Reader Question: Are movies featuring LGBT leads destined to be relegated to indie film permanently?

August 26th, 2014 by

Question from j_midtown:

While we mourn Robin Williams’ untimely passing [last] week, among the more frequently mentioned of his credits was The Birdcage. Released way back in 1996, The Birdcage ranks as the highest-ever grossing LGBT-themed movie at $124M domestic and was released by MGM. Paramount had a couple of gay-themed releases in the years closely following, but since then no major studio has dipped their toes into those waters, despite the dramatic swing in societal and cultural acceptance of LGBT people over the same period.

Certainly, part of this can be attributed to the swing to franchise-driven, tent-pole releases at the majors and the death of the mid-budget drama and comedy productions generally, but are there other factors at work? Are studios afraid of the subject matter? Are specs with major gay characters or themes complete non-starters? Is there any hope for change or will gay cinema be relegated to low-budget, independent film permanently?

Indiewire came out with a recent article (August 5) on precisely this point: Why Don’t LGBT Movies Make Money At The Box Office Anymore. Check out these charts:

Top Grossing Films With Lead LGBT Character (1990-1999)
1. The Birdcage (1996) – $124,060,553
2. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) – $81,298,265
3. Philadelphia (1993) -  $77,446,440
4. In & Out (1996) – $63,856,929
5. To Wong Foo (1995) – $36,474,193
6. The Object of My Affection (1998) – $29,187,243
7. Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil (1997) – $25,105,255

Top Grossing Films With Lead LGBT Character (2000-2009)
1. Brokeback Mountain (2005) – $83,043,761
2. Bruno (2009) – $60,054,530
3. The Hours (2002) – $41,675,994
4. Monster (2003) – $34,469,210
5. Milk (2008) – $31,841,299
6. Rent (2005) - $29,077,547
7. Capote (2005) - $28,750,530

Top Grossing Films With Lead LGBT Character (2010-present)
1. The Kids Are All Right (2010) – $20,811,365
2. Blue is the Warmest Color (2013) – $2,199,787
3. I Love You, Phillip Morris (2010) – $2,037,459
4. Farewell My Queen (2012) – $1,347,990
5. I’m So Excited (2013) – $$1,368,119
6. La Mission (2010) – $1,062,940
7. Kill Your Darlings (2014) - $1,030,064

As the article notes, the numbers are a bit skewed in that we are only five-and-a-half years into this decade. Maybe there’s a Birdcage or Brokeback Mountain yet to come in the next four years that could significantly alter box office results.

[Note: Even though Dallas Buyers Club did not feature a gay lead character, the subject matter as well as some other characters did tie into the LGBT community, and that movie has grossed $55M worldwide.]

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I might be tempted to compare these downward numeric trendlines of LGBT movies to those of recent Christian theme films like God’s Not Dead [$62M], Son of God [$68M], and Heaven is for Real [$100M], which have been generating solid numbers at the box office. Do Hollywood studios and financiers perceive there is more money to be made in religious films now rather than movies featuring LGBT characters? Of course, they do not have to be mutually exclusive, however if movie companies are actively seeking religious audiences, might they be hedging their bets on LGBT projects as not to offend more conservative church-going movie fans?

I doubt very seriously if the two are connected, however the reality is the primary focus of any Hollywood film company is one thing: Profits. In this regard, a more telling fact about the chart above is that none of the movies released since 2010 has been distributed by a major studio, whereas The Birdcage [United Artists], The Talented Mr. Ripley [Paramount/Miramax], Philadelphia [TriStar], and In & Out [Paramount] all were.

Is Hollywood afraid of dealing with LGBT subject matter? That seems unlikely as there is a significant paradigm shift going on in the U.S. over the last several years. There are 19 states now where it is legal for gays to get married, a number that is sure to continue growing. Support for same-sex marriage has jumped 21% since 2003, including 61% of young Republicans. So it’s not like movies with LGBT themes would be more controversial nowadays. On the contrary from a cultural standpoint, it seems like this topic of conversation is becoming normalized.

Perhaps that’s a contributing factor to the decline in box office. In the 90s, when the subject matter in a movie would have been more controversial, the studios could generate buzz simply with the casting: Robin Williams as a gay character! Matt Damon as a gay character! Tom Hanks as a gay character! Would that generate as much noise in today’s marketplace?

Part of this shift, too, has to be tied to the studios’ bifurcated approach to business, where they spend a lot of time and money on franchise movies, heavy with CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) and little in the way of A-list actors, and low budget genre movies on the other end of the slate. In other words, they’re just not making many mid-budget dramas or comedies which is what all of those successful LGBT movies from the 90s and 2010s were.

Re spec scripts: If a writer has a fantastic story to tell featuring an LGBT lead character and they passionate to write it, my advice would be to set aside market considerations and go for it. Remember, specs are not just about sales, they are first and foremost a way to convey talent and voice to the Hollywood development community. Yes, a spec can sell. It can also get you representation. Meetings with producers and development execs. Your name put onto lists for writing assignments. A great story executed wonderfully in a screenplay can do all of that for you.

Bottom line, perhaps we are in a period where movies featuring LGBT lead characters have been ‘relegated’ to the indie world. But as soon as a gay version of The Heat or Bridesmaids comes out and does great box office, Hollywood will be all over that, to test those waters for potential revenues. If a company thinks they can get such a movie produced and make money on it, they’ll buy it… and try it.

