Prep: From Concept to Outline: “It works!”

July 25th, 2016 by

By now, most of you know I have accepted an offer to become an assistant professor at the School of Cinematic Arts at DePaul University. In the near term that means…

The Prep: From Concept to Outline workshop which begins August 8 is the last time I will teach this class until summer 2017.

If you’ve ever thought about working with me in this unique workshop which I created and have taught with great success over the last 5+ years, this is the time.

I love teaching it because I find it exciting to dig into a new batch of stories and because the process we use can have a transformational effect on writers, which is a wonderful thing to behold. For example, here is an email sent to me from Dawn LeFever who worked with me in the Prep workshop in October-November 2014:

Hey Scott –

Hope you and your family are well. I know you are about to begin another prep course and I thought I’d give you a little insight you might want to share with your new students.

Since taking the course last year at this time, I not only wrote the script I prepped in class, but have written three more since then, having just completed the first draft of the third one yesterday. I LOVE this process and it feels really organic to me.

Every time I begin a new project, I pull out my notebook with the reading assignments and work through the process just as we did in class. I sort of begin the brainstorming list from day one and just add to it whenever anything comes to me while working through the process. I also use note cards before going to outline because it helps me with pacing.

Then, when I’m writing, I have both my script and my outline on my screen and just write away, checking back at the outline to stay on track. More than a few times, as I’m writing, I think about a line of dialog or an action and then look back at my outline and realize what I have in the outline is much better than what was occurring to me in the moment.

At other times, while writing, I will find ways to weave moments in the script that foreshadow what happens later, because I know what’s coming thanks to the thorough prep process.

In other words, as you say, I do truly break the story in prep, which makes the writing so much easier and (hopefully) deeper and richer. I easily knock out 10 pages a day with this process.

I know there are as many different ways to approach writing as there are writers, but, for me, your process makes everything click and, even more, allows me to get really excited to finally sit down and write.

In the past year, I have had some encouraging responses – I was in the top 15% of the Nicholl Fellowship screenplays and was in the top 50 for the ISA Fast Track Fellowship. I made the quarter finals for the Screencrafting Comedy Competition with two scripts (One of them a rewritten version of Smoker’s Choice).

So… forging ahead and having a blast!

Thanks again for everything and tell the folks IT WORKS!!!

All the best,
Dawn

When Tom Benedek and I launched Screenwriting Master Class over 5 years ago, the very first course I created was Prep: From Concept to Outline. Why? Because no one else was teaching story prep for screenwriting. That struck me as crazy because most professional screenwriters I know and all TV writers break their story in prep.

Since 2010, I have led over 20 online sessions of Prep and worked privately with dozens of writers. The response has been almost universally like the sentiments expressed by Dawn above.

I literally tell writers at the beginning of every Prep workshop: “If you do the work… it works.”

In fact, Christian Contreras whose script “LAbyrinth” made the 2015 Black List is a Screenwriting Master Class alumnus, having taken this same Prep class with me back in 2014. Verity Colquhoun, an Australian writer who did a private one-on-one version of my Prep class in 2011, let me know the script she wrote (“Wonderful Unknown”) just landed a director and is slated to go into production this fall. And just last week, David Broyles, who participated in the very first Prep workshop I led back in 2010, was named as one of 25 Screenwriters to Watch in 2016 by the Austin Film Festival. I emailed David to congratulate him. He sent back a note with this comment about Prep: From Concept to Outline: “I loved that workshop!”

It’s not magic. It’s just a proven, professional approach to develop your story, stage by stage, from concept all the way to outline, beat sheet, or treatment, whichever you prefer.

Writing Scrabble

Consider joining my next session of Prep. But whether you take a class with me or not, it’s imperative you learn some sort of approach to story prep.

Can you imagine routinely writing 10 pages per day? Can you imagine being able to write 3 full-length screenplays in a year? Can you imagine actually enjoying the page-writing process?

As Dawn suggests, all of that can happen if you wrangle your story before you type FADE IN.

To check out the Prep: From Concept to Outline workshop which begins August 8, go here.

Remember: This is the last time I will be offering a session of this workshop until summer 2017.

