Wednesday, October 05, 2016


Screenwriter Heather Upton Makes Her Own Opportunities and Scores Writers’ Assistant Gig on Netflix’s IRON FIST


By Jim Cirile

Heather Upton knows how to work it. After going to a liberal arts college in Philly, she kicked around various jobs in various cities until The Grub Street screenwriting class in Boston changed her life. Moving out to LA with a freelance, work-from-home editing job paying the bills, she cranked out specs, some of which placed highly in contests (such as our own Writers on the Storm, in which she placed third) and hit up everyone she knew, always scrambling to make connections and land jobs. She scored unpaid intern gigs at places like Paul Haggis’ Hwy 61, where she made more connections and landed a manager (Circle of Confusion.) Now she’s joined the Marvel superhero family -- where she fits right in, landing the gig of writers’ assistant on the upcoming 13-episode Netflix show Marvel’s Iron Fist. I talked with Heather about breaking in, working for Marvel, and how one must never stop marketing oneself -- because you are your own best advocate.


Jim Cirile (JC): Are you done? Are you all wrapped?

Heather Upton (HU): Production wraps this week, and then we’ll be in post for months. And we just heard the show drops March 17th 2017! 

JC: Awesome. So tell us about working at Hwy 61. That must have been amazing industry experience.

HU: It was phenomenal. Seeing the scripts that come in from the agencies and A-list actors who wanted to work with them was eye-opening… I recommend to all new writers to LA to get a job doing coverage. Having to read a script and then write what is and isn’t working really makes you think about the fundamentals of screenwriting in your own scripts.

JC: Were you surprised by the quality, or lack thereof, of all the scripts you read during that time?

HU: Some were as terrific as you’d expect, and some were shockingly low quality. And these were scripts sent to an A-list director. There was definitely stuff where I was like, I could write something better than this. I know people who could write something better than this. It made me keenly aware that success is not just about talent, but also who you know.

JC: Let’s talk Marvel’s IRON FIST. How did you get the gig?

HU: I actually kind of took a couple years off -- had a kid, renovated a house. And then when I was ready to really go hard again at getting work, I talked to friends about how much I missed working with people. That, to me, is one of the downsides of screenwriting. I had all these friends in TV, and they encouraged me to try it -- there are so many jobs, and it’s so interactive. So two years ago I applied for the Disney/ABC TV Writing Program, and I was one of the finalists for it. That was enough for me to get meetings at Marvel and a few other places through my manager and through personal connections. I called people and was like, hey, I’d really like to try TV, and the Disney/ABC people thought I was decent.

JC: Marketing yourself. So many people think once you’re represented, you can just sit back and sell scripts.

HU: It’s totally about asking people to help you, and that is something I feel like I’m still learning. So many people are willing to, and so many people definitely aren’t, but you won’t know until you ask. So I asked people to make connections for me, and this one at Marvel panned out. They didn’t have anything available when I went in, but the exec I met with said, “We’ll have more and more stuff. Keep in touch.” And I did, because it’s your job to follow up, not theirs. Eventually they had something come up, and asked if I wanted to interview for it, and I did, and I got Iron Fist, which was so fun.

JC: Proving that perseverance is at least as important as talent.

Finn Jones as Danny Rand in Marvel's IRON FIST, coming 2017 on Netflix.
HU: Totally. It’s both heartening and disheartening to sit in the writers room and talk to them about how they get work, and they’re like, “The hustle never ends.” 

JC: Tell us what a writers’ assistant does.

HU: Every writers’ room generally has between six and ten writers, and the writers sit in there from six to ten hours a day and break the story. So they come up with a season-long arc and a sense of who the characters are, and then break down scripts episode by episode. Some rooms even break it down scene by scene. Every single day there are ideas flying and creativity pouring out, and the writers’ assistant has to write down every single important thing that is said in the room, and also to filter out the stuff that isn’t important. At the end of the day, you send them 40 pages, and there’s as much useless stuff as there is useful stuff, it’s too much for them to wade through. It has to make coherent sense. 

JC: So you’re taking steno, in a way. And then a couple days later someone will say, “Hey what was that thing I said the other day?,” and you have to go find it?

HU: And then everybody looks at you… (laughs) and you think, “Oh God, I hope I wrote it down.”

JC: Sounds like it could be pretty stressful -- what was the overall vibe?

HU: I definitely lucked out and got a roomful of people who were really nice and super supportive. It wasn’t so much stressful as it was just focused, hard work. Mostly it was really fun. I love the Marvel stuff. I love the story that we wrote, and I just loved being in the room and getting to experience how the story gets told and how it changes and gets shaped by different ideas. You know, you write one episode, and then you get down to episode four and you realize, oh, well, if we do this here, we’ll have to go back and revise everything that came before, because this new thing has a cascade effect on everything else that happens. It was really cool to see how things evolved over time, too. And then once we started shooting, it was interesting to see how the actors on screen actually changed the story.

JC: How did you guys interface with the other Marvel Netflix shows? Obviously, there’s this big, internal continuity. You have to be aware of everything everyone else is doing too, right?]

