Getting Your Script Out There

Been traveling a lot and the holidays are here, so the writing has slowed down. But no excuses, right?  You can always find time to write!  There’s a great book that I read by Pilar Alessandra, a writing consultant in L.A., called “The Coffee Break Screenwriter.” The basic premise is that you can take ten minutes out of every day and use that time to essentially write a script, improve it, consider changes, etc.  I have often go back to this book to find ways to improve a script I’m working on.  You should check it out!

So in my last post, I talked about how Rick and I finished “According to Plan” and we had to figure out how to market it.  The first thing I did, and people have debated this significantly, was I registered the script with the Writers’ Guild of America (West) so that we had our copyright established. It costs $20 and your copyright is good for your life or 70 years (whichever is longer).  You can also go through the U.S. Copyright Office, which costs $30, but you can’t file it electronically like you can with the WGA.  I won’t get into the why and why nots here (I think you should), but here’s a great article on that very topic.  The basic point here is that you can’t copyright an idea, but you can copyright your script, and you ought to protect all your hard work.

Neither Rick nor I have an agent (presently!) so it’s not like our script was going to be sent around to various production companies for consideration.  So we obviously had to get the script out there in other ways.  The first and simplest way was to put it on Simply Scripts.  Simply Scripts is a huge database of scripts by writers who are looking for feedback on their work by other writers.  It has been a valuable resource for me and has helped me make a ton of connections.  A LOT of producers scan the site looking for scripts that fit into their wheelhouse of what they are trying to make.  I’ve had at least ten contacts through this site on works that I have posted there, and it’s where I got my first big break as a writer. 

I had written several short scripts, and an Australian director reached out to me after reading one of my scripts there and asked if I could read a current script he had and offer notes on it, which I did.  He liked the notes and asked if I wouldn’t mind working on a rewrite of the script.  I spent the next two years off and on writing and rewriting this script, and while the film never got made, that producer/director, Matthew George, and his company, Acacia Filmed Entertainment, went on to make several other films recently, including, “LBJ”, “Wind River,” “Shock and Awe,” and most recently “A Private War.” So the best thing about that writing gig was that I learned a lot about what you should and shouldn’t do in a script from a real director/producer, and I made a valuable contact for my future career.

In addition, I had a short film made in LA of my short film “Roadside Attraction”, that was an entry in a Simply Scripts One Week Challenge.  That film (which was renamed Country Road 12) starred Dee Wallace (the mom in “ET” and “Cujo”).  I’ve also just agreed to have another of my short scripts made (“Skip”, another One Week Challenge script),  so I’m here to tell you that this site is proof that there are people checking this site out constantly for scripts to make and you consider it one of your marketing options.  The best reasons for it: first of all, it’s free, which is a price you can never beat, and second, the level of exposure you get is well worth it.  A third incentive is that you can get feedback from other writers to help you improve your script.  Some advice will be great, some, not so great, but opinions are like buttholes — everyone has one, and you’ll just have to decide for yourself which opinions are worth anything to you.  Don’t discard opinions, however, just because they don’t praise your work.  Sometimes these are the best ones because they hit on exactly what is wrong with your script.  As writers, we tend to blind ourselves to our own deficiencies, so be open to criticism and it will help your writing tremendously.

So we put “According to Plan” on the site and there it sat.  Did I mention that not every script gets immediately picked up off that site?  In fact, a great majority do not.  We had a couple of comments from other writers, but for the most part, it just lay dormant there. 

While that was happening, I tried putting the script out there in script contests, and other review sites, but nothing seemed to be taking hold.  I chalked it up to it being a great little script that was destined to wind up like most other scripts: fun and a challenge to write, but ultimately winding up in the dustbin of history.  I also sent query letters out to producers and managers, but no one was really biting.

But then, about a year after we first put the script on Simply Scripts, something weird happened.  I got an inquiry on the script, and the inquiry came, from all places, from India.  A producer loved the script and wanted to make it into a Bollywood musical.  Well, Rick and I considered it, and thought, what the hell, let’s give it a shot and see what happens.  The option we gave severely limited the rights to just the state of India where Mumbai is located, as we didn’t want to limit our rights to market the script elsewhere, especially in the United States.  Rick and I agreed (against our better judgment) to no pay up front but a 3% back end on the profits, to the extent there were any.

In my next post, I’ll explain what happened with our Bollywood musical and how we wound up in LA anyway.  

