Video: How a TV show gets made

April 29th, 2016 by

This gives a pretty good idea about how a TV show gets produced.

I worked with my friend Rick Duffield on the Peabody Award winning PBS series he created and ran called “Wishbone”. The first season, they did 40 episodes in 52 weeks. That involved working with children, animals, period elements, and the early days of CGI. Just an insane schedule and to this day, it amazes me that the crew pulled it off.

If you want to write for TV, you’ve got to work well under pressure, understand that rewriting is a way of life, and be able to get along with people really, really well.

For more Vox videos, go here.

Script Analysis: “The Silence of the Lambs” – Part 5: Dialogue

April 29th, 2016 by

Reading scripts. Absolutely critical to learn the craft of screenwriting. The focus of this weekly series is a deep structural and thematic analysis of each script we read. Our daily schedule:

Monday: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Dialogue
Saturday: Takeaways

Today: Dialogue. You may download a PDF of the script here.

Screenplay by Ted Tally, novel by Thomas Harris.

IMDb plot summary: A young F.B.I. cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims.

Major kudos to Derek Jacobs for doing this week’s scene-by-scene breakdown. To download a PDF of the breakdown, go here.

For Part 1, to read the Scene-By-Scene Breakdown, go here.

For Part 2, to read Plot analysis, go here.

For Part 3, to read Characters, go here.

For Part 4, to read Themes, go here.

I am looking for volunteers to read a script and provide a scene-by-scene breakdown for it to be used as part of our weekly series. What do you get? Beyond your name being noted here, my thanks, and some creative juju, hopefully you will learn something about story structure and develop another skill set which is super helpful in learning and practicing the craft.

The latest volunteers:

12 Years a Slave – Georgevine Moss
Beasts of No Nation – Jacob Holmes-Brown
Bridge of Spies – Scott Guinn
Carol – Jillienne Bee
Celeste and Jesse Forever – Ryan Canty
Diary of a Teenage Girl – Cynthia
Ex Machina – Nick Norman-Butler
Frozen – Doc Kane
Gone Girl – Ashley Lara
Inside Out – Katha
Legend – Olivia
Leviathan – Piotr Ryczko
Locke – Megaen Kelly
Macbeth – Trung
Man Up – Kristy Brooks
Monsters University – Liz Correal
Mud – Kevin
Nightcrawler – DJ Summit
Pawn Sacrifice – Michael Waters
Spotlight – Rhidian Pentz
Steve Jobs – Angie Soliman
Straight Outta Compton – Timm Higgins
The End of the Tour – Steve Fabian
The Iron Lady – Leslie
The Way Way Back – The Deuce
Trainwreck – Joni Brainerd
Wreck It Ralph – Kenny Crowe

Thanks, all!

To see examples of scene-by-scene breakdowns, go here. Part of the goal is to create a library of breakdowns for writers to have at their disposal for research and learning.

You may see the scripts we can use for the series – free and legal – by going here.

To date, we have analyzed 55 movie scripts, a great resource for screenwriters. To see those analyses, go here.

Thanks to any of you who will rise to the occasion and take on a scene-by-scene breakdown.

And for those of you who have volunteered, please send me your scene-by-scene breakdown as soon as possible!

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: The Silence of the Lambs.

Movie Story Type: Briefcase Full Of Cash

April 29th, 2016 by

There are genres (e.g., Action, Comedy, Drama). Cross genres (e.g., Action-Thriller, Comedy-Science Fiction). Sub-genres (e.g., Romantic Comedy, Action Adventure). And then there are what we may call movie story types. In Hollywood development circles, people use them as shorthand. If you go here, you will see several that we’ve featured on GITS including Contained Thriller, Road Pictures, and The [Blank] From Hell.

This week and next, we look at more movie story types. Today: Briefcase Full of Cash.

Treasure hunts, stashed cash, hidden jewels, this is a story type where a central point of focus is characters searching for something of great value.

Some examples of briefcase full of cash movies:

The Maltese Falcon (1941): A private detective takes on a case that involves three eccentric criminals, a gorgeous liar, and their quest for a priceless statuette.

North by Northwest (1959): A hapless New York advertising executive is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies, and is pursued across the country while he looks for a way to survive.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963): The dying words of a thief spark a madcap cross-country rush to find some treasure.

Marathon Man (1976): A graduate history student is unwittingly caught in the middle of an international conspiracy involving stolen diamonds, an exiled Nazi war criminal, and a rogue government agent.

The Deep (1977): A pair of young vacationers are involved in a dangerous conflict with treasure hunters when they discover a way into a deadly wreck in Bermuda waters.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981): Archeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones is hired by the US government to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis.

