Cassian Elwes independent screenwriting fellowship enters 2nd year with Black List

July 29th, 2014 by

From the Black List:

LOS ANGELES, CA (July 27, 2014) – This morning, producer Cassian Elwes and Black List founder Franklin Leonard launched the second year of the Cassian Elwes Independent Screenwriting Fellowship, wherein one unrepresented writer with lifetime writing earnings not exceeding $5,000 with a screenplay of indie sensibility will receive an all-expense paid trip to the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and mentorship from Elwes himself.

Inaugural fellow Matthew Hickman, a retail employee at the UPS store in Santa Monica selected on the basis of his script AN ELEGY FOR EVELYN FRANCIS is now represented by Circle of Confusion. “Winning the fellowship last year changed my life and attending Sundance was only the top of the iceberg. I now have representation and a writing deal, not to mention a script that Cassian himself is producing. I also know of several other finalists whose scripts he has optioned. The opportunity accomplishes very concretely what the Black List originally set out to do: level the playing field so that anyone with a good script has got a chance.”

Said Cassian Elwes, “I am so grateful to the Black List for their incredible work in finding last year’s fellow and the quality of all of the scripts I read. I was so happy with my experience with Matthew at Sundance last year. He now has a manager and a deal to write a new script. We have become friends, and I’m going to make the movie of ELEGY FOR EVELYN FRANCIS. I couldn’t be more excited to continue this Fellowship and look forward to meeting its next recipient.”

“Suffice it to say that Matthew was an ideal first recipient of this extraordinary opportunity from Cassian and the prospect of someone else finding similar success in this way has us even more excited for the Sundance Film Festival than we already are, which is remarkable,” said Black List founder Franklin Leonard.

For this year’s fellowship, writers with scripts on the Black List or who have had scripts on the site since its launch will be able to opt into consideration for the opportunity until November 7, 2014, at which time a short list of writers will be shared with Elwes who will decide on one writer to make the trip.

Cassian Elwes

After beginning his producing career with Oxford Blues and Men at Work, Cassian Elwes headed William Morris Independent for 15 years, where he arranged financing for 283 films including multiple Oscar nominees Sling Blade, The Apostle, and Monster’s Ball. Since leaving William Morris Independent four years ago, Elwes has been involved in arranging financing and distribution for 30 films including Lawless, The Paperboy, and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. Elwes also produced Lee Daniels’ The Butler and executive produced Dallas Buyers Club and All Is Lost, all presumptive 2013 Awards season contenders.

The Black List

The Black List is an online community where moviemakers find scripts to make and writers to write them and screenwriters find moviemakers to make their scripts and employ them. Google for screenplays, if you will.

Begun in 2005 as an annual survey of several dozen executives favorite unproduced screenplays, the Black List has grown to survey over 500 executives each year (virtually 100% of Hollywood’s studio system’s executive corps.) Over 250 Black List scripts have been produced into films grossing over $16 billion in worldwide box office. Black List scripts have won 30 Academy Awards – including three of the last five Best Pictures (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, THE KING’S SPEECH, and ARGO) and seven of the last twelve screenwriting awards (JUNE, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, THE KING’S SPEECH, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, THE DESCENDANTS, ARGO, and DJANGO UNCHAINED) – from 159 nominations.

In October 2012, the Black List launched an online database of every screenplay circulating Hollywood and all those submitted by English language screenwriters from around the world. Since its launch, it has hosted more than 7,500 screenplays and completed more than 10,000 script evaluations. More than 40 writers have found representation at major agencies and management companies and more than 20 writers have sold their screenplays as a direct result of introductions made via the site.

At any given moment, more than 1600 screenplays are actively hosted for perusal by over 2000 film industry professionals ranging from agency assistants to studio chairs.

And the beat goes on, the Black List continuing to open doors into Hollywood.

For background on the first year of this particular initiative:

“Cassian Elwes Endows New Indie Writer Fellowship Via The Black List” (October 29th, 2013)

Five questions with Cassian Elwes about the Black List Fellowship (November 5th, 2013)

Matthew Hickman: Reflections of an Independent Screenwriting Fellowship Winner (January 12th, 2014)

Matthew Hickman: Reflections on 2014 Sundance Film Festival (January 30th, 2014)

The complete roster of Black List initiatives:

Cassian Elwes / Sundance Film Festival – Black List

Hasty Pudding Institute Screenwriting Fellowship – Black List

Martin Katz/Toronto International Film Festival – Black List

TBS / TNT – Black List

Walt Disney Studios – Black List

Warner Bros. – Black List

WIGS – Black List

And don’t forget the 2014 Black List Screenwriters Lab. That submission period is now open and if it’s anything like last year’s session, which I was fortunate to be a part of, it should be another phenomenal experience for a select group of writers.

Screenwriting Lessons: "The King’s Speech" — Part 2: Metamorphosis

July 29th, 2014 by

[Note: This was originally posted February 8, 2011.]

As I watched The King’s Speech recently, I was struck by how many screenwriting lessons could be gleaned from the movie. So I decided this week and next to analyze The King’s Speech and The Social Network, the most likely winners of this year’s Academy Awards for Best Screenplay (Speech for original, Network for adapted) to see what takeaway we could derive from both movies and their excellent screenplays.

