Friday, December 04, 2009

Getting Back In The Groove

I'm so terrible about writing here recently, I'm sure the few who might have come by to read now and again no doubt have stopped and moved on.

But for the record, here's an update.

I wrote the first 15 or so pages of this new script fairly quickly then totally stalled. Part of it is being extremely busy with work and family stresses that have been piling up to an almost alarming degree, but I think mainly it was because I wasn't sure who my protagonist was, really.

I wrote, like, three pages in as many months. But now I think I know who she is, so I'm back. Page count as of today: 36.

In the interim, some other stuff has happened.

Two management companies have expressed interest in representing me, saying they really liked my writing. One asked that I send some loglines of the script I'm working on now and others I have thought about writing -- offering to give some feedback to help me decide what to work on first.

I sent I think five loglines... and the manager said they at the office through they were interesting but too dark. They say the studios are asking for lighter stuff.


Okay. I've been noodling around with a very light one -- a rom-com actually, which I never saw myself writing before. I like the broad idea, and I think it's high concept, maybe something the Apatow clan would connect with, but I haven't come up with a full arc yet so I haven't pitched a new logline to them.

Also -- and this to me was the most interesting -- a lawyer who also acts as a manager/agent chatted me up, asking remarkably laser-like questions and quickly distilling what he thought were my strongest selling points. He figured me out very fast -- wicked sharp guy with a keen eye for marketability -- and asked to see my scripts, and essentially gave me an assignment for things to start developing.

Including a couple scripted TV series concepts. Which I've been doing. One of which I think would be very cool.

I think that's also slowed me down on the screenplay -- my mind keeps jumping over to the spec series and pilot script.

But... in the end, the biggest problem has been not sitting my ass down at the computer regularly and banging away. that's what I need to do, to get anything done -- either finishing this script or fleshing out the series.

So that's what I've been trying to do for the past two weeks. I'm not writing every day. But it's getting closer.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Let That Be A Lesson To Me

I got a notice recently letting me know that my action script had not been chosen as a finalist in a certain screenplay competition.

No sweat. I’ve placed in competitions, but hell yes, I've also been turned down before.

But here’s the thing: this notice included “coverage” from the “first round judge” that “explains the difficult decision” not to include the script in the final round.

Always eager for well-reasoned feedback from professionals, I read the notes immediately.

That’s when I got mad. For a second.

The reader said that the script “is well-structured, moves fast, is briskly and humorously written, keeps you involved and has great dialogue.”

However, he/she was passing because, well, he/she didn’t really like action movies.

He/she felt the main characters were macho types. He/she didn’t understand how people can get shot in the leg and continue on their task instead of going to the hospital. He/she was bothered by the fact that a helicopter was able to approach a speeding motorboat without being heard and wanted to know where the ropes had come from that allowed the heroes to rappel from the chopper.

Can you imagine? A macho-type in an actioner? An ex-special forces soldier getting shot in the leg and actually having the audacity to continue trying to save his abducted mother? The noise of a speeding motorboat at sea obscuring that of a small private chopper? And, mother of God, a rope, the origin of which is not carefully explained???

Um. Are you fucking kidding me? This wasn't a competition with any kind of angle - not a horror competition for example - just supposedly looking for good scripts in any genre. I mean, by all means, pass if it's not any good, but because you don't like the genre?

Like I said, I got mad for a second, and then chuckled to myself and threw the thing in the recycle bin.

Ah well. Let that be a lesson to me. You never know who’s reading your script and can kill it for the silliest reasons.

By the way, the cover form letter sweetly encouraged me to keep trying, because it turns out successful screenplays "often need to be revised several times."

Really. Thanks for that.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Short Attention Span

Recently I've been thinking more and more about doing a short.

I realize I'm bouncing around too much. The new stolen baby spec, the animated spec, blah, blah, blah. And now this.

But for a long time I've been out of production, spending all of my time at work developing new TV shows and whatever out-of-work time I can writing specs. All of this is based in ideas. I miss the concrete. I miss producing.