Onward!

Interview (Part 1): Nijla Mu’min

July 25th, 2016 by

Nijla Mu’min is a young filmmaker who recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign for a feature length movie project Jinn, a coming of age story which received support and endorsements from notable people in the film world including Ava DuVernay, Salim Akil, and Franklin Leonard. Here is a description of Jinn:

Jinn is a “sweet & serious” dramedy about a carefree black girl, Summer, whose world is turned upside down when her mother converts to Islam, sending her on a quest for self-definition. It’s a fun, fresh exploration of identity, Islam, millennial culture, and new media. The story is loosely drawn from Nijla‘s upbringing and explores religious interpretation and shifting family dynamics.

In addition to Jinn, the script for Noor, another project by Mu’min, has received numerous accolades including Best Screenplay, Urbanworld 2014 and Finalist, Tribeca All-Access 2016. Nijla was selected to workshop her story as part of the 2014 Sundance Screenwriters Intensive.

Mumin 2

As a longtime fan of indie films as an outlet for new voices to give expression to stories involving diverse subcultures, I was happy to reach out to Nijla for an email Q&A.

I see from your background, you have ventured into creative expression in a number of different platforms: poetry, photography, short fiction, dance, and film criticism. How did you find your way into filmmaking?

I was always telling stories, whether it was through my early poetry as a pre-teen, or my documentary photography as a junior at UC Berkeley. I recently returned to my father’s home in Oakland and rediscovered a thick binder of poems that I’d written when I was younger. While some of the poems make me laugh with their intentional rhyme patterns and word choice, they also help me understand my own trajectory as an artist. I have always been concerned with the personal, emotional core of life. My first poems were about my own struggles. Filmmaking was really a natural progression for me, because I’d been telling stories through writing and images for years before I became a filmmaker.

Could you name two movies which have influenced you creatively and why?

I saw Spike Lee’s film Malcolm X when I was 10 years old, with my father and siblings, at the historic Grand Lake Theater in Oakland. The theater was packed and my father brought fish sandwiches and raspberry Hansen’s sodas to eat and drink while watching the film. Throughout the movie, the audience cried, clapped, screamed, yelled and responded in ways that I’d never experienced up to that point. I was a black history nerd growing up, always reading biographies about Bessie Coleman, Malcolm X, and Mary Mcleod Bethune to name a few. This film was the living embodiment of some of the books I’d read, and it made me so proud to be African American. It also showed me, at a young age, the power that cinema could have on its audience. I was swept into this world by Denzel’s performance, the music, and Spike Lee’s direction. It remains one of my favorite films, and biopics.

I also really love Head-on, directed by Fatih Akin. It’s a German-Turkish film that I found while browsing Netflix years ago, about two people- a self-destructive, alcoholic widower and an equally self-destructive, free-spirited young woman who agree to an arranged marriage, and in the midst of their differences, actually come to love one another. It’s raw, painful, and warm. These flawed people smile, dance, and cry while trying to let go of their old habits. It’s also about the restoration of Turkish identity and culture into one of the character’s lives, and how this romance rekindles his national identity.

I love history, romance, and family relationships in film. These are elements that continually inform my own screenwriting. and I refer to these films and others for inspiration.

You’re obtained a B.A. from UC Berkeley and have done graduate work in the Howard University MFA Program as well as the dual-degree MFA program at CalArts in both Film Directing and Writing. Two questions. First, how do you feel your formal education has helped you develop as a creative and storyteller? Second, if someone were to ask you, “Given the cost involved, should I consider going to film school or not,” what would you say?

I consider my time at UC Berkeley and Howard to be invaluable to my growth as a writer, critical thinker, and creator. At UC Berkeley, I was really fortunate to have some amazing professors, mentors, and friends who pushed me to question accepted ideologies, to debate current events and issues, and to be unapologetic about my desire for knowledge and social justice. As a mass communications major, I had classes about how to decode and deconstruct the intended messages of popular advertising for Nike and Dove Beauty Products. We studied semiotics, and my professors encouraged us to be media literate, understanding coded news programming, journalistic bias, and their roles in how we consume information.

