On July 18, 2003, we had the pleasure of welcoming Mr. Josh Kravitz, story analyst for New Line and ICM, to our chat room.
Pre-chat background info on Mr. Kravitz – in his own words:
“I currently work as a freelance story analyst for both New Line Cinema and International Creative Management. This basically means that every year I read and critique hundreds of bad scripts and about seven good ones. I help New Line decide what scripts to buy and produce, while at ICM it’s a matter of analyzing projects that have been offered to their clients (Jodie Foster, Roman Polanski, etc).
As far as my ‘literary’ (I use the term loosely) career, I used to write for the late, lamented TV series JACK OF ALL TRADES which, in my unbiased opinion, is the greatest show of all time. I have also taken part in gag sessions for several films I’d rather not mention. I studied film at Penn State – go Lions! – and have been in L.A. for about six years.”
Jacinthe/TwoAdverbs> Hello Josh, welcome to the site.
[JoshKravitz] Hi everyone! Thanks for having me here.
Jacinthe/TwoAdverbs> All set?
Jacinthe/TwoAdverbs> Ivan will kick off the session with the first question.
[Ivan] One thing that is repeated over and over again is that the movie industry moves by referrals. Isn’t this practice counterproductive to agents/prodcos who might be missing out on excellent scripts? Limiting/narrowing your client-base, from a marketing point-of-view, is dangerous, to say the least.
[JoshKravitz] Well, speaking from my experience at ICM, we do accept unsolicited material but it must be preceded by a query letter.
[Ivan] And not through referral?
[JoshKravitz] Most of the scripts I read come from referrals, but I know that every query letter that comes in gets read by the head of story department and he often requests that the writers then send in their scripts to get covered.
[marlaj15] What scripts that you read, and gave a ‘recommend’ on, have gone on to be produced?
[JoshKravitz] There have been many. There have also been many I passed on that got made (like Johnny English, which came out today). The script I gave the highest praise to that got made was “Adaptation,” which I still believe is the best script I’ve read in a professional capacity.
[y2kfool] Josh – when reading a script, what is most important to you (to create interest and a possible recommendation): a well-paced, first 10 pages, or a well-crafted first act?
[JoshKravitz] A well-crafted first act, definitely. I’m not one of those people who gives up on a script if the first ten pages aren’t riveting. What’s most important is the story itself and good scripts often take a little while to get going.
[y2kfool] Thanks, Josh.
[Pattio] Hi, Josh. I received a coverage “recommended YES, with a major rewrite.” It also said the concept was highly creative and original…so, do studios ever consider taking a script for its concept…and have another writer do the rewrite?
[JoshKravitz] That happens quite often. According to WGA rules, the originator of the concept must be allowed to do the first draft and be credited on the final product, but in many cases there is little of their work in the final draft. A lot of scripts are bought purely for concept, even if the writing is awful.
[HConnobot] Which episodes of Jack of all Trades did you write, and was writing for a syndicated show different from shows with a larger budget?
[JoshKravitz] I wrote “Croque for a Day” and worked on dialogue for many other episodes. The main difference from working on a bigger-budgeted show is that I made less money. There was also more of an intimate feel, as there really weren’t many people on the staff.
[lisash] The characters on my scripts have African names. Should I temporary change the names to make it an easy read for readers (agent, producers etc)?
[JoshKravitz] I don’t think it should make much difference, though if they’re very complicated names, you might want to explain how they’re pronounced.
[lisash] Thanks, Josh.
[boygilroy] Do your clients encourage you to anticipate trends?
[JoshKravitz] I thankfully get very few mandates from the higher-ups. I’m generally free to just look for good stories, regardless of genre. I do try to stay conscious of what’s popular – action and romantic comedies are always big – as part of coverage is gauging the commercial potential of the piece.
[boygilroy] My thanks, and it’s raining like the Dickens at Penn State right now.
[JoshKravitz] Grab your Nittany Lion umbrella.
[zweldy] What’s the last spec you really championed…and why?
