Friday, April 26, 2013

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
 Screenwriting Resources

The following tips on screenplays were written by Greg Beal, Director, Academy of Motion Pictures Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting and despite that many screenplays are delivered as PDFs there are many who like to get them in the traditional format.  The Nicholl Fellowships are awarded annually by the Academy to non-professional script writers and is the standard for all screen writing competitions. They will get over 7,000 entries this year. The following is a link to the Academy website:
    There is no absolute “standard” format used by all professional screenwriters working in the American film industry. Slight variations abound in scripts written by professionals. That said, professional scripts will invariably resemble the formatting guide that follows. Nuances may vary – margins slightly different, a dash here or there, parentheticals used this way or that – but overall, professional screenplays fit these guidelines.
    Realize that “shooting scripts,” the form in which scripts are most often available at libraries and elsewhere, are not the form in which most professional writers submit their scripts. Submission scripts, sales scripts, first draft scripts – all share certain characteristics: no scene numbers, few if any camera shots designated and sequences written in master scenes.

    Your script does not have to mimic the following pages exactly, but it should closely resemble them. If you’re confused about which nuances are acceptable and which would push your script into an “out-of-format” category, you would do well to follow these guidelines and eliminate those questionable nuances.
    Screenplay Format Sample (PDF)

    Script Problems to Avoid

    Can your script give a reader a negative impression before the reader starts reading?
    The answer is “possibly,” and whether it does will vary from reader to reader. Does a negative first impression mean that a script will be automatically dismissed? Of course not. If a script is good enough, no minor “fault” is going to stop it. But why cause a reader to have a negative first impression of your script if you can easily avoid it?
    Writers who entered scripts with one or several of these “faults” (variant covers and brads are the most obvious) have won Academy Nicholl Fellowships. Undoubtedly, many scripts with some such “faults” have sold.

    Twelve foibles that might cause a reader to think less of your script before it has been “cracked” (the following tips apply almost exclusively to paper scripts):


    1. Art on the script cover.
    2. Hard, slick Acco covers (with long metal connectors).
    3. “Permanently” bound scripts (i.e., plastic spine binding).
    4. Commercial, “college paper” covers.
    5. Wimpy brads.
    6. Long “dangerous” brads.
    7. Cut “dangerous” brads.
    8. A “clipped” or “rubber-banded” script on non-three hole paper.
    9. Overly thick scripts.
    10. Thin scripts.
    11. Three-ring binding.
    12. Color of card stock cover that inadvertently bugs a reader.
    (You’ll notice that I did not include the number of brads, though scripts with one brad generally aren’t too good. And once you turn inside a thin script and discover that it’s been copied on both sides of the paper, you forget the thinness [unless you hate having to fold back the pages to read them].)
    What about after the cover is turned?

    Fourteen foibles that might invoke a poor first impression (based only on a script’s title page and page one):


    1. Typo/misspelling on the title page.
    2. Typo/misspelling in the first scene header.
    3. Typos/misspellings in the first sentence or paragraph or page.
    4. Triple/double spacing of every/many line(s) on first page.
    5. Lack of spacing between scene header and description and/or between description and dialogue and/or between dialogue and dialogue.
    6. Use of font other than Courier 12-point, ten-pitch, non-proportional.
    7. Extensive use of bold print.
    8. Dialogue that stretches from the left margin to the right margin.
    9. Extra space between character name and dialogue.
    10. Description and/or dialogue typed ALL CAPS.
    11. Extremely narrow or extremely wide outside margins.
    12. Long, long, long descriptive passages.
    13. Handwritten or hand-printed script.
    14. Other glaring, non-standard format usage.
    Writers who entered scripts with one or several of these “faults” (non-Courier and lengthy description being the most obvious) have won Academy Nicholl Fellowships.
    Remember, these remarks are based on subjective observation of subjective reactions. Not all readers are affected by the same “problems” when picking up a script. And if Shane Black were to have six typos on page one, would anybody care? Probably not. Until you are paid to write scripts, it’s probably more reasonable to be careful about your submissions.

    Tuesday, April 23, 2013

    Documentary Fundraising: 10 Key How-to’s for Creating a Compelling Pitch Video

    The following was first published by Peter Hamilton in "Documentary Television" by my friend Fernanda Rossi who is the author of:  Trailer Mechanics: How to Make Your Documentary Fundraising Demo.

