Huzzah! My pilot about a clandestine order of supernatural artifact hunters post-WWII has reached two new milestones. This is its first semifinalist placement (you can see a full list of semifinalists here), and the bump to my Coverfly score means that I now have two scripts on the Redlist for 1-hour adventure scripts!
The fact that Riftmaker has not proceeded past a quarterfinalist placement is a little disheartening, but I am trying to look at it as educational rather than frustrating. Clearly, my tales of morally gray women are speaking to more readers than my ensemble fantasy script, which is important to know going into the fellowship application season in the Spring. I stand by Riftmaker as a good script, but these others are obviously more accessible. And it’s still competing in a few other competitions, so who knows?
I recently started a new pilot in the same vein as Riftmaker, so I will still finish that first. But now I can keep the back of my mind on coming up with something else that is more similar to No Rest for the Wicked and Curio. (You can check out the loglines for all of my TV projects on my TV page.)
We live, we learn, and we keep on writing 🙂
Next up, I am waiting to hear about the Coverfly Pitch Fest shortlist on Dec 18. Fingers crossed!
We all have our pet peeves when it comes to the media we consume. Mine has to do with how pain, injury, and treatment are portrayed in film and TV.
For context, I am in pain most of the time. Small injuries that normal people recover from in a matter of weeks can linger for years. I also get micro-tears in my major muscles, leaving me aching and weak in my arms or legs for days at a time just from emptying the dishwasher or walking my dog. I’ve had a couple surgeries, so I also have a lot of experience with the recovery process.
Which brings us to how pain is (or often isn’t) shown on screen. Though this is a habitual problem, the particular scene that made me want to write this post is from the new live-action Cowboy Bebop. This is by no means a knock against the show in general (I really enjoyed it!), but is emblematic of the issue.
In S1 Episode 4 (“Callisto Soul”), Faye Valentine is shot during an attack by eco-terrorists. Her injury is in almost the exact place on my own shoulder where the surgeon sliced me up years ago. Not only is she able to blithely point her gun above shoulder level a few moments after being shot, but she also slides into a booth with Spike a few minutes later and nonchalantly puts her arm across the back of the booth, her wound clearly on display but miraculously no longer bleeding NO. FREAKING. WAY.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for suspending my disbelief. When her injury is repaired almost instantly once they get back to the Bebop, I am willing to give her the easy skip over the recovery process (which would be months of agony in real life) because this is sci-fi so whatever. But before that, she shows basically no recognition of the pain. Granted, I’ve never been shot, but considering how much more damage a bullet does than a scalpel, I think I’ve got a good grasp here on what she’d be going through.
I haven’t seen the script, so I don’t know how much of her actions were on the page vs. a choice by the director or actor, but somewhere in there, someone should have noticed this was an issue. One easy fix would be to have her shot in her left shoulder instead, which wouldn’t impede her shooting arm. Then she’d be free to throw her good arm up on the back of the booth to get the shot they wanted of her and Spike sitting side by side.
Why Does This Matter?
Beyond any questions of whether media should be an accurate representation of reality, the way characters respond to pain, especially pain caused by violence, affects our perceptions.
I don’t love the term “desensitized” because even though I watch a lot of action movies and adore the Assassin’s Creed games, real-life violence and pain such as bodycam footage and monks setting themselves on fire in protest make me sick to my stomach to watch. And actual good portrayals of violence on screen has the same effect. I had to leave the theater during the end sequence of Gangs of New York, for instance. Perhaps I am the outlier here, but I wouldn’t say I have been desensitized by any stretch.
And yet, I can see how this can happen. If all you ever see is the fantasy of violence rather than the reality, it can certainly skew the perception of how pain works. (I’m only talking about physical pain at the moment, but of course, there is also a whole slew of mental issues violence can cause as well.) I know we like to see heroes overcoming their pain in order to accomplish their goals, but to completely brush off all injuries as the special effects makeup that they are totally dismisses reality and also takes away from the power of the overcoming itself. One of the reasons Die Hard is such a fantastic movie is that John McClane regularly shows fear and pain, making him more human and the stakes that much higher. By glossing over pain, characters (and by extension the viewers) are robbed of these moments.
