The Screenwriter's Forum Q&A Part III
March 14th, 2004
Q: (1/4/98) John - I am writing a screenplay that in the classical giallo template, this is not the first script I have done in the genre, but it is the most complicated. My question is that in this story nearly EVERYONE is a suspect, and I have placed red herrings throughout. For a few of the characters I cannot find a way to implement them without flat out saying to the reader that this should be a suspect. Is this a big no no, or can I use it if there is no other way? Thanks for your time. - JM
A: JM -- TOO MANY RED HERRINGA MAKE THE SCRIPT SMELL FISHY. NOT EVERYONE CAN BE A SUSPECT. THIS WILL ONLY CAUSE THE READER TO BECOME BORED AND NOT INTERESTED IN THE REAL SUSPECT[S]. John De Marco
Q: (1/4/98) John, I completed my first script and am now working on polishing up the story andrimming excessive dialogue. The story contains some NFL football scenes that may cost quit a bit of money to obtain rights for. Should I be mindful of this in my writing and try to trim those scenes down, or just write the story and let producers worry about the cost? Thanks, John Conner.
A: JOHN -- Let the producers worry about the cost. If the NFL is important to the story use it. John De Marco
Q: (12/17/97) Mr. DeMarco, I have three more questions. I use a pen name when writing. Where should my real name appear on the title page? I'm entering a contest and need to submit a synopsis. What if any should be the page's heading? Should the synopsis be included with the screenplay in between its card stock covers or submitted separately? Hope the last question makes sense. Thanks for the help, Mira.
A:Mira -- Use your pen on the cover page, below in the bottom left: Property of: Mira --- Address - phone number The story outline should have a seperte cover page: TITLESTORY OUTLINEBYPEN NAME AND LOWER LEFT AS ABOVE -- submit it attached to the front cover. John De Marco
Q: (12/17/97) I have a script that I would like to put on my website instead of sending out printed copies. Do you think the right producers would ever read a script over the web? Do I have to worry about copyright infringement. Thanks, Corey.
A: Corey -- do not put any script on the Web. You have no protection and the possiblity of a producer reading it is slim. Register your script with the Writer's Guild. John De Marco
Q: (12/17/97) Josh Boone, age 18, scored very high points for one of my six scripts at Slamdance. Recently sent out 35 queries to 35 agencies and got 6 responses so far. Everyone begging me for this script. A guy who consulted on the film "Swingers" and is a producer called me and said "If your script is as good as your query I'll make your movie." I have been working nightmare hours to finish to get it off to these people. I sent to other script to tide the producer over until this one is complete. He loved them and calls frequently as do these other agents assistants. Am I the only person to have struck gold on a query? Is there some way to lessen the pressure I'm putting on myself to want this to be dynamite? If this doesn't pan out what other ways can I try and get representation ? I'm not interested in cashing in with some shark agency as much as I'd just like steady reliable wrting jobs. Help, please. All these calls from LA have got my head spinning. Josh.
A: Josh -- the first thing to do is select an agent, let him field the calls. If an agent doesn't get you work within in 90 days you can leave with no problem -- that is the law in Calif. John De Marco
Q: (12/17/97) John, I have enjoyed reading over your Q&A about screenwriting but have not found a situation such as mine. I wrote and registered a story back in 1987 with a letter sent to myself as registered mail and as a copyright on file with the Canadian Government in 1991. I sent letters off to three different agaents one to a major star at Warners, at his request I have the receipts from Purolator to show it was received. My problem is 2 weeks ago, I saw a Paramount production bearing the name of "Amy script" with the same story arc, but varied subplots. My question is what do I do now? Seek out lawyers? Thanks Scott.
A: Scott -- many scrits have the same arc -- in fact most scripts have a similar arc. It's the story that makes the difference. Try to get a copy of the script if you can. You would have to prove that the production company got your script and passed but then used your idea. John De Marco
Q: (12/17/97) Dear Mr. DeMarco , I am writing my first screenplay and need your advice. I have developed the storyline but I seem to feel before I can start writing I must have a list of all the scenes...with brief description from beginning to end. Sort of a roadmap that I fill with action as I go. Is this approach workable or is their a better way? Thanks Dan
A: Dan -- Yes an outline of scenes is a good way to go -- I do that in my writing. John De marco
Q: (12/17/97) Dear John, about two years ago I had a dream that I was sitting in a theatre watching a movie I had written. The movie had me laughing so hard I almost peed the bed. I have just finished the screenplay and am ready to shop it around. I have never written before and have specific actors in mind for the characters, should I suggest them in the script or leave that to the movie moguls? Bjorgan.
A: Bjorgan -- do not suggest actors that's the producers job. You should not write with actors in mind because it will hinder the character development. John De Marco
Q: (12/17/97) Dear John, when writing a telephone conversation as the scene shifts from one place to another, must I rename the scene? Can you give an exmaple please? Thanks for your helpful insights. Fran.
