Reader Question: Do all Protagonists need a character arc?

August 25th, 2016 by

From Gregaria:

I am wondering if protagonist character arcs (in which they learn something and grow in a positive way) apply to protagonists of comedy. I can see where the personal growth of the character would be important in drama, but what about in comedy or horror? If the comedy is a farce, for example, it seems like all the characters stay the same or even regress in the course of the story. Do some of these rules change depending on genre? (Fyi, the protagonist of my comedy does grow and learn things about herself, but I wondered if this has to be the case all of the time.)

This is a hugely important question, Gregaria, one I could parse into various areas of focus for several posts. For now, let’s look at three points.

First in most movies, the Protagonist does go through some sort of metamorphosis. You see it over and over and over again. In mainstream commercial movies. Even in indie films. The P starts out in one psychological state at the beginning. They end up in another psychological state at the end. Three examples:

* Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz feels disconnected from her life-circumstance in Kansas, wishing she could go somewhere over the rainbow, only to return claiming, “There’s no place like home.”

* C.C. Baxter in The Apartment starts out as a nebbish who allows himself to be abused by his co-workers in order to land a promotion, then at the end rejects the job and those work values — in other becomes a mensch.

* Michael Dorsey in Tootsie begins as a self-absorbed, insensitive male, then through his experiences as Dorothy Michaels discovers he was a better man as a woman than he was as a man.

If you sat down and wrote out a list of your 10 favorite movies, I’ll bet almost all of them feature a Protagonist metamorphosis dynamic.

Joseph Campbell asserted that transformation is at the heart of The Hero’s Journey: The Hero leaves their Ordinary World and goes on a journey into a New World. Through the challenges they face and experiences they have, combined with wisdom they learn along the way, both intellectual and emotional, the Hero returns home a changed individual.

Carl Jung asserted the process of individuation is the greatest calling of the human adventure and that process is fundamentally about metamorphosis — becoming who we are meant to be, indeed, in a way, become who we already are (as represented in the various aspects of our psyche).

Why is metamorphosis perhaps the single most universal narrative archetype? Again we could talk about this for days, but if I had to name one reason it’s this: People want to believe they can change. Stories that feature characters who do change reinforce that belief.

So I think it’s safe to say that in most movies, the Protagonist does go through some sort of metamorphosis.

Second point: There are stories where the Protagonist does not go through any significant metamorphosis. Forrest Gump, Being There, James Bond movies are a few examples. Forrest Gump and Chance are change agents, that is they don’t change, they change others. In the case of James Bond, that’s more of a reflection how in some action movies the Protagonist’s story is not so concerned with their psychological journey, but rather the impact they have on others, most notably Nemesis characters. Of course, there are lots of action movies where the Protagonist does change — Lethal Weapon and Die Hard spring to mind — but only if the filmmakers are interested in exploring that character’s inner life.

Which leads to the third point, one you raised: “Do some of these rules change depending on genre?” Two things.

* First in my view, there are no ‘rules.’ There are only principles and conventional wisdom. As writers, we have to be free to follow our story wherever it leads. Rules bind us. Principles, however, exist to guide us, but we can choose to bend them, shape them, ignore them, even abuse them. Same thing with conventional wisdom. Sometimes a story is best served playing by what is conventional. Other times, a story will force us to be unconventional. Again we’re not breaking a rule, rather we’re flying in the face of convention. I know it’s a matter of semantics, but I prefer that language to “rules.”

* Second while most stories share fundamental narrative principles, they can vary by genre. For example as noted above, you can write a great action movie where the Protagonist does not go through any significant metamorphosis. On the other hand, that’s likely not the case if you’re writing a drama where viewers expect to enter into the inner life of characters.

Even within a genre, there can be differences. You mention farce, a specific type of comedy. There the humor derives largely from a tangled web of comedic situations. Does the Protagonist have to change in a farce? Maybe. Maybe not. If, however, you are writing a more conventional comedy like Tootsie or even some of the adult-males-as-teenager comedies like Knocked Up, you’re more likely to need to explore your Protagonist’s character arc.

So after that long-winded response, my short answer to your questions is this: No, a Protagonist does not have to go through a metamorphosis. But as a result of a combination of lessons learned from a 100+ year history of filmmaking, human instinct, and common sense, most movies will have a Protagonist who does have a character arc — starting in one psychological start, ending in quite another.

By the way, metamorphosis has been a major point of emphasis in what I’ve been teaching since 2002 as the Protagonist’s evolution not only provides meaning to the plot, it can also create the spine of the main plot itself. In other words: Plot emerging from character. Finally a way to marry the two!

[Originally posted December 3, 2010]

Zero Draft Thirty: What Are You Afraid Of?

August 25th, 2016 by

It all started with this blog post in October 2015: Who’s with me to pound out a script in November?

That led to this: Zero Draft Thirty: Write a Script in a Month Challenge.

Every day for 30 days in November, I did a Zero Draft Thirty post with inspirational writing quotes, videos, and handed out a daily Award to the person deemed worthy for their efforts in supporting our collective cause.

