Tips for Screenwriting With a Partner

84GOP2OAKRScreenwriting is a journey which can be difficult, challenging, long and, at times, lonely. Yet, if you’re a writer, you’ve already come to terms with that. For many creatives (visual, musical or otherwise) working alone is a method born from habit, and in other instances it is a practice which allows individuals to exercise and develop a given skill, and explore it without judgment. Nevertheless, once that muscle has been worked out, sharing it with others becomes more natural, less fearful and potentially helpful.

Of course, not everyone enjoys working publicly or in partnership with others. For some, solitude allows them space to fully express an idea without distraction. Indeed many examples of amazing work have come as a result of working solo. However, the same could be said for working in partnership with someone else or a group of individuals. Take the latest Star Wars film, for example. Though the original franchise was written alone by the series creator George Lucas, the most recent film–the largest in the franchise’s history and one of the biggest movies of all time–was a collaboration between the director J.J. Abrams, long-time partner Lawrence Kasdan and Toy Story 3’s Michael Arndt. In fact, of the seven films, only 3 have been written by Lucas alone.

Like all partnerships, writing along with someone provides an opportunity for different perspectives, fresh ideas, and immediate feedback. No two people are the same, and while this may take some getting used to if working with others is a new venture, the process could be a learning experience, if nothing else. Still, it’s important to go about collaboration wisely and correctly to ensure that the attempt is not in vain.

First things first, one has to select a partner whom they trust and with whom they can be completely comfortable. The creative journey calls for an environment that allows the creator to be free. If you find yourself holding back thoughts or opinions for fear hurting your partner’s feelings or appearing a certain way, that is not the right partner for you. Find someone with whom you can be natural, which will create a situation in which each of you complement one another instead of being a hinderance.

Secondly, communicate early and often. Again, remember that no two people are the same. You may think the both of you understand the plot or certain conflicts the same way, but it’s important to check-in with the other person (a few times) to be absolutely sure. One of the worst things that can happen, especially if each you decide to work remotely, is to end up with to different movies or a conflicting one. Communication, though slightly more time consuming, should not be discounted; it makes all the difference.

Likewise, when it comes to discussing terms, everything should be expressed clearly and decided upon before the undertaking begins. Even if the partner with whom you’re working is a friend or family, every person should see the endeavor as professional; otherwise, why bother? If you’ve never created an agreement, don’t worry. The Writers Guild of America has a handy, non-intimidating one available to the public on their website.

Note that partnerships are not required nor standard for writing a screenplay. They are merely a tool for heightening creativity and the likelihood of a good story. The most important take away is to choose a partner and/or project that’s most beneficial for all involved, and to approach the process professionally but comfortably. And may the force with be with you!

5 Critical Methods To Market Your Screenplay

Geno ScalaIn the perfect world, a great screenplay would enjoy widespread recognition based solely on its merit. Unfortunately, that simply is not the world in which we live. Hollywood leadership is almost certainly not going to start a bidding war for the rights to your script simply because you know in your heart that it is Oscar-worthy material. A great script is obviously an essential first step, but you will need so much more to achieve massive success.

The Logline

The logline is a thirty word (or shorter!) summary of the story, emphasizing the hook and most important story elements. this includes the protagonist, the antagonist, the conflict, the stakes, the general tone or genre of your work. Well-written loglines are absolutely necessary. An effective logline is able to capture the producer’s attention, leading him to request to read your script. That is the dream of every spec screenwriter.

The Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch can be slightly longer than a logline, so include some additional details. Conceptualize it as how you would describe your script in a way that does it justice, but within the timeframe of an average non-stop elevator ride. That usually means three to five lines offering necessary plot information and perhaps even touching upon potential backstories.


A Pitch-on-Paper (POP) extends the minimization of your story to one page. As such, it should include a significant increase in the amount of detail and nuance you can convey, on top of an illustrative synopsis of the plot. As with both the logline and the elevator pitch, always keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to craft a document that can sufficiently intrigue a producer into reading your script.


A full synopsis usually spans about three pages. A treatment can run as long as ten pages. These both provide ample opportunity to substantially expand upon story details, elaborating on both small and large conflicts, as well as things like character interrelationships or perhaps even sample dialogue. Remember that these forms do include the ending! Do not try to intrigue a producer into reading your script to find out what happens – it will only read as unprofessional and a nuisance.