Last year I did the 48 Film Project, and it was a blast. It was just wicked fun and exhilarating to get my hands dirty again -- casting, locations, wardrobe, stunts, directing, editing, scoring...

So I keep thinking about a short. And giving myself more than 48 hours to pull it off. I'm too old for that shit.

Then I thought, District 9, Napoleon Dynamite and many others began as shorts that showed off interesting worlds that producers and investors wanted to see in a feature. So I thought about flipping it around a little:

Could I adapt my latest feature spec, an actioner I'm currently shopping around, into a short? If so, and if I direct it myself, and if it turns out well, it might be another way to try to market the feature script. And maybe me as a director in the feature world.

Hmmm. Interesting.

Anyway, that's what I've been doing the last few lunch hours and evenings -- trying to adapt the feature screenplay to a short script.

It's been a hell of a wrangle, and my brain hurts a little. But then again, your brain has to hurt a little if you want to do something worthwhile, doesn't it?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Moving On Past DinoPirates

Writing music for the day: Secret Agent on SomaFM via iTunes.

Earlier this year I learned a friend of a friend was working in Fox animation, so I started thinking about animation screenplays. I asked myself what my son would want to watch and, mulling over his favorites that if thrown together could create interesting worlds, came up with a title and a vague concept: DinoPirates.

Started to brainstorm storylines. Then I thought, Wait, it’s too easy. So I googled it and found out I was way too late. There already exists an online game called Dino-Pirates of Ninja Island.

They beat me to it. And they added ninjas. So they’re both more productive and smarter than I am.

I’m not giving up though. Still banging around ideas for an animated feature. Perhaps because the script I’m currently writing is a horrific one, about a stolen baby, cut from its mother’s belly. I’m liking it, but it’s so disturbing. No surprise that thinking about movies my youngest kids would watch helps.

I’m onto a new idea now. Got a title, a tag line, some shape of the world – I can see the poster even. And no one has made a show, book, game, film or anything else about it.


(Bet they beat me to it though…)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Back Off On The Brakes

Well, I was going along at a good clip on the new script and then hit the brakes and skidded to a stop.

Been tired at night and busy during lunch. Gotta start up again.

A bit of inspiration: last weekend while having drinks with my friend who is an attorney and who also went to med school, I picked his brain about some legal and medical details that I'll need to iron out for the plot to work. He helped me iron.

Freshly creased, this weekend I'm back at it.

As an aside, expert friends are invaluable. My advice: don't be afraid to ask for input, even if you're not entirely sure what you're asking - generally people love being involved. Maybe it's just me, but I gain so much from talking through potential obstacles - much more than staring at the monitor trying to figure it out on my own... which invariably leads to checking email, reading the Guardian, Googling...

By the way, I didn't make the next cut in the PAGE Awards, so I guess I have to settle for top 25%.

Action script is still out to a management company (who also requested my drama from last year), some pro screenwriters I've made contact with and a couple of producers. So far, no news.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Good Article

Check it. From


By Jack Traven


You sell a spec script. You are, essentially, a screenwriting celebrity. Your face gets plastered across Variety (If you have a headshot. If you don’t have a headshot, you send Variety some unfortunate picture you were saving for Facebook). Variety is great because they actually love to mention how much of a novice you are. It’s a good hook for the article. Example:

‘Awesome Action Movie Spec was written by Jack Traven who used to drink expired milk deliberately until this afternoon, and is somehow managed by Insanely Hot Management Company and, despite all odds, repped by A Recognizable Agency. Traven – amazingly – sold this thing. No joke. He sold this freakin’ script. It’s about some crap. This kid mixes vodka with Gatorade because that’s what’s left in his malfunctioning fridge. Seriously’.

Now, the actual Variety article is usually a little more discreet (and polite) than that, but you get the gist. The fact is, spec writers are hot for a week. A week. New blood. It’s the Cinderella story. Everyone wants the writer. It’s like the hot chick transfer student in high school. She’s gorgeous because she’s new. But she’s only new for a little while. Soon, she just becomes another girl who’s kinda attractive – but has to compete with the previously attractive girls we already were aware of.

