Go Into The Story Script Reading & Analysis: Frankenweenie

December 18th, 2014 by

We’ve had a successful relaunch of the GITS Script Reading & Analysis series. I say relaunch because we have done this type of thing before. For the next month, I will be spotlighting previous movie scripts we have studied.

Today: Frankenweenie (2012)

Screenplay by John August, 1984 screenplay by Leonard Ripps, original idea by Tim Burton

IMDb Plot Summary: Young Victor conducts a science experiment to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life, only to face unintended, sometimes monstrous, consequences.

Links to the entire November 2014 series:

Scene-By-Scene Breakdown
Major Plot Points
Sequences
Psychological Journey
Takeaways

For my 7-part series on How to Read a Screenplay, go here.

30 Days of Screenplays [2013]

30 Days of Screenplays [2014]

Years ago, I came up with this mantra: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages. A link to my reflections on that here.

Cannot emphasize enough the importance of reading movie scripts.

Video: “Movie2 2014″

December 18th, 2014 by

In 8 1/2 minutes, Nikita Malko shows visuals from 300 of this year’s movies:

For a list of all the movies featured in the video, go here.

HT to Indiewire for the link.

Update: 2014 Black List Word Cloud Logline Challenge!

December 18th, 2014 by

It’s Day 2 of the 2014 Black List Word Cloud Logline Challenge! Here is a word cloud based on the loglines for the 2014 Black List scripts, all 70 of them:

2014 Black List Word Cloud

For a larger PDF version of the World Cloud, go here.

[You can see the entire 2014 Black List including loglines for the 70 scripts here].

Your mission for the 2014 Black List Word Cloud Logline Challenge should you choose to accept: Come up with a logline using words from the word cloud. Or loglines (you may enter as many times as you want).

NOTE: One way your logline will be assessed is by how many words from the word cloud you use in your logline. If only one or two, less points. If five or six, more points.

BIG NOTE: Please CAPITALIZE each word cloud word in your logline.

Example: A YOUNG RUSSIAN AGENT INVESTIGATES her ESTRANGED FATHER FORCED into a ROMANCE with a SOCCER SNIPER.

That, my friends, is a truly crappy logline. However it gets across the key CAPITALIZATION point. This helps in judging each entry. Speaking of which, the inimitable Max Millimeter will return to select the winners, and you know what a hard ass he can be. His whole thing is about entertainment — “Get my [bleeping] attention!” — which you can read about here. So bear that in mind.

Oh, and when he talks about the six words test, he’s not saying make your loglines six words. What he means is can you reduce your story concept down to six words and if so, do those six words communicate a solid story and an entertaining one.

How’s this for prizes:

* 5 Semifinal Winners: 1 free Craft class I will be teaching next year through Screenwriting Master Class. There are 8 of them: Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling, Story Summaries: From Loglines to Beat Sheets, Handling Exposition, Character Introductions, Character Development Keys, Create a Compelling Protagonist, Write a Worthy Nemesis, and The Coen Brothers and the Craft of Storytelling. Each winner gets their choice of one class.

* 3 Finalist Winners: Free 1 script read + 1 month script hosting via the Black List website.

* 1 Grand Prize winner: Free 2 script reads + 2 months script hosting via the Black List website.

Deadline for entries: Midnight (Pacific), Friday, December 19th.

If you’d like to see some examples of previous Black List Word Cloud loglines, check out submissions here (2012) and here (2013).

More details about the contest:

(1) “How many loglines may I post?” You can submit as many as you’d like. That said, even in a fun challenge like this, you should focus on quality over quantity.

(2) “Since there are only about 100 words in the word cloud, there is bound to be overlap with loglines. How will you sort that out in terms judging?” Good question. And hopefully a good learning point for all of us, the difference between the logline for Dude, Where’s My Car? — “Two potheads wake up from a night of partying and can’t remember where they parked their car” — and The Hangover — Three groomsmen lose their about-to-be-wed buddy during their drunken misadventures, then must retrace their steps in order to find him”. The focus on a lost groom due for his wedding is substantially better as a comedic conceit than simply looking for a car.

