Saturday Hot Links

August 27th, 2016 by

Time for the 252nd installment of Saturday Hot Links, your week’s essential reading about movies, TV, streaming, Hollywood, and other things of writerly interest.

‘Ben-Hur’: 5 Reasons the Biblical Epic is Summer’s Biggest Flop.

‘Ben-Hur’ Could Lose $100 Million at Box Office.

‘Ben-Hur’: Or How Hollywood Forgot How To Make Epics.

Measuring the fallout from a summer full of box-office flops.

The Winners and Losers of Summer 2016.

This Summer’s Box Office Is Up 3 Percent Over Last Year’s.

By The Numbers: Was 2016 The Worst Summer For Movies?

9 Lessons Studio Films Should Take From The Indie World This Summer.

The Oscar Contenders of Summer: 11 summer movies that might launch into the awards race.

How To Fix Summer Movies: A Three-Point Plan.

Remaking Kids Movies For Adults: How Hollywood can better cater to nostalgia culture.

How Pixar Dominated The Summer.

Disney Set to Break Market-Share Record.

Disney India Getting Out of Bollywood Production.

The Year Disney Almost Died — and How It Survived to Thrive.

Jeffrey Katzenberg Bids Farewell to DreamWorks Animation Staff as Comcast’s $3.8B Deal Closes.

Universal Announces DreamWorks Animation Executive Lineup.

20th Century Fox Movie Studio Expedites Leadership Change.

Broad Green Brothers Gabriel and Daniel Hammond Reveal Shift to Bigger Films and ‘Bad Santa 2’ Plans.

WME Buys Tastemaker Lit Agency Rabineau Wachter Sanford & Gillett.

CAA Partners Face Staff Anger Over Tell-All Book Revelations.

Superheroes of the World: The current state of superhero storytelling in film across the globe.

The Stranger Sex: Subverting Gendered Tropes in Stranger Things.

Autonomy Of Androids: The Male Gaze In Science Fiction.

I Want to See a Gender-Swapped Version of Every Movie. Literally Every One.

Why the Bechdel test doesn’t (always) work.

‘War Dogs’ screenwriter: Driving through Iraq’s ‘triangle of death’ was easier than dealing with studio heads.

‘Friday the 13th’ Screenwriter, Producers Tussle Over Rights to Movie in New Lawsuit.

‘Blair Witch’ Producer Reveals Why Creating Remakes Is Easier Than New Properties.

‘Doctor Strange’ Script Gets Some ‘Community’ Help From Dan Harmon.

Ava DuVernay, Steve James to Keynote at Getting Real Conference.

The Best Countries in the World to Film Your Movie, Based on Production Incentives.

Strange Magic: Four Stories About Disney’s Dark Side.

Ian McKellen Turned Down $1.5 Million to Officiate Sean Parker’s Wedding as Gandalf.

Hollywood Flashback: When Rod Serling Entered ‘The Twilight Zone’.

Kubrick’s Original Treatment For “The Shining” Reveals What Didn’t Make The Cut.

The Horrible Bosses of Hollywood: Life as a Hollywood Assistant.

Dolla Dolla Bills Y’all: The Real Business of Fake Movie Money.

AFI Faculty Votes ‘No Confidence’ in Dean as Some Resign in Protest.

2016 Fall Movie Preview: 34 Indie Films to See This Season.

How Barack and Michelle Obama’s First Date Became ‘Southside With You’.

San Francisco Film Society Announces Doc Film Fund Finalists.

More Than Two Thirds of Consumers Have Never Bought a Digital Video.

The Race to Save the Films We Love.

Emmys 2016: Who Should Win, Who Will Win.

LMNO, Discovery Legal Battle Highlights Rising Tensions in Unscripted TV Arena.

Here Are the Saturday Night Live Cast Members Returning for Season 42.

Public Television Employees Ratify Writers Guild Contract.

Will HBO’s Much-Delayed Westworld be the Next Game of Thrones–Style Hit?

Streamy Awards announce 2016 nominations.

17 Literary Agents Seeking Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy NOW.

5 Common Plotting Mistakes to Avoid When You’re Writing a Novel.

“Room” Author Emma Donoghue on the Appeal of Putting Good Kids in Bad Situations.

How Fantasy Tropes Can Bring Out the Power of Being a Fangirl.

Truman Capote’s Ashes Will Be Auctioned Off Next Month.

How Nostalgia Drives the Music Industry.

The final unreleased Led Zeppelin recording has been unearthed from the vault.

Bitter Script Reader: Microbudget films as exposure for writing.

Galloway on Film: Lies, Damned Lies and (Hollywood) Statistics.

Delilah S. Dawson: What happens when the book is fatally flawed.

Ken Levine: Gee, that “sounds” great! But…

Listen: Anxious about the world? Watch a dark TV show.

Listen: Chicks Who Script (Episode 90).

Listen: Scriptnotes (Episode 264).

Read: The Night of Lochtegate.

Watch: Cringe Factor: Cinema’s Most Awkward Moments.

Watch: Slow Motion Supercut.

Watch: Over 100 Years of Stop-Motion Animation in Just 3 Minutes.

Watch: Brad Bird- Playful Cinema.

Watch: Tribute to Jim Jarmusch.

