Saturday, May 2, 2015

Read this before you enter a screenplay contest!

This is a short selection from an amazing interview with screenwriter Lydia Mulvey, who is a screenplay contest veteran having placed in the finals of the PAGE Screenwriting Contest and having won the BBC Sharps Contest. To read the entire interview, click here.

Advice to any aspiring screenwriters about screenplay contests by Lydia Mulvey 
  • Be selective. Choose your contests wisely. There are a lot of scam contests there. Aim to enter the more prestigious contests such as the Nicholl, Austin, PAGE etc.
  • Be ready. Don't submit a sub-par script. You must feel happy with your work. Forget any "that'll do" attitude. It won't do. It really won't. Screenwriting contests are open to anyone willing to pay the entry fee. Readers have a lot of chaff to cut through before they get to the tasty wheat grains. Make sure your script is tasty wheat grain.
  • Submit your script, then forget about it. Seriously. You have to wait MONTHS before you hear back on contests. You'll drive yourself mad if you keep obsessing about it. So keep busy. Work on another script. Get a body of work behind you.
  • Don't treat screenplay contests as the be-all and end-all of everything. They are just one way into the industry. And even if you win, they are not guaranteed to open the door. So keep submitting elsewhere, keep making connections, keep networking. You don't win a screenplay contest and automatically earn a million dollars a script. You just don't.
This is a reprint from my blog. The original was published July 25, 2014.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Writers, beware: this is what happened when a "producer" tried to take advantage of a naive young writer

This is a reprint of my blog post from July 2014. 

LIFE AFTER BLUECAT 
In 2010, I was a finalist of The BlueCat Screenplay Contest for my script The Physicist, a family drama about a Chinese-American family adjusting to life in a small town in Kansas. The story was very personal to me because I was raised Chinese-American in a small town in Kansas, and my script was an ode to my childhood and my town.

After my finalist placement was announced, the head of Bluecat, Gordy Hoffman, met with me for coffee to give me script advice. He was blunt with what I needed to fix, and he said that once I made changes, he thought that I should make the film. He gave me some information about how to put an indie movie together and his suggestion about how much he thought it would cost. His advice was reasonable and he was encouraging, but after the meeting, I knew deep down that I was not going to make my own film that year. Because of my debt from film school, the idea of asking people and spending a large sum of money scared me. The Physicist would metaphorically sit on a shelf and collect dust.

MERCEDES IS THE MAN WHO WILL MAKE MY HOLLYWOOD DREAMS COME TRUE!
About a year later, I was contacted by a man, who I will refer to as Mercedes. Mercedes told me that he was a director looking for Chinese-American writers and scripts. He had contacts in China who were only interested in Chinese or Chinese-American content, and he had learned about me because of my placement with Bluecat and through an Asian-American organization where we were both members. He said that he wanted to speak with me about writing feature scripts for him for deferred payment, and as per his request, I sent him The Physicist as a writing sample.

Shortly after, I met with Mercedes at his production company, and he told me that he had directed one short film that starred Asian-American actors I recognized. He then told me that his producing partner had made several films that had gone straight to video. He and I connected with our passion for the need to create quality Asian-American stories, and I liked that he seemed hungry to make a name for himself as a director the way that I was hungry to prove myself as a writer. He shared with me that he wanted to direct The Physicist, that he wanted me to rewrite his Asian-American script, and that he wanted me to write a third script based off a pitch from a Chinese production company. He then showed me a budget breakdown and his proposal for his Asian-American script, and in the proposal, he included the actors who would star in the film. One actress was someone I had met years ago, and I really respected her. If she was signed on to be involved, then I definitely wanted to be a part of the project.

Overall, after our meeting, I was ecstatic. I was only two years out of film school, and I had proven my talent with screenplay contests and now I was being offered a three-picture deal. 

"This would be a good opportunity for all of us, but it's dependent on funding," he said, "But if you're a team player, then I think we can make this happen." He then stressed to me how important it was that everyone he worked with was a "team player" because he was passionate about filmmaking and only wanted to surround himself with passionate people. He told me that even though I was the writer, he wanted to keep me updated with the producing aspects of the films, and I thought that was cool.