A Query Letter

When contacting your producer, manager, or agent, use a query letter to entice them into requesting the script. It will include the title, the genre, and a very particular inquiry format that as formulated off the polling results of thousands of film industry professionals regarding what they prefer to see. It will definitely include as many as three strong story “hooks” and your professional biography.

What to Do to Achieve a Winning Writer’s Bio

Image of Writing PenOf the many things that define an excellent query letter, one of the most helpful is often one of the most under-utilized – the “writer’s bio.” A writer’s bio is typically only about two or three lines long and the conclusion of the letter, and it provides you a chance to close on a strong, positive note. Essentially, you get a few short lines to brag about yourself and leave the reader with a final impression of your qualifications.

One of the first things to remember about the writer’s bio is brevity. No reader in the industry will want to read your entire life’s story. The danger is to over-share unnecessary information instead of leveraging the writer’s bio for its actual value, which is as a space to name one or two of your very best accomplishments or qualifications. These bios can even be what actually determines who does and does not end up receiving attention for a script. If all other things are held constant, a query letter with a great writer’s bio is much more likely to get a script read than a letter that lacks one. It can be very positive to learn something impressive about the person submitting the script, so share what your strengths. Good tips for an excellent writer’s bio include doing the following:

  • Touch on (preferably major) contests in which you have placed or won. This is especially true if the script that fared well is the same one your are submitting.
  • If you have already been rather successful writing within your genre, share that. If you are dramatically crossing genres, do not make the mistake of assuming just because you know how to write one style means we need to hear about it now that you are writing in a totally different space.
  • If you have been optioned, check the legality of sharing which screenplay and who optioned it. Refrain from embellishing though because this info is sure to be verified.
  • If professional success is light, then focus on your education.
  • If you lack both professional experience and formal education in writing, then use the writer’s bio as a chance to share why you wrote what you have submitted. For example, maybe you wrote a script about modern warfare because you have a military service background. That is the kind of thing that indicates very directly why your perspective and script are worth considering.

Keep these tips in mind and make sure to take time to craft an honest, positive, and impactful writer’s bio for a much more striking query letter and better success.

How to Use Wordweight to Your Advantage

Word Weight Image“Wordweight,” as I call it, is the amount of black ink relative to the white of the page it’s printed on. When deciding how to print your work, there’s a common expression that’s a good rule of thumb to follow: “more white than black.”

When a pile of scripts lands on the desk of a reader or a producer’s assistant, it’s their job to read through the seemingly endless pile of words, providing coverage notes for the producer to look over. Those notes are what determine if the producer will take an interest in the script and decide to read it in full.

When readers approach this daunting pile, they generally decide what to read first based on genre, title, and first impression. This first impression is made by simply flipping through the pages to get a feel of the wordweight of the script.

In a normally formatted screenplay, you can have as many as 250-300 words per page. After indentations and dialogue, it will resemble more of an epic speech than an actual script. At this density, your script looks like a LOT of work to read. Chances are the person flipping through will think to themselves, “I’ll save that one for later..”

Your goal is to target 150-180 words per page. At this wordweight, the readers eyes can relax and take in the text with greater ease. Even though the word count of the entire script hasn’t changed, it will seem like a faster read, which will make it more enjoyable for the poor person who reads through these things day in and day out.

Once you’ve reformatted your script, you’ll experience the secondary benefit of this rule: a new perspective for assessing your own word economy. You’ll notice long sentences (especially those describing actions) standing out, and they can and should be simplified. With fresh eyes, you’ll be able to go back and make your script a lean, mean story machine.

After you’ve approached your scripts this way a couple of times, you’ll find all of them losing their wordweight, becoming sleeker and sexier. And hopefully, you’ll be getting more attention from the producers you’ve been dying to work with.

What to Do When You Accept a Screenwriting Gig

Almost every writer at some point in his/her career has completed an assignment and discovered that the client can’t, or won’t, pay up. Unfortunately, sometimes this is unavoidable. There are a lot of scammers out there waiting for unsuspecting writers to take advantage of. However, there are some tips and tricks you should know to reduce your risks of getting “burned.”