A Facebook group emerged from the process, now with over 1000 members. The Challenge was written up in Indiewire. Translated into Spanish. Got its own hashtag on Twitter: #ZD30SCRIPT.

Eventually over a thousand writers joined up for the Challenge. Via Facebook, Twitter, or email, nearly 200 writers let me know they had finished their Zero Drafts.

So we decided to make the Zero Draft Challenge a twice a year thing: Every March, like we did here, and every September. Here we are, just about a month out from the Zero Draft Thirty 2016 Autumn Challenge.

It’s simple. Pick a script-writing project. Type FADE IN on September 1. Type FADE OUT on September 30.

And you are cordially invited.

In the days leading up to ZDT, I figured we could spend some time talking about story prep as well as psychological prep for our collective writing effort.

Today: What are you afraid of?

The single greatest inhibitor to creativity is fear. Do you recognize any of these voices?

I am afraid of typing FADE IN.

I am afraid I won’t be able to finish this script.

I am afraid I don’t have enough talent.

I am afraid the words won’t come.

I am afraid my characters won’t feel real.

I am afraid people won’t like my writing.

I am afraid people won’t like my story.

I am afraid I won’t get an agent.

I am afraid I am wasting my time.

I am afraid I don’t know enough about the craft.

I am afraid people will laugh at me.

I am afraid I won’t make any money writing.

I am afraid of not succeeding.

I’m not a psychologist, but I know enough about the writing process to understand that if you allow these and other like-minded voices to dominate your thoughts, you will have a hard time nurturing your creative self.

So the question on the table is, How to deal with fear? I don’t think there’s any right or wrong approach – a writer will do what they need to do to vanquish or, at least, manage their apprehensions. Some times you may be able to ignore the voice, the doubts, the insecurities – a good way to do that is to go so deeply into your story, your experience in that ‘world’ shuts out your negative thoughts.

Other times, you can use fear as a motivator: If, for example, you make a commitment, to friends and family, whereby you guarantee you will finish this script, your fear of public humiliation can spur you all the way to FADE OUT.

The simple fact is that whatever you do, you must do something, or else fear can devour your creativity.

Two of the greatest American novelists, William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald, wound their way to Hollywood, and worked as screenwriters. Read these quotes below, and see if you can grasp the palpable sense of fear in their words:

“I think I have had about all of Hollywood I can stand, I feel bad, depressed, dreadful sense of wasting time. I imagine most of the symptoms of blow-up or collapse. I may be able to come back later, but I think I will finish this present job and return home. Feeling as I do, I am actually afraid to stay here much longer.”

— William Faulkner

“My only hope is that you will have a moment of clear thinking. That you’ll ask some intelligent and disinterested person to look at the two scripts. Some honest thinking would be much more valuable to the enterprise right now than an effort to convince people you’ve improved it. I am utterly miserable at seeing months of work and thought negated in one hasty week. I hope you’re big enough to take this letter as it’s meant—a desperate plea to restore the dialogue to its former quality…all those touches that were both natural and new. Oh, Joe, can’t producers ever be wrong? I’m a good writer–honest. I thought you were going to play fair.”

— F. Scott Fitzgerald in a letter to producer Joseph Mankiewicz

Faulkner? Fitzgerald? Reduced to “I’m actually afraid to stay here much longer,” and “I’m a good writer—-honest?”

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!

This is what fear can do. Strangle creativity. Squash talent. And in Hollywood, a city built on dreams, but run by fear, it can eat you alive.

So my advice? Don’t avoid your fear. Don’t run from it. Rather, acknowledge it.

Feel it. Let it be. Let it breathe. Let it take you deeper into the core of your emotional self. You will discover things there you can learn in no other place. Emotions, memories, experiences have collected in that inner place for years, untouched because most people never go there. If you can get curious about why you are afraid, what are the particular animating elements behind your fears, you will discover a deep reservoir of personal insight and, almost assuredly, great story “stuff” as well.

Once you know that you can go there, acknowledge and experience your fears, and survive that process – which you will because fear is nothing more than an emotion state – what you will unveil over time in going there and coming back is… courage.

The courage to give yourself…
To your creativity…
To your stories…
Each one a great unknown…
Waiting for what you will find in your creative journey.

Zero Draft Thirty is constructed to mitigate the power of fear. That’s why it’s called ‘zero draft’. We are consciously lowering our individual and collective expectations. It’s not even a first draft we might show anyone else. It’s a Zero Draft! We have nothing to fear insofar as words on page because the quality of the words is not the point. It’s the quantity. Getting from “once upon a time” to “and they lived happily ever after.” Or “their dry corpses left rotting in the blazing sun. The end.” However you conclude your draft, that’s the point. Get something down in writing. Then you have something tangible you can rewrite.

September 1: Type FADE IN.
September 30: Type FADE OUT.

30 days. A first draft of an original screenplay. TV pilot. Or a rewrite of an existing script.

