Blog Archive

Script Coverage Chronicles -- December 2014

Three Thoughts On Writing For TV

I talk about movie scripts a lot, but I've given feedback on many TV scripts as well. Based on my experiences as a writer, a screenplay consultant and a competition judge, here are three thoughts on writing for TV:

One: Write The Pilot Before Finalizing The Bible

When writing for TV, it may seem logical to nail down the pitch bible before turning to the pilot episode.  In reality, it actually makes a lot of sense to go ahead and draft the pilot when the bible is still at a very preliminary stage. 

Before you draft a pilot, it’s difficult to know exactly which elements will work in the actual show.  A character trait or plot formula that sounds great when described in a bible may actually be difficult or impossible to execute well in a script. 

And if an element is difficult to incorporate into one script, it will be hell to do it over and over again for multiple seasons. 

Two: Conserve Your Story Energy By Keeping Your Arcs Wide Open

In reading for contests and giving notes through my consulting website, I’ve come across a certain kind of pilot script multiple times.  This kind of script is chock full of strong writing.  It’s a great read.  But at the end of the pilot, I think: “Something's wrong.” 

It’s a fantastic pilot, but the series is already out of fuel.  Why?

Sometimes it's because there's no obvious story engine (i.e., no source of overall ongoing conflict), but not always.  

A more subtle problem is that a key character arc has already been resolved or nearly resolved by the end of episode one. For those who write for features as well as for TV, the urge to write fully realized character arcs is understandable.  In feature scripts, character arcs should be visible, and resolution is your friend.  In the best pilots, you can’t see whole arcs at all; you only see suggestions of arcs. But sometimes it's hard to resist pushing that arc further.

Similarly, you may be tempted to resolve a conflict between two characters in a pilot, with the intention of providing an emotional and entertaining moment, but ask yourself: Are you doing more harm than good here?  Are you sacrificing the energy fueling many later episodes for a single moment? 

That’s not energy efficient.

To put it another way:  A producer once said to me that he reads feature scripts from a lot of promising writers, but too often all the good stuff is in Act One. While it’s not as obvious, the exact same issue occurs with pilots; you can’t put all the good stuff in the first episode. 

Three: Consider “Setting”

How many times have you watched a TV show and wondered what city it was set in?  A lot of shows make little use of setting.

Similarly, in many pilots I read, there is very little sense of setting at all.  I think it’s an underused device in TV writing, one that has the potential, given the right locale, to set a script apart. 

Consider the extremely popular CSI Miami; it mined a great deal of entertainment value from its Floridian-urban setting.  The City of Miami is a vibrant element of the series, which may be one of the reasons the show was so tremendously popular worldwide.

Setting isn't an essential ingredient in every popular show, but it is another tool for every TV writer to keep in mind.

Script Coverage Chronicles -- November 2014

Three Thoughts on Pitching

1. It Matters How You Say It

I flew into Los Angeles from New York one afternoon and headed immediately the offices of a well known production company to practice a pitch we were taking out to several studios the next day.  The President of the company, who had brought me in to do this, was too busy, so she handed me off to her Vice President.  The Vice President was also “busy” and handed me off to his assistant. 

Although a little thrown off, I went through my twenty minute pitch for this assistant.  But I was dehydrated from the flight and not as prepared as I could have been, so I recalled facts a bit too slowly and generally stumbled through the whole thing.  It was obvious the assistant hated it. 

The Vice President then felt he better listen to it, and again I floundered.  He didn’t have any ideas on how to make it better.  I don’t think he thought I was worth the effort.  He didn’t seem at all enthusiastic about our meetings the next day.

That night and the next morning, I worked really hard on being more prepared.  Our first pitch was to Fox, and this time I didn’t hesitate.  I didn’t stumble on my words.  And because I was prepared, I could focus on delivering the pitch with confidence and energy.

It went over well.  Suddenly, the production company's Vice President who had seemed completely uninterested changed his mind about the project.  Now he thought it was worth his time. 

Here’s the thing: It was the exact same pitch.  Same characters, same wording, same everything.  The only thing that was different was my delivery. 

It matters how you say it.  A lot.

2. It’s Not A Performance; It's A Meeting

You could mistake what I just said to suggest that a pitch is a performance.  It's not.  It's a meeting.  A business meeting.  It's not a dramatic monologue.  It's a conversation.  

