Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Happy Halloween...?

To all who enjoy treat-or-treating, bags filled with candy, spooky happenings, horror movies, parties with friends and all that good cheer, I wish you a very, very happy Halloween.

For a lot of writers out there, it's a scary, frightening time...and not just because of the holiday. In what could be a matter of hours, a looming strike could shake things up in the entertainment industry.

There's a gross misconception that once a writer's lucky enough to make that first sale, they're either set for life, or able to live at least a little comfortably for if a six or seven figure paycheck is the industry norm, and residual checks flow into mailboxes in continuous, bountiful waves.

You can probably guess by now what my one-word reaction is to this notion. It begins with a "B" and ends with a "T".

Yes, there's a lot of rediculous money to be made in this industry. If and when the money comes, it can be good, but you have to learn to spread the wealth and make the most of it; it may be years before you get paid like that again. Most guild members are lucky if their work brings in over $5,000 a year -- and merely becoming a member of the guild is a challenge. (It took me several years, and when it happened, it was mainly because a friend of a friend chanced upon some of my work and liked it enough to support it.)

Most "professional" writers -- and by professional I mean actively working, and luckily getting paid for it -- really aren't all that different from you. In fact, many of them probably make a lot less in their jobs, have smaller bank accounts, drive used cars, or live in rented apartments instead of luxury homes.

I know. I'm one of them.

I'm not complaining, now. I love what I do, though it can be the most rewarding and frustrating job in the world. When I sold my first script, the money wasn't much compared to VARIETY headline deals (it was in the mid five-digit range) but to me, it was all the money in the world. I quit my job, bought a (used) car, and was determined to write full time and take on the world.

Less than two years later, I was flat broke. And I absolutely deserved it.

Another friend of mine wrote a spec television pilot that was bought by Sony six years ago. Miraculously, he did it without an agent. (How, you ask? Answer: his script was brilliant.) But today, he's still sharing his Los Felis apartment with a roommate, and relies on L.A.'s inadequate public transportation system to get around. He's yet to save up the cash for a new car; his credit's in the toilet.

Sure, there's something romantic about the idea of writing full time, but how do you afford to live? Eat? Get health insurance? Smart writers have a backup plan -- they work at another job, another occupation, and make the most of their prescious free time to write.

That's not selling out. That's survival.

So when you hear all this talk about a writers' strike, give pause. It's not all about overgrown children living off of trust funds, fancy houses and stylish sportscars... It's mainly about working folks, most earning significantly less each year than school teachers and mailmen, just trying to carve out a living one day at a time.

Talk about "unsung".

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Comments on the contest

My review of this year’s 2nd place winner, Adam McDaniel’s HEAVEN SPENT, has been a long time coming. There were two reasons.

The first wasn't my fault. I had my computer crash on Friday, and I lost everything just as I was polishing my writeup. My second attempt yesterday morning was lost a third of the way through when I accidentally saved something else under the same document that I'll take a wee bit of blame for.

It’s not that I find writing reviews to be troublesome, but doing coverage on McDaniel’s script has left me a bit exhausted. I can’t review it properly without making comparisons to this year’s other winners, Angela Schultz’s HELL FOR LOVERS and Ian Goh’s BORN IN THE RAIN…as well as comparing it to HOW TO SUCEED IN HEAVEN WITHOUT REALLY DYING, the “novelization” McDaniel made of his HEAVEN SPENT script.

OK, so there's a script review, a book review, and comparisons to two other scripts. This is a pretty outlandish situation I’m in. And it'll be round three, to
boot. All this writing’s giving my fingertips scars. (I beg your patience, Adam. My review will be coming up shortly. Promise!)

I've received some emails questioning my selections for the contest, with messages like, "Were all the scripts that bad?", "Don't you like anything?", "Why are you so tough?", and "How f*cking arrogant and evil are you?"

My answers are: Of course not! / Sure I like things -- just not everything. / I'm getting more selective. / A little arrogant, but isn't calling me "evil" pushing it?

One question that might deserve a more detailed answer is why I chose BORN IN THE RAIN as my #1 pick, after going on and on in my review about its flaws and my frustrations with it. Though I don't think it's sporting to have to justify my feelings, I'll try to shed a little light on them.

