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how to get an agent

I Wasn’t Supposed to Get a Literary Agent During the Pandemic. Now I Have Four

By Advice, Inside Look, Success Stories

I wasn’t supposed to get a literary agent in 2020. Seriously, I mean…

  • I don’t live in Los Angeles
  • I’m homeschooling two small boys
  • I have a full-time day-job
  • In my abundant free-time I advocating as a refugee volunteer
  • Oh, and there’s a global pandemic happening that’s shuttered much of Hollywood

Becoming a working screenwriter just wasn’t in the cards for me this year. Everyone told me to forget about it. 2020 wasn’t going to be my year. Turns out, everyone was wrong. Because not only did I recently land a manager; I just signed with not one, but a whole team of literary agents at Verve (four to be exact). For a little context, here are some of Verve’s current clients:

  • Milo Ventimiglia
  • Anna Chlumsky
  • Willa Holland
  • Leah Remini
  • James D’Arcy
  • JJ Feild
  • Nia Long
  • Nicholas D’Agosto
  • Morris Chestnut
  • Aaron Guzikowski
  • Colin Trevorrow
  • Olatunde Osunsanmi
  • Sydelle Noel
  • Greg Russo

This is the story of how my entire screenwriting career took off this year, and how you can hopefully make the same thing happen for you.

My first screenplay

Like a lot of you, I had a lot of ideas for films and television. They were just waiting for that bit of motivation to get from brain to paper (computer screen). One day, inspiration struck and I finally decided to make good on that promise to myself. I researched, wrote, edited, made charts, and then rewrote again. Finally, I handed it out to friends and people at the office. That was the scariest part.

I got enough positive feedback to move forward. I’d go all in and write my screenplay.  But what does “all-in” look like, exactly, and where do I go from here?

My screenwriting schedule

Officially, my writing routine is to write from 9:00 pm – 4 am Sunday-Friday. You read that right. 9 pm to 4 am. I sleep until 7 am then run one of my kids to school, then go back to sleep until 8:15 am, and then haul-ass to work.

I do a little screenwriting and research in the Lyft to work, start work at 9 am (maybe 9:15 am), write on my lunch hour (if no friends can meetup), haul-ass to pick up my kids around 4:30 pm, and I squeeze in a few social calls to friends on my way home. By 5 pm, I try to be ready to cook a homemade meal and be totally devoted to my kids (when screenwriting was really bad — we’d order out). After that, they go to bed around 8:45 pm.

I clean my house like the Tasmanian Devil from 8:45 pm-9:00 pm then start screenwriting again. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I fit in an hour of volunteering from 4 pm-5 pm. And on Sunday evenings I prep for another night of screenwriting while also preparing my kids folders for the week ahead.  

Saturdays I’m with my kiddos, but at night I try to see friends and then write some more when I get home — even if that means starting at 1 am or 2 am. Bring on the black tea and Doritos.   

How to avoid screenwriter burnout

Keeping this schedule for the last few years really did a number on how I process my emotions. I’d get anxiety and then double-down on my vacuum (using all the attachments). You have to hustle to make it as a screenwriter, but it’s also important to take care of yourself. 

I only had one friend in the industry, and she didn’t even work in screenwriting. My odds of becoming a professional screenwriter were slim to none. Luckily, my sunny disposition prevented me from processing the reality of my situation.

How to handle criticism as a screenwriter

Many people blew me off. But just as many said they’d love to read my work. It was actually amazing how kind some people were. Still, the reality is, that everyone is going to have input on your script. And some of it is going to be harsh:

  • One reader said they thought it was “stupid to have a female killer that wasn’t likable, women have to be likable.” That day hit me on so many levels, as the reviewer was a fellow female screenwriter
  • Another told me “girls shouldn’t write gritty dramas.”
  • An industry friend finally got around to reading my stuff and said, “Sorry. Do you have anything more focused on like cooking or traveling pants? I like that type of stuff.” I had waited five months to hear that?!

One memorable experience was when an exec invited me to meet with them in New York. I bought a plane ticket and paid the deposit on a hotel room only to have them cancel on me two days before the meeting. I had to look at my tiny kids and think, “Well, I just spent our fun money on my whimsical dream to be a screenwriter — for nothing.

But the worst was when a producer — who loved my work asked to meet with me in LA. I flew out to LA and he suggested a few tweaks he wanted to see. Then he suggested that as an “Asian female writer” I shouldn’t be in the room.“The room doesn’t look like you, no offense.” I went back to my hotel room and screamed into a Dorito bag. I decided to choke down his words and choose to believe he was wrong.  

Screenwriting is a tough business

I’d used all my paid-time-off, my mom was watching my kids, and I’d flown to Los Angeles, despite my fear of flying, only to be told “you can’t” and “you won’t”. People were asking if I could change my projects to be more about cooking or traveling pants?! It would’ve been easy to quit.

Criticism and callous rejections are just part of the screenwriting business. Seriously, you have to accept that. Plan for it. Prepared to be dismissed and written off. Be okay with it, because as hard as each rejection is, it really is just part of the process of becoming a working screenwriter. Accept it as the cost of doing business, and get back to work!

Delusion is your friend

When my parents adopted me as a little girl, they told me I could be anything I wanted. But, that was then. This was LA. If you want to “make it” you have to stop looking for praise and move forward with your dreams, no matter what.

Sometimes I’d get good news like I placed or won a festival or competition, and I’d feel like all my hard work was all worth it. But there are still ups and downs. And that’s ok. In fact, it’s how almost everyone does it.

Every screenwriter’s journey is different

I heard story after story of contradicting experiences from my screenwriting friends and colleagues:

  • A friend had been on multiple popular dramas and had a manager, but getting work was a struggle after those gigs and they couldn’t get an agent
  • Another friend had won incredibly prestigious awards, but couldn’t get a manager or an agent to read their work
  • Then you hear about someone who hasn’t really worked or won a recognized award getting a manager(?!) while another friend had won major awards, interned at two large production houses, and couldn’t get read

You will hear stories of writers getting an agent and manager after winning a major competition. And you’ll hear frustrations from another writer who won the same competition last year but still can’t get a manager or agent. There is no one path to screenwriting success. You just have to keep trying things like submitting to competitions, networking, pitching, and sending out query letters. That’s the boring secret to success. Never give up.