One of my first film classes was an Ethnic Studies Documentary course, taught by Loni Ding, which was focused on making interventionist media that complicated mainstream ideals and allowed marginalized groups of people to speak their truth. I was also a part of a Poetry collective called Poetry For The People, founded by the late writer and activist June Jordan. Over the course of my undergraduate career, I learned about the many cultural traditions of poetry- Arab poetry, Chicano/ Mexican poetry, and African American poetry. I taught and lectured workshops about personal expression through poetry, and built an alliance of intercultural support and understanding with my fellow writers in this program.

At Howard University, I was immersed in the study of black filmmakers like Julie Dash, Charles Burnett, and Ousmane Sembene. We also watched early American film classics like Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, and Imitation of Life, lauding their depth, but also critiquing their treatments of race, and of black characters, who were often placed in the films to serve the main white protagonist. One of my favorite classes, Third Cinema, was taught by Haile Gerima.

Deluge

Nijla Mu’min, directing on set

These experiences have definitely impacted the kind of storyteller and filmmaker that I am. I am interested in stories about people and communities that are often maligned, ignored, or misrepresented. I am interested in their internal lives, their secrets, and their laughter.

My thoughts on film school have evolved over the years. There was a point in my life where going to film school was one of the most important things to me. I devoted so much time and energy to submitting my applications, getting rejected, getting accepted, and ultimately learning that film school is really what you make it. It’s a place to discover your voice as a filmmaker, and take advantage of the equipment that is available to you. It’s a chance to build community and relationships with your colleagues and support one another. I attended two film schools- Howard University, before transferring to CalArts, and had two very different experiences in each school.

I do think film school is valuable for increasing your knowledge and skills as a filmmaker, but I also know that you can do that by working on film sets as a production assistant, reading screenwriting books, shadowing directors, or just writing and making short films on your phone or camera. This industry is heavily based on experience, and film school is not required if you have the relevant experience and know how to do the job. I will say that working as a PA on Ava DuVernay’s film Middle of Nowhere, was just as valuable to my education as a film student as going to a class in film school. I got to experience the making of an independent feature film, rather than talk or theorize about it. There’s something special and beautiful about that.

I also think there’s certain things that some film schools can’t really prepare you for- surviving day to day while trying to make films, navigating shady con artists who want to steal your scripts and pressure you to sign contracts, raising money for independent films- these are all things I learned on the ground, sometimes in painful ways. I often look back to my film school experience and wish there was as much emphasis placed on the business of filmmaking, as there was placed on directing and film history.

You have written and directed numerous short films including Deluge and Dream, both of which have won awards and played at festivals. What are some of the benefits of just going out and making short films?

Short films allow you to hone your vision and craft as a director. I always look at my short films as single chapters to a larger, more epic novel that I am creating. Short films also allow you make mistakes, while getting at the distinct qualities that will come to define your style as a filmmaker. When I rewatch some of my short films, I think of things I would’ve done differently, but I am also in awe of the creative risks I took, such as choreographing a scene in which several black mermaids swim through a stream, and confront a teen girl. Watching that scene, I recall how we raced against the setting sun, losing light with each take, as I held back tears and tried with all my might to get the perfect performance from my cast. This short film really challenged me. Those challenges inform my knowledge and growth as I embark on my first feature film.

To read more about Nijla and her movie project Jinn:

Bio

Kickstarter

How We Raised $27,000 on Kickstarter for a Film About Black Teen Identity, First Love and Islam (Filmmaker)

My Struggle Being a Black Woman Filmmaker Outside White Hollywood (Vice)

Tomorrow in Part 2 of the interview, Nijla goes into detail about her movie Jinn.

UPDATE: Writer-Director Nijla Mu’min Selected for Panavision New Filmmaker Program.

“Conversations With Wilder”: Part 16

July 25th, 2016 by

Billy Wilder is my all-time favorite filmmaker. Consider just some of his movies: Double Indemnity (1944), Sunset Blvd. (1950), Stalag 17 (1953), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), Some Like It Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960), an oeuvre that demonstrates an incredible range in a filmmaking career that went from 1929 to 1981.

