Category Archives: Screenwriting

KISS of the Rules Woman


Private collectionI’m going to tell you a secret. Well, it’s not really a secret since I’m going to tell it to you, so pretend you never heard this if you’re planning to give me money. My contained thriller sucks. No, it really sucks. I didn’t realize how badly until it got a 3 and a 4 on The Blacklist site.  I know I shouldn’t advertise this but I haven’t written on the blog in a while and I need to use this information to make a point damn it.

When I got those scores back I was super bummed. I knew it wasn’t perfect but a number you could show on one hand was a stab in the heart. After falling on my knees crying, “Why, Lord? Why?” while fanning myself with the church bulletin, I racked my brain to figure out what was wrong with it. The notes were close in content. They each wanted a fuller exploration of the love story and why the woman fell in love with this man who is a killer. It’s a contained thriller, not a romantic comedy, so when I cut the cord on the love story at the end of Act One I didn’t think anyone would care if I left the umbilical dangling. At first, I grumbled to myself about male readers not being able to understand a woman being able to fall in love with a man simply because he’s nice to her. (Sexism, defensive crutch to the wounded for centuries.) Then I ranted about how they didn’t seem to see that as soon as she found out he’s a killer all romantic feelings left her. I mean, after Act One this guy couldn’t make her wet with a fire hose. When I stopped blaming others long enough to tell myself to stop being a sexist asshole I realized something. Even though the majority of the notes were about the relationship between the killer and the victim that’s not what they were really talking about. They were about the rules.

You can find screenwriting rules in every how-to book or website. Rules on structure, description, format, dialogue, etc. You can also find exceptions to every single one of these rules on any top ten list. I realized that without meaning to, I had bashed the rules over the head and thrown them down the stairs. In a fit of love for my killer character I had overthrown the usual horror victim protagonist to tell the story from the killer’s point of view. Through this and many other choices, I had sucked the surprise out of my story and made my characters anemic. By wanting to tell all aspects of the story without paying attention to the rules I broke I had made my script too complicated. I distracted my readers from what was important.

Screenwriting rules are a way of saying Keep It Simple Stupid. Breaking rules is fine just as long as you do it with intention. They’re a way to keep your creative self from dirty dancing with your grandmother. Usually, no one wants to see that but in the right circumstances it could be epic. Rules keep you from adding too many flavors to the pot. Coming from the buffet of a prose writing background, I’ve realized that screenplays are one of the simplest forms of writing. No, I don’t mean in effort. Only poetry further distills narrative through words. We are impressionist not realists. When you look at a screenplay you should see what is intended even though not everything is there.

After polishing a script that got much better reviews, I will rewrite that contained thriller with an eye on the rules. Whether I follow them or not I will do it with intension. Really looking forward to scores that two-year olds would have trouble showing me on their fingers.

Listen for Your Life!


009The things I know about you would curl your nose hair. Don’t worry, none of it has to do with that one sex scandal ’cause I don’t care about that. Once, I had the unfortunate experience of being told, in great detail, that a performer I knew was a swinger and always had regular orgys. To this day, I can not look at the man without imagining his glasses bouncing on his sweaty face. Yeah, not cute. Most of the time the real truth about people is the thing that they really want to hide even though it’s there for anybody who pays attention. We all can know a person if we bother to listen, with our ears, our eyes, our hearts.

About once a month I pick a theme for tweets where I suggest whom I think people should follow on twitter. I do this in the hopes that people will actually be intrigued by something I said and click follow. This month I chose people who listen. Almost immediately I was struck by how difficult it was to say why I chose these people as great listeners. That they listen to me is so much more and so much less than what their ability to listen means. There is a truth in what I see in their listening that is not mine to share. When talking about those who teach one can describe that teacher’s effect on them without ever really saying anything about that teacher. But when one talks about those who listen, the most honest description of that experience is to talk about who the listener is.

