IFH 759: Top 10 Screenwriting Scams to Avoid

On today’s show, I’m going to discuss screenwriting scams that ALL screenwriters should be aware of and avoid at all costs. It never surprises me how predatory people can be with screenwriters and filmmakers in this business.

I did an episode exposing ways screenwriters can get screwed on writing assignments. Listen to that one here.

I do a deep dive into each of the following scams in the show.

  1. The Free Option – Optioning your screenplay for free
  2. Agent Reading Fees
  3. Script Consults That Ask for a Backend Cut
  4. Screenwriting Marketing Services
  5. Screenwriting Contests – Promises
  6. Screenwriting Contests – Milking Technique
  7. Ghost Writing Screenplays
  8. Any Deal That Gives Your Rights Away
  9. Representation Retainer Fee
  10. Screenwriting Contests Warning Signs

Stay safe out there guys. Sharks are everywhere. Enjoy!

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IFH 758: The Philosophy of Screenwriting in Hollywood with Pen Densham

Today on the show we Pen Densham. Pen is a successful award-winning screenwriter, producer, and director, with an extensive track record in film and television. He is responsible for writing and producing some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters, such as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Backdraft, Blown Awayalong with some of its longest-running television series including The Outer Limits.

Starting with his first job in show business, riding atop a live alligator for a theatrical short film made by his parents, Pen decided to leave his English school system at age 15 and has since spent his lifetime in the business of entertainment, selling films and television series, as well as hiring, mentoring and collaborating with A-list writers along the way. His latest film is Harriet, which he is the executive producer of.

Pen’s latest project, Riding the Alligator: Strategies for a Career in Screenplay Writing and Not getting Eaten was written with one clear goal in mind: to write the kind of book he would have loved to have read when he was starting out as a writer-filmmaker. Pen is also an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California’s prestigious School of Cinematic Arts.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.”– Albert Einstein

I had a ball speaking to Pen about his time in Hollywood, what it was like to screenwriter/producer monster hits and his screenwriting philosophy on how to make it in Hollywood.

Enjoy my eye-opening conversation with Pen Densham.

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IFH 757: What are the Essential Elements in ALL Successful Stories with Karl Iglesias

Today on the show we have returning champion Karl Iglesias. His last episode is one of the most popular shows ever in the history of the podcast. I wanted to bring him back to dig deeper into his thoughts on writing for emotional impact and breakdown the essential elements of every good story.

Karl Iglesias has been a writer for over 20 years now with varying degrees of success — an option here, a couple of contest finalists and winners there, an indie development deal, many writing and script-doctoring assignments, a TV spot for a Coca-Cola campaign — and of course, his first published book, The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriterswhich ignited my unplanned teaching and consulting career, and my second book, Writing for Emotional Impact. Since then, he has contributed to two other books on the craft, Now Write! Screenwriting and Cut to the Chase.

In between teaching and consulting, Karl keeps busy script doctoring for other writers, directors, and producers when the work comes his way, while developing his own scripts, having about ten projects in various stages of development.

Enjoy my conversation with Karl Iglesias.

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IFH 756: Confessions of a Hollywood Script Doctor with Peter Douglas Russell

Today’s guest is screenwriter and Hollywood script doctor Peter Douglas Russell. I wanted to go deep into the back alleys of what Hollywood script doctors actually do in the business. Peter’s conversation was eye-opening, to say the least.

Peter Russell sold two television pilots in 2017. He enjoys working on projects both as a ghostwriter and as a consultant.  And he can both write and teach what he knows. So many successful screenwriters and producers have no idea how to teach what they do, and so many teachers can’t actually sell stories. But Peter does both.

Peter was UCLA’s Teacher of the Year in 2009. He invented (along with his then partner Cecilia Najar) a process called The Storymaker which you can use to quickly develop an original, complex, vivid story from a single idea — and the Storymaker is helping scores of his students shape wonderful stories.