48 Hrs. (1984): A hard-nosed cop reluctantly teams up with a wise-cracking criminal temporarily paroled to him, in order to track down a killer, and a briefcase full of cash.

A Simple Plan (1998): Two brothers and a friend find $4 million in the cockpit of a downed plane.

Three Kings (1999): In the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, four soldiers set out to steal gold that was stolen from Kuwait.

National Treasure (2004): A treasure hunter is in hot pursuit of a mythical treasure that has been passed down for centuries, while his employer turned enemy is onto the same path that he’s on.

Millions (2004): A 7-year old finds a bag of Pounds just days before the currency is switched to Euros.

Lottery Ticket (2010): A young man living in the projects has to survive a three-day weekend after his opportunistic neighbors find out he’s holding a winning lottery ticket worth $370 million.

Whether it’s money, jewels, art or a priceless historic artifact, the object of pursuit in briefcase full of cash movies translates into a powerful psychological dynamic with moviegoers: wish fulfillment. Just think what I could do with all that money! If most stories are about a character or characters who go through some sort of personal metamorphosis, what could possibly speed that change along other than a massive influx of cash?

The briefcase full of cash also represents power because if you own something other characters in the movie want, you are in a position of authority over them. You can make demands, negotiate favorable terms, even act like a total asshole… because you have what they want.

However as the Bible says, “The love of money is the root of all evil,” and so there are plenty of these story types that serve as morality tales, object lessons about how financial wealth is not all it’s cracked up to be. Or as Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) says at the very end of The Maltese Falcon, describing the falcon statue, “It’s the stuff that dreams are made of” as Brigid (Mary Astor) gets hauled off to prison. She learned her lesson… just a little too late.

What other qualities and dynamics do you think are present in briefcase full of cash films? What other movies of note belong in the list?

[Originally posted October 26, 2011]

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month — Day 29

April 29th, 2016 by

This is the seventh year in a row I’ve run this series in April.

Today’s story: Graves of the Dead: A Mysterious Mound and What Was Inside.

After starting in Pittsburgh, the Ohio River heads north and then quickly loops south, as if realizing the error in its ways. It is a place to get lost and to get found. The river bends and twists here with energy, like a snake caught by its tail. There is an optimism in the current, movement and ambition, married with the skeletons of our built world and those worlds that came before that rise out of the fields and hills along the banks. Sometimes in the grace of dawn these structures appear as nearly flesh and blood. But that hope recedes as the sun climbs over the hill, past the chestnuts and maples. Time and gravity wait to do their parts.

It’s hard in these settings not to think about the end of cultures, of species, and of ways of life. Maybe it’s the times we live in, with the polar bears trapped on their shrinking ice floes or the Amazon rain forest slowly succumbing to the chainsaw of development. Hard to say. It’s not just animals, of course. Extinction, the end and the uncertainty and mystery that come with it, covers a lot of ground. You know where it leads, but you are never really quite sure where you are on the journey.

What’s needed is a guidepost, which is both more and less than a mileage marker, meaningful and maybe a little muddy, like the river itself. That is the best way to approach the Grave Creek Mound, which is in the middle of the city of Moundsville, W. Va. It is in the state’s northern panhandle, with Ohio just across the river. Sometimes called the Mammoth Mound, it is the largest conical burial mound in the United States: 69 feet tall and roughly 900 feet in circumference.

Burial mounds are an unusual type of antiquity, beautiful in a way that an engineer can appreciate. By one measurement, Grave Creek contains 55,000 cubic yards of dirt. A standard wheelbarrow holds perhaps a quarter of a cubic yard, so you get the idea that this is a lot of earth that has to first be dug somewhere, then moved somewhere else and not just dumped willy-nilly on the ground but in the right spot at successively higher and more difficult-to-reach places.

These mounds dot the Ohio River valley, and they were among the earliest oddities encountered by explorers traveling the river in the late 1700s. A man named Joseph Tomlinson is said to be the first settler to come upon the Grave Creek Mound. In 1770, Tomlinson had moved from Maryland to the area, which at the time was the westernmost reach of the state of Virginia. He chose some promising land a few miles south of Wheeling and built a small cabin. One day, he was out hunting and shot a deer. His dog tracked the animal and Tomlinson skinned the deer. Heading home, he came to a rise. He walked up the wooded knoll and realized he was atop an enormous conical-shaped mound. Although the mound was only a quarter-mile or so from his cabin, it had been hidden there all along.

