Writing A Script, Part 10: Editing

December 19th, 2014 by

Here is the last in a series of 10 posts about how I approach writing a script. Previous posts:

Part 1: Story Concept

Part 2: Brainstorming

Part 3: Research

Part 4: Character Development

Part 5: Plotting

Part 6: Outline

Part 7: Script Diary

Part 8: First Draft

Part 9: Rewriting

PART 10: Editing

This is the most fun part of the process. I just love printing out a fresh copy of the script, plunked down in my reading chair, Pentel Rolling Writer pen in hand, and just sitting with my story. I mark that draft up but good – page after page after page. I’ve developed my own code system:

AW = “Another word”

AL = “Another line”

BV = “Better verb”

OTT = “Over The Top”

OTN = “On The Nose”

SSS = “Some stupid shit”

There’s also description and dialogue with big X’s through them – as in “cut this out”. I’ll have lines running from one page to the next, telling me to move this scene in front of that one. I’ll have all sorts of notes in the margins about transitions, visual images, and such.

So I go back through the script and make the changes. And I do this same process over and over, each time refining the draft.

As it gets closer to being finished, I get real picky. For instance, I’ll highlight each verb and come up with better, more active verbs. I’ll print out every side of dialogue for each character, then read them back to back to make sure I’m nailing their voice. And I’m constantly cutting description, cutting dialogue. I can get very anal about this as I really want each page to look beautiful, easy on the eyes, a clean read.

And then, one final print-out, where I read the script through aloud. Every word. It’s amazing how hearing your words can expose them in a wholly fresh way. As I read, I write changes on the hard copy of the script. Then it’s one last edit. Save. Print.

The final thing I do is a silly ritual. I stand by the printer as it spits out the pages of my script. Once it’s done printing, I immediately pick up the pages. I feel the warmth of the paper, fresh from the printer. I weigh the heft of the pages in my hands. Then I smell it. That’s right, I smell the script. I have smelled many things in my life, but there is perhaps nothing more satisfying than breathing deep the aroma of a finished script.

And that’s how I write a script.

[Originally posted June 15, 2008]

Analysis: 2014 Black List

December 19th, 2014 by

The 2014 Black List rolled out Monday – you can find titles, writers and loglines for all 70 scripts here — and as promised, today we have some statistics and analysis for you.

First some interesting stats about this year’s Black List:

* There are 70 screenplays on the 2014 Black List (There were 72 screenplays on the 2013 Black List)
* More than 250 working film executives at major Hollywood financiers and production companies contributed to the 2014 Black List
* 47.1% of the scripts on the 2014 Black List have a financier attached (33.3% on 2013 Black List)
* 73.2% of the scripts on 2014 Black List have a producer attached (68.0% on the 2013 Black List)
* 12.8% of 2014 Black List writers are females (9) compared to 18.1% (13) on the 2103 Black List
* 4 writers (or teams) on 2014 Black List do not have an agent (5 on 2013 Black List)
* 9 of writers (or teams) on 2014 Black List do not have a manager (10 on 2013 Black List)
* 10 biopics on the 2014 Black List compared to 8 last year
* 11 writers on the 2014 Black List who had scripts appear on previous Black Lists
* 3 writers on 2014 Black List hosted their scripts on the Black List website before signing with their current reps: Kristina Anderson, Kimberly Barrante, Gary Graham
* 1 writer has two scripts on 2014 Black List: Randall Green — Cartoon Girl, The Swimsuit Issue

Drilling down into the scripts:

Real life stories are prominent in the 2014 Black List including biopics (Catherine the Great, Forgive Me, The Founder, LBJ, My Friend Dahmer, On the Basis of Sex, The Road to Oz, Seducing Ingrid Bergman, The Man in the Rockerfeller Suit, Uncle Shelby) and stories inspired by true events (Bismarck, Boston Strangler, The Bringing, The Cascade, I Am Ryan Reynolds, Mena, The Munchkin, Rockingham, Wonka).

Most popular genres (in order of popularity): Drama, Thriller, Comedy, Action.

A significant number of 2014 Black List scripts have mystery elements including Aether, Celeritas, and Syndrome (E).

Several scripts on the 2014 Black List have an historical setting including Berliner, Catherine the Great, In This, My Darkest Hour and Mena.

