This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 026: An Interview With Script Consultant Danny Manus.
Welcome to episode 26 of the Selling Your Screen Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Myers, screenwriter and blogger over at sellingyourscreenplay.com.
In this episode’s main segment I’m going to be interviewing Danny Manus. Dany has worked as an executive manager for many years and now runs his own script consulting business, ‘NoBull script consulting’. We talked specifics about some of the movies he worked on, how the production companies he worked for found and hired those writers, so stay tuned for that.
I’d like to thank this episode’s sponsor – Screen Craft. Screen Craft is dedicated to helping screenwriters master the craft of screen writing and succeed in the business of Hollywood. Sign up for free education and inspiration at www.screencraft.org
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I’d like to thank David D., Thomas R., and Jason L., Stanford C., Ginger S., Medea H., and John C., who left me some nice comments over on YouTube for episode 24; thanks guys, it’ very much appreciated.
A couple of quick notes:
– Any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes
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– Also, if you want my free guide how to sell a screenplay in five weeks you can pick that up by going to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide; it’s completely free, you just put it in your e-mail address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks along with a bunch of bonus lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide; how to write a professional Log on and Query letter; how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material; it really is everything you need to know to sell your screenplay- Just go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide
A quick few words about what I’m working on; I’ve optioned a limited location for my horror script I’ve been talking about over the last few podcasts. IT’s not a great option, it’s basically a free option for 6 months and then the producer has to pay a decent amount of money to re-option it. I say basically free because he has to pay me $10 so I guess technically it’s not free but it might as well be.
In any event the producer is actually the same producer who optioned my Sci-Fi thriller screenplay earlier in the year. He seems as a good fit for this project as he seems to like the script and his done some of these types of films before.
He has couple of good leads for finding financing so we’ll see; it’s a long way from production but it’s a good thing having a producer out there trying to raise money for it.
So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing the founder of ‘NoBull script consulting’ Danny Manus. Here’s the interview;
Ashley: Welcome Danny to the SYS podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Danny: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Ashley: So to start out I wonder if you could give us a quick overview of your career; how you got into the entertainment industry and kind of how you got to where you are today.
Danny: Yeah. It’s a very, kind of, common kind of story. There’s nothing crazy. I interned, I spent a semester out here interning; while I was in college I went back; I was in college in New York, I did a semester in LA interning at Columbia TriStar and their TV development department; and at Fox Feature Casting because I liked casting and I had a cousin who worked in it so I figured I should have some background in case I really, really need a job one day.
And I loved it. I loved being here so after graduation I came back out, I interviewed in a few places, I came out to do TV writing, and that didn’t happened because I came out in a time when they weren’t crewing up for anything.
And I took the first job I got, which was of the UTA job list as an assistant at a feature film production company and I was their assistant for about a year or so and then they promoted me to creative executive and director of development and was doing production coordinating for all their films at the same time while running their development. That was in Sandstorm films and it was run by film director J.F. Cardon who’s done a bunch of stuff.
And then they closed, we had a deal with Screen Gems, we had a deal with Top Cal Comics, which was great for a little while and then, they just decided to part ways so it closed. I went over to Clifford Werber production, as their creative executive and then director of development and then I was in Collective pictures after that; after the Writer’s Strike I lost, we kind of had to cut down during the Writer’s strike, and so after that I wrote for another company for a little while as a development consultant and then started my script consulting company; and teaching and doing that kind of stuff but yeah, over the years, I think I’ve done everything from casting and production to development, obviously – consulting, teaching, producing…writing. I came out to write, but, like everybody else; but development found me first and development is pretty fun.
Ashley: OK. Great. So before the interview we were discussing some films that you specifically worked on. Let’s start out with ‘Sydney White’ a film that you helped to develop. Can you sort of give us some insight into how kind of the project was found, how it was developed? Just so, you know, aspiring writers kind of, you know, thin- . ‘Gee, how is that kind of film made, where does the script come from, where is the production company, how they find the writer?’ or something like that.
Danny: Yeah. ‘Sydney White’ which we did at my company ‘Clifford production’. It was Amanda Bynes’ last movie before she went..; and it was an idea..; my boss at Clifford had done ‘Cinderella story’ and it did hundred millions dollars, so obviously he went – OK, this works, what other film can I update and do..; he was a little bit in front of time since fairytales are hot right now, being remade all over the place. But he was like – OK, what about Snow white? What can we do with that so he, he had an idea for it, he found the writers, he knew one of the writers; they are 2 married writers who were at that time boyfriend and girlfriend, who were in the Peter Stark program. They were also assistants to John August at the time. Clifford found them, Dara Resnik Creasey and Chad Creasey, who are now producers on ‘Castle’ actually; but they had written just coincidentally, they have written a short thesis for their script. Not sure if it was actually feature or thesis, but it was thesis for their Peter Stark program.
They found Clifford. He went – this is exactly what I want to do, he optioned their script and started developing it. They were up paid for the option. And that started, I think, a 6 or 7 year process before it actually got made, but they developed the script, went through number of iterations before my time, before I even came on and once I came on we re-developed the script. WE did a lot of notes, we finally got it going, we brought it to Morgan Creek who was financier and still active at the time. They really like the idea; it was a pretty low budget project. Teen movies were still selling decently at the time, and we brought on the director that we really liked, Joe Nussbaum, who had done one of the American Pie movies, he did ‘George Lucas in love’, ‘Infamous short’, and he really had a go for the younger, teen world, and that kind of voice.