Watch: Wes Anderson Divided.

Watch: Chemistry and Intimacy with Alfonso Cuarón’s Long Takes.

Watch: Steven Spielberg: Setting the Table.

Watch: ‘Psycho’ and the Art of Audience Manipulation.

Watch: The Godfather – Dangerous Oranges.

Screenwriting Master Class tip of the week

This September, I begin a new chapter in my creative journey as an assistant professor of screenwriter at the DePaul University School of Cinematic Arts. As a result, I will only offer group workshops — Prep: From Concept to Outline, Pages I: Writing the First Draft, and Pages II: Rewriting Your Script — between May and August which means the next sessions I will lead will be in 2017.

However I do have a handful of slots available for private one-on-one workshops including the premiere program I offer: The Quest.

The Quest is an intensive 20-week online screenwriting workshop which consists of three stages:

Core [4 weeks]: Participants learn essential screenwriting principles covering Plot, Concept, Character, Style, Dialogue, Scene, Theme, Time. There are 12 written lectures each week which post daily, then a writing exercise due Sunday to put the theory into practice. I wrote all 48 lectures amounting to over 250 pages of in-depth content and believe it to represent a new, cutting edge way to think about screenwriting.

The approach presented in Core is unique in these respects:

Coherent: Rather than a writer being forced to pick a bit of screenwriting theory from this guru or that, this educational resource or that, the Core content comes from a specific perspective – my own – based on over 25 years experience as a screenwriter and over 10 years as an educator. Every concept presented in Core is tied together by an overall philosophy about screenwriting, writing and creativity.

Comprehensive: The content presented in Core provides writers all the knowledge they need to have to be able to write a professional quality screenplay.

Character-based: Whereas so much of the conversation about screenwriting is focused on structure [and by ‘structure’ most people mean ‘plot’], Core presents an approach that begins and ends with character. In my view, this is not only the best way for a writer to craft unique, compelling, and entertaining multidimensional characters, it’s also the most effective – and frankly logical – way to find your story’s plot.

For 8 weeks in Core, participants in The Quest are immersed in screenwriting theory. At the end of that time, they put their understanding of those essential principles to work writing an original screenplay of their own.

Prep [6 weeks]: Starting with an original concept, participants in The Quest develop it through a series of 6 weekly lectures and writing assignments, each building upon the other until they end up with a thorough outline of their story.

I have been teaching Prep at SMC since we launched in January 2011 and the course has proved to be extremely popular. It picks up on the theory laid out in Core and runs with it in a workshop environment. The six weeks lay out like this:

The first two weeks are about exploration, starting with the Protagonist and a series of key questions to help define some of the narrative’s fundamental elements, then a full week’s worth of brainstorming, three different ways to prompt the writer’s creativity and engage the story.

The next two weeks are about wrangling the narrative, the primary Plotline points that provide the spine of the plot, and the movements of the Themeline, the story’s emotional plot.

The final two weeks are about constructing the structure, scene by scene, sequence by sequence, subplot by subplot until the participant has a detailed outline.

Armed with their outline, the writer can approach the page-writing part of the process with confidence, primed to type FADE IN and go.

Pages [10 weeks]: Using their outline as a guide, participants pound out script pages through a series of 10 weekly lectures and writing assignments. Averaging about 10-15 pages per week, by the end of The Quest the writer has a complete first draft of their original screenplay.

Here, too, the process is founded on the principles presented in Core and put into use in Prep, all reflecting a character-based approach to screenwriting.

As noted, The Quest is a workshop and that means:

* Weekly writing exercises and assignments

* Detailed feedback on all exercises, assignments, and script pages

* Regular teleconferences

The Quest is not for everyone. It involves a big commitment in terms of time and – frankly – money. However the education gives writers a solid foundation in screenwriting theory and practice, all of it grounded in over 30 years experience as a professional writer and teacher. In my humble, it is superior to anything available. Here is one of many testimonials:

If you’re serious about screenwriting, you should already know you have a long journey ahead of you. Any chance you get to cross paths with Scott, whether it’s a one week class or The Quest, is a chance to expedite that journey.

Scott’s instincts as a mentor are spot on. He can tell the difference between when you need encouragement and when you need a good kick in the pants. Under his guidance, you become the kind of writer you want to be, the kind that doesn’t need to wait for inspiration.

The Quest changed my life. It gave me the structure to be immersed in screenwriting and the flexibility needed to write and accommodate work and family life.

The Quest exceeded my expectations. Not only did I come out with a quality screenplay, but a practical approach that I can apply to each script I write.

You can spend your time reading through screenwriting inspiration, tips or shortcuts, thinking it will help more than actually doing the work, or you can take the leap and do The Quest.

— Taylor Gordon

As I say, I have room for a few Questers for the remainder of 2016. I also offer private programs for Prep: From Concept to Outline, Pages I: Writing the First Draft, and Pages II: Rewriting Your Script. If you’re interested, email me: scott at screenwritingmasterclass dot com. More information here.