Today: The King’s Speech — Metamorphosis.

It’s perhaps the single most universal narrative archetype of all and at the heart of The Hero’s Journey: Metamorphosis. A character begins a story in one state of being and ends up in a different one. A significant reason for its ubiquity: We all want to believe we can change. Stories that feature metamorphosis reinforce that belief, hence we are drawn to them.

In The King’s Speech, screenwriter David Seidler works this dynamic of metamorphosis on two levels: The External World dealing with Bertie’s actual stuttering and the Internal World delving into Bertie’s psychological state as he struggles to deal with that to which he is eventually called — to become the King of England. The two are separate issues and yet ultimately inseparable given the public nature of Bertie’s position of high-standing.

While the entire movie does a superlative job tracking the arduous process of Bertie’s work with Lionel, both as therapist (stuttering) and mentor (psychology), we can see most clearly the scope of Bertie’s metamorphosis by comparing a few key scenes.

The first scene, which I featured in yesterday’s post, demonstrates the power Bertie’s stuttering holds over his tongue.

Bertie stands frozen, his mouth agape, jaw muscles locked.

But the second part of that paragraph of scene description takes us into the Protagonist’s Internal World:

He knows he’s considered by all, especially himself, unfit for
public life.

From the very beginning of the story, Bertie does not feel he is fit for public life, let alone to be King. Later when his older brother David (Guy Pearce) is having second thoughts about ascending to the throne following their father’s death, Bertie and Lionel have a heated discussion:

               LIONEL
Your brother knew perfectly well by giving
you a document without warning...

               BERTIE
Are you saying he wanted me to fail?

               LIONEL
Are you insisting he didn’t? In the future
we can parse any document into manageable
phrases. You can sing them, swear them,
rehearse them til you get the rhythm and
flow; that, combined with your growing
confidence...

Bertie doesn’t want to hear.

               BERTIE
Growing confidence? Growing dread!!! You’re
a wicked man, Lionel Logue, trying to get
me to thrust myself forward as an
alternative to my brother. Trying to get me
to commit treason!

               LIONEL
Trying to get you to realize you need not
be governed by fear. Again, why did you
seek me out? To take polite elocution
lessons so you could attend posh tea
parties?!

               BERTIE
How dare you! I’m the brother of a
King...the son of a King...back through
untold centuries. You presume to instruct
me on my duty? A jumped-up jackeroo from
the outback? The disappointing son of an
embittered clerk! You’re a monster, Doctor
Logue. I’m going to Balmoral to spend a
pleasant country weekend with my beloved
brother. And these sessions are over!

The text of the dialogue is outrage at Lionel’s intimation that Bertie consider himself a worthy successor to the throne, but the subtext is one of fear — a gnawing sense of inevitability confronting Bertie that he will have to assume the monarchical responsibilities and his own overwhelming sense of his inability to handle the job.

When that possibility becomes the reality, Bertie returns to Lionel, a chastened King-to-be:

               BERTIE
        (blurts out)
What’s the one essential thing a King must
do? He must believe he is King. How can I
possibly do that? For pity sake, Lionel, I
beg you: get me through! I’ll pay you
another shilling.

So the two story realms meet headlong: The External World (stuttering) and the Internal World (Bertie’s fear that he does not have the strength to be King). And they are both paid off in the movie’s Final Struggle — when Bertie delivers a radio speech to the nation, indeed, the whole world, responding to Germany’s declaration of war.

For those who have seen the movie, you will remember at least the tone, if not the words of Bertie’s speech. We can see and hear how he manages his stuttering. But it is the power behind the words and the sheer willfulness Bertie demonstrates in the moment that signifies his true ascension to the throne. Seidler writes in scene description as his daughters listen to Bertie over the radio:

Lilibet’s expression tells it all - she can hear it, her father
is truly King.

From a beginning state of this — He knows he’s considered by all, especially himself, unfit for public life — to an ending state of this — she can hear it, her father is truly King — Bertie’s metamorphosis is complete on both levels, overcoming both his stuttering and his fear of royal responsibilities.

Tomorrow: Talismans.

2014 Scene-Writing Challenge: 3 days left!

July 29th, 2014 by

As noted in this recent post:

In May, it was 90s movies. In June, it has been 30 Days of Screenplays. What is that but the first two of three from that essential screenwriting mantra: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages.

Can you see where I’m going for July? That’s right: Write pages!

July is Scene-Writing Month here at Go Into The Story. Every Monday-Friday at noon Eastern / 9AM Pacific, I will upload a post with a prompt for writing a script scene. Each day, write a scene per those guidelines. If you really want to get in the spirit of things, upload your scene here in the comments section of the original post. That way you can critique others’ pages and receive feedback on your scene as well.

Why scene-writing? Think about it: If the average scene is 1 1/2 to 2 pages long and a script is 100-120 pages, then a screenwriter writes between 50-80 scenes per screenplay. Thus in a very real way, screenwriting is scene-writing. The better we get at writing scenes, it stands to reason the better we get as a screenwriter.

Plus there’s this: To provide extra motivation for this series — to get people to WRITE PAGES — I am giving away some of my Core classes to Scene-Writing Challenge participants. That’s right: For free!