Readers, what do you think? What sort of trend do you see for LGBT theme movies?

UPDATE: In the meantime, Love Is Strange, starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a longtime couple whose lives are changed when they decide to get married, gets a wide expansion in theaters this weekend.

2011 Screenwriters Roundtable, Part 2: Chris Borrelli, F. Scott Frazier, Jeremiah Friedman, Nick Palmer, Justin Rhodes, Greg Russo, John Swetnam

August 26th, 2014 by

As something of an elder member of the screenwriting community, one of the wonderful experiences I have had since I started the blog is to get to know dozens of writers who I think would be fair to describe as ‘Young Turks’. Not necessarily young in terms of their age, but rather with regard to their zeal for the craft and their brazenness in how they approach storytelling. There is a kind of fearlessness in evidence among this group, along with obvious talent, and I find their words, both in conversation and in their scripts, uplifting and inspiring.

Back in 2011, I corralled several of these writers for a screenwriters roundtable which I ran as a series of blog posts. Readers loved it. So I reached out to the group again in 2012. They agreed to another roundtable. Again, readers loved the conversation.

By this time, a thought occurred to me: Visiting with this same core group of writers in an annual roundtable would not only give us the benefit of their perspective on the craft and state of the movie business, it would also allow us to track their individual and collective development.

I discussed this with the group and thankfully, they agreed to do another roundtable at the end of 2013.

In two weeks, I will be featuring that new installment of the screenwriters roundtable, but I thought as a run-up to that, it would be a good idea to reprise both the 2011 and 2012 interviews.

First, many readers will not have had the chance to read either of those conversations. Also this will give us a sense of how the careers of these writers are evolving. Indeed, as we speak, two of them are directing their first feature length movies.

So each day this week, I will post the 6-part 2011 screenwriters roundtable featuring Chris Borrelli, F. Scott Frazier, Jeremiah Friedman, Nick Palmer, Justin Rhodes, Greg Russo and John Swetnam. Next week, the 2012 roundtable. Then the week of September 8th, the newest installment of our screenwriters roundtable.

Here is Part 2 of the 2011 Screenwriters Roundtable.

[Originally posted March 5, 2012]

A special treat this week on GITS as each day I will be posting excerpts from a screenwriter’s roundtable I did with some of the best and hottest young screenwriters in Hollywood: Chris Borrelli, F. Scott Frazier, Justin Rhodes, Greg Russo, John Swetnam and the writing duo Jeremiah Friedman & Nick Palmer. How good are they? Over the last 2 years, they have combined to sell 12 spec scripts, and that doesn’t include the numerous writing assignments they have landed or original pitches they have set up.

Here are the 12 spec scripts they have sold:

Chris Borrelli: “The Vatican Tapes” [Black List 2009], “Wake”, “Sad Jack”.

F. Scott Frazier: “The Numbers Station”, “Line of Sight” [Black List 2011], “Autobahn”, and a fourth project as yet unannounced.

Jeremiah Friedman & Nick Palmer: “Family Getaway” [Black List 2010].

Justin Rhodes: “Second Sun”.

Greg Russo: “Down”, “Autobahn”.

John Swetnam: “Evidence”, “Category Six”.

Our conversation covered many topics and is a unique opportunity to learn what it’s like to go from aspiring to professional screenwriter. Beyond their insights into the craft, I’m sure you will be inspired by their passion for what they do, their love of movies, and just in general how much fun they are.

2011 Screenwriters Roundtable: Part 1

SM: How do you know when you have one of those great story concepts? Somebody like Justin, you wrote “Second Sun”, sold that to Warner Brothers. Did you know, immediately when you hit on that idea, it was a great concept, had the potential to be a movie?

Justin: My idea drawer is filled with hundreds of half thought out things that are terrible and suck and should never be made into anything. The ideas that end up being good are the ones that I keep looking at and they stay in my list of candidates for “Maybe this is a good idea.” If after six months of looking at my list of what I think are my best ideas and it’s still on the list? That’s kind of when it starts to survive. So for me the litmus test is just that it still sounds good after a long period of time. Because most of the ideas that I get really excited about, two weeks later I see why it shouldn’t be a film.

John: I think the first spec that you sell, that idea is probably the hardest one to judge, but once you get that one out of the way and you’re really entrenched in the town, taking meetings, and you start to get a real pulse of what people respond to, what people are looking for, that’s when it becomes a little easier. I’ll pitch a few little things to people and I can tell now a lot better what makes a movie, just because I’ve sat in rooms with so many people and have taken their pulse.

SM: John, is that an intuitive thing at this point or are there actual schematics or elements that you’ve learned over time where you feel like, oh, that makes this a good idea, that makes this a bad idea.

John: I’ve learned a lot of stuff. I worked in film marketing, so there are those kinds of things that I think about. I try to think as a producer and a studio executive in those ways, but at a certain point it does become instinct. And I think what I told you that one time… and this is my litmus test… can you honestly see your movie opening this weekend on three thousand screens? If you can answer that completely honestly and then be able to flesh that out into, what does that mean in terms of a poster, a trailer, an actor, if you can honestly believe that and see it in your head, at a certain point you just have to trust yourself. If you really can see that, then I feel like that’s when I have something. When I can just imagine it going to play at the Arclight on Friday and seeing my poster, and being there when the movie starts. That’s sort of how I test my own ideas, anyway.

