Hollywood Etiquette Part II: 4 Ways to Get Your Script Read without Being Annoying

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Last week’s post was about why it can be detrimental to send your script out over LinkedIn or Social Media to people you don’t have a relationship with. Now that you know what not to do and why not to do it, let’s talk about ways to go about getting your script read AND foster important relationships in the process.

Here are 4 ways to get your script read without annoying people: 

1. Cultivate REAL Relationships.

Think of the people in your life that would do you a big favor: Drive you to the airport, take care of your dog, help you move. Chances are the people you feel comfortable asking for a big favor are people you’ve cultivated a strong relationship with. Asking someone to read your script is no different. It’s a BIG favor. So wait until you have a real relationship with someone before you ask them to read your material. This might take more time than you want it to take, but they’ll have more investment in you doing well if they really know you. Lasting success in Hollywood is about taking the long-term view.

2. Use Social Media the RIGHT WAY.

The internet can be a great asset for your writing career: you can create a website that catalogues all of your scripts, you can display your festival laurels on social media, a great IMDb account can give you instant credibility. There are so many platforms to shout out you and your work. And trust me, if you start meeting new people in the right way they are going to look you up (it’s no secret that we all Google each other). They’ll find your social, your website, and most definitely your IMDb. So make sure all of those pages reflect how impressive you are so they’ll be intrigued to reach out to you and further a relationship (and maybe even ask to read your work) rather than you hounding them and scaring them off.

3. Get out into the REAL WORLD.

Social Media and online engagement are great, but you can’t rely on that alone (almost no one found big success by never leaving their apartment). Get out of the house and into the real world! Meeting someone in real life can create a connection much stronger (and faster) than messaging them on Facebook. Building strong, real connections is what’s going to prompt someone to want to read your script, see your reel or watch your film. So go to film festivals, put on a script reading, join a writers group, sign up for a communal workspace like WeWork, go to screenings or writer’s Q&A’s… if you’re living in Los Angeles the list of opportunities to meet people (yes this includes “important people”) is endless. But be smart, go to these events to build community in an authentic way, don’t be the creepy writer who’s just going to social events to hand out drafts of their script.

4. If you Build it They Will Come.

Hollywood loves people who are ‘Doers’. And no, a ‘Doer’ is not someone who spends their precious hours pestering people to read their scripts. A ‘Doer’ is someone who makes their own opportunities. Whether it’s creating a web series and putting it online, hosting a public script reading, or going to an open mic and reading their short story.  A person who doesn’t wait for Hollywood to give them the green light and is instead getting their work out into the world NOW is highly attractive. People like this have a dynamic energy that communicates they believe in themselves. Be a ‘doer’. If you are, chances are the “right people” will find you and want to work with you, rather than you having to hound them.

What are your favorite ways to create meaningful relationships in Hollywood? Let me know @CaroleKirsch!

Hollywood Etiquette Part I: Are you Making this Simple (but harmful) Mistake?

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Getting your material read is one of the biggest challenges for a screenwriter. You can work and re-work a script for months (sometimes years) and when it’s finally finished you’re eager to get it into the hands of the “right people” so it can be read, sold, and your career can be propelled to new heights! 

I get it. But take a beat before you just start sending your script out to anyone and everyone. The “right people” are not going to want to help you or work with you if you annoy them or encroach on their privacy (no matter how great your script is).

So many people on LinkedIn and Facebook send me their scripts and films without knowing me and without me asking for them. Don’t get me wrong, success in Hollywood has a lot to do with tenacity, grit, determination and doing what you need to do to get your foot in the door. But it’s not a free for all. Certain ‘unwritten rules’ of Hollywood Etiquette still exist and if you want to be remembered in the right way, I hope you’ll follow them. 

Here are 4 reasons why NOT to send your script (film, sizzle reel, or trailer) to someone over Social Media or LinkedIn:

1. It’s a Newbie Move.

When you finally put your work out in the world you want to be seen as a talented professional that people would be confident hiring, or referring to their friends and colleagues. When you send your script out to someone who didn’t ask to read it, and who you don’t have a relationship with (no, being “friends” on Facebook does not count as a real relationship) it shows a certain lack of experience. The ‘knee-jerk’ action of shooting your script out to people over social media also shows a certain level of desperation that is synonymous with “newbie” (and/or struggling) writer. Coming across as desperate and green is definitely not the first impression you want to make on a Hollywood professional.

