Screenwriting Chat: William Papariella
A Conversation with William Papariella of Storybay
Topic: Development hell and how to freeze it: what new writers need to know about the Hollywood reader and how to survive the development systemGuest speaker William Papariella of Storybay joined us to talk about getting through the Hollywood development system, readers, how to make a script that will find its way through the system and how Storybay aims to help new writers get ahead. William has been a producer and development executive and brings plenty of insight and experience to our chat room. He also tells us about a new venture, Storybay Films, a new full production house focusing on developing, packaging and producing motion pictures from new writers, while at the same time creating an avenue for new writers to pitch new ideas, have them optioned and commission them to write the screenplay.
Bill Papariella: thank you. I am the co-founder and creator of storybay.com and Storybay Films
Jason M. Eng: Why don't you start by telling us how you got started.
Bill Papariella: I got started in the mail room at CAA about 7 years ago after learning the business I move to director of development for Baldwin/Cohen Productions on the Universal Studios lot. After several years I was moved to head of development and worked on such films as "Mystery Alaska" starring Russell Crowe and soon to be seen "A Sound of Thunder" starring Pierce Brosnan. So after that it was on to Meyer Productions as President of Production and then Storybay which I co-founded.
Jason M. Eng: How do you go from the mail room to becoming a development exec and producer?
Bill Papariella: Well it wasn't quite that easy. I had to learn the nuances of filmmaker, screenwriting but most importantly how the finances of the film business work. Once you learn story and build a reputation as someone who can find good material things can just begin to take off.
SitcomWrtr: Bill, what exactly are the responsibilities of the Hollywood reader to his/her company and what is his/her responsibility to the writer?
Bill Papariella: What do you mean by reader? Do you mean exec?
SitcomWrtr: More like from a ground 0 phase, like from a pitch session.
Bill Papariella: As an exec first and foremost it is to find the best material, ideas and writer possible. Once that is achieved you have to walk a fine line between getting something on paper that sells but giving the screenwriter enough creative control to make his or her film. I try to make the idea compatible to what the marketplace is looking for and that is my main objective. As for the writer, it is always nice to work with someone who is compatible with your story sense and takes direction well and also trust to do the work and do it well.
Jason M. Eng: But isn't there a layer of readers that get most of the scripts even before the execs see them? The people who recommend the exec should read it?
Bill Papariella: Sure, but I tend not to count on that process. Obviously it helps but I don't count on it. Most readers are loyal to their respective exec and usually are expected to turn material around quickly and give the exec a chance to bid if it's good.
Jason M. Eng: Is that why you started Storybay?
Bill Papariella: Yes, it is why I started Storybay I really felt while I was at the studio many of the rejected writers were treated unfairly. Not to mention it was hard to work for writers with egos. Not to mention there is something exciting about a new voice and original ideas. Original ideas is what Hollywood is all about.
SitcomWrtr: I've been to a panel where a main development exec said, "Don't write from the heart, write something totally wacky that is ironic, like about a lawyer who can't lie." Is it true that whatever you think will sell should be your top priority -- especially when you're trying to break in?
<Bill Papariella: Sure but originality is always good. Look at the "6th Sense." Wow, what an original concept! So, I think you should definitely focus on high concept ideas that travel well in all markets and can attract talent. If you write a screenplay that can only star a hand full of talent, it puts all of us behind the 8 ball. Also, it is important to know that your first script is not always the one that gets made but can still showcase your talent. For instance, I am working with a new writing team that is hot in the market not because they sold their screenplay but because they wrote a darn good script. Unfortunately it is not a big enough idea for the studio and I usually won't spend time on a micro budget movie because they don't keep the lights on.
Thorney: So that first script is sort of like a resume?
Bill Papariella: Absolutely! We look to see if you know structure, format, can write dialogue and most of all characters that we care about, good or bad. Fact is, character development seems to be the toughest for people and many writers don't research their topic well enough and expect us to just understand that it is a bad guy. We like definition in the screenplay and expect someone to know what he or she is writing about
WinPhoo: High concept means "an idea" that can appeal to a broad audience, correct? Or is there more to it?
Bill Papariella: Yes. Broad audience would be the correct term.
Jason M. Eng: What are some of the most important elements to a script a reader looks for?
Bill Papariella: Well concept is definately a key. Dialogue and character are also good. I tell you what,
if we think the concept is good and the writer can really write, that is all I ask of my reading staff. I can work with anyone if they can write and have a good concept.
chidder: Unless I plan on directing it myself, is there any sense in writing a script for a short film -- say 20 minutes or so? If so, how would I market it?
Bill Papariella: No. Or get a friend of yours to direct it that wants to direct.
Wolf: In order, what are the key elements of getting a script in front of someone who may be inclined to buy it?
Bill Papariella: Tough question. I guess that is why I started Storybay. Nobody takes unsolicted material and if they do it takes 5,6,7 months to read it. Persistence helps. However, I find that we provide a darn good shot for someone who is trying to break in. Fact is, with Storybay you will be read by many creative execs and mentored on how the business works.
Jason M. Eng: How many scripts have come to Storybay?
Bill Papariella: over 3000 last year.
Wolf: Then mentoring through the process, at least until the first script is sold, is a key to gaining entrance into the club?
Bill Papariella: You could not have said it any better. That is the basis for Storybay. Which is to take a good idea or script and mentor you through the process with a true development expert and hopefully make it a great script that is marketable to both producers or agents that want your next piece of material but are not willing to read your script as is. Does that make sense?
Wolf: Yes, it does.
jlundgren: Of the 3000, how many got connected?
