Friday, May 19, 2006

ZICREE ON HOW TO SELL A SCRIPT OR MAKE A MOVIE


Just wrote this for the Scriptwriters Expo attendees. It goes over a lot of the basics. (By the way, that's me with FRANK DARABONT, director of THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and THE GREEN MILE, and the inimitable RAY BRADBURY.)

Hi, guys --

I promised yesterday to send you the straight dope on selling scripts and making movies. The article follows the info below..

As mentioned previously (and someone asked for the list in an email today), Elaine and I -- the Supermentors -- offer the following services:

1. SUPERMENTORS WEEK CLASS IN WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA. Limited to ten students. $699.

2. SUPERMENTORS SIX WEEK LONG DISTANCE CLASS VIA PHONE, COMPUTER, WEBCAM. $699.

3. ONE-ON-ONE CONSULTATION. $300.

4. SCRIPT READING. $500.

5. NINE DVD HOW TO MAKE IT IN HOLLYWOOD COURSE. $229.

Feel free to email or call us (323) 363-1259. You can read more at www.zicree.com and www.supermentors.com

And now on with how to make you into the next Spielberg, Lucas or even Ed Wood...

HOW TO SELL A SCRIPT AND MAKE A MOVIE

By Marc Scott Zicree

Okay, so here’s where we all started – we saw movies when we were five years old, ten, fifteen, twenty, and it changed our lives forever, filled our heads with romance and adventure, with places near and far, with amazing, exotic, beautiful, profound, unforgettable characters – and more than that, taught us how to live our lives, what heroism meant, and loyalty, and friendship, and love. Movies defined our lives, served as our common mythology. Movies made us, all of us, who we deeply are.

And so now we want to be PART of that, not just on the receiving end, but using this, the most powerful and magnificent art form of the 20th and 21st centuries, to tell OUR stories, to reach out to others, to move and change and uplift and enlighten them (not to mention entertain and delight), just as we ourselves were enriched, were made better, truer, more rounded human beings. Movies allow us not just to live OUR lives, but those of so many others. We contain worlds, thanks to movies.

I can tell you from personal experience that it’s a terrific thrill to see one’s work on the big screen, sitting in the dark with hundreds of others, to be able to go into any video store in the country, indeed any place in the world, and know your work is there, that it has moved others, that you have taken a truth from your own life and communicated it well and effectively to others, that you have created something new that never existed before, something that will live on far beyond your own life.

Pretty cool, huh?

So okay, nuts and bolts, where to start?

The first question to ask yourself is, “Do I want to sell a script or make a movie?”

These are two radically different questions, and they relate to the kind of life and career you want. But here’s a piece of advice – the more you take power, the better things generally will go.

Or to be more specific, let’s lay out two scenarios, both stemming from this initial premise: you have a story that you want to tell as a movie, that’s how you see it in your head.

So, scenario one, you sell it as a script:

Now, before you even do that, READ scripts, get the format right, you might choose FINAL DRAFT or MOVIE MAGIC as your screenwriting format. A script should be no more than 120 pages, 110 is better. It should have lean descriptive passages, not big blocks of text (assume a reader is only reading the dialogue and skipping the rest; make it easy for them to get the info). The dialogue should be distinctive, human, with varied voices (everyone doesn’t talk the same). Cast each character in your mind with folks who have distinctive vocal styles – either actors, friends or family members. Don’t write clichés – if a scene bores you, it will bore everyone else. Make sure there’s something interesting and fresh on every page. Ideally, every scene should advance plot, character and theme (though that’s not always possible with every scene). Avoid exposition; i.e., flat recitation of story facts (“As you know, Chalmers, the device you hold in your hand can cause the core of the earth to implode…”). Be INTERESTING.

Before you ship it, have a professional writer read it and give you feedback. Make sure it’s as good as you can possibly make it. This person should have made a living as a writer, ideally have SOLD their own scripts. The teachers at UCLA Extension fit that category. So do Elaine and I.

But NEVER send out a script if it isn’t ready. And don’t try to sell a pitch, unless you have a really strong writing sample ready. They need to know you can WRITE. (You’re in it for the long-term career, not the one sale.)

And remember the great rule of Hollywood – EVERYONE HATES TO READ.

That’s why most executives don’t read the scripts themselves – they have readers, overworked and are underpaid souls who have to read vast amounts and essentially give detailed book reports. Some of these are great people, some of them should never be brought anywhere near a stack of pages.

So make it easy for them, quick, snappy, entertaining.

But your goal is to get as high in the food chain as possible. Meet the people whose work you admire, in person, go where they’re speaking, or interview them for a newspaper, magazine or website. Don’t just be a query letter, or an unsolicited submission. You will get lost in the shuffle. Stand out, be distinctive, be perceived as someone who might have something on the ball.

THE BEST SCRIPTS OFTEN GO UNNOTICED. Quality does not guarantee success – but SMART perseverance frequently DOES.

Get on the radar screen any way you can. Get people to refer you. Enter and win contests. Be a bulldog.

And write and keep writing. Unless you’re writing, you’re not a writer. You’re a talker. Get good at it, learn your craft.

