Saturday, May 16, 2015

4 Books Every Journalist Should Read

Dateline NBC Correspondent Josh Mankiewicz returns to the T.Lo Club for our continuing series of book recommendations from respected writers. Today, he gives us his list of books that every journalist should read and why.

"4 Books Every Journalist Should Read" by Josh Mankiewicz

**Josh Mankiewicz is a Dateline correspondent based in Los Angeles. He began reporting for Dateline in February 1995, and since then, he has contributed a mix of breaking news stories, news analysis, investigative reports and clever features to the broadcast. (Bio courtesy of NBC) To connect with Josh, you can find him on Twitter

This is a reprint of a post originally published on November 20, 2013.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Review of Inktip, a service for screenwriters

The following is an updated version of a post published on July 23, 2014. For the original post, click here.

I hate the idea that succeeding as an artist can often be a "pay to play" endeavor, meaning that you have to fork over a fee to get in the game; but unfortunately, the reality is that often times you do have to pay money to get noticed. 

One website that I've tried in my pursuit of getting noticed as a screenwriter is InkTip. For a fee, the site allows writers to upload their scripts so that production companies, producers, or representatives can browse for scripts that fit their need. When listing, the writer uploads a treatment, logline, information about awards or the writer's resume, and script data such as genre and budget. One session lasts six months and per script the service costs $65. However, if you upload multiple scripts or sign up for an automatic renewal, you will receive a discount.

I was referred to the site years ago by an indie producer I knew. He made a movie for less than $20,000, and I asked him how he found his writer. He told me he looked for scripts through Inktip, and that as a producer, he didn't have to pay a fee.  Learning that the writer pays a fee but not the company made me think that maybe this site would provide some value to me as a writer. There probably wouldn't be a ton of scripts because of the fee, but there were probably a ton of companies, producers, and representatives because the site was free to them and easy to use.

I uploaded the manuscript for my novel Hell's Gamethe features scripts for my family drama The Physicist, my USC thesis, Sexual Panda and the Reluctant Hipster, and my thriller Madness; and all the loglines and treatments that the website requiredWhen I saw the price tag, I admit that my eyes bugged out, but I was tired of querying nearly sixty agents or managers with little to no response so I reasoned that uploading to Inktip was like paying a convenience fee.

As each day passed, I was surprised to see that someone was checking out at least one of my listings. Inktip has a fascinatingly addictive system which shows you who looked at your listing and what they looked at. I saw that Hell's Game and Madness were often checked out, but no one ever looked at The Physicist or Sexual Panda and the Reluctant Hipster. Seeing that lack of response was humbling for me. "Okay," I thought. "I really do have to accept that if my script doesn't have a super catchy logline then no one is going to give a shit."

In the course of six months, Hell's Game and Madness moved beyond the logline and treatment phase, and a few companies actually downloaded the entire script. When a company reaches the download phase, Inktip then provides you, the writer, with the company's contact information. They also provide a caveat which paraphrased is "Don't stalk these people."Although I finally had enough of the company's information to contact them, I didn't, but I did Google the names to see who was reading my work. I was actually pretty impressed with those names' credentials, but I also figured that if they weren't contacting me after reading my work, then they were probably not interested. 

After my listings expired, I chose not to renew because of the cost, but I was satisfied with the service and if I had new material I would upload again. In my mind, it didn't make sense to keep paying money to advertise something that no one really seemed to want. However, Inktip does have a great free weekly newsletter, which I recommend every screenwriter sign up for. The newsletter obviously is trying to get you to pay for a listing, but it also has a few script requests such as the one below taken from the newsletter blasted out June 26, 2014:
1) Infra-Red Films - Seeking Family-Friendly Animal Scripts
We are looking for completed, feature-length family-friendly comedy or drama scripts with stories involving an animal, especially if it's a dog or a horse. Submissions need be for material that is suitable for a broad television audience.

Budget will not exceed $5million. Only Non-WGA writers should submit.

Our credits include "Border Run," which was shot from a script we discovered through InkTip.

To submit to this lead, please go to:
http://www.inktippro.com/leads/

Enter your email address.

Copy/Paste this code: j2e7rsynkm
After giving a few free leads, the newsletter then lists additional script requests where the submission information is hidden unless you pay a fee for a service they call the preferred newsletter. Additionally, Inktip also offers for a fee a listing in a magazine that they send out to companies. 

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