But if you are raising a family on a limited income like me … well, be glad you have a forgiving wife. If you are going to pay someone to represent your services, make sure it is an entertainment lawyer who reviews any option/purchase agreement before you give away the rights to your script (see the scam that I started this blog off with for details). Every conference and film festival that I got to, I hear the same piece of advice: An agent or manager should only be paid after they option/sell your work – not for reading it or sending it out.

  • One other pet peeve – inevitably people will ask you to read their scripts and provide feedback. If you have the time, by all means do. However, too frequently people send me a draft mired with tons of typos and/or which they are in the midst of rewriting. In other words, they haven’t taken the time to finish the rewrite or complete a clean draft, yet they want me to take the time to read the unfinished work. Save yourself time – tell them you will read the revised script AFTER they have finished a draft that they’re ready to send out. Or, if they just want a “quick read,” have them email the synopsis or treatment. EXCEPTION TO THIS RULE: If you have a working relationship – ergo, they read your stuff, you read theirs, and/or you collaborate with them – then disregard this pet peeve. Do whatever you can to help these friends out – and be brutally honest in your review.)

    Finally – remember the “power of NO”. As a writer, we can’t force people to make our scripts. But, as long as we’ve been smart enough to copyright protect them, we can always say NO to a lowball offer. I’ve done it a handful of times myself and have never regretted it. You work hard dammit. If someone won’t pay you for what you do – you don’t need to work with them (nor do they deserve your script).

    Well, I hope I haven’t pissed anybody off. But writing this blog is therapeutic for me and, most important, intended to help aspiring screenwriters to avoid my mistakes and hopefully find a quicker path to success than the one I have stumbled upon this past decade+.

    Till next time – wear slippers in the rain and avoid those screenwriting slippery slopes.


    Bob Heske

    Posted in Independent Films, Screenwriting | 2 Comments »

    Living La Vista Loco (Vista OS Hassles)

    Posted by bobheske on February 19, 2007

    I am NOT an early adopter.

    But my computer shit the brick right when I was in the midst of a deadline for two feature rewrites. And the damn prices for Vista-loaded notebooks just about forced me to take the plunge.

    Yes, I did my homework. I even asked the tech guys at the company I work for. They told me: Wait six months.

    Instead, I went to Staples and, as my tech guys like to say, put myself on the “bleeding edge”.

    After three weeks of late nights talking to HP Tech Support (AKA – India), I feel like I have been sequestered to Guantánamo Bay. Oh the torture I’ve undergone!

    Hence, I have put together a brief guide of “What You Should Know About Vista” before you take the painful plunge:

    1. You’re An Island – No one has experience with this monster, so your pain will be your own.

    2. You’ll Be Forced to Buy New Hardware – You’ll get a great deal on your notebook, but you’ll get reamed when you realize none of your peripherals older than 2 years have drivers. My Compaq 3000 wouldn’t work on Vista. Lucky those Sunday flyers had deals on new printers – forcing me to get rid of something that worked great on XP.

    3. iTunes Doesn’t Work – You’ll go to the iTunes site and your stomach will sink when you read – “Don’t do Vista until we come out with a new upgrade”. If you do take the leap, you’ll find you need to uninstall like I had to do with my Iomega CD driver R/W. Thank God my wife is still on XP and I could adopt it to her.

    4. Tech Support is a Misnomer – Oh, the joy you’ll feel when you call HP’s “JP Powers Award-Winning Tech Support” and be told – “Nope, we don’t handle that. But we can connect you to our ‘Smart Friend’ tech service for the low cost of $69 for 45 minutes.” Whatever happened to paying by the hour? No-no-no my friend. It appears international rates in India have eschewed the US “hourly rate” model and only go by 45-minute increments. Less time is more money!

    5. Even if you have an HP peripheral, you’re screwed – I thought I had HP over the barrel when I told them I have an HP printer I was trying to share on my network. They asked for my serial number and told me my warranty had run out. But – GREAT NEWS! – for only $32 I could extend my warranty for 1 year and get FREE TECH SUPPORT. Yippee-kay-ay!!

