Twitter Rant: Craig Mazin on Script Consultants

April 17th, 2015 by

Last night screenwriter Craig Mazin (The Hangover 2, Identity Theft) responded to a recent post online from a script ‘consultant’. Here is Craig’s response reprinted in its entirety by permission.

He implies that because I went to Princeton, and Princeton is really expensive, I must have had a wealthy background, ergo an advantage.

Incorrect. I attended Princeton on a combination of financial aid, scholarships, student loans and work study.

My folks were public school teachers.

He then implies that because I went to Princeton, I slid easily into a job at Disney. I wish. I did not.

My first job was through a temp agency. $20K a year to type up purchase orders at an ad agency. I didn’t know what purchase orders were.

I worked my way up from that to copywriter over the course of two years. My portfolio was what got me the job at Disney.

If his point is that I was possibly smart or something, and maybe being a little smart helps you be a screenwriter, well… Okay? And? Duh?

Look, if I were a ripoff artist, I’d tell you that you NEEDED me. Why? Because you didn’t go to the right school. Or have the right daddy.

You’d need me because you didn’t know the right people (BTW, I knew NO ONE in Los Angeles), or because you didn’t know the secret handshake.

You’d need me because people who succeeded without me were the exceptions, see? They had magic/circumstance/privileges you don’t.

Good night, and good luck to you all!

It’s like I say: You don’t need to spend a dime to learn the craft of screenwriting.

Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages. If you are diligent and persistent, that’s all you need to do.

Thanks, Craig!

Follow Craig on Twitter: @clmazin.

For the archives of all the Screenwriting Twitter Rants, go here.

Interview (Part 5): David Guggenheim (2010, 2012 Black List)

April 17th, 2015 by

David Guggenheim broke into the business in February 2010 by selling the spec script Safe House which was produced and has grossed $208M worldwide. Since that time, Guggenheim has sold two more spec scripts: “Black Box” to Universal and “Narco Sub” to 20th Century Fox, as well as the pitch “Puzzle Palace”. With several other projects in development and having made the Black List twice (2010, 2012), it’s safe to say Guggenheim is one of the hottest action-thriller screenwriters in Hollywood today.

I recently spoke with David about his background, some of his writing projects and the screenwriting craft. Today in Part 5, David digs into some specifics of the screenwriting craft:

Scott:  Let’s get into some craft questions. How do you come up with story ideas?

David:  They come from everywhere really. For example, I had read a bunch of articles about narco trafficking and reading about these narco subs, I just said “Well that’s a movie.” Right then and there I knew that’s a movie. I was going to do a story about transporting drugs on narco mini‑submarines. The concept that drug cartels had submarines blew my mind. That got me really, really excited. The idea of doing a twist on the submarine genre. “Run Silent, Run Deep” scenario but with drug lords.

Scott:  How important do you think the story concept is to the overall marketability of a spec script?”

David:  I think it’s critical for a spec script. I think you need that strong hook. I think there’s a lot of things you can get away with in other assignments that you can’t get away with in spec and vice versa. I think in a spec you need to make sure you’re hooking your reader in that first 15 pages, and that it has a strong enough concept. Because your concept it what’s going to set it apart. Because you don’t have a title like “Batman,” or you’re not based on preexisting material, you’re selling point is the concept.

Scott:  How much time do you spend on prep writing, on brainstorming, character development, plotting, research, outlining?

David:  It depends on the project.” Safe House,” didn’t require that much. It required a little bit of outlining and reconceiving the set up of the movie. But if I have a really clean set up, I feel confident that I can just go ahead and start writing it. That’s all I really need is that clean set up, because I think in action movies that’s what is the most important thing. A clean reason for why all this is happening so you can get your heroes on the road.

As far as research, I do as much as I can to make sure I have a working knowledge of the world I’m writing but if I’m feeling inspired I’ll do the research as I go or sometimes after I get a draft down. But usually I’m too excited to write, and I just want to get it down on paper and see if I have a movie there first before I actually look stuff up and realize I don’t know what I’m talking about at all.

Scott:  Do you do a formal outline when you write a script?