According to Plan — Going Through the Rewrite

WRITER’S NOTE: Rick and I are are struggling with the outline we started with on “Lake Regret”, and while we try to come up with another project, we are providing you with insight on our script “According to Plan” and how we went from concept to getting the project optioned, and the craziness that ensued afterwards.

My apologies for not posting here recently.  It’s been a crazy last couple of weeks where I’ve been approached about my pilot script “Bounty” — we’ll see where it goes but the conversations have definitely been interesting.

In our last post, we talked about how it took us 78 days to finish the 98 page script, but that couldn’t be the end of it.  We had to go back and edit the first draft, which is never going to be your best work, if you’re being honest about it (some of you even refer to that first draft as a “vomit draft”).  Now, you may remember that I said I would write a couple of pages and then Rick would edit and and send me back additional pages, and we went back and forth that way until we finished that first draft.  Now while we were editing along the way, it wasn’t the full-blown editing you’re probably used to.   We were just looking for misspellings, continuation issues, and so on.  The full re-write was still in front of us.

In addition to taking a critical eye to the writing, we were taking a look at some of the actual setup for the script.  Here’s an example:  This is a script that deals with early onset dementia and having a grandfather convince his grandson and one of his friends to drive him from St. Louis to New Orleans to recover a treasure he claims to have left there.  Now I originally imagined the family as being African-American.  This was an indie film and the black community is pretty underserved when it comes to that film segment.  Rick was against that idea, for a couple of reasons.  First, neither of us have the world view of what it is like to be African-American and we didn’t feel like we could adequately portray dialogue, lifestyles, customs, etc.  Second, if we made the characters non-race specific, it would open it up to more producers, who could choose how they wanted to approach it.

Another thing that we had to do was a make a change to a significant plot point.  The grandfather was originally going to be in an assisted living facility and the grandson and his friend were going to break him out of the facility and drive him to New Orleans.  The problems with that, we decided, were two-fold.  Breaking him out would immediately have legal authorities looking out for them, which might make it a bit interesting, but not make it very realistic.  Second, the grandfather only has early onset dementia, not full-scale Alzheimer’s (which would render him incapable of making any sort of coherent communication), and because of that he would likely not be in an assisted living facility.

So what to do in that case?  We reworked the plot so that the grandfather was at home, but there were instances that made it clear that he had some problems, such as wandering away from home, talking about a treasure that may or may not exist, and so on.  For a screenwriter, this is, I think, the most important job the writer has, which is finding the little inconsistencies and problems that your script has.   When you’re writing on your own I think finding those little problem areas are very difficult at times because a lot of writers have tunnel vision or they block out what might be a bad plot point or just plain bad writing because they are determined to wedge a plot point into their script.  If you’re not writing with someone, then at least find people to read your script after it’s done and give you an honest assessment of the writing.  And here’s something I’ve always done — I’ve always asked writers that are better than me to review my scripts and give me honest feedback.  SimplyScripts is one of those places where you can post your script and get those types of reviews.

So the second rewrite took us another three weeks, and when that rewrite was done, I still don’t think we were satisfied.  We took another swipe at it and finished that editing process in a couple of weeks.  Again, why would we do this?  Why wouldn’t we?  We wanted our script to be at its absolute best, and just taking the first draft was never going to cut it.

We’d finished the draft.  What now?  We’ll get into what we did with the script after we finished it in our next post.

According to Plan – The Script Starts

WRITER’S NOTE: Rick and I are are struggling with the outline we started with on “Lake Regret”, and while we try to come up with another project, we are providing you with insight on our script “According to Plan” and how we went from concept to getting the project optioned, and the craziness that ensued afterwards.

In our last post,  I discussed how Rick and I came up with the outline for “According to Plan.”  With the rough draft outline in place, we set out to begin the writing phase.

Writing a script, even when writing with a partner, is really a very solitary endeavor. Rick and I knew that going into the writing, it would never work if we micromanaged each other’s writing.  Instead, we agreed that we would alternate writing pages and edit each other’s work as we went.  So, for example, I would write two to four pages, send them to Rick, and he would edit my pages, then write some of his own and send to me.  I would then edit his pages, write some of my own, rinse, scrub, repeat.

This process worked for us, because we each got to understand the characters in our own way, and neither of us dominated the writing for long periods of time, putting our own spin on the story or going to far off the reservation.  It was a true writing partnership.

Because this was our first time writing together, it was a feeling out process.  We had read each other’s previous scripts, so we knew what our styles were like, but we had to work to make our styles mesh.  At first, it required a bit of editing on both of our parts to make the script flow, but once we got a bit into the script, things just started to click.

