Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Shorter the Better

Jonathan O'Brien

How Writing, Producing, and Marketing Your Short Film Will Better Prepare You To Write Your Feature-Length Screenplay

Thursday, May 13, 7 pm*
*Come early to join in interactive discussion, get to know each other, and network with local talent. The speaker presentation will start around 7:30 pm
Downtown Borders (Upstairs)
900 State Street
FREE and open to everyone!

Jonathan OBrien is a UCLA film school graduate, a former network program executive, creator and former co-host of NPR's Beyond Words, a former juvenile hall writing instructor, and currently an ever-popular adjunct screenwriting instructor at SBCC. He has combined 35 years of diverse creative experiences with his passion for teaching to create his groundbreaking program design method resulting in nonprofits winning more than $385 million in competitive grant money. One of his educational program designs is permanently enshrined in the Smithsonian Institution. Two of the charter schools he helped to create are in the top 100 Charter Schools in the nation according to the America's Best High Schools analysis as reported by US News and World Report.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

April 8th Meeting Minutes

Paul Levine, entertainment lawyer and literary agent, spoke on the topic of “Legal and Business Aspects on Writing Books and Scripts” to a packed third floor crowd at the April 8, 2010 Screenwriters Association of Santa Barbara that took place at Borders Bookstore on State Street.

Mr. Levine shared with the audience how his trek to Los Angeles, in 1978, came about by way of York University (Toronto, Canada) and family responsibilities. He is an entertainment law attorney who mainly represents book authors and journalists.

Very important in his negotiations on behalf of writers is this guiding principle: Retain all rights that the book publisher doesn’t exploit. If the publisher is going to exploit the right, sell it to the publisher. If they’re not going to exploit it, retain for yourself. This way, for example, later down the line, you retain the rights for technology that may not exist now, but possibly could later down the line.

Another topic addressed for writers was how to go from fingers to keyboard to money, in regards to advances and royalties. Some publishers pay no advances, most pay small-to-medium advances, while top tier authors and celebrities like presidents are paid huge advances. The only time an author wouldn’t get to keep that advance is when the product isn’t delivered. Royalty payments to the author come into play after enough books have been sold to cover the advance against royalties, which the author has already received. In general, the book business operates on a fifty percent margin. If a book sells for $14.00, a retailer will pay a publisher fifty percent of what list price is (in this case, $7.50.) Also, he pointed out that reviewers don’t review soft cover books. So if you want your book reviewed, thus garnering more public interest, publish it in hard cover first. Also, libraries only buy hardcover books. Of the 17,000 or so libraries in this country alone, he said, most of those will buy at least one copy of the hardcover when it comes out, a great boost to book sales.

As a writer, he says that it’s very important to form critique groups to obtain constructive criticism from people who could care less about your ego. Your friends and family are great, but they generally just stroke the ego of a writer. Honest feedback is what a writer needs.

A suggestion for first time writers who have a book being published is to hire your own publicist. Also, a good reference book in searching for an agent is Guide to Literary Agents, which provides agent names, contact information and ways in which the agents preferred to be queried. The purpose of a query is to get the recipient to ask for more. So begin by giving them what they want to receive. Mr. Levine says he personally looks at a submission and considers: “Can I sell it?” not “Do I love it?” and “Do I know enough buyers who are going to want to buy it?” If the answer to either of these are no, he won’t take it on.

Some interesting statistics: According to Mr. Levine, seventy percent of all fiction books sold are romances. Eighty percent of all books are bought by women, generally annually between November 15 and December 26. If men do buy books, the majority of them are sports biographies and car books. The biggest sellers of nonfiction are “How to” and “Self help” type books.

In answer to the question “Should a writer write what is ‘trendy’ at the time?” Mr. Levine does not think so. He pointed out that by the time your book is ready to publish, more than likely that trend will have changed.

Another question was “Is it good for a writer to enter contests?” He suggests the writer consider the quality of the contest and not to enter just for quantity of submissions. If you can say you’ve won a prestigious competition, this could be a great asset to your writing resume.

As the meeting concluded and the Santa Barbara writers in attendance scattered into the night, one woman was heard to remark: “I learned a lot tonight.” Yet another enlightening, entertaining and insightful meeting of the Screenwriters Association of Santa Barbara!

Respectfully submitted by Association secretary,
Danielle Greene.