Thursday, December 28, 2006


Crazy-busy around here the past few weeks as we prep for the launch of Writers on the Storm 2 on January 2nd. But it's a good busy. We learned a lot from the first contest, and this year we have made a bunch of changes -- but have kept all the cool stuff about the first contest.

Oh, and we've upped the prize package to over 12 grand in prizes. No other contest puts this much development muscle behind your script! Check it out here.

Entry is still free with any Coverage, Ink analysis; top ten percent (all 'consider with reservations' or better for script) automatically advance to the quarterfinal round. And if you seubmit your script to Coverage, ink, you can polish the script as many times as you want and resubmit the script either to CI or directly to the contest (paying the $35 entry fee.) This unique 'do-over' feature means you can actually develop your script with us right up till the end of the contest (3/20/07.) Now there's a real reason to enter a contest early!

Much more to tell, but for now check out the contest site at for more info.

--Jim Cirile

Sunday, December 03, 2006

"LARGE"--and Not in Charge

Everyone, right now: stop using the word "large."

You think I'm joking, right? Jim's lost it. Oh, nay, gentle readers. Allow me to explain.

"Large" is a lazy adjective. It's also often vague, generally unnecessary and perhaps even meaningless. When I read a script--and I read lots of 'em--I almost always see way too many LARGES--sometimes a dozen of 'em on the same page. And the sad part is most writers never even realize what they're doing.

Interestingly, "small" is not nearly as over- or thoughtlessly used as "large"--but "young" is. Let me whip out a few recent examples.

1) Peter opens up a large can of coffee.

Okay, do we really need the word LARGE here? How many sizes of coffee cans are there? I think the writer just threw a "large" in there because he was conditioned to use an adjective, so he used the first one he thought of. How about "Peter opens a can of coffee"?

2) Marge storms into the large Wal-Mart.


She approaches a large CLERK (30s).

Okay, a LARGE Wal-Mart? I know, I know, they have regular Wal-Marts and Supercenters, but if it's a Supercenter, say so. Why use large? Isn't "Wal-Mart" enough? We all draw an immediate mental picture that the word "large" fails to enhance.

I'm willing to let "large CLERK" slide, since that's a fair description--but it is a bit boring. Can't we think of a less lazy way to describe him? How about "obese with thick glasses and a combover"?

3) Inside stand THREE YOUNG GIRLS.

Too vague. What does this mean? Are we talking toddlers? Teenagers? twenty-somethings? "Young Girls" could apply to any of these groups. It tells us nothing. Thank God it wasn't "THREE LARGE YOUNG GIRLS"!

When you're writing, analyze your adjectives carefully. If an artist carelessly slops on a color he hasn't considered thoughtfully, it will detract from his overall painting. Same thing with your adjectives. Train yourself not to fall back on tired, vague adjectives like LARGE. Choose a better adjective, and watch your pages come alive!

--Jim Cirile

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Crappy Feet

Fair warning: Happy Feet is not so good.

Coverage, Ink has consulted on several animated feature scripts this year, and pretty much ALL of them were better than Happy Feet. Okay, while it wasn't a terrible movie by any means, neither was it very good. And its abject lameness, frankly, took me by surprise. First of all, Roeper & last week's guest critic gave it two thumbs up, and I generally find Roeper to have tastes similar to my own. Secondly, the film had a %$#^&*!%!! $42 million opening weekend, inexplicably besting the excellent Casino Royale by $2 million. Those are outrageously strong numbers, and in fact the boxoffice tally alone led me to think that this might be the film to lead feature animation--of which I am a particular fan--out of the doldrums it has been in for much of this year (due to oversaturation).

Indeed, the number of animated films that have underperformed is staggering. The Wild, The Ant Bully, Barnyard, etc., have left a bad taste in the industry's mouth. Flushed Away, which cost $150 million, was deemed such a failure it caused Dreamworks to sever their 5-picture deal with Wallace & Grommit creators Aardman after only two films, and they will likely take a massive write-down on the loss. Cars and Over the Hedge were about the only bright spots in an otherwise fairly bleak year for animation. And so I was particularly excited to see what Happy Feet brings to the table.

Unfortunately, the answer seems to be: an adorable ad campaign.

Before the movie today, I asked my 6-year-old why she wanted to see Happy Feet, yet had no interest in seeing Flushed Away, even though she had a bunch of the Flushed Away happy meal toys and knew the characters' names. She told me that Flushed Away looks yucky. It has rats and sewers and slugs. Happy Feet on the other had, has a cute little dancing penguin. Happy Feet marketing team: mission accomplished.

Here's the thing: Happy Feet just did not work, and on many levels. Firstly, story: one thing we always preach here at CI is that the protagonist needs to have a CLEAR and compelling quest. That quest forms the throughline, or spine, of the script. Look back on just about ANY great movie and you'll see that rule applies.

In Happy Feet, we have several vague storylines all competing: the protagonist Bumble is trying to A, win over an elusive, desirable girl who can sing (but he can't,) B, he wants to fit in with his group because he is different (again, he can't sing), and C, the penguins are being fished out by humans, and someone needs to figure out how to stop it. Eventually, and unsatisfyingly, C eventually becomes the dominant plot thread. This plot thread never seems like an all-important personal quest to Bumble. A and B do. The net result is the entire film has a feeling of inertia. About halfway through I turned to my wife and said, "Is it just me, or does this movie suck?" And she nodded, yep, it sucks.

Worse is that Bumble manages to somehow solve the problem in a completely illogical way. Even though it's clear he cannot communicate with the humans, the humans somehow divine that they need to stop fishing the monarch penguins' ice floe. And how does Bumble make his message clear to the humans? By coordinating the penguin flock into a massive tap dance.


Now I have to be honest. I had actually walked out by this point. I haven't walked out of a film in years; but with 10 minutes left to go in Happy Feet, I so could not give a crap that I bailed to go look at posters in the lobby (my wife and child later filled me in on the ending.) But I mean COME ON. You know, there's a reason why, in Charlotte's Web,(which they showed the trailer for right before Happy Feet!)the animals have to figure out HOW TO COMMUNICATE with the humans to stop the threat. This should have been something organic and logical that Bumble should have had to do in order to stop the overfishing threat. But... tap-dancing?

It didn't help that the movie was not even the tiniest bit funny (but for a few yuks courtesy of ever-enthusiastic Robin Williams as pseudo-Mexican penguin Ramon) and even worse, the ad campaign turns out to be disingenous and misleading. The cute penguin is in the movie for about ten minutes. Then he grows up into not-so-cute penguin Bumble (Elijah Wood.) Had the film actually made LITTLE Bumble the protagonist, the film would likely have been much more engaging. Add in some fairly rote chases and you have two hours of time where I was sitting there thinking, jeez, I cannot believe I paid for this. Boy, am I a SUCKER.

A few weeks back I saw the underrated but very successful Over the Hedge, a very well-done animated adventure that grossed $155 million domestic box office--fantastic numbers. In that film, the hero had a clear objective; the movie was hilarious; its internal logic made perfect sense, and it had genuine heart and an arc for the hero, whereas Happy Feet has none. I think I need to rent it again to get the taste out of penguin feet out of my mouth.

Producers, if you're looking for a GOOD animated spec, we know of several. Give us a shout. And, parents, if you're looking for a film to take the kids to this weekend, well, something tells me the fine team behind Wallace & Grommitt's movie is probably far more deserving of your 10 bucks... rats and slugs notwithstanding.

--Jim Cirile

Monday, November 20, 2006

Blond... James Blond

I have to admit, I'm one of the ones who had trouble with the blond hair. I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to these things. I like my iconic movie heroes to look "on model." While I thought "Batman Begins" was an excellent film, I hated the suit design. It almost ruined the whole movie for me, because it's too far off-model. Same thing with the atrocious Superman suit redesign from "Superman Returns." And now we have a new Bond, and he's... blond.

But now having seen "Casino Royale", I have to say that the hair is about the only thing they didn't get right.

Reviewers are calling CR the best Bond film since "Goldfinger," and much praise is being deservedly heaped upon Daniel Craig for his believable and gritty Bond. But I think the real praise is deserved by the screenwriters Neal Purvis & Robert Wade along with Paul Haggis.

I am what you call a literary Bond fan. I've read all the Fleming novels several times, and I believe that while a few of the films have been quite good, on the whole they pale next to the Fleming books. Fleming wrote the most delicious prose imaginable--rich and detailed and incredibly thoughtful. When you read a Fleming Bond novel, you're right there alongside him, and you understand the minutiae of the world of the story thanks to Fleming's meticulous research and painterly prose. The movies, on the other hand, turned Bond into a caricature after "Goldfinger" (1964) and left behind much of what made Bond work on the page. Fleming's Bond was a fallible, brooding, charming but often cruel man who was often his own worst enemy. While there was some minor gadgetry in the books, the character mostly depended upon his wits and sheer physicality to get him through.