How I got a manager from 2000 miles away

I sat through all these stories as I networked on the phone, on social media, and in-person. And then, one day, I got a notification from Coverfly that I’d been picked for Pitch Week. I couldn’t believe it.

Through Coverfly, I met my manager online in a Zoom call. He was very easy to speak with and gave interesting insights into how he read things and what he saw in writing. We signed together a week later!

My television pilot continued to do very well competitively, and networking was getting easier. Then about six months later, a connection that had become a friend asked if I could help with a project. I was reluctant but thought it’d be great to do this for someone who had given me so much advice and education on the industry.

That encounter led to my meeting an agent. We chatted indirectly through the group we were in.  Afterward, I wondered… “How horrible would it be to try and get his input on a project?”  

How I got an agent during a pandemic

I told my talent manager I was hoping to expand our team and that I planned to inquire with an agent.

I sent the agent an email asking for some input. He responded promptly, saying that he’d be cool to jump on a call. We chatted for maybe 20-30 minutes ultimately with him saying he wanted to read my stuff!

If you’re a struggling scribe you know how exciting that is to hear!

Before we hung-up, he admitted it could be a while (I’d been prepared for months) and that he appreciated our chat and looked forward to reading my work. I must’ve caught him at the right time because two days later he let me know he loved it. He wanted to know right away when we could chat!

I was so used to the process-of-the-process. But then, one evening my phone rang. I’ll never forget it. I was in the kitchen wearing one shoe — my kid had taken the other to use as a “boat” — and I was in the middle of burning our “Hello Fresh”! I saw an unknown California number pop-up on my phone, and answered reluctantly.

The voice on the other side directed me to the agent!

He let me know that they loved my work and that they’d wanted to assign me a team of agents, four to be exact. He couldn’t hear it, but I was crying. They’d already called my manager to set up a Zoom call to make it official.  

He doesn’t know this, but after we hung up I went into my children’s room and hugged them so tightly. Then I bawled my eyes out.

How to become a working screenwriter

Dinner was burned and I only had one shoe on, but I was elated! A working, homeschooling mother, in Chicago, during a pandemic got signed to a team of agents in LA. If you’re in the middle of your own struggle to become a screenwriter, breathe and believe. You are not alone.

Focus on content, embrace both positive and negative engagements, and avoid transactional moves choosing instead to be a good listener and a kind member of the writing community. Accept obstacles as the cost of doing business and move on. Seek mentorship and advice from those that can empathize with the fickle process. And most importantly, don’t view managers or agents as the end of the story.

You have to keep being your best advocate and keep hustling, listening, learning, and putting in the time because the truth is “Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity.”

So many thanks: To my agents at Verve, and Eric Borja at Alldayeveryday. And, to the entire Coverfly team, with extra thanks to Tom Dever and Emily Dell. And, special thanks to my “go-to” David Rabinowitz. I couldn’t have done any of this without you all.

Take the next (big) step in your career. Apply for Coverfly Pitch Week and get your script in front of the industry professionals that can make your dreams of becoming a screenwriter a reality.

coverfly pitch week

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LeLe Park is a screenwriter. Her original drama pilot “The Bliss Killer” has won/placed in several competitions including Screencraft, Final Draft, Scriptation Showcase, Script Summit, and Shore Scripts. Her short screenplay, “ACHE” has also won/placed in various screenwriting competitions including Austin Film Festival, The Bluecat Screenplay Competition, The Golden Script Competition, Rhode Island International Film Festival (RIFF), and The Richmond. She was the pitch choice at Coverfly, staff pick at ScriptD, a guest speaker at Bucknell University, and moderated Coverfly’s Career Lab. She recently finished her biographical feature script, “Visceral Fatherland”, as well as, her prestige limited series “Night vs Day”. She is represented by VERVE Talent & Literary Agency and Eric Borja at Alldayeveryday.
https://lelepark05.wixsite.com/lelepark

screenwriting pitches

How I Landed Six Pitch Meetings in One Week

By Advice, Inside Look, Success Stories

Being selected to participate in Coverfly’s Fall 2020 Pitch Week event was a great experience for me! I’d missed out on the previous cycle in the spring, so I applied sort of last-minute on a whim after seeing a reminder email from Coverfly about the final deadline. When I was notified that I’d been officially selected to pitch to at least one company, I was definitely excited. But when I learned that I’d been chosen by industry executives to take part in six separate pitch meetings, I was equal parts nervous and ecstatic!

I immediately started preparing. Here’s how I landed six pitch meetings in one week, and what I did to prepare.

How to prepare for a pitch meeting

I was fortunate enough to have some prior experience with pitching going into Pitch Week, in the form of a few general meetings and some great programs I’ve attended. Shout out to the CineStory Feature Retreat for the tutelage sessions on pitching!

I’ve also been able to observe a lot of pitches during my days in the trenches working as an assistant in development. But I approached this challenge of pitching virtually the same as I would any other pitch-related scenario — research. Lots and lots of research.

What it’s like to pitch your script virtually

As soon as I knew who I was going to be pitching to, I started by trying to learn as much about those individuals as I could:

  • What is their current job title?
  • Which kind of projects have they or their company produced or been attached to recently?
  • Do we have any common connections (people, studios, jobs)?

Which is all just a nice way of saying that I did some heavy internet stalking! But, respectfully, you want to be able to tailor your pitch to each room as much as possible, especially in situations like this where you only have twelve minutes a session. Every second counts!

How to get the most out of your pitch

For example, if you have multiple projects and you know you’re pitching to a television exec at Netflix, they’re most likely going to be interested in hearing about your original pilot first, and not your feature. Plan accordingly.

The best advice that I can offer on how to pitch successfully (even virtually or on your first try) is simply this:

Know. Your. Stories!

And get right to the point.

6 simple tips for your next virtual pitch

  1. Think of your logline. Now make it more conversational.
  2. Don’t try to memorize or rehearse what you’re going to say. Just have a few key bullet points in your head (or create a cheat sheet if you think you might get nervous and freeze. But put it somewhere that doesn’t require you to look away a lot, and never read directly from something! It’ll show.)
  3. Share the heart of your story and what makes it unique. Why should they be excited about your story? What about the characters? Include a personal connection if you can, like why did you write this story, and what makes you the best person to tell it?
  4. Don’t explain the entire script. The goal of a pitch is to get them interested!
  5. Learn how to use the program (in most cases, Zoom) to help prevent any technical difficulties. And test it right before every meeting. Make sure that your video and sound are working properly, that you have sufficient lighting (never backlit!), and that there’s nothing *ahem* inappropriate or distracting visible in your background.
  6. Finally, it goes without saying that you should be polite, don’t be late, know when to listen, and keep an eye on the clock so that you can thank them and wrap up your pitch professionally.

