Spec Script Update: “Selfless”

Endgame Entertainment and FilmDistrict acquire science fiction thriller spec script “Selfless” from writers Alex and David Pastor. From Variety:

“Selfless” centers on a wealthy older man who discovers he’s dying and pays to have his mind transplanted into a younger man’s body. When he discovers how his new body was acquired, he defies the company that provided it and is hunted by mercenaries.

Hollywood’s fixation with thrillers continues unabated.

The Pastor brothers are repped by CAA and Kaplan/Perrone Entertainment.

By my count, this is the 44th spec script sale in 2012.

There were 34 spec sales at this time last year.

Spec sales are up 29% year-to-date compared to 2011.

In 2011, the 44th spec script didn’t sell until June 14th which means the spec script market is 45 days ahead of last year’s sales pace.

UPDATE: The keen eyes of GITS reader Zoh Noorani caught the fact that this news item is an update of a sale that took place in December 2011. I had remembered the Proctor brothers, but my title search didn’t turn up that sale because at the time, it was listed as “Self/Less”. So I’m afraid we’ll have to pull this from current sales meaning these are the updated totals:

Current spec scripts sales [2012]: 43.

Spec script sales by this date last year: 34

Spec script sales percentage increase this year: 26%

Date of 43rd spec script sale in 2011: June 5

Thanks, Zoh, for catching that!

1, 2, 7, 14

I’m more of a word than math guy, but this numeric idea I proposed in 2011 is one of the most popular things I’ve ever posted on GITS. It is a simple formula to do three things — Read Scripts. Watch Movies. Write Pages. — you need to do to expand and deepen your understanding of the screenwriting craft.

4 numbers for you to remember:

1, 2, 7, 14.

1: Read 1 screenplay per week.

Pick out your favorite movies. Or do a genre study of several scripts in a row in one genre. Try scripts in genres you don’t particularly like to experience different tone and atmosphere. But every week, read at least 1 full-length movie screenplay.

2: Watch 2 movies per week.

Go to a theater and watch 1 movie for sheer entertainment value. Rub shoulders with a real crowd to remind you of your target audience. Then cue up Netflix or pop in a DVD, and watch 1 movie to study it. Note its major plot points. Better yet, do a scene-by-scene breakdown. Maybe 1 new movie, 1 classic movie. But every week, watch at least 2 feature-length movies.

7: Write 7 pages per week.

That’s one page per day. It may take you ten minutes, it may take you an hour, but however long it takes, you knock out a page per day so that every week, you produce 7 script pages.

14: Work 14 hours per week prepping a story.

This is how you will learn the fine art of stacking projects. While you are writing one story, you are prepping another. Research. Brainstorming. Character development. Plotting. Wake up early. Take an extended lunch break. Grab a few hours after dinner. Stay up late. Whatever it takes, carve out 2 hours per day for story prep. Create a master file Word doc. Or use a spiral notebook. Put everything you come up with into that file. You’d be amazed how much content you will generate in a month. Most professional screenwriters juggle multiple projects at the same time. Here’s how you can start learning that skill-set: Writing one project, prepping another. Two hours per day so that every week, you devote 14 hours to prep.

1, 2, 7, 14.

Those are simple, clear goals. Daily goals, weekly goals.

If you do this, here’s what you will have done in one year’s time:

You will have read 52 screenplays.

You will have watched 104 movies

You will have written 2 feature-length screenplays.

Spread that out over 5 years: 260 screenplays, 520 movies, 10 original screenplays.

That means you could have read every one of the top 101 screenplays as voted by the WGA, plus 159 more.

That means you could have seen every one of the IMDB Top 250 movies, plus 270 more.

That means you could have written the exact number of original screenplays Lawrence Kasdan (Body Heat, The Bodyguard, The Big Chill, Grand Canyon) wrote before he sold his first one.

All by setting these simple goals: 1, 2, 7, 14.

UPDATE: And now Sergio Barrejón has translated this post into Spanish on his blog here.

A modest proposal about movie scripts online

This post has been sitting in draft mode since April 25th which when you read it will drive home once again that age-old lesson: Don’t procrastinate!

As many of you are aware – and certainly after this message – the fate of myPDFscripts, and indeed any online screenplay resource is quite uncertain. After decades of ignoring the practice of sites hosting screenplays online, movie studios have begun aggressively asserting their legal rights to have scripts for which they own the copyright taken offline.

These moves have very real consequences. As I noted in my post:

What is an aspiring screenwriter, TV writer, or filmmaker supposed to do? Or educators? How are people supposed to teach and learn the craft of writing a screenplay if the studios decide to make all of their movie or TV scripts unavailable online?

And then I suggested this:

What if by making movie screenplays easily available so writers could read and analyze them, writers would improve at their craft, more and better scripts would end up on studio execs’ desks, more and better movies would get produced, resulting in bigger B.O. and more valuable titles in the studios’ libraries.

And to be clear, we are not talking about scripts in development for future movies, which studios justifiably have a concern about protecting in terms of content going public, but rather screenplays of movies that have already been produced.

Why not create eScripts and sell them to the public? Or perhaps that’s too obvious a solution.

That led to conversations with Franklin Leonard and Nate Winslow where I suggested posting a ‘modest proposal’. Here are the specifics I had in the aforementioned draft:

Let me begin with this site. This is called WBShop and here you can buy virtually anything related to Warner Bros. products. DVDs, T-shirts, comic books, coffee cups, soundtracks, collectibles, toys, games, costumes, and so on.