And he was particularly vulnerable when he fully opened up his heart, as he did on two notable occasions in the books--"On Her Majesty's Secret Service," and "Casino Royale." Neither ended well. In fact, the film version of "OHMSS," long viewed as the forgotten Bond film (since it starred one-off Bond George Lazenby) was the most faithful of all the films to the book, even including Bond's marriage (and the heart-rending ending where Bond, having found happiness for the first time, watches his wife get assassinated before his eyes.)

Thus I entered the theater with trepidation. For years, every time a Bond film would come out, we'd hear someone say in an interview "they're trying to go back to the books" or "rediscover Fleming" or "bring a new edge to the character" and so forth. We heard this from Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan, and they were full of crap, and every single one of their films stank and continued the slow and painful destruction of a film icon. By the time Brosnan's run was done, I had sworn off Bond films. I simply could not stand to watch the character be put into another series of idiotic chases, explosions and stunts while having no emotional core to drive the plots. Fleming knew that the plots had to be fantastical but also believable, something the filmmakers long forgot.

Well, folks, I am very very pleased right about now. They finally GOT IT RIGHT.

"Casino Royale" is, to my mind, a textbook example of how to handle a tricky adaptation. The original book was not very cinematic. It was simply a long chemin de fer (a French card game--not poker, as in the movie) game, with a few attempts on Bond's life; but at its core was Bond's romance with Vesper Lynd. Here Bond for the first, but not the last time, dropped his guard and lived to regret it. A few years back I consulted on a fairly literal adaption of the book which a fellow had written on spec. While that version was lovingly faithful to the novel, it also made clear just how poorly a literal adaptation would work on screen. Concessions needed to be made to accepted movie structure, but also to the expectations audiences have developed of the cinematic Bond character.

This version of "Casino Royale" handles the adaptation masterfully. While much of the story is invented out of whole cloth, several key setpieces and plot events are true to the 1952 novel that launched the whole Bond franchise. Astonishingly, the torture scene--which I had thought to be very problematic to put on film--along with much of the third act of the book, was retained with incredible fidelity to the source material. Bond is put through the wringer here, folks. This is what makes him who he is. And we finally get to see it -- the way Fleming intended.

Most importantly, the character of Bond is faithful to the book, and in fact to the way Fleming further fleshed out the character in later novels. As I watched Craig breathe life into this new, reborn cinematic Bond, I almost cried out with excitement, because here, for the very first time--even moreso than Connery's version--this cinematic Bond finally is now the same man as the literary Bond. Best of all, this Bond actually arcs, like all good cinematic heroes do. We see WHY he became Bond. All the pieces of the puzzle finally fall into place for the cinematic Bond. And that, friends, is a glorious thing.

Blond hair? Hey, you know what? Having seen the movie, I am jumping off the haters' bandwagon. Just call me Blond... James Blond.

--Jim Cirile

Friday, November 10, 2006

Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Screenwriters

I have a 6-year-old daughter. She’s the light of my life, of course; cute and fun and smart and a total daddy’s girl, as all proper 6-year-olds should be ;)

And so one of the things we have been trying to do is find an area of interest for Alexandra that she really sparks to and wants to pursue. Indeed, we’ve tried all the usual activities that one does for kids—piano, soccer, art, karate, ballet, gymnastics, baseball, etc. And yet none of that has really taken. What generally happens is that she loses interest after about six months and would rather simply stay home and play, either with daddy or just by herself.

Of course, staying home and playing has all those other things beat, because one gets to create one’s own worlds. Heck, this only child loves creating cities out of Lego which she populates with dozens of toys, each with a very distinct personality--from the very British and proper Lucy Moose to a family of hapless, scheming, hungry alligators, to a duo of nogoodnik Lego chickadees with outrageously huge hats who are consumed with stealing treasure (and sound just like Elmo.) Of course it helps immensely that daddy is a bit of an amateur voice artist, and thus I voice many of the characters in cartoon and muppet character voices, while Alexandra rises to the challenge and has come up with dialects for the characters she performs.

You can see where this is heading. This kid, sadly, is developing an imagination.

It also doesn’t help that she sees daddy constantly reading and writing and editing scripts, coordinating writing contests, etc. She sits with me sometimes and asks if she can man the red pen when I do script mark-ups, and I dutifully will point out missing punctuation and such that she can circle.

The other day she came up to me and said, “Daddy, can we write a script and make a movie?”

My heart sank.

Okay, okay. You’re thinking I’m nuts, right? Why wouldn’t I want my daughter to be interested in moviemaking? After all, I’m in it every day. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to share all this with her—seeing as I do anyway? Well, of course. But here’s the thing. Parents try to protect their children. And the thing that I most want to protect her from is the “life” of a screenwriter.

I’ve always viewed the screenwriter’s existence as long periods of rejection punctuated by occasional flashes of false hope. I also always say in Hollywood, any deal that is absolutely, 100% a sure thing, is at best a remote possibility. You can quote me on both ;) Seriously, I moved out to Los Angeles 15 years ago to pursue screenwriting. In that time, I have had years where I made a lot of money, but plenty of years in which I did not make a dime from writing. I’ve been involved in quite a few projects which slowly and painfully fizzled—as have many of you, I’m sure. There have been periods of intense and painful introspection, wondering if I should not have chosen a civil service job with a frickin’ pension. Of course, you forget about all that when you get a little success. But looking back on 15 years, when I think, Good lord, if I was a cop, I’d be 5 years away from being able to retire with half pension—jeez, it is withering.

Superagent Emile Gladstone once told me that the life expectancy of the average working writer in Hollywood is five years. Think about that for a minute. That means that even after breaking in, most writers are not able to sustain it into a lifelong career. For whatever reason—ego, being unable to deliver the goods, you’re no longer flavor of the week, whatever, eventually people stop hiring you. The career lull hits, and the writer then has to try to reinvent himself. This is where the desperation often sets in, as your mortgage company generally does not understand that you’re having an off-year. This can also be very, very hard on relationships. There’s a reason why marriages last an average of 1-2 weeks in Hollywood. The savvy writer will have invested well while riding high—perhaps bought some income property or a business—that will help sustain them. But… we’re writers, and most of us don’t think that way. We just assume once the gravy train leaves the station, we’re set for life. BZZZZ. Wrong. The truth of the matter is, a very, very few working screenwriters are able to turn a deal or even three into a career.

And so all this knowledge of the realities of the screenwriter’s life weighs heavily on my mind when I look at Alexandra and witness what may be her inevitable evolution into a writer. And I think, “Uh… make a movie? Hey, how about we sign you up for scuba lessons, honey?”

Of course, when she does decide to write that screenplay, well, she’s going to have a leg up. Because daddy will do his best to make sure she avoids my many, many mistakes. She already understands that EVERY scene must have conflict. Heck, things get pretty boring at the moose house if Claude Alligator and his slavering brood don’t show up to wreck Lucy Moose’s tea party. She already understands how critical it is to self-edit your screenplay. And she sees just how exciting and satisfying it can be to create your own world and populate it with characters who do whatever you want them to. How the heck can ballet compare to that?

--Jim C.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Report from the Expo & CS Open 2006

Once again, it was another whirlwind weekend of fun and excitement. 4,000 writers descended upon the LAX Marriott & Renaissance Hotels for four days of networking, lectures, pitching, and of course, trying their luck at the CS Open.

As many of you know (since a lot of you participated!) the CS Open is the world's only live writing tournament. Every year, hundreds of writers put their writing-under-the-gun skills to the test, all vying for a chance to win that big $5,000 prize.

700 people were given 90 minutes to write an original scene, by hand, based on scene parameters I read to them. Those scenes were then evaluated by the Coverage, Ink team, with the top 10% (this year, everyone who scored a 90 or above)--moving to round 2. We also had a lot of folks trying to better their odds by enrolling in several round 1 sections--and in fact, one of our finalists watched his scores rise round by round. After writing five original scenes (and probably crippling his writing hand,) he scored that 90 and made it into round 2.

The Round 2 folks then gathered Saturday night, where they had to write yet another brand-new scene, which were then evaluated on the spot by CI. The top eleven were then notified to return to the room Sunday morning to write one last scene. CI then picked the top 3 scenes and, after running to Kinkos for copies, handed them off to staged reading expert Eddy Herch & his team of actors, who then had two hours to rehearse.

Then the real fun began--the performances. Each of the three scenes written that very morning were performed live on stage by actors at the Expo closing ceremonies. And this is where we learned just how the CS Open is really a microcosm for the filmmaking process, because in less than a day, the scene was written, edited, staged, performed, and then evaluated by an audience! And so the handwritten words on the page really came to life in the case of some of the scenes. We also witnessed firsthand how the performances of the material, moreso than the material itself, affected the way the audience voted. For example, the scene that won, Lisa Pease's excellent "Roswell That Ends Well," also had the best staging and physical comedy. The actors clumped together and entangled arms to imitate an multi-appendaged alien bartender, which had the audience rolling. But the actors' timing was also off in a few places, and that timing may have affected how well the other two scenes--Todd van Der Werff's "Where There's a Will" and Fran Ervin's "Princesses--The E! True Hollywood Story"--played.