YOU CAN'T MAKE A MOVIE WITHOUT FUNDING
Our next step was to get the funding from the film investors from China. Mercedes, his producing partner, and I had dinner one night with the investors. The few there who could speak English told me more about what their company did, and I told them about my background. They thought my life story of growing up in Kansas was fascinating, and then Mercedes showed them information about my books, my film school education, and writing awards. They seemed impressed, and they gave me their business cards before the night was over.

The next day, Mercedes gave me the call that changed everything. The investors had liked Mercedes and his partner's business plan and they had liked me. They wanted to fully fund Mercedes' three projects: The Physicist, his original script, and the script based off the pitch from the Chinese company. Mercedes wanted me to start working right away on the pitch script's treatment, and I asked him when he would give me a contract to sign. He stated that he would get me a contract later, but that the Chinese investors were only in town for a short while and that they needed a treatment before they left. Wanting to be a team player, I quickly wrote what he wanted, and he submitted my work to them. He told me that they were satisfied with what I did but that they would probably have more notes. I brought up  the contract again, and he stated that he would probably budget $1,000 for each script. I was shocked at how low this was, considering how demanding he was with my time and how this number was a discrepancy from the budget breakdown he had shown me in our first meeting. I asked him if the upfront payment was low but that I would be getting a share of profits if the movies did well. "Um, no," he said. I was confused because I thought that was the whole point of deferred payment. People got shitty upfronts in the gamble that something paid well in the future. "You're not sounding passionate," Mercedes said. "I don't like how you're only caring about money."

"But are other people getting a portion of the profits?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said, "But they've been investing a lot more than you, so it's fair that they'd earn more."

I was upset, but I didn't know how to argue with him considering how I already done so much work for free. He then told me that he had one final meeting with the head of the Chinese financing company before everyone left town. Even though I wasn't invited to go to the meeting in person, Mercedes wanted me to be involved. I asked if a translator would be there, and he said probably not but Mercedes needed to speak with me in case the head of the company had notes about the story.

"What time are you meeting?" I asked.

"We're going to go out on Sunday and then we'll have the talk afterwards," Mercedes said.

"So what time is that?" I asked.

"I'm not sure. Just stay by the phone."

During this period of time, I had a boyfriend who was a talent assistant, and I asked him if this kind of scheduling was normal. "Absolutely not," he said. My boyfriend and I had a date planned for Sunday, and he thought it was weird that I wanted to cancel my plans to sit around, waiting for a phone meeting. Needless to say, I ended up agreeing with him, and we went out. During those hours, never once did I receive a phone call.

"MAYBE IT'S THAT YOU'RE TOO YOUNG AND THIS SITUATION IS NEW FOR YOU"

Later that night, my boyfriend and I returned back to my place, and we got ready for bed. That's when my phone rang.

"Are you fucking kidding me?" my boyfriend said.

"Should I answer it?"

"He calls you at night on a Sunday to be on a phone call in a language you barely understand?"

My boyfriend was tired, but the logic from his crankiness could not be ignored. Plus, I worked an office job that I needed to be at the next day.

"I don't know if I should answer it..." I said.

"No one sane conducts business like this!"

By the time we got done debating, my phone stopped ringing, and I received notice that I had a voicemail.

"Just go to sleep," my boyfriend said. "Deal with it in the morning like a normal person."

I should’ve listened to my boyfriend, but I still wanted to be a team player even though the myriad of red flags should've scared me away. I went ahead and listened to Mercedes' voicemail, and he was urging me to call him back. I called him back, and he didn't answer. 

“Just go to sleep,” my boyfriend urged. I agreed to just deal with it all in the morning. What a mistake that was. Mercedes called me two other times that night, berating my lack of professionalism and telling me that I was dropped from the project. Angry that I had done work for him for free and upset that he was firing me, I decided to just cut my losses and send him an acknowledgement that morning that our working relationship was severed. See my email below:



His  response was priceless, and by priceless, I mean abusive and condescending. Also, when you read this, please note the discrepancy of the money that he claimed the Chinese investors were giving him to pay for a writer and how much he had offered me earlier. See Mercedes' email below:



This whole story was unnecessarily dramatic and occurred in a span of approximately a week. (Yes, that was the timeline. Amazing, right?)

