This is the transcript for SYS Podcast Episode 011: An Interview With Screenwriter Jeanne Bowerman.
In this episode I interview screenwriter, editor of ScriptMag.com, and co-founder of Script Chat Jeanne Bowerman.
Ashley: Welcome to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley
Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at SellingYourScreenplay.com.
In this episode’s main segment, I’m going to be interviewing Jeanne
To say she’s multi-talented really doesn’t do her justice, as you’ll
see in this interview. She’s got a ton of things going on. She is a
screenwriter with several projects in various stages of development. She’s
the Editor over at Scriptmag.com. She works as a consultant, and she runs
the popular Twitter event, Scriptchat.
The interview covers a lot of ground, so there’s something in there
for everyone. She is really an inspiration, so stay tuned for that.
Today I’m going to announce the winner of the free email fax blast
that I’m giving away for leaving iTunes reviews. But first, I want to thank
Nonso Maduke for sending in a bunch of screenplays to add to the Selling
Your Screenplay library. It’s very much appreciated.
If you’re looking to read screenplays, please check out the Selling
Your Screenplay library at SellingYourScreenplay.com/library. And if you
have some scripts that you don’t see in our library, please email them to
me so I can add them.
I want to give a big thanks to everyone who did leave me reviews in
iTunes. Specifically since the last episode, thank you ABCD, Plury Busnam,
Shawn Speake, Yankeetruedle, David Garner, and TheKayz They all left me
nice reviews in iTunes, so thank you for that.
I want to thank Adam Strange, Ginger Shine, and an unpronounceable,
Russian-looking name. I apologize for my ignorance on the Russian alphabet,
or maybe it’s not even Russian, but there was an additional comment there.
So, thank you everybody, who left me reviews in iTunes, as well.
To choose the winner of the contest, I simply put everyone’s name
into a spreadsheet, and then used Random.org to pick a number from 1 to 22,
since there are currently 22 comments on the Selling Your Screenplay
podcast in iTunes.
And the winner is Yankeetruedle. So, Mr. Truedle, please send me an
email, and we’ll get your blast out. As always, if you find these podcasts
helpful, please do leave a review in iTunes, or on YouTube, or wherever you
might be listening to or viewing this podcast. Thank you, again.
A couple of quick notes. Any websites or links that I mention in the
podcast can be found at my blog in the show notes. I also publish a
transcript with every episode, in case you would rather read the show, or
look at something later on.
You can find all the podcast show notes at
www.SellingYourScreenplay.com/podcasts. In today’s interview, Jeanne talks
about a lot of different stuff, so there are a lot of different links for
today’s episode. Again, just go to www.SellingYourScreenplay.com/podcasts,
if you want to follow up and learn more about some of the things that we
Also, if you want my free guide, “How To Sell Your Screenplay in Five
Weeks”, you can pick that up by going to SellingYourScreenplay.com/guide.
It’s completely free, just put in your email address and I’ll send you a
new lesson once per week, for five weeks, along with a bunch of bonus
I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that
guide, how to write a professional log line and query letter, how to find
agents, managers, and producers, who are looking for material. It really is
everything you need to know about how to sell your screenplay Just go to
A quick few words about what I’m working on. I just finished a sort
of dark, romantic comedy that I’ve been writing for the last five or so
months. It’s time to start sending that out. Today, I’m actually uploading
it to InkTip, and I’m going to try a few Virtual Pitch Fest pitches, and
I’m going to be uploading it to the Black List. And then next week, I’m
going to be doing a blast using my email and fax database.
If you haven’t used the Black List site, it’s probably worth a try.
It’s fairly new, at least compared to InkTip and Virtual Pitch Fest. They
do have some decent agents, managers, and producers on the site, looking
for material, so I think it can work.
I think the biggest problem is that, in order to get into their
system and to get people recommending your script, you’ve got to buy script
reviews. If those one or two script reviews don’t turn out well, then
you’re basically sunk with that script.
But I’m going to try something new with this one. I’m going to upload
it, and then I’m going to put the download link in my query letter, so that
producers who use the site will be able to get the script straight away
from the Black List.
What I’m hoping is that I’ll get a bunch of downloads and potential
ratings. I think the producers who download it can also rate it. And then
I’ll see how this mixes in with the Black List algorithm of having my
script recommended to other people.
My hope, too, is that a bunch of producers might be kinder to me than
a bunch of bitter script-readers. My hunch is that, if a producer doesn’t
like the script, they won’t bother giving it a bad rating, but if they do
like it, they might actually take the time to give it a rating. Whereas the
bitter script reader, who you’re paying $50 per read to, has no incentive
to be nice.
Now, I could be totally misunderstanding how the system works. That
is one of the things I don’t like about the Black List, is that there are a
lot of details that I don’t fully understand.
I’ve actually listened to a couple of podcasts that Franklin Leonard
has been on. He’s the one who runs it. I’ve raed a couple of interviews,
and I’ve listened to a couple of podcasts that he’s been on, and there are
still some things I don’t fully understand.
I’m just trying to test it. I’ve uploaded a few scripts in the past
there, and I’m just testing it to see what can happen there. It’s only $25
to have a script there for a month. So we’ll just see if this works, or
does anything at all.
Now let’s get into the main segment. It’s an interview with Jeanne
Bowerman. Again, she’s a screenwriter, editor with Scriptmag.com, and one
of the founders of Scriptchat, which is a weekly Twitter event.
Between Scriptchat and her huge Twitter following, she’s become a
social media expert, too. She does a lot of consulting on a variety of
topics. We’ll actually talk about some of that in the interview. So, here
Ashley: Thank you, Jeanne, for coming on the show. It’s great to have
Jeanne: It’s great to be here.
Ashley: For the listeners who don’t know you, can you just give us a
quick overview of your background, how you got started in writing and how
you got to the place you are now?
