The benefits of reading your script aloud

May 29th, 2015 by

I’m teaching a 1-week online class called Scene Description Spotlight: Express Your Voice. It’s been great as we’ve really drilled down into one of the most basic aspects of what we do as screenwriters and TV writers: Write scene description that is not only effective and entertaining, but also an expression of our own writer’s voice.

Apart from 7 of my lectures, I also include writing tips each day. Here is the tip from Day 5: Read Your Scene Description Aloud:

You’ve probably heard or read this advice: Read your script aloud. It’s great advice. Start from FADE IN, then go through it, line by line, all the way to FADE OUT. I do this several times in the latter part of my final edits for each draft.

However there are other ways to use this same technique to your benefit.

For example in my Core V: Dialogue course, we discuss how you can read aloud the dialogue in two different ways.

First, just read all of the dialogue, no scene description, for each scene, from the start of the script to the end. This allows you to focus on the back-and-forth interplay between characters.

Second, read aloud one character’s sides in their entirety. From start to finish. Here you are focusing on the flow and feel of that individual’s sides. You’re looking to see if there are any verbal habits unique to that character. Do they tend to end their sentences with a question? Do they use a lot slang? Are they prone to interrupt other characters or themselves, stop-starting topics? Do they swear a lot? And so on. Read aloud one character’s sides, all the way through the script. Then pick another character and do the same thing. Do this with every character. It’s a great way to look for distinctive verbal traits. And if you’re not finding them, that is every character sounds the same, then you will want to spend more time with each character – their background, family, work, education – how collectively those might be reflected in the way they talk, then go through their sides, massaging their lines to reflect their distinctive personality.

Here’s another way you can use reading aloud to help you: Scene description. Just scene description. No slug lines. No dialogue. Go through the entire script and read the scene description out loud. A few things to bear in mind:

* The sensibility you bring to screenwriting style, what I call Narrative Voice, should be consistent. That’s the first thing you look for in this exercise. Does your scene description sound like it’s coming from the same narrator, scene after scene?

* Just as dialogue will have a feel and flow to it, so, too, scene description. Be particularly mindful of this as you track what happens through a variety of scenes. If it’s a intimate interaction scene, does your scene description support that, slow things down, allow the characters to breathe, feel the moment? If it’s an action scene, does your description support that, pick up the pace, provide more pop and punch?

* If one of the things you do in reading dialogue aloud is to catch any lines which sound clunky or difficult for you to say — which suggests they’ll be hard for an actor to recite — similar thing with scene description. Readers can stumble over poorly written scene description, too, so you want to craft description that fits your genre and style, and develops a kind of rhythm and pace to it with zero interruptions caused by an awkward line.

Of course, reading scene description aloud is a great way to reflect on every verb. Can you find a better one? A stronger, more active verb? Same with descriptors. Is this the very best way to bring the visual you have in mind into the imagination of the reader?

So read your script aloud, all of it. But you can also use this exercise to break down the script into component parts to see how things are going with your dialogue and scene description.

Interview (Part 5): Tess Morris (“Man Up”)

May 29th, 2015 by

Tess Morris wrote the screenplay for the movie Man Up, a romantic comedy starring Lake Bell and Simon Pegg, directed by Ben Palmer. Generating strong reviews, the movie opens this weekend in the United Kingdom, and has been picked up for distribution in North America by Saban Films.

I recently had a wonderful conversation with Tess in which we covered a lot of territory. I will be rolling out that interview in several installments this week.

Today in Part 5, Tess talks about the “dance fight” as well as how important setups and payoffs are in comedy:

Scott:  OK, let’s talk about two great things in the script. One is there’s a montage where Nancy and Jack… this is where he thinks she’s Jessica… and they’re bowling.

Tess:  Yes.

Scott:  But, essentially what you’re doing, it’s like a seduction scene. You’re using all these visual cliches in which they’re kind of trying to seduce each other. I can’t think of any less sexy environment than a bowling alley, and yet you pull it off.

Then, later, you mirror it in a way. This is after the truth has come out, and now they’re on the dance floor. You think, “Oh, great.” Then Duran Duran comes on, so they’re doing this whole thing, but they’re having a fight.

I’m thinking, “Is this your mentality where you go, OK, I’ve got to do X, what could be the most un‑obvious way to do it? Oh, how about Y?” Is that fair to say?

Tess:  Yeah. Oh my God, definitely. But I get very angry when people use the word ‘subvert’ or talk about the anti‑Rom‑Com. Oh, I’m writing an anti‑Rom‑Com, I’m subverting the genre. Please, you don’t say that about any other genre. It’s just bizarre.

You wouldn’t say you were writing an anti‑thriller. So basically, when I use the word subvert, I think what we’re talking about is that I think it’s important to adhere to the rules of romantic comedy, but then find ways to do them in a different kind of way.

For example, you’ve got to have a montage. You can’t not have a montage. But why not do it somewhere, that like you say, that is not a traditional place to do it. We had so much fun shooting that scene. We just put on loads of soft rock classics and Lake and Simon just went for it.

We had some kids there to look at them awkwardly, like, what is she doing? And those older, cool dudes, they were professional bowlers. I think they called themselves The Big Lebowskis! Loved those men.

[laughter]

It was a very fun day. We had another montage in in the script actually, and we ended up cutting it… it was before they got to the bowling thing, we had them on London’s South Bank, doing lots of different rom com montage tropes… a bit like when “They Came Together.” You’ve seen the Amy Pohler and Paul Rudd one?

Scott:  Oh, yeah.

Tess:  Last year? Which actually did it brilliantly, in terms of those tropes of the Rom‑Com montage. It was to our favor that we ended up not doing it in our film. It’s about a minute long, but it’s a lot of fun, that minute, and you tell a really big story within that, because they’re not just getting absolutely drunk, but really connecting as well, through the medium of bowling and fun.

Scott:  There’s that dance thing. I think you said it was like a dance fight. That was very inspired. This would be typically where they’re kind of getting it on and physically connecting. No. It’s the exact opposite of that.