Ah, Renae from Australia. I remember you fondly.

The adventure is: There’s a studio-validated hot spec floating around and the spoils are going to be the fun generals.


I didn’t know the meaning of the word outside of the Civil War before I sold my first spec. I was a kid back then. All I knew was Lew Hunter’s Screenwriting Blah-blah-blah and the fact that a logline shouldn’t be more than two sentences:

‘It’s Speed meets Good Will Hunting. Also, some vampires are involved’.

Well, you sell that movie and then you go on GENERALS.

The heck is that? It’s such a…general…term.

Well, turns out it’s the lifeblood of the working writer. It’s also the justification of most paychecks of certain creative execs. The manager or agent will set them up. Usually, the manager will hook up the general, and then the agent will e-mail you a week later to see how it went.

‘How’d that meeting go with Platinum Dunes?’

‘They thought I was the janitor. I had to clean out the bathroom’.

‘So…they liked you?’

Generals are very much like a blind date where both parties have a vague idea of what the other person is into. Usually, if I’m sent on a general I do my research on the production company in question. What do they have in development? What have they made? What do they like? I tailor my pitches and (sometimes) even finished specs to fit – what I perceive – are their needs. If I have a completed script that’s like ‘Fast & Furious’ meets ‘Total Recall’ but that production company doesn’t do action. I will somehow spin it to make it seem like it’s closer to ‘The Hangover’:

‘So, like, the Schwarzenegger character…gets drunk…and forgets what he did…then drives a hot car…and makes 200 million domestic on a 40 mil budget. And somehow makes charisma-less Bradley Cooper a star’.

Okay, Bradley Cooper is a nice guy. I take it back.

The point is – they’ll end up reading the script (the first 20 pages anyway) and if they dig – who knows? Maybe that director-led production company wants to take a risk on a script that goes against their typical development slate?! More effective though, is doing the homework and coming up with 1-3 solid ideas on the car ride over the hill. It’s a general. It doesn’t have to be a pitch. Pitch later. Interest now. I can’t tell you how many times I just made up stuff in my Ford Focus with no air conditioning on the way to some hastily-scheduled production company general.

Oddly though, a lot of my loglines had to do with me sweating.

Again, it’s blind date philosophy. Entice. Then, pitch. You’re not pitching a movie in a general, you’re pitching YOU.

I feel somehow like a traitor. I feel like I’m giving away the ‘super secret secrets of screenwriters’ in this column. Especially since this is an open-air environment of both writers, producers, execs, and assistants. But that’s not the case. Because I feel that anyone on the OTHER side of the desk would agree with me. Make generals fun. Make them quick. Make them work. Even the ‘suits’ would concur. No one wants to sit in a room with a new writer who does something like:

‘It begins in Vienna. 1800’s. A political calamity is afoot. We push in on our lead – a 50 year old woman. She has no neck. For the entire film, she’s gnawing on an ear of corn. Cut to – an elderly man. Our lead. We don’t know this yet, but he’s a space alien’.

In a sense, this is a four-quad column – meant for the execs as well, who have to endure the gibbering nonsense that is screenwriters clutching a half-drunk bottle of Crystal Geyser describing their latest opus.

‘It’s Lord of the Rings meets Bio-Dome. Also, some vampires are in it’.

Okay. I guess it’s more of a two-quad column. But who says ‘two-quad’? Is that even a thing? By the way, the ‘vampires’ joke isn’t an exaggeration. I actually had a friend-exec consistently ‘fix’ my various pitches with one loaded sentence:

‘Sounds good. Put vampires in it’.

Didn’t matter that it was a romantic comedy. Didn’t matter it was a political actioner. Didn’t matter it was a period adventure.

‘Put vampires in it’.