Jeanne: We talked about social media before. Social media has
definitely had a huge impact in my career and how I’ve gotten here. I
started off as an owner and manager of a hotel and restaurant, believe it
or not, 15 years.
It wasn’t until my 40s that I started writing, and it was because I
got fired from a job. I was doing medical transcriptioning, and this really
pompous doctor kept insisting that these words that he wrote were actually
in the English dictionary, and they weren’t. He was completely making them
I went to Cornell. I’m not idiot. I know that these are not words and
I refused to type them, because it’s a legal document. So he fired me and
called me “nothing but a glorified secretary”.
That’s when I decided that, if I was going to be treated like shit, I
might as well be a writer. We’re going to get rejected and fired, and all
that stuff, so I was thinking, “I’m pretty ready for this.”
So I dove in and started off wanting to write a novel but not having
any idea how to do that. Then one of my friends from college said, “Why
don’t you write a screenplay? It’s so much easier.” I wrote a few with her,
and then just branched off on my own and I started a Twitter account
because I started writing a narrative adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize
winning book, Slavery by Another Name. I wanted to create some sort of buzz
about the project, so I opened a Twitter account, not having any idea the
impact that was going to have on my life.
Starting Twitter birthed this screenwriting chat, Scriptchat. Then we
got screenwriters together on Sunday nights, every Sunday night for an
hour, to talk. It’s a free format where we bring guests in.
Because of Scriptchat, I got noticed by Script Magazine. They asked
me to write a single article for their website about Slavery by Another
Name. The then-editor, Joshua Stecker, we became friends over the course of
that next year. That turned into, “Hey, why don’t you write a regular
So that’s when I started writing “Balls of Steel”, where I talk about
how it takes balls of steel to make it in this industry. I completely share
all of my mistakes and things I’ve done wrong. I keep it totally real and
let people learn as I’m learning.
Then Final Draft, at that point, owned Script Magazine. It got bought
out by F+W Media. They completely reworked it, stopped doing the physical
magazine, the hardcopy, and just were online and they were looking for an
I applied for the position and there you have it. That’s what I’m
doing. Social media played a huge role.
Ashley: I’d like to take a step back. I get a lot of them, I’m sure you
get a lot of questions too, about people who are past their 20s. They’re in
their 30s, they’re in their 40s, they have a family, responsibilities,
taking that leap and actually deciding that you’re going to be a writer.
The first thing that occurs to me, I’ve done some work in the
restaurant industry, and the first thing that occurs to me about running a
hotel is that you were probably working 18 hours a day, running a
restaurant and a hotel, seven days a week. There obviously is no time for
writing, so that’s really not a great job to try and launch a writing
career from, but just some words of advice for people looking to make that
transition. It’s got to be hard. People have bills to pay,
responsibilities, kids, family, husbands, wives.
Jeanne: It is really hard. I have so much respect for people who stick
to it and don’t give up. I suspect a lot of people give up, just for
practical reasons. They can’t pay the bills, or they’ve got a spouse who
isn’t supportive, somebody just saying, “Where’s the money? Show me the
I tried, after I left the motel, I did do freelance writing for a
couple of years, and that is brutal. That is brutal, you’re querying all
the time. You might get enough to pay the bills for this month, but you
have no idea how you’re going to pull it out the next month. It’s a
One of the things that’s great about freelance writing, writing
articles, or whatever, is a couple things. One is that it gets you trained
for the hustle, and trained for the rejection. Also, whoever you write for,
an editor is going to come back to you with notes, so it’s just like a
producer coming back to you with notes.
You have to consider the voice of the magazine, or the voice of the
publication. It’s a really good training ground for working with producers
and for collaboration. And it’s a training ground for rejection, and all of
It’s also, what I loved about it, was while there was rejection,
there was also the flip side of validation. You write something and it
actually gets read by people, people who enjoy your words. As opposed to
when you’re writing a script for years, nobody sees it, just you and your
hard drive. That’s what I love about writing the columns in Script
Magazine, writing articles for other sites, is that people get to read my
words and they don’t have to wait for the script to make it to the screen,
because God knows, that could take forever.
Ashley: Yes, one other thing that occurs to me, I was just reading your
blog post, your “Balls of Steel” articles. I totally get what you’re
saying. You have a great voice and I’m sure that didn’t come from out of
nowhere. It’s from all of this writing that you’ve done for years. So I
totally get that it’s a great training ground as a screenwriter.
The one thing that I would worry about, and you can tell me how
you’ve handled this, is that I was on the tennis team; I played tennis, and
during the summers I actually would coach tennis. After teaching tennis for
six hours a day, I didn’t really want to play a lot of tennis. How do you
find time to work on your novel, and to work on your screenplays, after
you’ve spent the bulk of your day actually writing, already?
Jeanne: I finally discovered the rhythm; I finally have it. I was
actually going to write . . . I was talking to one of my friends about this
the other day, I was going to write, “I think I need to write a `Balls’
post about this.” Because there are some people who are morning people, and
some people who are night people. Whatever it is that you are, like if you
are a morning person, that’s when you should write. If you’re a night
person, then make sure you’re writing at night.
What I was trying to do, I’m extremely responsible, and I’m extremely
practical. So I would just get up and at 7:30 in the morning, after I had
my son on the bus, I’d be at my laptop, starting my day job, working. There
are never enough hours in the day to get your day job done. I have 55
contributors at Script Magazine, and I personally edit all of their posts.
So I’m taking a huge chunk of my week just editing content, let along doing
Then, every time you think you’re done, a contributor submits another
piece. So it’s easy to get caught up in doing all this other stuff first,
before I allowed myself my time to write. Now, I’ve flipped it.