2. Time is Precious, Respect That.

Reading a script (even watching a short film) takes time. When you send out your material you’re asking someone you don’t know to take 15 minutes to 2 hours to review your work. Busy professionals don’t have that kind of time. Most execs in Hollywood can barely find time to answer the emails in their inbox or eat a proper lunch, so asking them to give a huge chunk of their day to review your material is a very big ask. How would you feel if I reached out, out of the blue, and asked you to spend 2 hours of your time doing something for me - a person you don’t know and have no relationship with? Respect people’s time, the way you would want them to respect yours.

3. You could be sued.

The phrase ‘does not accept unsolicited material’ can be the most infuriating thing for a writer to deal with. Especially when you have material that you know aligns with that company or individual. But the phrase isn’t just something execs made up to keep the ‘riff raff’ out. It can have some serious legal consequences. Most major movies that turn a profit end up with a lawsuit against it by some amateur writer who sent in an unsolicited submission (and for the record, the few that take it to court never win). To avoid this possible legal hassle, pros in the business will only read material that is sent through a referral, reputable agent, or with a signed release form. It sounds extreme but it’s necessary: If someone has stated explicitly that they don’t accept unsolicited material, and just happen to let your script be the one exception, they could end up being in some serious legal hot water. 

4. It’s Annoying.

All of the above reasoning aside, on a base level receiving a script from someone over Social Media or LinkedIn is annoying. It comes across as rude, and is asking too much. This doesn’t mean I don’t want you to succeed, this doesn’t even mean I don’t want to read your work - but it does mean there is a right way to approach it and a wrong way. 

Be sure to check out next week's blog, “Hollywood Etiquette Part II: Four Ways to Get Your Script Read Without Annoying People”.

What are your top tips for getting your script read while remaining professional? Let me know @CaroleKirsch!

Is Perfectionism Killing Your Creativity?

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Anyone can end up down the rabbit hole of trying to be perfect. Especially in a place like Hollywood where it takes a lot to get noticed, writers can become consumed with the idea that to succeed their work has to not only be great, it needs to be perfect. Striving to be your best can be a good motivator, but striving to be “perfect” can be destructive: killing your imagination and spontaneity. I’ve seen it and it makes me sad.

Trust me when I say, people reading your scripts aren’t looking for absolute perfection, they’re looking for a unique voice that feels authentic. Striving for that is going to get you much further than striving for perfection.

Here are 4 ways to let go of perfection and embrace your authenticity instead: 

1. Get to Know the Imperfect You

Too often a writer’s idea of “perfect” is what they think their reps or executives would consider perfect. Don’t waste your time. Art is subjective, and trying to guess what other people want will do nothing but make you crazy and creatively stuck. So relax! Let go of the obsession with being perfect, it might actually be killing what makes your work unique and wonderful. If you stop striving to“get it right for them” and focus more on what feels right for you, you’ll hone your authentic voice as a writer. It’s that authenticity that’s going to set you apart from the rest.

2. Finish a “bad” script

There’s a reason the word “draft” exists. No writer gets it right on the first try. Perfection is the instigator behind a LOT of procrastination and supposed “writers block”. It’s self judgment in disguise: you don’t want to write because you’re worried it won’t be perfect, and if it’s not perfect you’ll be judged negatively. I get it, rejection is scary, but how can you become the prolific screenwriter you want to be without actually completing a script? I know one writer who’s been writing a feature for fourteen years! Challenge yourself to focus on finishing a draft rather than focusing on your draft being perfect. In the beginning, go for quantity over quality (the quality can come later). Give yourself micro deadlines, like writing for 30 minutes a day, to just get your writing out on the table. Small goals can be great to keep you rolling on quantity, not stuck in the paralysis that is “quality”. 

3. Share Your Work with Trusted friends When It’s Just “Good Enough”

A lot of writers hold their scripts too close to their chest for too long because they think it needs more work. More than likely your script can be improved, but hiding your script isn’t going to make it better, feedback (from someone credible of course) is going to make it better. Usually the reason writers hold off sharing their scripts has nothing to do with their work being bad, it has to do with their fear of receiving bad feedback. If the fear of feedback is holding you back, start by sharing your work with someone who will go easy on you. Have the courage to ask them for notes when your script is just “good enough”. Ask them to be honest, but gentle. Then share your next draft with someone who will give you more critical (but constructive) feedback. Baby steps. Facing the judgment of others in baby steps can help kill your fear of judgment that’s masquerading as perfectionism. 