Now, I now some writers are "memorizers."  They don't like being in a room, and they're much more comfortable talking from a script. After all, that's what we do, right?  We write scripts.  

If you need to go this route, there's a way to make it work.  I remember a producer telling me that she was working with a "memorizer" type writer.  And, at a pitch, the writer told everyone in the room in advance: I'm a memorizer, please excuse the monologue.  The producer told me this actually ended up being really endearing.  

So the lesson is, if you need to deviate from the "business meeting" nature of a pitch, then state that in advance.  You'll have a much better chance of being received well.

3. Be Open To "Selling" A Small Piece Of Your Pitch

Producers and executives are often working on many projects at once.  A screenplay you're pitching may have one element or idea that could be incorporated into another project. This has actually come up several times for me: a producer/exec honing in on one character or story moment in one of my pitches and applying it to a project already in development.  My advice is to be open to that kind of conversation if it arises.  It may get you hired as a writer.  At the least it will get another producer/executive on your side.

Script Coverage Chronicles -- October 2014 

Development Heaven: Dealing With Notes On Your Screenplay

We’ve all heard the term development hell.   For many writers, the phrase immediately conjures up thoughts of pointless, sometimes-insulting notes from multiple producers and executives who seem to have no aim other than to ensure that your script goes nowhere.  In light of this common nightmare writers seem to share, here are a few thoughts that may or may not be comforting:

1. It’s hell for producers too.

What they want is to write one short note:  “It’s perfect!”  They really do.  And they’re stressed out when they realize they can’t.

Sure, there are some idiots out there, but there are many excellent (and yes, even creative) producers and executives, and they’re working with diligence and integrity towards the same goals you have: getting movies and TV shows made. 

An “us versus them” attitude really doesn’t help.  In fact, it makes things much, much worse.  If we writers can get past that adversarial stance, we may find -- like the main character in Jacob’s Ladder -- that producers aren’t demons trying to tear our stories apart but rather angels trying to lift our scripts up to cinematic heaven. 

Or something like that :-)

2. It helps if you actually listen to them.

When I first began to make a little headway in screenwriting, I got a chance to work with a producer who had a first look deal with Warner Brothers, one of the guys whose office sits on the studio lot.  This was a great opportunity!  Unfortunately, I completely blew it. 

Here’s how:

This guy wanted to develop an animated film similar to Madagascar, but one with very unusual, lesser-known animals, not well known animals as in Madagascar.  He explicitly stated that he finds it annoying when new writers decide to trump his guidelines and follow their creative muses. 

I finished our meeting, and I went back home and started coming up with ideas.  Suddenly, I had what I thought was a really creative idea.  The thing was:  It didn’t involve an unusual, lesser-known animal.  It involved a monkey. 

No, it wasn’t exactly what I was asked to do, but I figured the idea was so good that this producer would immediately forgive me for deviating from his initial instructions. 


He was really annoyed that I ignored what he had said, and we haven’t worked together since. 

Lesson learned.

3. Many times, if you really think about it, the notes you get make sense.

Nobody likes to be wrong, even in a draft.  But don’t think of it as wrong.  It’s just that it might not be quite right.  Yet.

Many times, I’ve reacted emotionally to a note and started to get frustrated, and then I thought, well, now that I think about it, the producer has a good point here. 

Once we get past the knee jerk negative emotions, notes can actually help make our scripts much better!  

Script Coverage Chronicles -- September 2014 

How To Write A Query Letter

Several writers have asked me about query letters.  Here is some query letter advice based on my experiences as well as a form of query letter that has worked for me.

Credentials First

Whatever accomplishments you have (contests or otherwise), lead with them.   Anything that helps you gain credibility is the best choice for a lead sentence.  After that, once you’ve established some basic street cred, readers will review your logline with more receptivity and focus.

Prove Your Talent

A query letter is a sales pitch in which you need to demonstrate that your script is worth reading.  You can’t just say it is.  You’ve got to prove it. 

For example, if you’re pitching a comedy, it doesn’t help to say, “My script is hilarious.”  You shouldn’t have to say it.  Your logline should imply comedic ability.  You can also add a funny detail or two.   

Be Brief

Open with your best credential, or maybe two, not a rundown of every moment you consider progress in your career.