I now have given myself permission that the first hour of every day
belongs to me. That hour I spend writing either the novel or the
screenplay, whichever one I feel inspired to work on. I’m about halfway
through the novel, and then I switched over because I have to do a re-write
of Slavery by Another Name for the producers.
Whatever it is, I do it for the first hour of the day. Then, every
afternoon, about maybe 3:00, I do another writing spread, either a half an
hour, or an hour long. I call them out on Twitter, so other people join me,
and we write together.
I find that having just those two blocks of time a day, I can make a
tremendous amount of progress. Then I can do the editing and some of that
stuff at night, when it doesn’t take as much brain space as being creative
and coming up with fresh prose.
I’m fortunate in that I do my editor job from home, so that I have a
little bit of flexibility. But I definitely have discovered that writing
first thing in the morning, for me, is the way I can be most productive,
and consistently write every, single day.
It also changes my mood. It makes me feel less frustrated that I’m
not a full-time writer. Because at least I took care of my needs as a
writer first, before I did everything else. So that’s what helps me.
Ashley: That is excellent advice. Let’s talk about some of your recent
writing projects. You’re working on a movie called Impasse. How did that
come about? And what’s the story behind that?
Jeanne: That was a short film that we shot, and it’s done. We’re now
submitting it to festivals. We just brought on a film festival expert to
help us, give us advice, because I don’t have the time. It’s hard, the
whole festival thing is hard.
I produced it, so that was really interesting, too. Producing your
own work, I think, a short film is a perfect thing for every screenwriter
to do, because you learn so much more about behind-the-scenes, and what
happens to your work when it’s brought to life and all the different people
who come into play to interpret your words.
Is the final movie the way I envisioned? No, it’s not. It’s not what
I saw in my head, but it doesn’t make it any less beautiful. To me as the
writer, I’ll probably always love the script more than anything else,
because I just love the idea that everybody saw a different movie in their
heads when they read it.
Impasse was a great experience. I worked with really talented,
incredible people, and I tried really hard to let go of control. Even
though I was the producer, I didn’t want to micromanage the director. I
didn’t want to micromanage things in post. So it was a great experience for
me to just let go and see what happened.
I’m really proud of the product. The final product came out great,
and the cast was incredible.
Ashley: Great. As a producer, what was involved? Did you raise the
money? You did all the hiring of the crew?
Jeanne: Yes, we raised about $15,500 on Kickstarter. It is grueling,
grueling. Hats off to all those producers out there. So we raised the
money, hired people, got the equipment. I was schlepping around. We flew
everybody down to Florida, because that’s where the director was.
We did some very strange choices, in hindsight, but at the time they
seemed like good ideas. There are definitely things I would have done
differently, screaming hot Florida, right around the Fourth of July, to
shoot a film was nuts. But it all turned out fine.
So we raised the money and did all the hiring and casting. Basically,
the big thing about Impasse though, was the whole story and concept of
Impasse was born on Twitter. I was sitting in a Starbucks one day, and I
just happened to watch this couple. I couldn’t hear anything that they
said, but they were having an argument in the freezing cold rain, outside
for about 45 minutes.
I started Tweeting everything out, and I had hundreds of people
watching the Twitter stream. At the end of it, two agents approached me and
said, “Whenever you write your novel, I want to read it, because what you
conveyed in 140 characters had me in tears.” My last Tweet was to the
director, saying, “I think we have our short film.”
Because it was born on Twitter, we tried to cast it and hire people
to work on the project who we had met solely from social media. The only
people whom we had not met from social media who came on and helped us were
the kids who came on to volunteer down in Florida. I can’t even think of
the name of the school, but they were great. Those guys we had not met on
social media, but we got them through somebody on social media. We used
Stage 32, and Twitter, predominantly, to find people.
Ashley: Let’s talk a bit about Slavery by Another Name. I read your
blog post on how you got that going. It’s an inspiring story. I get so many
emails from people who are asking me questions that are specifically what
you answered. “Hey, I liked this book. How do I go about getting it?”
It’s not something that I’ve ever done. The thing that I found most
inspiring about your story was that there is no playbook that you had to
follow. You just get out there and do it. Good things can happen to people
who are out there just making stuff happen out of, really, out of thin air,
you just created an opportunity.
Give us a quick overview of how you got that going, how you met the
author of the book and pitched him.
Jeanne: I think the trick was not thinking too much, just doing it. At
that point, I had only written romantic comedies, and this is a grueling,
intense drama about slavery, post-Civil War. What we ended up [inaudible
19:34] was something that was 40 years after the Civil War.
This book spanned 80 years of history. This was a gigantic,
Schindler’s List, kind of project. And I had zero writing sample to back up
that I could do this, nothing except just a deep belief that this was the
story I was meant to tell.
I stalked the author for about six months prior. At the time, he was
the Atlanta Bureau Chief of The Wall Street Journal. So here I am, a
little, country girl, in Upstate New York. Literally, the nearest traffic
light to my house is seven miles away. I live in a middle of nowhere. I
can’t even see a house from my house. First of all, how I thought I could
even write something about slavery! I’m a white girl from the North!
It was just, I think everybody could relate to that feeling of being
trapped, and imprisoned, and not being able to live the life that they
truly want to live. I think that’s the thing that spoke to me about it,
that made me so passionate about pursuing it.
After about six months, I kind of stalked him to make sure that he
wasn’t some pompous jerk, that he actually was somebody who might be
approachable. I really loved his interviews. I was very impressed with
Doug. Douglas Blackmon is the author of the book.
One day I saw that he made The New York Times Best Seller List. I
thought, “Oh my god, I lost my chance. Oprah’s going to call him.” So
without even thinking, I just — there was a phone number on his website —
picked up the phone and left him a voice mail, saying, I was going to be in
Atlanta the next week, on business. “Can I meet you? I would love to talk
to you about adapting your book.”
