Agency wants me to pay their “editor”

questionmarkI sent a query letter online to an agency. They emailed me back within the week and said they’d be interested in representing me.

But they suggested I send my script to an editor (one they recommended for me, at a cost of $100 paid to the editor) to help polish it up before they submit it to potential buyers. They emailed me a contract to sign, saying they’d wait until the critique is done before they assign me an agent.

They said that they’re “sellers” by trade, and not “editors” and it would be in both our best interests to have a critique of my work done to ensure that my screenplay looks its best for potential buyers. Even though I wouldn’t be paying the agency directly, it seems shady to me that they are suggesting I pay money in order to have my screenplay get sold. Shouldn’t they know a good script when they see one? Is this a common practice among other agencies or should I run?

— Matt
via imdb

This feels super-shady. Run away.

Agents make a living by taking 10 percent of your screenwriting earnings. They get paid when you get paid. Any situation where they’re asking you for money up front is cause for concern.

If any readers out there have had good experiences with agencies like the one Matt describes, please write in. I don’t think the mailbox will be overflowing.

Using your friend’s name in a script

questionmarkI was listening to the writer’s commentary for the “Cigarette Burns” Masters of Horror episode, and the writers said that when the legal team (or whoever) found out that they’d named a character after a friend of their’s, they had to give the first name to one character and the last name to another character.

Is this common procedure? I am dead-set on naming a lead character after a good friend of mine (first name and last name). Does this mean I have to lie to someone and say that none of the names are taken from people I know?


Lying is certainly an option, but even better one would be to get your friend to sign a release permitting his name to be used.

The legal folks have a good reason for asking you whether any character is named after a real person: they don’t want to get sued for libel or defamation. But if your friend knows his name is in the script and is cool with it, all it takes is some paperwork to make that legally binding. At whatever point it comes up (probably close to production), explain the situation to the producers.

In all likelihood, it will just take your friend’s John Hancock to let the character be named John Hancock.

Am I a writer or a director?

questionmarkI have been unsuccessfully trying to write and be a writer for the last ten years. I am definitely not one of those people who write everyday or who enjoy the writing process. I enjoy birthing ideas and trying to figure out ways to play them out. I am constantly coming up with ideas and I love that and thinking of ways to explore different ideas. But I find the actual writing process horrendously lonely and isolating. I am an outgoing person and feel claustrophobic about the writing process. It is always a struggle to get myself to do it and yet I think I am talented.

I went to University and studied screenwriting and have read a ridiculous amount of screenwriting books — i.e., I’m well educated in the art. I easily hold my own in discussions on plot, structure, characterization and the like. I was complimented as being one of the top talents in my class.

Halfway through my education I took a directing class, loved it, and again received a lot of attention for my work. My teacher said I was one of two people in the program who he thought had a good chance in the industry.

So my question is, am I just lazy? Is writing just hard and lonely and that’s it — deal with it? I’m starting to think that maybe I should drop the idea of trying to be a writer turns director and just go for the directing, it being more social and working with people and all.

Is there any kind of barometer for this kind of decision? I’m afraid that as a director I will feel that I’m just directing someone else’s (the screenwriter’s) idea.

via imdb

Let me rephrase your question in a way that will make the answer obvious:

Dear John,
I hate screenwriting. Should I be a screenwriter? — Scott

You wouldn’t tell someone who hates the ocean to be a sailor, nor an acrophobe to be a tightrope walker. If you don’t like it, don’t do it.

Truth be told, there are times I hate screenwriting, and would rather do almost anything else. It’s a struggle to quit checking my favorite websites and actually get the next scene written. But I really like the life of a screenwriter, and the challenge of putting of a movie on paper. It’s not for everyone, and from what you say, it’s not for you. Which is great. The industry doesn’t need another unhappy screenwriter.

In terms of directing, the vast majority of successful directors aren’t writers. So stop beating yourself up. Get a crew and a camera and shoot something written by a screenwriter who’s happy to be doing it.

Can Dracula’s son get a book deal?

questionmarkWhat is the best way to get my life story read by someone? I am the son of Dracula.

via imdb

Common sense would suggest you are in fact not Dracula’s son, but rather a nutjob who wants to see his name in print. But no matter. The vast majority of memoirs are written by vain, delusional nutjobs, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t be entitled to your six-figure advance. This is America. Not only do you have the right to be semi-famous, you have the right to milk your semi-fame with an unnecessary but hopefully entertaining best-seller.

