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Glossary of Industry Terms
Thursday, Aug 21, 2008
Here is a list of terms related to writing, as well as terms & phrases you will encounter working with and in the industry as a writer.

against - used in reference to payment for a script or property. A sum of money is initially paid up front as a down payment towards a final and total sum of money. The difference between the two dollar amounts is paid at a later date which is determined in the contract in advance. That date could be once the script is finished being written, or after a rewrite is done or a polish, or even at the beginning or ending of the filming of the screenplay (production of the film).

attached - when actor, director or producer has agreed to be in a film or involved with it. In most cases they are contractually tied to the property.

backdoor pilot - an episode is taped/filmed as a standalone TV movie (story), so it can still be broadcast even if it is not picked up as a series.

bare bones pilot - an episode is produced on a small budget and contains no real special effects, and features a condensed story. This allows the producers & writers to show off the style and general mood of the show and thus hopefull convince the network to pay for a more polished version which can be aired.

beat sheet - a breakdown of the key moments/scenes in a film. Lists the highlights and key scenes of the entire script or story.

blind deal - a deal made with a writer and TV network but also sometimes a film studio in which the material or story isn't predetermined or previously scheduled for development between the writer and the network or studio. Though a few concepts are usually discussed between the parties involved to establish an overview of what can be expected.

consider - a somewhat favorable response from a reader which is usually noted on the coverage they do on a script or treatment. It is not a guarantee that the material will be passed on to the next level. It usually represents more of an ambivalence on the reader's part. Not a pass but not a strong recommendation that it be read either.

coverage - a reader's report on a script which is generally comprised of three parts. The first page is generally the most basic of information on the material: title, who wrote it, genre, date, draft, time period, who submitted to, who submitted by, etc.. The report also consists of a synopsis of the script which is usually a one page to two page description of the story (or events that take place in the script). And the last part of the report involves comments by the reader on what elements if any the liked and or disliked about the script's story, characters, writing, originality, etc..

creative exec - an individual that reviews literary material to determine whether a studio or company, etc. is interested in optioning or purchasing it. This person is usually next in line after a reader. They also will generally help to oversee the further development of a project once it is optioned or purchased providing the writer with feedback, suggestions, and changes for rewrites.

D-girl - an outdated and somewhat sexist term that refers to (in the early days) the women who would read scripts and evaluate them for producers, directors, etc. Today men and women serve in this role of looking at scripts for purchasing consideration as well as developing (the "D") the material further by working with the writer and giving notes & suggestions on how to "improve" it.

dialogue pass - when a writer focuses only on rewriting or "polishing" the dialogue in a draft of a script.

development - the process during which a story or idea is written and formed into a script or a completed script is rewritten further to create a script ready to be produced.

development hell - when the process of writing or rewriting a script continues over a long period of time. This usually involved numerous notes and rewrites along with frequently contradicting directions given my the various participants.

feature - a full length movie, usually ranging in length from 90 minutes to 120 minutes.

first look deal - an arrangement either a company or in some cases an individual as with a studio, in which they must allow the studio the first right of refusal on purchasing and or producing a project the individual or company is interested in. If the studio passes, the project can then be "shopped" around to other interested parties.

green light - when a script and thus a film gets the final approval from, in most cases, a studio to proceed with making the project. This is usually given once a final budget is approved, though sometimes the rewrite of a script might affect this along with a certain actor or actress agreeing to be in the project.

heat - when a project/script generates a great deal of interest from the filmmaking community. This generally leads to high sale price for the material as companies and studios attempt to outbid one another for the rights. An individual can also be in high demand based on the selling success of their projects or a recently produced project.

high concept - refers to an idea that sounds very commercially appealing and in many cases unique and original. Usually associated with big blockbuster films but can reference any idea or script that would appear to have great potential.

if/come deal - a company comes on board to a writer's original project to develop material before it goes out to buyers. No money is paid to the writer until a buyer comes to the table. Generally the writer ultimately retains the rights to their material. But if the studio/production company provided the concept then the rights to the material remain with them. This is similar to an option agreement.

indie - short for independent. Can refer to a film or production company that works outside of the Hollywood/studio system.

log line - short one sentence description of the story in a script or book or for an idea.