  1. Where you find your gigs matters. Very few people posting on free sites like Craigslist are “serious” industry folk. These sites usually make it easy for the poster to remain anonymous or unverifiable, especially if it’s a job you work on remotely.
  2. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. A “producer” looking a 10 min script is not going to pay $2000 to have it written by someone they find off of Craigslist. Most small time producers posting on free sites are probably bankrolling the production themselves. They simply aren’t going to have the budget, and more likely than not they need someone who can work for free. Doing a couple free projects can lead to paid work down the line, but make sure you’re being realistic with yourself about the likelihood of that eventual payoff.
  3. Know what your personal and careers goals are, and go after projects that are in line with them. You have to make decisions based on more than pay. You might accept a low paying job because it’s a really cool project you have personal ties to, because you would be helping out a friend, because it will eventually lead to higher paying work, or simply because you have a few bills that needs to get paid, now. Do what’s right for you, and don’t worry about what others think.
  4. Request your agreement be put in writing. If they make up an excuse as to why they can’t, write it yourself. Send it to them and request that it be signed and returned before you begin working on the assignment.
  5. Once you have a first draft, register the screenplay under your name. If they do not pay you any portion of what they owe, “remind” the client that the screenplay is registered to you and you alone. Once the debt is settled, you can give them the registration number, and they can choose whether they want to re-register it under their own name(s).
  6. Request 50% of your payment up front. If they don’t have it now, they’re probably not going to have it later.
  7. Don’t act like everyone is out to get you. Professionals want to maintain positive relationships with all of their clients. It’s important to be cautious and prevent risks, but try not to behave like everyone is out to take advantage of you. You won’t end up building any quality relationship that way.
  8. Research your clients. Ask for their name, website, and IMDB page. If they have a number of legitimate projects under their belt, chances are they are trustworthy.
  9. Talk with other screenwriters about who they enjoy working with and who they avoid. Learn from others mistakes, and let others do the same from yours. This will save everyone time, and help you build strong relationships with your peers in the industry.
  10. Meet every requirement of your contract. That means due dates, approval of changes, etc. If you meet your end of the deal, there is nothing they can argue as to why they aren’t paying you in accordance with your contract.

For a working relationship to be a positive one, both sides have to hold up to their end of the deal. This is a basic tenet of respect and the first step in building trust. With that respect and trust, you’ll be able to leverage the relationships you form for years to come.

Find the Right Screenwriting Role for You

Geno Scala gives tips on the best ways for your find an excellent screenwriting opportunity.Sometimes, finding a credible, potential screenwriting job can be difficult. Writers often find themselves falling victim to scams, or paying to receive newsletters with possible leads when there are free alternatives available, like The Script Mentor.

To help you find potential, credible, paying leads when searching for screenwriting jobs or considering submitting to a script search, we developed a list of top ten tips to help you find the best:

The source is key!

Don’t just give away your intellectual property for free! Know who you’re dealing with. Sites like Craigslist offer a whole bunch of job listings from anonymous sources with a lack of “security checks”–but don’t let that shy you away, some of them are real opportunities. Send a letter of introduction letting the client know you have a screenplay that may suit their needs and/or an official resume before giving it all away.

What’s the catch?

Like the aforementioned job “newsletters”, a lot of potential leads are only in the business to rip you off for information that is available for free elsewhere. And if that lead comes from a source encouraging you to buy additional job leads, RUN! Ninety-nine percent of the time, job newsletters advertise “new” jobs that are actually just cut-and-pasted ads from outside sources, disguising it as something else, or posting already-filled positions lifted from other, free, job sites. Avoid them at all costs. If you’re required to pay for a membership, or any additional costs, don’t do it. You’re getting duped.

Location, location, location!

The law isn’t always the same when it comes to protecting intellectual property in every country, so know where your client is based out of. There is virtually nothing stopping a director or producer from taking your script and creating a project without you ever knowing if the laws of their location deems it legal. When this is the case, consider a non-disclosure agreement to protect yourself and your script.


Internet scams are so popular because of the sheer lack of humanity in an email exchange. Tone can easily be misinterpreted in an email, and watching out for “catfish” (someone pretending to be something that they’re not) is something we all need to do, in all avenues of life. But especially in securing a screenwriting job, try Skyping, FaceTiming, or simply talking on the telephone to help put any feelings of hesitancy of who you’re dealing with at ease.

