Ep15 – How to use InkTip to Option Your Screenplay with Chris Cookson


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Intro: All right, welcome to the successful screenwriter podcast, where we are dedicated to anything and everything screenwriting. Here, we interview successful screenwriters and filmmakers to discover just what it takes to make it in the industry.

Geoffrey: Welcome to the podcast, we have an awesome guest on today. We have Chris Cookson, the head of the writer’s department from InkTip. Chris, thanks for being on today.

Chris: Thanks so much Geoff for inviting me onto your podcast, I really appreciate it.

Geoffrey: I’m happy to! We like to reach out and find any avenue we can for screenwriters to find success. I know that InkTip is a little bit of a legend as far as the indie screenwriter goes. First, I’d like to hear a little bit about your origin story: what brought you into writing and how you ended up at InkTip.

Chris: I’ve been a writer for a while. I studied Radio, Television, and Film in college, then I graduated without a job, so I just moved to LA because it seemed like the thing to do.

Geoffrey: Right.

Chris: I worked in the industry, in production, for a long while. I was heading the track of being production manager/AD and it wasn’t for me. I always loved writing and wanted to get more involved in the development side. I ended up coming upon InkTip and actually started off in the producer’s department, heading up the producer’s side. After a couple years, I switched over, and now I’ve been heading up the writer’s side for many many years. I just love working with writers, being a writer myself, and seeing people’s dreams come true is really awesome!

Geoffrey: That’s awesome! We need warriors like you fighting for the everyday screenwriter. I think that’s fantastic; you’re doing some selfless work there. This segues us into InkTip; I know you guys have had over a thousand scripts optioned/produced.

Chris: We’ve had over 400 films made from scripts and writers found on InkTip. I have no idea how many options. Obviously far more have been optioned, because not everything optioned, unfortunately, gets produced.

Geoffrey: Or gets reported, even. Do you find that, as time goes on, you’re seeing more and more hits happening with scripts getting picked up/getting in front of producers?

Chris: What I personally notice is an interesting cycle of genres happen with the market. When I was first at InkTip, horrors and thrillers are always going to do great on our site. For the most part, they can be done fairly low budget and cater to the indie filmmakers and indie market. Those tend to always do well, however, I will see these cycles where all of a sudden, for a while, it’s like “a girl and her horse” script, and then all these horse movies are getting produced. Then, all of a sudden, we have four or five “girl and her horse” movies. Or the faith-based [scripts] will become typical and come around every now and then. We’ll get certain filmmakers needing faith-based scripts. Plus, Hallmark and Lifetime, those types of scripts are very seasonal.

Geoffrey: I have seen the Lifetime buzz happen on InkTip a couple times. How would a writer try and take advantage of these waxes and wanes of genre popularity? Should they be looking at the trades or there a way they can get a feel for it so they can hop on the bandwagon when it’s going?

Chris: That is an excellent question, and it is so hard for a writer to do. Yes, you should look at the trades and know what’s hot. But honestly, by the time it’s hot, it’s gonna be over.

Geoffrey: It’s like anything, you want to try and get ahead of the curve a little bit.

Chris: You do want to get ahead of the curve, but it’s a little bit of a guessing game. I was [in the audience] of a panel, once, and one of the gentlemen in the panel, who is a screenwriter, was talking about how, “Zombies are over! The next big thing are mermaids! Watch out, mermaid [movies] are going to be popping up everywhere!” This was quite a few years ago, so I’m thinking, “Are the mermaids gonna happen, or not?”

Geoffrey: It was like two films and that was it. It was over pretty quick.

Chris: He had his finger on the pulse for a lot of things, but not the mermaids.

Geoffrey: I think the trades are potentially good if you’re starting to see a trend happen. But typically, with these types of things, the trend was two years ago and then they start to get produced. By the time the films are produced, the trend is almost on the way out. It’s tough to get your finger on the pulse. It takes a lot of research and a little bit of guess work. I hate to say it, but it’s almost like the stock market where you’re trying to predict which stock is going to go up or down, just with genre. Right now, I’m going to go on the record as saying slapstick comedies are on their way back. I think right now you’re going to see a lot of that stuff. The same with musicals, I think those are all coming back, personally. But we’ll see. Now if we can get a slapstick mermaid musical going, I think we’re gonna be solid.

Chris: I think that’s golden. That’s the next Oscar. In addition to what you’re asking, so far as “what should a writer do in order to keep ahead of the times?”, they always say “write what you know”, which is true. Also, if you can, have a few good scripts in your back pocket. If you are a writer who primarily tends to write horror, study up on some of the comedy. Try your hand at a comedy script. If you have your huge fantasy tentpole script, that’s awesome, but that’s not going to get your foot in the door. Try writing a limited location [script], see what you can do to have a few different genres and styles. Not only will that show you’re a diverse writer, but it will also help you market yourself to different types of filmmakers. You’ve just opened more doors for yourself and you haven’t limited yourself.