And then we went to drafts, and drafts, and drafts. Morgan Creek had a number of notes, we brought re-writers to…; once we went to Morgan Creek, we brought on, after searching and scouring the Earth for re-writers, we brought on 2 great re-writers, Roarden and O’Tool as they are known and they did a great job. We brought in, we had a comedy table where you pick 6 or 7 people, you pay them a couple of thousand dollars for a day and they sit around the table just to make things funnier. And that was a day or two of that.
And then Jo came in and did his notes, and we had our notes, and it was a lot of drafts and we read a lot of samples, by the way, before we chose re-writers., a lot of samples. And that’s what development executive does, every day, but then it got going but as it got going the title changed. It was originally ‘Sydney White and the Seven Dorks’, which we thought was really cute.
Morgan Creek, I don’t think anything of this is total secret, but Morgan Creek thought to aim too young, and Clifford always thought that it should be a slighter younger movie and Creek wanted to go a little bit older, Jo wanted to go a little bit older, and we changed it just to ‘Sydney White’ and we kind of lost a little bit of that cashee I think, a little bit, but..;
Ashley: I did. When I read the title it didn’t immediately occurred to me that it was a modern day re-tailing so..;
Danny: Yeah, it was..; we lost something with the loss of the ‘Dorks’ especially since they are a big part of the movie and actually where all the comedy comes from is the ‘Dorks’. So by not listing them in the title I think it was probably a mistake that cost us a few million dollars in grosses; high side 20-20; but the biggest issue we ever came across during the whole development process is what the demographic was that we were going for. And we had an obstacle in that; Amanda Bynes – you know, this was a college set movie, but it was also a fairy tale, we had a star, Amanda whose core demographic was, you know, 8-13, and not 15-18 and how to you tell a college set movie without mentioning drinking, partying, any kind of sex, bad words; it doesn’t totally feel genuine and Jo wanted to age it up and make it a much more a pyji 13, you know, teen movie, but Clifford didn’t think that an audience like that, you know, that age of the audience will go and see a fairy tale we make a Snow White with Amanda Bynes.
So we got caught in the middle, we had a PIJI concept with a couple of 13 PIJI characters and jokes, with a PIJI star in a PIJI 13 setting, and a PIJI title and it just kind of, you know, just a little bit and that’s why it’s so important to writers to know who they’re writing for, and know the tone that they want to set with their whatever genre that may be.
Ashley: In this case, it sounds like, it almost sounds like it’s not a script thing, it’s a casting choice, as you just said, with Amanda Bynes, her demographic is that younger set; so if had cast somebody else you might have gone after American Pie type of a group.
Danny: We could have. Clifford is very big at family films, you know, he had a young daughter and he wanted to replicate the success of obviously ‘Cinderella story’ which did kind of well with 8-14 and strangely, with 40 year old women. And so he really wanted to replicate that kind of tone, and that kind of comedy and I think that what we did was maybe just a little bit of casting, and a little bit of indecision between all the producers involved as well as the writers and directors and everybody in the room.
Amanda wanted to do something a little bit older and a little bit risky, but it just didn’t quite connect.
I will say that in our focus group and test screens they were..; I mean through the roof we had..; I mean it was like 94% in the good columns, it was crazy, so..;
The other thing was, it was marketed really, really badly, and not much marketing, and to the wrong venues and in that time MY Space was, and you know, Facebook wasn’t really around, it was still My Space and yeah, and they took over My Space for a day, and they took over MTV for a day and it just wasn’t enough.
So I think it was a combination of factors. But actually if you do see it it’s a really cute movie. I have a couple of lines there that stuck, which is always nice. As development executive, a couple of lines in the movie is like – ‘Aaa, we earned our money!’
The writers did a great job, all our writers did a great job, and it turned out to be really cute. It just didn’t connect to the box office. But it more than made its money back between DVD and box office and everything so..;
Ashley: Let’s take a step back and let me just dissect some of the things you said. You said that your boss, he came up with this idea, for a Snow White, sort of retelling Snow White but then they optioned the script from this guys. How developed was that idea and it just was coincidentally the same idea that these writers have already written and they written – I’m not sure if I heard this alright – they’ve written a short, they’ve written a feature that was basically the same idea?
Danny: I will be honest. I’m not sure if they written a short or a feature. Honestly, it was a feature spec for their thesis film and it was coincidental that he was already developing a ‘Snow White’ project and knew these writers, he knew Dara, and actually, now that I remember Dara was either his assistant or his friend’s assistant and Chad was John August’s assistant. And he knew that Chad had written it kind of with Dara as their theses project and so he went to Darah, talked to Chad.
I don’t know exactly how far along, knowing what we’ve done before on other projects, Clifford probably had 2-3-4 page treatment because most of our ideas were home grown.
We would sit in a room every week and split all the ideas and come up with ideas and wash up ideas and then try to find writers who would be great at developing them and writing them with us.
So, yeah, that was back in a day when you could sell original material. You know, that’s what we did, I would probably say half of our development slay where ideas either Clifford or I came up with and then try to develop.
And so, yeah it was a coincidence that he was already developing the idea, he mentioned it to Dara, and DAra says: ‘Oh, my boyfriend and I were writing that script. We wrote that script for Peter Stark’ and literary it was a coincidence. And we optioned it from there.
