Wrangling your story

October 20th, 2014 by

Some call it breaking a story. Others cracking a story. I prefer wrangling a story. Whatever you call it, you have to do it… figure out the story. What goes where. Who does what to whom. And for most writers, the ideal time to do that work is before you type FADE IN.

What we call prep-writing.

Of the many things that can go wrong with a screenplay, perhaps the most frequent contributor to a project’s crash-and-burn is the writer not spending enough time in prep wrangling their story.

Conversely if you do spend sufficient time in the prep-writing phase of the process, you significantly increase the chances you’ll not only finish your script, but produce a draft that will be much closer to realizing your goals.


When Tom Benedek and I launched Screenwriting Master Class nearly four years ago, the very first class we offered was Prep: From Concept To Outline. I created the workshop precisely because I believe so strongly in the value of prep-writing combined with the fact there is nothing out there remotely close to the approach I had in mind.

Prep: From Concept To Outline is a 6-week online workshop in which you start with your basic idea and your story’s Protagonist, then through a series of weekly writing exercises, you develop and build your story’s structure. Not just the plot, but also what’s going on in the emotional and psychological world of your story universe, the foundation of Character Based Screenwriting.

Character work. Brainstorming. Plotting. Subplots. Connecting the dots. Mapping your narrative. Weekly teleconferences where we workshop your story. In the end, you have a detailed outline providing you a foundation upon which you can craft a first draft.

What’s more, you can adopt this approach — and adapt it to your own unique skills — for every future writing project.

I will be leading the next session of Prep beginning next Monday, October 27. So if you have a good idea for a movie and want to learn a professional approach to wrangle it, sign up now for Prep: From Concept To Outline.

If you have any questions about the workshop or what we offer online through SMC, please post in comments or email me.

Amazing things happen in these workshops, so I look forward to the opportunity to dig into your story with you!

Austin Film Festival: Do you have questions for Whit Stillman?

October 20th, 2014 by

The Austin Film Festival and Conference begins later this week and I’ll be there as part of the Black List team speaking at three events and moderating three others. For those of you who will not be attending the Festival, I want to give you a virtual opportunity to participate with the possibility I will select some of your questions to ask panelists during my moderating sessions.

Austin Film Festival

A Conversation with Whit Stillman: Sunday, October 26 • 3:00pm – 4:15pm
The Driskill Hotel, Ballroom

Come absorb the wit and wisdom emanating from author, screenwriter, and director Whit Stillman. Known for writing and directing the films Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco, and Damsels in Distress, Stillman is a modern Jane Austen, critiquing the “urban haute bourgeoisie” with satirical charm. Learn about the art of observation, contemplation, and articulation in your stories while enjoying some “Whitty” repartee along the way.

The focus of our conversation will be the writing and creative process behind the movie Metropolitan, so fans of the movie and Whit as a filmmaker, head to comments and post your questions. I will consider including the best ones for our discussion.

You may follow Whit on Twitter:

Whit Stillman: @WhitStillman

For those of you who will be at this year’s AFF, be sure to look me up. Also we will have a very casual Go Into The Story / Screenwriting Master Class meet-up in the Driskill Hotel bar area on Sunday, October 26 beginning at 4:30PM. Spread the word and see you there!

Austin Film Festival: Do you have questions for Craig Borten, Tom Schulman and Jim Uhls?

October 20th, 2014 by

The Austin Film Festival and Conference begins later this week and I’ll be there as part of the Black List team speaking at three events and moderating three others. For those of you who will not be attending the Festival, I want to give you a virtual opportunity to participate with the possibility I will select some of your questions to ask panelists during my moderating sessions.

Austin Film Festival

Status Quo: Saturday, October 25 • 10:45am – 12:00pm
The Driskill Hotel, Ballroom

Some of the most satisfying screenplays revolve around characters who choose not to conform to the status quo. Whether they are carpe-ing the diem or smuggling drugs to save lives, the act of taking matters into their own hands makes for rich and often emotional stories. Hear from the writers behind Dead Poets Society, Dallas Buyers Club, and Fight Club for a conversation on ways to infuse themes of status quo in your screenplay, and where to break your own rules in regards to story structure and development.

If you have any questions for Craig Borten (Dallas Buyers Club), Tom Schulman (Dead Poets Society), and Jim Uhls (Fight Club), please post them in comments. Make sure they have some relevance to the subject of the session as detailed in the paragraph above and I will consider including the best questions for the discussion.