What if you were a family man. Doing pretty well for yourself. Looking for a getaway place out in the country where you could take the wife and kids for long weekends. Two hour drive from where you work in an urban environment, but deep in rural woods.

You’ve been scouting real estate listings for months, looking for a great deal. Then you spot it. A rustic cabin on a couple hundred acres. Incredible deal. You drive there to check it out. On your own. Want to surprise the family if the place checks out.

The cabin is a bit more rustic than you had hoped, but certainly livable. A little elbow grease and some touch-ups, it’d be fine as is. Can always remodel down the road after you make partner with the firm. The real estate agent is a bit odd, keeps glancing over her shoulder, this way and that. Nervous chatter. Something about “pay no attention to folks ’round here, what they may say, old wives tales is all.” You’re not really paying attention as you circle around the house, breathing deep the fresh air, taking  in the thick, verdant woods.

You’d like to check out the rest of the property and start off heading south, but the agent… months from now as you try to remember every detail that led you into this trauma, you will have forgotten how she clamped a bony hand around your elbow and steered you in another direction.

So you buy the place, the agent accepting the deal without hesitation when you offer $20,000 under the sales price. What a great deal!

The family loves it. Kids race around outside. No worries. That night with your son and daughter fast asleep, you and your wife make love to christen the place. Smart guy, you think. This was a great idea.

The next morning, you get up early. Tiptoe outside, don’t want to wake the family. Want to check out the property. A king and his domain!

Ten minutes into your exploration, you see it. The Mound. A huge ass steep hill sitting in the south side of your acreage. How did I not see this before? And what the hell is it?

You circle around the Mound. It’s just… bizarre, out here in the middle of nowhere, flat everywhere, then… this.

What’s that? A tunnel opening, almost entirely covered by overgrowth. You yank at weeds and vines. It’s a tunnel, all right. You pull out your cellphone. Gonna call the wife. Honey, you gotta see this. But that’s odd. No reception here. Works everywhere else on the property. Not here.

You turn on the phone flashlight app. Shine it into the tunnel. Hard-packed dirt floor, walls, and ceiling reinforced by wood support beams. Somebody went to a lot of trouble with this tunnel, though judging by the age of the wood, it’s been decades since it was built.

You should turn back. You should go home, get the family, show off this damn thing. But curiosity gets the better of you. Kneeling down, you creep inside the tunnel…

I think I’ll pretty much stop there. Don’t want to get into the name you see scratched into the wall: “R.L. Mickey, by God, here this day, April 19, 1825.” Or further on how you find walls streaked with red. Could that be dried blood? Or the odd clay tablet you find on the floor. Weird runic lettering. Not to mention the strange smells or that weird whistling sound like wind blowing… but this deep in the tunnel, not a trace of wind.

I can say this. You were really stupid — and you know this now as your life is being hacked out of you — to have ever taken a shovel to that tunnel and dug deeper into that goddamned Mound.

My twenty ninth story idea for the month. And it’s yours. Free!

What would you do with it?

Each day this month, I invite you to join me in comments to do some brainstorming. Gender bend, genre bend, what if. Take each day’s story idea and see what it can become when we play around with it. These are all valuable skills for a writer to develop.

See you in comments (hit Reply to join the conversation). And come back tomorrow for another Story Idea Each Day For A Month.

Learning How to Make a Movie (Part 3)

April 29th, 2016 by

I read an interview some years ago in which James Cameron advised creatives to do this: “Make stuff.” Per Cameron, actually making movies is the single best way to learn, really learn the entire process of cinematic storytelling.

Screenwriter Ian Fowler did just that and wrote a reflection on his experiences making his movie Crazy Right. Here is Part 3 in a three-part series:

Learning How to Make a Movie: Part 3

By Ian Fowler

Everything cut together effortlessly. All of my ideas were working. But it still didn’t have any glue. It was just another well-constructed scene that sat on my time line and laughed at me. I had the idea that every piece of music in the movie would be based on one song. “After You’ve Gone.” I had my composer Alejandro do up a 1920’s version for the opening of the film. It didn’t have vocals yet and it was just sitting there completely obscured from my withering brain. I smoked a cigarette lamenting my complete lack of ability, foresight, knowledge and skill. I said “Oh, I have no clue what I’m doing.” I finished the smoke and headed back to stare at the screen some more.

I said “It needs music.” Why or how, I didn’t know. What kind of music? I only had one piece. So I started scouring the internet for something good. Patrick and Ian’s scene was quirky and dark so I wanted something serious. Obviously. I was a serious filmmaker now. My depressing film needed serious music. Everything I downloaded failed miserably. It just didn’t fit in any way shape or form.