One of the best books on filmmaking and storytelling is “Conversations With Wilder” in which Cameron Crowe, a fantastic filmmaker in his own right (Say Anything, Singles, Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous) sat down with Wilder for multiple hours and they talked movie s.

This month, a series of posts featuring excerpts from “Conversations With Wilder” along with my reflections and takeaways from the words of this great filmmaker.

I trust this will be a good learning experience for each of us and while we’re at it, why don’t we watch some Wilder movies to remind ourselves what a master storyteller he was.

Today’s excerpt comes from P. 113-115 in which Wilder discusses romantic comedies, leading men and small stories:

CC: What do you think of modern romantic comedies?

BW: I laugh consistently–when I’m able to add up two plus two. They don’t make as many comedies anymore because it’s too much dialogue. They like to have action. Certain comedies, they still make them quite good. For instance, your stuff is very good. But this is an exception, that one can make a picture like this. I enjoy Robin Williams…Sleepless in Seattle [1993] was first-rate. My favorite picture of the last few years is still Forrest Gump [1994].

CC: Here’s a popular theory about why modern romantic comedy has suffered. In today’s culture, with the reduction of class and racial distinctions, there are fewer dramatic barriers to keep couples apart. How do you create tension when there are less obstacles to romance?

BW: People are people. There are always going to be ways to keep people apart. That’s…that’s the beauty of living, which is not easy, as I am now reminded of daily. There will always be ways–it just takes a good sharp writer with a good sharp mind. You make pictures based on truth. You make pictures based on the way you feel. Of course romantic comedy is still alive, if you need to use that term.

Forty or fifty years ago, there was no such thing as a lusty comedy, a subtle comedy, a “black” film. We just did it. [Charles] Brackett and I, or [I.A.L.] Diamond and I–we just said, “How would this be for a picture?” We just did the pictures the way they came. The bigger problem is that there are so few leading men now. There’s no more Gable, no more Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper…there use to be a list of leading men. Now there are only three or four. Who are you going to write for, unless it’s Tom Cruise? Who are you going to write for?

CC: In my experience, it has often been difficult to talk a leading man into playing pure romantic comedies. It’s hard today to find actors who want to say “I love you” on film. They’re afraid of looking foolish. They’d rather have a gun. Was it similar in your day?

BW: It was not that way. (A) We had leading men and leading ladies; we had them by the dozens. (B) We didn’t think in terms of “That’s a comedy, that’s a light picture.” It was just a picture, and you made a lot of them. It’s very different now, to have something with three thousand car crashes, or actors always looking up at the dinosaur. They’re looking up all the time, these actors! [Laughs] Explain to me how can you have dialogue with a dinosaur as big as the fifth floor? You can’t even get them in the same shot!

CC: But getting back to the global economy, the global culture. Does this all bode poorly for comedy? I mean, there’s just not a lot of specific culture to poke fun at.

BW: Yeah yeah yeah. That’s a good question. The popular pictures are a little heavier, a little more masculine. Why do we make a lot of futuristic pictures? Nobody’s afraid of Batman anymore! [Laughs] Everybody watches television now. They crave a bigger kind of entertainment. It’s almost a sport, to have seen the big picture on the opening weekend: “I have seen it! I have seen it!” But it will all change, of course. The smaller story will come back.

A lot to ponder here. Let me focus on three things:

* “People are people. There are always going to be ways to keep people apart… You make pictures based on truth. You make pictures based on the way you feel.” Once again we see Wilder’s instinct for characters. Need conflict or a dramatic situation? Look to your characters. Look for the truth of who they are. Look for the emotional connection you can find with each of them. Use those character-based discoveries as the foundation for your writing.

* Wilder’s point about the dearth of “leading men” nowadays is becoming less significant, at least in terms of mainstream, big budget Hollywood movies. There increasingly the ‘star’ is the computer generated imagery, the five story tall dinosaur Wilder referred to. However it still is important for lower budget and indie films, even critical. While there may be few true movie stars akin to Spencer Tracy or Katherine Hepburn, there are lots of talented actors with significant name recogniztion who bounce back and forth between big salaried roles and small indie films. And it’s almost impossible to get financing and distribution for an indie film without a name cast. Scripts featuring a compelling narrative and multidimensional characters are still the way to go on that front as those are the type of projects that attract talent.

