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03/05/2001
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CONVERSATIONS WITH A SCREENPLAY AND PEP-TALKS FROM MY CARPAL TUNNELS....OR....SELLING "THAT DARN SCRIPT." PART ONE

Paul Buscemi's Column For Monday March 5th, 2001. Buscemiarts@hotmail.com

For the past three weeks we've been concentrating on our TV scripts - now it's time to focus on that screenplay. You know the one. The finished one. The one that sits there occasionally staring at you with disdain written all over its cover. Sometimes, usually late at night, as you work on a different script at your computer, it talks to you. And it's not very nice. "Why did you even bother to write me?" You try to ignore it. "We're growing apart - aren't we?" Your script sighs.

"Look," you say, "I've got four companies looking at you right now." But that script is never happy. "You know I need a rewrite," it declares. Yes, that script really knows how to push our buttons. You turn to it and say: "You'll always need a rewrite. You can always be better." That usually shuts it up.

If you're like me, you write a masterpiece. You set it aside for a few days or give it to a trusted fellow writer for review. You re-read your script and discover it's crap. It's all wrong. This needs to be changed. This needs to be cut. And so on, and so on. You rewrite. You rewrite again and eventually, after what seems an eternity, it's at least- presentable. Of course it's very exciting to write and write again. As the script evolves and becomes more complete you become intoxicated: The world is fantastic! I've created! My story rocks! I'm bitchen! Then, you set forth to convince the world how wonderful your script is.

They are not so easily impressed.

Over the next few weeks, we're going to look at the world of script selling. We're going to talk to writers, producers, directors, and development executives and find out what sells and what shelves. We're also going to talk about alternative methods of getting your script made and thus, sold. I love shopping my scripts. You meet new people and always get great advice. So get ready for the excitement of the chase! The chase for a buyer.

FIRST THE BASICS:

If you've never attempted to sell one of your masterpieces, you might want to read a good book about it. My personal favorite is:

Selling Your Screenplay (Crown Publishers, Inc.), by Cynthia Whitcomb

This is the best book I've found on the subject of Selling because it is ONLY about selling your script and loaded with great information. One problem. It's out of print! However if you go to Barnes and Noble (www.bn.com) online and do a search you will bring up the title. The Barnes and Noble out of print search service can most likely track down a copy for you. Here are some other books that are helpful:

How To Write It, How To Sell It, by Linda Palmer
The Complete Book Of Scriptwriting, by J. Michael Straczynski
The Scriptwriter's Bible, by David Trottier
500 ways To Beat The Hollywood Script Reader, by Jennifer Lerch

A NEW WAY TO SELL:

Since the Whitcomb book was written a new way of selling your work has grown considerably: Independent-land. More and more writers are seeking out producers or financing for their projects and getting it made themselves as opposed to just "selling" a script. Some of the best movies made today start as spec scripts turned independent features. I have two great examples of movies that started as spec scripts and soon will be the "hot" independent features coming to a theater near you. The first involves Jeff Probst. You know him as TV's host of "Survivor," but did you know he's a screenwriter and director as well? I talked with him recently about writing and his recently completed feature, "Finder's Fee."

First of all here's a little bit about Probst you probably didn't know. "I've been writing since 1993. I read books (about it). Bought every book I could find. I went to a lot of seminars too," Probst told me. "When I moved to New York in '94, I joined a Writer's Unit," he added. Now a Writer's Unit may need a little explaining. Apparently they are more common in New York but are known to exist in Los Angeles as well. Probst explains them this way: "A Writer's Unit is a group of writers who meet (once a week) and bring in pages and you read each other's work. Then you come in next week and you give notes about each other's work and talk about it."

Probst's Writer's Unit was led by Dakota Powell who was in another unit with many noted writers like John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck). She learned from them, and in turn, passed on that experience to Probst's group. "Dakota was this amazing writer," Probst explains. "She would constantly ask: What's the theme? What are your characters internal needs - verses external wants. What's the struggle?" Probst's New York writing experience was one centered, not the "packaging" or "high concept" concerns that you find more common in Hollywood, but rather, the integrity of the story and it's characters. "This is what was pounded into my head every seven days: Theme, theme, theme. Problem, problem, problem. Conflict, conflict, conflict." You get the idea. This would be Probst's world for some time. "That's what I did for the four years. I wrote a couple of scripts. Lot's of times, I didn't even finish scripts. It was still a learning curve."

By this time, Probst was working for Access Hollywood and about to take a month long, cross country bus trip to visit Grammy artists around the country and deliver the Grammy Statuettes to the offices in New York. " I knew when I came back, I wanted to have a first draft of something - so I committed to this out line in the writer's unit - and wrote it on the bus," Probst explains. "It was a simple what if idea. What if you found a wallet with a winning lottery ticket. I finished the draft on that bus (trip) and that was amazing to me - that I actually finished it. I couldn't believe I had accomplished that because there was so much else going on at the time."

So Probst has finished his masterpiece and he sells it straight away? No, he doesn't. It just doesn't work that way. That finished script was "the first of 19 drafts." Yes, one-nine. Nineteen. Written over a period of three years. Here's how the selling part started. This is good background for anyone who's got a script to sell. After about three or four passes (drafts) Probst submitted it to a small company in Seattle and they wanted to produce it. "About the same time - I moved to L.A.," he explains. "I used the interest from the Seattle group to meet people in L.A. Probst next made some cold calls. "I called a couple of agents and asked for advice saying: I have this script and this company wants to produce it - can you give me some advice." Those calls paid off for him. "An agent at UTA, who didn't know me from a hole in the wall, read the script, gave me some notes and advice." Here's where fate comes into play. So Probst has moved to L.A. and has begun networking. His next-door neighbor introduces himself one day. He was a truck driver for the Teamsters (they run the transportation departments for all major movies and television shows in production). This neighbor tells Probst he's a driver but he's also a writer and going to be a producer. At this point Probst thinks all those crazy Hollywood clich?s really are true. Well this "driver" (who eventually co-produced Probst's movie) gave his script to Stephen Baldwin. "Baldwin calls four days later and says: I want to make your movie!"

So Probst, barely in L.A. a month now has a script, a famous Hollywood actor and a driver who all want to make his movie. Done deal? Not at all. The making of Jeff Probst's first movie has many plot points that would twist his Hollywood adventure around before the completion of his film. His story continues here next week...stay tuned...

Oh, and about that script, the one that talks to us, the one I said was "at least - presentable." Well it's really more than that. We didn't toil at this for years to write something "presentable." The voice often confirms this. You've heard the voice, haven't you? You know, that faint echo deep from within the carpal tunnels of our wrists. It reassures us. "Your tendons are swelling up in here for a reason you know?" The voice calls from far away but is one of unequivocal authority:

"I like what you're doing kid. Keep it up. We carpal tunnels are behind you 100%. We'll all burst if that's what it takes. Your scripts are gonna sell. They're gonna get made. You're too passionate about them to let go. A good carpal tunnel can tell. So keep going - no matter how hard it gets. We will too."

NEXT WEEK: The Probst interview continues and COMING SOON: You may not have heard of Wendy English and Brian Goldsworthy yet but you will and you'll meet them, their script and their film here first.

WEEK EIGHT STEPS: Listen to your Carpal Tunnels and sell that talking script! The conventional or alternative way - either is fine. If you don't know where to begin, check out the books mentioned here. If you do know where to start - what are you waiting for?

c.2001 pdb

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