You may follow these screenwriters on Twitter:

Craig Borten: @CraigBorten
Jim Uhls: @wohojak

For those of you who will be at this year’s AFF, be sure to look me up. Also we will have a very casual Go Into The Story / Screenwriting Master Class meet-up in the Driskill Hotel bar area on Sunday, October 26 beginning at 4:30PM. Spread the word and see you there!

Austin Film Festival: Do you have questions for John August, Richard Kelly and Jim Uhls?

October 20th, 2014 by

The Austin Film Festival and Conference begins later this week and I’ll be there as part of the Black List team speaking at three events and moderating three others. For those of you who will not be attending the Festival, I want to give you a virtual opportunity to participate with the possibility I will select some of your questions to ask panelists during my moderating sessions.

Austin Film Festival

The Sanity Spectrum: Friday, October 24, 10:45AM-12:00PM
St. David’s Episcopal Church, Bethel Hall

The protagonist is often the audience’s guide through a narrative, the anchor for all the twists and turns a story reveals. So what happens when that character is not what he or she seems, and when the very core of the film’s veracity is called into question? Screenwriters who have crafted characters that range from psychotic to psychopathic will discuss the difference between the two, as well as their own mental decisions when crafting such complex characters. Join the brains behind Fight Club, Big Fish, and Donnie Darko for an inside look at exploring distorted realities and the sanity spectrum in screenplays. We promise they’ll tell the truth.

If you have any questions for John August (Big Fish), Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko), and Jim Uhls (Fight Club), please post them in comments. Make sure they have some relevance to the subject of the session as detailed in the paragraph above and I will consider including the best questions for the discussion.

You may follow these screenwriters on Twitter:

John August: @JohnAugust
Richard Kelly: @JRichardKelly
Jim Uhls: @wohojak

For those of you who will be at this year’s AFF, be sure to look me up. Also we will have a very casual Go Into The Story / Screenwriting Master Class meet-up in the Driskill Hotel bar area on Sunday, October 26 beginning at 4:30PM. Spread the word and see you there!

Go Into The Story Week In Review: October 13-October 19, 2014

October 19th, 2014 by

Links to the week’s most notable posts:

9 Interviews with Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship Winners

Black List Live! presents Brian Duffield’s “Your Bridesmaid Is a Bitch”

Daily Dialogue Theme for Next Week: Dying Words

Declare Your Independents: Volume 34

GITS Interview: Damien Chazzelle (Whiplash)

Great Character: Rosemary Woodhouse (Rosemary’s Baby)

Great Scene: Apocalypse Now

Great Scene: As Good As It Gets

Great Scene: Back to the Future

Great Scene: Cast Away

Great Scene: Full Metal Jacket

Great Scene: On the Waterfront

Great Scene: Schindler’s List

Interview: Frank DeJohn & David Alton Hedges (2013 Nicholl winners)

Interview: Stephanie Shannon (2013 Nicholl Winner, 2013 Black List)

Interview: Barbara Stepansky (2013 Nicholl Winner, 2013 Black List)

Interview: Michael Werwie (2012 Nicholl Winner, 2012 Black List)

Interview (Video): David Ayer

On Writing: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Ron Meyer on Hollywood ‘Assholes,’ CAA ‘Monsters’ and Advice for the Next Generation

Saturday Hot Links

Scene-By-Scene Breakdown Challenge in November

Screenwriting 101: Ashleigh Powell

Screenwriting as Problem-Solving

Screenwriting News (October 7-13, 2014)

Script To Screen: Blue Velvet

Spec Script Sale: “Low Tide”

Spec Script Sale: “The Feud”

The ‘shortening’ of movies

THR: TV Agents Roundtable

Word Cloud Logline Challenge Winners!

Writing and the Creative Life: Seeing… Hearing…

Scene-By-Scene Breakdown Challenge in November?

October 16th, 2014 by

In November, I’m thinking it’s about time we got back to reading and analyzing some scripts together. After all, it’s one of the three cornerstones of the mantra I coined several years ago: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages.

We’ve done 30 Days of Screenplays, both in 2013 and 2014. That’s great, but the analysis only scratches the surface of each script.

We’ve dug deeper in the Go Into The Story Script Reading & Analysis series. And we could do the same thing, digging into scripts from four angles: Structure, Character, Theme, Dialogue.

But I was wondering if we might try this: Taking one script per week during November and doing a Scene-By-Scene Breakdown. What is that? I go into it here and provide a Scene-By-Scene Breakdown of the script for the Pixar movie Up.

