Monday, July 16, 2012

Smash to Black.

I have now emerged from my writer-cave with 109 pages of a new screenplay.


Last you heard from me, I had just written "Fade In:" on my new sci-fi action script, KILL SCREEN... and this draft was the wildest ride I have ever had on a script.

Now I'm the guy who comes to work prepared. I researched the hell out of this one. Wrote up character bios. Planned out every set piece. Sowed in the seeds of a Theme throughout. Fully outlined this thing top to bottom... maybe I even over-outlined. Exhibit A:

So I sat down, ready to write 3-5 pages a day like I always do... but nothing could have prepared me for this script:

Video games. Alien technology. Death traps. Guns. Robots. Explosions. An A.I. that would make  GLaDOS seem sane. All set to a ticking clock with 5 strangers stuck in an undisclosed location.

So when I sat down to write this one, it was like throwing pages at the ocean:

  • I wrote the first 10 pages, got stuck with nowhere to go, and started over.
  • I rewrote the first 10 pages, much better this time, kept going to page 20, then got stuck at a dead end with no way out, and had to start over.  
  • I rewrote the first 20 pages, way better, clicking along, up to page 30, then got stuck in a black hole of absolutely nowhere to go in the universe, and started over.
This was my process for all 109 pages. My page count rolled back and forth like the tide. It was frustrating, sanity-wracking, and ultimately rewarding. This is the best thing I've written. Hands down.

Perhaps this happened because I outlined too much -- my midpiont became my climax, scenes were cut, character arcs changed -- I restructured the whole script with my fingers on the keyboard.

Perhaps this process happened because I'm learning, growing, able to see the flaws in my work with fresh eyes even while I'm writing, coming up with rewrites as I hit page 10, 20, 30, etc.

Whatever it may be, I'm excited for the future:

I HAVE A JOB! Woohoo! After 13 months of unemployment, I now have a paying job as a Hollywood assistant working for two VPs of one of the biggest companies in Hollywood.

And I'm already writing "Fade In:" on my next script, a spy thriller called: 
Working in Hollywood by day. 
Writing scripts by night. 
The emerging screenwriter's dream.

It's good to be back -- stay tuned! 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Top 10 Screenwriting Competitions

So a few of you revealed to me that you are screenwriters -- a shock, I know -- who liked reading about "Breaking In," but want to know more about Screenwriting Competitions.

And who doesn't? If you win the right one, you get everything an emerging screenwriter desires: recognition, prizes, and meetings with agents, managers, and producers all over Hollywood.

But what are the right ones? There are hundreds of screenwriting competitions, all asking for a fee, which can get expensive fast if you catch Competition fever.

So allow me to present my Top 10 Screenwriting Competitions:
(rated by Hollywood gossip and a little internet research)

Run by the Motion Picture Academy, they honor mostly Oscar-caliber prestige pictures, but you MUST apply just for the chance of winning: you not only get $35,000, but your phone explodes with phone calls from agents, managers, producers, and executives all over town.

A friend of mine who worked at a major agency was commanded to get the contact list for all the winning fellows before it was announced by any means necessary -- just so this agency could beat all the other agencies to offering representation first.

What writer doesn't want Hollywood in a feeding frenzy over their script?

While Nicholl usually picks social issue dramas, Tracking B loves a damn good genre script with a high concept pitch and an original hook -- something Hollywood would make in a heartbeat. Run by one of the best Tracking Boards in the business, your scripts are read by well-established managers, agents, and executives -- who turn around and sign the winners every time.

This one is less a competition and more a film festival -- devoted to screenwriting. Yes, I'm biased, since I placed Second Round last year, but if you place anywhere in this comp, you gotta go: a packed weekend all about honoring us screenwriters with tons of panels, roundtables with established filmmakers, and networking events where you are just as likely to meet an interested producer or agent at the bar as you are from winning the damn thing.

* * * * *

In my experience, these three are the only three competitions that Hollywood at large has heard of -- winning any of the above is like winning a Hollywood Screenwriting Olympic Medal to wear with pride -- and use to get representation and/or producers.