Tess:  Yeah. This is also where he calls her out. This is Nancy’s moment, because she’s such a wise guy about everything, and this is where he says to her, “Stop judging me for everything I’m doing.” But I didn’t just want them to have a fight.

Actually, it’s funny because we rehearsed it so much and actually Lake and Simon got too good at doing the dance. [laughs] They’re just really good dancers, and it was a brilliantly choreographed routine. We ended up re‑editing some stuff, actually, just to make it look slightly messier in the end because they were too good. [laughs]

I put that song in the script, so we were lucky to get it. It’s one of my favorites. I love Duran Duran anyway. I just wanted to have a song that they could do quite silly movements to while saying quite deep and meaningful things to each other. It’s quite a sad scene in some ways, but set to a Duran Duran soundtrack.

Scott:  Not to get too intellectual about it, it also was a little bit meta because Duran Duran’s the most archetypal ’80s band you can think of. You have those ’80s romantic comedies, and whatnot, this is going against the grain of that.

Tess:  I will take that meta, thank you!

Scott:  It sort of accentuates that point.

Tess:  Yeah. We have a very eclectic soundtrack. I’m a big music fan, and I wanted music to be a really big part of the film, without being too heavy‑handed. I think we get away with that actually quite well because it’s very eclectic, very eclectic. [laughs]

Scott:  I write comedies myself, and I’m such a huge fan of scripts when I read these, callbacks, setups and payoffs. This script is just filled with them. For example, Nancy posing as Jessica the triathlete. Then there’s a scene where she gets to essentially do a mini triathlon.

Tess:  She does. Yep.

Scott:  There’s a scene where Jack enters a women’s bathroom to find her. Then, later on, there’s a scene where she enters a men’s bathroom to find him. How conscious are you of setups, payoffs, callbacks?

Tess:  So conscious. Actually now, I probably do it too much. I try to put them in everything that I write! But when they work, they’re so rewarding. But you also have to know when to lose them. For example, the last line of the film was originally “Sweet baby Jesus’ to pay off something earlier, but we had to lose that, because we lost some of the setup when we came to editing, which meant that we couldn’t do the payoff… which was quite an interesting exercise as a writer. I had to come up with a line that still made sense, that we got late in ADR, and things like that.

We didn’t lose that many, overall. I think that would be the main one that we lost. I’m really conscious of them, but I also try and make them organic, because otherwise you can sort of see them coming, obviously. There were probably a lot more in earlier drafts, but I think my script editor was like “OK. Let’s get rid of some of these.” And rightly so. [laughs]

Scott:  It’s very much Nancy’s story… from her perspective. And yet, because you do that twist where his ex‑wife, Jack’s ex‑wife, comes into the play, and there’s a reversal there where now Nancy’s playing the part of his girlfriend and you get to explore his experience. There really is a feeling of equal time for these two characters.

In fact, you’ve got, not just one big confessional speech at the end of the story, when they all show up at that event, but two. Both Nancy and Jack get a chance to have these monologues. My question for you is this. That’s like twice the pressure to pull off those monologues, right? How many times did you rewrite those things, do you think?

Tess:  Do you know what? Looking back now, those speeches didn’t change that much… Obviously, they changed from the first initial spec, but the essence of them didn’t change.

Originally the film was very much her story, and then it evolved in a really nice way, especially when Simon came on board, which was before Lake, probably about eight months before Lake, in fact.

I did some work with him on the script, which was obviously really exciting, because I love his writing. He said, “Oh, I’ve got some notes. Want some of them?” I was like, “Yes, yes, please give me your notes, Simon Pegg.”

And then once I’d heard him read the part as Jack, I suddenly realized that it needed to be much more of a two hander. Especially when you’ve got access to someone like Simon, you’d be crazy not to let it evolve like that.

Essentially, it’s obviously Nancy’s story, but I really enjoyed, once Simon came on board, bringing a lot more of Jack’s side to it. When they both do the speeches, it’s very important that Nancy doesn’t think he’s going to turn up, and that she actually says at the end of her speech, “I’m alright, though. Don’t worry. I did something that was crazy, but I’m glad that I did…” She’s not going, “Oh, boo‑hoo, my life’s over.” She’s actually saying, “Oh, well. It’s OK.” And then it’s an added bonus when he does turn up with a load of drunk teenagers. [laughs] Yeah, I think those speeches were very much from the heart, and thus, they were probably the thing we tweaked the least.

And you know, in When Harry Met Sally, what Harry says to Sally is obviously one of the most iconic things ever said. I wanted at least to try and pay homage to that, and have Jack say some really quirky but beautiful things to Nancy. Likewise, she’s ready for it at that point, because she’s had her little speech and said, “You know what, I’m all right.”

For Part 6, Tess reveals how Man Up went from spec script to acquisition, development to production, and what it’s been like to work with Rachael Prior, Big Talk Productions development exec and one of the producers of Man Up.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

For GITS readers in the U.K. who want to see more original movies, especially those of you waiting for an increase in romantic comedies, although I have yet to see it, I can tell you from reading the script, Man Up is an excellent story – funny, touching, human, and surprising – and by all accounts really great entertainment.

In other words, go support Man Up in theaters this weekend!

Tess is repped by WME and Julia Tyrrell Management.

Twitter: @TheTessMorris.

Reader Question: How do you handle one character with different names?

May 29th, 2015 by

Via Twitter:

I’ve never encountered this situation in any of the stories I’ve written, but I have with other writers and their scripts. There’s no rule about this, but your concern is duly noted: You do not want to confuse a reader. And thinking long term, you don’t want to confuse actors who could read for a role in your movie nor the production team.

First, you need to be clear: Is this a story about one character who doesn’t change, but is called by other names in other universes – for whatever reason? Or is this a story about a character who does shapeshift into multiple iterations of him/herself? The answer to the question might be different.