First place was a close close that had it not been for the limited gift prizes, I might have called it a tie. McDaniel’s script, to be frank, clearly was the more polished and tightly written of the two. (Again, I'll post the review soon.) And whereas Ian Goh’s story sort of meanders at a leisurely pace, McDaniel’s moves constantly forward, has the stronger structure, dramatic buildup, and a much (MUCH) better ending.

But I guess I just couldn’t escape the feelings deep, deep down in my gut – or under my skin? I’m not sure just where they were... but I do know that Ian Goh’s story haunted me like no other. It is obviously created
with so much love and care, such deep feeling, longing and soulfulness, you can't help but embrace it in a big, tight hug. Heck, after reading it you might even feel like taking the screenwriter out for a beer.

And for that, BORN IN THE RAIN remained my choice for the best script of 2007.

Since I'm on the subject on contests, I'm trying to come up with a similar venue for book manuscripts and POD titles. This blog isn't all about least I'm not intending it to be.

If any of you have any ideas, suggestions, comments, etc., that you feel would improve this site (or make it more interesting), go ahead and fire me an email.

Monday, October 22, 2007

HELL FOR LOVERS by Angela Schultz

I want to thank everyone who participated in our first annual screenwriting contest! A lot of the material I received was truly wonderful and exciting, so even if your script wasn’t selected, I sincerely appreciate your willingness to share your writing with me.

When the contest was first announced, my inbox was flooded with submissions, but then there was a long dry spell with only a handful of scripts coming in at any given time. Fortunately another wave came crashing down in the days leading up to the deadline…including not one, but two new favorites for 2007.

Here’s the funny thing – rather, funny things. Not only were these two scripts written by guys whose work I’ve previously reviewed… Not only did I receive them around the same time…

These two scripts, written by two different authors (whom, I later learned, also started writing their respective scripts in 1999), are both romantic comedies about the supernatural, featuring twisted notions of heaven and hell…and paperwork. Heck, they’re even both set in New York City, with situations involving the Statue of Liberty and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and share some identical gags and jokes about the afterlife!

Coincidence? Fate? Plaigerism? Good/bad luck? Great minds thinking alike? No idea. But, as it should be with any reasonable critic, all that matters at the end of the day is that these two scripts are both really well written. Not to mention funny as hell. Literally.

Today I’ll start by reviewing this year’s third place winner, written by Angela Schultz. Angela, whose script PROGGER tied for 2nd place last year, was kind enough upon learning about my laptop troubles to email me the little cartoon you see here. It’s a fitting joke for both of us, as my computer – and her script – have hellish elements within them.

written by Angela Schultz

Contact information:
PO Box 101
Valley Stream, NY 11582
Telephone: (516) 568-9710

This supernatural comedy digs deep into the old adage, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” exploring the argument between consequences vs. good intensions with a lot of comic effect.

It follows a young man by the name of Clyde Dantes (cute name), who, while casually visiting the local dining pit (“Hamburger Heaven” – again, cute name, if not all that subtle), finds himself an unfortunate pawn in the mother of bad circumstances: a violent hold up by a charming biker fellow (with the charming, and appropriate, name of Blood and Guts) and his also-charming-ladyfriend-accomplice, Wilted Flower. (You gotta love Angela’s use of names.)

Out of desperation, Clyde, looking to control the situation through the best of intentions, manages to overpower Wilted Flower and points her gun at her head, hoping that her malevolent partner won’t call Clyde’s bluff. He’s rewarded for his bravery when, stumbling onto the scene, the police shoot Clyde dead, mistaking him for the perpetrator.

This opening scene is hilarious, so much so that the larger storyline that follows – while also funny and worthwhile – doesn’t quite measure up. But strong beginnings go a long way, and this is one of the strongest I’ve read.

What follows, of course, is Clyde’s adventures in the afterlife…and alas, it’s not all billowy clouds and pearly gates. Seemingly sent to hell through an extremely unfortunate technicality, Clyde finds the burning netherworld to be not only filled with the usual fire and brimstone, but a hell of a lot of paperwork. (No pun intended. And just you wait until I get to reviewing Adam McDaniel’s HEAVEN SPENT.) There he is forced into hard labor, where he and his fellow Damned mindlessly shovel Satan-knows-what into Satan-knows-where – slaves who, with each passing day, risk losing more and more of their former identities until they can’t remember who they were, or how or why they got there. This is the ultimate prison camp.