    6. You’ll get sick of HP Support and Try Geek Squad – I did. And spent an extra $89 to get my wireless connection running. The service was OK. Until I pushed the envelope and tried to download their “FREE TRIAL” online backup service. 3 out of 4 people on the Geek Squad customer service line never heard of the product. It took me 3 hours to install the service – get the wrong files backed up – and then uninstall and cancel my subscription (otherwise, after the “FREE TRIAL” they bill you without notice).

    7. Just When You Think You’re Set … You’ll find out that Final Draft doesn’t have a bug-free upgrade for Vista. Nor do they support it.

    As for me, it’s another night of being chained to my keyboard and talking to HP Support (AKA – India!!). It’s 1:16 in the morning. I’m weary. Cranky. And I am the only one in my office that has to work on President’s Day. Oh, and even better news. They just gave me a new computer. I pray to God it isn’t Vista.

    Posted in Screenwriting | Leave a Comment »

    Sad But True Cartoons …

    Posted by bobheske on January 3, 2007

    Just thumbing thu leftovers from MY PICTURES folder from ’06 …







    Posted in Cartoons | Leave a Comment »

    Greetings Double-Oh-Seven (2007)

    Posted by bobheske on December 29, 2006

    Happy New YearHard to believe we’re already on the cusp of 2007 – some seven years after reaching the “Mendoza Line” of my middle age (actually, I was a mere 38 in the arrival of the new millennium). Still, I raise my beer glass to 2006 which was a year of gratification and personal bests:

      I became a first-time father
      My second marriage lasted longer than my first (15 months and counting!)
      I optioned my first feature script…
      …And optioned 9 shorts
      I enjoyed a freelance job with satisfying work, good pay, and low stress
      I celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas with three generations of my immediate family who are alive, kicking, and cussing

    On the down (or up) side … my waistline once again reached an all-time high.
    I’ll be eating salad up until the Super Bowl (when the Patriots win for the 4th time this decade).

    Here are some fast and quick resolutions for 2007:

  • Write more features than shorts
  • Spend less, be smarter on marketing
  • Go to a conference (or two)
  • See my work at a film festival
  • Get IMDB credits
  • Win a major contest
  • Join WGAE (or WGA if I get really successful and move to LA)
  • Make more contacts & make even more friends
  • Stay healthy, happy, and married
  • Watch a movie I wrote with three generations of Heske’s who are still alive, still kicking, but now clapping
  • And to close, a wish for you from an Irish Wedding Toast:

    May you be poor in misfortune, rich in blessings, slow to make enemies and quick to make friends. And may you know nothing but happiness from this day forward.

    Peace and God Bless.

    Bob Heske

    Posted in Independent Films, Screenwriting | Leave a Comment »

    Bad Script Marketing

    Posted by bobheske on December 19, 2006

    From time to time I peruse the Web to market my scripts. The two biggies I use are:

  • Mandy.com
  • NEFilm.com
  • For features, I have also posted on Inktip. Although I’ve never sold a script off this, I have had several shorts optioned thanks to Inktip’s free shorts posting service.

    Want to make sure you never-ever-ever option a script?

    Write a bad posting to market it. Just as writing a script takes talent, so too does writing a good script posting. One visit to the afore-mentioned sites and you’ll see that there are as many bad postings as there are bad scripts out there.

    Here’s but a few*:

    *Names and contact info have been changed to protect the ignorant.

    A Few Bad Postings:

    AVAILABLE: Fifty completed screenplays available. Most all genres: high medium and low-budget. Contact: Kent Stop Writing at 1-800-tiredfingers.

    Critique: 50 scripts? Does this guy ever have a chance to breath air? And what is this … mass marketing? Pick one solid script, write a compelling logline, and list any recent awards/contests. That’s how to hook a producer.