HU:  Everybody had watched Daredevil and (Jessica) Jones before we got there, and then they let us have the scripts for (Luke) Cage, and then they actually gave us the rough cuts of Cage, too. There are Marvel execs who, every time we pitch an episode, part of what they do is to give us continuity notes. There are a couple of Marvel execs who hold the entire TV world in their heads, and they’re constantly moving the pieces around to make sure that all the characters’ stories make sense and that something that happens on Iron Fist won’t affect a different show.

JC: Right, because there are other shows being planned in the future as well, which will all be affected by what you do.

HU: Exactly. Sometimes we would have meetings with the Marvel execs, and it was just extraordinary, to see how deeply and thoroughly some of them know the universe. It’s amazing.

JC: So how do you do it, what with being a mom and writing specs on the side? How do you pay the bills, raise a kid, work a demanding job and try to further your career all at the same time?

HU: You’ve got to be really organized (laughs.) It makes for some long days. I would be in the office for Marvel and then go home to my daughter, and it’s just me and her, and that’s a lot of work. I also have my freelance gig, because a writers’ assistant pay is crap. And then I’m writing my own specs on the side. Being in the room all day was exhausting, but it was also really inspiring. It was like being in a master class. I would come home with a head full of creative ideas. That really helped me sit down and say to myself, Okay, I need to do 30 minutes on my spec tonight. That was good motivation, constantly being around people who were coming up with stories. That, being organized… and wanting it, maybe? (laughs)

JC: Definitely wanting it, because it would be real easy to just come home and collapse. So where does this all lead? Any chance for advancement?

HU: One of the nice things about having worked at Marvel is that they have so many projects going, the ones we’ve heard of and the ones I imagine are in the pipeline. So now being in the Marvel machine, I think it makes it easier for me to pitch myself in the future Marvel jobs. It’s not only fun work, but my experience thus far is that Marvel is filled with really nice people, which is wonderful and sort of unusual in this industry. One of the challenges with working on a Marvel show, though, is that because they have so many, nobody really knows what’s going to happen with ours. Will there be a season two? When will it be? I have all this great experience now under my belt, but I still have to go back out on the job market.

JC: Hence you’ve been cranking out specs, and you have an additional level of legitimacy now.

HU: For sure. So what I’m doing now is what I did before -- getting in touch with people who work on shows, and telling them now I have experience under my belt and I loved it, so if you know anybody… And then my manager has me writing specs because he wants to put me up for staff writer jobs.

JC: That’s definitely the next step. Okay, last question -- and you may not be able to answer, so feel free to be as cagey as necessary. In the comic books, Iron Fist’s costume was really silly…

HU: (laughs) I can’t tell you anything!

JC: He wore a silly thing on his head with the Spider-Man white eye holes, a skin-tight green leotard with a plunging boob window and these little yellow footie-things… Luke is just walking around in street clothes. Is our guy going to have any sort of costume at all?

HU: I’m pretty sure that I can’t answer that at all. I can tell you that the traditional costume in the comics was the subject of much discussion for exactly those reasons.

JC: I mean, I grew up reading Power Man and Iron Fist in the ‘70s, and the idea of them not wearing their traditional costumes, that’s sacrilege. But then, could you actually see anyone wearing the Iron Fist costume in real life? It would be laughable.

HU: Right, especially when you consider Luke Cage, a black man in Harlem with a tiara.

JC: Heather, you’re a shining example of hustle and muscle. May others learn well from your example. I expect a big, shiny spec sale soon.

HU: Thank you!

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Do You Like Money?, fellow scribes,

I'm pleased to announce that I've joined the American Screenwriters Association editorial board. This means I'll be writing new original content for the ASA blog every month (which we will link to here as well.)

As many of you know, I was the agents/managers expert for Script magazine as well as wrote the Agents Hot Sheet column for Creative Screenwriting for a decade. So it's exciting to have a new outlet, since there's a lot going on out there which I feel the need to grouse about -- and I still see screenwriters making the same damn mistakes over and over. Sigh.

My first article for ASA is called DO YOU LIKE MONEY?, and you can read it right here. It's about the changing shape of the marketplace, the emergence of TV as the new marketplace for emerging writers, and how YOU can get a piece of it. Bounce on over to American Screenwriters Association and check it out. You may also want to consider signing up while you're there!

To paraphrase a certain ballsy young meth cook: I'm back, bitch!


Jim C.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Coverage Ink's Jim Cirile on Story Analysis

Well, this was a blast! Recently I had the pleasure of sitting down with screenwriter and UCLA Extension instructor Brooks Elms as part of his Story Analysis for Film and Television class. Some of you may remember Brooks and his writing partner Glenn Sanders as former winners of our Writers on the Storm contest with their killer comedy script WRIGHT OR WRONG. 

We cover a lot in this 25-minute chat, from how contests work to Coverage Ink's Get Repped Now, to finding work as a script reading and how to learn to analyze a screenplay. If you're interested in learning more about story analysis, this video's a great place to start. Many thanks to Brooks and of course to UCLA for having me!

And now the disclaimer: "This video is not an endorsement or recommendation of any commercial products, processes, or services. The views and opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily state or reflect those of the UCLA Extension, and they may not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes."