(3) “What about people riffing off earlier loglines?” Another good point and I would think Max will tend to look more favorably on earlier loglines with similar iterations simply due to the earlier writer came up with the idea first.

NOTE: IF YOU HAVE WON A GITS CONTEST IN 2014, YOU ARE INELIGIBLE TO RECEIVE A PRIZE FOR THIS WORD CLOUD LOGLINE CHALLENGE. HOWEVER FEEL FREE TO ENTER TO WORK YOUR CREATIVE CHOPS.

Bottom line, let’s remember this is supposed to be a fun exercise. The opportunity to get a free script read, web hosting or Craft class with me is a nice treat, but hopefully won’t create any ill will on the part of folks who don’t get selected. Even if you don’t win, you will have exercised your creative muscles, and that’s a plus for you.

FINAL REMINDER: Please CAPITALIZE word cloud words you use in your LOGLINE!!!

Let’s have some creative fun! Good luck!

Movie Trailer: “Inside Out”

December 18th, 2014 by

Told from the perspective of the emotions inside the mind of a little girl.

IMDb

Release Date: 19 June 2015

Writing Goals: 2015 [Part 4] — Practical Matters

December 18th, 2014 by

In Part 1, we looked back at the Past, what we had accomplished as writers in 2013.

In Part 2, we considered the Present, assessing where we are now.

And in Part 3, we looked at the Future, visualizing where we’d like our writing to take us.

When trying to lock down writing goals, considering all those permutations is necessary, well and good.

However there is this little thing that impacts our plans. You know it, don’t you? That little thing known as Life?

It’s great to generate a list of things we want to accomplish, but if we don’t take into account the realities of our day to day, week to week, month to month existence, the practical matters of Life, then that set of goals becomes… unreachable. And if unreachable, it becomes… dispiriting. And if dispiriting… over time all our story ideas get dispatched to the dead-end land of dust and tumbleweeds… and our writing dreams wither and die.

To avoid that fate, you’ve got to be realistic.

Today: Practical Matters

It’s important to have goals, but you have to be S.M.A.R.T. about it. Once again: Smart, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely.

Aim high. But deal with reality.

You have a job. Maybe you’ve got a second job. Or you’re in school.

You have friends. You have family. Maybe a spouse or a lover.

In other words, Responsibilities. You have them. I have them. And we can’t ignore them when coming up with a plan to reach our writing goals. Otherwise it’s not really a plan, is it, but rather nothing more than a wish list.

When I look at that S.M.A.R.T. list, the one that opens its jaws and roars at me, desperate to get my attention is this one: Realistic.

I am great at coming up with ideas. I am also great at making the leap. So when I have ideas, I am prone to jump into them.

Part of this is my belief in The Spirit of the Spec. You get an idea. You act on it. You put it out there. My decision to take a break from academics. Accepting an invitation to visit Aspen to see if I could make it as a musician. “I can do that,” my response to a question about if I could write a screenplay (when I had never written one before). The spec script K-9. Taking up teaching part-time. Starting this blog. Partnering with the Black List. Launching Screenwriting Master Class. Doing the Quest Initiative. On and on and on it goes, my life a litany of having ideas and acting on them.

Now that’s all good, of course, with respect to being a self-starter. Combined with being a military brat and having zero aversion to work, along with a pretty good track record for sticking to things and seeing them through to the end, I get a lot done.

The problem is I take on too much.

There. I said it. Yep. I ain’t Superman. I can’t answer all my emails. I can’t say “yes” to every request. I can’t take on every idea I come up with.

The simple fact is the key to setting realistic expectations is to be able to say NO.

