Interview (Video): Riley Stearns and Mary Elizabeth Winstead

March 8th, 2015 by

A DP/30 interview with Faults writer-director Riley Stearns and actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

A trailer for the movie:

You can rent or buy Faults on iTunes or Vimeo.

Declare Your Independents! Support indie movies and check out Faults!

Twitter Rant: @RachaelPriorMBE on Treatments and Outlines

March 4th, 2015 by

Earlier this week, @RachaelPriorMBE went on an informative Twitter ‘rant’ about treatments and outlines. Reprinted by permission:

These are relatively nebulous terms for a (by and large) prose document that tells the story of your movie from beginning to middle to end.

There is no real consensus on what constitutes an outline vs a treatment, but generally a treatment is a detailed doc between 10–40(!) pgs.

An outline is shorter, maybe 2-6 pages max. More of a broad overview than a beat for beat telling of the story.

I’ve talked on here before about my deep loathing of treatments, and I know many writers feel the same.

That said, for some writers, it’s an incredibly helpful part of their writing process. For some producers, likewise.

Historically I’ve seen prods get heaviest on treatments where A. It’s a huge movie and major $ is being paid to nail a four quandrant story.

B. They are working w/a newer writer & want to feel confident said writer has shape/tone of the story clear in their head before commencing.

Asking for a treatment in these cases is completely legit. Actually, your prod asking you for anything you are getting paid for is legit.

I’m not saying you have to like it…

My issue w/treatments (which I’m not going to talk about beyond this) is that the format can feel like it’s working at odds w/final medium.

So, my preference on the whole is for outlines. And given samples of outlines are the thing I get asked most for from new writers…

I thought it might be worth tweeting on.

What makes a good outline? What’s the appropriate format? What’s the correct length? Etc.

Let’s assume this outline is to either get you a meeting on an idea, or for a prod company to use to find dev financing for your draft.

(Outlines you do for yourself as part of process can be whatever you want them to be, obviously).

They key thing to remember is this is a selling doc. It might be working both as pitch doc & proof of narrative. A good outline does both.

A good outline is something an exec can read in a matter of 5-10mins. It doesn’t get stuck in the slush pile. It’s not weekend read.

It’s something that can be dealt w/& responded on between meetings, in office hrs. It should be designed to get a quick & positive response.

So, there’s a skill to this. You need to practice, practice, practice your shorthand for conveying character…

You know what will do this more effectively than 3 paragraphs? One line of dialogue.

Drop it in at an opportune moment – An event happens, this is how your character reacts, OR this is their internal monologue.

Use rhythm of language to convey tone. This can be remarkably effective when writing outlines for horror, thriller or drama in particular.

There is probably a bad analogy to be had here to do with buying a house from plans vs a 3D visualization.

The other very important thing is that you do not cheat your reader of a full narrative. Even if you are only across 2-3 pages.

One of the most frustrating things to read in an outline (pretty much guaranteed to arrive during 3rd act climax) is AND HILARITY ENSUES.

It’s ok to be sketchy about exactly how you get from A to B, or K-L, but you should know your beginning, middle and end.

You won’t gain anything from withholding that from your reader. This isn’t a teaser trailer. These are the plans to a glorious building.

Same as an architect, you can’t just say “I’ll do something spectacular on the roof, you’re going to love it”.

Interesting to learn about Rachael’s understanding of ‘outline’ and ‘treatment’. As she notes, they are “relatively nebulous terms” in movie and TV development circles. But the process and content Rachael details in this rant are all spot-on. More importantly, what you’re getting here is an expression of a development exec’s expectations about story summaries.

My advice: Since one person’s ‘outline’ is another’s ‘treatment,’ ask them specifically what it is they want to read. A 1-page synopsis? A scene-by-scene breakdown? Treatment? Outline? Beat sheet? Discuss in advance the details of the story summary they expect. That way you are more likely to deliver something on the money and less likely to go off the mark.

If you are on Twitter, follow @RachaelPriorMBE. She is definitely on the mark!