4. There’s a fine line between Professionalism and Perfectionism 

If you are a perfectionist, chances are you’ll never feel like your work is good enough to show “real” people who can affect your career, that it can always be just a little bit better. And, don’t get me wrong, this attention to detail can be a good thing. You do only get one shot with most script readers, so by the time they see your script it needs to be the absolute best it can be (save the “just good enough” drafts for the creation/development stage). But there’s a fine line between being professionally thorough and being manic about one or two commas. If you’re scared to show your work, you’ll always find little edits and tweaks that need to be made. Having the courage to get your writing out into the world isn’t easy, but if you know in your gut your script is polished and ready to go, don’t sit on it too long, time goes by fast and every story has its right time to be released.

How do stop perfectionism from slowing you down? Let me know @CaroleKirsch!

Why Helping Others Is Good For You And Can Help you Get Ahead

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‘Helping others’ can sound intimidating. It probably makes you think of huge undertakings like volunteering in an emergency, or tasks you would rather avoid like helping your friend move into her 6th floor walk up. The idea of helping others, especially when you’re focused on your own ambitions, can seem like an exhausting task that will inevitably take time and energy away from you and your path to success. 

But acts of giving back and kindness (with no thought to what’s in it for you) can actually pay off in surprising ways. Helping others can actually help you get closer to your career goals. That being said, don’t just do it to get ahead, do it because it creates a positive impact on everyone involved.

Here are 4 ways giving back can help your creativity and your career:

1. Lifting Others Up, Lifts YOU Up

Karma, most of us use that word when we’re talking about bad things happening to bad people. But what about the karma of good things happening to good people? It works both ways. If you put good out into the world, good is going to come back to you. Even if the idea that the universe rewards good deeds is too woo woo for you, it’s undeniable that when you help others you usually feel better about yourself. When you make a difference for someone, it gives you a sense of accomplishment and that can boost motivation in other areas of your life. Rather than sucking energy, helping others can actually energize you to work harder, longer and smarter. What better state to be in to then dive back into your writing?

2. Invaluable Lessons, Transferable Skills

Believe it or not, helping others can actually teach you skills that are highly valuable and transferable to a writing career. Skills like teamwork, communication, problem solving, project planning, task management, and organization. All of these skills are vital to surviving a writers room, and practicing these skills in a non ‘make it or break it’ environment can give you more confidence when you need to use them in your professional life. Also, the lessons you’ll learn helping others doesn’t just come from the actual tasks you’re doing. If you’re helping out a mentor or volunteering for an organization you admire you’ll learn through sheer osmosis! Just being around pro-active, altruistic people will expand you as a creative and as a person.

3. You’ll Keep Your Social Skills Sharp

For the most part, writing is a lonely occupation. If you’re not in a TV writers room, chances are you’re spending most of your days alone in an apartment or coffee shop. That kind of isolation can equal some seriously rusty social skills; social skills you’ll need when it comes time to pitch a show, or interview for a writers room. Whether it’s volunteering in a group (so you’re pushed to be more extroverted than you normally are), or it’s helping someone out one-on-one (pushing you to connect to someone on a more focused level), helping others can be a great way to keep up your people-skills and stay connected to the world. These connections can also broaden your creativity. A lot of volunteer situations involve interacting with people you would never cross paths with in your everyday life: People with different points-of-view, from different cultures, different ages, and different backgrounds. All of these encounters will give you more to draw on in your writing than just your own experience.

4. It Will Help You Keep Perspective

All writers get caught up in the drama of their own lives: a script rejection feels like the end of the world, waiting to hear back from a production company can feel like agony. Helping others can be a counter balance to all that drama. Focusing on others takes you out of your own head, away from the anxieties of the business, and helps you keep perspective on what’s important (trust me, when you’re reminded how little some people have in this world it really puts a script rejection into perspective). Even if you agree to help out a friend just as a healthy distraction from your career worries, chances are by the time you’re done helping them your self-esteem will be boosted, and you’ll have a greater sense of yourself and the world around you. The better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life, your goals, and have the motivation to keep going after them.

What are your favorite ways to give back? Let me know @CaroleKirsch!

