Screenwriting 101
A script coach provides mentorship and hope for would-be scribes with Tinseltown dreams.
by Patricia B. Gray, FORTUNE Small Business Magazine

(FORTUNE Small Business Magazine) - Letters pour in from all over the world - France and Israel and Russia - heartbreaking in their naivete and earnest ambition to make it big in the movie business. Lloyd "Skip" Press answers them all, dispensing encouragement by e-mail deep into the night from his small three-bedroom bungalow in Burbank, Calif.

One of the busiest screenwriting coaches in Hollywood, he's selling a dream - and he has found buyers across the globe. "I like laying out the red carpet for newcomers to the business," Press says. "Everyone wants to get to Hollywood."

Screenwriting coach Lloyd
Screenwriting coach Lloyd "Skip" Press

As a screenwriter, Press has known only modest success. He has written scripts for children's TV shows and instructional videos since the late 1980s. His biggest claim to fame is a matter-of-fact 1987 video called A Woman's Guide to Firearms.

Nonetheless, he has had better luck in his second act as a guide to the masses who yearn for stardom. Some 4,000 students have taken his $129 online screenwriting course, offered through 1,040 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Europe. Bookstores have sold 40,000 copies of his Complete Idiot's Guide to Screenwriting. Aspiring writers pay him to edit their scripts and offer tips for selling them. A basic read-through costs $250, but an extensive rewrite goes for about $5,000. If a project seems promising - like the recent television pilot by a former Senate staffer about life on Capitol Hill - Press will cut a deal: a lower fee for a piece of the action.

But even if his clients never get their films produced, they can still make a living - or at least supplement one - when their scripts get optioned, sometimes over and over, every 18 months, for as much as $2,000. Clay Heery, a former comedy-club owner in Philadelphia, at Press's urging retooled a script he had been working on for years. Since then, Heery says, several producers have optioned it.

For Press, 55, coaching is a lucrative niche. In 2005, he says, he pulled in about $130,000, triple what he was making in the 1990s when he wrote children's books and magazine articles for Boy's Life and Disney Adventures. Then, in 2001, his Complete Idiot's Guide was published in the U.S., then in Russia. The book listed his personal e-mail address: Weeks after the book hit store shelves, pleading messages started pouring in and his career as a coach took off.

These days Press is dabbling in screenwriting again - a producer recently optioned his latest opus, a sci-fi thriller called Alien Creeps - and is juggling several book projects. He just landed a $6,500 contract to edit The Ultimate Guide to Videogame Creation. He also maintains a 500-member online community on Yahoo (Research) called Skip's Hollywood Hangout, a handy tool for recruiting clients.


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