Frozen by my fear of revealing a heart that is not mine, I got to thinking about listening as a large part of our humanity. Listening is a skill that so many don’t have, or choose not to use. There have been times when I have deliberately misunderstood someone as to not have a confrontation or to give them their privacy. Communication is a life skill that depends as much or more on how we receive it as give it. As writers, listening is important to creating character but it also helps understand this crazy entertainment industry. Too often the destruction of a movie begins with people who believe that the power they have means that they don’t have to listen.

In the following story the names have been changed to protect the innocent…and the assholes.

During the production of a movie, Dick Jones, an up and coming star, decides to cast the inexperienced Cutesy McGee. Everyone tries to talk him out of it but he is determined. Powerman, the studio head, had previously nixed the top billed leading woman that everyone had agreed on so I can only assume he took Cutesy McGee as his problem to make up for. In his rush to increase the star power, and hopefully the bottom line, he did not consult the director or producer before casting a Lady Star in a supporting role. Suddenly, this supporting role had to be deepened and expanded by the writer. The story suffers because not only is the supporting female role now more interesting than the leading role, but Cutesy can not help but be over shadowed by this bigger name with the now bigger character. The producer, loosing confidence in every aspect of his project begins to ignore suggestions to make it better.  He just wants it to be over. This sad disconnected overdone story is barely saved from being a horrible movie by Dick Jones’ desperate performance. When it opens, the movie under performs. Dudes flinging boogers at each other could have gotten better numbers.

(Wow, props to Doug Richardson for being able to keep things from being confusing in his blog while at the same time as keeping everyone anonymous. It’s hard.)

What would happen if people in the world stopped thinking about only themselves and started working with each other? What would happen if the people with the power accepted that they don’t have to be right? What would happen if we all started to show that we listened? I’m not sure, but I’d like to think it would make the world better.  So why don’t we each start now?

Can you hear the Cumbayah chorus playing behind this post? You would if you were listening.

The D is Silent, The ism Invisible

"White" and "Jim Crow" rai...

Cartoon by John McCutcheon.

Let’s get this out of the way right here. In this post, I will be using nigger, not the N word. I will do this not because I use the word but because I feel that any academic discussion about language should be able to verbalize the language being discussed. Code words cheapen the discourse by constantly reminding people to censor themselves. If no one is allowed to talk about it in a civilized, educational, debate how are we going to eliminate the problem.

It disturbs me that the use of the word nigger for a pre-Civil War narrative is a cause for such anger. I don’t understand why history has to be, excuse the term, white washed. If people studied and discussed the true history of the United States open and honestly actual progress could be made on the racial divide. Because the movie I am focusing on in this post is about black slavery I will only be writing about that. However, I recognize that honest discussion is needed for the Native American Genocide, the Japanese Internment, and many other times in our history.

There has been some accusations that the word nigger was not used until after the turn of the century. This is not correct. With little effort you can find first hand accounts of slavery and they use the term as a fact of life. There are regional differences in the frequency and circumstances the word was used, but it is valid to use it for this time period. Too often the word nigger is something to scream about. To shut down any intelligent conversation and wield as a weapon. That is not OK at anytime, but is especially unwarranted regarding use in Django Unchained.

Django Unchained is violent, gory, funny, disturbing, historically flexible, and… a movie. It’s a really fun ride. There are people who have said that we should not allow slavery to be treated with anything but complete and utter reverence. Bullshit. It’s a movie! There have been all manner of movies about the holocaust and I guarantee that because of that more people have discussed, mourned, connected with, and remembered the holocaust. The guilt that many white people in the United States have over slavery combined with the historical shame and anger that black people in the US have regarding racism prevent us from doing better.