Congratulations! You have a Showrunner Meeting. Here’s how to Nail It.

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After countless hours of writing, and months (or years) of slogging it out in Hollywood, a Showrunner has read your stuff, liked it, and now you finally have the chance that could change your career: an interview for a staff job in a TV Writers Room.

Amazing! Now what? 

Through my CBS Diversity Writers Mentoring Program and working with my private coaching clients, I have helped more than a hundred writers prepare for Showrunner meetings. Many, many of them landed the gigs.

There are lots of variables at play and each Showrunner is an individual, so it’s not “one size fits all”  but there are some things almost every Showrunner is looking for when they’re hiring their staff.

Here are 5 things to consider before your interview with a Showrunner:

1. Relax!

First and foremost know that the Showrunner likes your material. You wouldn’t be meeting with them if that wasn’t the case. They’re looking to see if you’re going to fit in with the rest of the writers and what you specifically can bring to the table. Sometimes they’re so excited about your work, they’re just checking to make sure you’re not a psycho and that they could spend ten hours a day in a room with you. So, as I often say, the job is yours to lose (see point #3).

2. The Obvious.

Be prepared! Watch or read the pilot (or several episodes if it’s a returning show). Review it more than once. I know upper level writers who’ll review a pilot two or three times before they meet with the Showrunner. If it’s a long running show, watch the pilot and the first and last episodes of each season. Read the synopsis’ of the episodes you don’t watch. Come in with thoughtful ideas about the show. Don’t comment on the obvious things. That’s what everyone’s going to talk about. Take the time to go deeper and discuss less obvious points. Also, I always tell writers to say, what they loved and what they’d love to see more of. That’s a way to be constructive and positive even though there may be some things you didn’t respond to.  It’s also a way to answer if the Showrunner asks:  “What didn’t you like?” Never say you didn’t like something. Say, I was hoping to find out more about _____ or I’m looking forward to finding out what happens with the relationship between _____ and _____.   All that being said, sometimes you may only have a day to prepare. Don’t freak out, just do your best and come up with one point that’s interesting and a little unexpected.

3. Be You, Not Them.

Most Showrunners are not looking to hire themselves. They want to hire someone who will add something they don’t already have: writers with a different background, different world-view, set of experiences, and/or expertise from their own life.  Someone who will push the narrative in new directions that they would never think of. Don’t waste their time, and yours, trying to be what you “think” they are looking for. Just be you. Even though it can be hard in situations where the stakes are high, try to just tell them honestly what makes you and your writing unique and how those qualities will add to their room. A big part of getting hired is just being yourself, rather than trying to please.

4. Be Prepared to Tell Relevant Stories from Your Life.

What a Showrunner needs from you are ideas. They’re hoping you’ll be a story machine for them. And they’re hoping most of the story ideas will come from your life. That your life experience and the anecdotes you tell are a great match for the type of stories they need for the show. If the show is about sororities and you – or your sister – were in a sorority, come in with three great sorority stories that you experienced. Don’t “say” you have lots of stories, “show” that you have stories, by telling a couple. It’s just as important that you prepare these stories, as having something interesting and helpful to say about the pilot. Sometimes it’s more important.

5. Know Your Strengths.

All writers have different strengths and weaknesses: you might be a joke machine (if it’s a comedy), but not the greatest at structure; you might be a great macro thinker who will be incredibly helpful when they’re breaking a season arc, but not as helpful with character beats. A writers room needs all kinds. To get hired you don’t have to be a genius at every single element of writing a script, I don’t know any writers who are. But you need to know what you’re really good at, and be able to articulate it with confidence. A Showrunner needs to know what you can deliver when they decide to hire you.

Have you had a Showrunner meeting and nailed it? I want to hear from you. Tweet me @CaroleKirsch!

How to make the Most of Attending a Film Festival (with or without a project)

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There’s a reason hundreds of screenwriters pull their parkas out of their closet and trek to Sundance every January: film festivals are full of opportunities for writers at any stage of their career.

Maybe you think attending a festival without a project is a waste of time (and yes having a film actually in a festival can make networking and access to festival events easier), but if you can keep an open-mind and have the willingness to put in the legwork beforehand, film festivals can be prime places for any writer (with or without a project) to learn, be inspired, and network (I prefer “connect”, but you get the point).