A: Fran -- Try this: INTERCUT AS NEEDED: This allows you to set the dialog without having to write the location each time. You must however set it up the first time --INT. FRAN'S APARTMENT - DAY FRAN [into phone] Hi, John -- did you call me? INTERCUT AS NEEDED: FRAN Okay but no fried foods. JOHN I love fried food. INT. JOHN'S CAR - SAME JOHN [into cell phone] Yeah. Wanna do lunch?
After this set up -- use INTERCUT AS NEEDED: John De Marco
Q: (11/25/97) Recently I had a good showing in the Nicholl Fellowship contest which resulted in quite a few requests for my screenplay. My question, what is your feeling on the releases that production companies ask you to sign? It seems to give them license to pretty much take your ideas while you release them from liability. My script is copywrited and wgaw'd. My lawyer, who is not an Ent. Lawyer has been very leery of some and in one case I went back to the prod. co. and they made some changes. But, overall - do you know the consequences of signing these or any real-life cases involving them, or should I stop being so paranoid and sign? Thanks...Bill
A: Bill -- Congrats on your showing. What kind of release does the production company want you to sign. If it's a general release that allows them to present your script to a studio that would really be a free option. If it's a release that holds them harmless from another similar story they may have that's pretty general and would be okay. I would really have to know the content of the release to give you any advice. John De Marco
Q: (11/25/97) Hi John. I'm brazilian, and here in Brasil we don't have places to get information on scriptwriting. How can I indicate in the script that some scene's, or sequence appear with the main credits of the film? Can I put it into the script? Also, sometimes I'm affraid that the text of the script is becaming too long. thanks, Tiago Morena.
A:Tiago Morena -- When scenes are over credits the following:SUPER CREDITS OVER THE FOLLOWING:EXT. HOTEL PARKING LOT - DAYJim rams his car into a truck backs up and tries again. If the text is becoming too long, you have to find a way to cut it down by putting in the essence of the narrative. Long narrative is a real turn off -- remember the script is only a road map -- don't get too invlolved in exposition -- show it. John De Marco
Q: (11/25/97) I received good coverage from a top agency on a screenplay I submitted. It was recommended that I resubmit a second pass which I have since done but am still waiting to hear back. I would like to continue pursuing representation elsewhere and was wondering whether or not I can use this agency's positive coverage to attract other interest in my screenplay? Thanks for responding. Anita
A: Anita -- I would first find out if the agency wants to rep you or not. If they do it's their job to exploit the screenplay. If they don't want to rep you, you can use the coverage to send to others, however the question is if the coverage was good why did they choose to pass. Sometimes the coverage says the writing is good but not saleabale. You have to get the reason for the pass. Be persistant -- find out where they're at before you peddle to others. John De Marco
Q: (11/25/97) Hi John! Me and my cousin are working on our first screenplay. Since we live in Finland so far away, I was wondering what to do when we finally finish a script worth mentioning? I don't know where to turn. Here in Finland they don't make the kind of movies we write "pure Hollywood stuff". Thanks for any advice. Chris
A: Chris -- Finland huh? Well I think you should connect with the film commission if you have one and get the name of a lawyer that will direct your script to Hollywood or an American agency in England. Inasmuch as you found me on Utopia -- click on the directory of agents and production companies that accept scripts. John De Marco
Q: (11/9/97) John, in your opinion would it be wiser to send a complete script to an agent, or just a query letter? The former could be pretty expensive. Stephen Melling.
A:Stephen -- I don't think query letters do much good. You should find out what agents or producers accept new material and send them a script. A list is on Utopia as well as a list of agents on the WGA.COM site. John De Marco
Q: (11/9/97) John, when a writer finally sells their screenplay, does he receive a one-time payment or does he also get a percentage of what the movie makes? -Tony
Q: Tony -- Usually you are paid a percentage down the balance on first day of principal photography as well as a percentage of the net. Video tape sales are paid on the gross. John De Marco
Q: (11/9/97) What is the correct format for writing titles that appear on the screen, such as a date or a place? Not subtitles for when characters speak in foreign languages? Thanks, Ernie.
A: Ernie -- titles on screen: SUPER: NEW YORK CITY - 1998 John De Marco
Q: (11/7/97) Mr. De Marco, I'm 22 and I'm french currently living in France. I've written a screenplay and have translated it in English. Do you think the fact that I live so far away from Hollywood will cause me a lot of trouble to find an agent? What is the best submission strategy for me? Directly send my screenplay to some of the WGA agencies, or send query letters? Thank you for your help. Fabien.
A: Fabien - You are a bit far away however Wm. Morris has an office in Paris and London as well as some other agents. I would try there first. John De Marco
Q: (11/1/97) Dear John, I just finished a screenplay and have discovered that the title I'm using has been used before in a documentary and T.V. movie, what are the legalities of the situation? Laurie
A: Laurie -- Don't worry about it- you can't copyright a title. John De Marco
Q: (10.26.96) Mr. DeMarco, is the binding of a screenplay to be entered into a contest the same as one being sent to an agent or producer? Thank you for your help...Mira.