2014 Spec Script Sales Analysis: Agents & Managers

February 19th, 2015 by

We continue with our analysis of spec script deals in 2014. Today: Agents and Managers.

Note: A majority of projects were repped by both an agency and a manager / management company, so the total numbers of reps listed will be significantly higher than the number of scripts sold.

First the agencies. The numbers in parentheses mark 2013 totals.


WME – 14 (16)
CAA – 10 (12)
Paradigm – 9 (4)
UTA – 4 (22)
ICM – 3 (3)
Gersh – 3 (7)
Resolution (now defunct) – 2 (2)
APA – 2 (9)
Verve – 1 (5)
Above The Line Agency – 1 (N/A)
Original Artists – 1 (4)
New Leaf Literary and Media – 1 (N/A)
United Agents – 1 (N/A)
Underground – 1 (N/A)


Energy Entertainment – 7 (13)
Benderspink – 6 (7)
Circle of Confusion – 5 (6)
Industry Entertainment – 3 (3)
Madhouse Entertainment – 2 (4)
Kaplan/Perrone Entertainment – 2 (2)
The Gotham Group – 2 (N/A)
3 Arts Entertainment – 1 (N/A)
Andrew Kersey Management – 1 (N/A)
Anonymous Content – 1 (1)
Aperture Entertainment – 1 (N/A)
Caliber Media – 1 (3)
DMG Entertainment – 1 (N/A)
Dobre Films – 1 (N/A)
Luber Roklin Entertainment – 1 (1)
McKeon-Myones Management – 1 (N/A)
Mosaic – 1 (4)
MXN – 1 (N/A)
New Wave Entertainment – 1 (1)
Parallax Talent Management – 1 (N/A)
Thruline Entertainment – 1 (N/A)
Untitled Entertainment – 1 (N/A)
Apostle Management – 1 (1)
The Cartel – 1 (N/A)

You should familiarize yourself with these players, study the type of projects they sell. This can help when targeting inquiries for management representation.

Tomorrow: The big money spec script sales of 2014.

Thanks to Wendy Jane Cohen for her help with this year’s spec script deals market analysis!

Interview (Part 4): Melissa Iqbal (2014 Nicholl Winner)

February 12th, 2015 by

U.K.-based writers Melissa Iqbal wrote the original screenplay “The Death Engine” which won the 2014 Nicholl Fellowship in screenwriting. Recently Melissa and I had a transatlantic phone call in which we covered a lot of territory in an excellent conversation.

Today in Part 4, Melissa and I continue to delve into her creative process in writing “The Death Engine”:

Scott:  Third major character is James. How would you describe James, his job as a ‘reaper’ with this outfit known as the ‘Death Engine’?

Melissa:  James basically sells people their perfect death, an end to their perpetual lives, but his job is more psychiatrist than assassin. He does his research and orchestrates a tailor-made death for each client. Some people want to die softly and quietly. Some people want to experience fear or excitement. Each death is as unique as the person. He’s an interesting character in the sense that he has to deal with death on a daily basis in a world where that’s seen as taboo.

Scott:  He’s been assigned Lily. She’s decided she wants to – what they call euphemistically – achieve a permanent end. James is at the top of the list of dispatching clients quickly, yet can’t seem to pull the trigger with Lily.

What is it about her that distinguishes her from anyone else? In fact, to the point where, eventually, he falls in love with her.

Melissa:  For me, it’s in the scene where James interviews her. He has a form full of standard questions and when Lily gives her answers, they’re not answers that can fit neatly inside his tick boxes. They’re full of passion and yearning, things James has never heard before. In that moment, he realizes he has become disillusioned with his job and begun to see clients, not as individuals, but as statistics and likelihoods. Lily surprises him and that’s pretty difficult to do to someone who’s lived for so long and basically seen it all.

Scott:  I’d like to zoom in on that conversation. It’s an interview upfront, a voice‑over. We don’t know it’s James and Lily. At the end, we see it in a flashback. I’d like to go through that dialogue, because that really gets to the heart of what you’re saying.