Oh, heck, I doubt some of you will take the time to click the link, so here is that breakdown:

P. 1-3: Newsreel footage of Charles Muntz, “The Spirit of Adventure,” and Paradise Falls. Watched by young Carl Frederickson in a movie theater. Muntz accused of fabricating skeleton of “The Monster of Paradise Falls.” Muntz’s goal: To “capture the beast alive.”

P. 4-7: Carl imagining himself as Muntz, then hears a voice: “Adventure is out there!” From a rickety, abandoned house. It’s Ellie, who is as big a fan of Muntz as Carl is. [She gives him her grape soda pin and says, “You and me, we’re in a club now.”] Trying to retrieve his balloon, Carl falls. Ambulance.

P. 7-10: Carl in his room at night with broken arm. Ellie shows up with his balloon and shares with Carl “My Adventure Book.” [“Cross your heart!”] Her goal: To go to Paradise Falls.  [“Only I just don’t know how I’m going to get to PF.”] Carl sees his balloon. “That’s it. You’ll take us in a blimp. Swear you’ll do it. Cross your heart. Cross it!” And Carl’s first word: “Wow.”

P. 10-14: Carl and Ellie’s life together montage. Key plot points: (A) Wedding. (B) He gets a job at a zoo selling helium balloons. (C) They want to have children, but find out they can’t. (D) Set sights on Paradise Falls, but those plans laid aside due to a series of financial setbacks. (E) Now old, Carl plans to surprise Ellie with tickets to go to PF, but Ellie dies.

P. 14-15: A day in the life. Carl wakes up – alone. Descends the stairs. Breakfast. Cleans artifacts of Ellie. Note: Grape soda pin. [Note: Multiple locks on door to suggest trying to keep the world out]. Heads outside and sits on his porch, revealing his house is surrounded by mammoth construction zone.

P. 15-17: Carl watches construction all around him. “Quite a sight, eh, Ellie,” looking skyward. Mail: “Shady Oaks retirement home.” Conversation with construction foreman where he learns that the Boss will double last offer to buy Carl’s house. Carl: “You can have my house… when I’m dead.”

P. 17-20: Carl watching TV. Knock on door. Meet Russell, member of the Wilderness Explorers. He’s missing merit badge: “Assisting the elderly” badge. His goal: To get the badge in order to become a Senior Wilderness Explorer. Note: “There’s a big ceremony and all our dads come…” Carl sends Russell away to look for a “snipe,” a big bird Carl makes up to get rid of the kid.

P. 20-21: A construction truck hits Carl’s mailbox. Carl accosts a worker, who is trying to help, injuring the worker. Witnesses gather, along with police car, and Boss stares at Carl and his “hand rests on Carl’s fence” [symbolic of intent].

P. 22: Carl summoned to court. Dropped back home by policewoman – “You don’t look like a public menace to me.” Touching the mailbox, Carl asks, “What do I do now, Ellie?”

P. 23: Getting his suitcase down to pack for the move to the retirement home, Carl finds Ellie’s “My Adventure Book.” He hits the “Stuff I’m Going to Do” page, sees the photo on the mantel of young Ellie, then her painting of her clubhouse atop Paradise Falls, considers the brochure for the retirement home, and staring at the painting of PF, Carl crosses his heart – he’s made a decision.

P. 23-24: Retirement home guys show up. Carl wants one last chance to say good-bye to his house. Then balloons. And the house goes airborne. He calls out to the guys, “I’ll send you a postcard from Paradise Falls!”

P. 24-25: Airborne travel montage ending with Carl kissing a photo of Ellie: “We’re on our way, Ellie.” Heading south to South America.

P. 25-26: A knock-knock-knock at the door. Carl doesn’t answer. Then frantic knocking. Carl gets up. It’s Russell. He asks to be let in. Carl relents.

P. 26-28: Russell immediately gets into Carl’s stuff, curiosity run amok. Carl fantasizes about getting rid of Russell. But Russell is nothing compared to what happens next.

P. 28-30: Storm scenes.

P. 30-32: After the storm, it seems that Russell has miraculously guided the house to Paradise Falls (using his Wilderness Explorer GPS, which he then accidentally flings out the window).