A couple of months ago on twitter a Jewish man was complaining that his five-year old had been told about the holocaust in school. He was soliciting opinions on whether he was wrong to think that was too young to know about such a horrible thing to happen to your people. Many people agreed that it was not all right and he should have been allowed to broach the subject himself when the child was older. Something about this conversation bothered me. Throughout the day, I followed the responses and was unable to form an opinion of my own in reply. Finally, I realized why. No black person in the US ever got to choose how they heard about our history of slavery or oppression by the Jim Crow laws. No black parent ever gets to choose when or where a child will learn that his or her people were considered inferior, herded, bought, sold, beat, and killed. Having few creative escapes in which to process this only internalizes it and hurts us as a society. We should embrace the art that encourages us to accept slavery as part of our past.

I actually don’t have a lot to say about the movie. It was good entertainment with some great scenes and brilliant performances. The bad guys were vilified instead of glorified. Jamie Foxx was the best I’ve ever seen him. I didn’t recognize Samuel L. Jackson until he spoke which had to be after over a minute of screen time. And to watch Christopher Waltz in character is a master class in acting as reacting. Now having seen Django Unchained the biggest problem I have with it is actually with everyone who saw it before me. Y’all so busy talking about “the N word” that you couldn’t let me know the D in Django was silent? I’ve been walking around saying Da-Jang-O like an idiot. Still trying to correct myself.

Some links to Slave Narratives:

Nickels for Wishes, Sweat for Goals


(Photo credit: BLundin)

Before anyone gets a chance to think it, I want to let everyone know that I do not have an obsession with Scott Myers at Go Into The Story. I wanted to write my writing goals for 2013 long before I saw his ten part series on the subject and decided to model this post on it. Plus, his wife made it very clear that I was not too come by their house again. However, she was nice enough to throw away the diaper I wore during the cross-country drive.

Looking Back

As I look back on my writing in 2012 I’m happy. I continued to grow as a screenwriter. I learned things that make my life easier as a screenwriter and things that will make my life harder, but my writing better.

Going to the Austin Film Festival for the first time in my life was a great experience. Hard as all hell on my body, but great for my mind and spirit. Being surrounded by others that struggle and hope, love and achieve, in screenwriting 24 hours a day is a surreal world I want to visit again.

I began to use and have fun with twitter as a networking tool. Besides finding new friends, it’s given me lots of laughter and awesome conversations. It also gives me a lot to ponder. Just like when I lived in Los Angeles full-time, there are people who I find I don’t like but they have a lot of power and can help me reach my goals. A big part of why I left LA is because I found myself kissing those people on both cheeks and smiling. Every time I don’t follow those people on twitter I congratulate myself. It slowly gets easier to do because, every day, I become surer of who I am and who I want to be.

Starting a blog was another thing that I did this year. Being old enough that I grew up in a time where my exposure to computers was confined to the school lab a couple of times a week, it was something I never thought I’d do. Being open and honest to the world about things so personal was a doggone miracle.

Finally, the best part of screenwriting this year has been that even the first drafts of what I’ve written this year has gotten consider ratings from people I trust. Yippee.

Assessing Where You Are

Where I am now is not where I want to stay as a writer, but it is where I am and I’m proud to have gotten this far.

I like the things I’m writing. This year alone I’ve tackled issues like racism, elder care, and women taught that their only power is sexuality. The best part about writing about these things is that I can do it in an entertaining way. The preachy bone that was located in my right arm between the radius and ulna has been removed and stored in an empty coffee can for use responding to non-fiction issues. However, if I could write comedies that are actually funny I would dance a jig. Hell yes, I’d settle for a dramedy. I would still write about serious issues that effect my life but to be able to make people laugh while I do it would make me do a happy dance that would last for days. (I miss Perfect Strangers.)

I’m scared. I don’t know what 2013 holds for me. Being one year closer to my death is not what scares me. The possibility of having another year go by without anyone saying they want to invest in me or my scripts. To have the art gone. That’s what scares me.

Where Do You Want To Go As a Writer

I want to rewrite the scripts I already have so that they get at least strong considers. This will get me a manager and perhaps an agent. I would also like to sell one of my scripts by August so that I can afford to go to the 20th anniversary of the Austin Film Festival.