Peter started as a story analyst in the 1990s and has read over 6,000+ screenplays for major film and television giants including Imagine Entertainment, Participant Productions, HBO, CBS, Walden Entertainment and dozens of others.

As he read these scripts, he started seeing deep, hidden patterns in the best stories. He wrote these down and started getting jobs FIXING writer’s stories. He got good at it — really good.

Peter was invited to teach at UCLA in 2004, and it became a passion, too.  He has now been invited to teach television pilot and film story creation at Pepperdine University’s Seaver College Screenwriting MFA program, at Story Expo in LA and New York, and many others. Meanwhile, Peter has turned The Storymaker into the most powerful tool for helping storytellers create original vivid stories. Simply and quickly.

Enjoy my conversation with Peter Douglas Russell.

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IFH 755: How to Write for CSI Vegas, NCSI & Law & Order SVU with Jennifer Dornbush

Today on the show we have author Jennifer Dornbush who has written the book Forensic Speak: How to Write Realistic Crime Dramas. We sit down and discuss all things forensics. We even discuss the impact of the OJ Simpson case on the world of forensics. Here’s a bit about her amazing book.

Crime stories have always intrigued viewers and storytellers. Today, crime shows rule the airwaves and there is truly a procedural drama out there for every personality — and every writer. Born out of the author’s real-life experiences growing up around death investigation, Forensic Speak unlocks the secrets of forensic science for writers and fans alike. With a filmography of 100 film and TV examples and 80 additional resources, the book provides writers direct access to hundreds of ways to make their crime writing more authentic.

Enjoy my conversation with Jennifer Dornbush.


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IFH 754: Screenwriting Secrets from Hollywood with Corey Mandell

Corey Mandell is a screenwriter and screenwriting instructor known for his work in the entertainment industry. He has worked as a screenwriter, script consultant, and writing coach. While he may not be as widely recognized as some Hollywood screenwriters, he has gained a reputation for his expertise in helping aspiring screenwriters develop their skills and craft.

Corey Mandell has offered various screenwriting courses and workshops, and he has coached many writers in their pursuit of creating compelling screenplays. His teachings often focus on character development, storytelling techniques, and the practical aspects of screenwriting.

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IFH 753: Screenwriting for Netflix and Television with Neil Landau

Neil Landau is a screenwriter, author, and professor known for his work in the field of film and television. He has written screenplays for various film and television projects and has also authored several books related to screenwriting and storytelling.

Some of his notable works include:

  1. “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead” (1991) – Landau co-wrote the screenplay for this comedy film, which became a cult classic.
  2. “Melrose Place” (TV Series) – He worked as a writer and producer on the popular television series “Melrose Place.”
  3. Teaching and Writing – Neil Landau is also known for his contributions to screenwriting education. He has taught screenwriting at institutions like the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and has written books on the subject, including “101 Things I Learned in Film School” and “The Screenwriter’s Roadmap.”

Neil Landau’s work in both the creative and educational aspects of screenwriting has made him a respected figure in the entertainment industry, particularly in the realm of screenwriting and storytelling.

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IFH 752: How to Make People Laugh & Cry with Your Screenwriting with Eduardo Cisneros

Today on the show we have screenwriterEduardo Cisneros. He began his screenwriting career in his home country of Mexico. Working on countless television series including Saturday Night Live: Mexico. His career took an upward trajectory when he began working with one of the biggest comedy actor/writer/producer and director in the Latinx world,  Eugenio Derbez.

Eduardo help develop the massively successful crossover smash Instructions Not Included.

Eduardo Cisneros’s latest project hits close to home. Half Brothers, who he co-wrote and produced with Jason Shuman, is based on his experiences as an immigrant from Mexico in America. His father was the basis of the main character’s father in the story.

Renato, a successful Mexican aviation executive, is shocked to discover he has an American half-brother he never knew about, the free-spirited Asher. The two very different half-brothers are forced on a road journey together masterminded by their ailing father, tracing the path their father took as an immigrant from Mexico to the US.