This is Lily responding to the question about what death she envisions for herself. She says, “I think it would be sudden, like in one big burst and I’d die all at once. It would be as if all the life of me, all the years I’ve lived began to buckle and overlap. It would be like drowning but in an instant. Though my body feels as if it were falling and my breath is impossible to catch, I’d feel like I’m lifting too in every direction. It would be incredible and violent and devastating like how a star ends, in a great flash of life preceding it’s demise. Like a farewell cry, not a scream, but triumphant laughter. Like beating an old friend at a game.”

That’s really evocative writing. First of all, do you remember writing that?

Melissa:  Yeah. [laughs] Yeah, I do. I remember thinking that it had to be a moment of truth for Lily, a moment when she could really express herself and be totally honest.

Scott:  There’s such passion in her words, isn’t there?

Melissa:  Yeah. I don’t think that’s something she’s used to because there’s nothing she feels passionate about anymore, but death is the one thing she’s yet to experience, so it’s exciting for her to imagine what it might feel like.

Scott:  That brings up another thing I got out of reading that, was that she has the desire to feel something real. You have this wonderful little motif of flowers running through the story. There’s the white flowers that were in her dining room. They’re perfect. They’re eternal. Yet they’re fake. It’s a nice little metaphor for how she approaches that. This idea of Sleeping Beauty caught up with me, too. It’s like these longevity people have that mentality. It’s almost like they’re walking around in a coma.

Melissa:  Yes. Time stops for them almost.

Scott:  There’s a tiny bit of business with James that suggests he wants a real life, too. He’s got this dog named Twenty Two. Could you talk about what the dog represents to James and why doesn’t he do like everyone else and give their dogs a longevity formula shot and keep him alive forever?

Melissa:  Twenty two is representative of James’ feelings about death and to some extent explains why he’s a ‘reaper’. He won’t give his dog the injection because he’s done that before and says that, after a while, the life sort of just goes out of their eyes. It’s like a spiritual death, they simply live too long, perhaps they experience their own version of the ‘melancholia’. James also doesn’t want to deny himself that experience of mourning the death of his dog. He wants to experience even the painful things in life, just like his clients, because that’s life, the good and the bad.

Scott:  That’s right. There’s this tiny exchange between Lily and James. It’s pretty late in the story, where Lily says, “I feel like I’m sinking.” James says, “It happens. Otherwise, how would we know when we’re floating?”

Isn’t that one of the story’s themes? Like we can’t know when we’re floating without the ability to experience sinking. We need to have death in order to define life.

Melissa:  That’s definitely at the heart of the story, it’s why I wanted to write the script. It’s something I really believe in. Death is a part of life.

Scott:  At one point, James is confronted by his boss at the Death Engine about his reluctance to terminate Lily. The boss says, “The Death Engine is a big hungry beast, and it feeds on the dead, not the living. Lily Harding’s paid for a death.”

Is that something James and Lily share, that they both feel imprisoned in a way? Her, by her eternal life and him, by the requirements of this job?

Melissa:  Yeah, because at the end of the day ‘The Death Engine’ is a business. If someone pays for a death, James is required to deliver it come what may. He isn’t allowed to get distracted by love or larger philosophical questions.

Scott:  Let’s talk about the title ‘The Death Engine’ because that has a double meaning, doesn’t it? It’s the name of the organization, but it’s a dynamic that exists within humans.

Death is a physical process, at least as far as normal people are concerned, the inevitability of that. Even with longevity and Lily, even her condition of melancholy, we see this almost internal drive toward a permanent event. Isn’t that the dual meaning of the Death Engine?

Melissa:  Yeah, I like the idea that the ‘melancholia’ is something that essentially evolved to combat the fact that mankind have found a cure for death. It’s unnatural to live forever, so nature has stepped in to produce a drive, something that will push people toward the desire to die.

Scott:  I’m going to probably confound you with this association, but it occurred to me that it’s like Jurassic Park, that idea we can control this idyllic environment, but then the chaos theory of it. It’s like nature finding a way to deal with the eternal life.