Move quickly onto your logline and keep it short and punchy.  Make sure the genre of your script is clear.

Add a couple of details that show your script is likely to be entertaining and work well in its genre.  You don’t have time to summarize your whole story.  This is not the place for it.

Finish with a brief sentence asking for a response. 

Say thanks. 

That’s it. 

You don’t need or want to go on about how you’re dedicated or professional or a hard worker.  Any such statements will only work against you.

A final note:

Don’t fear rejection.  Rejection is part of the job.  It DOESN’T mean you’re not talented.  It simply doesn’t.

A Query Letter Template

Here, for what it’s worth, is a form of a letter that has worked for me in the past.  Good luck!!!



Dear [NAME]:







[Enclosure: SASE - IF YOU’RE SENDING VIA SNAIL MAIL (some still do it)]


Script Coverage Chronicles -- August 2014

  Three Lessons From My Disastrous Pitch To Wilmer Valderrama

Wilmer Valderrama is best known for his work as Fez on That 70s Show, but he’s also had considerable success in animation.

A few years ago, my agent called with an intriguing opportunity. 

In light of Wilmer’s hit animated series Handy Manny, Disney wanted to develop another show with Valderrama, and he was looking for family writers to come up with ideas.  My agent suggested I get on the phone with Wilmer and his producer and pitch a few concepts.

I was pretty nervous.  I’d never pitched to anyone famous before.  And this guy was a veteran of one of Fox’s longest running sitcoms.

I figured I’d have to be hilarious to get his attention.

I planned several “can’t-miss” jokes for early in the pitch, and soon after the phone call began, I hit the punch lines hard. 

Bad choice.

The response to my hilarious gags was cricket-esque.  After the second zinger clunked to pure silence, I actually asked: Can you guys hear me?  I was the desperate comedian tapping his mike and asking, is this thing on?

It turns out Wilmer is a pretty serious business-focused guy; at least that’s how he was on the phone with me.  He seemed less interested in my supposed hilarity and more interested in the big picture.

So I moved on from my ill-fated laugh-fest and pitched two ideas I had prepared in depth and was pretty damn proud of. 

Wilmer said little about either idea and then asked if I had any others, preferably something with a Latin-American element.  Neither my agent nor my manager had prepped me for this request, and I hadn’t foreseen it myself.

More than a bit thrown, I pitched a third idea – a makeshift concept I hadn’t really prepared for – but I didn’t want to give up. 

Well, actually, based on how this was going, I did want to give up.  But hey, if we writers want to be treated like pros, we have to act like pros.  And professionals do their best job, even on a bad day, right?

So I did what I could.  And that was it.  Unceremoniously, the pitch was over.  Here are three lessons I learned from the experience:


You can’t plan for everything that will happen.  Do your homework, yes.  Know who you’re talking to, yes.  But also be ready to switch gears mid-pitch.


It’s best not to “sell” a joke.  Don’t raise your voice or your tone to emphasize the sidesplitting thing you think you’re about to say. I’ve gotten the most laughs from producers by simply describing a situation that suggests funny things will happen.  If you’re a born stand-up comedian, then do what works for you.  But if you’re like most writers (funniest on the page), then this advice should help you.  Play the pitch straight.  If the material has potential for humor, it’ll come across.

And Three

Never give up on a pitch.  I was surprised to hear from my agent that Wilmer did take one of my ideas to Disney – that third idea I threw in to keep the conversation going. 

Disney ultimately passed on the concept, but I gave myself a chance by not folding when my jokes bombed and my meeting-prep faltered.

It can be nerve-racking as hell, but don’t let your energy level fall.  Keep talking, even when you’re crashing and burning, because the next idea might be a winner.  

Script Coverage Chronicles -- July 2014   

When You DON’T Want Your Screenplay To Evoke Emotions

Today I’d like to talk about emotions.  Seasoned screenwriters know how to trigger emotional responses, and intuitive newbies quickly learn to tug at the heartstrings.  It is without question a skill you need to master.  As in everything, however, there’s a catch. 

You need to generate the right emotions. 

If you play to the wrong emotions, your script may incite frustration, sadness or anger – not the way to sell a story. 

Let me explain.

Positive and Negative Emotions

People have this annoying need to feel good.  Movie audiences and screenplay readers are no exception. 

