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10 Ways To Get Hollywood’s Attention

Posted by on May 24, 2013 in Featured | Comments Off

Hollywood is a lot like a suburban tot lot, with dozens of energetic, creative, driven and ambitious kids running madly about shouting for attention. Only instead of their parents’ approval, these kids are looking for validation from agents, producers and studios with big checkbooks.

As a fledgling writer or director, how do you break through the din and get the kind of attention you need to launch your career?  Beyond renting a billboard on Sunset Blvd. to advertise your copious talents, what tactics are most likely to put you on the industry’s radar? (Note: Renting a billboard on Sunset Blvd. isn’t one of them.)

Obviously, it’s not easy (or else everyone would be doing it). And a strategy that works brilliantly for one person may fail utterly for another. Which is why a combination of efforts is usually recommended.

But if it’s true that you must “make your own luck,” here are 10 proven (and affordable) ways to make your work stand out and get your career off to a running start.

1) Understand the market – and your place in it. Before you do anything, you need a plan. And creating a good plan requires research. What kind of material is Hollywood buying? What kind of films and TV shows are audiences watching? The Internet is rife with industry news and reports from sites like Variety ( and The Hollywood Reporter ( to Indie Wire ( and IMDB ( – not to mention hundreds of filmmaking blogs. Now determine how you want to be “pigeon-holed” (and you will be), at least to start. Do you want to be known for action, drama or comedy? Studio films, indie films or television? Hollywood is very much like high school, only you get to pick the clique to which you’ll belong.

2) Think Internationally. Today, Hollywood gets more than half its revenue from overseas markets. If you want to get the industry’s attention, come up with a project they can sell in Beijing and Budapest as well as Boston and Bakersfield. This can mean including foreign locations and including major parts for non-American actors.

3) Think Economically. Often, a great way to get Hollywood’s attention to is do more with less. Because studios are loathe to spend big bucks on projects from first-time filmmakers, showing you know how to get major results from tiny investments can get you noticed. For writers, this often means writing small but tight horror films, thrillers or other genre scripts. For directors, digital cameras and modern CGI allow you to create mind-blowing short films on basically lunch money.

4) Acquire/Write a Killer Script. Yes, this seems axiomatic. But if it’s a cliché, then it’s a cliché because it’s true. Great scripts are still so rare that when one surfaces, the town starts talking. What makes a great script great? Although, like snowflakes, no two are exactly the same, they seem to share many attributes. Their stories contain big stakes: Life and death, victory and defeat, love and loss. Characters are sharply defined and as memorable for their bad qualities as for their good ones. Dialogue is terse, character-specific and contains plenty of quotable lines. Plotlines are intelligent, twisty and innovative, taking us into worlds we have never seen before – or at least not seen quite this way. And they don’t “cheat.” Plot holes are minimal. Emotions are played big, but are varied enough to avoid monotony and melodrama. The scripts are cinematic; the telling is highly visual, taking advantage of film’s unique ability to move freely through time and space. Endings are surprising yet inevitable, satisfying both emotionally and intellectually. Sound like a tall order to fill? It is. So take your time. Be meticulous in your writing, and your rewriting. Just remember that other cliché, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

5) Develop an Irresistible Log Line. Before anyone can fall in love with your script, someone has to decide to read for script. The best way to ensure this happens is to first present an irresistible log line – a one- or two-line description of your project’s premise. (In this context, “premise” can be defined as where we are at the end of Act One, the moment when your story is in full motion.) In 99 percent of cases, a solid commercial logline will contain three key elements: 1) A hero with a problem he/she cannot just walk away from without suffering serious if not fatal consequences; 2) A “Wow Factor,” that is an element that is so unusual, compelling or just plain cool that it demands our attention; and 3) An element of irony, that is a problem/dilemma that is diametrically opposed to what one would naturally expect your hero to have to face. (For example, if a drug dealer is out for bloody revenge, that’s just par for the course. On the other hand, if a priest is out for bloody revenge – that’s interesting!)

6) Make a Short Film. Although there is no real commercial market for short films, such projects can serve as excellent calling cards for aspiring directors (and writers). As noted above, modern digital cameras, editing and CGI applications make it possible to shoot impressive films on a credit card. You can then burn digital copies to enter into contests, show at film festivals or submit to the industry via Hollywood’s official submission platform

7) Network. A number of organizations [e.g., The Hollywood Pitch Festival] throw regular “pitch festivals” that, for a fee, put you face-to-face with agents, producers and studio executives [Note: Make sure the event features legit companies with actual buyers and reps and not interns and assistants being paid to sit and speak to you]. As Hollywood is all about making connections, these events can be a great way to get your material in front of people who can really make a difference. If nothing else, it’s a great place to schmooze with other writers and filmmakers and expand your rolodex with Hollywood VIPs.