Melissa:  Absolutely!

Scott:  Let’s talk about the ending. I don’t want to give it away. You managed to pull off something pretty remarkable in that it feels like it fulfills every character’s narrative destiny, the three of them, Lily, James, and Anthony while also respecting Lily’s inner need.

Did you have that ending early on? The resolution of what was going to happen, particularly with Lily? Was that something that you always had and stuck with?

Melissa:  Definitely. It’s the one thing I can’t change. I can’t write a different version of that ending. For me it encompasses what the story is really about.

Tomorrow in Part 5, Melissa talks about the craft of screenwriting and what it was like to win the Nicholl Fellowship.

For Part 1, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Melissa is repped by Casarotto Ramsay & Associates.

Twitter: @Azureix.

Script Analysis: “Boyhood” – Part 1: Scene By Scene Breakdown

February 9th, 2015 by

Reading scripts. Absolutely critical to learn the craft of screenwriting. The focus of this weekly series is a deep structural and thematic analysis of each script we read. Our daily schedule:

Monday: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown
Tuesday: Major Plot Points
Wednesday: Sequences
Thursday: Psychological Journey
Friday: Takeaways

Today: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown. Here is my take on this exercise from a previous series of posts — How To Read A Screenplay:

After a first pass, it’s time to crack open the script for a deeper analysis and you can do that by creating a scene-by-scene breakdown. It is precisely what it sounds like: A list of all the scenes in the script accompanied by a brief description of the events that transpire.

For purposes of this exercise, I have a slightly different take on scene. Here I am looking not just for individual scenes per se, but a scene or set of scenes that comprise one event or a continuous piece of action. Admittedly this is subjective and there is no right or wrong, the point is simply to break down the script into a series of parts which you then can use dig into the script’s structure and themes.

The value of this exercise:

* We pare down the story to its most constituent parts: Scenes.

* By doing this, we consciously explore the structure of the narrative.

* A scene-by-scene breakdown creates a foundation for even deeper analysis of the story.

This week: Boyhood. You may download the script — free and legal — here.

Written by Richard Linklater.

IMDb plot summary: The life of a young man, Mason, from age 5 to age 18.


Scene-By-Scene Breakdown

By Jacob Jensen

(p.1-2) We are introduced to our curious lead protagonist MASON and his mother OLIVIA. We found out that Mason has been rather distracted at school and not turning in his homework. We can tell that he is very curious about things, and always has a reason for what he does.

(p.2-3) Mason and his friend TOMMY spray paint a concrete wall in the middle of a drainage ditch. A girl named SAMANTHA, his sister (although we don’t know for sure) comes looking for Mason.

(p.3-4) We are introduced to TED, who is either Olivia’s husband or boyfriend, probably the latter. He seems to have a bond with Mason. He wants to go out with Olivia, but one problem—they don’t have a babysitter.

(p.4-5) Olivia reads a story to Mason and the other kids.

(p.5-6) Mason sits in his room listening to his mother and Ted fight. Ted wants her to let loose and go out, but she says she can’t because her kids are more important.

(p.6-7) Mason gets out of bed and peeks through the door as Ted and Olivia continue to fight.

(p.7-8) As Mason quietly sleeps, Samantha comes in and smacks him with a pillow and sings to him very annoyingly. He’s upset at this. Olivia comes in and suddenly Samantha pretends to cry and blames Mason for “throwing things at her.” Olivia is upset and tells them both to be quiet and go back to bed.

(p.8) Mason and Tommy sit on a swing in the backyard looking at the lingerie section of a catalog.

(p.9) Mason has an “introspective moment as he gazes upon a deceased bird’s carcass in the dirt.”

(p.9-10) Over lunch, Olivia announces to Samantha and Mason that they’ll be moving to Houston, near their grandma, so that she can go back to college because she doesn’t make enough money at the job she currently has. The kids aren’t thrilled about this.

(p.10-11) While lying in bed, Olivia and Mason talk about his father. Mason’s worried that he won’t be able to find them, or visit them, after they move to Houston. Olivia tries to be re-assuring. We also find out the father’s possibly in Alaska.