There can also be totally unintended consequences for the viewers who actually do suffer pain on a regular basis. Despite the fact that my health problems began at age 20, it took me about 10 years before someone took me seriously enough to prescribe me medication. And even then it was a young, female nurse practitioner who advocated for me rather than a doctor. The look of mirrored pain on her face when I described my experience still makes me tear up to this day because she not only believed me, she gave a damn.
Beyond the fact that women’s pain is taken less seriously than men’s to start with, I can’t help but wonder if those doctors who wouldn’t listen to me were swayed by the portrayals in the media that treat pain as no biggie. I have moved several times since my pain started, and it is a battle to get treatment every single time I meet a new doctor. By minimizing the experience of pain and showing characters “toughing it out” all the time creates the illusion that the person in pain is the problem, not the pain itself. And it can do real harm to those of us that live in reality rather than on screen.
So, What Can Writers Do?
As I said, we can’t control what directors and actors do with our words, but there are still things writers can do to help create more realistic portrayals of pain. As a caveat, it isn’t unusual to see side characters or love interests in pain. However, rather than reinforcing the fact that pain is real, it usually serves to motivate the protagonist. Then they go on some kind of rampage and never feel pain themselves because they are just so much better, stronger, more motivated, etc. than the loved one (often a woman) who gets hurt.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re writing:
If a character is going to take a bullet, leap off a building, get hit by a car, or any of the other action movie mainstays, don’t just have them brush off the dirt and walk away after a snappy one-liner. Have them show surprise, fear, confusion, or any number of emotions that accompany pain.
Learn about anatomy. Depending on the injury, some things may become physically impossible for your character. When the tendon in my shoulder was severed, it not only hurt to lift my arm, I was physically unable to. Any injury should have lingering effects that follows them from that point on. If a character is battered, they will move slower and more carefully. They will wince from certain movements. Or use their weaker hand. Rather than being limiting, these considerations can give you a chance to come up with more creative solutions. A character who is accustomed to shooting their way out of things but suddenly can’t lift their gun can be way more interesting than one who just shrugs off a bullet wound.
Sometimes taking one character out of commission can give another the chance to shine. In the series finale of Lost in Space, for instance, the sibling who has been the major driving force for the entire series is too injured to save the day. It’s up to another member of the ensemble to step up and it is SO gratifying. Leaving someone on the bench led to a far more interesting turn of events and character arc than if they’d made some kind of miraculous recovery.
Get them treatment. Let them take medication. Give them crutches or a cane. But remember, a bandage doesn’t mean the injury goes away. It just means that it is more stable and the person is less likely to bleed out. There should still be echoes of the pain long after the scene where they get their wound tended to. If they overexert themselves later, they should start bleeding again.
An aside about pills – one pill won’t “cure” the pain. Furthermore, they usually take 30-45 minutes to take effect and only last a limited amount of time. It is painfully common to see a character take a pill and immediately see it take effect. But if you’ve ever had a headache, you know it feels like forever before that pill will even make a dent.
In the last year, I’ve discovered the benefits of kinesio tape. Seriously, when this stuff is applied right it is downright miraculous when it comes to relieving pain from tendon, ligament, and muscle issues. If you watch pro sports, you’ve probably seen it on on athletes to stabilize their joints. It comes in bright colors, making it ideal for the screen, too.
People with chronic pain probably won’t talk about it much. Over time, it’s hard not to feel like you are burdening other people with your problems and they are bored of hearing about it. (It was a seriously big step for me to feel like I could write this post at all, to be honest.) And perhaps that explanation works for some characters we see just shaking things off. On the other hand, I have found that people who are unaccustomed to being in pain or inconvenienced by an injury rarely keep it to themselves. Not to mention the ones who revel in getting extra attention. So there can be a spectrum, and having different characters react in different ways can add interest and depth to your story.
Ok, </rant>. I hope it wasn’t too… painful <wiggles eyebrows> to read.
If you’ve got any strategies I missed or experiences writing about pain that you’d like to share, feel free to leave a comment.
I’m thrilled to announce that I got word last night that BOTH Curio and Riftmaker advanced in the competition. (You can find out more about them on my TV projects page) I admit I was a little worried about submitting twice to the same competition because I wondered if they would just pick one even if both of them were good. But I am very happy to report that this wasn’t the case (at least with Screencraft).