The trend of adult-stuck-with-youth story concepts continues with such scripts as Coffee & Kareem, The Long Haul, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Professor Pasghetti.

However a new phenomenon this year: Prison, prisoners, or prison guards appear in three scripts — Matriarch, North of Reno, and Shadow Run.

Characters trapped in a contained death-threatening thriller: In the Deep, Tau, and The Wall.

Regular people who suddenly go insane, get turned into aliens, or gain superpowers: Bird Box, Dodge, The Shower.

Stories where characters have physical disabilities: Blink (Full Paralysis), Erin’s Voice (Deaf).

What to make of all this?

If Hollywood has decided to ignore adult audiences, someone has forgotten to communicate that to the 250+ execs who responded to this year’s Black List because there are a ton of projects smack in the wheelhouse of the 35+ year-old crowd.

However many if not most of these scripts will never be produced as the studios keep shooting up superhero / comic book / remake / sequel projects to fuel their addiction to ‘safe’ franchise films.

It suggests to me there are a lot of frustrated execs at studios and financiers, passionate about precisely the type of material which Hollywood is currently shunning. Meanwhile there’s a ginormous audience (Adults, Baby Boomers, Seniors) patiently waiting for interesting, compelling stories.

What’s crazy is several of the projects currently without financing, such as Beef, Huntsville and The Secret Ingredients of Rockey Cola don’t appear to be that expensive, so risk downside minimal, reward upside strong.

What we need are some visionary, creative types with a proven track record of actually producing movies, not just suits carting around MBA degrees and the fealty to counting corporate beans.

The scripts are there. The talent is there. The audience is there. Now how about some folks who are passionate about filmmaking getting together with money people…

AND LET’S MAKE SOME GOOD GODDAMMED MOVIES WITH SOME TIDY PROFITS TO BOOT!

For the screenwriters among us, if you want to try to read the market and write to that, instead of using Alvin & the Chipmunks 12 as your touchstone, I encourage you to read as many of the Black List scripts you can get your hands on and keep those in mind as you search for your next project. Aspire to inspire in 2015!

More stats!

AGENCY AND MANAGEMENT COMPANY INFORMATION

Via Deadline

Via Deadine.

There you have it: Another annual Black List put to bed. For the writers who made the List this year, it’s up and at ‘em time, a whole slew of meetings on Hollywood’s perpetual bottled water tour in the offing… only now these writers will be perceived as having a lot more heat than before.

Industry news coverage of the 2014 Black List:

/Film

Deadline

Entertainment Weekly

First Showing

Guardian

Indiewire

Hollywood Reporter

Variety

Wall Street Journal

Washington Post

Women and Hollywood (Indiewire)

Two good background pieces:

Los Angeles Times feature: Franklin Leonard

Reddit AMA: Franklin Leonard and Dino Sijamic

Follow the Black List on Twitter:

@megalie @terrykhuang @thathagengrrl @franklinleonard @GoIntoTheStory

Writing A Script, Part 9: Rewriting

December 18th, 2014 by

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

Part 1: Story Concept

Part 2: Brainstorming

Part 3: Research

Part 4: Character Development

Part 5: Plotting

Part 6: Outline

Part 7: Script Diary

Part 8: First Draft

PART 9: REWRITING

Writing is rewriting. That’s the old saying. And it’s primarily about fixing story problems. The problems can be manifold, but the typical issues I run into include:

* Story structure: Perhaps the first act is 45 pages long. Two big plot points in Act II feel too close together. The final act feels rushed. I spend a lot of time feeling my way through and reworking the story structure.

* Logic problems: Events happen or characters do things which don’t make sense. If a reader doesn’t buy that one of my characters would logically do something they do, then I’ve got a big problem.

* Lack of focus: This pertains to the plotline, subplots, character functions, themes and transformation arcs. Almost always, in the writing of the first draft, a lot of this stuff emerges, so the issue is really more about digging deeper into what I’ve surfaced, pulling together the various elements.

* Episodic: There will be sections or scenes within the script that feel episodic; this almost always is the result of that scenes not having a strong, direct link to the Plotline or an accompanying subplot.