For background on the Zero Draft Thirty challenge, go here.

Don’t forget the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group. A terrific collection of folks who post things every day, even when we’re not in a challenge.

So calling all Zeronauts, Outlaws, Scamperers, and Writing Warriors. Who’s up for pounding out a Zero Draft in September? LET’S DO THIS THING!

Hashtag: #ZD30SCRIPT.

Interview (Part 4): Adam Kolbrenner, Madhouse Entertainment

August 25th, 2016 by

This week, we are fortunate to have as our guest manager-producer Adam Kolbrenner from Madhouse Entertainment, an L.A.-based production and literary management company that works with screenwriters and writer/directors in the areas of film, television and new media.

I will be posting the whole interview over the course of the week.

Today in Part 4, Adam reveals some insider details on two big movie deals with which Madhouse Entertainment was involved.

If we could, I’d like to briefly go through your experience surrounding the circumstances of three spec script sales in which you were involved: What were some memorable details of the sale of Aaron Guzikowski’s spec script “Prisoners”?

This answer should be in a book somewhere.  7 years.

Guzikowski was an aspiring screenwriter living in a small apartment in Brooklyn, NY.  In 2006 he sent me a query letter in the mail (with an actual stamp and everything).  He was asking if I wanted to read a script of his that was a small contained horror film.  Horror is not really in my blood (so to speak) but I had him send it to me because there was a unique idea to it.  The script and story were flawed but it was clear to me on page 1 of his script, he knew how to write.

From there, we spent about 6 months coming up with new ideas for movies that he can write and we can develop from the ground up together.  Thanksgiving 2006 he came up with the concept for PRISONERS.  We worked through countless treatments and outlines, to drafts and rewrites, and he worked with Madhouse on PRISONERS until February 2009.  Over 2 years.  We had never even met in person.  We were giving him notes while he was in a supply closet of his temporary job in Brooklyn.  People would literally be walking in and he’d be handing out paper and pens.  But AARON GUZIKOWSKI never once wavered in the work that was required.  He knew that notes aren’t always perfect but use the good ones, and think about the bad ones.  He never fucking quit.

I gave the script to all the agencies in one weekend in February 2009.  Initially, the agents all passed on the project because they felt it was going to be “too hard” to get made.  But one agent named Adam Levine responded well to it.  Adam at the time was at Endeavor, he has since become one of the founders of VERVE Agency where Guzikowski was one of the initial clients for the start up agency in 2010.

Endeavor began to build a package around PRISONERS as the script was sent out around Hollywood.  The feedback was unlike anything I’d ever seen.  The project had Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale set to star (before production of their film ‘The Fighter’) and had Bryan Singer (XMen) set to direct.  Ultimately, that package proved to be too expensive for the marketplace based on the type of story told in PRISONERS.  At this point ALCON ENTERTAINMENT (‘Blind Side’, ‘Insomnia’, and upcoming ‘Beautiful Creatures’) asked to purchase the screenplay free and clear of any package.

From there, the project navigated through a process that included having Leonardo DiCaprio attached to star (in the role Wahlberg was interested in playing) that was not able to get off the ground based on timing for Dicaprio.

I am pleased to say that as of January 14th, 2013 the cameras will roll in Atlanta, Georgia for PRISONERS.  Our director is Denis Villeneuve (Oscar nominated for his brilliant film ‘Incendies’).  Our extraordinary cast includes:  Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Maria Bello, and Paul Dano.  Madhouse Entertainment is producing (Adam Kolbrenner, Producer and Robyn Meisinger, Executive Producer) along with Kira Davis.  The film will be released by Warner Bros and Alcon on September 20th, 2013.  Just shy of 7 years since the idea surfaced in AARON GUZIKOWSKI’s brain.  During this time, GUZIKOWSKI additionally wrote the Mark Wahlberg hit “CONTRABAND” that was released in January 2012 and the upcoming Legendary release “SEVENTH SON” that stars Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore.  He’s become one of the most in demand screenwriters working in Hollywood.

What were some of the noteworthy items associated with the sale of David Guggenheim’s spec script “SAFE HOUSE”?

DAVID GUGGENHEIM was working as an editor in NYC at US Weekly Magazine.  He had spent several years getting his material out to the community from his home in New York.  We started working together on SAFE HOUSE at the early script stage.  We worked on it and took it to the marketplace with his agent David Boxerbaum.  Our plan was to be sure that everyone in town read the material because we were so proud to show it off.  The response was overwhelming.  Producers, buyers, studios, all wanted this script.  It was built for two major movie star roles.  This was February 2010.  We were in production in January 2011 for Universal Studios.  We were released worldwide February 2012 starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds and became a major hit for Universal as it went on to gross over $200,000,000 worldwide boxoffice.  GUGGENHEIM is hard at work on the sequel to be shot in 2013.

As you look at those 2 deals, are there any big ticket lessons or takeaways you can discern there? Any universal truths each script project share?

Incredible characters.  Original story with unique twists.  Well told.