(p.11) Olivia’s emptying out the house as the moving van drives off.

(p.11) Mason helps Olivia paint over the walls of their house.

(p.11) Samantha’s on the phone with her friend. Tommy calls and wants to hang out with Mason. Samantha rudely tells him that Mason can’t because they’re moving.

(p.11) Mason paints over the “growth chart” lines on the door.

(p.12) Mason, Samantha, and Olivia get into the car and drive off. Samantha has a bad attitude, while Mason doesn’t really say anything. Through the side mirror, Mason notices Tommy riding on his bike, gesturing towards the car. Still Mason doesn’t say anything and Tommy recedes in the distance.

(p.12-13) Mason and Samantha playfully fight in the back seat. Olivia makes them put a pillow between the two of them to keep them from fighting. The car moves towards the Houston skyline.

(p.13) Mason gets ready for the school day. Olivia makes him eat and warns that the bus will be there any second.

(p.13-14) As they eat breakfast, Olivia tells the kids that their grandma will pick them up from school and that their dad is in town. Of course, Mason wants to know if he’s moving back.

(p.14-15) Mason sits in school, playing a game, but the teacher makes him get back to his school work.

(p.15-16) Mason quietly plays a video game as his grandma, CATHERINE, listens to Samantha boast about her good grades.

(p.16-20) Mason’s DAD pulls up in his Pontiac GTO. He comes to the door to get the kids. He talks to Catherine about life and asks about Olivia. He offers to bring them back home so he can see Olivia, against Catherine’s wishes.

(p.20-22) Mason, Samantha and their dad are bowling. Samantha is doing great, but Mason’s keeps getting gutter balls. He asks if they can use the bumper, his dad refuses.

(p.22-25) The three of them sit at the cafe and talk. Dad is a little preoccupied with talking about the war in Iraq, and trying to instill his beliefs on them. They clearly don’t care about that and ask if he’s moving back. Dad tries to explain why he’s been gone and why him and their mother fight so much. He apologizes for the gutter thing and says he’ll work on getting better with things like that and that he’ll be around a lot more.

(p.25-27) While at home, Mason starts to show dad his collections of feathers and grass and other things, until Samantha comes in and steals all the attention by showing dad her basketball photos. Dad is clearly more interested in Samantha playing basketball than Mason’s collection.

(p.27-29) Olivia comes home to find the kids and their dad. It gets really awkward really quick. Olivia and dad walk outside to talk, while Mason and Samantha try to eavesdrop. Although they can’t hear anything, they see them fighting. Dad walks off and the kids are disappointed.

(p.29-32) Olivia and Mason sit in one of her college classes. She brought him with because he wasn’t feeling well. After class, Olivia introduces Mason to her professor, BILL WELBROCK. It’s clear that they have more than a teacher- professor sort of relationship. Mason doesn’t know how to feel about that.

(p.32-33) Mason and Samantha now have two new step-siblings, RANDY and MINDY. They have a sign made to welcome Olivia and Bill back home from their honeymoon.

(p.33-36) The new family goes out to eat at a restaurant. They talk about the honeymoon. Bill asks if Randy got his science project done, which he didn’t. Bill blames it on Mason saying all they did was play video games. When the waiter comes, Bill and Olivia order wine, while Mason asks for a coke. Olivia won’t let him order one, and makes him get water instead.

(p.36-37) The kids walk home with other neighborhood kids. They talk about a teacher at school everyone thinks is a lesbian.

(p.37) Mason beats Randy at a video game.

(p.37-39) The family plays a game of charades. The girls win.

(p.39) The kids are at a Harry Potter book release party. They participate in a trivia game. Samantha gets a question right, while Mason doesn’t know the answer. Because Samantha won, they all get to move up to the front of the line.

(p.40-41) Bill takes Randy and Mason golfing. He coaches them on their swings. It’s clear Bill underestimated Mason. Mason makes a putt that the other two missed.

