Tuesday, November 22, 2011

3 Specs in 5 Months

I'm back from vacation and taking a hard look at my life: I went to film school, won recognition at film fests and screenwriting comps, and met agents, managers, and producers -- and now --

Crickets. Tumbleweeds. I'm still an unrepresented writer/director looking for work.

Might you be in a similar situation? Well, don't lose faith! I'll let you in on my not-so-secret plan. From my network of established screenwriters, I came back with 3 Great Pieces of Advice:

A) Throw Smart Punches!

Take a look at Hollywood news sites -- Tracking Board, It's On The Grid, The Black List Blog -- and see what brand/genre/style of scripts Hollywood is buying right now. For example, contained thrillers, found footage movies, and re-imagined fairy tale scripts sold recently -- so go through your ideas, re-tool a premise into one of these saleable genres, and get writing!

B) Get Out There!

I've written about this a few times before -- no one knows you're writing good scripts unless you actually make them read your good scripts. Go where young Hollywood types hang out, meet new people, and make friends. Because good friends recommend their friends for jobs. So with all the upcoming Holiday Mixers, put down your laptop and network!

C) Just Write the Damn Thing!

Stop dilly-dallying over which script to write. Stop wasting your time schmoozing at mixers and "networking" on facebook. You're a writer, right? So park your keister in that chair and WRITE.

So which bit of advice will I be taking?

D) All of the Above

Two of the very best screenwriting competitions -- Nicholl and Sundance -- have their submissions deadline for May 1, 2012.

That's 5 months away. And I have 3 fully outlined spec feature scripts ready to write.

So I put together a schedule. Writing about 3 Pages/1 Scene every day, I will:
  • finish Draft #1 of my Texas Murder Mystery by Christmas
  • finish Draft #1 of Another Life the Feature by late January
  • finish Draft #1 of my super-saleable Contained Thriller by early March
Then I'll give myself about 3 weeks with each script to rewrite the the hell out of them, polish them off, and send them all out to Nicholl and Sundance by May 1st, 2012.

And with only 3 pages a day, I have plenty of time to network and make new connections.

What's your plan?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Brightest Heaven of Invention

A writer is often asked: Where do you get your ideas?

J.K. Rowling famously said that her multi-billion-dollar idea for Harry Potter simply fell into her head while riding a train. I was riding a bus when I first listened to Rob Dougan's song Clubbed to Death -- and the idea for an action heroine simply fell into my head:

A hardened, lean, mean woman clad in a leather duster, army boots, and red lipstick. A beautiful girl next door with the war-weary eyes of a soldier. Punching a boxing bag in the dark. Training with deadly weapons. Taking on a small army of henchmen all on her own. Relentless. Unstoppable. On a bloody warpath for revenge.

This potent combination of music and the seeds of a character inspired my girl-power action thriller FURIOUS ANGELS which won Finalist at the Page Screenwriting Awards.

Since then, music has always inspired me in my writing.

I built a soundtrack for FURIOUS ANGELS: To get jakked up and ready to write hyperkinetic action sequences I listened to Linkin Park, Evanescence, Trapt, Nonpoint, etc., and to get in the mood for brooding character moments I listened to my favorite composer Bear McCreary.

Now for my horror script RED SNOW, I turned to eerie, creepy atmospheres from soundtracks for the TV show Dexter, the video game series Silent Hill, and the movie Last House on the Left (John Murphy is a brilliant composer!).

I even made this unsettling painting of Red Riding Hood in black and white woods my wallpaper, listened to John Murphy's track The Boathouse, and I was off and writing more RED SNOW.

Today, I'm writing a murder mystery called HARVEST CHILD set in a small Texas border town. I picked out this dark image of a man watching the sun set over wheat fields as my wallpaper, I'm listening to this playlist mix of westerns and film noirs... and dammit if I don't get inspired.

Where do you get your ideas?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

They Already Know You

Last week, I mentioned that I've got my scripts into the hands of producers, managers, a director, and a distributor. Some of you have asked How? Well let me tell you:

First, stop waiting to be discovered. Stop it. If I haven't done it for you already, allow me to Break the Myth of "Breaking In" right here. No rich producer in a power suit is going to find you typing away at your local Starbucks and ask to make your script into a blockbuster.

There's really only 3 ways emerging writers gain recognition from established filmmakers:

  1. Cold Email Queries
  2. Screenwriting Competitions
  3. They Already Know You

I bet you're probably thinking I don't know Jerry Bruckheimer, winning the Nicholl's sounds like a longshot... so I guess cold calling is my only chance, right?

Couldn't be more wrong. Let me break down my experience for you:

1. Cold Email Queries

I did my research on the Hollywood’s top management companies via IMDbPro, The Wrap, The Black List blog, and Deadline.com (generally, agents want a script they can sell TODAY, producers want a script they can greenlight TODAY, and managers are more willing to develop material first).

Within the top management companies, I looked up who represented thriller, action, and horror writers with a good selling record. Through IMDbPro and connections from friends and work, I compiled quite a few of these top/rising managers’ email addresses.

And here’s the basic query email I sent out:

Dear [Manager’s First Name],

My name is Nathan Ruegger, I’m an award-winning thriller writer seeking representation, and I have a screenplay that could be a great fit for you:


If interested, I would be happy to submit. I look forward to your response.

I sent out 30 cold email queries.

2 asked for a read. 1 passed, the other is known for never actually reading it.

I might try cold query emails with a new script, or try querying agents and producers, but you see why I’m not such a big fan…

2. Screenwriting Competitions

I sent out my two scripts to all the best screenwriting competitions and then some – Nicholl’s, Tracking B, Sundance, Austin, Page Awards, Slamdance, Scriptapalooza, Big Bear, Script Pipeline – and I got quite a few snubs, to be honest.

But I placed quite well at Page and Austin this year!