If your script inspires readers to appreciate what they have – bingo!  If it allows them, for a moment, to participate in romantic feelings that aren’t otherwise available to them – double bingo!

If your script happens to remind your readers of something really negative in their lives – not bingo!

Bad. Very bad.

If you do this, readers may hate your script, even though the writing is actually quite good, and even though they’re not fully aware why they hate it.

An Example of How This Can Happen

Alexander Payne is one of my favorite writer/directors.  In addition to other films he’s made, I very much enjoyed About Schmidt.

My parents, however, hated the movie.  

Since I found it so well written, I pressed them a bit as to what they disliked.  They had trouble articulating what they found so disagreeable.  They agreed that Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates did excellent jobs.  They just – didn’t like it.

Here’s the thing.  The film involved the main character retiring from his job.  My father had recently retired before seeing the movie.  He was very unhappy about being forced to retire, as was my mother.  

Watching a character retire on screen made my parents cringe from the moment the story opened.  For my parents, the whole premise stirred up negative emotions, and no amount of movie magic was going to rescucitate their bad feelings about this film.

As another example, I’ve noticed that tales about cheating spouses tend to risk stirring up very negative emotions in those that have been hurt in such a manner.  The same is true about films involving divorce, being fired, serious illness, death and pretty much anything else that reminds us of the dark side of life.

So What Does This Mean?

Does the possibility that some may react negatively to your emotional cues mean you shouldn’t attempt anything controversial?  No, it absolutely does not mean that.

It’s just something a screenwriter should be aware of.

When writing for a genre that typically requires a large budget and aims for widespread audience appeal, you should know that most producers will be wary of subject matter likely to evoke negative feelings. 

In dramas and other “indie” films, there is generally more freedom to experiment.  Still, there is always the risk in any genre that the arousal of negative feelings may impair the popularity of a story.

You may not care.  You may set out to write a sad movie for people who like sad movies.  That’s great.  

The point is to avoid accidentally inciting negative emotions.  If you don’t think that happens very often, my experiences in two large screenwriting groups argue otherwise.
Awareness is the key.  You’ve got to work to predict each emotion your script will arouse and ask yourself if you want it to do so.

In the context of soliciting feedback as well, it’s important to know that a particular individual’s negative emotions may be a factor.  If someone dislikes your work, it may not be that your writing is “bad” in any intellectual sense.  It may simply be stirring up “bad feelings.”  I don’t mean you should ignore such feedback.  You shouldn’t.  You should ask yourself, is my script likely to stir up such feelings in many others?  If so, is it my scripting strategy to purposefully stir up such feelings?  Do I want to do that knowingly?


When giving script notes, I try to be as objective as possible and not let my own emotions cloud my judgment.  But I do mention it if I think a fair number of readers may react with negative emotions.  In the end, it’s about a film’s effect on an entire audience and not any one viewer that matters.

Script Coverage Chronicles -- June 2014  

Two Types of Screenwriting Talent

First off, let’s address the issue of talent or no talent.  Do you have talent at all? 

Here’s the good news:  Most scripts I read show some talent.  So yes.  You probably have some talent!  The bad news is: Even really talented writers have to struggle to write a script that works. 

And now for more good news:  Identifying the type of talent you have can help you focus on the right projects and give you a better chance of succeeding.

Two Different Types of Talent

There are two types of talent in screenwriting: Horizontal and Vertical. 
Horizontal Talent

Movie execs need to worry about popularity. Popular stories generate big revenues. 

Writers need to worry about it too.  It’s hard to win major contests unless multiple judges respond positively to your script.  And it’s certainly not easy to get anything sold (at least to the major studios) unless multiple industry players agree on the quality of your efforts. 

But does popularity equal talent?

It’s a kind of talent, but it’s not the only kind.  The ability to get most people to think your writing is “pretty good” (the ability to be popular) is what I call “horizontal talent”. 

Popularity has its advantages, but there’s another kind of talent:

Vertical Talent

“Vertical talent” is the ability to get a reasonable chunk of people, say 25%, to think your script is “amazing” or “truly special”.  

Charlie Kaufman is a classic example of a vertical talent.  His movies are not overwhelmingly popular, but those who like them absolutely love them.

Which Are You?

Both types of talent can lead to success, but it’s important to ask yourself which type you lean toward. 

