Some of the most popular Go Into The Story posts and series covering everything related to screenwriting: From theory (Character, Plot, Theme) to business (Spec Scripts, Story Types) to practice (Writing Mantras, Resources), and much more.
This popular, proven online workshop guides you through the story development process from concept to outline, resulting in a comprehensive guide to write your script. Starts: Monday, March 2. Instructor: SCOTT MYERS.
Great scenes are what Quentino Tarantino movies are all about. In this 1-week class taught by Tom Benedek, participants study Tarantino’s scene build-outs and their structural ingredients, knowledge you can use in your writing. Starts March 9.
There’s a ton of great chase movies and chase scenes. Let’s see if we can get together 7 kick-ass examples with some memorable dialogue for this week.
The usual drill:
* Copy/paste dialogue from IMDb Quotes or some other transcript source.
* Copy/paste the URL of an accompanying video from YouTube or some other video source.
I’d also ask you to think about why the dialogue is notable. Is there anything about the dialogue which provides some takeaway re screenwriting?
Here is our lineup for upcoming Daily Dialogue themes:
March 2-March 8: Chase
March 9-March 15: Reunion
March 16-March 22: Competition
March 23-March 29: Ghost
March 30-April 5: Foreigner
April 6-April 12: Interrogation
April 13-April 19: Amnesia
April 20-April 26: Betrayal
April 27-May 3: Stammer
May 4-May 10: Graduation
Check this out: The GITS Daily Dialogue Topic Index! You can read about Liz and Allie, two sisters who are big fans of the blog, and were inspired to create the index. A great resource for writers looking for inspiration for their own dialogue writing. You can be a part of this proud tradition with your ideas for weekly themes and Daily Dialogue suggestions.
Please post your ideas for this week’s theme — Chase — in comments. Thanks!
First-timers. Tyro scribes. There are several ways Hollywood development people refer to writers who break into the business via a spec script, but the one writers want to have hung on us is this: Fresh Voice. One such writer is Eric Koenig.
The thriller follows two powerful female characters going head to head as a prison psychologist has 48 hours to convince a serial killer to disclose the location of her final victim before she is executed.
The script was Eric’s first deal in Hollywood, so as we wrapped up my series last week on spec script deals in 2014, I was happy to be able to connect with Eric and send him a series of question to which he responded.
Here are links to the two installments of the entire interview:
Part 1: “Go Into The Story has been one of those instrumental blogs when it comes to me becoming a professional screenwriter. I’ve read it religiously for several years now and the wisdom I’ve gleaned from it has definitely helped me get to where I am today.”
Part 2: “I’ve been told many times since Matriarch sold that the fact it has two strong females leads is actually a great selling point. While I was hoping this would be the case, the real reason it has two female leads is simply because that’s what this story called for.
Day 20 challenge: A scene in which characters can say no more than five words per side.
Want to join in? For the Week 1 writing prompts, go here. For the Week 2 writing prompts, go here.
We have several challenge winners already! They are Stu Anderson, Ricardo Bravo, Liz Correal, Brian Helton, Evan Skarin, John Suriano, Michelle Takahasi, and Carolyn Wang. Many more working overtime to reach the goal.
NOTE: The challenge ends midnight Pacific, February 28. You must have posted all ten of your own scenes and all ten of your assessment of other scenes by that time to qualify for the prize.
For background on the Challenge and to learn how you can win a free one-week online Craft class with me, go here.
An A.V. Club 11 Question interview with writer-actor-director Mark Duplass:
1. What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Mark Duplass: I will not name it, but I had a do a rewrite for a certain studio on a screenplay, and—uff. I don’t even want to get into it. Bad, bad, bad, bad rewrite job.
The A.V. Club:Was it was hard for you to do it, or it was a hard movie, or it was hard to deal with them?
MD: We were not a great fit. It was bad on all fronts.
AVC: And it was worse than anything you ever did in high school?
MD: Honestly, I worked at a cleaner’s, but that job was fine. I worked as a bus boy; I was making 11 dollars an hour. I didn’t have any expectation that [that job] would be good. I think it’s good to do your day job stuff outside of your art. The worst jobs are when you’re inside of your art and bastardizing that for your day job. So, to me, McDonald’s is much better than a bad rewrite job.
— Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (20010), screenplay by Steve Kloves, novel by J.K. Rowling
The Daily Dialogue theme for next week: Birthday.
Trivia: Warner Bros. originally considered making the entire “Harry Potter” series as a set of CGI animated films, or attempting to combine several of the novels into a single movie. The studio’s reasoning mainly had to do with concern over the rapid aging of child actors-if production ran too long on any of the films, or if production was delayed between sequels, the leading actors might have to be recast. Author J.K. Rowling vetoed both the ideas of combining books and an animated film, so the studio decided instead to produce all seven (later eight) films back to back so the same child actors could play their roles in every film.
Dialogue On Dialogue: Pretty much where it all started: A birthday wish.
If you have a suggestion for this week’s theme, please post in comments.