Do your homework

If client information is revealed early on (think: information in the initial ad, email signatures) research it as much as possible. Check out their website(s), affiliated social media accounts, and any articles mentioning the client. If you can’t find anything, chances are you’re probably not going to get paid that promised $10k for your final draft.

Get your money

If you’ve got a resume to be proud of–produced projects, awards, placement in substantials contests–you should never have to write for free. And while you should take into consideration that producers and directors advertising through sites like Craigslist or Mandy are also taking a risk, albeit not as large a risk as you, watch out for yourself. If potential clients disclose the amount they’re willing to pay for your work, request 50 percent upfront and 50 percent after completion of the final draft.

Avoid false promises

Scams often throw around words and phrases like “Oscars,” “Emmys,” or “millions of dollars!” to make their advertisements more attractive. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case, and often these people aren’t living in the real world. Is it impossible? No. But a film that sourced its screenwriter from a Craigslist ad offering $500 for the finished project most likely won’t garner the attention project’s need for The Academy to take notice.

Back-end agreements

If payments are advertised as back-end agreements, beware. While it’s up to your discretion, you’re most likely going to end up working for free. If you just want to get your work out there, go for it.

Leaps of faith

It’s the goal for all writers to get paid for their work, but sometimes opportunities come around that are difficult to pass up. Don’t overlook them just because the compensation is less-than desirable. If there’s a significant amount of potential in the project, with plans to enter it into many film festivals, it may be an amazing project you’re proud to be apart of. Plus, often awesome opportunities that don’t pay, or don’t pay as much as you’d like, lead to more lucrative opportunities.

Be weary

You never really know who’s waiting on the other side of a job listing, so be respectful, but don’t put yourself in a sketchy situation. If you aren’t comfortable with a certain arrangement or feel like it’s too-good-to-be-true, remember you have the control to say no or pull out at your discretion. You might have to kiss a lot of frogs before landing the perfect screenwriting job.

Perfect Your Pitch

Geno ScalaAn excellent opportunity arose last year to make a telephonic pitch to a team of producers and go over some potential plans for my work, which had already been gathering awards and clout, in the future. We scheduled a meeting and planned to host it over Skype. However, as the day drew nearer, the other party began a pattern of rescheduling our engagement. Something always seemed to come up, from sick pets to power outages to sudden deaths of relatives.

As the cycle of scheduling and then postponing our meeting continued to churn, I revisited my notes on the art of pitching. At the time, I was not at all nervous. I knew the story front and back – I had written it myself. The call was to span several countries on two different continents, so I would be plugging in from home. However, I still made sure to imbibe plenty of caffeine and dress appropriately for a professional meeting. When the time finally did come, and we all finally connected, I was 100% confident in my ability to put my best foot forward.

Forty minutes later, I was devastated by how wrong I had been.

One of the most difficult gaps for a writer to negotiate is between being passionate about the work and being able to sell it. My enthusiasm for the writing had clouded my mind and created a false sense of security in terms of my ability to actually articulate the critical information that is otherwise not immediately obvious to anyone else. The pitch itself can run as briefly as five minutes, but a lack of clarity regarding exactly what you should (and, more importantly, need) to say can make that time feel like an eternity.

I violated many of my own pitching rules that day. I was so eager to convey my raw conviction behind the quality of the work that, even though I had everything I needed written down and sitting in front of me, I ignored my prepared materials and allowed myself to be swallowed up by ultimately meaningless details. Once that happened and I began to run long, I attempted to compensate by jumping around the content and, before I knew it, I lost track of my messaging and lost my audience’s interest.

The Script Will Not Sell Itself

It can be an enormous challenge for passionate writers to reject the notion that the script will sell itself. That faith in the product is always misguided. You pour yourself so wholly into a project and, against all odds, you are not only pleased with the result, but someone else likes it enough to take a meeting with you. It can be easy to feel like once you have a foot in the door, the hardest part is over. That simply is not true.

