Here's part one of my notes from IFP's terrific Script to Screen conference last weekend (well, it's really part two, as I turned the panel with The Daily Show head writer Steve Bodow into its own post). I didn't take notes on all the panels, just the ones I thought might be of interest to the No Film School readership. Also, my Macbook Old only lasts two hours before its battery dies; I need one of those newfangled ones with the 7-hour runtime. Included here are the panels Development Demystified and Networking & Notice – Workshops, Contests & Competitions. Some real-world screenwriting questions were answered on these two panels, including, "How long does it take to get a movie made?" and "Do you have a chance of getting into festivals and competitions if you’re not connected, if you don’t have an in?" Most of this is paraphrased, not word-for-word (often for clarity).
The development process is often mysterious. What opportunities are available for screenwriters who want to submit scripts on spec, get a development deal or receive work for hire? And who are the people reading and evaluating your work? Find out how to endear yourself to development execs when you get your work in front of them for consideration– and engage them even after you’ve sealed the development deal.
Moderated by Susan Lewis, Producer, BIG PITA LIL PITA PRODUCTIONS
Featuring Sophie Barthes, Writer/Director, COLD SOULS; Anne Carey, Producer, This is That Films - ADVENTURELAND, THE SAVAGES; Christina Hodson, Director of Development; CURIOUS PICTURES; Jonathan Shukat, Production/Development Executive, PALMSTAR ENTERTAINMENT.
Anne: At This is That, on average, it takes five years to get a movie made. The forthcoming George Clooney vehicle The American was in development for 11 years at This is That.
Sophie: Cold Souls took two-and-a-half to three years. It won a screenplay at the Nantucket screenwriting competition; I'd written it for Paul Giamatti and he was actually at the festival where I accepted the award -- I gave it to him, he read it, and accepted the role two days later. But I had to wait for Paul to finish John Adams and other films first.
All: IFP, Tribeca, Sloan, and other competitions -- all work as filters that can get a script into producer's hands. Cold calls and unsolicited submissions are rarely successful unless it's very targeted, i.e. "I love your work as a producer of, X, Y, Z, and I think this is right for you..." in which case you might be able to get something in a producer's hands -- form letters never work. Without representation (if your script is coming from an agent, manager, actor, or director), a personal, targeted appeal might be the only chance to get a script read by a working producer.
Most producers on this panel are not actively developing content for the web but:
Jonathan: We do cull stuff from the web.
Christina: I watch funny or die, youtube, I watch all the stuff my friends send me, always looking for content and writers.
All: If your script has made it past an initial "pass," be open to notes. Take notes constructively, even if you don't feel a reader's particular suggestion is the right direction, the point the reader is getting stuck on is worth noting. Come up with a different solution.
Anne: If we're bringing you in for a meeting, you've already made it far in the process. If you don't like the notes you can always decide not to work with us. You need to be wanting to make the same movie as the producers, and you need to be working with people whose interpretive intent is the same as yours.
Christina: Be nice. Once someone's optioned your screenplay, if you're being really difficult they can ditch you and hire someone else.
Sophie: You get into a lot of fights. It's normal, it's part of the creative process. It's important to stick to your guns.
There's disagreement on the panel as to whether an animated storyboard for the whole film would be good to submit with a screenplay. The consensus, however, is that supplemental materials are good.
Networking & Notice – Workshops, Contests & Competitions
You know you’ve written the next great indie film – now how can you garner attention for it when you’re not represented and have few industry connections? Lab leaders, screenwriting jurors and acclaimed filmmakers share what workshops, contests and competitions they track and how to get the most out of them.
Moderated by Rachel Chanoff, SUNDANCE SCREENWRITERS' LAB
Featuring Gordy Hoffman, BLUECAT SCREENWRITING COMPETITION; Tamir Muhammad, Director, TRIBECA ALL ACCESS; David Nugent, Director of Programming, HAMPTONS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL; and Paul Rachman, Co-Founder, SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL
Rachel: Do you have a chance of getting into festivals and competitions if you're not connected, if you don't have an in?
David: It used to be connections, now it's combination of both (open submissions and work passed on through connections). We take submissions through withoutabox.
Gordy: No connections, just submissions.
Paul: The hardest thing for first-time screenwriters is opening up and getting criticism for your work. If you're a first-time writer, the coverage you're going to get is probably going to be harsh. You need nerves of steel and you need to take that criticism constructively. At Slamdance we have a program to have industry coverage written, and we expect the writer to be angry about our coverage and call us -- but it's a lot better to have that happen with Slamdance than with a studio. Films get made by getting them out there, opening up, and making relationships -- the more you open up and get feedback, that's how your film gets made.
Rachel: It's four people's tastes; contests aren't a perfect process. We collectively narrow a thousand scripts down to 25, and then narrow it down from there by consensus. There are a lot of reasons other than quality of writing as to why a script gets selected -- for example, two of the best scripts this year were on the same topic, and they could only accept one; one was by a man and one was by a woman. ((You can interpret this comment how you will, but I have a pretty good guess as to which writer got in!))
Tamir: At Tribeca we often accept a project or writer who we've rejected in a past year, because of follow-up and staying in touch and getting to know that person. Don't be discouraged by not getting in your first time.
Rachel: We're trying to think about new platforms at Sundance. Not just "this is being watched in a four-wall theater where popcorn is being served." We're trying to think about how to support writing for new platforms?
Gordy: There is no platform for boring, unoriginal stuff. If it's original and compelling, it works on a cell phone.
Rachel: [about her 11-year old son] He's been to Sundance 11 times and he likes the movies but he has a hard time grasping why he can't control the story. He's used to first person shooters and, beyond the blood and guts, what does it mean that this generation is growing up expecting to be able to make narrative choices along with the writer? How does that affect you as filmmakers?
Winning a competition is also confidence-building. Ultimately the best person to sell your film is you. In being recognized, you should take that as a vote of confidence that you're good enough. You should use that recognition to get through doors that would otherwise be closed. When you call someone you can say, it won X contest or it was selected for Y lab -- it helps you be strong enough to sell yourself.