O, the joy of a southernly jaunt

gable colbert
Fortunately, I didn’t have to resort to this

The suitcase is put away. The dirty clothes laundered. The thank-you notes sent.

All the result following your humble blogger’s recent trip to the land of potential future employment, aka Los Angeles, which continues to yield results and, hopefully, keep on doing so.

“Los Angeles? How in the world did that come that about?” you may ask, and probably just did.

I was invited. At the behest of a new media company (as in “new media” i.e. online content, not “a media company that is new”) called AfterBuzz TV that produces a myriad of programs about an even wider variety of topics – all entertainment-based.

This one in particular is called The Unproduced Table Read. As the title implies, after finding a heretofore unproduced script they deem appropriate, they assemble members of their core group of actors and do a table read of the script – first as livestream video, then viewable on Youtube. Following the read, there’s a brief q&a with the writer. Sometimes the writer’s there in person, or if they can’t make it in, done via Skype.

Seeing as how the City of Angels is an hour-long plane ride away, I opted to attend.

They’d found my fantasy-swashbuckler in the archives of the Black List website and thought it fit the bill. The producer contacted me earlier this year, and after some informative back-and-forth emails, it was all set.

Seizing the opportunity of being in town, I also went about setting up meetings of both personal and professional natures. Although the scheduling didn’t work out with a couple of potential representatives, I was able to have some very productive conversations with some exceptionally talented professional contacts.

Networking, people. Establish and maintain those contacts! SO worth it.

But getting back to the table read. It was great. And fun. The actors did a fantastic job, and as a bonus – they really, really liked the script on several levels. I’m quite thrilled with how it turned out.

Was it worth doing? I’d say so, and not just because it got an enthusiastic reception from the people involved. It’s probably a little early to see if it’ll contribute to the career-building aspect, but it definitely makes for a strong marketing tool.

If you ever get the chance for a table read to be done for one of your scripts, take it. You can even put it together yourself. It’s a great way to evaluate the material, plus the actors might provide some unexpected insight. All you need is a workable space and the ability and willingness to feed your performers.

While talking afterwards with the show’s producer and some of the actors, somebody asked what other scripts I had. I mentioned the western. “We haven’t done one of those,” was the reply. Thus raises the possibility of a return trip. Time will tell.

Q & A with Rick Ramage of The Screenplay Show

Rick Ramage

Rick Ramage is a writer, director and producer with numerous credits on major motion pictures and television shows. During his 25-year career as a screenwriter, he has set up or sold over 40 scripts in Hollywood.

Rick’s latest project is The Screenplay Show, a new 10-part online series to educate about the art, craft and business of screenwriting and storytelling.

What is The Screenplay Show, and what inspired you to do it?

The Screenplay Show is an actual show about writing, presented in a fun, narrative style. It’s a ten-part webseries that will focus on the trade secrets I’ve developed (and learned) from Hollywood’s most talented writers, directors and producers during my 25-year career.

As to what inspired it, a few years ago, a buddy of mine started a writer/actor group called, “Write to Act” and he asked me to put on a seminar for his people in Denver. I was reluctant to say the least. For the last 25 years, my only job has been writing and producing film and television. Speaking in public? Not so much. He kept twisting my arm and after about a year of hounding me, I finally gave in and promised him I would do a one-day seminar. Then reality hit me: What could I possibly say for six hours that would interest other writers and actors? In an effort to alleviate the poor souls who would be stuck looking at my ugly mug all day, I pulled in my editor and we put together a long list of writing samples and clips covering every element of screenwriting so they could actually SEE what I was talking about – instead of listening to me pontificate as I clumsily tried to explain it.