Make sure you’re mentored by people who have specifically succeeded in what you want to do. Sometimes you can write them letters (care of the Writers Guild, for instance), or take classes from them, or meet them via personal referral. But make sure you have SOMEONE to advise you who knows what the hell they’re talking about. This is the biggest mistake most people make – they’re flying alone in the dark. Don’t make that crucial error.

Try as hard as you can to submit at the highest level possible. Most executives have the power to say no, but not to say yes. Unless you’re being considered by at least a vice president of development, the odds are hugely against you.

Having an agent or manager is helpful, BUT make sure they’ve sold a spec screenplay previously. Amazingly, many agents NEVER have. Do your homework, use the VARIETY database to see who has a track record.

So all right, you get your script air tight, get it in front of the yes guy and – hooray! – he BUYS it. End of story? No, only the beginning.

Because you’ve just given away all the power. And they will make it any way they damn well please – or, worse yet, NOT make it. Sadly, many scripts that are bought by the studios never get made.

That’s if they purchase it outright. If they option it, then it reverts to you after a period of time. But you’ll often get paid considerably less (or no) money for the option.

But you can make a good career selling script that never get made. Many of my friends do.

But that’s not the life that would satisfy me.

Which gets us back to the initial question: What kind of career do you want? If your goal is to make money and you don’t mind your work being butchered or never made, then scenario one may be right for you.

(And this isn’t to say that some scripts don’t get made into wonderful films. But if you want to increase your chances, ONLY submit to people whose work you truly love and who have a track record of respecting the original writer’s work. Do your homework, via the Hollywood Creative Directory and other sources.)

And this also speaks to another vital questions, one which you MUST ask yourself:

“What do I stand for?”

This gets to the core question of who you are, what you believe, what you want to communicate through your work and your art and your life itself. You MUST answer this question, really take time with it, or you will end up writing crap and working with monsters who believe in nothing and your life will be dust and ashes.

Not to bum you out or anything…

So, scenario two, you make a film…

Not as hard as it sounds nowadays, depending on the genre. You can get a G4 with Final Cut Pro and a Hi-Def camera for under ten grand, and you’re good to go.

Hey, it’s less than a new car.

And you’ll be creating something that’s truly YOURS, not a pitch, not even just a script (which is really just a blueprint, not a finished work of art; that’s the movie itself).

So here we go: The first few steps are the same, write a script, get it read by a pro for notes, polish it till it’s right.

But THEN we diverge from scenario one, because now you’ve decided to not just be a WRITER but also a PRODUCER or DIRECTOR (or both).

Take Dov S.S. Simmons’ two-day film school (like Spike Lee and Tarantino did), get it on tape or DVD, or buy his book FROM REEL TO DEAL. It gives you all the basics, with no bullshit. The real thing.

Then start gathering your troops. Make sure your cast and crew are solid, reliable, talented. If they’re actors, make sure they can act.

And if there’s any way possible, have at least one NAME actor in it. (The best way to get in conversation with these folks is to go to science fiction conventions where the stars sign photos, or the Hollywood Celebrities Shows, held twice a year in Burbank.) It won’t be Tom Cruise, but it might be a TV star from a current show or a movie star from past decades. And that can help you land direct-to-DVD distribution or better; at any rate, it will get people to pay more attention.

How to get stars attached, you ask? First of all, if you don’t have the money in hand, NEVER try to go through the agent. They just want to know about the money. (By the way, when you meet an actor and he says, “Call my agent,” he’s generally blowing you off.)

Most of all, though, you need EVIDENCE that you can pull this off. That’s where the short film comes in.

RUN, don’t walk, and buy or rent NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. Watch the short film they made that’s an extra on the DVD. That short got them the money to make the movie. Watch the SLING BLADE short, too. Same deal.

The short should be the same tone and logistics as the full-length film. It should also be the same genre. It does not need to be the exact same story. But it should have a beginning, middle and end all its own. And you MUST have the finished screenplay in hand to present with the short. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time.

Additionally, try to have your movie be relatively inexpensive to make. If it’s a hundred-million dollar sci-fi extravaganza, you’re gonna be trying to get checks from orthodontists for the rest of your life.

Beyond the short film, other visuals can be effective selling tools: artwork, storyboards, etc.

But make it as easy on yourself as possible to actually get to production. Because many people run in huge circles just trying to get the Hollywood bigwigs to sign on. Remember, once a film is made it speak to who you are and what you do; it’s clear.

And then your career has really begun in earnest.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course. Feel free to call me at (323) 363-1259 with further questions. But take heart, don’t stop, don’t be dissuaded. The reward is well worht the blood, sweat, tears and heartburn.

You can live forever, as my friend Ray Bradbury says.

Cheers,
Marc

2 Comments:

At 5:40 AM, Blogger Being Now said...

Marc:

I'm so glad you started this blog. Being away from the table and L.A., you keep me connected with lots of people whose work I love, including yours!

How wonderful for you and Frank Darabont to meet and share wisdoms. I love his work.

And you are right, of course. Ray Bradbury is quite inimitable.

 
At 9:27 AM, Blogger michael said...

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