But in the end, it was Pease who triumphed, giving a rousing, motivating speech to the crowd of 1,000 fellow writers. Like Cressandra Thibideaux, last year's winner, Pease, too, had been coming back year after year, section after section, to the CS Open. Every year she'd do a little better. Well, this year, she did 5 GRAND better. Way to go, Lisa!

After an exhausting 3-day weekend, CI folded its proverbial tent and went home to crash HARD. Did I mention just how much #$&^*!@%*#! walking we had to do, back and forth from one hotel to the other? Actually, it was just as bad at the Convention Center, but at least this year there was a BK right across the street ;) But you can bet we'll be back next year for YEAR 6, and who knows--maybe next year YOU'LL win the big bucks!

For those interested in the scene prompts, you can find them posted on Here's the round three prompt for this year. The 11 finalists had to write their own interpretation of this:

Your PROTAGONIST is a washed-up shell of what he used to be. Formerly a star in his field, he’s now reduced to working a soul-sucking menial job. But then TWO UNUSUAL COWORKERS confess a startling secret and bring him to a special place. PROTAGONIST is presented with an opportunity to regain what he once had. The only problem is, he will have to part with the one thing he most truly cares about to make it happen. Write the scene in which your protagonist wrestles with his dilemma. You may use any other characters or settings of your choosing.

As always, it was a fabulous, exhilarating time. Congratulations to our winners Lisa Pease, Fran Ervin and Todd van Der Werff!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Onward to the Expo!

We're packing up our show and taking it on the road this weekend... off to the LAX Marriott (NOT the LA Convention Center, as my pal Lance Gilmer so helpfully pointed out... D'OH!) to yet again coordinate the CS Open Live Writing Tournament at the Screenwriting Expo. For the fifth straight year, Coverage Ink will be coordinating this event. Got 90 minutes? Want to win $5,000??? Seriously, one of the CS Open participants is going home with 5 frigging grand for writing a couple of scenes this weekend.

So if YOU want to win, buy a ticket (I think they're 8 bucks) and stop by the CS Open room at the Expo and try your luck. We'll give you a scene prompt, and then the CI team will evaluate your scene based on the following criteria: Structure, Originality, Dialogue and Style. The top 10% move to round 2, and then the top ten to round 3. Then the top 3 scenes will be performed live on stage in a staged reading at the Expo's Closing Ceremony. The audience--probably about 1,000 folks--will then vote on the winner. And since we will be using PAPER BALLOTS and not electronic voting machines, you can be sure that the scene you vote all for WILL be the one that wins... ahem.

So if you're going to be at the Expo, stop by and introduce yourself! Look forward to seeing everyone at the CS Open!

--Jim Cirile

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Ensemble Epidemic

It’s out of control, folks.

Someone asked me last week what’s the single biggest problem I see over and over with submissions to Coverage, Ink? My reply didn’t take much thought: “%#$@&*!^& ensemble scripts.”

Allow me to clarify. See, this is what happens: a writer begins a script with a good idea of the story he wants to tell. But something happens along the way. As the writer crafts the story, he explores the secondary characters—winds up giving the secondary characters a subplot. Before you know it, the secondary characters are competing for screen time with the hero. At some point, the writer realizes this. But instead of going back and fixing the problem, he rationalizes, “Well, hey, it’s an ensemble.” Next thing you know, we have four or five or more main characters, each with their own storyline, all competing for screen time. Reader disinterest is the inevitable result.

Let me make this as clear as I can: when it comes to ensembles, DON’T DO IT. There are only a small handful of these films that ever get made, and they’re generally done by auteurs such as Altman. Does Hollywood ever make them? Very, very rarely, and hardly ever do they sell as a spec.

Part of the problem is it’s such a difficult balancing act to pull off. It’s far easier to follow one protagonist’s story scene after scene, than it is to juggle a handful of major characters, any one of whom could be considered the protagonist.
I learned this, as I learn everything, the hard way. Some years back I wrote an action ensemble script on assignment. The idea was to make “The Dirty Dozen” using the top 8 low-budget action stars at the time—all together in the same movie. So I wrote “Hauser’s Renegades,” a fun, sprawling caper action/ensemble film. And it was a nightmare to write.

The problem was that Hauser was very much the hero, but all of the other parts had to be significant enough to get the other stars--all “names” in their own right--to commit. It was the balancing act from Hades. I finally pulled it off after much much, hair-pulling and rewriting. And that was an action film, with a very standard track-down-the-bad-guy A-leads-to-B-leads-to-C plot. If I was to try the same approach in, say, a dramatic script, forget it. I know that quite honestly, I could not pull it off.

You might be surprised at how many scripts CI gets in where our main note is, “Focus on the protagonist. He needs to be in every scene--and the scenes he is not in should be ABOUT him.” Following this simple advice--and pretending ensemble movies never, ever existed and are simply NOT an option to you--will go a long way towards curing the ensemble epidemic and keeping your audience invested in the hero’s journey--where it belongs.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

What's the Big Idea?

An update on Writers on the Storm and a commentary on the biz in general

It’s been a month since we sent out the Writers on the Storm writing contest’s winning scripts and loglines to our list. What we’ve seen so far has been very interesting.

First of all, the process is turning out to be an ongoing one, as opposed to a “fire and forget.” I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing. There are a lot of scripts from our top ten out still there, still getting read. Just in the last week, two companies from our list finally responded and asked to read some of the scripts. Sometimes it takes these guys awhile. No problem.

As for the responses, one of our top ten, and two of our honorable mentions, have gotten meetings so far; several more will be getting some phone meetings, and more will be assuredly coming down the pike. We’re still waiting to hear back from many companies regarding our winner, Rational Panic, and we have a solid if not huge number of our top tens also getting read, which we are staying on top of, too. In short, it’s still too early to tell exactly how much of an impact our very first little contest will have--but we’re feeling pretty good about it so far!

Of course, we’ve gotten some passes, too. No big deal, since passes are a daily fact of life in Hollywood. The important thing is that even if the material is not for a particular company, hopefully the craft and the voice impress them enough to get them in the door… and by being easy-to-work-with and personable, even a pass could turn into opportunity.

One comment made by a producer/manager struck me. He read three of our top ten, and he said to me that while he liked the writing, none of them had “the big idea” he can go sell--by that, he meant something that is so obvious that it shouts to be a movie. Now I have several responses to that. The first is, that is exactly the sort of limited thinking that gives us the same warmed-over lameness we see at the theatres. Surely any of us can name a boatload of movies with a concept that some might not
consider extraordinary which have gone on to be exceptional films. “American Beauty” leaps to mind. But the second thing I think is that, sadly, he’s probably right.

This month was the 5th anniversary of my taking over the Agent’s Hot Sheet column for Creative Screenwriting magazine. And believe me, that five years has been an education and a half! I’ve really come to see just how the representatives think. And it is true, particularly when trying to sell movies to the studios, that concept is all. Producer Dan Ostroff once told me he’d rather have a script with a phenomenal idea and iffy execution than one with a so-so idea and astounding execution. Because,
you see, they can always hire a “closer”--someone like Paul Haggis or whomever, who can come in and rewrite the script. When it comes to actually selling a spec, high concept’s a big, big thing.

And so I could see that producer/manager’s point. While I believe that many of our top ten scripts would make great movies, several of them would require thought and time to market properly and, well, a lot of folks out there are resistant to making that investment in a “baby writer.”

So what’s the big idea? Well, that’s important for sure. But I believe original voices will ultimately build a career, too, and maybe even a better or more sustainable one, than if you just have the next easily pitchable high concept—“it’s 'Porky’s' in Abu Ghraib!” or whatever. So hang tight--more to come!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Meet the Four Quadrants

Thought I'd dig this column out of the vault and post it here for y'all, since the topic is still very timely. Many thanks to Creative Screenwriting, of course, for the rewrite permission. And now it's time to...



by Jim Cirile

Just what is a four-quadrant movie, and why should writers care about them? Simple—because they are often the most successful films, and therefore they are also the most coveted scripts.


Richard Arlook
The Gersh Agency

Marty Bowen
United Talent Agency

Nicole Clemens
International Creative Management

Emile Gladstone
Broder, Webb, Chervin & Silbermann

Melinda Manos
Manos Management

Julien Thuan
United Talent Agency

Let’s start this shindig by plugging my favorite movie of last year. Okay, I loved Finding Neverland, but as a Bond fan and comic book fan and Brad Bird fan, heck, my top honors go to The Incredibles (Gee, what a shock—another terrific Pixar movie.) The success of this $92 million animated feature dovetails quite nicely into this month’s column—The Incredibles is a near-perfect four-quadrant movie.