8) Enter Contests. There are literally dozens of annual competitions that give you opportunities to get your material in front of people who might boost your career. Winning a contest – any contest – usually comes with perks, plus enough kudos from credible sources is going to look damned impressive on a query letter. Which leads us to…

9) Target Like-Minded Agents. In Hollywood, you are invisible without an agent. But how do you get an agent if you’re unknown? Go directly to agents you know already have an affinity for the kind of material you produce. To do this: 1) Sign up with IMDB Pro (there’s a fee); 2) Look up movies that are similar to yours; 3) Look up the writers and/or directors of the movies that are similar to yours; 4) Look up who represents the writers and/or directors of the movies that are similar to yours; 5) Send those representatives – be they agents or managers – a one-page query letter that describes your project and asks if they’d like to see it with an eye toward representation. The letter should be printed – not an email – and contain just enough information to entice the reader, such as your irresistible log line and list of the contests you’ve won (if any). Oh, and don’t forget to include your contact information. That’s kind of important. You may or may never hear back from them, depending on their policy on accepting query letters so for a guaranteed response, a great alternative is to send your synopsis, short, web series, commercial, trailer via

10) Go Viral. Today, one of the most dramatic ways to generate buzz is to post a great short film on the Internet and have it watched and praised by a few million people. Granted, going viral isn’t as easy as it sounds. A lot of it has to do with timing, placement and dumb luck. But films that hit tend to hit big, and more than one viral video has landed its creator with an agent and paying work.

Like moviemaking itself, getting noticed in Hollywood is as much as art as it is a science. But a solid strategy combined with maniacal, dogged persistence boosts your odds for success considerably.

Oh, and it doesn’t hurt if you already have a close relative in the business. – Allen B. Ury







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TRUE-LIFE STORIES: Getting “Real” in Hollywood

Posted by on Mar 11, 2013 in Featured | Comments Off

Basing a film project on true-life events has obvious benefits. True stories — particularly strange true stories — are inherently compelling. Such tales appeal to our desire for authenticity. Plus, if an event that is a matter of public record, it can never be criticized for being “unbelievable.”

While Hollywood has a seemingly insatiable appetite for true stories, such ventures can be fraught with peril. Critics and pundits can eviscerate a film based on perceived historical inaccuracies or political agendas, as we saw happen with this year’s Oscar Best Picture nominees Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. Just launching such a venture can tie you up in a knot of legal red tape that will make you think Grimm’s Fairy Tales might make a far better source of inspiration.

If you’re still intent on creating a film based on true-life or historical events, here are some key issues you need to consider.

1. Is there a “story” there? Not all true-life events are suitable feature film fodder. Just because a story is “true” doesn’t mean it’s necessarily dramatic or even interesting. (For example, a real estate agent may love to regale his friends about how he sold a run-down house for twice its market value, but that would probably make a poor feature film.) Ideally, the story you want to tell has the same elements present in wholly originally works:

  • A protagonist with a worthy goal and something major to lose if he/she fails.
  • A powerful antagonist that prevents the hero from achieving his/her goal.
  • A series of conflicts, triumphs and setbacks that tests the protagonist along his/her journey.
  • Late in the story, a moment of apparent failure.
  • A climax that pits the protagonist against the antagonist.
  • A resolution that is satisfying emotionally or intellectually.

In other words, ask yourself, “Would this make a good movie if the story wasn’t true?”

2. Who owns the story rights? If you’re basing your film on events more than 100 years old, chances are the story and the people involved are now in public domain. Even then, if you use one or two particular books as source material, you may have to get the rights to those sources before moving forward. (As Steven Spielberg did with Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals, when making last year’s Lincoln.) You definitely need to get clearances from living private figures before making your film. And even so-called “public figures” such as politicians and celebrities — even dead ones — often require filmmakers to get clearances before such individuals can be portrayed in commercial entertainment. (The estates of such late notables as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and even Albert Einstein are quite strict when it comes to how their images are used in commercial ventures.) Be sure to work with a lawyer experienced in these matters before committing time and treasure to your film project.