Ashley: OK. So you mentioned it was a free option and these writers were new writers so I’m curious. So he reads the script, he likes it enough, it’s close enough to his idea, I’m sure it was quite of bit development right of the back. Did you hire the writers? Were they pay for the writers at that point?
Ashley: Was that common? You just mentioned you had this development side, 4 page treatments, you had to find writers, you were going to find writers and basically write on spec?
Danny: Yeah, completely.
Ashley: OK. I get some of these offers and I’m always curious, I’m just kind of curious; number one it looks like they never take off, as a writer I’m always very leery to get involved with them.
One of the things I suggested and I got some push-ups for them from producers and development executives. I always say – ‘Fine, but I want a clear contract.’ You know, you get some kind of an option on the script once they finish development in a year. But then I get the script back un comber from you, basically you would lose any kind of attachment to it.
What sort of arrangements would you set up with these writers?
Danny: Yeah, we always had a contract. It was always, if it was a project that was already written, that wasn’t our idea, then we would usually do an exclusive attachment agreement which is you know kind of like an option, except you still own, the writer still owns all the rights to their story. We’re basically, we have the exclusive right to show it for an amount of time, you know, whether it’s a year, 18 months, whatever it could be;
And of course we had a contract in place; if we would sell it, you know – the writer would get A,B and C, and there’s always ‘from floor to the ceiling’ which we put in the contract, from floor only because we don’t want the writer to get screwed and we put a ceiling so that we don’t get screwed so that when the studio comes back and say – ‘ we love it! How much do you want for it? The writer doesn’t go – ‘a million dollars!’ And screws up the deal completely and we get f’d. Can I curse on this podcast?
Ashley: I would prefer if you did not; I try and keep it clean.
Danny: Okay sir. Then we get screwed. But yes, if our option lacks all the notes, all the work that we have done or changes we revert back to the writer. They get it free and clear, that is the way we structured our deals. There are plenty of producers who do not structure it like that.
Ashley: Even when the seed of the idea came from you guys, even with the four page treatment, you would still give all that to the writer?
Danny: No, if it was our idea that we came up with and we hired a writer in specs, to write it, we would still obviously have a contract with all the same things, floor and ceiling and what we would sell for and make the best of it, to get them in WGA and all that kind of stuff. But no if we did not sell, the rights still lie with Clifford, with us. We have not, I mean I will say over the projects that we have developed, that we have at the time, that we got writers on the first of Cinderella Story, [lead] on that made a couple of million dollars from them probably and went on to have a screen writing career for quite a while. Chad and [Derrick] made a good amount of money, I will not say how much, I do not know how much but from Sidney White and it landed them a lot of writing assignments and they have now been on three or four different TV series and they are producers and top writers in town.
We have a couple other that have gone on to really nice screen writing careers and we have had a few that have not, that were newer writers that we took a chance on because either I knew them or I had worked with them or Clifford worked with them and we could not sell the projects. And yes it sucks when a project does not sell but I am big proponent of the dollar option or the free option and I will tell you why; it is because a lot of people say, ‘do not trust a producer who does not have skin in the game’, like I get that but our skin is our time and our sweat equity that we are putting in and unlike the writer who gets paid the second we set it up, you do not get paid at all unless it gets made. So we are working for free for three or four years, we have every intention and every motivation to get something made because we would like to get paid.
So obviously I think any producer, now that said as long as you do your due diligence and they are real producers with credit and contacts and they have a plan for your projects and they have a nose that will help your project and you have a good working relationship with them then I do not see the problem with the dollar option. You are finding a legit producer who is now a cheerleader for you, your career, your projects, can help you get other work and you can say I am an Option screenwriter working with this legitimate producer. I think that is huge for a first time writer or a new writer or an unproduced writer to be able to say and to do and to be in development on something that is real.
Ashley: The one question that I always give producers and they usually seem overly honest, I do not think they quite understand why I am asking this question, but I always ask them how many other projects like this are you developing? And as I said this was maybe six months ago but I had a very similar to what you are talking about, I was meeting the development executive and I asked him and he was very proud of the fact. He had like 25 projects and his boss had another 25 projects and I am sitting there thinking okay so I am basically one of 50, what are the chances? And it was his idea so it was the same thing, it was not like I was ever going to get that project back so I am sitting there thinking well basically you got 50 projects you are developing, what are the odds that mine is going to be the one that goes, and I do not get the script back, because it was an idea that they cooked up internally. So it just seems like and I do not have a problem with the free option as a writer because precisely what you are saying but the great thing about the free option is after six months or a year, I get the script back, and I can take it somewhere else un encumbered by these other people but when it is your idea, it is like you are basically stuck with them forever.
Danny: Yes exactly if it is your idea you get it back unencumbered and after the time is up absolutely. When it is not your idea, sometimes you are taking a chance. I see both sides of it, I think the producer is taking a chance on a writer that they cannot automatically sell in a room and the writer is taking a chance on an idea that may never get sold.
Ashley: But of their- and correct me if I am wrong and you can tell me your experience but part of their strategy is precisely what I just said; let us develop 50 projects and hope that one of them goes and that is okay for the producer but that is not so good for the 49 writers.
Danny: Yes well not if it is 50 of the same idea, if they are trying the idea.
Ashley: No these were different ideas.
Danny: Okay, because if they are developing the same idea with 10 different writers, that is just a shitty sort of…
Ashley: No these were different ideas.