Then I wrote him an email, and in this long email I was trying to be
engaging, show my personality, that I was smart, and fun, and I could do
this. As a matter of fact, that was four years ago. Maybe six months ago,
he found the original email I sent to him and forwarded it to me.
Basically, the next day he called me back and said, “Are you famous?
Should I know you?” And I’m like, “No! I’m not famous, at all! But I really
want to adapt your book.”
I flew down to Atlanta to meet him, and what he didn’t know is that I
had no business in Atlanta, zero business, no reason to be there. I spent
the money, spent three days in Atlanta and met with him several times and
he was not convinced. He was very appreciative of my passion for the
project. But he’s like, “Look, you’ve got no credits behind you. You are an
un-produced screenwriter. Why should I attach myself to you? Because if I
attach myself to you, I’m pulling the project off the shelf.”
I just wouldn’t give up. I was like, “Look, I just want to meet you
one more time. Can you give me 10 more minutes?” I just felt like I needed
something to secure this deal. So I go into The Wall Street Journal office,
the boardroom of The Wall Street Journal offices. I’m trying to calm down,
because the secretary said he was going to be late. So I did what I do,
which is karate.
At that point, I was training for my first-degree black belt, at that
time. I just started doing karate forms in the boardroom. All of a sudden,
I’m literally full-blown side kick, [inaudible22:59], and the door opens,
and there’s Douglas A. Blackmon.
He just looked at me and goes, “Well this is a first for the Journal
office.” And that was it. That changed everything. It changed the tone. It
made us both just human, and we sat down, and he said, “Look, don’t
discount the fact that you have great passion for this. That is important
I just spent the next six months as if he was . . . I just made it
impossible for him to say “no”. I just kept going on it as if he had said
“yes”. I kept writing outlines, sample scenes, anything to get him to pay
attention to me.
He finally admitted that he wanted to say “no” to me, but that he
couldn’t, because what I was giving him was too good. He knew that, “I’ve
got to keep going with this girl.” So that’s what we did.
Ashley: Now, with 12 Years a Slave getting some Academy Award
consideration and stuff, it seems like this is perfect timing for a movie
like this. What is the status of this film? What are you guys doing with
Jeanne: We had a great draft, and then 12 Years came out. That’s what
this rewrite is about, just to make sure that it is . . . because it is a
very different story than 12 Years a Slave. 12 Years was so beautifully
done, and so painful and difficult to watch.
But for someone like me, who has such expertise in the area, and in
this subject matter, I don’t feel like there was really anything new that
people were learning. It was more of the same information of what happened,
a horrible, tragic story for this one particular man.
Our story is more about what happened to the entire African-American
race in the South, decades after the Civil War. For a little period of time
after the Civil War, people lived in “freedom”, but then the African-
Americans were back to the same thing, because they created all of these
laws. A black man couldn’t speak to a white woman “loudly”. They had to
prove at any given time that they had a job, or they could be arrested.
There were all these incredible laws.
Places like U.S. Steel and Tennessee Coal would go to the local
sheriff and say, “I need 20 workers,” and they would go out and arrest 20
black men within two days, under all these bogus charges, throw them in
prison, charge them the cost of their trials, which they couldn’t pay. And
then sell them to a plantation owner for $40.
Unlike antebellum slavery, when people were sold for $800 and $1,000,
these guys were being purchased for $40, so they didn’t care what happened
to them. If they died, if they dropped dead mining in the coal mines, they
didn’t care, because they could just get another for $40.
It is a much more tragic tale of our nation’s history that this is
unknown, and that’s what we’re telling. It is the first trial of a white
man being brought to trial for holding a slave, and that was in 1903. A lot
of the story is also a trial.
It’s a very different tone, different time period. It’s the same year
that the Wright Brothers learned how to fly. African-Americans in the North
and in other parts of the country were having some successes. You can’t
read Doug’s book and not understand why race relations are the way they are
today. It’s an economic thing that the South was addicted to slavery.
We’re trying to convey it in a way that is not a history lesson, that
is a dramatic story about a black man who gets enslaved, literally taken
from the bedside of his dying wife and thrown into slavery, who was born
free at a time when the world thought everyone was “free”, long after the
Civil War. It’s a very different story.
But, yes, we’re hoping that the incredible work done by these other
films has opened the doors. I remember years ago, when I was pitching
Slavery by Another Name and first hearing about 12 Years a Slave, thinking,
“Oh, no! What is this going to do?!” Because you never know in this
business if something with the same sort of feel about the subject of
slavery makes your project irrelevant any more.
Ashley: It sounds like you have some producers who are on board with
Jeanne: Yes, and again, Twitter. Doug Richardson, who wrote “Die Hard
2”, “Bad Boys”, “Hostage”, I met him on Twitter. He had given me some
feedback. I didn’t ask him.
Here’s a social media tip, and I write this in “Balls of Steel”,
about how to find a mentor, how to get your work read without asking, how
not to have to hound people and be annoying to network and to make inroads.
Doug and I had met on Twitter and we, just from a Follow Friday tweet, that
we have a mutual writing friend, who included us both as screenwriters in a
Follow Friday tweet. I said “hello” to him, he said “hello” to me, then we
just started talking. He started reading my “Balls of Steel” article, which
was one reason why people, if you do freelance writing, it gives people an
opportunity to read your work and to see that you can tell stories.
He could tell that in just a blog post I could tell a full story. So
after about six months, he said,”Hey, can I read that Slavery by Another
Name thing?” I was like, “Yeah, sure.” So I sent it to him and he read it.
I wasn’t expecting notes; I wasn’t expecting anything.
He read it and he called me up and he goes, “I really, really like
this. It has so much potential, but it’s not there.” And he gave me some
notes. At the time, I was collecting notes from some other friends who were
writers. I thanked him, did another rewrite, and didn’t say anything again
He goes, “Hey, are you ever going to let me read that rewrite?” I’m
like, “Sure!” So I sent it to him again, and he calls me up. He goes, “I
love the way you take notes. I love that you took some of them, you didn’t
take some of them. You took some of them and ran with them, and created
something completely different.”