Unless, Homeland or Game of Thrones or another earth shattering television show calls me up to say, “Hey, you’re disabled and black so the WGA will pay for you to be on our staff. When can you get here?” I’d like to write movies. I enjoy it. It’s challenging and they were my rebellion as I grew up.

I will still write specs but what I want to write adaptations. I love to read and if I could turn a book I love into something that will bring it to more people to enjoy that would make my heart grow three sizes that day. There are two adaptations I have in mind right now. From the moment I finished Feed: The First Book of the Newsflesh Series by Mira Grant I’ve wanted it. I’ve seen how to write the visually stagnant blocks of typing, emails, and internet blogs. I’d down play the zombies using them as a weapon and focus on it as the political thriller it is. The zombie moan I would let out if I got that adaptation would have the neighbors two doors down grabbing their machetes, or wondering just what position I was trying out from 50 Shades of Grey. For years, I’ve wanted to write the screenplay for The Face by Dean Koontz. I know he hates his books being turned into movies because of his experience with the Hollywood culture. But maybe, just maybe, I could get him to realize that giving the rights to a black woman who has never had anything produced in Hollywood would be the biggest “screw you” to the establishment he can send. No, I ain’t above it. If my mom, had sex with him I’d use that instead.

Practical Matters

Having come so far in the last year I don’t want to spend money on the credit card for screenwriting classes or events I can not afford. Since there is little I can afford, I will only accept and take on debt for things that will unquestionably help my career. Things like posting my scripts on The Black List, professional consultation with No Bullscript, and creative juju/kicks in the butt from Screenwriting Master Class.

Because of my disability I will have to find a manager and agent willing to  work with me around or through my limitations. I will try to limit my pity party when rejected because of this to no longer than a day. I will not fail to recognize that because of this I will have more confidence in the partnership between my representatives and myself. There will be communication and belief between us that few others will have so quickly.

Lastly, I will have to decide what I will need to be offered so that I can move back to LA full-time without feeling guilt for leaving my mom alone to care for my 97-year-old grandma.

Going Public

This is pretty damn public don’t you think?

I’m glad I got this out there. I will embrace and work toward these goals. I will pray (carefully) on them too. ‘Cause if prayer works for bacteria why not me?

Get Down. Get Downer.

Frank Darabont

Frank Darabont

On twitter we have been discussing downer endings. I mentioned to @unkscreenwriter, who started the conversation, that the initial idea for my thrillers never have what anyone would call a happy ending. So far I’ve been talked into the usual hero triumphs ending because I feel it would help the reader/watcher be more emotionally connected to the overall story. I don’t know if this will always be the case but so far it has been.


After discussing downer films such as Arlington Road, Far From Heaven, Se7en, The Road, A Clockwork Orange, and Gone Baby Gone. We came upon The Mist. Definitely a downer film, however, I don’t believe it earns my emotional breakdown like the rest of them do. My fellow tweeters disagreed, so here is my defense of why I don’t appreciate the end of The Mist.

I love Frank Darabont’s work, the writer/director of this film, so much that I have previously referred to him as screenwriting Jesus but in this case I believe he made a mistake.  I have no problem with the ending being a downer but I do have a problem that the audience was so removed from the climax of the movie, that we didn’t experience it.  By the climax I mean the main character shooting the other four people in the car, including his son, so they would not have to experience the horror of being eaten alive. (I warned you there were spoilers!) I felt that the characters took the easy way out. They run out of gas so they make a homicide pact.  They  didn’t wait until they felt the car was under attack, or they got hungry, or they had to go to the bathroom. I found it hard to believe that these people who had the courage to fight to escape and survive this long would take such an easy way out. I am aware that what he did was not easy, especially regarding his son, but the filming of it made it feel like it was. The camera pulls back to hover above the car so only gun flashes can be seen through the windows. I’m not naïve enough to think that anyone would have or should have let us see his son being shot in the head. But I would have liked the camera to be on the main character.  His face as he fired. The pain, determination, and horror of it as blood speckles his face with each life of a loved one lost. Scrambling out of the car trying to run from what he’s done desperate to die the gruesome death he believes he now deserves. Then rumble, rumble. The military rescue. Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Hee hee. That “no” was just for giggles but, to see him fall in on himself after what he just did after being through it would have been more powerful. He can’t call out for help. There’s nothing he can do to reverse it. Then he sees the woman and her daughters. The proof of what would have been if he had just had a little more faith, a bit more hope. We all, as an audience, would have been messed up for days. Instead, we used our logic to reflect on how horrible that was for him. To this day, I remember feeling more emotion for the woman standing with her daughters than the man who felt he had to murder his loved ones.