* Emotion: Is the emotional experience of the storyline working? Do I feel anything? Do I feel the right things? A script reader wants to feel something. What are the points of emotional resonance in my script?

I’m also always on the look-out for callbacks, lines or bits of action which I’ve uncovered in the writing process: Implementing those carefully in the script is a great way to provide both continuity and measure a character’s emotional growth. Plus, I like to kick around themes which emerge, see how I can best use those to tie together the overall story.

I may take as much as 2-3 weeks to break down the first draft. This can require more brainstorming, character work, plotting and the rest. I create a hybrid outline to help steer the writing of the second draft. And then I write the draft.

In some ways, rewriting a second draft is almost more difficult than the first draft because it represents a lot of grunt work, all the while knowing that there may still be story problems lying in wait. This is where I call upon another writing mantra:

“The only way out is through.”

If I allow myself to get caught up in the enormity of the process, that can paralyze me. And so I focus on this scene, this page, and even this side of dialogue.

Again the script diary can be enormously helpful as I go there to complain about things not working. Invariably through that cathartic process, the solutions emerge.

Once I start the actual page-writing part of the rewrite, it typically takes around 3-4 weeks to get to FADE OUT. Obviously that can vary, but I want to make sure to take enough time to iron out the big story problems.

After I get done with the second draft, I will oftentimes give the script to a handful of screenwriters who are my friends for feedback.

Once I finish the second draft, I like to take off a few days. Set it aside. Review. Assess. Rewrite. However many drafts it takes. Remember: “The only way out is through!”

Eventually I get to the point where the only changes are pretty much cosmetic, requiring only some editing. And that is the subject of my last post on the subject which will be available tomorrow.

[Originally posted June 14, 2008]

Update: 2014 Black List Word Cloud Logline Challenge!

December 18th, 2014 by

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

2014 Black List Word Cloud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How’s this for prizes:

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

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

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

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

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

More details about the contest:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s have some creative fun! Good luck!

Writing A Script, Part 8: First Draft

December 17th, 2014 by

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

Part 1: Story Concept

Part 2: Brainstorming

Part 3: Research

Part 4: Character Development

Part 5: Plotting

Part 6: Outline

Part 7: Script Diary

PART 8: FIRST DRAFT

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

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

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

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

“Get the damn thing done”

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

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

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

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

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

More on that next time as we discuss rewriting.

[Originally posted June 13, 2008]

2014 Black List Word Cloud Logline Challenge!

December 17th, 2014 by

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

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

2014 Black List Word Cloud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How’s this for prizes:

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

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

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

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

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

More details about the contest:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s have some creative fun! Good luck!

Writing A Script, Part 7: Script Diary

December 16th, 2014 by

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

Part 1: Story Concept

Part 2: Brainstorming

Part 3: Research

Part 4: Character Development

Part 5: Plotting

Part 6: Outline

Today, Part 7: SCRIPT DIARY

The last thing I do before I type FADE IN is create yet another Word file, which I call Script Diary.

I come to the diary to start every writing session. I visit it when I get stuck. I return to it when I hit on a story revelation. Day after day, I use my script diary to chronicle the writing of the story.

At the start of a writing session, I note the date and time in the script diary, then get my fingers and brain loosened up by typing up my thoughts about the scene I am about to tackle. I’ll remind myself what type of scene it is, which characters are participating in it, what each of their agendas is, who is playing what story function for that scene, how the scene relates to the overall plot, what the central point of the scene is, and so on. As I’m doing that, normally lines of dialogue pop to mind and I’ll put those down — so in essence I’m pre-drafting the scene, and can take that sketch to my script file and use it to write the actual scene.

I also use the script diary to track my emotional connection to the story. For instance, I may be worried about whether the scene I’m about to write will work or not. I may be concerned that one of the characters doesn’t feel quite right. If I’m stuck, I use the diary as a place to express my fears about the story; in fact, if I’m really stuck, I’ll ‘ask’ the characters, right there in my diary, to talk to me, show me what they want or need.

Now you may think I’m crazy — talking to my characters, asking them for help! But ever since I’ve started using a script diary, my experience of my story’s characters has become that much more… real, I suppose is the best way to describe it.