How to answer questions in a pitch meeting

It’s tempting to “use up” all 12 minutes on your pitch, but that’s the wrong approach. Leave time and space for them to ask questions. And you should ask questions in return, to try and get to know them a little. It’s hard in twelve minutes, but honestly, most people will acknowledge the fact that pitching is a bit of a weird situation. Just be yourself and try to maximize the time as much as you can.

Be ready to answer questions that might go beyond you and your writing by staying (as current as you can) with the industry. You should know who’s making what and where, and also expect that ever-important question, “What else do you have?”

A pitch meeting might initially be set up to talk about a specific project, but you should always be prepared to share other ideas with them and to sell yourself in general as a writer. Pitching is really all about building relationships. You never know what could come from any given meeting or connection.

How to pitch your script post COVID

We’re living in strange times! But everyone is genuinely trying to find new ways forward, and we’re all figuring it out together. In my experience, the fundamentals of pitching have not – and probably won’t ever – change, and there are pros and cons to doing it virtually.

The pros are that it allows work to continue safely. And from a scheduling standpoint, you can get more pitching done faster when you don’t need to spend hours fighting traffic all over Los Angeles in-between meetings. I’m one of the people who feel that they are “better in the room.” There’s a certain element that gets lost by not being physically present with someone. But even with the luxury of a longer in-person meeting, you still have to hook people right away, so being able to do that even under the added pressure of a strict time limit is an essential skill that I think all writers should strive to master regardless.

How to get six pitches in one week

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

The best way to succeed at something like Pitch Week is to think of the application process like pre-pitching. Because you’re essentially pitching to pitch!

  • Take the time to get your Coverfly profile up to date, and make it short, punchy, and compelling.
  • Keep generating interest and accolades for your projects, that will help in building a viable track record that you can then utilize as a form of professional vetting when promoting yourself and your work – especially if you don’t have other avenues of direct access to the industry or the means to move to Los Angeles.

Personally, I don’t think that the need or benefits of in-person pitch meetings will ever go away completely. But events like Pitch Week are great tools to help writers get discovered. More so in the case of Coverfly, because they don’t charge any fees to apply. For me, that element made me feel more confident in the fact that they really do put writers first, and that I had nothing to lose.

What I learned from Coverfly Pitch Week

Pitch Week for me was a total whirlwind! It was both nerve-wracking and very rewarding, and I grew even more comfortable pitching than I had been beforehand – specifically with pitching virtually.

Virtual pitches are a reality of screenwriting today. And while most writers tend not to be social creatures by nature (I liked to joke during the beginning of quarantine that I had been training for it my whole life) the more you do it, the better you’ll get. And the more you get your work out there and the more exposure you receive is only going to benefit you. With the current state of the world, there’s really no better time to take advantage of virtual pitching opportunities. So keep writing, and keep fighting!


screenwriter success story pitch week

Alexandra Amadio was shaped by a unique upbringing in Maui, Hawai’i. She moved to Los Angeles and started working in production when she was just 17 years old, going on to work in development for such producers as Mike Medavoy, Denise Di Novi, and as an executive assistant for director Rob Cohen. Her feature script, “All-Star”, recently attached Wendey Stanzler (Sex and the City; Carnival Row) to direct.

Alexandra’s goal is to get “All-Star” into production and find writing representation. She’d also like to write on Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series.
screenwriting career WGAW

Screenwriting Career Advice: WGA Committee of Women Writers

By Advice

Recently the WGA West invited Tom Dever, Coverfly’s Director Writer Development, to speak with their Committee of Women Writers. The WGA Committee of Women Writers represents the interests of female WGA writers who are seeking WGA-covered work. They sponsor events designed to increase our knowledge of the craft and the marketplace, discuss the role of women as storytellers, and foster networking and collaboration between women in all Guilds, as well as increase opportunities for education, employment opportunities, and creative expression.

Tom spoke about the state of the industry, opportunities for veteran women writers in development and representation, and general conversation on the craft and career of screenwriting. The event was private and for WGA members only, but here’s a quick rundown of what you missed, and how you can take the next step in your screenwriting career

Be your own best advocate

You do not need somebody else’s permission or contacts to pursue the career you want for yourself. You don’t need a manager or agent to set generals or meet with execs. Don’t be afraid to generate those opportunities for yourself any way you can (without breaking the law!).

Accelerate your career through self-generated opportunities. The time has never been better to promote your skills and your work. Enter competitions, promote your writing and get your name out there.

Be confident

Never apologize for your goals, ambitions, passions, ideas, or strengths. Someone has to do your dream job so it might as well be you! You are smart, capable, resilient, and talented enough to do it. Believe that you can be a working screenwriter and you can be.

Don’t chase trends

Film industry trends change faster than you can write. If you pitched John Wick, Stranger Things, or Get Out ten years ago, you’d have been shown the door and without getting your parking validated. So don’t try to write what you think other people want, because it’s a waste of time. Write what you want instead.

Write what you’re good at, no matter which genre it might be. And stay focused on what you want to do; not what you feel you’re expected to do. Not only will it make you happier, but it will likely lead to more professional writing opportunities than just following the crowd.

Be open to feedback in all forms

There is no universal metric of quality for material, especially not screenplays. Sure, there are common screenwriting conventions you should follow, but everyone scores scripts under subjective criteria. One reader could think you’re a genius, while another thinks your script is trash. That doesn’t make either of them right or wrong.

Take feedback and criticism in stride, because even bad feedback can help you grow as a writer. And remember, you’re neither required to take all of their feedback nor should you dismiss their opinions as a vendetta. Reviews and critiques are just data points on how someone responds to your material. Hear it. Heed it. Hopefully, you can use it.

Where you go from there is up to you.