Re the latter, if the character is substantively different from universe to universe, then I would think you’d have to use whatever name the character is known by in that universe. To track this, I consulted the mother of all versions of this conceit, the script for Cloud Atlas, and, indeed, the characters played by Tom Hanks — Dr. Henry Goose / Hotel Manager / Isaac Sachs / Dermot Hoggins / Cavendish Look-a-Like Actor / Zachry — are called by their names in their respective universes. So, too, with the Halle Berry characters — Native Woman / Jocasta Ayrs / Luisa Rey / Indian Party Guest / Ovid / Meronym. And all the other characters played by actors with alternate iterations of their soulful self.

While that may be confusing to a reader, I think you have to go this route because to give them one name is inauthentic because in reality, in Universe A, they are known by X, in Universe B, they are known by Y. They themselves experience reality in each universe by that name.

However that doesn’t sound like your story setup. If I understand correctly, Kelley, you have one character who bounces between universes, yet he is known by different names in each universe. The key point is he is the same character, he doesn’t actually change.

If that’s right, then I would recommend you give him his proper name, and refer to him as that throughout. Others will call him by his alternate names in different universes, but this way, (A) it’s less confusing for a reader as the character’s name remains the same and (B) this is an accurate reflection of the character’s reality. If his name is John, then no matter what anyone calls him in Universe C, Universe D, Universe E and so on, he still experiences reality as John.

Again that’s assuming I’ve got the sense of your story setup right.

By the way, for those of you who were confused by Cloud Atlas, here’s a helpful infographic:

Actually that’s not helpful at all, is it? Unlike a lot of people, I really enjoyed the movie. Watched it with my family and we all managed to track the plot. How about you?

And re Kelley’s question, if anyone has a differing opinion or an alternate way of handling the issue, please weigh in in comments. I will be appearing there to join the conversation using my name from a parallel universe I sometimes visit: Skooleybabenah.

Classic 50s Movie: “Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe”

May 29th, 2015 by

May is Classic 50s Movie month. Today’s guest post comes from John Nilsson Acosta.

Movie Title: Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe

Year: 1953

Writers: Ronald Davidson and Barry Shipman

Poster Commando Cody Sky Marshal Universe

Lead Actors: Judd Holdren, Aline Towne, Gregory Gaye, Richard Crane, William Schallert, Gloria Pall

Directors: Harry Keller, Franklin Adreon, and Fred C. Brannon

Plot Summary: As the series opens, it is the near future as seen from the perspective of the early 1950s. Earth is in radio contact with civilizations on planets in our solar system, as well as planets in other, distant solar systems, and Commando Cody has just built the world’s first spaceship. The rest of the world appears unchanged by these galactic developments. (The exterior of Cody’s headquarters building is actually a Republic Pictures office building.)

In each episode The Ruler tries to take over the Earth with a new scheme, each one designed to make maximum use of Republic’s stock footage library of various disasters and previously used action long shots. For the series, a number of new outer space scenes were filmed that had not been seen before in Republic serials, including “space walks” for several exterior spaceship repairs; aerial ray gun duels between “hero” and “enemy” spaceships; and black star fields (rather than daylight and cloud-spotted skies) for backgrounds when Cody’s or the villain’s spaceships were shown outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

Cody and his associates use special badges that conceal radios to communicate with one another, prefiguring similar communication badges used more than 30 years later in Star Trek: The Next Generation. There were futuristic props and sets, as well as shots of the intricate model-rocket special effects work of Republic’s Howard and Theodore Lydecker; the spaceships of Cody and The Ruler are the same basic shooting miniature with different attachments and markings added to make them appear different. (Summary from Wikipedia)

Why I Think This is a Classic 50’s Movie: Come with me back to yesteryear! Imagine yourself – you are just nine years old – you reach up to plunk down your 45 cents at the ticket booth in the glorious Dreamland Theater located in downtown Modesto! These are the days of Double Features and Serial one reelers. You’re paying your hard earned allowance to sit through the main feature which is a strange Western, Produced by Republic Pictures, called Johnny Guitar.

What you’re really here to see is something very special. Something so unique and stupendous it has gripped your heart and soul, and engaged your active imagination! You’ve had to wait one whole week to see what happens next!

As the intermission ends and you try to figure out why the dystopian Western Johnny Guitar disturbed you, the theater lights go down, and the light on the screen begins to flicker, it’s coming to life! Taking a big gulp from your 10 cent coke and stuffing a hand full of popcorn into your mouth here it is. Your story. Your adventure. Now, right now, this is all you want!

The title splashes across the screen as a man wearing futuristic flying suit with a bullet shaped helmet runs out of a building and leaps into the air! He’s flying! If only you had a rocket powered back pack! You would be Commander Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe!

Commando Cody: scientific genius, inventor of a Flying Suit, protector of the Earth and the Universe. (Hey, that sounds familiar.)

You’ve been on so many adventures with Commando Cody, had your close calls, trusted your sidekicks, taken advice from your wise old mentor, and had epic battles fighting the henchmen of your evil nemesis The Ruler, but this week you’ll need more. This week is colossal, stupendous. This week it’s “War of the Space Giants”!

Space Giants! This is so freekin cool.

Imagine yourself. You’re just nine years old and your name is George Lucas . . .

Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe was released into theaters just as television was growing in popularity and movie studios, in order to compete with the small screen, decided to make films in widescreen format. The small independent movie studios that cranked out these low budget serials were feeling the pressure. They were converting to the new entertainment medium of television or folding their tents and disappearing from film production altogether.

This spelled the end of the movie serial. In just three short years the last movie serial was released into theaters. Hollywood’s film industry lost it’s ability and it’s desire to tell long form stories. But these 1950’s serials had a profound and lasting impact on a generation that would come of age in Hollywood in the 1970’s and one emerging movie serial would have a budget that would dwarf anything that had ever been spent before.