I did a presentation at the Whistler Film Festival last year and I saw writers who were crushing it, and getting a lot out of the experience. I also saw writers who hung back and left feeling disappointed.

So I want to share with you 5 tips to make the most out of your next film festival experience:

1. Always be Prepared.

Before you go, do your research and get organized. At all major festivals (and even most minor ones) there will be multiple events happening at the same time. Plan accordingly. Make a schedule that incorporates all of the events, films, meetings and parties you hope to attend. Lock down the important things well in advance: buy tickets for the movies you’re dying to see; if you managed to land a meeting, set a place and time to meet. Also, don’t forget the logistics: secure a place to stay, know how you’re going to get around, and what your budget is (multi-day festivals can be expensive). And even if you don’t have any “official meetings”, prepare a logline for yourself as well as the elevator pitch for any completed scripts you have. You never know who you’re going to run into and when you’re going to run into them (yes, if you hit it off with a producer in the bathroom line-up and they ask about your projects, should be prepared to pitch them right then and there).

2. Stay Flexible and have Fun.

While it’s a good idea to arrive at a festival with a plan of attack (especially at multi-day fests like TIFF or Sundance) don’t be so rigid with your time that you don’t leave room for the magic of synchronicity. At a festival you never know who you’re going to run into and what kind of experiences and opportunities they are going to bring with them. So stay flexible! You might end up chatting with a director you’ve been dying to meet and end up grabbing dinner together, or find an impromptu Industry Panel that’s mind-blowing, or maybe the movie you were going to see sold out and you end up selling your script to a major producer at the festival lounge (okay, that last one is extremely rare, but not impossible). Go with the flow, there is no “right” place to be and no “right” people to meet. A festival is a career opportunity, but it’s also a life experience, have fun!

3. Say hi to everyone.

Talk to everyone, because anybody might be a somebody. The guy charging his phone in the hotel lobby could be a big executive, the woman stocking up on free festival popcorn might be a producer. Say hi, be friendly, ask them what movies they’ve seen. If the conversation flows that way, talk about your screenplay (but don’t ask if they want to read it!). Give them your card and if they want to read your script, they’ll let you know. Opportunities are everywhere, just keep an open mind and be on the lookout for people you think might be fun to talk to (not just people you think are important). You can always tell when someone’s doing that… and it’s annoying. So please don’t be that person. 

4. It’s a FILM Festival, see the FILMS!

I can’t tell you how many writers go to festivals and don’t see one film because they think it will “eat into their networking time”. See the films! Go see the movies made by your mentors and be inspired, see films in the same genre you write in order to find collaborators, see something outside your wheelhouse to get in touch with the industry zeitgeist. If nothing else, seeing films at a film festival will give you a great conversation starter while networking. Also take note of any creative team members you love. Was the music in a short film incredible? Maybe reach out to the composer for your next project. Did a film totally align with your personal esthetic? Send the director a congratulatory message and ask for a coffee. At the end of the day all creatives are out of work at some point and looking for like-minded collaborators.

5. Follow Up.

Once the festival is over, and you’ve returned to real life, make sure to follow up with everyone you met. It’s one thing to have a great conversation at a party, but a whole other thing to grow that into a relationship. This will be a lot easier if you take notes on the people you meet while you’re still at the festival. At the end of each day, make a note of everyone you met, where you met them, and any specifics from your conversation that might jog their memory later on. Drop these specifics into your follow-up email. If you’re interested in a networking spread sheet template to help you keep track of everyone, drop me an email at carole@carolekirschner.com and I’ll send you one of my favorites.

What are your tips for making the most out of a film festival experience? Let me know @CaroleKirsch!

3 Ways to Stay Sane in the Craziness that is a Screenwriting Career

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Being a screenwriter can sometimes feel like you’re a walking oxymoron. To be a great writer you need to be connected to your emotions and the world around you, but you also have to have a thick skin to survive the pressure, rejection and competition this industry serves up. You need to be open to people’s opinions of your writing, but not so open that they can totally derail you and your belief in your work. 

As my friend, writer/producer Jeff Melovin, who created the WGA Showrunner Training Program says, “to succeed in this business, you have to be an M&M, meaning you need a soft chocolate center to sustain your creativity and a hard candy shell to survive.” I couldn’t agree more.

It’s a constant balancing-act that can make anyone crazy from time to time (or a lot of the time).