Just what does “four-quadrant” mean? It’s a movie that appeals to all four main demographic groups—young and old, male and female. Obviously, many flicks do not do this. Strangely, my five-year-old daughter does not share my love of Army of Darkness. Yet she and her mother and I, along with all her female teenage cousins, all came out giddy from The Incredibles. As of this writing, the film has grossed $260 million, and that’s just the domestic box office.

So it stands to reason that studios are on the lookout for the next The Incredibles and its ilk—the 4-quadrant spec is the current “it” girl. UTA feature lit agent Julien Thuan says, “If you have a property that could be marketed to the four major demographics, presumably it will be a more successful movie. It’s obviously a large part of what ‘event films’ aspire to.”

And while “four-quadrant” may be a hip buzzword, there’s really nothing new about it. The Gersh Agency’s Richard Arlook tells us, “I’ve been getting calls for years from people looking for great family movies that work for young and old and male and female. And they’ll reference successful movies. Two years ago, it was Shrek. Now it’s The Incredibles or Meet the Fockers.” BWCS’ Emile Gladstone observes, “The top ten grossing movies of all time attracted a very broad audience. Now If you read the Titanic script, you wouldn’t necessarily think it was a four-quadrant movie, but it did hit on all quadrants.”

That’s one of the, er, incredible things about The Incredibles—like Titanic, on the surface, it too doesn’t appear to be a four-quadrant movie. An animated film about superheroes? And not even established characters? Kid’s flick, end of story. But the script smartly spun the old formula on its butt. Instead of having the female lead get kidnapped, with the male protagonist having to rescue her in Act 3, it’s the male protagonist who gets kidnapped, forcing the wife and kids to come to the rescue. This stroke of brilliance allowed the Elastigirl character to really come into her own and made millions of kids want to emulate the superheroics of Violet and Dash. “One hundred percent,” agrees Gladstone. “And thematically, it’s more about how to make the most of your mundane life. There’s certainly a lot about mid-life crisis in that movie, a lot of scenes that adults would relate to.” Thuan adds a few more reasons why The Incredibles performed so well versus some other superhero films that did not: “At the root of it, you had this emotional core that had universal appeal. It has a very simple idea—a family of superheroes that have to come together to save the world. It’s great comedy, but for the most part it’s clean comedy, so it can appeal to the entire family. And it has great messages. It’s not about violence. It’s not about a lot of the other crutches of those sorts of movies.” Gladstone agrees, “If movies were only about cool action sequences, then Elektra would have done well. It’s a combination of cool action sequences with characters that you really care about.”

So let’s say you, intrepid writer, deliver to your representative one of these elusive and coveted 4-quadrant specs. What happens now? “Frankly, when you have that kind of material, it becomes an obvious sell,” says Thuan, “and as a result, an obvious buy. So it’s easy for the marketing people to get behind it, because they essentially have a lot of ways in which to put the film out there and precedence for how they can do it.” Gladstone notes that the wider the appeal of the script, the greater the sell behind it. “Only certain studios will do a horror movie, and only certain studios will do a character-driven action movie. You figure out ‘Who is your hard target?’ in terms of your sales strategy—‘This is a Universal picture.’ ‘This is a Sony and a Universal picture, but it’s not a Warner Bros. picture.’ But with a four-quadrant movie, it’s everyone’s picture. The larger spec sales and bidding wars come from movies that appeal to a broader audience.” In other words, if you nail the 4-Q, that’s where the big paydays are.

Thuan and Arlook both break out the big guns when marketing a four-quadrant spec. “You definitely alert buyers in a different way to what you have,” says Thuan. “You identify producers who have experience making these kinds of films so that you can help to validate it as that kind of a film. It’s not always obvious to the buyers.” And when a terrific four-quadrant spec lands in Arlook’s lap, “I’ll call all the biggest producers in the world of 4-quadrant movies and hype ‘em on it,” he says, “and tell them ‘I’ve got one of those scripts that everybody’s looking for, and it’s a great script.’ But if it’s not a great script, I’m not calling anybody.”

And therein lies the rub—another reason the four-quadrant script is so coveted is because it’s deceptively difficult to pull off. “I’d rather have a small, brilliantly written Million Dollar Baby,” says Arlook, “or that kind of movie that’s going to attract a filmmaker, than the biggest idea in the world that’s written like crap.” UTA’s Marty Bowen seconds that. “Trying to write to appeal to everyone seems to be contradictory to the creative process. Within reason, a writer should write and not worry about mass marketing. Let the story he or she believes in find its own audience,” he says.

Still, all of our panelists advise their clients to maximize their script’s marketability... to a point. Gladstone feels that writers should be true to their voice while still watching box office trends. “If they’re romantic comedy writers, I’m asking them to make scripts more comedic and make sure there are set-pieces that allow for a marketing campaign,” he says. “I’m trying to steer romantic comedy writers from writing When Harry Met Sally to writing the best variation of Along Came Polly--not that that is the model for the script itself, but if you look at the marketing campaign and its success, you have to emulate that.”

Manager Melinda Manos mentions a recent debate based on marketability. “There’s a logo of a gang in (my client’s) script--the middle finger. It’s seen a lot. That’s something that would have definitely made the movie an ‘R.’ We said, ‘This may hurt the sale.’ So I had a conversation with the writer, the director attached, with the agent—‘What can we use instead of that?’ We came up with the second finger, then two fingers like a rapper’s move, and then the pinky... it got really stupid after awhile. We were like, ‘You know what? We’re leaving it. If we have someone that likes it enough, (but) they don’t want to buy it because of that, then we’ll change it.’” And therein lies the danger of self-censorship based on marketing concerns. Says Thuan, “For writers to already censor themselves in the creative process before anyone even sees the script, it’s just brutal. We end up with nothing. The voice is so diluted by the time it gets to the screen that to already start diluting based on anticipation of marketing or hitting key demographics--if that’s part of the writing process, it lacks purity to such a degree that most of the time, it won’t work.”

Moral? “This above all, to thine own self be true.” Some decent writer wrote that. If you crank out a 4-Q script shooting for that big payday, it probably won’t work. As always, write what you’re passionate about. But if you do decide to write a 4-Q, remember, “For the most part, the successful four-quadrant movies appeal to both kids and adults,” says Gladstone, “and have adult protagonists as well as kid protagonists. The adult protagonist, that’s where you’re going to find your star. That’s how you’re going to get your movie made.” Don’t write something like The Goonies where the kids are the sole protagonists. “Not gonna sell,” concludes Gladstone.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Slippery Rewrite Slope

I've seen it many times. You think you should be moving forward with each draft; but oftentimes, you work on the rewrite, send it in to CI, and based on the analysis, you're worse off than you were the first time. It can be a bit discouraging, for sure. We all want to get better coverage when we resubmit, of course. And that happens less than half the time.

It's important to remember several things:

1) It is seldom a steady upward arc of script progression. More often than not, the rewrite will come in at roughly the same box score zone, or sometimes even gets worse. The reasons for this are many. First is that while trying to solve certain problems, writers often inadvertently create new ones. Sure, your spot-fix solution may address note 97B and kick that one to the curb, but... the ripple effect creates three new plot-holes or character consistency problems.

Or perhaps your solution doesn't go far enough to fix the problem--like putting out a three-alarmer with a water balloon. Writers (myself included) ALWAYS try to do the least work possible and are notoriously reluctant to throw away scenes which are not working ,even if reader after reader tells them, "you gotta rethink this." So we patch things with spit and glue rather than doing the invasive surgery that may really be required.

Or it could be that... brace yourself... the writer simply doesn't have the chops yet to actually solve the problem at a level required to elevate the material. This is where education and old-fashioned practice come into play. It's also why we always tell people to watch similar movies and break them down scene by scene, so writers can really start to understand why those film's structures worked, and thus see how their own script's structure differs. Like everything else in life that's worth doing, screenwriting is a craft that must be practiced over and over, studied and really pored over before most of us can start to get it right. Sure there are those wunderkind guys who write their first script, and it's brilliant; they win the Nicholl Fellowship and they become Hollywood's new "it" guy.

There are about 6 of those dudes on the planet. The rest of us have to friggin' work at it. Today my daughter got her 3rd yellow stripe in Kenpo karate. We were told if she works very very hard she can expect to have a black belt in 7 years or so. Why should screenwriting be any different? It's all about the dedication you bring to it. Gotta be willing to fall down, get back up again, and most importantly, rewrite the hell out of your scripts over and over. If you do not have steely resolve, do NOT become a screenwriter.