My first experience of this was when I was writing Snowbirds, where something special happened between the use of that script diary and the writing of the script: somehow a sacred space, if you will, came into being. This parallel ‘place’ sort of inside and outside my head – I mean, I would be thinking of it, so part of my experience was inside my head, but I would sense the place off to the side about a foot or two away from me. And in this ‘place,’ I would find my characters.

Abby, Rosa, Emerson, Truman, Bernice, Chuck, Irene, Ed, Sarah, and Lucky. All of them. They emerged with more and more clarity as I pressed further into the script, so that by the time I reached Act II, they were always ‘present’ in a way. They didn’t invade my thoughts, nor did I interfere with them. They weren’t doing what I was writing or imagining, rather they would more or less just kind of shuffle around, not looking at me. But whenever I was stuck – and I got stuck in Act II several critical times – I would start writing in my script diary, and I’d become aware of them, just out ‘there.’ And suddenly, one of them would turn and halfway glance at me or motion, and I’d ‘follow’ them. The two most critical story twists I could never have foreseen in the prep-writing phase occurred in this way – first, following Ed, and another time following Abby.

What I am saying is that my characters led me deeper into my story. They showed me the way. And the script diary was a crucial part of that experience because, I think, I was opening myself up to my characters, creating a ‘dialogue’ with them on those diary pages.

And there’s something else that very cool about a script diary: when you’re done with the project, you’ve got this journal of the entire writing process. You can go back to see and feel the actual moments where you found a breakthrough, where you busted through a story block, where your characters spoke to you.

Like everything else in this succession of posts, a script diary may not work for you. However, I encourage you to try it at least once. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

And now after all of that, our next post will finally get to the page-writing process, beginning naturally enough with the first draft.

[Originally posted June 12, 2008]

2014 Black List: Final

December 16th, 2014 by

Yesterday morning, the 2014 Black List was released to the public. Here is the list ranked per the number of votes each script received along with loglines:

Catherine the Great by Kristina Lauren Anderson (51)

Sophia Augusta takes control of her life, her marriage, and her kingdom becoming Russia’s most celebrated and beloved monarch: Catherine the Great.

Rockingham by Adam Morrison (38)

A look into the mania of the OJ Simpson trial, through the eyes of Simpson’s sports agent Mike Gilbert and Los Angeles Police Department Detective Mark Fuhrman.

The Swimsuit Issue by Randall Green (35)

A nerdy high schooler, who fancies himself an amateur photographer, attempts to create a “Swimsuit Issue” featuring his high school classmates in hopes of raising enough money to go to summer camp.

The Babysitter by Brian Duffield (34)

A lonely twelve year old boy in love with his babysitter discovers some hard truths about life, love, and murder.

Rothchild by John Patton Ford (32)

A young, well-educated loner kills the members of his mother’s estranged family one-by-one in hopes that he will inherit the family’s vast fortune.

The Wall by Dwain A Worrell (30)

A sniper and his spotter must kill and avoid being killed, separated from an enemy sniper by only a 16x6ft prayer wall.

Cascade by Kieran Fitzgerald (25)

Based on the documentary style film “The Day Britain Stopped” directed by Gabriel Range, an oil tanker collides with an Iranian patrol boat in the Strait of Hormuz, triggering a chain of tragic disastrous events.

Aether by Krysty Wilson-Cairns (24)

In near future London, a revolutionary technology has been invented that can record sounds hours after they were made. Detective Harry Orwell, inventor of this technology, is part of a pilot program where investigators record and analyze past sound waves and finds himself the prime suspect while investigating a string of brutal murders.

Situation Comedy by Cat Vasko (24)

A young woman, feeling directionless, stumbles upon a mysterious courtyard where she is transported into a sitcom-like universe, becoming a major character on this “TV show.”

Tau by Noga Landau (23)

A woman held captive in the futuristic smart house of a serial kidnapper realizes that her only hope of escape lies in turning the house’s sentient computer against its creator.

Echo by Chris MacBride (18)

A CIA drone coordinator battles his own psychological health while trying to decipher whether his wife has been replaced.

Mena by Gary Spinelli (18)

In the late 1970s to mid 1980s, Barry Seal, a TWA pilot recruited by the CIA to provide reconnaissance on the burgeoning communist threat in Central America finds himself in charge of one of the biggest covert CIA operations in the history of the United States, one that spawned the birth of the Medellin cartel and eventually almost brought down the Reagan White House with the Iran Contra scandal.