Here are 3 things you can do right now to find more sanity in this insane career:

1. Get Rid of The Emotional Skeletons In Your Closet

We all have them. Those negative voices that tell us we’re fraud’s, we’re not smart enough, not creative enough, not a real writer. And chances are a lot of those inner doubts were planted a long time ago. Maybe from a family member who didn’t believe in you, a teacher that belittled your work, or a friend who told you being a writer wasn’t a real profession. Clear that baggage out of your closet! If you don’t, negative patterns and emotional blocks will undermine your work and keep you small, leaving you in a ‘crazy-making loop’ of constantly trying and never reaching your full potential. Write about it, talk to a therapist, talk to a friend you trust. Sometimes you need to get out of the boxing ring and regroup, to be the best you can be. If you don’t find a way to master those old (irrational) doubts, they’ll keep getting in the way of your creativity and your success.

2. Practice Emotional Boundaries.

Creating emotional boundaries as a writer is no easy feat, but they are integral for a screenwriter to stay sane. Sometimes (a lot of the time) people’s reactions to your work can feel really personal. If you don’t have strong emotional boundaries it’s way too easy to become reactive or defensive and fall into the “not good enough” trap. Create strong, but flexible emotional boundaries that you can “lower” when you need to access your creative side (like when you’re hatching a new script idea, or tackling the depths of a character), and “raise” when you need to keep other people’s thoughts and feelings at arm’s length (like when you receive notes from an executive or feedback on a pitch from your reps). The ability to keep cool, calm, and carry on when you’re in the “danger zone” of feeling rejected or criticized will help you stay balanced.

3. Get Better at Bouncing Back.

Everyone has those moments when it all seems impossible: when your career goals seem far out of reach, when you’re sure you’ll never have a fresh idea again, or maybe when you’re completely burnt out from overwork. There’s no sugar coating it, these moments suck. But the good news is these are actually the moments when you build your resilience: when you dig deep and find a way to shake off whatever is throwing you off and get back in the game. Every time you keep going despite the odds, you become more resilient, and let me tell you, no one survives Hollywood without a LOT of resilience. So start getting better at bouncing back and staying focused on the good: Practice positivity (affirmations/gratitude) when things don’t go as planned, find self acceptance for where you’re at in your career, improve your stress management skills, and above all, maintain your sense of humor.

What do you do to stay sane in this crazy career? Let me know @CaroleKirsch!

How Your Friends Can Impact Your Success... and Not in the Way You Think

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You hear it a lot in Hollywood, “Success is equal parts hard work, luck, and knowing the right people.”

But who are the “right people”?

Of course, there’s the obvious “right people” every writer dreams of knowing: agents at big companies, executives at major networks, or producers with deep pockets. It goes without saying that getting any one of these people on your team can change your career. But the people that are going to have the biggest impact on the way you think, the way you act, and the way you are approaching your goals are not the “big players” of Hollywood, they are your core community. The 5-10 people (friends, family members, colleagues) you surround yourself with most. Trust me, relationships are like elevators; they can either lift you up or take you down.

Here are 5 Reasons why surrounding yourself with the “right people” can directly affect your personal success (or lack of):

1. You will be inspired by proxy.

One of the biggest pay offs of having friends who are passionate about pursuing their dreams and who take responsibility for their lives is that you can’t help but be inspired to do the same. And that doesn’t just mean other writers, or even people in the industry, for that matter! A friend who’s a marathon runner can inspire you to write for longer than you thought you could, a friend who decides to get out of their comfort zone and try salsa dancing can inspire you to take creative risks with your screenplay. If everyone around you is ambitious, and doing their best to live a healthy lifestyle, it’s going to have a positive impact on the way you think and act.

2. You will be forced to grow (probably faster than you want to).

There’s a reason we hire personal trainers to help us workout: even though we know it’s going to hurt, we want someone to push us past our limits. If you only surround yourself with people who are at your level (or below) how are you supposed to reach your potential? I’m not saying dump all of your friends who are in the trenches with you, it’s important to have peers, but it’s undeniable that people who are more successful than you will expand your idea of what’s possible. How are you ever going to grow if you’re the best writer or the most successful one in the room? There’s no big pay off from being the big fish in the little pond. Surround yourself with people who push you to challenge yourself.

