Monday, July 24, 2006


For those of you trapped in Hel-LA with me you know it's gotten surface-of-the-sun hot out here. At this point, anyone who doubts we are in a period of Global Warming is nuttier than G-Dub. That said, I bowed to the corporate conspiracy and installed an a/c to save my little pooch from certain death since I can't drag him on all my little errands and meetings, or into Starbucks with me, and wouldn't ever ever ever leave him SURVIVOR-style to suffer through the heat. Now with these rolling blackouts in effect and knowing that my a/c will just shut down, I'm thinking of installing a doggy pool in the kitchen....

For those of you with pets, I found this article with suggestions on how to keep your dog from dying. From the folks in Phoenix:

Pets can also can get heat stroke in the summer. The signs of heatstroke
1. Heavy panting, rapid heartbeat and glazed eyes.
2. Dark or bright red tongue and gums
3. Excessive thirst
4. Staggering or dizziness
5. Vomiting and bloody diarrhea

What to do:
1. Lower body temperature by applying ice packs or cold towels to the head,
neck and chest.
2. Immerse in cool but not cold water, since very cold water constricts the
blood vessels and slows cooling.
3. Give your pet small amounts of cool water or have it lick ice
4. Take your pet to the veterinarian even if the animal seems better.
Internal organs can be affected by heatstroke.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Feedback Requested

I've really enjoyed blogging here over the last few months (you guys are great company!). As you may know, I usually plan out the posts for at least a month in advance to save me having to think (aka procrastinate in front of Project Runway...) when I'm swamped. I was going to try winging it, but find the last few posts unsatifying for me to write, so I can't imagine they are that interesting to read.

Before I return to my regularly scheduled broadcast (I wanted to do a mini-series about managers and then delve into the studio casting process), to ask for feedback about the blog. There are tons of bloggers out there who cover writing, I've come across a lot of readers who are blogging, no working/DGA directors so far, and a few other exec types (we'll see how long they last since they are still working, presumably, they are probably also under pretty strict NDA's....). I want to make sure my blog stays relevant, not redundant, and entertaining.

Anywho, thanks for reading, commenting and sharing with me and one another. I appreciate it. I also appreciate folks who linked to my posts (I'm obsessed with my Technorati rating which is sick, sick, sick.). I try to link to folks, or at least give their internet "handle" when I can because I like this little circle of filmmakers building up around me. So, next time you blog...PICK ME PICK ME!! Toss me a link. Pretty pretty please?

It's hot out here in LA, so I'm headed to my hairdresser (naturally) to get about 3 feet of hair cut off my head so I don't die in the sun. It's tough staying so sexy when I'm all red-cheeked and sweating like a hog. Let me tell ya. ;-)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Budget, Casting and a Package

OK, many moons ago, I posted about this indie film I'm producing (make it already, right?). Well, I'm in a little crunch period with producing chores falling from the sky like snow to bury me. I recently found out that a dear friend (which in Hollywood terms means I'll return every call no matter the hour or my friend's employment status) has started packaging indie films at the Big Three Agency where (s)he works. Yippee!! At the very least I can get some idea of what the landscape is for my little movie, and at the best (in my wildest lazy-ass-I-just-want-to-stay-home-and-write dreams) it means I'll have a one-stop shop to put my movie together and the person helping me already has a vested interest in being honest and getting me good actors and a good deal.

Also, a kick-ass line producer has agreed to do a budget for me and Saturday I'm meeting with my casting director of choice who is excited that I'm excited. :-)

All of this to say, I have no idea how it will affect my blogging, since I'm known to retreat to the internet for procrastination....


Hopefully, my little movie will get made, I'll get a little bread for my butter, and then I'll find a writer for my book adaptation a/k/a The Project That Would Not Die! Yeah, I got high hopes, brother. Believe it.

In other news, I'm getting strong feedback on the short film I wrote, but the questions people had really surprised me. That's why you give it out, right? No one can think of everything, not even me. Damn it. OK, I actually am much better at taking notes than I used to be (I read super close, so it irks the shit out of me when others don't and ask questions like, "So this Vic Mackey guy is really unsympathetic. Honestly, no one will want to watch this guy" or worse "Where are they? Crash-landed on an island? Oh! Oh, I thought they were in Australia still...."). I'm slowly learning to enjoy the process as a way to speculate about the what if's and the could've's with someone else -- like running two systems in parallel to get more operating memory....