Danny: Okay. You want to stay away from that producer but I think certainly the studios they probably have 50 to 75 projects in development at any time and we were in a smaller indeed production company, we probably had anywhere between a dozen to two dozen projects in different stages of development. Some were just conceptual and some we were working on the 10th draft of the script or we had sold it and were trying to get rewrites done and stuff like that. So yes it is a numbers game but it is a numbers game for a writer too, that is why I tell writers, never just have one script, you have one idea, one script you are kind of useless. You have to keep many logs in the fire, whether you are a producer, an actor, a writer, director. Keep different logs in the fire, keep developing and coming up with new ideas because you never know when you are going to need that next idea. And so yes I kind of get the point, you do not want to be one of 75 but I will say that if it is their idea and they own it and the development exec stands to get some credit and money for it, they are going to push that much harder for that project to go than some random project that came to them through some random place that they do not really have a personal connection to, but that their boss kind of liked the idea of. And so sometimes doing those projects will get a little bit more extra attention when it is their own homegrown ideas.
Ashley: One thing you mentioned and it was not even really in reference to this, you mentioned the strike; the writers’ strike and was that 2009 that the writers’ strike was?
Ashley: Okay, one of the things that I hear quite commonly is that everything sort of changed after that and there was a lot more of this, what you are describing where producers are getting writers basically to write these ideas on spec, but it sounds like you guys were doing that before the writers’ strike, did you see any change in sort of the approach that your company took before and after the strike?
Danny: Well surely after the strike I did not have a job no more so…
Ashley: Okay so that is a slightly different approach.
Danny: It was strange during the strike; we actually sold something during the strike when we got one of the waivers and stuff. I actually sold something during the strike which was supposed to be a very big project, it was at United Artists and Tom Cruise’s company and it was a really big deal for me and then it died anyway and got things to turn around. It was an Oz movie and of course we know there was an Oz movie made but we were actually the first one. There were four Oz movies in contention around town, we were the first one that sold but unfortunately it just did not happen. But I do not think there was a huge difference after the writers’ strike in the way people operated in terms of writers and options, I think independent producers were doing that before the writers’ strike and continue to do that after the writers’ strike. I mean maybe some of the larger companies that were doing that maybe stopped doing that and the reason for that is not really the writers. It was that during the writers’ strike and for the months following, so little was actually getting made that people could not afford to keep their development staffs. There was like a Diaspora of development execs that were just released onto Hollywood to find new jobs and there were very few jobs for a while and there were probably like 100 of us who were looking for the same six jobs.
And so the reason that developments got cut down and people were not doing as much development is very simply they did not want to spend the time and they did not have the staffs anymore to actually develop and so they changed their MOs to what I used to call the 50% rule, like if the script is 50% there, we will get it the other 50% it just has to be a really good idea and kind of good enough for us to work with and it quickly became like the 85% rule. If it is not 85% there we are not going to get involved because we do not want to take a year to develop this project. It is not worth our time anymore, if we cannot do one or two quick sets in [those] be done, go package it and go pitch it three days from now, then we are not going to work on it anymore and I think that was the shift. It was indirectly because of the strike but I think it was actually because so many companies lost their overhead deals or their [pot] deals or whatever you want to call them and they lost their development staffs and because of that they had to change the way that they were putting projects together.
Ashley: Do you think these companies just found that that was a better way to do business because now it has been many years they have rehired a lot of these development executives and sort of staffed back up?
Danny: A lot have, I think they probably realized, we can find projects that are closer, we do not have to work this hard in development for three years on projects. Yes certainly some places have crewed up, some places have closed down, new placed have come up instead and what happened was about six months after the strike and after the big agency merge, is that a lot of those agents then became mangers and they needed to crew up and staff up so a lot of the execs eventually or assistants went to work for them. But yes what the writers’ strike did was kind of put just a cog in the middle of the system and people were either losing their jobs and could not find new ones or they were now stuck in their jobs which means nobody was getting promoted, nobody new could find new jobs as everybody kind of moves up the ladder and it made everybody kind of stuck for a year in wherever they were. For me that was unemployment for a little while and I did start with a new company about six months later but for a short time. But yes it was a weird time. I think it has gotten back a little bit but I think producers are still like it is not worth their time anymore to develop something from the ground up that is going to take two years with a new writer to develop. We want something that either comes with the package or that we can package it immediately. I do not think that has changed completely.
Ashley: So let us move on to another movie that you worked on called The Covenant, can you kind of do the same thing; give us kind of how your company found that and how that script got developed.
Danny: The Covenant was when I was at Sandstorm Films; we had a [first off] deal with Sony Screen Gems, we have done a number of movies for them over the three years that I was there. I think we did six or seven movies which is a lot in three years. Most of them with Screen Gems, some of them were programmers meaning they went straight to DVD because back then DVD was still a huge business and those movies made a ton of money in DVD let me tell. The Sniper movies made a ton of movies on DVD. But this was right after Harry Potter, the first Harry Potter came out and Joe [Cordon], my boss, the writer, director who has always done kind of horror/thriller, he has a very kind of dark sensibility, went to Clint Culpepper who was the president Screen Gems or Clint may have come to him, I do not remember exactly which happened and Clint came to him actually and said, “Harry Potter is doing crazy business, Screen Gems was still a lot of mostly horror movies and genre movies and they said we want to do Harry Potter on Crack. We want to do the dark twisted R-rated sexy version of Harry Potter and Joe said ‘great let us do it.’