[JoshKravitz] A script I really loved was “Hoax” by William Wheeler, about the man who wrote a fake autobiography of Howard Hughes. What impressed me was the writer’s gift for distinct, engaging characters and clever dialogue. I’ve since read all his other scripts and found the same qualities.
[zweldy] Did the powers that be listen to you?
[JoshKravitz] I did all I could to get people to read the script, but it seems it is going to be another of those great scripts that gets lost in the shuffle.
[madison] Are there any genres, characters, plots, settings, etc, that instantly make you groan – oh, god, not another … as you’re reading?
[JoshKravitz] Yes! Period pieces that have more characters than the Cyrillic alphabet…
[JoshKravitz] Hard science-fiction à la “The Matrix” (which made little sense in script form). What I hate above all is just scripts where nothing happens, where people sit around talking and no tension – either plot-wise, thematically, or otherwise – is generated. I always try to figure out what inspired the author to write this script and if I can’t find that spark of inspiration it’s usually a bad sign.
[Boobsie] First off, Bill Wheeler’s a great guy, and I’m so glad to hear you championed “Hoax!” On to my question: How did you pass on Johnny English? I thought he was an established character in the UK, in ads on credit cards - I would have assumed it would have been a pitch, rather than a spec… So, how did that all come about?
[JoshKravitz] Johnny English came to me as a script. I had never heard of the UK ads. It was submitted to ICM, as they were looking for actors. Unfortunately, I usually don’t get much background on the scripts I read. I tend to just treat them all as original specs.
[Boobsie] Interesting. Thanks!
[Luther] I’m writing a pilot script that I’m going to market to cable television. What advice would you give me in making it stand out?
[JoshKravitz] Pilot scripts are very hard to sell, as 99% of the time the networks only buy them from people who are already established in movies or television. My advice to you would be to be original but not too wacky. You’re introducing people to a new world and characters so keep things simple. What will be most important are your characters – are they unique, engaging? – and your writing style, as people may not like the pilot but could want you to write something else for them.
[Luther] Thanks, Josh.
[LeslieO] What are your personal turn offs in the writing – if you see that sort of flaw you’d be very unlikely to recommend?
[JoshKravitz] I hate over-writing. Too many writers explain their characters in excess, down to their favorite color and their style of underwear. It’s always best to be concise. Think about what people NEED to know and limit yourself to that. I also don’t like typos and parentheticals, but that won’t hurt my overall opinion of the script. Also, as a general rule, readers are turned off by things like maps, illustrations, and theme song lyrics (believe me, it happens!).
[LeslieO] Thanks, Josh. A very helpful answer.
[Tibbs] Hi there. I’m from England. Do you read many scripts (other than JOHNNY ENGLISH) by overseas writers, and are there any common problems you encounter?
[JoshKravitz] I do read many overseas scripts, as ICM has offices in Europe also. Aside from the use of A4 paper and the use of the adjective “bloody”, there generally isn’t much difference with the British scripts I read. The only problem that arises is when a script has been (poorly) translated from a foreign language and the dialogue comes off stilted and flat, like the bad dubbing one sees in old kung fu movies.
[Tibbs] Thanks, Josh.
[DaveFogerson] What’s hot these days, and what is hitting the “round files?”
[JoshKravitz] Romantic comedy is always big. Teen comedies are still huge, though I seem to detect a trend towards more high concept ones, à la “Weird Science”. A good high concept is always the surest route to a sale, as it’s much easier to ‘see’ such a movie in one’s head for the executives. And while period pieces are a slow market, be sure to see an upsurge in pirate-type pieces after “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
[Nicola] Any other tips you can give writers, regarding weaknesses/positives in structure, plot, story or marketing of specs?
[JoshKravitz] That’s a big question. The biggest flaw I see in scripts is lack of focus. Writers tend to lose track of what the message or point of the script is, getting caught up in tangential gags or character quirks. Always keep in mind what attracted you to your idea in the first place and let that be your guide. And don’t think about the marketplace or how much your script will cost to produce – just focus on writing a good story. That’s all I look for in the end, no matter if it’s about an 18th century family of pioneers or a giant armadillo terrorizing Phoenix.