I say virtually anything. Warner Bros. has every goddammed thing available for sale… but no movie scripts.

So here’s is a modest proposal to the movie studios to try to find a middle ground solution re script access.

#1: Every script that is available for movies that is on the National Registry? The studios should just let them be available for open circulation. It’s a part of our country’s cinematic heritage! Plus good corporate neighbor policy.

#2: If a screenwriter requests a script they wrote to be available online, the studio should honor that request. As I understand it, if the writer has separated rights, they may:

a. Publication rights. The writer obtains the right to publish the script, or book(s) based on the script, subject to a holdback period. The Company, however, has the right to cause a novelization to be published in conjunction with the release of the film, for the purpose of marketing the film. If the Company wishes to cause a novelization to be published, it must first approach the writer(s) who has Separated Rights to see if the writer(s) wants to negotiate with a publisher regarding the rights and services for the novelization. If the writer with Separated Rights does not want to write the novelization or fails to conclude a publishing deal within prescribed timeframes, the Company may publish the novelization but must pay the writer not less than WGA minimum for the right to publish.4 (Article 16.A.3.a.(3))

The “holdback period” would seem to be the sticking point.

#3: Here’s the Big Idea: The studios should publish as many of their screenplay as possible and make them available for sale as eScripts. It’s an additional source of revenue and they would be enhancing the value of that movie title via increased awareness, etc.

In addition, credited writers should receive royalties for the sale of those eScripts in accordance with the WGA Minimum Basic Agreement formula for DVDs or some similar arrangement.

What we are trying to do is chart a middle ground, recognizing the legal rights of movie studios re copyright, appeal to their higher angels re #1 and #2, and #3 is just common sense. It’s another monetary stream, albeit a minor one, but still in this day and age of The Long Tail, why the hell not? How hard would it be to have a phalanx of interns create PDFs of their scripts?

Bottom line: Let’s make sure scripts are available for aspiring writers to read and learn from. Also perhaps it would elevate the status of the humble screenplay a bit more and the writers behind the scripts.

So late last night, what appears on my Twitter feed? This:

Warner Bros. has launched a digital publishing initiative called Inside the Script that offers a series of illustrated eBooks that present actual shooting scripts for classic movies including Casablanca, Ben-Hur, An American In Paris and North By Northwest. The eBooks are available on iBookstore, Kindle and Nook. The books also feature production notes, storyboards, photos including costumes, posters, on-set stills and behind-the-scenes photos.

See, if I had published my post last week, I could have taken credit for this whole damn thing!

However this simple move by the studio is salve in my wounds because finally we may begin to see a process unfold whereby we may have legal access to screenplays. Heck, Warner Bros. even has a Facebook page for the initiative.

Of course this process will take years and years to play out, and who’s to say if other studios will join in. But let’s use this post as a starting point for discussing the needs of those of us who want movie scripts made available. Are you excited about the WB initiative? Concerned? What ideas could you suggest to make this a viable plan?

And yes, I couldn’t help but notice the irony that one of the first ‘shooting scripts’ Warner Bros. is putting out in this series is Casablanca… which did not have a shooting script, rewritten pages delivered on the day of production.

Spirit Of The Spec: You Get An Idea

I had a conversation recently with a former studio executive turned producer in which I found myself talking about the “spirit of the spec,” essentially when a person chooses to pursue a project or goal entirely on speculation with the hopes of some eventual payoff. Not everybody would make that choice. To many, with the odds so long against success, doing something on spec is not only illogical, it’s also seemingly inane.

And yet almost all screenwriters, TV writers, novelists, short story writers, playwrights, and poets have as some part of their creative self the spirit of the spec.

After my conversation with the producer, it occurred to me this is a subject we should discuss here at GITS because it speaks to the very core of why we’re here and what we’re about as people driven by creative impulses. So today through Friday, I will post something each day exploring what it means for a writer to have the spirit of the spec.

You get an idea.

That’s where it all starts.

An image. A feeling. A line of dialogue. A conceit. A character.

Something that catches your fancy. Causes you to stop and think. Triggers your imagination.

Could this be a story? A novel? A movie? A TV series?

You play around with it. Tinker with it. Ask questions.

What genre is it? Who is the main character? What is distinctive about this idea? Is it big enough to sustain a feature-length screenplay? Is it any good?

But the biggest question of all you can ask is the shortest one: What if?

What if I stuck this character in that situation?
What if I made the character a female instead of a male?
What if I started out this character as far away from their goal as possible?
What if I switched genres?
What if I switched Protagonists?
What if I amped up the stakes?
What if…

And before you know it, you are watering this seed of an idea with a cloudburst from your brainstorming. Will the seed take root? Grow? Blossom into a story worth writing?

You likely will not know the answer at this stage.

Here it is just you… and your idea.

The idea may turn out to be a pathway to success. Or a dead end. But if you are a person who lives for creativity, who exists with the oftentimes bewildering ramblings of your instincts, never forget for one second the awe and mystery that is this…

Your ideas.

They are the cornerstone of everything you do as a writer.

For those who live with the spirit of the spec, ideas are our creative lifeblood, ideas are what fuel our stories, ideas are what keep our dreams alive.

How about you? What is your attitude toward your ideas? How do you engender them? How do you develop them? How do you honor them?

Tomorrow: Spirit Of The Spec: You Act On Your Idea.

[This was originally posted on August 8, 2011. I thought the series was a natural follow-up to the month-long A Story Idea Each Day for a Month series.]