Half brothers is about bonding. It’s about empathy. It’s about the challenge of developing the ability to put yourself into somebody else’s shoes and realizing that you have more in common than things that separate you.” – Eduardo Cisneros

It was an absolute pleasure speaking to Eduardo and discuss how he approaches each story, what it was like work on SNL Mexico, how it’s like writing with a partner, and how he hopes his films change the conversation on how Latinx people are perceived in our culture. He wants to bring his Spanish-speaking audience a greater representation in Hollywood.

Enjoy my conversation with Eduardo Cisneros.

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IFH 751: How to Turn Your Movie Script into a Money-Making Machine with Mark Toia

UPDATE: Mark Toia has passed away in 2023. He was a visionary filmmaker whose extraordinary talent and creativity transformed the landscape of modern cinema. His ability to blend breathtaking visuals with compelling storytelling made his work unforgettable and inspired countless aspiring artists. Mark’s legacy will continue to shine through his groundbreaking films, leaving an indelible mark on the industry and in the hearts of those who admired him.

So insane and talented Australian filmmaker Mark Toia is back to tell us how he made millions of dollars self-distributing his remarkable debut, Monsters of Man. After getting offered bad and predatory distribution deals, he wondered if there was another way. Enter my book Rise of the Filmtrepreneur: How to Turn Your Film into a Money-Making Business. 

When I wrote my book Rise of the Filmtrepreneur, I hoped it would help filmmakers around the world. I never thought that a filmmaker halfway around the world would read it and change his entire marketing and distribution plan for his million-dollar+ indie film.

After reading Rise of the Filmtrepreneur, he reached out to tell me what he was thinking of doing. He was planning on self-distributing his film as an experiment to see if he could do it and to prove to filmmakers worldwide that you can get a great ROI (Return on Investment) on a million-dollar+ indie film without any major bankable stars.

I asked him,

“So a million-dollar Filmtrepreneur experiment?”

Mark said yes. He had already been offered multiple seven-figure deals from distributors, but after looking at the convoluted fine print of the distribution contracts, he decided to opt-out. The payment schedules were so insane it would take Mark forever to get any money at all. The traditional film distribution path was not designed to help him get paid, and if a film like Monsters of Man is having these issues, the system is most definitely broken.

Then he discovered my book and went down the Filmtrepreneur rabbit hole. When I saw the trailer for the first time, I almost fell out of my chair. I recently had the pleasure of watching the film, and all I can say is:

“Monsters of Man is one of the BEST films I’ve seen in 2020. A must watch!”

In this conversation, Mark is completely transparent about how he made millions with his film. He also reveals his successes and some failures he dealt with along the way. This is truly a one-in-a-decade indie film experiment that you now have access to see how it was done.

Enjoy my conversation with Mark Toia.

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IFH 750: How To Write a Blockbuster Film Career with Chris Sparling

It’s always way fun to have a guest who is also a fan of the show. This week’s guest is definitely a member of the tribe. We chatted up pre-interview about some of his favorite IFH podcast episodes like Ed Burns and Joe Carnahan and I knew front hen on we were on for a treat. My guest today is award-winning writer, director, and producer, Chris Sparling.

Chris has written some of Hollywood’s most original and fascinating screenplays like Buried, Greenland, Mercy, Down A Dark Hall, Reincarnate (featuring Leonardo DiCaprio), The Sea of Trees with Matthew McConaughey, etc.

One of his latest films, Greenland, which premiered in 2020 started streaming on Amazon prime this February

The disaster thriller film starring Gerard Butler and Morena Baccarin follows a family who must fight for survival as planet-destroying comet races to Earth. Butler’s family struggles for survival in the face of a cataclysmic natural disaster as the planet-killing comet races to Earth. John Garrity (Gerard Butler), his estranged wife Allison (Morena Baccarin), and young son Nathan make a perilous journey to their only hope for sanctuary.