I went back and reviewed the first few pages and noticed that my first draft was three pages.  Three! I probably was exhausted mentally after writing those as well! But I was probably pretty proud of myself.  I’m not exactly the fastest writer in the world.  But after sending to Rick, I was relieved to get them off my computer and on to Rick for his input.  I was also anxious to see what he would do with my pages.

This would be the process over the next couple of months.  I noticed that our first draft was started on March 6, 2014, and we finished the first draft on May 24, 2014, a total of 78 days and 98 pages.  That works out to an average of 1.25 pages a day.  Man, that doesn’t sound like a lot, does it?  One of the writers I know from Simply Scripts can easily finish a complete 100 page script in about a week.  But everyone writes at their own pace, and you should never write at a speed you’re not comfortable with, especially if you’re writing with a partner.  You need to make clear from the onset to your partner what your normal writing pace is, so expectations are set from the beginning.  Fortunately, Rick and I were comfortable with how quickly it was going to take us to finish the first draft.

Next time, we’ll talk about changes we made through the writing process, the disagreements we had over plot points and devices, and how long it took us to get to the FINAL final draft.

Happy writing!

According to Plan – The Beginning

WRITER’S NOTE: Rick and I are are struggling with the outline we started with on “Lake Regret”, and while we try to come up with another project, we are providing you with insight on our script “According to Plan” and how we went from concept to getting the project optioned, and the craziness that ensued afterwards.

“According to Plan” (or “ATP”) had its start from a short story my daughter, Erin, wrote back in late 2013.  The short story revolved around a grandfather with dementia who wound up taking a raft down the Mississippi River to avoid being put in a nursing home.  It was a great story, but i found it wouldn’t work as a feature film.  But I liked the idea of someone with dementia trying to run away from his issue, only to realize that he could never run from the actual problem.

So we set out trying to come up with a script that would incorporate both the element of dementia and the road trip. In this case we didn’t think it plausible for the protagonist, Nate, driving with dementia, so we brought in his grandson, Dante, and a neighbor, Carly, to drive him from St. Louis to New Orleans to find a treasure that Nate claims to have left there at his old home. We created some obstacles, like Dante’s father, Ken, telling Dante that there is no treasure and for Dante to stop encouraging his grandfather about it. Dante sneaks his grandfather away with Carly’s help when Ken is away on an overnight trip, and all sorts of problems develop during the trip that Dante and Carly aren’t prepared for.

The thought was to create a low-budget, family film that would appeal to numerous producers, and so that led us as we produced the original outline for the film. As I’ve stated before, Rick and I only use the outline as a guide and we change the beats constantly as we write depending on which way the story is going.

With that in mind, here is what we came up with in our original outline:


DANTE COVINGTON is a creative and quiet 12-year-old who lives with his uncle and grandfather in St. Louis. Recently, his grandfather NATE, who is 83, has been acting strangely as well as forgetting things.  Dante’s uncle, KEN, takes Nate to see a doctor, who believes that Nate has the beginning signs of dementia, and recommends that Nate be placed in an assisted living facility due to his failing mental health.

Ken makes the difficult decision to put Nate in a nursing home against Nate’s wishes. None of Nate’s children across the country are willing or able to look after him and have Nate come live with them. Nate, however, tells Ken and Dante that he cannot stay in a nursing home; instead, he needs to go down to New Orleans to retrieve some treasure he buried many years ago. While Ken believes that Nate is losing his mind, Dante promises Nate he will help him find his treasure.

Ken places Nate in a nursing home, which is filled with older adults and staff who are odd and eccentric. One day in July, Dante goes to visit his grandfather, and is deeply saddened and overwhelmed by Nate’s living situation. Dante and Nate have a serious conversation about Nate’s desire to escape and travel to New Orleans.  After Dante leaves, he realizes that he must break his grandfather out of the home, so that Nate can have his opportunity to find his treasure.

Ken’s next door neighbors, CARL and JENNA CEROTA, have a sixteen year old daughter, CARLY, who has been watching Dante during the day while Ken is at work.  Dante convinces Carly to help him drive Nate to New Orleans when her parents go to Paris for their anniversary.   Carly is hesitant, but he offers to pay her $100 from his savings, and she agrees.

Dante goes in the nursing home early one morning while Carly waits in the car. Dante helps Nate pack, and then Dante pulls the fire alarm. In the confusion Nate and Dante escape outside. Their plan is successful, and they quickly escape with Carly’s help.

