“Hollywood’s Little Secret”

A professional screenwriter is a screenwriter who has been produced and paid. A professional screenwriter follows Hollywood’s rules in order to get produced. Hollywood’s rules require screenwriters to follow genre formula’s in order to produce their films. This means that professional screenwriter’s utilize their creativity by creating fresh, compelling, and unique stories within the context of a Hollywood established genre. This is the essence of utilizing one’s creativity in Hollywood. If a screenwriter wants to go independent of Hollywood in order to be creative, then, create to your heart’s delight. If a screenwriter wants to write screenplays simply to have fun writing screenplays, then be creative, have fun with it. If, however, a screenwriter desires to become a professional screenwriter, then, one must channel that creativity into specific channels in order to sell and get their screenplays produced.

Donald L. Vasicek
Olympus Films+, LLC
“Commitment to Professionalism”
Writing/Filmmaking/Consulting
http://www.donvasicek.com
dvasicek@earthlink.net

“Hollywood Networking”

by

Donald L. Vasicek (credits: Warriors of Virtue, The Crown, The Sand Creek Massacre, Born to Win, The Lost Heart, Born to Kill)
Olympus Films+, LLC
Writing/Filmmaking/Consulting
http://www.donvasicek.com
dvasicek@earthlink.net

The first time I raised my game to a higher level in my screenwriting career it scared the shit out of me.

As part of my networking scheme a few years ago, I went to the Sundance Producer’s Conference in Sundance, Utah. Even though I live in Colorado and the majestic Rockies are always visible from my window, Sundance was equally as beautiful. Three days and three nights there was more than anyone could wish for even though it’s damn safer here than in the wilds of networking in the film industry. Osama Bin Laden, you never know who means what. It’s all subtextual, you know, like reading between the lines.

It was solid meetings, workshops, panels, screenings and parties. I met a multitude of people who work in independents and mainstream Hollywood folk. Many of them chaired workshops and led meetings. I learned a great deal about producing movies from some of the top people in the film industry.

Just like layering your scripts with subtextual material, the Sundance Producer’s Conference was also layered with subtextual material. Besides the business at hand, people showed an interest in meeting each other. And there were over 300 of them at the conference.

I focused my attention on mainstream Hollywood people. The reason for this is that I believed at the time and still do that in order to succeed in this business, I have to continue to move deeper into Hollywood even though my heart beats for the independents. We need each other if all of us are to succeed.

This movement, if it is that, is to meet and link up with as many people as possible. I want to get to know them and I want them to get to know me even though it causes me to sweat in the dead of winter and lose weight even though I stuffing myself with fat.

So, even though I am basically shy and quiet, I sucked it up and pushed myself into introducing myself to everyone. I knew this was it, I either did it, or I had to go back to sitting with dead bodies and writing (I still haven’t decided whether funeral homes or cemeteries are quieter. I do know both places are excellent places to write. Dead bodies don’t move, or make any noise or want anything. They just repose like logs in a forest. They recycle.)

I met several top Hollywood executives, but none from a major studio. I even helped one exec who presently is one of the power kings in Hollywood use the pickle fork at our buffet dinner (best way I know of to meet others since the suits and the peasants dine together with this arrangement). He was trying to stab these small sweet pickles with his dinner fork to put on his plate, and they keep hopping away, and a couple of times, jumped to the floor.

I said (my heart beating wildly), gawking at his name tag, “Here, Skeezix, use this pickle fork.” He looked up at me (he has eyebrows looked like Groucho Marx’s, you know, big, dark and bushy). He took the fork and successfully stabbed about a dozen and put them on his plate.

He said, “Thanks, my name is Skeezix.” He held out his hand to shake. His plate tipped and a couple of pickles rolled off his plate and plunked on the floor.

I said, “Yes, I know, I saw it on your name tag.” He glanced at mine. It was amazing how fast his eyes moved.

“Don Vahsicheck?”

“No, Don Vasicek. Nice to meet you, Skeezix.”

“I don’t know why they make these damn pickles so small.”

“You don’t suppose whoever makes them is a small person?”

He looked at me; puzzled. I thought, oh, shit, he took me wrong, no sense of humor, and no writer’s imagination either. “I’ve always been impressed with your movies, Skeezix,” I said in an attempt to divert him.

“I don’t blame you, even if I have to say so for myself. What films have you produced?”

