Ep20 – Taking Advantage of the ISA as a Screenwriter with Craig James & Molly Kasch


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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 Molly Kasch, Director of Operations, and Craig James, the founder of the ISA. Thank you for being on guys!

Craig: Thanks for having us!

Molly: Thank you so much, we’re thrilled!

Geoffrey: I want to reach out because I love to talk about resources for screenwriters that can help take them to the next level. I started out with ISA a long time ago, I’ve always liked what you guys have done, and I just want to talk about how screenwriters can leverage the ISA to make sure they’re going in the right direction.

Molly: Sure! Something we hear a lot from our members is, “There’s so much on the site, where do I start? What do I do first?” It’s such a great resource hub. First and foremost, I tell people to go on and get a profile setup. It’s easy and free. You can upload everything from your screenplays to your successes/awards, posters, pitches, etc. Some of that is available to everybody, some of that is available to our upgraded ISA Connect members. With as much as you can put on that page, it’s like an online calling card for you. You can direct people to it.

Geoffrey: You’re absolutely right that. I wrote a book called The Guide for Every Screenwriter, and one of the things I talk about is branding yourself as a screenwriter. One of the sites I recommend is the ISA, specifically for building out that profile, because you guys have a killer SEO engine. It’s unbelievable! I always tell people that if you can’t be Googled, you don’t exist right now. If you go on the ISA, make that profile, then you get searched, your Google profile comes up right there from the ISA. The really cool thing is with your awards. If you put your awards in [your profile] as well, it’s like free bragging right there on Google.

Craig: It’s so funny that you mention that because I was searching a new writer, just randomly on Google, and the first thing that showed up was their ISA profile. I should’ve checked the member’s catalogue first. But through Google, I found their profile.

Geoffrey: It’s a beast. You guys also do community stuff. I’ve actually had the honor of being part of a Third Thursday, I got to be a special guest at one of them. I know right now we’re in the middle of a huge pandemic, so I’m sure Third Thursdays are taking a bit of a different approach. Can you talk about that, what it is, and maybe how it’s changed?

Molly: Absolutely, we started Third Thursdays sixish years ago as a way to bring the community together and have screenwriters congregate, meet each other, and form relationships/ friendships. Somebody they can carry with them; somebody they can talk to when something doesn’t go their way or share successes with. Just to form that comradery. When COVID came around, we pivoted quite rapidly. We were supposed to have a March event, and a week before we thought maybe we shouldn’t do this, then sure enough everybody locked down, so we brought it all online. It worked out really well, the upside is we have people all over the world now joining those events, and we’ve been doing more of them. Instead of just once a month, we have now an event a week.

Geoffrey: Wow!

Molly: Yeah, one is Third Thursdays, but we also have been doing classes where a lot of different consultants come in. We also do community sessions with well known writers, directors, producers, and managers. We’re basically offering a lot of free content to our members in our community so they can learn and be inspired. We’re really all about inspiring.

Craig: We’d certainly like to get back to some of the live events and getting people to network. I know that’s a dirty word in the world sometimes, ‘networking.’ Like Molly was saying, having the opportunity to meet people in your own community is how you break in [to the industry]. One of the greatest ways of breaking in is to build and form relationships. We had Third Thursdays in Los Angeles, London, and 23 other cities across the globe. That was going to expand to 35 in 2020, in theory. But we do eventually want to get back to that in late 2021, where you can get out and meet people. The fast path to breaking in is to form relationships with your own community.

Geoffrey: Networking is that secret sauce to me, as a screenwriter. You could call it a dirty word but it’s just the truth of the industry. Being able to do that through ISA and form those relationships because you guys provide that as a platform and you’re the network. I think it’s fantastic. From there, I know you guys are offering a gig section, is there anything else going on where writers can find gigs or find that path to breaking in?

Craig: There’s so many ways and this is one of the things we’re working on over the next nine months. We’re rebuilding the site to where it guides you depending on where you are in your career, with new dashboards. You will be driven towards articles, advice, and events that are local/online. It also gives you a path to how to get onto our Development Slate. Development Slate is like a de facto management company. We aren’t managing you, but we are your next support. We’re the bridge between being undiscovered and getting managed.

