All that on a single piece of (digital) paper?

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It can only go downhill from here

You only get one chance to make a good first impression. And that also applies to a screenplay. If your first page doesn’t make us want to keep going, why should we? Chances are the rest of it is exactly the same.

The first page is your golden opportunity to start strong straight out of the gate. Show us from the absolute get-go you know what you’re doing. A lot of the time, I’ll know by the end of the first page what kind of ride I should be expecting.

Just a few items to take into consideration.

-First and foremost, how’s the writing? No doubt you think it’s fine, but face it. You’re biased. You want a total stranger to find it fault-free, so look at it like one. Is it easy to follow and understand? Does it flow smoothly? When I read it, do I get a clear mental image of what you’re describing? Does it show, not tell?

-Is there a lot of white space? Are your sentences brief and to the point, or do they drone on and on with too many words?

-Do you point the reader in the right direction and let them figure things out, or at least get the point across via subtext, or do think it’s necessary to explain everything, including what a character is thinking or feeling? Yes, that happens on the first page.

-If your protagonist is introduced here, are they described in the way you want me to visualize them for the next 90-110 pages? Does a notable physical characteristic play a part in the story? Are they behaving in such a way that it establishes the proper starting point for their arc? Are they doing something that endears them to us, making us care about them?

-If your protagonist ISN’T on the first page, does it do a good job in setting up the world in which the story takes place? Do the characters introduced here play any kind of role later on in the story?

-Are there any mistakes regarding spelling or punctuation? Are you absolutely sure about that? SPELLCHECK IS NOT YOUR FRIEND. A team does not loose a game, nor do I think they should of won either. Two glaring errors that your software will not recognize. But a reader will.

-Does it properly set up the genre? If it’s a comedy, should I be prepared to have my sides ache from laughing too hard? If it’s a horror, should I make sure the lights are on, even if it’s 12 noon? If it’s a drama, should I have a box of tissues within arm’s reach to dry the expected river of tears?

-Do your characters sound like people saying actual things, or are they spouting nothing but exposition and overused cliches?

Not sure about any of these? Read it over with as critical an eye as you can muster, or get help from somebody within your network of savvy writing colleagues. DO NOT go to somebody who doesn’t know screenwriting.

Think I’m being overly critical? Ask any professional consultant or reader, and I bet 99 out of 100 will say they know exactly what kind of read they’re in for by the end of the first page. And number 100 might also agree.

Then again, there’s also the possibility that the first page could be brilliant and it stays that way until FADE OUT.

Or the wheels could fall off anywhere between page 2 and the end.

Your mission, and you should choose to accept it, is to make that first page as irresistible as you can, grab us tight, and not let go. Make us want to keep going. Then do the same for page 2, then page 3, page 4, etc.  Make us totally forget what page we’re on.

Take a look at the first page of your latest draft. Does it do what you and the story need it to?

-Didja notice the spiffy new look? Had to make some behind-the-scenes changes, and this is the result.

Doesn’t get any cheaper than this

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Our helpful staff is ready to assist you!

As my network of fellow screenwriters has expanded over the past few years, I’ve become more active with exchanging script notes with some of them. It’s a pretty even split between me approaching them first, and vice versa.

From my perspective, the whole thing has been quite helpful and I think my scripts are definitely better for it. And as far as I know, none of the other writers have any complaints about my notes. If they do, they’re not saying anything.

It’s gotten to the point where every once in a while, an email will pop up from one of these folks asking if I could look over their latest draft and offer up my two cents. I’m fairly certain I’ve never said no.

Full confession: it usually takes me a little longer than I expect to get it done, but I do make a point of getting it done. I try to extend the same courtesy to them that they would to me.

I bring all of this up because I had a great catching-up coffee chat with a writer yesterday; somebody I haven’t seen since last summer. We shared what’s been going on with our respective projects, and I mentioned finishing/sending off some notes.

“Do you charge for that?” they asked.

No. It’s just an exchange, and I like helping out when I can.

“That’s really generous of you to give up your time like that. Have you thought of charging for notes?”

Of course, but I don’t consider myself qualified to. If I was a working writer and had a couple of produced features under my belt? Maybe.

I’ve always found the bios of professional consultants and readers to be pleasantly diverse and equally fascinating. Almost all of them have spent time working in the industry, many having read or given coverage on thousands of scripts.

Me? I can’t make the same claims. I’ve read a lot of scripts, but nowhere near those numbers, and a large percentage of my time has been (and continues to be) focused on honing my writing skills.

They have a fairly solid grasp of what works and what doesn’t, and provide much more insightful comments than I believe I could.

All things being equal, I’d say my analytical skills have definitely improved over time. I don’t know what kind of pro reader/consultant I’d be, but for the time being, I’ll stick to the friendly no-cost, between-writers exchange.

As mentioned earlier, I like helping when I can, and will continue to appreciate any opportunity to read an associate’s script in order to give them notes that will in theory help them make it better.

*personal note – this is my 800th post. Thanks for being part of the journey, and hope you’ve enjoyed it. I certainly have.