Every time I pulled in another piece of music, there was Alejandro’s version calling to my deaf ears. Finally I thought “Oh, what the heck.” I pulled in the file, set it in place, and hit play.

Crazy Right had an identity. It was alive. Finally. Everything now made perfect sense. Patrick sitting in the closet, bottle of booze between his legs, on the phone with a “help line councilor” and Ian banging away at the door trying to make his delivery. It was magic. Now, every single cut of the scene had a complete purpose. Everything came into focus.

A scene that had started out as the beginning of Patrick’s decent into madness became the pivot point for how and why Crazy Right looks and feels. Editing became simple. I communicated to Alejandro what I wanted and he supplied effortless pieces of music that literally “fit into place.” Scenes blended together as if they were editing themselves.

This is the point where I said to myself “Oh, you know what you’re doing! Finally!” Nate and every single actor was phenomenal and the scenes were structurally sound but I had gotten to this point on “idiot’s wet dream” and as a director a huge amount of luck. All those “hacks” I mentioned earlier, well, I’m not that much different.

And then Lindsae texted me to to say that her girlfriend was in the hospital and she had to back out of the film. Um…..what? Really? 8 days into shooting and I had to recast a lead? The exact right actor to play opposite Patrick for the remainder of the film and I had to find her replacement.

Crazy Right Lindsae Patrick trimmed

Lindsae Klein and Patrick Green in Crazy Right

I stomached it. I texted Colleen. I talked to Patrick. I looked over local agency websites. I watched the test footage we shot and made the decision to put off the shoot until she was ready. I knew in my heart that she was the only actor that would pull off what I wanted. I knew it. She was right. I had to wait.

Patrick, Nate and I set about figuring out how to keep shooting without her, then when Lindsae was available I would rewrite her entry scene so that it fit with the rest of the film and then move back into the original script.

We shot, and shot some more, I rewrote scenes, Nate and I came up with unique shots to create beauty where there was none before. Patrick really stepped up his game. He was acting opposite a walkman! I was feeding him lines that we would add later with Lindsae in post-production. Hell, during lunch one day Patrick was eating out of a to-go container and I said “Nate, roll on that.” We made up a scene right on the spot. It was perfect and actually plays an important role in the film.

I have to stop here to mention that this was an amazing opportunity. We were shooting around Nate’s schedule which was a day here and a day there. It gave me the chance to start looking deeply at the film. How and why it went together. I moved this piece here, moved that piece there. Studied this, studied that. Moved pieces from 30 minutes in the film to 12 minutes in the film. Changed things that happened early to late in the first act. All my “structure” went out the window. In a good way. I knew how movies went together. I had memorized it. I had criticized others for their lack of it. I was the king of structure. I knew exactly how a movie went together.

But I didn’t. Because what we see on the screen, as closely transcribed from the script by the director looks absolutely nothing like it does on the page. I mean that. It became clear that I had not told the audience what the movie was about in the beginning. I thought I had. Everyone seemed to understand. But actuality I had done something that I think I try too hard to do all the time. Be clever.

I just didn’t bother to tell the audience exactly what movie they were about to watch was.

With Lindsae’s girlfriend still in the hospital, a total of 5 weeks before she set foot on set, we re-shot the opening of the film. We spelled it out. Patrick’s an alcoholic. He doesn’t go outside. He’s having an estate sale after the death of his wife. Besides the emotional nature of the character, we said those things out loud to the audience. We decided on three main shots, brought everyone back and re-shot. And it works. My original clever opening attempted to say all those things, but failed miserably in hindsight.

Yes, I was spending a little more money, but honestly, not to have that opening scene, people would just turn away. They might still, but at least they’ll know what they’re turning away from.

Lindsae stepped foot on set and it was magic. It was effortless. The wait was 1000 percent worth it. She and Patrick have amazing chemistry. They went to emotional places that absoluely make the film. They put themselves out there. They both nailed it.

We wrapped principle photography on Easter Sunday. I received a text from Ben on Tuesday to inform me that our Art Teacher Mr. Griffin has passed away Easter morning. As much time as I had wasted being an alcoholic in my life, and as little as I normally read into things, Mr. Griffin’s words jumped to the forefront of my skull “Anything, use anything, do it, re-do it, do over again, throw it way, dig it out of the trash, re-mold it, twist it, turn it, until you have said what you needed to say.” He was a snarky, quick witted man that made fun of me for being a smart ass douche bag in high school. A know-it-all who knew nothing.

Colleen had insisted I become a filmmaker. She knew better than I that I was meant to make at least one movie. She gave me the opportunity and I feel like I didn’t let her down. We made a good film.