2) A lot has to do with the individual analyst. For example, many CI clients elect the dual reader option, and I'm always interested to see the results. More often than not, since my team are all smart cookies with degrees in screenwriting and practical industry experience, the notes are very similar from reader to reader. But recently I got two coverage reports back on a script in which the two readers both said pretty much the same things--but one gave it a PASS and low-middling box scores, while the other gave it an enthusiastic CONSIDER with above average box scores. The big difference had less to do with the notes and advice but with the passion the individual readers felt for the script. Succinctly, one dug it; the other not as much, but saw the potential. Now that didn't affect the notes, because both ferreted out the same structural and character problems. And I personally then read that script, and I agreed with BOTH analysts. The guy who really liked it was right, and correctly qualified his comments by saying this is a strong, marketable script that needs work; and girl that didn't like it as much thought the same thing. They just scored it differently.

So bear in mind, a coverage report is just one person's opinion at the end of the day. A knowledgeable opinion for sure, but still, an opinion.

3) There is often a specific central problem in a script--the structural flaw which no amount of patching will overcome. The script is broken, and will stay broken, until that issue is repaired. A writer can do dozens of rewrites, tackling all the other problems in the script, and still get a PASS if that central problem is not addressed. This might be, say, a key implausibility in the story; if you don't buy the whole premise, well, that's a tough nut to crack. Or maybe it's a lack of a through-line or external goal for the protagonist... and on and on.

I recently experienced this exact issue with one of my own scripts. I wrote draft after draft, sent it to my team under a pseudonym as I always do, but I could never get better than a weak consider. This drove me NUTS. Until I finally realized the problem was that nobody cared enough about my main character. Sure, he was well-developed and had a character arc, but no one had an emotional connection to the guy and thus no one really cared to root him on... which meant they didn't care to keep reading. I had no idea what I was doing wrong until one of my readers gave me a real hair-puller of a note I did not want to address. When I finally dug in, I realized what he was really saying. And in fact, I had been avoid addressing this issue, dismissing the other readers who had commented on this, because I thought simply, "they're wrong." Dope!

So I took great pains to go back and make my guy likeable--tough on the outside like before, but very wounded on the inside. And the difference was night and day. I had finally licked that elusive central problem. And suddenly that same script--changed by only a short new scene added in the first act and a few minor dialogue tweaks--went from weak consider to strong consider, because everyone was pulling for the guy.

All of us get discouraged as writers. It comes with the territory. You slave over a draft and hope to God somebody likes it... and then disappointment sets in when you realize, "Crap, I have to do MORE work on this thing? Sigh."

Welcome to the writer's life!

--Jim Cirile

Friday, September 08, 2006

Popular Films Partners With CI

Hi folks,

I'm pleased to announce that Coverage, Ink has entered into a new agreement with production company Popular Films. Popular is run by Sean Sorenson and Tim Albaugh, two very, very smart guys (and working writer/producers both.) Tim was actually one of my teachers in the UCLA Professional Program in Screenwriting, and I can tell you for sure he knows his stuff.

Popular will be offering high-end script consultations by way of script mark-ups and phone meetings. We will be rolling this out on the Coverage, Ink web site within the next few weeks. Popular will also be keeping their eye out for good material...

Check out their web site HERE!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Thoughts from Behind the Curtain

The past few weeks I've been working with the Writers on the Storm Top Ten. I've had lengthy chats with each of them -- talented writers all -- and we've been going through the scripts with my feedback, and in some cases, with the feedback from the CI analysts who covered the scripts.

What I've discovered is pretty interesting. The first thing I noticed is that two of our winners have Masters Degrees in Screenwriting, while another two went through the UCLA Professional Program (our winner, Bob Rhyne, starts next week at the UCLA Professional Program.) And another one of our Top Ten has taken classes at UCLA Extension and Writers Boot Camp. That's six of the Top Ten who have had higher education in screenwriting. Mind you, we had no idea of this going in, and contest judge Hal Ackerman, co-head of the UCLA Screenwriting Dept., insisted that the scripts be anonymous -- we tore off the cover pages before we sent them to him. Interesting, eh?

A few of our top ten are represented; but only a few of them are actually satisfied with their representation (big shocker.)

But here's the most interesting thing. The very talented Keli Rowley, who wrote the animated comedy/adventure Danny Longlegs, told me she placed 3rd in this year's Scriptapalooza contest. That's two strong contest showings in a month -- a true testament to that fact that cream rises. But when I spoke to Keli, I'd discovered that Scriptapalooza had already sent her script out to their list. This baffled me. No slight against her or her script, but why would any contest do this?

We've spent the better part of a month developing the top ten scripts with our Writers on the Storm winners so that when the scripts go out, they can put best foot forward. Some of the writers embraced the process and really dug in; a few others were less interested in doing so; that's fine in either case. But here's the thing: we are putting our reputation on the line when we send out that list (later this week.) It is VERY important that these scripts be as good as they can be for both the writers' sakes and our own. In the case of every single script, we found issues that could and should be addressed. As a result, our top ten scripts are ALL better than they were a month ago. So the scripts we are sending to the town we are confident in.

It boggles my mind how a big contest like Scriptapalooza can simply throw their scripts out there to the town. Again, no slight to the writers. I'm sure their scripts are good enough as is to attract attention. But are they as good as they CAN be? As a writer, wouldn't you want to do every single thing you possibly can to make your script as good as it can be BEFORE it goes out?

Anyway, that's not what we're about. We are going to do everything we can to get these writers attention, and that includes helping them up their game and their craft and marketing savvy. Because damn it, that's what a contest should be, don't you think?

--Jim Cirile

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Inside UTA's Locker Room

A couple years back, Creative Screenwriting ran my interview with young UTA agents Tobin Babst, Julien Thuan and Jason Burns. Superagent Marty Bowen had dubbed them "The Locker Room Guys," because when they were first promoted, all three had to share a small office, which Bowen joked was rather like a locker room.

We had to cut the lengthy article significantly to fit in in the magazine. So for the sake of posterity, and because it's a cool, in-depth interview, I'm posting it here on the blog in its entirety. It's a rare glimpse behind the scenes at one of the top agencies in town, and all three are pretty cool guys, too. Enjoy!

--Jim Cirile

Jim Cirile interviews UTA feature lit agents Tobin Babst, Julien Thuan and Jason Burns

Jim: Great to meet you guys. Can you each tell me a bit about your background?

Toby: I grew up in Maryland. From University of Maryland, I transferred to NYU for screenwriting, playwriting. During my time there I learned more about the craft part of it. I started coming out here and interning and learning a bit about the business part. I thought, what if I don’t want to bank a career on whether or not I’ll be able to write a screenplay, and what kind of job could my degree apply towards? I ended up being excited by the other side of things—the development world and the agency world. I did a few internships in New York, and then I came out here and interned at Peter Guber’s company for a summer. Ultimately I just decided that I was going to come out here and figure out how I was gonna get into that world. Joining an agency mailroom, or agency training program, seemed like the way to go. I started at UTA a few months later and have been here 5 ½ years. That’s a month in the mailroom, two years as an assistant to John Lesher, a year as an assistant to Marty (Bowen,) and a little under 2½ years as an agent.

JC: You still doing any writing?

Toby: No. I don’t think there’s time for both. I just felt like if I tried to do both, I’d probably end up succeeding at neither.

Julian: I grew up in Nashville, Tenn. I went to Duke University. Junior year I came out here with a friend to do an internship with Chuck Rogan’s company. Mainly because they didn’t pay, I took a couple of meetings to see if I could get an internship that paid. I met with a Duke alum named Brad Joel, who was an agent here at the time, and he put me through the system. I was offered an internship, which was great, and spent the next two months doing that. An internship here is very much the same as being in the mailroom. You have the same sort of duties and responsibilities. I loved it, so by the end of the summer I was offered a job. I went back to school and spent my senior year knowing what I was gonna do. Two weeks after graduation I was back here pushing a mail cart.

I was in the mailroom for a month. I worked for David Kramer. Then I worked for Jeremy Zimmer—

JC: Both you guys were in the mailroom for a month?

Julian: It’s the minimum amount that you can be in the mailroom for.

Jason: It was a smaller company at the time, and there was a need.

Toby: It’s all timing. Almost all the assistants have to start in the mailroom as a trainee. There’s a minimum 4 weeks required, but beyond that it’s just when something comes available. If an assistant is leaving or going to another desk, there’s gonna be a spot opening up.

JC: So the mailroom is the talent pool.

Toby: Yeah. If there’s a lot of turnover, then you get out of the mailroom pretty quickly. If not, or if there’s a specific department you want to be in, then it can end up taking 6-9 months.

Jason: There’s plenty of stories here about people who are successful agents who were in the mailroom for over a year. Just because it’s a long stint doesn’t necessarily mean—

Toby: We were pretty lucky with the timing. But we also kind of knew what we wanted to do. We all wanted to be in a lit group.

JC: You guys were all in the mailroom at the same time?

Julien: there was overlap, yeah.

JC: Julien, where did you go after the mailroom?