Look in the long view

Despite a handful of “success stories,” nothing happens in Hollywood overnight. Script deals take time. Finding the right agent isn’t a one-shot thing. Even if you nail your first general meeting, you still have a lot of work left to do and a lot of time before you see the results of your hard work. And that’s ok.

Screenwriting is all about hurrying up and waiting. Things take time here to go from script to signing to screen. Learn to love the in-between times. And if you get impatient, just remember what your ultimate goal is. You can have a day, a week, or a month, where you don’t make the progress you’d hoped for. But when you trace your progress over the past 6, 12, or 18 months you should discover that you’re moving in the right direction. If that isn’t the case, then it’s time to rethink your strategy.

How screenwriters get discovered

Take advantage of Coverfly. Sorry I had to plug. Coverfly is here as a platform to help screenwriters at every stage in their career, whether you’re just starting out or you have multiple credits and still need a little support finding industry partners or pitching projects. Through our programs, initiatives, products, services, and community, we’re here to help take that next step in your career whatever it is.

Create your Coverfly Screenwriting profile today and see what taking the next step in your writing career really looks like.

screenwriter profile

Getting the Most Out of Screenplay Coverage: Expectations

By Advice, Screenwriting 101

Once a screenwriter sends their work out for feedback, their mind will undoubtedly start churning. The anticipation that comes with waiting for feedback can be anxiety-inducing.

A screenplay is never really finished until the film is wrapped, and even then the story evolves in during production. So it’s vital that writers learn to receive and apply notes with humility and grace, recognizing that it’s a collaborative effort with many creative minds. When receiving notes, a screenwriter needs to leave their ego at the door and accept feedback with an open mind. Sure, not every note will need to be (or should be) applied — all notes should all be considered with a proverbial grain of salt.

Take the notes as simply one reader’s reaction to your material. Just as every film has people who love it and people who dislike it, so will your script. Don’t take any praise or criticism personally.

Most scripts undergo dozens of rounds of notes and rewrites before going into production. It’s true that writing is re-writing.

To help manage your expectations, here is an example of the general format most script analysts follow when reviewing your screenplay:


Basic screenplay coverage usually touches upon the top portion of the graphic, providing you with the title, format, budget, genre, setting, logline, summary, and comments.

For more in-depth coverage, the script analyst will break down the strengths and weaknesses of each story trait found in the bottom of the graphic. These analyses can range from 5-10 pages. Traits evaluated could include Concept, Story, Characters, Structure, Pacing and Originality.

Here is a great example of coverage from our partner WeScreenplay.

As you break into the industry, one of the first lessons you’ll learn is that film is collaboration. There are many reasons an idea might work on the page but cannot practically be produced.

A producer may provide notes that ask you to cut back on an action sequence because the budget just won’t allow two car chases. Or the director may not believe a character’s goal is clear enough. It’s the writer’s job to fix these issues, and a writer will fix them. If your partners trust in your adaptability, hopefully you’ll be the one making the changes.

Over the course of your career, you’ll learn that a film is made through collaboration and that combining excitable minds will only make the final product that much better. Practice embracing notes now with peer-to-peer script exchanges and coverage services to help improve your work.

Here’s what you should NOT expect from your coverage.

  • All the Answers: A script analyst might provide some general suggestions, but they will not give you answers to the issues they highlight. That’s your job.
  • Ultimate Praise: Although a reader will hopefully lend some encouragement, don’t expect them to laud your work as the next great masterpiece. It’s their job to pick it apart.
  • Ridicule: Even if you really miss the mark, you should never be subjected to ridicule or demeaning language from your script analyst. If the abuse is coming from an organization, be sure to report it. If it is coming from a fellow writer or friend — you deserve to be surrounded by people who exude positive energy.
  • Subpar Coverage: You’ve invested plenty of time into writing the script, and you’re investing hard earned cash to get constructive feedback. So it’s only right to expect analysis that shows the reader actually read your work. Most reputable services will provide thorough and insightful critiques of your script. If you feel a coverage falls woefully short, politely reach out to the organization and they’ll most likely work with you to rectify the issue.

And another main reason that writers get feedback on their scripts is to increase their Coverfly Score. As a project improves with re-writes, each subsequent evaluation can count toward the aggregate weighted average of your Coverfly Score which in turns can help your project attract attention of industry professionals.

Kevin Nelson is a writer and director based in New York City, baby. He has written and produced critically acclaimed short films and music videos with incredibly talented artists, worked with anti-human trafficking organizations in Nepal, and would rather be in nature right now. Check out his Coverfly profile, see more madness on Instagram or follow his work on https://www.kevinpatricknelson.com

A Guide to Agents and Managers for Screenwriters

By Advice, Screenwriting 101

One of the most common questions we get at Coverfly is “how do I sign with an agent or manager?” There is no clear answer or path, and it is one of the aspects of the business of screenwriting with the most mystery and uncertainty swirling around it.  With the help of several industry professionals, we decided to demystify this for you.

And to be clear: just because you may have representation does not mean the rest of the screenwriting journey is smooth sailing. In fact, many writers have multiple reps over the course of their careers. Like any human relationship, the writer/rep relationship can be fraught with difficulties. Issues with personality, work ethic and expectations for your career can derail what should be a positive and symbiotic relationship.

Fortunately, the panelists in the Coverfly Career Lab’s second panel shared a lot about great ways to ensure that you have the right representation for you.

KNOW WHAT YOU WANT

As an up and coming writer, jumping at any agent or manager interested in repping you can set you up for trouble. You as the writer should know your wants and needs, and it is important to know these at the start of the representation pursuit. “It’s like a relationship,” says Matt Dy, a lit manager at Lit Entertainment Group, and he’s completely right. The best relationships develop naturally and are the ones where wants and needs are aligned.

Parker Davis, a lit agent at Verve Talent Agency, offers the helpful tidbit that “new writers should seek new managers.” Writers will often go through more than one manager or agent during the course of their career. Starting with a rep who is closer to your career level can help you team up with someone who is hungry, driven, and eager to get your work out there.

RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH

Another way you can know who the best reps are for you is to do your homework! “Do your due diligence” says Parker. By doing your research, you demonstrate that you’re proactive and understand the industry., Managers and agents are always eager to work with writers who aren’t afraid of doing the work.