Amid terrifying news accounts of cities around the world being leveled by the comet’s fragments, the Garrity’s experience the best and worst in humanity while they battle the increasing panic and lawlessness surrounding them. As the countdown to global apocalypse approaches zero, their incredible trek culminates in a desperate and last-minute flight to a possible safe haven.

With its reception and regardless of the COVID 19 Pandemic, the film grossed $52.3 million at the Box Office and was announced that the sequel, Greenland: Migration is already in the works. The continuation of the story will center around the Garritys’ journey across a frozen European wasteland to find a new home. STX has already acquired the worldwide distribution rights for the film at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival for the sequel with a $65 million budget.

Chris’s path to becoming a renowned Hollywood blockbuster writer begun on the actor’s path. He was inspired to take up writing after the 1997 hit psychological drama film, Goodwill Hunting which was directed by Gus Van Sant and starred Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and others.

He left Los Angeles on a home (Rhodes Island) bound to recalibrate and focus on completing college and writing because it was a challenge juggling that and acting auditions. After completing college, Sparling returned to Los Angeles. With no connections or leads, he returned to Rhodes Island with the plan to make a movie of one of the many scripts he had written by then. Though he had no formal film production experience at this point, Sparling wrote, directed, and produced An Uzi at the Alamo which is about a young writer in search of his identity, pledges to his dysfunctional family that he will commit suicide on his 25th birthday. As the fateful day approaches, he stumbles upon love and a new sense of self. Fearing family humiliation if he backs out of his pledge, he prepares for his last birthday with the feigned support of his family.

Of course, the film did not do well, but this is when things became interesting for Chris’s writing career. He dusted up and sent out about one hundred specs to studios, managers, producers, literally anyone he could contact. He received back, only three responses and one of which was from a manager who became his manager and still is till this day. That was his first open door.

When I saw the trailer for Chris’s 2010 film, Buried, and the success of it, as an independent filmmaker, I was in awe and slightly jealous of how easy (cost, and production-wise), revolutionary the film is. Buried is a brilliantly twisted suspense and original screenplay that is a nightmare for claustrophobes. 

Sparling found mainstream success when his feature-length screenplay Buried was purchased by producer Peter Safran starring Ryan Reynolds.

Ryan plays Paul, an Iraq-based American civilian truck drive. After an attack by a group of Iraqis, he Wakes up groggy in pitch darkness, to find he is buried alive inside a coffin. With only a lighter, flask, flashlight, knife, glowsticks, pen, pencil, and a mobile phone.

It’s a race against time to escape this claustrophobic death trap. He is left to rely on his cell phone to contact the outside world. But the outside world proves not to be very helpful at finding a man buried in a box in the middle of the Iraqi desert. Paul must rely on his best resource–himself.

The film premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and was sold to Lionsgate Films. Buried was shown at several major European and North American film festivals. It was nominated for and won a plethora of European films awards because it was produced in Barcelona by Barcelona-based Versus Entertainment, in association with The Safran Company and Dark Trick Films.

Some of the awards included the Goya Award, for Best Original Screenplay, a Gaudi Award in the same category, and the best European feature film of the year award at the Strasbourg European Fantastic Film Festival in September 2010. This $2 million budget indie film made a gross splash of $21.3 million worldwide. 

Sparling had an immediate success from Buried; between the script going out in March of 2009 and the movie premiering at Sundance in 2010, and he suddenly needed an agent, an attorney, and everything legit in between. 

Intrusion, Sparling’s latest film will be streaming on Netflix in just one week (September 22, 2021), starring Freida Pinto and Logan Marshall-Green

It is about a husband and wife who move to a small town. A deadly home invasion leaves the wife traumatized and suspicious that those around her might not be who they seem. Even though it was self-defense, it was still a homicide. However, it turns out that the home invasion was not a one-off, and there are many other missing person cases in which the invaders may be involved. Meera falls into a rabbit hole as she takes it upon herself to find out the truth.

Enjoy my entertaining conversation with Chris Sparling.

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