Scott: For me, the idea of self-honesty is really interesting and it’s one of these things that no one really talks about. You learn how to compose a scene and you learn how to write dialogue and put together character arcs, but this idea of being actually honest with ourselves about what works and what doesn’t from the macro all the way down to the micro I think is one of those tools that separates the people who sell stuff versus the people who don’t. You have to be honest with yourself, you have to maintain that objectivity. Not in the middle of writing the script, but definitely before and afterwards, like John’s saying, you have to be able to honestly say to yourself, can I see this up on a big screen. Do I see this playing in a movie theater in Los Angeles and Arkansas and New York?

SM: Chris, you have an interesting background because you actually worked in development and so this idea of whether a concept is good or not, whether it feels like a movie… does that fit with your approach of assessing story concepts as well?

Chris: When I was a buyer for four years, or a DOD or whatever, I read two scripts a day or more and it definitely helped to do that much reading. Now, I am hopefully very self-honest as well. I think Frazier made a really good point just then. When you hand something to someone to read, a friend of yours, you’re getting feedback, or even when a spec is sent out, if someone doesn’t respond to it, it’s not that you’re not a good writer, it’s that they didn’t respond to the emotion of it. It’s nothing personal. And the best thing you can do beforehand is to try and be that hard on yourself. I think the same way as these guys do. The one word for me is emotion. What’s the emotional reaction I’m going for, what do I want the audience to feel? I’ve done horror, I’ve done action, and there are plenty of genres I stay away from, but whatever that genre is, does it deliver within that genre? Does it give people what they want, maybe not in the most expected way, which is the sign of a really good film I feel, but it’s been helpful just to see it from different angles.

SM: I recently did an interview with Mary Coleman, who is the head of the story department at Pixar. And she said something, Chris, very much like what you’re saying. She said they literally will go in and pitch three ideas to John Lasseter [Chief Creative Officer, Pixar]. Everybody on the creative team is expected to deliver three ideas to John on a semi-regular basis and he’ll piece out whether they work or not, but that’s one of the first criteria: What is the point of emotional connection that the audience is going to find with this story? Do the rest of you feel that’s as important when you’re sourcing through your ideas that you’re either going to work an assignment or you’re going to pitch or you’re going to spec?

Greg: For me, it really comes down to being a fan of these kinds of films. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m a fan of the genre I write in. I try to watch everything, have been for years, so I know what’s out there and I kind of have a taste for what excites me. So I rely on my own knowledge and enthusiasm for the genre that I write in. And hope that when I come up with an idea or someone brings me an idea that I can honestly say, you know what, that’s something I haven’t seen before, which would hopefully be something that you — the collective you, the audience you – hasn’t seen before either. And that excites me.

SM: So it’s like you’re making a translation. If I get excited about this, I’m passionate about this, then there’s a good chance the audience, they’ll be excited about it.

Greg: Absolutely. Hopefully they can see it from the page to the screen. Again, there are so many targets you have to hit. It’s not just will it play in a movie or can you see your poster, it’s also would I want to buy a ticket if I was going. At the end of the day, I need to be excited about the idea enough to sit there and write the script, to spend weeks with these characters and their story. I think that’s one of the biggest tricks. You’ve got to be excited or else you’re wasting your time. And it’s going to affect everything, including the finished film.

Justin: Going back to this idea of emotion, I might even break concept down as something that has two component parts: the idea, or the conceptual… oh, it’s a bus, it gets attacked or something, the plot side… then the emotional POV or the emotional window into it. And those can be different and divorced and sometimes remarried and you can find different points of view back into it. Do you want to do War of the Worlds from the point of view of the soldiers, or is it War of the Worlds from the point of view of the guy on the ground? You have the concept and the emotional window into it, which to me are discrete entities, but usually it’s the second one that invigorates the first one because the first one is generally more generic.

Scott: I would agree. I’m in the middle of working on a spec and I got the first draft done and the plot and the emotion, they were not tying together very well. And it was one of these things where I knew what was going on, so much so that while I have the plot, the throughlines, for my rewrite, it’s completely changing up the entire core concept of who the main character is and what he’s going through. And it’s not like you can suddenly mash the two together, it’s that in the first draft I was literally missing the whole point of the movie myself, and in going back and rewriting it, I’ve been able to find it again.

Justin: I might jump in to say that your particular emotional attachment to it actually is your point of view on the script. The reason this draft is going to be different because you wrote it is because of what part of it interested you specifically. So that emotional reaction in a lot of ways, I would say is everything.

Scott: I’m doing a lot of nodding my head.

John: Yeah, where’s the thumbs-up button, the like button?

Jeremiah: We agree!

[Laughter]

John: I will chime in with this, and this is just something that the more I hang out with writers and talk with writers, I think the one absolute truth is that all of us go about it in a completely different way. We probably all think about the same things at the end, but our sequencing of how we think about things is different, the way we approach story is different — is it concept first, character first — and that’s what makes it fascinating and why I think there’s always going to be room for so many different writers. I’ve sat down with some of you guys and we’re so different in the way we approach it, and that’s what will give us room to have careers because everyone has their own voice or their own sort of thing that they do well. That’s a good thing. I struggle with character a lot, I struggle with really trying to find that emotion. But then I can have Justin rewrite me and that’d be fine, and just sell the concept.

