Category

Advice

5 Keys of Networking Online for Screenwriters

By Advice

Building a network is one of the most important things you can do for yourself as a screenwriter.

Networking helps you connect with other writers to encourage and support each other; helps you meet with other creatives to start bringing your vision to life; or even meet with an executive, producer, or teacher to bring your work and career to a new level. 

Even without the strange year we all had, the world of networking was bound to expand into, and take place largely on the internet. While in-person and online networking have a lot of overlaps, going online allows you to leverage new tools to help you stand out and meet new people you could otherwise never meet in person. 

Without further ado, here are five tips to help you build your network online. 

Leverage Social Media

Social media sites like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are great options for screenwriters to build their network. But not all social media is built the same. Each platform has and attracts a different audience and different content. You wouldn’t use Instagram the same way you’d use Twitter, so you shouldn’t use Instagram to network in the same way you’d network on Twitter. 

For example, Instagram is a great place to share pictures and stories about the projects you’re working on, and to see what others in your community are working on. Post pictures or stories of your writing space for today, online events or classes you attended, post what inspires you to write, ask your followers about the same. Use Facebook groups to have more intimate and focused discussions with like-minded (or nearby) writers. See what the audience is like on each platform and whether they’re aligned with your personal goals.

And if you’re serious about building a network, there’s no better option than Twitter. Increasingly, there are more and more people looking for writers via social call-outs on Twitter. Make sure you have your profile ready to share so it stands out for those call-outs. Use your Twitter account to interact with others through updates, questions, or asking for general advice. Ask the Twitterverse what they do when they have writer’s block, and retweet responses you like. Ask if anyone has seen any great films from the 70s recently. Make and respond to polls about when to outline or when to free write. 

Don’t limit yourself only to those social media platforms. Others, like Twitch, TikTok, LinkedIn, Discord, or Reddit are also great ways to meet with fellow writers and creatives in different ways. Explore and see which ones you enjoy using the most. And don’t forget to #hashtag your posts. 

Put Yourself Out There

If you’re networking to promote your scripts, you have to put yourself and your scripts out there. This means when using social media, share, retweet, or regram stories or articles that spoke to you, share useful links, show the world what you’re working on, follow people or topics you’re interested in, and engage! No one networks in person by lurking in a dark corner, so don’t do that online either! Reach out to and follow other writers with similar interests. You can network with everyone, but you can really start connecting and building your online community with like-minded writers, and you can only do that by putting yourself out there. 

Also, put yourself out there on Coverfly! It’s a great way to get feedback on your script and to meet peers. Coverfly has share options on your project page to help you promote your work. And many writers will screenshot their badges and post them on social media. This helps not only to get the word out but also to spark up a conversation with fellow writers on Coverfly. A big part of networking is not showing off what you’ve done but showing people what value you can offer and finding a connection.

Join in a (Free) Online Event

Especially in the last year, many in-person events have moved online, and many more have been created. Lots of organizations have online events, classes, and programs, many of which are free! As an example, check out the offerings from ScreencraftCoverfly, and the WGA for informative and useful sessions on the craft and business of screenwriting, with Q&As afterward. 

When you attend these events, don’t go with the intention to plug yourself. Go there to discover other writers and professionals. Listen and learn from their goals, passions, or struggles. This isn’t to say you should hide your accomplishments or not talk about what you’re working on, but that shouldn’t be the reason why you’re attending. Go with the intention to learn instead of brag; to listen instead of talk; to have a good discussion instead of monologuing. And if you feel like you’re talking too long or the conversation is slowing down, have an open question that everyone can participate in ready to go, like “has anyone read anything recently that sparked your creativity?”

Don’t forget to share your experience on social media!

Keep it Short and Personal

So you’ve posted on social media, gone to events or classes, and have a nice list of emails of people you want to reach out to. Fantastic! Follow up with them and nurture those connections. When you email them, keep it short and keep it personal. When in-person (or over video), a good conversation is hard to beat. But online, the last thing you want to do is sit down and read a long message. 

As the great bard said, “Brevity is the soul of wit”, so keep your messages concise, easy to read, and easy to understand. And when you reach out, don’t reach out with just a general ask or a generic message. Get personal and specific. See how the other person is doing and how their project is coming along. Think about the next steps you want to take to develop your relationship with the other person. It should be easy enough. We’re all writers. 