A: Mira -- Yes, exactly. John De Marco
Q: (10.26.97) Mr. De Marco: I'm a screenwriter living in California with ten scripts to his credit. Two problems, they are all still sitting on my bookshelf and I'm 17. I have a variety of questions, so here goes nothing... would my age prevent anyone from taking me seriously? I have just finished a script which a friend of mine thinks is "iterature". It's a rather off beat story and I'm thinking of producing and directing the feature myself independantly. Would this work at all. Since my script doesn't necessarily follow the 3-act structure, would major producers throw it away...if I'm not able to produce it as planned, should I register it and then send it out? Are there any alternatives to registering the script with the WGA that would protect it equally as well? If you can offer any help in any of these areas? I would be most grateful. Thank you for your time. Danny.
A: Danny -- No your age doesn't matter -- as a matter of fact it may help. I would produce it in a twenty or thirty minute format to show your ability -- it would be a good piece to give to an agent. You need the three act structure unless it's very different and pays off. You could mail the script to yourself via registered mail and not open it. At 17 years old your on the right tract -- Good luck -- keep me informed on how your doing. John De Marco
Q: (10.26.97) I have written a screenplay that takes place recently. The main character is also the antagonist. When I originally wrote it the main character loses at the end and is killed. However, after reading it over and having several people comment I have come up with another possible and more exciting ending. The problem is that, because the screenplay takes place 3 -4 years ago I am reluctant to add the ending because it would involve a very...very major rewrite of world history involving a major world war. Also, it isn't a what if scenario where the whole story is based on the change of history. I'm not sure if this is ethical or whether it will have a positive or negative impact on what producers or directors will think of the movie. Do they frown upon this sort of thing? Michael Waters
A: Michael -- forget what your friends think! The number one rule is, show your work to no one until you are done with it to send to agents. Usually first thoughts are the best. Don't do a major rewrite because freinds have talked you into it -- unless your friends are producers that are buying your script. If your script takes place in recent times don't change history. John De Marco
Q: (10.26.97) Mr. De Marco, I am currently writing my very first screenplay and I only have about twenty pages done. Should I begin to search out some agents and, or producers and submit what I have so far...with a synopsis of my whole story or, wait until I have a completed script to send? I 'm just a bit anxious to get some professional input to see if I should continue with my writing. I understand that sometimes producers buy story concepts and then have selected writers fill in the dialogue...so to speak (or not?). Thanks for any advice. Norbert J. Fronczak.
A: Norbet -- You have to write a complete script period. John De Marco
Q: (10.26.97) Mr. De Marco, are the standards of 1 page per minute (for screenplays) still a valid assumption? (what are your thoughts?) Also is it recommended that I add a few technical notes such as THE CAMERA IS NOW THE EYES OF THE CHARACTER? Thanks for your help. (unknown?)
A: A page a minute is usually what they consider the right number of pages, it's not in cement. (see next answer as well) John De Marco
Q: (10.26.97) I'm in the process of writing a movie where at certain dramatic points I want to use camera directions that are important for later points in the story...a certain close up on one character's actions that is later copied by another to show a relationship. I'm not a director and I know that when a director reads all the camera ZOOM IN...PAN LEFT etc it offends them. How much influence as a writer can I use without doing the directors job and consequently offending them? James.
A: James -- Try not to use camera directions and cover what you want in the narration -- IE -- "Tom turns and we see that he has the same exact haircut as Bill saw earlier" John De Marco
Q: (10-16-97) I am currently writing my first t.v. screenplay from an idea I had for a 1/2 hour situation comedy. I read that first time t.v. screenwriters should not write screenplays for pilots or episodic series because the networks have experienced "staff writers" for these types of shows. If that's the case, what should a first time t.v. screenwriter write in order to break into the business? -M.A.C.
A: MAC - First time TV writers should pick a show they like and write a script as if it were going on the air so producers can see that you have a grasp of the show. John De Marco
Q:(10-16-97) Mr. DeMarco: I'm working on my first sreenplay and I would like to put in a musical part...having the characters listening to music, or produce the music themselves. How might I go about placing that into my script? Should I say that, "they were listening to a certain song or leave it in general"? It seems rather silly to be asking, but I was just contemplating. Thanks Pat.
A: Pat - If they are listening to music all you have to do is state a certain song is playing. If they are producing the music that requires narration and action. John De Marco
Q:(10-16-97)Dear Mr. De Marco, I am a criminal defense attorney and am completing a screenplay based upon a murder case I handled. A producer who followed the case while I was handling it is interested in seeing the finished script. Since the characters are real, I assume, I'm going to need a lawyer to pass over it and make sure it doesm't infringe on anyone's rights and create lawsuits. I know nothing about this legal field, and am not interested in handling this aspect myself. Should I pass it by an entertainment lawyer BEFORE sending it to the producer, or would an agent handle that after I get an offer? Or the production company's in-house lawyer? Thanks for your time. Tina.
A: Tina - Normally murder cases are a part of the public record and can be used based on transcripts. In as much as you were the lawyer and you want to use real names you might have to get clearance I really don't think it's needed. I would write the play and if a problem does come up you can change the names of the characters. See if you have a script that someone wants before going the legal route. John De Marco
Q:(10-16-97) John, a friend of a friend has an agent and I may get a reading. My
script is polished and pretty good...I think, however I am unsure of how
to bind it properly. I know I use punched holes on the side, but how
many and what type of binder do I put it in? Is it a standard 3-steel
ring binder? Thanks for the help John.