They received around 3900 submissions combined for the 30-minute and 1-hour format, and just shy of 950 moved on. Interesting side note, for last year’s competition I think it was closer to 4800 submissions, so the “pandemic surge” may be subsiding a bit.
This placement holds a special place in my heart because the 2021 competition was the very first time I entered anything and I was a finalist with No Rest for the Wicked. With the inevitable imposter syndrome most of us face at some point, I had worried that my early successes had been flukes. So this one feels extra special to place again.
The semi-finalist announcements for this one will be posted on Dec 1, but I’ll also find out about the semis for Curio in the WeScreenplay competition on Nov 15. Wish me luck!
This is the first time this script has competed, and I’m thrilled to announce it has advanced to the quarterfinals of the WeScreenplay TV competition! This means all four of the scripts I’ve written so far have received at least a quarterfinals placement or better. [Cue happy dance] I’ll find out about the semifinals in a month.
One thing I really like about the WeScreenplay competitions is that they offer written feedback. The notes for Curio were helpful, and I did make a few small adjustments based on them. However, what I got on the other script I entered not only took 4 months to get (the turnaround is supposed to be 2 weeks), but based on the comments the reader clearly skimmed.
So not surprisingly, Riftmaker did not advance in the competition based on their assessment. Which is a bummer, but also a good reminder of the reality of the screenwriting world. Any time you put your script and yourself out there, this kind of thing can happen and it doesn’t detract from the merits of the script. I’ll be very curious to see how these two pieces do in their next outing Nov 3, the ScreenCraft pilot competition. My very first pilot made it to the finals of that one last year, so fingers crossed for a repeat.
But no matter how things shake out, it’s nice to know I seem to be on the right track. Since beginning my screenwriting journey, I’ve submitted things 18 times to competitions, fellowships, and scholarship programs. This is my fifth placement. Not too shabby considering everyone and their cousin’s babysitter’s BFF wrote screenplays during the pandemic.
Money is going to be tighter going into 2022, so I doubt I’ll be able to submit as often during year 2 of my trek to a TV writing room. However, I will definitely be throwing my hat in the ring for the various fellowships at Disney, WarnerMedia, etc. And I am compiling my spreadsheets of people to query. Wish me luck!
Woot! I haven’t had any good news to share like this since March, so feeling grateful, happy, and relieved to get this recognition for Riftmaker. This is my second pilot and the first time it’s competed.
For this competition, ScreenCraft received around 2000 submissions, so the quarterfinalists are the top 500-ish. I did also enter No Rest for the Wicked in this competition, but something important I am learning about it is though there are fantasy elements, it probably isn’t well equipped to compete against things with big, sweeping sci-fi/fantasy worlds. Riftmaker is definitely more securely situated in fantasy, so I am not surprised it would advance and No Rest wouldn’t in a genre competition.
The turnaround for this one is fast. Semifinalists will already be announced July 28. So fingers crossed for more good news later this month!
I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear that spring 2020 was not a great time for me because it wasn’t a great time for pretty much anyone. I’d started my fourth novel in January, but by March I had completely lost interest in it. I wasn’t writing anything, just editing and continuing with the anthology project I had already planned. Then one, fateful day, a post showed up in my Facebook feed that changed everything.
Imagine Impact was looking for features to pitch to Netflix, and I realized one of their prompts fit one of my novels. There was about a month between the prompt and the deadline, so I threw myself into learning to adapt my novel for the screen. And I discovered how much I LOVED screenwriting. Was that first feature bloated and over-written? Hell yes. (Though I was told by a former Hollywood scriptreader that even though it was too long, on a technical level it was the best first screenplay he’d read, so that was cool.)
Have I gotten a lot better since then? Hell yes, too!
So, I decided to write this post in the hopes that it would help other aspiring writers figure out their own journeys, and to give me something to look back on at the end of year 2. One important thing to note is that during this year I did not have a job. So I have an opportunity to do a LOT more of this kind of thing than people with jobs and kids.
How Did I Learn?
I love learning new things, so I was energized by diving in and soaking up everything I could about this new medium. I’d actually read Save the Cat! a few years earlier to help me with novel writing, but there are a ton of books out there for the curious. I’m going to do a post at some point with more details about the books, but in the mean time, these are the additional titles I either read or got the audiobook for in roughly the order I consumed them (some were simultaneous or I put them down for a while and came back):
Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters by Michael Tierno
Story by Robert McKee
The Nutshell Technique by Jill Chamberlain
The Definitive Guide to Screenwriting by Syd Field
That’s Not the Way It Works by Bob Saenz
The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier (I don’t know if I’ll read this one cover to cover, but the formatting reference section is FANTASTIC and super well done.)