He came up with the treatments, they loved the treatment and Joe’s treatments were always like scriptments, kind of what is called scriptments now where they are very long and they include some dialogue and specific scenes and they are like 50 pages long. And so we turned that in , Clint loved it said, ‘great let us do it,’ so Joe went, wrote the script, he had a couple of us in the office and a couple of writers that we worked with, they gave notes, did a couple of drafts. Turned them in to Screen Gems and they literally went, ‘we love it, it is fantastic but could we take out the sexiness and the darkness and there was a rape scene in there, you have to take that out and can you take out some of the scares and some of the drugs and basically we would like to now make this a PG-13 Harry Potter but a little bit darker. And so it kind of took the wind out of it, it took the wind out of Joe because he was so invested in this very creepy prep school dark North Eastern kind of feel and the sexiness of it was really what Joe always responds to as a dark sexy quality in the script. And so once he was kind of told we have to lighten it up and take out all the sex, then it kind of became just a writing exercise until the studio was happy. And I would probably say they were eight or nine drafts probably done, eight to 10 drafts maybe. Not all of those turned into the studio but most and we got notes back and marketing department had their notes, everybody had their notes.
And then they brought on a director Renny Harlin who of course did Cliffhanger, like one of my favorite in Cliffhanger and well [00:35:52] I mean he has had some great movies and then he has had some not so good movies. And so he came on which was a big cool for the studio but he did not kind share in the same vision and we were very detached once Renny came on we became much more detached in terms of our development staff from the process. But the movie got made, it was number one at the Box Office, it more than made its money back, Joe made a lot of money, it sold on cable and he gets a ton of residuals. And it did very well and it was big for Clint, it was big for Joe, it was both of their second number one movies at the Box Office and it did well but it went from this very dark twisted sexual story of Harry Potter on Crack to basically like Warlock Boys blowing bubbles shirtless in the shower and it changed, I will say that like three of the stars that was like their first or second movie and now they are big stars but year, it was an interesting process just to see how much changed from concept to the screen and you are all sitting there at the premier watching the movie and we went, ‘yes, okay, so let us hope I does well,’ and it did. But it was not the movie anybody at Sandstorm set out to make, but it was the movie that got made, it was the movie that made a lot of money and everybody got paid.
Ashley: So now when they came to Joe with this sort of idea of Harry Potter on Crack and you wrote this treatment, certainly a writer that has a track record like that, they paid for that treatment so then they get some sort of a deal, two step, three step, deal and gets to pay for all these writers, okay.
Danny: He went through the normal, he was WGA and everything, he went through normal turnouts, I will say that whatever the steps are, I do not know too many writers who do not do more steps than are actually asked. Joe is one of those writers who will just do it until right, until he is happy with it and he does not really care that he is only supposed to do two drafts, like he is going to do it until he does it right and him and Clint have a very long standing friendly relationship, they work together on a lot of stuff even to this day and so it is a bit different of a relationship but yes he got paid for all the steps.
Ashley: Perfect, so now let us kind of take a step, forwarding your career to your consulting works, just ballpark over the years as a consultant as a development executive, how many scripts would you say you have read?
Danny: I mean over the last what 11 years, it is thousands, I have probably had about 1000 clients or so, give or take since I started the company about five years ago. Not all of those are scripts but a larger portion, most of them but I am still reading, I still try to keep up a little bit when I can and what is out there or read the blacklist scripts or some of the lists the blood list and stuff that comes out, or if it is a really good script that I hear going around town that I think I should read. But yes I do not know the number, I used to keep track, I kept track for the first like five or six and then I stopped keeping track. I still have a lot so I am sure I could…
Ashley: But the bottom line is we are talking about many thousands of scripts at this point so…
Danny: Yes, it is many thousands of scripts; I would probably say I do not know you figure 500 scripts a year probably the number of scripts, yes it somewhere around there.
Ashley: Okay, so maybe as someone who has read thousands of scripts maybe you can just give us a few tips for writers, you must have a few tips that you think every writer could benefit from.
Danny: Yes, I mean there are definitely thing that you see in a script constantly, a lot of it for me some writers do not like to outline. When I do a project I am an anal outliner, I need an outline, I need something but I think for new writers it is important to outline or newer writers, maybe you have written a couple of scripts, you have not sold anything yet, maybe you are not reped but you are trying to get reped and you are still working on projects, I think outlining is really key because it gives you something to go back to, it gives you something to kind of develop and brainstorm the idea. And I find that most writers get very deadest they come up with a concept and they are just like a little bit of tunnel vision on how they think that concept could go without brainstorming the idea much and seeing how else it could go that maybe that is the more commercial way or maybe that is the more interesting way for a character to go. And that usually comes out when you are plotting and outlining and if you are not outlining and you go just concept to page you usually lose some of that process and some of that vision for the project that you might be able to get.
And so one on my tips, always try to outline, write a short treatment something to help flash out the story and the characters. I have some great characters exercises I always kind of recommend to my students and clients, to do to kind of make sure that they are developing three dimensional original interesting characters because some people say it is all concept and some people say it is all character and I think you cannot have one without the other really. I think like I said, knowing the audience you are writing for, knowing what kind of tone or mix of tone genre or mix of genre you are going for and really having a strong set up of those things in the first 10 pages and in you r first act is only going to help you later down the pipe.
Ashley: Do you have some tips for writers on how they can determine sort of what tone they are going for and what sort of audience they are going for?