(p.41) Bill, Randy and Mason stop at a liquor store. It’s hinted that there might be alcoholism involved.

(p.41) Bill drinks some Vodka in secret. He then hides the bottle in the laundry room.

(p.41-42) Bill yells at Samantha for not getting her chores done.

(p.42-43) As Mason and Randy are out back weeding and raking, Bill comes out to tell Mason his dad’s there. Bill’s not pleased that they’re only half way done with the job.

(p.43-45) Samantha and Mason are about to leave with their dad, but Bill’s still upset that they didn’t get their chores done, so he makes Olivia back him up. We can tell that Olivia’s a little upset that Bill is so strict.

(p.45) Dad comes to pick up Mason and Samantha. Dad and Bill just say hi and nothing more.

(p.45-48) In the car, Dad asks Mason and Samantha a bunch of questions. They don’t really have much to say. Dad pulls the car over and tells them that he wants to them to tell him stuff and be more open.

(p.48-49) Dad, Mason, and Samantha have a fun time at a butterfly museum.

(p.49) They play outside in a sculpture garden, having a good time.

(p.50) They play catch with a football at a park.

(p.50-51) They are at a baseball game. As dad’s talking baseball, Mason asks him if he has a job. Dad says he just finished his second actuarial exam, but doesn’t mention anything about a job.

(p.52-53) The three go to Dad’s home. We’re introduced to his roommate, JIMMY, who made a mess and forgot to hide the paraphernalia. It’s kind of a pig stock.

(p.53-54) Jimmy and Dad sing and play a weird song based on how Olivia and the kids have a new life, and Dad’s left out.

(p.54-55) Dad tucks Samantha into bed. Jimmy comes in to say goodnight.

(p.55-56) Dad and Mason lay on the couches in the living room. Mason asks him if he thinks there’s such thing as elves and magic. Dad goes along with it in a cool way.

(p.56-57) Dad drops the kids back of at Bill’s house. Samantha tells him that she has a sleepover the next weekend, so she can’t go with dad.

(p.57) Mason, Randy, and a neighborhood boy stare at a laptop. It’s probably porn. Mindy comes in to tell them that bill is making them get haircuts.

(p.57) Mason, Randy, and Bill get haircuts at the barber shop. Bill says to Mason that he’s gonna look like a real man now, and not a little girl. Mason’s not amused.

(p.58) As Mason is in his bed in the morning before school, the kids walk by and shake their head.

(p.58) As they’re about to leave, Mom asks where Mason is. They say he’s in his room and that he doesn’t feel good. They think he’s faking it.

(p.58-59) Mom comes in and makes Mason get ready for school.

(p.59) As mom is dropping Mason off at school, he tells her that he’s upset about Bill making him get a haircut. She understands and said she’ll talk to him about it later. Mason exclaims how Bill is such a jerk.

(p.60) As Mason walks into the classroom, all the kids laugh and make fun of his new haircut. Except, Mason gets a note that says “Mason I think your hair looks kewl -Nicole.”

(p.61) Mason and Randy ride their bikes home to find Olivia lying on the floor of the garage crying. They ask what’s wrong, but she tells them to get inside the house. Bill is there and tells her to get off the floor. We don’t really know what’s going on, but it’s something bad.

(p.62) Moments later, Bill comes in with a bottle of booze. He makes a big scene and yells at Mason saying “You don’t like me very much do you?” He then throws his glass right in front of Mason, and his bottle at Randy.

(p.63) The kids sit in Mason’s room watching a video and talks about Bill’s big scene.

(p.63-64) Bill makes all the kids give him their cell phones. He asks where Olivia is. They all say they don’t know, but he proves Samantha wrong by showing her a message off of her phone. It said to stay in there rooms and she’ll be back later. Bill makes them get in the car.

(p.64-65) Bill makes Mindy get money out of the ATM at the liquor store parking lot, as he sits in the car. She comes back and says it won’t work because of insufficient funds.

(p.65) Bill writes out a check and gives it to Randy and Mason. It’s clear he’s been drinking. He says to tell the clerk he’s not feeling well or something.