Wow. That was seriously his creative input. How do people navigate these treacherous waters? Well, Constant Reader, here is Jack Traven’s Ultra Improved Super Secret Five Tips For Surviving The General Meeting. The ‘Art of the General’, if you will:

1 – Dress like you’re going to Denny’s. You’re the talent. Dress nice? Forget it. They work in an office, you type stories on your MacBook on the toilet. No one needs to dress up. Surprised that they do.

2 – Be cool. And I mean: ‘Be Cool’. Be ready to make fun small talk for events of the past week. Lakers. UFC. That thing that happened at Les Deux with that one chick. Be prepared. If you just wrote a romantic comedy - bitch about your relationship. If you wrote a bad-ass action movie – bitch about getting into a fight. Wrote a dope horror spec? Talk about the scary thing that inspired it. Write it, live it. Or fake it. But don’t roll into a general off an action spec looking like McLovin.

3 – Be humble. You wrote a spec that sold? Nice. Congrats. Welcome to the unforgiving world of professional screenwriting. But you’re not special. There’s about a hundred writers that will get a gig before you. Assignments are tough, but they’re not unattainable. Oddly, studios favor the more expensive writers. You cost a 100 grand. Chris Morgan costs a mil. They’ll hire Chris before you. Still, you need to not have an ego. Prove to the ProdCo that you’re the inexpensive writer for the job. Chris Morgan turns down gigs. You don’t.

4 – Concept, concept, concept. Simple, fun ideas go a long way. You know the movie Face/Off? Even the TITLE of that flick is awesome! Generals are very…well…general. The exec wants to hear something immediate and killer. Sell it in the title. Sell it in a sentence. I know that’s Screenwriting 101, but I think the art gets lost when writers are face to face with ‘decision makers’. Example: ‘Con Air’. That’s a movie that Sir Scott Rosenberg (Yeah, he was knighted – by ME) could have pitched in the room and then just walked away. Simple ideas. Simple genres. Slick titles.

5 – Expect the worst. For the most part, no one’s going to like anything you pitch. Oh, for sure, they’ll say:

‘Sounds really, really cool’.


‘That’s really unique’.


‘Wow. Really well thought-out’.

This is a business where everyone’s afraid to say ‘No’. Even the term ‘PASS’ is very neutral. It’s a PASS. In a sense, they’re just giving the next buyer an opportunity to buy, right? It’s not a ‘NO’. It’s a pass.

Generals are an important part of the development process because they proof ideas. They siphon concepts. Some exec checking his/her texts in the middle of your pitch? Not good. Some exec yelling at his/her assistant for interrupting during your pitch? Good. Go with that. It’s captivating.

If you take a general and that exec is whistlin’ Dixie during the meeting? It’s not worth pursuing. Is it a bad idea? Not necessarily. But it’s not marketable. Stow it. Write it and direct it when you become David Koepp or Brian Helgeland.

Is there a specific pattern for going to a general? Probably not. Is it a morphic field? Totally. There’s no established structure – much like screenwriting itself. Joe Eszterhas has a great quote about general meetings. It goes something like this:

‘Christ. F**k this s**t’.

The general is an unwieldy, fearsome creature. But if you’re in one – you’ve done something right.

Until I rewrite Shane Black…


Thursday, June 25, 2009

PAGE Awards

Hey, just got an email telling me I made the first cut with my action script:

Dear David,

2009 marks the sixth anniversary of The PAGE International Screenwriting Awards contest, and it has been a record-breaking event! We received 4,394 scripts this year, submitted by writers from all across the United States and around the world.

Today, we're officially kicking off The 2009 PAGE Awards announcement season and we have some very good news for you…

The First Round of competition has now been completed, and the Judges have selected the top 25% of all entries. Based on your First Round scores, we're very happy to inform you that your work was selected to compete in the Second Round:

Congratulations!! Given the level of competition you faced, this is a real achievement.

The Second Round is new this year. The number of PAGE Awards submissions has quadrupled since 2004, and in order to evaluate your screenplays as thoroughly and fairly as possible, we realized we had to add an additional round of competition for 2009. So the top 25% of all entries are now being given an additional round of judging. (Because some scripts were entered and evaluated in more than one category, a total of 1,400 scripts have advanced to the Second Round.)