I left the experience feeling exhausted and exploited, but I was also thankful that I hadn't given up any rights. Luckily,  unbeknownst to Mercedes, I had been repped by an entertainment lawyer for a few years and I was somewhat educated in deals for writers. I should've consulted with my lawyer before ever starting work for Mercedes, but that was a rookie mistake on my part. Plus, Mercedes' manner was so chaotic, abrassive, and rushed that I tended to do things quickly for him without thinking.

Lesson learned: Assholes will try to manipulate you to doing things that are in their best interest but not yours. Be smart. Tell them to fuck off. 

THE STORY IS NOT OVER 
Some time after the fall out, Mercedes began to contact me again, but to my surprise, he approached me with humility and he even apologized. However, I wasn't interested in working with him. If he acted like that in one week, what would he act like once I had signed something and was obliged to put up with his behavior? Plus, he had already shown me his greed and lack of respect for me as a person, for my time, and for my talent. No amount of money would ever make his abuse worth my energy. He attempted to contact me several times, but I ignored him. 

In May of 2012, Mercedes called me again, and in his voicemail, he informed me that he needed a rewrite for his script and he had secured funding. He stated that he needed the rewrite done in one week, and he offered $1,000. Based on the timeline and money offered, I deducted that he hadn't really changed from my experience with him before. I listened to this query without responding directly, and I sent the information to my lawyer, asking him to deal with Mercedes because clearly Mercedes had no respect for me.

My lawyer spoke with Mercedes about the deal, and Mercedes now offered $2,000! I'm a fast writer, and making $2,000 in one week sounded awesome, but at the same time, I had friends who made $10K off of an indie film rewrite where they were give several months to complete the project. Taking a lower number with less time just made me feel undervalued. My lawyer countered back with an absurd number, which I knew would scare Mercedes away. My plan worked, and Mercedes said he didn't have that kind of dough and that he was talking with another writer who was repped by CAA anyway. 

Good riddance.To this day, I have heard nothing about Mercedes making movies, and this is quite telling considering that he actually was able to secure funding, which is usually the main barrier for a filmmaker to make his film. 

The button of this story happened shortly after when I attended an event, and I ran into the actress that Mercedes had listed in his film proposal for his movie. I asked her what was new with the project, and she had no idea what I was talking about. Although she had met Mercedes once in a professional setting, she had never signed up to be in his movie.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

8 Websites to find writing or writing-related jobs

Although finding employment as a writer can be tough if you don't hear of anything through your network of friends;  there are luckily several job boards that exist with plenty of legitimate opportunities. The following nine websites are the top ones that I personally use or that my friends use to find writing or entertainment work. So in no particular order:
  1. LinkedIn: I like how LinkedIn has many professionals of all industries on its site, and I like how everyone's profile showcases their resume, skills, and network. When LinkedIn began to offer the feature of finding and applying for jobs, that added even more value to the site. I've applied for a ton of writing-related jobs using LinkedIn (mostly copywriting and social media gigs), and one feature that I'm a fan of is that they notify you when a recruiter reads your resume. Bonus that I know several people who have been recruited for new jobs with their LinkedIn profile.   
  2. StaffMeUp: This is the LinkedIn of film and TV production. You create your production profile, connect with your friends, and find production listings.
  3. Facebook: Finding work through your own network is usually the most powerful tool to finding a job. Since Facebook's primary purpose is to connect you with friends, it's naturally a great place to find work because often times it's your friends who are advertising that they are looking for staff. Besides using your own friend list, try to target alumni groups or filmmaking communities. Often those pages list job opportunities. 
  4. Craigslist: Craigslist is the wild west of job hunting. For every unpaid gig or porn listing, there are a few gems hidden in the mix. The important thing when job hunting through Craigslist is to be discerning. Is the listing detailed and written well? Does the person who responds to your query sound professional? Trust your gut when proceeding, but you would be surprised about how many legit opportunities can be found there. 
  5. MediaBistro: I look for copywriting, journalism, and ghost writing opportunities through MediaBistro, and most of the major publications, networks, and online companies post here. A great feature to the site is that it's easy to apply for multiple job listings, and they email you a confirmation with each submission. Plus, Mediabistro is not just a job search site. It has various blog posts about the media industry, and it's an insightful website for writers to check out. 
  6. EntertainmentCareers This website has a lot of listings for assistant jobs in the entertainment industry. It also has listings for other areas of entertainment, although maybe not as many. For instance, if you're looking for an advertising job, MediaBistro usually has a larger selection.
  7. TrackingB:To gain access to TrackingB's job listings, you have to pay a subscription fee. I found that the fee is worth it. However, they also have pretty kick ass writing contests and if you enter two or more scripts, they give you a year's subscription for free. TrackingB is great because it lists a lot of assistant jobs, and it also provides industry posts about who got hired where and what scripts are being sold and by whom. 
  8. Mandy: Mandy has a mix of unpaid and paid work, and not only can you find professional gigs on there, but often student film projects or other independent endeavors. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Why you should get on Klout already