From Page, a manager emailed me with interest in my action script – asked to read my horror script – and passed on it – but he left the door open to submit my next script :)

From Austin, I had the good fortune to visit the screenwriting conference – I was visiting my wife’s family in Arlington, TX several hours away. Since I made Second Round, the conference invited me to roundtable discussions with big-time writers and producers.

I really enjoyed talking with two producers – who I approached afterwards, thanked them for their time, chatted briefly about their films, and asked if they’d be interested in my horror script that brought me to Austin -- and they both said yes!

So, in my experience, screenwriting competitions helped me stand out from the pack and gain recognition among producers as an up-and-coming writer.

In fact, I’ll be applying to more competitions this year with new scripts!

3. They Already Know You

Before sending off my scripts to that manager, I asked some of my USC Film School friends to read my scripts and give me notes – all friends who are also out here in L.A. working in Hollywood as emerging writers, directors, etc. -- and all their notes were very helpful.

Weeks later, I got a call back from one such friend (paraphrasing):

“Hey Nate, are you planning on directing Furious Angels?”

“I’d love to, but it’s such a big budget movie, I’d rather sell it, like that would ever –

“Because I know this director XXXXXXXXXX, he’s got a few studio credits under his belt, and he’s looking to direct thrillers. Do you mind if I send him your scripts?”

I paused, pretending that I needed a moment to consider this, then tried to say in a level tone that Yes, it would be perfectly all right if he sent over my scripts to this big director.


Pleasantly and persistently ask everyone you trust and whose taste you admire to read your scripts and beg for their notes – again, and again, and again.

Make up reasons to get new people to read your scripts:

  • I'm applying to Nicholl's -- can you read my script?
  • A manager rejected my script -- can you take a look and help me out?
  • It's November already. What's up with that? Read my script pretty please.

The only way people in Hollywood will know that you’re a great writer is because you are actively getting your best material in front of people in Hollywood, who now know you as a great writer and -- fingers crossed -- will recommend you too.

Remember, no one fails in Hollywood -- you only fail if you give up.

Don’t give up.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Life after "Another Life"

After 3 awards, 12 official selections, and 18 months on the film festival circuit, the time has come to put Another Life on the shelf and move on.

Another Life holds a very special place in my heart. A talented cast. A brilliant crew. And fantastic audiences. Making this film and taking it to festivals has been one of the most magical experiences of my life... but this chapter has come to an end.

Now I must write the next chapter, starting with:
  • 2 Managers requested my scripts after I made Finalist at the Page Awards
  • 1 Director requested my scripts through a friend
  • 1 Distributor from a film festival requested my scripts
  • 2 Producers from the Austin Screenwriting Conference requested my scripts

From now on, this blog is dedicated to my uphill battle as an emerging screenwriter in L.A.

With all this professional interest in my screenplays -- a girl-power action-thriller Furious Angels and a low-budget horror Red Snow -- I'm putting down my mantle as a director (for now!) to pursue a career as a working screenwriter of thrillers and family dramas.

All I have are 2 scripts, a bunch of hard-working filmmakers for friends, and a head full of ideas.

But I hereby vow to find representation, sell those scripts, and write for Hollywood for a living --and you'll be the first to hear about it, every step of the way.

Here I go, turn the page.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Another Life Wins Jury Selection Award!

What a smashing finish!

At our final film festival, Another Life won the Jury Selection Award at the Lady Filmmakers Film Festival this past weekend!

For the list of all award-winning films, go here.

This festival was a blast! A must-submit stop for any other filmmakers out there going around the festival circuit! Another Life had a wonderful, intimate last screening with lots of love from cast (Actress -- Bobbie Prewitt), crew (Casting Director -- Cheryl Faye), friends, and family in attendance. Thank you to everyone who showed up!

Also, I had the privilege to hang out with some very cool, gifted filmmakers at the festival, and I only hope that I get to collaborate with them in the future.

So keep an eye out for the following names in bright lights:
ALSO -- after making Finalist at the Page Awards, I've heard from TWO Managers who have read my work and want to read more! Stay tuned next week!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Our Final Film Festival

This is it, folks. Another Life makes its final screening right here in Los Angeles!

Only 4 days left until our very last screening!

And why else should you go? Here are a few good reasons:

The Lady Filmmakers Film Festival shines a light on great movies and great women with a weekend of movies, parties, eats, suites, and treats -- jam-packed with talented filmmakers and talent-seeking industry veterans all in glamorous Beverly Hills.

Another Life will also play alongside these other beloved short films from around the world:
So get your cheap tickets here and see Another Life for the last time on the silver screen!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Playing in Beverly Hills on Oct. 15th!

That's right, folks -- Another Life is finally playing in the L.A. area!

We screen at the Lady Filmmakers Film Festival on Saturday, October 15th at 2:30pm at the WGA Theatre in Beverly Hills (135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210).

That's less than 2 weeks away -- so mark your calendars!

The Lady Filmmakers Film Festival celebrates the cinematic achievements of women with a weekend of wonderful movies, music, panels, and parties -- all with talented filmmakers and talent-seeking industry veterans in glamorous Beverly Hills.

So now's your chance to see Another Life on the silver screen in the L.A. area!

Get your cheap tickets here and see you on the afternoon of Saturday, October 15th!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Reps: How to Take Notes

Weeks ago, I had the great fortune to meet a rep who agreed to read my script and I filled you in on how best to follow up with a rep.

As promised, I'm now giving you the skinny on How to Take Notes from a Rep:

1) The Phone Call -- After a few pleasantly persistent emails checking in on the script, the rep responded: He read the script and he would call me later this week.

When a rep is going to call you, have your phone on, fully-charged, and stick to areas with good signal. You can't afford to miss a call from a rep. And when he/she does call, there's...