3. You won’t be in it alone.

All writers get dealt their fair share of rejection and disappointment, it’s part of the game. Having strong, self-assured friends to lean on when things get rough, and also to celebrate with when you have a “win” is vital. A good community can help you keep perspective, make you laugh when you need it, and remind you that you and your work matter. But a friendly warning: there IS a difference between a friendship that helps hold you up when times are tough, and a friendship that THRIVES on tough times. Be wary of friends who are always bitching about the industry, and try to pull you down into their negative mindset. Have friends who let you share your frustrations and vulnerabilities in a way that allows you to release them and then get back in the saddle to fight another day.

4. They’ll “tell you the truth”.

It’s invaluable to have someone in your circle who gives you honest feedback - both on your scripts and your life. Someone who can compassionately tell you when your writing is veering off track, when you’re not pushing yourself enough, or when you’re pushing too hard. Being told ‘how it really is’ by people who have your best interests at heart can save you valuable time and energy.

5. Your opportunities will multiply.

I’m all for healthy competition, but people who would climb over you or toss you aside for success are not your real friends. Find people who want you to succeed right alongside them. Friends who not only believe in your potential and talent, but who are eager to help you get in the door. Yes, this includes the illusive producer friend with deep pockets, and the executive friend who’s just waiting for the opportunity to pitch your next project, but it also includes fellow writers, filmmakers, and even people who aren’t in the industry. The more people who wouldn’t hesitate to recommend you and your work if the opportunity presents itself, the more chances you have of achieving your dreams.

How do your friends impact your success? Let me know @CaroleKirsch!

5 Tips to Make Your Script Blazing Hot

Carole Kirschner 5 Tips to Make Your Script Hot.jpg

Whether it’s to try and get an agent, impress a production company, or try and win a screenwriting competition, most screenwriters will go through the process of submitting their unsolicited script to the powers that be. That script has to rise above hundreds, sometimes thousands, of submissions in order for you and your work to be deemed worthy of paying attention to.

In my career I have read thousands of scripts, and most of the time I can tell if a screenplay is going to be good after just a few pages. Agents, producers, executives, and professional readers can too. Of course there’s always exceptions to the rule (in Hollywood there are exceptions to every rule). Some stories, especially features, may need a slow burn but in general you can tell if you’re going to be excited about the script in the first 2-3 pages if it’s a pilot, and 5-10 pages if it’s a feature. Be warned: Some cold-hearted (or just very busy) people don’t read past that. It’s sad, but it’s true.

Here are five early indicators of a great screenplay that all script readers are looking for:

1. Quality over quantity.

When I get a script, I often check out the page count. If it’s a feature, I’m looking for 90-120 pages. (that’s the industry standard). If it’s longer than that, I get the sinking feeling the writer is an amateur and doesn’t know what they’re doing. If it’s a TV hour-long drama, I’m looking for about 60-65 pages. A half-hour sitcom, about 30-35 pages (maybe a little longer), and a half-hour dramedy, about 40-45 pages. These are just generalizations… but they’re good ones to follow.

2. Make the first impression count.

For a script to stand out and be blazing hot, it needs to grab the reader from the very first moment. The first three to five pages should feel fresh, be compelling and get me curious to find out more. Something original or unexpected about a character, a plot turn that I didn’t see coming, but is still organic and appropriate for the story. If it’s a drama, I’m emotionally involved, if it’s a comedy, it’s funny. Since this is a visual medium, make sure you spend time creating a powerful (fresh or unexpected) visual at the beginning. It can be as important as setting up the story correctly.

3. Set it up so we can enjoy the ride.

In a feature, by page eight or ten you should have established a clear premise. In a TV script it’s much sooner. How can I go on the journey of your story until I clearly understand the kind of journey it wants me to go on? This means establish the setting, the protagonist and antagonist, the central conflict and the goal (but not necessarily in that order) early. If I can identify a strong premise in the first few pages, it’s a safe bet your story will jump right into dramatic action and I’ll get emotionally invested from the start.

4. Be economical.

One of the things that really turns me off when I start reading a script is a wall of text. A first page (or pages) of dense description makes me want to run for the hills. I want to see “white space”. That means there’s dialogue and action, something is happening…not just description. The writer is “showing not telling”. When there is too much uninterrupted text on a page it usually means the writer has overwhelmed the script with long scene description, unnecessary detail, or telling me what the character is thinking and feeling rather than showing me. This not only makes the script a slog to read, I have to pay so much attention to the elaborate details that I won’t be able to focus on the story itself. When the description is concise and the dialogue feels authentic and essential to the story, the script flows easily. Which is want you want. You want the reader to be eager to turn the page to see what happens next.