A: John - use wire brads to bind it.
John De Marco
Q:(10/16/97) Dear John. Lately I've been toying around with an idea for a screenplay that heavily involves the Soviet Union and the KGB. However, many people h ave told me that it's not a good idea because so many movies have been done involving the Soviet Union and it has become a cliche. I don't know whether I should write it or not. Should I? Jake.
A: Jake - forget about anything being cliche. If the story is good is all you should worry about. There are NOT that many sciprts set in Russia. John De Marco
Q:Dear John, I'm getting my scripts read by a known and respected producer at the moment. They've been requesting pitches, and scripts from those pitches, and I've been sending them in. My question is: What should I do to keep my name in the running in case this producer has a rewriting assignment that comes up? Or even a first draft writing of one of his idea? Is there anything I can do to keep myself "in the open" so that they'll think of me when a chance like this comes up? Also, is it "cool" to ask the producer to recommend an agent, and once they do a referral to that agent? Or is this a no-no? Thanks, JAW
A: Dear Jaw - The producer will keep you in mind because he has been doing pitches for your projects. By all means seek his help in gettng an agent -- everybody does it. John De Marco
Q:John, I'm in the process of writing a screenplay. I was wondering, is it absolutley neccesary to register with the Writer's Guild? Ernie.
A: Dear Ernie -- no you don't have to register with the WGA,but it is a way to get some kind of protection. John De Marco
Q:John, recently an agent read a script of mine and misinterpreted the plot of the story. Does this sort of thing happen often? Have you ever heard of that before? Should I contact the agent and explain how the "it" should have been int erpreted? Or just skip that agent and go on to the next? Thank you for listening. Gregory Woodruff
A: Gregory -- I would take this to mean he doesn't get it because you haven't really made your point. Writer's know what they want to convey but sometimes have difficulty in expressing it. Try sending to someone for another read like a friend -- if you get the same reaction then you need a rewrite -- if not -- you need a new agent. John De Marco
Q:What factors are most conducive or limiting to your own creative process? Have your personal emotional experiences and/or situations greatly influenced your creative abilities? Candace.
A: Candace -- the only factor that has influenced me with writing is staying afloat financially, having overcome that I find it pretty easy. I have had many tough experiences such as my son having a stroke as a child. I found the writing takes me out of the real world as I am into the script because it's real to me. Once you belive in what you are writing you're bullet proof to outside influences. John De Marco
Q:I started my screenplay with an action scene showing a man setting a house on fire and speeding away. He wrecks and dies. The next few scenes show what led to the character's actions. Now that I want to show the aftermath of his death, I'm having problems making the smooth transition from the past to the present. Any suggestions? Should I place the first scene in its chronoloical place? Thanks for your help. MIRA
MIRA, Without reading the script I can't give you any advice. John De Marco
Q: Dear Mister De Marco, I have just completed my first screenplay - an unusual psychological thriller. I live in New York. I am in the process of registering with the Writers Guild. What should be the next step in securing an agent? Thank you, sincerely.- Richard.
A: Richard, Get out the phone book look up all agents, call them and ask it they accept material without references. John De Marco
Q: John to respond to your question the lawyer's only communication with me was his disappointing letter comment. Whether or not he benefitted in any way, I don't know. He has in the past pleaded a busy schedule which precluded his repping let alone reading any of my other works - I took their letter to be a potentially open door and communicated this with him by fax, that was over a week ago. Short of a slap upside the head to get his attention. I really don't think he's all that I would like in a rep. That leads me to the second tier, it took two years to find someone even willing to read one property. Anyone you could suggest? Earlier in your Q&A you mentioned a referral as being the best way to achieve entry to a representative worthy of their commission. Care to refer? I have no problem with generus rewards for positive results. Brooke
A: Brooke, I don't refer anyone whom I don't know or have not read the script. In this business they do read by reference, but I would not refer in the blind. John De Marco
Q: Hello John. I've been an aspiring screenwriter for some time now have one script in my office and haven't even submitted it. To be perfectly honest with you I think no one will ever like it. Although I did meet a gentleman back a few years ago who past away, he was in the entertainment business and had done some feature films from Disney, etc. He wanted to see my script, he knew people in the industry who might want to look at it. I was about to send it to him when suddenly I heard nothing form him and discovered he died. What do you suspect I should do with the script? I intend to write a new script and intend to do more. But, I need some guidance here on which direction I should take my writing to? Should I pursue finding an agent, or submitting a low-budget script to small production houses to see if they are interested in the script? Thanks, David Alin
A: David Alin, I would submit to low budget producers. John De Marco
Q:We have pitched our film idea to several studio development executives at Cannes. They were all interestedand requested a copy of the screenplay. The question is, should we send the screenplay to them directly or should we first find a literary agent to act as a mediator which could of course, take some time? Thanks for your help, Steve
A: Steve, I would send the interested parties the script. If you get a response --then call an agent or better yet call your lawyer and let him try to make a deal via an agent who he would contact. John De Marco
Q:How should treatments be written? Should they read more like a script or a short story? Also, how long should they be? Thanks, Ben.