Our Second Round Judges are now in the process of reading their final stack of screenplays, and in just a few days we will be tallying the totals. We will use the combined scores of the First and Second Round Judges to determine the top 10% of all entries -- our 2009 Quarter-Finalists. So mark your calendar and make sure to check our website on Wednesday, July 1st, when we’ll post our Quarter-Finalist list.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Once again, someone is about to make a lot of money, as they did last year, doing the exact thing I've been trying to get my company to do for years.

*thrashes about*

*says bad words*

*calms self*

Okay. I'm okay.

Back to work.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Future of Indie Film? (And a Question...)

This looks like an amazing new model, similar to one some associates and I have discussed trying to put together. Of course, this model comes with amazing heavy hitters to back it up.

Check it:


I want to tweak the action scenes in my action movie to read better and more actiony. I've been reading the Bourne scripts to see how Gilroy does it. Has anyone read any scripts that have particularly well-written action scenes? And does anyone know how to get ahold of a PDF of the Taken script?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Writers Groups?

Advice, mm?

How do I start a writers group that isn’t annoying?

If I can figure out a way to carve out some regular meeting time among all the madness, I’d really like to have a good sense of community – and I mean face-to-face, not just on the Internets. I’d like to read other people’s stuff more. I’d like to hear about their processes. I’d like the pressure of having to deliver pages regularly. I’d like to give and get feedback.

I wouldn’t like to have to listen to people who refer to themselves as Artists. I don’t want to hang out with people who think they’re genius writers with nothing to learn. The last thing I want is to be in a group with someone who sees the group as a captive audience for their groundbreaking 600-page script tracing the history of Planet Zythoryx.

Okay, maybe I’m a misanthrope.

But I was in a writers group once in grad school that was great. Everyone was pretty good – we all delivered stuff that was imperfect but interesting. We all understood we had a long way to go. No egos, good humor, no extremists. Laid back but helpful.

And then I remember writing workshops in college that just made me what to eviscerate myself to have an excuse to leave. And sometimes when reading the blogosphere or discussion groups of spec writers, I get so woozy from the self-worship and whining I pass out.

So, those of you (is anyone there?) who have started or joined successful groups, how did you do it?

I know two guys around here I’d like to invite. Start there and see what happens? Put an ad on craigslist that lists the rules? Hey, is that it, create rules?

Advice anyone?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Go Clara, It's Your Birthday

As of last night I’m eight pages into this next script and already the characters are starting to say things that surprise me.

I love that shit. You start with an idea of a character but sometimes they literally take over and start to become a little different.

Maybe it ends up being a bad thing and in revision you have to bring them back to the character you first envisioned. But in my experience, usually it turns out nicely and you get some stuff that, coming from some unquantifiable place in an imagination on the fly and not from the intellectual act of outlining and character sketching in advance, is richer, more interesting and usually more real.

In this script the lead, currently named Mindy, is pretty much what I expected, but the second, now called Clara, has really surprised me.

So have at it Clara. Go girl go.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Back In The Whatever

Fell off the wagon there for a while. Or the horse. Or whatever trite metaphor I’m supposed to use.

Anyway, I finished the action script and have started to query agents and managers with it and send out it to my limited contacts and contacts to contacts. One management company has responded positively so far, asking to read the script.

Doing so has renewed my energy to try to get my drama out there, so I’ve made a fresh push with it as well. Got a nice rejection letter from Tyler Perry’s place. Very polite and kind.

The action script was the first one I did the infamous Index Cards with. It was a little annoying to do but I have to say it turned out to be fairly helpful in big-picture perspective and being able to visualize individual characters’ arcs. I recommend it.

And since my own version of kinda-outlining (which essentially means bullet notes on Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet but intentionally leaving space for winging it in process) worked with that script, that’s how I chose the next script to work on:

I started these kinda-outlines on four ideas I had. As I proceeded, I got more excited about one over the others and that kinda-outline went fairly quickly, so that’s where I’m heading now.