(p.65-66) The boys cash a check for 500 bucks and goes back to the car.

(p.66) Bill weaves in and out of traffic. The kids are really scared.

(p.66-68) Olivia comes back to the house with her friend CAROL, to get Samantha and Mason. Bill tries to step them from leaving, but ends up letting them go. Olivia tells Bill she’s leaving him and he gets very upset.

(p.68) In the car, Olivia tells them that they’ll be staying with Carol and her family for awhile. Carol tells them that everything will be alright.

(p.68-69) Back at Carol’s house, the kids ask questions. Olivia says that she called Child Protective Services and Mindy and Randy’s mom to let them know what was going on. Carol and her daughter ABBY say that they can stay as long as they need to.

(p.70) Olivia drops Samantha off at her new junior high school. She’s upset that she had to leave their old school, home, clothes and everything they own behind.

(p.70-72) Mason starts at his new school and his teacher tells KENNY to be his new buddy. They seem to get along well.

(p.72) Mason and Samantha go door to door trying to put up Obama/ Biden signs in their yard. Not a lot of takers.

(p.72-74) We find out that it is their dad who made them hand out signs, and when they’re driving down the street, he makes Mason get out and steal a McCain sign from somebody’s yard.

(p.75-79) While at the cafe, Samantha tells Dad that she can’t go camping with him and Mason because she’s going to a party. Dad attempts to tell her to have safe sex and not make mistakes. A lady named TAMMY runs into them and turns out she has a date with Dad the next day.

(p.80-81) Mason and Dad go swimming in a riverbed and dad tells him he got a job at an insurance company.

(p.82-83) Mason asks Dad if the lady at the bowling alley was his girlfriend. He says kind of. We find out that Mason has a kind of girlfriend to. Dad gives him advice on how to talk to her.

(p.84-85) Dad and Mason sit around the campfire roasting s’mores and talk about Star Wars. The next morning, Mason pees out the fire.

(p.86) Olivia drops Mason off at schools and tells him that Samantha will pick him up.
(p.86-87) Mason has an altercation with some bullies in the bathroom, but he doesn’t get beat up.

(p.87) Mason waits outside, sure enough Samantha didn’t pick him up.

(p.87-90) Mason walks down the side walk with JILL who invites him to go to a party because her friend LeeAnn has a crush on him and wants him to go.

(p.90) Mason observes Olivia’s classroom at a college. She invites the class to go to a Thanksgiving get together at her house.

(p.90-92) Olivia yells at Samantha for forgetting to pick up Mason, in front of her friend GABBY.

(p.92-93) Tommy’s friend CHASE stops by and asks if he wants to go camping. He asks Olivia and she says he can.

(p.93-99) Mason and Chase hang out with some senior guys. They break boards and throw knives. They talk bout “gettin pussy” and the senior guys tell Mason that if he joins a band, he’ll have more success with the ladies.

(p.99-101) Olivia’s having a pre-Thanksgiving get together and has a few college students over. A college girl goes into Mason’s bedroom and he shows her his art and graffiti he made.

(p.101-103) At the get together, a student named JIM talks about his tour in Iraq and 9/11. Later, the college girl plays the guitar and other people sing. Mason can see Olivia and Jim outside, talking on the porch.

(p.103-104) Mason gets dropped off by a bunch of teenagers. He makes out with a girl and takes a few puffs of a joint before getting out.

(p.104-105) Inside, Jim, Olivia and other students are having a get together. Mason walks in and his mom asks if he’s been drinking or smoking, she doesn’t seem to mind. It’s implied that they’re living with Jim now.

(p.105-106) Dad comes to pick up Samantha and Mason in his new mini van. It’s implied that Dad is now married to a lady named Annie and they have a baby named Cooper. It’s also Mason’s 15th birthday. Jim got Mason a camera, and Dad’s impressed that he’s into it.