Tomorrow in Part 5, Adam discusses some of the issues facing working screenwriters nowadays and shares inside information on one of the more notable deals in the last several years.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

To read press articles about Madhouse Entertainment, go here.

[Originally posted January 24, 2013]

UPDATE: Prisoners went on to become a big hit and you can read about Aaron Guzikowski’s success after that movie here. You can also read my February 2014 interview with Aaron here. After Safe House, David Guggenheim has also gone on to big things which you can read about here including the upcoming CBS TV series “Designated Survivor”. You can read my April 2013 interview with David here.

The Spirit Of The Spec (Part 4): You Put It Out There

August 25th, 2016 by

I had a conversation recently with a former studio executive turned producer in which I found myself talking about the “spirit of the spec,” essentially when a person chooses to pursue a project or goal entirely on speculation with the hopes of some eventual payoff. Not everybody would make that choice. To many, with the odds so long against success, doing something on spec is not only illogical, it’s also seemingly inane.

And yet almost all screenwriters, TV writers, novelists, short story writers, playwrights, and poets have as some part of their creative self the spirit of the spec.

After my conversation with the producer, it occurred to me this is a subject we should discuss here at GITS because it speaks to the very core of why we’re here and what we’re about as people driven by creative impulses. So today through Friday, I will post something each day exploring what it means for a writer to have the spirit of the spec.

You put it out there.

One might think typing FADE IN, thereby signifying your commitment to writing an original screenplay, is the single act requiring the most courage in the process. But time and time again, I hear from writers who have a problem on the other end of the spectrum: Actually doing something with the script when it’s done.

Some have confessed to me they are petrified to submit a script to an agent or manager.

Others have said they can’t even bring themselves to give their script to a professional reader for coverage.

And there are some writers who have one or more scripts — I’m talking completed drafts — which they have never let anyone read, not even friends or family, let alone somebody in the entertainment industry.

I get it. I think we all get it. As I suggested in yesterday’s post, writing a story is a scary endeavor. And yet the fact is the entire time you work on it — coming up with an idea, acting on that idea, the actual page-writing part of the process — your story only exists in theory. That is until you send your script out into the world. Only then does your story become in any meaningful sense of the word ‘real.’

No matter what fears you have to overcome to write a story, they don’t compare substantively with the type and degree of fear that can arise when you actually hand over your script to someone else to read.

At that point, your story becomes their story, no longer the private experience of you and your characters, but rather your characters and the world.

Talk about courage! Sure, typing FADE IN is a significant moment. But there the stakes are limited. If you don’t write a good story or don’t finish, you have disappointed nobody but yourself. However if you present your story to other people, you are taking a leap of faith they will respond favorably. And if they don’t? It’s no longer just you and those hectoring voices of negativity in your head to deal with. Now you actually have to take into account the feelings, thoughts, impressions and — get ready for it — criticisms of other people.

And yet if this is a fundamental truth — “You can not sell it if you don’t write it” — here is another reality etched in stone: “You can not sell it unless you submit it.”

A buyer is not going to magically read your mind, buy an airplane ticket to your home town, sneak into your house, locate the drawer in which you keep your precious script, read it, then wake you up with a check for a million dollars.

No, you need to put your script out there. Indeed this is where you would do well to embrace the spirit of the spec. And the spirit of the spec provides writers with two incredibly powerful words to help them circumnavigate all their fears, thus enabling them to submit their manuscripts to people who matter.

Those two words: Screw you!

If you are afraid to let your spouse read your script, repeat after me: Screw you!

If you are afraid to let other writers read your script, repeat after me: Screw you!

If you are afraid to let a professional script reader provide coverage of your script, repeat after me: Screw you!

If you are afraid to send out email inquiries to managers about your script, repeat after me: Screw you!

Who is the “you” you are telling to screw? Why fear, of course. If you have any realistic chance of succeeding as a writer, you have to squash your punk-ass fears, give them a big time beat down.

You telling me I don’t have any talent? Screw you!
You telling me people will hate my story? Screw you!
You telling me not to believe in myself? Screw you!

Screw you! Screw you! Screw you!

Here’s another fact to add to your list:

You can’t sell a script unless you write it.
You can’t sell a script unless you submit it.
You can’t sell a script unless you defeat fear.

Now you may consider that to be Coach Myers talking. If you need a confrontational therapy to get you over the hump to put your script out there, go to town. Empowered with those two key words — Screw you! — you should be on your way.

There is another dimension to the spirit of the spec. This message comes from Pastor Myers. For those who are more spiritually inclined.

Do you recall this reference from another spirit of the spec post here:

If there is a path, that presupposes there is an end to the path. So instead of a battle over your story where some random barbarian can spring up out of nowhere and split open your meager confidence with a pole axe, if you are on a journey of discovery, it’s all a matter of taking the time, asking the questions, and walking the steps necessary to get you to that end point, where you do find your story.

I want you to consider this idea: Your story’s path does not end when you type FADE OUT. Rather that is simply a new beginning. The path goes on. The journey goes on.