The following seven competitions will give you connections to representation and established executives, but keep in mind that not everyone in Hollywood has heard of these guys:

* * * * *

This competition seeks original, artistic, and independent voices -- read not Hollywood -- and the winners are invited to a prestigious week-long workshop where some of the best writers in the business mentor you, guide you in rewriting your script into a masterpiece, and help you get your script made into an independent film for, well, the Sundance Film Festival sort of audience. Note that you only send in the First 5 pages of your script with a synopsis, bio, and cover letter -- this one is less about representation and more about making your dream indie movie.

This competition is that perfect mix of indie spirit and Hollywood heat where your outside-the-box script can shine. With separate categories for Feature, Horror, Teleplay, and Short/webisodes, Slamdance has championed all their winners who have a history of not only finding reps and producers -- but their scripts sometimes get made into indie features too!

Grand Prize: $5,000 -- and the top ten finalists are considered for representation by the biggest agents and managers in town and for options by many of the most reputable production companies in Hollywood. Judges: Francis Ford Coppola and company. 'Nuff said.

Perhaps the best run competition in the field, PAGE is unique for having categories in almost every genre -- Action/Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Family Film, Historical Film, Science Fiction, and Thriller/Horror. Not only that, but all scripts go through a rigorous evluation process by professional readers, screenwriters, agents, managers, and executives -- so the winners come out on top receiving offers of representation just about every time.

Newer to the pack, but picking up speed, Script Pipeline gives finalists what they really want: personal introductions to agents, managers, and producers looking just for your sort of material. They have quite a few success stories with winning scripts getting sold and just as many reputable companies and agencies reading the submitted scripts. I know a handful of friends who have had success with them -- worth a shot!

This is the best screenwriting competition you haven't heard of. Tucked away in the gorgeous town of Big Bear a few hours east of L.A., the competition coincides with the Big Bear Film Festival --and damn, do these guys know how to throw a party. All the finalists are read by agents, managers, and development executives in Hollywood -- who come into town to meet the finalists and find new clients. Definitely worth the submission fee.

Like the Sundance Lab, Film Independent offers writers a workshop with established filmmakers to mentor them in rewriting their scripts, in the business of screenwriting, and in getting their scripts made into a great indie feature. Personally, I haven't heard of people finding representation here -- but quite a few stories of meeting a fellow writer, becoming friends, and having that writer introduce them to their first agent.

That's it! But I would advise against blanket applying to all ten. Do some research of your own. What scripts are they looking for? What has won in the past? For example, you might not win Sundance with your hitman action script -- but why not Tracking B or Page Awards?

Most importantly -- WRITE YOUR SCRIPT. And rewrite it. And rewrite it. Send it to your friends. Get notes. Rewrite it. Get more notes. Rewrite it again. Make sure your script is so effing perfect that you can't stand to look at it anymore. Then rewrite it two more times just for good measure. Then you're ready to apply. After one more rewrite. Or five.

Good luck!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Birthday Gift to You

Another Life has been to 12 film festivals around the nation... and now it comes home to you.

Today is my birthday, and as my birthday gift to you, I am proud to finally present to you the full short film of Another Life. Enjoy!

ANOTHER LIFE -- Short Thriller
A female veteran has three days to kill a fellow soldier or they both die.

Written and directed by Nathan Ruegger. Produced by Elizabeth Manashil, Mitsuyo Miyazki, and Min Zhang.

Cinematography by Jay Visit. Edited by Beth Moody. Sound Design by Chris Whetstone, Cesar Arvizo, Kari Barber, and Rebecca Chan. Original Score by John Jennings Boyd.

Shot on Super16mm.

contact: nate.ruegger (at) gmail (dot) com

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Repped at Last

That's right, folks. Yesterday, I signed with a literary manager at a major company.

At our brief but wonderful meeting, my manager and I worked out a basic plan: I'll send her my scripts this week, we'll pick the best of my ideas to write next, and she'll get to work finding a buyer for my scripts while I get to work writing her a new script.

