Everything has a beginning. When do you know that a thought or idea will become a long-term project?
I'm a crazy person. (Maybe all writers are crazy people, or maybe I'm just telling myself that so I feel less crazy.) That's to say, I talk to myself a lot: my brain is always chattering at me, and I write things partly to get my brain to shut the hell up and leave me alone. ALL of my longer projects started as shorter ones that wouldn't shut up. I'd try to get away with writing the shorter version, and the idea said, "No, that's not enough. I'm not finished with you yet."
You have a huge body of work. This includes short stories, stageplays, books, collaborative art projects, web-based development; the list goes on. From a screenwriting perspective, what have you learned from exploring different forms of storytelling?
Obviously there are craft things that make one form different than another, and that's part of the fun-trying to find the medium that's best for holding this story or that story. But I've also come to believe that underneath all that, it's more or less the same gig, no matter what medium: tell an interesting story. Then use everything you know about craft to tell it as well as you can.
Considering the range of media you work in, what still compels you to write screenplays? What makes screenwriting different?
I think when I was younger, I started projects based on ideas, and short stories were good containers for those, but as I've gotten older, I've been writing more and more about people and relationships. I think I'm a little less narcissistic. I love screenplays because they're about these collisions between people, and all the interesting messy stuff that explodes out of those collisions. Screenplays are necessarily about a larger part of the human experience than just me and my ideas, and I love that.
Your original one-hour pilot THE CALLING was a Top Finalist in The Creative World Awards. What do you think contributed to its success?
Thanks for picking it! The Calling started out as a short story called "Stella of the Angels," which is very different but sort of marked the beginning of that particular obsession for me: what is it like to live as a fortune teller, to live in this gray area between real mysticism and confidence scams? What do these people believe and what sorts of doubts to they have? I chased that obsession down a couple different rabbit holes: the "Stella" story was one and The Calling was another. People told me it was a weird idea, and I finally understood they meant this in a good way: no one had told this particular story before. So I think it intrigued people.
What is your definition of "success"? How can writers think critically to develop their own definition?
I'm really glad you asked that: it's been more or less all I've been thinking about lately, as I beat myself up for not doing more. I heard something recently that was very self-helpy but also really good for me to hear, about the difference between "aspiration" and "goals." As much as I can, I'm trying not to burn too much energy aspiring for things that are out of our control. I'm happier when I can set realistic, doable goals for myself: finish that script, submit that fiction, query that producer. Stop worrying and just tell stories. Just work.
What is the most engaging or fulfilling project you've ever worked on? What contributed to this?
Ha-my next one! I'm only being partly facetious. Really, it's always the next one. I'm so excited about the project I'm writing right now, which is a TV series we're about to start pitching. I'm so excited by this story. Also, the one after that. And maybe the one after that...
Mark has placed in CWA in the past and recently won The Richmond International Film Festival Thriller Genre Category. Winning the grand prize in both the Screencraft Fellowship and Francis Ford Coppola American Zoetrope Screenplay Contest are also some of his latest accomplishments.
When did you start writing?
You know, telling stories is one of those things I feel like I've been doing since I figured out how to string together a sentence, but I really fell in love with screenwriting in high school after reading a copy of the script for KISS KISS BANG BANG. That script is so crazy and fun and emotional and, for lack of a better word, Shane Black-ey. I then read a lot more and started experimenting with screenwriting. About 2.5 years ago I moved to LA after leaving a job in supply chain management and I haven't looked back.
LOSING TOUCH is a bit of a genre blending script with a real uniqueness to it. Where did you get the idea for this story?
LOSING TOUCH is about believing in yourself. Self-belief is probably the most important of writing - you need to believe in what you write and do because not everybody will. Self-belief is incredibly important for everyone and so I really just wanted to say that.
But I wanted to send that message in the most colorful, action-packed, hilarious package possible. And a result, I came up with LOSING TOUCH, which I usually describe as James Bond in love and on acid.
Who are your influences?
I think a little piece of every movie I've ever watched influences me. From watching WIZARD OF OZ and ALADDIN three times a day when I was a kid to movies like ETERNAL SUNSHINE, NIGHTCRAWLER, and CASABLANCA that I appreciate as an adult. Writers like Andrew Stanton, Shel Silverstein, Shane Black, Brett Easton Ellis, and Joseph Conrad are huge influences as well.
