Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Ten Ways to Hit the Ground Running in 2014

by Jim Cirile

Ahoy, friends! The New Year is upon us, and that means it’s time to reflect on how far we’ve come in our writing and look at how best to move the ball down the field in 2014. Rather than make a list of resolutions (which you all know are never kept for long,) I always prefer to look back on the previous year to see what I've learned writing-wise.

This past year has been pretty good. 1) Learned how to write comic books. Had two published. 2) Am learning how to write 1-hr TV drama. This is a bit more daunting than I thought, but am working on it. 3) Learned how to create TV bibles and pitch documents. 4) Set aside 2 hours for writing every day (this has been the absolute hardest thing to maintain.) 5) Developed two horror features, over 20 drafts each, as well as a comedy spec (in the works.) 6) Made some great friends/strategic partners.

So that’s the good stuff. The bad stuff includes the inevitable barrage of passes on this project and that (I’d be lying if I said they didn’t all sting a little bit. I mean, two decades in Hollywood definitely imbues one with a thick skin, but even so, every rejection is another tiny knife-twist;) a couple of projects that went nowhere, and of course a ton of time wasted on procrastination. And believe me, I am a professional crastinator. But I’m not the only one. Every time I log onto the abhorrent social media time-suck that shall not be named, I get another notice telling me that one writer friend or another has hit level 87 in Candy Crush Saga. Hmm. (If you detect any trace of judgment in that, please note the hypocrisy of my logging onto the social media time-suck to observe such behavior in the first place.)

http://www.coiverageink.comBut the passes, man, oy. At some point the enormous weight of realization hits us – that this crazy writerly path we’ve chosen basically amounts to a mighty and indefatigable torrent of rejection, relieved only by occasional, brief moments of false hope. LOL, I’m kidding of course. Sort of. Far from the joy of creation that we all feel while working on a script, the reality of trying to be a successful writer really kinda sucks. This is why six years ago I said Screw Hollywood. Tired of the grind of sending out spec scripts and more often than not getting nowhere, I decided to take the power back and start producing. So we made two shorts, “Showdown of the Godz” in 2008 and “Liberator” last year, both featuring geek icons (like George Takei, Lou Ferrigno and Peta Wilson.) “Godz” underperformed, but “Liberator” won awards and led to a successful comic book series, international distribution (coming soon) and potential series which we’re shopping now. Yeah, we’re still in the hole on these projects in a big way. But the main thing is, we didn’t have to wait around for someone else to say yes. It’s sort of like when you get stuck in traffic. You feel powerless. Now if you manage to pull off and take some crazy-ass side-street detour, you feel much better simply because you’re moving -- it may take you just as long to get there, but at least you’re not sitting there.

Our most recent production "Liberator", a gritty superhero short, winner of 10 awards.

Most importantly. “Liberator” led to meeting our producing partners on “Malevolent,” our upcoming motion comic feature to be directed by “Liberator” director Aaron Pope, which shoots this year.  It’s all very exciting and brings us one step closer to our goal of turning Coverage Ink into a full-fledged prodco. Of course, we’re still writing and shopping projects to Hollywood as well. So none of this DIY stuff is instead of. It’s in addition to. As creators, we need to use any and every avenue available to us, because you never know when one project might open the door to another one.

So moving into 2014, how can we hit the ground running? Here are ten ways!

1) First things first - are you REALLY ready? I’m not trying to sell coverage, but I am saying that ideally you should have a consensus opinion from your trusted advisors, whoever they may be, that your script is FREAKING GREAT. There’s no shame in doing another draft or ten. My producing partner Tanya Klein and I  have literally been working on the “Malevolent” script for a year and a half. Coverage is great, but if you have free options, such as knowledgeable friends or peer-to-peer websites, go for it. It's all good. If you need more training, don't be afraid to take a class. To quote Animal House, "Knowledge Is Good."

2) Plan your attack. The industry basically comes back, ready to read, after Sundance, meaning that’s a great time to send out material -- whether you have representation or not. Make a list of companies that have made projects similar to yours in the past and then call or query the lowest person on the totem pole there. Why? Because those are the guys who actually read, not the established producers. And in a few years, they’ll be the execs. Right now they’re looking to discover an awesome piece of material that they can champion (and hopefully make them look good.) You can search similar movies and TV projects on Netflix and Hulu, then find company rosters on imdbPro (a $129 annual subscription.)

3) In general, querying agents is a waste of time. Most established agents are too busy servicing their client list to read anything unsolicited. The only way to get to them is by referral. Instead, focus on managers and junior creative executives at production companies. Their job is to read and find new talent. However, don’t overlook agent’s assistants. That’s right, these people are all learning the ropes and have plans to be agents someday soon. Many are quietly building their own lists and hip-pocketing clients. So befriend the assistants and get them invested in your project by getting their notes and then actually taking their advice (and let them know it.) Within a year or two they’ll probably be promoted and you’ll be along for the ride.