Better than socks and underwear

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“Not the insightful script analysis from a seasoned professional I was hoping for, but a Rolex is nice too.”
With the holidays coming up fast, and you’re just not sure what to get the screenwriter in your life, take a gander below at all the great gift choices available. What better way to show your support in helping them be a better writer in 2017?

And if you opt to splurge on yourself by purchasing any of the services being offered, they should count as tax-deductible (but double-check with your accountant, just to be sure.)

Keep in mind a lot of these offers are time-sensitive, so don’t delay and order today!

-Writer-director-producer Jimmy Day has launched the new Write12BlockScripts script consulting service. Mention Maximum Z when ordering and he’ll take $50 off, and that applies to both full script and 30-page reviews. Contact Jimmy here.

-Consultant Phil Clarke wants you to take advantage of getting his script services at the 2016 rates before the new 2017 rates kick in on January 1st. Visit www.philmscribe.com for details on a script consultant with bonafide, rarely rivaled industry experience, or contact Phil here.

-Story analyst Jim Mercurio is offering a 48-hour flash sale with 50% discount on several services. Get up to 20 pages of notes and save up to $600 on Jim’s Snapshot Evaluation, Comprehensive or Professional Analysis Services. Even if your script’s not ready to send right away, sign up the end of this weekend and submit your script anytime through the end of January. Contact Jim here.

-Author-consultant Michele Wallerstein will be teaching the online course How to Break into the Screenwriting Business via Screenwriters University starting on February 9th, and her book Mind Your Business: A Hollywood Literary Agent’s Guide to your Writing Career is now available in both paperback and Kindle versions.

-Writer-consultant Philip Hardy’s The Script Gymnasium is offering up the 2016 Holiday Special of $99 for full script evaluation and notes. This offer is good through December 31st. Contact Philip here.

-Consultant Andrew Hilton (aka The Screenplay Mechanic) will give a $10 discount on any of his services through January if you mention you were referred via Maximum Z. Better hurry! Spots are filling up fast!

-Consultant Danny Manus has a special holiday deal in place: purchase any Basic or Extensive Notes Service now thru January 1st and receive the 2-hour webinar “Mastering the Short Pitch” FREE! (normally $49) when you reference Maximum Z. Contact Danny here.

-Writer-consultant Mark Sanderson is offering a holiday discount of $25 off all consulting services. The offer runs through December 31st, but can be used throughout 2017.

-Consultant Lee Jessup is offering a 15% discount on her one-on-one career coaching services if you use the code MyPalPaul.

-Consultant Barri Evans is offering 15% off all services purchased between now and January 4th. Check them out here, or contact Barri here to discuss the best option for you. Services range from pro help on crafting powerful loglines, queries, and pitches to script consults offering one-on-one interactive feedback, as well as mentorship to meet your every need. Plus, be sure to check out her free Logline Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down on her consults page!

-Writer Bill Martell is having a sale until December 26th on the mp3’s of his audio classes: half-price for the Classic Class Set and the Naked Screenwriting Class. Bill also has a wide selection of e-books.

-And when you decide to take a break from writing and just want to lose yourself in a good read, Brian Fitzpatrick’s screenplay-turned-novel Mechcraft is slated to be published by Inkshares in 2017. With the visual intensity of The Matrix combined with the wonder of Harry Potter, pre-orders for Mechcraft are being taken now! Check out the site, the reviews, and sample chapters here.

Q & A with Ashley Scott Meyers of Selling Your Screenplay

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Ashley Scott Meyers is a screenwriter and blogger/podcaster at SellingYourScreenplay.com. He has optioned and sold dozens of spec feature film screenplays, with many making it into production. All of Meyers’ screenwriting success has come through his own marketing efforts which he teaches on his blog and podcast.

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

The screenplay for SOURCE CODE is excellent; one of the best scripts I’ve ever read. I highly recommend it to anyone who is a screenwriter.

I have two young daughters, ages six and three, so I’m watching a lot of children’s movies these days. I just watched THE IRON GIANT for the first time, and thought it was very well-written.

In fact, I’d call MEGAMIND one of my favorite films. In terms of screenwriting, it’s excellent. There are very few films I watch that I think are perfect, but as a screenwriter, I’d consider it one of the few that could be called practically flawless.

My daughters and I recently watched the 80’s classic CLOAK & DAGGER, another very well-written movie. It keeps the action going and all comes together at the end. A very smart script. I saw it when I was a kid and didn’t think much of it at the time, but seeing it again, it’s a pretty solid piece of writing.

Tell us about your writing background, including your “big break”.

I’m not sure I’ve really had a “big break.” Every script I sell or option feels like a monumental effort and it hasn’t gotten any easier. In fact, I’d say it’s gotten harder as the DVD market has shrunk over the last decade or so.

But to answer your question… I really never had a background in writing. I just liked movies, and for some reason writing scripts appealed to me. So I decide to pursue screenwriting. I was a terrible student when it came to English, writing, spelling, and grammar. Pretty much every skill you need to be a writer, except one (maybe two)… persistence and determination. So I’ve just plugged away and sold a few scripts.

