Friday, September 04, 2015

Meet "The Insider" - The Man Who Could Launch Your Career

Interview with's Founder

by Jim Cirile

There are two main reasons Coverage Ink has been referring writers to for almost a decade now. Number one: TrackingB is a real, honest-to-goodness tracking board used by the industry. It contains a wealth of info useful to savvy writers keen to become students of the biz -- key to breaking in. 

And secondly, their contests kick serious gluteus. TrackingB's annual TV and feature contests are Hollywood's best-kept secret. While offering no monetary prizes or "stuff," their track record for discovering new writers is one which no other contest can touch -- not even the Nicholl.

So we sallied forth to meet TrackingB founder "The Insider" (hint: likely not his real name) at his secret underground HQ deep beneath Beverly Hills, to find out all about him (well, not really) but more importantly, about and why you should know about it. We also snapped this first-ever photo of The Insider below!

The Insider
Jim Cirile (JC): Nice to finally meet you, The Insider. Tell us a little about your background.

The Insider (TI): Just call me "The." (winks) I'm the founder and active leader of TrackingB. I started out in the industry as a writer, and evolved into a writer/producer with projects now set up/being produced at various studios/networks around town such as CBS, Lionsgate, WWE Films, etc. I've always preferred to let the site, its industry reputation and success stories take center stage... and thankfully TrackingB has become much bigger than me!

JC: What was the genesis of TrackingB?

TI: We are the original. The site was founded 10 years ago as a way of centralizing the private tracking boards floating around the business into a central hub of information. It may seem hard to believe now, but at that time, tracking was largely an underground practice, relegated to the industry's inner circles.  And I know when I started this dream, I always felt out of that loop.  We brought tracking boards together in one place online and out into the open, so that anyone could be privy to the valuable information shared on them.  

And the site quickly evolved, largely by word of mouth, into being the tracking board for the industry. You name the studio, agency or production company, and we’ve got someone from there on our board daily (often many times!) WME, CAA, Paradigm, UTA, Sony, Paramount, Universal, Fox, Bruckheimer Films, Participant, Imagine, Principato-Young, Kaplan/Perrone, Energy Entertainment, Benderspink and the list goes on and on.  And yes, we even have studio heads as members. Members appreciate that TrackingB focuses on being a positive and productive place to do real business, that we break important industry news first, and that we discover such great material from new writers through our contests. 

Another TrackingB success story.
JC: How did you get into the contest game? And how did you stumble onto the stunning revelation that writers don't really care about prizes -- they really just want access?

TI: Once we had the industry's attention on a daily basis on-site, we conceived the idea of connecting new writers to them through contests. Coming from a writing background, I had a strong sense of what I would ideally want out of a contest, and made the decision to help writers with access, exposure, and support that would actually help move their careers forward. Everything else seemed secondary to me.  We would do more, and push more than any other contest had before to get people repped, sold, and/or produced.  

And it's been a wild, amazing ride with some of the biggest contest success stories ever coming out of our contests.  Mickey Fisher's EXTANT now in Season 2 on CBS with Steven Spielberg producing and Halle Berry starring, from a script that we discovered and championed.  And someone like John Swetnam (EVIDENCE, INTO THE STORM, STEP-UP: ALL IN), we actually awarded him twice before he broke into the industry (first as an honorable mention one year, and a finalist the next.) And the list of successes launched from TrackingB goes on -- Ashleigh Powell, Gabe Snyder, Cameron Alexander, Peter Hoare and many more.

JC: Yeah, you've had a pretty insane track record in getting the contest winners attention over the years.  Why isn't TrackingB the best-known contest in the world right now?

TI: We've been very focused on helping our contest top choices find and grow their careers, and haven't put a lot of time into advertising, social media, etc. And that focus has been great for our contest finalists/honorable mentions/winners.  We've mostly relied on steady word of mouth growth, but have a few initiatives planned to start spreading the good word further though.  So it's a great time to enter before the competition heats up even more.

TrackingB covers the spec and assignment markets in detail.
JC: You have a killer industry panel -- how do you get them to participate? Are they all friends of yours?

TI: One key is that these are not folks we just hit up twice a year for our contests.  We have built strong long-term relationships with them and many others in the industry through our interaction with them on our site. So it's a great situation for writers to be read by industry people who place inherent trust in our referrals, and of course, in a competitive situation where everyone knows others in the industry will also be clamoring to read. We're fortunate that the industry pays so much attention to our contests.  

JC:  I always tell our clients to use TrackingB for research, to determine if the idea they're thinking of writing is already floating around out there. What other advantages do writer/subscribers have?

TI: We appreciate that. We're just one part of the industry information puzzle, and the more pieces a writer has, the better.  There are also some great opportunities to learn about potential jobs, assignments, etc, and a multitude of other ways to utilize the information we provide to further yourself in this industry.

JC: Thanks so much for your time, The. Any tips you can give to writers entering the feature contest, apart from write a great script?

