Category Archives: Screenwriting

One Fish Always Breaks the First Night

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The longer I’m on twitter the more screenwriters I meet, both established and brand new.  Sometimes it astounds me how little the newbies know.  Instead of doling out resources 140 characters at a time I’m going to send them to this post.  I will update this post whenever there is something else I think they should look at.

NONE OF THE FOLLOWING IS GOING TO MAKE YOU A WRITE A GREAT SCREENPLAY but hopefully they will make you better.  If you read, pay attention, and practice they will help you understand screenplays and screenwriting better.

For more experienced screenwriters reading this, please let me know if there is something I should add.

Internet Resources

http://screenwriting.io/ is a search engine just for basic questions about screenwriting.

http://johnaugust.com/ has a ton of information about screenwriting from a current working screenwriter’s perspective.

http://www.deadline.com/hollywood/ is an online news magazine on what’s happening in the business of film and television.

http://www.scriptmag.com/ has information, advice, news and listings of events, all geared toward  screenwriters.

http://www.wga.org/ to learn about the union you will have to join if you become successful.

http://gointothestory.blcklst.com/ By far my favorite internet resource is Go Into the Story which is the official blog of The Black List. (If you don’t know what The Black List is you must go to their website and click the about button.) Lessons on everything from dialogue to taking meetings can be found in the archives of this blog.  Start with this post and go on from there.

One of the greatest things I ever did for my screenwriting career is taking Jeanne Veillette Bowerman’s  Breaking in Outside of Hollywood webinar.  She opened the world of internet networking to me.

For Scripts

http://www.imsdb.com/

http://www.mypdfscripts.com/

https://www.wgfoundation.org/screenwriting-library for info on visiting the Writer’s Guild Foundation script library

Networking Sites

On twitter, I would recommend following a mix of established screenwriters and struggling artists like yourself.  Also screenwriting information feeds are great.

Here is a short list of @’s that regularly post advice or news to follow.

@Gointothestory @Jeannevb @Stage32online @johnaugust @thescriptlab @screenwritingU @theblcklst @scriptshadow

@scriptquack @LaFamiliaFilm @FluideyeFilms @onthepage @networkISA @writersguildF @scriptmag @bittrscrptreadr

@dannymanus @xanderbennett @unkscreenwriter

Books to Read

The Save the Cat books focus on making marketable Hollywood movies. Personally, I think Save the Cat is interesting but it doesn’t give the specificity and practical applications of its two sequels.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_12?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=save+the+cat&sprefix=save+the+cat%2Caps%2C193

The Syd Field books are older but still talked about because of their focus on three act structure. The Screenwriter’s Workbook was my very first screenwriting book and did help me understand what all the other books were talking about.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_12?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=save+the+cat&sprefix=save+the+cat%2Caps%2C193#/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=syd+field&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Asyd+field

Robert McKee’s Story is another staple in the industry.  Though most of the examples in the book are from movies Story is a book that does not focus on screenwriting exclusively but storytelling of every kind.  There is a lot of controversy over Robert McKee’s Story Seminar.  It’s a very expensive four day lecture with some audience participation.  I say if you have the money go.  I have attended and liked it very much. The first day is a  review of the concepts in the book and the following days are lots of knowledge.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_12?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=save+the+cat&sprefix=save+the+cat%2Caps%2C193#/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_3_11?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=robert+mckee+story&sprefix=robert+mcke%2Caps%2C220&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Arobert+mckee+story

 

Writers as Real as their Characters

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This week, there’s been a flurry of writers who have shown that they are not lost in the facades that Hollywood is so great at creating.

I’m only going to highlight three of these writers ’cause I’m stingy that way.

Much like a kid, it usually takes about eight years before aspiring screenwriters really have a grasp on something of the industry world and their place in it.  We need advice. We need guidance. We need to know that there are people out there who believe in us and want us to do our best.