Dodge by Scott Wascha (17)

A genre bending action comedy about a pill popping thug who begins to develop superpowers.

North of Reno by Banipal Ablakhad, Benhur Ablakhad (17)

A down and out prison guard attempts to murder a recently released inmate and steal a half million dollars in hidden heist money.

On the Basis of Sex by Daniel Stiepleman (17)

The story of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, as she faced numerous obstacles to her fight for equal rights throughout her career.

Moonfall by David Weil (16)

The investigation of a murder on a moon colony.

The Munchkin by Will Widger (16)

A little person private eye investigates the disappearance of a young actress in 1930s Hollywood, leading him to uncover conspiracies involving THE WIZARD OF OZ and Metro Goldwyn Mayer brass.

Matriarch by Eric Koenig (15)

A prison psychologist has 48 hours to convince a serial killer to tell her the location of her final victim before she is executed.

The Defection by Ken Nolan (15)

After the Edward Snowden affair, an intelligence contractor defects to North Korea, taking a mysterious bag with him, and the CIA hires an expert trained during the Cold War to help with the case.

The Long Haul by Dan Stoller (15)

A self-destructive trucker estranged from his son travels cross country with a problematic nephew whom he barely knows.

Berliner by F Scott Frazier (14)

As the Berlin Wall is being constructed at the height of the Cold War, a veteran CIA agent searches for a Soviet mole who has already killed several fellow agents, including a young agent he’s mentored.

One Fell Swoop by Greg Scharpf (14)

A self-centered divorce attorney’s life takes an unexpected turn when he is guilted into spending time with the family of a one night stand who dies in a freak accident.

Bird Box by Eric Heisserer (13)

A woman tries to lead her children to safety after the world is invaded by monsters who turn you insane upon sight.

Huntsville by Anthony Ragnone (13)

A girl tracks down the man responsible for her father’s death and avenges him.

In the Deep by Anthony Jaswinski (13)

A lone surfer attacked by a shark and stranded on a reef must find a way back to shore before succumbing to her injuries.

The Founder by Rob Siegel (13)

The origin story of McDonald’s and Raymond Albert “Ray” Kroc.

The Search by Spencer Mondshein (13)

An expert tracker battles his demons while on a journey to rescue his estranged older brother who has vanished in the uncharted wilderness of the Northwest.

Yellowstone Falls by Daniel Kunka (13)

After an apocalyptic event, a mother wolf is separated from her mate and the rest of the pack, and has to protect her cubs from swarms of mutated humans.

Syndrome (E) by Mark Heyman (12)

A detective solving the case of a disturbing film with subliminal images that is killing people who come in contact with it discovers a greater evil.

Beef by Jeff Lock (11)

The manager of a fast food chain in Muncie, Indiana gets in over his head with some bookies.

Black Winter by Jonathan Stewart and Jake Crane (11)

On the eve of a US-Soviet disarmament treaty, a British scientist and a NATO medical investigator discover a secret Soviet plot to unleash a terrifying biological weapon.

Cartoon Girl by Randall Green (11)

When a young boy finds out that the cartoon character he’s in love with is based on a real girl, he drags his single father on a road trip to track her down.

Road to Oz by Josh Golden (11)

The early days of brilliant, whimsical author L. Frank Baum, who gave the world The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Big Time Adolescence by Jason Orley (10)

A sixteen year old virgin with a growth deficiency slowly gets corrupted by his hero, an aimless college dropout.

LBJ by Joey Hartstone (10)

Lyndon Johnson goes from powerful Senate Majority Leader, powerless Vice President to President of the United States following the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Possession: A Love Story by Jack Stanley (10)

In a seemingly perfect marriage, a man discovers that he is actually wedded to a demon inhabiting another woman’s body.

The Secret Ingredients of Rockey Cola by Mike Vukadinovich (10)

Twin brothers with opposite personalities are separated at a young age and go on to live drastically different lives, eventually being reunited in the effort to save the company ‘Rocket Cola’ despite their love of the same woman.

The Shower by Jac Schaeffer (10)

At a baby shower for their longtime friend, the attendees suddenly find themselves in the middle of a different type of shower: meteors that release a vapor turning men into blood-hungry aliens.