David:  I’ve been outlining more and more, for sure. I think definitely when you’re dealing with studios and producers, they want to see an outline. And if you’re doing a pitch, the pitch is the outline. You have to go in there and be able to say, “Here’s your first act, and here’s your second act, and this is where the movie is going to end up.” However, I don’t love pitching or writing in an outline what the action is going to happen, because I do like writing action as it’s happening. That way I’m putting myself in the shoes of the main character. It’s just as surprising to the character as it is to me, and I think that’s key to good writing.

Scott:  How do you go about developing your characters?

David: For me, it either comes out of the concept — who is the most interesting person I could drop into this specific scenario or I first start with “what type of person interests me” and build a story around them. Then I put a lot of time into the first 15 pages,so I get a really good sense of who they are and what they stand for and what they want. Then that tells me where they’re going.

Scott:  What about dialogue?

David:  Dialogue, for me again, is something I get down as quickly as possible, then go back and play with it and fix it where it needs fixing or let it lie. If you have a good enough sense of your characters, the dialogue should come easier. I’m a very instinctual writer. If I’m having a lot of trouble coming up with dialogue for a scene, I realize the dialogue is not the problem, the problem is the scene. If it’s the scene, then it’s the characters in it or the story beat.

You have to be able to be flexible and go back and say, “Alright. Why is this section not working? Why am I not writing well today?” There’s got to be a reason.

Scott:  Let’s talk about scenes. Are there some questions you ask, or think points you want to hit, when you’re writing a scene, or constructing a scene?

David:  You definitely always want a scene to have point, to be able to move the story forward and have conflict. Lately, I have been starting to write little bullet points for myself going, “This is what needs to come out of the scene. Emotionally I want this, thematically I want this, and if it’s a big plot in the scene, I want this.”  You also have to be very aware of the scene that came before it, and maybe the scene that came before that.Where’s your character in the story? If there’s a scene later on, you have to infuse the dialogue and the scene with everything that happened before it. What they’ve been through. The stuff they’re going to say now is not going to be stuff they would have said 60, 70 pages earlier.

Scott:  You mentioned theme. How do you work with theme? Do you have a working understanding of what theme is, and then how do you apply that when you’re working with a script?

David:  If you come up with a really great, strong concept, hopefully a lot of that stuff is coming together with it. It brings with it who your characters are going to be. Then…like, Air Force One goes down, OK. Well, my main character, I know, is going to have someone on that plane. Now I have that, and he’s going through the grieving process. I now know, and guess what, America’s going to be going through a grieving process. I think thematically, I’m going to make the movie about that. You never want to hit it too much on the head. It’s a balancing act, so it’s all about picking and choosing and sprinkling in the moments. Sometimes it happens organically if you’re in a good place. It does the work for you.

Tomorrow in Part 6, David delves into more aspects of the screenwriting craft.

For Part 1, go here.

For Part 2, go here.

For Part 3, go here.

For Part 4, go here.

David is repped by Paradigm and Madhouse Entertainment.

[Originally posted April 5, 2013]

Movie Trailer: “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens”

April 17th, 2015 by

Screenplay by J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan, characters by George Lucas

A continuation of the saga created by George Lucas set thirty years after Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983).


Release Date: 18 December 2015 (USA)

Are you ready for the hype machine to kick into overdrive with this movie? Check out the R2-D2 airplane. This is real, not fake:

The Star Wars-Disney nexus is going to make everything else look like mumblecore marketing.

Script Analysis: “The Grand Budapest Hotel” – Part 5: Takeaways

April 17th, 2015 by

Reading scripts. Absolutely critical to learn the craft of screenwriting. The focus of this weekly series is a deep structural and thematic analysis of each script we read. Our daily schedule:

Monday: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown
Tuesday: Major Plot Points
Wednesday: Sequences
Thursday: Psychological Journey
Friday: Takeaways

Today: Takeaways.

This week, we have been reading, analyzing, and discussing the script and movie The Grand Budapest Hotel. In some ways, today’s exercise is the whole point of the series: What did you take away from the experience of reading and analyzing the script?

Screenplay by Wes Anderson, story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness, inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig

IMDb plot summary: The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous hotel from the fictional Republic of Zubrowka between the first and second World Wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.

