Ever get the feedback on your script that all your characters seem alike? Did you frantically search online for “ways to make characters unique,” only to come back with hundreds of results because everyone has a different idea or tool that they use?
Randy Webb, online instructor for NY University teaching applied behavioral psychology, led an informative workshop on using one such tool, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
After a brief introduction to the concepts of the psychological analysis tool, attendees chose a character that they knew well from a movie or television show and completed a chart answering as if they were that character. The results were quite accurate!
Attendees were instructed on the different preferences of personality types and why they would react differently under the same situations based on the strengths and weaknesses of the way they perceive the world.
How does this help shape your characters? Do you have a plot and need to know what kind of person to put in the situation? Or have you created an antagonist and a protagonist with opposing personality types that by definition pit them against each other?
While using the MBTI is a fun and interesting tool, Webb cautions against taking the results too far. Remember, just like actors, we can all pretend to be someone else for a while. Perhaps that is what your character is doing!
This was part of the Northwest Screenwriters Guild 2019 workshop series.
One of the best things I ever did to improve my screenwriting was join a website called Trigger Street Labs. I discovered it somewhere around 2008 and spent a large amount of time and effort there for a couple of years. The concept was simple: give feedback on other people’s screenplays and other people would give feedback on yours. I learned the secret of the site’s real value pretty quickly: I got much more out of the reviews I completed for other people than I did from the feedback I received on my own work.
The key is giving good notes. They should be honest and helpful. You may give feedback on a script that is better than anything you’ll ever write. I did. It was called PURE, and it went on to win a Nichols Fellowship in 2009. Or you may find yourself slogging through a mess of words that can only charitably be called a screenplay. Either way, your job should be to provide whatever assistance you can with the sincere intent of improving the work.
Honest notes can feel like an attack to a writer. Trust me though, you need them. Reading through that feedback of your work can be so painful, especially early on. That is perfectly normal to feel when someone is critical of a thing into which you’ve poured your heart and soul. If your goal is to improve as a writer, you’ll want to thicken up your skin to the point that you can shrug off the pain and knee-jerk defensiveness and get down to the hard work of making your script the best it can be.
You also want people in your life who will be honest with you about your work. A good friend who will look you in the eye and tell you what doesn’t work about your script without fear of losing your friendship is a valuable thing. If you can be that friend for others, you will find the people you need in your life as a writer.
Trigger Street Labs is gone now, which is a shame. I have heard The Black List runs a similar program these days, but haven’t had the time to look into it for myself. Most of my recent script notes have gone out to members of the Northwest Screenwriters Guild who have submitted work to be considered for Compendium status.
If you are a member of the Guild with work you feel is ready to be seen by industry professionals, I encourage you to get a script in for review.
Last month the Northwest Screenwriters Guild hosted a pitch panel at the 2018 Seattle Film Summit with some of Hollywood’s biggest heavyweights, giving 12 writers a chance to win over a thousand dollars in prizes.
More than 50 Northwest writers submitted 60-second video pitches in hopes of being selected to present their ideas in front of these professionals, as well as a live audience of over 200 people. Grand prize winner, Myra Dietzel, won free admission to TheFilmSchool Winter Writing Intensive along with free software and other prizes.
All writers were fortunate to have their ideas vetted by top Hollywood professionals, such as Christopher Lockhart, who reads scripts for Will Smith, Robert Downey, Jr., Liam Neeson, Michelle Pfeiffer, and more, as head of story at talent agency juggernaut WME. They also got feedback on their movie ideas from Sean Robins, producer of such properties as TAG, Tom Cruise’s KNIGHT AND DAY, among others.
For those who showed literary promise, we had two managers on hand to field ideas, as well: Josh Adler from Circle of Confusion, and Kevin Parker from Artists First. And of course, if you’re idea was contained and capable of being shot at the right budget, critically-acclaimed indie producer Alex Schepsman, producer in-residence of The Bigfoot Green Room, was there to get your pitch off the ground.
After about one hour of hearing pitches, the judges announced winners. Aforementioned Myra Dietzel won first place. Coming in second was Arthur Rains-McNally. And last but not least, Kara Puerschner came in third. All writers are from the greater Seattle area.
Participating in events like the Seattle Film Summit Pitch Panel is just one of the perks of joining the Northwest Screenwriters Guild, where up-and-coming writers connect with amazing resources to improve their craft and make industry connections.