People who utilize social media often wonder if their efforts are actually working, and luckily, there are free tools available to measure their influence. One of the most popular and user-friendly social media influence calculators is KLOUT. The website is used by over 100 million people, and it takes one's participation in the top social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, Tumblr, Flickr, Youtube, Google Plus, and LinkedIn to calculate his or her overall social media influence.

Klout scores range from 0 (no influence) to 100 (a celebrity), and the site also breaks down what topics a person is influential in and what social media outlets generate what kind of participation.

The site also offers incentives to increase one's Klout score. For instance, people can give Klout points if they feel that someone influenced them on a certain topic.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Tips to copyright your fiction or screenplay

Writers frequently ask me about how to protect their work, and here is my general advice:
  • The second you create something i.e. put words to paper, then you own the copyright to your work.
  • Ideas cannot be copyrighted. If you tell people, "I have this idea where a robot marries a woman!" That idea is not protected. However, you write it, and that story is yours. Does that mean people cannot write a story about a robot marrying a woman once you wrote yours? That's iffy. If they have a unique take, then that may be allowed. You'd have to talk to a lawyer for specifics. The main thing you should be concerned with then is your execution, not your idea, because if someone steals your execution then that is an actual legal problem.
  • If you write a story and someone steals lines/paragraphs then that is plagiarism and a violation of your copyright. This is rare, yet it happens, so even though you own the copyright, what are further ways for you to protect yourself from this theft?
  • There is no need to use a third party to register your work. They'll just charge you unnecessary fees for something that would take you a few minutes to do at home.
  • Registering is voluntary, but if you have something that you are sending out and want to protect, then I recommend you register. 
For more in-depth copyright information, see the US Copyright Office's FAQ page:
http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/

Agree? Disagree? Is there something I missed? Leave me a comment and let me know. Thanks.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

April bucket list check-in


Back in February, I published my bucket list of things to do before my 31st birthday. It was slightly embarrassing to publish a wish list that was so personal, but I figured if I put my wants out into the universe, I'm more likely to achieve my goals. As of today, April 1st, I've crossed off 7 items, and I'm hoping that if I work hard to blog more, I can finally cross off item number 1.

31 things to do before I turn 31:

  1.  Get my blog in better shape by writing something on it every day
  2. Write a screenplay/book/play and actually like it
  3. Learn to cook a dish from my parents
  4. Try Crossfit
  5. Try Pole Dancing
  6. Try Burlesque Dancing
  7. Try Aerial Dancing
  8. Train my waist like Kim Kardashian
  9. Party like Rihanna with her diamonds in the sky
  10. Steam my va-jay-jay like Gwyneth Paltrow or at least something Goop-ish
  11. Audition for The Amazing Race and/or Survivor
  12. Send a thoughtful letter to people who have positively impacted me
  13. Reconnect with old friends
  14. Meet a sexpert 
  15. Travel somewhere new in the United States
  16. Travel somewhere new internationally
  17. Stop analyzing people and just ask them what they want
  18. Enter a competition that is not writing-related
  19. Go to Coachella or Burning Man or some other event that requires me to travel
  20. Try eye gazing
  21. Go to a MeetUp group
  22. Develop a distinct personal style
  23. Try a real life Maze
  24. Go to Comic-Con or a similar convention
  25. Get invited to an underground party/event and have a crazy adventure
  26. Go to something masquerade themed
  27.  Study to be a yoga instructor
  28.  See a Lakers or Clippers game live
  29.  Say "yes" more (unless something is harmful, of course)
  30.  Mentor a young writer
  31. Fall in love