Flash forward to the 6th annual Comic-Con in July 1976. Lucas has sent a promotional team to San Diego where they’ve rented a table to sell a STAR WARS novel, comic books, and they’ve scheduled a presentation in order to show slides on a portable projection screen of scenes from the upcoming film. Only a handful of Comic-Con attendees turned up to see the presentation. Yet by next May 1977 STAR WARS became a Global Phenomenon. The one key moment in the film that signaled to audiences that serials were coming back was when Darth Vader survived the destructing of the Death Star. Their curiosity was aroused. What will happen to our new Heroes if the Evil Vader survived what would happen next?

Now in 2015 we’ve seen numerous examples of Serialized movies: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, the Bourne films, but the biggest and baldest of them all is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Using multiple storylines and multiple characters in what seemed to be individual stand alone films is really at it’s core a Serial. Don’t believe me? Look at what an Italian fan put together on YouTube.

Low budget, Pop Art, movie serials that can trace their linage all the way back to 1910. Their subject matter covered Crime Stories, Adventures, Comic Strips, and Super Heroes. Now they have returned to Hollywood and they’ve been transformed, super-sized, and juiced-up with modern storytelling techniques, production dollars, and CGI. They’ve usurped what was once considered the High Art of the Studio Film. Modern Serials are now a multi-billion dollar business. Everything else turned into Indy Film.

But why? What’s the appeal of long form story telling? Stay tuned to hear the exciting tale . . . (Hint: The hidden Evil Genius is Socrates!)

My Favorite Moment in the Movie: My favorite moment in the Serial occurs in Episode 9: Solar Sky Raiders. It’s the moment when Cody gives Joan the Pilot’s seat of his space ship. Joan’s not here to be eye candy or a damsel in distress. (Howard Hawks would approve.)

My Favorite Dialogue: Dialogue??? Who needs dialogue when you have over the top action!

Here’s a clip from Episode 4: Nightmare Typhoon. The evil genius is out to conquer Earth and he’s manipulating Earth’s weather causing Global Climate Change to flood and destroy everything until Earth surrenders to his will. Watch as New York City gets destroyed by a massive tidal wave! (The Tidal Wave you see destroying New York City is actually stock footage Republic Pictures recycled from their film Deluge [1933] which depicts a series of natural disasters! Earthquakes destroy California and these set off a Tidal Wave that destroys New York!)

O.K. I do have some dialogue to share. Every good yarn needs a comedic side kick. Here’s Richard Crane portraying Dick Preston. (Falstaff eat your heart out.)

Key Things to Look for When Watching This Movie: Listen to the opening soundtrack. The driving horns and drums become remarkable and memorable. The soundtrack was written by Stanley Wilson who went on to score numerous films and television shows. Wilson also worked with and mentored a young up and coming composer named John Williams.

Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe is also a prequel! It was released after Radar Men from the Moon (1949) whose events take place after the action shown in Commando Cody. They didn’t use the same actors to play Cody in both Serials. To hide the fact the actor in the prequel was different they gave him a mask to wear.

Always add an element of comedy to relieve the audience’s tension. By episode three Cody’s sidekick was replaced and then played for humor.

You don’t have to spend a hundred bajillion dollars to make a Science Fiction Serial. What Republic Pictures spent was about $1.8 million in today’s dollars. Compare that to what Casablanca cost, adjusting for inflation and the Stars salaries, about $25 Million.

Concepts! Commando Cody has so many raw Concepts in it just waiting to be developed and retold in a new form.

Recycled footage from other Republic Pictures films as well as props and costumes. These Serials were very low budget affairs.

Serials do something very special to an audience. Just ask Scheherazade! They engage your active imagination, curiosity, and sense of anticipation. Combine those human qualities with Social Media Conic-Cons, and Entertainment Blogs, then sit back and watch it creates a kinetic dynamic of it’s own. As we’ve seen in more recent times audiences will wait years to see these sagas continue!

Thanks, John! To show our gratitude for your guest post, here’s a dash of creative juju for you. Whoosh!

Twitter: @BadScreenWrtr.

We already have a set of classic 60s Movies, 70s movies, 80s Movies and 90s Movies. This month, we’re working on 50s movies. And thanks to the GITS community, we’ve got 31 movies in the works!

Those who I put in bold have already sent me their posts. If you haven’t sent yours to me, please do so as soon as you can!!!

12 Angry Men – Ipsita Barik
A Place in the Sun – Zach Jansen
A Star is Born – Melinda Mahaffey
A Touch of Evil – David Joyner
All About Eve – Ricardo Bravo
American in Paris – stefani1601
Bridge on the River Kwai – Tom Peterson
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – uncgym44
Commando Cody: Sky Marshall of the Universe – John Nilsson Acosta
File on Thelma Jordon, The – David Joyner
Harvey – Felicity Flesher
High Noon – Jeff Messerman
Invasion of the Body Snatchers – Rick Dyke
Kiss Me Deadly – John Henderson
Marty – jetwillie69
Night of the Demon – David Hutchison
Night of the Hunter – Mark Twain
On the Beach – Liz Warner
On the Waterfront – Bilbo Poynter
Pickpocket – Zach Jansen
Pick Up on South Street – Vincent Martini
Quiet Man, The – Traci Nell Peterson
Rear Window – Roy Gordon
Rebel Without a Cause – Jack McDonald
Searchers, The – mkm28
Seven Samurai, The – Paul Graunke
Seventh, Seal, The – Megaen Kelly
Singin’ in the Rain – Megaen Kelly
Some Like It Hot – Will King
Stalag 17 – James Schramm
Sunset Blvd. – Lisa Byrd
Tokyo Story – Jeff Messerman
Vertigo – Jason Pates

Thanks to everyone!

For the original post explaining the series, go here.

For all of the 50s movies featured in the series, go here.

Daily Dialogue — May 29, 2015

May 29th, 2015 by

Sergeant Sarah Brown: You want to take me to dinner in Havana, Cuba?
Sky Masterson: Well, they eat in Cuba the same as we do.

Guys and Dolls (1955), screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, based on a play by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, story by Damon Runyon

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Dating.

Trivia: The storyline was based on the 1933 Damon Runyon short story, “The Idyll Of Miss Sarah Brown”, That story was later a radio play, broadcast on “Damon Runyon Theater”, in 1949, on NBC radio.