In 2015, I am making a commitment to one particular writing project. And in doing that, I’ve got to say NO to some other things. I know this will be hard. I will have to fight my instincts more than once.

But in order to create quality with regard to this particular project, I’m going to have to be extra careful about the quantity of things I do.

Can anyone else relate to this issue? Do you tend to do too much?

The reality is unless you are single, have zero interest in a social life, live like a monk so don’t require much in the way of income, and can afford to write 20 hours per day, you have to figure out a way to handle the requirements of your life and make progress as a writer. Which means whatever writing goals you choose for 2014, they have to be realistic. Be honest with yourself. What of these things can I reasonably expect to accomplish next year?

One big note to remember: It’s not just about writing a screenplay, it’s about becoming a screenwriter. The idea that you would write a first spec script, sell it, then immediately transition into a working professional screenwriter is a flawed end game. You not only need to learn how to write screenplays, but also how to think like a screenwriter, how to work like a screenwriter, how to handle yourself like a screenwriter. All those simply take time. More than likely for you to have any realistic chance to succeed in this craft, you must give yourself more than one or two years of writing and preparation. Therefore my advice is not to think of 2015 as a year in which you will do everything, but rather one step in a process that may well take several years. The downside: Acknowledging you will be doing this for some time. The upside: You’re not laden down with an unrealistic set of goals, instead you have some achievable things on your list.

In other words — as noted above — an actual plan, not a wish list.

And for me, I need to work on this whole realistic thing in 2015.

Let’s continue this conversation in Comments, shall we? How do you make time to write? How do you find a balance between your Writing and your Life? How many years have you given yourself to pursue your writing aspirations?

Tomorrow is the big day: To lay out our specific writing goals for 2015. By committing to something in public, we make those goal more tangible and our commitment to them more real.

Let’s do everything we can to make 2015 our best creative year yet!

Daily Dialogue — December 18, 2014

December 18th, 2014 by

Inigo knocks on the door.

MIRACLE MAX: Go away.

Inigo continues knocking. A face appears through a small door on the main door.

MIRACLE MAX: What, what?
INIGO: Are you the Miracle Max who worked for the King all those years?
MIRACLE MAX: The King’s stinking son fired me. And thank you so much for bringing up such a painful subject. While you’re at it, why don’t you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it? We’re closed. (He closes the door. They knock again.) Beat it, or I’ll call the Brute Squad!
FEZZIK: I’m on the Brute Squad.
MIRACLE MAX: You ARE the Brute Squad.
INIGO: We need a miracle. It’s very important.
MIRACLE MAX: Look, I’m retired. Besides, why would you want someone the King’s stinking son fired? I might kill whoever you wanted me to miracle.
INIGO: He’s already dead.
MIRACLE MAX: He is, huh? I’ll take a look. Bring him in.

They enter and place Westley on the table. Max examines him.