2) A Brief Exchange of Pleasantries. How are you? Congrats on that thing in the trades. Why thank you, etc. You need to show you care. If you want this guy to be your rep, care enough to start building a professional relationship with that person.

3) The Trick Question. After the chit-chat, the rep will inevitably start by saying a few nice things about your script and then ask very carefully:
"Now, if you don't mind, I have a few notes on your script, but only if you want to hear them, because if you think your script is in a good place and you're not looking for any notes, then I totally understand and support your decision..."
This is a test! The rep here is trying to gauge how well you take notes as a professional screenwriter. Hollywood is a collaborative industry where you will be writing for not just an audience but agents, managers, development executives, studio executives, producers, actors, etc., and if you want a long career as a writer, you will have to write and rewrite scripts that will excite all of those people to sign on to your script and make it into a movie.

In short, the answer is: "Yes, I'd love to hear your notes. Hold on, let me get a pen and paper."

4) Write Everything Down -- For me, the rep had a lot of page-by-page notes. For example, "On page 34, Tiffany beats up the bad guys with karate-like punches and kicks... since she's a runaway, wouldn't she fight in a more street brawler style?"

This guy talked fast, so I wrote down as much as I could, jotting down the appropriate page numbers by each note so I could go over them later. Also, it's good to have a copy of the script open so you can follow along and know exactly what scene the rep's talking about.

5) Respond With Courtesy -- This rep has put his/her personal time into reading your script, coming up with notes, writing them down, and preparing for this call. Do the right thing and show your appreciation for each and every note with professional courtesy.

If the rep gives you a good note, say that, and thank them. I lucked into only getting good notes and said so with every note.

If it's a bad note, DO NOT disagree with the rep. Prepare an appropriately neutral response, such as "Interesting. I hadn't thought of that before. Let me take another look at that."

5) Have Questions Ready -- If you don't understand a note, then ask! "So you didn't think this was a credible character decision?" "Is that because you think that subplot was unclear?" Asking these questions also shows you hear and appreciate the rep's feedback.

Also, look for the notes that the rep didn't give you. For example, the rep only gave me page-by-page notes, so I asked if he had any general notes -- and he gave me some good pointers on the overall character arcs for the script.

6) The Next Draft -- Wrap up the call with thanking the rep for all the notes and when would the rep like to see another pass on the script reflecting his/her notes.

The rep told me, "Whenever you can get it to me. Whenever you feel like it. Take your time."

This is also a trick! Another test! The rep here is gauging your professionalism to see how long it takes you to do a solid, typos-free, industry-ready rewrite. So how long should that take?

Two weeks. No more. Suck it up, lose sleep, and put all your time and effort into rewriting your script and emailing it back to the rep in two weeks or less. If you want to impress this rep, prove you're worthy to sign as a client, then you better show that you are ready to work.

But the most important lesson from this call is...

7) Take the Damn Notes -- As you rewrite your script in those two weeks, you must take every single note the rep gave you and incorporate it into your next draft. Even if you don't fully understand the note. Even if you disagree. Just do it.

Put these notes into perspective: this rep has read hundreds of scripts, scripts that have made millions at the box office and scripts that never got made... not all reps can articulate their notes clearly, but every good rep has a gut instinct for what makes a saleable script work.

Again, this is a collaborative industry, and if you want to prove to this rep that you are a professional, then it's your job to prove that you can take notes and improve your script.

In short, your job as a writer is to look at every note and ask, "What if it's brilliant?" and work at it until you find the note underneath the note that will genuinely improve your screenplay.

That's all for now, folks! And speaking of rewrites, time to crawl back into my writer-cave.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Official Selection at Lady Filmmakers! Finalist at Page!

What a fantastic week!

I just got back from the Big Bear Lake International Film Festival only to find out that Another Life made Official Selection at our 12th Film Festival, the Lady Filmmakers Film Festival -- and that my screenplay Furious Angels made Finalist at the Page International Screenwriting Awards!

The Lady Filmmakers Film Festival celebrates the cinematic achievements of women in glamorous Beverly Hills! Not just for ladies, the festival will host an exciting weekend packed with movies, music, panels, and parties, all with talented filmmakers and talent-seeking industry veterans in attendance.

At long last, all of our L.A.-based fans can see Another Life on the silver screen!

We play at the prestigious WGA Theatre in Beverly Hills (135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210) some time from Friday, Oct. 14 through Sunday, Oct. 16, our showtime TBD.

I'd like to take a moment to thank our lady filmmakers: lead actress Tracy Coogan; producers Liz Manashil, Mitsuyo Miyazaki, Min Zhang; editor Beth Moody; production designer Jill Blackledge; casting director Cheryl Faye; make-up artist Mara Rouse; sound designers Rebecca Chan and Kari Barber; and costume designer Sarah Springer -- without your amazing talent and hard work, Another Life simply would not be the amazing film it is today.

I will certainly be in attendance at the festival in Beverly Hills -- and hope to see you all there! I'll slip you more details on the fest's exciting developments as they come...

And, oh yes, more on The PAGE International Screenwriting Awards!

A quick refresher: the PAGE Awards was established by an alliance of Hollywood producers, agents, and development execs to discover the most exciting new scripts by up-and-coming writers from across the country and around the world -- with loads of Success Stories.

And making Finalist means that a panel of Hollywood literary agents, managers, and development execs rated my work as one of the Top 10 action screenplays submitted!

Win or lose, it looks like talent-seeking Hollywood folks enjoy my work!

Just when I thought things were slowing back down, I am so awed and grateful for all the love and support from friends, family, and fans that keeps Another Life and my writing marching onward to bigger and better things. Thank you all!

Oh, yes, and as for the Agent story -- my script has been passed along from the Agent to a colleague who's considering working with me -- so keep your fingers crossed!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Playing this Friday!