The Core curriculum provides a comprehensive, coherent, character-based approach to screenwriting theory, eight 1-week online classes. I only teach them once per year. Here is the schedule:

July 7 – Core I: Plot
July 21 – Core II: Concept
August 4 – Core III: Character
September 1 – Core IV: Style
September 15 – Core V: Dialogue
October 27 – Core VI: Scene
November 10 – Core VII: Theme
December 2 – Core VIII: Time

To qualify to take one Core class for free, write and submit ten [10] Scene-Writing Challenge posts. If you complete all twenty [20] Scene-Writing Challenge exercises, you get two Core classes for free.

You can choose any of the Core classes as your free gift.

That’s what I’m prepared to do to encourage you to write pages.

[Note: If you want to take Core I or Core II, which are scheduled for this month, I will hold those course sites open into August to allow you access to all of that content.]

A couple of logistical notes:

* Limit your scenes to 2 pages. First, most scenes are 2 pages or less in length. Second, out of fairness to everyone participating in the public scene-writing workshop, let’s not abuse anyone’s patience or time with really long scenes.

* Don’t be concerned about proper script format when you copy/paste your scene, rather the content and execution are the important thing. So as a default mode, do this: (1) Don’t worry about right-hand margins on scene description or dialogue, just keep typing until it manually shifts each line. (2) Don’t worry about character name position, rather do this:

SCARLETT: Rhett, Rhett... Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?

RHETT: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

Remember: If you are interested in qualifying for 1 or 2 free Core classes with me, please note the number of scenes you have written. If today is your first effort, note that it is Scene 1. The next one, Scene 2. If today is Scene 20, please note that. And so forth.

You are on an honor system, as I don’t have time to check every post, so do the right thing!

NOTE: If you have completed and posted 10 scenes, just email me to let me know which of the eight Core classes you’d like to take as my gift to you for your hard work!

NOTE: The Challenge ends on July 31st, meaning that is the last day I will accept scenes for credit toward free Core classes.

NOTE: There are no more scene-writing prompts. This is it. You may see all 20 prompts by going here.

GOOD NEWS: To date, 26 writers have qualified for a free Core course and I have enrolled each of them. And check this out: Our first writer to have written all 20 scenes. His name: George Hiddlestein. He emailed me this:

“I want to thank you for this Scene Challenge. I didn’t know if I would finish it… it was a blast. It helped me to sharpen my ordinary scenes into entertaining scenes. I’ve been able to use these in a couple of rewrites I’m working on. Again thanks.”

How about you? 10 scenes = 1 Core course. 20 scenes = 2 Core courses.

REMEMBER: The challenge ends Thursday, July 31st. Midnight Pacific Daylight Time.

Character = Function

July 28th, 2014 by

In a screenplay, characters exist for a reason. Unlike a novel, a writer doesn’t have unlimited time to introduce characters willy nilly, rather the limitations of a script’s length compels us to handle characters with one eye always on how they connect to the plot. Moreover almost all movies feature a Protagonist who goes through some sort of metamorphosis. As a result, it’s almost certain all of the primary and even secondary characters in a story tie into and support the Protagonist’s transformation.

All of this translates into a 3rd essential screenwriting principle I teach in the Core curriculum:

Character = Function

This may sound reductionist. It is precisely the opposite. Much like an actor asks, “What’s my motivation,” digging down into the core of their character’s persona, so, too, do we as screenwriters delve into characters to determine what their core essence is and how that plays out in terms of their respective narrative functions. Once we make those discoveries, we can shape our characters in unlimited ways, all the while playing to how they function in relation to the narrative.

That is the starting point of Core III: Character, a 1-week online class I will be teaching starting on Monday, August 4. In this course, you will learn about:

* Five primary character archetypes: Protagonist, Nemesis, Attractor, Mentor, Trickster

* Protagonist Metamorphosis Arc

* Nemesis as opposition and ‘shadow’

* Attractor as the character most connected to a Protagonist’s emotional development

* Mentor as the character most connected to a Protagonist’s intellectual development

* Trickster as the character who tests the Protagonist’s will

* Different Protagonist paradigms

* Working with archetypes and switching Protagonists

And much more. The course consists of four components:

  • Lectures: There are six lectures written by me, each posting Monday through Saturday.
  • Writing Exercises: These optional exercises offer you the opportunity to workshop one of your own loglines and receive feedback from class members.
  • Teleconference: We will have a Skype teleconference call to discuss course material, a great opportunity to interface directly with me and other writers in the course.
  • Forums: The online course site has message boards where you may post questions / comments, almost always a place where remarkable conversations and analysis takes place.

We will analyze the following movies: The Wizard of Oz, The Apartment, The Silence of the Lambs, Slumdog Millionaire, Citizen Kane, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Life Is Beautiful,

For those of you who have not taken an online class, the interface is extremely easy. Plus online classes can be an amazing experience. Most of the activities you can do on your own time — download and read lectures, review and respond to forum discussions, upload loglines and track comments. In addition, I’ve been teaching online for over a decade and it never ceases to amaze me how much of a community emerges in such an environment.