3. How close do you have to adhere to the “facts”? This is where writing true-life stories gets really tricky. Very few true events fit smoothly into the classic motion picture template. Events must often be compressed and/or re-arranged to make narrative sense. Some characters need to be eliminated, some combined and others created out of whole cloth to satisfying the demands of the story as a whole. Sometimes, what really happened isn’t quite dramatic enough, and you need to embellish with a bit of Hollywood magic. (As director Ben Affleck did when he staged the thrilling climatic airport chase in last year’s Oscar-winning Argo.)

This then leads us to the age-old argument, how much does a writer or filmmaker owe the “facts”? Some argue that any major deviation from the historical record undercuts the project’s impact. Others argue, “We’re making a movie, not a documentary!” and inevitably point to the historical plays of William Shakespeare which, although based on real events, are more products of the Bard’s imagination than historical verisimilitude.

In fact, since the earliest days of filmmaking, Hollywood has played fast and loose with the “facts,” preferring instead to focus on a story’s “truth.” What’s the difference? “Facts” are quantifiable data points that, by themselves, mean nothing. “Truth” is the meaning we derive from our interpretation of those facts. As works of art, movies are always far more concerned with truth than they are in facts.

In other words, as a filmmaker, you should never let the facts get in the way of a good story. This approach may be controversial in some quarters, but it rarely yields anything but positive dividends. From Disraeli (1929), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), The Pride of the Yankees (1942) , Laurence of Arabia (1962), All the President’s Men (1976) and Chariots of Fire (1981) to Schindler’s List (1993), Erin Brockovich (2000) and Moneyball (2011), Hollywood has always had a casual relationship with the “facts,” still managing to produce motion pictures of enormous emotional and sociological impact that has managed to stand the test of time. – Allen B. Ury


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Posted by on Jan 18, 2013 in Screenwriting | Comments Off


Recombining Your Way to Hollywood Success

text Allen B. Ury

Anyone trying to establish — or advance — a Hollywood screenwriting career is inevitably caught between two diametrically opposed forces. On one hand, studios and producers always say they’re looking for stories that are new, fresh and exciting. They’re looking for an “original voice.” But on the other hand, studios only seem interested in developing properties with a built-in audience. They want brand-name projects – remakes, sequels, book and TV series adaptations, toys, board games! – anything with a name the public will instantly recognize and embrace. And why not? Movie-making is a big business. And big business always seeks to maximize profits while minimizing risk.

Which brings us to the key question: How can you present a story that is both new and familiar? Something original with a track record?

One proven solution to this quandary is Genre-Busting.

What is Genre-Busting?

Hollywood likes genre films because their strict narrative formulas make such movies relatively easy to make and market. Horror films are cheap to film, usually use inexpensive B- or C-list actors and have enough sex and violence to easily attract an undiscriminating teenage and young 20’s audience. Romantic comedies will always begin with likeable male and female leads who hate each other and yet find true love by the final Fade Out. Special effects-driven Comic Book/Super Hero films may come with super-sized budgets, but their audiences are legion and their global returns historically astronomical.

So, if these and similar genres represent the proverbial path of least resistance, why not write a genre film? The reason: Because everybody is writing genre films, and therefore no one needs yours. To get noticed, your script must be unusual, if not unique. It needs that original “voice” Hollywood always says it’s listening for.

One way to achieve – or at least mimic – that “voice” is by choosing a popular genre and then devising a story that deconstructs or redefines it. Rather than simply following genre clichés, you need to expose and attack those clichés by 1) Combining your genre piece with elements of other genres, 2) Giving your characters heightened degrees of self-awareness, or 3) Redefining your genre’s principal conceits.

Here are some examples of successful genre-busting over the last few years:

Today’s Genre-Busters

Django Unchained (2012) Quentin Tarantio’s most recent hit is a perfect example of recombinant genre-busting. Although taking its name and attitude from an infamous 1966 Spaghetti Western, the film gets its heat by melding Western conventions with elements of 1970s Blaxploitation movies and antebellum plantation films. This brilliant mix-and-match concept has led many critics to dub the film a Western/Southern, as the bulk of the action takes place in pre-Civil War Mississippi, the kind of location rarely visited by the likes of John Ford or Preston Sturgis. The language and violence is, of course, pure Tarantino.

Cowboys & Aliens (2011) We’re genre-busting Westerns again, this time by combining them with alien invasion movies. Although it wasn’t a critical favorite, C&A did manage to attract the talents of Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig and Jon Favreau, as well as earn $175,000 worldwide.