Our Development Slate has tremendous value, but how do you get on it? There’s a number of different ways to get recognized by our development team. Whether it’s through building your profile, adding those awards and success stories, because we read everything. Everything is getting read, but we also look at the awards. If you’re winning awards on a regular basis, even if you’re getting quarterfinals, if we see your screenplay popping up from time to time with your title and your name, we’re going to take notice. That gets you on our radar, so you’re considered again for our Development Slate. Even just being an ISA Connect member [puts you on our radar]. You don’t have to be an ISA Connect member, we encourage it because we believe it’s one of the greatest offerings in the screenwriting world. It holds more value to you than your Amazon Prime account, at least as a screenwriter. For $10 a month, you get all sorts of stuff and you get more quickly on our radar.

With 100,000 writers on our email list, you can only imagine how many are asking us to look at their material. It takes a lot, but if you’re participating in the screenwriting world; not just in our community, but you’re going out and getting some success stories, even if you’re having a table reading of your script. If you’re going to events and participating wherever you can, anything you can talk about. Or if you get an industry meeting, let’s say you got a general meeting through a friend and they’re interested more in your content, that is a success story. That’s something you should be proud of and post on our site. We will take notice of you because we do read all the success stories.

There’s a lot of value in just participating. With the Zoom world now, people get a little fearful of the word ‘networking,’ but it is about getting on our radar whatever way you can do that. Even submitting/practicing a pitch online or with your cell phone. We have a pitch challenge going on right now, 100% free for everybody. You’ll pitch a script to your phone camera, do it at home, do it a thousand times until it’s the perfect version. We don’t need to know you recorded it 999 other times. Show us your best pitch in 90 seconds for your favorite stories, the one you’re most passionate about, the one only you can write, the one that we can see in your eyes must be told. Practice it, this is a great thing to be practicing on a practical level. The elevator pitch is a real thing. If you’re meeting an executive somewhere in the world, when we’re in the safe zone, you need to have refined your pitch. Use it as a technique to practice your pitch. If there’s something on there that is so amazing that is makes us say, “Holy crap, this is a great idea!” then you’ll get to pitch it to executives in November at our Third Thursdays event online. We’ve already had people signed by management because of their pitches from a free pitch event.

We do these sorts of things on a regular basis. There’s tons of value you can get from our site, you just have to be proactive. Gigs are a valuable platform; however, this is like auditioning for a job. Jobs are not easy to get; they’re probably easier to get today because the world is crazy and everyone’s looking for help.

When you’re submitting/auditioning to an executive, you have to fit exactly what they want, and that’s not an easy thing. For people who rely on our writing gigs as the only value to the ISA Connect membership, that’s not the only value. You have to wait for the right timing for your script, improve your logline/pitch/synopsis, and make sure your script is ready to go out by getting notes. Invest in your career as much as you can afford to. Don’t rely on submitting to 1-10 gigs thinking your script is perfect. Industry pros know what they’re looking for and they know what excites them, so you have to trust that. Even Brokeback Mountain, Schindler’s List, and some of the greatest Oscar-winning movies ever took time to find a family/fit the market so they could be ready to be told. There’s a whole lot that goes into this. We encourage you to be an active participant on the site in all areas. That’s how you get noticed.

Geoffrey: I think your personal touch and the passion you have for it really comes through. The fact that you actually read the success sections, I didn’t know that, and I think that’s fantastic. You can really build out your profile that way. As the director of the Script Summit Screenplay Contest, ISA actually sponsored us this year, and you guys gave awards to several of our winners, and the awards included free memberships. I’ve got nothing but positive feedback from our people at Script Summit, they love the profile and everything about ISA. It was one of the things that motivated me to reach out to you guys. One thing I love is you offer the pitch for free. There’s been a subtle predatory thing behind paying for pitches that don’t actually go anywhere and you don’t get anything out of it. It just milks the screenwriter for money. I respect so much that you just offer that for free, and if somebody does really well, they get the opportunity to pitch to a pro. That is fantastic, thank you so much for offering that to the community.