It goes on as your story gets read by others.
It goes on as your story gets bought.
It goes on as your story gets developed.
It goes on as your story gets a green light.
It goes on as your story gets produced.
It goes on as your story gets edited.
It goes on as your story gets released into theaters.

Your script, while a key component of your story, is but one step in a longer journey. I suppose you can look at the day your movie goes wide into theaters as the end of the path. But that’s not even true. I get emails every week from people who have seen K-9, Alaska, or Trojan War. It’s one of the most endearing and enduring aspects of our movies that they continue to live as long as people will watch them.

Which is to say you, as the writer, are but a player in that larger journey. Your story already exists, its path is already laid out. Whether it sells or not, gets produced or not, while we may work as fiercely as we can — and should — to make it happen, in a very real way, our story’s fate has already been determined.

So in actuality, you really have nothing to fear. The destiny of your story will play out the way it will play out. Thus when your obnoxious voices of fear would do their best to restrain you from putting your story out there, here are some other words you can use to quiet them:

Let it go.

I am afraid…
Let it go.
I am scared…
Let it go.
I’m not ready…
Let it go.

Afraid or not, your story’s fate is determined. You can not control its destiny, only the story can.

So how to put it out there? Let it go.

Okay, two possible courses of action in confronting fear, one from Coach Myers, the other Pastor Myers. I know for many of you, this is not an issue. You knock off your scripts, you get them out there. That’s being filled with the spirit of the spec. Because there is a baseline of belief undergirding what we do: If you put it out there, something can happen.

But only if you put it out there.

Part 1: You Have An Idea

Part 2: You Act On Your Idea

Part 3: You Write Your Story

Tomorrow the final post in this series: And if it doesn’t sell…

What are YOUR screenwriting Do’s and Don’ts?

August 25th, 2016 by

I occasionally dip into the GITS archive of over 20,000 blog posts to see what items of interest I can resurrect for the benefit of GITS readers which is how I found this April 2009 Business of Screenwriting post: Do’s and Don’ts #1. Some highlights:

Do: Regularly generate story concepts

I was going to write “Generate a story concept a day,” but I thought that might come off as too daunting. However, you should spend a portion of every working day with story concepts. There are three elements to this process:

* Research: Everything from reading obituaries to odd news items, you never know where a great story concept will come from.

* Brainstorm: Take pre-existing movie concepts and genre or gender bend them. Put a job and a location together (“A cop in kindergarten”). And when in doubt, ask yourself, “What if…”, as in “What if the President of the United States had a sudden debilitating medical condition and the Powers That Be substitute a look-alike as the acting President” (the premise to the movie Dave).

* Test: Find a few close associates or friends, people who know something about how Hwood operates, and pitch them your story concepts. If they respond well, put that concept on your Keeper list. If they shrug or say they hate it, put that concept on your Backup list.

Don’t: Tell your story concepts to anybody you don’t trust 100%.

This is especially true in Hwood. Your agent and manager are safe. But unless you’ve got the idea worked up into a formal pitch… or your reps have set up a meeting with you where everyone knows going in that you’ll be throwing out ideas — which means the producers are on notice that your reps know what’s going on — don’t pitch story concepts.

Story concepts are the lifeblood of Hwood. Movies have been greenlit based on the story concept itself. However story concepts are hard to protect. Your best protection is to flesh out your story concept into a completed spec script. The next level of protection is to work up a pitch. The next level of protection is to keep your mouth shut!

You can read the rest of the post here.

Note the title of the post: Do’s and Don’ts #1. Clearly I intended to do more than one, probably an entire series of posts, but evidently I never got around to that.

So let’s see if we can crowd-source advice from GITS readers: What are your screenwriting Do’s and Don’ts? What have you discovered along the way, things to do, things not to do?

I encourage folks to head to comments and offer their observations. Maybe we come up with a post with a lot of helpful tips which can benefit other writers.

Screenwriting do’s and don’ts. What are yours?

Daily Dialogue — August 25, 2016

August 25th, 2016 by

Dr. Ian Malcolm: [after the T-Rex failed to appear for the tour group] You see a Tyrannosaur doesn’t follow a set pattern or park schedules, the essence of chaos.
Dr. Ellie Sattler: I’m still not clear on chaos.
Dr. Ian Malcolm: It simply deals with predictability in complex systems. The shorthand is the butterfly effect, the butterfly flaps its wings in Central Park, you get rain in central Asia.

Ellie motions – the idea is over her head. They both laugh.

Dr. Ian Malcolm: I’m going to fast. Give me that glass of water. We’re going to conduct an experiment.

She gives him a glass of water.

Dr. Ian Malcolm: Put your hand flat like this. Now, let’s say a drop of water falls in your hand. Which way is the drop of water going to fall off?
Dr. Ellie Sattler: Thumb.

He drops water on her hand and it rolls toward her thumb.

