Twitter Rant: Daniel Kunka on the Importance of Ideas

February 11th, 2016 by

Yesterday screenwriter Daniel Kunka (@unikunka) posted a series of tweets on a subject near and dear to my heart: The importance of ideas. Reprinted here by permission.

And not just ideas for entire movies or TV shows — these pieces are made up of hundreds of little ideas that make the whole.

What’s always interesting to me is how some 100% Great Ideas didn’t start that way. One of the most famous is in BACK TO THE FUTURE…

They literally have one of the coolest, iconic time machines ever and it almost wasn’t.

Even character stuff – ideas that make the movie, stuff you would think “of course this has been here the whole time”, sometimes isn’t…

And you read it and you’re like — “Man, he should just be his son so this is awesome.” But it isn’t quite there yet….

And then someone had the idea. And then the entire thing works.

Speaking of the importance of ideas, here is how Bob Gale, co-writer of Back to the Future, first came up with the central concept for the movie:

The inspiration for coming up with the story is that I was visiting my parents in the summer of 1980, from St. Louis Missouri, and I found my father’s high-school yearbook in the basement. I’m thumbing through it and I find out that my father was the president of his graduating class, which I was completely unaware of. So there’s a picture of my dad, 18-years-old… The question came up in my head, ‘gee, what if I had gone to school with my dad, would I have been friends with him?’ That was where the light bulb went off.

In 2011, Daniel Kunka sold the spec script “Agent Ox”, in 2013 he sold the spec script “Bermuda Triangle”, and in 2014 he sold the spec script “Yellowstone Park” which went on to make the Black List.

To read my June 2013 interview with Daniel, go here.

To read all of the screenwriting Twitter rants I’ve aggregated on GITS, go here.

Spec Script Deal: “Burnt Offering”

February 11th, 2016 by

Armory Films acquires drama thriller spec script “Burnt Offering” written by Tyler Marceca. From Variety:

Plot details are being kept under wraps, but the project is described as “Prisoners” meets “Silence of the Lambs.”

This is an option deal.

Marceca is repped by WME and Anonymous Content.

By my count, this is the 5th spec script deal in 2016.

There were 7 spec script deals year-to-date in 2015.

Interview (Part 4): Sam Regnier (2015 Nicholl Winner)

February 11th, 2016 by

Sam Regnier wrote the original screenplay “Free Agent” which won a 2015 Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting and has been set up at CBS Films. Recently Sam and I had an excellent phone conversation in which we covered a lot of territory, his background and how he got into writing, a deep analysis of “Free Agent”, and a discussion about the writing craft.

Today in Part 4, Sam discusses his thought process on writing a project like “Free Agent” which involved making some unconventional choices.

Scott:  That’s what’s so interesting. When you read the script, you know how so many movies have the big story and small stories construction. You’ve got the A plot, but then you’ve got all these subplots.

You’ve got that going on in “Free Agent,” you’ve got the big story, essentially Bridget’s pursuit of that free agent NBA basketball player, but then all these small stories, the subplots. Her relationship with Taylor, her relationship with Nick, her relationship with her ex-husband and so forth. It does seem really seamless.

How much of that was the magic of writing, and how much of that was really hard-ass, getting feedback from people, and having to work, and work, and work those elements so that they felt unified?

Sam:  I would say it’s 100 percent magic, and 1,000 percent hard work. Writing is such an iterative process, which is something that took me a long time to realize. You write a draft, realizing what pieces fit and which don’t. You do another draft, do the same thing.

You do it over and over again, and you realize that what they say is true: your first drafts never get any better. The only difference is your last drafts get better. Hopefully, every time you do another script, your last draft is one millimeter better than the last draft of your previous script.

At then, that’s when you can really get in the zone – I like to call it being “in the pocket.” If I’m in the pocket, that means I know what the movie is. I’m not floating anymore. I know I can get there eventually; it’s just a matter of going through the iterative process – refining, refining, refining.

At first, you’re chiseling, and by the end, you’re ironing. You’re looking for wrinkles that don’t make sense, or pieces of dialogue, or pieces of scenes, or pieces of interactions. If you can clean out everything, so that it feels like it’s seamless, then you’re done.