MIRACLE MAX: I’ve seen worse.
INIGO: Sir? Sir?
MIRACLE MAX: Huh?
INIGO: We’re in a terrible rush.
MIRACLE MAX: Don’t rush me, sonny. You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles. You got money?
INIGO: Sixty-five.
MIRACLE MAX: Sheesh! I never worked for so little. Except once, and that was a very noble cause.
INIGO: This is noble, sir. His wife is… crippled. The children are on the brink of starvation.
MIRACLE MAX: Are you a rotten liar!
INIGO: I need him to help avenge my father, murdered these twenty years.
MIRACLE MAX: Your first story was better. Where’s that bellows cram? He probably owes you money, huh? Well, I’ll ask him.
INIGO: He’s dead. He can’t talk.
MIRACLE MAX: Hoo hoo, look who knows so much, heh? Well, it just so happens that your friend here is only mostly dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Please, open his mouth. Now, mostly dead is slightly alive. Now, all dead… well, with all dead, there’s usually only one thing that you can do.
INIGO: What’s that?
MIRACLE MAX: Go through his clothes and look for loose change. (To Wesley) Hey! Hello in there! Hey! What’s so important? What you got here that’s worth living for?
Westley: True…love…
INIGO: True love! You heard him? You could not ask for a more noble cause than that.
MIRACLE MAX: Sonny, true Love is the greatest thing in the world, except for a nice MLT— mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, when the mutton is nice and lean, and the tomato is ripe. They’re so perky. I love that. But that’s not what he said— he distinctly said “To blave,” and as we all know, “to blave” means to bluff, heh? So you were probably playing cards, and he cheated–
Valarie appears and goes at Max.
VALERIE: Liar! Liar! Liar!
MIRACLE MAX: Get back, witch!
VALERIE: I’m not a witch, I’m your wife, but after what you just said, I’m not even sure I want to be that anymore.
MIRACLE MAX: You never had it so good.
VALERIE: True love. He said true love, Max. My God.
MIRACLE MAX: Don’t say another word, Valerie.
VALERIE: He’s afraid. Ever since Prince Humperdinck fired him, his confidence is shattered.
MIRACLE MAX: Why’d you say that name? You promised me that you would never say that name!
VALERIE: What… Humperdinck?
MIRACLE MAX: Haah!
VALERIE: Humperdinck! Humperdinck! Humperdinck! Humperdinck! Humperdinck! Humperdinck!
MIRACLE MAX: I’m not listening.
VALERIE: True love lies expiring, and you don’t have the decency to say why you won’t help.
MIRACLE MAX: Nobody’s hearing nothing!
VALERIE: Humperdinck! Humperdinck!
INIGO: This is Buttercup’s true love. If you heal him, he will stop Humperdinck’s wedding.
MIRACLE MAX: Shut up! Wait, wait. I make him better, Humperdinck suffers?
INIGO: Humiliations galore.
MIRACLE MAX: Ha ha ha! That is a noble cause! Gimme the sixty-five. I’m on the job.
VALERIE: Woo-woo!

Time passes. Valerie covers a huge pill with chocolate.

INIGO: That’s a miracle pill?
VALERIE: The chocolate coating makes it go down easier, but you have to wait fifteen minutes for full potency, and he shouldn’t go in swimming after for at least– what?
MIRACLE MAX: An hour–
VALERIE: Yeah, an hour–
MIRACLE MAX: A good hour. Here.
INIGO: Thank you for everything.
MIRACLE MAX: Okay.
VALERIE: Bye-bye, boys!
MIRACLE MAX: Have fun storming the castle.
VALERIE: Think it’ll work?
MIRACLE MAX: It would take a miracle.
MIRACLE MAX: Bye-bye!!
VALERIE: Bye.

The Princess Bride (1987), screenplay by William Goldman, novel by William Goldman

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Negotiation. Today’s suggestion by Will King.

Trivia: Mandy Patinkin claims that the only injury he sustained during the entire filming of this movie was a bruised rib due to stifling his laughter in his scenes with Billy Crystal. His attempt at holding back his laughter is obvious from his facial expression during his line, “This is noble sir.”

Dialogue On Dialogue: One of the best scenes in a movie filled with great ones. Note the inherent three act structure of a negotiation scene:

Beginning: I want something you have.
Middle: Negotiation.
Ending: You get something they have.

If you have a suggestion for this week’s theme, please post in comments.

Writing A Script, Part 8: First Draft

December 17th, 2014 by

Here’s another in a series of 10 posts about how I approach writing a script. Previous posts:

Part 1: Story Concept

Part 2: Brainstorming

Part 3: Research

Part 4: Character Development

Part 5: Plotting

Part 6: Outline

Part 7: Script Diary

PART 8: FIRST DRAFT

Finally we get to the actual page-writing part of the process. And now that I’ve done all this prep-writing work, the rest of the process is actually quite simple, at least to describe. My goal in the first draft is to get the story stuff out, put it down onto paper, so I can have something to work with.