Spec Script Deal: “The Ark”

August 27th, 2016 by

NBC acquires drama spec script “The Ark” written by Daniel Kunka. From Deadline:

The project, a grounded, modern retelling of the Noah’s Ark story from the Bible, was written by Black List scribe Daniel Kunka (12 Rounds). It centers on an engineer who, after the death of his wife, has a vision to construct a ship capable of sustaining life in space. When the build happens to coincide with the coming end of the world, the engineer realizes there may be a larger story at play.

Kunka is repped by ICM Partners and Madhouse Entertainment.

By my count, this is the 45th spec script deal of 2016.

There were 42 spec script deals year-to-date in 2015.

Interview (Written): Fede Alvarez (“Don’t Breathe”)

August 27th, 2016 by

A /film interview with Fede Alvarez, writer-director of the thriller movie Don’t Breathe. IMDb plot summary:

A group of friends break into the house of a wealthy blind man, thinking they’ll get away with the perfect heist. They’re very wrong.

Excerpts from the interview:

When you’re making a movie as tight as this, how do you go about whittling it down to find that lean story?

Some of it is in the editing, because there was a lot more in the script. As you’ll get to see in the extras on the DVD, there were three scenes that were deleted from the beginning. It’s always a mystery, how to…you’re making this film for the entire fucking planet, right? We’re spending $10 million, which isn’t huge, but it’s still a lot of money. I have to make it for the globe. It has to be an international story. And I like to do that. I always try to talk to everybody and not make it for one audience. That means a more sophisticated audience might take thirty minutes of slow burn and enjoy that version, because when people read the script, nobody complained about it being too slow. It had more story for Alex [Dylan Minnette] and why he decided to rob. He has a scene with his dad where we learn that he wanted [Alex] to become a cop and put a lot of pressure on him to go to the police academy. But he doesn’t want to do that. He just wants to leave town. He wants to be a lawyer. That’s why he knows about the law and all those things. That’s what leads him to make the decision to say “Fuck it, I’m just going to do it.”

In the script, there were other things with Money [Daniel Zovatto] and his family, but we didn’t shoot a lot of those things. We shot a couple of those scenes that were pretty good, but in the editing, it felt like it dragged. There’s another audience, not the film connoisseurs, that I call the savages! [Laughs] They want to get to the scares. “I’m not scared! I’m not scared!” and it’s only five minutes into the movie! They’re going to start throwing shit at the screen. So have to make everyone happy and that’s the goal with these movies and the catch 22 situation. When I watch the movie, I usually feel…when the night arrives and the sun sets and the music starts and you say “Here we go”, it’s the right moment to do that.

Stephen Lang in Don’t Breathe

Was there every any pressure to make a less harsh movie? To be less cruel?

No. I’ve been super lucky in Hollywood so far that the two movies I’ve made, obviously because I made them for a budget, I get the freedom to do what I want. Having Sam Raimi as a producer and him being a director and him knowing that a director wants freedom to really deliver a movie…I’ve been very lucky with both movies to get away with exactly what I wanted to do. Movies can alway be better and I’m sure my movies can be better and I try to learn on each movie I do and make my next movie better than the previous one, before I start declining in my career! [Laughs]

There was something I realized lately. On Evil Dead, they said to do whatever I wanted and to go crazy as long as I had a house and a book. It’s like going to a friend’s house and they tell you to feel like you’re at home and take whatever you want from the fridge. You don’t take your pants off and grab a beer. You don’t do that! On this movie, I did that! This movie was my home. It’s my script. Me and my co-writer wrote it from scratch and took it to the producers when it was ready: this is the movie we want to shoot. We wrote it on spec, we didn’t pre-sell anything, which we could have done, but we decided to keep it for ourselves. It was us doing exactly the movie we wanted to do. I’ve been lucky so far that Sony has empowered my and financed my movies and have taken a lot of risks. That’s a lot of credit to them. There might be an instinct at some point to making something more…what’s the word? It’s not even more Americanized, just more down-the-middle. This could have been a PG-13 movie if you wanted. You’d have to kill a lot of things, but you could turn it into a PG-13 movie.

I’m definitely not in this for the money. Otherwise, my second movie would be one of those franchises I was offered after Evil Dead. I didn’t want to do that. I just wanted to do my films. To try to keep making my films. This one is really a display of all my obsessions and the things I channel in all of my movies and everything I like about the genre and everything I think a good genre thriller should have. That big twist scene in the cellar that divides audiences…I know that because I hear people talk about that. Some say “It didn’t need that!” and others say “Thank you so much for that!” That’s my kind of audience. I think this movie should be provocative and should push boundaries. All of the classics have at least one scene, one moment, that was completely fucked up. We’ve gotten used to them and they’re not so shocking anymore. Watch those classic movies. Go back to Psycho and The Exorcist. People were losing their minds, running out of the theater, fainting…it was all kinds of madness! And that’s what made those movies as big as they were and so polarizing.

Here is a trailer for Don’t Breathe:

For the rest of the interview, go here.

Daily Dialogue — August 27, 2016

August 27th, 2016 by

EXT. BATTERY PARK – DAY

EDWARDS, thrown for a major loop, sits like a zombie alongside KAY on a bench in Battery Park. Kay drinks his coffee while they talk.