On my To Be Read pile:
Story Maps for TV Drama by David P. Calvisi (will be delivered this week!)
Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger
Save the Cat Writes for TV by Jamie Nash
Men, Women, and Chainsaws by Carol J. Clover
Anatomy of Story by John Truby
There are so many great articles out there that I can’t possibly list them all. But I thought I’d let you know about some websites that had good reference materials.
JohnAugust.com, and even more important than the articles is the podcast, Script Notes. It’s really fun and so informative! I’m a premium member so I can listen to all the back episodes and I’ve been working my way backwards. I think I’ve listened to at least 75 over the last year…?
I love, love, love this platform. I was gifted a yearlong membership as an early Xmas gift in Nov 2020, and I’ve done almost a dozen courses already. I’ve got to quick get in some more before the subscription expires in a couple months! I’ve already gone into detail in other posts, so here are the links.
My hope is to complete at least one more class per month before my subscription runs out.
Deep Dives into Genres
Books, articles, and online classes are great, but there really is no replacement for reading scripts and watching movies with a critical eye. While writing my first two pilots, I read several pilot scripts and watched those episodes. While writing my thriller feature, I did the same. I’ve been researching action-comedies in the same way off and on in anticipation of another feature I plan to write.
For the most part, this kind of research has been most effective using TV and movies I had already seen. That way I knew if it was a good pilot or example of what I wanted to do with a feature. Though sometimes, I asked for recommendations and watched completely new things or watched the comp titles in the Impact prompts for reference. And then of course I was watching movies and TV for my own enjoyment, but I can’t help but approach them now as a writer rather than just a viewer. (To be fair, this has been more or less true ever since I started writing novels seven years ago, but it has been kicked into high gear now.)
What Did I Write?
In order to get Riftmaker short enough to be acceptable as a feature, I had to completely gut one of the characters and do away with her subplot. I hated it. And as I had originally envisioned that novel as part of a trilogy anyway, I knew there was a lot of potential material for long-form storytelling. So I changed gears and decided to write it for TV instead. But rather than just cutting the feature in half and calling it a pilot, I backed up 24 hours on the timeline and started from scratch. Because with a book, you can tell a whole bunch of backstory both through the narration and the thoughts of the characters. Bt with only sight and sound to work with on the screen, I knew I needed to convey a lot of the important information in a more visual way. In the end, I think I only used maybe 10 pages of the original screenplay for my pilot version, and I’m really happy with the result.
No Rest for the Wicked Pilot
Between the Riftmaker feature and the pilot version, I wrote my first pilot based on another one of my books. Once again, it was part of a series, so I thought TV made more sense. When setting out on my first feature, I had assumed that I would want to write movies, but once I got a taste of the freedom when it came to TV writing, I started thinking in those terms instead.
Unlike the Riftmaker pilot, No Rest is a more or less straight adaptation of the first 50 pages of the existing book. The book itself is already divided into three distinct chunks in three locations, so it already lent itself to episodic treatment anyway. I finished it, got a little feedback, revised, then on a whim I entered it into a competition. I figured that’s something people do, right? And then I totally forgot about it.
Until one day I got the notification that it had moved onto the quarterfinals, then the semis, then the finals… I didn’t win, but I did receive special mention when the winners were announced. A requirement for all the finalists was to write a bible for their show, so I got to work.
No Rest for the Wicked Bible
Just when I felt like I was getting the hang of screenwriting, I had to figure out another type of writing that goes along with it. I never even knew these existed until I was asked to write one. Thankfully, Screencraft did send their finalists a nice little ebook with advice, so between that and reading some bibles that are loose in the wild, I was able to put one together. If you want to read more about that process, I did a blog post on my author blog before I switched over to this one for my screenwriting stuff.
I’d had the idea for Grimmer kicking around in my brain as a novel I wanted to write ever since I moved to Germany in 2017. I had done a ton of research on fairy tales and German folklore in 2018, but those notes had been sitting idle while I worked on other books. Once I discovered screenwriting, it was the first thing I wrote totally from scratch.