Danny: Well I think some concepts can go different ways, but I think if you find what I like to call kind of the natural story, the natural blueprint for your concept, it should kind of scream a certain genre. Yes there are some that could be funny or could be dramatic or could be a mixture of both, but I think if you find what your hook is and you know what your hook is, to your concept or what makes it new and what makes it different and stand out, what genre does that hook speak to most closely to, in what genre will you be able to exploit that hook in the most original interesting visual ways? And if you can figure that out, you will kind of know what genre you should probably be writing but it is also a personal choice of what genre do you like writing.
I would say if you go to five people that know you and ask them to describe you in three words, if none of them use the word ‘funny’, you probably should not be writing a comedy, that is probably not your real house and so you have to do what is kind of natural to you and sometimes you have this idea for a comedy but you know you are not funny, you know you are not a comedy writer and that is when you have to maybe find someone else to write it with you or write it for you or something. You develop it and then kind of hand it off to somebody, but I think it is just about finding what feels the most natural to your concept and in which genre you could explore and have the most fun with you concept. And then it is deciding once you have hat genre, if it is comedy what kind of tone of comedy, if it is horror, what kind of tone of horror how light, how dark, how broad you want to make it. And again it is what works best for your story and that is where the brainstorming and kind of outlining comes in handy.
Ashley: Do you have a couple of screenplays that you just recommend everybody reads even some offbeat recommendations?
Danny: That is a great query, I think we were just talking about this maybe a couple of months ago on Stage 32 there was this great thread of scripts you recommend, there was. There are a bunch of scripts that I always like and now I have to think of them. I recommend everybody the Blacklist script, the real blacklist scripts. When they come out in the end of December early January, they are great for voice and to see what executives are reading out there. Prisoners was a really good one, I liked the movie but I felt the script was really excellent in terms of elevating a genre that has been done many times before and setting a tone and how to create reveals in a script that are really interesting and compelling. What are some great ones; it is always great to read Tarantino and [Serkin] with the caveat that which is what I tell everyone, you are not Tarantino and Serkin, and everybody reads Tarantino and goes, ‘oh I can write 40 pages of prose and nobody will stop me,’ no he can write 40 pages of prose and nobody can stop him, you cannot. And so I worry a little bit that people read the greats of the greats and then imitate roles and do things that you cannot get away with unless you are the greatest of the great but they are still great to read. I like the script from Her, last year, it won the Oscar, but it was one of my favorite script, I [00:46:36] so I was a big fun of that. Everything, I am trying to think of other ones that I really love; I mean American Beauty back in the day was one of my favorites. And remember you got to read China Town and you got to read The Player and you got to read some of those, Shaw shank Redemption and some of those classics.
Ashley: I just read Source Code, I thought that was an excellent script, I highly recommend that to everyone.
Danny: Yes if you are writing Sci-fi, you know Loofer or something is a really great script. There are some scripts people love that I personally could not get through like Brick, like it is just a really hard script, I just could not, but it is one of the scripts you either love or you hate. But I think you want to read something in every genre, read The Conjuring and read some classic horror. Yes if you can find Cabin in the Woods, I actually never read the script but I loved the movie, there is so much good stuff out there, Philomena, from last year was great. Read stuff with voice, you can find them on the Blacklist, you can find them on the Blood list or the Brick list, or the Young and Hungry list or whatever but you want to read stuff that is getting out there, that is getting people work, that may be written by people slightly at a different career point than you are but not all the way up here top of the A list because I tend to think top of the A list, all those writers will say, ’oh there are no rules, do whatever you want,’ and they are right for them.
For everybody else there is still some stuff you kind of have to do or not do and so if you read stuff just slightly before that level and at all levels, it can only help. Read really crappy scripts, really bad scripts and do your own set of notes on them, that is what I tell all my writers to so is if you are serious about this you should be reading through scripts a week from wherever, there are enough peer sites or free scripts sites out here, with pros and non-pros, amateurs, that run the [garment], you should be reading through your scripts a week, it should take you about three hours. You would take three to four hours out of your week, and do a half a page of notes, write up what you would have changed, write up what you would have done with that concept or what you think the problems with script are and that is what development execs do every day and that is how interns learn. It is from doing their own coverage, I did not know what coverage was I never heard the term before I was an intern and they were like here do coverage, here is how we do it and then make it your own and that is what they said. And then you learn by fire which is kind of what Hollywood is, it is just learning by fire and that is what I would suggest. It is just read everything.
Ashley: Okay let us talk a minute about your consulting company, Noble Script Consulting, can you kind of tell us, give us a two minute elevator speech about that?
Danny: Yes sure. Before I do the other I did want to say about writers and the mistakes they make is the number one mistake hands down is that A) they do not do their research and B) they start sending out scripts, submitting, querying, pitching things that are nowhere near ready or they the writers are nowhere near ready and they just want to do it because look I have written the first draft and so where is my agent and my million dollars, like how do I get this into Hollywood’s hand, it is gold? I have written, I did it, I finished 100 pages. And newer writer especially do not know just the process that it takes the rewriting process and the polishing and the fixing and how much of a time or strain just how long it actually takes till you get good and every pro I have ever talked to said, yes I did not start sending something out until my fifth, eighth, tenth, fifteenth script, I did not think I was good enough. And that is why everyone is like, ‘well why am I not breaking in?’ and the reason is usually because you are not ready yet and you should just keep writing.