And finally, I officially finished DRAFT ONE of my feature spec. I'm in a finishing frame of mind right now, so I'm immediately starting a draft of a TV spec I'd put down when this producing stuff picked up, and I have another short film I need to polish that's hopefully shooting in the next month. After that, another draft of my spec feature, the 2nd hundred pages in my fiction book, and the first draft of my second spec feature. By the time I'm on set in my de-luxe producer's trailer *snark* I should be sitting pretty with at least 3-4 usuable samples for TV and feature writing work.... That's the plan anyway. And you know I love to plan....

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Biggest Mistake

So, last week, workmen came to my little rental cottage to do some work on the floor in the living room. There were four days of chairs stacked in the kitchen, books all over the floor in the bedroom and the dog acting like a weirdo because he couldn't get access to his favorite spot on my bed. After they finished (new carpets look great), I took advantage of their burly muscles to rearrange this big-ass teak dining room table I have so that it faces my big-ass tv.... The biggest mistake I've made this year. I've written almost nothing since Friday. I've been watching Kathy Griffin's show, Project Runway, Best Ranger 2006 (those guys are HOT), and other things not fit for polite company.

I think it's actually made me dumber. I even watched SAHARA. Groan.

Anywho, I'm off to Starbucks right now (I didn't make it yesterday because of the boob tube). I did manage to squeeze out eight pages very late, after watching HEX, and THE THING. Geesh, I may have to drag this table back to where it was before....

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Back to Blogging

I'm still working (mostly) out of the house, but before I head out today, I thought I'd post a little bit. The Sample Letter got the most hits I've ever had, so I didn't want to bury it. If I can figure out how to add the links on the side, I'll set up a greatest hits list....

Anyway, from the comments section:

I have a question! If I am in the hip pocket of an agent, is it rude of me
to contact producers myself?I'm sure it is ok, because I still have to be my own
hus[lt]er.What if I have a deal pending that said producer has negotiated, but the
final draft has been stuck in limbo forever? Can I contact producer and nudge
things along myself? I guess all I'm asking is, is that rude?

This one is tough since your job is to write and keep writing. My rule of thumb is to always be gracious and have the agent be the pest. That's sort of why you are paying them. I'd make one call to the agent and ask what the hold up is (it could be a deal point or the other side is broke). If it's nothing material, meaning the producer is just not paying attention, then I'd call the producer up and in a very friendly way ask when the deal will close and what you can do to facilitate. I'm assuming you don't have another buyer for the project, so you can't really push too hard since you have no leverage. Then, have the agent call and close the deal.
If that doesn't work, you either go nuclear and pull the project and try to sell it elsewhere, or you write something else and if the producer asks about it, tell him "Oh, I don't want to muddy the waters with another deal until we've cleared the deck on our last one." And smile real pretty. I've had some things take almost a year to close and had to talk my writers down off the wall. That may not be the case here..... Anywho, my two cents, worth less than you paid for it! If anyone else has relevant experiences/solutions please comment away.....

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


This is only a test. I can't really access blogger from the place I'm toiling my days away writing (probably a good thing since I've noticed my page count is up when my posting is down. Hmm...), so I found a way to send emails that theoretically post themselves.... We'll see.

Anyway, good things going on, nothing too lucrative, but I'm talking to a great line producer about doing boards and budgets for my producing project. He's done a number of films at this budget level, in my main location (NYC) and in this gritty street-drama genre, so I know he can get good deals. He's a fan of my director and was really impressed with the short film we screened last month. Fingers-crossed. I'm also out to a couple of casting directors. I allowed several months for this stuff to happen because Hollywood has its own timeline, and sure enough I'm now on the outer edge of what I thought it would take to get the preliminaries completed.

I feel like I've sort of exhausted myself on the agent posts, but if anyone feels like they have unanswered questions feel free to comment. I may do a little bit about managers if I have the strength.

In the meantime, I'm 15 pages away from the end of the first draft on my feature and I already have a thousand ideas for how to rewrite the thing. I'm trying (hard) to follow my own advice and just write pages, but it's sooooo tempting to go back and fix things. Bad Diva! Bad!!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Sample Query Letter (Really)

It occurs to me that perhaps the basic text of a query may be of interest to folks who aren't familiar with Hollywood business correspondence. Feel free to cut-paste and freestyle your asses off with this one.

