Category Archives: Writing

What are the different types of agents within a talent agency?

Within a talent agency, you typically have different types of agents…not all of them are referred to as “talent agents”.

Literary agents work with writers and directors. Motion picture lit agents represent writers/directors who work in feature film and TV lit agents represent writers/directors who work in…you guessed it…TV.

Talent agents represent with actors & actresses.

Book agents represent authors.

Public appearance agents represent comedians and public speakers

Commercial agents represent actors and actresses but are only concerned with booking them jobs in TV commercials and other forms of advertising.

Voice-over agents represent voice-over actors.

A lot of the time, client will have agents from all divisions as a part of their team. For example most TV writers also work in the feature film work and vice versa.

What is a Treatment?

More often than not you’ll hear writers, studio execs and producers throw around the term “treatment”. SEND ME THE TREATMENT! I’LL WRITE YOU A TREAMTENT etc. This is because a treatment is one of the most versatile tools in the business. More on this in a bit…but first off, what is a treatment?

There is no precise definition of what a treatment is. Every treatment is written in a different format or a different style based on what it is used for. Generally speaking, a treatment is a document that summarizes a particular project. It could be for a narrative film, a scripted television show, a reality show, a documentary, YOU NAME IT. The content of a treatment varies along with the length. I’ve seen treatments ranging from 1-20 pages long. At the very least, a treatment should have an overview which describes what the project is about. If it’s a scripted film, explain what the story is. If it’s a reality show, explain the overall premise. If it’s a scripted TV show, explain what the series will look like. You should also include descriptions of the main characters and for TV shows, always include several story ideas. If it’s a reality series, be sure to include the format of the show.

A treatment can be used for many purposes. The most common use is a sales tool. Often times a buyer won’t have time to read an entire script, or is too busy to schedule a pitch meeting. An easy solution is to send a treatment. This will give the buyer a sense of the material in a short period of time. It’s almost like a written pitch. Often times writers will write the treatment first to help them in their writing process and understand what their story structure will be.

Producers will often write their own treatments and use it as a tool to communicate with writers. For example, if a producer comes up with an original idea that he/she needs to hire a writer for, one of the best way to communicate his/her vision is write a treatment and have the writer work off of it.

 

TV Hierarchy Of The Writing Staff

For scripted television shows, the writing staff is paramount, and often large in size. They can range in sizes from four writers, all the way to twenty writers. Comedy shows, and talk shows often have more writers than dramas.

Showrunner: On the TV credits, the showrunner will receive an executive producer (EP) credit. Often times, he/she will be the last EP mentioned. In TV world, the showrunner is king; unlike the film world where the director is king.

Executive Producer –  These are usually upper level senior writers with lots of writing experience. The help the showrunner in running the writer’s room, and developing the series.

Supervising Producer

Producer

Co-Producer

Story Editor – This title often given to the senior staff writer.

Staff Writer – Once the story is broken and laid out by the writers room and approved by the showrunner, often times the staff writer will be assigned to type up the first draft of the script.

Writers’ Assistant – This person does not take part in the story creating process. Their job, for the most part, is be present in the writers’ room and take notes while the writers are developing story.

Writers’ PA – Much like a production assistant, this person is in charge of small accounting issues, getting lunches and coffees for the writers.

What is a “Beat”?

“Beat” is a term used a lot when developing or explaining a story. Beats are extremely important in communicating the direction of a story and to keep a story moving. It is a piece of information that can be conveyed in a quick moment, a sequence, or in an entire scene that moves the story forward. Often times when writers are trying to figure out their story, they will use what’s called a beat sheet. A beat can often be described in one sentence. For example, “The big bad wolf blows the straw house down.” This helps the writer determine what’s important in the story and what moments are needed in order to compel and audience.

 

Microbudget Films, Contained Thrillers, Found-Footage Horrors

I recently met with Steven Schneider; the producer of “Paranormal Activity”. After 10 minutes of engaged conversation, about a dozen light bulbs went on in my head. I’m hoping after reading this post, a few light bulbs of your own will turn on.