    AVAILABLE: COMEDY/SLASHER/HORROR/MORONIC short film about a band who double as xfiles agents/pervs/ghost busters. Scripts written. Contact Bill/Jill/Will/Lil at one of these 50 phone numbers.

    Critique: Talk about an indentity crisis. Pick a genre for chrissakes – don’t take ALL OF THEM! Even the band has multi-personalities. Hey, there’s the hook – it’s Sybil II! Any it’s nice to note that “scripts written”. Unwritten scripts are so much harder to sell.

    And One Good Posting

    AVAILABLE: Short script available: DARK NIGHT OF THE SOULS. Logline: A bitter eccentric’s defiance of a village’s ban on Christmas leads to confrontation and redemption. Write Safe contest finalist. Contact: Good Will Writing, Phone: 123-4567, Email: talentedguy@gmail.com

    Comment: Tells what it is, tells quickly what it’s about, and then even notes a nice contest showing. Short. Succinct. Effective. Bravo!

    Some Pretty Bad Loglines

    Questions of Fact by Ida Know
    Plagued by mistaken identities and the cruel unacceptance of his denials, a young man finally succumbs to the temptation, taking on the roles that he is accused of, and soon finds himself caught in a downward spiral of hilarious and bizarre circumstances. 17 pages.

    Critique: Speaking of questions, this logline raises a bunch of them. Why is the young man plagued by mistaken identities? And why is there “cruel unacceptance” of his denials? And I assume this is a comedy? But you wouldn’t know it except for the oblique insertion of “hilarious” in the tail end of this exhausting logline. Use less words to get the high concept across quickly and efficiently. The best example I know is the 3-word logline for Aliens (“Jaws in Space”).

    The Idle Life by Seth Sloth
    A dark comedy about a young man’s quest to live his life in a nothingness nirvana. 9 pages.

    Critique: This logline also says nothing, but in fewer words. The character may be written brilliantly; however, the logline does zero to clue us in to his humorous predicament or lovable loser character. Think of the comedy Arthur (1981 with Dudley Moore) whose logline might be: A happy, unambitious drunk must choose between the woman he loves or the woman who will make him rich. Another example is the more recent comedy Failure to Launch (2006 with Matthew McConaughey) whose logline might be: A thirtysomething slacker suspects his parents of setting him up with his dream girl so he’ll finally vacate their home.

    And A Pretty Good One

    Ravenous by Shur M. Hungry
    A couple of young womanizers find out what it’s like to be treated like a piece of meat. 11 pages. Placed in the top 35 of 1176 entries in the 2006 American Gem Short Screenplay Competition.

    Comment: Good, short catchy title. Brief, intriguing logline. Also, tells me how many pages and that this story was very competitive in a topline contest. Well done (no pun intended)!

    The bottom line: When you write a script, take the time to come up with the right tools to market it. Namely, these five things:

      1) Logline (two sentences – and no more!)
      2) Short synopsis (2-3 paragraphs)
      3) Long synopsis (preferably one page, two pages at most)
      4) Treatment (you should have written this BEFORE you sat down to write the script)
      5) Query letter (once you have the logline and short synopsis, the query comes easy)

    Happy (effective) marketing!

    Posted in Screenwriting | 1 Comment »

    Screenwriter’s Starter List

    Posted by bobheske on December 18, 2006

    Late Bloomer Cartoon
    “I was a late bloomer -. I didn’t inherit my money until my 50s.”

    After a 5-year hiatus from screenwriting, I re-visited my dream in 2001 somewhere between the time I turned 40 (May) and the Twin Towers toppled in New York (I don’t need to remind you of the date).

    I consider myself a late bloomer; I tried screenwriting after failing at vending machines and tiring of financial services. I’ve spent several years, thousands of hours, and tens of thousands of dollars trying to get it right. I’ve made countless mistakes (read prior posts) and have learned a few things along the way.