KAY: Any given time, around fifteen hundred landed aliens are on the planet, the majority right here in Manhattan. Most aliens are decent enough, just trying to make a living.
EDWARDS: Cab drivers?
KAY: Not as many as you’d think. Humans, for the most part, don’t have a clue. Don’t want one, either. They’re happy. They think they’ve got a pretty good bead on things.
EDWARDS: Why the big secret? People are smart, they can handle it.
KAY: A person is smart. People are dumb. Everything they’ve ever “known” has been proven to be wrong. A thousand years ago everybody knew as a fact, that the earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, they knew it was flat. Fifteen minutes ago, you knew we humans were alone on it. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.
EDWARDS: So what’s the catch?
KAY: What you’ll gain in perspective, you’ll lose in ways you’re too young to comprehend. You give up everything. Sever every human contact. No one will know you exist. Ever.
EDWARDS: Nobody?
KAY: You’re not even allowed a favorite shirt. There. That’s the speech I never heard. That’s the choice I never got.
EDWARDS: Hold up. You track me down, put me through those stupid-ass tests, now you’re trying to talk me out of it. I don’t get it.
KAY: You got ’til sun-up.
EDWARDS: Is it worth it?
KAY: You find out, you let me know.

Men In Black (1997), screenplay by Ed Solomon, screen story by Ed Solomon, comic by Lowell Cunningham

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Mentor, suggested by Michael Waters. Today’s suggestion by Lois Bernard.

Trivia: The climax was going to be a humorous existential dialogue between agents J and K and the Bug, but the studio called for a more action-packed climax, so it was changed to the Bug getting blown up.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Commentary by Lois: “I would never have guessed that last bit of trivia, to me the ending seemed perfect for the movie. This scene is basically pure exposition with enough comedy put in to make it entertaining.”

My thoughts: Mentors know ‘stuff’. Wisdom. Insight. And sometimes inside information. Here Kay reveals some real inside info about aliens.

Learn more about monthly Black List Happy Hours in 18 cities!

August 26th, 2016 by

As I approach the 5th anniversary of this humble site becoming the official screenwriting blog of the Black List, I am reminded — yet again — of why I’m stoked by my association with Franklin Leonard and his cohorts. To wit: The monthly Black List Happy Hour events have expanded to 18 cities:

Denver, CO | The Living Room at 6:00PM
Montreal, QC | Brutopia at 7:00PM
Philadelphia, PA | Jon’s Bar & Grille at 6:00PM
Portland, OR | Produce Row Cafe at 5:30PM

These four to go along with existing Happy Hour communities:

Albuquerque, NM | Draft Station @ 7PM
Atlanta, GA | Smith’s Olde Bar @ 5:30PM
Austin, TX | The Mohawk @ 6PM
Brooklyn, NY | The Rookery @ 7PM
Chicago, IL | Chuck’s: A Kerry Simon Kitchen @ 6PM
London, GB | Stephen Street Kitchen @ 7PM
Los Angeles, CA | Melrose Umbrella Co @ 6PM
Manhattan, NY | Metrograph Lobby Bar @ 7PM
Minneapolis, MN | Uptown VFW @ 5:30PM
New Orleans, LA | Barrel Proof @ 6PM
San Francisco, CA | Stookey’s Club Moderne @ 6PM
Seattle, WA | The Rendezvous @ 7:30PM
Toronto, ON | The Hideout @ 6PM
Washington, DC | Dirty Martini @ 4PM

To give you more of a sense of the what you can expect at these events and the type of writers with whom you may expect to intersect, I forwarded some questions to Shelley Gustavson who is the point person for the Chicago event:

How did you find your way into screenwriting as an interest and how have you gone about learning the craft?

I was a college and post-college theater geek. I had an anthro degree, but 90% of my time was spent acting, working on tech builds and lighting, and working as the Production Manager for my university’s theater department. Like most drama queens, theater and film were part of my romantic DNA from childhood. I come from a very small rural community in Iowa, and the Gatsby-like desire to transform and remake oneself was strong… But flash-forward to the pragmatic of adult life. Marriage. Kids. Acting was part of the past.

By then I had babies and quit working in museums. Like many stay-at-home parents, you come up out of this fog, fearful you’ve spent your life doing nothing but pick up toys, referee fights, and empty the dehumidifier tray. So once my youngest was out of infant stage I began to reexamine my creative life.

I make stuff. I knit. I love remodeling our vintage home. I garden. I work on exhibits for friends. I always have to be creating. Plus, I think like many film lovers, there was a fear that my personal hobby was always going to be just that.

Fear and regret are powerful motivators.

I started with my personal desire to tell a very, very specific story. I coupled it with my first love—Shakespeare—and my adaptation of King Lear was born. Yes, it was a spoiler-alert 400 years in the making, but it was messy, and mine, and my first every Blacklist read scored my dialogue and characterizations in the 9s. It’s come a long way since then and still is on my revision queue, but…

That was all I needed. Proof I wasn’t a moron. I began building from there—your Go Into The Story blog, chatrooms, twitter. I was sponge, and still am. Through your core and craft classes—plus Tom Benedek’s—I’ve been able to step back, focus on a particular issue I need to improve, build, and move on.

I have an army of dearly-loved fellow-writers I am honored to call my friends. They’re blunt, honest, but always supportive. They help me workshop the weak bits, praise the stuff I’m antsy on, and give me encouragement. Again, like exhibits, the curiosity and intellectual support network has to be in place. If it’s positive, you seek out growth and improve. If you’re only met with negativity, you shut down.