[Laughter]

There are so many lessons to take away from this part of the discussion, but let me offer something in the macro: Notice how self-aware these writers are? About the craft? Their connection to it? They know their strengths and their weaknesses. They know as soon as they hear a story concept to start working it from different angles. They know enough about themselves as writers to make really tough choices… like when to quit a project.

This is an important consideration because when you break into the business and your day-to-day ritual is sorting through a variety of options in terms of writing projects, whether an original spec, working with a producer to crack and pitch a story, or a possible writing assignment, you need to be aware of who you are as a writer. Yes, you want that money, but can you deliver the goods? Is it really a strong story idea or are you putting a sheen on it because of your overriding desire to make it a project you want to write?

Don’t get me wrong: Sometimes you just have to say “yes”, even to crap projects. But if you do, perhaps especially then, you must be aware of what you can bring to the table because focusing on those strengths are going to be what enables you to get through that project and bring something unique to it.

Each day for this series, I’m going to highlight one of the writers. Today: F. Scott Frazier.

Scott Frazier’s first movie The Numbers Station just finished filming with John Cusack and Malin Ackerman starring, Kasper Barfoed directing, and the Furst Brothers producing. His spec script “Autobahn” sold to Between the Eyes Productions, and is set to go into production later this year. He sold his spec script “Line Of Sight” to Warner Bros. with Ben Affleck attached to star, direct, and produce along with Joel Silver. He recently sold a pitch for an Untitled Alien Invasion to Universal, with Chris Morgan and Strike Entertainment producing. He lives with his wife as far north as you can possibly get while still remaining within the Los Angeles county limit.

For my one-on-one interview with Scott, go here.

You may follow Scott on Twitter: @ScreenWritten.

For Part 1 of the roundtable discussion, go here.

Tomorrow: Part 3 of this exclusive screenwriter’s roundtable. Much more to come over the next few weeks.

Thanks again to Chris Borrelli, F. Scott Frazier, Jeremiah Friedman, Nick Palmer, Justin Rhodes, Greg Russo and John Swetnam for their participation in this conversation.

Video: A Brief Look at Texting and the Internet in Film

August 26th, 2014 by

From Tony Zhou.

2014 Emmy Winners: Writers

August 26th, 2014 by

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners from last night’s Emmy Awards:

Writing For A Drama Series
Breaking Bad,” Ozymandias,” Moira Walley-Beckett (writer) — WINNER
Breaking Bad, “Felina,” Vince Gilligan (writer)
Game Of Thrones, “The Children,” David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (writers)
House Of Cards,”Chapter 14,” Beau Willimon (writer)
True Detective,”The Secret Fate Of All Of Life,” Nic Pizzolatto (writer)

Writing For A Comedy Series
Louie, “So Did The Fat Lady,” Louis C.K. (writer) — WINNER
Episodes, “Episode 305,” David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik (writers)
Orange Is The New Black, “I Wasn’t Ready (Pilot),” Liz Friedman and Jenji Kohan (writers)
Silicon Valley, “Optimal Tip-To-Tip Efficiency,” Alec Berg (writer)
Veep, “Special Relationship,” Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche (story and teleplay), Armando Iannucci (story)

Writing For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Dramatic Special
Sherlock: His Last Vow, Steven Moffat (writer) — WINNER
American Horror Story: Coven,”Bitchcraft,” Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk (writers)
Fargo, “The Crocodile’s Dilemma,” Noah Hawley (writer)
Luther, Neil Cross (writer)
The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer (screenplay)
Treme …To Miss New Orleans,David Simon and Eric Overmyer (writers)

Writing For A Variety Special
Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles, Sarah Silverman (writer) — WINNER
The Beatles: The Night That Changed America, Ken Ehrlich and David Wild (writers)
Billy Crystal: 700 Sundays, Billy Crystal (writer)
The 71st Annual Golden Globe Awards, Barry Adelman (writer), special material by Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Jon Macks, Dave Boone, Alex Baze, Robert Carlock, Sam Means, Seth Meyers, Mike Shoemaker
67th Annual Tony Awards, Dave Boone (writer); special material by Paul Greenberg

For a complete list of nominees and winners, go here.

Movie Trailer: “The Captive”

August 26th, 2014 by

Written by Atom Egoyan, David Fraser

Eight years after the disappearance of Cassandra, some disturbing indications seem to indicate that she’s still alive. Police, parents and Cassandra herself, will try to unravel the mystery of her disappearance.

IMDB

Free Screenwriting Resource: 30 Days of Screenplays

August 26th, 2014 by

Reading scripts. One of the single most important things you can do to learn the craft of screenwriting. And in my experience, this is one area many aspiring screenwriters fail to embrace. At bare minimum, you should be reading one script per week.

But if you really want a jump-start, why not read a script per day for an extended period of time? That way, you not only get the benefit of what you learn in each script, you also absorb things on a macro level: style, pace, scene construction, character, dialogue, and much more. This deep immersion into reading scripts on a daily basis over a significant length of time offers a unique kind of learning.

In the past, I’ve run two series precisely with this approach:

30 Days of Screenplays [2013]

30 Days of Screenplays [2014]

Each post provides background on the script, some analysis and a link where you can download a PDF.