Bill Papariella: I would have to say 100's if your asking that broad of a question. Do you want to be more specific? Like how many big successes we have had?
jlundgren: To pinpoint, then, how many were actually bought?
Bill Papariella: About 11 were actually sold. Nearly triple that amount have been optioned and about 25 have recieved agents/managers. And hundreds have received meetings that have enhanced their reputation with a legitimate group of professional producers that will always read their material.
Gene Brady: When you live in the Midwest, how do you know a good agent from a not-so-good agent.
Bill Papariella: Again that is a tough question, because really you don't. Of course there are the big 5: CAA, WMA, ICM etc, however that is what I was talking about earlier which is Storybay.com will help guide you through the process. We talk to hundreds of members about how to navigate the waters in fact today a writer called me about his script and said he thought a certain actor would be perfect. Turns out that actor is on my board of directors and we agreed and now that actor is interested in the screenplay. So my point is that sometimes we don't sell something but still work with writers we feel have the ability to be successful. And sometimes it is they who help me with ideas and get something done for them
Noel Duffy: Hi Bill, how many scripts a year is your new venture equipped to read and evaluate?
Bill Papariella: I don't think there is number that we can't handle. We are doing a huge contest this year with a major fortune 500 company and I expect a good 10,000 through that.
J.P Alexander: I have written a novel entitiled Revelations. It was published through an online publishing source named Xlibris. I am wondering, how do I go about getting someone in the film industry interested in adapting it to screen?
Bill Papariella: Ahhhhhhh that is a great question. Fact is we love books. Did you know that last year 50% of all movies were from books and only 10 were best-sellers. We work with tons of authors who self-publish and help them adapt. In fact, someone just sold their book through us to a major publisher. That book resided on our Literary Library and was downloaded over 200,000 times. It was actually the most downloaded book in internet history. Actually what we like to do is set authors up with our producer mentor program. Andy Meyer (Breakfast Club) mentors people through the adaptation process
Christine: Do you know why the studios are relying more on re-making a film or new adaptation?
Bill Papariella: Because original ideas are scarce. Good writers are hard to come by so in my opinion books give you more to write from and studios can take one part of the books Storybay and make a movie out of it. Sometimes, it’s just a character in the book that gets them excited. Like I said earlier, Storybay was created to find original ideas. They are scarce
jlundgren: If you look to the near future, is there a particular genre that stands out?
Bill Papariella: No. Maybe Family comedy's b/c of 9/11. But how many of those can you really make before everyone is burned out and want to see action again. It's all timing. Teen comedy's are gone, completely burned out but hey they will probably be back in about 4 years.
J.P Alexander: As a writer who has his book published online, I find it difficult to advertise the book. Not many copies have sold, but the ones that have sold we've had great reviews. What are some ways to get my book to be more noticeable.
Bill Papariella: Well, we provide a service called Literary Library that provides consumer recognition and executive recognition. Like I said earlier we still boosted the #1 downloaded book on-line. So, although I think your should publish at Xlibris or Iuniverse, we can actually market your book to a mass audience. Iuniverse and Xlibris has made a major mistake in taking a more active role in selling the content from the site.
Wolf: Is "on-line" publishing really a viable tool, or is it a way to put out moderately acceptable work? I don't want to sound critical, but most of what I read wasn't that good.
Bill Papariella: I don't think that is fair to say. Fact is agents send out crap as well. Anywhere you put your work is better than not doing it at all. The problem with slush is the good work is mixed up in it, which can create serious frustration for a writer. We qualify everything before we post work.
Charles Heatherly: I've got a screenplay ready to sell. How do I get an agent?
Bill Papariella: That's a tough question. Agency's don't take unsolicited submission. I founded Storybay on that premis. So unless your uncle is a big agent or producer I always suggest getting your work to us
Charles Heatherly: Do you charge an evaluation fee?
Bill Papariella: Yes a membership fee is what it is called and the price is $149 for a year for 6 projects. We also have added value services like coverage, notes, mentoring etc....
Charles Heatherly: What do you do for that? Do you attempt to market properties?
Bill Papariella: Absolutely we do, to mostly agents. Don't forget we also have a production company with some top-flite producers, some of whom have won Oscars.
Richard: I've been asked to send a synopsis along with a screenplay. I have the feeling that, if the synopsis doesn't sizzle, they won't read the screenplay. True? If so, where do you learn to write a great synopsis?
Bill Papariella: True they won't. I would guess most look at the concept. If the concept isn't something that is selling, they probably won't read it. Most of the producers or agents that ask for that are looking to flip it quickly, make a buck and not call you back unless it sold for millions which should be fine with you or anyone else, because the big misconception in Hollywood is that agents help mentor you. They don't. Even when you have one, they don't call back unless you have finished something they want to sell. And if your new script isn't something they want to sell then you better start looking for a new agent. Most agents unless you are an a-list writer will only pay attention on a per project basis.
Charles Heatherly: I got in late, what is your address?
Bill Papariella: www.storybay.com Or you can call Robert Schmidt at 310-827-4576 ext 15.
Jason M. Eng: Why don't we finish off by giving our audience some final words of wisdom about how to make their script or book bulletproof to get through the development maze?
Bill Papariella: Well I would first say write what you know. Also, if you love writing keep doing it even if the business tosses you around. Don't forget that writing is re-writing and your idea is not always going to be something everyone likes, so hang your hat at the door. Most of all don't take it too serious. The biggest problem is Hollywood is that writers are doing something for the wrong reason: writing for notoriety instead of passion. If you like to write then write no matter and feel free to email any us at Storybay for free advice. Good luck and thank you for taking the time.