I’m humbled to say I have the best squad of female creatives behind me.

…Plus, your GITS screenplay archive kills my paper supply, and clutters my nightstand, but reading movies is the best education I could ask for. (As with kids, I rarely get to watch them in a theater. God bless scripts and Netflix.)

How did you discover the Black List and what has it meant to you in terms of your development as a writer?

When I first gave myself permission to call myself a “screenwriter” (which I kept to myself for nearly 6 months), I reached out to college acquaintances who had been working successfully in Hollywood—cringing, I should add, as I was sure they were inundated with “Hey, I’m a screenwriter!” emails. I made it clear I didn’t want a read or an “in,” just advice on how to not look like an idiot.

A dear friend David Ortiz responded immediately. David is one of the hardest working humans I have every had the privilege of knowing in my life, hands-down. And as I was hemming and hawing over the phone, articulating my ideas (horribly), the first thing out of his mouth was Franklin’s name and The Black List. From there it was as simple as Google…

As for my development as a writer? It’s pretty easy to say I’d be lost if it hadn’t been for The Black Board and your Go Into The Story blog. Terrified I’d be laughed from the virtual chat room I hovered, I observed, and then recognized that all I was sensing was the primordial surge we get when we first step into a room of strangers, or a class at the beginning of semester. It’s scary, but the potential to make yourself better can be felt everywhere you turn. As a result of those online chats, shared articles, and kind words of guidance I began building an amazing collection of friends and mentors via twitter. It was all about community.

Now the reader services and hosting? That’s a different side of the equation. Community is one thing, but growth and feedback is another. Some writers use The Blacklist as a hosting service and networking tool. Others? They use the reader evaluations, make their scores public, and then use it as a networking tool. Me? I’ve always used reads as a development tool to test-run a script concept. When I think a draft is somewhat ready I get 2 reads. Not statistically valid, I realize, but I get feedback, keep it private, and then take my draft down to analyze the notes.

A quick aside about Readers—and I won’t be as articulate as many other mentors. Readers are there to give you the experience of being vetted for an Exec’s desk. Some are writers and worship at the altar of pacing and character. Others are marketing folks. And yes, many will be a hell of a lot younger than you and are reading to cover their bills—we’ve all been there, don’t judge. But all have experience—their life, film, and artistic experiences just may be different from yours. It is a subjective exercise. I’ve had readers give nuanced, detailed thoughts on improving the pacing or development of my subplots, whereas others speak harsh words about feasibility in today’s marketplace. Some are supportive. Others sound like Walter Matthau in Grumpy Old Men. But, the real world of being a writer and being vetted by strangers is often harsh. My past work in exhibit label writing was identical—it has to be faced. And you need that experience.

I’m Miss Slow-Burn-Indie-Arthouse-Drama. Not really high concept or tent-pole. And I have had readers disagree wildly on my work. But, to reassure? It’s all data, and data is never a bad thing.

You calm your mind, look for trends in what’s not working, and trust your heart where you know something things just aren’t their “thing.” Data is your ammunition to become better. You are given an opportunity to hear how you’re doing. Egos are strong, I get it. But self-awareness is the best attribute I could have asked for. I’m an experienced qualitative researcher and focus-group moderator…. But I don’t have the luxury of interviewing all my readers. I get two pages of paper, if I’m lucky, to try and unpack their meaning and listen between their words.

(And if you feel you’re truly dealing with an asshat from a customer service perspective? You speak up. Kate at The Blacklist is great at responding in flash if you feel there’s been a problem with the quality of a read.)

As with any skillset or art form, you have to view your personal growth and development as if you were crawling up a ladder with staggered rungs. One side? That’s your insecurities, fears; the “I know nothing” modesty rung. The other? That’s your “I’ve got this, I have a voice and a story to tell,” ballsy rock star side. You must use them in tandem. Be brave, tell yourself you have a right to be at the table—but then reach over and say, “What are my weaknesses?” You seek out honest advice and assess where you need to go. Then you pull up your bravery pants and put yourself out there again. Back and forth. Back and forth. Confidence in what you do well, tempered with self-awareness of where you’re weak. Karma rewards those who don’t act like jerks. A community remembers jerks. A community loves cheerleading one of its own. The Blacklist is a really great community.

You’ve taken the lead on the monthly Chicago Black List Happy Hour events. What may writers expect when they show up for a Black List Happy Hour?

Short answer? A casual bar, a chance to smile, shake hands, and be at ease with like-minded folks who do what you love.

Not sold yet? Okay, here’s the pitch:

I think it’s too easy for writers—or creatives in general—to walk into networking situations dreading the more extreme end of the professional spectrum: pitching, posturing, judgement, etc. I’d like to make it as clear as possible—and this is when my maternal, den-mother instinct kicks in—Blacklist Happy Hours are not like that at all. It’s simply a drink, or a snack, and meeting other folks in similar boats as you… just boats you may have never bumped into before.

Look, all of us are some crazed combination of introverted-extroverts. We observe human nature. We pour our souls onto paper. We geek-out over lighting and nuanced, emotionally-laden moments of silence—those aren’t the qualities that cause one to do tequila shots, brag about one’s portfolio, or make it rain with business cards.