Be Yourself

Just like you need to write stories that speak to you, you should network the same way. Sure you may need to step out of your comfort zone from time to time, but that doesn’t mean you have to develop a new persona just to network with people. Find your own voice and be genuine when you network. 

Most importantly, as you network, think about how you can add value to your new connections. Don’t just reach out asking people to do things for you or pester someone incessantly to read your script. Offer to help others, ask to volunteer at an organization’s event, set up a monthly Zoom coffee break one-on-one or with other writers, offer to read scripts, think about how to connect your networks or how you can make it about the other person, not yourself. 

Networking is about finding and building your tribe. As you continue to move forward in your craft and career, these will be the people you will rely on and who will rely on you.

A Screenwriters Guide to Nailing Pitches, Generals, and Meetings

By Advice

While virtual industry meetings have become increasingly common over the past year and a half, they haven’t gotten any easier. Writers often come to Coverfly ahead of industry meetings with questions of what to expect, what to say or not say, do or not do, or what the point of the meeting even is.

Never fear. As we prepare for the Fall 2021 Virtual Pitch Week, an event that has seen writers staffed on series and sell their projects, we have compiled a quick guide for any virtual meeting based on the hundreds we consulted on.

Know what type of meeting you are having

Not all meetings are the same! Some will want you to pitch a project while others will want to get to know you as a writer, and you need to know the difference so you don’t waste the opportunity.

While meetings come in all shapes and sizes, here are the main types emerging writers have:

  1. A Pitch Meeting-- a producer or company wants you to pitch a project of yours or your version of a project they are developing
  2. A General -- while not considering a specific project, an industry member wants to get to know you and your work better to see if there is a way to collaborate
  3. Prospective Client Meeting -- a manager or an agent wants to discuss the prospect of working together with you as their client

If you are unsure, best practice is to treat every meeting like a general unless you were informed in advance that you'll be discussing a specific project.

How should I approach the different types of meetings?

It is important to approach each meeting type differently, and the best way to do so is to have a clear goal for the meeting and a clear next step you are working towards.

Pitch Meeting-- sell a specific project or your take on a specific project, so come prepared with your take on a story

General-- pitching yourself, your talents, and your body of work for any current or future collaborations, so know what you have to offer

Prospective Client-- have a clear idea of your career goals + ambitions to see if working together with the potential rep makes sense for both of you

What can I do to prepare?

Research! Research! Research!

For the company you are meeting with, look at the types of projects they have made or are currently making. Do they have a website or mission statement? Credits? How and when were they founded? Are there recent articles or interviews about them in the trades?

For the individual, likewise understand who they are, what their job is, what sort of responsibilities they have + problems you can fix, their own personal interest or passions, what they like to work on, if they have any social media or previous interviews.

For both, it is important to show that you are informed but also allows you to cater your presentation to be as personalized and relevant to them as possible.

WARNING: DO NOT MAKE ASSUMPTIONS. Just because they made horror films last year does not mean that is their focus. The best way to learn about them and their company is by asking questions. Obviously don’t ask questions you know the answer to for the sake of asking questions, but to learn more or get clarification.

Baby Steps: Set Reasonable Expectations

We understand the pressure to squeeze every ounce of opportunity out of the meeting whether it is 15 minutes or two hours. There is only so much that can be accomplished in the set amount of time, so don’t make it any harder on yourself by cramming everything in or trying to take five steps at once. Remember, the goal is NOT to sell or package a project or even sign with a rep during the meeting; the goal is to make a connection and keep the conversation going. 

The Do’s and Don’ts of the Meeting

Finally, the part you’ve all been waiting for! While there are exceptions to any rules, these are the best practices we have found:

    • DO NOT over-rehearse or recite a presentation word for word, approach this as you would a conversation
    • DO ask them questions and always leave room for them to ask questions
    • DO Clearly articulate your writing style in a thematic, stylistic, or philosophical sense, to avoid pigeonholing yourself to a specific genre
    • DO NOT pitch a project until you have a sense of what they prioritize and are looking for— then tailor accordingly
    • For reps, DO clearly articulate your career goals to see if they align and if it makes sense for you to work together
    • When pitching a project, DO focus on what the audience will feel and experience, not scene by scene what happens
  • DO NOT spend the entire time talking about craft. Get to know one another as people and talk about yourselves, your interests, and working together!
    • DO Be concise in discussing your bio or background. Always great to talk about yourself and your experiences so long as it informs or contextualizes your writing in some way.
  • When pitching a project DO NOT name all of your characters if you can help it. Usually too hard to keep track of and really who cares what the lead’s support character’s friend’s name is?
  • DO NOT panic or pander. Cliche but calm down and be yourself. The goal here is to have a good convo and form a genuine connection
  • DO BE CONFIDENT! There are thousands of writers and projects and this person CHOSE to meet with YOU!