I've also been incredibly lucky to have some amazing people in my life. Two friends in particular - Mike and Jesse - have read every word I've written and I've written a lot of words. My parents and sisters have been supportive in this crazy dream of mine. And my girlfriend and best friend Crystal has believed in me every day since I left my job, has listened and critiqued thousands of crazy ideas, and most amazingly she's put up with my writer's insanity ie. Drinking coffee until fidgety and staying awake 30 straight hours because THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT SCENE EVER! There's also a ton of other people along the way who have had a massive, positive impact on my writing, but I can hear the music playing me off now...
One tiny thing I want to add is that you should listen to your family and friends - especially if they're not in the industry. They're the ultimate audience anyway and their ideas are often the least shaded by the cloud that is Hollywood. Plus, anyone who believes in someone else is a hero in his or her own right.
Do you have a preferred genre of movie you like to watch? What about write?
I like to watch anything that makes me feel. The same can be said for what I like to write, but to be a bit more specific: I write high-octane, character driven stories that exist in worlds a little different from our own.
What's the worst advice you've ever gotten as a writer? How about the best?
The worst advice is to have a plan B. Plan Bs make you too comfortable and being comfortable has never been great for creativity.
The best advice is to always keep writing. No matter what.
Having won the 2015 Outstanding Merit Award for Best Thriller Screenplay, what are your goals as a writer?
My goal as a writer has always been to tell stories to people. With the recognition from Richmond and some other exciting wins this month, the biggest change in my goal is that I'd like the audience for my stories to be bigger! At this point I'm looking to connect with representation who believes in my voice to help spread these stories.
I also want to take a second to thank the Richmond and CWA judges and organizers. Having experience and success in both, I can say both are a great experience.
by Scott Manville (www.ScottManville.com)
Copyright 2015 Manville Media Ventures, Inc.
We're in a new golden age of television where outlets and appetites for great storytelling have flourished as a new space for filmmakers and screenwriters to see original projects come to fruition, and for new creators to find opportunity in what used to be an extremely insulated business. Running parallel to that has been the convergence of the Internet with the Entertainment Industry, bringing new creatives to the table by way of online sourcing vehicles like the Creative World Awards and the TV Writers Vault www.tvwritersvault.com. Studio Executives and New Writers no longer have respective excuses for not delivering quality entertainment, or not being able to find "connections". Hollywood, you've been warned.
In my early twenties I was unemployed, studying acting and writing, with no real direction or mentor to help me even know how or what to navigate. On a sunny winter morning, I stopped in to Nate & Al's deli for a coffee in Beverly Hills, and had the good fortune of meeting a prolific Producer, Scott Brasil ("Hills Street Blues", "The Shield"). In our quick chat, he understood that I was learning to write, and I loved story. He cut off any talk I made about acting, and immediately urged me to Write, and write for TV. “Write, Create, and you'll have the power. Go into television, and you’ll see things get done. Your family won’t starve”, he ordered me, with a hard stare into my eyes that I can still see today. His advice not only changed my life, but was a foreshadowing of the renaissance of cable TV becoming a playground for brilliant film directors and screenwriters to do their passion projects, and the Internet leveling the playing field for new writers and producers fighting to find a way to connect and create.
Today, if a Writer is serious about having a career, or just selling a show, they’re not limiting themselves to being produced for theatrical outlets. They see television as a medium now open to a limitless spectrum of subjects for storytelling. Cross-over careers are the norm, and all of the categorizing and stereotyping of TV versus Film has been reduced to one thing....Good Story transcends all.. A medium which was once looked down upon by film professionals, is now the go-to venue for our most talented screenwriters, directors, and stars producing projects that otherwise wouldn’t find traction in a theatrical release. They've found unparalleled audiences with appetites that result in "binge watching" and fanfare you just don't see anywhere else. The spec scripts for what became "Mad Men", and "Breaking Bad", were both passed on by networks for being too obscure, dark, or politically incorrect. It wasn't until executives at AMC chose to plant their flag with a more shocking approach to storytelling, did they go back to the "round file" and pull both of these masterpieces out of the garbage pale. They understood that today's audiences were sophisticated enough to appreciate the realities of what our society truly used to be, and the dark possibilities of what a life spiraling out of control may become.