As Franklin stressed once during a host Skype session—Black List Happy Hours simply encourage people to step away from the keyboard and make connections. Writing can be a liberating process, but a lonely one. We’re here to remind people that we’re all in it together—from newbies looking for growth and resources, to “transitioners” like myself (you write, but the industry-specific terminology and “rules” are still a little daunting,) to pros that want to expand their social network and seek-out creative partners.

Black List Happy Hour

Do people have to RSVP or can they just show up?

RSVP’ing is nice, as it gives the Blacklist Hosts and the venue a heads-up on how many to expect. It’s incredibly easy via Eventbrite—and we don’t even finalize our body count until right before the event. Plus, as we’re adding new cities to our community meet-ups every month, if you’re traveling or new in town, it’s easy to check the Events page on the main Blacklist site to see who’s hosting, and make new friends.

The more the merrier—drag along your friends, bring business cards (or paper to jot-down names and numbers), and leave your insecurities at the door.

Give me one good reason why writers in Chicago or any of the other 17 cities which host Black List Happy Hours should participate in these events.

I’ve met entertainment lawyers, actors, fellow screenwriters, producers, casting agents, and directors all within the past 6 months who I would now consider my friends. And they want to read your stuff. It pays to be nice, folks.

Mark the date for the next Black List Happy Hour: September 7. And for those of you in and around Chicago, I will be making my first appearance at the next session and plan to be a regular fixture at the events.

For more information, go here.

Zero Draft Thirty: The Despair of the Blank Page

August 26th, 2016 by

It all started with this blog post in October 2015: Who’s with me to pound out a script in November?

That led to this: Zero Draft Thirty: Write a Script in a Month Challenge.

Every day for 30 days in November, I did a Zero Draft Thirty post with inspirational writing quotes, videos, and handed out a daily Award to the person deemed worthy for their efforts in supporting our collective cause.

A Facebook group emerged from the process, now with over 1000 members. The Challenge was written up in Indiewire. Translated into Spanish. Got its own hashtag on Twitter: #ZD30SCRIPT.

Eventually over a thousand writers joined up for the Challenge. Via Facebook, Twitter, or email, nearly 200 writers let me know they had finished their Zero Drafts.

So we decided to make the Zero Draft Challenge a twice a year thing: Every March, like we did here, and every September. Here we are, just about a month out from the Zero Draft Thirty 2016 Autumn Challenge.

It’s simple. Pick a script-writing project. Type FADE IN on September 1. Type FADE OUT on September 30.

And you are cordially invited.

In the days leading up to ZDT, I figured we could spend some time talking about story prep as well as psychological prep for our collective writing effort.

Today: The Despair of the Blank Page.

It beckons you with a daunting whisper. It mocks you with its dull emptiness. It freezes your soul with its ice cold whiteness.

It is – the blank page!

How can a mere 8 1/2 x 11 inch piece of white paper provoke such anxiety, such horror, such despair?

The despair of the blank page – the writer’s bane!

Laying eyes upon the blank page provokes a catch in your breath, a twitch in you muscles, that special tightening in your sphincter.

Fear. But fear of what?

Fear of the not knowing. Not knowing what words will appear… or won’t appear. Not knowing if the words will make sense. Not knowing if the sentences will be good. Not knowing if the story will work.

I could lay a little “power of positive thinking” on you. You know…

Imagine the possibilities!

My experience with those positive thinking platitudes is that when your blank page remains blank, the writer’s life becomes about the power of positive drinking. And look where that got Hemingway!

Thus, instead of behavioral modification, let me suggest a more philosophical, even, dare I say, spiritual approach.

I ask you to consider the possibility that your story already exists.

It is already there… all 120 pages. From FADE IN to FADE OUT. Written. Rewritten. Edited. Spell-checked. Properly formatted. And ready to go.

The story concept exists already.

The characters exist already.

The plot exists already.

The dialogue exists already.

The themes exist already.

It is there, waiting for you to find, uncover and reveal it.

Okay, Myers, if it’s waiting for me, then where is it hiding out ‘coz I sure as hell can’t find it!!!

Your story’s right there… on your blank page.

“The despair of the blank page: it is so full.”

That’s right, your challenge isn’t the emptiness of your blank page, it’s that there is so much there already. All you need to do is see it…

And you’ll see it when you believe it.

You can choose to stare at that blank page. Sometimes that is quite valuable – clear the mind, focus your thoughts, go into a state of deep concentration. But in general, the best way to find your story on the blank page… is to start writing.

Believe it… then you’ll see it.

Start writing. And watch the magic of your story reveal itself to you… as your blank pages becomes full.

The Zero Draft Challenge is all about this: Believing is Seeing. And Hearing. When you work on a Zero Draft, you extend your hand to your characters and say…

Help me write your story, you glorious bastards!

Even if you feel like you are alone, you aren’t. The story’s characters want you to tell their story. That blank page? It’s already full. Just believe it. And you’ll see it.

September 1: Type FADE IN.
September 30: Type FADE OUT.

30 days. A first draft of an original screenplay. TV pilot. Or a rewrite of an existing script.