Core III: Character is one of eight classes in the Core curriculum. Here is the schedule for all of them this summer and fall, the only time I will be offering these courses in 2014:

July 7 – Core I: Plot
July 21 – Core II: Concept
August 4 – Core III: Character
September 1 – Core IV: Style
September 15 – Core V: Dialogue
October 27 – Core VI: Scene
November 10 – Core VII: Theme
December 2 – Core VIII: Time

Choose one or two depending upon your interests and needs. Or if you’re really serious and want to save some coin (nearly 50% off), consider The Core Package which gives you immediate access to the content for all eight Core classes which you can go through at your own pace, as well as the option of taking each 1-week online course.

“Joining Scott’s class is one of the best decisions anyone could make when deciding to embark on the journey of writing a screenplay. His passion for teaching and screenwriting could not be more inspirational. I couldn’t wish for a better teacher and mentor!” — Theodora von Auersperg

“Your unique lectures helped me think about character in new ways, and will inevitably change the way I approach new ideas and outlines. And I’m blown away and impressed at the level of personal feedback/communication from you. I don’t know how you do it– androids couldn’t manage their time more efficiently than you.” — Bob Corsi

I have spent years studying Carl Jung, who was a huge influence on Joseph Campbell, and as the Hero’s Journey may act as a paradigm for narrative generally, I am convinced there is a similar universality in movies relative to these five character archetypes. Moreover these archetypes are a key to character-based screenwriting, providing writers a non-formulaic way to engage the story-crafting process.

For information on Core III: Character, which begins August 4, go here.

For The Core Package, go here.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

Screenwriting Lessons: "The King’s Speech" — Part 1: Sympathetic Protagonist

July 28th, 2014 by

[Note: This was originally posted February 7, 2011.]

As I watched The King’s Speech recently, I was struck by how many screenwriting lessons could be gleaned from the movie. So I decided this week and next to analyze The King’s Speech and The Social Network, the most likely winners of this year’s Academy Awards for Best Screenplay (Speech for original, Network for adapted) to see what takeaway we could derive from both movies and their excellent screenplays.

Today: The King’s Speech — Sympathetic Protagonist.

To be sure, you do not need to write a screenplay with a sympathetic Protagonist — witness Zuckerberg’s character in The Social Network (more on that next week). However any writer who has worked in Hollywood has doubtless heard this note from development execs countless time in script meetings: Can’t you do something to make the Protagonist more sympathetic?

Why is this such a big deal?

To fully understand this mindset, we have to step back and consider the movie-watching experience. To create a successful movie, one goal the filmmakers should have is to lure the viewer into the movie — make them stop thinking about their job, their popcorn, the people around them, and instead get their heads and hearts immersed in what’s going on inside the story universe. If a movie can transport us from this world into that world, it increases the movie’s chances of being experienced in a positive way. After all, isn’t that the point of movies as escapist fare — to take us away from our ordinary world and entertain us for a few hours in the story’s extraordinary world?

The most direct and perhaps best way to accomplish that is via the Protagonist character. From a psychological standpoint, there is a way in which it’s not the Protagonist alone going through what they experience in the movie universe, it’s the Protagonist and us sharing it. Indeed at some heightened points in a movie, it’s possible the Protagonist disappears entirely from our consciousness and it is just us experiencing what’s going on in the story.

We can call this phenomenon audience identification and it is one key to the success of most Protagonist characters, how we identify with that pivotal character in some fundamental and powerful way which in turn transports us into the story universe.

Hollywood is not stupid. They know the simplest, easiest way to accomplish audience identification is by telling stories with sympathetic Protagonists. The fact is we are much more likely to identify with a Protagonist if we sympathize with them. So as far as the studios are concerned, screenwriters should accept that as a given and go write them a hit script.

In The King’s Speech, written by David Seidler, the story’s Protagonist is “Bertie” (Colin Firth), Prince George, a member of British royalty, second in line to the throne of England. Unless you or I are part of a monarchical family, on the face of it we would have little in common with Bertie, thus making our identification with him a challenge for the screenwriter. What did Seidler do to create a sympathetic Protagonist? Several things. Here are just a few:

The process begins in the opening sequence where George is to give a speech:

INT. BBC BROADCASTING STUDIO - DAY 5

A gentleman in a tuxedo, carnation in boutonniere, is gargling
while a TECHNICIAN holds a porcelain bowl and a towel at the
ready. The man in the tuxedo is a BBC NEWS READER. He
expectorates discreetly into the bowl, wipes his mouth
fastidiously, and signals to ANOTHER TECHNICIAN who produces an
atomizer. The Reader opens his mouth, squeezes the rubber bulb,
and sprays his inner throat. Now, he’s ready. He looks to the
control room.

The FLOOR MANAGER begins a count-down: five... four... three...
two...

               BBC NEWS READER
Ladies and Gentlemen: good afternoon. This
is the BBC National and World Programmes
taking you to Wembley Stadium.

He speaks in flawless pear-shaped tones. There’s no higher
creature in the vocal world.

There’s no higher creature in the vocal world. Talk about setting the bar high! Then we shift to George as he begins his speech:

Bertie moves forward diffidently, without an ounce of
confidence, knowing deep within he’s doomed. His stomach knots,
chest muscles contract, constricting his breath.

