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?