While shooting Crazy Right I wrote a script for a local producer which Jon will be directing. It’s sorta a full circle thing. I’m not sure how the universe works but it sure seems to fold in on itself over and over. So making the decision to bolt off on my own ended up working for both of us in different ways.

I learned what kind of filmmaker I really am. I know my style and what I’m trying to say. Why and how. From writing a script to editing a movie. I put my own finger print on it. Whether people love it or hate it Crazy Right is the film I wanted to make. It’s quirky and weird, dark and funny, serious and laughable, structured and free flowing, architectural and beautiful, light and tragic. I set out to “make my film” and learned how to make one in the process.

For Part 1, go here.

Part 2, here.

Ian Fowler has been writing scripts professionally for 8 years and began making short films 6 years ago.  He’s written everything from science fiction to comedy for producers from LA to Toronto, original works based on producer’s ideas to books and even a life story.  The best thing about writing so far has been getting paid even though none of the films have been made to date (especially the 100 million dollar sci fi script – hehe) In 2016 he set off to make his first feature film Crazy Right.

The movie’s Facebook page here.

If you have a story about making a movie which you feel Go Into The Story readers would enjoy and benefit from, email me.

Daily Dialogue — April 29, 2016

April 29th, 2016 by

LT. COL. JOHN CAMBRIDGE: So, you getting along with the other soldiers in your unit?
SPECIALIST OWEN ELDRIGE: Yeah, My team’s great. My team leader is inspiring.
Are you being sarcastic, soldier?
SPECIALIST OWEN ELDRIGE: No. He’s going to get me killed. Almost died yesterday. At least I’ll die in the line of duty, proud and strong.
LT. COL. JOHN CAMBRIDGE: You know, this doesn’t have to be a bad time in your life. Going to war is a – is a once in a lifetime experience. It could be fun.

The Hurt Locker (2008), written by Mark Boal

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: War. Today’s suggestion by Katha.

Trivia: After Lina Wertmüller for Pasqualino Settebellezze (1975), Jane Champion for The Piano (1993) and Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation (2003), Kathryn Bigelow is only the fourth woman to direct a film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Dialogue On Dialogue: “Going to war is a – is a once in a lifetime experience.” What a line! This could meant sarcastically but as the psychiatrist states some lines before, he is not so much into sarcasm. And this kind of lifetime experience stops the film characters to resume their normal life at home (thinking of the protagonist totally overwhelmed by the choice of cereals).

What Kind of Day Job Should a Writer Have?

April 28th, 2016 by

This article from the blog Literary Hub, written by Dana Cann, popped up at the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group the other day which was interesting timing because this very subject has come up in conversation with some of the graduating seniors I’ve been teaching at the university for the last two years: As they head off to Los Angeles to break into the business, what type of job would most lend itself to writing? An excerpt from the blog:

When I turned 30, I took my first short story workshop. I was working in commercial banking, a career I fell into with indifference followed by inertia after graduating from college. I was also playing in a DC men’s soccer league on a team largely populated by Capitol Hill staffers and other professional types. We were a clean-cut group of guys, except Frank, our reckless goalie, who had a mane of wavy hair that fell to his shoulders. Soccer hair, we’d called it in high school. It turned out that Frank was a carpenter. His paying work was home renovations, but his passion was building cabinets, which he described the way artists described their work—with reverence for the process and awe and wonder for the finished piece.

—-

Frank was a craftsman when it came to his cabinets. He designed them, built them, and finished them. Each piece was unique. I envied his focus and I envied his freedom, which, to me, was most apparent in his long hair and his ability to get away with it in a staid town like Washington, DC, in the early 1990s, the end of the George H.W. Bush Administration.

The spring soccer season ended, and we had a soccer-free summer. I continued to work at the bank, and I took another short story workshop and wrote new, crappy stories.

When the team reconvened in fall, Frank had cut his hair. He’d gotten a job. Nine-to-five. He was one of us. Why, we asked, money?

He assured us that wasn’t it; he could make a decent living in home renovations, but found the work too similar to his passion—building cabinets. Both required working with tools and wood. It had seemed a natural fit, a decent way to fund an artistic pursuit. But it didn’t work for Frank: after a full day on a job site his energy for cabinet making had been sapped. It occurred to me that the issue could have been partly physical—carpentry isn’t a sedentary occupation, after all—but that wasn’t the way Frank explained it. He’d been mentally exhausted, which impaired his ability to take up tools in his free time and work on things that mattered.