First, as the 2012 Newhouse Convocation Speaker, Danny Zuker, Executive Producer and writer on Modern Family, lays down Seven Rules from the Writer’s Room.

Listen to his entire speech here.   When in doubt about how to be successful or at least how not to stand out in a bad way apply these simple rules to all Hollywood jobs and life in general.

  1. Smell Pleasant (have good hygiene)
  2. Don’t be a Jerk
  3. Be The Hero (volunteer to go the extra mile)
  4. Don’t Pitch Problems without Pitching Solutions.
  5. Sometimes it’s OK to be Silent (take time to listen if you’re not contributing)
  6. Don’t get Married to Your Own Ideas
  7. No Clams Ever (have original ideas/take risks)

Second, Aaron Sorkin was the speaker at Syracuse University’s commencement.  His speech, which you can find here, was a little bit harder to summarize.

  • He teaches that you are just at the beginning.  You will fail but you must get back up again.  Even if you have strayed a long time, you can have a fresh start if you are not afraid to try.
  • Your life experiences are precious and you will use lessons from those experiences throughout your life.
  • Take risks, dare to fail.
  • Lift the human spirit by tolerance, kindness, and respect.
  • How you live matters.

Both of these writers hit on some of the same points.  Take risks.  Be a nice person.  The third writer I’m going to talk about is doing just that.

Scott Myers made an announcement this week that you can read here.  The Quest is a 24-week Screenwriting Master Class intensive in which four lucky aspiring screenwriters will get to attend for free.  This is an amazing thing for screenwriters as he is teaching and becoming a mentor and intermediary to the industry to four people.  He is risking his time, his connections, and his finances.  Why? Because he wanted to give more people an opportunity to succeed.  He’s being a good person.

To fully comprehend what The Quest could mean to the aspiring screenwriting community please take a look at the article that Bitter Script Reader wrote about it.

There are relatively few people who make it in this industry.  To have those that do share their knowledge is a great thing.  We thank you.

****UPDATE: ANOTHER WRITER WITH ANOTHER ADDRESS WITH A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE****

Neil Gaiman’s Commencement address to the University of the Arts is a little different perspective for students of all kinds.

http://gointothestory.blcklst.com/2012/05/neil-gaiman-commencement-address.html

Power Don’t Come from a Penis

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Deutsch: Symbol der Frauenpower (Geballte Faus...

This isn’t my regular post for the week but I wanted to post the comment that I made on Go Into the Story’s Blog on Part Two of Heroine’s in film.  Heck, I took so much time on it I gotta post it here.  It makes me feel like I was working that way. (Part One and Part Three are also attached.)

jwindh- I’d have to disagree with your comment: “[I’d] say that Alien’s Ripley and SOTL’s Clarice are very much “male” hero stories where the protagonist is female. I would say mostly the same with Katniss, too – although the maternal feelings she has for her sister are very “feminine” (but still not really any different from any tough male hero who still has a soft spot for protecting “women and children”).”

I don’t believe that being an action hero as opposed to a social hero makes a woman’s journey a male one. One of the things I loved about Katniss in the books is she had absolutely no desire to have a child.  That did not make her a male personality but someone who recognizes the limitations of the world around them.  She loves kids so much she would not bring one into that world.  Everything she does is either based in caring or on surviving.  She’s spent her life doing both so she has an extremely clear perspective of what those things mean and how best to do them.

Noting Clarice’s journey as an example of a male hero’s story is a shock to me.  Picture a man relating the major thematic monologue explaining what happened to the lambs on the farm.  In our culture, a man imparting a tear filled childhood memory like that would be thought of differently.  Would Hannibal even be interested in that story from a man?  Wouldn’t it make him dismiss the man as weak instead of as an intimate exchange that makes him feel closer to Clarice?