Because I had the research already under my belt, I did about a week of prewriting followed by 10 solid days of writing to get my first draft. I went through the feedback/revisions cycle with a few readers and submitted it to some competitions. The results were… not stellar. So I revised and revised again (now with the help of a critique group I was asked to join through Facebook). The best I’ve done so far is semifinalist in the Filmmatic Horror competition, but hoping to reach the finals for something with the latest version later this year. Fingers crossed!
This was another story that I’d been sitting on for a while and had originally envisioned as a novel or series. I signed up for the first ever “Writer’s Surgery” workshop through the Global Film Industry Cafe Facebook group in Feb 2021 and pitched four different series ideas. This one was the clear favorite, so I ran with it.
The Writer’s Surgery met once a month Feb-June. We were divided into feature and TV writers, and from there into critique groups of 4-5. Each month had a different focus and we turned things in to the group a week before each meeting. After the first “getting to know you” meeting in Feb, it went beat sheets, first half, second half, revised full screenplay. The beat sheet step was more for the series as a whole for the TV writers because TV has its own act structure that’s different than features and some people were doing half hour comedies instead of one hour dramas.
For me, it was a little annoying to have to feel like I had to wait between sessions to move on to the next step, and I did my first half revisions long before we technically had the revisions stage. So it is actually the pilot I took the longest to write, but I could have easily done the whole thing faster. However, having the built-in feedback sessions was incredibly valuable and I absolutely loved my workshop group. Even though our final official session happened last week, we plan to continue meeting on a regular basis going forward. My next step with them and Curio is to write the bible for our meeting in August. I’m also submitting Curio to a couple competitions after my final rewrite, so once more into the breach!
Sacrifice – a false start
Somewhere in there I also started adapting one of my short stories to a screenplay. I published a multi-author anthology of retold fairy tales that I thought could make a great TV anthology concept. So I started with this unpublished novelette I wrote in 2020 for a competition as part of my proof of concept. I got a little stuck because so much of it happens in the the main character’s head, so I set it aside. I still think it’s a solid idea for an anthology series, but I think one of my other stories would serve as a better pilot.
Now that it’s had some time to marinate, I think I have a better idea how to work with it and I’m going to come back to it as a feature at some point. It isn’t the kind of thing Hollywood would be clambering to make because of it’s dark tone and unequivocally unhappy ending, but could serve as a good sample nonetheless.
Web – pitch only
Things came full circle a couple weeks ago when I spied another Impact prompt that got me excited. For 2021, they’ve teamed up with Skydance TV and in June they asked applicants to pitch “elevated, contemporary horror” shows. Back when I started the GFI workshop, I had a show idea that fit the bill, so I spent a couple weeks developing it enough to pitch it. The Impact application is long and the questions were really helpful for guiding me as I worked it out. Probably the scariest part of the whole application is making a 30-second video. Eek!
One nice thing this time around is that when they asked for a writing sample, I already had something ready to go, unlike my mad scramble to submit that first Riftmaker feature because I had nothing in a screenplay format yet. The application was due July 4, so I’ll find out by Aug 20 if I was selected to interview. From there, Impact picks the shows they want to pitch to Skydance, and if selected by them, the show gets optioned. They shop it around, and if it is sold to a network or streamer, the original writer may or may not be hired to write the pilot. So obviously very very far away from a sure thing, but I believe that this idea fits their brief better than anything else I submitted to an Impact prompt.
So, What’s Next?
My overarching goal for my first year as an aspiring screenwriter was to get better at the craft and have at least three things in my portfolio before I began querying. I ended up with four that I believe are quite solid and ready to start showing to people. “Staffing season” for TV writing rooms is more of a springtime thing, but that’s totally fine with me because it gives me a lot of time to get those queries out and maybe find an agent or manager before the 2022 season begins. As a novelist, I am no stranger to querying nor the inevitable string of rejection letters, so I’m somewhat prepared. At the same time, I’m feeling scared to put myself out there like that again. It’s natural, and I’ll get over it, but still worth noting the feelings all the same.