              BERTIE
Luh-luh-lords, la-la-ladies, gen-tell-men.

It is a shock to realize this is a man with a profound stutter.
A man who cannot speak in public.

Within a few moments of the movie’s beginning, we learn that Bertie is a stutterer, the contrast heightened by the comparison to the BBC announcer. And immediately we feel sorry for him, this emotion driven deeper and deeper by how long we endure Bertie’s suffering at the public event:

Bertie stands frozen, his mouth agape, jaw muscles locked. He
knows he’s considered by all, especially himself, unfit for
public life.

Our sympathy for Bertie increases as we realize, he is not only a stutterer, but a man whose very birthright forces him to be a public figure, thus putting his vocal condition on stage over and over again.

Later Seidler includes a scene where Bertie’s two children, Lilibet and Margaret Rose, ask their father to tell them a story:

Called upon to perform, the stutter returns slightly. But the
two girls listen raptly, ignoring their father’s minor
impediment, and it fades.

               BERTIE (CONT’D)
Once upon a time there were two horsies. A
white horse that went clip clop clip clop
through Hyde Park. And a black horse that
went clip clop clip clop through Hyde Park.
They met in the middle of Hyde Park. The
white horse said "neigh”. The black horse
said, "neigh”. The white horse continued
on, clip clop clip clop through Hyde Park.
The black horse continued on, clip clop
clip clop through Hyde Park. And that’s the
end of the story. Now off to bed.

The scene accomplishes at least two things: (1) It establishes that Bertie is a loving father and devoted family man. (2) It demonstrates that Bertie’s stuttering ebbs and flows depending upon circumstances, suggesting it is not strictly a physical condition, but a psychological one. Both dynamics engender more sympathy.

Shortly thereafter, Bertie has a humiliating experience at the hands of his father, the King:

In the presence of his father, Bertie’s stuttering returns in
full form, his breathing short and shallow, the muscles in
spasms.

We begin to sense the roots of Bertie’s stuttering are tied to his upbringing and in part the unforgiving demeanor of his father. This shrinks the emotional distance between us and this member of the royal family since it’s only natural for each of us to have at least some misgivings about our own childhood experiences.

When Bertie meets Lionel (Geoffrey Rush) for the first time, it is an extremely awkward moment for the Prince:

               LIONEL
What can we talk about?

               BERTIE
That’s better. When speaking with a Royal
one waits for the Royal to start the
conversation and chose the topic.

               LIONEL
You're joking. That won’t work here.

               BERTIE
I admit if one waits for me to start a
conversation one can wait a rather long
time.

Here Bertie is man enough to be able to make fun of himself and his condition — a small thing, but again increases our sympathy for the Protagonist.

These are just a few examples taken from the story’s set-up, but it demonstrates the lengths to which Seidler went to establish a sympathetic Protagonist in The King’s Speech.

How about you? That story you’re currently writing? How is your Protagonist sympathetic? Have you dug deep enough into the character to discover all the ways in which you can create a sense of audience (reader) identification with the character?

And for those of you who have seen The King’s Speech, what other ways did Seidler treat Bertie’s character to create a sympathetic Protagonist?

Tomorrow: Metamorphosis.

2014 Scene-Writing Challenge: Day 20

July 28th, 2014 by

As noted in this recent post:

In May, it was 90s movies. In June, it has been 30 Days of Screenplays. What is that but the first two of three from that essential screenwriting mantra: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages.

Can you see where I’m going for July? That’s right: Write pages!

July is Scene-Writing Month here at Go Into The Story. Every Monday-Friday at noon Eastern / 9AM Pacific, I will upload a post with a prompt for writing a script scene. Each day, write a scene per those guidelines. If you really want to get in the spirit of things, upload your scene here in the comments section of the original post. That way you can critique others’ pages and receive feedback on your scene as well.

Why scene-writing? Think about it: If the average scene is 1 1/2 to 2 pages long and a script is 100-120 pages, then a screenwriter writes between 50-80 scenes per screenplay. Thus in a very real way, screenwriting is scene-writing. The better we get at writing scenes, it stands to reason the better we get as a screenwriter.

Plus there’s this: To provide extra motivation for this series — to get people to WRITE PAGES — I am giving away some of my Core classes to Scene-Writing Challenge participants. That’s right: For free!

The Core curriculum provides a comprehensive, coherent, character-based approach to screenwriting theory, eight 1-week online classes. I only teach them once per year. Here is the schedule:

July 7 – Core I: Plot
July 21 – Core II: Concept
August 4 – Core III: Character
September 1 – Core IV: Style
September 15 – Core V: Dialogue
October 27 – Core VI: Scene
November 10 – Core VII: Theme
December 2 – Core VIII: Time

To qualify to take one Core class for free, write and submit ten [10] Scene-Writing Challenge posts. If you complete all twenty [20] Scene-Writing Challenge exercises, you get two Core classes for free.

You can choose any of the Core classes as your free gift.

That’s what I’m prepared to do to encourage you to write pages.

[Note: If you want to take Core I or Core II, which are scheduled for this month, I will hold those course sites open into August to allow you access to all of that content.]