In the old days, I was wholly committed to pressing on to FADE OUT. So if I hit a scene or scenes which didn’t work, I would do the best I could, then move on. I would use the second draft to fix the script. And normally, I found that in charging ahead, I would discover key narrative elements which would inform what I needed to do with the previous problem scenes.

For my last several screenplays, I’ve taken to stopping and working on the problem scene until I feel satisfied I have solved the issue.

I confess that with mixed feelings because I would never want to give any pretext to aspiring screenwriters to slow their progress from FADE IN to FADE OUT. So let me just say this, when your write your first draft, keep this writing mantra in mind:

“Get the damn thing done”

In fact, why not print that out and stick it well within sight of your work space. Once you’ve written several scripts and you have the confidence to know that no matter what, you will finish the draft, then you can stop your writing to fix problems. But until you’ve reached that point, be forewarned: Those who stop the first draft process are in danger of losing momentum and never finishing their script.

Another question I get is this: “How many pages a day should I expect to write?” Of course, that all depends upon the writer, so there is no universally correct answer. An average scene is one-and-a-half to two-pages in length, so it would seem that at minimum you would try to write one scene / two pages in a day’s writing session. I aim for 5-7 pages per day, which means it’s possible to complete a first draft in a month, assuming you write everyday.

But what if you have a ‘real’ job and you can only write in your off-hours? Even if you can only manage 1 page per day, that means you’ll finish your first draft in 4 months, something I detailed in this post.

When I took up screenwriting, I was doing a stand-up comedy act, traveling back-and-forth from northern to southern California. Being self-employed, I managed my work schedule so that I’d work for 2 or 3 weeks, then take off a week – and during that week, I’d jam out as much of a draft as I could. I must say I really liked and still do the pure intensity of that type of writing — and you can really knock out the pages. In fact, once I moved to LA, whenever I’d be working on a spec script on the side, I’d go up to this little lodge in Lake Arrowhead, always reserving the same room — creature of habit! — getting there Friday at noon and departing Sunday noon. On one spec script, I completed over 60 pages of a first draft in 48 hours. Armed with a comprehensive outline and facing no distractions, no excuses, you can really be productive… especially if you turn off the damn Internet!

One last piece of advice: Once you finish your first draft, I suggest you set aside the script for at least 2 weeks. Part of the reason is you’ve exerted a lot of energy, it’s time to recharge your creative batteries, But the more important thing is to get some distance from what you’ve written. If I start re-writing immediately, I find I am much more prone to approach the material with a less critical eye. With some time and distance, I can be less attached to the experience of writing the pages and more dispassionate — because the re-write is where you want to fix the script’s problems and you can’t do that if you’re not willing to admit the script has problems.

More on that next time as we discuss rewriting.

[Originally posted June 13, 2008]

Go Into The Story Script Reading & Analysis: Argo

December 17th, 2014 by

We’ve had a successful relaunch of the GITS Script Reading & Analysis series. I say relaunch because we have done this type of thing before. For the next month, I will be spotlighting previous movie scripts we have studied.

Today: Argo (2012)

Screenplay by Chris Terrio

IMDb Plot Summary: Acting under the cover of a Hollywood producer scouting a location for a science fiction film, a CIA agent launches a dangerous operation to rescue six Americans in Tehran during the U.S. hostage crisis in Iran in 1980.

Links to the entire November 2014 series:

Scene-By-Scene Breakdown
Major Plot Points
Sequences
Psychological Journey
Takeaways

For my 7-part series on How to Read a Screenplay, go here.

30 Days of Screenplays [2013]

30 Days of Screenplays [2014]

Years ago, I came up with this mantra: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages. A link to my reflections on that here.

Cannot emphasize enough the importance of reading movie scripts.

Video: “Living Famously” – 55 minute documentary on Alfred Hitchcock

December 17th, 2014 by

Air date: 20 January 2003:

Via The Playlist (Indiewire).