Writing Exercise: What did you take away from reading and analyzing the script for The Grand Budapest Hotel?

For Part 1, to read the Scene-By-Scene Breakdown created by Rob Hoskins, go here.

For Part 2, to read the Major Plot Points, go here.

For Part 3, to read the Sequences, go here.

For Part 4, to read the Psychological Journey, go here.

This series started here and we have 26 volunteers to do scene-by-scene breakdowns of contemporary movie scripts. The scripts we have already analyzed are in italics.

American Hustle: Jon Raymond
Argo: Nora Barry
Barney’s Version: John M
Belle: DaniM
Beginners: Ali
Boyhood: Jacob Jensen
Enough Said: Ali
Flight: 14Shari
Frankenwenie: Will King
Frozen: Christina Sekeris
Gone Girl: NateKohler1
Gravity: Matt Duriez
Hanna: John Arends
Lincoln: pgronk
Looper: erikledrew
Moonrise Kingdom: Daniel Bigler
Mud: Alejandro
Paranorman: OhScotty
Prisoners: Melinda Mahaffey Icden
Short Term 12: Carolina Groppa
The Artist: Traci Nell Peterson
The Grand Budapest Hotel: Rob Hoskins
The Social Network: Nick Dykal
The Way Way Back: Ricky
Wadjda: iamdaniel
Whiplash: Steven Broughton

If you’d like to participate and do a scene-by-scene breakdown yourself, please indicate which script in comments or email me. We are using scripts available on our site here. Note some of the 2014 scripts are now available there including Belle, Birdman, Boyhood, Calvary, Get On Up, Gone Girl, How To Train Your Dragon 2, Kill The Messenger, Locke, St. Vincent, The Boxtrolls, The Fault In Our Stars, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Theory of Everything, and Wild.

For new volunteers and those who have already volunteered, but not sent me a breakdown yet, please do so as soon as possible. Thanks!

Circling back to where we started, reading scripts is hugely important. Analyzing them even more so. If you want to work in Hollywood as a writer, you need to develop your critical analytical skills. This is one way to do that.

So seize this opportunity and join in the conversation!

I hope to see you in comments about this week’s script: The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Movie Trailer: “Dirty Weekend”

April 17th, 2015 by

Written by Neil LaBute

Colleagues Les and Natalie are delayed in the Albuquerque airport. Restless, irritated, and unable to stand the service workers he meets at every turn, Les heads downtown. Natalie refuses to leave his side and discovers that his supposedly aimless wandering has more of a point than he is willing to admit. Natalie conceals secrets of her own, though neither can keep them quiet for long. A rapport grows between this unlikely pair, and soon they search out a spark of excitement in this most unlikely of locales.


Release Date: 19 April 2015 (USA)

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month — Day 17

April 17th, 2015 by

This is the sixth year in a row I’ve run this series in April.

Today: Scientists have found that memories may be passed down through generations in our DNA.

New research from Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, has shown that it is possible for some information to be inherited biologically through chemical changes that occur in DNA. During the tests they learned that that mice can pass on learned information about traumatic or stressful experiences – in this case a fear of the smell of cherry blossom – to subsequent generations.

According to the Telegraph, Dr Brian Dias, from the department of psychiatry at Emory University, said: ”From a translational perspective, our results allow us to appreciate how the experiences of a parent, before even conceiving offspring, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations.

“Such a phenomenon may contribute to the etiology and potential intergenerational transmission of risk for neuropsychiatric disorders such as phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

This suggests that experiences are somehow transferred from the brain into the genome, allowing them to be passed on to later generations.

Okay-okay-okay. This may be a TV series concept. What if there’s a woman. She’s a 10th generation cop-sleuth-private investigator. Family tradition working law enforcement. And somehow, either naturally or through some external means (cool ass machine?) she is able to delve into the ‘memories’ of her ancestors within her own DNA to explore unsolved cases?

She can bring modern technology to bear on unsolved murders from the 1700s. Or the theft of $10M worth of gold in the 1800s. Hell, I Googled “unsolved crimes history” and immediately came up with this:

I’m sure there are a ton of cases in the public domain to use as source material for episodes.