Once the studios begin posting PDFs of their scripts as part of the For Your Consideration campaigns beginning in December, I’m sure we’ll run another series in 2015.

Be honest with yourself: You should be reading more scripts. Here you have two resources to help you do that.

Go here to access links to all of the select group of Free Screenwriting Resources from Go Into The Story.

Each day in August, I’m going to highlight a screenwriting resource available on the blog. Why? Because with over 15,000 posts and 70+ archive topics, I want to make sure readers are aware of the many, many assets available here for reading and research. And they are all free!

Screenwriting 101: Stephany Folsom

August 26th, 2014 by

“Don’t worry about getting an agent or a manager. When you have enough quality work under your belt, the agencies and management companies will come calling. Worry about telling stories you’re passionate about. Because the doors are wide open to everyone, it means you really have to care about what you’re writing, and be willing to fight for it for months or years.”

– Stephany Folsom (GITS Interview, April 4, 2014)

Daily Dialogue — August 26, 2014

August 26th, 2014 by

Diane: So, what’s the special occasion?
Adam: I wanted to tell you something, but… I need you to promise you’re going to stay calm.
Diane: Oh, Adam, don’t be so overdramatic–
Adam [cutting her off]: Mom, just promise, okay?
Diane: Okay, I promise. Always make me out to be some sort of irrational loon.

Adam collects himself and takes a deep breath.

Adam: Have you ever seen “Terms of Endearment”?
Rachel: Jesus, Adam, just tell her.
Diane: Tell me what?
Adam: I have cancer.

Diane stares at him.

Diane: What do you mean, you have cancer?
Adam: I have cancer, I… what do you want me to say?
Diane: When did this happen?
Adam: A couple of days ago.
Diane: A couple of days ago? You waited a couple of days to tell me?

50/50 (2011), written by Will Reiser

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Delivering Bad News.

Trivia: During a roundtable discussion with the cast, screenwriter Will Reiser revealed that Bryce Dallas Howard came up with the title of the film. The crew was skeptical about it when she first suggested it to them on the set of the art gallery scene. When she found out that the title had been changed to the one she suggested, she was surprised.

Dialogue On Dialogue: The delivery of this bad news tells you so much about Diane’s character as her immediate response is to make it about herself. Just that one line — “You waited a couple of days to tell me” — speaks volumes about her.

Style = Voice

August 25th, 2014 by

How you approach screenwriting style is a reflection of your writing voice. This is the case whether you are intentional about it or not. A professional script reader, who plows through hundreds of scripts per year, will pick up on a script’s sense of style – or lack thereof – from the very first line of scene description. Therefore it stands to reason you need to think about your writing voice as conveyed in your script’s style. And that is what Core IV: Style is all about, exploring the breadth and depth of the 4th essential screenwriting principle I teach in the Core content of The Quest:

Style = Voice

Start with this question: Who tells your story? Obviously, when you sit down to create a screenplay, you write the story. But when a manager, producer, agent, or studio executive reads your script, who tells your story to them?

It is someone who remains largely invisible, but whose presence is felt from FADE IN to FADE OUT. Someone about whom many screenwriters have little knowledge and yet traffic in that unseen world every time they write a scene. Someone who can make a screenplay a great read – or something less.

Let’s call it Narrative Voice.

Narrative Voice is not a narrator per se. You will never see it with its own side of dialogue. In fact, you will never name it in your screenplay. But Narrative Voice is there. And it is a critical aspect of your script’s success.

What is Narrative Voice?

Narrative Voice is the storytelling sensibility you bring to your screenplay through your writing style. Think of Narrative Voice as your script’s invisible character. Although silent, it is present in every scene, every line, every word you write. As you develop and sharpen each visible character in your screenplay, you also need to figure out who your Narrative Voice is, what your Narrative Voice sounds like, and how your Narrative Voice will play an active role in the telling of your story.

In Core IV: Style, a 1-week online class I will teach starting on Monday, September 1, you will learn about:

* The ins and outs of Narrative Voice

* Elements of screenplay style

* Psychological writing (Perspective, Proximity, Perception)

* Imagematic writing (Verbs, Descriptors, Poetics)

* Action writing (Lines, Paragraphs, Direction)

And much more. The course consists of four components:

  • Lectures: There are six lectures written by me, each posting Monday through Saturday.
  • Writing Exercises: These optional exercises offer you the opportunity to test out your own writing style, plus the chance to workshop and receive feedback on one of your own loglines.
  • Teleconference: We will have a Skype teleconference call to discuss course material.
  • Forums: The online course site has forums where you may post questions / comments.

Our study scripts: Wall-E, The Hangover, The Dark Knight, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Last Boy Scout, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Chinatown, The Matrix, Black Swan, Legally Blonde, American Beauty, Little Miss Sunshine, Basic Instinct, Unforgiven, True Grit, The King’s Speech, and Winter’s Bone.

For those of you who have not taken an online class, the interface is extremely easy. Plus online classes can be an amazing experience. Most of the activities you can do on your own time — download and read lectures, review and respond to forum discussions, upload loglines and track comments. In addition, I’ve been teaching online for over a decade and it never ceases to amaze me how much of a community emerges in such an environment.