Just a few days away -- Another Life plays at the Big Bear Lake Film Festival this Friday, Sept. 16th at 12 noon at Village Theaters North (602 Pine Knot Avenue, Big Bear Lake, CA)!

I'm really looking forward to this festival -- and you should too! Here's why:

1) Named one of MovieMaker Magazine's Top 25 Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, the Big Bear Lake International Film Festival will host an exciting weekend jam-packed with gala parties, panels, showcases, and more -- just 2 hours out of Los Angeles!

You also might get a chance to meet veteran "that-guy" actor Stephen Tobolowsky (Groundhog Day, Memento), Oscar-winning Composer Michael Giacchino (Up, Ratatouille), and award-winning cinematographer John Bailey (Ground Hog Day, Mishima) at the Opening Night Gala!

Why believe me? Check out this cool Film Festival Trailer:

2) Another Life also screens with Twelve, a romantic drama about a successful real estate agent who, against all logic and advice, travels to Italy to find the one girl he could never let go... his first love. Check out the website here and trailer below:

3) Another Life also screens with The Right Turn, a coming of age comedy about the trials of dating. An insecure high school boy takes a girl out on a date and couldn't seal the deal with a kiss. Frustrated, he powers on the GPS which mysteriously does more than guide him home. Check out the website here and trailer below:

4) Another Life also screens with Hero, a touching drama about a 12-year-old girl raised by an alcoholic mother in a poor neighborhood who loses everything, asking a question: "Will there be a hero when you need one?" Check out the website and trailer here.

5) Another Life also screens with The Death of Toys, a comedy about ten year-old Seth who wants to give up his toys, but his work-numbed mother Lily needs the spark of their playtime more than he does. Her insistence that he keep the toys leads to some unexpected places. Check out the website here.

Five reasons to go. Three days away. Just one ticket to buy...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Top 10 Reasons To Go

Another Life screens at the Big Bear Lake Film Festival in 11 days on Friday, September 16th at 12 noon at the Village Theaters North in Big Bear Lake, CA.

This is a fun but decisive moment in our festival circuit -- it might very well be our last festival! -- so please come out and support!

Wait... Why should you go?

Let me tell you The Top 10 Reasons:

1) Named one of MovieMaker Magazine's Top 25 Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, the Big Bear Lake International Film Festival will host an exciting weekend jam-packed with gala parties, panels, showcases, and more -- just 2 hours out of Los Angeles!

2) The Media Tells You To:
the Inland Empire has this to say about Another Life.

3) Another Life was called "one of the best independent short films" by Hollywire.

4) Another Life won the Gold for Best Dramatic Original Short at the Houston International Film Festival and the Award of Merit at the Accolade Competition.

5) Another Life must be well-written since I recently made the Second-Round at the Austin Screenwriting Competition, Quarter-Finalist at the Big Bear Lake Screenwriting Competition, Semi-Finalist at the Page International Screenwriting Awards (ongoing).

6) Another Life also screens with Twelve, a romantic drama about a successful real estate agent who, against all logic and advice, travels to Italy to find the one girl he could never let go... his first love. Check out the website here and trailer below:

7) Another Life also screens with The Right Turn, a coming of age comedy about the trials of dating. An insecure high school boy takes a girl out on a date and couldn't seal the deal with a kiss. Frustrated, he powers on the GPS which mysteriously does more than guide him home. Check out the website here and trailer below:

8) Another Life also screens with Hero, a touching drama about a 12-year-old girl raised by an alcoholic mother in a poor neighborhood who loses everything, asking a question: "Will there be a hero when you need one?" Check out the website and trailer here.

9) Another Life also screens with The Death of Toys, a comedy about ten year-old Seth who wants to give up his toys, but his work-numbed mother Lily needs the spark of their playtime more than he does. Her insistence that he keep the toys leads to some unexpected places. Check out the website here.

10) Last but not least, if you stick around after the screening for Another Life, you might get a chance to meet veteran "that-guy" actor Stephen Tobolowsky (Groundhog Day, Memento), Oscar-winning Composer Michael Giacchino (Up, Ratatouille), and award-winning cinematographer John Bailey (Ground Hog Day, Mishima) at the Opening Night Gala!

Seriously, how can you miss out on all this good stuff in just one day?

Your tickets are waiting for you...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

We Screen Sept. 16th at Big Bear!

Mark your calendars!

Another Life opens the Big Bear International Film Festival in a few weeks! So catch the exclusive screening on Friday, September 16th @12 noon at the Village Theaters North in Big Bear Lake, California. Just a morning's drive out of L.A.!

Not only will you get to see the film, but you'll get to hang out with the director (me!), enjoy a Q&A session, and get access to loads of fun events like parties, panels, showcases, and more!

So check out the festival's website, get some cheap tickets, and see you there!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Official Selection at Big Bear! Semi-Finalist at Page!

What a great week!

Another Life made Official Selection at our 11th Film Festival, the Big Bear Lake International Film Festival and my feature screenplay Furious Angels made Semi-Finalist at the PAGE International Screenwriting Competition!

Named one of MovieMaker Magazine's Top 25 Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, the Big Bear Lake International Film Festival celebrates 12 years of showcasing emerging filmmakers and screenwriters in the idyllic setting of Big Bear Lake. Just 2 hours out of L.A., the Big Bear Lake International Film Festival will host an exciting weekend jam-packed with gala screenings, workshops, panels, and parties, all with talented filmmakers and talent-seeking agents, managers, and producers in attendance.

But why take my word for it when you can watch a cool video about it?

Another Life will screen at the Big Bear Lake International Festival on Friday, September 16 or Saturday, September 17 TBD... so keep your calendars open!

I will certainly be in attendance at the festival in Big Bear, seeing films from fellow USC filmmakers such as Fawaz Al-Matrouk with his film To Rest in Peace and Cat Youell with her film The Mischievous Case of Cordelia Botkin.