Cabin in the Woods (2012) Like Kevin Williamson’s Scream films a decade earlier, this is a horror movie about horror movies. But while the Scream films merely allowed their characters to reflect on the genre clichés they were being forced to endure, Cabin goes one step further by literally taking us “behind the scenes” to explore why these clichés exist in the first place, and why we continue to revel – no, demand! – them.

The Twilight Saga (2008-2012) Author Stephenie Meyer hit paydirt with her young adult novels by taking a well-worn genre – vampires – and redefining its basic principles. Although vampire stories since the days of Bela Lugosi always carried a strong undercurrent of sex, Meyer stripped this away along with the genre’s gothic horror elements, replacing them with romance and alienation, two themes irresistible to pre-teen girls. The result: More than 100 million books sold and a movie franchise that’s grossed more than $1.8 billion worldwide.

Warm Bodies (2013) We haven’t seen the movie yet, but it’s easy to imagine writer/director Jonathan Levine’s pitch: “It’s a romantic comedy – with zombies.” Take two of filmdom’s two more enduring genres, slam them together and, voila! You got yourself a movie.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) Again, the quality of the final product is still unknown, but as a genre-busting concept, it’s a classic right along with “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer.” Let’s hope this one is actually fun.

Come Up With Your own Genre-Buster

It’s not all that hard to genre bust. Get a bunch of index cards. Write down as many genres as you can think of: RomCom, Western, Gangster, Ghost Story, Slasher Film, Pirate Movie, Prison Break, Caper Film, Fairy Tale, Time Travel, Alien Invasion, War Movie, Sword & Sandal, etc. (Note: Not Sci-Fi. Sci-Fi isn’t a genre, but an umbrella for a number of genres that can include everything from Space Opera (e.g. Star Wars) to Time Travel (e.g. Back to the Future) to Rebellious Robots (e.g. Frankenstein/The Terminator.)

Now mix and match. Not all genres will fit together easily. Others are naturals (e.g. Prison Break + Space Opera = Lockout; War Movie + Alien Invasion = Battle Los Angeles/Battleship).

As the examples above indicate, not all genre-busters are Academy Award contenders. The finished films may not even be very good. That’s not the point. Regardless of quality, these concepts sold. The movies got made. People got paid.

As a marketing strategy, genre-busting works. Whether the resulting script is good, great, indifferent or just a plain old stinker is ultimately up to you.

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Posted by on Nov 12, 2012 in Featured, Pitching, Screenwriting | Comments Off

How to Pitch a Movie Script or Screenplay – from GREENLIGHTMYMOVIE on Vimeo.

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Posted by on Nov 12, 2012 in Featured, Screenwriting | Comments Off

If there was a dispute over who invented calculus (Newton or Leibniz — who’s your guy?), then you’d better believe your one-in-a-million screenplay idea may not be quite as original as you thought.


text Allen B. Ury


It’s an experience every screenwriter suffers at least once. Some may endure it dozens of times. You get a “brilliant” idea for a screenplay. It’s clever. It’s compelling. And, damn, it’s marketable.

You probably let it percolate for a while. Maybe you play with an outline. You discuss it with a trusted friend. If you’re really ambitious, you actually start pounding out a screenplay. As the project progresses, and what was once an amorphous haze of images and impulses begins to coalesce into a coherent narrative, visions of contracts and green lights and fresh tomatoes and golden statuettes begin to dance through your head.

Then you’re blindsided. Maybe it comes as an announcement in the trades. Maybe it’s a trailer on YouTube. Or, worst of all, it comes barreling off a 50-foot screen as you sit there stunned, unable to comprehend the enormity of the blow that just struck you in the face.

They say that life turns on a dime, and this is one of those shiny ten-cent pieces, the kind that takes your oh-so-certain future, one brimming with hope and money and respect and security and possibilities, balls it up into a fist-sized wad and lobs it into an open trash can of doubt, uncertainty and despair. It’s that big job promotion that comes just as your company becomes the victim of a hostile takeover. It’s finally getting a “yes” to your wedding proposal, only to have your new fiancée elope with her old boyfriend. It’s winning the Mega-Millions lottery, and finding out you have inoperable brain cancer.

Yes, someone else came up with your brilliant, one-of-a-kind movie idea. Worse yet, that someone else actually sold it. Which sends you and your precious script up shit creek.

Discovering that all that time, energy, enthusiasm and perhaps even actual hard work have just gone down the crapper can be devastating. It has driven even the hardiest, most calloused screenwriters to thoughts of suicide. And why not? Having a possibly viable screenplay go up in smoke — especially due to the act of unknown third parties — can seem like a form of death. A potential life that could have grown, frolicked and perhaps even changed the world, has been snuffed out of existence before it could even draw breath.