    Here are seven things to consider when starting out:

  • Go to conferences and film festivals – Nothing gets the juices flowing more than mingling with other creative people. Nantucket has a good screenwriter’s festival in June (although the hotel room will cost you and arm and a leg). There are conferences galore – although ASA and Screenwriting Expo are two worth the trip in movieland (Los Angeles).

  • Get a screenwriting certificate – If you can afford it (or better yet, get work to pay for it), getting a screenwriting certificate from a decent school is a great way to jumpstart your career. I went to Emerson College and, although I had to foot the bill myself, the perspective and insights I gained were invaluable. No longer do I feel that I am writing in a vacuum. Plus, I’ve got a bonafide certificate hanging on the wall (not to mention, some Fine Arts credits).

  • Volunteer to be a script reader – To get better a screenwriting, you need to read a lot of scripts. What better way than volunteer to be a script reader at a production house or for a screenwriting contest? You’ll not only feel better about yourself as a writer (after reading all those horrible scripts), you’ll also be exposed to a few nuggets of gold and learn how to write better from the experience.

  • Enter contests – It’ll cost you some bucks, but once you complete that script (after several edits and polishes, natch) you’ll want some positive reinforcement. Rather than funnel your money into a consultant, put it into a few reputable contests. If you place high enough (winner, finalist, semi-finalist, sometimes even quarter-finalist), you’ll get some Web exposure and perhaps some other nifty prizes. Go to Moviebytes or WithoutABox for a list of contests.

  • Build a Website – Once you get some experience, complete a few scripts, and win/place in a few contests, it’s time to get a website to generate some traffic. You don’t have to have a hell of a lot – but if you want producers to come back, you should have some decent properties and interesting content. List you bio (screenwriter’s CVJ), loglines, and contest wins. Add a blog if you have the energy. And try to build a creative community by linking to like-minded/talented indie folks who you can promote and who, in turn, can generate traffic to your site.

  • Write Shorts to Get Some Options – It’s the ol’ “egg and chicken” story. How do you get an agent or manager if you haven’t sold a script? One way is to get shorts produced. You not only get an excuse to attend film festivals (see bullet #1 on this list), but you also get IMDB credits to put on your screenwriter’s CV. It’s no the quickest path to success, but for those in screenwriting for the long haul, it is a viable avenue. Some sites where you can post your shorts for free are Inktip and NEFilm.

  • Keep Writing! – Painfully obvious, isn’t it? But I’ve found that 99 out of 100 times I will be disappointed in any potential ‘leads” that want to option/purchase my work. Either someone wants you to pay them to read your work and “make it better” or they want a “free option” to take your idea to other producers. Can’t a writer get paid? Yes, if you keep honing your craft and are committed to doing the work. So, keep as many irons in the fire as possible – write as much as you can (making sure your words are quality, not just quantity). Once you get that first option, they’ll always counter with “What else ya got?”

  • “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” (Satchel Paige)

    One final chestnut: You’re never to old to start. Grandma Moses picked up a paintbrush in her seventies. Satchel Paige didn’t make it to the Majors until his forties and pitched to the ripe age of 59. And the 40-year-old Virgin didn’t get laid until … well, you get the picture.

    Posted in Screenwriting | Leave a Comment »

    Collaboration Heaven and Hell

    Posted by bobheske on December 16, 2006

    Collaboration Cartoon

    Collaboration. It sounds like a friendly, congenial word, doesn’t it? Like marriage, it can have it’s blatant downside. Like a lemming jumping over a cliff.

    I’ve collaborated three times in my not-so-brief writing career. With mixed results. Following are a few life lessons – and some tips – before you take the plunge.

    The Sheep in Wolve’s Clothing.
    The first person I collaborated with I met at a video store. He was a manager and well, since I was in there four to five times a week it was clear we both shared a passion for movies. We met at a fast food restaurant and pitched our ideas. He seemed professional enough – dedicated, well-spoken, with a theatre background. We shook hands and agreed to help each other take a beloved script idea to the finish line and share in our mutual success.