Just as well, Another Life will also be screening at the Traverse City Shorts Festival the same weekend on Sunday, September 18th @5:00PM at the Park Place Hotel (300 East State Street, Traverse City, Michigan, 49684).

Also -- don't forget that Another Life will be screening at the Rome International Film Festival in just a few weeks on Friday, September 8th @11:00PM at the Historic DeSoto Theatre (530 Broad Street, Rome, Georgia, 30161). Get tickets and passes here!

But let's certainly not forget The PAGE International Screenwriting Awards!

Celebrating its 8th year, the PAGE Awards was established by an alliance of Hollywood producers, agents, and development execs to discover the most exciting new scripts by up-and-coming writers from across the country and around the world. And with all the Success Stories from the winning writers, the PAGE Awards have become one of the most important sources for new screenwriting talent within the Hollywood community and worldwide.

In short, this is kind of a big deal!

With Another Life gearing up for three festivals on top of making Semi-Finalist at PAGE , I am in awe of all the love and support from my fellow filmmakers, friends, family, and fans. This would not be near possible without all of you. Period.

Oh, yes, and I have more good news on the Agent front... stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Big C

Last few weeks, I made Semi-Finalist at the Page Int'l Screenwriting Competition, met with an agent, made Official Selection at our Tenth Film Festival, my wife got cancer --

* Life SCREECHES to a Halt *

Yes, my wife Alexis has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Mucinous Colloid Carcinoma, to be exact. As cancers go, this one is very slow-growing, treatable, and rare... so rare, in fact, that Alexis refers to it sometimes as Hipster Breast Cancer since you've probably never heard of it.

The surgery is scheduled for September 6th. For more details, visit Alexis' blog.

Every day, I continue to be amazed by Alexis. She goes to work just like everyone else, only she refuses to mope about her situation and always looks on the funny side of life.

For example, she sometimes sees cancer as a sort of superpower or ultimate trump card:
Alexis: "Nate, can you wash the dishes?"

Me: "Can it wait? I'm kind of in the middle of --"

Alexis: "Oh, oo, my cancer's acting up... I'd feel a lot better if someone else did the dishes... oh, it hurts... "

Me: * sigh * "Yes, I'll do the dishes."
When faced with cancer, I have no choice but to put a hold on my emerging-filmmaker-frenzy, sit back, and reflect on what really matters in life.

The answer: Family. Friends. Loved ones.

After all, why make movies if you have no one to share them with?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reps: How To Keep In Touch

Last month, a rep agreed to read my screenplay. A major milestone for any emerging screenwriter -- but then what do you do next?

Well, dear readers, let me fill you in on the few Follow-Up rules I know:

1) Patience -- If a rep agrees to read your script, email that script over immediately... and then wait three weekends before saying anything.

Reps are tremendously busy, wrangling phone calls and emails from dawn till well after dusk, reading piles of scripts, juggling dozens of projects... and in the midst of this jam-packed schedule finding paid work for dozens of clients, this rep is taking the time out of his/her personal life to do you a favor and read your script.

The industry standard is that it takes three weekends to have a new script even enter the queue of Material To Read. So after those three weekends, the next thing to do is...

2) Write a brief, warm check-in email -- After three full weekends, send a very short, to-the-point, but friendly email that shows you care about this rep and his/her agency with a gentle, if not hesitant reminder about your script.

Let me share with you the rough structure of the email I sent:
Dear [Rep's First Name],

How are you? How goes everything at [Insert Agency Name]? I came across this article in the trades about your [big script sale/signing a new client/box office smash/other Hollywood success story]: [insert link here] Congrats on all your success!

I bet you're pretty busy but I wanted to check in on [
Name of Your Script] and if you've had the chance to give it a look. Anyway, I hope all is well with you and once again thanks for meeting with me.

[Your Name]
[Your Phone Number]
One little note: Your email's subject line should be clear and simple like "Follow up on [Name of Your Script]"

3) Pleasant Persistence
-- If the rep doesn't respond, do NOT take it personally. They don't hate your script, they're just swamped and haven't read it yet. So make a note to yourself to write the rep another email every three weeks, and in the same warm, professional, and brief format from before. Oh, and keep all these emails in the same conversation/email chain so the rep has all your correspondence info in one place.

Sometimes the rep doesn't get back to you... and sometimes they do.

As for me, lightning struck:

The rep emailed me back on the same day. He did read my script. He wanted to talk about it. Then the following day, he called me back.

Which leads to the next week's edition, How To Take a Notes from a Rep. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

We Got into the Traverse City Shorts Festival!

After weeks drifting through the Hollywood doldrums, yesterday was TERRIFIC:
  • I applied for a job in the morning and got an interview that afternoon.
  • I turned my phone back on after the interview and got a call scheduled with an agent!
  • I came home, opened up my email, and found out that Another Life was just selected for its ninth film festival: the 2011 Traverse City Shorts Festival!
And once again, the best part is how we got in. Read closely, friends and fans:

As you may remember, Another Life was invited to the Big Easy Int'l Film Festival, we had a wonderful screening in December... and then I moved on to other festivals...

Five months later, I suddenly get this email:
We are launching a new shorts festival in Traverse City, Michigan, and are looking for some great short film submissions.

For you to submit the film that you screened in the 2010 Big Easy International Film Festival, all you need to do is go to the website (listed above) and fill out the online submission form in the "Submit" section. We are waiving the fee for you.

Since I already have your films on DVD, there is no need for you to send your film in... just fill out the online form.
I look forward to passing your films on to our programmers.
Free Film Festival Submission? Nothing to mail? Seriously? I mean, hell, why not submit? So I applied online... and months passed by... and I gave up hope. Then I get this email:

We wanted to let you know that we accepted "Another Life" into this year's Traverse
City Shorts Festival.