Scott:  You mention those four pickup games, and games of Horse, as being the heart and soul of that story. At that point, when you hit on those, you knew you were in the pocket for “Free Agent”.

Sam:  Exactly. A couple of those came right away, after I figured out the basketball part, because I had written something similar that wasn’t quite there, the scenes between the two of them. I knew that there’s a midpoint scene between the two of them where Bridget is really hard on Taylor – she’s essentially trying to break her. You can look at dozens of drafts of the script, and that’s right there in the middle of every one. I knew that was the pivot point.

Scott:  A transition point.

Sam:  Yes. It was something that I could hang onto. I could say, “What builds to this? What follows after it?” That’s the moment where they break each other, where they become close.

Scott:  Added benefit, you’ve got, I call them BOBs: “Bit Of Business.” You’ve got this activity, a visual thing, and you can shroud whatever exposition and back story stuff, by having them play basketball or a game of Horse.

Sam:  Right. That’s the other huge benefit of anchoring in that world. It’s physical, and it’s real, and it’s a thing that you can do while your characters are doing exposition.

Scott:  A bit of business.

Sam:  Exactly.

Scott:  At the Nicholl ceremony, you were presented by Stephanie Allain, who is a former studio exec, and currently a very successful producer. She said something interesting. She said when she read Free Agent, featuring not one, but two great female leads, she said, “I was so excited to meet this woman writer.”

First of all, I would take that as a big compliment. I’m asking the first thing. Are there any keys you might have discovered in writing female characters compared to male characters, or do you approach them pretty much the same?

Sam:   One of many important avenues to becoming a better writer is the ability to listen, to search for motivations in other people, and to really feel empathy. It’s only by really examining people and what makes them tick that you can create stories that are both unpredictable, and feel real and honest.

So the main difference between writing men and women, for me, was that when I see a man’s actions, I filter them through my own feelings. I feel like I’m already halfway there.

When I’m trying to write women, I have to admit that I don’t really have any idea about what it is like to be a woman. So I have to really dedicate myself to observation, examination, and understanding. Through that, hopefully you can write a character that people believe is real.

Scott:  That circles back to where you like to start, which is with character. Of course, you go to USC for four years, and you were an assistant for a little over a year. You’re obviously aware of the fact that there is this ridiculous disparity in terms of the numbers of male versus female leads in movies.

Did that ever occur to you when you were writing this thing, or did you say, “I’m not only care about the conventional wisdom there?”

Sam:  It did occur to me, and I would love to tell you that it didn’t affect me. It didn’t affect me when I was writing it, because I knew that I loved the story. It did affect me when it was time, unfortunately, to take it out.

As much as I hate to admit it, I knew that it might not be is commercial, or salable of a script. I felt like before I showed it to someone, I wanted to have other material that I could attach it with, as a package.

I would like to work toward a world where that never affected anyone.

Scott:  Is that fair to say that that was maybe part of the process in your thinking of setting it aside for a year and a half or so, and trying to write other material?

Sam:  Absolutely. That was part of the whole decision making process I was going through.

Scott:  But at some point you said, “Screw it, I’m going to submit it to the Nicholl again.”

Sam:   By that point, I had come around the gotten closer to, I realized that “Free Agent” was closer to the type of material I wanted to write, and I re-read it, and I realized that it was better than I remembered.

A lot of times, you re-read your material, and you cringe constantly because you can see the strings on the puppets. You think there’s no way people are going to want to read this, because that’s part of being a writer. That was one of the few times I re-read something, and I thought, “Why haven’t I shown this to anyone?”

Scott:  Of course the irony here is the script, which features not only one major female lead, but also the second lead. It blows up conventional wisdom when CBS film steps up and buys this thing, even before you were named a Nicholl winner, right?

Sam:  Yeah. They became interested the day it was announced as a finalist, and then they bought it the same day that it won.

That’s why you can’t make assumptions. When you’re chasing what people want, you’re never going to catch up.

Scott:  I’d like to believe that there’s an object lesson there.

Sam:  You want to make the whole industry monolithic. People talk about the industry like it’s one thing, and not 1,000 different companies, all of these different places that have room for different types of material.

Here is Sam’s speech when he accepted the Nicholl Fellowship in December 2015 with an introduction from producer Stephanie Allain:

Tomorrow in Part 5, Sam talks about winning the Nicholl Fellowship, selling “Free Agent” to CBS Films, and a tall tale about a special bottle of champagne.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Sam is repped by Paradigm and Management SGC.