Dr. Ian Malcolm: Okay, freeze your hand, don’t move. We’re going to do the same thing, start in the same place again. Which way is it going to roll off?
Dr. Ellie Sattler: Let’s say back, same.
Dr. Ian Malcolm: Same…

He drops water on her hand. It rolls in a different direction.

Dr. Ian Malcolm: It changed. Why? Because tiny variations… the orientation of the tiny hairs on your hand, the blood cells and imperfections in the skin.
Dr. Ellie Sattler: Imperfections in the skin?

He is totally flirting with her.

Dr. Ian Malcolm: Never repeat and vastly effect the outcome. That’s–
Dr. Ellie Sattler: Unpredictability.

Meanwhile Dr. Grant gets out of the car.

Dr. Ian Malcolm: There. Look at this. See? See? I’m right again. Nobody could’ve predicted that Dr. Grant would suddenly, suddenly jump out of a moving vehicle.
Dr. Ellie Sattler: Alan? Alan!

She jumps out of the vehicle.

Dr. Ian Malcolm: There’s, another example. [laughs to himself] See, here I’m now sitting by myself, uh, er, talking to myself. That’s, that’s chaos theory.

Jurassic Park (1994), screenplay by Michael Crichton and David Koepp, novel by Michael Crichton

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Mentor, suggested by Michael Waters.

Trivia: While discussing chaos theory, Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) shamelessly flirts with Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern). After meeting on this film, the two actors began a romantic relationship, and were engaged for two years before breaking up.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Malcolm is a wonderful Mentor figure in that he’s smart, funny, obnoxious… and right! Chaos to ensue in 3… 2… 1…

Interview (Video): Franklin Leonard with Michael Eisner

August 24th, 2016 by

You hear a lot of talk nowadays about ‘disruptors’ in the field of business. For example, here is a list of the 2016 CNBC Disruptor Companies. How do they define it?

These forward-thinking starts-ups have identified unexploited niches in the marketplace that have the potential to become billion-dollar businesses, and they rushed to fill them.

A disruptor can also be an individual which is one reason why this hour-long conversation between Michael Eisner and my friend and compatriot Franklin Leonard is so compelling.

I think we can all agree that Franklin, who founded the Black List, the most important brand related to screenwriting in Hollywood, is a disruptor because he is doing what he can to change the stodgy, traditional approach to project acquisition and development in the film business, and open it up to more and diverse talents.

However those of us who have been in the business for as long as I have remember Eisner as a disruptor in his own right. When he, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Barry Diller took over leadership at Paramount in the early 80s, they created a juggernaut by instituting a new kind of ‘studio system’ approach, one which laid the groundwork for the current system in place at the Big Six Hollywood studios.

An anecdote: At a meeting with the entire creative staff, Eisner expressed his fascination with a new TV channel called MTV. Certain it had tapped into the youth zeigeist, Eisner jotted down something onto a slip of paper which was passed from executive to executive. On it he’d simply written this: “MTV Cops”. That was the genesis of this:

“Miami Vice” was a ginormous hit. Eventually Eisner took his creative sensibilities (along with Katzenberg) and their shared business sensibilities over to Disney, waking up that slumbering giant and transforming it into a powerhouse studio.

Eisner is old school. Franklin is new school. Yet both have had a significant influence on the way Hollywood makes movies. Recently at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Eisner sat down and — get this — interviewed Franklin! As I say, it’s a fascinating conversation, a snapshot of where the business is today with glimpses of where it may be headed.

For more videos from the Aspen Ideas Festival, go here.

Zero Draft Thirty: Story Prep – Script Diary

August 24th, 2016 by

It all started with this blog post in October 2015: Who’s with me to pound out a script in November?

That led to this: Zero Draft Thirty: Write a Script in a Month Challenge.

Every day for 30 days in November, I did a Zero Draft Thirty post with inspirational writing quotes, videos, and handed out a daily Award to the person deemed worthy for their efforts in supporting our collective cause.

A Facebook group emerged from the process, now with over 1000 members. The Challenge was written up in Indiewire. Translated into Spanish. Got its own hashtag on Twitter: #ZD30SCRIPT.

Eventually over a thousand writers joined up for the Challenge. Via Facebook, Twitter, or email, nearly 200 writers let me know they had finished their Zero Drafts.

So we decided to make the Zero Draft Challenge a twice a year thing: Every March, like we did here, and every September. Here we are, just about a month out from the Zero Draft Thirty 2016 Autumn Challenge.

It’s simple. Pick a script-writing project. Type FADE IN on September 1. Type FADE OUT on September 30.

And you are cordially invited.

In the days leading up to ZDT, I figured we could spend some time talking about story prep as well as psychological prep for our collective writing effort.

Today let’s talk about one of the most valuable first draft resources I have discovered: Script Diary.

The last thing I do before I type FADE IN is create yet a Word file, which I call Script Diary.

I come to the diary to start every writing session. I visit it when I get stuck. I return to it when I hit on a story revelation. Day after day, I use my script diary to chronicle the writing of the story.