Geoffrey: I always preach “write outside what genre you’re comfortable with” and I think it’s a great way to make you a better writer. It sounds like, for InkTip, it’s good to have those extra scripts in your back pocket just in case something catches on fire. Would you say that the subgenre niche of contained [scripts] is steadily popular in InkTip?

Chris: Yes, and I would say due to the pandemic, even more so. Because you can’t do multiple locations or huge cast and crew, right now. The productions that are going forward are the ones that are smaller, more contained, you can quarantine a small crew and cast, and roll with it.

Geoffrey: Perfect, so if we get a contained thriller/horror/sci-fi, sounds like those are genres that are already somewhat regularly popular at InkTip. If we can get a quality script on that, something well written, throwing that on InkTip can at least increase your chances. I think that’s good for our listeners to know.

Chris: Absolutely and think about it from a producer’s standpoint. If you have a limited budget, and you have a few different scripts to choose from, but you’ve got a great script that’s contained and all takes place in one hotel room, you’ve suddenly freed up so much of your budget. You don’t have to spend time and money on multiple locations. From a producing standpoint, it also helps grow your budget so you can put more money toward other aspects of production.

Geoffrey: I think it’s a great idea. If I was going onto InkTip to do something, I would create something from scratch specifically designed to grab some heat on InkTip. Can you write the script that’s burning in your soul and needs to be written? Of course, write that script. But eventually, as a writer, you’re going to be getting paid gigs, you’re going to have parameters which in you have to write. I think writing something like that, forcing yourself to do it, and putting it on InkTip is a great way to prepare yourself to be in the business. I think it’s good to know what kind of sandbox you should be playing in, especially with InkTip. Obviously, features are popular, but can people put TV pilots on there? Are shorts a thing on InkTip?

Chris: Yes, yes to all of those. We actually have quite a bit of success with shorts. We don’t advertise it quite as much as we do the features and TV scripts, obviously, but to place a logline for a short film on InkTip is free. We don’t charge for that because, let’s be honest, writers don’t really get paid for shorts. It’s the experience, hoping that it gets to a festival…

Geoffrey: Credit.

Chris: Yes, credit and recognition, it’s all that. Yes, you can market a short on InkTip. We do have TV scripts on InkTip, as well. We have had some TV scripts picked up. We’ve had writers who have actually been staffed on some shows. It was featured on our April magazine cover, [we just had] Fifth Ward, the producer/director, Greg Carter. He actually found three of the writers, who ended up being in the writer’s room for that TV show that he did, on InkTip. He worked on features of theirs that they had, and he loved working with them so much, he pulled them into the writer’s room.

Geoffrey: He probably worked with them on spec, right? That is so cool. That’s not something you would ever expect to happen, that’s pretty awesome. With television or shorts, is it the same type of genres that writers should be looking at? Should they be looking at horror/fewer locations, or do you see more comedies popular with television?

Chris: That’s a great question. As far as TV goes, I’m not sure which genres tend to track better than others. You’ve honestly stumped me on that one.

Geoffrey: I’m not trying to stump you; these are earnest questions. I don’t do the “gotcha” thing. Do you find with TV pilots that you would see multi-cam over single cam? I’d like our listeners to know where they can be focusing their efforts to really maximize their chances of success.

Chris: Writers tend to post both. We get a lot of 30-minute and 1-hour pilots, both are on there. Also a lot of MOWs.

Geoffrey: Movies of the week?

Chris: Yes, movies of the week. If you can only post one script on InkTip, and you have a feature and a TV script, I’m going to be honest with you, post your feature. Because there’s a lot more filmmakers looking for features than TV scripts. Features will always get a bit more activity than the TV scripts will. It’s also really hard to break into television, in this industry. Not that film is super easy, but I almost feel like TV is even more cut-throat than film.

Geoffrey: I can agree with that, it tends to be more of a “who do you know?” type of game with television. Even more so than features; with features it’s all networking but getting on TV is tough. It tends to [rely on] working your contacts to really land that gig. Even then, like you said, it’s still cut-throat because you’re competing with a dozen other great writers.

One thing I wanted to say is, in my opinion, I feel that multi-cam [sitcoms] are on the way out. I think The Big Bang Theory was probably the swan song of that genre. I just don’t see it coming back and taking off anymore because, to me, it’s just old-school.

Chris: I haven’t watched a multi-cam sitcom since How I Met Your Mother went off the air. So that’s my answer.

Geoffrey: The whole “canned laughter” thing, it’s two or three generations ago. Nowadays, audiences are more educated, they’re more into story and sophisticated/developed characters. With situational comedies, I think the audience has evolved past them, in my opinion. So that’s my two cents, if you’re submitting a TV pilot to InkTip. If it is a multi-cam script, it better be the best damn multi-cam script ever written.

