For screenwriters trying to break in, the first significant step forward tends to be getting a manager. It used to be getting an agent, but nowadays, one usually needs a manager first.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, because a good manager will give very hands-on feedback on a client’s ideas, outlines and scripts — basically coaching them through every stage of the process.
But it’s hard to get one without already having a script that is head and shoulders above the pack.
It starts with you presenting me an idea — or a number of ideas, in a short form, like a logline, or one-page synopsis. This could include be the core idea for a script you’ve already written drafts of, and gotten notes on — perhaps from me.
Then I will help you develop your best/chosen idea into a four-page story document, such as the Save the Cat “Beat Sheet”. I’ve done this process with dozens of students in my UCLA classes — which has elicited anonymous comments like “Erik’s continual insistence on creating a viable story was exactly what I needed to push myself beyond the confines of my own narrow thinking.” Once this four-page document is really strong, it’s time to move on to a scene-by-scene outline, then finally script drafts.
I‘ve typically found that this process takes about three rounds of notes and revisions, to arrive a a story document or beat sheet solid enough to begin fleshing out into an outline, then ultimately a script. So it’s a three-stage process:
I first hired Erik several years ago upon the recommendation of another first-rate consultant. After authoring about six scripts, I started a new one and sent a draft to Erik. His response revealed how much I had to learn about making a movie script work.
When a writer works with Erik, she should be prepared for challenge. He will encourage you but your stuff has to earn it. After many, many revisions of my script, the story has changed tremendously while retaining the spirit of my original logline. It’s a lot better. Erik continues to push me to fulfill its potential to be a great screenplay. So, I will soon churn out yet another draft and send it to Erik so he can take an axe to it (I’m not entirely joking here).
When I’m rich and famous for my movies, I’ll always know, deep down, that Erik was a big contributor to my success. And when I hoist my Oscar at the ceremony, I will proudly declare: “Erik who?”
Writers often work best when they have deadlines, and someone who will push them and give regular feedback, through every stage of the process. Clients in this program who want that extra discipline can get it: we can set up a series of meetings into the future that require a consistent output of work.
Because I teach screenwriting and have been a student of it, I realize that the most valuable part of any course is the one-on-one feedback from the instructor, which is often very limited due to time constraints, and having to share professor access with other students. This is more like an independent study, where there are no such restrictions. The one-on-one time spent with a client in a full round of development coaching is about 15 times what I’d be able to give any one student in a typical 10-week course.
The process does involve a fair amount of teaching, typically, and applying lessons I’ve learned over the last 25 years about the screenwriting craft, such as the ones you’ll find in blog posts on this site. I also help with brainstorming ideas — on both the story and scene level — and my favorite part of the process is when suggestions pop into my head that the writer loves, and decides they want to incorporate as they build their next draft.
It’s very, very difficult to get sound writing advice in this business. Most of your fellow writers (and many so-called “teachers”) really don’t understand what makes a TV pilot good. And unless you’re fortunate enough to encounter a working writer willing to spend hours on your project for free (good luck with that), you’re going to be wading through lots of very bad advice- advice that could set you back months while you try to solve problem after problem, not knowing why your script isn’t working. And while reading great scripts is helpful, it’s difficult for even the most experienced writer to reverse-engineer what makes good pilots work the way they do.
Erik patiently guided me through the process, breaking things down into manageable chunks. He provided reassurance without coddling, and helped me keep my eye on the ball. Most importantly, Erik helped me to understand that TV shows are driven by characters— their problems, their relationships, and their conflicts. Everything comes out of character, no matter how “high concept” or “premise-y” your show idea may be. Erik taught me the crucial importance of deep character motivations- that each character has a want, a problem, a thing they’re not getting in their life. These motivations drive the characters’ behavior, which is really what creates that action.
Because I have limited space on my calendar for this coaching work, and often a waiting list, there is an application process. It starts with you sending me an e-mail with up to one page total worth of loglines and/or synopses for ideas you might want to work on. Within a day or two, I’ll let you know my availability to start a coaching relationship.