For background on the Zero Draft Thirty challenge, go here.

Don’t forget the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group. A terrific collection of folks who post things every day, even when we’re not in a challenge.

So calling all Zeronauts, Outlaws, Scamperers, and Writing Warriors. Who’s up for pounding out a Zero Draft in September? LET’S DO THIS THING!

Hashtag: #ZD30SCRIPT.

Interview (Part 5): Adam Kolbrenner, Madhouse Entertainment

August 26th, 2016 by

This week, we are fortunate to have as our guest manager-producer Adam Kolbrenner from Madhouse Entertainment, an L.A.-based production and literary management company that works with screenwriters and writer/directors in the areas of film, television and new media.

I will be posting the whole interview over the course of the week.

Today in Part 5, Adam discusses some of the issues facing working screenwriters nowadays and shares inside information on one of the more notable deals in the last several years.

Movie revenues now break down to about 70/30%, international vs. domestic, a complete flip from where things were 25 years ago. How much do you advise your clients to be mindful of the international market when writing scripts? What ways might the internationalization of films be reflected in a scripted project?

For the most part international films don’t favor comedy or horror films.  So being mindful of this information can cut through some of the clutter.  Again, its about writing movie star roles for audiences around the globe but always write what you love or it will show on the page.

Over the decade or so you’ve been a manager, what are some of the key changes you’ve seen in terms of screenwriters plying their trade in Hollywood? Plusses, minuses, and how have you and your clients had to adapt?

Again, original screenplays that you write.  We do not advise clients to sit and wait for the next big job to show up, because, we assume they will not be showing up.  The key is to always be writing.  Today, more and more new writers are headed into scripted television which has undoubtedly been experiencing a golden age of some of the best writing on the planet.  Madhouse takes it’s time through development on both film and television.  If we don’t, who will?

Let’s talk about two vexing issues that face working writers: Sweepstakes pitching and one-step deals. Where the former has been around for a long time, the latter is something that has developed over the last several years. What’s your take on both and do you think there is a chance either of these will change for the better?

These will be a factor for years to come, unfortunately.  This coincides with my theory about continuing to write original screenplays while all this is happening.  For Madhouse clients, we only chase the “real” jobs of movies that have a chance of being made, I don’t believe in having writers compete…. because….they are only competing for those one step deals.  It’s a flawed business practice for a writer to chase these things.

Adam has been kind enough to agree to answer follow-up questions. Here is one connected to another Madhouse Entertainment deal:

@GoIntoTheStory Did you talk to Adam about his discovery of Reddit sensation @jlerwin and the sale of ROME SWEET ROME? @madhouse_ent

Here is Adam’s response:

Madhouse looks for ideas and stories for clients all day, everyday. Its important to dig under every rock for great film or TV ideas and have the mindset to determine when you hear a good one and further delineate a proper screenwriter for the idea.

The day this particular story began to “upvote” on Reddit.com, just like any other redditor, I was captivated by 2 things: the potential in the concept and the voice of Prufrock (aka James Erwin – @jlerwin ) — Warner Bros quickly responded to the “big and unique” idea in the concept: marine battalion sent back in time and forced to battle a Roman legion. Its a great “what if?” question.

I was able to convince Warner Bros that James Erwin could write the first draft (and a treatment), and a few days after the initial posts began, was able to call Erwin in Iowa and let him know he sold his first pitch to Warner Bros studios.

As studio development goes, James did an excellent job for a first time writer working on an epic tale like this one, and the studio wanted to bring in another point of view on how to tell this story from a different angle. As you can imagine, this is NOT an easy story to tell for even the most experienced screenwriter. Erwin is hard at work on a new spec screenplay and a high concept sci-fi novel as well

Tomorrow in Part 6, Adam reveals what he is looking for when he reads a script and in a prospective writer client.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

To read press articles about Madhouse Entertainment, go here.

The Spirit of the Spec (Part 5): And if it doesn’t sell…

August 26th, 2016 by

I had a conversation recently with a former studio executive turned producer in which I found myself talking about the “spirit of the spec,” essentially when a person chooses to pursue a project or goal entirely on speculation with the hopes of some eventual payoff. Not everybody would make that choice. To many, with the odds so long against success, doing something on spec is not only illogical, it’s also seemingly inane.

And yet almost all screenwriters, TV writers, novelists, short story writers, playwrights, and poets have as some part of their creative self the spirit of the spec.

After my conversation with the producer, it occurred to me this is a subject we should discuss here at GITS because it speaks to the very core of why we’re here and what we’re about as people driven by creative impulses. So today through Friday, I will post something each day exploring what it means for a writer to have the spirit of the spec.

And If It Doesn’t Sell…

You write another one.

I hope you have enjoyed this Spirit of the Spec series. I may add some thoughts of a personal nature in a post this weekend because as I have been writing this series, I realized something: My entire adult life has been based on this philosophy.

Part 1: You Have An Idea

Part 2: You Act On Your Idea

Part 3: You Write Your Story

Part 4: You Put It Out There

Script To Screen: “Blood Simple”

August 26th, 2016 by

The Coen brothers first feature-length film Blood Simple (1984) is arguably one of their best.