Celeritas by Kimberly Barrante (9)

When a missing astronaut crash lands forty years after he launched having not aged a day, his elderly twin brother helps him escape the NASA scientists hunting him. As the government closes in, neither brother is who they claim to be.

I am Ryan Reynolds by Billy Goulston (9)

An inside look at the marriage, career, and mental state of 2010’s Sexiest Man Alive.

Jackpot by Dave Callaham (9)

After a group of bumbling teachers win a large amount of money, their greed and incompetence put them on a hilarious path toward death and destruction.

Plus One by April Prosser (9)

Just out of a long term relationship and realizing that all her friends have married, Rachel discovers that her only remaining wingwoman is Summer, a loud and oversharing wildcard.

Wonka by Jason Micallef (9)

A dark, reimagining of the Willy Wonka story beginning in World War II and culminating with his takeover of the chocolate factory.

Beauty Pageant by Shea Mirzai and Evan Mirzai (8)

After they unwittingly get their daughters disqualified from the child beauty circuit, two warring stagemothers are forced to go head to head in an adult beauty pageant.

Bismarck by Jared Cowie (8)

As Britain struggles through the darkest hours of World War II, a naval officer, raw from the loss of his ship during the evacuation of Dunkirk, is thrust into the thick of the hunt for the Nazi super- battleship, Bismarck. Based on a true story.

Morgan by Seth W. Owen (8)

A corporate risk management consultant is summoned to a remote research lab to determine whether or not to terminate an at-risk artificial being.

Shadow Run by Joe Gazzam (8)

A viral attack puts lives in danger, forcing a CIA agent to initiate a secret prisoner exchange of Russia’s most notorious spy for the American scientist who can create a cure.

The Bringing by Brandon Murphey and Philip Murphey (8)

A private investigator investigates a mysterious murder at a downtown Los Angeles hotel and uncovers it’s dark supernatural history. Based on true events.

The Takeway by Julia Cox (8)

A young, play-it-safe, art restorer is swept up in a whirlwind romance with her charming boss, who turns out to be a world- class thief.

Blink by Hernany Perla (7)

Years after being fully paralyzed during an infamous bank robbery, a man is taken hostage for the secrets in his head. His only form of communicating with the outside world – and outsmarting his captors – is his ability to blink.

Boston Strangler by Chuck Maclean (7)

In the 1960s, a determined detective puts his life and career on the line to solve the case of the Boston Strangler.

Erin’s Voice by Greg Sullivan

A deaf computer genius’ world is thrown into turmoil when he meets a troubled coffee shop waitress whose voice turns out to be the only thing he can miraculously hear.

Everyone Wants Everything by Abraham Higginbotham (7)

As his life reaches its neurosis-inducing midpoint, a married man asks himself an eternal question with no real answer — “Am I living the life I want to be living, or do I need to start over before its too late?” Torn between two lives, he’s forced to do the one thing he doesn’t want to do — make a choice.

Gifted by Tom Flynn (7)

A thirty year old man attempts to continue raising his deceased sister’s seven year old daughter, a kid-genius, while battling his own mother for custody.

Manchester by the Sea by Kenneth Lonergan (7)

An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.

Merc by Andrew Bozalis and Derek Mether (7)

When a disgraced former soldier finds success by working for a private security company, the illegal tactics the company employs challenges his worldview.

Professor Pasghetti by Jeff Feuerstein (7)

A famous children’s author, with an affinity for drugs and hookers, finds himself on a journey of self-discovery with a dead stripper and her eight year old son.

The Eden Project by Christina Hodson (7)

When a race of genetically modified humans living secretly among us declare war on Man, the fate of the world is in the hands of a rogue “Synthetic” named Eve and a young girl who is about to discover she’s not all human.

Uncle Shelby by Brian Brown and Elliott DiGuiseppi (7)

The little-known personal, heartbreaking, and darker side of cartoonist/author Shel Silverstein.

A Garden at the End of the World by Gary Graham (7)

In a post-apocalyptic world, a recluse, trying to recreate trees to produce new life, takes in a young girl who is on the run from some bad men, including her father.