“Well, actually, I’m a writer/filmmaker. I just finished writing, directing and producing “Faces.”

The rest of the pickles tumbled to the floor like minature logs rolling down a hill. Both of us watched them fall. It was like slow motion. We scrambled and picked them up.

“I have some projects that just might fit you.” I handed him my business card.

He looked at the pickles in the palm of his hand, then at the card. “Wasn’t “Faces” a John Cassavettes film?”

I slipped the card in his shirt pocket (another daring move and my heart told me so as it leaped into my throat). “I’m sure he’d embrace my “Faces”, Skeezix. I’ll be in touch.” I took off like a comet.

Well, life went on after that in spite of the pickles and the fact that I had overlooked Mr. Cassavettes’ “Faces” when I titled my film in addition that my 100% white cotton banded collar shirt was stuck to me like a wet towel. However, I was relieved. I had interacted with a big boy and had gotten away with it.

I even mixed with Samuel Goldwyn, Paramount, New Line Cinema, Miramax, October Films, Good Machine, Killer Films, 20th Century Fox, Polygram, Universal, and banking and investmenet people at a party the next night. I approached others always trying to find them alone so I could give them my best shot, and the most successful way I did that was to talk with them about their interests before I plugged my interests in. I learned that these people were people, just like I was a person.

A couple of weeks after the conference, I sent Skeezix a letter and pitched him several scripts of mine. I never heard back from him.

Time passed. I kept him updated with holiday greetings and blurbs on what I had accomplished in each past year. He moved on from the company he was with to a major studio and become a co-president of a newly created division. I sent him a congratulatory letter and a jar of Cosmic dill pickles.

The next holiday season I sent him my usual holiday greeting with the usual blurb on what I had accomplished during the past year. A couple of weeks later, his assistant, Archie, called me and asked to see a script I had mentioned in the holiday greeting. This was the first time I had heard back from him even though it was indirectly.

Bear in mind this was right in the middle of the holiday season. And nobody, particularly studio executives, do any business from November until the third week in January. I think they ride ballons over the Serengeti or something like that even though I know for a fact some of them go to the Hamptons. I told Archie that I was right in the middle of a rewrite on it and would get it to them as soon as I finished it. Archie asked me how long that would be, that he had to give Skeezix a timeline.

I swallowed. My throat was very dry and my water bottle was in another part of the house, about a thousand miles away. “About a month,” I said dryly (literally). I was damned if I was going to send Skeezix or Archie or anyone else any other copy of the script. What in the hell was I rewriting it for?

Archie said matter-of-factly that would be fine. I bet to myself at the time he was snacking on Palmetto caramels and washing them down with cola.

I hustled after that, but not really. You know, it was like, okay, so Skeezix wants to see my script. He had Archie call me. So, I thought, let them wait. Why in the hell should I cancel my vacation plans?

My wife and I travelled to Ecuador and rode in a truck. The Chevrolet logo was on the odometer, but the steering wheel had the Ford logo, (go figure) over a mountain pass returning from the Cloud Forest with Hector. I taught Hector how to say cow in English. He taught me how to say tree in Spanish although I already knew that and I’ll bet he already knew how to say cow in English.

I gave him some Cliff bars for a tip since he was thin. He laughed and told me about how he and his brothers get drunk every Saturday night as he rounded a precipitous and precarious curve on a dirt road about 10,000 feet up. He pounded and pounded on the horn. As we rounded the curve, a bus made in the 1950’s full of people, chickens, pigs and dogs and that included on top, the sides and the hood of the bus as well as inside of the bus, stopped. It backed up until it found a small place off the road so that we could get by. When we drove by, several people spit at us.

I did finish the script even though no one told me to wear long pants in the Cloud Forest. I counted 43 mosquito bites on my legs and had to scratch and write and write and scratch. And it didn’t help any when I went to bed at night. We had a wool blanket, compliments of the cool nights.

I got the script off to Veronica, Skeezix’s story editor. About eight days later, Archie called me.

He told me that Veronica thought the story was a good story and it was a fine read. He said it wasn’t quite right for them, that they’re passing on it. I asked him why. He said they had trouble with a couple of the subplots. I asked him what it would take to bring the script back to them. He said, “attachments, strong attachments.” I said okay, give my best to Skeezix and Veronica, and I’ll be back.