But wait. What if our Protagonist’s meddling into cases in the past catches the attention of some sort of secret society which has a long history of criminal activity? So there is this malevolent Nemesis activity going on with an overarching plot, a longtime conspiracy of global proportions. And they want our Hero taken out.

So… you’ve got case of the week. The meta mystery. And the hook: Mystery Memories.

Anything there? Huh huh?

There you go: My seventeenth story idea for the month. And it’s yours. Free!

What would you do with it?

Each day this month, I invite you to join me in comments to do some brainstorming. Gender bend, genre bend, what if. Take each day’s story idea and see what it can become when we play around with it. These are all valuable skills for a writer to develop.

See you in comments (hit Reply to join the conversation). And come back tomorrow for another Story Idea Each Day For A Month.

Daily Dialogue — April 17, 2015

April 17th, 2015 by

“I have to believe in a world outside my own mind. I have to believe that my actions still have meaning, even if I can’t remember them. I have to believe that when my eyes are closed, the world’s still there. Do I believe the world’s still there? Is it still out there?… Yeah. We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we are. I’m no different.”

Memento (2000), screenplay by Christopher Nolan, short story by Jonathan Nolan

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Amnesia.

Trivia: The medical condition experienced by Leonard in this film is a real condition called Anterograde Amnesia – the inability to form new memories after damage to the hippocampus. During the 1950s, doctors treated some forms of epilepsy by removing parts of the temporal lobe, resulting in the same memory problems.

Dialogue On Dialogue: One of the most fascinating treatments of amnesia in movie history.

If you have have a suggestion for this week’s theme, please post in comments.

Wrangling your story

April 16th, 2015 by

Some call it breaking a story. Others cracking a story. I prefer wrangling a story. Whatever you call it, you have to do it… figure out the story. What goes where. Who does what to whom. And for most writers, the ideal time to do that work is before you type FADE IN.

What we call prep-writing.

Of the many things that can go wrong with a screenplay, perhaps the most frequent contributor to a project’s crash-and-burn is the writer not spending enough time in prep wrangling their story.

Conversely if you do spend sufficient time in the prep-writing phase of the process, you significantly increase the chances you’ll not only finish your script, but produce a draft that will be much closer to realizing your goals.


When Tom Benedek and I launched Screenwriting Master Class nearly four years ago, the very first class we offered was Prep: From Concept To Outline. I created the workshop precisely because I believe so strongly in the value of prep-writing combined with the fact there is nothing out there remotely close to the approach I had in mind.

Prep: From Concept To Outline is a 6-week online workshop in which you start with your basic idea and your story’s Protagonist, then through a series of weekly writing exercises, you develop and build your story’s structure. Not just the plot, but also what’s going on in the emotional and psychological world of your story universe, the foundation of Character Based Screenwriting.

Character work. Brainstorming. Plotting. Subplots. Connecting the dots. Mapping your narrative. Weekly teleconferences where we workshop your story. In the end, you have a detailed outline providing you a foundation upon which you can craft a first draft.

What’s more, you can adopt this approach — and adapt it to your own unique skills — for every future writing project.

Tom will be leading the next session of Prep beginning Monday, April 20. So if you have a good idea for a movie and want to learn a professional approach to wrangle it, sign up now for Prep: From Concept To Outline.

If you have any questions about the workshop or what we offer online through SMC, please post in comments or email me.

Interview (Part 4): David Guggenheim (2010, 2012 Black List)

April 16th, 2015 by

David Guggenheim broke into the business in February 2010 by selling the spec script Safe House which was produced and has grossed $208M worldwide. Since that time, Guggenheim has sold two more spec scripts: “Black Box” to Universal and “Narco Sub” to 20th Century Fox, as well as the pitch “Puzzle Palace”. With several other projects in development and having made the Black List twice (2010, 2012), it’s safe to say Guggenheim is one of the hottest action-thriller screenwriters in Hollywood today.

I recently spoke with David about his background, some of his writing projects and the screenwriting craft. Today in Part 4, David reveals some tips about writing action scenes and sequences, and talks about what it was like to make the Black List:

Scott:  It seems to me one of the biggest challenges for writers of action or action-thriller movies has got to be, how to come up with fresh ways to do action.