Check it out right here

--Jim C.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


TEN “considers.” That’s a new record for Coverage Ink’s Get Repped Now, Spring 2016 edition. And once we get everyone’s polish drafts back in (mid August,) we’ll pull the trigger and send them to our manager panel with our recommendations. So let’s all pull for our ten considers -- the writers who really brought it.

ABDUCTING CHRISTMAS by Joseph Balczo & David Bricker
ATOMIC CITY by Russell Ward + Scott Miller
ONE DAY AS A LION by Doc Stiggers
SPEEDVILLE by Patrick Hunt
SYNERGIZERS by Craig Cambria
TONE DEAD by Sarah Polhaus
THE WACC by Sabrina Almeida

If you’re unfamiliar with Get Repped Now, it’s a little promotion we do in the spring and fall, wherein for a limited period of time, we elevate all scripts sent to Coverage Ink for script analysis, which score a ‘consider’ for script or better, to our panel of five industry-leading managers. In the past, we’ve gotten writers meetings, we’ve gotten them signed and hip-pocketed, and we’ve even had a big spec sale (Brandon Barker’s “Nottingham and Hood,” which sold to Disney for six figures.) Get Repped Now isn’t a contest -- there are no winners and no prizes. Simply, if your script scores a ‘consider’ from the Coverage Ink reader, it gets read by the manager panel. That’s all there is to it.

It’s heartening to note that four of our eleven considers went through multiple drafts, polishing and honing their scripts until nailing that coveted ‘consider.’ So a special CI fist pump to Joseph Balczo and David Bricker, Susan Boyer, Patrick Hunt and Craig Cambria, who invested serious elbow grease in making their scripts nice and shiny.  

By the same token, there were a few writers who rejected the detailed story notes which, if they chose to listen, could help improve both their scripts and craft. Another fellow even tried to bribe me! I tried to explain to him that the secret to having us present his script to the managers was to actually do the notes and improve the script, not to try to grease anyone’s palm. Sigh.

But mostly what we saw was a lot of near-misses -- dozens and dozens of ‘consider with reservations,’ as well as scripts that were almost in that zone, but for another draft maybe. These are especially frustrating, we know, because hey, SO close. Of course we hope that the notes we provide gave everyone what they need to come back and kick our asses nine ways to Miercoles when Get Repped Now returns October 17.

If you were one of those near misses, or indeed a ‘pass’ (which constitutes the majority of submissions,) I can tell you from my own experience -- it’s hard not to take it personally, right? We get defensive. We think, “this reader is a MORON!” Hey, I think this constantly when I send my own scripts in for coverage -- and I run the company! It’s human nature. We all protect ourselves when we feel we’re being “attacked.” The truth is, of course, there’s no attack. Believe it or not, it’s actually help. But sometimes it’s hard to see it that way. Whether we’re just starting out and are baffled as to how to implement notes, or you’ve got a dozen screenplays under your belt, getting coverage can sting a bit

But I also know deep down inside that I really do need to pay attention to the notes, even if I don’t like them. So here’s my own little neurotic trick. After reading it once, I ignore the coverage for at least a week or two. During that time, I work on other things. And slowly, like a wave of rabidly voracious weevils, the notes begin eating at my mind. I find myself thinking of ways to handle the notes, or maybe even radical new ideas which might make the notes moot. But I DO NOT look back at the notes, because it still freaking stings too much to do so!

Then finally, after enough time has passed that the notes have lost their power to make me feel like poop, and when I’m emotionally ready for it, I revisit the notes. And I go through them, section by section, making my own notes -- good, bad or indifferent. The bad ones simply get crossed out. The easy ones, I hit those first. Typos and character name mistakes -- no sweat! Got this. Finally, I move on to the more substantive changes. And generally, I’ll have thought it through enough that I’ll have an idea on how to hit the notes -- okay, this will require a new scene here, cutting the dialogue here, and then threading this new character through to the end so it “tracks.” 

And thus the rewrite process begins in earnest. And it only took a few weeks to work around my own fricking idiosyncrasies.

I hope it’s a little easier for you! In any event, I hope all of you indeed took the notes in the spirit with which they were intended. I look forward to watching the evolution of everyone’s scripts -- there is nothing more gratifying than seeing a script go from a ‘pass’ to a ‘consider’ over multiple drafts and feeling we had a small part in that.

Get Repped Now updates as they happen. Now go write!

Jim Cirile

Get Repped Now Returns Oct. 17, 2016!

Elizabeth Gracen's SHALILLY

Elizabeth Gracen

ELIZABETH GRACEN is a force of nature. 

First off, she's a beauty queen -- a former Miss America, so there's that. Her acting career includes hit TV series like CHARMED and HIGHLANDER, and she briefly headlined her own show: HIGHLANDER: THE RAVEN. She also directed THE DAMN DEAL (2000,) a documentary short about three young, female impersonators in Arkansas who compete in beauty pageants. Lately she's been pouring gas on her own creative projects, directing dance-themed shorts like THE PERFECTION OF ANNA, MARY ANNE and IN BETWEEN as well as collaborating with Lineage, a modern dance company dedicated to helping charitable, educational and nonprofit organizations across the country. 