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The 8 Best Screenwriting Contests to Enter in 2015

This list is a reprint that was originally published on December 7, 2014.
My list for 5 Screenwriting Contests worth entering in 2014 was a big hit last year, so I decided to do a follow up and amend some of my criteria. I still believe that writers should mainly look for contests with industry connections and to avoid contests with high entry fees, low prize money, and no Hollywood success; but after some more thinking, I felt that I should also just look straight at the prize money too. After all, if you win and you don't end up selling your script, then at least you can hold your head up high with your $10,000 or more check.

The following are my top eight picks for screenwriting contests in 2015.

1. Nicholl Fellowship: This is the most prestigious screenwriting contest that you can win, and even placing in the semi or quarterfinals may give you access to getting read by a Hollywood manager, producer, or agent. The contest is run by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the same people who give out the Oscars), and it has uncovered such screenwriters as Susannah Grant, Ehren Kruger, and Andrew Marlowe. Not only will winning a Nicholl give you bragging rights for life, but the prize is a fellowship of $35,000, which gives you one year to complete at least one more original feature film screenplay. Five winners are chosen. If you are limited on money and can only enter one contest this year, this is the one. http://www.oscars.org/awards/nicholl/index.html

2. Universal Pictures Fellowship: This fellowship is similar to ABC Disney's former screenwriting program in that it grooms writers to enter Hollywood and is sponsored by a major entertainment entity. While this contest is free to enter, the most difficult aspect (besides just having an amazing script) is that it requires letters of recommendations from industry professionals. That may be a barrier for those who aren't in Hollywood, but if that's not a problem, then I highly recommend applying: http://www.nbcunicareers.com/universal-pictures%E2%80%99-emerging-writers-fellowship 

3. Bluecat Screenplay Contest: I was a finalist for this contest in 2010, and after winning, the head of the contest, Gordy Hoffman, was kind enough to meet with me and give me notes and I was also contacted by independent producers who heard about my placement. In addition to its professional benefits, the cash prizes are pretty high. The grand prize winner receives $15,000 and finalists each receive $2500. But what truly distinguishes this contest from all others is that ALL ENTRANTS receive script analysis. Buying this service from professionals would cost you at least $50, so the fact that it’s included in the entry fee is an amazing deal. http://www.bluecatscreenplay.com

 4. Script Pipeline: In 2010, I was a grand prize winner of the contest, and I had a great experience with it. Immediately after winning, I was read by various managers and production companies, and even though a few years have passed, Script Pipeline still sends me writing opportunities and shares my work with production companies. Plus, I also received other goodies such as writing software and a subscription to their Writers Database. It looks like recent winners will receive those same benefits, but now the grand prize is huge--$20,000! Also, I recommend their coverage service, which costs extra but is worth it. I find their readers to be very insightful.http://www.scriptpipeline.com/home

5. TrackingB: TrackingB is a relatively new screenplay contest (it was started in 2007). Although its entry fee is high ($75-$125) and there is no prize money, its batting average for the success of its winners is incredible and it has a good reputation amongst writers. For instance, my friend was a finalist for TrackingB, and although she had placed in other contests, it was TrackingB that led to her getting signed by a major Hollywood management company. The other benefit to entering this contest is that if you enter two scripts or more, they give you free access to the trackingb.com website for one year. If you’re not too familiar with the site, it provides Hollywood job listings, script sales, industry news, and other information you would probably not know unless you worked in the industry.http://www.trackingb.com/?page_id=861