    That was the only good part of our collaboration. “The Dream.” My writing partner never got past Act 1. There was always a distraction to keep him off course. And what he had for Act 1 was full of typos and bad writing. Meanwhile, I thought I was plowing along pretty smoothly. Then he introduced a third party into the mix to share a percent of whatever success we had. It wasn’t because this person was creative, a screenwriter, or even a film buff. He needed someone to do his spellchecking and proofread his writing. I went along because … well, I was stupid.

    Then, after he had been to my meager home, out of the blue he decided we were close pals and asked to borrow money. Twice. The first time I let him borrow a small amount – about 1/3 of his original “asking price”. The second time I plumb said NO!

    The final straw was when I hired a lawyer to draft a collaboration agreement. (Yes, I know we should have had one going into the agreement – but did I already say I was stupid?) Entertainment lawyers don’t come cheap. I found a way to subsidize the cost between myself and another writer I was collaborating with (see story below) – figuring it would save this gentleman some money by splitting legal costs three ways.

    Au contrair.

    When I sent him the bill, he chastised me via email about being wasteful and reckless with his money. He told me that he’d pay me back on a payment plan (his passive agressive way to meter out punishment, no doubt) – a six-month payment plan, in fact. This after he’d just gotten a good job and bought a new car for 20 g’s.

    It was time to say “buh-bye.” We exchanged emails confirming in writing the end of our partnership. He sent me a final note (full of typos) telling me that my script was far from market-ready and that I was far from professional. (BTW – He was half right: the script needed a serious re-write, but it has since received considerable interest.)

    In the past three years, I fear my old collaborator chum has fallen off the screenwriting map. I Googled his name once and saw a posting of him kvetching at a town meeting. Perhaps he’s found his calling after all. As for me, not seeing him again has been a happy ending to an otherwise waste-of-my-time tale.

    A Buddy, A Bad Breakup, and Booze.
    My second collaboration actually happened around the same time as my first. After a particularly bad relationship, I went to my friend’s house and in a drunken slobber proclaimed: “I love stupid. In fact, I’m going to write a movie about it and call it Love Stupid!”

    My friend, also being a bit tipsy, high-fived me (actually, he missed) and said, “That’s right … and I’ll do it with you!”

    We signed a collaboration agreement. He never asked to borrow money. And he’s still my friend.

    He actually stuck by me for several rewrites and we recently optioned the script. We also collaborated on a second comedy that was based on a phrase his girlfriend (and now his wife) picked on me for including in Love Stupid – “Bingo Bango”.

    “Bingo Bango? Ha! Nobody uses that type of language?”

    “Oh yeah, you stupid #@#$% … I’ll write a script and make Bingo Bango common lingo! And you’ll never mock me again!”

    Footnote: Actually, I didn’t really have the balls to say “#@#$%” … and, sadly, my friend’s wife continues to mock me to this day.

    Now we’re hoping to option the second script. Sounds like a fairy tale marriage, right? Not really. The downside is this:

      Like Avis, I tried harder but…

    I wrote the treatment for both scripts, and pretty much had to bust my friend’s balls to get his scenes done. “OK, OK … I’ll write the scene. Put down the riding crop!” he’d tell me after I berated him over the phone, via email, and in person. He actually stopped taking my calls for awhile because I was such a pain. “Look, you’re more serious about this while I consider it a hobby,” he told me. Which was fine but our collaboration agreement had me getting 51% and my hobbyist buddy getting 49%. For the second script, our agreement was more in line with me getting 65% and my friend 35%. Still, it’s been an unspoken sore spot that I came up with the story idea and structure, and probably could have written the scripts faster by myself.

      We collaborated, now we’re considered an item

    Recently I got a manager on the West Coast who is trying to get me a bonafide top-notch LA agent. The only problem is my manager likes my comedy writing the best (even though other producers like my horror and drama scripts) … so the samples he wants to send have – you guessed it – both my friend and my name on it. Like it or not, Hollywood considers us a team. This is definitely something to consider if you write a script or two with a friend, but want to forge your own identity down the road.