P. 32-35: They descend through the clouds and land – roughly – almost losing the house and their lives. But the clouds part and indeed, they are at Paradise Falls. Looking up, Carl says, “Ellie, we made it.” Note: Russell saves Carl from dying, chipping away at Carl’s mistrust of the boy. When Russell can’t climb to the house to haul up Carl, Carl thinks they’re stuck – so close, yet so far. Then Russell has a suggestion: “We could walk it over, just like a parade balloon.”

P. 36-37: Walking the house. Exposition: Have about 3 days before the helium wears out (ticking clock). Carl lays down rules for Russell’s behavior.

P. 37: Three dogs, led by their pack leader Alpha, chase a mysterious big bird, but the feedback from Carl’s hearing aid drives the dogs away.

P. 38-39: As they continue to plod along, Russell whines about how tired he is, body aches, bathroom needs. Finally Carl tells him to go to the bathroom.

P. 39-40: Having handled his bathroom needs, Russell sees some bird tracks. “Snipe!”  Then eats some chocolate and woos the mysterious bird. “Giant snipe!”

P. 40-44: Russell appears to Carl with the bird in tow. Naming the bird Kevin, Russell asks to keep it. Carl says no. “Do you believe this, Ellie?” Hearing that, Russell has a ‘conversation’ with Ellie, stating that Ellie said, “To let me.” Carl: “No. N-O.”

P. 44-48: Continuing their trek toward PF, Russell drops chocolates on the ground so Kevin will keep following them. Then a voice: “Hey, are you okay over there?” It’s a dog – Dug. He has a collar that allows him to talk. He mentions his “master” and how he’s been sent out to find the “bird.” Seeing Kevin, Dug asks to take the bird prisoner – and off the four go toward PF.

P. 48-51: The dogs have picked up Kevin’s scent, Russell (“chocolate”) and Carl (“prunes”). They contact Dug via video monitor system, see Kevin and Russell (“Why is he with that small mailman”). Locating Dug’s position on the tracking device, they take off to find and capture the bird.

P. 51-54: The Foursome continue their trek, but Carl is having troubles keeping them in line (Note: House crashes against rock wall, breaking a glass window – deconstruction of the house). Pointing to Dug and Kevin, he says, “I don’t want you here and I don’t want you here,” then at Russell, “And I’m stuck with you.” [Note: Carl fighting the inertia toward bonding with his new ‘family’]. Carl throws a ball for Dug to chase and chocolate for Kevin. Running away from Dug and Kevin. Doesn’t work as the two creatures find Carl and Russell. [Note: Carl tries to challenge the emergence of his ‘family,’ but their allegiance is stronger than his efforts].

P. 54-57: That night, the four prepare to sleep in the rain. Russell fails with building a tent, then confesses he barely has a relationship with his father. “But he promised to come to my Explorer ceremony to pin on my Assisting the Elderly badge. So he can show me about tents then, right?” And now we know why this whole thing was really so important for Russell: Not to be a Senior Wilderness Explorer, but to win the attention of his father. Then Russell asks Carl to promise to take Kevin with them. “Cross your heart?”

P. 57-59: Waking up the next morning, Dug explains that Kevin is calling out to her babies who live in the “twisty rocks.” Kevin departs.

P. 59-60: Then Alpha and the other two tracking dogs show up. They confront Dug asking where the bird is and not getting a satisfactory answer, ‘escort’ Carl, Russell, and Dug back to Muntz’s headquarters.

P. 60-63: Brought to Muntz’s place, the mood shifts quickly as Carl recognizes Muntz and Muntz acknowledges a fan. Now they are guests.

P. 63-64: After parking his house, Carl and the others are invited into the “Spirit of Adventure.” Meanwhile Dug is put in the “cone of shame.”

P. 64-65: Muntz shows off some of his hunting trophies.

P. 66-70: Muntz insists that he needs to bring back “this creature” to clear his name – and Carl realizes that he’s talking about Kevin. Then Muntz talks about “bandits” who have tried to get the bird instead of him. Not paying attention, Kevin pipes up that the bird looks like Kevin, how he’s domesticated her by using chocolate. Carl attempts to end the conversation, “She’s gone off now” re Kevin. But Muntz isn’t buying it, knows that Carl knows something about the bird. Then Carl sees Kevin through the window on top of his house. Finally Kevin cries out and Muntz sees the bird as well. But Carl has raced away with Russell.

P. 70-73: Chase. Dug and Kevin prove to be worthy allies in helping the group escape Muntz’s dogs. Kevin, whose leg was bit by Alpha in the chase scenes, is hurt. She hears her babies’ cry and try to respond, but can’t. Kevin asks Carl, “Can’t we help her get home?” Carl is torn between his goal and Kevin (and Russell’s) goal – but he agrees.  “But we gotta hurry.”