There are more books and articles to read, videos to watch, scripts to dissect, and MasterClass courses to complete. I’ve got a schedule somewhat worked out, but I won’t bore you with that level of detail. I also decided to sign up for the Coverfly Lab 2.0, which is a six-session workshop covering more of the business side of things. The time zone thing is a bit of a beast, but there are experts to meet and other writers to get to know, so it should be a good experience. Plus, cheaper than entering a competition and I’m pretty much guaranteed to get something out of it.
And of course, more writing! I’ve got at least two more solid pilot ideas and the action-comedy feature I’m excited to write. There’s another handful of ideas I haven’t decided on the best form for them to take. And though Curio is a complete pilot, the series is basically a supernatural procedural with fairly self-contained episodes, so I’ve also toyed with doing a feature version of the pilot story with more obstacles and action than fits in an hour. Riftmaker and Curio also both probably need bibles.
A couple months ago, I joined the team at Quivalon to work on the HOOD project, so that’ll keep me busy over the next year as well. I started off as a production assistant, but I’m already doing a lot more than your average PA, including working on rewriting the pilot. I also helped put together a pitch deck, which was an amazing learning experience. If everything goes according to the pie in the sky version of the plan, this’ll keep me quite busy! And if not, still a great way to learn 🙂
So, there you have it, year one in the life of this aspiring screenwriter. I am going to continue submitting here and there to the bigger competitions because as someone living so far away from the the decision-makers, it seems like a good avenue for me for now. I’m not going broke doing it, and there are some benefits even if you don’t win. For instance, some competitions offer mentorship opportunities, and Screencraft is now offering all of their finalists help on things like writing query letters and setting up events for us to network. Hopefully, I’ve have good news to report on the competition front soon!
How about you? Do you have resources to recommend? Accomplished your goals? Setting new ones for the second half of 2021? Share in the comments 🙂
About six weeks ago, I joined the ranks of Quivalon, a female-led, international creative collaboration that covers several different types of media. The primary focus is a gender-swapped Robin Hood retelling TV show set in a near-future dystopia where magic exists. As the production coordinator, I have my hands on many different aspects of the various branches of the project. And as someone with digital design experience, I was brought on to work on the pitch deck. As with my TV bible post, I wanted to give a bit of an overview about what went into the pitch deck and why we made the decisions we did.
(BTW, Quivalon is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to shoot a sizzle reel featuring our 7 main characters. We’ve hot 100%, but once we reach our first stretch goal we’ve got behind-the-scenes content to offer. Check it out.)
What is a Pitch Deck?
A pitch deck is a visual introduction to your feature or series. It takes the form of a Powerpoint or other slide presentation, though is often distributed as a PDF. As is the case with so much of screenwriting, the goal is to say as much as you can using as few words as possible. But the advantage here is that you get that chance to communicate a lot through images as well as the text. This document could be used to woo actors, producers, or other financiers.
What is the Structure of a Pitch Deck?
There are many, many examples of bibles floating around, but not nearly as many pitch decks. The ones I could find to use for reference were always for features rather than TV and were for projects that didn’t include an elaborate, fantastical world like HOOD. Pitch decks can range a lot, but we were aiming for something between 15-20 slides. We made a plan before I ever laid out a single slide, and the order of things did fluctuate some along the way. In the end, the order and number of slides for HOOD broke down to:
Slide 1 – Poster
Slide 2 – Character art for our main character
Because this is a non-traditional take on the character, we thought seeing a female Robyn Loxley would make an impression. Chances are good you wouldn’t need this in your deck.
Slide 3 – Logline/inspiration
Slide 4 – “Mood board” type collage of images
Slide 5 – Themes
We opted to boil down our three most important themes into three questions, each with an accompanying image. Other theme slides I looked at were much more text-heavy.
Slide 6 – World
For us, this included a world map because the “England” of HOOD looks different after climate change. We explained the presence of magic and the major war the happened immediately before the story begins.
Slide 7 – Story
This is where we explained the remaining context and location for the series, and the main conflicts of the first episode.
Slide 8- Nottingham visual
Showing what we just told in the previous slide when it came to the setting of the story.
Slides 9-10 – Three main characters
Everyone knows that Robin Hood, The Sheriff of Nottingham, and King John are the three most central characters of any Robin Hood story, so we introduced them and what makes our version different. We were especially sensitive to the fact that casting would be race-blind, so we didn’t want to use an real actors or models to illustrate our characters.