    I’ll close by saying I’m grateful to my friend for sticking with me to finish the scripts. He added real value to both scripts. And his sense of humor complemented by own. Plus, he’s been very fair and open as we sit down and talk to people re: optioning our scripts. Still, I’m the one doing all the heavy lifting to get the scripts sold. So, a word to the wise: when you form a writing partnership, make sure you share a passion as well as a friendship.

    Teaming Up for Low-Pay & “The Experience”.
    My most recent collaboration was with an animator/scriptwriter friend whom I met online. He introduced me to an indie producer who needed a polish (more like a rewrite) of an animated feature film that had been through several drafts and already had 50% of the funding in place. I agreed to a low paycheck and worked every night for a month (which was tough to do with a colicky newborn in the house). In the end, the project turned out pretty well – although I’m not sure how much of our “polish” will make it to the final draft.

    All in all, it was a valuable lesson and showed me that I could do a professional polish on someone else’s labor or love. Plus, my co-writer friend and I felt we improved the overall product and respected each other’s creative input. Not too shabby. If there was a gripe, it would be that I felt I put more time into the rewrite than my collobarating partner who was busy juggling other projects (and who got more pay because his producer friend got us the gig). Still, my collaborator was a conscientious, affable, and talented writer so, in retrospect, the gripe is pretty minor (although we both agree that next time we work together – it will be for a BIGGER paycheck).

    So what do I think of collaboration? Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it ain’t. And, if you haven’t noticed by now, I’m a bit anal/obsessive when it comes to screenwriting. So maybe the moral is:

    I’m the one who is the shitty person to collaborate with. Stay away!

    The bottom line: Collaboration has its rewards and punishments. You’ll be spending hundreds of hours on your feature – better make sure the partner you chose is up to the task. For those brave socialable souls that dare venture down the collaboration path, here are a few simple rules to consider:

      Know who you’re writing with
      Make sure you share both talent and passion
      Sign a collaboration agreement first
      Make sure you both commit as much time to marketing as writing
      Record all expenses, and reimburse each other prompty
      Always be fair and, if you must break up, do so amicably

    Posted in Screenwriting | 1 Comment »

    To Short or Not to Short?

    Posted by bobheske on December 12, 2006

    short cartoon

    What are the merits of doing a short versus doing a low-budget feature?

    That’s the question I posed to my at-that-time manager after waiting in futility for one of my five features to hit six-figure pay dirt.

    Her response: “I wouldn’t recommend it. First, shorts don’t pay. Professional screenwriters don’t need to do them. Second, Hollywood considers shorts as amateur hour. Write a comedy feature instead.”

    Most people in the biz would consider this sage advice. But I tossed her words to the wind. Not that I didn’t respect them. I was just tired of doing free re-writes and figured shorts would (at minimum) give me a fresh creative outlet without having to trudge through the dreaded “Act 2” doldrums of a feature, and (at best) introduce me to up-and-coming indie producers and kick open the doors to Hollywood with film- festival-winning work.

    I dipped my toes into the shorts side of the pool by re-working Act 1 with two of my favorite features. After one script was a contest finalist, I was hooked. One year later, I have written nearly 20 shorts (most of them contest winners or finalists) and have 8 options under my belt (hopefully 10 by year-end). Heck, I even got a work-for-hire paycheck out of the deal and expect to have a few of these shorts produced and on the festival circuit in 2007.

    So was it worth the gambit? I think so – but the jury is still out (although I have since optioned my first feature, been hired for a feature script polish, and secured a new manager). Rather than focus on the “island” of my personal experience to answer the question, instead I asked several indie professionals I’ve met through the wonders of the Web and Skype over the past year.