Started writing in earnest last night. THREE WHOLE PAGES down so far.

Feels good to be back in the saddle. Wagon driver's seat? USSR?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Who Are These People?

I work for an independent television production company. We mainly do factual entertainment programs for cable nets like Discovery, Nat Geo, History, TLC -- that sort of thing.

We've talked internally about adding independent films to our slate but it's in the long term plan at best -- just doesn't fit our current set-up.

But that doesn't stop people from sending me scripts and query letters all the time, asking us to produce their film.

Most are terrible, some are intriguing, but we just aren't in that business, and frankly, these people should do enough research to know that.

Got a query email today that I just loved. Copied below, with incriminating info redacted:

I am the creator of TITLE, a script that is an absolute passion project for me and on which, in the past weeks, I've had several discussions with William Morris about the directions for the project, suitable companies, casting, directing, etc. The agent has noted that "LEAD CHARACTER is actually quite a sexy character, everything a female heroine should be", and called the script 'gripping and touching,' and best of all, 'studio-ready.' The agent has also said that “TITLE is a 'high-concept action/thriller,' and that it can be pitched as, STUDIO HIT meets STUDIO FRANCHISE HIT with a twist.”

Because WMA is circling around me and the script, I started looking at production companies, and more intimate agencies, in hopes of finding just the right one for this project before I sign with them, since I believe that the agency might be too big and even getting representation may still lead to the TITLE script getting lost in the shuffle.

I came across your company while doing a search on ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY WEBSITE, and would like the opportunity to submit TITLE for your review and discuss if your company may be the right place for this project.

Looking forward to your feedback,


My feedback?

Well, I hate to disparage any writer. Writing's hard, so hats off to anyone who does it.

But, well, my feedback is that... are you effing kidding me?

An agent at William Morris is "circling around you," talking directors and talent, and you query a small factual TV prodco?

Just doesn't make any sense. I checked and NAME doesn’t have any credits listed anywhere. So, if it's true that WMA wants to rep you, an unproduced first-time spec scriptwriter, IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, GO WITH THEM – THEY’RE THE SHIT.

And if it's not true, why such a lame lie?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Question For Cinephiles

Have you seen and enjoyed any movies during which you’re rooting for the underdog hero for the whole film, and then at the end you learn the hero is actually the bad guy?

Trying to figure out the difference between wowing the audience with a cool twist of an ending and pissing off the audience by pulling the rug out from under them…

Friday, January 09, 2009

Haruki & Me

I’m reading the memoir of novelist Haruki Murakami – What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I’ve only read one of his novels, but I liked it a lot (his writing, in After Dark anyway, is the type that appears very simple but is actually, or maybe also, very complex – I love that), and I’m really digging this memoir. My wife got it for me at the library – not knowing I’d read his stuff, just thinking that, because of the title, I’d be interested. She’s good, that one.

It’s been really interesting how similar our thinking, and even experience, is in some ways – despite enormous differences. I mean, it’s easy to substitute screenplay for novel, and cycling for running, so those differences aren’t too tough to get beyond. And then there’s the fact that he’s a wildly successful writer with a dozen novels translated into 42 languages… and he’s Japanese.

But a lot of what he’s writing in his memoir feels like it could have been lifted from my own journal, blogs and annoying self-indulgent conversations with family and friends.

Here’s one bit I read today at lunch that felt spot-on. He wrote his first couple of novels while running a bar he owned in Tokyo. Of that, he writes:

With the first two, I basically enjoyed the process of writing, but there were parts I wasn’t too pleased with. With these first two novels I was only able to write in spurts, snatching bits of time here and there – a half hour here, an hour there – and because I was always tired and felt like I was competing against the clock as I wrote, I was never able to concentrate. With this kind of scattered approach I was able to write some interesting, fresh things, but… a natural desire sprang up to take it as far as I could… and after giving it a lot of thought, I decided to close the business for a while and concentrate solely on writing.

Hmmm. If only I had a bar to sell…