He goes, “I want to work with you. I want to show this to my agent. I
want see if I can help you.” Then he brought in Tom Schulman, who wrote and
won the Oscar for “Dead Poets Society”. Then I flew out to LA and met Tom;
I had already met Doug.
That’s how we got them on board. It was really smart networking and
taking notes well. I would suggest to people to always think about being
somebody people want to work with, being easy to work with. Definitely
having your own voice and standing up for what you believe in, but also
really understanding how to collaborate and let it all go, and not let the
ego get in the way, because it’s about the story.
Ashley: Let’s continue on that thread. Are there a couple of other just
FAQ-type questions that you get, as the Editor of Script Mag, that you can
quickly answer? Maybe one, two, thee questions that are very common. I know
I get a ton of them, so I’m sure you do, too.
Jeanne: “How do I sell my screenplay?” “I have a screenplay and I want
to sell it. Can you tell me how to sell it?” Sometimes people will send
that question to me in a Twitter direct message, where I literally have 140
characters to answer them. How could I possibly do that?
I wrote a post for “Balls of Steel”, “The Magic Trick To Selling Your
Screenplay”, where I basically tell them that there is no magic trick. You
have to just hustle, work hard, be a really good writer, learn your craft.
Don’t be a jerk, so that people want to work with you.
You have to network. Go to Pitch Fest; I’m a huge believer in Pitch
Fest. I don’t think you’re going to sell anything there, and that’s not why
you should go. You should go to make connections. Because if one of those
production companies, and I don’t even care if it’s an assistant to an
assistant who you’re pitching to, it’s still an opportunity that you don’t
have if you’re just sitting at home.
Then if they read your work, even if they don’t want it and they like
your writing, then you’ve got the open door. I always ask, “Can I send you
my next script?” “Absolutely, send me your next script.” It’s about making
connections and networking with people, and that’s what’s going to help
you, ultimately, sell it.
Also, you may never sell it. So I also encourage people to consider
taking their scripts and writing them as novels, because Hollywood loves
intellectual property. So if you write it as a novel, and even if you self-
publish it, if it’s doing well, then you have an opportunity for somebody
to notice it, and then you’ve got the script already; you have the
adaptation already done. The script acts just like an outline for it.
That’s what people ask me all the time.
Ashley: I’m curious, how was having this award-winning novel behind
Slavery By Another Name helped that? I get a lot of those questions, too.
“Hey, I’ve self-published my novel.” And frankly, I’m always a little
skeptical to recommend writing a novel, because I get a lot of the opposite
where someone has written a novel, and then they’ve written a script.
They’re like,”Oh, well this thing is a novel. Hollywood loves novels.” It’s
like, “Yes, but a self-published novel?”
I feel these authors are splitting, they can’t find any success with
their self-published novel, so they think, “Well, I’ll write a script.” And
all they’re going to do is write a script that they can find no success
with. You’re better off finding success with your novel, because Hollywood
doesn’t like self-published novels. Hollywood likes successful a self-
published novels, or successful novels.
Don’t split your attention and end up with an unsuccessful script and
an unsuccessful novel. Spend your time doing what you like. If you want to
be a novelist, spend your time learning how to market a novel.
I’m curious. In your case, obviously this book was an award-winning
book and got a lot of attention.
Jeanne: What’s interesting about this book, it’s a very different kind
of adaption than a straight-up adaptation because it’s a non-fiction book.
Doug spent eight years in the basements of courthouses, all across the
South, gathering all this information to write this book. This was not just
him sitting down, making stuff up.
We had to take those, I think it was close to 80 years of history
that he has in there, and then find the story, find the two-hour story in
the 80 years of history. This was a Herculean task. So it’s very different
than if you just had a regular story and you adapt it.
Our script is really in that time period, using what we can use of
what really happened. Then there has to be some speculation. Obviously we
don’t know their conversations and things like that. Writing something
based on a true story is very different than taking a fiction novel and
And speaking to what you were saying about should screenwriters write
novels, or not, now that I’m writing one, it’s a very different skill set.
But I’ll tell you one of the things I love about doing it. And Doug
Richardson has some novels out, too. His website is DougRichardson.com, and
if you go there, you can see some of his novels. He’s done the traditional
publishing route and had success. He’s now self-publishing his work.
I asked him why he does it. And I can totally understand it, because
it’s the way I feel when I’m writing mine. It is so liberating to write
something to not have to please producers, directors, actors, to not have
to have a million people to be just perfectly aligned in order for this
story to get out, to have it be something that you have control over.
Should everyone self-publish? Absolutely not. It still has to be
written well. There still has to be filters. You still have to have a bar
for yourself in terms of hiring an editor, making sure that it really is a
solid, good piece of work, because it’s still your writing sample.
I see way too many people vomiting out self-published books every
three months. I open them up and I start to read them, and, as a writer, I
can’t even get past page five. I think there’s danger in it, too. It’s for
each individual person, and also each story, some stories are more visual
than they are prose-driven, so some screenplays aren’t going to work as
novels. So I think it is one thing to consider if you have the right
project and if you are the right kind of person.
You get to crawl in their heads more, and that’s fun, to be able to
do that. We don’t get to do that as screenwriters. We don’t get to talk
about what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, a memory that might get
sparked in their heads. That part of it I’m having a blast with. So it’s
nice to switch it up a little, I think.
Ashley: Sure. Let’s move in and talk a little bit about Scriptchat.
What is that? And how can screenwriters benefit from tuning in?
Jeanne: Scriptchat is one of those things that I hope I can do forever.