The letter should start like this:

Your Name
City, State[2 spaces] zip code


[ten spaces]

City, State[2 spaces] zip code


Now, this part is important, use the agent’s first name but put a colon so you look like you have some sense.  Most agents are only functionally literate anyway, but you are a writer, so look like one and use a bit of proper grammar here.  In Hollywood, it’s more jarring to read one’s last name in correspondence than it is offensive that a stranger would call you by your first name.  I’ve met folks all the way up the corporate ladder and Alan Horn is Alan, Mike Eisner is Mike, Amy Pascal is Amy and …well, you get the picture.  

Dear [Agent's first name]:

OK, as previously mentioned, the best query letter results from personal contact.  That can mean a cold call to the agency -- you pick an agent, call the agency sounding officious and ask to speak with the agent's assistant (bonus points if you can get the receptionist to tell you the assistant's name before you ring through, so you can really sound like you are doing big things) -- or going to a screenwriting conference and speaking with the agent (however briefly) so that you can say something like:

Dear [assistant’s name]:
Per our conversation [last week, on date], I’m writing to request a release form for my acting reel/screenplay/directing sample -- [blah blah blah title] --

If you can’t get through, chicken out, or otherwise decide that life’s not worth the pain of humiliation, then you can send a more general query:

I’d like to submit my [insert whatever you’re submitting, script, reel, film], [insert title here] to you for general representation.  [insert snappy evocative logline].

[3 line blurb about your life experience, schooling, awards, festivals anything that makes you sound like you might be interesting in a room]

I appreciate your time regarding this matter.  In order to facilitate my search for representation, I have included a SASE for your release form as well as a prepaid postcard should you not be accepting submissions at this time.  

Best regards,

[your name and signature]
Your email
your phone no.

enclosure: SASE

The temptation will be great to do a little diary entry/autobiography here.


Agents have zero time.  Zero.  They are all inches away from a nervous breakdown.  Increasingly they are relying on small boutique management companies to do the work of sussing out and developing new writers.  When you approach one, your query should be as professional, succinct and evocative as possible.  Your goal is to get a release form and a read.  The cold calls can save you from spending postage on agents that aren’t looking for new clients.  It’s painful, but a necessary evil.

I, personally, had my assistant respond to any postcards with checkmarks that were pre-paid because I could just yell out my answer.  We tossed submissions that came unsolicited, and sent a pass letter to all the queries, usually within 3 months.  Sometimes longer, but I liked to shovel things out of my inbox as frequently as possible.

Most writers really can’t write query letters so don’t get low self-esteem over it. Hire somebody to help you. This isn’t college, no one is going to bust you for cribbing.  Find a publicist, marketing, sales or advertising copywriter to pull together a package for you.  Be smart about it – meaning don’t go rushing off and spend $2,000.  But, this is your career.  You have to get work.  You get work with an agent.  Don’t bust your head open doing something you’re not good at.  Happy querying….

Thanks, Bianca!

I'm one of those people who likes to put people together, so it's always fun for me when you guys identify yourselves. I hope that you are also taking the time to link through to one another's profiles and blogs and commenting and building a community through this whole Blogosphere thing. It's worked well for politics (look at Kos and the rest of them), and I think it can work for filmmakers as well. Plus it's free. A big factor for indie filmmakers.

Anyway, my opinion of Bianca's comment:

My writer friend is now under consideration at the management firm. Is
getting a manager easier than getting an agent? Is it beneficial in the early
stages of one's career?

This is a purely subjective thing and depends on how and what your friend writes. Having a manager can help because you don't have to do the relatively hard work of sending out samples until an agent will sign you, and your manager acts as a "friend of the court" in introductions to agencies, giving you an edge over folks sending in samples cold. The flip side is they take about 10-15% of your gross income and with the agent taking another 7-10% and the attorney getting 5%, plus taxes at around 36%-48% (after commissions, thank god), you realize a little less than half of any payday you "earn." An uptown problem, but one that most writers don't consider before signing a 5-7 year term.

Now, if the manager is someone who is going to take care of you, meaning develop your material in-house, introduce you around, and in general plan your career, that's value. Some managers attach themselves to their clients' material as Producers and either double-dip (they count their commissions against any unrealized producing fees) or hold the material hostage against their fees and credits. I know many managers who actually make money off their clients' work whether or not the client does, (e.g. talent managers who get a "reading" fee or producing fee just to get their client to read the script) and some who actually make more as producers than their clients' writing services are worth, so they hold up deals while they negotiate a good producing package for themselves.

I also know some really great managers who genuinely care for their clients, don't want to make a million dollars a month on the backs of poor writers, and who have excellent story sense.