I will be sending a series of emails this week to inform you about all of
the details, what we need from you, etc.

Glad to have you on board for what we hope will be a fun event.
Moral of the story: Follow up, folks. Follow. Up.

For more on this fabulous new film festival check out TraverseCityShortsFestival.com . So Michigan fans, mark your calendars for Friday through Sunday, September 16th to 18th for the new Slamdance of Traverse City, screening shorts at the cozy Park Place Hotel.

I continue to be amazed by our Little Short Film That Could. My lifelong gratitude goes to the best cast and crew on the planet and of course my ever-supportive family, friends, and fans! My hat goes off to you. No, seriously, have my hat.

So stay tuned for more details on Traverse City, the job interview, and the agent call!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Brainstorming Movie Ideas

After nabbing that lucky agent meeting, I've been doing a lot of waiting... but instead of refreshing my inbox all day, the healthy thing to do is to keep busy.

So what's a young writer to do?

For the longest time, my mantra has been: Watch Movies. Read Scripts. Write Pages. And it has served me well. What could be better than churning out pages while learning from the best scripts and movies out there?

But in one of my meetings, a Manager pointed out to me: Let's say we apply that mantra to a musician. This musician studies concert performances, reads tons of sheet music, and just jams out to new music... but something's missing...

Practice. We all have to practice. Especially emerging writers.

If we only focus on the result -- a polished spec script -- we're not preparing ourselves for a career of rewriting and polishing scripts for Hollywood, where we'll be expected to be handy with every tool in the writer's toolbox, from dialogue and structure to pitching and idea generation.

The paid writer in Hollywood is like a story mechanic -- a producer could tow in a sputtering action script and say, "Well, we modified it with an exciting chase sequence in Act Two, but now the characters are flat and have no chemistry... it was working yesterday, can you fix it?" And whatever is wrong with the script, you have to figure it out and fix it.

How do we get that good at writing? Practice makes employable.

For example, let's say you luck into that meeting with an agent -- and hey, that agent reads your script, likes it, and wants to meet with you again. But then, lo and behold, this happens:
AGENT: Hey, I loved your script!

WRITER: Why thank y--

AGENT: So what else have you got?

WRITER: Well, I've been writing this zombie comedy --

AGENT: Agh, I've been trying to sell a zombie comedy written by one of my clients, brilliant script, but no one's buying it. You have anything else?

WRITER: Umm...
You don't want to be this writer. You want to be the writer that has another idea ready. In fact, you want to have 100+ movie ideas lying around so you'll always be writing... but how?

Here are two great practice exercises that help me generate new ideas for movies:
  1. Come up with a character. Any character. In fact, go to a cafe, sit down, and the next person who walks in the door -- that's your main character. Deal with it.
  2. Give that character an expected goal. A universal goal. A primal goal. But most importantly, make it an ordinary goal. A cop who wants to get back together with his estranged wife -- not become an alien-fighting space captain.
  3. Give that character expected opposition. Considering the character and goal you chose, what would be their usual or obvious opposition? If we're going with this cop, then expected opposition could be his wife has moved out, his wife's lawyer has sent him divorce papers, one of his wife's co-workers is trying to date his wife already, etc., all of which are getting in the way of his goal and are all very much expected in this situation.
  4. Only his bigger problem is... This is where you put in all your creative imagination. So let's say we take this cop who wants to get back together with his estranged wife, who is trying to divorce him -- when terrorists attack! And then, voila, you get DIE HARD.
Some call this the "100 Bad Ideas" exercise. Once you tell yourself that you're just churning out bad ideas, the pressure's off, and you might actually generate 10-25 kick-ass movie ideas!

I wholeheartedly recommend this method, but if it doesn't click with you after a while, try a more traditional, more intuitive brainstorming session a la Jane Espenson:
  1. Make a list of your favorite stories. Movies, TV episodes, books, graphic novels -- if it has a beginning, middle, end and something that intrigues you, write it down.
  2. Write next to those stories what you love about them. Perhaps you love Sherlock Holmes for the characters but could care less for Victorian England. This isn't a list of good stories -- it's a list about you and what you already want to write about.
  3. Play. Take your favorite story elements, mix, match, and change them around until they transform into original concoctions you'd love to write. Let's say you love the character Sherlock Holmes but you also love police procedurals and doctor dramas... and then, voila, you get the Emmy-winning hit HOUSE.
Whatever brainstorming method works for you, go after it... just keep practicing :)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Reps: How to Get Your Script Read

Two weeks ago, I met with a rep. He talked about thrillers and I said I wrote one. He asked about it... and 30 seconds later he asked to read it.

How'd I do it? A good logline.

This is the magic and madness of the Logline -- you have a very brief window of time, a sentence or two, to sum up your big, fat script. This is your elevator pitch between floors 1 and 2.

But it's not all magic. Let me share with you the bare bones that have worked for me after lots of trial and royally screwing up:
[TITLE] is a [genre] about an [adjective] [hero - job/social status/family status, etc.] who wants [universally identifiable goal] when [something exciting happens] -- only our hero's bigger problem is [the twist].
Let me break that down for you:

1) TITLE: Your script's title evokes your tone, genre, style, etc., which is why it's good to either open or close your logline with your title since it can sum up the feel of your story.

2) GENRE: Let them know the Genre right up front so they know to be smiling, scared, teary-eyed, etc., by your screenplay's premise. Last thing you want is to hear a rep say "That sounds hilarious!" when you just told them about your tearjerker romance.

3) HERO: Describe your protagonist. You get one adjective and one noun. That's it. Think of this as your teaser trailer for the script... you're only giving them a taste of the movie, the bare essentials, just enough to get them to want to read the script.

But here's a hint for the adjective: What's your protagonist's greatest flaw? The one character trait that's going to get them into the most trouble? In BACK TO THE FUTURE, our hero Marty McFly hates being called chicken... so you might call him an insecure or impulsive teenager. That's all you need because...