I just hope that I have enough time to keep doing it forever. It was born
one night, on Twitter. Jamie Livingston, Zac Sanford, Kim Garland, and I
were participating in a Twitter writers’ chat. Twitter has a lot of
writers’ chat. This one was called “Write Chats” on Sunday afternoons.
As we’re participating in it, we are all screenwriters, but story is
story. So we just popped on Write Chat, and I think it was Jamie who said,
“We should have a script chat.” She just threw it out there. First we
laughed, then we were like, “Yes, we should. Why shouldn’t we? How tough is
We had our first script chat, and I think maybe 20 people were on it.
Then at the end of it, everyone was so excited about having a group of
screenwriters together talking, that one of the participants all of a
sudden sends me a link and said, “I just made you a blog.” We’re like, “Oh,
okay.” So then we figured out how to grab transcripts. So on the blog,
every week, whenever we have a chat, we have a transcript that we post
afterwards, for people who can’t make it to the live chat, so they can go
back and read it.
It’s free. Our goal is to try to get screenwriters as much knowledge
and access to experts, without costing them a dime. I spent countless hours
working on the site, putting all the resources on the side rail, and
figuring out the best way to do transcripts, and all that.
Now we rotate moderators. We find guests to come on. We had David
Hayter, who wrote “X-Men”, Jane Espenson, who is one of the top female TV
writers, “Game of Thrones”, “Caprica”, “Torchwood”, “Buffy the Vampire
We’re to the point now that I get emails from professional
screenwriters, and experts, and producers saying, “Can I be on Scriptchat?”
It’s a great community. We have two taglines. One is, “Bring your tequila
and leave your ego behind.” The other is, “It’s not a competition; it’s a
That’s what we are, so we smack down people who are all full of ego
in the chat. We just like people to keep it real, give each other advice.
We’ll have guests, sometimes we’ll have open topics.
I just did a special edition of Scriptchat yesterday, with Final
Draft, because they came out with a new Final Draft 9. A lot of our writers
had questions. “Is it worth the money? What are the new features?” So I
said, “Let’s just see if they’ll come on and talk to us for an hour, and
they did. They were like, “Yeah, sure”, and they gave away two copies of
People are very generous with us, too. We are able to get discounts
to my tracking board, and other services. We try to make it as much of a
benefit to screenwriters as we can.
Ashley: As I mentioned to you before we started the interview, I tuned
in on Sunday. I tuned in on Saturday just to see what it was like. One
thing I noticed, and I’d be curious to hear, as a moderator, what you
think. I noticed that a lot of people were putting the hashtag,
#scriptchat, in their Tweets, even though, as best I could tell, it had
nothing to do with actually Scriptchat, they were just trying to get
attention from screenwriters. They were just writing random Tweets, and
most of them had to do with screenwriting. But as a moderator, how do you
feel about that?
For instance, if I were to publish a blog post, and put #scriptchat,
I’m not really participating in Scriptchat, but I’m trying to piggyback on
to that audience. How do you guys feel about that?
Jeanne: I love that, because the Scriptchat itself, the actual live
chat, takes place on Sunday nights, at 5:00 o’clock, Pacific Time. What
happens is, all throughout the whole week, people will use the Scriptchat
hashtag for the sole purpose of talking to other screenwriters.
Like Go Into the Story, Scott Myers uses our hashtag all the the
time. So does the Black List, so does Amazon Studios, so do a lot of
people. Final Draft, obviously, Script Magazine, too. When you want to talk
to screenwriters and find other screenwriters, follow that hashtag and you
will find other screenwriters, and find tons of screenwriting information.
It thrills us when people use the hashtag. As long as they’re not
spamming it, with their Kickstarter campaigns and things that really aren’t
for the community’s benefit, but are for selfish benefit. Having said that,
did I use the Scriptchat hashtag when I was raising money for Impasse? Sure
I did, but that’s because they’re my community. They’re people who have
ridden this ride with me, and they wanted to follow how we were doing, to
follow what we were doing.
They also knew I was going to write about it afterwards, to give them
advice on running a Kickstarter campaign. I would say to them, “You’re
crazy to think about doing it!” But I would talk frankly about it.
Ashley: I’ve talked a little bit about Kickstarter on my blog. I’ll
have to have you back on, because I’d love to get some real detailed
information about how to run a successful Kickstarter campaign. You have a
big audience, and you’ve been nurturing that audience for years. So I think
that’s really the key to Kickstarter, is having that.
Jeanne: And asking for help. I don’t know if you’re on Twitter, or if
you follow King Is a Fink, Julie and Jessica. They are amazing crowdfunding
experts. You should have them on your podcast.
Ashley: Okay. The other question I had was I just went to the
Scriptchat website, or something, and you had some directions about how to
use Scriptchat. I clicked on whatever the first one was; I can’t remember
what it was. It opened up a new website with that little Scriptchat, so all
the Scriptchat tweets were popping up.
I found it very difficult to follow a conversation, because people
would just be piping in. They would be answering a question, but it was
three or four tweets down. Are there any specific tools that you use? How
do you actually interface with Scriptchat on Sunday?
Jeanne: I usually use that. We used to use Tweetchat for a long time.
This one is a new platform. Let me just find it, because I don’t want to
give the wrong name for it. I’m just looking it up on my computer, because
there are a few of them. But the one that I use most of the time . . .
sorry, I think because I have Skype on the computer is going slow.
Ashley: I’ll link to it; I put show notes on the blog post. But it was
the first one on your list. On your website you have three ways of
interfacing with it.
Jeanne: It’s called “tchat.io”, and that is the most similar to
Tweetchat. The reason we like it is because it automatically adds the
Scriptchat hashtag to your Tweet, so that you don’t have to remember to
keep typing it. And only Scriptchat hashtag tweets show up in there, so it
filters out the rest of Twitter.