By analogy, would getting a job reading scripts all day or doing some form of writing could sap a writer’s creative energy. I was reminded of the subject coming up in interviews I’ve done with writers who were trying to go from aspiring writer to pro writer. For example, Stephanie Shannon (2013 Nicholl, 2013 Black List) was an assistant to a literary manager in New York, but requested a transfer to the Los Angeles office:

Scott: When did you start picking up the screenwriting again in that process? Was it when you went to Los Angeles?

Stephanie: When I got out here I decided I wanted to give it a real shot, because I hadn’t allowed myself to before. Ever since I graduated college I had kind of put it out of my mind as something that I couldn’t realistically do. I was afraid that if I really tried to go for it, I wouldn’t be able to, that I would prove to myself that I couldn’t do it. That was just a fear of mine, I think.

When I got out here I was like, “I’m going to be 28. I need to do it now if I’m going to do it.” I started talking to some friends in the industry who put me in touch with their writer friends. So I started setting up coffees with several TV writers. They were all so gracious to meet with me and give me advice. It was really eye opening to talk to so many people who were my age who had made it as professional writers. I thought, “Wow, this is really possible.”

I made a promise to myself that I would write a screenplay that year and enter the Nicholl. This was around November of last year. I started researching in December. Then I started writing in February.

Scott: Assistant gigs, from everything I’ve heard, a great way to learn the business, but they’re notoriously challenging, especially hours. How did you carve out time to write?

Stephanie: I just became really singularly focused. I was determined I wasn’t going to let another year go by without finishing a feature. I told myself there was no way I was going to miss the Nicholl deadline. I have never been more determined to do anything in my life.

It was a pretty isolating time for me, though. I’d work all day as an assistant, I’d get home at night, and I would write. I’d wake up and work a little in the morning, then go to work. Sometimes I’d just pull out my laptop and write at my desk while answering phones, or in my boss’ office while he was out at lunch. Then on Fridays I would go home after work, and I wouldn’t really reemerge until Monday. I was so into the story that it didn’t feel like I was torturing myself. I was excited, and I looked forward to working on it, which was a really great feeling.

It’s possible to work a strenuous, time-consuming job in the entertainment business and write, but like Stephanie you have to set a goal and be serious-minded about your productivity.

On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for working at something unrelated to the business and not directly involved with writing. For example, Michael Werwie (2012 Nicholl, 2012 Black List) found what he described as the perfect job:

Scott:  Is that how you segued into a lengthy stint as a bartender?

Michael:  Yeah, once I graduated I took a job bartending, and I bartended for nearly 10 years.

Scott:  That was in L.A.?

Michael:  Yes, West Hollywood. I was at one place for the entire duration of its run, from day one until the last day, called O-Bar. Then that closed and I went to another place not too far away.

Scott:   How has bartending fit into your writing schedule?

Michael:  Bartending couldn’t have been a more perfect fit. I had my days completely free and I used that time to write. I’d wake up, eat breakfast, and write, and that just became a discipline, to the point where if I skipped it or didn’t have time to do it for whatever reason, it felt strange. I would do that every day, and would also take meetings, if and when I had those (which were few and far between for many, many years). Bartending allowed me to make the most money while working the fewest hours. It was a good balance because I could treat writing like a full‑time job and still pay the bills.

Plus all that great dialogue you can ‘borrow’ courtesy the customers!

So I’m curious what your thoughts are: What do you think would be the best day job for a writer? By the way, I’ve known plenty of writers who after selling a spec script and landing a couple of writing assignments, still kept their day job until they were firmly established in Hollywood, therefore the question isn’t just for aspiring writers.

Click Reply and hit me up in comments with your thoughts on what would be an ideal day job for writing.

HT to Jack Raymond for the link to the Literary Hub article.

Script Analysis: “The Silence of the Lambs” – Part 4: Themes

April 28th, 2016 by

Reading scripts. Absolutely critical to learn the craft of screenwriting. The focus of this weekly series is a deep structural and thematic analysis of each script we read. Our daily schedule:

Monday: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Dialogue
Saturday: Takeaways

Today: Themes.

I have this theory about theme. In two parts. First, a principle: Theme = Meaning. What does the story mean? Second, while there is almost always a Central Theme, there are multiple other Sub-Themes at play in a story. Therefore the question, What does a story mean takes on several layers of meaning?

Time to ponder themes in The Silence of the Lambs. You may download a PDF of the script here.

Screenplay by Ted Tally, novel by Thomas Harris.

IMDb plot summary: A young F.B.I. cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims.

Major kudos to Derek Jacobs for doing this week’s scene-by-scene breakdown. To download a PDF of the breakdown, go here.

For Part 1, to read the Scene-By-Scene Breakdown, go here.