First, a little bit of background. Steven is a huge fan of horror movies. He’s watched them all, studied them, and has even written books on them. With Paranormal, Steven did not act as a producer in a traditional manner. He had a development deal with Paramount and Oren Peli, the writer and director, had given him the film to act as a director’s reel. In other words, the film had already been made, and Steven was not involved in the development or the production of it. Steven said that it was so scary that he had difficulties sleeping at night. That was enough for him to want to attach himself to the project.  Not once did he felt critical of the production quality. To make a long story short, Steven and his colleagues sold it to Paramount and it became the most profitable movie in world grossing over $300 million worldwide. I will save the details of this story for another posting.

The point of the article is this: The ability to make high quality content has never been easier. You have access to amazing affordable cameras. You can edit digitally in your own home off your lap top. You can distribute your film online with a click of a couple buttons. This all presents the industry, especially young filmmakers, with an opportunity to make  microbudget films (films under $1 million) and present a finished product to buyers, which is much more appealing than undeveloped projects.

Currently, it has never been harder to get a movie made and distributed. The biggest, and sometimes the only hurdle in the past has always been the cost. Nowadays, this is no longer an excuse. If you have the right story, you can essentially film a movie for less than 5 figures. So the challenge now becomes finding the right story. Oren told a story that had two main characters, and two supporting characters with two scenes each – four actors total. He shot the film in his own house – one location. He shot it using essentially no camera movement. Oren also edited Paranormal Activity on his laptop in his home office. With this in mind, I challenge you to set aside your traditional feature passion project for now, and develop a contained story that has no more than 5 actors, and takes place in no more than 2 locations. You can choose whatever genre you like, however, I strongly recommend horror because the audience is easy to reach, loyal, and don’t care about A-list actors. Also, with most successful horror films, the emphasis is place first on concept (it’s ability to scare), then on story. In all the rest of the genres, story is typically paramount. But, if you can crack this formula and be successful with other genres…PLEASE be my guest. If not, stick to the contained thrillers. Try and think of a high concept. Typically, the lower the budget, the higher the concept needs to be in order to gain attention from buyers. Having restrictions on locations and talent actually forces you to be more creative. I strongly encourage it, if anything, for the sake of the exercise.

To get you in the right mind-set, let’s look at some notable contained, high concept movies. First you have your “found-footage” horrors like The Blair Witch Project, and Paranormal Activity. Both movies shot for under 6 figures, both extremely successful in the box office. Another notable film that I personally love is “The Disappearance of Alice Creed”. This critically acclaimed film told a kidnapping story with three actors in essentially one location. In, “Phone Booth”, the lead actor spends the entire time in a phone booth. I think you get the idea.

If you have a great story, or an amazing concept, people will look at it. I am a firm believer of that. Having that story already produced only decreases the barriers to these people which is exactly what happened to Oren Peli. He created a unique, outstanding film, and found the right passionate person to champion his project. So go and develop your contained story, and then MAKE IT!!!

What should I write about?

You’ve heard it many times, “Write what you know.” An established TV writer (who will remain anonymous) told me to ignore this statement. She said not to worry about writing what you already know. You can always do research on something you want to write about. However, what you should try to do, is write WHO you know. I know this isn’t always possible, but unless you’re writing a biopic, you should always write characters based of people you know or have experience with. Character is so important, and the best way to flush them out and convey a captivating character is to base it off of someone you are familiar with.

More importantly, don’t worry about what’s selling, or what executives are looking for. Write what’s important to you. Write what you’re passionate about. In this business you are going to lose more than you will win, but in both cases, you DON’T want to experience it with something you are not passionate about. What matters is a good story, good characters, and great passion for each. All of these will be recognized on the page.

Will you read my script?

With time being so precious these days, especially in the entertainment business, it seems impossible to find time for yourself, let alone read someone else’s script. For unestablished writers, it’s a large hurdle to get someone important to read their work. They have to network, befriend the right people, and then find the right opportunity to deliver the big ask, “WILL YOU READ MY SCRIPT?”. In addition to this, they have a small sense of guilt because they know they are asking a huge favor and – like all favors – there’s a limited number of times they can ask before they become a nuisance. With this in mind, I asked Vince Gilligan (the creator of the hit show “Breaking Bad”) at a Q&A session for some advice in this matter and he offered a great suggestion which led him to his current success. He suggested to enter into screenwriting competitions. The competitions have industry professionals who are obligated to the scripts that have been submitted. Depending on which competition, these professionals could include agents, managers, studio execs, producers, and network executives. You may not get feed back for your script if it is deemed inadequate, however, if your script is good, you will receive recognition and you will draw attention to it from important industry professionals.