* “But it will all change, of course. The smaller story will come back.” Here I think Wilder was prescient as to the so-called Second Golden Age of Television. Look at the successful cable series in the last decade: The Sopranos, Dexter, Breaking Bad, Justified, Sons of Anarchy, True Detective. Many of them feature ‘big’ characters – in terms of personalities, backstory, stakes – in a ‘small’ setting, often involving characters balancing crime and family, law enforcement and personal lives. In theory, no different than in previous generations, however the depth to which the writers are exploring the characters’ lives is expanding, reflecting a cinematic sensibility at work in these series.

A coda: When Wilder says, “But it will all change,” he has the wisdom of decades of working in the movie business upon which to base that assertion. It’s a fact. The combination of technology and culture mixed with talent and economics necessitate the landscape of the entertainment business will change. TV is hot right now. Therefore everyone rushes to write an original TV pilot. Five or ten years from now, we may be talking about the collapse of TV. The idea of a movie lasting anywhere from 90-120 minutes may fade away as in the future, we may have one form of audio-visual entertainment that spans across all digital platforms in wide variety of time lengths – from a 6-second Vine to a 10-hour limited series.

No matter the change, the need for story will always be there. That is one constant that never changes.

As to Wilder’s point about actors always having to “look up” in contemporary movies, check out the trailer for Jurassic World and count how many times that happens. It’s a lot!

Tomorrow: More from “Conversations With Wilder.” If you have any observations or thoughts, please head to comments.

For the entire series, go here.

On Writing

July 25th, 2016 by

Daily Dialogue — July 25, 2016

July 25th, 2016 by

RODERT DEAN enters the kitchen. He sees CARLA and gives her a kiss, their dog growls and barks.

ROBERT DEAN: (to dog) Hey, you’re about a bark and a half from being homeless.

CARLA is watching a CNN interview to CONGRESSMAN ALBERT.

CARLA: Listen to this fascist gasbag!

ROBERT DEAN takes off his jacket.

ROBERT DEAN: Uhhh.. Ohhh!

The camera switches to CONGRESSMAN ALBERT on the TV.

ALBERT (V.O.): … and freedom have always existed in a very percurious balance. And when buildings stop blowing up, people’s priorities tend to change…
ROBERT DEAN: He’s got a point there, sweetie!
CARLA: Bobby!!!
ROBERT DEAN: I mean, who is this idiot?
CARLA: He’s talking about ending personal privacy.

ROBERT DEAN heads to the fridge.

CARLA: Do you want your phone tapped?
ROBERT DEAN: I’m not planning on blowing up the country.

ROBERT DEAN opens the fridge and takes out a bag of sealed berries and a jug of juice.

CARLA: How do we know until we’ve heard all of your dirty little secrets.
ROBERT DEAN: You’re just gonna have to trust me!
ROBERT DEAN kisses CARLA.
CARLA: Ohh… I know, we’ll just tap the criminals, we won’t suspend the civil rights of the good people.
ROBERT DEAN: Right!
CARLA: Then who decides which is which?

ROBERT DEAN empties the berries into a blender.

ROBERT DEAN: Honey, I think you should!
CARLA: No, I think you should take this more seriously.
ROBERT DEAN: Honey, I think your taking it seriously for both of us and half the people on the block.

ROBERT DEAN pours orange juice into the blender and starts the blender. CONGRESSMAN ALBERT is still on the TV.

ALBERT (V.O.): Tens of millions of foreign nationals living within our borders and many consider the United States their enemy and they see acts of terrorism…

Enemy of the State (1998), written by David Marconi

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Apprehension suggested by Jon. Today’s suggestion by Lois Bernard.

Trivia: Reynold’s birthday is 9-11. Ironically, the “surveillance society” Hammersly mentions would eventually become the “Patriot Act” passed under the Bush administration post-9/11, only three years after this film is produced.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Commentary by Lois: “Any relevance to the present election cycle is purely coincidental.”