Dialogue On Dialogue: The dialogue in this scene is excellent. Writers of that era — 40s and 50s — really had an ear for snappy dialogue grounded in conflict.

Break your story in prep

May 28th, 2015 by

Have you ever started a script and not finished it?

Has it ever taken you 6 months, 1 year, or more to finish a script?

Have you ever gotten so lost when writing a story, you became incredibly frustrated, and gave up?

Chances are you did not do enough story preparation.

Don’t you think it’s time to approach writing like many professionals do and break your story in prep?

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Screenwriting Master Class offers a 6-week online Prep: From Concept to Outline writing workshop, a unique approach to develop your story, enabling you to crack it before you type FADE IN.

The beauty of this approach is three-fold:

  • You can go into the page-writing part of the process with confidence because you’ve already broken the story.
  • Since you won’t be overwhelmed with finding the story when writing pages, you can focus your creativity where it should be — characters, dialogue, themes, mood, pace, etc.
  • By devoting six weeks to prep, you will almost assuredly cut the overall amount of time you spend writing your script and increase the odds you will finish your draft.

Here are a few testimonials from writers who have participated in the Prep: From Concept to Outline online workshop:

“‘From Concept to Outline’ is a course I wish I had known about a couple of years ago. I would recommend this whole-heartedly for anyone who is about to embark on their first script or ANY script. This lays the foundation stone to your story.” – Camilla Castree

“This has been an outstanding class. I’ve taken a few from other sources and most don’t live up to their promises (they shall remain nameless). But here, I’ve learned so much and gotten way more than my money’s worth.” — Daniel O’Donahue

“I went into Scott’s Prep class doubting I’d ever finish a script; I came out with the tools, confidence and inspiration to power through a complete first draft in just a few months. Amazing!” — Jessica Sada

In the nearly five years I’ve been teaching through Screenwriting Master Class, I’ve led multiple Prep workshops as it has proved to be one of the most popular classes we offer. Why? Because it works! If you fully engage yourself in the six stages of this process, you will end up with an outline you can use as a springboard for writing your screenplay.

Moreover I hear from writers frequently who have taken the workshop, how they continue to adapt and use it on other stories. I’m not saying it’s the way to break a story, however it has proved to be a viable approach for many writers.

What the workshop consists of:

* Six lectures written by me

* Six writing assignments which take you from a Protagonist Character Treatment all the way to a Narrative Throughline outline

* Six due dates to spur you to make progress on your story

* Online forums with feedback from myself and your fellow writers

* Weekly teleconferences for yet more feedback

In other words, a structure which steers you through the prep-writing process… from concept to outline.

I will be leading the next session starting June 8. For more information, go here.

As always, I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

Interview (Part 4): Tess Morris (“Man Up”)

May 28th, 2015 by

Tess Morris wrote the screenplay for the movie Man Up, a romantic comedy starring Lake Bell and Simon Pegg, directed by Ben Palmer. Generating strong reviews, the movie opens this weekend in the United Kingdom, and has been picked up for distribution in North America by Saban Films.

I recently had a wonderful conversation with Tess in which we covered a lot of territory. I will be rolling out that interview in several installments this week.

Today in Part 4, Tess and I analyze a critical choice she made in terms of the plot that would seem to go against conventional rom-com wisdom, but really elevates the story:

Scott:  So when Nancy says that fateful line, “I am waiting for you,” and off they go, she and Jack, he is assuming that she’s Jessica. She doesn’t even know what her supposed name is. She finds that out later. You’ve got this deceit playing out on multiple levels. First there’s this practical thing where she’s got to pretend to be someone she isn’t.

That includes basically trying to ferret information from Jack about this Jessica woman so that she can deftly fill in details of her life that match up with what he knows about her. How much fun was that to explore Nancy under pressure for that first part of act two?

Tess:  It was really good fun, because obviously the act break is quite early at the end of act one. I’m a bit of a geek about page count and where the act breaks are and all of that. Technically, actually, the end of act one is probably when they’re in the bar and then he says “Let’s go bowling,” because she’s just about to tell him the truth, because she suddenly feels a bit bad.

But it was just really good fun to write a scene where someone is trying to be flirty and interesting, but has no idea what she needs to be in order to do that, if that makes sense. Because usually if you’re on a setup and you’ve been told things people like, you can totally adhere to them and drop in things and whatever.

Whereas Nancy has no idea who she’s meant to be [laughs] That was a lot of fun when he says to her, “What have you got to worry about kids? You’re 24.”

And Lake and Simon had a lot of fun with that whole date sequence because it’s quite a kooky screwball thing. They’re chatting. He’s not being himself either, remember, which is also important to that theme. Because Jack is trying to play this laid back dude and trying to be a bit cool and talk about his dating life, women that he’s met, on the street [laughs] and all of those things that he says.

They’re both pretending to be people that they’re not, and that’s how I approached it when I was writing it. I just thought, “Don’t forget that Jack is also not very confident and has no idea really how he wants to be in this scene, either.” That dynamic was very helpful when I was writing that scene.

Scott:  The subtext underneath all that is that at some point, she’s going to have to come clean. So there’s that tension you can mine as well, right?

Tess:  Yeah, and I think for the audience… that’s why, like I was saying earlier, it was very important that she reveal it at the right time, so that she has enough time to be someone else and have some fun with it, but then she also realizes that it’s time now to come clean.

Also she doesn’t expect him to have such an adverse reaction [laughs] to her…by that point they’ve had a good time, so the thinks, “Oh, I’ll tell him and it’ll be fine and the date will continue.” But no, that’s not quite how Jack feels about it.

Scott:  Yeah, let’s talk about that, because that’s a really interesting choice. It sounds like you grew up on ’80s movies.

Tess:  Yes.

Scott: I came into the business in the ’80s. Reading the script when she makes that reveal, who she is, I was thinking, “Well, if this is an ’80s comedy, they would have sustained that all the way to the end of Act Two.” And that would have been the big revelation and the All Is Lost moment.