While on the road, Dante has the opportunity to learn more about his grandfather’s past: his life during the war, his marriage to his late and beloved wife, his ungrateful children, the passing of his parents (Dante’s mother). Dante adores his grandfather, and he listens to his grandfather’s ideas on what makes one human throughout generations and changing societies: passion and identity and love against all odds. Carly and Nate argue over what true love really means.

At one point, Dante asks Nate what treasure is buried in New Orleans. Nate is coy and does not reveal his secret, but gives Dante a detailed description of where it is buried. Dante is unsure whether to believe his grandfather, or if his dementia is causing him to

As they stop to eat at a diner, Carly is approached by a teenage boy. Carly tells him to get lost. The boy bullies Dante and disses Nate. Nate starts to use this as a teachable moment, but goes into an incoherent ramble.  It doesn’t matter, as Carly winds up punching the boy in the nose and they all get the hell out of Dodge.

By now, the authorities have been notified that Nate is missing. Ken discovers that Dante and Carly are not at his house like they’re supposed to be. He calls them on Carly’s cell phone, and confirms they’re okay before yelling at them to come home immediately.

Dante ignores the demand. As they near Jackson, Mississippi, Nate begins acting a bit stranger: he realizes he can’t feel one of his arms and becomes confused by Dante’s questions. He then is unable to see very well. Carly realizes that Nate is having a mild stroke. Dante tends to him, but Carly tells Nate he must go to the hospital. Nate, however, is adamant about making it to New Orleans, and orders Carly to keep driving. Dante must then choose between stopping their adventure in order to call an ambulance or allow his grandfather to continue the journey to find his treasure.  It doesn’t matter, because while they are debating it, a state highway patrol pulls Carly over.  The officer realizes that Nate is having a serious medical condition, puts him in his car and drives him to the hospital.

By the time they cop arrives at the hospital, Nate has passed out. It is unclear whether Nate will survive the stroke, and when Dante and Carly arrive, Dante is distraught at the thought of losing his grandfather. Dante calls Ken, who immediately heads for Jackson.  Nate passes away just as Ken arrives. Dante and Ken reconnect, and after much persuasion from Dante, Ken decides to take he and Carly on to New Orleans.

Ken takes Dante to the spot just outside New Orleans that Nate described to him on their trip. Thirty paces from an oak tree near the home where Nate grew up and where he first kissed his late wife. They begin to dig, but after a lot of hard work, nothing is found. Dante is despondent. They decide to head back to Memphis, but just before they leave, Carly rereads the instructions he had written down, and realizes he was looking at it the wrong way. They go back, find the new location, and Dante, digging furiously, finally hits a chest, and opens it with uncertainty.

The chest contains pictures, objects such as his war medals, and letters from Nate from the past 10 years. Letters to and from his wife, letters he wrote for Dante. The last note Dante reads is: YOUR JOY IS WHERE YOUR TREASURE LIES. THANK YOU FOR BEING MINE. Elated at finding the treasure, Dante, Carly and Ken get in the car, and head for home.


With the next post, we’ll get into the writing of the script, and with succeeding posts, we’ll see how we made changes to the outline on the fly, disagreed with each other on the direction, finished the script, the ways we tried to market it, and how we finally got it optioned (twice!).


And then…

If you’ve ever seen the movie “Stripes” (one of my all-time favorites), you’ll remember this scene when Bill Murray has reached rock bottom:

bill murray

Stripes – And then depression set in

Anyone worth their salt as a writer has had those moments when nothing seemed to work and they’re ready to ditch it all.  You wonder if you’re good enough, whether it’s worth all the time and energy you’re putting into it, will anything ever become of what you’re putting on the page.  The statistics are certainly not in your favor.  Fewer than 1% of all feature spec scripts out there ever get made.

And I fell into that mindset recently.  Even though I’ve had a script produced, even though we had other scripts optioned, I still found myself at that crossroads where self-doubt and self-motivation meet.  The thing about reaching bottom, though, is that I’ve found there’s nowhere to go but up from that point (unless you decide to keep digging in that hole of self-despair).

So, what to do?  Rick and I have a lot of projects going on, and so rather than try to torture you through how we find our way out of the current situation, we decided that it would be just as instructive for you new writers out there (or experienced writers who still are looking to break through), to take one of our projects that we wrote together, and how we took it from conception to completion and what happened after we optioned it.  So beginning with our next post, we start looking at “According to Plan” and how we made it happen.