Core IV: Style is one of eight classes in the Core curriculum. Here is the schedule for the remaining five classes, the only time I will be offering these courses in 2013:

September 1: Core IV: Style

September 15: Core V: Dialogue

October 27: Core VI: Scene

November 10: Core VII: Theme

December 2: Core VIII: Time

Choose one or two depending upon your interests and needs. Or if you’re really serious and want to save some coin (nearly 50% off), consider The Core Package which gives you immediate access to the content for all eight Core classes which you can go through at your own pace, as well as the option of taking each 1-week online course.

“When I found out about Scott Myers’ Screenwriting Master Class, I signed up for the first module, to test the waters, but before the week was out, I’d signed up for the rest [The Core Package]. Wish I’d known about it all those years ago! Value for money, solid understandable notes, a teacher who’s been there and done it, plus swapping ideas with fellow writers – it doesn’t get any more real.” — Philip Brewster

I have gotten to know dozens of professional script readers throughout the years and I can let you in on this little secret: A writer’s voice as exhibited in screenplay style goes a long way toward winning them over and getting you favorable script coverage.

For information on Core IV: Style, which begins September 1, go here.

For The Core Package, go here.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

2011 Screenwriters Roundtable, Part 1: Chris Borrelli, F. Scott Frazier, Jeremiah Friedman, Nick Palmer, Justin Rhodes, Greg Russo, John Swetnam

August 25th, 2014 by

As something of an elder member of the screenwriting community, one of the wonderful experiences I have had since I started the blog is to get to know dozens of writers who I think would be fair to describe as ‘Young Turks’. Not necessarily young in terms of their age, but rather with regard to their zeal for the craft and their brazenness in how they approach storytelling. There is a kind of fearlessness in evidence among this group, along with obvious talent, and I find their words, both in conversation and in their scripts, uplifting and inspiring.

Back in 2011, I corralled several of these writers for a screenwriters roundtable which I ran as a series of blog posts. Readers loved it. So I reached out to the group again in 2012. They agreed to another roundtable. Again, readers loved the conversation.

By this time, a thought occurred to me: Visiting with this same core group of writers in an annual roundtable would not only give us the benefit of their perspective on the craft and state of the movie business, it would also allow us to track their individual and collective development.

I discussed this with the group and thankfully, they agreed to do another roundtable at the end of 2013.

In two weeks, I will be featuring that new installment of the screenwriters roundtable, but I thought as a run-up to that, it would be a good idea to reprise both the 2011 and 2012 interviews.

First, many readers will not have had the chance to read either of those conversations. Also this will give us a sense of how the careers of these writers are evolving. Indeed, as we speak, two of them are directing their first feature length movies.

So each day this week, I will post the 6-part 2011 screenwriters roundtable featuring Chris Borrelli, F. Scott Frazier, Jeremiah Friedman, Nick Palmer, Justin Rhodes, Greg Russo and John Swetnam. Next week, the 2012 roundtable. Then the week of September 8th, the newest installment of our screenwriters roundtable.

Here is Part 1 of the 2011 Screenwriters Roundtable.

[Originally posted March 5, 2012]

A special treat this week on GITS as each day I will be posting excerpts from a screenwriter’s roundtable I did with some of the best and hottest young screenwriters in Hollywood: Chris Borrelli, F. Scott Frazier, Justin Rhodes, Greg Russo, John Swetnam and the writing duo Jeremiah Friedman & Nick Palmer. How good are they? Over the last 2 years, they have combined to sell 12 spec scripts, and that doesn’t include the numerous writing assignments they have landed or original pitches they have set up.

Here are the 12 spec scripts they have sold:

Chris Borrelli: “The Vatican Tapes” [Black List 2009], “Wake”, “Sad Jack”.

F. Scott Frazier: “The Numbers Station”, “Line of Sight” [Black List 2011], “Autobahn”, and a fourth project as yet unannounced.

Jeremiah Friedman & Nick Palmer: “Family Getaway” [Black List 2010].

Justin Rhodes: “Second Sun”.

Greg Russo: “Down”, “Autobahn”.

John Swetnam: “Evidence”, “Category Six”.

Our conversation covered many topics and is a unique opportunity to learn what it’s like to go from aspiring to professional screenwriter. Beyond their insights into the craft, I’m sure you will be inspired by their passion for what they do, their love of movies, and just in general how much fun they are.

2011 Screenwriters Roundtable: Part 1

SM: I thought let’s start off with a reality check. As recently as one or two years ago for most of you, you were on the outside of the business looking in. Are there times today, like when you drive onto the studio lot for a meeting or you’re sitting with a director on a project where you say to yourself “My God, is this really happening?”

Scott: Yeah, I mean for me it’s almost sort of something that’s completely unreal. Almost on a day-by-day basis. John Swetnam and I were getting beers a couple weeks ago and we were just like… we promised we would hit one another if either one of us ever got out of the position of thinking that this wasn’t cool anymore.

Nick: It’s all like incredibly surreal. The thing that I’m surprised by is how quickly you start to… it all feels very strange, but you still find yourself bitching and then when you start bitching you go, “What the hell’s wrong with me?” Like we’ll complain about trying to find parking on a lot and stuff like that, and it’s like wait a minute. This is ridiculous.

Scott: Although I will say that people who don’t validate, I mean come on.

Greg: Yeah, that’s annoying.

Jeremiah: CAA is a nightmare.

[Laughter]

SM: That’s so funny. I mean, put yourself back two years ago and think “Oh my God, I’ve been complaining about parking?”