Craig: Just wait, we have even more stuff coming soon!

Geoffrey: You can’t say that and not expect me to ask what’s coming. Can I get hints on that?

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Craig: It’s going to be another part of the platform. As an ISA member, you can add your pitches. In addition to your logline and poster, you can also add your pitch. If an industry pro wants to see your pitch, all they do is click a button to request it. You can either make your pitch [publicly] available or once they request it, then you can make it available. You have a lot of safety in who’s looking at your content because you can control that. We’re creating a whole other section of the site, being built over the next three months, that will focus on the pitching area. Producers who just prefer to hear pitches will be able to go through and see hundreds/ thousands of pitches and not have to worry about [having to read through everything]. They’ll still be able to see the logline and everything, if they want to, though. We’re diving into that as another way to get noticed and make it a more obvious part of the site.

Geoffrey: Will that be a written pitch or a ?

Craig: Both. You’ll be able to do one-pagers and video pitches, whatever you’re most comfortable with.

Geoffrey: Yeah, you could write it on your cell phone. That’s pretty awesome.

Craig: We want everything to be really accessible. That is the key because unfortunately, we live in a world where there are some unscrupulous contests.

Geoffrey: It’s the truth of the matter. It is what it is.

Molly: It’s part of the reason [Craig] launched ISA in the first place, just to cut through all of that.

Craig: Right, how do you know [who’s legit?] Even some of the majors, you submit and pay a big fee to enter, then you might not get feedback if you didn’t request it or if they don’t offer it. Then you’ve been $800 in entry fees, you don’t hear much back from anybody, and it’s very easy to give up. You may have a very unique voice, and because no one’s encouraged it, it’s easy to think it was a waste of time/money and that they were all just scams. The reality is they’re not, there’s a lot of great ones, [Script Summit] included. You can’t even post on our site unless we trust you. You’re submitting to contests where, ideally, you’re asking for feedback as much as possible. I would rather you submit to four contests and get feedback than submit to 10-12 and not get feedback. You need to get something from the system that’s more than just a no. You want to know why you got a no.

Geoffrey: Value is important. There are festivals that offer more value than others. With some festivals, you’re not getting anything. With festivals like Script Summit, you have a chance to win money and the possibility of getting represented by a talent manager. [You must ask], what value are you bringing to the community? ISA is bringing a ton of value to the community. We’ve covered gigs and future pitches, which sound awesome. It sounds similar to The Screenplay Issue, where you can upload your screenplay, but now you can upload your pitch. We’ve got the profile thing down, so what else is there? What am I missing?

Molly: There’s a lot of free content.

Geoffrey: What kind of free content?

Molly: We have podcasts, as well as Pro Tips and Tricks, which are videos that range from us getting advice from A-listers on red carpets to the online events we’re doing now. There’s classes, Q&A’s, etc. There’s over 750 videos on that site.

Craig: Some of which are ISA Connect. But there’s 30-40% of content on there that’s free.

Geoffrey: That’s important, that’s good to know.

Molly: You just have to look around and you’ll find something that will fit what you’re looking for. There’s something for everyone.

Craig: If you attend any of our events live, that’s free. All our events are free.

Geoffrey: With the Zoom events, how many people are logging into that? Do you fill a room and then have two people interview each other, like we’re doing now? Or is the audience asking questions to professionals?

Craig: We have a mix. Sometimes it’s a panel, and sometimes it’s a straight-to-camera class. There could be 200-500 people, it just depends on the person [hosting the meeting]. We get a lot of replays on the ProTips page, where a lot of our Connect members are spending their time. If you don’t have a Connect membership, you still have access, so there’s room to jump on.

Molly: If you have questions, we do have the Q&A box open during those chats so the guests can ask/answer some questions from everyone attending.