Now she's just published SHALILLY, a whimsical, delightful YA fantasy novel with a healthy splash of magic. We chatted with Elizabeth about career highlights, finding inspiration and getting it done however you can.

by Jim Cirile
Jim Cirile (JC): Elizabeth, first of all, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. You’ve had many impressive careers: you’re an actor, writer, and director as well as a former Miss America. Can you tell us a bit about the course your life and your career has taken and how your divergent enterprises fit together and inform each other?

Elizabeth G. (EG): Thank you so much for wanting to hear about my new book. I so enjoyed meeting you guys in Hawaii at the Big Island Film Festival a couple of years ago. It was exciting to meet fellow filmmakers and to make new friendships out of the experience - you guys are top of the list!

Back in 1982 - after traveling around America and abroad for a whole year and performing every day as Miss America, I got the acting bug and decided to use my scholarship money to move from Arkansas to NYC and study acting at HB Studios in Greenwich Village. There, I learned that is was necessary to open up the Pandora's Box of emotion, experience and reflection within me. It is absolutely necessary to access that part of yourself for the craft… and it was a great jumping off place for me to develop as an artist.

Since then, I think everything I have done to express myself over the years, either as an actor, writer, painter or filmmaker feels like the same expression to me – it all feels connected. Connected to my basic ideas, curiosity and intuition. Ultimately, I hope that what I create connects to something intrinsically true and familiar to everyone.

She is 1,000 years old and cannot die - alas, the show could.
JC: You’ve been on several TV shows, most notably HIGHLANDER. What has acting on those shows and getting new scripts every week taught you about the writing process? Were there some "what not to do" lessons along the way as well?

EG: I was so lucky to have worked on HIGHLANDER. It was the best acting job I ever had. Nothing else compares in terms of a creative experience as an actor. I got the job on a recommendation from one of the producers who helped bring the late, great Bill Bixby's DEATH OF THE INCREDIBLE HULK to life - another very important job for me. When they called and asked me if I wanted to fly to Paris to play an immortal jewel thief named Amanda, I couldn't pack my bags quickly enough! What happened after that was the start of a long, fruitful, amazing experience.

Television, in general, works at a fast pace - something that suits me perfectly. I move, think and 'spitball' quickly - it drives a lot of people crazy, but it's just the way I work. I tend to write quickly at first, trusting my instincts, without too much judgment. If time permits, I put it away until I can see it with fresh eyes. I think my long experience on HIGHLANDER bolstered that style of working.

For me, this way of working can be a hindrance as well. It means that I have a lot of ideas that never get developed. There are just so many hours in the day, right? A spontaneous process can also leave you with way too much on your plate... or plates! That happens to me all the time. I have to fight to keep it all contained and not get distracted with a new idea.

JC: Often we find that actors who are also writers are particularly strong when it comes to characterization and dialogue. Do you feel the same way?

EG: If that's true, I'm sure it comes from having to create a living, breathing person out of the words on a page. It's working in the opposite direction when it comes to character development. I think my acting experience makes it easier for me to write, direct and produce any project.

JC: Tell us a little about SHALILLY, your recently released debut novel.

EG: SHALILLY is a YA romantic fantasy novel set in ancient Greece in the time of the Oracles. Fippa is a sixteen year-old misfit mystic who lives at the temple in Delphi. She wants desperately to be a famous Oracle, but her life is thrown into chaos when she travels through a portal to a parallel dimension to rescue the warrior, Ision, and bring him back to Earth before Darkness annihilates love from the Cosmos.. The only problem is, when she travels through the portal, she is transformed into a creature of legend – a butterfly girl called the Shalilly. She is captured, caged and sold at auction to the very man she came to find – Ision. Ision, however, has no idea of who he really is because he was pulled into the parallel dimension against his will. With time running out before the bad guys figure out who the Shalilly really is and destroy her, Fippa decides to entertain her new captor with a story. Unbeknownst to him, it is their story – the story of Love.

JC: That’s pretty cool. What was your inspiration?

EG: Thanks! It started with an article in Scientific American about Mt. Parnassus in Delphi and the ethylene gas that emits through the cracks in the mountain. The thrust of the article is that this gas was probably the reason these young Pythia, or Oracles, were sent into wild trances and uttered gibberish and barked like dogs back in the day when a Delphic Oracle was considered the mouthpiece of the god Apollo.

The idea started there – along with a lyric from a fabulous song by Rufus Wainwright called, "Go or Go Ahead." There is line that says, “Oh, Medusa, kiss me and crucify this unholy notion of the mythic power of Love.” It got me spinning on the idea of a world without love and compassion.

From that point on – I don’t even know when I actually decided to send my young heroine into a parallel dimension called the Paradigm -- full of mythic creatures, talking animals and the Pale Ones who rule them. It just manifested itself as I went along.

The wonderful art of Luca DiNapoli
JC: Was there a reason you picked this particular genre, or do you think, as Stephen King has said,  the genre one writes in is innate to the writer?