It can also help to lean on other writers to get this homework done. Matt suggests writers groups as a great way to figure out the right reps for you (as well as commiserate with people going through the same journey as you). Not only that, but according to Ava Jamshidi, lit manager at Industry Entertainment, “building your network is how you build your opportunities.” Always remember that writers can help other writers! 

Another effective way to connect with managers and agents is via reputable screenwriting competitions which showcase their winners and finalists to their industry partners and judges. Hundreds of writers have signed with their first reps via industry writing competitions. Coverfly has a list of reputable screenwriting talent-discovery programs with upcoming deadlines. Click to submit your script here.

FIGURE OUT YOUR WORK PROCESS

Difference in work schedules and processes can also create a divide between writers and their new reps. You may be a seven outline kind of writer, but you could find yourself with a manager who wants to read a full draft first. Or you could have a micromanaging manager when you work much better independently.

So how can you avoid this pitfall? Write a lot of material (especially at the beginning of your career). “Make an effort to give us stuff to do stuff on your behalf” says Ava. It is important to remember that high output is vital. Telling reps how much you write is really important. Also, Matt Dy offers a good piece of advice; “operate like a working writer”. That means treating your writing like your job and showing up every day to write pages and make progress on your scripts.

DON’T LOSE YOUR VOICE

You’ll probably see this running motif through these blogs, but having a unique voice is one of your most important assets as a writer. Finding and keeping your voice establishes your brand as a writer. Your unique voice helps showcase your passion as a writer, and “passion stands out” says Parker. Matt also encourages writers to use their “voice to stand out in a crowded field.”

So how does that translate into getting reps? It is important to use your voice to keep the work you are presenting consistent. This helps a rep know how to market you to the industry so you can get hired for writing assignments, sell your projects and get staffed on television shows. Also, it is crucial to learn how to keep your voice present in writing script after script. “Don’t dilute your voice writing in ten different things” says Ava, which is important to establish for a successful career.

And be sure to write a great professional bio for your Coverfly profile. Agents and managers are perusing Coverfly’s database every day looking for emerging writers who are ready to sign with professional representation. Having a great Coverfly profile can help you stand out.

Curious about the difference between agents and managers? Check out this blog post from our partners at ScreenCraft: 8 Differences Between Agents and Managers

dialogue coverfly

Improving Your Screenplay’s Dialogue 

By Advice, Screenwriting 101

Great dialogue has provided some of the most memorable moments in film history and can make or break the viability of your screenplay.

Dialogue is the expression of your character’s point of view and the relationships between characters. It serves as a vital tool for developing your characters, establishing back story and tone, as well as advancing your plot. But a word to the wise, dialogue when written poorly can be a clunky vehicle for exposition. As screenwriter Josh Friedman said, “Bad exposition is like bad lighting. It exposes more than it illuminates.” 

Your dialogue should feel natural and real while being carefully crafted to serve the narrative.

Dialogue also serves to build a bond with your audience by inviting them to understand what the characters say “between the lines.” The subtext of what a character says is often more important than what they say literally. And a character’s action or silence in a scene can signify much more than what they say with words. As Billy Wilder famously said of Lubitsch: “Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.” This is true with plot as well as with dialogue. Let the audience have an “aha!” moment when reading (or watching) your characters’ dialogue.

Here are some ways to improve your screenplay’s dialogue.

1. Every Character Needs Their Own Voice

Seldom should two characters have the same cadence and word choice. Their dialogue needs to be suited to their personalities. 

It’s best to leave things like dialects up to the actors because it can become distracting to readers. Remember, you want your screenplay to read as flawlessly as possible. Instead, try and squeeze in some regional words used by the locals of your setting. 

2. Make Each Line Matter

The main way that dialogue in screenwriting differs from how we speak in real life is that there is no time for filler statements or superfluous monologues. 

Every element of your script needs to be moving toward the climax as a cohesive unit. Dialogue included. Remain on topic, and always ask yourself whether a particular line of dialogue needs to be said.

Your dialogue should reflect the theme and tone of your screenplay while advancing the plot. Don’t waste time explaining things that your characters can show through action. Go through early drafts of your script and cut out any filler.

3. Action Speaks Louder Than Words

Your characters don’t always need to announce what they intend to do or how they feel. You’re likely to lose momentum that way. Don’t stop the narrative so that a character can plan out the rest of the movie. If they’re sad, show them listening to love ballads and crying. 

If a line of dialogue can be shown through action instead of being stated, the writing becomes more engrossing to a reader. 

4. Don’t Say Anything at All

Silence can be louder than words. Sometimes what is left unsaid rings out louder than a shout and creates a deeper sense of understanding between the audience and your characters.

Misunderstanding based on miscommunication can create a lot of conflict in your script.

A great example of this is the Black Mirror episode The Entire History of You. 

The main character replays his memories, picking up on subtle hints that lead him to believe his wife is having an affair. Through minor mannerisms and silent gestures, he’s able to piece together the truth behind his paranoia. 

5. Subtlety and Elusiveness

Keeping certain information from either the reader or characters helps keep the action intriguing. It also shifts the power dynamics of the relationship. Don’t show all of your cards right away. Up the stakes by raising the bet and keep your hand close to your chest.

You can utilize the hidden information based on the genre you’re writing for. For instance, when an audience knows a killer is lurking somewhere in the shadows but the character is unaware, you can create a real sense of dread and fear.

If there is a big reveal at the end of your script, include some instances of foreshadowing in the dialogue throughout the screenplay that point toward the reveal without giving anything away.

6. Build Up Suspense

Expository dialogue can lose the reader/viewer’s attention if it doesn’t lead them to some sort of payoff. 

A great example of this is the basement scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds.

When American troops posing as German soldiers are cornered into a small room with only one way out by actual German soldiers, there is an impending doom that cannot be ignored — regardless of how long the conversation becomes. 

Readers and viewers know something is going to happen — so suspending that explosive moment for as long as possible while increasing the tension can have a dramatic effect.

As a jovial drinking game is played, little bits of information are revealed through the dialogue, until a seemingly mundane hand gesture increases the tension to a simmering point and leaves the audience on the edge of their seat waiting for the ball to drop.

7. Interruptions and Ellipses 

A great way to capture the emotion of your character is to interrupt their speech with a double dash (–) at the point of interruption, or an ellipses (…) if the dialogue is interrupted by action. Be careful of overusing the ellipses. This is a common mistake made by aspiring writers.