A couple of logistical notes:

* Limit your scenes to 2 pages. First, most scenes are 2 pages or less in length. Second, out of fairness to everyone participating in the public scene-writing workshop, let’s not abuse anyone’s patience or time with really long scenes.

* Don’t be concerned about proper script format when you copy/paste your scene, rather the content and execution are the important thing. So as a default mode, do this: (1) Don’t worry about right-hand margins on scene description or dialogue, just keep typing until it manually shifts each line. (2) Don’t worry about character name position, rather do this:

SCARLETT: Rhett, Rhett... Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?

RHETT: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

Today’s prompt: A scene in which a character uses a computer.

I saved perhaps the toughest prompt for the very last one in this month’s challenge. You may say, “Oh, a guy or gal at a computer. Nothing to it.”

WRONG!!!

There is nothing more boring that watching a character sit at a desk, tapping away on a computer keyboard with whatever bits of information flit across the screen… unless it’s a script with a scene in which a character sits at a desk, tapping away on a computer keyboard with whatever bits of information flit across the screen.

Computers do not make for good cinema!

So your challenge: MAKE THIS SCENE ENTERTAINING!

Some of the prompts in this series, you may never have to face in your entire writing life. But I guarantee, at some point, you will have to write a computer scene. Here is your chance to experiment and see if you can wrangle something visual, something compelling, something entertaining out of your effort.

Remember: If you are interested in qualifying for 1 or 2 free Core classes with me, please note the number of scenes you have written. If today is your first effort, note that it is Scene 1. The next one, Scene 2. If today is Scene 18, please note that. And so forth.

You are on an honor system, as I don’t have time to check every post, so do the right thing!

NOTE: If you have completed and posted 10 scenes, just email me to let me know which of the eight Core classes you’d like to take as my gift to you for your hard work!

NOTE: The Challenge ends on July 31st, meaning that is the last day I will accept scenes for credit toward free Core classes.

NOTE: There are no more scene-writing prompts. This is it. You may see all 20 prompts by going here.

It’s the 2014 Scene-Writing Challenge! Give a jolt to your creative and writing muscles… and win 1 or 2 free online classes with yours truly.

GOOD NEWS: To date, 22 writers have qualified for a free Core course and I have enrolled each of them. How about you? 10 scenes = 1 Core course. 20 scenes = 2 Core courses.

REMEMBER: The challenge ends Thursday, July 31st. Midnight Pacific Daylight Time.

Go Into The Story Week In Review: July 21-July 27, 2014

July 27th, 2014 by

Links to the week’s most notable posts:

A proposal about uncredited screenwriters

Conversations With Wilder: Part 6

Daily Dialogue Theme for Next Week: Teaching

Daily Dialogue Topic Index

Declare Your Independents: Volume 22

Documentary: “The Silence of the Lambs: The Inside Story”

Found: Online Song Lyric Generators

Great Character: Shannon Mullins (The Heat)

Has “Snowpiercer” shifted the VOD / theatrical model for indie films?

Interview [Video]: Diablo Cody

Interview (Video): David Seltzer

Interview (Written): Mike Cahill

On Writing: Orson Welles

Reader Question: Are writers included in “nuisance lawsuits”?

Saturday Hot Links

Scene-Writing Challenge, Day 15

Scene-Writing Challenge, Day 16

Scene-Writing Challenge, Day 17

Scene-Writing Challenge, Day 18

Scene-Writing Challenge, Day 19

Screenwriting 101: J.J. Abrams

Screenwriting News (July 21-July 27, 2014)

Script To Screen: Lost In Translation

Spec Script Sale: “Untitled Arabian Nights Project”

The Physics of Story Concepts

The Stories of Your Life

Update: Gender in Spec Script Sales

Want to write a script in 6 weeks?

Writing and the Creative Life: The Tactile Experience of Writing

Scene-Writing Challenge: Days 1-19

July 26th, 2014 by

As noted in this post from 5 weeks back:

In May, it was 90s movies. In June, it has been 30 Days of Screenplays. What is that but the first two of three from that essential screenwriting mantra: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages.

Can you see where I’m going for July? That’s right: Write pages!

July is Scene-Writing Month here at Go Into The Story. Every Monday-Friday at noon Eastern / 9AM Pacific, I will upload a post with a prompt for writing a script scene. Each day, write a scene per those guidelines. If you really want to get in the spirit of things, upload your scene here in the comments section of the original post. That way you can critique others’ pages and receive feedback on your scene as well.

Why scene-writing? Think about it: If the average scene is 1 1/2 to 2 pages long and a script is 100-120 pages, then a screenwriter writes between 50-80 scenes per screenplay. Thus in a very real way, screenwriting is scene-writing. The better we get at writing scenes, it stands to reason the better we get as a screenwriter.

Plus there’s this: To provide extra motivation for this series — to get people to WRITE PAGES — I am giving away some of my Core classes to Scene-Writing Challenge participants. That’s right: For free!