But this comes out much earlier in your script. You’ve talked about that. I was just curious, what was your thought process in making that choice so that she makes that revelation around 40 or 45.

Tess:  Yeah. I suppose you’re building up towards your midpoint, and ours is obviously when they bump into his ex. But when I wrote the first draft, I wrote it in a much more conventional way. I was holding onto her reveal of not being his date, holding onto it for as long as possible…

It was only around about the second or third personal draft that I did that I was like, “What am I doing? She’s got to tell him much earlier,” because that’s when the fun really begins. [laughs]

That’s when you can really go for it. Also, when you’re writing… I remember getting to the scene, and thinking… but what if he’s furious at her?” That’s really fun. You know? Like you were talking about, in the ’80s movie structure, it would be your end of Act Two, and he’d be devastated and he’d storm off and he’d make the wrong decisions.

Meanwhile, bringing that forward meant that you had a much meatier Act Two, which is obviously always nice! I don’t know. Just, again, another sort of unlocking moment for me where I realized I could suddenly do a lot more with the film and that they were actually then finally being themselves. Then, when they start to like each other, they’re liking each other as themselves, which is a obviously a much stronger emotion to witness, and gives us a much better end of Act Two turning point.

Scott:  That’s a really good point. That may zero in on why I had some antipathy toward romantic comedies. If they, taking the ’80s approach, had lived this illusion for the middle of the story, and then the revelation happened at the end of Act Two, would I buy that they would have enough time in that final act to get their thing together?

They haven’t really been dealing with each other in a genuine way; whereas, in your story, that choice you made, a credible choice, it seems to me, is they do get a chance to see each other. There’s a whole sequence where he’s just basically furious at her, and then she gets angry at him. So they get to see themselves at their worst, in a way.

Tess:  Exactly.

Scott:  Then you have a big twist where now his ex‑wife is there with the new guy, so there’s a whole thing where she’s got to live the deceit now again, but in a different sort of motivation, doing it on his behalf, right?

Tess:  Yeah. It’s a key point, obviously, a key emotional turning point. They’re furious at each other, and then we also have Nancy’s little moment, a little lull in the movie, where she goes off into the bathroom to have a bit of a quiet moment, which you really need by then, because it’s been quite frenetic so far. And she has a little mini cry in the bathroom and thinks to herself “Why did I do this?”

When she goes back out, Jack sees her for the first time. When you see the film, you’ll see, it’s very nicely done, because she comes out and there’s just this little moment in Simon’s eyes where he suddenly goes, “Oh, right. I’m seeing you as you now.” But the big turning point moment is when he puts his arm around her and says, “This is my girlfriend, Nancy.” [laughs]

It’s so important that you believe why people are doing things in films, obviously, but I worked really hard on that… There’s two sides to Jack when he asks Nancy to do this favor for him. Yes, he’s saying do me a favor because you owe me, but also, he sort of fancies her at this point. So there’s a dual thing going on. He’s pretending that it’s “Oh, I want to do this to get closure,” but he’s also starting to go, “Hmm, do I like this girl?’.

And then, what follows… you know, in “When Harry Met Sally,” the midpoint is her fake orgasm, and I wanted to pay homage to that, in Nancy’s porn star speech. This is very much an ode to that, because it’s very much a metaphorical midpoint rather than an actual action thing, when Nancy does her big speech, and Jack starts to see her as a sexual person, so to speak, rather than just this crazy girl who has stolen his blind date.

It’s actually a really important sequence of events, from the moment they enter that bar until they take to the dance floor and have a dance fight.

Tomorrow in Part 5, Tess talks about the “dance fight” as well as how important setups and payoffs are in comedy.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

For GITS readers in the U.K. who want to see more original movies, especially those of you waiting for an increase in romantic comedies, although I have yet to see it, I can tell you from reading the script, Man Up is an excellent story – funny, touching, human, and surprising – and by all accounts really great entertainment.

In other words, go support Man Up in theaters this weekend!

Tess is repped by WME and Julia Tyrrell Management.

Twitter: @TheTessMorris.

Classic 50s Movie: “12 Angry Men”

May 28th, 2015 by

May is Classic 50s Movie month. Today’s guest post comes from Ipsita Barik.

Movie Title: 12 Angry Men

Year: 1957

Writer: Reginald Rose

Lead Actors: Henry Fonda, Lee J Cobb, E.G.Marshall

Director: Sidney Lumet

IMDb Plot Summary: A dissenting juror in a murder trial slowly manages to convince the others that the case is not as obviously clear as it seemed in court.

Why I Think This is a Classic 50s Movie: 12 Angry Men isn’t about anger. Rather the core underlining emotion through the film is that of attempting and struggling with the emotion of empathy and being compassionate towards a stranger. The idea of trying to empathise with someone charged with criminality, to “dig deeper” (Juror 11). In the “hottest day of the year” 12 Jurors debate a verdict that leaves then twisted and twirled as the conversation proceeds. “They smoke, they sweat, they swear, they sprawl, they stalk, and they get angry.” (Roger Ebert)

When Juror 8, the dissident, casts the first non-guilty vote, everyone in the room is stunned. With questions arising as to how to proceed thereon, Juror 8 offered,“I guess we talk!” At that moment, you can never imagine the crescendo into which the “talk” develops into. I love the way the movie explores the dark corners in our minds, underlined with prejudices and judgements about the “other”. The landscape is not complex, and yet in the simplicity of the conversations we find the most intricate of human emotions emerge. The conversation turns into heated arguments, wild rants, bullying, mocking and abusing, intertwined with placid moments of watching the rain pour down. 12 Angry Men could easily be a living room conversation between friends and in that lays the familiarity of the setting. In that is also embedded the idea that amongst a few men, a conversation can often lead to significant and valuable change. The jurors step into the room with the absolute conviction of the accused being guilty and yet when they exit the room, leaving behind the remnants – the doodles, the cigarettes stubs, strewn newspapers; of their long winded and heated conversations, they carry a strong conviction of the case involving a “reasonable doubt”.