EG: I'm definitely interested in the whole world of young adults. It is such a volatile, important phase in human development. A lot my original film work and scripts have a young female protagonist who is questioning the world around her, challenged by her surroundings -- trying to figure it all out. I can't seem to not write about that phase!  Some of that comes from the fact that I have a ten year-old daughter, but a lot of it can be traced back to my particularly difficult childhood and horrible time during adolescence. Some really bad things happened to me that I won’t go into here –- but I didn’t have a lot of guidance during that time, and I didn’t really see my experience reflected in books or films. I think I’m still processing those experiences and healing through my art. My hope is that other young people – especially young girls - might identify with the emotions and questions these female protagonists are going through – and that they find hope and inspiration to carry on the good fight and learn to take up for themselves and develop healthy self-esteem and compassion for themselves and those around them.

The fantasy genre is one that I have always enjoyed reading. I’m a true believer in magical thinking! That comes from the best part of my childhood spent with my wily Grandmother Murphy. I spent a lot of time with her in a world of make-believe. She used to tell me stories about the fairies at war with the evil spiders in her attic. She was what I call a Would-Be Witch who had palm reading books, crystal balls performed magic tricks and told fortunes for me and all my friends. Fantasy is in my bones.

JC: What are your future plans for SHALILLY? Where do you hope it goes? Do you see it as potentially being part of a series of novels?

I don’t know that SHALILLY will be a series in the traditional sense. More than likely – because I absolutely love the book’s illustrations by the artist Luca di Napoli – we’ll take the butterfly girl to a younger demographic. I’m thinking of a series of books for young readers or possibly even board books for an even younger audience. It won’t be the same story – just the lovely Shalilly. It will be a fantastic world with no Darkness – just beautiful creatures living in harmony and learning valuable lessons.

SHALILLY has pulled me into the self-publishing realm, and I am excited to finally get the book out into the world. Because of the book, I started a small publishing company called Flapper Press.

JC: What are your future plans for Flapper Press?

EG: I’m very excited about Flapper Press and all the possibilities. It will eventually be a boutique, curated publishing company and e-commerce source for books, poetry, blogs, art and unique offerings from a stable of talented influencers, thought leaders, writers and artists. My intent is to expand the site into the realms of art, ideas, film, television and themes in popular culture. The website will feature indie authors and original content that explores culture, gender, work, art and magical thinking. On of my great pals, Kate Canada Obregon a brand strategist and social scientist - will be the site's 'eye on culture.'

My next book is actually a non-fiction guide called THE GO-TO GAL’S ULTIMATE EMERGENCY ORGANIZER. It’s a mom-friendly take on emergency prevention and disaster preparedness. We’ll have a line of really helpful decals that supplement the book =- emergency contact info, medical information & alerts, medication dosage, emergency pet information, utility shut-off, etc. We think it would make an amazing, useful package for school fundraising – much better than chocolate bars and candy!

No kidding -- I have a daughter, too, and let me tell you, every semester I wind up buying an enormous box of fund-raiser chocolate bars. I love that you just went out there and DIY’ed -- which is what we always preach here at Coverage Ink. 

EG: I'm learning as I go, but I feel fortunate to live in a time when any form of DIY is possible. I decided to become a filmmaker at just the right time. The DSLR came out - I shoot a lot of my films myself with a Canon 5D, Mark II - which made it incredibly easy to shoot and experiment. I've also found tremendous success in finding talented people to work with through Thumbtack, Upwork, Freelancer, etc. I think it is amazing that the illustrator for SHALILLY lives in France, my book editor lives in San Diego, my book formatter lives in the Philippines, and I employ virtual assistants from as far away as Nigeria  -- and I've never seen them or even spoken with any of them on the phone!  How cool it that? I love that I'm part of an international village of artists and technicians.

JC: We love that you always find a way to shoot projects that you're passionate about through your production company Flapper Films.

EG: I'm always in the process of shooting and adapting the work of choreographer Hilary Thomas. The Lineage Dance Company is a constant source of inspiration for me. I've just finished shooting what I thought was going to be a simple behind-the-scenes doc for my Parkinson's film, MARY ANNE. However, as more interviews and footage materialized in the process, the film has become a documentary short called DANCE FOR JOY - a tribute to my grandfather, Tom Murphy, who had Parkinson's, and to the great work that the Lineage Dance Company and the Mark Morris Dance Company in New York are doing with their Dancing Through Parkinson's programs. Its also a real celebration of the unique, inspiring relationship between the stars of MARY ANNE - Austin Roy and Mary Anne Moses.

Lee Meriwether in "Star Trek"
We're also working on a feature-length film adaptation of one of the Lineage shows called CEILING IN THE FLOOR. It's a dramatic piece about the arc of a relationship between two friends who weather the growing up process to become artists. It tackles some heavy issues.  It's a very different piece for me to be working on, but it is so honest and true. Its full of original music and dance along with a terrific narration performance from Michelle Kolb, who was the star of one of my first films, THE PERFECTION OF ANNA.

Aside from that, I just shot former Miss America and Catwoman, Lee Meriwether! What a treat! It's another documentary short, and may be the first of many short films I do about amazing women over 70. Lee is so lovely and just radiates warmth and beauty. 

My goal is to get my first feature off the ground. It's a dark fantasy called JEANNE and is set in the Loire Valley in the early 70's. I need to go back in an do a rewrite, but I have to clear off the deck to make room!