    1. What’s in a name?
    No matter what you or other people in the film business call it—whether demo, sample, trailer, taster or sizzler—the function is more important than the name: think of it as an audiovisual pitch for fundraising, and throw away the dictionary.

    2. Making sense
    Make sure the demo is consistent in content and style with the rest of your proposal, meaning the written materials and pitch. Whatever the proposal says, the demo must demonstrate—fully.

    3. Marketing vs. fundraising
    A marketing trailer needs to convince lots of people to spend 90 minutes and US$10. That’s why it looks like a movie-preview-meets-music-video. A fundraising demo needs to persuade very few people to spend several years with you and many thousands on your project. That’s why it looks more like a short-without-an-ending. Yet crowdfunding demos merge the two.

    4. Ticking clock
    A demo or work-in-progress can range from 1 minute to 20 minutes in length. Shorter versions are mandated by pitch forums, ideal for first meetings and online crowdfunding. Longer versions are suitable for follow-up meetings and requested for some grants. The circumstances will determine the length of your sample.

    5. How to open it
    The opening of a fundraising demo conveys premise, who and what. It’s not the opening of the actual documentary—no long credits or moody slow panoramic shots. To the point, right away.

    6. What to put in it
    A fundraising sample has complete scenes as opposed to a fast-cut assortment of provocative sound bites and images. The purpose of a demo is to convey the essential points of your story and that you’re a good storyteller, not to prove that you have a great editor and tons of fancy software to do effects.

    7. What to avoid
    Montages or scenes cut to music, as well as beginning-to-end music and narration, are often used when a story doesn’t work well on its own. Don’t let any element overpower the demo.

    8. To write or not to write
    Slates with long and frequent explanatory text and fades to black are not as necessary as you might think. They make a demo look like a PSA (Public Service Announcement). Delay including them until there is no other option. Then use sparingly and, if possible, integrate text with image. Plus, catch those typos!

    9. How to end without ending
    A demo has an open ending, called a cliffhanger, which hints that there is more to the story. If the trailer offers proper closure to the prospective doc, then it’s a short film. You’ll be told it’s fine as it is, no need to make a longer film.

    10. How not to end
    A cliffhanger can create great expectations. Do not kill that emotional high by adding final credits or contact info or begging for money. That’s what your other materials are for. Let the viewer be moved and motivated to call you.

    10.5 Do something
    If you are the type to sit on your demo, do something. If you’re the type to send your sample to every living soul, scale back. A demo is part of an overall strategy. Have a plan!

    Felix Austria! by Christine Beebe
    Character-driven documentary, premiering at HotDocs. Demo used to fundraise in crowdfunding campaign.
    Free Swim by Jennifer Galvin
    Topic-driven documentary, won grants and individual donations.
    About Fernanda Rossi

    Sunday, April 14, 2013

    The following post was written by Elliot Grove.
    I think you'll find it helpful.
    Mitchell Block  April, 2013

    8 Mistakes Filmmakers Make That Kill Their Careers

    8 Mistakes Filmmakers Make That KillsTheir CareersAs your filmmaking career starts to grow, it’s crucial that your actions don’t strangle it in its infancy.
    By avoiding the mistakes that so many filmmakers make you have a far greater chance of succeeding well beyond the first 2 years of the launch date of your career.

    1. Doing Too Much Yourself

    Business owners as well as filmmakers fall into this trap as they attempt to minimise costs. It can mean that you will get bogged down in the day-to-day nitty gritty, keeping you from stepping back and taking a good hard look at the future. Future planning, and with it, the ability to anticipate problems, are two important areas successful filmmakers have to keep control of. Doing too much can mean that the fire-fighting cycle just keeps repeating over and over again.
    Coupled with that is the guilt associated with neglecting family and personal relationships. This often leads to exhaustion and collapse.
    Why not call for extra help before you need it, and not after the cracks have begun to show, and usually, it is too late.

     2. You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

    Most independent filmmakers start their career because they are really good at something. Some are really good at directing action, others have a flair for working with actors, and others are just good solid all-rounders.
    What many filmmakers forget is that it is a business which involves a host of different skill sets. They forget that filmmaking requires the basic business managaement skills such as: sourcing new clients and work, marketing and publicity, recruiting new crew and staff, and managing the cash flow questions that any small business has. Add into this the creative mix and you have the potential for a meltdown.
    Running and more importantly, developing and expanding your movie career is like growing and developing any type of business. It is unlikely that you will have the expertise to do everything needed yourself.
    Sucessful filmmakers learn to recognise their own skills and knowledge and take action to fill the gaps in their career plan.