Coffee & Kareem by Shane McCarthy (6)

An overweight, foul-mouthed nine year old reluctantly teams with the straight edge cop sleeping with his mom to take down Detroit’s most ruthless drug lord.

Forgive Me by Max Hurwitz (6)

How Mike Wallace helped to create 60 Minutes and how years later, he confronted and dealt with his own depression.

In Real Time by Chai Hecht (6)

A young man convinced that his mentally unstable sister needs to relive her high school prom from ten years prior to overcome her depression goes to great lengths to recreate that event.

In This, My Darkest Hour by Bryan McMullin (6)

A man rises to power during the California gold rush, tearing his family apart.

Money Monster by Alan DiFiore, Alan Rauf and Jamie Linden (6)

After a man loses all his money in the stock market by following the advice of a Wall Street TV host, he takes the money adviser hostage on live television.

My Friend Dahmer by Marc Meyers (6)

Based on the acclaimed graphic novel by John Backderf, Jeffrey Dahmer struggles with a difficult family life as a young boy and during his teenage years he slowly transforms, edging closer to the serial killer he becomes.

Seducing Ingrid Bergman by Arash Amel (6)

Based on Chris Greenhalgh’s eponymous novel. Ingrid Bergman and war photographer Robert Capa engage in a passionate, life- changing romance in post-World War II Paris.

The Beautiful Game by Zander Lehmann (6)

A high school soccer star’s personal life becomes complicated leading up to his championship game as he develops a relationship with his soccer coach.

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by David Bar Katz (6)

The story of Clark Rockefeller, a con artist thought to be American royalty until he kidnapped his young daughter initiating a manhunt that revealed his true identity.

The Wilde Ones by Tyler Shields (6)

In a corrupt Southern town, a dangerous sociopath runs bareknuckle boxing fights that pit its youths against each other.

Here is a photo of Kristina Lauren Anderson at the Black List 10th anniversary party which took place Sunday night at the Palihouse in West Hollywood the very moment when it was announced her script Catherine the Great had topped this year’s List.

BL10 Kristina Lauren Anderson

Photograph courtesy of Robin Roemer

Congratulations, Kristina! I spoke with her and Kristina has graciously agreed to an interview. Look for that sometime next year. For now, Kristina, enjoy the ride!

I will have stats and analysis of this year’s Black List later on this week. Plus it’s the return of the Black List Word Cloud Logline Challenge! Be on the lookout for that — with prizes!

To download the 2014 Black List, click here.

Writing A Script, Part 6: Outline

December 15th, 2014 by

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

Part 1: Story Concept

Part 2: Brainstorming

Part 3: Research

Part 4: Character Development

Part 5: Plotting

Today Part 6: Outline

I start by transcribing the content of the cards into a new Word file called Story Outline.I generally will have written down notes and ideas on the cards related to each scene or beat, so that information goes into the outline as well.

[Note: There are many software programs that exist nowadays that are built for outlining.]

The goal here is to create a blueprint with Scene 1, followed by Scene 2, Scene 3, all the way to the last scene and FADE OUT.The hard work here is to make sure as best as I can that the story tracks and handles all the subplots.A final consideration is to think about the transitions, how to make each shift from one scene and sequence to the next is as smooth and seamless as possible.

Apart from locking down the story’s structure, I also think about every scene, asking a series of questions:

* What is the point of the scene?

* What is the scene’s Beginning, Middle, and Ending?

* What characters should be in the scene and why?

* What is the conflict in the scene?

* How do I enter / exit the scene?

That can change in the actual writing of the script – as well as scene order – but I like thinking through my scenes in advance.

My outlines can be quite long. I just pulled out one from my files that is 32 single-spaced pages. But then, I like to throw in everything I dredge up for each scene: images, bits of dialogue, Internal World dynamics, transitions, and so on.

Okay, now I want you to take a deep breath and realize something: All that — story concept, brainstorming, research, character development, plotting, and outline — and I haven’t written one word of the actual script. I have found doing the hard work up front — prep-writing — gives me more room for creative thinking in my page-writing process.

Let’s me be clear: I am not saying that every writer has to work this way. Each writer has to find the approach that works for them. For example, Neil Simon eschews outlines:

When I started, I got out the yellow legal pads and I outlined the entire play. Then I started to write the play, and the characters started to want to drift off where they wanted to go. So I pushed them back into the outline, and they say, We don’t like it in this outline, we want to get on another yellow pad. This yellow pad stinks. So I just kept trying to force them there, and I realized I couldn’t do that.