It's a little scary how simple this all is -- From now on, I just keep writing and working with my manager. That's my job. I'm sure I'll find a way to get used to it :)

And it's all thanks to you. I am announcing right here and now that I landed official representation as a screenwriter in Hollywood because of this blog.

Since 2009, I have shared with you my latest endeavors as an emerging writer-director via Facebook, Twitter, and Google +. Through this blog, I was able to share exciting news, socialize with friends old and new, and make the necessary connections that lead to meeting my manager.

More details coming as I am allowed to divulge them, but most importantly, thank you all so much for your shares, comments, and support. This wouldn't be possible without you.

Now, I need to get back to a new draft for my manager... but damn, that felt good to write.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How to Query

Last week, 7 Managers requested my action screenplay. Here's how I did it:

In the past, I extolled the virtues of Networking and Applying to Screenwriting Competitions -- and I still do -- they're the #1 and #2 ways to get your script read by the best of Hollywood -- but after my string of non-luck in 2011, I'm ready for #3 again.

Cold Query E-mails. In three steps. Oh yeah.

1) Draft the Email

And by draft the email, I mean write a killer logline. I've written about this before, even with a first draft formula, but never forget: raise the stakes, make it original, and practice pitching. I didn't feel ready to query until I rewrote my logline dozens of time with help from my friends.

Remember, agents and managers deal with pitches all the time, day after day, year after year -- and if they are going to give you the time of day, your logline needs to stand out.

Which is also why you gotta make your email short. Here's what worked for me:
Dear [First Name],

I thought you might be interested in my new script:

[TITLE] -- [Genre]
[Logline].[MOVIE #1 meets MOVIE #2].

Thank you for your time.

[Your Name]
[Personal Website]
2) Make a List

And by list I mean an Excel Spreadsheet of all the agencies, management companies, and production companies in town. This is where your research comes into play --, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, IMDbPro, The Wrap, TrackingB, The Black List, etc. -- to find the names of ALL the companies. Not just the big ones. ALL THE HOLLYWOOD. More on that later.

Then you need to make a list of individual agents, managers, and development execs at those companies -- and you find their email addresses. No, not "" off of their corporate website. You need their individual company email addresses. But how?

I've been able to find email addresses through IMDbPro and google searches -- but mostly through networking. Working as a Hollywood assistant, you collect email addresses from major Hollywood players, or just e-mail structures like Also, fellow writer friends have shared their query lists with me too. So don't stop networking!

Then once you have compiled hundreds -- seriously, HUNDREDS -- of email addresses, then you're ready for the final step:

3) Email Everyone

That's right. Everyone. All at once. Not just the people who represent/hire writers in your genre, style, niche, etc. All of Hollywood. Paper the town. Here's why:

The tide can turn so quickly. The agent who represents comedy writers today could represent horror writers tomorrow. For example, after The Devil Inside made a surprising box office smash this past weekend, I imagine everyone in Hollywood might want their hands on the next found footage horror script. So you never know if you're querying the right or wrong person.

But do use some discretion. For example, I would suggest querying one rep per company unless the company is huge. If you email 1-2 reps at a time, wait a month for a response, then email another 1-2 reps at that company, you might get a better response then carpet-bombing everyone at the company with emails and expecting a personal, passionate response.

And here's the pep talk.

This is a lot of work. Not something you do in an afternoon. This takes hours and hours. Days and days. It took me weeks of working on the logline, compiling the list, drafting hundreds of emails, and then sending them all off... with only a 1% response.

After 400 something emails, I got 7 responses... and already one manager passed. But this is the number one rule of screenwriting: DO NOT GET DISCOURAGED.

So 3 months later, change the wording of the logline, and do it again. Or even better -- send out a new logline for the new script you finished in those 3 months. Because the first thing anyone will ask after a positive read is "What else do you have?" and it better be in the same brand as your last script and you better send it immediately. So keep writing and keep fighting.

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

Don't give up.