    Here’s what they had to say:

    Joel Eisenberg, Screenwriter/Author
    “How To Survive a Day Job While Pursuing the Creative Life”

    Aunt Bessie’s “How to Survive a Day Job”It never hurts to film your creation as a short to utilize as a calling card. However, in my experience, even at film festivals, I know of very few filmmakers who have had a feature financed based on their short. You must ask yourself what your goal is. In some instances, I’ve seen people who have received jobs as directors on low-budget projects based on a short. One can also look at what happened with television’s “South Park,” that began life as a series of shorts. But in my experience these examples are more the exception than the rule.

    The bottom line is this: you have to pay your dues somewhere. I’ve seen too many filmmakers, however, with large-enough budgets to make low-budget fest-style features, but they utilize the funds to make a short instead. To me, that’s questionable. With increasingly-effective HD cameras out there, as an example, a low-budget feature does not have to equate with low-quality. If you have money to shoot a well-scripted, low-budget feature, do it. In my opinion, that’s the far more effective option. You may attain distribution as a result, and executives will see you can present a consistent narrative in long-form. If you have made up your mind to shoot a short, then shoot the best short you can and email it to everybody on your mailing list, and every executive in the Hollywood Creative Directory.

    Alex Leung, Associate Producer (Around the World in 80 Days)

    around-the-world-in-80-days.jpgShorts can be beneficial IF the director has a clear plan for what he/she hopes to accomplish in doing it. Three common purposes of shorts are to:

      1. “workshop” an idea to secure funding to produce the feature;
      2. use the short as a “trailer” to raise funding for the feature version; and
      3. create a reel for an up-and-coming director

    Under the “workshop” premise, a director may pitch an idea to a studio that decides to “dip their toes in the water” by providing a small budget (e.g., $30,000) to make a short. The film Half Nelson is a good example of how this can succeed.

    Even more common is for young, hungry filmmakers to create a reel to show their artistic ability and creative vision. And, of course, a few “audience favorite” and “best short” awards at big film festivals can go far in creating buzz about the film and the filmmaker.

    For writers, I don’t recommend expending energy on shorts. It’s tough enough to get into Hollywood. What impresses most is a high concept script with rich characters and compelling plotlines. In other words, a kick-ass feature.

    Justin Olson, Producer/Manager
    Rebel Entertainment
    (Chicks 101, Spirit of ’54, Brothers in Flight, Bodmin Moor, Semper Fi, Sugar, The 1 Second Film)

    Chicks 101I think for aspiring screenwriters shorts are a great way to get into the process and format of screenwriting without jumping into a feature length script. Plus, many great and successful features started as short films (Napolean Dynamite, Saw, etc.). They’re also good to get you exposure in festivals. But once you’re in the game writing and/or directing studio movies, there’s no reason to do a short other than purely personal reasons. The problem with shorts is that they really don’t have a market outside of festivals. For the most part, people don’t go to the video store and rent a DVD of short films. So there’s no money in them.

    Joe Boyd, Actor/Screenwriter/Filmmaker
    (Happily Ever After, Hitting the Nuts)

    Hitting the NutsI view working on a short film as a form or exercise, training or “continuining education” in the creative field. I am primarily an actor, but writing and producing a short film (Happily Ever After) in 2005 opened doors that never would have been open otherwise. First and foremost, more people return phone calls from a producer than from an actor. Unless you are on the cover of US Weekly, introducing yourself as an actor in Los Angeles is the equivelent of relational suicide with many industry pros. Now that I am producing my first feature film the schism is even more obvious. The very agents who wouldn’t bother opening an actor submission from me are leaving messages on my voicemail with their cell phone numbers. I think this is what “making your own work” is really about…leveraging what you have to open the next door.

    Generally, shorts allow for more artistic freedom because there should be little to no hope of making money. I thought my first short would get picked up by some cable channel or foreign market…but after winning three festival awards with no bites at all I quickly saw that nobody is making a living off of short films. (Yeah things can happen, but my advise is DON’T PLAN ON MAKING ANY OF YOUR MONEY BACK!) It is an investment in your craft. You will be repaid with the relationships that you pick up along the way – from writing to production to post-production and festivals. That’s the career pay-off. The artist pay-off is that you get to do YOUR stuff the way you want – and that aint easy in this business.