Chris: Also, look at what’s growing right now, it’s all the streaming services. The TV shows that are going up on streaming, they’re not three-camera anymore.

Geoffrey: No.

Chris: I feel like there was a shift a few years back, where the film industry was kind of taking a dive in quality. Then all of a sudden, all the stars that you’d never think would ever do TV were popping up on Netflix shows, Amazon, and Hulu. Some of the shows on streaming right now are just blowing everyone else out of the water.

Geoffrey: It’s certainly a new golden/silver age of television. Going more into serials, they’re starting to get out of procedurals now, we’re starting to grow out of that…That’s why you see so many procedurals are getting cancelled after the mid-season.

[…] We’ve already provided pretty good tips, but do you have anything else off the top of your head you feel would help writers take advantage of that platform?

Chris: Absolutely, and everybody is going to hate me for saying this…

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Chris: You have to know how to write a logline. You can’t get around it. The industry is built on pitching, whether you’re standing in an elevator doing your elevator pitch or you’re on InkTip trying to grab the attention of a filmmaker who is sitting and scrolling through a computer screen, know how to write a logline. Sixty words or less, don’t use cliches or vague language, focus on the plot and your protagonist/antagonist, and get it down. Loglines are so important.

Geoffrey: How far do you like to go with it? One sentence max or two sentences?

Chris: That really depends on your script. If you’re doing a high-concept comedy, you can get away with one line, absolutely. But if you’re doing something more in-depth, like a period piece, you can go longer. Still, you need to understand how to write a logline, and it’s so hard. I think more writers fail the jump from a logline to a synopsis, because suddenly the producer gets into the synopsis and will say, “I’m tired.” Synopses are so hard to write; I’m a writer and I absolutely hate writing them, so I understand.

Geoffrey: A lot of writers will field the synopsis as an afterthought, and they’ll treat it as such. They just gotta get it done. But they need to understand that it’s one of the bigger sales documents that you can use for your script. Nailing that logline is hard, too, how do you take a 90-page script and turn it into one line? It sounds impossible, but if you nail it, it really will open up opportunities for you. It’s like learning a new art, just like writing a killer synopsis is learning a whole new way of writing, and it is. That’s what part of being a screenwriter is. Being a screenwriter isn’t just writing the script, it’s so much more than that: it’s the logline, synopsis, and treatment.

Chris: It’s understanding the business.

Geoffrey: Exactly.

Chris: As writers, we love to be wrapped up in our story and some of us are introverted, by nature. But you have to understand the business. You have to network. Yes, I get hives thinking about it. It’s a business, you’re going to be working with people. It’s a collaborative art, it’s not artform where it’s just you painting a picture and hanging it up in a museum. It is collaborative. When I speak to filmmakers on InkTip who’ve worked with writers, one of the things they say over and over again is they love writers they can work with, who can take notes and run with it. If you’re going to be tied to your script and not able to make any sort of revision, it’s going to be a lot harder for you.

Geoffrey: You’re dead in the water. At that point, you might as well just be making it on your own. That mentality of “this is it and no one is going to tell me anything else” … it’s almost like your script is a living document, at that point. It has to change and grow, it’s not like a Monet painting. It’s not like Monet sells a painting and the buyer says “Can you change this bit? I don’t like the color.” It didn’t happen that way, when people bought a Monet, they took it and walked away. With a script, everyone who touches it is going to have notes, and you’re going to be rewriting it several times. You have to be okay with that and get your mind wrapped around the fact that, once this thing is optioned, you’re not done, you’re just getting started. With my scripts that get optioned, I consider that Draft One, because there’s a lot more to come.

Chris: If you’re going to write in a genre, really study that genre. If you write horror, try comedy [so you can learn it]. Horror has its tropes for a reason, so you can’t break them until you understand them. As far as writing loglines go, a producer/filmmaker should be able to read your logline and know the genre without being told it. There are too many times where I’ve read a logline and thought, “this is an interesting comedy,” without realizing it’s not a comedy script.

Geoffrey: That’s bad, the tone should definitely be reflected in the logline. Same with a synopsis, we should know what type of script it is based on how the synopsis is written.

Chris: One of my co-workers said that if you’re going to be a writer, you also have to be a reader. Even when it comes to films, not only do you have to watch them, but you also have to read [the scripts] as well. Read scripts and books.

Geoffrey: Good scripts.

Chris: Yes, but I also think you can learn so much from reading a bad script.