The more vertical your talent is, the more you’ll need to keep your budget low and focus on “indie” markets. 

The more horizontal your talent is, the more you’ll want to focus on business aspects such as genre popularity and buying trends.

Wait, There’s A Third Kind of Talent

This blog is taking an unexpected twist.  There’s a surprise third talent. 

What is this mysterious third type of screenwriting ability?  I’ll give you a hint:

It’s your job to push each script as far as it can go, both in terms of its popular appeal and its artistic excellence.  It doesn’t matter if it takes you ten drafts.  If you can get to a script that works, you’ll be proclaimed a great talent. 

The third – and most important – kind of talent is something called “grit”.  Grit is simple; it’s trying hard, consistently, for a long time. 

In the end, it’s about effort: writing multiple drafts of multiple scripts, getting feedback and responding to that feedback.

Without grit, neither vertical nor horizontal talent is likely to sustain you. 

But if you know yourself as a writer and then lock on to your career with a bite that won’t let go, your chances of success will be great!

Script Coverage Chronicles -- May 2014  

Three Common Character Mistakes

I've read hundreds of first drafts, and I see the same characterization mistakes again and again. Here are three of them:

1.  The Many-Sided Monster                 

I'll start with a controversial statement.  You need to write one-dimensional characters.  Yes.  You heard me right.  Your characters should have one dimension.  Let me explain:

Screenwriting 101 taught you to write multi-dimensional characters.  That’s not incorrect.  But it can be misleading advice.  It’s misleading because it skips a step.  

Seeking to create multi-dimensional human beings, many new writers give their characters numerous conflicting traits.  But when no one trait stands out, a character is an inscrutable mess with nothing for the reader to hold onto.

What you need to do is first create a clear, readily identifiable one-dimensional character (the by-the-book cop, the maverick, the stoner).   Then and only then should you carefully build in a character’s nuances.  If that first dimension isn’t there, the other dimensions present no surprise, no interest.  If that first dimension isn’t there, you don’t have a multi-dimensional character.  You’ve got no dimensions.
You don’t have a character at all.

2.  The Whiny Loser

We’ve all heard the business about petting the dog.  We all know it’s important for protagonists to be likeable.  Still, a surprising number of writers make their main characters whiny downers.

It may be because we writers also know that our characters are supposed to grow during the story.  So we start them out with flaws they’ll spend two hours fixing.   

The thing is, these flaws need to be likeable flaws:

The guy who works too hard at his job but needs balance.  The innovator who thinks for himself but needs to learn teamwork.   The truly considerate doormat who needs more backbone. 

There’s a reason these flaws get used over and over.  Audiences don’t hate these characters in Act One. 

“What about Tony Soprano?” you ask?   “How about Frank Underwood from House of Cards?”   Why are they not unlikeable?  Audiences are willing to forgive ambitious killers.  But whiny losers -- not a chance.

3.  The “Sixth Sense” Mystery Man

Sometimes writers want to show that one of their characters has some sort of disorder or condition or other complex character trait.  But they never come out and say it or show it directly.  Instead they feed the reader a series of subtle clues. 

For example, in one script I read, a character kept thinking things were too loud, failed to make eye contact and acted in inexplicably strange ways.  The writer needed to explain, outside the confines of the script, that this character had Asperger’s. The thing is, the story didn’t make sense until I knew this fact.

Was this a reading comprehension problem?  An intelligent reader will put subtle clues together, right?


The reason the famous twist in the The Sixth Sense works so well is because audiences (and screenplay readers) don’t put clues together.  They do it so poorly that a writer can count on them not doing it when setting up surprises. 

Unless you don’t want your reader to pick up on the truth about your character until the big reveal at the end, don’t rely on subtle clues to get a character trait across.  If you want your audience to know this character, don’t be subtle.  Readers have absolutely no sixth sense about such things.

By the way, the writer who wrote the script I offered as an example is far from a hack.  He’s actually very talented.  It’s just hard sometimes to get out of your own head and into the heads of your readers. 

That’s why feedback is so important.

Script Coverage Chronicles -- April 2014 

Setups And Payoffs

There are some scripting tricks you won’t find in the screenwriting books.  Here are three things I learned about setups and payoffs after years of writing and reading others’ work.

Expanding Your Setups 

Are readers not getting your big payoff?  That can be really frustrating.  I’ve seen it happen many times.  A writer believes a huge payoff moment is built into Act 3, but nobody seems to respond to it.