P.73-74: Back at Muntz’s lair, Muntz is livid that Carl and the others escaped. They blame Dug – “He helped them escape.” And it is his location signal that Muntz thinks will help them find Kevin.

P. 74-75: With Dug confirming that the pack isn’t following them and Kevin lying in the house with his injured leg, Carl and Russell pull the house in the direction of Kevin’s babies.  Russell tells a story about how his father used to take him for ice cream and they would sit on the curb counting red cars and blue cars. “It might sound boring, but I think it’s the boring stuff I remember the most.”

P. 75-77: Hearing her babies, Kevin and the group take off, getting close to Kevin’s home. But Muntz arrives in the blimp and casts a net catching Kevin. Then he sets fire to Carl’s house. Carl has to choose – and chooses to save the house. Muntz takes off with Kevin while Carl douses the flames.

P. 77: The group is fractured.  Russell feels like Carl gave away Kevin, but Carl is angry – he didn’t ask for any of this – and tells off Dug.  He sets out to take the house to Paradise Falls, even if “it kills him.”

P. 78: Travel scenes. Even the house is ‘low,’ scraping the ground, underscoring the downer mood. Arrival at Paradise Falls. A pyrrhic victory for Carl with little satisfaction at having achieved his goal. Then an angry Kevin flings down his achievement belt – “I don’t want this anymore” – in effect, denying his goal.

P. 78-79: Carl enters the house. It’s a mess – just like his dreams / goal. Seeking solace, he sits in his chair, next to Ellie’s chair, and pulls out “My Adventure Book”. When he comes to the “Stuff I’m Gonna Do” page, at first he is crushed. But then sees that she filled in the book with photos and memorabilia from her marriage with Carl. Then a message: “Thanks for the adventure – now go have a new one.  Love, Ellie.” Picking up Russell’s merit sash, Carl crosses his heart.

P. 79-80: Carl exits to find Russell floating in mid-air, connected to a bunch of balloons. “I’m going to help Kevin even if you’re not.” Using a leaf blower as propulsion, he zooms away. Carl tries to lift the house, but it won’t raise up. Frustrated Carl tosses a chair off the front porch – which gives him an idea. He throws everything inside the house out, reducing the house’s weight so it can fly away.

P. 80-81: Knock at the door. It’s Dug. Carl and he bond once again. “You’re my dog, and I’m your master.”

P. 81-84: Alpha informs Muntz that Russell is on board. Muntz confronts Russell – who says that Carl isn’t his “friend” anymore. Seeing Carl approaching in the balloon house, Muntz sets Russell on a ramp that opens toward the sky.

P. 84-85: Spotting Russell sliding down the ramp, Carl veers over and just catches Russell in the nick of time. Carl deposits Russell, still tied to a chair, in the house. Russell wants to help save Kevin, but Carl says no: “I want you to be safe.” He and Dug head into the blimp.

P. 85-87: Carl and Dug head through a tunnel and find Kevin. But Alpha deposits a bevy of guard dogs there. Inspired by Dug chewing on a tennis ball on Carl’s walker, Carl throws a ball down the hall which the guard dogs chase, then Carl locks them out. He frees Kevin.

P. 87-88: While Muntz tries to decipher several dogs crying out for help on the blimp intercom system, Kevin hops in his chair out to the front porch of the house – “I want to help.” Russell barely saves himself by grabbing onto the front porch hose. Then Muntz sees him and sends out three dogs in airplanes to attack Russell with bullet-darts.

P. 88-91: Carl, Dug, and Kevin are stopped by Muntz, who locks Dug out of the room with he and Carl. Dug chased by Alpha and other dogs. Muntz and Carl fight. Just when Muntz is about to slice Carl with his sword, Dug slides onto a control that sends the blimp tumbling sideways, knocking Muntz off his feet. Carl almost falls out, then he and Kevin climb onto the outside of the blimp onto a wall ladder, pursued by Muntz.

P. 91-92: Dug chased by Alpha and other dogs, but Dug get Alpha trapped with Cone of Shame and his voice device messed up as before. The other dogs laugh at Alpha’s voice, then Dug becomes the new alpha dog.

P. 92-93: Seeing Carl and Kevin in danger on the side of the blimp, Russell pushes himself to climb the hose, then as the dog planes zero in on him, he points and yells, “Squirrel!” The planes crash into each other.