Julien: I worked for David Kramer for about a year and a half. Then I worked for Jeremy Zimmer for close to the same amount of time. Then I went to work in the New Media group for about a year. I was there for the new media boom and the bust. I was there for both, which was interesting. Very quickly, when I was in that group, I realized I wanted to come back to the lit group. After about a year I came back and have been doing that ever since.

Jason: I grew up here, in Malibu. I was always around the business but never really saw my place in it. Unlike Toby, I didn’t have writing aspirations or… So I went to UC San Diego as an Econ major, graduated and started working for Smith Barney as a stockbroker. I did that for about 11 months and was miserable. I liked the sales aspect and the pacing of it, but there’s no creative outlet in the job whatsoever. You couldn’t even really form an opinion about what you’re selling. You can sell something if you can see what’s great about it. But if you can’t form an opinion, it’s really tough to be passionate about it.

JC: Same thing about being an agent.

Jason: Yeah. So I knew people who had done what Julien had done, straight from college started working in the business, and started reading books about it. I interviewed at William Morris, ICM and UTA, and it clicked here. It felt smaller, hungrier, and I felt I connected with the people. I ended up moving from San Diego and started in the mailroom. I worked for Jeremy Zimmer and Dan Aloni as a second assistant for about 3 months, and then worked for Jeremy Zimmer for about 2 years, and then Blair Belcher after that for a little less than a year.

JC: Exact titles:

(all) Just agent.

Jason: There’s some people who get promoted to departmental assistant. Your main objective is to compile lists and help the department run smoothly. You’re eventually given duties of covering a studio. That’s when you really feel like you’re an agent who’s contributing to the group and selling the whole agency’s clients.

JC: That’s a great point. How does the covering of the individual studios work?

Jason: You’re assigned a specific studio or multiple studios. You need to be the in-house UTA expert (on) that studio. So let’s say it’s Universal and New Line. Along with the other group of agents, there’s usually about 3 or 4 including talent agents as well, who together cover the studio. They need to know everything going on at that studio. What’s the new script that’s come in? What’s the new open writing assignment? What project’s looking for a director? At UTA, you’re given the freedom but also the incentive to really cover the studio. Just because you’re in a lit group doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be reading a script and thinking, “This is a great Harrison Ford vehicle.” You’re supposed to think outside your group.

JC: I assume this also entails reading every single thing those studios buy.

Jason: Yes, reading everything they buy, everything they want to rewrite, even. Reading everything that needs a director, casting, all of it.

Julien: You also spend a lot of time developing relationships with all the producers at the studio, so there’s a real flow of information, hopefully commerce as well.

Jason: If I had a question about Sony, I would call Julian before I would call the executive on the project, because he’s gonna know the history and the pitfalls of that particular project. By calling Julien, I get the whole history—who’s gone in, what mistakes have been made in the past, what’s the executive thinking, what’s their expectation? That way, when you call, you already have a perspective of what’s going on.

Julien: Plus, when you don’t talk to those people every single day like a covering agent does, it’s hard to maintain those relationships.

Toby: You’re responsible for representing all the agency’s clients when there’s a job opportunity, but also when there’s not. A movie opens and does really well. So you’re expected to be talking with the executives, and of course you’re bringing up the good things that are happening with the company’s clients. Sometimes it’s specific to a job, sometimes it’s information-based, and other times it’s just general relationship-building.

Julien: As a newly-promoted agent, it’s the best way for you to develop relationships. It’s great because you don’t represent a ton of clients, you represent the entire agency.

JC: And you become important even if you’re not. Where does the Locker Room come from?

Toby: All 3 of us were promoted at the same time. When you’re first promoted you don’t have an assistant; you don’t even have an office. You just have a cubicle. As the company was expanding and we were getting a little more established, they started letting us share assistants and they wanted to give us office space. But the only office that was available was one large office for the three of us to share. After walking in a few times and seeing scripts everywhere, the trades everywhere...

JC: The three of you all talking on the phone at the same time...

Toby: Yeah, three people talking over each other, throwing things at each other, one day I think it just dawned on (Marty) that our office should be called the Locker Room.

JC: Obviously, at this point, you guys have separate offices and assistants. Do you miss the old days?

Toby: Which just happened about a month ago.

JC: Really? And all of you at the same time?

Jason: Yeah. There’s definitely camaraderie that was built working together so closely. You miss that. But when Toby and Julien call it’s like the first returned phone calls.

Toby: Or so he says now.

JC: You guys are all on the same floor…

Julien: Exactly.

Jason: Between the three of us, we pretty much cover the whole town. We all have different territories. We have a good sense of what’s going on.

JC: In terms of clients, do you share clients or have your own lists? How does that work?

Toby: The whole agency’s corporate philosophy is based on teamwork. You’re almost never representing somebody alone, it’s almost always a team of at least 2 agents. Because we work so closely together, physically, we ended up sharing a lot of new business.

JC: Are guys 100% lit, 50% lit 50% talent? How is it broken up.

Julien: A little bit of everything. It’s mostly lit. (We’re mostly dealing with) writers and directors. But in your day-to-day, you end up being on teams with actors. There’s an aspect of it that is talent-oriented. There’s a lit component of that, also, ‘cause a lot of actors now have companies which we service as well. Sometimes you’re reading scripts that is only (being read as a possible) open writing (assignment,) but you have a great idea for someone within the company that would be great to build the movie around.

JC: Obviously, everyone has different tastes. Do you have any specific genre specialties?

Toby: Defining taste by genre is a hard thing to do. We all represent a little bit of everything. The one thing that’s consistent is that we like original voices. We like people who have something new and interesting to say. A lot of times we share new people that we’re thinking of representing with each other to see what we think. The great thing about having a relationship with these guys is you have a sounding board.

Jason: It always comes back to original voices. It’s something the agency was built on. It’s championing people, maybe taking a bigger risk. When we look at material, we’re more excited by someone with a really original voice and point of view and great writing than we are by the next big spec idea. We’re building careers. It’s great to sell spec scripts, but for us what’s really important is longevity.

JC: (UTA client) Charlie Kaufman, case in point.

Jason: Yeah. Some of those scripts were just sitting around (at other agencies.)

Toby: You can’t really predict what the spec market is gonna do. You can get a sense of what you think people will get excited about or not, but getting them to actually buy a spec can be a tricky thing. If you’re excited about original voices and writing, it doesn’t quite matter as much whether the studios buy (the spec) or not. You hope that they do, but what you really want is a lot of people reading a writer who you think is talented—somebody that you can then get them to start working with.

JC: What do you like about UTA?

Julien: As a lit agent, I like that we’re very open to things that are out-of-the-box and different. There’s not that pressure to go in and sell the big spec. It’s much more “who are the writers that we’re excited about, and how do we embrace them as a group?” even though a new, young writer might have a spec script that goes out, even if it doesn’t sell, chances are the entire group has read that writer. We’ve all essentially signed off and believe in the person. That person still has a career, and there’s still business there. That’s exciting to me. It’s a different kind of business than a lot of other agencies have. Also I like that a lot of the business that we have has been here since the beginning. We grow a lot of talent. There’s nothing more exciting than seeing someone get their first big break.

Jason: I feel like the place takes more time in investing in its people and personnel. When you get promoted (they don’t just say) “Here’s your office. Good luck.” There’s not that feeling of sink or swim. They really want to see you succeed. There’s not that “You gotta go sign 30 people and good luck” (attitude.) Underlying it all is “Take your time with it. Sign the people you believe in.” It’s not a way of representing people where you sign 10 and if 2 take off, great—you can get rid of the other 8.

JC: Like some other agencies. What do each of you hope to bring to the table? How do you want the town to perceive you?

Toby: I feel like I’m just getting started. But what I’d like my reputation to be is (as) someone who is extremely hard-working, honest and straightforward, intelligent and passionate about the people that he represents. And is someone who will stand up for what he believes in, in terms of his artists.

Julien: I think integrity is one of the most important things in this job, which is ironic given the perception of agents, I think. I can say that’s the reason I do this, because I’ve seen people do it with integrity. You know they’re always working in the best interest of the client. There’s no greater compliment for someone who does what we do.

Jason: I would say…

Toby: Go for the zinger, Burns.

(Everyone laughs.)

Jason: Respect comes from being honest and direct, being passionate about the people you represent.

JC: What would your advice be to the CS reader who hopes to one day be represented by UTA?

Jason: People make the mistake of calling a production company or an agency, and it’s all about getting that (specific) person on the phone. If you get somebody (and it’s not) the producer you want to send the script to, but it’s their assistant, and they’re willing to take a look at your material—good reads, good notes can come from anyone. The people we listen to are executives or producers…

Julien: Managers…

Jason: Right, people around town, or even assistants here. Every once in a while an assistant will come up and go, “I love this script. Would you take a look at it”? And you listen to them. Any read is a good read. Just because you’re trying to get to that one person—you have to realize they probably don’t have the time to read unsolicited material, but there are people out there (who will read it.) You have to be your own agent first, and ingratiate yourself to the people you can get on the phone.