Geoffrey: You can, as long as you’re at the level where you know what a bad script is. But if you’re just starting out and you don’t know a good script from a bad script, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Our website, https://www.thesuccessfulscreenwriter.com, we have an entire page of scripts you can read from the masters. From contained, to sci-fi, to drama, to TV pilots, and you can read them all for free. You can definitely go and research in the genre you want to write, to see what they’re doing. I don’t know about you Chris, but I love to steal little tips and tricks from the masters. I take them, put them in my toolbox, and save them for later. Because that’s part of what we do.

Let’s talk about the InkTip magazine, because I heard some news that the magazine is being suspended. I wanted to hear a little bit more about that.

Chris: We are gearing up for, not necessarily a relaunch, but we are delving deep into what we can do to grow InkTip and make it more valuable for both writers and filmmakers. We had a long talk and decided that; with all of our energy focused on the future and our preferred newsletter, script listings, and network; the magazine didn’t have a spot in there, unfortunately. It’s always been my baby; I’ve been the editor of the magazine for years and years, but it takes a lot of people in a lot of departments to pull it all together. With all of our energies spent really focusing on the other aspects of the site, we decided we need to put this on hold for a while. The December issue right now will be our final issue, but in the back of my mind I have my fingers crossed maybe we can bring it back in some certain ways, but we’ll see.

Geoffrey: Every business evolves, we’re in the digital age. I’m sure you guys are figuring out ways to bring InkTip to more people and increase screenwriters’ chances of getting out there. That’s your creed. Hopefully that keeps going on and I look forward to seeing where the business evolves and breaks into new territory. I like InkTip, I think it’s cool.

Chris: Thanks! We like it, too.

Geoffrey: Is there anything else going on with InkTip that we can keep an eye out for?

Chris: We are expanding, hiring more people in various departments, and really making a push to grow and embrace the indie market. What we’ve always done well is connect writers with filmmakers.

Geoffrey: I think expanding into the indie market is the right decision because, with all of these theaters closing because of COVID, who knows what will open up? Who knows what kind of theater battle will be in the future, while trying to survive this thing? Or is streaming just the new future? People are worried the indie scene is going to suffer, but I’m not that worried because it’s survived ever since filmmaking started. At no point in filmmaking history has anyone said, “we’re just not going to make films for the next 30 years.” It’s never happened, it’s always adapted, evolved, and found its platform. Yes, there will be periods of bonanzas where it really takes off, and periods where it’s dry, but it’s always there. I think the indie film [market] has a strong future and I’m glad to see InkTip is embracing it.

Chris: I have one more tip.

Geoffrey: Let’s hear it!

Chris: We’ve talked on how, if you’re a writer, have different genres because that opens up doors for you. If we’re talking specifically about how writers can leverage InkTip, if you post more than one listing, you are getting more exposure on the website because filmmakers can see if you’re a writer with more than one script. They can go to your platform and see all the stuff you have listed.

Geoffrey: Does that mean the algorithm favors you and so you populate more?

Chris: It’s not necessarily that the algorithm favors you, if you have more scripts on the site, the probability of you coming up in various searches is greater.

Geoffrey: I get it, that makes a lot of sense. Upload some good scripts to InkTip if you have two or three of them.

Chris: With the preferred newsletter that we offer, that’s the letter that comes with very specific script requests. If you have more than one script in your flash drive, that’s a great way to use the newsletter. It doesn’t matter whether you have [that extra script] on the site or not.

Geoffrey: Do you have to be a member in order to submit to the newsletter?

Chris: There are different tiers, so if you just have the free InkTip writer account, you get our free newsletter. That means the first two script requests in the newsletter, you can submit to it without any charge, they’re just freebies. If you’re a preferred newsletter subscriber, then you are paying for that service and you’re getting way more than two script requests in the newsletter. [In our last newsletter,] we had 14 filmmakers [with requests] saying, “we need scripts this week.”

Geoffrey: If somebody takes advantage of that, when they see that preferred newsletter, I’m assuming it’s better to be one of the firsts to submit [to a script request]. My assumption is these filmmakers get overwhelmed with writers submitting work, so it’s probably not something you want to put off. When you get that newsletter, you want to click through it real fast and see if there’s anything you can qualify to submit for. Is that accurate?

Chris: Yeah, I would say that’s accurate. Not every script request in the preferred newsletter will trickle down into the free newsletter. Sometimes the filmmaker finds what they need.

Geoffrey: Sounds like “be proactive” is the better approach for that. This was awesome, getting into the knowhow of InkTip and figuring out ways for writers to take advantage of the platform. Chris, I appreciate you coming on this show and I appreciate your time.

Chris: Thanks! I appreciate it, too.

Geoffrey: The knowledge you’ve brought to us today, you are an excellent resource, incredibly friendly, and not as introverted as you think you are.

Chris: I’m 50/50 IE, I took the test back in high school. You never know who you’re going to get.

Geoffrey: Tell the introverted Chris hello for me.

Chris: Will do!

Geoffrey: You have a good one!

Chris: You too, thank you so much!



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