You do not need an agent when you only have one script, they do not care about you yet. Write two more and then start worrying about it but I think that is the number one thing people do that is wrong is they just submit before they are ready. Even if it is a contest, if you are sending a first draft to a contest you are not going to win, you are throwing $50 out the window and so that is the number one. It is not a craft question, it is not a craft issue completely, except that they do not know the craft enough, which I know we talked about on Stage 32 and it is just, know your…
Ashley: I have mixed emotions on that, in the entrepreneurial world there is a thing called Customer Development and as screenwriters, our customers, our producers, I actually when I started out I literally sent a query letter to…
Danny: Say hallo to my cat.
Ashley: Hey cat. I literally sent a query letter to, I had never written a screenplay, I wrote up 10 pages of script that I thought was hilarious, this was back way before the internet so I had no way of formatting it properly, I just looked at a play in the library and formatted it roughly the same and I sent these 10 pages of script to two production companies and one of the guys responded and this was the day of self addressed stamped postcards. He sent back the postcard, ‘hey thank you for your undated, untitled manuscript, no thanks’, and the other guy though, he actually called me and he gave me some great advice, he said, ‘listen stop sending this nonsense out, go read Cynthiel’s screenplay.’ But my point is that I do feel like part of my learning process is actually getting out there and marketing and talking to producers and I mean there is something to what you are saying, so I am not just disagreeing with you. You do have to have something that is at least halfway decent, you should be reading enough scripts, if you are reading two scripts a week after six months, you should have some idea, you should be able to read your own script and realistically know that it is complete garbage and it is not ready. But once you get to that certain point, I feel like you need to get out there and maybe it you are not up to professional standards but it is pretty close and you are getting to the point where a few agents might call you, some low budget desperate producers might call you. And that interaction and even just the rejection, sending out 100 query letters and getting nothing but no’s is part of your process, you know what maybe my logline is not good, maybe my concepts are not good enough and so I know from the development executive they hate this getting scripts and letters from writers that are not ready but from the writers’ perspective, I think there is some benefit from getting rejected and just interfacing with producers
Danny: No I mean look rejection is going to be part of the process of your career no matter what point you are at. It is absolutely a valuable part of the process and I am all for writers getting out there once they get to that level , I think there is that thing of if you just read enough scripts, or watch enough movies, you will get good enough and I do not find any credence in that. I think you have to have some sort of background education, some sort of background like I said I have read thousands of scripts, I do not think I was nay good at really dissecting them and knowing how t o get to the heart of them and how to fix them . at the time I did but now looking back I do not think I was very good for the first four years, I do not think I knew what the hell I was doing at all. Like I knew what I liked, I knew what I did not like, I could find the big obvious things that everybody could find in bad script but in terms of like the learning curve of how I look at the scripts so in-depth now and the different elements as opposed to then, it is an insane difference.
And so I think you have to have that instinct, you have to have something internal that you have, a story telling skill that is somewhat innate or developed over your whole entire life. It is not something you are just going to learn from reading 100 scripts or watching 100 movies, it is kind of like the doctor or the pre-med student who just took his first anatomy class and he goes, ‘alright I am ready for heart surgery!’ it is like you are at day one and it is great that you are here and that is your first step and keep going, but that is your first step. And so if you jump from step A to step Z and then try to send something out that is totally not ready, rejection is great but you are also kind of screwing yourself a little bit at some point depending on who you send it to, or how you send it. I just think a little bit of education and a little bit of time sometimes goes a long way, but I am all for people getting out there, it is what I try to help my clients do and I have been going to Pitch Fest for a dozen years now, but yes I think at a certain point once you are good enough, yes get out there absolutely.
It is about knowing when you are good enough to get out there and having some sort of feedback whether it is from a consultant or somebody in the know, who has some experience, who could say yes this is at least ready to get read by somebody and sent out there and pitch it. Go, do, it is not perfect but it is good enough and a good enough idea to really get somebody’s attention. I just think most writers do not get that feedback and do not wait for that, they just go.
Ashley: So let us go ahead and let talk, I have taken up a lot of your time, I do really appreciate all your time but let us talk about Noble Script Consulting for a minute, just give us your elevated pitch on that.
Danny: Yes, I am just the company executive side, but I also have degree in screen writing and write as well and so I approach scripts from both sides of the table. It is an executive point of view but with a writing background as well, I started the company basically because I was really tired of looking for executives. I am really honest about it, I did not want to look for any more executive jobs, I was really tired of it, I was doing script consulting on the side freelance for Script Shark and a couple other places and I did not love the way that other places were doing their notes, or were working with their clients and I kept hearing like you have to be nicer in your notes or they are not going to come back’. And I went, ‘well that is not doing anybody any good, they are just going to come back with the same shitty script,’ and so I launched this company, I did not know it would work, but I knew that I had insight into story, I had good story instincts, I had my own way of doing notes, that people seemed to respond to and it was something new and exciting and why not and I was ready to…
Ashley: Can you tell us some sort of specifically about some of the services that you offer?
Danny: Yes I have a number of different services, from basic notes to very in-depth, 15 to 20 pages of in-depth page notes and everywhere in between. I do query letter and everything comes with a log line, I do a lot of phone consultations, I do some brainstorming sessions if you have an idea or a first act consult, if you are just not sure if it is on the right track. But it is notes, not coverage which I think is always a big distinction that some people do not make, but yes they are all very constructive, very comprehensive notes on how to address all of the elements in your scripts that are working and great and I like to mention those of course but then really focus on what needs to be fixed or changed or developed to kind of make the story more compelling or commercial or the writing stronger. And it really, I focus on whatever is wrong whether it is character concepts, dialogue, everywhere in between and certainly, the better the script, the more nitty-gritty details we can actually get into once the story and concept and all the major things are there but I have a number of different services.