It’s amidst the conversations that the layered sense of human prejudices and biases emerge. In it also lay the sense of human strength and courage. Juror 8 is the dissenter not because he has hard facts to counter the alleged guilt of the accused, but he does have the courage to stand up to the 11 jurors all by himself, because his strength is born from empathy. The multiple questions raised through the length of the conversations are real and sharp. Is justice devoid of emotions? When Juror 8 argues, “he is a wild, angry kid..we owe him a few words”, Juror 10 counters, “do you know how much that trial costs? Let me tell you something, we owe him nothing” – the question that probes is whether justice is devoid of emotions?  Or in the instance when Juror 4, states, “we know he comes from a broken family and filthy slum – but we can’t do anything about it,” one wonders whether hard facts overpower even a remote sense of inquisitiveness or dissent, both essential to human intelligence and society. When Juror 3 mocks, “Some underprivileged kid, who couldn’t help becoming a murderer,” as the second not-guilty vote is cast, you are led into thinking whether such scorn and abhorrence isn’t commonplace. The layers of doubt that emerge at every instance of detour, such as when Juror 6 says to Juror 8, “suppose you talk us out of it, and the kid really knifed his father!” Juror 11 is the second to begin thinking differently about the case and when accused of jumping ships, he asserts, “I don’t think I have to be loyal to one side or the other, am just asking questions,” which asserts that to think differently, you just need a slight nudge, The movie is a beautiful and intricate study of human emotions and the essential human characteristics that are both fallible and strong.

My Favorite Moment in the Movie: The underlying drama essentially lays in the rounds of vote calls and when the not guilty votes begin to swing its way up the ladder. From 11-1 vote in the beginning to the slow counts when the not-guilty votes rise alongside the temper and the heat, the movie is a classic drama and thriller.

Two occasions, are absolutely thrill driven in the movie. One when it is proven by the Jurors, that the empty L train passed by the apartment building when the murder happened, and hence, questioning whether in all that din and noise, it would have been possible for the old man (a witness) to hear the accused shout “I will kill you” alongside the thump of the body hitting the floor. The second is when the its is displayed convincingly by Juror 8 that the old man couldn’t have reached the front door of his apartment to see the accused run down the stairs in 15 seconds. It turned out that dragging a leg and walking slowly, it took Juror 8 almost 43 seconds, to reach the imaginary front gate.

My Favorite Dialogue in the Movie:

Juror 8: “I want to call for another vote; I want you 11 men to vote by secret written ballot, I will abstain. If there are 11 votes for guilty, I won’t stand alone, and will take in a guilty verdict to the judge right now. If anyone votes not guilty, we stay here and talk it out.”

Key Thing You Should Look for When Watching This Movie: The highlight of the movie is that it is shot almost uniformly in a single space, that of inside a jury room. One jury room, 12 jury members, the stifling heat and the process of trying to reach a uniform verdict. What is fascinating about the movie is that the anger seamlessly navigates through the movie and yet it doesn’t seem either contrived or misplaced. Its palpable, it’s real and somehow you feel the anger is indispensable.

12 Angry Men is a case of personality study. The jury members aren’t identified by their names almost through the span of the film, and yet you don’t feel that the very key identification in human relations is missing! You naturally begin to identify with the array of disparate characters. Juror 1 is the assured moderator who gets angry at being called a controlling freak while juror 2 is nervous little man, who throughout the movie refuses to be cowed down. I think the movie beautifully weaves in the various characters, highlighting their distinctive traits. Juror 3 screams Bloody Mary at every instance, when the vote strays towards the “not-guilty” verdict. Juror 4 is the practical no nonsense man, whose focus refuses to stray from the facts. Juror 5 is the man who relates to the background of the accused and his empathy builds up in the process. Juror 6 keeps to his business and is courteous towards everyone, especially the elderly. Juror 7 is the flamboyant, off the hook guy, whose focus for a substantial part of the movie remains on the baseball tickets in his pocket. Juror 8 is the dissenter, not afraid to say and do different, even when bullied; he refuses to buckle under the pressure. Juror 9 is the old man, preacher, who is the first one to lend a sympathetic ear to the dissident Juror 8. Juror 10 is the bigot and the loudmouth and Juror 11 is the Irish immigrant who understands the position from the ‘margins’ very clearly. Juror 12 is the advertising guy, who doodles, sways and intermittently comes up with bright ideas. And yet brilliantly with the swinging lens shots, the characters struggle between detachment and apathy on one hand, and that niggling sense of “reasonable doubt” that arises as the story forwards.

“In form, 12 Angry Men is a courtroom drama. In purpose, it’s a crash course in those passages of the Constitution that promise defendants a fair trial and the presumption of innocence” – Roger Ebert.

Released in 1957, when Technicolor and lush production values were common, “12 Angry Men” was lean and mean. (Roger Ebert)

Lumet uses the “Lens Plot” in the movie. The room visually shrinks as the story progress, “he gradually changed to lenses of longer focal lengths, so that the backgrounds seemed to close in on the characters.” Lumet adds, “, “I shot the first third of the movie above eye level, shot the second third at eye level and the last third from below eye level. In that way, toward the end the ceiling began to appear. Not only were the walls closing in, the ceiling was as well. The sense of increasing claustrophobia did a lot to raise the tension of the last part of the movie.” In the film’s last shot, he observes, he used a wide-angle lens “to let us finally breathe.”

Thanks, Ipsita! To show our gratitude for your guest post, here’s a dash of creative juju for you. Whoosh!

We already have a set of classic 60s Movies, 70s movies, 80s Movies and 90s Movies. This month, we’re working on 50s movies. And thanks to the GITS community, we’ve got 31 movies in the works!

Those who I put in bold have already sent me their posts. If you haven’t sent yours to me, please do so as soon as you can!!!

