Interview with ScreenCraft Co-Founder John Rhodes

Meet John Rhodes. John is an independent film producer with experience on many sides of the industry. Early in his career he worked for Open Road Films’ acquisition team, acquiring and releasing such films as The Grey starring Liam Neeson and End of Watch starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Previously he worked as a creative executive at Media Talent Group for clients including Angelina Jolie and Nicole Kidman. John got his start in the industry as a development assistant and story editor at OddLot Entertainment, helping to develop such films as Academy Award-nominee Rabbit Hole, the Cannes award-winning Drive, and the sci-fi epic Ender’s Game. John graduated with a Master’s in Media Business Management from the Universidad de Navarra in Spain and a magna cum laude Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of Dallas in Texas. He is a Co-founder of ScreenCraft and one of the managing partners of The Script Lab’s parent company, Red Ampersand Inc.

How did you go from working in film production and script development to starting and growing ScreenCraft?

I co-founded ScreenCraft after working for several years in film development, production and acquisition at various companies here in Los Angeles. After working for several A-list actors and screenwriters, navigating studio politics, and seeing many sides of the industry, I saw how prevalent lies and empty promises were in this industry. I saw the need for high-quality, transparent, genuinely helpful talent discovery and development programs for emerging screenwriters, so I started ScreenCraft to share my experience and knowledge of the industry with a wider audience. One thing led to another and before we knew it, we were managing educational events around the world with some of Hollywood’s biggest screenwriters and producers, creating weekly blog and video content, hosting annual screenwriting competitions, and putting together our annual conference for screenwriters. Coming up on our 7th year, we now have several awesome full-time employees, and each year we bring in dozens of ScreenCraft mentors to help lead our various programs. Our community of screenwriters around the world is now over 60,000. ScreenCraft’s program mentors include Oscar-winners, Emmy-winners, WGA-winners, BAFTA-winners and executives from all the major studios. It’s been a step-by-step process, and I couldn’t be happier with how many writers we’ve helped to sign with managers and agents, sell their projects and get staffed on shows and hired for open writing assignments. 

My co-founder at ScreenCraft is a development executive named Cameron Cubbison whom I met back when I was working at Open Road Films (a domestic film distribution venture that was backed by AMC and Regal, the two largest exhibitors in North America). Cameron came over to Open Road Films from Lionsgate where he was a script reader, and his screenplay coverage was strikingly excellent – leaps and bounds more thoughtful, nuanced and perceptive than I had ever seen (and I’ve hired many professional script readers at various companies). We decided to launch ScreenCraft in late 2012 as a for-hire script development consultancy, with a focus on developing and celebrating commercially viable and genre-focused screenplays from emerging talent. The first genre-focused screenwriting competition we offered was our horror contest which featured a jury of top horror producers and literary managers. It was a huge hit with writers and it was featured in various industry news outlets and “the trades.” We went on to launch more carefully tailored genre-specific screenplay competitions with industry juries, as well as our annual ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship. Within the first year, our educational events and workshops were consistently selling out. We realized how much we loved working with up-and-coming writers and creating opportunities that provided them with expertise and access to the best and most reputable entertainment industry professionals. 

What are some of ScreenCraft’s highlights over the years?

My favorite part of my job at ScreenCraft is being a part of the early career success and momentum of emerging writers. Each time one of our screenwriters sells a script, gets signed by a manager or agent, or gets hired for an open writing assignment by a producer, I get to experience their profound excitement as they realize a dream they’ve worked so hard to achieve.

Another highlight that comes to mind was last year’s ScreenCraft Fellowship mentor dinner where we introduced our three ScreenCraft winners to four Academy Award-winning mentors at Il Cielo, a nice Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills. The conversation at that long dinner ranged from each of our winners’ projects to anecdotes the mentors recounted of their Academy Award acceptance experiences and their career struggles and triumphs before and after winning the industry’s highest accolade.

Another highlight that comes to mind is our very first ScreenCraft Screenwriting Conference which we held in partnership with the Nashville Film Festival in 2016 where three of our attendees were signed by literary managers, and two people who met there ended up getting married!

I also have fond memories of our various educational programs in partnership with the Shanghai International Film Festival each year; it’s an incredible focal point for global and Asian cinema in a country bursting with emerging creativity and new economic growth. I loved the launch party that we helped throw for WriterDuet at Sundance a few years ago.

And now that I’m thinking of it, I have to mention ScreenCraft’s two incredible screenwriters residency programs – one in partnership with The Bahamas International Film Festival in 2015, and the other in partnership with the Calabash Literary Festival in Treasure Beach, Jamaica in 2017. Those retreats were filled with unforgettable moments, mentoring with some of Hollywood’s top film and TV producers and screenwriters in visually stunning and inspiring Caribbean settings.