Setup: Ray has been having an affair with Abby which hasn’t made her husband Julian too happy. But the tables get reversed as Ray has set about to dispatch Julian.

               EXT. OPEN FIELD

               FULL SHOT  RAY'S CAR

               Sudden quiet at the cut. We are looking at Ray's car in 
               profile, parked in the middle of a deserted field. From 
               offscreen we hear the sound of a shovel biting into earth.

               We track laterally down the car, along the beam of its 
               headlights, to finally frame Ray as he climbs out of the 
               shallow grave he has just finished digging.

               He plants the shovel and walks back to the car.

               VERY WIDE SHOT

               The grave in the middle background; the car's headlights 
               beyond it.

               Ray is dragging Marty toward the grave. He dumps him in.

               HIGH SHOT  THE GRAVE

               As Marty thumps to the bottom, face up.

               CLOSE SHOT  RAY

               As he bends over to pick up the shovel, dripping sweat. We 
               hear the shovel biting into earth.

               HIGH SHOT  THE GRAVE

               Ray, in the foreground, pitches the first shovelful of earth 
               onto Marty. Marty moves slightly.

               LOW SHOT  RAY

               As he pauses, looking down into the grave. He stoops down 
               and resumes shoveling, bobbing in and out of frame as he 
               hurls dirt into the grave.

               BACK TO HIGH SHOT

               As Ray shovels, Marty is moving under the loose dirt. A faint, 
               inarticulate noise comes from the grave.

               Almost imperceptibly, Marty's right arm starts to rise.

               LOW SHOT  FROM INSIDE THE GRAVE

               Ray stands on the lip of the grave, hunched over his shovel, 
               crisply illuminated by the headlights. In the shadowy 
               foreground Marty's arm rises, extended toward Ray. He is 
               clutching Abby's gun in his splint-fingered hand.

               CLOSE SHOT  RAY

               As he straightens up and stands motionless, expressionless, 
               watching Marty, making no attempt to get out of the way.

               HIGH SHOT  MARTY

               The gun extended into the foreground. His index finger 
               splinted, he slides his middle finger over the trigger of 
               the gun.

               LOW SHOT  RAY

               Watching.

               HIGH SHOT  MARTY

               The gun trembling in the foreground. His knuckle whitens 
               over the trigger.

               The trigger releases and we hear the dull click of an empty 
               chamber.

               LOW SHOT  RAY

               Staring blankly down at Marty.

               SIDE SHOT

               Of Marty's gun hand as Ray slowly sinks down on the lip of 
               the grave, bracing himself with the shovel. His hand reaches 
               for Marty's. Marty squeezes off two more empty chambers. 
               Ray's hand slowly closes over the barrel of the gun.

               As he pulls, the gun slides from Marty's fingers.

               CLOSE SHOT  THE BLADE OF THE SHOVEL

               Biting into the earth.

               MED SHOT  RAY

               Furiously shoveling dirt into the grave.

               HIGH SHOT  THE GRAVE

               Marty barely visible under the dirt.

               MED SHOT  RAY

               Shoveling, panting.

               HIGH SHOT  THE GRAVE

               Half full.

               MED SHOT  RAY

               Working furiously. His breath comes in short gasps.

               HIGH SHOT  THE GRAVE

               It is filled. Ray is packing down the earth, slamming the 
               shovel furiously against the bare patch of earth.

               CLOSE SHOT  THE BLADE OF THE SHOVEL

               Being slammed down against the earth. Again and again.

Here is the scene from the movie:

Questions to ask to analyze the scene:

* What elements in the movie scene are the same as the script?

* What elements in the movie scene are different than the script?

* Regarding the differences, put yourself in the mindset of the filmmakers and speculate: Why did they make the changes they did?

* How did the changes improve the scene?

* Alternatively are there elements in the script, not present in the movie, that are better than the final version of the scene?

* Note each camera shot in the movie version. Which of them does the script suggest via sluglines or scene description?

* How does the script convey a sense of the scene’s tone, feel, and pace through scene description and dialogue?

* What ‘magic’ exists in the movie that is not indicated in the words of the script? How do you suppose that magic emerged?

I’ll see you in comments for a discussion of this scene from Blood Simple.

One of the single best things you can do to learn the craft of screenwriting is to read the script while watching the movie. After all a screenplay is a blueprint to make a movie and it’s that magic of what happens between printed page and final print that can inform how you approach writing scenes. That is the purpose of Script to Screen, a series on GITS where we analyze a memorable movie scene and the script pages that inspired it.

Daily Dialogue — August 26, 2016

August 26th, 2016 by

“What did you expect? ‘Welcome, sonny’? ‘Make yourself at home’? ‘Marry my daughter’? You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the New West. You know… morons.”

Blazing Saddles (1974), screenplay by Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor and Alan Uger, story by Andrew Bergman

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Mentor, suggested by Michael Waters. Today’s suggestion by Will King.

Trivia: Supposedly, this movie officially marks the first time the sound of farting has ever been used in a film (at least according to the filmmakers in the DVD Documentary). According to Mel Brooks, they came up with the idea after watching numerous old westerns where cowboys only consume black coffee and plates of beans, concluding that such a food combination would inevitably lead to farting.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Commentary by Will: “Sometimes all a mentor character needs to do is provide a little perspective.”