For instance, using stills from The Shining, I put every moment of Jack’s character arc into a still photo sequence. You can actually visually track his descent into madness. I then put the page number from the script beside each expression. The audience literally gasped, because it was the first time they had actually seen a character arc moment by moment. I did the same thing for all the other elements of storytelling. As screenwriters, we have to write visually – so I figured it would work for seminars, too. But one thing really surprised me: the audience had as many questions about the writing experience as they did about the nuts and bolts. Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by the methods of actors, athletes, and other writers, so I guess it’s fair that they wanted to know about my method – and how a life and career in the film business actually works.

What sets The Screenplay Show apart from other online seminars?

One look at the teasers we’re putting out there will let people know this isn’t your father’s seminar. I can’t honestly say I had an epiphany and The Screenplay Show was suddenly born. But doing the seminars over the next year or two, it definitely evolved into a rolling narrative; my personal Hollywood experience merged into describing actual methods that have worked for me and many of my colleagues. So far, I’ve set up or sold over 40 scripts. But I have to give credit where credit is due: I didn’t learn how to survive the biz, or sell scripts from books. I learned from working closely with tremendously gracious agents, managers, producers, directors, executives and actors who were generous enough to share their knowledge with me for one purpose – to get the story right.

My goal with The Screenplay Show is to share what they’ve taught me with other writers and storytellers. And when I say storytellers, I mean anybody involved in the film and television business. Directors, actors, producers, cinematographers, and even executives. They are storytellers because they impact the script and help bring it to life.

Tell us a little about your writing background. How did you get started?

I didn’t finish my degree. Instead I went into business with my dad, selling tractors. But I wanted to be well-read and well-spoken, so I sat down with 100 of the great novels and voraciously read them back-to-back. In the process, I began to see how the authors worked the elements. The storytelling process fascinated me. So when I was out covering my sales territory, I began to daydream about becoming a writer. Eventually, I tried to write a novel. Long story short – it sucked. But the person who told me it wasn’t very good also told me I was a good writer. That seemed like a contradiction, but it wasn’t. He told me I had a very visual style, and suggested I write a screenplay. So I turned my bad novel into a bad screenplay! (But that process lit a fuse in me, and I’ve never looked back.)

What have you recently read or watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?

When I’m deep into writing one of my own scripts, I don’t usually watch or read much. By the end of the day, more words and plot lines are the last thing I need to relax. But two shows I try not to miss are Game of Thrones and House of Cards. From their production values, to the great characters, to the tight, well structured scripts, I admire them both a great deal. In fact that’s how I can tell when I’m in the hands of great storytellers – they make me forget I’m a writer. I become a fan.

Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?

Definitely. Recognizing good writing can and certainly should be taught and learned. I’ve known some executives who were by no means writers, yet they learned to identify good writing and write smart notes. Their jobs depend on it. I’ve learned to recognize good writing by the way it makes me disappear into it.

What do you consider the components of a good script?

For me, the single most important component of a good script is simply this: It must have soul. I need to feel what the writer is trying to say through his or her characters. If that happens, I know the other elements are working.

What are the three most important rules a writer should know?

-Dialogue:  When to shut up and let the subtext play.

-Action:  When not to overwrite. (more often than not, you’ll lose your reader.)

-Characters:  We write in search of ourselves. (makes them real.)

How can people find out more about The Screenplay Show?

We’re really encouraging people to go to their most comfortable social media site and follow us. Also, we’re really hoping they go to www.thescreenplayshow.com and sign our landing page. We won’t bombard you with trivial junk, but we do want to build a steady audience so we can let people know about events and new material.

Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

My grandmother made the best pie I’ve ever had. Golden, flaky crust made from scratch, crisp green apples sliced thin, and lots of cinnamon! I do miss that woman.

Works for me

Got my own way of doing things
Just doin’ my own thang

Over the past few months, I’ve made a sincere effort to expand my network of writers, filmmakers and industry folks. I can honestly say it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve had the benefit of connecting with a lot of fantastic people, both online and in person. Added bonus –  my self-confidence has shot through the roof.

Trust me. I’m phenomenal.

See?