Twitter: @dadbasic.

Spec Script Deal: “Malpractice”

February 11th, 2016 by

Endurance Productions acquires thriller spec script “Malpractice” written by Tyler Marceca. From Variety:

A thriller in the vein of “Taken” meets “The Fugitive.”

This is an option deal.

Marceca is repped by WME and Anonymous Content.

By my count, this is the 4th spec script deal in 2016.

There were 7 spec script deals year-to-date in 2015.

Interview (Written): Drew Goddard (“The Martian”)

February 11th, 2016 by

A Creative Screenwriting interview with Drew Goddard, nominated for a 2016 Academy Award for Best Adapted screenplay for The Martian:

The first act of The Martian is dominated by scenes featuring Watney on his own, and you had to balance periods of silence and Watney’s narration. Obviously there are limits to what a character can say in narration before it comes off as too wordy or too technical, especially in this movie. What was the biggest challenge with writing that act?

I think it’s exactly what you’re saying. You want to make sure there’s a reason for any time he’s talking to the camera and that’s challenging. But that was the rules we set out for ourselves. We didn’t want it to just be “Here I am to explain the movie to the audience,” which is a trap you can fall into with narration. It was much more about the scientific experiments that is the Ares mission and Mark Watney’s decision to say “You know, even though I’m stuck here I’m going to continue my work.” In that case his work was documenting how he’s trying to survive so that once they found him they would understand what happened. That’s what sets up the prism in which we’re viewing the whole movie. Once you do that, it allows you to open up outward and get more existential in the back half of the movie. That was the challenge – committing to our structure.

What sets The Martian apart from similar “survival” stories is Watney’s confident attitude. Although there are scenes where he doubts his ability to survive, his “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this” attitude carries the film. How important was this attitude in making the audience connect with Watney?

It was certainly one of the things that attracted me to the book right away. The optimism in the face of despair felt special, like something I hadn’t quite seen before. The despair is there, but we’re just not overtly talking about it. The hope was always that the audience would start to see that his optimism is what’s keeping him alive because if he allowed fear and despair to creep in it would be overwhelming. It is a desperate situation and he’s using humor to save himself. Matt did a beautiful job of finding that balance and letting the quiet moments tell that side of the story.

I think you have to step back when you’re looking at a screenplay and ask, “Well, what is this really about?” The optimism in the face of despair is such a key part of the soul of the movie, not just for Watney but for everyone. Refusing to give in to despair becomes bigger than Matt Damon making jokes. It becomes the point of why we’re here.

For the rest of the interview, go here.

You may download the script for The Martian here.

Spec Script Deal: “Horizon Line”

February 11th, 2016 by

Svensk Filmindustri acquires thriller spec script “Horizon Line” written by Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken. From Deadline:

The spec is a suspense thriller that follows a couple on a small airplane which loses its way over the Pacific Ocean.

Writers are repped by UTA and Madhouse Entertainment.

By my count, this is the 3rd spec script deal in 2016.

There were 7 spec script deals year-to-date in 2015.

2016 Dialogue-Writing Challenge: Day 9

February 11th, 2016 by

Last year at this time, we did a month-long Dialogue-Writing Challenge. It was a big success with dozens of writers participating. We all learned quite a bit about this important aspect of the craft plus we had some fun in the process. So I’ve decided to bring it back!

Every Monday-Friday at noon Eastern / 9AM Pacific in February, I will upload a post with a prompt for writing dialogue. Each day, write a scene per those guidelines. If you really want to get in the spirit of things, upload your scene here in the comments section of the original post. That way you can critique others’ pages and receive feedback on your dialogue as well.

To provide extra motivation for this series — to get people to WRITE PAGES — I am giving away some of my Craft classes to Dialogue-Writing Challenge participants. That’s right: For free!