Another way you can use an interruption to your advantage is to interrupt long stretches of action with a reactionary line of dialogue. This helps create a little white space. If your character shoots a basketball and misses, will they be silent with their reaction? 

8. Dual Dialogue

Dual dialogue is another way to make your dialogue more realistic. If two characters are in a heated argument, they’re not going to wait for the other to finish their sentence. 

Characters shouldn’t just wait for the other to finish their line — they’re engaging in a conversation. They should listen, ignore, interrupt, talk over, and react to what is being said to them.

Writer and director Greta Gerwig managed to flawlessly pull off dual dialogue in Little Women by making uses of slashes (/) to signify the interruption point. 

For example:

Dual Dialogue Little Women

Gerwig has stated that her dialogue forms a rhythm, so having specific points where the characters interrupt each other allows the story to remain on beat.  

You can create dual dialogue in Final Draft by highlighting two characters’ dialogue and pressing command + D.

9. Avoid Clichés

If it’s been said before, say it differently or don’t say it at all.

It is often said that dialogue is the element of your screenplay that can really make the difference between a great script and one that isn’t quite there yet. With a little refinement and rewriting, your dialogue could help your screenplay catch the eyes and minds of the right people.

If you’d like to do more research on ways to improve your dialogue, seek out and read your favorite screenplays in the genre you wish to make your brand. Take notes. 

How are the lines delivered? What are the commonalities and differences between scripts? How does each line of dialogue capture each character’s personality?

Kevin Nelson is a writer and director based in New York City, baby. He has written and produced critically acclaimed short films and music videos with incredibly talented artists, worked with anti-human trafficking organizations in Nepal, and would rather be in nature right now. Check out his Coverfly profile, see more madness on Instagram or follow his work on https://www.kevinpatricknelson.com

Improving Your Screenplay’s Theme

By Advice, Screenwriting 101

Theme is defined as the central and unifying idea developed throughout a work of art. It could be your central dramatic question, or the meaning your protagonist finds through their journey. Your theme holds the narrative elements of your story together. It is the core of your story summed up in one or two words. Theme is referred to as the one big idea.

If you’re having trouble pinpointing your theme, try to focus on the main conflict and the main force that drives the story forward. Start by generalizing the main conflict between the protagonist and antagonist.

Is your character falling in love with an opposing personality? Is your character coming to terms with the struggles of adolescence?

One exercise that might be helpful: try to simplify the heart of your story into a single word that flows throughout the entire body of work.

Here are 30 themes commonly found in stories. Can you find the general theme of your story?

And there are so many more to explore and choose from.

The theme of your story is revealed through all of your screenplay’s traits and elements — character, dialogue, description, setting, tone, genre, tropes, etc.

Here are some tips on improving your screenplay’s theme.

Character

Theme is intrinsically connected to your protagonist and their goals. Think of the theme as the stakes behind their actions. Oftentimes, the theme is the catalyst behind your screenplay’s conflict.

A catalyst is considered a substance that causes a reaction between two forces without itself being affected. It’s rooted in the underlying systemic issues already present in your characters’ world before the inciting incident occurs. Your protagonist may be unaware that these problems even exist.

The inciting incident then thrusts them out of their comfort zone and forces them to confront their flaws (or the flaws of their world) by overcoming some great obstacle.

What is your characters’ emotional connection to the conflict? What do they need to save or protect? What are the stakes? Why tell their story? Theme lies in the answers to all of these questions. Yet, that’s only one aspect.

Setting

Setting is an important thematic element simply because it’s the time and place where the conflict unfolds. If your story is a quest, surely the terrain along their journey cannot be friendly. The setting informs the motivation behind your character’s decisions and the obstacles in their path.

Your characters’ upbringing and worldview impacts their decision making, as well as their immediate setting. During our partner ScreenCraft’s 2020 Virtual Screenwriting Summit, filmmaker Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Series, Armageddon) discussed that it’s important for a character’s behavior to be real and responsive to his or her environment by knowing and utilizing the physical space the character inhabits.

The setting should also thematically reflect the tone, genre, characterization, dialogue, and other traits of your screenplay. The tone of a dark noir would be better set in the underbelly of a major city while an ensemble comedy would work better in an office building.

Dialogue

Dialogue is a great way to make the theme of your screenplay known. After all, everyone knows that with great power comes great responsibility. Taglines can encapsulate the entire driving force of your story.

It’s important to not come across as too preachy or hit the reader over the head. Avoid being hyperbolic or melodramatic. Thematic statements made by characters should feel natural.

You can establish your theme before The Lock-In at the end of Act I with a single line of dialogue that really drives home the point.

Thematic Patterning

One way that you can improve your theme with subtlety is through the use of recurring motifs or symbols. These details help reinforce and highlight your theme.

A motif is an image, narrative device, sound, detail, object, action, or line of dialogue that has symbolic significance in developing the theme.

In Psycho (1960), Norman Bates sits underneath birds of prey poised for attack while speaking to his next victim. In The Godfather, oranges represent death or danger. It’s no mistake that Harriet Tubman takes her first steps as a free woman at sunrise in Harriet (2020). The setting acts as a motif that’s symbolic of her transition from being enslaved to a free woman and the elements work together to keep the theme of freedom alive.

When all of the traits and elements of your screenplay work together to inform upon the theme, your screenplay becomes more cohesive. Work through each of your screenplay’s traits and make sure they all work toward the same goal: a screenplay unified by theme.

Kevin Nelson is a writer and director based in New York City, baby. He has written and produced critically acclaimed short films and music videos with incredibly talented artists, worked with anti-human trafficking organizations in Nepal, and would rather be in nature right now. Check out his Coverfly profile, see more madness on Instagram or follow his work on https://www.kevinpatricknelson.com

4 Tips for Improving Your Brand as a Screenwriter

By Advice, Events, Screenwriting 101

So you have a few really strong scripts under your belt that you’ve been rewriting constantly, and now you’re ready to use them to start your writing career. But before you simply send those scripts out, you need to figure out your brand.

At the end of the day, reps look at your writing and your brand. This not only includes what you love to write but also your background, your personal connection to your projects, and your unique voice as a writer and a person.

Here to help are the panelists from the Coverfly Career Lab’s first panel, who had a lot of helpful advice on how to improve your brand.