This really comes in handy especially when I’ll read about someone else’s career taking a huge step forward (sale, option, deal, etc.). It stings at first, but then I remind myself that the only thing that person and I have in common is that we’re both writers. Their path and mine have been totally different and will continue to be so.

My turn’s coming, and I’m plenty experienced at being patient. You have to be in this business.

It doesn’t me do any good to compare myself to others. How I write, what I write, what I say to people, and so on. I’ve got my own totally unique approach to all of it. It’s taken a while to get to this point, and I like how it’s going, not to mention where it’s headed.

In the meantime, I keep writing (putting the comedy on hold to revamp the outline for the pulpy adventure, with ambitious plans for the finished product), reaching out to more people (great face-to-face meetings this week with a local actor and a writer) and continue the striving towards the ultimate goal.

Ask a Proficiently Perceptive Script Consultant!

Sidney Stephens

The latest in a series of interviews with script readers and consultants who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape. Today’s spotlight is on Sidney Stephens of Sidney Scripts Consulting.

1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?

One of my favorite things is when a novel is adapted to the big screen. That’s when the writer in me really comes out to play. I’ll first read the book, then the screenplay, and eventually I’ll get around to seeing the film. I did this about a year ago with the hit TV series “Under the Dome” by Stephen King (only read the pilot script, however), and I also did this with “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. It’s very interesting to see how the story changes from one medium to the next. I enjoyed both of these the most of my recent reads.

2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?

While getting my Master’s degree in Creative Writing years ago, I read numerous scripts, mostly for my classmates, friends and co-writers, and mostly as a pay-it-forward kind of thing. Over a year ago, a friend of mine asked if I would like to start up a script consulting business together. I’d done so much ‘freelance’ work that it made sense. Three months later, my friend backed out of the whole thing. I, on the other hand, rarely back out of anything. So here I am, sole owner of Sidney Scripts Consulting.

3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?

Absolutely. Part of learning to write a good screenplay is learning to recognize what that means. And there’s no better way to do that than to read tons of screenplays. Breaking them down into what makes them good and what makes them great. The real trick to recognizing a good screenplay is not finding one that reads smoothly and is error free, its finding one that reads smoothly, is error free, and will translate all its intended emotion to the screen in a way that will captivate its targeted audience.

4. What are the components of a good script?

Believable characters and natural dialogue are two very important components of any decent script. Good characters are what draw the audience into the situation; they are what the audience relates to. If they aren’t believable or their dialogue isn’t natural or strong, it will leave the audience asking themselves why they even care to finish the script/film. Yes, settings are awesome and a twisty plot is always a great way to ramp up a screenplay, but without relatable, believable characters, its not enough to make a good script great.

5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?

Some writers, mostly new writers, try to dictate every inch of how the story will play out on film. With tons of camera angles, actor cues, and scene transitions it is hard to stay in the story. It’s important for the writer to know their part of the process and to do just that. Let the actors do their jobs, allow the directors and cameramen do their job, and just stick to writing a great story. Always remember to show, not tell.

6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?

End of the world stories are really starting to wear me out. I think I’ve read every possible way the earth could end, blow up, shatter, freeze, burn, etc. and yet, the surrounding stories are all the same. Man saves family only to stay behind and sacrifice himself for the future of the world. The entire movie is watching them attempt to stop the inevitable only to fail miserably. Until finally, at the last possible moment, the guy saves the planet and is reunited once again with his loved ones. Yawn.

7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?

  • Writing is rewriting. No matter how great you think your draft is, it needs a rewrite. Deal with it.
  • Have a target audience and know exactly what it takes to reach them.
  • Write what you know.

8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?

I’ve definitely read some worthy scripts in my days as a consultant. However, it is only after working closely with the writer on rewrites and such and knowing what producers were looking for at that particular time. I think finding any script that is “without a doubt” anything is a rare find that all consultants want that next script on their desk to be.

9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?