All the screenwriting classes I teach have some sort of workshop component to them, where participants are invited or depending upon the course expected to post pages for peer review. It occurred to me with this most recent class, I don’t think I’ve ever shared my take on something really important: “constructive critique”. Here is what I post at the beginning of every one of my courses:
A professional screenwriter knows how to give and accept critiques on written material. This is called constructive critique. What that means for this course is two-fold: I expect you to give honest feedback on your classmates’ writing assignments. A second and equally important element of constructive critique is that I also expect you to provide creative suggestions as to how to possibly improve the material.
The goal is to create a positive evaluative environment. This does not mean everything you say about your classmates’ writing has to be spunky and upbeat. As I say, I expect you to provide honest feedback. If something doesn’t work for you, then as a professional, it is your responsibility to convey your thoughts.
Posting the comment “It sucks” does not qualify as a constructive critique. Why? Because you haven’t specified what you perceive the issue/problem to be. Honest feedback not only requires honesty from you, but also some specific evaluation of the material in question.
Now I understand none of us likes to be criticized. But please get this point: Criticism is not the same as criticizing. It is, rather, a critique, one person’s honest assessment of the material, not the writer.
So a writing mantra: “Always critique the material, not the writer.”
That’s that about honest feedback. But we don’t leave it there. As part of constructive critique, I expect you to do your best to follow up your assessment of the material with creative suggestions as to how to make the material better. This is critical in part because it helps to ensure a positive evaluation experience in our online classroom, and also forces you to become a better critical thinker.
It’s simple to take pot shots at material. It is not nearly as easy to come up with creative suggestions to make the scene, story, or characters work better.
Robert Towne, screenwriter extraordinaire who wrote Chinatown, among many other scripts, made this comment: “In rewriting what you have to be able to do is read a piece of material, say what’s wrong with it, know how to say what’s right with it, and then be able to do it yourself. That’s really what it comes down to. Some people say what’s wrong with something, some people can even say what’s right with it, and some people can do all three. But, you know, the more things that are required, the fewer people can do it. I think I can do it.”
A big reason to engage in constructive critique is so that you can learn to do all three.
And so yet another mantra. Regarding constructive critique: “Say what’s right with it, say what’s wrong with it, then say what you’d do to make it work better.”
It is important that each one of you engage in active constructive critique on every assignment. Your feedback will not only benefit your classmates, the process of formulating your opinion will improve your own creative understanding of screenwriting.
However you do it, connect with other writers. Good ones. Create a writing group. Commit to reading each others’ pages and provide a constructive critique. You’ll help them. They’ll help you. Everyone will become less ‘precious’ with their work. You will be learning how to accept critiques of your material, lock in on the good ideas, then implement them in rewrites.
If you can’t find other writers, consider taking one of a Screenwriting Master Class course. Great workshop environments and literally dozens of writing groups have emerged from my classes.
A great opportunity starts Monday with my Prep: From Concept to Outline workshop. Work out your story with the benefit of my feedback and that of writing peers in a positive evaluative environment.
Donald Margulies, one of America’s most widely-produced playwrights, won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Dinner with Friends (which was made into a Emmy Award-nominated film for HBO directed by Norman Jewison) and was a finalist twice before for Sight Unseen and Collected Stories. His many other plays, which include The Country House, Shipwrecked! An Entertainment, Brooklyn Boy, the Tony Award-nominated Time Stands Still and the Obie Award-winning The ModelApartment, have been produced on and off-Broadway and in theaters across the United States and around the world. Mr. Margulies has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, The New York Foundation for the Arts, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He was the recipient of the 2000 Sidney Kingsley Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Theatre by a playwright. In 2005 he was honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters with an Award in Literature and by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture with its Award in Literary Arts. He was the 2014 recipient of the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theatre Award for an American Playwright in Mid-Career and the 2015 William Inge Award for Distinguished Achievement in the American Theater. He has developed numerous screenplays, teleplays and pilots for HBO, Showtime, NBC, CBS, Warner Bros., TriStar, Universal, Paramount, and MGM. He is an adjunct professor of English and Theater Studies at Yale University. The film of his screenplay, The End of the Tour (2013 Black List), directed by James Ponsoldt, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and will be released in the fall of 2015.
Donald agreed to respond to some of my questions about writing The End of the Tour as well as his insights into the craft of writing.
Today in Part 3, Donald responds to some questions about the craft of screenwriting:
Scott: Some craft questions, if we could. How do you come up with story ideas?
Donald: Most of the work I’ve done for screen has been adaptation, a process I really enjoy. It employs a different part of my brain than when I’m writing a play, a different skill set. My original ideas tend to take the form of plays. I know I have a play when I find myself curious or troubled by something. A play can start with an image that can be as simple as two people in a room and I begin to ask questions about who they are in relation to one another. My play, Time Stands Still, arose from my imagining a loft and a woman on crutches entering it; when I decided that she was a photojournalist who had been injured covering combat, I had my new play. I use photography as prompts in my playwriting class: Diane Arbus portraits as an exploration of character and voice, Gregory Crewdson photos as an introduction to setting and stage pictures.