Be Open to Pivot

Even if you think you know what your brand is at the start, it is important to be prepared to make a change as you start taking meetings and getting your work seen by professionals. You may think of yourself as the romantic comedy expert, but a producer could see potential for horror or thriller based off of a meeting with you. A good example of this comes from panelist Monica Macer, the showrunner for Netflix’s Gentefied, who remembers how an early pivot from action to character driven work helped her establish her brand and that becoming “a better character writer has made [her] a better action writer.” 

Another writer who shared a similar experience is playwright and television writer David Rambo, known for his work on Empire and CSI, who found himself having to pivot in order to focus on story instead of character. “I was always known as the character guy,” says David, “it took me a long time to learn story.” Being open to these changes can change what you believe your brand is, but could show you aspects of your writing you may not have considered as your strongest assets.

Maintain Your Voice

No matter how much you pivot, it is crucial to maintain your distinct voice and keep it consistent regardless of what you are writing or demonstrating as the strongest part of your brand. You are a distinct person with a unique perspective to bring to the table, and it is important to see this in your writing as part of your brand. This is something that can really help your brand stand out, and when you’re taking meetings, according to Monica, it’s a great way “to be memorable in a day of ten meetings”. 

Maintaining a clear voice is something that Eric Fineman, the senior Vice President of Pascal Pictures, really values when it comes to finding new writers to work with. “Find a personal connection to each project…you want to feel a real passion and urgency to write the script, which hopefully will translate to the urgency for the audience to want to watch it.”

Be Open to Opportunities

Both David and Monica emphasized the importance of being open to opportunity, both for brand as well as for career. “No job is too small. Put in the work…opportunities need to be capitalized upon” says Monica. It also helps to take these opportunities to test the waters and see new genres and stories that could really help your brand. These opportunities also help create a bigger backstory for you as a writer, providing pieces you can use to help contribute to your brand.

Bios and Loglines

So after a lot of deliberating, opportunity taking and pivoting, you’ve finally figured out your brand that combines your voice and the work you excel in. The last step comes with putting this into a package that is easy for managers, agents, and execs to read and understand who you are. This comes both with a bio for you as a writer as well as loglines for the scripts in your repertoire.

Eric’s big piece of advice? “Consider bios and loglines from an analyst perspective” and ask yourself “how does the information correspond with what you’re seeing in the industry?” For more information on writing a strong bio, check out Coverfly’s blog Writing a Great Writer Bio for Your Coverfly Profile.


Jeff is a Los Angeles based writer and a Senior Story Analyst at Coverfly. He has served as a reader for various production companies including Blumhouse and Valhalla and is a lover of genre and creepy stories.

Tips for Screenwriters from a Professional Story Analyst

By Advice, Screenwriting 101

In my role as Sr. Story Analyst for Coverfly, screenwriters are always asking me how they can make a great impression on readers whose job it is to sift through piles and piles of scripts. So, let’s take an in-depth look on simple ways writers can separate themselves from the pack. 

First, what is a story analyst? A story analyst’s primary role is to read screenplays and provide evaluation and insight into the elements of the story. I may conduct this service for a producer, production company, studio, agency, management firm, screenplay competition, or script coverage service. 

My expertise is in evaluating the strengths and weaknesses in screenplays.  

There are three ways story analysts like myself can approach their analysis.

  • Recommend, Consider, or Pass — Comes with short and succinct coverage meant to gauge an industry insider’s interest. Highlights strengths, weaknesses, budget scale, and potential.
  • Grading Scale – Utilized by screenplay competitions. Story traits such as characters, format, structure, dialogue, pacing, plot, tone, etc., are graded and tallied.
  • Coverage – General coverages are short and touch upon 3-4 major improvements that need to be addressed. More in-depth coverages can span up to seven pages and dive deep into all of the story traits judged by readers.  

Now that we have a better understanding of what a story analyst does, here are some tips I’ve accrued from my time reading a wide-range of screenplays and pilots:

1. Be professional

When reading your script, I will immediately take note of the formatting and writing style. 

    • Formatting – There is an industry standard in formatting that writers shouldn’t deviate from. Make sure to use screenwriting software to get the margins and alignments right. Resist the urge to delve into prose and alway write action in the present tense. I’ve found that reading produced screenplays available online can be a big help when it comes to formatting. 
    • Writing Style – Story analysts like myself are drawn to a screenplay if the writer’s voice matches the genre. If you’re writing a horror film, your tone and delivery should be scary and foreboding. If you’re writing a comedy, you gotta make ‘em laugh. Use an active voice instead of a passive one. Also, avoid using too many -ing verbs (gerunds). 

For example: Don’t write: He is running

Write: He runs.

Don’t drown the reader with details they don’t need. Details should function either as plot devices or to create a sense of tone or mood. The adage, “Don’t describe a tea cup unless it has poison in it,” applies here.

 

2. Establish Cause & Effect

It’s important to hit certain milestones in the story, particularly when it comes to introducing the inciting incident within the first fifteen pages. I’ve found that after a while it’s hard to become invested in a screenplay if the plot feels like a series of random events. Early on in the story I need to know who the main character is, what they want, and what the stakes are. 

Try to create a sense of, “This happens because this happens,” instead of, “new things just keep happening.”

Further, don’t make life easy on your protagonist! The other common mistake (particularly with pilots) that writers tend to make is to avoid throwing conflict and obstacles the protagonist’s way. The pilot is the writer’s one opportunity to show what makes the series great, so don’t wait for episode two to put your hero in a difficult position. The main character needs to struggle early and often.  

Speaking of the protagonist, it’s important that they be proactive throughout their journey. The protagonist must have a sense of agency and make bold decisions from beginning to end. The best way to reveal character is through their actions (both good and bad), so make sure they are the one driving the action, as opposed to just getting pulled along for the ride. 

Also, establish the premise early on. Don’t wait until the last few pages. This is something that beginner writers often do in their TV pilots that I always caution against. If the premise of your pilot is centered on a fire house, don’t end the pilot with your protagonist entering the fire house for the first time and meeting a whole bunch of supporting characters that we no longer have enough time to explore. Lead with it so the reader can get a better picture of what the series might look like over multiple episodes.

 

3. Be Original

Find your voice. It takes time to develop but ultimately it comes down to a writer’s delivery and the unique perspective they bring to the story. How does your own personal life experience permeate through your writing? Your voice is the soul of the screenplay.