JC: Thanks so much for taking the time. Do you have any advice you’d give other writers, or perhaps a key piece of advice someone gave you?

EG: I’m such a work in progress. I’m still learning, still exploring. One of the greatest things about living at this point in history is that the technology is there for artists, young and old, to express themselves – to create films, books, art… You just have to have to believe in yourself and not be afraid of what people think of you. Life is short. Say what you want to say. Just do it!


You can check out Elizabeth Gracen's SHALILLY right here on Amazon.
Her film MARY ANNE was just accepted by Moscow's International Breaking Down Barriers VIII Film Festival, and .THE DAMN DEAL was just picked up for - a subscription based streaming service dedicated to gay men. Visit Flapper Films at

Friday, July 01, 2016

Save the Cat! on LOGLINES

Save the Cat's Jose Silerio

Our pal Jose Silerio from Save the Cat! has written a crucially important article that should be of help to every writer. Silerio shows how to properly structure a logline, and as well, how to do it for ten different movie genres. Bookmark this article and refer to it often! Check it out right here.

We admit it - We're huge fans of Save the Cat! Of late, saying this has become kind of stupidly impolitic amongst some screenwriters. You know the score -- some folks seem to think that the late, great Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat!" books, and more specifically, the well-known screenwriting paradigm within known as the Save the Cat! beat sheet (or BS2) represents everything wrong with movies today. 

Yeah, right.

Snyder's template took key elements of Joseph Campbell and the hero's journey (myth), mixed it up with Syd Field and a dash of McKee, plus his own movie biz savvy, of course, and came up with a basically foolproof screenwriting formula. "Save the Cat!" became required reading at most major production companies and studios -- for a reason. Because it works. "How to Train Your Dragon" was dedicated to Snyder. Every single Disney and Pixar movie follows the STC! formula to a tee, as do most major studio and indie films. 

But the problem, and we acknowledge it as such, is that formula is indeed that. When you follow a certain paradigm, eventually everyone can anticipate what's going to happen next, and creativity stifles. This is certainly true, and we're seeing the results of this sameness in many movies of late.

However, what is also true is that some writers foolishly reject formula out of hand, for fear that it will "harsh their buzz." In other words, being forced to make certain things happen at certain times in their screenplays, even if it's in the best interest of the story (not to mention marketability,) is not something many writers are comfy with. So they reject such confining structural templates as the BS2. We understand.

Our position: you gotta learn the rudiments before you can solo. It's fine to deviate from a solid structural template, when it is in the best interest of the story to do so. But newsflash: the industry is expecting your scripts to follow Save the Cat! structure. if you don't have your inciting incident by page 15, for example, many agents and managers will stop reading. That's just reality. Remember, this is the movie BUSINESS. If you want to follow your muse, screenwriting is not the medium -- try novels, plays, blogging and so forth.

Don't ever be afraid of a little knowledge. Absorb it all, and then choose what works or doesn't work for your material. But remember, if you're looking to actually break in and be a successful screenwriter: Save the Cat! works.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Get Repped Now EXTENDED - MUST END 5-29!

This is it, your last chance, boys and girls! Our customary one-week Get Repped Now extension is quickly coming to a close. All submissions must be received by midnight Pacific Standard Time, May 29, 2016 to qualify. And there is NO late entry fee! Entry cost is the same as always -- $129 for screenplays, $99 for 1-hr pilots, which includes detailed, world-class screenplay analysis of course.

If you're unfamiliar with Get Repped Now, it's not a contest. It is our twice-yearly promotion wherein we gather the best script submissions (judged a 'consider' or better by our readers, roughly top 5%) received during the Get Repped Now period, and forward to our panel of top industry managers with our recommendations. In the past, this has led to meetings, several writers working with these managers and even a huge spec sale to Disney (Brandon Barker's "Nottingham and Hood.") But even if you don't make the cut, and most don't, you still  receive a detailed coverage report telling you how to make the script better, to help you polish that script to perfection.

To find out more about how all this works and for the official rules, just click right here. Then hurry up and get those scripts in, because as of midnight Sunday, Get Repped Now is history until fall. 

Oh, one last thing: we're deluged with last-minute submissions, so our typical 10-day turnaround is now more like a month, and we cannot accept any rushes. Sorry about that! 


The Grisanti Edge

IN A WORLD of 1,001 script consultants, Jennifer Grisanti stands alone. The founder of Jen Grisanti Consultancy Inc., Jen is the real deal. A former television exec, she learned how to break story from the master himself, Aaron Spelling, and eventually ran Current Programs at Spelling Television Inc., covering all of Spelling’s shows including Beverly Hills, 90210, Melrose Place and Charmed. In 2004 she became VP of Current Programs at CBS/Paramount, covering Medium, Numbers, NCIS, 4400, Girlfriends and more.

Now a highly sought-after author, teacher, consultant and lecturer, Jen has helped a staggering number of clients break in to the biz. We caught up with her to see how she got to where she is today, what the future holds, and how all of us writers can benefit from the Grisanti edge.

by Jim Cirile 

Jim Cirile (Jim C): Thanks for taking the time, Jen! Tell us, where are you from, and where did you go to school? 