As to Ripley, I spent my senior paper in college analyzing the first three Alien movies as different stages of womanhood.  I have 15 pages to argue that Ripley is a woman and those movies can be seen as a vehicle for a woman. It bothers me when people say that when someone out of the mainstream vision of that thing (i.e. a white male) is taking over a positive characteristic they are emulating the representation of that characteristic, instead of that characteristic. Even if I speak the King’s English and listen to Tyler Swift I am still going to be black.  In no way, shape, or form, does that change my skin color or the experiences I have had as a black person.  If I beat up a bunch of guys and jump off a building that does not make me a man.  All the things and experiences that make me a woman will still be there.

Think of Trinity in The Matrix. She’s been through just as much as Neo has.  She’s even kicked more butt than Neo.  With the exception of the last minutes she is the major bad ass.  Yet we do not say she has a male story because in the end she is deferential to and in love with a man.  Is that what it takes for a bad ass woman to keep people seeing her story as female one?  I hope not.

I’m Gonna Knock the Listening Into Ya

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Hello, fellow aspiring screenwriters!  I want to save you.  You may say, “Save me? I’m not stuck in a well. Lassie is sitting right next to me happily licking his balls.” (I know Lassie’s a girl, work with me.)  I’m going to save your writing from yourself.  Too many of us don’t listen.  We’re too busy defending our feelings, or vision, or self-esteem about our very existence as a creative being.  Stop it!  This is not your baby.  It did not come out of your cooch or the cooch you stuck yourself in for a minute.  You don’t sell your baby to have other people put their DNA in it, raise it, then decide when and if it gets to live a full and complete life.  If you do, you should be reported to social services immediately.

First things first.  You are a screenwriter.  The very definition says your script ain’t yours.  If you sell it, you no longer own it.  The decisions about it won’t be yours anymore.  They could pay you for it, then sit on it so it never sees the light of day.  Or rush it through production in a half ass way to make sure they don’t miss out on what’s hot now.  If you are lucky enough to get your script produced through a major studio it’s going to go through so many hands you might not recognize it when it finally shows up at your local multiplex.  So relax!  Enjoy the freedom of this time of infinite possibilities.

Now you may be asking why you should listen to me because I’ve never sold a script either.  You forget.  Your colleagues down here in the trenches read the worst scripts in the world.  That’s right, those poor readers who have to read crappy scripts until their eyes bleed still get to read a (presumably) better draft than the one you give your friends and colleagues.   We take time out of our lives and writing to help you.  Be grateful and listen to what we have to say.  I’m not saying you have to use the notes we give, but you do need to listen to them.

I suggest to all screenwriter’s do not defend your script as a response to notes.  Ask questions.  That’s right, make that generous person do more work.  If the person says I hated this line or loved that one ask them why.  If they say they saw something there that wasn’t, ask them why they said that.  Maybe they just wrote the notes in an abbreviated form and they can point you to the exact part of the script that gave them that impression.  If you get the impression that they missed a major plot point in the script ask them if they saw that part in the script.  If they say no, ask them why.  I wrote a short that takes place in a grocery store and it’s parking lot.  Inside the store, the protagonist picks up an item that is the center of the twist and brings the entire script together.  One out of every five people who read it said they didn’t understand where that item came from.  I found out by asking questions that it was buried in the description of the other things in the grocery store and they glazed over it.  I had been worried that if I highlighted this item the surprise of the twist would be ruined, but by not calling attention to it, I lost that moment all together with a great percentage of my readers.  I would have never known that I needed to bring this out if I didn’t ask why they didn’t see it instead of just saying it was in the script and they were stupid to miss it.

People who are reading your scripts may be happy, sad, frustrated, excited, confused, or just plain bored.  They are also generous and want to help you.  If you ask questions, not only will you know why they gave the notes they did, but you will also know how much stock you should put in their notes by their answers.  Above all, even if you don’t use a syllable of their notes, that person will feel like they have been heard and their time was not wasted.  This will lead to them giving you the greatest gift a rising writer can get.  They will be willing to read for you again.