The prices are as follows:
Story/Concept package: $1,750
Outline package: $2,350
Script package: $3,850
All three: $7,500
Story/Concept package: $1,750
Outline package: $1,950
Script package: $2,450
All three: $5,800
Story/Concept package: $1,750
Outline package: $1,750
Script package: $1,650
All three: $4,800
If you purchase a full script consultation from me, you will be able to purchase any of the packages for a 20% discount off the above prices, as an introductory offer, if booked within 30 days after the consultation. Those prices would then look like this:
Story/Concept package: $1,400
Outline package: $1,880
Script package: $3,080
All three: $6,360
Story/Concept package: $1,400
Outline package: $1,560
Script package: $1,960
All three: $4,920
Story/Concept package: $1,400
Outline package: $1,400
Script package: $1,320
All three: $4,120
In his brutally honest and insightful way, Erik guided me through the process of crafting my characters and story line to maximize their emotional vitality and dramatic arc. We started with a beat sheet outlining the basics of the story and ended with a polished ready-for-Hollywood screenplay. Erik broke down the screenwriting process into its component parts – everything from choosing a film name, to creating fully realized protagonists and antagonists, to building dramatic tension from the opening image to FADE OUT. He then read and provided feedback on draft after draft after draft. Oh how I initially resisted many of his suggestions because they meant more work, only to go back to the drawing board and come back with a much stronger end result.
Erik’s extensive experience as a screenwriter, producer, and teacher was never in doubt, and he earned every dollar of his fee and then some. I should also note that Erik is extremely efficient with his time, whether it be reading new material and providing written feedback, or talking through my project on video chat.
I look forward to continuing to work with Erik Bork, and am happy to answer any questions about the experience.
For writers who don’t have representation yet, it can seem impossible to break in, or to assess what is holding them back from having strong positive responses (or any responses) to their queries and scripts when they do send them out. My job here is to help writers see where they’re at on the pathway toward success, and help them move forward — acting as a kind of “pre-manager” or “pre-producer” until they can get an actual one to partner with.
If you’re serious about making consistent progress, and figuring out what’s missing in your projects and writing, and how to improve, you might want to invest in this kind of ongoing close partnership. Let me know your situation and we’ll see if it’s a good fit.
1. Turned an original idea into a screenplay, by brainstorming characters and ideas into a cohesive plot.
2. Let Erik be my much-needed “Nazi,” so I could meet weekly appointment deadlines, to discuss approximately 10 pages of script. Pages mounted up.
3. Also needed Erik’s weekly encouragement to get through. This came in the form of sidebars where he would say things like ” the audience will be at the edge of their seats”. Of course, not all of the criticism was positive, which was good because it helped me start recognizing flat dialogue and unnecessary action in the plot.
4. We talked once a week for an hour, for about two years. The conversation was not only instructive but always sparked new ideas. The hour always sped by.
5. I spent a lot of money talking to Erik – about the same that it would have cost me to go back to graduate school and get a masters in screenwriting. Working with Erik was the better choice, because there is no substitute for one on one mentoring with a master of the craft. It was worth every penny.
How Erik helped me become an optioned writer and more:
1. Erik helped me write a killer log line and one page synopsis for my screenplay.
2. He then help me write another fabulous log line and one page for a TV pilot I wrote, with characters taken from the original script – which was optioned by David Schwimmer’s production company. Although not yet on TV, the pilot has been read by top network executives including HBO, Showtime, FX, Amazon and Viola Davis’ production company.
4. Erik has checked in with me through this whole process. Besides his encouragement, his advice and knowledge as an industry pro has proven invaluable.
4. I am currently producing a pilot presentation of my show with Bob Balaban directing. My cast includes actors from Homeland, The Knick and The Sopranos. Hopefully, I’ll soon be on the phone again with Erik from my writer’s room.
5. I will not forget to mention Erik at the Emmy awards. The question is, should I thank him or blame him for starting me down the path into this crazy, bizarrely fulfilling process!
(P.S. Prospective clients must be prepared for at least one Jerry Maguire reference per session.)
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1. Do I really need to do all this outlining and prep work before writing?
The key thing most screenwriters miss is that it’s all about the basic idea and approach to the story. That’s where most scripts succeed or fail. More than 90% of the notes I have had on the hundreds of scripts I’ve read are notes I would’ve had on the four-page story document. Getting that right first is crucial. When it comes to scene-by-scene outlines, they are a way of life for professional screenwriters, who must provide them (and get notes on them) before going to script on any assignment. Not that they wouldn’t do them if they didn’t have to turn them in — they are considered a necessary step before scene writing by virtually everyone in the field. Screenplays are structured and planned more than novels, for instance, where a writer can sometimes have a general idea where they’re going, and “just write”.
2. What if I already have a solid beat sheet and I want to jump right into outlining, or a solid outline, and I want to go right to script?