More than truth, what a memoir really needs is a hook, and I think you’ve found a great one. Let’s start with the title. Ignore those who would urge you to pick Dracula’s Son or In Red Blood. That’s not direct enough. You want a title that is so obvious that even viewers who skip over your Today show interview know exactly who you are and what your book is about: I Am Dracula’s Son.

Now that we’ve picked a title, there’s the trifling concern of the book itself. Whether you write it yourself, or hire a ghostwriter to “put in the periods and commas,” you need to ask yourself: What story am I telling? Is it a tale of darkness and redemption, wacky family hijinks, or perhaps a long struggle to find acceptance?

To have any shot at the best-seller list, your story should include at least six of the following:

  • Addiction
  • Sexual abuse
  • Dangerous under-parenting
  • Suffocating over-parenting
  • Frequent moving
  • Mental illness, preferably bi-polar disorder
  • Poverty
  • Great wealth
  • Murder
  • Eating disorders
  • Death of a sibling

In the case of your “life’s story,” the spotlight is clearly on the big man himself, Daddy Dracula. You might think the fact that he’s the ravaging, immortal prince of darkness would be enough. You’d be wrong.

More than just evil, he needs to be crazy. Not crazy in a let’s paint the kitchen bright red! sort of way. But crazy in a gas oven, toothpaste sandwich, I am God sort of way. (This advice comes from Augusten Burrough’s excellent Running with Scissors, which sets a deliriously high bar. I have a wee literary crush on my semi-namesake. I hope the upcoming movie does the book justice.)

As you shape your memoir, remember that no one is buying your book to learn about the real you. Real People are not interesting, no matter what Skip Stevenson Stephenson and Sarah Purcell might have led you to believe. You need to think of yourself as a character. That is, exaggerate the best and worst qualities while minimizing any sense of normalcy. In terms of plot, the question isn’t, “What happened next?” but rather “What’s the most shocking thing a reader might possibly believe?” If you’re stumped, see the list above.

Best of luck with the book, Nicholas. I look forward to reading it, just as soon as I finish Jim McGreevey’s apologia for being a closeted scumbag.

Previewing score with GarageBand

Alex Wurman is busy writing the music for The Movie, which in this digital age means a lot of files shuttling back and forth. Rather than tapes, we have QuickTimes for each reel, with timecode burned in for reference. When Alex wants us to listen to a cue, he sends an mp3 with instructions for where it lines up.

This hand-off works great when we’re in the editorial office, with the Avid churning away. But since Alex is working on weekends and after hours, I wanted to be able to preview new tracks on my home computer (a MacBook Pro).

My first instinct was to fire up Final Cut Pro. It worked, but it was kind of grizzly. Neither the QuickTimes nor the mp3’s are native formats for FCP, which meant a lot of rendering or a lot of dropped frames. Plus, it felt like overkill to build a project with just two assets. Apple’s Soundtrack would be a more natural choice, but I hadn’t installed it.

Then I vaguely remembered that the most recent version of GarageBand — which came installed on the computer — had some sort of basic Soundtrack-like features designed to work with iMovie. It turned out to be exactly what I needed. The program happily churns through both QuickTime and mp3, making it easy to sync music to picture. The video preview window is a fixed size, but it’s fine for these purposes. Plus, it’s more or less free. In a market of $999 super-apps, it’s easy to overlook the gems that came with the computer.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Probably my favorite comedy after The Office is FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I developed a meta-appreciation for it this season, when I realized it’s shot at the Herald-Examiner building in downtown Los Angeles, using some of the same sets we used for The Movie.

Last I heard, there was talk of converting the Herald-Examiner building into condos, so who knows what they would do for a third season. If there is a third season.

iTunes has free featurette about the show, focusing on the logistical nightmare of shooting all of Danny DeVito’s scenes for the season in just 20 days. They had to write all ten scripts ahead of time, then found themselves shooting pieces from up to four episodes per day.

In watching the behind-the-scenes footage, I was surprised to see how puny the main cameras are for the show. They’re using Panasonic DVX-100A’s, long a staple of no-budget indie filmmaking. (We used it for b-roll.) It’s pretty ballsy to use it for a real TV show, where you’re spending millions of dollars and recording on a mini-DV tape.