TI: We've awarded a vast array of scripts and genres over the years, and the common thread is that we fell in love with the story/characters/writing in some profound way. There's no formula. We just want to find great stories and scripts that we would be excited and proud to support and show to anyone.  It tends to be the kind of script that you can't put down -- the kind you rush to tell someone else about after reading.  

I could give all of the usual advice -- Write every page like it's your last -- blood on the page preferred (not literally). Be original. Move us. Make us want to turn the page. Make us care and feel something.  Be smart. Do something we've never seen before. Do something we have with a new twist. Tell a story you would want to hear/read/see. Dazzle us with your craft. Make your dialogue sing. I could go on and on, but what it all really boils down to is the magical power of great storytelling. When you find that magic, we'll be here, hoping to be taken in and transported by it. So get to work.              

The TrackingB feature contest late deadline is September 6, 2015. After that, the super late deadline kicks in (with a price jump,) so enter now!


Jim Cirile is a Los Angeles-based writer/producer and the founder of Coverage Ink, a leading screenplay analysis/development service. Coverage Ink has no financial association with

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The New Speck Market -- and 13 Genres NOT to Write

by Jim Cirile

Fellow scribes,

The Aug 31 2015 Scoggins Report just streeted, and to no one's surprise, things pretty much suck out there. 

So far, 2015 is the worst year for spec sales in the past seven years -- a full 30% lower than average.

Now that's pretty ghastly, but when I say to no one's surprise, what I mean is: as writers, we all need to be aware that the old model just doesn't work as well as it used to. If you think you're going to write a killer spec and sell it for a milllllion dollars, thus launching your career and allowing you to sing Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah all the way to the bank, well, mate, may I suggest jolly good luck with that, and dammit, I said extra foam on that mocha frappucino, chop-chop.

Gazing through the Coverage Ink spyglass, with its startlingly non-rose-colored optics, we can see what's going on, what this all really means and how it lays out for us all. And in so doing, I compiled a list of 13 genres you should probably avoid writing -- unless throwing away a year of your life on a quixotic quest seems like a smashing way to spend your time. 

But first, let's break down the WHYS.

LESS FLICKS. I'm talking about studio films specifically. There are still plenty of indie and DIY features being made, but the actual number of movies produced by the handful of remaining majors is a fraction of what it was 20 years ago. What did Paramount release this year, like TWO movies? Plus we all know what types of movies they're making: things based on source material. If the concept is already out there in the zeitgeist in some way, be it as a song, TV show, graphic novel, successful web series (10 million views or above), work of literature, whatever -- it immediately has more weight than an original spec script. For studios, the built-in audience that comes with a known property is reassuring when they're considering reaching for their checkbooks. 

In short: they're just not buying or optioning nearly as many original feature-length scripts nowadays. 

The new mindset among agents and managers is: they'll send out a piece of material, of course always hoping for a sale, but knowing full well that it's really just a writing sample. They're hoping to introduce the writer to the town, get a "bottled water tour" (meet n' greet meetings with creative execs,) and then, if the writer and the execs hit it off, maybe get the writer a job either developing one of the producers' ideas, or rewriting an existing project on the prodco's shelf.

This in and of itself is not terrible -- it just means we need to revise our expectations from "selling my script" to "getting in the door." Once in, it's up to your charisma, not what's on the page.

A prestige TV offering coming from Amazon.
MORE TUBE. Our entertainment options have changed dramatically. Sure, we still go to the movies -- try to find parking at any theater on a Saturday night and you'll clearly see people are still going out. But perhaps because a night out at the movies for two now costs in the $50 vicinity when you add in snacks and whatnot, going to the cinema has become more of an event experience. We go see movies in the theater that are big-budget extravaganzas (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Mission Impossible 5) or date-night picks (50 Shades, Trainwreck). That strands many genres which do not rise to the status of "event" movies in that "thanks, but no thanks" land, at least as far as the studios are concerned (see list below.) 

What's left? Comedy, Thriller, Action, "Elevated" Horror, Sci-fi and... um... yeah, that's pretty much it. 

Also driving this phenomenon is that fact that TV has never been better. Why roll the dice on a pricey movie in the theaters when there's always something decent on Netflix, Hulu, or YouTube? So while the hunger for original feature scripts drops like a dirigible mistakenly filled with concrete, the TV renaissance and increase in new TV networks means more openings for writers than ever before. Take five minutes to peruse the list of execs and what they're looking for on Virtual PitchFest. Three years ago, there were only a handful specifying they were looking for pilots. Now, virtually all will read them. This is a massive sea change. 

Or as Mitch Solomon from Magnet Management replied, when I asked what he tells his feature writers when they ask him if they should consider writing TV: "Do you like money?" 

BATTLE PLAN. Fortunately, none of this means we writers necessarily have to do anything differently. You can still write feature specs; just don't have unrealistic expectations. It will still act as a writing sample, and the best part is: the wall between TV and features has eroded to the point where agents and managers frequently submit feature specs to TV producers and TV pilots to feature producers as well. Good writing is good writing, and the snobbery of days gone by is history. So your feature could well get you a pitch meeting for that new Netflix show, for example. 