Jennifer Grisanti (Jen G): Southern California, I’m a local girl. And I went to USC. I majored in Communications (with) a minor in Cinema. I knew I wanted to go into entertainment. I just wasn’t sure exactly what the path would be. My first year out of college, I did a few entertainment internships, like at Stephen J. Cannell Company and Lorimar Casting. And then I went to the Friedman (Personnel) Agency, (who) placed me with Martin Ransohoff Productions and then with Aaron Spelling.

Jim C: Was that your first exposure to script development and coverage?

Jen G: Yeah, in both places.

Jim C. Did working with Spelling help define your path in the biz?

Jen G: At the time I got in the Spelling office, I was still a little unsure. I knew I didn’t want casting, and then it was, do I want to produce? Do I want to be an agent or a manager? Do I want to write? What do I want to do? Being in his office was an excellent training ground for opportunity. My parents had gone through a divorce after 27 years of marriage, and the irony is my mom gave us Tony Robbins tape sets to help us get over the divorce. Tony is all about “focus on what you want and make it happen.” Those influenced me a great deal, because when I was in the Spelling office, I suddenly recognized that there was no one in his inner office reading scripts. And so I quickly saw the opportunity, because he would often call out to us and have to make so many calls to get the answers that he wanted. So I thought, what if I were to read the scripts every night? Then I would be able to help with some of that. And I started working until 9:30 at night, reading scripts until 11:30 at night, and then working with Aaron Spelling the next day. 

Jim C: So you basically gave up your life for this incredible opportunity.

Jen G: Oh, yeah. I was there for 12 years, and it was a lot of work. It was a tremendous experience. He set the foundation for everything that I do. He was an incredible mentor. But you can’t lose sight of the fact that it was a tremendous amount of work and a huge commitment. 

Jim C: I’m assuming that meant making some sacrifices, such as having a life.

Jen Grisanti with Aaron Spelling

Jen G: I was married and divorced during that time. How do you keep your life in balance while working these incredible hours? You have to really (look at) ambition versus personal life. I definitely went through a lot in finding my answers of what I really wanted during that time.

Jim C: We’re all human, and our experiences shape and hopefully empower us.  

Jen G: I definitely believe that what happens in our life forms our voice and gives us something to say. I’m definitely a believer that when you come from your truth -- and of course, that came from my two pivotal life moments of a long relationship that ended in a short marriage and a job that ended after 15 years with two sister companies (Spelling and CBS/Paramount). When you go through that kind of trauma and upheaval and loss, you really have to figure out what is it you want. And I think truth was the biggest thing that came through me during my journey of healing through those pivotal life moments. And it is those moments that sold my book “Storyline: Finding Gold in Your Life’s Story” and “Change Your Story, Change Your Life -- a Path to Success.” That is why my brand is (about) understanding your emotional truth, because that’s what connects you to your audience. 

Jim C: So how did you get the gig at CBS/Paramount?

Jen G: I look at my whole career trajectory as far as -- when I was at Spelling, I thought, “Well, this is the best your life is ever going to be, so really be in this moment.” And then I remember being at CBS/Paramount, you know -- when I first went to the Paramount lot, and getting my corner office, I thought, “Okay, now this is as good as life is going to get, so be in this moment.” CBS/Paramount happened when I was at Spelling, and it was beginning to downsize. I had heard about the job at CBS/Paramount, and they were a sister company. I told my president about the job, and he said he’d put me up for it. He had to get Aaron to agree, and of course that was a big ordeal. He got his blessing, and two weeks before I was supposed to leave, Aaron said, “Jen’s not leaving the building, is she?” It really hit him then, and we had a beautiful, emotional conversation. He instilled in me, “You give the best development notes of anyone I’ve ever worked with,” and he taught me how to give those notes. 

It was a big difference at CBS/Paramount. At Spelling, there was really only one layer between me and Aaron Spelling, and so you got your answers a lot quicker, and he knew about everything that was going on. So it was really like going from a mom and pop company to a big, corporate world where you had many layers between you and getting an answer. 

Jim C: What exactly is Current Programming?

Jen G: The department that takes over once a show has been picked up to be a series. My job was to help staff writers and directors and to work with the executive producers from story concept to outline to script to screen.  It was a tremendous exposure to the creative process, because you got to see your notes made on up to five shows every week. You got to see what worked and what didn’t work with the development of story. So that was incredible -- I worked with Glenn Gordon Caron (“Moonlighting”) and Don Bellisario (“NCIS”) and Ira Behr (“The 4400”), some really incredible showrunners --  you are exposed to people who have a gift, and you got to learn from them.

Jim C: So what led to the opening of Jen Grisanti Consultancy?

Jen G: I thought I was going to be running a studio at some point. And then I lost my job. I had five shows coming back… (but) the gentleman who had hired me had lost his job a year before. And so the writing was on the wall. And then on the heels of a conversation with the wrong person on the wrong day, in a moment, everything was gone. And this was about a year and a half after Aaron Spelling had passed away.  It was a real eye-opener as far as going into the idea of “Who am I, if not Jen Grisanti the studio executive, that I’ve been identifying with for 15 years?” So I had to really go through the process of redefining my path, and that led to my opening Jen Grisanti Consultancy. 