At the start of a writing session, I note the date and time in the script diary, then get my fingers and brain loosened up by typing up my thoughts about the scene I am about to tackle. I’ll remind myself what type of scene it is, which characters are participating in it, what each of their agendas is, who is playing what story function for that scene, how the scene relates to the overall plot, what the central point of the scene is, and so on. As I’m doing that, normally lines of dialogue pop to mind and I’ll put those down — so in essence I’m pre-drafting the scene, and can take that sketch to my script file and use it to write the actual scene.

I also use the script diary to track my emotional connection to the story. For instance, I may be worried about whether the scene I’m about to write will work or not. I may be concerned that one of the characters doesn’t feel quite right. If I’m stuck, I use the diary as a place to express my fears about the story; in fact, if I’m really stuck, I’ll ‘ask’ the characters, right there in my diary, to talk to me, show me what they want or need.

Now you may think I’m crazy — talking to my characters, asking them for help! But ever since I’ve started using a script diary, my experience of my story’s characters has become that much more… real, I suppose is the best way to describe it.

Whenever I am stuck, I  start writing in my script diary, and invariably I become aware of my characters. Suddenly, one of them will turn and halfway glance at me or motion, and I’ll ‘follow’ them.

What I am saying is that my characters lead me deeper into my story. They show me the way. And the script diary is a crucial part of that experience because, I think, I am opening myself up to my characters, creating a ‘dialogue’ with them on those diary pages.

And there’s something else that’s very cool about a script diary: when you’re done with the project, you’ve got this journal of the entire writing process. You can go back to see and feel the actual moments where you found a breakthrough, where you busted through a story block, where your characters spoke to you.

Like everything else in this succession of posts, a script diary may not work for you. However, I encourage you to try it at least once. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Back to the Zero Draft Thirty Challenge:

September 1: Type FADE IN.
September 30: Type FADE OUT.

30 days. A first draft of an original screenplay. TV pilot. Or a rewrite of an existing script.

For background on the Zero Draft Thirty challenge, go here.

Don’t forget the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group. A terrific collection of folks who post things every day, even when we’re not in a challenge.

So calling all Zeronauts, Outlaws, Scamperers, and Writing Warriors. Who’s up for pounding out a Zero Draft in September? LET’S DO THIS THING!

Hashtag: #ZD30SCRIPT.

Interview (Part 3): Adam Kolbrenner, Madhouse Entertainment

August 24th, 2016 by

This week, we are fortunate to have as our guest manager-producer Adam Kolbrenner from Madhouse Entertainment, an L.A.-based production and literary management company that works with screenwriters and writer/directors in the areas of film, television and new media.

I will be posting the whole interview over the course of the week. Today in Part 3, Adam shares his assessment of the spec script market and the value of a spec script for a writer.

In a 2009 Hollywood Reporter feature, there’s this: “Kolbrenner is known for taking time developing scripts and being discriminating in what he sells. ‘I’m not a literary manager who goes out with a spec a week,’ he says. ‘If you throw stuff against the wall just to see what sticks, you’re going to end up with a messy floor.’” Could you explain your rationale behind this philosophy?

Madhouse clients understand what is at stake with every piece of material they write. They know that we will never send out a piece of material that we have not worked on together extensively through our development period. Why would they want a piece of material to be read with their name on it that isn’t all the way to the finish line? Why send out a piece of material that I don’t fundamentally believe in? If the answer for a writer is they just want to “get it out there,” our answer is “We won’t represent you.” Being rewritten when you had the opportunity to do the work, and you decided you didn’t want to, is going to really suck. I see it all the time, read most of the material that sells, if there’s a great idea, they are just buying the idea and will hire another writer to execute it. That’s in large part of what a messy floor is. Ultimately, I only send out material when it’s ready to be looked at by everyone in town and we’re both proud of it. That way people will want to read material from me and my client again next time.

The spec script market has rebounded the last two years. What is your take on why that has happened?

Spec scripts are opportunities for the marketplace. A hungry marketplace embraces the great ones because buyers need to make movies, otherwise they don’t exist. But specifically, the trend in the marketplace is rooted in great ideas, great stories, and great voices. Can each spec script wrap those 3 traits together into one? Can you write the perfect spec script that every buyer in town would make? You start with a great idea and develop the spec with us.

Action, Action Thriller, and Thrillers have been at the top of the spec script sales chart the last two years in terms of genres. Why do you think that is? Is that a trend you think will continue? Any new trends you see emerging at present?

Those films are built for movie stars. If you can write a great movie star role, you can get a movie made. Yes, this trend will never die, it will only flourish. I don’t believe I know what trends will emerge, we live in a world with complicated reasons audiences go to theaters today. But I believe this is the good news for writers. If audiences are more picky of how they spend their money and time, they will demand better quality. Quality control happens to be one of the best assets of the motion picture business. When you have a great product to show off, you promote the hell out of it because you are proud of it.

Beyond the major Hollywood studios, there seem to be a lot of more financing entities around nowadays active in the acquisition and development market. Aside from creating more buyers, are there unique benefits for a writer to work with a smaller, independent production company as opposed to a major studio?