John: Just to reiterate what Scott [Frazier] said. In my last year I’ve had a thousand moments that have just kind of given me goosebumps. And the thing is, I feel like this generation, we know how hard it was to get here, that in the next thousand of these moments, I want it to feel exactly the same as it did the first time. You know what I mean? Because it’s literally every day I try to be grateful for the position that we got put in to. So it’s something that I think about all the time and we just can never forget how lucky… I mean, I’m not as talented as Scott is, so I just got lucky and I’m very very happy about that.

Scott: I have no comment on that.

[Laughter]

Greg: You know, I think everyone’s got that moment that they can point to where it’s kind of an out-of-body experience. And I remember the one that I had, my first time pitching to a studio, I got very lucky because I got to work with a really talented writer at the same time, Chris Morgan [Wanted, Fast Five]. And I remember this moment where I got invited in to sit with Chris and Michael Bay’s people. I’d written two little movies and I kept having to pinch myself so I’d know where the hell I was and how I got here. I was such a fan of the action films these guys had made over the years. It’s little moments like that that make all the other difficult moments worth it.

Chris: I’ve been in the business a little longer than a lot of you guys and I was in physical production, then I was in development, each of those about four or five years. But I’d only been in the business a little while and I got used to conversations on a set where a producer’s yelling into the phone “No, I need the tarantula for Tuesday! Just Tuesday, not the whole week!“ And that’s almost like every day in the physical world of making a movie which I always think is kind of like planning a wedding reception every day. Every single time you try to shoot something or accomplish something, it’s so complicated. But I’m grateful for it. I’m grateful for everything, I’m grateful for what we get to do, that we get to use our imaginations and Lord knows, I’d be bad at about every other possible job. I find it exciting and when things do get frustrating I try to remember how lucky I am. And there’s almost no better job in the world than what we’re doing.

SM: I broke into the business in 1987 and I sold a spec script like you guys have, and I still remember the very first piece of advice I got from my agent. He told me “Always be nice to the assistants because some day, they’ll be the people hiring you.” And I was wondering, have you guys gotten any advice like that?

Chris: Let me just mention that yesterday I had a meeting with a DOD who was my last agent’s assistant. And I was nice to him and he’s doing real well now and this was just yesterday. So I think it goes for everybody, being nice as possible to everybody that you can be. I’m not one of those guys who believes in karma necessarily, but I believe that there’s a sort of logical version of it, where if you’re a real prick to people, it does come back to you. And the reverse is also true. So I think that’s great advice.

John: I got a piece of advice sort of like that, but mine wasn’t in a meeting. I was at a party and a friend of mine who was like a young executive told me to be careful how much I drink when you’re at these parties. I remember I went to this first party and there’s all these good-looking actresses and I’m like where the hell am I and this is amazing and I got completely wasted… I was like dancing on a table, just being completely ridiculous…

Chris: I want to party with you!

[Laughter]

John: I’ve heard it forever. Now I’ve learned how to wait until the after-party to sort of let loose. The first party’s always like have four or five drinks then get the hell out of there and hit the real party.

Nick: Right, the real lesson: You should not drink, you should just do cocaine.

[Laughter]

John: Exactly.

Chris: Or wait for the after-party.

[Laughter]SM: Any other words of wisdom you’ve discovered in your stint as Hollywood screenwriters?

John: The biggest pieces of advice I ever got, when I first came to town I started out as an intern at a production company at Outlaw Productions for a guy named Bobby Newmeyer. He produced Training Day and The Santa Clause movies. It was all these guys that I met there interning and I knew I wanted to be in the business, but I didn’t know what kind of writing I wanted to do so I was, at the time, writing. They were doing these big concept comedies so I started writing big concept comedies. I totally realized I was not funny, but what I learned from that experience was, it was one the guys, one of the VPs told me that it always starts with the concept. That’s the one thing I always tell people every time someone asks me about… I just had a conversation today with a guy where he wanted advice about his script and that’s all I keep telling him. It’s just so important to start with the right concept and think as much as you can about that concept before you start writing. Bobby used to say it was all about the idea and I’ve never let that go because I feel like that’s so true.

SM: Yeah, I knew Bobby. Outlaw optioned a script we wrote and we worked up a pitch on another project with them. Bobby was a terrific guy…

John: He was. I was actually working there when he passed away…

SM: It was up in Toronto…

John: Yeah, it was crazy. We were actually working on a script together and I was still going to the office and I’m still friends with… I actually just had dinner with the VP of Outlaw a couple nights ago. Bobby was a great guy and I just remember him always talking about the importance of the idea.

SM: I think that’s a good example. The script for The Santa Clause had been passed on by everybody and Outlaw — because Bobby thought the core concept was a great one — optioned it, reworked it, then the movie became this hit and a big franchise. Let’s stick with that as long as we brought it up. How important is it to you, that core idea, the story concept?

Greg: I just want to agree with John and say that the idea really is everything. It’s the beginning of everything we do, everything follows that idea. I can’t tell you how many ideas I throw out on a daily basis just trying to find that one. It’s hard. To me, I think that’s the hardest part of doing this. Finding the idea.