Do be aware however, that agents and managers are STILL looking for those feature scripts that MIGHT sell. Just because they know they likely won't sell doesn't mean they're going to take a flyer on your epic, non-branded (no known historical characters) period adventure. You will likely not even get a read unless your concept seems like a studio movie. 

Here are 13 things you should NOT be writing if you actually want people to read your feature script...

Uhhhh... no.


(if trying to interest a Hollywood agent or manager)

1) Anything topical. With the 24-hour "news" cycle incessantly bludgeoning us with stupidity and corporate/Pentagon propaganda, current events become stale very quickly. That topic that's all the rage now will be, in six months, a "nothing-burger" (to paraphrase Kevin O'Leary.) Plus, as far as the studios are concerned, movies are escapism. 

2) Terrorist-anything. See above. Unless it is a really unusual form of terrorist. Eskimos or Canadians or Venusians? Sure! But Muslims/Middle East/ etc.? Pass.

3) Traditional romantic comedies. Stale and formulaic. But find a way to change it up or make it fresh (e.g., "Trainwreck") and you may have something.

4) Fantasy movies. BUDGET! Sure, these are huge box office, but they're ALL branded. Unless you have the rights to "Dragonriders of Pern," you are dead in the water. No studio is going to bet the proverbial farm on original material.

5) War or Period/Costume Epics. BUDGET! Sure, these get made, but not by the likes of us. I wish I had a dollar for every great WWII script I've read over the last decade. Sure, if someone powerful like Angelina Jolie attaches, it's a whole different story, but try interesting an agent...  Consider restaging the conflict to a space station or another galaxy or inside a human body or something. Seriously.

6) Westerns. The genre is put-a-fork-in-it done theatrically and has migrated to TV.

7) Anything starring a cop or lawyer. Both are the purview of TV. Cop movies still get made of course, but there needs to be something really unique about it. A grizzled alcoholic cop, family falling apart, desperate to track down an elusive murderer? Ho-hum (unless there's true-life source material.) Legal anything: unless adapted from John Grisham, it's probably for TV.

8) Serial killer stories. Played out and also the purview of TV now. 

Who expected this movie to be any good? We certainly didn't.
9) Non-supernatural horror. Monsters and demonic forces are fine, but a crazed killer or slasher flick isn't going to get in the door at most places (unless it can be done for a dime, in which case there are specific companies who do that type of thing.) Also includes psychological horror, although really visual Jacob's Ladder-type stuff certainly has a shot.

10) Stories without Americans, in a country other than the US: America is a ridiculously xenophobic society. It's fine to stage your story in Zimbabwe... provided your hero is American. But US studios will likely not be interested in a movie focused on another culture, with actors who are not Americans -- unless (you guessed it!) there is source material, such as literature or a well-known play (e.g., "Les Miserables".) The exception to this is British, provided it's not about working class types or anything too Britishy-British.

11) Spy/CIA stories. Spy stories are so played out they were already spoofing them in the '60s (Kingsman:The Secret Service was based on a graphic novel.) And the CIA is such an overused element in screenplays as to elicit groans at the mere sight of the acronym. Invent your own agency or do some research -- there are a hundred other lesser-known alphabet soup agencies. 

12) Dramas. Again, TV has sucked a lot of the air out of this once erstwhile genre; and while they do sneak through quite a bit, they're seldom rewarded at the box office, even with a Sundance pedigree or critical notice. That means it's tough to interest an agent, manager or CE in reading them, unless there's a noteworthy attachment, or if you've DIY'ed it and won a passel of awards from film festivals. And finally:

13) Superhero movies. This might seem counter-intuitive at first, but if you've been paying attention you'll realize that while superhero movies continue to dominate, they all have one thing in common: NONE of them came from specs. (Except Hancock. But that's a whole nother story.) So unless your last name happens to be Lee or Ditko or Kirby, or you somehow got DC to part with the feature adaptation rights to Matter Eater Lad (that's a real thing, believe it or not), then don't waste one minute of your precious time writing a huge-budget superflick no one will even read. 

There you have it. It's a not-especially brave new world, but forewarned is forearmed. Consider carefully how to ford the raging rapids separating you from Hollywood's fortifications. Beware the minefield(s) and proceed with knowledge of the way things are, versus the way we want things to be. There are still ways in -- we just have to be smarter about our time and material. Go get 'em.

And hell, if you are writing Matter Eater Lad, then I want in!


Jim Cirile is a Los Angeles-based writer/producer and the founder of leading screenplay analysis/development service Coverage Ink, used by writers, prodcos and management companies to develop and hone their material. Coverage Ink Films is currently producing MALEVOLENT, the world's first US-made animated horror feature, starring Morena Baccarin (Deadpool.)