For Part 2, to read Plot analysis, go here.

For Part 3, to read Characters, go here.

Tomorrow we shift our focus to the script’s dialogue.

I am looking for volunteers to read a script and provide a scene-by-scene breakdown for it to be used as part of our weekly series. What do you get? Beyond your name being noted here, my thanks, and some creative juju, hopefully you will learn something about story structure and develop another skill set which is super helpful in learning and practicing the craft.

The latest volunteers:

12 Years a Slave – Georgevine Moss
Beasts of No Nation – Jacob Holmes-Brown
Bridge of Spies – Scott Guinn
Carol – Jillienne Bee
Celeste and Jesse Forever – Ryan Canty
Diary of a Teenage Girl – Cynthia
Ex Machina – Nick Norman-Butler
Frozen – Doc Kane
Gone Girl – Ashley Lara
Inside Out – Katha
Legend – Olivia
Leviathan – Piotr Ryczko
Locke – Megaen Kelly
Macbeth – Trung
Man Up – Kristy Brooks
Monsters University – Liz Correal
Mud – Kevin
Nightcrawler – DJ Summit
Pawn Sacrifice – Michael Waters
Spotlight – Rhidian Pentz
Steve Jobs – Angie Soliman
Straight Outta Compton – Timm Higgins
The End of the Tour – Steve Fabian
The Iron Lady – Leslie
The Way Way Back – The Deuce
Trainwreck – Joni Brainerd
Wreck It Ralph – Kenny Crowe

Thanks, all!

To see examples of scene-by-scene breakdowns, go here. Part of the goal is to create a library of breakdowns for writers to have at their disposal for research and learning.

You may see the scripts we can use for the series – free and legal – by going here.

To date, we have analyzed 55 movie scripts, a great resource for screenwriters. To see those analyses, go here.

Thanks to any of you who will rise to the occasion and take on a scene-by-scene breakdown.

And for those of you who have volunteered, please send me your scene-by-scene breakdown as soon as possible!

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: The Silence of the Lambs.

Movie Story Type: Chick Flick

April 28th, 2016 by

There are genres (e.g., Action, Comedy, Drama). Cross genres (e.g., Action-Thriller, Comedy-Science Fiction). Sub-genres (e.g., Romantic Comedy, Action Adventure). And then there are what we may call movie story types. In Hollywood development circles, people use them as shorthand. If you go here, you will see several that we’ve featured on GITS including Contained Thriller, Road Pictures, and The [Blank] From Hell.

This week and next, we look at more movie story types. Today: Chick Flick.

Per Wikipedia: “Chick flick is a slang term for a film mainly dealing with love and romance designed to appeal to a female target audience.”

Some examples of chick flicks:

Love Story (1970): Harvard Law student Oliver Barrett IV and music student Jennifer Cavilleri share a chemistry they cannot deny – and a love they cannot ignore…

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974): A recently widowed woman on the road with her precocious young son, determined to make a new life for herself as a singer.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981): Dual love stories of two actors and their relationship as they play the roles of fictional lovers from a novel adaptation.

Dirty Dancing (1987): Spending the summer in a holiday camp with her family, Frances (‘Baby’) falls in love with the camp’s dancing teacher.

Steel Magnolias (1989): A close-knit circle of friends whose lives come together at Truvy’s Beauty Parlor in a small parish in modern-day Louisiana.

Ghost (1990): After being killed during a botched mugging, a man’s love for his partner enables him to remain on earth as a ghost.

Thelma & Louise (1991): An Arkansas waitress and a housewife shoot a rapist and take off in a ’66 Thunderbird.

Sleepless in Seattle (1993): A recently-widowed man’s son calls a radio talk show in an attempt to find his father a partner.

The First Wives Club (1996): Reunited by the death of a college friend, three divorced women seek revenge on the husbands who left them for younger women.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998): On a vacation to Jamaica, a successful businesswoman falls in love and rethinks her life priorities.

Love Actually (2003): Follows the lives of eight very different couples in dealing with their love lives in various loosely and interrelated tales all set during a frantic month before Christmas in London, England.

The Notebook (2004): A poor and passionate young man falls in love with a rich young woman and gives her a sense of freedom only to be separated by their social differences.

Sex and the City (2008): A New York writer on sex and love is finally getting married to her Mr. Big. But her three best girlfriends must console her after one of them inadvertently leads Mr. Big to jilt her.

One key to understanding the psychological draw of chick flicks is this: relationships. Whether romantic, friend, or family, the relationships in these type of movies are central to what makes them work. It is the power of those relational connections that underscores and shapes the meaning of the events in the story’s plot.