How did the Selling Your Screenplay blog and podcast come to be?

Believe it or not, I once saw Gary Vaynerchuck speak at a conference where he was talking about not putting your personality into your brands. At the time, I was running a whole bunch of websites, but nothing around screenwriting. So I decided then and there that I needed to do something that combined two of my skills and interests: screenwriting and web development. So I did.

As far as the podcast goes, I just started to listening to podcasts and I thought they were really powerful. So I launched my own.

You’ve had experience with short films. What do you consider the benefits of working on a short, both as a writer and filmmaker?

The biggest thing is that you get to see your work get completed, which is rare as a screenwriter. But if you write a halfway-decent short, it’s fairly easy (nothing is every easy in this business, but it is possible) to find someone who wants to shoot it. You also might get an IMDb credit, win an award at a film festival, and meet other filmmakers. Shorts are a great way to hone your craft. You’re not going to make any money doing them, but they can be a great learning experience.

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

Yes. The more screenplays you read, and the more you write, the more you’ll be able to recognize good writing.

One of the things that makes movies so vibrant is the fact that you can watch a movie or read a script and notice different things every time, depending on where you are in your own life and skill level.

But yes, everyone can get better at writing and recognizing good writing.

What are the components of a good script?

That’s a pretty broad question. If I had to boil it down, I’d say good writing evokes genuine emotion in the reader or watcher. If someone reads your screenplay, and it evokes emotion in them, you’re on the right track. Everything else, like structure, characterization, dialogue, the hook, theme, etc., is really secondary to being able to evoke emotions in people with your words.

What are some of the most common mistakes you see?

The biggest mistake is underestimating the amount of work it takes to be a professional writer. I hear from so many people who’ve written one script, entered it into a handful of contests, and then wonder why they haven’t made it as a professional writer. Nobody gets to pitch for the Yankees after spending one summer practicing. Being a professional screenwriter is probably as hard as, or at least harder than, being a professional athlete. It takes an enormous amount of luck, talent, and lots and lots and lots of hard work.

What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?

It’s often inevitable that you’ll write scenes that feel familiar. I often find myself doing it, so I step back and just mix things up a bit. Try anything that’ll give the tired tropes a new interesting spin, which often boils down to adding a quirky or interesting character to the scene who can mix things up.

I recently watched a short film where a little girl dropped an ice cream cone that fell to the ground in slow motion. It was so clichéd that I really wondered why the filmmaker didn’t try to do something more original.

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

There are really only two mandatory things to do to be a successful screenwriter: write a lot, and read a lot of screenplays. That’s it.

If you do those two things and really spend time analyzing your writing and the writing of others, you’ll get better and maximize whatever talent you have.

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

Contests are great. Screenwriters should be doing everything within their power to get their work out into the world, and contests can be a part of that plan. But understand that even winning the best contest still means you’re quite a ways away from being a professional screenwriter. And I certainly wouldn’t use contests as my only way to market my material.

How can people find out more about you and Selling Your Screenplay?

I blog and podcast over at SellingYourScreenplay.com. I release a new screenwriting podcast episode every week. In nearly every episode, I interview an experienced screenwriter. I also run a script consulting service.

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

Apple. Not very original, I know. But every once in a while someone will bring an apple pie to Thanksgiving dinner, and as I eat it I think, “Damn, that’s good pie.”

A bulletin board to believe in

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Some great stuff on here

I’m a big believer in promoting the projects of my fellow creative types, and like to spread the word when I can. Today is no exception, with all of the listings being well worth your time and attention.

-Author/screenwriter Brian Fitzpatrick wants everybody to know about his new science fiction novel MECHCRAFT, which he describes as “THE MATRIX meets HARRY POTTER”. It’s currently available as an e-book, but if the number of preorders hits the next target level, it’ll be published as a hard copy, complete with Brian’s autograph (and who doesn’t love owning a book signed by the author?). An excellent addition to any reading list.

-Writer/blogger Henry Sheppard recently had to take a break from writing due to undergoing treatment for his continuing battle with leukemia. This required more than a few visits to the hospital, the events of which inspired Henry to chronicle the comedic aspects of his experiences into book form. The result – his new book Haematemesis: How One Man Overcame a Fear of Things Medic, now available on Amazon. Henry also wants everybody to know his leukemia is currently in remission.

-Filmmaker/animator Scott Storm has a crowdfunding campaign underway for his animated short CUSTODIAN. This is the second campaign for this project after some unexpected problems involving a sizable contribution earlier this year. But Scott remains undeterred and has redoubled his efforts to get this short made! Based on the brief clips Scott has made available, it looks great. Donate if you can! Especially if you’re a fan of animation.

-Between now and July 1st, for every order of his NOTES service that script consultant/blog interviewee Danny Manus receives, he’ll donate $25 to a special crowdfunding project that’s been set up to help the Orlando shooting victims and their families. Get your script in shape and help out a worthy cause, all at no extra cost!

Got a project of your own you’d like to have listed on a future bulletin board post? Drop me a line