I’d love it for you to tell me your stories about your adventures giving notes and any suggestions you have for the writers getting them.

More Stories than the Empire State Building

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A date once asked me what my favorite thing in life was.  My standard survival tactic for all small talk is to answer and then repeat the question back to the person asking.  As I was hoping he didn’t notice my parrot like tactics, he said his favorite thing was stories.  My world lit up like tin foil in a conventional microwave.  Of course!  I don’t remember what my answer was but it was lame compared to this and I immediately wanted to take it back.  Stories are the only thing that I can remember on a regular basis.  If you asked me to write a history book from memory it would be light on all the names and dates we were supposed to memorize in school but you’d have enough stories to wallow around in ’til the pigs came home.  (Yes, I did say pigs.  As far as I know cows don’t wallow, and since I eat beef, but not pork, the cows might never come home.) I’m not sure I like stories as much as Kristen Bell likes sloths but then again, I’m not sure I like anything as much as that.

Stories have taken a prominent position in my mind this week because I’m taking Scott Myers’ (@GoIntotheStory on Twitter) Prep: From Concept to Outline class.  As I wrestle near infinite possibilities down to a single narrative, I’ve been thinking about how the telling of a story with the same basic facts can change the meaning and message.  I was listening to NPR’s Talk of the Nation interview with Rez Life author, David Treuer, and he said something extraordinary.  What if we don’t talk about Indian reservations in a negative light all the time?  What if instead we talk about reservations as having a surplus of everything?  A surplus of everything from community to poverty.  (See an excerpt from the book and listen to the interview in a tiny link next to his picture here.)  Another book, How to be Black by Baratunde Thurston poses the hypothesis that if blacks in the US had a program, like Greek and Jewish kids have Greek School and Jewish School, where we can celebrate our history we might feel new pride and possibilities in being black.  With my current crusade to give the black kids in my former junior high some hope, (see last weeks post) I realize how I frame the story of African-American history could be the difference between a life of opportunity and one of hopelessness for some of these kids.

As a writer, I am a storyteller.  A storyteller has the power of shaping history, reporting the present, and dreaming the future.  Choose the stories you tell with care fellow storytellers, the telling of them is what makes them real.

What a One Figure Writer Gets from Six Figure Advice.

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I came across the Scriptnotes podcast hosted by John August and Craig Mazin about two weeks ago.  Since then I have listened to all of their podcasts and have gained something from each one of them.   When sitting down to listen to this week’s podcast, on how to be a six figure screenwriter, I was prepared to tuck all the valuable information away for the day that I might be lucky enough to need it.   Then I was struck by the realization that this applies to my life now.  Not the lessons on incorporating yourself, or on the positives and negatives of having a business manager, those are still far from my experience.  But when Craig said that some people look around and say, ‘did I just waste 15 years of my life in a panic?’ I looked at myself.

The business of screenwriting gives me palpitations.  I’m confident that I am a really good writer, but I spend way too much time thinking how to break into that world.  I worry what those who could give me access to a screenwriting career think or feel about this or that?  I worry if I can even get my scripts read.  When I come in contact with them, are they going to think that I am too loud, too quiet, too happy (yes, someone actually said that) if I’m myself?  I’ve even posted about how social networking makes me nervous because I’m not  in total control over who sees my posts.  What if they dislike something I wrote?   Will it affect my future?  I’m wasting my life worrying about this crap.

From now on, I’ll treat my screenwriting career like I do relationships.  I’m just going to be me.  If I’m not who you want, then I don’t want you.  There is someone else out there that will recognize what a wonderful addition that I would make in their life, and even if I never find that person I’m going to be happy having adventures on my own.

So, even though the one figure in my screenwriting career is a zero, only because I refuse to acknowledge negative numbers, I needed the podcast Six Figure Advice.  Thank you John August and Craig Mazin.  I’ll see you soon…or not.