Julien: Assistants are a great way to go. We all have clients now whom we found as assistants that we sort of brought up with us.

JC: Were you guys taking home boatloads of scripts every weekend?

Toby: All the time, yeah. We still do. It doesn’t take that long, I think, to develop an awareness for how to get your script into somebody’s hands. I you have a Creative Directory and you get Creative Screenwriting, you can find out who reads and who doesn’t.

JC: You also have to be able to write a coherent query letter.

Toby: That’s true. But the most important thing is the script. Obviously there are certain things that are inherently commercial and certain things that are not, but at the end of the day, we respond to what’s personal and what’s real. The emphasis should be on the writing. Until you have that, don’t worry about the rest, because it doesn’t matter.

Jason: Don’t force your writing around. If you’re like, “I have the ultimate heist movie; I’m gonna set it on Mars.” Starting there is probably not the best place to start. Start from something you are really passionate about and think you can write well.

Toby: If you write a good script, someone will find it. Somebody will recognize it and give it to an agent or a manager. It will find it’s way into somebody’s hands, because everybody’s looking for a good script. But for your readership, I would say read a lot of scripts. Watch a lot of movies. Think about how they were written. And beyond that, most importantly, keep writing. Write a lot. And remember you’re writing for Hollywood, which is a business. And remember that there is an audience out there, and that determines whether Hollywood wants to invest in your screenplay. But at the same time, you have to write for yourself, because that’s the only way your voice will show through.

JC: Anything else you guys want to add?

Toby: Despite the “Locker Room” nickname, it wasn’t given to us for the smell.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The new website's here! The new website's here!

Well after a scary 2 days with our site down (thanks to the geniuses at,) we now finally have launched our new website! Check it out and let us know what you think. We'll be adding lots more content as the weeks go on, too. Whew!

Click here to visit the new Coverage, Ink!


--Jim C.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Coverage, Ink website is down...

Yep, we know, it's been down since Sunday. I flipped the switch to make our new website go live, you know, the one we've been working on for months, which is finally ready to launch... and of course, nothing worked! But fear not, folks (actually I'm the one fearing right now to be honest) we'll have the site up as soon as we're able to point the DNS to the new server, whatever the heck that means. In the meantime, here's a look at the WOTS winners announcement we're running in the next issue of Creative Screenwriting magazine. Enjoy!

--Jim C.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The BWCS/ICM Merger

The big news of late is of course the merger of powerhouse agency ICM with the medium-sized Broder, Webb, Chervin and Silbermann. What does this mean for us writers? Well, we will find out. I certainly will be talking to my panelists from both agencies very soon to get their take on what happened and will report it in the next issue of Creative Screenwriting.

Known for their top-notch clients, boutique style and shrewd dealmaking, BWCS seems to me to be a very good fit with ICM, an excellent old-school agency who could benefit from BWCS' nimbleness and reputation. But of course with any merger comes layoffs, and that potentially takes opportunity from writers by taking a major player of the field.

Of course, some of the folks laid off will likely land elsewhere or maybe start management companies, as tends to happen.

Well, maybe with the addition of BWCS, ICM will be able to afford a new sign. This one is looking a bit de clase. Joking! I snapped this picture at ICM last year -- it's behind the building in the parking lot ;)

Monday, July 31, 2006


Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that we present the winners of the Writers on the Storm Screenwriting Competition. Co-Chair of the UCLA Screenwriting Program Hal Ackerman called our top ten, "a decalogue of fine, varied, extremely imaginative and well-written screenplays. Persuasive arguments could be made for any of them being winners, and its easy to see why they went to the finals of the competition."

But in the end, there could be only one winner and two runners-up. They were chosen for their crisp dialogue, well-developed characters, excellent pacing and inventive storytelling. But above all, each one of them is a Movie with a capital "M"--all three jump off the page and into your mind's eye as you read them. We suspect you’ll be hearing about all our finalists in the months and years to come.

Once again, thanks to every single person who participated. We hope that all of you took away something positive from the experience. We promise you'll be hearing more from Writers on the Storm very soon.

Jim Cirile
Founder, Coverage Ink
Writers on the Storm Screenwriting Competition

RATIONAL PANIC by Robert Rhyne

TRIO by John Unger Zussman & Patricia Zussman

THE DOLLMAKER by Ned James Beedie

THE OTHER WOTS FINALISTS, in alphabetical order:


FURY by Dane Edward McCauley


INK by Eric Andersen & Scott Smith

MASQUE by Kellen Hertz

THE NEWLY DEAD GAME by David Warfield


Sunday, July 30, 2006


Noon Monday... even now the leaders are jockeying for position...

Oh, the suspense!

Who's going to be $2,500 richer???

Stay tuned!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Producers... Agents... Managers...

I've gotten a few calls from industry folks who are tracking the Writers on the Storm contest, which is very nice to know! We have some awesome scripts coming down the pike for you folks -- you will not be disappointed. We're less than 1 week away now from announcing our winners.

If you're in the biz and would like to be added onto the list to see the winners, shoot me a mail at

We are sending all the companies on our list the winning script, along with the loglines of our top ten and a select few honorable mentions, plus a few comments on each. You may request to read any and/or all of them that strikes your fancy. We'll also keep you on the list for Writers on the Storm II.


--Jim Cirile

Friday, July 21, 2006

new website... almost ready!

We're about a week away from launching the new Coverage, Ink website! This all-new site features new services, articles and information, and some big news... but best of all... no price increases. Yep, you can get your script expertly analyzed for $129... less than it costs to gas up your Hummer.

The URL will be the same: We're also kicking off the launch with a SALE which will only apply to folks on our newsletter mailing list, so if you're not on the list, send us an e-mail at and we'll put you on the list. FYI, we will never spam you--you will only receive our monthly newsletters, chock full of (we hope) tips and inspiration.

Oh, and Writers on the Storm WINNERS... coming soon!

--Jim Cirile

Friday, July 14, 2006

The State of the Spec Market

I'm in the middle of writing my column for Creative Screenwriting, and boy, this is a weird one. It's my annual fall spec season column, and I am getting some wildly varying reports about the health of the spec marketplace.

Some of my panelists are reporting nothing but doom and gloom--nobody's buying jack. So then I point out the various spec sales listed in the trades, and say, how about these? Well, it turns out most of these are packages or scripts written by well-known writers with track records. Oh. Okay, so how are things for the emerging writer? Depends who you ask. Some of my panelists have had a great year and are excited for the fall. Some... less so.

I don't want to give away too much at this time (my editor would kill me if I did!) but this should be a do-not-miss column with a few surprises and hopefully a nice little sidebar on finding your screenwriting "voice."

Oh, and anybody who wants to know how the contest top ten are faring... heh heh heh. You'll get nothing out of me yet ;)

--Jim Cirile

Saturday, July 08, 2006


What a fantastic group of scripts we have here. And what a terrific assortment! We've got thrillers, horror, drama, comedy, animation, family, suspense--let it never be said we discriminate against any one particular genre.

The next three weeks, I will be reading these scripts along with UCLA Screenwriting Department Co-Head Hal Ackerman and a few other select industry folks. I am greatly looking forward to it. We will announce our WINNERS Monday, July 31st at noon.

Here are the awesome Writers on the Storm finalists in alphabetical order:

1) DANNY LONGLEGS --- Keli Rowley

2) FURY -- Dane Edward McCauley

3) HEAVENS TO BETSY -- Brad Hennig

4) INK -- Eric Andersen & Scott Smith

5) MASQUE -- Kellen Hertz
drama/period drama/romance

6) RATIONAL PANIC -- Robert Rhyne

7) THE DOLLMAKER -- Ned James Beedie

8) THE NEWLY DEAD GAME -- David Warfield

9) TRIO -- John Unger Zussman & Patricia Zussman
drama/period drama/romance


Thanks to everyone who entered for helping to make our contest a smash hit!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

To Refer or Not to Refer?

Informal poll here, guys, as we await the WOTS top ten.

Some of CI's competitors, for example Script Shark, ostensibly refer scripts that do well to industry contacts. CI's policy has always been that we make no representations about helping you market your script (Writers on the Storm contest excluded, of course.) We simply give you a thorough analysis--usually much more in-depth than our competitors--and charge you less, but the marketing is up to you. I've always hated the carrot and stick approach personally. I think it's a bit disingenuous to hold that prize out for people and then hand out disappointment to the vast majority of clients.

However, we HAVE actually helped a few clients from time to time. We just don't make a big deal about it. In fact, we've gotten a small handful of folks agents and managers.

So the question is: do you guys think CI should change our policy or keep it as is? Would like like to know (stated publicly on our website) that if your script gets a strong consider AND we consider it marketable, that we will all read it, discuss our feedback with the writer and then, with writer's permission, give it to some industry folks--bearing in mind that's less than 1% of submissions? Or do we just continue to offer better service and cheaper prices and not dangle some imaginary carrot? We're rolling out our new website within the next 2 weeks, so now would be a great time to incorporate any changes... IF we are going to make any. The floor is open!