It’s also an unlikely place for a love story, but hey, if divorce can be hell, why couldn’t a courtship? While on duty Clyde falls for Mac, a young woman in the middle stages of dehumanization, still with the vague notion of who she is, but little memory of her former life.

Much of HELL FOR LOVERS is literally set in the depths of hell, and to say that Schultz’s depiction has scope is a serious understatement. Hell is big – huge! – and, understandably, Schultz relies on the common vision sprung from Western Pop Culture, with cloven-tailed red demons, walls and oceans of fire, writhing bodies piled high, etc. etc…

But while these scenes in hell, and there are many, are treated with suitable tongue-and-cheek humor, they also present an unavoidable problem. Hell becomes really, really tiresome.

Schultz, for her part, does her best to keep things light. It’s a comedy, after all, and a playful, broad comedy at that. But setting most of your script in such a world is a pretty daunting, exhausting challenge to ask of a moviegoer.

(Not to mention the production! What a challenge this would be to a production designer or, worse, a location scout! How the heck could you actually film this? CGI or no, you’d be looking at a budget well north of $100 million… And who would do the catering?)

The only other film I can think of that is almost completely set in a fantastic afterlife is WHAT DREAMS MAY COME…a movie that, while thoughtful and gorgeous, was also so overwhelming and bogged down with its own self-importance that its grandiose special effects became more of a burden than a blessing. And that movie was primarily set in heaven.

If HELL FOR LOVERS was a children’s cartoon, hell would be painted exactly the way we’d expect it to be. That’s precisely the problem. It doesn’t offer anything new, and while it’s big and grand and epic, it’s lacking in imagination and originality. (Think of how hell appeared in, say, JACOB'S LADDER. If you've seen it, you almost assuredly remember the scene I'm talking about.)

It’s not until Clyde and Mac escape from hell that the script really picks things up again, and Schultz’s writing returns to form. Leaping their spirits into strangers’ bodies (like Patrick Swayze did so well in GHOST), the two fight to unravel a conspiracy (Satan and his minions are fudging their paperwork to enslave innocent souls) and learn the truth about why they were damned in the first place (Heavenly angels aren’t that much help), all the while being pursued by demons through the streets of New York.

This script is…pretty out there, and Schultz dedicates far too much time on demons bantering and bickering at each other, instead of her (much) more engaging lead characters. But it’s all in the name of big, goofy, silly schtick, and HELL FOR LOVERS, though not perfect, is still rousing, engaging fun.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

THE BEST OF 2007!!!!!!!!!!

Yeah. I'm a day late. I know.

Last night I was right in the middle of writing up proper reviews to go with my announcement of the winners when, I kid you not, my laptop crashed. Perhaps the computer gods are not in agreement with my selections, but I couldn't blame them.

First place was down to two scripts. I was juggling them back and forth, over and over, but in the end, I decided to make a compromise of sorts. You see, the situation was a bit complicated.

Does this confuse you? Fear not, my fellow writers, for all shall be explained in good time. I will have the full reviews, the descriptions, the reactions, everything for you to read shortly.

But for now, allow me to present my favorites for 2007!

HELL FOR LOVERS by Angela Schultz

HEAVEN SPENT by Adam McDaniel


All winners shall receive a subscription to SCRIPT MAGAZINE, while Ian shall also receive the latest FINAL DRAFT software, thanks to the company's very generous donation.

My hearty thanks to everyone who submitted.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Winners will be announced Friday, Oct. 19th

The winners of our 1st annual screenwriting contest will be announced in exactly one week!

THE FINAL DRAFT SCREENWRITING AWARD (cue drums, epic bombastic score) will go to our first place winner. It's not a trophy, but something better: a copy of the latest FINAL DRAFT software, courtesy of a generous contribution from...that's right...the FINAL DRAFT company!

The first, second, and third place winners will also receive a subscription to SCRIPT MAGAZINE.

Monday, October 01, 2007


The contest, hopefully the first of many, has now come to an end!

I've responded to every entry I've received, so if you sent me a query but have yet get a confirmation email, please contact me at once.

If all goes well, new script reviews -- and the names of the winners -- should be posted by the end of the month!