What to do after the Meeting

So you had an awesome meeting and made a friend but don’t have a super clear next step. Now what?

Find ways to stay in touch with them so long as you are not asking them if they read the sample you sent. Trust me, if they read and loved the sample, they would have reached out to you. Plus, it is perfectly acceptable if not preferred to check in to see how THEY are doing and if there is anything you can do to help them.

Keep them updated on your developments. Placed in a contest? Have an upcoming meeting and want their advice? A project you discussed in your meeting is drawing interest? Shoot them an email so long as you aren’t pestering them. Keep them informed and trust that, if and when it makes sense for you to collaborate, you will

When in doubt…

Email Coverfly! We’ve seen it all before and are always able to answer any questions or help however we can.

Contact us here.

How to Write an Impactful Logline

By Advice

People struggle to craft a logline for some of the same reasons that they struggle to make a script work. 98% of all scripts submitted in film, TV, and stage do not work, so the mechanics of how scripts work are not well understood. Not only is dramatic writing considerably harder than most people think it is, but writing a script is radically different from writing a novel. The underlying storytelling is much the same, of course, but that story must be translated into actions that can be performed by actors and which will grip an audience.

A script is a raw blueprint for a theatrical performance, whether a movie, TV show, or stage play. Even though the actors only interact with each other on stage and not the audience, this indirect form of storytelling, done properly, keeps the audience on the edge of their seats wondering what happens next. This dramatic tension is the necessary ingredient, an indication that a story is working dramatically.

And with that, let’s dive into nine ways to writer a killer logline.

Table of Contents

The More Craft You Have as a Writer, the Better Your Loglines Will Be

So, the fact is that the more you understand the deep mechanics of how to make a script work, the better you’ll be at crafting good loglines. It’s the same tools and techniques. If, for instance, you’re a master homebuilder, then you’ll also be great at building a front door. Loglines focus on a story’s central conflict, as does a powerful tool for plot construction that utilizes logic to pull all a story’s diverse elements together into one coherent whole by focusing on its core conflict.

Focus on Your Story’s Core Conflict

Conflict is central to drama, or more specifically, unresolved conflict, because the audience is rooting for the protagonist to overcome the antagonist, and cares how it turns out. It’s essentially two boxers in a ring in a fight to the finish. The oldest Greek theater was just two actors onstage, and your plot needs to work at that level—two dogs fighting over a bone. And this is true for any genre. There’s just as much conflict in Liar Liar as in Silence of the Lambs, even though they’re quite different.
A simple technique for isolating the central conflict in a developing story is to look at the three-quarters point in the story where the final showdown occurs. What action by the protagonist touches off the fight to the finish? If this doesn’t exist, then you should create it because we want our protagonist to be proactive. Then look near the end of Act I where there should be some kind of conflict between the protagonist and antagonist, but not a fight to the finish. This sets up a potential fight, which will build to a fight to the finish before the end of the story. You’d want to know what action by the protagonist sets up this potential fight.

Conflict in Training Day

In Training Day, it’s when Jake (Ethan Hawke) challenges Alonzo (Denzel Washington) on the side of the highway about robbing the money from the Sandman’s wife with the fake search warrant. They do fight, but it doesn’t erupt into a knockdown-dragout fight, and you can see that these two will go at it before the story is over. By isolating these two central actions (and creating them if they don’t exist), you identify the story’s central conflict, which is crucial to making the plot work and to writing a good logline.