I don't know if that answers your questions, but I hope it helps. And I'd love to hear how it all turns out.

P.S. I have a manager who I use like a development executive for my story ideas, but I also spend a fair amount of time planning my own career.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Another Question

Here's a new question in from the comment box.

Is the deal with short films the same? Do you write a query letter and ask to submit your short or is it better to get your short into festivals?

Short films won't get you too far, unfortunately, unless you have a crack team around you hustling to get you a feature. Now, that's not to say you shouldn't do one, but if you aren't a writer-director, then you're better off saving up for a feature. Festivals help, but directors get hired by directing samples in the same genre and at the same length as their target jobs. Any directors with reps who want to chime in should please do so, I always like to get direct info whenever possible myself.

Random Scattershot Approach

I'm not even going to pretend like this post will make any sense. It's a few hours before the blazing SoCal sun begins to roast my poor little tomato plants to death and I've got to hustle out of here to Starbucks where I can freeze my ass off writing. I'm planning to 'q later today, so I've got to get in at least 10 pages before then.

Jutratest writes:

I did acquire an agent recently. However they are only working for me on a
case-by-case basis. Meaning, I find the deal, they negotiate. They don't
actively find me work, which is fine for the moment. I'm just curious about how
to encourage him/her to aggressively sell my material. However, I am still
working on that material at the moment, so I'm getting ahead of myself. From what
I can tell, the Canadian system is a tad bit different from the American system.

Some agents don't want to do more work. Hopefully, yours isn't one of them. In the States we'd call this arrangement being "hip pocketed." For a writer without much material to sell, this situation can work. The key is get out there on meetings, and to be introduced around to folks who might be able to hire you to do some work, or purchase an idea that you have. If you've been working your Plan, you can nudge the agent to submit your material to places that are looking for what you've got.

Don't leave your success to someone else: an agent, a manager, an attorney, a producing partner, a spouse, a friend. Work your plan. The best way to get folks motivated to work hard for you is to work hard for yourself. Have a conversation with your agent on a regular basis about the best way you can help, keep track of who is producing, directing and buying the types of material you create, and treat your work like the business that it is. You may want to talk to friends about their agents to see if there is more that yours could be doing for you. It takes years to really build a career, so as long as you stay on top of your craft, creating new material and the market for that material (which means all the players who buy, sell and make it) you'll be do well.

If you haven't seen Ewan McGregor's motorcycle film, I recommend it. I'm taping the Fox Reality channel's back to back episodes right now, and just the little bit I've watched while typing this has made me laugh. The bit where they eat sheep testicles is Hi-larious.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Pre-Lap Please

A friend of mine invited me to watch her new movie in "fine cut". She has about 4 weeks left before she is going to lock picture. The film is a comedy and is playing about 96 minutes long.

Directors can fall in love with their work. Don't. Just like writers learn (or they better learn) to kill their babies, directors need to learn when to get out of a scene, a shot, a moment. There are times when you do need to dwell, but in your first cuts eliminate as much as possible. Once you have a cut that works, if there's something you absolutely love and will feel like a sell-out if you don't include it, put in HALF of it just to see if it plays. Then, dub that down to dvd, call it the director's cut and remove the bit from the final cut of the film. You've had your say. We get it. We just want to watch a movie.

This particular film actually played fairly lean. At 96 minutes it was too long because it lacked a few solid character scenes to establish the emotional backstory of the character (which is not the same as factual backstory). A common thread in the comments after the screening was that folks wanted to know more about the lead character's family background. This speaks directly to a character's emotional backstory. Audiences don't get stuck on the facts too often if the emotional story is working. They also don't look at their watches.

And lastly, audiences are reacting to the beats in the story in real time. Follow the audience's reaction time not the characters in the scene. This means pre-lapping the audio (bringing the audio in before we cut to the speaker) so that we, the audience, can react with the listener hearing the joke/dramatic speech. This will make your cut tighter, the jokes that work will feel lighter "on their feet", and the ones that don't (but that you can't cut for whatever reason) will fly right by. Do not worry about audiences laughing over any dialogue that follows. That's an uptown problem, frankly, and I have no sympathy for you if that's your biggest concern. Comedians don't take the stage and tell a killer joke followed by an unfunny joke. They pace the delivery. In a comedy you want the audience to have so much fun, they want the movie to last longer.