4) GOAL: Tell us what our character wants and make sure it's something we all want. Hunger. Sex. Survival. Protection of loved ones. Something primal. In TAKEN, Liam Neeson's character wants to save his daughter from vicious criminals. Audiences the world over identify with that goal -- because it's a primal, instinctual desire we all have.

5) SOMETHING EXCITING: Some screenwriting gurus call it the "Inciting Incident," "The Call to Adventure," or "The Catalyst" -- whatever you call it, it's something exciting that happens around the end of the first thirty-or-so pages that propels your protagonist out of his or her ordinary world into the exciting, adventurous part of the story. In PRETTY WOMAN, it's the moment Richard Gere's character agrees to hire Julia Roberts' character to be his escort.

6) THE TWIST: This is where the magic comes in. And to show the cards up my sleeves -- the magic is conflict. Your logline needs to overflow with conflict. Your protagonist is in conflict with him- or herself, your protagonist is so far away from his or her goal, your protagonist is the least likely person to be able to deal with this something exciting happening -- when The Twist takes that conflict to the edge and pushes it over.

To give you a better ideas, here are some loglines to some amazing screenplays:
PRETTY WOMAN is a romantic comedy about a hardhearted businessman who needs an escort for an important business function when he's left with no choice but to hire a free-spirited prostitute -- only to fall in love with her.

DIE HARD is an action thriller about a lone cop who comes to L.A. to visit his estranged wife and save their failing marriage -- when terrorists attack!

BACK TO THE FUTURE is an action-comedy about an impulsive teenager who teams up with a wacky scientist to go back in time and save his parents' marriage when he disrupts history -- and now he has to make his parents fall in love or he'll cease to exist!
But notice how none of these fall perfectly into that cookie cutter model above... and none of them perfectly capture the movie, right? That's where your hard work comes in. Trying different adjectives for your hero, different phrasings for the goal, the twist, etc. Write, rewrite, tweak, polish, hone, again and again.

Most importantly, practice. Pitch your logline to people. Not just friends and family, because they'll love it since they love you. Ask the guy behind you in line at the coffee shop. And really gauge their reaction. Keep pitching and keep reworking it until it feels like the most natural, organic, and most exciting way to sum up your story.

That way, when you get that lucky break to have an agent or manager or producer ask about your script, your logline can roll off your tongue like the weather forecast, and hopefully you'll hear those lovely words:

"Sounds great! Send it over."

Speaking of great, I have more good news!

Jessica Marie Sutherland, good friend and now paid writer (hooray!), shares all in how to go one step further from getting read to getting paid to write: Holy F^@k, Or How I Got My First Writing Gig.

Also, my screenplay FURIOUS ANGELS -- the one I sent to the rep -- made Quarter-Finalist at the Page Int'l Screenwriting Awards! More on the Page Awards here.

My meeting with the manager went well with promises of another meeting down the line. Lastly, I'm in talks with a producer to write a few graphic novels. Exciting! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Reps: Make a Good First Impression

Last week, I met with a manager. 20 minutes later, he asked to read my script. Here's how I did it:

I sat in the agency's nice little lobby for a while as the manager wrangled a conference and then another call that all went overlong before meeting with me. If you've dealt with any rep before, this is to be expected. I read in the trades that while I was celebrating the 4th of July, this agency won a bidding war on optioning a bestselling book. These are busy people.

After a while, the manager's assistant offered me water and escorted me to the manager's office -- which was a nerd's candy store. Graphic novels. Collectible action figurines. Posters of your favorite Sci-Fi movies signed by the writers. I gravitated right towards a Star Wars book when the manager came in and we got to geek out about Comic Con a bit before he asked:

"So tell me -- What's your story? What's your journey?"

Every up-and-coming writer needs to be ready for this question.

Remember, this is not lunch with your friends, nor is it a business interview. You can't blather on about your cat for 5 minutes and neither can you recite the bullet points of your resume. You have to strike a balance between a fun, casual conversation and telling your own superhero origin story with gusto. What radioactive bug bit you and made you a writer?

The trick is to prepare an answer for this question -- a blurb that sums up your "brand." Are you the next Tim Burton or the next Charlie Kaufman? Do you write gothic fairy tales or mind-bending character dramas? What's your genre or niche? Put your starving artist ideals down for a moment and remember that you're talking to a manager -- and that rep is hoping, praying you can answer his real question: "Can I sell this kid?"

So have an answer ready and timed out to 30-120 seconds. Focus your origin story to answer questions about who you are, where you come from, and what draws you to your brand. If you love writing crime thrillers, why? And what has happened in your life that would give you any kind of authority to write in that genre/niche? Also, don't forget to point to your successes -- awards, festivals, film school, etc. all help a rep think you're a horse worth betting on.

I say without shame that I wrote out this 120-second blurb, rewrote it, tweaked it, polished it, and rehearsed it until it was second nature -- and then let the meeting follow its natural course. The manager interrupted my blurb (a good thing!) to ask about being a Coca-Cola Refreshing Filmmaker Finalist, and I told him about producing a short film in a blizzard -- so have that amusing anecdote ready for all potential questions for your career's highlights.

Then I wrapped up my little blurb with the desire to make it as a script doctor.

And then the manager did a wonderful thing: he offered me sound advice for an emerging writer.

He broke the bad news lightly that the script doctor jobs for emerging writers no longer exist. After the Writer's Strike coupled with the recession, all the A-list writers have lowered their quotes to B-list prices, and the B-list writers have lowered their quotes to C-list prices, etc.

In other words, making a good chunk of change as the new writer on the block, hungry for work, no longer attracts studio and development executives anymore... since they can get a rewrite on their baby project by an already-established writer for the same bargain basement price.

So what to do?