The Craft classes highlight key principles and practices tied to the nitty gritty of writing a script. Here is the Craft lineup, the only time I will teach each of these courses in 2016:

January 25: Craft: Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling

February 8: Craft: Story Summaries

February 22: Craft: Handling Exposition

March 7: Craft: Scene Description Spotlight

April 4: Craft: Character Development Keys

May 2: Craft: Create a Compelling Protagonist

May 16: Craft: Write a Worthy Nemesis

May 30: Craft: The Coen Brothers and the Craft of Storytelling

Each is a 1-week online class featuring 7 lectures written by me, lots of screenwriting insider tips, logline workshops, optional writing exercises, 24/7 message board conversations, teleconferences with course participants and myself to discuss anything related to the craft of scriptwriting.

A popular option is the Craft Package which gives you access to the content in all eight Craft classes which you can go through on your own time and at your own pace, plus automatic enrollment in each 1-week online course. All for nearly 50% the price of each individual class. And special bonus content: 7 lectures on How to Introduce Characters so a script reader will immediately get a clear sense of who each character is… and be entertained in the process.

To qualify to take one of my Craft classes for free, write and submit ten [10] Dialogue-Writing Challenge posts, then provide feedback on ten [10] posts from other writers. The former to get you writing, the latter to work your critical-analytical skills.

A chance to take any of my eight Craft classes, interface with me online along with the usual stellar group of writers who take Screenwriting Master Class courses, while using writing exercises and feedback to upgrade your skill at writing and analyzing dialogue.

ISN’T THAT AN AWESOME IDEA?!!!

A couple of logistical notes:

* Limit your post to 2 pages. Out of fairness to everyone participating in the public dialogue-writing workshop, let’s not abuse anyone’s patience or time with really long scenes.

* Give your scenes a beginning, middle and end. You may enter late and exit early, but provide an arc to each of your posts. Even monologues or telephone conversations, both of which we will be doing this month.

* Don’t be concerned about proper script format when you copy/paste your pages, rather the content and execution are the important thing. So as a default mode, do this: (1) Don’t worry about right-hand margins on scene description or dialogue, just keep typing until it manually shifts each line. (2) Don’t worry about character name position, rather do this:

SCARLETT: Rhett, Rhett... Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?

RHETT: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

Today’s prompt: Saying “I love you” without saying “I love you”.

It’s easy to have a character say the words “I love you.” But what about if they can’t? Perhaps social circumstances. Or internal inhibitions. Or they prefer to convey the sentiment through some sort of subtext. What words would they use instead of “I love you”?

Focus on the dialogue, not the action to drive the scene. In most movies, it’s the other way around because movies are primarily a visual medium, however sometimes the script requires a dialogue-driven scene and we need to hone our chops at being able to do that effectively.

Write a 1-2 page dialogue-centric scene, then copy/paste in comments.

If you are interested in qualifying for 1 free Craft class with me, please note in each post you submit the number of scenes you have written. If today is your first effort, note that it is Scene 1. The next one, Scene 2. And so forth.

Also when you provide feedback on someone’s scene, please note in each reply the number of comments you have uploaded. So if today is your first response, Feedback 1. The next one, Feedback 2.

You are on an honor system, as I don’t have time to check every post, so do the right thing!

Remember: In order to qualify for one of my free Craft classes, you need to submit ten [10] Dialogue-Writing Challenge posts, then provide feedback on ten [10] posts from other writers.

FEEDBACK TIP: Come up with the wildest way of saying “I love you” without using the words. Like this:

Want to join in? Here are the previous challenge prompts:

Day 1 challenge: A young child asks an adult, “Where do babies come from?”

Day 2 challenge: Write a monologue in which a character expresses regret for something in their past.

Day 3 challenge: A scene built around the line “Give me the God damn key.”

Day 4 challenge: A stoner conversation.

Day 5 challenge: Use voice-over narration with a flashback.

Day 6 challenge: Talking aloud to oneself.

Day 7 challenge: Slang.

Day 8 challenge: Somebody gets fired from their job.

It’s the 2016 Dialogue-Writing Challenge! Give a jolt to your creative and writing muscles… and win 1 free online class with yours truly.

NOTE: My Craft: Handling Exposition class starts Monday, February 22. If you have done all 10 exercises and provided 10 feedback posts by February 19, you are eligible to take that class for free. It’s an important class that dovetails directly into writing dialogue, so you can use that as some motivation!

Finally if you have a suggestion for a dialogue-writing prompt, please post in comments or email me.

To see all of the 2015 Dialogue Writing Exercise prompts, go here.