--Jim Cirile

Friday, June 23, 2006


Ladies and gentlemen, Writers on the Storm and Coverage, Ink proudly announces our semifinalists.

There are some AMAZING scripts in this group. Every single person on this list should be congratulated for really bringing the goods.

As for the 160 folks we eliminated--we feel your pain. We're all writers, too. We know what it's like.

I can tell you that the scripts below all had good writing AND a great concept. Many of our contest entries had one or the other but often not both. Of course, writing is a skill which can be learned just like any other craft. Some may be more adept at it than others, but at the end of the day, if you keep at it long enough and study with the right people, you will get better.

But concept is, er, another story. There were some great writers we had to eliminate in this round because while they could turn a phrase, the story just wasn't as unique or fascinating or cool as it could have been. Others had a really neat idea, but the script execution just was not quite there--yet. (Of course, if anyone wants serious feedback on their script, contact us at, and don't forget to request $10 off as a WOTS entrant.)

Our TOP TEN will be announced at 12 noon on July 9th.

And so without further ado...


Ariadne's Thread by Stephen Callen
Bloody Mary by Erica Land
Booker T. by J. Hol
Boys In Red by Jeffrey Davis
Danny Longlegs by Keli Rowley
Dimmesdale by Doug Molitor
Divorce In The White House by Dane Edward McCauley
Empire of the Wolf by Michael Kogge
Felix The Flyer by Christopher Canole
Fire and Rain by Phil Smy
Fishtown by Aaron Schnore
From the Old World by Adam Mosher
Fury by Dane Edward McCauley
Good Ole Boy Band by Jason Ancona
Good Television by Matt Dallman
Healing Marie by James Ossi
Heavens to Betsy by Brad Hennig
Ink by Eric Anderson & Scott Smith
Iron Men by John Metzner
Jerusalem Idol by Lewis Papier
Jonathan's Missing by Leslie & Michael Green
Kakakarma by Carlota Bennett
Lost Souls by Bryan Carrigan
Magick by Jeff Spry
Masque by Kellen Hertz
Mister Perfect by Carri Karuhn
Rational Panic by Robert Rhyne
Red & Dead by Patrick Udomsak
Richard by Kathryne Sheard
Rochester by Terry Frazier
Scent by Ronald DiPrimio
Sherlock & Jack by Jeff Wolverton
Shroud of Darkness by Max Adams
Sole Pursuit by Jason Siner
Stars and Bars by Troy DeRego
The Art of the Dodge by Donna Miller
The Big Four Oh by Bernie Felix, Jr.
The Brick Layer by Laqueta Lewis
The Contest by Melanie Winstead
The Curse of Nostradamus by Robert Williams
The Dollmaker by Ned James Beedie
The Fraternity by Jeff Wiegand
The Joshua Device by John Connell
The Magick of Time by Patricia Joyce
The Man Behind The Man by Michael Brand
The Newly Dead Game by David Warfield
The Rut by Kevin Caruso
Time Surfer by Sandi Steinberg
Tray People by Fred Pakiewicz
Trio by John Unger Zussman & Patricia Zussman
Tyler Hudson's Christmas Eve Adventure by Carol Hoffman
Vincent's Shadow by Don Perez
Viral by Mark Kratter

Monday, June 19, 2006

SEMIFINALISTS - to be announced 6/24

Hi folks, since we had a lot more quarterfinalists than we anticipated, and since we want to make sure every one of them gets read again, and because we need to make sure we have the absolute best, top 50, we are bumping the announcement of the Writers on the Storm semifinalists to 12 noon SATURDAY 6/24. We apologize for the extra couple of days. Now we've got to get back to reading those scripts!

--Portia Jefferson

Friday, June 16, 2006

Rock N' Roll Nightmare on DVD!

Way back when, in the halcyon days of the late '80s when Republican presidents were sane and big hair still rawked, I had the pleasure of working on a little film called The Edge of Hell (later renamed Rock N' Roll Nightmare for VHS release.) Conceived by my brother-in-law John Fasano (who went on to an excellent screenwriting/directing career) as a ultra-chee-Z camp rockin' horror flick, we assembled a team of our friends -- artists and sculptors all -- in John and my sister's basement to sculpt all manner of wacky monster puppets on a budget of $3. Literally. Oh yeah, and we also all starred in the film as heavy metal icon Jon Thor's band. That there was some fine actin', let me tell you! The finished film came out laughably, wonderfully bad, and has garnered a sizable cult following over the years.

Well, I am happy to say that Rock N' Roll Nightmare is finally coming to DVD June 27th in a glorious, feature-packed special edition brimming with outtakes, a Thor documentary and and hilarious commentary from Thor and Fasano. If you live anywhere near Burbank, stop by horror bookstore and collectibles shop DARK DELICACIES on July 5th at 7 PM. I'll be there along with Fasano and my sister Cin and others involved with the movie signing DVDs. Dark Delicacies is located at 4213 W. Burbank Blvd.
Burbank, CA 91505.
Check out the review at DVD Maniacs. Then stop in and ridicule me for my outrageously bad Aussie accent in the film. Well, at least I get to play drums, get laid AND eaten by a zombie. Which I consider to be a great way to spend the day. Friggin' A, mate!

Pre-order the DVD from Amazon HERE.

(Good Lord, me with blond hair!)


Thursday, June 15, 2006


Picking the WOTS semifinalists... this is the really hard part, for several reasons. First, there are a lot of really good scripts in the quarterfinal round. Whittling 200 scripts down to 50 is going to be very hard.

But definitely not as hard as it will be for the 150 of you who get eliminated in round 2.

Yep, that's a killer. May even be harder than getting knocked out in round one, because you've maybe gotten your hopes up a little bit. And 3/4 of you are going to have to be jettisoned. Ouch. Man, I feel for every one of you guys that happens to.

The folks who make the semis and get eliminated before the top ten, I feel less sorry for. They can still use that semifinalist status to plug their careers and feel confident they're good writers whose scripts need more tweaking than a big rewrite.

We're going to be using a points system in the QFs to hopefully help with the elimination process. This is the exact same scoring system we've been using to judge the CS Open Live Writing Tournament for 5 years, and it works well.

We'll have those semifinalists next week!


Monday, June 12, 2006


Hey guys,

One of our quarterfinalists asked a good question -- are the QF scripts going to be read again, or are they simply going to be advanced based on the scores from the first round? The answer is yes, we are going to reread all the quarterfinalist scripts with fresh readers. They will not be privy to to opinions/feedback from the first reader. As for the 50 semifinalists, same thing -- they will all be read again by a fresh set of eyes.

The top ten will be read by me personally along with UCLA Co-Head of the Screenwriting Dept. Hal Ackerman, our top 3 CI analysts and select industry friends. I've deliberately kept myself out of the loop as far as the feedback goes and have no idea of what the analysts have thought of each script so far (with the exception of the folks who entered through Coverage, Ink and made the quarterfinals -- although I have not personally read any of those either.)

One other comment: One fellow wrote me to say that he thought we were treating the Coverage Ink clients with kid gloves, since they only have to get a consider with reservations for script to make it to the quarterfinals. In fact, exactly the opposite is true. As any CI client will tell you, our analyses are thorough and tough. When you sit with a script for 8 hours dissecting it, you find a lot more issues than if you simply read it and write up a quick paragraph of mini-analysis. It's actually harder, not easier, to make the quarterfinals through CI than if you had submitted directly to the contest. The trade-off there is that CI clients get the ammunition to improve their scripts and are then encouraged to do so and then resubmit directly to the contest. In short, they got a second chance, and several CI clients took advantage of that. So in the end, I think it all balances out in terms of fairness.

regards to all,

Jim Cirile

Friday, June 02, 2006


So what's next? What are you guys all going to do with those scripts? Have any marketing plans? Going to take the summer off? Going to take some classes?

Me, after taking a 9-month sabbatical to recharge my batteries and earn a certificate in the UCLA Professional Program in Screenwriting, I plan on jumping back into the game again. I've got two new specs nearing completion. And when I say nearing completion, I mean they still need quite a bit more development (which is a kind way of saying they still kind of suck eggs.) My long-suffering agent is probably going to have a cardiac when and if he sees new material from me. (Don't laugh. It's happened before. Agent Bobby Littman, may he rest in peace, left the planet shortly after sending out one of my specs many years ago. Coincidence? Hmm.)

How about you guys? What are you going to do with those scripts you submitted to WOTS? Have you entered them in other contests? Does anybody have anything interesting going on career-wise? Let us know!

--Jim Cirile


Hi folks -- Just a quick note to let you know we should be able to get all the mini-analyses sent out by June 9th.

Best wishes to everyone who participated.

--Jim C.