Jeremiah: Yeah, building off that, at least for me and Nick, it’s a lot of times about, we’ll get a nugget of something but it’s finding the version of that idea, that really works for us, and that you can build a movie on. Everyone around Hollywood talks about how they want something kind of new and original, which they do, but they also want something not too original, it needs to feel somewhat familiar so they can wrap their heads around it. Finding a way to strike that balance and find the new way of doing something, that’s what we’re always kind of struggling with. And something that can sustain a whole movie. We’re just actually ended up jumping off a project because we just couldn’t make it work in the end. We weren’t excited to write it.

Nick: Yeah, and we’d spent several months on it and it was something where we’d heard the origin… this was not our original idea, this was someone else’s, but it was some people we were excited to work with, so we… even though the initial concept, we were kind of like “That seems interesting… we could make something of that,” but it didn’t really excite us. So we spent months on this thing, developing it and finally just this week realized the concept doesn’t work for us, even though we want to work with the people involved, so we just finally jumped off of it.

Scott: I had a similar experience this summer where I was working on a project, again with a company I wanted to be in business with and one of their creative guys had an idea. Initially I was like that’s a cool idea. I didn’t do the due diligence on it, I just kind of jumped right into it, and I finished a draft of the script, like 120 pages, and it’s the best possible version of that movie you can have. But an almost fundamental level you can tell the idea and the concept was flawed and no matter how good I execute the script, it’s still never going to be a movie. It’s not ever going to get to that stage unless there’s a serious re-working of the core concept.

John: I think that’s really interesting because, what you just said where, what I’ve found also is that like there’s a lot of people who can make a living writing scripts. Like you can take a shitty idea and execute it and create a 110 pages of stuff. But I don’t want to write scripts, I want to make movies. So there’s a difference between writing a screenplay and writing something that is a movie. And I think people really have to think about that, especially in the spec stage. It’s like, you want to… unless, again, some people can write great samples, but they can never be a movie… I want to write something that is a movie, that can sustain 120 minutes on the screen.

Scott: I would totally agree. Like if someone gave me the choice between the best 120 page script that would get all these accolades and writing a 100 page movie? I would opt for the movie 100% of the time. I mean, to me, when I’m reading spec scripts, the ones that always stand out to me are the ones that are written like a movie. Like the edits are written in, like just reading the prose of the script, I can literally imagine the movie, in my mind’s eye I can see every edit, I can see every shot, I know what the movie looks like… I mean to me, that’s super important. And those are usually the specs I end up reading all the way to the end. As opposed to stopping at 30 or 40 pages and saying, “Ok, I get it.”

Jeremiah: For us, when people are asking us for advice in terms of when we have friends or people come to us for advice in terms of how to write a spec that sells. Obviously there’s no answer to that really, but we do talk about finding that idea, about the execution, but also thinking about those things that make a script a movie. I think Scott, on the blog, you had something from Ron Shelton the other day, just talking about what movie stars want to play. And writing a role that’s going to attract an actor. Because nothing’s going to happen with the script unless an actor attaches. Thinking about those kind of larger picture type things I think is important.

Chris: One more thing that I’d like to add to this whole idea we’re talking about here, we always think of us as the writer, and of course the movie, which is sort of step Z, we’re step A. You have to think about the exec who gets excited by reading your spec and then has to go pitch it to their boss. And if you have a high concept, great idea that he or she can say in one or two sentences, it makes their job easier. It’s going to make the agent’s job easier when you’re attach a director, when you’re trying to attach an actor. And honestly, step Z, people deciding what to see that week at the movies, they always say “What’s it about?” That’s always the question that gets asked. If it’s a great, simple, clean concept, something you can say that quickly, it works for everybody. So it’s really really important… the idea, a clean idea, and if it’s not, it really is just to me a good writing sample. And I feel I’ve written enough of those. I want to write things that get bought and get made.

Right off the bat with this interview, a huge piece of takeaway: The importance of the story concept. It’s got to be better than good, it’s got to feel like a movie.

If you have a decent story idea, but it doesn’t feel like a movie, instead of jumping into writing that script, why not take some time, generate a bunch more story concepts, and see if in that process you can nail a great one? Then write that one. You stand an exponentially better chance of finding representation and selling a script if it has a killer story concept at its core.

Each day for this series, I’m going to highlight one of the participating writers. Today: Chris Borrelli.

Chris Borrelli has two features in post-production. The Vatican Tapes [Black List script] will be released theatrically on February 27, 2015, and the thriller Eloise, which wrapped shooting in June 2014.

Another spec, Wake, is going into pre-production with a start date in January 2015. Two other specs, Rounds and Sad Jack, are currently under option with the latter having been re-sold to a new financier this month.

In the past, Chis wrote the Universal / Gold Circle horror thriller Whisper and co-wrote the Fox / WWE action film The Marine 2. Other credits include the remake of Bad Influence for MGM, the French horror film ILS (“Them”) for Gold Circle, the live-action series Necessary Evil for the Cartoon Network, “Twittering from the Circus of the Deadbased on the Joe Hill short story of the same name for Mandalay, and a blind deal at Focus / Rogue.

For my one-on-one interview with Chris Borrelli, go here.

Tomorrow: Part 2 of this exclusive screenwriter’s roundtable. Much more to come over the next few weeks.

Thanks again to Chris Borrelli, F. Scott Frazier, Jeremiah Friedman, Nick Palmer, Justin Rhodes, Greg Russo and John Swetnam for their participation in this conversation.