How and when did ScreenCraft eventually join The Script Lab in full partnership?

This actually happened through meeting one of the ScreenCraft Fellowship winners. A few years ago, back in 2015, one of the ScreenCraft Fellowship winners was a gentleman named Mark Stasenko. I spoke with Mark for the first time when I called him to let him know he had been selected as one of the 2015 ScreenCraft Fellows. A few days later we met and he was excited to announce that he also won Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope Screenplay Competition in the same week. Needless to say, it was a great week for Mark. One of Mark’s meetings during his ScreenCraft Fellowship week was with a literary manager at 3 Arts Entertainment, with whom he signed a couple weeks later.

About a year later, Mark reached out to tell me about a software platform that he was beginning to develop with his friend from college, Scot Lawrie, called Coverfly which was initially a backend reader management tool for their script coverage service WeScreenplay. He also mentioned that they had recently acquired this website The Script Lab (the website that you’re reading right now).

Mark and Scot got along really well with Cameron and me, and we saw the value of partnering, so we decided on a full joint effort, merging owners and staff into one parent organization, Red Ampersand, Inc. During the time that we were merging these organizations, Mark was starting to experience a lot of heat in his screenwriting career; after many studio meetings he was hired as a staff writer on a Peabody Award-winning Netflix show for a season. So, understandably, Mark had to take a brief break from leading the teams at The Script Lab, WeScreenplay and Coverfly for a few months while he pursued those writing projects, and Scot Lawrie took over leadership of the Coverfly team. I focus most of my time on leading the ScreenCraft team and I help with marketing and industry partnerships for the other brands.

Let’s talk more about Coverfly. How did you come to join the Coverfly team? How is Coverfly leveraging technology to disrupt the way that Hollywood discovers emerging talented screenwriters? What exactly is your role when it comes to Coverfly and ScreenCraft?

Well, to answer the last question first, I split my time between Coverfly and ScreenCraft these days. I focus on industry partnerships, content marketing and business development for both of those companies, as well as reading ScreenCraft’s finalists scripts, meeting with winners and introducing my favorite projects and writers to my industry relationships. 

As I briefly mentioned above, I came aboard the Coverfly team recently – in early 2017. I’ve been leading the marketing and business development at Coverfly which has been growing steadily. For anyone not yet familiar with Coverfly: it’s a free platform for screenwriters to gain industry exposure to the entertainment industry. And on the industry side, Coverfly is a tool for managing submissions to various screenwriting competitions, fellowship, labs and workshops. About 50 industry organizations are now using Coverfly as a technology solution to accept and manage submissions, applications and readers. Each organization on Coverfly has their own dedicated readers, judges and evaluation process and criteria.  

Since launching Coverfly’s writer-facing dashboard about 7 months ago, we’ve grown to already nearly 10,000 registered users, and several thousand writers have opted to make their screenplays “public” in the searchable database of unproduced scripts (by default all scripts on Coverfly are private, and when they are “public” they may show up on The Red List, a public leaderboard of the top-scoring projects sortable by genre and format, and the screenplays are only searchable by our network of vetted industry professionals). In the past month already, three writers have signed with managers and one writer has been hired to re-write a script for a producer via Coverfly. We’ve vetted over 50 organizations to accept submissions via Coverfly, including some of the industry’s best screenwriting competitions, labs, fellowship and film festivals, including the Atlanta Film Festival, Nashville Film Festival, Napa Valley Film Festival, PAGE International Screenwriting Awards, Script Pipeline, Tracking Board, CineStory, IRIS Womens’ Writers Lab (which is backed by Meryl Streep), and of course, ScreenCraft and WeScreenplay. 

What’s next for your team at ScreenCraft?

ScreenCraft’s community continues to grow each year. Our ScreenCraft Writers Summit in Atlanta was a big success this year; it sold out right after the early deadline, and we look forward to growing that sold-out event next year. The ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship is a focal point every year as it takes a few months to consider the applications carefully and select the recipients for the all-expenses-paid trip to Los Angeles for a week of meetings followed by ongoing mentorship. It’s been very gratifying to see the ScreenCraft Fellowship take off and every year we arrange bigger and better meetings for the winners. This year we’ll be meeting with development executives at almost every major studio lot, including Fox, Sony, Paramount, Universal, Warner Bros and Lionsgate, as well as with some of the industry’s top TV showrunners, producers and literary managers.

The bi-annual ScreenCraft Film Fund offers financing to films, docs and series. We give up to $30,000 twice per year to filmmakers and screenwriters. Our film fund is made possible by a partnership with our friends at BondIt Media Capital.

We’ve been considering a few new initiatives at ScreenCraft, and I hope to be able to share more soon. Needless to say, when we have a big announcement from ScreenCraft, I’ll be sure that The Script Lab community hears about it too.


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