As with all relationships, there are ups and downs, joys and conflicts, and so chick flicks put a premium on exploring the heights and depths of the emotional journey of key characters.

Another dynamic: Possibilities. In chick flicks, chance encounters can turn into life-altering opportunities. Consider this tagline for Sleepless in Seattle:

“What if someone you never met, someone you never saw, someone you never knew was the only someone for you?”

One interesting aspect of chick flicks is they can work across genres: Drama (Terms of Endearment), Romantic Comedy (Four Weddings and a Funeral), Sports (A League of Their Own), Thriller (The Hand That Rocked the Cradle), Action Adventure (Romancing the Stone). It’s possible to argue that one of the biggest movies of all time Titanic, an epic historical drama, is at its heart a chick flick because of the centrality of the romance relationship between Jack and Rose. As writer-director James Cameron said in this interview: “All my films are love stories… but in Titanic I finally got the balance right. It’s not a disaster film. It’s a love story with a fastidious overlay of real history.”

By the way since there is no hard and fast rule as to the definition of ‘chick flick,’ you can visit this website and vote on whether a movie actually qualifies or not.

What other qualities and dynamics do you think are present in most chick flicks? What other movies of note belong in the list?

[Originally posted October 24, 2011]

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month — Day 28

April 28th, 2016 by

This is the seventh year in a row I’ve run this series in April.

Today’s story: They Built a Commune. No One Came.

PITMAN, Pa. — They slept in the barn their first winter, on a straw mattress with antique linen sheets and a feather tick. There was no electricity, heat or plumbing, so they made their own candles, used a chamber pot and drew water from a spring.

They were born Michael Colby and Donald Graves, but once there, on 63 acres in the Mahantongo Valley, a bowl of land in central Pennsylvania, they changed their names to Christian and Johannes Zinzendorf and called themselves the Harmonists, inspired by a splinter group of 18th-century Moravian brothers who believed in the spiritual values of an agrarian life.

Their ideals were lofty but simple: They would live off the land, farming with Colonial-era tools, along with a band of like-minded men dressed in homespun robes wielding scythes and pickaxes. They would sleep in atmospheric log cabins and other 18th-century structures that they had rescued from the area and that they began to reconstruct, painstakingly, brick by crumbling brick and log by log.

But what if you built a commune, and no one came?

Christian and Johannes Zinzendorf at their Pennsylvania commune… for two

Johannes and Zephram met in the 1970s at a gay-consciousness-raising group in Salt Lake City, where both were attending college. They were each dabbling in various spiritual practices: Zephram was circling around the Wiccans, attracted by their earth-centered rituals, and Johannes was sampling Hinduism.

When you’re gay, Zephram pointed out, it is not always the case that traditional religions will welcome you. So alternatives beckon.

Salt Lake City was changing, they said; they could see their future mapped out there, and it was not an appealing one. “Successful urban gays, buying property, having cultural weekends in San Francisco,” Johannes said. “Save us.”

Inspired in part by the Mormons, they began to turn over the idea of starting an intentional community in a rural setting. But how to organize? What would be the guiding principle?

This has quirky indie comedy written all over it. A gay couple decide to start a commune. There is the FOOW (Fish Out Of Water) element a la the old “Green Acres” TV series, city slickers in the country. The rather absurd central conceit: Starting a commune. Tension with locals who cast a wary eye toward these outsiders purposefully dressing in 19th century garb, plowing with oxen, and living without any modern amenities.

And then how to market the commune? Ride their oxen to the nearest town with a gay bar, stride in with their muddy attire, and say, “Who wants to join our gay commune?”

Where I might take the story: Just about when things are looking really down, a knock at the door. It’s a young man. He wants to join the commune. A lost soul who is desperate to find himself.

Oh, yeah, he’s drop dead gorgeous. Like Chris Hemsworthy gorgeous.

Here our couple had retreated to a commune to find peace and live in harmony. Now with this new member of the group, there’s trouble on the home… er, commune front as jealousies arise as both make a play for the dude. And how about this: Chris the Hunk? One of the reasons he’s trying to find himself is he’s not exactly sure if he’s all the way gay. Adds a bit more comedic spice to the mix.

My twenty eighth story idea for the month. And it’s yours. Free!

What would you do with it?

Each day this month, I invite you to join me in comments to do some brainstorming. Gender bend, genre bend, what if. Take each day’s story idea and see what it can become when we play around with it. These are all valuable skills for a writer to develop.

See you in comments (hit Reply to join the conversation). And come back tomorrow for another Story Idea Each Day For A Month.