Slide 11 – More Story
We wanted to give more of an idea of where the season would go without having too many text-heavy slides in a row, so we put this one after the characters rather than following the first story slide. If you are doing a deck for a feature, you probably don’t need more than one story slide.
Slides 12-13 – The rest of the characters
Quick character introductions of our remaining cast, which included some spoilers for the season as a whole.
Slide 14 – Tone and Comp Titles
Slide 15 – The Team
Our team is so big, we opted for a summary approach with pictures instead of giving each person part of a slide for intros. Other teams with bigger names attached will likely spread this over multiple slides.
Slide 16 – Closing image/call to action
A strong visual plus our contact information and social media handles.
Slides We Didn’t Include
Some of the sample decks also included information about production, such as budget and timeline. We aren’t far enough down the line yet to include those kinds of details, so we left them out. I also saw at least one that had multiple pages of comps that included the budgets and box office returns for those comps. We preferred to focus on four titles that touched on different aspects of our themes and style.
This deck had three main people working on it, me, a writer, and the showrunner. There were a couple other people who also weighed in on visuals. Having a team rather than going alone had both costs and benefits. It certainly took longer to get 16 slides by committee than if I were working alone. But I also think the final product is a lot better looking and more professional than if I hadn’t had their feedback. And some of the discussions surrounding themes and branding were really valuable for me at this stage of learning about the industry.
I was able to do almost everything I wanted to do using my Canva Pro subscription, but there were a few things here and there that required someone else to do something specific in Photoshop for me. The poster and the character silhouettes, for instance, came from outside that program. Still, the “Presentation” template in Canva was perfect and easy to use, so I’d recommend it for the actual layout if you don’t use Powerpoint.
Now that I’ve got this one under my belt, I am excited to create pitch decks for my own series! I’ll be sure to post again once I’ve done more.
What about you? Have you ever made a pitch deck? Thinking about it? Got resources to share?
Being in this crazy screenwriting game is all about connections, and I was fortunate to find an amazing multimedia project through people I’ve met through social media. I am already learning so much about the non-writing side of creating a show!
The entire HOOD project includes a book, podcasts, and eventually a TV show. Right now, we’re trying to raise funds to pay actors to shoot a series of short, proof of concept scenes before moving on to bigger and better things. It’s a mini campaign, just looking for 1500 euros and it only runs for 3 weeks. We’re at 59% so far, but we’ve also got awesome stretch goals to add better costumes, props, and special effects.
All backers get an exclusive first look at the finished reel, plus we’ve got other fun goodies. My personal favorite is that you can a personalized ballad composed just for you. I’ll be on the team writing them 🙂 Check it out!
The campaign video does a great job of summing up the world of HOOD, so take it away team!
But who are the characters of HOOD, you ask?
Robyn Loxley: The People’s Champion – Fearless, at times reckless, she returns to Nottingham harbouring deadly secrets. Previously Nottingham’s golden girl, Robyn is now a shadow of her former self. If she is to have a chance of saving the city, she must also find a way to save herself.
Philippa Murdoch: Sheriff of Nottingham – The hard-working right hand to the king struggles to put down a terrorist threat. When her privileged half-sister returns from the dead, it threatens not only the city’s stability and security operations but the power, position, and personal relationships she has worked so hard to achieve.
John Fitzwalter: King of East Mercia – A brilliant scientist and ever rational, he believes the numbers will tell him how to save his country. His high opinion of his own intelligence often makes him appear arrogant and condescending to those around him, but he’s desperate to prove he’s fit to wear the crown.
Marian Fitzwalter: Princess of East Mercia – Heir to the throne after King Richard’s disappearance, she abdicated in favour of her uncle. Marian is highly intelligent, with an interest in everything from magic to matters of state. She’s also emotionally tempestuous and caught between her old love, Robyn, and new love, Philippa.
Will Scarlett: Rebel Leader – A charming rogue turned freedom fighter, Will is determined to fight for justice and rescue his sister from the clutches of the corrupt King no matter what the real truth is, or who he hurts.
Alana Dale: Rebel and Hycatha – Alana is scrappy and streetwise, but like all Hycathae (sorceresses), she is also cautious not to reveal her true nature unless it aids the fight against King John. Her relationship with Will is on rocky ground, and she’s looking for guidance from a new mentor as her power blossoms.