The Core curriculum provides a comprehensive, coherent, character-based approach to screenwriting theory, eight 1-week online classes. I only teach them once per year. Here is the schedule:

July 7 – Core I: Plot
July 21 – Core II: Concept
August 4 – Core III: Character
September 1 – Core IV: Style
September 15 – Core V: Dialogue
October 27 – Core VI: Scene
November 10 – Core VII: Theme
December 2 – Core VIII: Time

To qualify to take one Core class for free, write and submit ten [10] Scene-Writing Challenge posts. If you complete all twenty [20] Scene-Writing Challenge exercises, you get two Core classes for free.

You can choose any of the Core classes as your free gift.

That’s what I’m prepared to do to encourage you to write pages.

[Note: If you want to take Core I or Core II, which are scheduled for this month, I will hold those course sites open into August to allow you access to all of that content.]

A couple of logistical notes:

* Limit your scenes to 2 pages. First, most scenes are 2 pages or less in length. Second, out of fairness to everyone participating in the public scene-writing workshop, let’s not abuse anyone’s patience or time with really long scenes.

* Don’t be concerned about proper script format when you copy/paste your scene, rather the content and execution are the important thing. So as a default mode, do this: (1) Don’t worry about right-hand margins on scene description or dialogue, just keep typing until it manually shifts each line. (2) Don’t worry about character name position, rather do this:

SCARLETT: Rhett, Rhett... Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?

RHETT: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

For those of you who have not yet jumped in or may have missed the posts so far, here are links to the first fourteen scene-writing prompts:

Day 1: A character has to say goodbye to a good friend without actually saying s/he is leaving and won’t be back [suggested by Jeff Guenther].

Day 2: Write a scene of someone talking to a gravestone [suggested by Tara Conklin].

Day 3: A lover’s quarrel where something gets broken [suggested by storymanjake].

Day 4: A character disobeys an order [suggested by writerhaha].

Day 5: Write a fight scene involving actual physical violence [suggested by Despina].

Day 6: Write a scene with this first line of dialogue: “That’s the guy, right there.”

Day 7: Write a scene inspired by this photograph [click on link to see photo].

Day 8: Write a scene using voice-over narration.

Day 9: Write a scene in which an animal plays a key role.

Day 10: Write a scene where something gets stolen [suggested by alice dryad].

Day 11: A characters says “I love you”… without using the words “I love you”.

Day 12: An interrogation scene.

Day 13: An apology.

Day 14: A scene in which a gesture plays a key part.

Day 15: A scene that features a monologue.

Day 16: A scene where no words are spoken… but something important gets communicated.

Day 17: A scene between a senior citizen and a child.

Day 18: A scene with a cliffhanger.

Day 19: A scene with a flashback.

Write a 1-2 page scene for each, then copy/paste in comments for each respective day.

The response has been tremendous, the writing excellent, and the feedback I’m getting via email suggests people are really enjoying this challenge.

If you are interested in qualifying for 1 or 2 free Core classes with me, please note the number of scenes you have written. If today is your first effort, note that it is Scene 1. The next one, Scene 2. And so forth.

You are on an honor system, as I don’t have time to check every post, so do the right thing!

NOTE: The Challenge ends on July 31st, meaning that is the last day I will accept scenes for credit toward free Core classes.

It’s the 2014 Scene-Writing Challenge! Give a jolt to your creative and writing muscles… and win 1 or 2 free online classes with yours truly.

Onward!

2014 Scene-Writing Challenge: Day 19

July 25th, 2014 by

As noted in this recent post:

In May, it was 90s movies. In June, it has been 30 Days of Screenplays. What is that but the first two of three from that essential screenwriting mantra: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages.

Can you see where I’m going for July? That’s right: Write pages!

July is Scene-Writing Month here at Go Into The Story. Every Monday-Friday at noon Eastern / 9AM Pacific, I will upload a post with a prompt for writing a script scene. Each day, write a scene per those guidelines. If you really want to get in the spirit of things, upload your scene here in the comments section of the original post. That way you can critique others’ pages and receive feedback on your scene as well.

Why scene-writing? Think about it: If the average scene is 1 1/2 to 2 pages long and a script is 100-120 pages, then a screenwriter writes between 50-80 scenes per screenplay. Thus in a very real way, screenwriting is scene-writing. The better we get at writing scenes, it stands to reason the better we get as a screenwriter.

Plus there’s this: To provide extra motivation for this series — to get people to WRITE PAGES — I am giving away some of my Core classes to Scene-Writing Challenge participants. That’s right: For free!

The Core curriculum provides a comprehensive, coherent, character-based approach to screenwriting theory, eight 1-week online classes. I only teach them once per year. Here is the schedule:

July 7 – Core I: Plot
July 21 – Core II: Concept
August 4 – Core III: Character
September 1 – Core IV: Style
September 15 – Core V: Dialogue
October 27 – Core VI: Scene
November 10 – Core VII: Theme
December 2 – Core VIII: Time

To qualify to take one Core class for free, write and submit ten [10] Scene-Writing Challenge posts. If you complete all twenty [20] Scene-Writing Challenge exercises, you get two Core classes for free.

You can choose any of the Core classes as your free gift.

That’s what I’m prepared to do to encourage you to write pages.

[Note: If you want to take Core I or Core II, which are scheduled for this month, I will hold those course sites open into August to allow you access to all of that content.]