So, if you’re following thousands of people, it’s hard to do the
chat, if you’re not focused on the hashtag #scriptchat. You could certainly
do it in Tweetdeck and Hootsuite, and do it on regular Twitter and search
for that hashtag.
It’s tough because people are talking to you. I usually have my
Tweetdeck open so I can see when people are talking directly to me. I have
a column of mentions over here, and then I have the tchat window open,
where I’m seeing what everybody is saying.
If you’re moderating, and even the guests, you’re going to miss
questions. They’re going to miss it, but that’s precisely why I always post
a transcript. The other moderators do, too, because there is so much that
And the more people who participate, the faster it goes, so you’re
going to miss stuff. It’s nice to be able to go back and know that all of
those transcripts for the four years that we have been active, are up on
It’s a great resource to go back and look, and learn about TV
writing. We had a spin-off, TV Writer Chat, which has now come back to us.
It’s going to be the first Sunday night of every month. We’re going to
dedicate it to television and talk about television writing. We do this all
on a volunteer basis, and when we did the spin-off, it just became too much
time for everybody, so we’re consolidating back together again.
Ashley: I think that’s the key, what you just said. Because I was
wondering how the moderators would do it. You have a window open, so the
people who are actually speaking specifically to you, you can actually see
them and respond.
It would almost be helpful if I had done that. Like if I was
interested in one conversation, I would open a window and look for the @
your name. Then I could follow that actual conversation.
Jeanne: You’d find out in the “How to chat” page that that’s what I do.
You would probably have to read down a little bit farther. Once we lost
Tweetchat, I had to give people other options on how to do it. So I found
all these other ways of participating in the chat. The other moderators did
too. We were all looking and researching different ways. So we listed a few
to see which one is unique to each person.
Ashley: Let’s take a couple of minutes. At this point, you’re a social
media expert. So I wonder if you can give me some tips for screenwriters on
how network on Twitter, and even Facebook, if you use Facebook. It seems
like Twitter is your main platform. Any kind of social media tips for
networking and getting your scripts read.
Jeanne: I can send you the link to it if you want to post it with your
podcast. I created a free download for Script Magazine that’s about
networking tips, online and offline networking. That’s really helpful. It
has all of my “Balls of Steel” columns that I’ve written about how I do it.
Basically, if I had to condense it down into a nutshell, one of the
reasons I like Twitter is that, unless somebody has protected Tweets, and,
honestly, I usually don’t follow people with protected Tweets because this
is social media, so if you’re going to guard and protect yourself, what’s
What I love about Twitter is that people are accessible. The kind of
people whom Twitter tracks are pretty much people who are okay with being
Jane Espenson is incredible about writing and being approachable on
Twitter. She talks to people; she answers their questions. She really wants
to help other writers. John August is on Twitter. The Unknown Screenwriter,
I don’t know if you’ve heard of him.
Jeanne: He’s incredible [inaudible 47:16] on Twitter. Scott Myers, and
the Black List, they all talk to you. This is their audience. It’s like a
“writer’s water cooler”, is what I call it.
Basically on Twitter, I would suggest don’t protect your Tweets.
Write an interesting profile. Don’t have your profile picture be a cat. Do
not have it be something where you’re 20 pounds thinner and 10 years
younger, so that when they meet you in real life, you really look like your
I have met people whom I have no idea that that’s them, not a clue.
And I’m always scratching my head, because really, honestly, that sends up
a red flag in my mind. I’m thinking, “What else are they not truthful
about?” It sends up those little tingles of spidey sense like, “Can I
really trust this person?”
I try to recommend to people to just be real. Be nice; don’t be a
jerk; don’t stalk people; don’t pitch people on Twitter. Like that story I
told you about Doug Richardson, how we built a relationship first, before
he got involved in reading any of my work.
Same thing with Unknown Screenwriter, we built a relationship first,
and then he said, “Can I read your script?” And then he gave me feedback.
You can’t just walk up to somebody at a cocktail party, and just accost
them about something. You still have to have social grace, even though
you’re behind a computer screen. But I love it. I find people very
approachable on Twitter. I think it’s an incredible platform.
That free download has a whole bunch of specifics.
Ashley: Okay, I’ll definitely link to that. Sure, sure.
Jeanne: There is also another podcast I did, and I can send you a link
to this, too. It was a social roundtable that I did with Joshua Stecker,
who at that time was the Editor of Script Magazine, and Jamie Livingston,
who does Scriptchat with me.
We did this social media roundtable. In it we give advice about
Facebook and Twitter, and all of that. It’s very comprehensive; I think
it’s a two-parter; it’s like an hour-and-a-half-long podcast. I think it
gives your readers a lot of information.
Ashley: Perfect, I’ll definitely link to that. You’ve been very
generous with your time; I really appreciate it. Just to wrap up a little
bit, can you tell us a little bit about your consulting service, what you
offer to people and how they can get in touch with you if they want to
learn a little bit more about that?
Jeanne: Yes. I am not a script consultant. A lot of people ask me that,
“Will you read my scripts? Will you give me feedback on my scripts?” A, I
don’t have time to do that, and B, I’m just not a script consultant. That
is not my expertise.
What people turn to me for is more about inspiration, learning how to
get past their fears. There is a video that I did for Script Magazine about
controlling your fear. It’s a free video; you can just go on and sign up,
and then you get the access code to get it.
I talk about how I learned how to give up fear. As writers, there are
so many things to be fearful of: the producer, the agent, the rejection. We
just want to sit in our cave, most of us, and write, and we don’t really
want to have to deal with the business side of it. But the business side of
it is really important. And in order to deal with the business side and to
put yourself out, you have to have a certain degree of confidence. So I
help screenwriters navigate that and figure out a game plan.