Ewan Qadir – Ewan is a skilled, versatile fighter who returned from the Promised Land with Robyn and is bound to her by a dark secret. Cursed by the Red Phoenix – a terrifying magical entity – he seeks the means to rid himself of this burden.
Over on my author website, I did a post about the first six MasterClass courses I did to help me learn about writing in general and screenwriting in particular. I’ve got several more under my belt since then, so I figured it was time for another post. (Pro tip: If you are curious about MasterClass and know anyone who is a member, they probably have guest passes they can share. These give you a week to test it out.)
One important thing that I have learned from having completed all of these writing courses is that there is definitely overlap. So I am mostly going to focus here on what each one offers that is unique.
Jodie Foster Teaches Filmmaking
This was one of the shorter classes I’ve done, but it tackled a lot of material and often had a different perspective than the others. Jodie Foster was a child star long before she started directing, and she brought her insights from being in front of the camera to bear on her advice for aspiring directors. She also clearly had such a passion for both her work and for helping other people achieve their goals that I felt very engaged and excited to watch the next lesson.
One of the unique things this class offered was watching real time notes sessions between her and the writer for a film they were developing together. She put a lot of emphasis on that relationship and the power of collaboration, which was nice to see as an aspiring writer myself. I am really glad I am doing filmmaking and directing courses in addition to different kinds of writing because they really offer a lot of information that is helpful even if I don’t ever plan to direct anything myself.
Steve Martin Teaches Comedy
Most of this class is devoted to the subjects surrounding stand up comedy, but there is a good portion on writing as well. I especially enjoyed his “case study” of writing Roxanne, a parody/homage of Cyrano De Bergerac. Adaptation of novels, shorts stories, and plays for the screen is a particular interest of mine, so this was especially helpful. He also did a second case study of a play he wrote called Meteor Shower and how to master the opening pages.
And even though I am not interested in doing standup, some of what he had to say about creating characters and the importance of testing out material could come in handy when I finally write the action-comedy feature I’ve got knocking around in my brain.
David Mamet Teaches Dramatic Writing
Mamet is one of those writers who has been around long enough to have done many different things. He writes both screenplays and stage plays, and has a long list of credits. I admit, his kind of movies aren’t my normal fair, but as a big name I thought I’d give him a try. He’s got gruff kind of charm and no holds bar attitude, which is entertaining, but frankly I didn’t feel like I got as much out of this one as some of the others. Though if this is your first or only MasterClass, you probably wouldn’t feel that way.
But for me at least, though he did cover some of the broader strokes, his personal insights were a bit too personal/context specific to be helpful. I felt this way also when I did the Martin Scorscese class. Both men came up in the entertainment world when it was so wildly different than it is now, that the class served as much as an interesting biography as it did a class with actionable lessons to take away.
Ron Howard Teaches Directing
This was an amazing class for learning about what happens on a set. There is this fab section where Howard blocks and shoots the same scene three different ways for three different styles (and budgets). I did get tired of hearing the same set of lines over and over again, but as a learning experience it was awesome. He touched on writing a bit, especially the important of research, but in general he talked about pretty much every other role when it came to putting together a movie (sound, DP, etc.).
So if you only have limited time and you are super writer focused, this one isn’t ideal. But if you want to get a sense for the bigger picture, I highly recommend it.
Issa Rae Teaches Creating Outside the Lines
I didn’t know anything about Issa Rae when I took this class, but I probably should have. I was just excited when MasterClass added another TV writer to the roster, so I did it right after it came out. Rae got her start shooting videos on her phone for the web, but has transitioned to television.
This is a really good class if you are someone who plans to draw heavily from your own life for your material. As I am primarily interested sci-fi and fantasy, it was less helpful, but still enjoyable. Much of her advice had to do with embracing your own voice and being confident that you have a story to tell, which never hurts to hear. And of course, if you want to create your own content and go direct to YouTube rather than going the querying/studio route, she has good insights to share.
That’s All For Now!
I started Spike Lee’s class, but I didn’t want to wait to finish it before posting this update. I am also very excited that MasterClass recently added N.K. Jemison, who is a spec fiction writer like me 🙂 At some point, I’ll also get around to reviewing screenwriting books I am reading, but right now I’m writing, writing, writing!
Did you miss my post on my author website about the first six classes I took? Check it out!