P. 93-95: Dug opens a hatch and appears on the outside of the blimp, joining Carl and Kevin. Russell appears with the balloon house. All aboard – then Muntz shows up, shooting a rifle, bursting some balloons, causing the house to drop onto the blimp. Carl grabs hose to stop house from falling off edge of blimp while Muntz blasts his way into the house. Carl tells Russell and Dug to hold onto Kevin, then waves chocolate, causing Kevin to fly (with Russell and Dug) over to the blimp. Muntz leaps after them, but his foot catches in balloon strings, and he plummets to his death.

P.96: Safe on the blimp, Carl watches his house float away and disappear into the clouds. Russell says, “Sorry about your house, Mr. Frederickson.” Carl responds, “You know, it’s just a house.”

P. 96-98: Kevin reunites with her babies. Carl and Russell co-pilot the blimp away into the sky.

P.98-100: Russell stands in line with other Wilderness Explorers as he’s about to receive his final merit badge. He looks up expectantly, hoping his father will show up – then Carl appears: “I’m here for him.” He awards Russell the “highest honor I can bestow – the Ellie badge,” the grape soda badge Ellie gave Carl the day they first met. Russell shows it off with pride to his mother, who is with Dug, and all the other dogs in the back join in the celebration.

P. 100-101: Carl and Russell sit on the curb in front of Russell’s favorite ice cream place (that he mentioned earlier), counting red and blue cars. Then into the clouds where we see Carl’s house, which has landed in Ellie’s dream spot atop Paradise Falls.

Who did this wonderful Scene-By-Scene Breakdown? Answer: Me! So I’m not asking you to do anything I haven’t already done – dozens and dozens of times!

Here’s what I’m thinking: We have 4 weeks in November. What if we choose one script per week from here, the free and legal screenplays we host on the site. I’m looking for one volunteer per week to do a Scene-By-Scene Breakdown for one of those scripts. Then over the course of the week, we would analyze the script’s structure. It might go something like this:

Monday: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown.

Volunteer posts their breakdown which we discuss.

Tuesday: Major plot points.

We go through the breakdown and identify key plot points, then discuss their importance.

Wednesday: Sequences.

We identify the groupings of scenes that feel like sequences.

Those are all about what transpires in the Physical Journey. Next we could take up this:

Thursday: Psychological Journey (Metamorphosis).

Here we would explore how various characters, most especially Protagonists, go through some sort of transformation.

Friday: Revelations.

Basically what did we learn through this process.

Anybody interested in this? You should be. If you’re not reading movie scripts on a regular basis, you’re not really taking this whole enterprise seriously enough. You need to read.

I’ll sweeten the pot for those hearty souls who would take up the challenge to compile an actual Scene-By-Scene Breakdown: You can take one of my Core or Craft one-week online classes for free.

When William Goldman says, “Screenplays are structure,” he’s right. Here is a golden opportunity to dive directly into this subject matter.

Let me hear from you in comments. Are you interested in participating by reading a script and getting involved in discussion? Great. Are you willing to take up the challenge and do a Scene-By-Scene Breakdown in exchange for a free class with me? Excellent. On that front, I’m looking for four volunteers!

So let’s do this, people!

Word Cloud Logline Challenge Winners!

October 15th, 2014 by

Last week, we ran a Word Cloud Logline Challenge featuring words from the the loglines of the four 2014 Nicholl winning scripts. As I normally do with these challenges, I consulted with Max Millimeter, Hollywood Movie Producer Extraordinaire. He identified 5 winners. The first three are of an historical bent:

An OUTRE’ REAPER that accidentally killed Thomas JEFFERSON must FIND the DECLARATION of INDEPENDENCE before SEPTEMBER ENDS or the HISTORY of AMERICA will TAKE a very bad TURN. — Lorenzo Colonna


Desperate to SAVE AMERICA from going down the WRONG path, a DETERMINED historian enlists a POWERFUL NEUROSCIENTIST’s help resurrecting JEFFERSON, FRANKLIN, and WASHINGTON in order to SAVE the country before a DRUNK, corrupt CONGRESS ENDS the WORLD. — DeeGirlVN

This one actually spun in a different direction and Max liked the idea of someone having an incurable hangover, a condition I suspect he probably feels like he’s experienced many times:

When a NEUROSCIENTIST FINALLY DISCOVERS a POWERFUL cure for CANCER he celebrates by ENGAGING in a NIGHT of DEBAUCHERY only to REALIZE the next morning that in his DRUNK stupor he consumed his CANCER remedy along with alcohol which appears to have led to an INCURABLE, IMMORTAL HANGOVER. — Kalen

And this one wins the Kitchen Sink Award for including just about everything in it.