The problem may be in the setup.  Often when this happens, when people aren’t “getting” a writer’s big payoff moment, I look back at the setup, and the issue is this: 

The setup consists of a single moment or line of dialogue.  Even if that single line is well written, that may not be enough to stick in the minds of your readers. 

If people aren’t getting your payoff, try using an entire scene instead of a single moment to set the payoff up.  Readers rarely forget whole scenes, but they often forget single lines – or worse, miss them entirely.  Build a strong full-scene foundation for your set-up, and you’ll see those Act 3 payoffs paying off. 

Payoffs Don’t Have To Take Place In Act 3

Yes, payoffs work very well in the climactic moments of a story, and that’s where many well-seeded payoffs will have the greatest impact.  But you don’t have to wait until the end of a story to pay off a good setup.  It can happen just about anywhere. 

One caveat on this:  Placing a setup and its payoff too close together can hurt your script.  It can feel poorly paced and contrived.  How close can they be?  Good writers have a feel for it.  A rule of thumb:  Enough “script time” should pass so that the setup, while remembered, is no longer fresh in your reader’s mind. 

The Setup/Payoff Web

A really smart producer, one of the brightest, most story-savvy individuals I ever worked with, taught me this about setups and payoffs: 

She taught me that, ideally, your whole story should be made up of setups and payoffs.  This forms a web of interconnecting moments that give a script momentum and coherence.

Some new writers imagine a single setup leading to a single climactic payoff.  Seasoned writers imagine the power of two, three or four well-orchestrated setup-payoff combinations.  The expert producer I mentioned above imagines dozens of interconnecting moments laced into a truly professional, engaging screenplay.  The more we can push toward that ideal, the better our writing will be.

Script Coverage Chronicles -- March 2014 

The Screenplay Business: The Single Biggest Mistake I Made

I don’t want you to make this mistake.  It’s a biggie. 

This mistake isn’t something forgivable like taking too long to get to your inciting incident.  It’s not the unsavory practice of using “ing” words in your description.  It’s not even -- gasp -- submitting a spec with more than 120 pages!

Those –- if they really are mistakes -- are baby blunders, the kinds writers make when they first start out.

I made this misstep -- the biggie -- after getting some huge breaks, after I had dozens of meetings set up and plenty of interest in my writing.

My mistake was based on a false belief.  The false belief was this:

I thought meetings with producers were job interviews.

They aren’t.

When I was finally lucky enough to have UTA sending my work out to reputable producers all over town, I was able to schedule meeting after meeting.

At this point, I assumed I was days away from a mammoth payout.

The truth is:  These meetings aren’t about money, because almost no producer has the means to offer you any money at all.

A few with independent financing connections will occasionally shell out $5000 for an option or writing assignment, but it’s very rare.

In at least one way, producers are very similar to writers.  They want money from the same place you do.  The studios.

The studios have all the cash.  And only the top-top studio execs have any power to spend money.

When you really think about it, there are probably only a few dozen individuals in the whole industry who -- if they wanted to -- can just decide to hand over any real currency.

So if all these producer meetings aren’t about getting you paid, then what are they about?

In part, they’re about opportunities to write for these producers for free.  (The pros and cons of such offers are a subject for another article.)

In part, they’re about producers needing to meet anyone other producers are meeting, so they don’t feel left behind.

But what they’re really about is this:

You’re making a connection.  You’re meeting producers with whom you might form a long-term relationship. 

And one of those long-term writer/producer relationships might some day, after months or even years, lead to a time when the two of you find yourselves in a room with a studio exec -- and the possibility of real money.

When I first started taking these meetings, I was so confused.  Nobody was offering me any paying jobs.  After much frustration, I finally mentioned this confusion to my manager. 

He told me, “You’re not there to get a job.  This is a business of relationships.  People give jobs to their friends.”

So, to sum up, my mistake - which I don't want you to make - was this:

When I finally found myself in these producer meetings, I was looking for a job when I should have been looking for a friend.

Script Coverage Chronicles -- February 2014

Feedback The Hard Way: While Pitching

I was at the Austin Film Festival pitching a script to an agent at one of the top agencies.  The script I was pitching was my baby, a screenplay I’d worked really hard on.  I pitched it with energy and heart.  I had a feeling I’d nailed it!