Jim C: How did you decide to do that? It’s brilliant, but perhaps not intuitive. 

Jen G: When I lost my job, I was 40 years old. So you had to look at ageism in the environment. At that time, I was the oldest in my department. I had thought about getting another corporate job, but then I’m still going to have to think about what’s next within the next five to ten years. And so I thought, why don’t I think about what’s next right now, because as crazy as it sounds -- even though it was traumatic for me in the moment -- losing my job at a time when nobody expected it to happen led to a lot of support from the community. I had staffed over 15 primetime shows. It segued into the perfect time for me to open my own company. 

Jim C: Sounds like a huge leap of faith. Were you scared?

Jen G: It was terrifying. It was 2008. I lost my job in May 2007. For 17 years I had worked. Suddenly waking up and not having anywhere to go was a whole new life experience for me. I really took that time to heal and to focus and to design my company. In January 2008, I only had two months’ salary left in the bank. Oddly enough, the writer’s strike worked for my company because people weren’t working, and they wanted to invest time in themselves. The day that I launched, I sent it out to 900 people from my Rolodex. I got 175 e-mails back the first day and 20 meetings booked the first week. 
Jim C: Nice. Tell us a little about Writers on the Verge, for which you are the writing instructor.

Jen G: Writers on the Verge is the diversity program at NBC. We accept submissions from the beginning of May ‘til the end of May. Every year we end up with about 2,000 submissions. They select, and then I teach the eight or nine writers, depending on if we have a writing team, over a 12-week period. During that time, the writers write a brand-new TV spec and a brand-new TV pilot. We’ve had a tremendous success rate. Between that and my company, I’ve probably worked with over 800 writers in the last eight years, and I’ve had 40 sold pilots, and I’ve had five go to series.  And staffing-wise, I think it’s somewhere around 75 right now.

Jim C: Incredible. So how can writers interface with you?

Jen G: I have all different levels, since writers are at different levels financially. The Premium Story Subscription is where it all starts, and that’s $22.95/mo. The value of that is about $350 if they are active. They can turn in 3-5 loglines/month, and a 1-2-page pitch document for my review every month. On top of that, they get story tips from all the events that I do and scripts that I cover. As for working with me one on one, one of the most popular consults is a package of five meetings. One pilot consult meeting is $725, for one read and one meeting. If you do five coaching consults, it comes out to $550/meeting, and we could cover up to three scripts in five meetings, as well as pitching skills and meeting skills. And of course I have one read and one meeting, two reads and two meetings, starting in the concept phase and going through the script phase, and the same thing with feature scripts and novels. It’s for anyone who is interested in writing and structuring story and understanding how to elevate it from an emotional perspective. Plus I have a ton of free content on YouTube and on my website, and 65 podcasts with some of the top writers in the business. It’s the good, the bad and the ugly of what it is to be a working writer. 

Jim C: And you have some seminars coming up as well? 

Jen G: I have a master class that I am teaching. I’m doing one in Los Angeles with the International Screenwriters Association, a full day class on writing a pilot. That’s on June 11. The second master class I’m doing is with Screenwriters World and The Writers Store in New York, and that’s a 2-day story event that includes a panel of top writers in the TV world and also a master class on writing the TV pilot. I’m also going to be part of the London Film Festival at the beginning of September. 

Jim C: Thanks so much for all you do for writers, Jen. Continued success!

Jen G: Thank you!

A great way to get to know Jen Grisanti is through her books The TV Writing Tool Kit, Change Your Story, Change Your Life and Storyline. Check them out right here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Agent's Hot Sheet - LIVE! at Scriptfest

Saturday, May 21 2PM- Scriptfest - Burbank Marriott Hotel

Got plans for May 21st? Well, cancel 'em! 'Cause you're not going to want to miss this. We're very proud to be bringing back Agent's Hot Sheet - Live! to Scriptfest. 

As many of you know, I wrote the Agent's Hot Sheet column for a decade for Creative Screenwriting magazine (and you can buy those collected columns as an e-book right here.) It was the most insanely awesome opportunity one could hope for, like screenwriting school times a zillion. Every month I got to chat with the top motion picture and TV literary reps in the biz about whatever the heck I wanted -- and then I coalesced all that into a column brimming with crucial intelligence for any screenwriting trying to break in. 

Ten years of that, let me tell you, you learn a thing or two about the biz.

Thus we are ecstatic to present AGENT'S HOT SHEET - LIVE! We'll be asking five leading agents and managers all sorts of questions relevant to you -- namely, how the hell can you get their attention? What should you (and shouldn't you) be writing now? Is there any money to be made in new media? Should you convert your spec feature to a TV pilot? How important is source material? (Hint: very.) All this, plus your questions, in a rollicking, no-BS 90 minute panel. 

  • Jake Wagner, Benderspink
  • Matt Doyle, Verve
  • Adrian Garcia, Paradigm
  • Jon Kanak, Magnet Management
  • Josh McGuire, Underground
Get your tickets now - this event will sell out! And then stick around for the other awesomeness all weekend long -- a full day packed with panels Saturday, and then pitching on Sunday. Visit and get ready to rocket your writing career to the next level. See you all there!

--Jim C.