Interview with Coverage Ink’s Jim Cirile

The Eerie Digest Magazine will now delve into screenwriting and how to be a great screenwriter. We are interviewing Jim Cirile and his company Coverage Ink. Founded in 2002 by screenwriter/’Creative Screenwriting’ and ‘Script’ magazine columnist Jim Cirile, CI offers discount screenplay analysis and development services for writers, not to mention a panoply of cool contests, tournaments and services. Check them out at www.coverageink.com.

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Jim CirileED – Jim, tell us about yourself and about your company.

JC –  You bet! I’m from NY and smelling blood, I moved to LA 20 years ago at the beginning of the big spec market boom. Since then I’ve had years when I did quite well as a screenwriter, and years I haven’t made a dime. Most people now know me as agents and managers expert for both ‘Script’ and ‘Creative Screenwriting’ magazines. I’ve written the “Agent’s Hot Sheet” column for ‘CS’ since 2001, and just this year I became the in-house industry expert for ‘Script’ also.

I founded Coverage Ink in 2002 as an alternative to the higher-priced, corporately owned screenplay analysis services. After many years in LA I’d built up a network of professional readers that I used to develop my own screenplays. I then made that same pool of whip-smart guys available to the public at prices far below what the other services charge. Frankly, I was pretty appalled at what some of those other services and analysts were (and still are) charging. Hey, I’m a writer — I know what it’s like to be poor!

Since then we’ve grown quite a bit and are one of the leading independent screenplay analysis services. End of the day, we’re all about writer empowerment — giving folks the gentle constructive critical feedback they need to really advance their craft. Hopefully we’re doing something right… (laughs)

Jim Cirile at PitchfestED – Tell us about some of the contests Coverage Ink throws.

JC – We put on two big-money contests every year–Writers on the Storm (www.writerstorm.com) and the CS Open Live Writing Tournament. Writers on the Storm has a $10K cash prize and over $28K in cash and prizes. Every entry receives feedback, and we do that because many of our contestants just don’t know that they can (and probably should) actually get professional feedback on their script *before* sending it out to the industry. I can tell you from personal experience, that feeling of the door whacking you on the ass on the way out, because your script didn’t bring it and you’ve blown a great chance with a name production company, is not a pleasant one. The other goal of WOTS is to find ten great scripts to champion and help to introduce great new writers to the town. We just announced our top ten for 2009 and it’s an exciting batch of coolness!

As for the CS Open, It’s put on every year by ‘Creative Screenwriting’ magazine and managed by the Coverage Ink team. It’s a timed writing tournament where everyone gets scene parameters and then has to write their own best interpretation of that scene. The scenes are then graded by our team and sent back to the contestants. This year we switched from an in-person format (at the Screenwriting Expo) to online, and we got deluged with entries from all over the world. The top three scenes were performed by actors at the Expo closing ceremonies, and this year’s winner David Zorn took home the $3K cash prize. It’s an exhilarating thing to be a part of. I should mention that the live writing tourney concept was created by my pal, former ‘Creative Screenwriting’ publisher Erik Bauer.

Coverage Ink Web Site

ED – How does Coverage Ink help potential screenwriters and their scripts?

JC – Many ways, from inception to completion. The most common way is that folks submit their screenplays to us for a standard analysis, which costs $129. We have a team of 14 amazing, pro analysts, and we pair the script by genre with the best analyst(s) for it. We then give the writer back a coverage report, which is generally 8-12 pages of feedback including logline, synopsis, and detailed notes on everything from structure, style, marketability, characterization and much more. We then offer specific suggestions for fixing any issues we find and of course point out all the good stuff, too.

We also offer phone consultations for $45 an hour. Writers will bounce ideas off us or discuss problem areas in their material or talk about their careers and what their next move should be. Sometimes folks just want a frank assessment of an outline or a pep talk. We do all that.