If a movie has to bring us down I want to experience it. The terror and pain in film that I hope to never feel in life. Film should always be an experience whether it’s the satisfaction of kicking a bad guy in the face, the triumph of a successful heist, or the joy of love reciprocated. Hell, if I can experience peeing standing up through film, (thanks Micheal Fassbender!) I can experience anything.

I Love it When an Outline Comes Together


Scrooge's third visitor, from Charles Dickens:...

So in this, the winter season of my eighth year of writing screenplays, I will relate the heroic story of one Scott Myers and how he made my life as a writer easier.

…OK, that’s about as much of that kind of talk as I can take. Go read A Christmas Carol if you need to feel in the holiday spirit. (Me, I prefer the holiday movies on Hallmark and Lifetime. Even when I have my period, I am not as girlie as when I plop down in front of the TV with a tub of Häagen-Daz ice cream to watch anything with Mistletoe in the title.) But I digress.

Anyway, the hardest part of making the change from writing prose to writing screenplays was the need for structure. When I wrote prose all I needed was a couple of characters in my head who had a relationship in a world of my making. That was it. I’d listen to them tell me their adventures and their problems. Subtext was easy. They’d tell me what they were thinking and I’d write it down. In the language of screenwriting, the characters still talk to me about what’s in their head but I have to show what they’re thinking by describing their actions while still moving the narrative forward.

I tried a lot of different methods, note cards, colored pens, numbered blank pages, filling out forms, to hammer out that structure.  Every class I took and every book I read taught me something. Even if that something was how others go through the process and what wouldn’t work for me. I did have a couple of large revelations that changed my process and set me on a path closer to constructing a fluid narrative. The reversal at the midpoint stuck with me after my studies of Robert McKee’s Story. All Is Lost was my big take away from Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. Unfortunately, those were only parts.  Nothing allowed me to truly see what kind of movie I would end up with until I took Scott Myers’ Screenwriting Master Class Prep: From Concept to Outline class.

He doesn’t care what the form of your outline takes but gives you mile markers to guide your story and thoughts. The ten page outline I came up with reads almost like a short story. Scenes and series of scenes cascade down the page with snippets of dialogue and outbursts of subtext. All that lets me see the movie, feel the pace, and read the tone.  I know the trouble spots and can change them without the pain of slashing perfectly good pages that just don’t fit right in this movie.

As most of you know, there are days my disability keeps me from having a say on how many hours I’m able to sit up and write. The best thing about having this kind of outline is that even on days exhaustion and pain cripple me I am able to tap out a page of the script. Never having to wonder where I am in a story or what I should write next allows what little energy I have to be devoted to the actual writing of the script.

Every week I do Follow Friday on twitter I make @GoIntoTheStory my first follow. This is because Scott Myers has made the biggest impact on my screenwriting career so far. His observations and resources along with his teaching ability have made it possible for me to go on in the hard times. Maybe outlining your script isn’t were your problem lies. Maybe it’s exposition or dialogue. He has classes for that too.

Tis the season to be grateful. I am grateful for Scott Myers.

Fifty Shades of Don’t Hate


Now that I’m older, my mom and I have a relationship that’s closer to friendship. Well, except when I swear…and when discussing Fifty Shades of Grey. My mom doesn’t want to know if I think any of that is sexy and I sure as hell don’t even want to say the word bondage around her. My mom, the most asexual person in the universe, at least in my eyes, read the entire Fifty Shades Series. Why? The story.