Congratulations, winners! Email me to choose your prize: Either one of these upcoming Screenwriting Master Class courses:

November 10 – Core VI: Scene

November 17 – Core VII: Theme

December 2 – Core VIII: Time

Or a half-hour Skype consultation with me to discuss any loglines you may have, questions about the craft or business of screenwriting, what is the meaning of life, etc.

Thanks to everyone who participated. In December, we’ll do another one using the loglines for all of the 2014 Black List scripts, so yet more chances to have some fun.

Screenwriting as problem-solving

October 13th, 2014 by

This popped up on Twitter the other day:

This reminds me of two things. First, the idea that screenwriters are fundamentally problem-solvers. Some insight into this from Hollywood Movie Producer Extraordinaire Max Millimeter:

Kid, you just don’t get it. You think they think like you think, that you’re a writer. That’s not what they think. What a studio executive sees when they look at a screenwriter is this: problem-solver.

See, each of them is responsible for a boatload of scripts. 10, 12, 14, whatever. Now a normal person would look at a script that a studio has dropped coins for and say, ‘Hey, look! It’s a movie!’ Beautiful thing, right? Not an exec. They look at that script and all they can see is one royally screwed-up story. And that’s not only a problem, it’s their problem.

Which is where you come in. You walk in for a meeting, you schmooze a little. Hey, such and such movie really bombed this weekend, hate to be tiptoeing around that studio, eh? You hear about so-and-so, got busted for making out with a St. Bernard at that wedding reception, can you believe it? You know, lighten things up. Then you get to the story. And here nothing matters what you say… nothing… except one thing: Are you gonna solve their problem by fixing their script? They don’t give two titties about your theories, your craft, your art, okay? That script you’re meeting about is a busted toilet filled with yesterday’s beef brisket and you, my fine young friend, are the plumber.

This is why it is absolutely crucial for you to develop your critical analytical skills, to be able to read a script, identify the issues, then come up with possible solutions.

The second thing is a quote I picked up somewhere along the line about rewriting: Make the problem the solution. As enigmatic as that sounds, more often than not, I’ve found it to be true. Take the Brad Bird anecdote. Everyone was acting with the assumption that the problem was the dialogue, it made Bob seem like a bully, people didn’t like him. But when Bird dug back into the scene, he discovered the dialogue wasn’t the problem. “No, that is what he [Bob] would say, that is how she [Helen] would respond.” In other words, he confirmed what the characters were saying was true to who they were. In embracing that, the problem became the solution: Don’t change the dialogue, but the way the dialogue is delivered visually: Draw Helen’s body size to match Bob, so they are equals in stature.

In writing a script, we confront hundreds, maybe even thousands of problems. It’s a natural and inevitable part of the process, which means at a basic level, screenwriting is about problem-solving. We need to embrace that reality. One way to do that is to spin our perception from negative to positive: Make the problem the solution.

UPDATE: Writer-director Jessica Bendiger (Bring It On, Stick It) tweeted this:

True. They don’t call it ‘development hell’ for nothing! For background on the Pixar Brain Trust and their creative process, you can check out my 2012 interview with Mary Coleman, head of the Pixar’s story department. They really have a unique things going on up in Emeryville, CA.

Go Into The Story Week In Review: October 6-October 12, 2014

October 12th, 2014 by

Links to the week’s most notable posts:

Classic 70s Movie: The Last Detail

Conversations with “Wilder”: Part 13

Daily Dialogue Theme for Next Week: Wedding Vows

Declare Your Independents: Volume 33

Einstein’s Three Rules of Work

Great Character: Cole Sear (The Sixth Sense)

Great Scene: Die Hard

Great Scene: It Happened One Night

Great Scene: Michael Clayton

Great Scene: Rounders

Great Scene: The Big Lebowski

Great Scene: The Player

Great Scene: Thief

Interview: Destin Daniel Cretton (2010 Nicholl Winner)

Interview: Nikole Beckwith (2012 Nicholl Winner, 2012 Black List)

Interview: Sean Robert Daniels (2012 Nicholl Winner)

Interview: James DiLapo (2012 Nicholl Winner, 2012 Black List)