The Largest Free Online Screenwriting Resource Anywhere!

July 24th, 2016 by

As of next Monday, August 1st, I will have blogged here at Go Into The story for 3,000 consecutive days. And sometime in late August, we will hit the 20,000 post mark. As someone who is passionate about movies, TV, and storytelling, and as the official screenwriting blog of the Black List, my goal has been to create the largest free online screenwriting resource anywhere. Have I hit that goal? Well…

You want coverage of the spec script market? Go Into The Story has the most comprehensive aggregation of spec script sales dating back to 1991 with detailed annual analysis dating back to 2008 when I launched the site, plus a 20 part series: Everything You Wanted to Know About Specs.

Screenplay and movie analysis? The site has in its archives week-long analysis series on over 100 scripts and movies  including dozens of scene-by-scene script breakdowns.

Posts on the screenwriting craft? Go Into The Story has hundreds of posts on great characters, great scenes, and comparisons of notable scripts to their movie scenes.

How about screenwriting theory? Over the years, we’ve delved into Aristotle’s “Poetics”, my favorite screenwriting ‘gurus’ Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, as well as series on character types, movie story types, and much more.

What about the business of screenwriting? Got you covered.

Creativity? Yep.

Interviews with professional writers? Here, here, here, and my own interviews here.

And all of it… free.

If there is a more comprehensive online screenwriting resource, I’ve yet to see it. I mean, check out the archive links below:

Much of the site’s success — over 10 million unique visits since launch in 2008 — derives from the Go Into The Story community of readers. From authoring guest posts to Daily Dialogue suggestions to scene-by-scene breakdowns to the tens of thousands of comments drilling down into subjects to great depth, GITS followers have been a constant source of creative input… and for that, I thank each and every one of you!

As always, I welcome your suggestions as I’m open to try anything which can potentially benefit readers in terms of their growth as writers. If you any ideas, email me.

There are some dark, depressing corners of the online universe and that includes places where writer congregate, some people more interested in diminishing others. In the eight plus years Go Into The Story has been in existence, I have tried my best to hew close to my original vision for the site, a place where writers could find both legitimate, inside information along with inspiration that is both open to limitless possibilities but also grounded in the realities of living and working in the entertainment business.

In other words, this is a place for creators, not haters. A site which challenges writers with this clarion call: Aspire to inspire. God knows, the world could use some of that!

So as we approach another big benchmark — 3,000 consecutive days of blogging — I encourage each and everyone of you to follow your bliss, find your creative rapture, that which enlivens you, and do that.

Let me top off this post with a blast of creative juju for the entire GITS community:

KAWHOOOOOOOSSSHH!!!

Onward!

Interview: Eric Heisserer (2012, 2014 Black List)

July 24th, 2016 by

This weekend, the horror movie Lights Out rolls out in movie theaters across North America. Starring Teresa Palmer and Maria Bello, directed by David F. Sandberg, the screenplay was written by Eric Heisserer. I thought it was a good opportunity to reprise a 2013 interview I did with Eric and reach out to him with some questions about Lights Out.

Here are links to the six installments of the entire interview:

Part 1: “I’m a bit of an autodidact, so I picked up Final Draft software and a couple of screenplays that I purchased through bookstores. I had an idea of what a script was supposed to look like, and I started writing.”

Part 2: “I’ve been keen to work new muscles as a screenwriter, and every year, I at least attempt to write a screenplay in a genre that I haven’t done before.”

Part 3: “What appealed to me is that it’s a polarizing issue. Therefore I feel like it’s something that is worthy of exploration.”

Part 4: “That’s my new mantra, my new mission is that whatever I write, I’m writing something that, in reading, the director knows exactly what kind of movie it is.”

Part 5: “When I’m writing a scene, and if I’m blocked, it’s typically because there’s nothing in the scene I’m excited about.”

Part 6: “Write as much as you can. Write any and all of those things…screenplays, short stories, novels. The more you understand the language in the world, the better.”