When Producers and Studio Executives look for stories and concepts, they're hoping to find one of two things; A subject we haven't explored before that is compelling to witness, or a story that delivers a new shocking or clever angle on a subject we're familiar with. Look at your world. Look at those around you living extraordinary lives. Read. Research. Question. Create. In that process you may just find the premise of a beautiful film, or captivating television program. And when you do, Write, as Mr. Brasil implored. And get it out there! Its not "who you know", but more specifically, "who gets to know your work". Share it with others whom have good taste in entertainment, even if they're not writers. People love story and know a good one when they hear it.
When you've crafted your pitch, be it a concept for a documentary-series, or a narrative for a feature film, its time to put on your armor and move it to market. This business is a subjective and speculative process. That doesn't mean its unfair and impossible. It means that you have to do the work to find the recognition of the right company that will connect with your project that happens to be right for them. Bolster your work by entering programs like The Creative World Awards which can add a specific context of recognition for your project that Producers like to see. It only takes one right set of eyes on your pitch to gain the traction needed to go the distance. Search out companies that produce within the niche/genre of your pitch, and build relationships. Often its not YOUR pitch you will sell to a buyer, but the pitch you BOTH develop after your nucleus of an idea sparked their vision of possibilities. They want your creativity, and collaboration is key. If its not this project, it will be the next. Another great way to make connections for new writers has been the TV Writers Vault. Shows discovered in that platform have been produced and broadcast on networks, including; Lifetime TV, A&E, Discovery Channel, SyFy, and others. Even for those not selling shows, many are making connections with Producers who like the way they conceptualize, or can develop a concept. Its a process, and sometimes, something, somehow clicks along the way.
Let me, at last, give you a bit of fodder for the fire, and share what I feel are the most viable project-types, or the most viable "approach" to any concept or story you're pitching. In any genre of entertainment, its always about "story". I don't care if its a reality-based gameshow, or a documentary on efficient methods of accounting. Story is what carries us through. Documentary Style reality shows are the hottest genre in TV right now, in part because they're cheap to produce, but mostly because of the stories we're able to witness in another life of which we would otherwise never get to experience. It takes us into new worlds. Humor is as important as Drama, and so Characters are the most critical element. Watching a great docu-drama today has the same addictive fascination factor as the Sitcoms of yesteryear. Families, or groups operating together as a "family" type of unit, always delivers great content, IF you have great characters involved. In film, look for the untold and extraordinary sides of subjects that explore the human condition. High concepts are great, but human inspired stories will always elicit more of an emotional connection with any Producer that reads your pitch. We want to be moved. We want to have someone to root for. We want to witness the impossible. Audiences give movie makers a willing suspension of disbelief. Take advantage of that by making strong choices in your story and pitch. Don't settle for what is probable. Pitch what is possible.
7 Keys to Developing Ideas for Web Series
Or, Do you have to be Vulcan to be Transmedian? by WBC Founder Jeffrey Gordon
"Transmedia" is a buzz word that may evolve into another term soon, but it definitely means a lot today. The huge marketing expense and subsequent bottleneck of feature production has made it even more crucial for artists to understand how to translate their ideas across media and to all entertainment formats, including DVD packaging and self-distribution, identification of international outlets, breaking down long form into web series, television potential and branded platforms, as well as translating web series back into long form and integration with digital portals, social media and mobile technology.
At Writers Boot Camp, we now actively discourage our members from writing a feature film script without a 360-degree plan for all markets, especially testing the small, independent project or personal drama. Unless the venture is specifically designed as a micro-budget production, or is written solely as a tent-pole writing sample for the few-years process of gradual entry into the circle of studio assignment ranks, we will generally shift our people into television, which is where the jobs are anyway and have always been.
To gather some perspective, the marketing of feature films and identification of supplemental markets has always been a part of the business that has impacted creative project choices. While there were more financial players, companies and producers connected to the studio system just 10-15 years ago, including the Mini-Majors, listed in the many exciting pages of Daily Variety’s annual “Facts on Pacts” issue, you can fit them all onto a single page today.
But, as always, filmmakers who are not entirely entrepreneurial or marketing savvy may not thrive. Today, the old keepers are still figuring things out and the consumer brands are perhaps poised to become the equivalent of the new studios. And similar to the lottery climate of the spec script market of the 80s and 90s, and the festival circus spawned by success at Sundance back in the Indie heyday, the new frontier represented by the presumed democratization of entertainment via digital cameras and the web is yet to prove itself as a financially viable artistic lifestyle. In other words, we haven’t retired the urging to “keep your day job.”