Interview: Allan Durand (2012 Nicholl Winner)

Interview (Audio): Steven Knight

Interview (Video): Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)

Interview (Written): Robert Baird, Paul Briggs (Big Hero 6)

Interview (Written): David Fincher

Interview (Written): Franklin Leonard

On Writing: Richard Brooks

Richard Kelly reviews Gone Girl

Saturday Hot Links

Screenwriting 101: Anthony Minghella

Screenwriting News (October 6-12, 2014)

Script To Screen: The Birds

Spec Script Sale: “Partners”

The Hasty Pudding Institute and the Black List Announce Recipient of Screenwriting Fellowship

Twitter Rant: F. Scott Frazier on Writing Action Set-Pieces

Twitter Rant: Katherine Fugate on What is “Perfectly Okay” for a Screenwriter to Write

Who’s going to the 2014 Austin Film Festival

Writing and the Creative Life: That Pure Part of You

The Hasty Pudding Institute of 1770 and the Black List Announce Recipient of the Inaugural Hasty Pudding Institute Screenwriting Fellowship

October 10th, 2014 by

Just announced:

LOS ANGELES, CA (October 10, 2014) – The Hasty Pudding Institute of 1770 announced last night at a special reception for its Los Angeles-based alumni the recipient of the inaugural Hasty Pudding Institute Screenwriting Fellowship with the Black List, which seeks to increase the visibility of satire and social commentary in the arts.

The inaugural Fellow, Simon Nagel, will receive $20,000. His script THE WIND AT SPANISH NEEDLE is the story of an old, blind gunslinger trekking across the Mojave Desert to a mountain peak in the Sierras to reunite with the love of his life.

From Ventura, CA, Simon is a graduate of the American Film Institute who has had two semifinal screenplays in the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. Simon’s checkered career over the past few years has included building a house, working for a corrupt law firm, and taking care of not one, but two grandparents with extreme dementia– all of which gives him a great palette to draw from and provides his work with a certain character.

The winning script was chosen among 1049 entries by judges Helen Estabrook (Producer of WHIPLASH and LABOR DAY), Sarah Haskins (co-creator of TROPHY WIFE), David Javerbaum (former head writer for the Daily Show and author of THE LAST TESTAMENT: A MEMOIR by GOD), Colleen McGuiness (writer and producer for 30 ROCK and ABOUT A BOY) and Beau Willimon (writer and producer of FARRAGUT NORTH, THE IDES OF MARCH, HOUSE OF CARDS).


The Hasty Pudding Institute of 1770’s philanthropic mission is to promote freedom of expression in all aspects of the performing arts, to encourage satire, comedy and the cultivation of young talent, not just at Harvard but around the world. The Institute is comprised of The Hasty Pudding Club (the oldest social club in the United States), The Hasty Pudding Theatricals (the third oldest theater group in the world, after the Comédie Française and the Oberammergau Passion Players) and the Harvard Krokodiloes (the foremost collegiate a cappella group in the United States). Over the last two centuries, it has grown into a premiere performing arts organization, a patron of the arts and comedy, and an advocate for satire and discourse as tools for change worldwide.

For more information about the Hasty Pudding Institute of 1770, please visit:






The Black List is an online community where content makers find scripts to make and writers to write them, and writers find people to make their scripts and employ them. 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 more than $19 billion in worldwide box office. Black List scripts have won 30 Academy Awards – including three of the last six Best Pictures (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “The King’s Speech,” and “Argo) and seven of the last fourteen screenwriting awards (“Juno,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The King’s Speech,” “The Social Network,” “The Descendants,” “Argo” and “Django Unchained”) – from almost 200 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 16,000 screenplays and completed more than 25,000 script evaluations. Dozens of writers have found major agency and management company representation and/or sales or options of their scripts as a direct consequence of introductions made via the site. At any given time, more than 2,400 screenplays are actively hosted for perusal by thousands of film industry professionals, ranging from major agency assistants to studio and network heads.

For more information about the Black List, please visit:




I just spent several days with Simon at the 2nd annual Black List Screenwriters Lab workshopping his script “The Wind at Spanish Needle”. It is an inspired story with significant potential and Simon has a strong, talented voice. He is a worthy recipient of this fellowship and I look forward to seeing where his creative journey takes him.

Thanks to the Hasty Pudding Institute for their support of the screenwriting craft.

This represents yet another opportunity for writers to make a mark in the movie business courtesy of the Black List. To see all of the Black List initiatives, go here.