A couple of logistical notes:

* Limit your scenes to 2 pages. First, most scenes are 2 pages or less in length. Second, out of fairness to everyone participating in the public scene-writing workshop, let’s not abuse anyone’s patience or time with really long scenes.

* Don’t be concerned about proper script format when you copy/paste your scene, rather the content and execution are the important thing. So as a default mode, do this: (1) Don’t worry about right-hand margins on scene description or dialogue, just keep typing until it manually shifts each line. (2) Don’t worry about character name position, rather do this:

SCARLETT: Rhett, Rhett... Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?

RHETT: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

Today’s prompt: A scene with a flashback.

There is a supposed screenwriting ‘rule’ wherein we are not supposed to use flashbacks. You may go here to see my thoughts on (A) why this isn’t an actual rule, (B) how flashbacks have come to be held with such disregard, and (C) advice on how to write flashbacks effectively.

Write a 1-2 page scene, then copy/paste in comments.

Remember: If you are interested in qualifying for 1 or 2 free Core classes with me, please note the number of scenes you have written. If today is your first effort, note that it is Scene 1. The next one, Scene 2. If today is Scene 18, please note that. And so forth.

You are on an honor system, as I don’t have time to check every post, so do the right thing!

NOTE: If you have completed and posted 10 scenes, just email me to let me know which of the eight Core classes you’d like to take as my gift to you for your hard work!

NOTE: The Challenge ends on July 31st, meaning that is the last day I will accept scenes for credit toward free Core classes.

Finally, if you have what you think is a good suggestion for a scene-writing prompt, please post that as well.

It’s the 2014 Scene-Writing Challenge! Give a jolt to your creative and writing muscles… and win 1 or 2 free online classes with yours truly.

GOOD NEWS: To date, 15 writers have qualified for a free Core course and I have enrolled each of them. In fact, a few of them are enrolled in Core II: Concept which is running this week. How about you? 10 scenes = 1 Core course. 20 scenes = 2 Core courses.

The Physics of Story Concepts

July 24th, 2014 by

One of the aspects of teaching that is fascinating to me is how situations arise which engender new metaphors and takes on content that not only enlighten the writers who take my courses, but also provide new insights for me. For example in my current Core II: Concept class, the title of Lecture 1 is “The Concept of High Concept”. In that lecture, I posit this:

Most people in Hollywood would probably define ‘high concept’ this way: A story that can be summed up in 1-2 lines. However just because you can summarize a story in a few lines does not necessarily mean it’s a high concept. For example the description, “A manipulative woman and a roguish man carry on a turbulent love affair in the American South during the Civil War and Reconstruction” does not make Gone With The Wind a high concept movie. It isn’t. In fact the film is in some ways the antithesis of high concept because it is a sprawling epoch featuring dozens of characters, numerous semi-independent subplots, and a multitude of themes. It’s also proof a movie does not have to be a high concept to be both great and successful.

No, in defining ‘high concept,’ we need to be more specific: A story idea that can be summed up in 1-2 lines. A high concept movie must have a clean, simple, and basic idea.

We can even go more granular by talking about story-conceit, which I would define as the “central premise of the story.” With the movie K-9, it was the premise of a human cop teamed up with a dog cop. With Inception, it’s the premise that people can enter into other people’s dream states. With Groundhog Day, it’s the premise that someone has to relive a day over and over again.

One of the writers in the class, Rob Hoskins, asked if I could clarify the idea of a story-conceit. As I was thinking about how to approach my answer, I was struck by an example from the field of physics. Here was my response:

Consider the shape of an atom:

Imagine the path of the electron, that circle, is your logline. It’s longer, more expansive 20-25 words.

Now imagine the nucleus at the center of the atom. That is your conceit. It’s what is at the heart of the logline, the most basic narrative elements, perhaps 4-6 words.

So let’s consider the logline for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: “A troubled child summons the courage to help a friendly alien escape Earth and return to his home-world.” That’s the circular electron shell.

What would be the nucleus, the most basic narrative element? How about this:

Boy befriends alien.

It’s that single identifiable and unique aspect of the story that lies at the foundation of the narrative, the center of the atom, if you will.

How about It’s a Wonderful Life: “An angel helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing what life would have been like if he never existed.”

What’s the conceit, the nucleus at the center of the atom?

What if you never had been born?

As you generate, assess and develop story concepts, one angle to focus on is that granular level which I suggest we can call story-conceit: The single, identifiable element that hooks a reader/listener (this ties into my principle: Concept = Hook).

One way to think about it is physics: If the logline is the electron shell, the story-conceit is the nucleus.

Consider the story you’re working on now: What is the conceit? What is the story’s nucleus? That single element that is the very foundation of your story’s narrative appeal?

I don’t know about you, but the response from participants in my Core II: Concept class was immediate. This metaphor crystallized everything. They got it. And so did I in a new and refreshing way.

The thing is this type of illumination and education goes on all the time in my classes, the result of conversations between writers and myself. Never ceases to amaze me.

Note: As I made clear in the class, a writer doesn’t have to traffic in high concepts to succeed at the craft. It is, however, the lifeblood of the Hollywood development system and has been for decades. So at the very least, it’s beneficial to understand that mindset.