Scott: How much time do you spend in prep-writing (i.e., brainstorming, character development, plotting, research, outlining)? Which of the aspects of prep do you tend to devote the most time and focus to?
Donald: Research can be seductive. Writers try to convince themselves that research is writing but the truth is research is research. I love research! When I adapted Edith Wharton’s The Touchstone, for instance, I immersed myself in Whartonia. I spent months reading her novels, her correspondence, biographies, scholarly studies about women at the turn of the twentieth century, you name it! I even paid a visit to The Mount! What fun! But there comes a time when you have to say, “That’s enough research” and confront the beast – the script – and start writing. The danger of research is falling in love with too many details and wanting to use everything. Research is useful as inspiration but it mustn’t become an excuse not to write. You ultimately have to make a story your own and too many neat facts can clutter a script. I find treatment-writing a miserable pursuit; what joy is there in describing what you’re going to write?
Scott: When you finish a first draft, you are faced with the inevitable rewriting process. Are there some keys you have to rewriting your scripts and if so what are they?
Donald: I set the script aside for a few days, once the satisfied glow of finishing a draft has faded. I then print out a pristine copy of the script and proceed to mark it up with pencil, drawing lines between beats, making squiggles alongside dialogue that sounded great three days earlier but now seems self-indulgent. Also, I find it very useful hearing the work read aloud. Put together a reading. You can really get a sense of what’s working, what’s overwritten, what’s said two too many times, where you’re having too much fun at the expense of your story. I find myself increasingly impatient with movies and plays – my own very much included – when I feel that the story isn’t moving fast enough. Cutting can feel very liberating.
Scott: What is your actual writing process?
Donald: I don’t write every day. Well, I write something every day – emails, letters of reference – but I don’t always have a play or screenplay in progress to turn to. I love having a play in production. For me, rehearsal is the social reward for having toiled alone for many months. When I’m on fire with inspiration (which isn’t as often as I’d like) I write for hours a day and find that ideas strike as my head hits the pillow, so I’ll scrawl something brilliant in the dark on the back of a New Yorker at my bedside and find gibberish in the light of day. I don’t hang out in coffee shops with my laptop. I have a lovely office on the third floor of my home. My preferred soundtrack is silence but it’s often punctuated by my dog barking at perceived interlopers. If the phone doesn’t ring (which I have come to prefer), I could go through an entire day without speaking to anyone but my dog, and she’s a dog. I was never cut out for writers’ rooms; I’m much more attuned to my own fragile ego than I am to a roomful of them. I’m not used to saying ideas out loud; I always fear they’re bubbles that will burst once they’re spoken. I start out on a pad or in a notebook writing by hand but mostly doodling. When I hit on something that feels like a lead, I go to the keyboard and see how far that lead can get me.
This week, we have been reading, analyzing, and discussing the script and movie Whiplash. In some ways, today’s exercise is the whole point of the series: What did you take away from the experience of reading and analyzing the script?
Written by Damien Chazelle.
IMDb plot summary: A promising young drummer enrolls at a cut-throat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by an instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student’s potential.
Writing Exercise: What did you take away from reading and analyzing the script for Whiplash?
For Part 1, to read the Scene-By-Scene Breakdown created by Steven Broughton, go here.
For Part 2, to read the Major Plot Points, go here.
For Part 4, to read the Psychological Journey, go here.
This series started here and we have 26 volunteers to do scene-by-scene breakdowns of contemporary movie scripts. The scripts we have already analyzed are in italics.
American Hustle: Jon Raymond Argo: Nora Barry
Barney’s Version: John M
Beginners: Ali Boyhood: Jacob Jensen
Enough Said: Ali
Flight: 14Shari Frankenwenie: Will King
Frozen: Christina Sekeris
Gone Girl: NateKohler1 Gravity: Matt Duriez Hanna: John Arends
Looper: erikledrew Moonrise Kingdom: Daniel Bigler
Paranorman: OhScotty Prisoners: Melinda Mahaffey Icden
Short Term 12: Carolina Groppa The Artist: Traci Nell Peterson
The Grand Budapest Hotel: Rob Hoskins
The Social Network: N D
The Way Way Back: Ricky
Wadjda: iamdaniel Whiplash: Steven Broughton
If you’d like to participate and do a scene-by-scene breakdown yourself, please indicate which script in comments or email me. We are using scripts available on our site here. Note some of the 2014 scripts are now available there including Belle, Birdman, Boyhood, Calvary, Get On Up, Gone Girl, How To Train Your Dragon 2, Kill The Messenger, Locke, St. Vincent, The Boxtrolls, The Fault In Our Stars, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Theory of Everything, and Wild.
For new volunteers and those who have already volunteered, but not sent me a breakdown yet, please do so as soon as possible. Thanks!
Circling back to where we started, reading scripts is hugely important. Analyzing them even more so. If you want to work in Hollywood as a writer, you need to develop your critical analytical skills. This is one way to do that.
So seize this opportunity and join in the conversation!
I hope to see you in comments about this week’s script: Whiplash.