I’ve heard so many writers say they would never read these books because they’re poorly written porn masquerading as literature. And they are. But as a writer you must read them. There is a reason that they are so sickeningly popular. It starts with a S. Story. As someone who regularly pays for sex from my local book store, I have read much better written books where the sex was just as steamy. Opal Carew and Megan Hart are two of my favorite word pimps. If you have never read Broken you are seriously missing out on an awesome book in every regard. Every other chapter is almost pure sex, but between there is an incredible tale of a woman and her quadriplegic husband.

The one thing that those books don’t have that Fifty Shades has is a specific world that is so clearly defined that it translates into a universal human experience. Even if, like me, you knew sub/dom relationships existed in the world and have scrolled hastily over the ball-gagged during a trip to a porn site, you didn’t know all the things that E.L. James lays out in the pages of the first book. That specificity of worlds is so crucial in all great stories. If the Godfather was just a family full of criminals would we have been as fascinated? Discovering the very clear rules of an Sicilian mob family was crucial to understanding the conflict that was created when the rule of the oldest son taken over was broken. In Shawshank Redemption, we were thrust into that prison’s world through the eyes of someone who had seen every part of it. There is only one rule. Don’t hope. Hope keeps you from finding the tiny slivers of good floating in that world full of doo doo. Andy oozes hope from every pore threatening to destroy the delicate balance Red uses to survive. The world is the reason the first 100 pages of sub-par writing in Fifty Shades of Grey is necessary to the story.

Yes, Christian Grey was super hot and the sex was even hotter. But I still wanted to put down the book after a few romps until the unbelievable happened. She said no. No. Two letters that changed the purpose of this book from an excuse to masturbate into a real story. Too often characters do stuff because the writer thinks they need to do more of this or that. It would have been so easy for Ana to say yes to the S&M lifestyle, even if she changed her mind later. That, however, would not have been real and all the women reading would have wrinkled their noses. Consciously or not, they all would have known that only a character in a story would do that. The average woman who Ana is painted as would not.

Could we all have lived with only one Fifty Shades book? Gone on with our life carrying that heartbreaking ending seared on our brains? Most definitely yes. We have to go through the other two though because they’re there. These characters are real to us now. We need to know what happened to them. Through all three of the horribly overwritten books we stay with them because they stay real. I’ve never met a person that hasn’t wondered what their significant other is thinking at some point in their relationship. There isn’t one who didn’t need to be brave and communicate something they worried might hurt their relationship. Or one who hasn’t begged in their heart for their mate to just understand. Fifty Shades amplifies these issues through a defined specific world and that’s why it is so popular.

Despite the inevitable internal eye rolling at the Fifty Shades of F’ed up writing, there are surprises and a relationship based in reality that is worth the read.

Story is the most beautiful thing in the world. It even shines through an ugly package.

Pitched Over -Part 2


So much more to say about my time at the Great American Pitchfest this year. To recap, I spent most of the day Saturday sitting at Danny Manus’s No BullScript booth happily talking to people about my experience as a script consulting client of his. To find out more about that read Pitch Over -Part 1.

Sunday, Danny was nice enough to let me sit at his table as he was taking pitches for his old company. I was super excited to see pitching from the other side. I had an appointment to go to so I couldn’t stay all day, but in the two and a half hours I sat there I learned a lot about how amateurs pitch.