It’s more than just like a coach; it’s more of a life coach for
screenwriters. That’s what I talk with people about. Any advice that I can
give them. I learn about them, what things might be blocking them. All the
years I’ve had as therapy, I’m a little cued in to all of those things that
people do to sabotage themselves. And I really love doing it. I love to see
people grow, and blossom, and get to that next step.
Ashley: What’s the best way they can learn more about that?
Jeanne: My website is JeanneVB.com. There is a consultation tab up at
the top, and I think there is also information on the side rail, too.
Ashley: Perfect, I can link to that too, in the show notes, so if
anybody wants to learn more, just go to the show notes. Once again, Jeanne,
you’ve really been very helpful and inspiring. It’s been great having you
on; you’ve been very generous with your time. I really do appreciate it.
Jeanne: I’m flattered and honored to be here. Thank you, very much.
Ashley: In the next Selling Your Screenplay episode, I’m going to be
talking with Richard Botto. He’s the CEO of Stage 32, which is a social
network platform for all types of creatives. He’s also a screenwriter and
producer, so I’m going to be talking with him about that too. So if you
haven’t already, check out Stage32,com and keep an eye out for that
interview in the next episode.
Also, a quick reminder, on February 22nd, Jacob Stuart will be
running an online class through Selling Your Screenplay called “How To
Write and Sell or Produce a Contained, Limited Location, Feature
Screenplay”. This really is one of the best ways to get your career into
gear. It’s never been easier to sell one of these one-location screenplays.
If you can’t attend the live event, don’t worry. All of these online
classes, along with all of the past ones, are available to SYS Select
Members, so you can go back and watch this class, and all of our other
classes anytime that is convenient for you. To learn more about this class,
go to SellingYourScreenplay.com/classes.
In today’s Writing Words section, I just want to reflect on what
Jeanne has done to launch her screenwriting career. She’s taken a totally
different approach than what I’ve done, and I think that’s great. She has
really put her personality and her talents to good use to advance her
career. She’s great with social media; she’s really outgoing. She’s great
at networking, in general, and meeting people face-to-face. And her day job
helps her meet people in the industry. So that’s a great way to spend your
time, if you’re going to have to have a day job.
That’s totally different from what I’ve done, which is basically send
out a ton of query letters. Some of the things she talked about, like
pitching the author of Slavery by Another Name, isn’t something that I
think that I could ever do. And that’s totally fine. My strategy suits my
personality and talents, and her strategy suits her personality and
talents. As I said, her strategy is completely different from mine, but
it’s working well for her.
Ultimately, you’ve got to find your own strategy. There is no one way
to succeed. But — and this is the key — you’ve got to do something. You
can’t just wait for things to come to you. You’ve got to get out there and
make things happen.
Think about your own personality and what you’re good at, and try and
craft a marketing strategy around that. Maybe it’s some hybrid of what
Jeanne and I are doing, or maybe it’s something completely different. but
there has to be something. And it’s got to be more than just writing a
script, sending it off to a few people, maybe a contest or two, and then
moving on and starting to write another script. You need to really come up
with a solid, actionable marketing plan.
Hopefully this podcast and my blog are helping you do that. Let’s
take a quick minute to talk about some specifics. I hate it when people
dole out advice and I’m not exactly clear what the hell they’re talking
about. So let’s try and just clear some things up.
One thing I think people don’t quite understand about marketing is
that a lot of it isn’t some secret magic. A lot of it is just being
persistent and covering your bases. As I mentioned earlier in this episode,
I just finished a script and now I’m pushing it out to the various online
places that I know about.
Obviously, my own email and fax blast service is a big part of that.
That’s actually the only thing that I’ve had any success with over the last
few years. But I’m also experimenting with these other channels, too, and
that’s what I recommend to everyone.
Try everything you can think of and see what works for you. Then, if
you start to have even a little bit of success in one area, really push
harder in that area. Things change, and that’s why I’m always trying to
find new ways to market my scripts. I’m not just relying on the one thing
that has worked for me. I’m actually out there trying to find other
avenues, too, because this email and fax blast service that I’m doing could
eventually dry up, for whatever reason. I don’t think there really are any
magic bullets. It’s just a matter of experimenting and finding your own
One thing I do want t be clear on, though, is how persistent I have
been. It’s not just about uploading your script to a few sites and
forgetting about it. I’ve been a member of InkTip, I think, probably for a
year and a half now, maybe even longer.
I’ve probably posted six scripts in their database, maybe more. I get
their weekly newsletter, too, and I almost always respond to at least two
or three leads per week. I’m really consistent on this. The newsletter
comes out on Thursday, and I try to always go through it, either that day
or the following day, and submit where appropriate.
This will be the fourth script I’ve uploaded to the Black List, and
I’ve done about 10 pitches for two scripts through Virtual Pitch fest, so
probably 20 pitches, in all. And all this has lead to exactly zero success
from these sites. As I said, the only success I’ve had in the last year or
two is using my own email and fax blast service.
I’ve had a couple of near-misses on InkTip, but the other two sites
have been goose eggs. And I’m not even close to getting discouraged with
these sites. I’m going to keep hitting them and keep trying to figure them
out, and keep putting more scripts up there and seeing what happens.
I would say that the only one I’m really disappointed with so far, is
Virtual Pitch Fest. If I don’t start to see better results on that, I’ll
probably remove that from my rotation. But the others, I’m going to just
keep hammering away at the Black List, InkTip, for a while longer and see
if I can get anything going with them.
Keep in mind, this is just my marketing approach. Again, Jeanne
showed in the interview today that there are a lot of things you can do
that even I’m not doing. So if you’re still trying to figure out what works
for you, get on Twitter, get on Facebook, get on Stage32, and start
networking. See what you can do on the social networks. Enter contests and
see if you can get any traction there. And of course, also, try and do some
of the things that I’m doing.
Hopefully, all these things together, you’ll start to see some