    Kirk Moses, Editor/Filmmaker
    (Crew/Filmography Credits: Bloodsuckers, Blade: Trinity, Scary Movie 3, Freddy vs. Jason, The Butterfly Effect, Reindeer Games, Romeo Must Die)

    Scary Movie 3I tend to think differently about shorts: that is, a short is a vehicle to explore the way certain themes, characters, or story lines might play out without going through the whole rigamarole of writing 96 pages of material. A few months ago, I took a comic book class that presented a similar opportunity for exploration and resolution of my story theme. What is great about a comic is not only is it a visual medium, but you have to get to the main points of the story across quickly. I think short stories have the same challenge; however, with a more difficult task since they rely solely on the written word.

    I am more attracted to a pure short (10 pages or less) than longer story lines that end up being 15-30 pages. Most North American television formats for one hour or half hour sitcoms usually end up being 45 pages (one hour) or 23 pages (half hour). These limitations make writing anything longer than 10 pages a strange middle ground that needs to be part of something else (e.g., since sitcoms always build on storylines from the past).

    I also believe shorts are a wonderful way to explore a scene without context. Because the scene is the main building block of scriptwriting, it’s a challenge to the writer to connect the dots in a single setting – something akin to single location features such as 12 Angry Men or Dinner with Andre.

    Adam Bolt, Artist, Writer, Director, Filmmaker
    (Vanished Acres – Winner: Best Student Film, The Indie Gathering)

    Vanished AcresVanished Acres has been an eye-opening experience for me in the film world. Despite its growing successes, I’ve learned that my romantic notions of a short film on the festival circuit were far from true. The fact is, aside from a smattering of festivals, features are the star in the indie film world. If you are debating between shooting a short film, or a low budget feature film, all things being equal – make that feature! If you pull it off, you’ll have real distribution options, a broader audience, and many more festivals to choose from. You could even turn a profit!

    Here’s the catch. There’s always a catch, right? The advice I preach time and time again is to work within your means. I made a short film simply because the combination of my interests, style, and goals as a filmmaker are rather expensive. I prefer film to DV in most cases and I love fantastic subject matter. I’d much prefer to do a short film of my taste well, rather than struggle to create a mediocre or poor feature by stretching the same resources way too thin.

    The main purpose of a short film is that it can be a calling card for your future work. Shorts are easier to pull off with less time and money, and may achieve some minor distribution if you are fortunate, or lead directly to feature work if you are insanely fortunate. Yet even if you aren’t rewarded in these ways, a good short film under your belt is better than counting on an investor’s blind faith that you can direct your feature.

    It is very difficult to write a good short. In a feature length project, you have the substantial benefit of giving the audience time to meet your characters and develop attachments to them. In a short, you had better either hit the ground running with a very strong, identifiable character or develop a longer format short film (which will run into programming difficulties in festivals – as the run time exceeds 15 minutes, your options start dropping like flies). Most shorts fail to deliver any kind of emotional connection. I’ve seen short after short where extremely dramatic endings involving death or suicide happen to characters you don’t care about yet, with melodramatic score to hopefully (and unsuccessfully) fill in that gap. An option to avoid this pitfall all together is to create a concept-based short film. These are often in-your-face and showy pieces with a twist or punchline that propagate most festivals, and in that sense are generally quite successful. If your ultimate goal is to work on long-form narrative; however, this style of short film will neither hone your skills in the type of storytelling needed to hold a feature together, nor really prove to anyone on its own that you have what it takes to do so. Your mileage may vary, though, and there are many exceptions.

    In the end, unless your goal is to make a profit from cheap DV shorts presented on cell phones (shudder), my advice is to get as close to that ultimate dream of a “real” movie as you reasonably can. Good luck out there, peoples!

    Posted in Independent Films, Screenwriting | Leave a Comment »