I sent one final question to Eric about the upcoming movie Arrival, starring Amy Adams, which is scheduled to debut in November 2016:

Scott: In our 2013 interview, you talked about working on the screenplay adaptation of the Ted Chiang short story “Story of Your Life”. Three years later, that has transformed itself into the movie “Arrival”, starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whittaker, directed by Denis Villeneuve. The movie premieres November 11, 2016. I know you’re a big fan of Ted Chiang’s writing and especially this story. Looking back on this particular journey in your life as a writer, what lessons did you take away from your experiences?

Eric: Great question.

Always follow your passions. Even if the thing you want to write/adapt is not at all like anything else in the market. Even if you get the reaction that it’s “too sophisticated” or “too strange” or too anything. If you love it, write it. That love will be felt on the page, and those are the strange, sophisticated movies that make it all the way.

Eric is repped by UTA and Art/Work Entertainment.

Twitter: @HIGHzurrer.

Screenwriting News (July 18-July 24, 2016)

July 24th, 2016 by

This week’s writing deals and movie project news.

John August signed a three-book deal for a children’s fantasy series with Penguin imprint Roaring Book Press.

Will Beall writing “Aquaman” for Warner Bros.

Dan Black writing “Pokemon” for Legendary Pictures.

Chadwick Boseman and Logan Coles writing untitled Reverend Jeffrey Brown project for Paramount Pictures.

Cassie Daniels and Mark Bartosic sell comedy spec script “Besties” to DreamWorks and Montecito Pictures.

Kirsten Dunst and Nellie Kim adapting “The Bell Jar” for Priority Pictures, Echo Lake Productions, and Abandon Pictures.

Lauryn Kahn sells untitled comedy pitch to Paramount Pictures.

Ted Melfi sells drama pitch “Fruit Loops” to Fox 2000.

Keith Merryman and David A. Newman sell rom com pitch “Worst Tender Date Ever” to Warner Bros.

Nate Parker sets up an untitled project at Legendary Pictures

J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay writing “Star Trek 4” for Paramount Pictures.

Rhianna Pratchett adapting “Wee Free Men” for The Jim Henson Company.

Seth Rosenfeld writing remake of the 1975 drama “Cooley High” for MGM.

Chris Salmanpour lands two blind script commitments via the Black List with StudioCanal and Warner Bros.

Gary Whitta adapting graphic novel “Mouse Guard” for Boom! Studios.

Interview (Written): David Ayer (“Suicide Squad”)

July 24th, 2016 by

A Deadline interview with David Ayer, co-writer and director of the movie Suicide Squad.

DEADLINE: You write most of what you direct, and if it fails, you move on. What kind of adjustment is it when the stakes here are so high, where, if you fail, it will have consequences for the whole motion picture division of Warner Bros, and the future of the DC properties, since you are seeding movies that have characters that have nothing to do with your film?

AYER: Well, what you watched is my movie, the one I wanted to make. I admit at first it was a little overwhelming going into such a large situation and being part of a larger slate, but once I got into the work, you’re still just writing, prepping, designing, directing; the skills are the same. It was interesting to figure out how to help drop easter eggs and set things up for other movies. To do that, I just really familiarized myself with the world of the DC Comics, and Geoff Johns was a fantastic resource to give me that world map. I had a lot of help on this. After a while, I got my sea legs and it became a lot of fun for me.

DEADLINE: You went into production, and then Batman V Superman comes out and the reaction is it was way too serious. Then Deadpool comes out of nowhere to become the biggest R-rated film of all time, fueled by irreverent humor. A lot of work under the hood went into establishing a Suicide Squad tone that is somewhere in between those two films. What impact did the release of those films have on how you ended up?

AYER: This meme started, that we were re-shooting to make the movie funnier. But you saw the film. The tone is wall to wall. It was really, more than anything, about just taking time out of the movie, distilling it down and keeping it alive and kinetic. I don’t want to speak out of school, but I think the institutional lesson of Batman V Superman was, you have to put the film up for a large audience and see how it plays. I got the opportunity to do that a few times. I’m a big believer in audience testing. You have to listen to the audience. I think it really made the film a lot better. We interdicted some issues and then the re-shoots are great because as you slip time, you end up with these raw stumps. It helps you sew them together elegantly. And I also got some more action in there. It’s all a tough process, because in essence, you’re on trial and you have to defend your movie. And the burden of proof is on you to show that it works.