    3. Quitting The Day Job Too Quickly

    A filmmaker or screenwriter’s passion in what they are doing is usually so high that they enjoy some intital successes and revenues. They then quit their day jobs and hire premises and staff – only to face psychological and financial ruin when their early successes have been a minor blip on the long hard haul to a successful career.
    Everyone needs money in order to survive. Make sure you are able to cover your monthly expenses before you ditch your day job.
    Done correctly, you might be able to apply for funding or enjoy certain strategic tax benefits depending on your personal profile and the geographical territory you live in.

    4. You Haven’t Got Anyone To Talk To

    Filmmakers have career issues which often require discussion and debate. The difficulty facing most filmmakers is that they find it very difficult to find anyone they can relate to.
    Certain legal and technical challenges can be discussed with an accountant or lawyer. But issues of creativity are not the issues you want to discuss with inappropriate people.
    Having no network is potentially very damaging. Discussion with a trusted advisor or friend is where one finds new ideas and perspectives. Having your project and ideas endorsed is also nourishing for one’s ego. Lukewarm receptions can indicate that your ideas are not developed enough.
    A small network of trusted people able to ‘get’ you and to listen and discuss ideas with you is an essential part of a filmmaker’s success.

    5. Working With The Wrong People

    Filmmaking is a passionate business. It is also almost always very last minute. Add on top of that, the chronic fatigue. Under these circumstances it is tempting to hire people for production and other jobs quickly without properly interviewing and checking references.
    Remember, no matter how good someone is, if there’s a difference in values, then the only questions that matter are “When will the row happen?” and “On what subject will it be?”
    Always be asking yourself: how much real experience do they have? Is it relevant to what you need? Are their skills and experience complimentary to yours? Do you have mutual respect? How important will you be to them? Do they know their own limits? What networks and contacts do they bring? Will they let you talk to their previous employers/collaborators to get a feel of how they work?
    As always, don’t agree to work with anyone until you feel comfortable. And make sure you have written contracts in place for any creative collaboration.

    6. Lack of self awareness

    Many filmmakers are afraid of admitting their fears and inadequacies because they don’t want to lose the mantra of praise that they want to follow them everywhere. They won’t take any criticism from anyone because they don’t trust them and because they believe they know better. When confronted they usually nitpick ridiculously fine details and refuse to entertain the creative or practical suggestions from anyone else.
    This makes it very difficult to develop a team, and as the word spreads, they find fewer and fewer people willing to collaborate with them.
    Sucessful filmmakers are brutally honest about themslves. Get some vital feedback from that special and trusted friend.

    7. Staying In The Comfort Zone

    Most filmmakers work with the same team members over and over again. There is nothing wrong with this – except – who is challenging and testing you and your ideas?
    It’s an easy trap to surround yourself with ‘yes’men. Working with people who challenge you may be uncomfortable, but it’s a whole lot easier then attending a disastrous screening of your movie because no one around you had the courage to say “hang on a minute – what about XYZ?”‘
    Hip, innovative filmamkers pick up those cool ideas from outside their conventional thoughts. They learn to accept constructive criticism and learn how to deal with negative criticism.
    Mixing with others will increase your chances of doing this. The more diverse your contacts (whether by sectors/age/ethnic group/gender), the more you’ll also be able to “narrow the angles” on potential incoming problems; someone in your group will have had experience of issues that you haven’t – better to learn from others’ mistakes than get extra battle scars yourself!

    8. Not Knowing Why You Want To Make Movies

    Filmmakers make movies for many different reasons. It doesn’t really matter why you want to make a movie. Some make movies because they want to make money. Others make movies to get a message across. Others make movies because they are attracted by the allure and glamour.
    Decide what your ambitions are before you head off and attempt a career in fillmaking. Realise that your real reason for making movies will predetermine much of what you try and achieve.
    By avoiding, at least to some degree, these eight common mistakes your filmmaking career has a much more decent chance of success. Analyse each of these eight areas and take appropriate action.
    Best wishes!