They are not crazy expensive, I’m always saying this – I don’t think your script should cost as much as your car. I couldn’t charge them $3000 just for notes on the script.
Ashley: When I first moved to LA I bought a motorcycle for a little more than $100. And I rode it for 6 month.
Danny: I rode a little Nissan Sentra and it wasn’t worth a much of money. I rapped up more on parking tickets then I spend up on the car.
Ashley: So let’s talk a little bit about your event. WE had Lee Jessup on the podcast a couple of months ago. Can you tell us a little bit about that event you’re doing with Lee?
Danny: Absolutely; July 19, on the Western LAX which is a hotel near airport, Lee Jessup who is a career coach at Scrappy Screenwriter and I are coming around for a one day intensive, called ‘Elevate your story, elevate your career’ and it’s broken up into three sessions.
I’m going to be dealing with different stuff in elevating your script and story and concept and characters and all of that stuff and even going through what ‘elevates’ actually means. It’s a nice buzz word, Hollywood uses. So I’m going to be doing the session on kind of the craft as we were saying and story.
And then Lee is going to go through elevating your career, not just; you know – branding yourself, finding representation, how to actually make your hobby into a career and your career into a long standing, long successful career.
And then we are going to come together and do a session on elevating your pitch. We will take live pitches from the people there, and critique them and hopefully improve them and do some great pitch tips on how to elevate different types of pitches; together – so it’s going to be a 9am-5 pm thing, all day thing. It’s going to be really fun, it’s not crazy expensive, it’s on sale, now to July Fourth. IT’s $79 for the day, for the whole day for both of us.
IT’s going to be a really fun, exciting event. I hope people can make it and come out.
Ashley: Perfect, perfect. I’ll link to it. If you have a website, I’ll link it to the show’s notes and I’ll link it to NoBull consulting too in the show notes.
So Danny, what’s the best way for people to contact you, if they just want to follow you or want to know what you’re up to? Or even just send you an e-mail?
Danny: Yeah, I’m super reachable. They can just e-mail me at danielnobullscript.net. If you have any questions you can go to my site which is obviously www.nobullscript.net
And of course, Twitter; I’m at #dannymanus. I get in a bunch of Twitter followers, but I also give a lot of good information and, you know, tips, and resources and stuff like that.
Yeah, contact me, find me – you can find my book ‘No B.S. for Screenwriters’ at the writer’s store or through me.
And I’m super reachable so if people have questions or want some consulting feel free, I’m here.
Ashley: Perfect, perfect. Well Danny, you’ve been very generous with your time. I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Danny: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
I’m going to be running another online class called “writing a great second act for your screenplay”. Many scripts die quickly in the second act, even after a very promising first act. Having a terrific second act is what separates the novice writers from the professionals, so if you’re struggling with your second act hopefully this class can help you. The live class will be Saturday, July 12 at 10 am Pacific Time. Just got to sellingascreenplay.com/classes but if you can’t make it to the live class don’t worry it will be recorded and you can listen to it later on. In fact, all the classes that have been done through SYS select are recorded and are available to SYS members to watch anytime. The two most recent classes are ‘ How to make the pages of your screenplay awesome’ and ‘How to write a killer first act for your screenplay’; so this class on the second act is following along on that series and SYS select members get access to all the old classes as well as the live classes each month.
To learn more about SYS select just got to sellingascreenplay.com/classes. I also run a general screen writing Q and A before each class if you have any screen writing related questions or really any questions at all. I’ll be available to answer those questions before the class starts.
Once again I want to thank screen craft for sponsoring this episode. They are currently accepting submissions for their comedy screenplay contest. They have a great line up of judges, some of the best comedy producers in the business. The deadline for entry is August 1st check out screencraft.org if you have a comedy screenplay you’d like to enter.
In the next episode of the SYS podcast I’m going to be interviewing Gordy Hoffman. Gordy is the writer of the film ‘Love Liza’ which won the Waldo Salt screenwriting award at the Sundance in 2002. HE also runs the BlueCat Screenplay Competition.
Gordy is a true artist and he drops a tone of really great information for screenwriters. It’s a fantastic interview so keep an eye out for that.
In this week’s writing words section I want to highlight the fact that Danny has literary read a thousand of screenplays. When it comes to becoming a better screenwriter there are few things that everyone agrees on.
The first thing is to write a lot. I think everyone pretty much agrees; to be a better writer you have to write a lot.
But the second thing is to read a lot of scripts. Watching movies is good but reading the script is better. Try and read a script per week, that’s only about 15 pages per day. It really isn’t all that difficult.
I’ve been trying to do this myself so I’m not above taking my own advice. It really doesn’t matter what level you are at, you can still get better and really reading scripts is a great way to do that.
As I said in the interview, I just finished reading ‘Source Code’. I thought the movie was OK but the script is really excellent. So if you haven’t read it definitely check it out and again – watching the movie will not suffice.
So start there if you’re wondering what you should read. I posted a tone of scripts at the SYS script library so check that out. It’s at sellingyourscreenplay.com/library.
That’s the show, thanks for listening.