A: Ben, treatments should be written like a short story and should be around twenty pages in length. Good Luck! John De Marco
Q: Recently I had a script read by Dreamworks SKG, the remarks and evaluations were all in the affirmative. The problem, despite the laudatory comments, they weren't interested in producing. There was no mention of do you have other properties, etc. I'm an extremely prolific writer and feel I'm being considered a one-trick pony. I'm not as Dreamworks surmises, interested in producing the story. I'm a writer. My entertainment attorney, the guy who solely by virtue of his being a Guild signatory and could facilitate the script's delivery...they would only accept it if sent by a signatory, only commented on the disappointing letter. Any suggestions? Brooke.
Brooke, the fact that Dreamworks has positive comments means they like your script, but it's not for them. The fact that they didn't ask what else you have doesn't mean they're not interested in you. I would submit another project. As far as your lawyer goes, did the submission let him do another one. John De Marco
Q: -Hi John! I live in Jacksonville, FL. I have the names of some agents that live in Florida, like Miami and Orlando area. As a general rule, are Florida agents taken seriously by the Hollywood community? If I get no response to query letters sent to Hollywood, but get interest from one of the Florida agents, should I stick with the agent in Florida or keep trying for a California agent? Thanks Terrina.
A:Terrina, stick with Florida agent and keep trying for an LA or New York agent. You might try with a lawyer. I really don't think query letters do much. John De Marco
Q: Mr. De Marco: I've been told by several produced screenwriters that using my ethnicity
(Spanish descent, African-American, Asian, etc...) would be a great way to get
my foot in the door with the people in Hollywood. Maybe saying I am an award
winning screenwriter who also has a possible film option pending would
suffice. I personally do not want to exploit my ethinicity in my queries and
conversations with agents/producers as my philosophy is that the writing is
what matters in the end.
In your experience, is it true that the works of ethnic females are an "item" in the film industry right now?
- This business is too crazy to call!
Thanks for answering. X
A: X, It is true that people of color, women and age have a tough time in
the Hollywood sensiblity. I really don't think that who you are makes
any difference. The writing speaks for itself. If you are an award
winning screenwriter and you have an option that would be enough to
get you in the agents door. Now if you have a screenplay that deals
with a particulare group then you might send your work or your agent
would send to Spike Lee and other Latin/African American producers and
agents. I personally feel that writers are all one color. In Hollywood
they like to put you in a slot and that will hamper you. I would do as
you said -- your words represent you the best.
John De Marco
Q: John, I optioned a spec script for no money to an actor who wants to be a producer. He has an agent who has shopped it around, and I consider it a good deal. But. I have a second spec script he is interested in, with rewrites. The first big rewrite made the story more generic. He wanted a happier ending, for example. This, too was fine. But now he wants a third rewrite (these don't count the drafts I didn't send him) which make the hero less dark and troubled but more easily sympathized with. These aren't necessarily bad ideas, but it isn't the kind of story I'm interested in or want to write. And he hasn't paid me any money; he can only offer a lot of connections. Should I stick with what I consider interesting and unique in my writing, or should I do the rewrite and save the artistic integrity for later in my career (esp. since he may want nothing to do with my version)? Thanks, Harry.
A: Harry, when you give a free option and then do a rewrite that makes the script in your opinion stronger, that's okay. BUT if you don't like the changes don't do it. What happens is that the script becomes someone else's vision and not yours -- not good. Do not write what you don't like unless they are paying you to do so. Unless an actor can really make a deal by attaching himself it's not likely anything will happen. John De Marco
Q:Mr. De Marco. I've recently been asked to adapt a couple of my stage plays into screenplays for a new production company. The company is the independent subsidiary of a larger house. One screenplay went to them the other to a friend trying to raise money and direct the piece. He has interest from a producer to fund the project. BOTH groups have mentioned something to the effect of "yeah, real nice, and we're interested in coming onto the project, but first we'll need to talk about acquiring rights, and then we'll work from there." Question: what the hell are they talking about? Both insist they want me to be the writer. I have no deal yet, and if I did it would be low budget so an agent I have none may not waste his or her time even if I've already done most of the work. I want to protect the rights to these as plays AND as screenplays, both are copyrighted and WGAe registered. I don't know what the next step is? There have been no meetings. No calls it's only been weeks, and I hear talk about their lawyers. Should I be thinking, "before you touch the script let's see the ducats?" Or should I sit on my fat ass and hope that nothing bad will happen to me? This has all been extremely sudden, and a little painful to watch, a little painful to be a part of. I was under the impression that someone would say here's a check, we start shooting in 1 month. I have been duped and savagely misled. Could you advise me and perhaps plot out the hassel-points from submission time to the time that someone actually buys your script? Many many thank, Craig
A: Craig, first reality dictates that nothing happens in a month. One, you have registered the material so you are safe to present. Two don't worry about low or high budget. Three, call an entertainment lawyer and let him handle all talks with any company that is interested in your proojects. Acquiring rights means they want to know how much you want for your plays. If they do acquire the rights from you, you may or may not be the writer of the screenplay. In other words they may want the rights to your play but not your screenplay. This is good. You still get credit on the screen. In any case you are on the first rung of the ladder. To prevent you from falling off -- get a lawyer to handle this. If you don't know an entertainment lawyer go to a large firm where you live and they can hook up with one. Hollywood lawyers usually take fiver percent of the purchase as their fee. Good luck, John De Marco
Q:What would be the correct process for writing a loosely related sequel to a previous movie? The movie in question is about 15-16 years old, so it is not like the company has a sequel in production (as is the trend with newer hits). Should I write it first, then seek permission or vice versa? BTW, this is a GREAT forum. Thanks for your time! Kevin.