[Pickel] I have a script with an armadillo in it.
[Nicola] Thanks, Josh.
[y2kfool] I have one with armadillos in Tucson terrorizing 18th century pioneers.
[cardman] What makes for great dialogue and what is a sign the dialogue isn’t working?
[JoshKravitz] Bad dialogue is either too expository à la “Thing just haven’t been the same since my dog died in that truck accident and my wife ran off with the Sparkletts’ man”. Bad dialogue can also be things that are redundant – info we’ve already learned. Or unnecessary – I’ve seen restaurant scenes in which the author shows people ordering. ”What would you like?” ”I’ll have a salad” “What kind?” etc. Avoid that.
[HConn] Dang. Nicola asked my question and here I am with my pants down. So, um, what’s the name of the head of the story dept at ICM?
[JoshKravitz] His name is Garth Friedrich, but please don’t call him at home!
[HConnobot] /dials cell phone
[spud] Pull up your pants please, Hconn
[HConnobot] Not now, spud. I’m on the phone.
[karenp] Could you describe what you look for in well-developed characters?
[JoshKravitz] What I look for in well-developed characters… They should always have a central conflict, be it the quest for some goal or a strained relationship with a relative, lover, etc. The worst scripts just involve characters who lack purpose and obstacles, which are the root of drama. Beyond that, I love seeing unique characters, characters that we’ve never seen before but still feel real.
[zweldy] Josh, what are your aspirations? Is story editing just a paycheck ’til your next writing gig? a doorway to producing? Or both?
[JoshKravitz] Like all of you, my main goal is screenwriting. I worked in TV, but got tired of writing within a rigid format. I’m now doing features and have just finished one. Being a story analyst is a job I would recommend for aspiring writers, as it gives you a flexible schedule. Reading tons of scripts saps one’s creative energy a bit, but I’ve also learned a lot from reading (mostly what not to do!).
Jacinthe> Good luck with features, Josh. Do you have time for a few more questions?
[Ivan] I am, not only out of town, but also out of the continent! I’m from Malta, an island in the Mediterranean, yet I’ve had quite a number of scripts read (with an equal number of “passes”!) by LA and NY Agents. Would this be a deal-breaker if/when I do find a “home” for one of my scripts? Is it mandatory for the writer to attend/conduct a pitch meeting? Could this “out of Town” factor be a deal-breaker?
[JoshKravitz] Yes, being in Malta might present a problem for a long-term career. It’s perfectly conceivable that you could sell a script from Malta, but one stands a much better chance if one lives in L.A. One should really be available in case meetings with agents, producers, etc come up. Very often, a script won’t sell but people will like the writing and they will want to meet you. Your goal isn’t impossible, but you face some big obstacles that have nothing to do with the quality of your writing.
[Ivan] Thanks……I’ll start packing then! LOL
[JoshKravitz] Since no one has asked – no, I’m not related to Lenny Kravitz.
[HConnobot] We didn’t want to waste a question on Lenny.
[marlaj15] Mr. Kravitz, further to LeslieO’s question – does any one element of a script make or break it if other elements are ‘good’ or ‘above average’? And if so, what element(s)?
[JoshKravitz] I don’t think one weak element can kill a script. That said, a comedy that lacks solid humor stand a poor chance of selling and a character drama with thin characters might have trouble.
[marlaj15] Thanks, Josh.
Jacinthe> madison has the last question.
[madison] Hconn took my question, but would you suggest directing a query letter to Mr. Friedrich rather than a particular agent if an aspiring writer was trying to get considered by ICM? Do you think snail mail or email query is best? Thanks Josh and Jacinthe.
[JoshKravitz] Don’t write to agents – they won’t read anything unless they know you. I would suggest writing by snail mail – give a concise, brief synopsis of your script and try not to be too boastful. Some writers try a little too hard to ‘sell’ their idea and turn people off.
Jacinthe> Thank you very much for answering our questions, Josh.
[JoshKravitz] Thanks for having me! Good luck to everyone!