So you want to be a screenwriter?

You’ve decided to write a script and make it big.  You’ve found a great story that, for some reason, you think other people want to read (or see for that matter).  You’ve written it and are now ready to shop your script to producers and directors.  Shopping your script is the first mistake, which I shall address on another day, but if you are determined to have someone else make your movie – there is something you should know.

Not only has The Industry become lazy and formulaic when it comes to storytelling (and you’ll have to comply as well), it is now imperative that every screenplay must look and feel identical.  Coming up with a good idea to write about is one thing.  Coming up with a good idea people are willing to pay for is another.  But the most important thing – the thing they never tell you – is that you MUST BIND YOUR SCRIPT LIKE EVERYONE ELSE!

Never mind the story.  Never mind the content.  It’s come down to this: If your script does not have those common, unsightly and second-rate brass “brads” attached to the top hole and bottom hole – your project is worthless.  They will tell you that only amateurs go to Kinko’s.  Because “everyone” knows you MUST OBEY THE RULE OF THE BRASS “BRAD”!

Never make the horrible mistake of placing it in a three-ring binder.  And never, ever, put “brads” in all three holes!  Because “everyone” knows you’re supposed to only use the top hole and bottom hole.  A writer I once knew told me his script was returned unread because he’d placed a “brad” in the center hole.  As ludicrous as this might seem, this is no joke.  It’s really happening to people.

Most of Hollywood can’t understand how to read something unless it has these brass fasteners.  But let that be a lesson.  Do I really want to work with people who are obsessed with the binding and not interested in my cast, financing, marketing plan or that seemingly, from their point of view, irrelevant part known as cinematography?  Come to think of it: No… I don’t.  I want to work with people who can understand pictures and sentences, too.

On my street, I bind scripts professionally.  I love the look and feel of it.  The appearance says: QUALITY.  DISTINCTIVE.  IMAGINATIVE.  And those emotions happen before reading the first sentence!  Going one step further, I like to include photographs and sketches that assist in setting moods and atmospheres – the kinds of things that separate a motion picture from a novel.

Still, it doesn’t do any good.  Several years ago, a woman named Elizabeth called me from Miramax and said she was excited to read my script.  I made the horrible mistake of sending it to her.  Several days later, she telephoned and told me, “It’s perfect for Dimension, so I sent it to them.”  I was livid because she was passing it around without my approval.  I asked for her to return it at once.

I received the script the following day.  When it arrived, I found it had been completely dismantled.  The crucial photographs were removed from the script, and the binding was replaced by those stupid second-rate brass fasteners!

Now, it’s not like I only had a few pictures.  I’d actually placed one on every other page. So it was clear to me that someone had wasted an entire afternoon going through the script page by page and removing 125 pictures.  Isn’t that silly?  They had to make it look like all the other scripts in order to understand it!  Also, I looked up on staples.com and those stupid “brads” are called “standard punch brass fasteners.”  So next time you hear a dimwitted industry executive say “brads” you will know the extent of his or her mental capacity.

There is something to be said about going against the norm.  Doing things in an unorthodox manner separates you and your material from the millions of people and scripts milling about the basin.  But for some reason – fear of not fitting in, perhaps – most people will continue to worship the “brass brad mentality” and end up looking like everyone else.  Sure, they’ll fit in.  But no one will see them because seven million other people have done exactly the same.

My advice?  If you feel the need to write something clever – simply eat something spicy and the feeling will pass.  You’ll be much happier in the end.

(Originally published in Aftertaste Magazine in 2004.)

SELLING YOUR MOVIE: The First Rule (Part 1 of 2)

Upon hearing any kind of feedback from someone, I keep this in mind.

A person’s notes or feedback does NOT tell you about your movie.  What it does is tell you about THAT PERSON.

It’s a pretty unique way of thinking about something, and sometimes it’s hard for people to wrap their brains around it, but try and follow.

By hearing a person’s perspective about something, we learn more about that person.  They tell us what they like and don’t like.  That simply means we now know what that person likes and what that person doesn’t like.

As you unveil your film to buyers, festivals, end viewers, you will be inundated with everyone’s two cents on what he or she would do better, what they love, and what they didn’t like.  But keep in mind, that unless that person is writing you a big fat check, or sending the private jet to fly you to Wherever for the screening, none of their feedback really matters.  Actually, the only aspect of their feedback that can help you is by learning how better to communicate to your audience in your marketing materials.

If someone tells you “it isn’t funny” then you might consider removing the words “comedy” or “funny” from your advertising plan.  Likewise, if “it isn’t scary” then you might consider swapping out the word “frightening” with “drama.”  And so forth.  But never change your movie to suit everyone’s tastes.

When an audience (you and me) goes to watch a movie, we know what we’re going to see.  We’ve seen trailers, clips from scenes shown on TV interviews, press junket Q&As with actors, photo stills, websites, we’ve read tweets, facebook posts, heard music, etc.  We have a very good idea the kind of tone the movie will have.

When a movie executive, festival selection committee, or distribution buyer or sales agent watches an unreleased movie—they have none of these things.

Anyone who walks in to watch a movie totally cold will not have an honest perspective of what they’re watching.

The only people (industry-wise) who might be useful watching a movie cold are advertisers and marketing people.  They aren’t worried about the details of a storyline, or a scene, or the micro-attention to certain characters.  That’s not what the advertisers or marketers are thinking about.  They’re thinking about how to communicate to the viewer (the audience member) everything the viewer needs to set some expectations.  So that by the time the viewer buys a ticket and sits down to watch the film, they know exactly what kind of ride they’re taking.

This is why your presentation to agents and executives must be paramount.  (No pun intended.)

The entire purpose of making the press kit and to have a list of blurbs, is to tell the viewer what it is they’re about to see.  It helps communicate something more, and sets up an expectation.

If your film is different, unusual, you might consider presenting it in a different unusual way.  Then the movie will come as no surprise.  Without any kind of set-up, the viewer could be expecting something standard or normal.  And then, when those expectations are not met, they will either dislike the movie or be confused.

Imagine not knowing anything about SharkNado and sitting down to watch it, only hearing the one-liner.  Perhaps you’re expecting Twister with Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton.  What a surprise that will bring when the credits start rolling.

Advertising is everything.