Now go kill some babies and drop me a comment to tell me how it went.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Big Submission

If you have been following the posts about this, you already have: 1) The Plan -- this is the list of all the folks you want to work with, who you think will understand your work, and/or folks who you have personally interacted with who have expressed an interest in hearing from you again (or at least haven't taken out a restraining order on you or had your number blocked on their phone); 2) Materials in a quantity and quality appropriate to represent what it is you hope to get paid to do; 3) Persistence, a can-do attitude and an account at Bev-Mo to see you through it all.

There are any number of ways to get into "play" at an agency. Write in and let me know what your particular journey is, since it's great for all of us to learn from one another. Within my own personal observation (and experience) the best way in is personal -- meaning, submitting to a friend. I like to do a short "pitch" of the types of things that I'm working on, find out what types of clients an agent is representing, see what their "agenting philosophy" is and tell them how I'd like to run things to see if we are compatible. I also have the advantage of knowing many of the executives I want to submit to, or avoid. Keeping an active social life helps in all of this, so once I finish up my latest samples I'll be hitting the bricks and showing up at homes all over LA....

If you haven't toiled in the belly of the beast long enough to know (m)any agents personally, then you need to get really good at cold-calling and writing query letters. The letter itself isn't really that important. It has to state: your name, what you write (e.g. I write action films), give a one-liner about whatever your best sample is (e.g. My latest script is a character-driven action film. Set in the year 2029, the ruling super-computer, Skynet, sends an indestructible cyborg, a Terminator, back in time to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor before she can fulfill her destiny and save mankind.) and ask if they are accepting submissions for representation. I do not recommend submitting to places that ask for a reading fee. Places like that tend to be run by folks who can't make money otherwise, since at the big agencies readers are on staff, and assistants are motivated to look for new clients because they know this is how they will make their bones.


I'll repeat that for the ambition-impaired.


Wait until the agency tells you if they want the sample, and for them to send you a release form. There are a lot of terrible things that can happen to a sample. Many of them you've heard about, but one of the worst is over-exposure. Once a sample has been read around town, folks just start reading the coverage of the sample. Which is why it's important to have quality samples to send around. No matter how long it takes you to write them.

If you are getting poor responses, or no response, then your sample just isn't good enough. Tough break. It sucks, take solace in the fact that even folks who've worked consistently get mixed responses from different agencies and readers at those agencies. It's important to keep writing new samples, working on your craft, and always thinking ahead to the next point on your Plan.

I recommend submitting in batches of no more than 2-3. I think submitting up to 10 can work in very specific circumstances, but since there really aren't that many agencies, it's better to stay a little "below the radar" and pick the agents off one by one. The blanket submission approach works best if you have a sample that has gotten such strong response that it really is only a matter of where you'd like to be repped and by whom. Submitting in small batches is better because if you get a positive response you can follow up without distractions or stressing yourself out with difficult ethical questions -- like what to do if two agents are lukewarm and one has a slightly better plan for you, but the other one is more powerful. Multiply that by 10 and you could end up with no agent and a reputation for being deceitful, flaky or, worse, too Hollywood. Not good.

OK, so, go write your query letters. Next time we'll go back into this Plan business, I'll refresh your memories and talk about how to follow up once the letters go out.

P.S. Jutratest -- if you want to be specific I'm happy to add my 2 cents (and I hope everyone else does, too) into your idea-hopper.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Agent Submissions

Previously, we talked about what you should submit to an agent. The next bit in this series will be about how to submit that material, and to whom said material should be submitted. I'm torn about whether or not I should actually list agents since I don't want to endorse or trash any agents or agencies in particular. If what I write feels too non-specific (otherwise known as vague), blow up the comment box with complaints and I may relent (or send you to Complications Ensue where that nice Alex Epstein can name names).

OK, these posts may take a little bit for me to write up, so bear with me. I've got to make some phone calls and see what people are looking for, so I can give good dish.

In other news, I'm done with the indie project (for now, I promised to address any last minute notes they come up with tomorrow morning since they start shooting in four days), and now I'm back at work on my own stuff. My director on the producing project gave excellent feedback on the short that I hope to direct in the next few months. I was a little scared to give it to him to read, since that can sometimes become an awkward thing that ruins a good development relationship (especially if he had, like, hated it or something), but it turned out to be something that he really enjoyed reading, totally "got" and he gave me two very precise character notes that I loved and immediately implemented. Thank God I got over myself and gave him the script. I try to check out as many blogs from my regular readers as possible, but please feel free to share your good, bad or uglies in the comment box. I like getting the mail! :-)