6. Page International Screenplay Awards: The grand prize is $25,000. Enough said. http://pageawards.com/the-contest/

7. Final Draft’s Big Break Screenplay Contest: The Feature Grand Prize is $15,000 plus a ton of swag, which includes a fancy awards ceremony, an Ipad, and script coverage. http://www.finaldraft.com/products/big-break-contest#winners

8. Scriptapalooza: The first place winner gets $10,000, and each script is read by either a production company, manager, or agent. http://www.scriptapalooza.com/home.php

Saturday, March 28, 2015

How to gain Twitter followers if you are not famous already

Celebrities like Kim Kardashian or Justin Bieber have millions of Twitter followers because of their fame, but how can a non-famous person gain even a fraction of a celebrity's audience? If you believe it will just happen by you being awesome, then good luck to you for playing the lottery, but for everyone else it will take a lot of work.

The following  process takes time, but if done right, it is a rewarding way to build and maintain an online audience.

INTERACT WITH THE FOLLOWERS YOU HAVE
Even those who are not actively trying to build a large amount of Followers will still more than likely have a few followers, which consists of friends, family, and people who like their content. This group of people should be who you engage with on Twitter first. Mention them in tweets. Retweet their content. Interact with them. In turn, they will likely spread your name through the Twitterverse through mentions and retweets and that will get your name out there. Furthermore, if they know you personally, you already have a strong connection with them, and at the end of the day, it is about quality and not quantity. 

For example, I ran the Twitter for an erotic blog, and the Twitter only had 200 Followers. However, the percentage of engagement with users was higher than other Twitter accounts I had managed. The reason for this is that not everyone is comfortable following erotic content, but for those who do, they REALLY LIKE erotic content. The Followers of that Twitter account repeatedly clicked on links, retweeted the blogger's work, and interacted with her. She didn't need large numbers because her niche was strong enough.  

Additionally, follow back users who follow you and engage with them. Some people like seeing that they follow 200 while 10,000 follow them, but I could care less about "appearing exclusive." I try to follow back and be as connected as possible, but it does get harder the larger your fan base grows. In that case, I recommend you get Twitter management software like Unfollowers.me or Tweepi. 

FIND PEOPLE TO FOLLOW WHO SHARE YOUR INTEREST 
For those who want to expand their following beyond people they know, the next step they should take is deciding their own brand. Who are they? What are they about? What content are they providing? For instance, I blog about women and gender issues in pop culture so I often look for people who talk about movies and television.

Once you figure out who you are and who you want to connect with, the next step is to find and then add the people who share your interests. There are different ways to do this:
  1. Look at the "Who to Follow" list on the left hand side of your screen. The Who To Follow list is a list generated by Twitter of three people who share common interests with you.
  2. Type a keyword in the search box. Twitter will generate a list of tweets or usernames that contain that word, and you can then find people who tweet about your interests. 
  3. Think about another Twitter user who shares similar content to yours and add everyone she follows and who follows her. 
After you Follow people, wait a few days and see if they follow you back. More than likely they will. If they don't, then I recommend deleting them unless you want to continue receiving their content. Otherwise, if they chose not to reciprocate following, then it is best to move on to someone else who is more responsive. 

OFFER UNIQUE CONTENT 
By offering unique content and not appearing like a Bot, people will start to follow you to see what you have to say. The methods you used from above to find people will also work in the reverse. They will also find you.

Note: Only writing quotes, repeatedly sharing the same links, only retweeting, and frequently writing several handles in a tweet does not qualify as unique content. In fact, that is behavior that will make people think you're a bot. 

MAINTAIN A DAILY PRESENCE 
This is one of the hardest things for most people. Because Twitter is a live broadcasting tool, if you don't tweet daily, your tweets could get lost amidst the sea of messages. I recommend to maintain your social media presence to tweet morning, in the afternoon, and at night. However, there must be a balance. When you tweet, don't go crazy and flood the Twitterverse at once, annoying your followers. Each time you tweet, try to be strategic and only tweet three times at the most.

PARTICIPATE IN TRENDS
For details, please see my previous post: How to use trends on Twitter

Do you know of other methods to gain Twitter followers that does not include buying followers? Has anyone bought followers and if so, would you share that experience with this blog? Let me know. Thank you!