In Seattle for one-on-one script consultations, Gordy Hoffman, founder and judge of the BlueCat Screenplay Competition spent an evening with Northwest Screenwriters Guild members for a moderated Q&A where he discussed screenplay competitions, what sets the BlueCat Screenplay Competition apart and how writers can hone their craft.
Hosted at the Seattle Film Institute and moderated by NwSG member Arthur Rains-McNally, Hoffman talked about his trajectory from shooting his own films in elementary school in the woods around his hometown of Rochester, NY to attending the University of Kansas to writing and producing screenplays in Los Angeles.
He founded the BlueCat Screenplay Competition in 1998 and remains its judge. Asked why BlueCat consistently makes all the top 10 lists of the most important screenplay competitions in the industry, both for screenplay and television script writing, and what makes it special, Hoffman elaborated: “Transparency sets us apart. You know who’s reading your script, you know their credentials and what they’ve done in the industry and we pay them accordingly so we can attract and retain the best.”
Asked how one goes about winning the BlueCat Screenplay Competition and whether it favors any particular genre, he explained that it all comes down to good storytelling and strong relationships between characters. They’ve awarded the top prize to any variety of genres – horror, comedy, drama and everything in between, but the winners all had a couple of elements in common: unique characters, relationships between those characters that are compelling and that the audience cares about and a strong storyline.
It’s the same commercially: “Whether it’s Black Panther, The Meg, or Black Klansman, they were all great screenplays because you care about the characters and the relationships between them. And the high quality storytelling.”
Hoffman also talked about the importance of writing and producing short films, particularly for new writers. The short film format forces writers to develop compelling characters and compelling relationships between those characters quickly, and to create an emotional connection with the audience quickly. He explained that it’s also easy for new writers and producers to work in their communities to produce shorts, rather than attempting to bring a full screenplay to fruition. Hoffman’s short film Dog Bowl had its world premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and went on to screen at over 50 festivals around the world.
In addition to the Q&A on Friday evening, August 17, Hoffman sold out all available slots for one-on-one script consultations for aspiring screenwriters in the Seattle area on August 17 and 18. BlueCat Screenplay Competition offers a variety of other services for screenwriters, including:
Written, Skype and in-person script consultations, for features, TV pilots and shorts
Wendy Kram’s mantra is to help screenwriters get past their “I’m not good at pitching” fear.
Kram, a producer and owner of the Hollywood consulting firm L.A. FOR HIRE, shared her industry insights with the Northwest Screenwriters Guild at Seattle University April 14. The event, co-sponsored by Seattle U., was a mix of seminar and workshop, as Kram helped some attendees improve their introductions and pitches on the spot.
Currently producing projects with Anonymous Content, Kram has more than 20 years of experience consulting, producing, and developing projects at major Hollywood studios. So when it comes to pitches, she stressed the importance of highlighting the distinguishing factors not only of the story you’re pitching, but also of your background.
“Everyone has some unique expertise, some distinguishing factor” that helps substantiate expertise driving the story being pitched, Kram said. It can often be a particular uniqueness that can pique the interest of the industry executives.
“Take stock in your background,” she said. “Don’t forget to mention the obvious.” For example, if your script won an award or was a finalist in a major competition, mention it. If you’re a lawyer pitching an idea about lawyers, be sure to mention you’re a lawyer. Expertise in the world of your story gains trust with producers, she added.
In addition to uniqueness and expertise, Kram said producers also gravitate toward pre-existing source material, such as books, plays, and true stories. That book you loved 15 years ago that never got produced as a film may be available for a low-cost or even no-cost option agreement, she said.
The source material, she noted, does not necessarily have to have achieved great levels of fame. Even a locally produced play that received local notoriety, or a blog with a regular following, can be enough to pique the interest of a producer.
Kram also stressed the importance of writers’ willingness to sign the industry-standard submission release forms when asked to do so, as well as consulting with an entertainment attorney prior to signing a release form.
In addition to her workshop, Kram also took pitches from NwSG Compendium members, and she is offering a discount to all NwSG members seeking L.A. FOR HIRE services, which include:
In-depth feature and TV script consultations
TV series Bible Creation, Templates and Editing
Insider tips to increase your project’s salability
Marketing and submission strategies
Personalized coaching and career-building action plans
The Art of cold-calling and pitching like a pro
Northwest Screenwriters Guild members can contact Wendy by firstname.lastname@example.org or 310-994-3258 to discuss services that might be the right fit, or to customize services to fit individual needs.