The lack of predictable methods of monetization of content, beyond commercial buys and ad sponsorship, makes it difficult to justify production costs and investment, otherwise called “the burn rate.” Apart from website development as a promotional vehicle and easy access to one’s project reel, we may have seen the evolution of writer to owner. The question is whether there’s a pay-off, let alone a pay day, for your ownership stake?
Writers Boot Camp has abided a crossover philosophy for many years. There are distinctions between writing and development for movies, television and the web, mostly based on each studio, network, show runner’s and portal’s editorial slant. These forms are more the same, however, than they are different. It’s just like the subject of structure—structure is crucial if you don’t know it; when you do nail structure, then it’s much less important than its primary role to serve as a platform to convey fresh entertainment and a compelling audience experience.
When working on web series through coursework at Writers Boot Camp, we recommend approaching the material at minimum as a television pilot broken into six to 12 five-minute episodes. The actual length of each will fall naturally into place through the process of Scene Testing, finding the key character encounters and emotional highlights, and based on setpieces—the crafted lines and moments of entertainment—that represent the layer of unique action and personality that we haven’t seen before.
Here are seven approaches to keep in mind when evaluating and developing ideas for web series:
1. Depending on budget issues, limit locations to get more mileage out of organic interaction between characters and story. When effects budgets are also limited, exteriors may create a more expansive sense of the world even when the parameters of the genre and small-screen presentation will tend to rely on two-shot storytelling and framing.
2. Consistent with the effective traits of any short film, create a fluid beginning, middle and ending within each episode. Start your episode development process by identifying three major scenes or beats to bear the burden of that flow. Character-driven projects may rely more on emotional foibles and moments of intimate conflict as the events that turn the story. Action-oriented genres will provide you with more typical, plot-based culmination of scenes.
3. Whether the series tracks only an A-story or multiple story lines, choose a Main Character and Dynamic Character in every scene. The Dynamic Character at Writers Boot Camp is the second star, usually the character spending the middle of the adventure or story line with the Main Character, offering a kind of opposition that grounds the audience’s rooting interest and provides a window into the Main Character’s struggle to change.
4. Even when providing a character arc in an episode, end with a cliffhanger or new piece of information, the equivalent of a writer’s asterisk, to pick up where the story and/or character left off. Whether the next episode actually starts on that same moment, topic or location, the placeholder can also remind the audience of the appeal, sexiness, comedy, action—whatever is that kind of setpiece. Through compression and compacting of your scene ideas, a page or two will become a sufficient average length of a scene.
5. Identify the chewy center of your concept by listing as many setpieces as possible prior to writing the actual scenes. Too much lip service is paid to story when all story is inherently derivative. Instead, it’s the fresh approach to content that will translate to entertaining moments that illustrate a concept on the page. We refer to these moments that serve the entertainment layer as setpieces, lines of actual scene direction or dialogue that carry some quality at the core of your concept. Listing setpieces, or highlighting them on the pages of the existing script, will show you whether you’ve made the concept explicit and out of your head.
6. Drilldown the specific audience of your series. Watch other series and notice the consumer products and sponsoring brands. In addition to realizing your voice and your brand within the industry, it’s crucial to determine which consumer brands would be attracted to the quality of your material. Brands today are in need of quality content versus user-generated content. Once you define a more particular profile of your audience target, your opportunities for partnership will increase immensely and propel you into the process of connecting with brands and platforms to support your vision.
7. When combining episodes into a television pilot, there will be additional considerations. New writers underestimate the challenge of writing a television pilot in that it represents not simply an introductory episode but a template for 60-100 future episodes that work similarly, for cable and broadcast respectively.
Many of Writers Boot Camp’s members and alumni are on the vanguard of web development. For samples of successfully produced and distributed digital series and viral video, check out:
--Ylse by Ruth Livier, who plays the lead character of the series and was the first WGA member accepted into the New Media division;
Among Writers Boot Camp’s many forums and speaker series is The Business Breakfast, held 20 times per year at our Santa Monica headquarters at Bergamot Station, every other Wednesday from February through October, where we bring the new leaders of the entertainment industry to discuss emerging opportunities for artists, filmmakers and writers. Details are available at writersbootcamp.com.