12 Angry Men – Ipsita Barik
A Place in the Sun – Zach Jansen
A Star is Born – Melinda Mahaffey
A Touch of Evil – David Joyner
All About Eve – Ricardo Bravo
American in Paris – stefani1601
Bridge on the River Kwai – Tom Peterson
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – uncgym44
Commando Cody: Sky Marshall of the Universe – J Nilsson-Acosta
File on Thelma Jordon, The – David Joyner
Harvey – Felicity Flesher
High Noon – Jeff Messerman
Invasion of the Body Snatchers – Rick Dyke
Kiss Me Deadly – John Henderson
Marty – jetwillie69
Night of the Demon – David Hutchison
Night of the Hunter – Mark Twain
On the Beach – Liz Warner
On the Waterfront – Bilbo Poynter
Pickpocket – Zach Jansen
Pick Up on South Street – Vincent Martini
Quiet Man, The – Traci Nell Peterson
Rear Window – Roy Gordon
Rebel Without a Cause – Jack McDonald
Searchers, The – mkm28
Seven Samurai, The – Paul Graunke
Seventh, Seal, The – Megaen Kelly
Singin’ in the Rain – Megaen Kelly
Some Like It Hot – Will King
Stalag 17 – James Schramm
Sunset Blvd. – Lisa Byrd
Tokyo Story – Jeff Messerman
Vertigo – Jason Pates

Thanks to everyone!

For the original post explaining the series, go here.

For all of the 50s movies featured in the series, go here.

The Business of Screenwriting: Everything you wanted to know about specs [Part 9]

May 28th, 2015 by

Spec scripts, that is. I’m guessing that perhaps 90% of the people who follow this blog at some point in their lives will write a spec script. And the other 10% are involved in buying and selling them. In light of that fact, last year I interviewed a top manager and some Hollywood screenwriters about the ins and outs of what is involved in bringing a spec script to market. I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to do something with that inside information, so when Vanity Fair recently came out with this article — When the Spec Script was King — a decent piece, but pretty surface level, I figured this is as good a time as any to dig into the subject in a comprehensive fashion.

In Part 1, we looked at the genesis of the spec script in Hollywood from 1900-1942.

In Part 2, we covered the emergence of the spec script market from 1942-1990.

In Part 3, we analyzed the boom, bust, and back again of 1990-2012.

In Part 4, we surveyed the buyers, both major studios and financiers.

In Part 5, we examined the screenwriter-rep relationship in terms of developing a spec script.

In Part 6, we explored rolling out a new writer’s spec script.

In Part 7, we delved into the subject of attaching producers.

In Part 8, we considered the value of attaching talent.

Part 9: “Own All The Tickets”

So let’s assume a writer has nailed a spec script. It’s ready to go to market. Now comes a crucial component: The actual process of taking out the script. Check out these observations from Chris Fenton, literary manager and producer of H2F Entertainment from an interview I did with him:

I have a philosophy called “Own All The Tickets.” It’s the idea that everything’s basically a lottery, but it’s not a lottery if you own all the tickets. By that I mean, you want to have the best team possible put together, you want to have the best piece of material that’s ready to go, you want to time it right with movies that might be similar to the script that open the weekend before and make a ton of money… you want to put all the lottery tickets into your hands, anything you have control over. Because if you have them all, you can end up winning.

If you have half of them, you have a 50% shot of winning. If you just got one, it’s truly a lottery. So you have to try to pick up every single advantage you can, put it all together, and hopefully that gives you an edge to get it done.

Good agents working with good managers and a team that’s out there spraying the market with phone calls and e-mails, creating buzz and hype, and using relationships to see if there’s a last-minute piece of packaging, hopefully that all adds up to a sale for a writer with a good piece of material. And that’s what I mean: Own all the tickets.

This goes back to discussions we’ve had before, how a big key to a spec script sale is to hit a buyer’s comfort level. Their default mode is one based on fear because a bad decision that leads to an unprofitable movie casts a dark shadow on their career. This is a big reason why most people on that side of the desk in the movie business are leery of fresh, original stories, preferring the safety net of familiar titles — remakes, sequels, prequels, adaptations, and so on.

So what do reps do? Attempt to pull together as many elements as they can for a script project that hit a buyer’s comfort level. A producer the studio is comfortable with. An actor a studio is comfortable with. A sense of heat generating around town about the script suggesting it’s a strong commodity.

Of course, so much of this goes directly back to you and your choices in terms of story concept, genre, and how you shape the story itself. Which is why if you are attempting to sell a script to Hollywood, you need to make yourself aware of what studios and financiers are buying, what they’re producing, what’s working at the box office and what’s not.

Just by doing that, you can provide a rep with lot of ‘tickets,’ thereby making their job easier, and raising the chances you will land a deal.

Next week: Another installment in this series.

The Business of Screenwriting is a weekly series of GITS posts based upon my experiences as a complete Hollywood outsider who sold a spec script for a lot of money, parlayed that into a screenwriting career during which time I’ve made some good choices, some okay decisions, and some really stupid ones. Hopefully you’ll be the wiser for what you learn here.

Daily Dialogue — May 28, 2015

May 28th, 2015 by

Allan: That’s quite a lovely Jackson Pollock, isn’t it?
Museum Girl: Yes, it is.
Allan: What does it say to you?
Museum Girl: It restates the negativeness of the universe. The hideous lonely emptiness of existence. Nothingness. The predicament of Man forced to live in a barren, Godless eternity like a tiny flame flickering in an immense void with nothing but waste, horror and degradation, forming a useless bleak straitjacket in a black absurd cosmos.
Allan: What are you doing Saturday night?
Museum Girl: Committing suicide.
Allan: What about Friday night?

Play It Again, Sam (1972), screenplay by Woody Allen based on his stage play

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Dating.

Trivia: With the assistance of director Herbert Ross, Woody Allen adapted his “Play It Again, Sam” play for this film version in only about ten days

Dialogue On Dialogue: This is perhaps my favorite comedy bit from all of Woody Allen’s movies. The setup is awesome, topped only by the punchline. I’ve often wondered, how many takes this shot took.