A: Kevin, sequel rights are owned by the studio as they own the copyright. You can do an adaptation and send it to the studio that owns the first film, if they like it, they will buy it at a lesser price because they have to pay the original writer as well. If they don't like it, you will be prohibited to showing it to anyone else. It's a big gamble to spend a lot of time to go to one buyer. I would either get a producer interested in your take or an agent before writing. John De Marco
Q:John, in my search for an agent you've recently given me the advice. I would have sent out fifty scripts to various agent. Q-Actual scripts, or query first? And if I am cold calling scripts do I include a release? Kevin.
A: Kevin, by fifty what I mean is to rotate ten scrips to agents no release, and a letter with return paid postage to you. John De Marco
Q:What's the procedure about writing a screenplay based on a foreign film? I already wrote an American remake of a popular HOng Kong film, and I would like to credit the original writer. What's the proper procedure when pitching my remake script to producers? I did to this foreign film what Walter Hill did to Akira Kurosawa's YOJIMBO. Hill remade it as LAST MAN STANDING with Bruce Willis. And before that Ergio Leone remade it as A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS with Clint Eastwood. - Sam.
A: Sam, pitching a remake is like pitching your take on a book. Credit the Writer, based on film _____. John De Marco
Q:John I'm an experienced writer having worked in a variety of
communication-related positions for many years e.g. public
relations,Amarketing. I 'm also a former managing editor. However I
've never written a screenplay but have decided that being a writer
especially a screenwriter would bring me the most joy in life.
I plan to start soon. My question is, how do you feel about graduate
screenwriting programs e.g. UCLA Loyola Marymount. Do you feel that
writers, or people for that matter, who go through these degreed
programs come out writing better screenplays? Is is worth the cost, do
you have just as much chance writing and learning on your own the voyage
of self discovery so to speak? I have my BA in Communication, but I
taught myself how to write. My undergraduate degree had little if
anything to do with any of my work skills including writing. That I
learned on the job writing newsletters and feature stories. What's your
A: TERENCE, If you have the time to take the classes it wouldn't hurt,
however remember that classes cannot teach dialog. Before enrolled
I would take a shot at writing a screenplay first and see where you are.
You have to have a good ear for dialog and construction.
John De Marco
Q: John, I sent out five query letters--all to major agencys--with two request. One from CAA and the other from Endeavor. The problem is in both cases I haven't heard a word in two months...I call and get told it's in the works. The CAA's agent has changed assistants and his new assistant very friendly, says we've gotten behind. As for the other three, I heard from one--a call from and assistant of a Writer's and Artist agent, but he said that I really need to be in LA. Thoughts on that? The other two no word...none. Now, I was just prepping and hoping with the big boys yet I got in without references even. Q- how long would you wait for these guys and is there a major difference is lesser agencys? I know they are all busy, but would they give me more of an effort? And what about LA's only 1300 miles away and we live in the info age. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. Kevin Ward
A: Kevin, getting an agent is very difficult unless you have a reference, however you are better off with a small agencies. I would have sent out fifty scripts to various agents, and no you do not have to live in LA to be a writer and sell your work. John De Marco
Q: Dear John, I am as of now writing my first screenplay, first draft I am writing with detailed camera movements. I am doing it this way so that my second draft geos by a lot faster. Is this a good idea? Second question is. If I wanted to, or anybody else for that matter. Is it possible to send screenplays directly to studio? Must you first get an agent. Thanks for your time! Andre.
A: Andre, no it is not a good idea to put in detail camera direction. It will most likely not get read. You are a writer not a director. Yes you need an agent. Unless you know someone at a studio they won't accept the material. John De Marco
Q: Dear John, my agent (who is currently trying to sell a script of mine) read my latest script and said she would not rep it. As a matter of fact, she hated it. I'm still fairly new with agents and have another agent that likes the script, and wants to rep it. So, what I'm gonna try to do is get the first agent to waive any rights to the said script, and allow the other agent to try and sell the said script. What'a think? Should I dump #1 in favor of #2, or just let 'em try and sell the scripts they like? Bob.