Screenwriting contests are a great way to get your screenplay read and possibly receive some fairly descent feedback. However, using these contests to “break into the business” or as a way of earning thousands on their scripts, they better be something spectacular. The reality is, hundreds of thousands of writers enter screenwriting competitions every year, and only a handful make it past the volunteer readers in the initial read. Can it be your screenplay? Of course. It is worth it? Well, that depends on the writer.

10. How can people get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?

My website: www.SidneyScriptsConsulting.com

My Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/sidney.stephens.9465

Email me with any questions: SidneyScriptsConsulting@gmail.com

11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

Sorry, I’m a brownie girl!*

(*Editor’s note: The blasphemy of this statement will not be held against Ms. Stephens.)

Ask a Keenly Analytical Script Consultant!

Dimitri Davis

The latest in a series of interviews with script readers and consultants who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape. Today’s spotlight is on Dimitri Davis of ScreenwritingU.com.

1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?



G.B.F. wins on best/most recent. So many laughs, such excellent pacing and quality characterization. One of the best high school movies I’ve ever seen.

2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?



Being the assistant at ScreenwritingU. Back when they were in the business of pitching reality TV, I read a lot of scripts, and then for research and preparing class materials, I read a lot more scripts, and whenever projects were in the works, I’d read more scripts.

 Between that and the classes and interviews I was reviewing all the time, it eventually dovetailed into professional-level coverage.

3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?



Of course it can. Learning the techniques of good writing and plenty about the industry/marketing makes it fairly clear when writing is good or bad.

 Which has the side effect of making you talk at TV and movies, and inform your viewing companions what’s going to happen or how that was a pretty mediocre choice in scene, dialogue, etc.

4. What are the components of a good script?



A good script or a great script? A ton goes into it, but great scripts have great concepts, are page-turners, solid actor-bait, and leave you walking away feeling amazed (and/or punched). Beyond that, it depends on the particular story/genre/etc.

5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?



The most common and worst mistakes I see are:

– Script/story focuses on the least interesting elements of the concept.

– Characters are underwhelming/underdeveloped, and thus make for mediocre dialogue & action choices (and fail to attract quality actors).

-Script/story fails to exploit great opportunities for drama/conflict/humor again and again, whether the opportunities arise from the characters, setting, plot or concept.

6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?



Obligatory sex scenes and throw-away romances. How excited do you think an actor is to see a thin-as-paper relationship in their scenes? How much do you think the audience will care when there’s no poignancy or quality drama behind the relationship?

So boring.

7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?



There’s really only one rule, which should inform all of your screenwriting decisions: Don’t waste anyone’s time.

You waste your own time by send out a script that isn’t awesome, or is cliche or tired. You waste people’s time by sending Comedy scripts to Horror production companies. You waste everyone’s time when your quick pitches are several paragraphs of details and aren’t laden with hooks. You waste your writing time when you embark on a script without figuring out a great concept, great characters, and a great story first. You waste everyone’s time when you make your tiny Indie script have million-dollar action sequences.

And so on and so forth. Hollywood has no attention span or respect for time-wasting. Your life has a limited amount of time. Why waste it?

8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?



Yes and no, because such things are confidential. But of the few RECOMMENDS I have read, they all had great concepts and stories, and very good writing.

9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?

It depends on the contest and the script. If the script isn’t ready, it’s typically a waste of money and time (getting anything less than Winner or Finalist for anything but the Nicholl is a waste).

If the contest doesn’t yield some really tangible benefit, like great prize money, or industry contacts and referrals, or career prestige, then it’s a waste of time and money. You could be working on selling scripts and getting writing assignments instead of entering contests.

But there are contests that do those things, and you should definitely enter them with great scripts if you don’t have any industry contacts yet, or are working on elevating your career. Go for the great options out there.

10. How can people get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?


My coverage services are generally for ScreenwritingU alumni currently, but you can email me at dimitri@screenwritingu.com.

11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?


Pie-flavored.