Here's the honest truth: Most represented emerging writers have day jobs. They work with their manager/agent to take the best of the writer's script ideas and combine them with the rep's spec market know-how to come up with a great script that will sell 12 weeks from now.

Then the writer goes home and writes and writes and writes and finally sells that spec script. What next? The writer goes home and writes and writes and finally sells another spec script.

Then this writer has the experience, connections, and capacity to make their first feature.

In short, here's a manager's advice to up-and-coming writer/directors:
  • Get a steady day job.
  • Write spec scripts in your off hours.
  • Make whatever connections will lead you to a manager/agent's office.
  • Write and network until you sell TWO scripts to established buyers.
  • Then Hollywood will start asking you to direct their movies...
Then the manager gave more advice if you want to make an indie first feature instead:
  • The low-budget feature is the new short film.
  • Indie films are cheaper to make nowadays (and studio films are too expensive to risk an untested director), Hollywood scouts for talent at festivals
  • Before you sink thousands into your first feature, make your story UNIVERSAL
Think of Taken. Your daughter has been kidnapped by sex traffickers and you will kick ass and take names until you get her back. Audiences in Shanghai, Sao Paulo, and Sri Lanka will want to see that movie. Will audiences around the world really want to see your mumblecore quarter-life crisis auto-biopic? Tell your story but with a universal premise.

That's all a lot easier said than done, right? But I resolve to take up his advice and I will keep you all updated as to whatever I learn along this journey to work all day, write all night, and meet more agents and managers until my first feature comes along.

So right after the manager gave me his advice, he tried to cheer me up by saying that spec market is very hungry for all kinds of thrillers these days -- political thrillers, gritty Taken-esque spy thrillers, Luc Besson girls kicking ass thrillers --

I chimed in, "I have one of those" and hit him with the logline to my girl-power action thriller.

He said that my script sounds great, asked me to email it to him, and after he allowed me to ask a few questions (have those smart questions ready!) the meeting ended soon after that.

So there you have it! The anatomy of meeting a rep. Hope that helps you readers when you nab your first manager meeting!

(For those of you curious about crafting manager-ready loglines, I'll cover that next week).

Looking for more tales of emerging artists in Hollywood? Look no further:
  • The Last Blog I'll Ever Start is written by good friend Jessica Marie Sutherland who's now a paid, working screenwriter only a year or so out of USC film school.
  • The Scene Partner is written by another friend and classmate Nina Harada who is moving on up in the world as an emerging actress.
  • For those of you looking to make that first feature, but wondering how in the hell to do it, check out the new MovieMaker blog Just Crowdfund the $&*# Movie!
Now to get myself a day job...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

We Got Into the Rome Int'l Film Festival!

It just keeps on going! Another Life was just selected for its eighth film festival: the 2011 Rome International Film Festival!

The Rome International Film Festival prides itself on screening the finest in independent film from around the world. Considered by MovieMaker Magazine as One of the Top 25 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, RIFF has screened hundreds of spectacular film offerings originating from Georgia to Katmandu! In fact, a number of their featured films have since been picked up by Miramax, STARZ, public television, and HBO!

Another Life will screen in a few months! So mark your calendars for Friday, September 8th @11:00PM at the Historic DeSoto Theatre (530 Broad Street, Rome, Georgia, 30161).

I'm simply amazed at how our short film keeps going and going! I am so endlessly grateful to my wonderfully talented and hard-working cast and crew -- and not to forget my ever-supportive family, friends, and fans! My heart goes out to you! Thanks!!!

Also -- more big developments!

My two feature screenplays have advanced to the second round at the Big Bear Lake International Screenwriting Competition! Considered one of the top emerging screenwriting contests, this one is closely watched by some Hollywood insiders...

Also, I've got a meeting with an agent this week! Wish me luck!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Stop, Collaborate, and Listen

I was out on a day trip with friends and family when we stopped suddenly at a National Park.

"Do you hear that?" someone said.

I looked around. Countless fir trees towered over us, swaying in the wind. Silence.

"No, what is it?" I asked.

"Nothing... and isn't it wonderful?"

This past week wasn't very "writerly" at first glance. I had a blast at my 5-Year College Reunion. As if no time passed at all, my friends and I fell into our usual shenanigans, and although we're all grown-ups now, it was a refreshing dose of reality to find no posturing about our careers. Just about everyone I talked to was in the midst of a Quarter-Life Crisis, between grad school and work, between jobs, or between careers, asking "Who Am I?"

And that's okay.

For the next few weeks, I'll be away from the Hollywood Hub-bub on important family trips -- 3,000 miles away from making connections at the production company day job, going for coffee with writer buddies, scheduling meetings with managers, writing pages all night...

And that's okay.

Instead of seeing these next few weeks as exile in Siberia, the best thing this writer can do is stop worrying about the scripts, the spec market, the mixers, the bills -- just stop and listen.

I'm writing to you now in the quiet, serene hill country of Orford, New Hampshire. The loudest sound I hear all day is a lonely car cruising down the town's only road.

Here I can put aside all the anxieties of working in Hollywood for a moment and reconnect with the important questions that got me writing in the first place:

Who am I? What stories have I seen? What stories do I want to tell? Why? No, really -- Why?

All the stories have been told before, but they have never been told by you with your unique perspective, your unique experiences, and your unique voice as a writer.

If you really stop and listen, immersing yourself in your writing by listening with every ounce of your imagination to everything you see, hear, and read -- every image, every sound, every interaction -- then you will tap a wellspring of creativity for new ideas that is just as crucial for building a writer's career as churning out pages for that next big script.

My college reunion reminded me of my old alma mater's motto: Vox Clamantis in Deserto or The Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness.

Whether that wilderness is your grandma's house or your couch, find your place of solitude, listen closely, find your stories -- and then cry out for the whole world to hear.