Completing a feature-length screenplay is daunting enough, but what can you do to convince someone — especially producers — it’s worth their time to read it?
Condensing your 100-page screenplay into a nimble verbal pitch is an art in itself. And if you’re uncomfortable even attempting to do so, you can relax, because the art of the pitch can be learned, and mastered.
More importantly, say Geof Miller and Troy Hunter, a quality pitch can be the start of a beautiful relationship.
Miller, president of the Northwest Screenwriters Guild, and his writing partner Hunter, also an NwSG member, have developed some of their strongest professional relationships with producers that started at pitch fests.
Miller and Hunter presented their pitch-fest best practices August 20 at the NwSG “Get the Most out of Pitch Fests” event, held at Seattle’s Couth Buzzard Books.
“It’s not a pitch fest, it’s a meeting fest,” Miller stressed, noting that few — if any — screenplays are outright purchased at pitch fests.
Hunter added, “It’s access to people you otherwise wouldn’t have access to.” And both said your main goal should be to build relationships with the producers — and even producers’ assistants who may be there in lieu of their bosses.
“It’s important to demonstrate you can collaborate, because filmmaking and story development is collaborative,” Miller said.
Pitch fests typically allot five minutes to meet with a given production company, so it’s important to do your research in advance, and target the production companies who produce work similar to the stories you’ll be pitching.
Miller says IMDbPro is the best resource not only for what production companies have produced, but also what they have in development, which even for small companies can be several projects.
The best approach is to go into pitch fests with three ideas, briefly introduce each one — a sentence for each idea — and then ask which idea the producer would like to learn more about.
Remember, you likely have a total of five minutes, so brevity is key.
NwSG Members: You may download Troy and Geof’s presentation from our Members Only password-protected directory. You’ll receive login and password information via email by August 28.
“Let them drive the conversation,” Miller continued. And then deliver the key points of the story they want to hear in five sentences — about 45 seconds. “If they want to hear more about your 45-second pitch, they’ll ask.”
And don’t worry if producers interrupt your pitch, Miller added. “Interruptions are good. It means they’re interested.”
And Hunter noted, “If they’re not interested in what you have, your job is not to change their mind.” Instead, pivot to, “What are you looking for?” And share ideas you might have related to their interests.
Both agreed that props and leavebehinds are bad ideas at pitch fests. And rarely are business cards even exchanged. Miller and Hunter both have scraps of paper handy to gather producers’ contact information.
“When you get their contact info, you win,” Miller said, underscoring the main purpose of pitch fests: developing relationships.
And for that reason, he added, pitch fests may not be for you if you only have one screenplay you hope to sell. Managers and producers are only interested in career-oriented screenwriters — those who continually generate ideas and write screenplays.
Hunter added it’s important not to get discouraged if a producer doesn’t request your screenplay because producers often are looking for something very specific, even if you’ve presented an idea in the same genre.
“If there’s one takeaway,” Miller said, “it’s ‘go with the flow.'”
Members of the Northwest Screenwriters Guild had the pleasure of hearing portions of their screenplays brought to life by professional actors, in an event co-sponsored by the Seattle SAG-AFTRA chapter.
Held March 12 at the Eclectic Theater, the event featured script excerpts from a broad range of genres, and was followed by a question-and-answer session with the screenwriters.
While screenwriting programs such as Final Draft have a text-to-speech feature that allows you to assign different voices to the characters in your script, there is no substitute to hearing your script read by professional actors. That’s why the NWSG teamed up with SAG-AFTRA, not only for the benefit of some of our screenwriters, but also to provide the opportunity for actors to exercise their skills, and demonstrate their range should any of the featured projects move forward to production.
The NWSG members whose scripts were featured:
LAST STOP by Michael Walker – directed by Bill Murray
LITTLE BANDITS by Michael Di Martino – directed by Craig Packard
THE ELEPHANT ROOM by Tom Kennedy – directed by George Thomas Jr.
TAKEN AWAY by Kate Calamatta – Long Tran
TUESDAY NIGHT POKER by Adam Sheridan – directed by Bill Murray
THE WAY DOWN by Jeffry Smith – directed by Long Tran
DELUSIONAL (PONZI) by Dick McCormick – directed by Craig Packard
SUPER GEEKS by Mark Robyn – directed by George Thomas Jr.