At this point, I don’t make outlines at all. I make an outline only in my mind. If I can say two or three sentences about the play, then I have a play.

That’s as much of an outline as I need, because when I write something I want to be as surprised — and this goes for screenwriting too in terms of the original screenplay — I want to be as surprised as the audience is. If I know everything beforehand, it becomes a job. Just let it happen and see where it takes me.

Okay, that’s one extreme. Conversely, there’s writer-director Paul Schrader, who is known to craft such extensive outlines that he can predict within a quarter-page how long each scene is before he writes it. His take:

Question: Do you still outline it in one page?

PS: Yeah. And then re-outline it. On this one I went right from the outline to the script. But usually, if I have any concerns about whether the idea is really going to work, I then go into a sequential breakdown.

All a sequential breakdown is…. let’s say in an average movie there are anywhere 45 – 55 – 60 things happening. That’s your outline, the list of things that happen. That’s not the list of shots, or the list of scenes and drive-ups, just the things that happen. Like, they meet at the Chelsea Hotel, returns to office, make phone calls, whatever.

So you take each one of those items on your outline and make it into a paragraph. So now you’re starting to include dialogue.

Question: 5 – 8 lines?

PS: Yeah. So now, instead of a one page outline, you have about a 15 page, single-spaced breakdown. And if your idea still survives all of that, then there’s a pretty good chance it ll work. I’ve had idea that have worked at an outline stage, but died at the breakdown stage.

And when an idea dies on you it is, in fact, one of the best things that can happen. Because you’ve just saved yourself an enormous amount of time and grief. Some ideas just don’t want to be written. They don t want to be written by you. Some ideas have fooled you into thinking that they have more power than they, in fact, do. If you find that out after writing a first draft, you’ve wasted a lot of time and you’ve also lost faith in yourself because you believed in something and you couldn’t pull it off.

So two extremes. And a writer must find their own approach, there is no “right” or “wrong,” just what works for you.

That said, I do encourage all aspiring screenwriters to try an immersive prep-writing approach, like the one I’ve laid out so far in these 6 posts, at least once. If it works, great. If not, you’re free to track down Neil Simon and kick it free-style with him.

You can read the complete interview with Paul Schrader here.

Tomorrow Part 7: Script Diary.

[Originally posted June 11, 2008]

Go Into The Story Week In Review: December 8-December 14, 2014

December 15th, 2014 by

Links to last week’s most notable posts:

Alisha Brophy & Scott Miles Holiday Animation Card

Daily Dialogue Theme for Next Week: Negotiation

Declare Your Independents – Vol. 40

Go Into The Story Script Reading & Analysis: The Silence of the Lambs

Go Into The Story Script Reading & Analysis: The Sixth Sense

Go Into The Story Script Reading & Analysis: The Social Network

Go Into The Story Script Reading & Analysis: The Thing

Go Into The Story Script Reading & Analysis: Toy Story 3

Go Into The Story Script Reading & Analysis: Up in the Air

Great Character: Harmony Faith Lane (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang)

Interview (Video): Paul Thomas Anderson

Interview (Video): Steven Knight

Interview (Written): Jennifer Kent

Interview (Written): Graham Moore

On Writing: Harold Hayes

Saturday Hot Links

Screenwriting 101: Larry Gelbart

Screenwriting News (December 8-December 14, 2014)

Script Analysis: Moonrise Kingdom (Parts 1-5)

Script To Screen: Collateral

Short Film: “The Monster” by Jennifer Kent

Spec Script Sale: “In the Crease”

“Twas the night before Black List…”

Update: Award season screenplay downloads (20 scripts including Belle, Birdman, Boyhood, Gone Girl, The Fault in Our Stars)

Video: The Very Best First Feature Films of 2014

Video: The Making of ‘Boyhood’ – 12 Years on Film

Writing A Script, Part 1: Story Concept

Writing A Script, Part 2: Brainstorming

Writing A Script, Part 3: Research

Writing A Script, Part 4: Character Development

Writing A Script, Part 5: Plotting