Back to work

After the trip to Miami for the Urban Challenge, and an extended Thanksgiving weekend, it’s finally back to work. That is, if I can avoid the life-destroying forces of World of Warcraft.

For those who are curious, I’ll eventually get the full write-up of the Miami race posted. The short version is that we crossed the finish line #31 (of 104), but DQ’d on a soccer question that was many teams’ undoing. Damn those corner kicks. We didn’t win the $50K, but after more than four hours running, there was simply no way we could have competed in the second race. So we were more than happy to drink our free beers and watch much better teams wrap it up.

Pay-for-mentoring, part two

Many of the questions I answer on this site also show up in the “Ask a Filmmaker” section of IMDb. Heather Campbell, who edits that section, forwarded me an email concerning programs where you pay money to be matched with a mentor in the film industry, an issue I had written about here.

Here is one guy’s experience. I don’t know if this was the same “Get a Mentor” program I wrote about, but it sounds similar:

A couple of weeks ago someone wrote you about mentoring programs. I happen to have some experience with the one they’re referring to. I own a very successful film and video production company in Connecticut now for over 15 years.

A couple of years ago this company called and asked us if we would let one of their students hang around a couple of hours a week and let him assist us. It would not cost us a cent and if we would do this for them they would send us a check for $1000.

Well low and behold we never got the check for a thousand dollars and the poor kid had paid them like 2 or 3 grand. Needless to say I would of hired the kid as an intern anyway and he could of saved the money he gave to these people.

– John Michaels

Once again, caveat mentor.

Off to Miami

I’m heading to Miami tomorrow morning for the Urban Challenge championships, so don’t expect any other updates until Monday.

For those who are keeping track, we qualified for the national race back in July, by placing in the top 10 in the Los Angeles race. The Miami race itself is on Saturday, but we’re spending Thursday and Friday trying to get familiar with the city. I’ve never been there, and our friends who live there are transplants, so there’s a lot to learn. There are also a lot of small changes to the rules, so I’ll consider it a victory if we don’t get disqualified.

How many lines per page?

Today’s question isn’t really a question at all, but rather an investigation into how many lines of type should fit on a standard screenwriting page. While this may seem frivolous — a little like “How Many Angels Can Dance on the Head of a Pin” — almost every screenwriter has tweaked and shuffled, nipped and tucked to get a draft a few pages shorter.

Lines-per-page translates into lines-per-script, which is arguably a better metric than page count for how long a script “really” is. So I applaud Jeff trying to figure it out.

questionmarkI have a seemingly simple formatting question that I cannot find the answer to anywhere: How many lines should fit on a page?

I don’t ask for help with out trying to help myself first, but believe me, this one has got me stumped. My research yields vastly different results and even an interesting (disturbing?) modern trend. (I know it’s a long read for an e-mail, but I’ve done the research and I would really like your thoughts.)

I know all about setting margins and screenwriting software, but even following those suggestions, there appears to be a large discrepancy in the actual number of lines per page from script to script. Here’s how I have counted lines per page for purposes of this research:

Open a screenplay up to any page, start at the first line of screenplay on that page (a scene heading, character name, dialogue, action; not white space or a page number) and count that as ONE. Then, count every line after that (including white space) all the way to the last line of screenplay on that page (not including bottom CONTINUEDs if the script has them). The number you end up with is what I call Screenplay Lines per Page. (more…)

His name is my name too

questionmarkI am interested in screenwriting and would love to break into the business. My problem is that John August is my real name. Will I have to use a different name?

I have many scripts I’m working on. Any advice on the name situation would be great!

— John August
Oakland, CA

A quick Google search will reveal there are a bunch of us John Augusts. One guy wants to abolish the Australian state governments, and has been active on the internet since Usenet days. John August Swanson is a painter, while another John August does guitar instruction books. And one specializes in interlocking pavers.

My favorite non-me John August has a site dedicated to diabetic foot problems. And here I am just answering questions about bad catering.

Unlike the Screen Actor’s Guild, which forces actors to use a unique name, there’s no prohibition in Hollywood for multiple writers having identical names. As a practical matter, though, it’s quite inconvenient. But there are a few good solutions.

  1. Use your middle name or initial. On IMDb, there are at least eight David Steinbergs. But the one I know, a screenwriter, is David H. Steinberg, and he’s doing very well. He writes “David H. Steinberg” on his scripts, and no one gets confused.

  2. Use your first and middle initials. Tom Smith is a pretty common name, so my friend’s scripts are marked T. C. Smith. He got the Nicholl Fellowship, so something worked. Initials are also a good way of concealing your gender.

  3. Do you like any of the variations on “John?” Jonathan, Jack, Juan, Johann? I was a week into pre-production on Go when I realized that the familiar-looking gaffer was actually a college acquaintance, John Lampassi. He was now going by Giovani Lampassi — “Gio.” People are much more likely to remember his name because, frankly, how many Gios do you know?

  4. How do you feel about your mother’s maiden name?

  5. And remember, despite what you read on this site, there are other rewarding careers out there beyond screenwriting.

Any other ego-surfing John Augusts out there, please leave a comment so we can get a headcount.

Getting permission

An alarmingly high percentage of reader questions contain some variety of the phrase, “Do I need permission to…”

The short answer is generally, “Yes.” The long answer continues, “…but don’t worry about it so much.” People get unnecessarily freaked out about copyright and trademarks, out of fear that Nabisco is going to sue them for millions of dollars. That’s simply not going to happen.

But to help you sleep a little easier, I’d highly recommend a new book from Nolo called Getting Permission: How to License & Clear Copyrighted Materials Online & Off. That’s a lot of ampersands for one title, but it’s a very good reference for the super-diligent writer who wants to make sure his Bob Dylan musical is on the up-and-up. (Section 5, page 21)

The book has all the forms you’re likely to need for most purposes, although it’s not film-centric. There are no rights-option agreements, for example.

Nolo has books on a wide variety of legal topics, which is of course catnip to the do-it-yourself-er like me. How to Buy a House in California was by far the most useful thing I read before I bought my first place a few years ago — I’ve lent it out to many friends. Even if you live outside of California, it’s a very good primer. In my case, I had dramatically mis-estimated what I could afford to buy, and would have ended up in the wrong house without it.