DEADLINE: How did you fare in this creative collision of a hands-on studio with much at stake, and with rumors swirling about every reshoot?

AYER: The hotter the fire, the sharper the sword. I’m a big believer in that. You know my Russian cinematographer Roman [Vasyanov] always says that art must be painful. It must be pain to have art. I think there’s truth in that. As a creative person, you have to have people calling you on your bullshit. There’s been plenty of times where that makes you realize it’s a bad idea, never mind. At the same time, you have to fight for what you know is a good idea. It’s the nature of filmmaking and it’s like that on any project. There’s definitely a lot of pressure that was put upon this film because of the circumstances, that it was never intended to bear. But this movie has broad shoulders and I loved the process. The studio was like, we want to help you do whatever you can to make this movie better because the stakes were so high. That’s the beauty of it. We got the resources and the support that made this achievable.

To read the rest of the interview, go here.

Interview (Written): Mike Birbiglia (“Don’t Think Twice”)

July 24th, 2016 by

A Movie Maker interview with Don’t Think Twice writer, director, and actor Mike Birbiglia. Well known for his monologues and appearances on the NPR radio show “This American Life,” Birbiglia’s other screenwriting credit is the movie Sleepwalk with Me. 

Here is the IMDb plot summary for Don’t Think Twice: “When a member of a popular New York City improv troupe gets a huge break, the rest of the group – all best friends – start to realize that not everyone is going to make it after all.”

Andy Young, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): You have this really talented cast at the top of their game but at varying levels of improv experience, so I’m really curious about the rehearsal process.

Mike Birbiglia (MB): Well, it was two weeks of improv workshops. Liz Allen was our coach; she has written a couple books about improv and studied with Del Close in Chicago. For some of us, like Keegan [Michael-Key], Chris [Gethard] and Tami [Sagher] it was a refresher, for others like Kate [Micucci] and Gillian [Jacobs], it was from scratch. The group really coalesced right away; I would send them these emails where I’d say like, “Guys, this is gonna be like college. This is gonna be like when you auditioned for your first play, or your first improv group or whatever. We’re gonna all come at this in a really pure way, like a ‘clear-eyes, full-hearts’ kind of way.” They all did it, and I’m so lucky. I don’t know if I’ll ever get a cast this great again.

(L-R): Kate Micucci, Mike Birbiglia, Keegan-Michael Key, Chris Gethard, Tami Sagher and Gillian Jacobs in Don’t Think Twice

MM: I want to ask this question specifically about directing comedy films. What advice to you have to directors that want to do comedy? Because to me, that’s way harder than drama.

MB: I believe it is. For me, it’s all about the reality of a situation. If you watch Spinal Tap, for example, there’s this believability of, “Wait, are those actual roadies?” That plays into the camerawork, and it plays into the acting, and it plays into all the departments. To me, the more real you make your movie, the funnier it will be. It’s like you want audiences to be so pained by the reality, to the degree to which it feels like their life, that they’re laughing. You know, if there’s one thing that I feel like is a growth from Sleepwalk with Me to Don’t Think Twice is that Sleepwalk is about basically a single protagonist, and this is about six characters. I always said to the actors on set, “Best-case scenario, people watch this in France, and they go, ‘Let’s go to New York and see [fictional troupe] The Commune.’” It’s like they think this fake improv group is real. Because I love it when you see like a Japanese film or something and you go, “These are the people, right?” Even like The Lego Movie is a good example; the actors play it very real. And in 21 Jump St., which is another Lord and Miller movie, a lot of my favorite stuff in that movie is the incredulous looks from Jonah Hill. Comedy is all about the reaction shot, and the air you give those moments.

Here is a trailer for Don’t Think Twice:

Here is an interview with Birbiglia and one of the movie’s producers Ira Glass:

For more of the interview, go here.

Movie website here.

Twitter: @birbigs, @moviemakermag.