Chances are extremely high that when I see your beat sheet or outline, I will have significant notes on it, and disagree that it’s time to jump to the next step already. I say this based on years of experience, in which this has almost never happened. It’s just a lot of work to get either of those right, and since the “Story/Concept” stage is so crucial, it’s important to give it the attention it deserves. However, if I were to see your beat sheet or outline and agree that you’re basically ready, I would be honest about it, and pro-rate the work accordingly, possibly jumping right into a later stage.
3. What if I don’t need as many rounds of notes on one of the packages? What if I need extra rounds of notes?
I have very rarely found that the designated rounds of notes and rewrites at each of these stages is too many. However, a lot depends on the writer and the chosen project. It’s possible that I will feel that more rounds of work are necessary at any given stage, and if so, I will suggest that, and if we agree, will customize the fees accordingly. I would also be very honest if I felt we didn’t need a particular round of notes, and apply any unused credit to future work, as needed.
4. What about little questions that come up along the way, that I want to run past you?
This service gives you priority access to me, as a VIP client, and I make myself available for any quick questions, via e-mail, and thoughtfully respond within 24 hours (24-48 hours, if it’s over a weekend or holiday). You are not alone when you’re using this service! We are a team, and I am invested in you, and your project. I find myself getting much deeper into the material than if it was a single consultation on a script, and the process becomes very collaborative. (But of course, you get all the credit — my only compensation of any kind are my fees that you pay, for my time and expertise.)
5. How long does this process take?
This also depends on you, the writer — and the project. I have had clients who bring me new material every week, and might get through the entire process in 3-6 months. Others might take many weeks or even months to generate new material at any particular stage. I think a regular schedule is usually helpful, and will endeavor to carve out blocks of time up to 2-3 months in advance, if we agree to do so. But it’s ultimately up to you.
6. What happens when I have a finished draft, at the end of this process?
Professionals will tell you that the rewriting doesn’t stop until the cameras roll, and sometimes not even then, so “finished” is always a subjective term. But typically at the end of this process, we will feel that it’s time to get other opinions and send the script out in some fashion. There are contests I can recommend, and also coverage services like specscout.com, which give inexpensive professional reads and numerical scoring to scripts, to help a writer see how their work is landing with anonymous industry readers. Sometimes that feedback might lead to rewrites, and perhaps more work with me to address those final notes that are coming through. I will also happily coach clients on sending out queries to managers and producers when the time seems right, and freely share my knowledge and resources to help with that — such as my list of management companies and their submission policies, which is a free gift to every client.
7. Is there a way to pay for this over time, in installments?
I do offer clients the option of pre-paying for any of the packages in 25% increments as we’re doing the work together. I charge an extra 5% for this. Paypal also has a credit program that may be of interest to some clients. You can apply as part of the check-out process.
8. Do I have to use Paypal?
No. It’s also okay to send a cashier’s check or money order as your prepayment, made out to “Funclub Unlimited” (my corporation name), and addressed to P.O. Box 281, Agoura Hills, CA 91376.
By working with Erik, I completely restructured this script, and that work improved the emotional through line. When I finished a draft, I submitted the script to coverage services (Spec Scout and the Black List) to get reactions. I would send those reactions to Erik and he responded to those notes, giving detailed notes on how to address the concerns raised by pro readers. I received very good reactions to the first project once I had revised it several times, and the script received high scores.
Working with Erik also improved reactions to a second project in measurable ways. I’ve received some of the best reactions to that script that I’ve ever received. One pro reader at the Black List gave the script an 8 (only 3% of the tens of thousands of scripts get a score of 8 or higher). Working with Erik has also improved my process as a writer. I’ve learned the value of outlining, and how important it is to establish an emotional connection between your characters and the reader; this sounds simple or even obvious, but many scripts stumble on that essential connection between protagonist and audience.
Erik is very good on the “big picture”: What is the story you are trying to tell? What is the emotional through line of your main character? What are the major beats of your story? How does the story move from Act 1 to Act 2 to Act 3? But Erik is also very good in scene work: I think I write pretty good scenes, but Erik always pushes me to make them better. He gives detailed notes on clarity, dialogue, logic, and characterization.
Working with Erik isn’t cheap and it isn’t easy – depending on the project, it may take months of work to improve a script, but I believe the expense is worth it. I think of him as a screenwriting partner, who reads your pages and gives you a smart, thoughtful response – although it is your responsibility to execute those revisions/changes. The best compliment I can give Erik is that he instinctively understands the story you are trying to tell, and he helps you get there with larger notes about story and detailed notes about scenes and characters.
If you haven't read them already, I also recommend my "Ten Key Principles Successful Writers Understand", and my series of audio downloads.