Make Sure the Stakes Are High

Now make sure the stakes are high enough because if they’re not, then the audience doesn’t care who wins. It must pass the "So What" test, and if it doesn’t, then you can turn up the amperage. Try different variables to make us care more, to make it more of a challenge, to make the consequences of failure more intense. And remember, we can get just as caught up in the fate of a goofy loner trying to woo a cheerleader in a romantic comedy as we can a retired hitman trying to save his daughter from a psycho kidnapper.

Keep It Simple

Another crucial aspect of crafting a compelling logline is focusing on just one aspect of the script, rather than presenting a confusing array of story elements. One definition of Dramatic Unity is "a single action, a single hero, and a single result.' Keep it simple. Humans are often overwhelmed with information, and people regularly misconstrue communications and interpret them according to their biases, assumptions, beliefs, habits, and mental models, so keep the focus on the absolute core of the story.

Most Communication is Miscommunication

Clarity of communication is crucial, and it is widely acknowledged that 60% of all communication is miscommunication. You see it all around you daily. To counter this tendency, be explicit and uncluttered so that your vision for your movie can be conjured in the mind of a producer or agent. If they don’t see the movie you’re describing, then you’re off to a bad start.

Tell Me the Story You Just Read

I know of an A-list screenwriter who only wants one thing when you read his latest script -- he wants you to recount to him the story that you just read. He does not want notes and he doesn’t care if you like it or not. All he wants to know is if you’re seeing the exact same story that he worked so hard to get down on paper, because if those are misaligned then he’s not communicating it clearly enough.

Is Your Story Any Good?

And of course one of the biggest factors is whether your story is good or not. Many writers try to sell substandard scripts and spend so much energy trying to turn bad grapes into good wine. As a professional writer, you must be able to evaluate the quality of your writing. You have to know the difference between quality and crap. Mere technique won’t fix that because well-structured crap is still crap.

Has your story been done a thousand times? Are the stakes low? Does it fail the "So What" test? Are you making safe choices because you don’t have the writing chops to pull off a more complex story?

Learn to recognize weak material and constantly challenge yourself as a writer. Master your craft as a dramatist and master your pure storytelling skills. Read one great script per week to build your ability to recognize quality when you see it.

Study the Best Loglines

You should also study loglines from great movies and TV shows. Steep yourself in them. Each movie listed on IMDb features its logline front and center beneath its poster and preview. Read them by the hundreds. Soak your head in them and internalize their simplicity and elegance -- their ability to present a simple yet compelling explanation of the story. Let’s look at the loglines from some top films.

AMERICAN BEAUTY
A depressed suburban father in a mid-life crisis decides to turn his hectic life around after becoming infatuated with his daughter’s attractive friend.

TAXI DRIVER
A mentally unstable Vietnam war veteran works as a night-time taxi driver in New York City where the perceived decadence and sleaze feeds his urge for violent action, attempting to save a preadolescent prostitute in the process.

HOME ALONE
An eight-year-old troublemaker must protect his house from a pair of burglars when he is accidentally left home alone by his family during Christmas vacation.

THE GREAT ESCAPE
Allied prisoners of war plan for several hundred of their number to escape from a German camp during World War II.

THE TERMINATOR
A seemingly indestructible android is sent from 2029 to 1984 to assassinate a waitress, whose unborn son will lead humanity in a war against the machines, while a soldier from that war is sent to protect her at all costs.

KILL BILL
After awakening from a four-year coma, a former assassin wreaks vengeance on the team of assassins who betrayed her.

GHOST
After a young man is murdered, his spirit stays behind to warn his lover of impending danger, with the help of a reluctant psychic.

TOY STORY
A cowboy doll is profoundly threatened and jealous when a new spaceman figure supplants him as top toy in a boy’s room.

THE LION KING
A Lion cub crown prince is tricked by a treacherous uncle into thinking he caused his father’s death and flees into exile in despair, only to learn in adulthood his identity and his responsibilities.

AVATAR
A paraplegic marine dispatched to the moon Pandora on a unique mission becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home.


About the Author

Jeff Kitchen has taught playwriting on Broadway and screenwriting in Hollywood, with former students nominated for multiple Oscars and Emmys. A top-rated teacher, he taught for thirty years and wrote the book, Writing a Great Movie: Key Tools for Successful Screenwriting. Jeff adapted his training program into a comprehensive online apprenticeship available on his website, script.kitchen.

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

For all the latest from Coverfly, be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook.


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

agents and managers difference

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