So, I had my agent call Skeezix. He pushed her off onto Archie. Archie told her to bring back strong attachments and they’ll talk. So, we’re still working on that even though I had gotten rid of the mosquito bites by then. And the more I expose the script to others, the more I hear about how much they like it and they aren’t giving me any shit about my wanting to direct the movie.

Well, suffice to say, I did write a couple of dozen more scripts. I worked on another major studio picture as a writer/consultant and sold another screenplay which was produced. And I still send Skeezix updates on what I am doing along with Archie and Veronica. And I just heard that Skeezix was made president of one of the major studios. My, my and I taught him how to use a pickle fork.

The fine point of all this is that raising your game to a higher level gets you places even if it scares the shit out of you, but you’re the one who has to do it. See, Michael Jordan.

“Anatomy of an Irresistible Query Letter”

ANATOMY OF AN IRRESISTIBLE QUERY LETTER
by Donald L. Vasicek (credits: Warriors of Virtue, The Crown, award-winning The Sand Creek Massacre, Faces)

The query letter is a marketing tool that can get your script read and you recognized in the highly competitive world of Hollywood. Condensing your 100-plus page script down to a one-page letter exhibits your ability about how good of a writer you are. To have the skill to write a compelling query letter defines who you are as a writer. It must be written just as creatively and professionally as you write your script.

If you are unable to attract readers to your script through your query letter, it is unlikely you will be able to attract anyone to your script. When you are on the firing line in the film business, there isn’t any room for inability to write creatively and succinctly. Either you are able too or you are not able too. And it can no better be illustrated than in your query letter.

So, how do you write a query letter that is irresistible to readers that will impel them to want to read your script? You have to achieve two goals. One, hook readers and reel them through the letter. Two, make the letter so compelling that readers will want to read your script.

Suppose we examine the query letter below. With different content, it was sent to thirty producers, agents and production companies. Twenty-six of them called and requested the script. Part of the structure is from Kerry Cox, former editor of “The Hollywood Scriptwriter”; another part by an unidentified writer and the third part, I wrote. The content is mine.

July 30, 2008

Hollywood Player
Hollywood Player Films
111111 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Dear Hollywood Player:

FIRST SENTENCE: Last night, Generation Y Jenny Black ate a lasagna salad with her mom and little brother; she answered the door bell; went outside and never came back.

SECOND SENTENCE: Why?

THIRD SENTENCE: It’s a question that Lt. Icabod Poe has to answer fast.

FOURTH SENTENCE: The chilling fact is, the more he
learns, the more he realizes that she is living two lives…one as a
normal daughter and sister, a high school honor student and budding
artist; the other as a reclusive teenager who is depressed over her
recently murdered dad …and she is terribly attracted to the moon.

FIFTH SENTENCE: And Jenny might be gone forever if Lt. Poe doesn’t
come up with a reason soon why she disappeared.

SIXTH SENTENCE: DARK MOON JENNY is a suspense thriller with a
strong female protagonist, a deeply terrifying antagonist and a series of
disturbing surprises that build to an ultimate shocker of an ending.

SEVENTH SENTENCE: It is also a story of love, trust, betrayal, courage
and redemption and the fine line that separates the normal from the
abnormal.

EIGHTH SENTENCE: I’d like to submit DARK MOON JENNY for your
consideration.

NINTH SENTENCE: I’ve been around the block twice with
other screenplays.

TENTH SENTENCE: Two, STUPID AND STUPIDER and THE
GIRL HUNTER, okay, not Sundance or Nicholls’ award winners, were made
into movies.

ELEVENTH SENTENCE: DARK MOON JENNY was a winner in the
“Writer’s Digest” Scripts Competition and a semi-finalist in
Chesterfield Film Company’s Writer’s Film Project.

TWELFTH SENTENCE: If you would like to read DARK MOON JENNY, you can
reach me at 123-456-7890.

THIRTEENTH SENTENCE: I look forward to
hearing further from you.

