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!

6 Ways to Turn Your ‘General Meeting’ into a Job Opportunity

Carole Kirschner General Meeting Tips.jpg

While pitch meetings and staffing meetings can be some of the most exciting of your up-and-coming screenwriting career, there's a different kind of meeting you'll encounter far more often: the "general meeting." The "general meeting" (or "general") is an informal meeting between you and an executive or producer when they've liked a script you've written and want to meet you generally, they don’t have anything specific in mind for you. They just want to find out who you areand be sure you’re not a serial killer. Many writers write these off as ‘just a general’, but that can be a huge mistake. In fact, the smartest writers turn these benign ‘meet and greets’ into soft pitch meetings and effective career builders. Here’s how:

1. Know Who You’re Meeting

Do your research. I've heard horror stories of writers who bad mouth a movie or TV show in a general only to learn that the exec they're meeting with oversaw that project. You also don't want to squander a big opportunity because you don't know if you're speaking with a decision maker. Get up to speed on their taste, what they’ve done in the past and what they currently have in development. Put in the effort. This is a concrete way you may be able to turn your “general” into a “specific”.

2. It’s All About Connection

Remember, if you're sitting in that room, it means they already like your material. Now is the time to connect with them on a deeper level. Rather than focusing on being liked, find a personal connection with your meeting partner. But, generals are like speed dating -- you’ll click with some and not with others, and that's okay. It’s chemistry. Like any speed date, the match will only be successful if you go in with authenticity, so be yourself, (as Oscar Wilde said, everyone else is taken)and not what you think they are looking for. If you're an introvert (like so many writers I work with), check out my post on how to network successfully even if you're an introvert.

3. Have a Killer Personal Logline

Your Personal Logline is your brief, compelling story in a few short sentences that explains who you are, what you write, and what makes you different than other people writing in that same space. How are you uniquely suited to the brand of the company you're meeting with? Be prepared to talk about who you are, what you want to do, and where you are going next. Know what you want to say, practice it on friends beforehand, and be confident,concise and conversational.

4. So What Else Are you Working on?

This question comes up in every general. Just like with your Personal Logline, have the loglines of other projects you're working on rehearsed and ready to go so you can give the exec you're meeting with a short, engaging peek into your projects. If you nail this, it can lead to being invited back for an official pitch meeting. And that is the magic of general meetings: they can lead to more if you know how to navigate them. But read the room; pitching them without being asked may feel too forced.

5. Manage your Expectations

They may bring up a project they have in development that could be a good fit for you. This is exciting, but it’s important to manage your expectations. Talk of a potential project in a general is not a job offer, more often than not it’s an opportunity to pitch for that job. Before you dive into competing for it, find out more about it. Ask your reps, do your research, figure out if it is worth your time and energy.

6. Don’t Drop the Details!

This is a big one. Make notes after each meeting. Write down who you met with, anything personal you connected over, and the projects they have coming up. You may think you’ll remember it all, but after months of going on generals, you’ll be happy you have a reference point. Sometimes a company will have staffing needs on a project you're excited about a year -- or more -- after you've met with them. It's these times that you will be thanking the writing gods that you have notes about that long-past meeting. It also never hurts to send a thank you email to the executive and follow up on any material they’ve sent in a timely manner. Also, keep your reps in the loop if you’ve had a fantastic meeting or love a project you discussed.

What's your favorite trick for nailing general meetings? Let me know @CaroleKirsch!

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