A: Bob, get rid of agent #1 and go with an agent that likes your work. John De Marco
Q:John, last year a couple of studios bought more "pitches" then "specs", what the hell is going on? Isn't it better to have the script completed before a studio buys...that way they know what they're gettin'? I had hoped the art of "pitching" was dieing, from what I heard in the early 90s it was....I live out of California so I want "specs" to regain top billing man. Thanks dude from Skully, Izzy that is...
A: Skully, right now the spec script market is soft. It will come back again. John De Marco
Q: Dear John, I never thought a guy would have to write one of these, would you post a sample query letter, please? I have searched until my fingers felt like falling off and have found nothing. I am a beginning screenwriter and am very unsure of the correct format or even how to start. I would greatly appreciate any help you can give. Robert S. Kabel
A: Robert, all you have to do is give them your b.g. in writing, if you have none put down your education and a brief resume, then a paragraph on your screenplay. John De Marco
(Robert, also check out: The Hollydex, the Email, and the Queries)
Q: Dear John two related questions. I am interested in doing a screenplay on a lesser known historical figure who died in 1881. Do I need to contact his family if he has any left to secure the rights or since he was a public figure is his story fair game? I also found an old book from the 1930's that I would like to turn into a script. However, the publisher no longer exists so how can I get in touch with someone who owns the rights? Or are the rights available if there is no longer a publishing company? Thanks for your time. -Oscar
A: Oscar, since he was a public figure and you're research shows same it's okay to go ahead and write it. As far as the book goes I would adapt it and credit as such in case anything comes up in the future such as heirs or estate. John De Marco
Q:John, I have an agent who is located in San Diego. He is presently repping my novel and some screenplays. My question, is having an agent in San Diego, hence out of the Hollywood loop a BAD thing or a GOOD thing? I mean, how much selling can he really do in San Diego? Am I wasting my time, and should I seek out an agent in Los Angeles for my scripts? When is ENOUGH TIME to demand and a progress report from my agent i.e....where have the scripts been who has liked it, hated it, and where are they still going now? One last question. It is ethical to have two agents repping seperate projects? Thanks in advance. Fuqua
A: Fagua, many agents are outside of Hollywood the question is what is he doing you should call and get his calling sheet on the project. I would say three months is enought time. You should not have two agents unless one is a rep for novels only and vice versa. John De Marco
Q: John how long did it take you to write Impulse? How many re-writes did you do? How long did it take to do the re-writes? Did other people re-write your Impulse creation? Were you satisfied with the Casting? Were you happy with the Results? Would it have been better if you Directed it? Do you want to direct someday? Please help me out on these questions because I'am writing about screenwriters and the time they invest in their Creations. It's a comedy but quite serious. Thanks, Rich from out of Brasil
A: Rich, it took me three months to write Impulse. I did five rewrites that took two months. After the sale The director had another writer come in for a polish. I was not entirely happy with the casting. I don't want to direct, produce maybe. I was happy with the final cut. It got rave reviews from Siskel and Ebert. John De Marco
Q: John, my first screenplay was a Finalist in the Mass Film Office Comp. The protagonist was a man whose wife had died and he was left to raise his teenaged daughter. My next script was about a woman who resolves her relationship with her dead father in a very astonishing way. I 've been told that the protagonist of my second script is passive. How do I make a protagonist non-passive, if he she is the victim of circumstances? Do you have any advice or tips? I hope I've given you enough information. Thank you Denise.
A: Denice, I would have to read the script to see what the set up and how the character is working. John De Marco
Q: Dear John, I found the name of an agency on the web that is not WGA affiliated. I sent them a quesy, and they were enthusiastic to see my screenplay. I sent them my screenplay, and they were enthusistic about it. I notice on their web page that they mention a one time labor and materials fee. I have never heard of a legitimate agency charging a one time labor and material fee. I am wondering if this is some sort of a scam, or whether is is better to be represented by them than spend a lot of time trying to find a new agency. How do I know that they are a Literary Agency at all? What do you think? Anne Matthews
A: Anne, no legitmate agency charges for anything. These types of so called agencies are enthusiatic about every script so they can get a fee. Forget them -- move on to legit...you can do it! John De Marco
Q: It's been said a lot to me your parents can cramp your "creative style". This was the issue when I started screenwriting. the first script I did was on a racial incident which happened to me. They told me I had to write stories that are uplifiting and not stories about people not going anywhere. I was a bit offended by that and began to wish I didn't pick this field since so many out there could be like them. Since you've been in this business along time, would you write you want or just write for others. (I know money is involved) I hope this isn't confusing to you.- Matthew Milam
A: Mathew Milam, don't let anybody tell you what to write. You
must write what you want, unless you are hired to write for someone.
People that tell you what to write really don't know what they're
talking about, espically if they are not in the business. I must tell
you as much as Hollywood is cut throat and cynical -- they all
respond to passion for the project.