FOURTEENTH SENTENCE: Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Donald L. Vasicek

Now, let’s dissect this letter.
FIRST SENTENCE: By establishing a time in the mind of readers, this makes the story look more immediate and real. When you introduce your main character immediately and tell readers something about them, this hooks readers into your character and story and your query letter to seduce them into wanting to read on. And evil is also implied here, a sure recipie to entice readers to read on.
SECOND SENTENCE: Asking the question, “Why?”, here, and separating it from the first paragraph, makes it stand out and gives readers hope that they will find out more. This will cause them to read on.
THIRD SENTENCE: In this sentence, you put readers on edge with the word, “fast”. It gives them a sense of urgency particularly since you have already gotten them concerned about your main character and they can’t wait to get to the next sentence.
FOURTH SENTENCE: The word “chilling” in this sentence sets up the rest of the sentence. It hooks readers once again and reels them through the sentence. What they see is the heart of the story and character. Jenny Black, a high school junior, seemingly normal, misses her dad and adores the moon. Wouldn’t you want to read on? I’m sure readers Hdo because now they have a stake in Jenny. They know her, they likes her, they see that she has possibly befallen some horrible experience and they want to help her.
The fourth sentence raises questions that they want answered. Why does she like the moon? How does her depression over losing her dad fit in here? Does it have anything to do with why she disappeared and why he was murdered? Is she a female werewolf?
How does Poe know Jenny is lost and not dead? Why does he think she disappeared? Maybe she ran away. Or was spirited away by the moon to communicate with her dad. How can he find a reason why she disappeared?
The more questions you raise in the mind of readers, the more they are going to want to read on. By now, in this query letter, readers are going to finish reading it with interest. So, you don’t want to lose them.
FIFTH SENTENCE: The words, “gone forever” and “soon” give an even greater urgency to Jenny’s dilemma. This ups the stakes and tightens the tension. Readers will want to read on now more than ever because they wants to help Jenny and the only possibility of doing that is by reading on.
SIXTH SENTENCE: By identifying the genre and the gender of the protagonist and one other main character, it gives readers information they can use regarding the marketability of DARK MOON JENNY. It certainly dispels the question as to whether Jenny is a werewolf or not. If she were, the genre would be horror instead of a thriller.
They know that this movie needs a a 30’s actor and a young actress and a thriller audience. The description of the villain gives them an idea that Lt. Poe isn’t only dealing with someone who opposes him in finding Jenny, but also the potential exists that something very bad has happened to her. Utilizing the word, “series”, creates the image that there is even more to the story. And just to top things off, by giving a hint of how the ending is going to be by using the words like “ultimate shocker” and “ending” is just enough to tease them into reading the next sentence.
SEVENTH SENTENCE: This sentence shows that the story is multi-dimensional, dichotomies with love, trust and betrayal and abnormal and normal. It also implies of evil and whets readers’ appetites for more.
EIGHTH SENTENCE: This humble, but confident and professional request increases interest for readers by asking them to see the script.
NINTH AND TENTH SENTENCES: A light approach like this helps readers learn something more about you as a screenwriter and shows them that even though you’re serious about your career, you do have the ability to laugh about it too. These sentences personalize you and helps readers “bond” more with you.
ELEVENTH SENTENCE: This sentence should identify any awards and/or recognition DARK MOON CHRISSY has received. Be creative here. If it hasn’t won any professional recogntion, but your aunt loved it, try to tell readers in a creative way that shows your aunt is as capable of rendering a learned opinion on your script as anyone else. Afterall, wasn’t it screenwriter Willim Goldman who said nobody knows anything in Hollywood?
TWELFTH SENTENCE: This sentence is utilized by sales persons. It calls readers to action. They utilize it to close the deal. You ask readers to call you. This request is simple, to the point and gives readers the opportunity to read the script. The utilization of “you” personalizes the call to action and gives readers a good feeling that perhaps they are special in that you haven’t let anyone else in on your script as yet.
THIRTEENTH SENTENCE: The purpose of this sentence is to inform readers that you think highly enough of them that you want to continue your communication with them.
FOURTEENTH SENTENCE: This sentence is a courtesty that you aren’t imposing on them. It gives readers a feeling of respect and professionalism.

Putting this form of query letter into service cannot quarantee that you will sell your script. It can, however, improve your chances that readers will request your script. And what more can you ask for as you move forward in your screenwriting career? Since the film business is so subjective, it is possible readers might not like your script, but if they are impressed enough with the writing of your query letter and your script, they might ask to see any other scripts you might have and request to see any future ones you write in addition to the possibility of being hired for work-for-hire or a working assignment. What more can you ask for in this business unless you want to direct movies too.

Stay tuned. I’ll be addressing that in a future article.

Oh, by the way, in case you’re still wondering what happened to Jenny, think THE SIXTH SENSE meets THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Does that help?

Falcon by Pamela Cuming