Geoffrey: That’s great. We used Zoom during Script Summit this year because the whole point is to get everybody together, it’s a summit. Now with Zoom, we’re doing our classes and we’ve got people firing off [questions] in the chat and I’m trying to keep up with the comments. I can only imagine having 500 people firing away questions.

Molly: It’s fun to watch that chat box and just scroll through.

Geoffrey: The moderators are probably going nuts. We’ve covered everything on my end, is there anything else [you’d like to discuss]?

Molly: We also vet and post resources, such as contests, consultants, events, classes, etc. Those are offerings from other people, some are from ISA, but others like Script Summit and We Fix Your Script [are outside sources].

Geoffrey: I like that you vet it because that’s a big deal to make sure there’s nothing but quality getting out there. That tells me you’re trying to protect the community. When you get newer screenwriters, they don’t know where to go or what works or what doesn’t. I remember when I started, a manager approached me and said, “I will manage you for $700 a month.” I said, “I gotta pay you? I don’t think that’s right.” I was lucky enough when I first started to know better, but there’s other people out there that don’t and they’re paying some hustler. I love that you’re protecting the community. You’ve already told me what’s going on next with ISA, which was going to be my big final question.

Craig: There’s a lot more coming up with ISA.

Geoffrey: You got anymore nuggets for me?

Craig: The goal will be to make it even easier to use and steer users towards great articles that fit in your interests. If you’re a horror writer, we’ll show you if there’s a horror event/contest coming up. We’re building an algorithm to steer you in the right direction. There’s a lot of crossover, which is important. Just because you write horror and submit to a horror contest, that doesn’t definitively make you a horror writer and I would suggest you not be just a horror writer. Take your interests and write into other spaces. Speaking of space, I see from your shirt you’re a Star Wars fan.

Geoffrey: Just a little bit. I’m a Gen-Xer, it’s in my blood. I love the fact you guys are giving it an overhaul and making it more tailormade for writers. It sounds like this has helped writers find their tribe even better, which is important. It’s funny you were talking about horror scripts, I wrote a horror-comedy and submitted to a horror contest, but they told me it was too funny. Then I submitted it to a comedy contest, and they said it was too scary. But then I submitted it to an indie contest, and they loved it. That’s how I found my tribe. It’s subjective and you have to find out where you’re going.

Craig: We’re in a good place with the industry wanting a lot of that crossover material. I think a lot of those organizations that focus in one particular genre, they definitely have value to the industry, but even they’re expanding their range. I can’t imagine people focused on 100% comedy realize the value of the genre crossover and much industry pros are looking for that. When we had Bolar on last night, she was talking about breaking some of the rules of writing. It dawned on me that one of the scripts I was developing does that, it breaks rule where it leads you down one type of genre storyline and then it turns and goes down a slightly different one. That’s part of my voice and what’s authentic to who I am, as a writer, is to take you into what seems like a psychological thriller and then have it turn into a spiritual/bigger picture message. Take everybody on a journey. Even if you have a horror script, how are you steering the audience with your unique voice? That’s one of the things we’re trying to encourage more on the site.

Geoffrey: I love the fact you’re currently developing a script and actively writing, even as someone who is the founder of ISA. You are a writer’s writer. And you’re working on genre bending, which is great. I actually wrote a thriller that starts out as a romcom, and I killed the girl you think is the central character on page 10 as the inciting incident. Then you follow the character that killed her throughout the story, and it becomes this intense psychological thriller. She comes back to life and you don’t know if he killed her or not, it’s this big mind trip. It did really well in festivals, but genre bending is getting more popular. I think you’re right, that is the new direction things are going. You see more shows like Fringe, which was very sci-fi but also horror. It didn’t do well at the time, but I think that’s because it was ahead of its time.

Molly: I love that show.

Geoffrey: It was always on the fence if it was going to get renewed, but now you’re starting to see more stuff like that. Guys, this has been great, thank you so much for coming on!

Craig & Molly: Of course! This was a lot of fun!

Geoffrey: The International Screenwriter’s Association, ISA for short. A real pleasure, guys.

Craig & Molly: Thanks for having us!



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