The bell rang and among calls for “more cow bell” the first group gathered into the holding area. The bell rang again and the day began. Hopeful writers clutching cases, folders, notebooks, swarmed the tables. One stopped at our table, shook our hands, plopped down and introduced himself. That was the last thing I understood. His pitch was all over the place. I couldn’t keep up with the characters or the plot I stared harder at his lips thinking that would help. It didn’t. Fortunately, Danny has taken thousands of pitches and with a couple of well worded questions he was able to clear it up. Oh! That’s what it was about. Though it was a pass, Danny was really sweet and gave the guy an extra minute to help him find the focus of his pitch. I hope to hell the guy used his suggestions the rest of the day. I realized then how important it was to say your title and logline first. Take a breath, then go into the story. Danny Manus explains what this does for the person you’re pitching to better than I, so I’ll tell you what he told me. It lets the person know what they are going to be listening to so they can focus on the flow of the story instead of trying to figure out what the story is. Lesson one.

The next person that sat down was a woman. She had a good pitch until she wouldn’t stop talking after she got to the end of the story. She started rambling about little personality quirks of the characters that I couldn’t concentrate on or care about because I was still trying to process the information about her story.  When you get to the end of your story shut up. Danny was still able to ask a couple of questions in the short time but there was about thirty seconds to a minute more that she could have had to be engaged with us if she had just stopped trying to sell. Lesson two.

The third person was a great conversationalist. She made a connection right away and I liked her.  However, she had nothing to pitch except herself and her hope to one day write the remake of a classic film. What the heck? You are a new writer, well because you haven’t actually written anything you are a new wannabe writer, and you want a company to put time and money into you because you have a good personality. No. If I had an intern job to offer her I would have. That way she could have learned, gotten connected, and stopped asking for stupid things. Sorry, I’m grumpy about it, but for God’s sakes have something to pitch if you are at a pitchfest. There are plenty of other times to network and chat. You wouldn’t even have to pay for the privilege. Be smart with your money and the company’s time. Lesson three.

The fourth pitch was from a writing team. I could tell they had studied and practiced their pitch quite a bit. Having a writing partner that you want to share the pitching time with requires that. It was clear and snappy. However, they chose the least interesting part of their story to focus on. Hot celeb falls in love with a small town nobody girl. Now this is the first one I’ve mentioned what was pitched because I honestly don’t remember the others. Since I was there to study how people were pitching, and not what they were pitching, I took no story notes. Part of why I remember theirs was because of how clearly they presented the story and the other reason is because Danny pointed out to them that they buried the lead. They mentioned the twist to this horribly over done plot in passing but that was all I had questions about throughout the rest of their pitch. Though I remember the twist I won’t say what it was because it had potential. Danny told them to really emphasize the original part of the story in the rest of their pitches that day. No matter how good the pitch, if the story is boring and something we’ve seen a million times no one will care. Lesson four.

The next one was a man with a great story with a boring delivery. No, I don’t remember the story. All I wrote down was great story with a boring delivery.  That’s really sad. I honestly have no idea what that great story was. If I had been there for the story I would have taken notes of course, but would I have remembered the writer who pitched it to me?  I have no idea what to say about this. If you expect this may be your problem practice, and get some help from someone who will be honest enough to yawn in your face. Don’t be boring. That doesn’t mean have a circus act. Just be clear and personable. Lesson five.

Lesson six? Be prepared. A man who had seemed so professional throughout his pitch killed that perception when he was asked for a one sheet. He took out some scrap paper and scratched his name and number on it with some quick notes. Really? I’ll email you a one sheet later this week he says. Um, how long did he know he was going to be pitching today? Why couldn’t he stop by a Kinko’s and print out twenty copies real quick? It made me wonder about his honesty and his ability to deliver.

Lesson seven? If you say this is the most original idea you’ve ever heard, there will have been a TV movie about it at least once a year for the last ten years. If you say this will be short, you will ramble on until way over time. It was weird how consistent it was for someone who blurted something before they sat down to do the complete opposite. If you aren’t absolutely sure you can deliver don’t put expectations on your pitch. It’s annoying because it calls attention to that weakness in your pitch.

Bonus lesson. Don’t tell the names of every character when you pitch. Just tell their relationship to the protagonist. I can’t remember who’s who by name that quickly. I can barely remember your name.