John De Marco
Q:Hi John, What exactly is the WGAw minimum payment for a feature-length screenplay if it's tied to the budget? Is it a percentage or a flat fee? Thanks...Ray Sharp
A: Ray Sharp, the flat deal WGA fee for feature is 42,000
for low budget under 2.5 Mil and 79,000 for high budget,
including original screenplay and
John De Marco
Q:How and who do you get to look at screenplays about sci-fic movies if you are trying to submit it to a publisher? Can you tell me some publisher's names? And how about going through the process if you can thanks? Tonya
A: Tonya, you don't submit screenplays to publishers
you send them the first draft of the book. Most publishers
don't accept unsolicited material. You need to send your
book to an agent.
John De Marco
Q: Dear John: I am working on a TV script for a drama series. Though I really want to be a novelist I feel screenwriting is a valuable learning experience, and that some ideas just can 't be expressed in any other other medium, plus I 'd like call all those I love over to the house to lay back on the couch then point at the TV and say "I wrote that" and have them say "Darn that 's good -- even great". So, anyway, I have my stories structure basically figured out and characters that make me feel like I can reach out and touch them though I'm not yet sure how they would respond if I did and a quantity of scenes, though I understand some may have to be thrown out so as not to force the writing. Now... In a rough draft, is it important to be specific as to what a character says? I've none some research for necessary info for my story and though it will be in my own words and though I realize scripts are not research papers , do I still need to give credit to where credit is do? I'm desperately wanting to write for the show before it leaves the air but don't have an agen am worried that by the time I get one the show will only be airing reruns and WRITTEN BY says that all shows accept scripts through agents only. So what should I do or say when I send them a query or letter expressing my admiration for and interest in the progra? Ask them to wait around until I get up off my butt? P.J.Thines
A: PJ, in a rough draft you put in dialog even if it sucks. A rough
draft is a complete script that needs a few rewrites. You clean it up
later. If you want to sample a TV show script. It must be complete as
if it were going on the air. You don't get many second chances. In
doing a script for a show that's been on the air, it should take no
longer than a month. The show characters are all defined. Send
a letter to agents with a copy of your script. Don't expect to get
the script back unless you send postage and mailer.
John De Marco
Q: John, I have heard that spec scripts that were sold by previously unknown screenwriters were bought because the idea was good, even if the writing was lousy. The studios simply had them rewritten. Since I live outside CA and am unlikely to get a meeting with studio people on the basis of my writing style, shouldn't I stop fretting over the actual writing and concentrate totally on the idea? Harry Connolly.
A: Harry, If the idea is good you can always punch up the script, however you won't be the one doing it, They will hire someone else. If you don't concentrate on the writing and the story you will not get read by anyone the second time. Good writing even with a weak story gets you in the door and perhaps an assignment. John De Marco
Q: Dear John, do you picture a scene from beginning to end until you start writing it? How visual are you in your writing, and what advice can you give? (p.s., you should have a sample of your Impulse script in your Forum, that would be really cool to see) thanks man, Stan Johnson.
A: Stan, I give the reader a visual scene, and always write that way. I think if you look at the first twenty pages of a script I have on Utopia you will see I have developed a style to let the reader follow with picture and words. I suggest you set the scene in your mind, then act out the dialog of your characters as you would like to see them on the screen. John De Marco
Question: at what page should act one never go beyond in a script? Page 20, page 30? At the end of act one usually the protagonist has to make a important decision or something big happens to them right? I know that we should understand what the story is about in those first ten pages, but the first act is hard for me? Can you give me some good suggestions or help? Peggy Mullen.
A: Peggy, the first act can end around page thirty five. The first act should set the characters and story line. The end of the first act is where you have the disaster set. If you are having trouble I suggest you take it ten pages at a time -- first ten to twelve -- set the initial action and lead characters - second tweleve - expositon of the set up, and third twelev the problem. You can then break it down scene by scene making sure what you want to happen is clear. Mabye what you should do is write ten pages for each of the three acts you have so that you have a roadmap. John De Marco
Q: John, I understand there is a list of agents and production companies that will accept unsolicited scripts. How does one get this list? Mary Lou.
A: Mary Lou, try this Internet Directory of Agents, OR Call the Writers Guild of America in Los Angeles and subscribe to Written By It's the guild montly mag -- they list all the current tv shows and the contact person. John De Marco
Q: I have recently written a two episode script for a popular NBC TV comedy series but have no clue as to how it should be submitted. I have only written a few technical articles for professional societies before and never entertainment material. Should I contact the network? The series producer or an agent? Can you suggest any individual of office which might be helpful to me? I live in Grand Rapids, MI and am a long distance from the industry. Any other suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks, Chris Wilson
A: Chris, you have to send the script to an agent -- I would suggest you get a list right from the LA phone book and call a few to see if they accept scripts. John De Marco
Q: John I have an agent, and she is currently sending my script around LA, but she never calls me. I always have to call her, for the past three months. I understand that she will not call unless something comes up, so should I stop being a baby and just focus on writing, or should I find a new agent? Carl S
A:Carl S., agents are nortorious for not returning calls. They will only
call if something is hot -- they get and make seventy calls a day. I
would continue writing -- if an agent doesn't do any thing in ninety days
chances are he can't sell the script. I wouldn't jump ship, but I
would call and tell him what your next script is about and see what he
thinks -- if he doesn't like it -- get a new agent. If he does stay
John De Marco