4) Pitch away. Pitch fests are pricey, yes, especially if you’re flying in. But you literally get five minutes of face time with a panoply of key industry people. If your concept is strong and you present well, this could lead somewhere. I met one of my best industry connex at a pitchfest a dozen years ago. Great American Pitchfest, InkTip Pitch Summit and Ken Rotcop’s Pitchmart are all worth looking into. Of course, if you’re a natural schmoozer, then get yourself on the list at some parties or go to Sundance and work it, baby.

5) Consider pay for access. InkTip.com, Blklst.com (The Blacklist) and virtualpitchfest.com can all open doors – or they can be a waste of money if you’re not ready or your material doesn’t have a strong hook or that certain je nais sais quoi. InkTip specializes in smaller, “below the radar” prodcos not serviced by agents and managers, so they’re a good place to post your dark, indie crime thriller or low-budget horror script. Blacklist has had some amazing successes and their process is smart, but the odds of getting anywhere are low. Virtual PitchFest offers queries to key industry folks who actually read for about 10 bucks each, with a guaranteed reply (although that reply is often ‘no thanks.’) I know it works because a top CI associate got signed from VPF.

6) Contests. Well, there are 457,322 contests at last count, and only about seven of them are worth your money. While it may help your ego if you make the top ten of the Terre Haute Screenwriting Jamboree, it probably won’t do bubkis for your career. We recommend Scriptapalooza, Tracking B (feature and TV,) Final Draft Big Break, Script Pipeline and the Nicholl Fellowship (our own Writers on the Storm is on hiatus in 2014.) As for the others, save your $$$.

7) Write the best damn query in the world. Keep it short and sweet! No more than three paragraphs. The first paragraph is your intro (in which you convey a very brief and fascinating snippet about yourself); the second, the logline and mash-up (It’s “Gunsmoke” meets “The Poseidon Adventure”!), and finally, the thanks and witty rejoinder. Remember, you have about 5 seconds from the time the Creative Exec opens your mail till the time she hits delete. If your query looks pro, and by that I mean tight, snappy, and shows off a clever concept, you’ve got a shot. Remember, last year’s Black List darling RODHAM was a query sent to our own Agent’s Hot Sheet panelist, producer/manager Richard Arlook from The Arlook Group. Arlook never reads scripts off queries, but this one he could not resist.

By the way, did you know that Coverage Ink will review your query letter for free? Feel free to send it along to info@coverageink.com. Just another of our premium services we don’t bother to charge for. And we won’t try to upsell you, either.

8) Multiple irons. Despite all this, you’re still going to get a lot of passes and “silent nos” (you never hear back.) So buck up, bucko, and move forward regardless. It helps to have several projects going in different stages, so that while one is out for coverage you can work on something else, etc. This also makes it easier to shelve something that’s not working for whatever reason and move on to something else. We all have to back-burner projects from time to time (a movie with a similar concept comes out, meaning you’re dead for the moment, or you get burned out on the rewrite process, etc.) Accept this as part of the cost of doing business. You may be able to recycle that material in the future. But the main thing is, if you have other things in progress, it’s easier to adopt a “screw them” attitude towards the naysayers. Remember: you’re an unstoppable freight train, and you ain’t slowing for anyone. Everyone best either climb aboard or get the hell outta your way!

9) Shake it up. If you’ve been in the same pattern for a while and haven’t been getting any traction, man, do something else. There are a million ways to be a writer or creative-type. If you’re a would-be or even working feature scribe, well, features are getting harder and harder to move, while TV is more and more in demand. Sketch out a pilot idea. Or maybe you’re sick of writing thrillers. Try a comedy. Perhaps you’re bored with writing Hollywood formula. Try a novel or 1-act play or graphic novel or a web series. And friends, there is no better solution to the feeling of writing inertia than to write a scene or a sketch, shoot it in an afternoon and post it online. Talk about instant gratification! That becomes a work, something to show off, which could potentially lead to other things. And that leads us to…

10) DIY. Who says you have to wait around for an agent, manager or producer to get behind your script? Eff that noise. Hell, if you have a smartphone, you can shoot something and edit it yourself for next to nothing. If you want to do something a little more ambitious, maybe even with names, sets and lighting – you can STILL do it. Even if you’ve never taken a filmmaking class and don’t know a gaffer from a gopher, you can ally with people who do know this stuff (try craigslist.) Look, the budget on “Liberator” was about the same as the cost of a nice new ride. If your car broke down tomorrow, you’d find a way to pay for repairs or buy a new one if you had to, right? Because you NEED it. Well, how much do you need to be a screenwriter? Think about that.

Of course, it helps if you have a few other talented and supportive folks on your team. Got no connex or like-minded friends? Take a film or writing class or find a writing group. I met the award-winning editor of “Liberator,” Mark Oguschewitz, in my old writing group. If you will something into existence, others will see your drive and want to jump aboard. Getting a little money is relatively easy -- credit cards, Bank of Dad, crowd-funding, what have you. But the force of will must come from you. So. How much do you want it?

I hope these tippers may have ignited a few synapses amongst you guys. I look forward to hearing lots of awesome success stories, as well as commiserating over a beer or two on the near-misses.

It’s a new year. Freaking own it.

Best regards,

Jim Cirile
Coverage Ink.com


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