I did learn a lot from my two and a half hours listening to pitches. Taking pitches is hard. You want to hear a great story but there is so much other stuff about the human being on the other side of the table that can prevent you from really hearing their story at all.  It made me realize I still had a way to go in my own pitching and will be taking Danny Manus’s pitching webinar the next time it comes around.

Everyone Gets to the Climax Differently


This is an unplanned post to a question someone asked on twitter: “Do you usually come up with characters or plot first?” So I thought I’d sketch my process real quick.

This is just off the top of my head. I’m not a comedy writer so don’t analyze why this was on the top of my head, just work with me.

  1. I think wouldn’t it be funny to have two lesbians that look so much alike, one tall one short, that everyone mistook them for sisters?

    –That’s the nugget. It’s not a plot, it’s not anything. Just a stupid idea that could be interesting.

  2. So who are these lesbians? Where did they grow up? What do they do? How did they meet?

    –By answering these, and about a hundred more questions, I know who they are and which one has the most change in her (the protagonist.)

  3. Will she sacrifice the love of her life to keep people from thinking she’s in an incestuous relationship with her sister, losing her dream job because of it?

    –A little plot there. What are the obstacles? What will she loose? Who’s/what’s keeping her from her goal (flush out antagonist.)

  4. Then what are the end of act one (inciting incident), end of act two (all is lost), end of the movie (the end of the movie dang it! Do I have to spell everything out?)

    –These are your pillars to hang the rest of your story on.

  5. Fill in the rest of the story between the pillars and you have an outline.

Obviously, it’s a lot harder than this makes it sound but it is an overview of what I do.

Pitched Over -Part 1


As many of you know, I have spent the beginning of June networking and visiting friends in Los Angeles. I am exhausted but had a great time.  These posts about my trip will be part tips and part jibber jabber. Met many of my screenwriting friends from twitter in person. I was surprised at how easily our twitter relationships transferred to real life.  Those with who I have a more networking relationship, felt that way in real life as well. Same with the more playful vibe I have towards others.  Once again, I’m going to stress the importance of joining and being active on twitter.  If you are a screenwriter and are not using twitter as a networking and learning tool you are really missing out.

On June 2nd, I spent the majority of the day at The Great American Pitchfest (GAPF) in Burbank.  The night before I was still struggling to decide which of the free classes I was going to attend.* When Danny Manus posted a plea on twitter for people to help at his No Bullscript booth.  So, I attended Danny’s morning class on the first 10 pages of a script, and then went to tend his booth.  Most people who came to the booth were pleasant and had good questions. Others concerned me.  I met someone planning to pitch the next day without knowing what Final Draft was.  If you do not know what one of the main tools of screenwriting is you are not ready to be part of the business of screenwriting.  It would be like someone saying they are ready to perform surgery but have never heard of a scalpel.  You say the steak knife you used on your cat last winter worked just fine, but trust me a scalpel is better.  I know it’s hard, but calm down.  Don’t be in such a rush.  The only way it’s going to happen overnight is if you film it all by yourself in your granny’s private studio overnight.

The other strange question I got asked was if Danny got paid enough money so that he wasn’t just at GAPF to steal other people’s ideas. Now, I haven’t seen any of Danny’s financial statements but I’m sure he doesn’t go home after the Pitchfest, glue on his mustache, and laugh maniacally as he writes down everything he heard.  No matter how many times you  say no one can steal your idea, just the execution thereof, people still freak out. Even if someone did want to “steal” ideas, a place filled with mostly new writers is not the place to do it. Most of you stink at execution and ideas. That’s right. Most of you could not pay someone to steal your idea or your script. Yes, it is just that bad.  Check out the article Danny Manus wrote about GAPF to learn more about what kind of ideas were pitched.

I was lucky enough to sit with him for two hours of pitching the next day which I will go into in Part 2.

*The ability to attend multiple classes for free at GAPF is an awesome service for new writers but many of the classes were below my current skill level. I still would have attended the whole day of classes because even if 99% of the information is stuff I already know there is always something new to take away from any class.