David:  Oh, for sure, yeah.

Scott:  How do you do that?

David: One of the tricks is coming up with location first. That can help dictate what the action’s going to be. The other thing is really about who is involved in the action, because they’re going to dictate how the action can happen. Like I said, if you have a main character who’s never been in an action scene, you can’t give them a Bourne‑style action scene, because only Bourne can do the stuff that Bourne does.

Obviously, for the sake of the read, you want the action to jump off the page as much as possible, but what’s more important than the actual choreography is to come up a fresh way figuring out how the characters got into the action scene in the first place and how they get out of it. Because once you have those beats you can then play with the action inside the scene. You can reconceive it, and reconceive, and reconceive it and it won’t change anything that happens before or after the story.

David: My advice for action writers isn’t to sweat the action, Make it fun, but remember the director’s going to come up with amazing ideas how to do an action scene, or the choreographer’s going to come up with some great ideas or turns out the location where the script was set, we can’t get there, so we have to improvise and come up with something else entirely.

Scott:  Let’s talk about the Black List. You’ve made it twice. What has that experience been like?

David:  Unbelievably humbling and I’m honored by it. It was unbelievable. The first time, I couldn’t’ believe it. I thought it was just the coolest thing, because as an up‑and‑coming writer, you want to get on the Black List. You should aspire to write a script that people really love and that they remember. When I’d heard, I couldn’t believe it. Then with “Black Box,” it was just really special as well because I really love spec writing, so it’s nice to get acknowledged for that.

Scott:  Did you follow along when Franklin [Leonard] was tweeting all the people this year, or how did you learn that you were on the Black List?

David: Alexa Faigen at Scott Stuber’s company. She was the executive producer on Safe House and one of the producers on “Black Box,” and she emailed me. Again, I was shocked.

Scott:  At this point, I assume you could go up for virtually any writing assignment. Yet you still like writing spec scripts. What’s the appeal of a spec script?

David:  I just personally get so much more satisfaction from coming up with my own concepts and selling them, working on them, than I do taking on an assignment. That’s not to say I’ll never take on an assignment. I’ve actually been thinking a lot about doing that lately but as long as I can come up with ideas and write them and sell them, and get them into a place where the movies could get made, I hope to do that.

Scott:  Do you have any desire to write outside the action or action/thriller genres?

David:  Absolutely. But I’m not as fearless as other people so I’m probably gonna stay in the genre a little longer — but try to evolve within it. For example, Safe House was an intense chase movie whereas this script I set up, Narco Sub, with the late great Tony Scott was a submarine drug thriller. So they’re both action movies, but with different action.

Scott: How about directing? Any interest?

David:  Oh God no. No. After seeing people do it, they’re like superheroes to me.  Just watching how many things they have to juggle, I just don’t think I could do that. I don’ think I have the confidence to be a director. I like doing what I’m doing. I like being the writer.

Scott:  What about TV?

David:  I did a pilot two years ago and it was one of the greatest experience I ever had. Unfortunately, the thing with me is that I’m based in New York so I can’t really commute to LA to work on a show.  I still love coming up with ideas for shows and breaking stories for shows, but I’m not skilled enough to make a lot of what I like to do producible on a TV schedule.

Tomorrow in Part 5, David digs into some specifics of the screenwriting craft.

For Part 1, go here.

For Part 2, go here.

For Part 3, go here.

David is repped by Paradigm and Madhouse Entertainment.

[Originally posted April 4, 2013]

Hollywood Tales

April 16th, 2015 by

The famous ending of “The Graduate,” for example, came about because as it came time to film the scene where Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross get on the bus, Mr. Nichols found himself growing unaccountably irritable. “I told Dustin and Katharine, ‘Look, we’ve got traffic blocked for 20 blocks, we’ve got a police escort, we can’t do this over and over. Get on the bus and laugh, God damn it.’ I remember thinking, What the hell is wrong with me? I’ve gone nuts. The next day I looked at what we’d shot and went, ‘Oh my God, here’s the end of the movie: they’re terrified.’ My unconscious did that. I learned it as it happened.”

— Mike Nichols (NY Times, 4/12/09)