Writing and the Creative Life: The Magic of Ambient Noise

February 11th, 2016 by

70 decibels. Not 50 dBs. That’s too low. Not 85 dBs. That’s too high. Nope. 70 dBs of ambient noise appears to be just right when it comes to enhancing one’s creativity.

That’s the conclusion of this study as reported in the University of Chicago Press (December 2012).

50 decibels or less isn’t enough to heighten creativity.

85 decibels or more actually can inhibit creativity.

70 decibels is the magic number.

So we know that. But what kind of ambient noise?

I know a lot of you have the habit of transporting yourself and your laptop to the local coffee shop. Somehow the background noise of baristas in action, patron chatter, and obscure instrumental music over the sound system stimulates you to write, think, create.

For a short New York Times video on the subject, go here. In it, they talk about a website called Coffitivity. Check it out. That’s right, you don’t need to go anywhere to revel in the inspirational tones of people talking and cups clinking, whiffs of virtual java wafting through your imagination.

Speaking of which, I hate working in coffee shops. I get distracted by conversations. All those people moving around distract me. The occasional hiss of the espresso machine. The inevitable crash of some klutz dropping a dish. Plus there’s this.

I don’t drink coffee.

So even if I mainlined caffeine, I would find zero creative inspiration inside a coffee shop.

But I do love ambient noise. The cleansing wash of white noise. Specifically rain.

I’ve got rain apps on my iPhone. My iPad. My MacBook Pro. My Mac Air. Strap on my Bose headphones, turn on my rain, and I am loaded for creative bear.

Seriously, when it actually rains, I will still sometimes run my rain app.

Here is a great site: Simply Rain. You can control intensity, create oscillation, even add thunder if you’d like.

And be sure to aim smack dab for the 70 dB level.

Coffee shop. Rain. White noise. If you are having trouble concentrating or want to try an experiment to give your creativity a jolt, try the magic of ambient noise.

Writing and the Creative Life is a series in which we explore creativity from the practical to the psychological, the latest in brain science to a spiritual take on the subject. Hopefully the more we understand about our creative self, the better we will become as writers. If you have any good reading material in this vein, please post in comments. If you have a particular observation you think readers will benefit from and you would like to explore in a guest post, email me.

[Originally posted June 19, 2014]

Daily Dialogue — February 11, 2016

February 11th, 2016 by

George Bailey: [gazing eyes with Mary] Well, well, well.
Freddie Othello: Now, to get back to my story, see?

In a trance, Mary hands Othello her drink, and George and Mary start dancing.

Freddie Othello: Hey, this is MY dance!
George Bailey: Oh, why don’t you stop annoying people.
Freddie Othello: Well, I’m sorr- Hey!

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), screenplay by Francis Goodrich, Albert Hackett and Frank Capra

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Annoying.

Trivia: Othello, the annoying kid in this scene, is none other than Carl Switzer who played Alfalfa in the “Our Gang” comedy series.

Dialogue On Dialogue: When George tells off the annoying suitor, it inspires one of the most memorable moments in the movie – the pool scene.

Athena Film Festival: February 18-21, 2016, Barnard College, New York City

February 10th, 2016 by

For those of you in the New York City area, be sure to check out the 6th Annual Athena Film Festival which runs February 18-21, 2016 at Barnard College. There will be many great movies screening including features, documentaries, and shorts, as well as panels, workshops, and special events.

The Black List will be there and I will be part of it for two activities:

* On Thursday, February 18 from 2-4PM, I will be doing a presentation at Barnard: “Using five archetypes – Protagonist, Nemesis, Attractor, Mentor, Trickster – we will analyze several female-centric movies including The Wizard of Oz, The Silence of the Lambs, Juno, Bridesmaids, and Mad Max: Fury Road to learn the fundamentals of Character Based Screenwriting.

* On Thursday and Friday, I will be a mentor along with Darci Picoult, Jane Grillo, and Deborah Kampmeier for the Athena Film Festival Black List Screenwriters Mini-Lab in which we will work with four talented women writers whose scripts were selected from numerous entrants. In addition to one-on-one mentor meetings and workshop sessions which I will lead, participants will attend special screenings, social events, and the festival’s awards gala.

For more information on the Athena Film Festival, go here.