MOW - stands for Movie of the Week. Refers to feature length films that are made just for showing on television (network).

non-circumvention clause/agreement - protects an individual or company from being taken advantage of. One or more parties involved with the deal cannot be bypassed and deprived of full compensation for their efforts or involvement.

non-disclosure agreement (NDA) - is a legal contract between at least two parties that states certain material, knowledge, or information that the parties wish to share with one another for certain purposes is confidential, and they wish to restrict access to that information by third parties.

notes - feedback and comments on a creative property. Can consist of changes, suggestions of tone, mood, etc.

option - a studio, production company, and or producer pays a someone for the exclusive rights to a literary property for a set amount of time. At the end of the time period, the material can, in most cases be optioned again, but if not the rights revert back the original owner (or writer).

outline - a scene by scene breakdown/list of the story of a script. Shows each point and beat.

package - the collection of talent and material that is put together by an agent or agency in which a script is tied together with certain actors, actresses, and or directors & produces. This usually increases the chance of selling the property to a studio.

page one (rewrite) - a complete re-write of a script in which a major portion of the script is altered including the plot, scene order, character types, theme, etc. This can be done by the original writer or by a screenwriter brought in to totally redo the screenplay.

pass - a rejection from a studio, company, agent, etc. It can also refer to a writer rewriting certain elements of script including dialogue, character, action, etc.

pilot - a test episode of an intended or potential television series. They will usually set the general background and tell the origin story for the series.

pitch - to verbally/orally describe the story of a script or idea.

pitch deck - a brief presentation, often created using PowerPoint document or a PDF, and used to provide an overview of your project: story, casting, locations, look & feel, etc.

polish - when a writer rewrites certain aspects of the script. Major changes are generally not made at all. This usually involves changing some dialogue, refining a character arc or action, etc.

property - a script, book, or other literary material.

put pilot - when a deal is made to produce a pilot that includes heavy penalties if the pilot is not aired. This is virtually a guarantee that a pilot will be picked up.

query (letter) - a written request to see if a producer, agent, manager, studio, etc. would be interested in "looking at" a script, treatment, or story idea.

reader - a person hired by a production company, producer, director, studio, or agent to read a script then write coverage on it. They generally work free lance and are paid approximately $45 a script.

recommend - a very favorable response from a reader which is noted on the coverage they do on a script or treatment. It is not a guarantee that the material will be bought, but it represents getting by the "first line of defense." In most cases this mean the script will either be verbally discussed in a meeting or passed on to the next level for consideration by a development executive, or by an agent or producer.

signatory - a studio or company that is officially a member of the Screen Actors Guild, the Writers Guild and or the the Directors Guild and have agreed to their terms.

sitcom - shorthand for a half hour situation comedy television series.

solicited - when a script or project is requested for review by a studio, company or agent from a writer, agent, manager and or producer.

spec - a script that was written without the prior guarantee that it would be sold. In other words, it was written with the speculation that it might sell. Most scripts written are considered "speculative."

sweepstakes pitching - takes place when a studio or producer brings in many various screenwriters to pitch on the same project before deciding which one to hire (aka the winner). In many cases, this type of pitching occurs when the studio or the producer owns a licensed property — such as a character or board game — for which there is no obvious story. The script writers pitch their idea for what a story could be based on the IP.

synopsis - a brief, usually one half to two page description of a story or plot. Written in prose form generally with little to no dialogue.

take a meeting - this generally refers to one individual meeting with another. In can also refer to an individual, being the center of a discussion and thus leading the direction and pace of it.

telefilm - feature-length motion picture made for television. (Also see MOW.)

track - to follow the development of a project even if it is not owned by the individual watching its progress.

trade (trade papers) - daily periodicals which report on the latest news and events in the film business. The two most popular being the Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

treatment - similar in form and style to a synopsis but only a much more detailed telling of a story. Generally includes every scene and plot involved. These are also written in a prose form, similar to a novel, but still usually with little to no dialogue. They are considered more or less a tool for writers when they are initially fleshing out their idea(s) for script.

turnaround - after a certain period of time, if a project/script is not produced, a studio or company will essentially offer the script to any buyers interested in acquiring the rights to it. This usually involves the other company or individual paying for all "expenses" incurred while the project was being developed. These are fees and expenses that were on top on the purchase price for the material. Due to the high cost of development this can cause the project to then be very expensive and thus less attractive.

unsolicited - a script or project that is sent to a company, studio, and or individual that was not requested before it was sent -- either in writing or by phone.

writing assignment - a script writer is hired for a fee to write or rewrite a script, adapt a story from a book/novel, comic book, video game, idea, pitch, etc. within a set timeframe. The writer is guaranteed payment if he or she fulfills the terms of the agreement. This may involve steps consisting of writing a beat sheet, an outline and or a treatment before writing the actual script. The writer will generally receive payments for each portion or "step" of the script that is delivered on schedule.




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