Your script may be a lot of wonderful things, but it is not a piece of sales literature. You need to be the salesperson. After all the cancellations for my meeting, my singular focus on delivering the pitch was dulled by weeks of postponing and made worse when the producers devoted 20 minutes (just about four times as long as entire pitch meetings usually run) to personal conversation. In retrospect, the pleasantries were meant to communicate respect for my time after so many rescheduled meetings, but that was also enough for me to, however briefly, take too much of my focus off the bullet points I had in front of me. In those moments, I fell too far into the trap of trying to do the impossible and communicate why I believe in the work we were reviewing. As a result, I deviated much too far away from what mattered – fully communicating, as directly as possible, exactly why they should believe it.

Fortunately, there are some excellent practices you can adopt to prevent that kind of misstep from occurring. The proper mastery of these techniques can transform your ability to pitch your work effectively.

  1. Prepare a very short bio about yourself. It should be long enough to be relevant, but short enough to allow maximum time for talking about your work.
  2. Prepare a bulleted list of topics and key phrases you need to discuss in your pitch, but do not read it verbatim. Think of the list as a map of what things you need to visit in your pitch, not as a script itself.
  3. Begin with the title, logline, genre, and time setting of your work. You should also mention theme.
  4. Describe the main characters, set up the story from Act One, touch upon the “impossible challenge” from the end of Act Two, and share the ending.
  5. At the end, mention the title, genre, and theme once more.
  6. Tell the story with confidence. Your pitch should be to confirm they were right to be interested in your concept.
  7. Concentrate on “trailer” scenes and similar defining moments.
  8. Definitely do not get lost in sharing unnecessary or small details.
  9. Definitely do not mention “dream casting” or make movie comparisons unless asked.
  10. Be positive.

This all demands a significant amount of practice. That can include doing all of the above and pitching to friends, family, and even yourself in the mirror or via webcam. The first step to getting the industry to take you seriously is to take yourself seriously. Make practicing a priority.

How to Know Your Script is Ready to Be Marketed

geno scalaOne of the most rampant misconceptions about screenwriting is the very scale of the process. Of course, talent, creativity, and commitment to the craft are all immensely important components of any successful screenwriter’s career. Being able to craft a phenomenal screenplay will (and should) always be your number one goal. However, it should also only ever be the first goal, of many, if you are serious about seeing your words brought to life on screen.

The fact of the matter is that, whether you like it or not, your writing is only one step in the process of achieving excellence as a screenwriter. What you are able to accomplish after you’re done writing is just as important. “A great story always finds its way to the screen!” is one of the most destructive myths in the writing community. Once you think you have finished your story, the marketing process begins. It’s only at this point that writers even have a shot at realizing their potential.

The Difficult Truth You Need to Know

The moment you complete your final scene and press the “save” button, it is absolutely critical that you immediately re-enter reality. And here, in the real world, you need to understand that everyone only ever gets one chance to make a first impression. That’s all you and your work are going to ever get as well. In my experience, one of the most difficult barriers to entry in screenwriting is that the vast majority of writers ruin their first (and usually only) shot by rushing their work. You simply cannot afford to show anything less than the best possible iteration of your work to the industry movers and shakers.

This leaves painfully little room for self-delusion. You need to be sure you have exhausted every possible resource at your disposal before you even think about shopping your work around. Ask yourself if you have done the following:

  1. Does your personal network sincerely enjoy your work? When you show it to your friends and family, is the feedback as good as it could possibly be? What do these individuals, your cheerleaders (or “CHEERS” for short) have to contribute to improve your work?
  2. Has your work received adequate recommendations and praise from your PEERS? Do the writers you respect and admire have additional input that you can use to make your piece even better?
  3. Did you earn at least one (but preferably more) recommendations from a highly respected script coverage service, script doctor, consultant, or mentor? These ROCKETEERS can be critical in launching you towards success.
  4. Have you entered and won (or at least placed well) in multiple, well-regarded screenwriting contests? Competition can help you better understand where your work stands in comparison to your peers, as well as give your work some real clout and prestige that can make a big difference in the eyes of future decisionmakers.

Writers are, by their very nature, almost always intensely passionate about their work. As a result, it can be hard to objectively understand when it is (or is not) truly finished. When you can satisfactorily answer all these questions with an enthusiastic “YES!”, you will finally know that your work is finally ready to be marketed.