But the main way we help is by giving people a clue and doing it on the cheap. For example, Our CI Spec Format & Style Guide, which I wrote, is an 80-page e-booklet chock full of useful information culled from my many years of experience, and we sell it for $3.95. We have a free monthly newsletter packed with tips and leads and interviews and so forth. Most importantly, we endeavor to prevent people from shooting themselves in the foot by taking out a screenplay that isn’t quite ready yet, which is the number one mistake writers make. We’re always so excited when we finish a script, we want to show it to everyone! That sinking feeling you get when you start hearing all the flaws and you realize you pulled the trigger too early… not so much fun. Better to hear it from us, so you can iron the issues out first. Yet another lesson I’ve learned the hard way!

ED – Tell us about some of the success stories that you are responsible for.

JC – Boy, there are a lot of ‘em! Well, let’s see, we have folks who have gone on from nothing to become sold and produced writers or have won contests or fellowships or gotten agents and managers etc. This happens all the time, actually. Folks like Writers on the Storm contestants Juan Sebastian Jacome and Heather Upton and Joe Tomczak, Coverage Ink clients like Mark Kratter and Javier Rodriguez and Phil Landa… and then there are all the ones we can’t talk about – name writers and production companies who use our coverage and script polishing services. There was a spec sale last year, well, we helped that one out a little bit… and another big name film coming out next year we consulted on. And then there’s the sequel to the best picture nominee from some years ago we’ve been developing with the original writer and producer for over a year now. It’s all very exciting. I should mention here that confidentiality is very important to us.

Here’s the thing. Not everyone can sell a script or win a contest. But all of us can improve. And the hardest yet most important thing to learn to do is to listen, really listen, to feedback. And use it to improve your writing. You never know when a door will open, an opportunity arise. It’s important to make sure that you don’t blow those opportunities. When your script is GREAT, I mean really great, everyone will know it and agents and managers will come out of the woodwork like frickin’ cockroaches. Sorry for the analogy, but hey, if the shoe fits… We can all get there, but it takes work and a LOT of painful revisions.

ED – Tell our readers how they can contact your company.

JC – Easy! We’re at www.coverageink.com. Folks can also e-mail me directly at info@coverageink.com.

ED – As you know we are promoting student writers with a program that we have introduced to eight Universities. What words of encouragement can you offer to them?

JC – That’s awesome. I hope it does spectacularly well! We are BIG proponents of education. Long after I sold my first script and launched a career, I enrolled in the UCLA Professional program and then after that Writers Boot Camp. The learning process never stops. It really is all about the education. Every class you take, every bit of feedback you absorb, it’s another nifty exploding arrow in your Green Arrow quiver.

As for student writers specifically, I have both words of encouragement AND caution. Remember the cold hard facts: There are literally hundreds of thousands of writers vying for a tiny handful of jobs. The cream really does rise, and to be the cream, here’s what you need: 1) You need to be a team player and really LISTEN to others. 2) Likewise, you need to be good in a room — able to articulate your ideas in an engaging way and without fear. 3) You need to know your craft inside and out; and lastly, 4) You must have absolute dedication. Prepare for possibly 10 years or more of rejection on the long, hard path to making it, and a stack of scripts on your shelf nobody wants. No, I am not kidding. If this doesn’t sound all that scintillating to you, then perhaps you should reconsider dad’s insurance business. But if you can’t imagine doing anything else, if you’re ready to rock and have that never-say-die gumption, then you may just have what it takes. So embrace the learning. And above all, don’t throw in the towel because you get some bad feedback or a handful of passes. Instead, find out WHY the material isn’t working and fix it. “Screenwriting is a craft, like carpentry. It can be learned.” — Emile Gladstone, ICM.

ED – Jim, The Eerie Digest Magazine wants to thank you and your company, Coverage Ink. You are a plus in our books, and we know that the info that you shared with us will assist those young writers looking to get into stage and screen.

JC – Thanks so much, it’s been fun! I’d like to also share this special discount code with your readership. Just use the code EERIE15 on your order form and get $15 off any of our services. Let’s end with a quote from ‘Galaxy Quest’ equally applicable to screenwriting — “Never Give Up, Never Surrender!”