And then she spoke.

I still remember her words: “I’m sorry hon’, that’s a dink for me.”  I think she said “dink”.  It might have been “ding”.  It didn’t matter.  This was a genuine authority, a powerful agent.  And my story was a flop.  And not just as executed.  My whole idea was a flop!

A year later that screenplay won a Nicholl Fellowship.

That same woman ended up taking me out for breakfast, at the Peninsula in Beverly Hills. 

I ordered an egg white frittata. 

It was tasty.

Don’t let anyone discourage you.


Years later, I had a meeting with an Oscar-winning producer to pitch for a job.  The job was a paid writing assignment, to adapt a popular children’s book into a feature film. 

My challenge was to pitch my take on the adaptation to this producer, a whip smart, highly accomplished woman.  If she liked what she heard, the plan was for both of us to take the pitch to an independent financier the next day.

I really wanted to work with her.  I had to get this right.

So I asked around about the different ways to pitch this kind of project.  I was given advice to make a series of storyboards outlining my story.  I jumped on the advice and spent hours preparing a dozen illustrated storyboards. 

I practiced my pitch over and over.

And in I went to this woman’s office.

And the first thing she said was: “No. No storyboards.”

She didn’t like them – too formal.  I had to wing it.  I got through the pitch anyway.  And she liked it.  Well, half of it. 

She wanted me to redo the other half.  Half a storyline for a feature film!  Over night.  So we could pitch the new version the very next day!  I’m not talking about pitching a logline here.  I’m talking about a full-on twenty-minute synopsis. 

But here’s the thing:

Her feedback made sense.  It was constructive.  She had reasons for the changes she wanted, and her reasoning was sound.

So I stayed up all night and revised half the treatment, and in the morning we pitched the new story to the finance guy.

In the end, we didn’t get the financing.  But this producer was now on my side.  And we ended up taking that pitch to Sony, Universal, Fox and DreamWorks.  I got to meet a half dozen studio execs in one day.

If I’d said no to this producer, if I’d said, you’re wrong, I’m right, I’m not staying up all night, I never would have had that opportunity.

Don’t let the challenges discourage you.

This screenplay business, it’s harder than you think.

But you can do it.

Script Coverage Chronicles -- January 2014

Screenplay Marketing:  How Important Is The Title?

Do titles matter?  Here are two brief anecdotes that say yes.

A few years ago, I was in L.A. pitching ideas to a well-known manager. 

He sat quietly on his living room couch as I tossed log line after log line his way. Nothing seemed to resonate with him.

Finally, I pitched a new idea I’d been brewing:  “A gullible insurance investigator is given a magical lie detector that reveals when anyone he’s with is lying.”

Nope.  Still no response from this guy.

But then I told him the title of my idea:  GRAIN OF SALT.

His ears perked up.  “That’s a good title,” he said.

He went on to tell me about another writer’s project called FLY ON A WALL.  It was about a guy who finds this talking fly that can sit in a room and spy on others and report what it hears.

“Fly on a wall,” he repeated.  “People know that phrase.  People get that.”

Now he was interested in my magical lie detector idea.  “Grain of salt,” he said.   “I can sell that.  That’s the one you’ll write.”

We never ended up working together, and I never wrote that script.

Maybe it was a mistake.


Another time, I was having lunch in New York with a young, personable producer.   He told me about a script called THE ART OF COOL.  It had sold on spec for big money ($600,000 against $850,000). 

He told me what it was about: A nerdy student discovers the classic book The Art of War and uses it as a high school survival guide.

I told him it sounded good.  His response was telling: 

“Great title,” he said.  “The Art of Cool.  That one could’ve sold on title alone.”

He sent me the script to read.  It was funny and fresh.  I think it could’ve sold with any name.  But if the writer had chosen a different title …

That might have been a mistake.


When I’m offering feedback on screenplays, I don’t overlook the title.  Here are a few questions to ask when choosing one:

Does your title describe your story as well as it can?

Is your title appropriate for the genre?

Can your title take advantage of a catchy phrase that people already know?

Is there a clever play on words you can use (without being overly cute)?

And the last -- and possibly most important -- question to ask is:

Are you spending too much time thinking about a title and not enough time writing your script?

That’s definitely a mistake.