And like anyone who has lost a loved one or been given a terminal diagnosis, a screenwriter who discovers his work-in-process is D.O.A. before it has even made it to the printer is likely to experience the Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Grief:


1) Denial. This is usually expressed as: “My script is different than that other one. Okay, maybe there are some superficial similarities, but I take the idea in a whole different direction,” “The two scripts are in the same basic genre, but otherwise, they’re completely different!” or, even worse, “I don’t think they’re really similar at all.”


2) Anger. Usually expressed as: “That other script sucks,” “It only sold because the writer is fucking the producer” or, my personal favorite, “They stole my idea!”*


3) Bargaining. Usually expressed as: “If I change this or that detail, or make this person that person, that should make it different enough, right?” or “Why can’t there be two similar movies out at the same time? Heck they made two volcano movies at once, didn’t they?”


4) Depression. Usually expressed as: “I quit. This business sucks. I’m going to go work for my father.”


5) Acceptance. Finally, you realize you were beaten to the punch and your project is dead. Dead as disco. Dead as Elvis. It’s like the Firefly series’ return to network TV. It ain’t gonna happen.


So, you’re back to square one. What do you do now? Pack it in? Press ahead? You actually have several alternatives:


Mourn and Move On. If you’ve written a high-concept comedy about a police detective who is killed and reincarnated as a dog, only to discover that Disney has just bought a high-concept comedy about a police detective who is killed and reincarnated as a dog, perhaps it’s best you kill the project and start another spec. The concept is too specific for the market to support two simultaneous iterations. Perhaps you can perform a symbolic burial to help deal with your grief. Beyond that, appreciate the fact that no effort is ever truly wasted, that by pursuing the project as far as you did you gave your creative muscles valuable exercise, and thus better prepared yourself to conquer the next script you tackle, be it a spec or (God willing) a paid assignment. Hey, if nothing else, you can use it as a writing sample!


Revise and Repurpose. Let’s assume your project is similar, but not identical, to your rival. In that case, sufficient retooling may result in a marketable product. Sometimes, just changing the gender of your leads can send you into new, yet-unexplored directions. Adjusting the period or location can help. Or mechanical details. (Have a script about an out-of-control freight train? Make it an airplane!) You might even consider repurposing your genre. For example, you could take the core idea of your drama and, with sufficient creativity, spin it into a comedy. Even a romantic comedy. Stranger things have happened.


Go Drafting. In auto racing, “drafting” involves placing your car directly behind the leader to take advantage of the lower-pressure shock wave he leaves in his wake. Likewise, there are production companies that produce low-cost homages — a more polite word than “rip-offs” — to big studio films currently in the market to exploit the “buzz” they’ve created. In other words, you may find producers who want your script not because it’s unique, but because it isn’t. These producers may make films for the straight-to-video market, for cable TV or even as low-budget feature films. Either way, they have an audience and they have money. Granted, your payday is apt to be a whole lot less than if you had sold your script to an A-player, but even a tenth of a loaf is better than a sharp stick in the eye, to mix metaphors.


Wait It Out. The lousy thing about Hollywood is that no one has a memory capacity of more than five years. On the other hand, the great thing about Hollywood is no one has a memory capacity of more than five years. Need proof? They’re already talking about rebooting Batman — for the third time. Trends go in cycles. Slasher films. Teen comedies. Alien invasion flicks. Body-switch movies. What’s new today is old tomorrow — and new again next weekend. If your script is “dead” this month because a similar script just sold, give it a year. Either the rival project will:


A) Never get made.

B) Get made, but disappear in a week.

C) Get made, make a few bucks, and be forgotten.

D) Get made, be a big hit and spur dozens of imitators.


Whatever happens, the powers-that-buy will have forgotten about your rival project in just a few years (at most), at which time your “old” script will suddenly seem new and fresh. Just dig your flashdrive out of that makeshift grave you dug in the backyard, slap on a fresh coat of contemporary references and you’ll be back in the game.

The bottom line: No screenplay is ever truly dead. Like a good movie monster, it can always be resurrected. Just be patient, be flexible and always be on the lookout for opportunities.

You never know when a producer will be looking for a script about a cop who is killed and reincarnated as a dog.





* Actual plagiarism is very rare in Hollywood. Even if you suspect such a thing, it’s even harder to prove. The number of successful plagiarism suits involving pilfered screenplays can be counted on one hand — assuming that hand has been in an industrial accident. So don’t even go there.



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