If all the companies out there were legit, we’d all be making a lot more movies. The direct advantage for a writer though is passion behind a project but it ultimately must be based in clear understanding of the parameters and strategy to get the film made. Writers will often mistake that passion with a proper business relationship though. You wouldn’t lend your car to that dude who hangs out in front of the 7-11 talking to himself. You must understand who this person is, their background, and simply asking around if a person is legit, doing research is a necessity.

Obviously a major goal for a writer working on a spec script is to sell it, but isn’t it true a spec can be an asset to a writer even if it doesn’t sell? If so, in what ways?

Who are you as a writer? That’s what a spec will show. Can you write great characters, can you write an excellent story, that will show in the spec. Will they all sell? Absolutely not. But will people remember you for what you wrote? That’s the quest. To write the piece that puts you on the launching pad as you begin or navigate a long term screenwriting career.

Tomorrow in Part 4, Adam reveals some insider details on two big movie deals with which Madhouse Entertainment was involved.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

To read press articles about Madhouse Entertainment, go here.

The Spirit Of The Spec (Part 3): You Write Your Story

August 24th, 2016 by

I had a conversation recently with a former studio executive turned producer in which I found myself talking about the “spirit of the spec,” essentially when a person chooses to pursue a project or goal entirely on speculation with the hopes of some eventual payoff. Not everybody would make that choice. To many, with the odds so long against success, doing something on spec is not only illogical, it’s also seemingly inane.

And yet almost all screenwriters, TV writers, novelists, short story writers, playwrights, and poets have as some part of their creative self the spirit of the spec.

After my conversation with the producer, it occurred to me this is a subject we should discuss here at GITS because it speaks to the very core of why we’re here and what we’re about as people driven by creative impulses. So today through Friday, I will post something each day exploring what it means for a writer to have the spirit of the spec.

You Write Your Story.

Probably most people imagine that when a writer writes a story, they are seated at their desk, plunking away at their keyboard, hour after hour until they finish their opus.

Yes, there is a good deal of ‘butt on chair’ time involved in writing. But when you are moved by the spirit of the spec, committing yourself wholly to your story, the fact is you are never not writing.

You are writing your story when you drive.
You are writing your story when you eat.
You are writing your story when you shower.
You are writing your story when you fold the laundry.
You are writing your story when you exercise.
You are writing your story when you sleep.
You are writing your story when you are engaged in conversation with others.

This last point can be a particularly vexing condition for your friends, family and loved ones. They know they only have a certain percentage of your attention. That at any minute, you will be there, then not there. Your body present, your mind off with your characters somewhere.

But it’s not just somewhere, is it? No, when we write our story, we create a universe in which that story exists. The characters live and breathe. We may sit and write about them for a few hours at a time, but they go on with their existence, every minute of their every day.

And frankly that’s one of the most damnable aspects of the writing process: Knowing just what to pluck out of that universe to put into our story. To my knowledge, there is only one way to determine that, summed up wonderfully by my then three year-old son when asked his advice about writing: “Go into the story, and find the animals.”

We come up with an idea and test to see if it has merit.

We act on our idea by getting curious and following the path on our journey of discovery.

Then we write our story by going into it [immersing ourselves in that place and with those characters] and finding the animals [everything of substance that prowls there — moments, scenes, dialogue, images, feelings, and so on].

The animal allusion is particularly apt because stories are organic in nature and frankly rather wild, teeming with life which is both great in terms of the vitality that exists there, but also dangerous because there are times when we lose our way… as if in a jungle.

A thick, dark jungle with lots of creepy shadows, a multitude of trailheads — which ones to take?!?! — and a constant chorus of whispered voices: Go back! Who are you kidding? This story sucks! You suck! Why are you wasting your time? You’ll never make it to the end! You’ll be humiliated if you continue! Epic fail dead ahead!

On the whole, writing is not only a daunting task, it is also a frightening one.

But when you have the spirit of the spec, you have a card you can play to trump your fears, a simple and pragmatic one: “If you don’t write it, you can’t sell it.”

There is no way around that. It’s an inescapable fact. Truth with a capital “T”.

Thus when we struggle with our story, even to the point of feeling fear about writing it, the spirit of the spec reminds us we haven’t done squat until we have that finished manuscript in hand. Everything we do is just words vanishing into thin air, an exercise in vainglory… until we type FADE OUT / THE END.

But then a moment of true existential bliss: Printing out that final draft. Feeling the heft of those pages in our hands, their warmth as they slide out of the printer, one by one. We touch them. We hug them. We smell them.

This… THIS… is what it’s all about. We have gone into the story, immersed ourselves in that universe and with those characters, given ourselves over to an all-consuming creative process in order to craft something tangible, something real. Creativity incarnate. Our story. Come to life.

And now having written our story, we are ready for the next step on our journey.

Part 1: You Have An Idea

Part 2: You Act On Your Idea.

Tomorrow: You Put It Out There.