2014 Black List Word Cloud Logline Challenge!

December 17th, 2014 by

We did this last year and had a helluva lot of fun, so following in footsteps of Hollywood’s studios, it’s sequel time! Yes, it’s the 2014 Black List Word Cloud Logline Challenge!

Here is a word cloud based on the loglines for the 2014 Black List scripts, all 70 of them:

2014 Black List Word Cloud

For a larger PDF version of the World Cloud, go here.

[You can see the entire 2014 Black List including loglines for the 70 scripts here].

Your mission for the 2014 Black List Word Cloud Logline Challenge should you choose to accept: Come up with a logline using words from the word cloud. Or loglines (you may enter as many times as you want).

NOTE: One way your logline will be assessed is by how many words from the word cloud you use in your logline. If only one or two, less points. If five or six, more points.

BIG NOTE: Please CAPITALIZE each word cloud word in your logline.

Example: A YOUNG RUSSIAN AGENT INVESTIGATES her ESTRANGED FATHER FORCED into a ROMANCE with a SOCCER SNIPER.

That, my friends, is a truly crappy logline. However it gets across the key CAPITALIZATION point. This helps in judging each entry. Speaking of which, the inimitable Max Millimeter will return to select the winners, and you know what a hard ass he can be. His whole thing is about entertainment — “Get my [bleeping] attention!” — which you can read about here. So bear that in mind.

Oh, and when he talks about the six words test, he’s not saying make your loglines six words. What he means is can you reduce your story concept down to six words and if so, do those six words communicate a solid story and an entertaining one.

How’s this for prizes:

* 5 Semifinal Winners: 1 free Craft class I will be teaching next year through Screenwriting Master Class. There are 8 of them: Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling, Story Summaries: From Loglines to Beat Sheets, Handling Exposition, Character Introductions, Character Development Keys, Create a Compelling Protagonist, Write a Worthy Nemesis, and The Coen Brothers and the Craft of Storytelling. Each winner gets their choice of one class.

* 3 Finalist Winners: Free 1 script read + 1 month script hosting via the Black List website.

* 1 Grand Prize winner: Free 2 script reads + 2 months script hosting via the Black List website.

Deadline for entries: Midnight (Pacific), Friday, December 19th.

If you’d like to see some examples of previous Black List Word Cloud loglines, check out submissions here (2012) and here (2013).

More details about the contest:

(1) “How many loglines may I post?” You can submit as many as you’d like. That said, even in a fun challenge like this, you should focus on quality over quantity.

(2) “Since there are only about 100 words in the word cloud, there is bound to be overlap with loglines. How will you sort that out in terms judging?” Good question. And hopefully a good learning point for all of us, the difference between the logline for Dude, Where’s My Car? — “Two potheads wake up from a night of partying and can’t remember where they parked their car” — and The Hangover — Three groomsmen lose their about-to-be-wed buddy during their drunken misadventures, then must retrace their steps in order to find him”. The focus on a lost groom due for his wedding is substantially better as a comedic conceit than simply looking for a car.

(3) “What about people riffing off earlier loglines?” Another good point and I would think Max will tend to look more favorably on earlier loglines with similar iterations simply due to the earlier writer came up with the idea first.

NOTE: IF YOU HAVE WON A GITS CONTEST IN 2014, YOU ARE INELIGIBLE TO RECEIVE A PRIZE. HOWEVER FEEL FREE TO ENTER TO WORK YOUR CREATIVE CHOPS.

But bottom line, let’s remember this is supposed to be a fun exercise. The opportunity to get a free script read, web hosting or Craft class with me is a nice treat, but hopefully won’t create any ill will on the part of folks who don’t get selected. Even if you don’t win, you will have exercised your creative muscles, and that’s a plus for you.

FINAL REMINDER: Please CAPITALIZE word cloud words you use in your LOGLINE!!!

Let’s have some creative fun! Good luck!