5. Formatting and grammar DO matter.

Full disclosure, at one point in my life I was an English teacher so this stuff matters to me. However, it’s not just to me but to almost every reader. If I’m only on page one of your script and can’t get a handle on what’s happening because the first few sentences are poorly constructed, I don’t have high hopes that the rest will be an easy read. Before sending in your script check your formatting, screenwriting terminology, grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, and yes, even with “spell check” double-check your spelling and search for typos. Don’t be the writer who puts “their” instead of “there” in your script. It makes you look unprofessional. So, make the extra effort, it’s worth it. Trust me.

Looking for some inspiration? Check out my post on ‘4 Classic Scripts that Deliver on Their Promise’.

What do you think are signs of a great aka “blazing hot” screenplay? Let me know @CaroleKirsch!

3 Things to Watch for so YOU Aren’t the Biggest Obstacle to Your Success

Carole Kirschner Are You Your Biggest Obstacle .jpg

Being a professional writer in Hollywood is not easy. There are countless obstacles on the road to success: finding representation, turning in a rewrite by a seemingly impossible deadline, battling LA traffic to make it to your next meeting on time! But did you ever consider the biggest obstacle standing in the way of your dreams may be you? I’m talking about self-sabotage, that unconscious destructive behavior that fills your mind with critical self-doubt, undermines your confidence, and can wreak havoc on your writing career.

Here are some destructive behaviors all screenwriters need to look out for and tips on how to nip them in the bud:

1. I’ll finish my screenplay…tomorrow.

Writers can be master procrastinators. Have you ever found yourself saying, “I don’t feel inspired right now” or “I could finish this draft, or I could deep dive my ex’s Instagram account for the next two hours.” Instead of using your valuable time and energy to write, you are using it to come up with ways to avoid doing the work. This is a sure fire way to end up worn out with nothing to show for it. Get yourself out of the procrastination rut by finding someone to help you set goals and stick to them. Create an accountability system with a fellow writer. Having to report your progress to someone else, especially someone who is striving towards their goals alongside you, can sometimes be all the motivation you need to keep your head down and get the work done. Looking for more inspiration? Check out my posts on ‘How to Stay on Track with your Writing Goals’ and ‘4 Ways to Break Through Writers Block’.

2. I’m a talented writer…but I’ll never be worthy of success.

Too many writers I meet have the talent to be successful but can’t get past that inner critic telling them they are a fraud. That feeling of self-doubt and lack of ability despite evidence that you are skilled and successful is known as “Imposter Syndrome” and left unchecked it can leave you constantly searching for proof that you are doomed for failure: a show pops up on Netflix that seems similar to the show you’re about to pitch to a major network, you now feel like pitching it is a waste of time. You get a note in a writers group that would mean a huge rewrite to your screenplay, so you stop sharing your work altogether. I know a number of successful writers who secretly harbor the “imposter syndrome," but they’ve figured out how to ignore those thoughts. So push past feeling like a fraud and see your negative thoughts for what they are, fears. Not reality. Whether its affirmations, meditation, or journaling out your negative feelings, do what you need to do to take away that inner critic’s power over you. Only you can decide to stop diminishing yourself.

3. I’m so busy… I don’t have time for my writing or… myself.

Life, especially in Los Angeles, can get filled with obligations fast. Often obligations that don’t serve us: We say yes to parties we don’t want to go to, coffee runs that don’t fall under our job description, and dinner with friends that we can’t afford. Don’t get me wrong, friends and family are important, but when you put everything and everyone before your own needs there aren’t many emotional or physical resources left to devote to your career. Stop people-pleasing and do what’s necessary to protect your most valuable asset: you. Set boundaries with people in your life. If confrontation scares you, start with small actions, like turning your phone off for an hour while you write, and move up to larger ones, like canceling plans with friends when you have to meet a deadline. Those that truly support you and your ambitions will understand. Trying to apply this principle to your day job? Read my post on ‘Secrets to Balancing Your Screenwriting Tips with your Day Job’.

What are your favorite ways of overcoming self-sabotage? Let me know @CaroleKirsch!