A screenplay stands out when the writer has the ability to visualize a unique worldview and bring that world to life. The writer’s passion and perspective should be on full display. 

 

4. Subvert Expectations

“Readers in general are drawn to things that are new and different. So they might read a script where they think, ‘You know what? This is a really tough sell but at the same time it really stands out to me.’ I think managers and agents appreciate that too.”

So make it fresh. Avoid repeating the same boring tropes, clichés, and genre conventions unless you plan on subverting them. Be aware of what came before, but don’t be afraid to step outside the confines of genre to create a memorable experience. For example, I’ve read dozens of pilots that begin with the protagonist getting dumped by their significant other and then fired from their job. Instead, consider showing the protagonist’s life falling apart in a new and compelling way. 

 

5. Show, Don’t Tell

Okay, we’ve all heard this before. It’s the most elementary writing lesson taught to writers. That’s because it cannot be emphasized enough. We all fall into the trap of taking the easy way out from time to time.

Showing a character lose their temper or “making a mountain out of a molehill” will always be stronger than telling me they have a temper in the description. Express their anxieties, strengths, and flaws with mannerisms and actions that speak for themselves. You’re writing for a visual medium, so every scene should be imagined visually

As a story analyst, I’m always encouraging writers to push their work more towards what’s unique and different, as opposed to what they think will sell. These days, it’s not enough to simply write a screenplay that feels commercially viable; it needs to stand out and be different from all the rest. By heeding the advice of experienced story analysts, your words can linger in their minds long after they read FADE TO BLACK. 

Make it memorable!

Micah Goldman got his start as a production assistant for multiple seasons on the NBC show The Office. Later on, he wrote and executive produced a pilot presentation for Fox Television Studios that was released on Hulu.com. Currently, he provides detailed screenplay and pilot notes for both established and up-and-coming writers. 

Screenwriting Plot and Story Structure

By Advice, Screenwriting 101

The plot of your screenplay is the sequence of events that acts as the backbone of your story, and is driven forward by your protagonist’s motivations and actions. In this article we’ll examine the traditional three act structure and five plot points. This is by no means the only approach to plot and story structure, however it is the foundation of nearly all great stories in film and TV, and all beginning screenwriters would do well to master these concepts. 

A simple way to approach your screenplay is: CHARACTERS + PLOT = STORY 

To better understand how to improve the plot of your screenplay, it’s important to look at the elements that form the foundation of basic story structure.

Basic Three Act Structure

Every story has a definitive beginning (Act I), middle (Act II), and end (Act III), and each act serves a specific purpose. 

Let’s take a closer look at the primary elements of the three act structure. 

The Set Up introduces your setting and characters while establishing the rules of their world, the tone of the story going forward, and the protagonist’s weaknesses and strengths. It hooks both the reader and the characters into the action. 

Act II is a series of rising tensions and obstacles that accumulate at the climax of your plot. It’s perhaps the most difficult section of your script. Act II is filled with minor successes and major failures that force a character to evolve in order to conquer their main flaw and face their conflict head on. It’s the heart of your story, so take care of it.

A good exercise in your first or second rewrite is to go back and make sure all the story threads and subplots introduced in Act I connect with the obstacles of Act II. 

Act III moves fast and is with precision. The main conflict and subplot collide with a twist or resurgence of a threat, and the character has to use everything they learned in Act II to conquer the final obstacle. The solution is often in contrast with the character’s main flaw. Once the conflict is resolved, there is a new status quo.

The Five Plot Points

From the foundation of the three act structure, let’s look closer at the five plot points of a basic story arc. 

  1. Inciting Incident – The introduction of the main conflict that threatens normalcy.
  2. The Lock In – The protagonist becomes locked in to face the main conflict.
  3. First Culmination – The midpoint where the character finds a solution that might work.
  4. Main Culmination – The climax of the screenplay where the peril and magnitude of the conflict seems to overpower the protagonist. 
  5. Twist – The final culmination and change in direction where the plot and subplot collide.

The Eight Sequences of the Three Act Structure

Within the framework of the five plot points, a screenplay typically contains eight sequences that hit on similar beats.

ACT ONE 

Sequence 1 – Introduce Main Character/Status Quo

Plot Point #1: Inciting Incident/Point of Attack

Sequence 2 – Set Predicament/Establish Main Tension

Plot Point #2: The Lock In 

ACT TWO

Sequence 3 – First Obstacle/Raise the Stakes 

Sequence 4 – Higher Obstacle

Plot Point #3: First Culmination

Sequence 5 – Subplot/Rising Action

Sequence 6 – Highest obstacle

Plot Point #4: Main Culmination

ACT THREE

Sequence 7 – New Tension

Plot Point #5: Twist

Sequence 8 – Resolution

Advanced Structuring

Once you have the fundamentals down, you can begin to look at more advanced modes of structure for inspiration. You can rearrange or reverse the order of events, use other structuring principles, and even discover your own techniques.

One popular story structure technique is explained by writer Dan Harmon’s Story Circle. Harmon (creator of Community and Rick & Morty) distilled Christopher Vogler’s book, The Writer’s Journey, itself an elucidation of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, as follows:

  1. A character is in their comfort zone,
  2. But they need something.
  3. They enter into an unfamiliar situation,
  4. They adapt to it,
  5. They get what they wanted,
  6. They pay a heavy price for it,
  7. Then they return to their familiar situation,
  8. Having changed.

Some great resources for advanced story structuring can be found on our partner ScreenCraft’s blog:

10 Screenplay Structures that Screenwriters Can Use

Unconventional Story Structures for Screenwriters

The 12 Stages of the Screenwriter’s Journey

The structure of your screenplay is essential to holding your audience’s attention. Each scene serves a function of the plot, which is an extension of the leader character(s) goals and arc. Understanding these concepts can help you choose to eliminate unnecessary scenes that might slow your story down and make for a more engaging read. 


Kevin Nelson is a writer and director based in New York City, baby. He has written and produced critically acclaimed short films and music videos with incredibly talented artists, worked with anti-human trafficking organizations in Nepal, and would rather be in nature right now. Check out his Coverfly profile, see more madness on Instagram or follow his work on https://www.kevinpatricknelson.com


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