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:

[Logline]

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.

MORAL OF THE STORY

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.