(p.106-110) Mom is in the back yard with the plumbers, who are fixing a pipe. She encourages one of them to go to community college. Olivia, Jim, Annie and Dad talk and they seem to get along well with each other. Annie, Dad and the kids drive off to Houston for the weekend.

(p.110-114) In the mini van, Mason and Dad talk about the old GTO. Mason is mad because he remembers dad saying that it will be his when he turns sixteen, but turns out the Dad sold it to buy the mini van. Annie and Samantha watch a Lady GaGa music video and Annie says that she will buy her tickets and she can stay with her and dad during the concert in Houston. Dad gives Mason his birthday present, a cd of the Beatles and Mason’s not very impressed with it.

(p.114-118) They all go to a GRANDPA CLIFF and NANA’s ranch house. They sing Happy Birthday to Mason and eat cake. Nana gives Mason a bible, Annie and Dad give him a suit and tie, and Grandpa Cliff gives him a shotgun as presents.

(p.118-119) Dad, Grandpa, Samantha and Mason shoot guns. Mason hits the target after a few tries.

(p.119-122) Mason goes to church with everyone, he’s wearing his new suit. Annie’s parents seem really into it, but Mason doesn’t really follow.

(p.122-124) They walk through the woods as Mason takes photographs. They talk about Cooper’s upcoming baptism and turns out dad is becoming one of those “God people”.

(p.124-126) Mason works on his photo’s in the school’s dark room. His teacher MR. TURLINGTON comes in and gives him a speech about how he’ll never make it as an artist if he doesn’t try harder and have a better work ethic. He forces him to photograph the upcoming football game.

(p.126-127) As Mason walks back into the classroom his friend NICK gives him crap about being in the room alone with Turlington.

(p.127-128) Olivia makes Samantha help post pictures online for an auction. Mason comes down wearing fingernail polish. Samantha re-assures that he’s only wearing it to try to be cool.

(p.128-129) Mason takes pictures at the game. He, Nick, and CHASE are going to a party after the game.

(p.129) Mason is at a party. Kids are drinking and a band plays. He talks to SHEENA.

(p.130-131) Mason and SHEENA talk in a quiet place at the party. They talk about how Mason wants to live in a world where people don’t judge and control him all the time. He says he feels comfortable talking to Sheena.

(p.132) Mason comes home late and Jim is sitting on the porch with a lot of empty beer cans. Jim yells at him for being late, and says that it’s his house so Mason must do what he says. Mason gets upset.

(p.133-134) It’s implied Olivia divorced Jim and now has a lot of debt to pay off, so she decides she’s gonna sell the house they’re living in.

(p.134-136) Mason is working at a restaurant. He flirts with a girl named APRIL. His boss comes in and tells him to pick up the pace and get back to work instead of flirting with April.

(p.136-140) Mason video chats with Dad. Mason’s gonna drive to UT to visit Samantha in college, with Sheena. Dad tells him to be careful driving. Mom gives Mason some money to use in case of an emergency.

(p.140-142) Mason and Sheena drive to Austin. Mason tries to explain how life is better without a Facebook account and technology.
(p.143-145) Mason meet’s Samantha’s BOYFRIEND and plays pool with him. Samantha and Sheena talk about college life.

(p.145-148) Mason and Sheena go to a concert and then to a cafe. They talk about what college will be like and the future.

(p.148) Mason and Sheena are up all night. They go to the top of a roof and kiss.

(p.149-150) Mason and Sheena are sleeping in Samantha’s roommate’s bed. She walks in and finds them.

(p.150-151) Mason won a silver medal for pictures he took of Sheena. A TEACHER congratulates him and wishes him good luck in life. He gets a text from Sheena to meet her at a tree.

(p.151-154) Mason and Sheena get in a fight because Sheena’s going to prom with a college guy and she’s cheating on Mason with him.

(p.154-155) Nick gives Mason a ride home from graduation. Mason takes a few gulps from a flask before going in to his house for a graduation party. He drags Nick with.

(p.155-157) Mason walks in the house and Olivia takes a bunch of pictures with Nick and Grandma and everybody.

(p.158) Carol and Abby made it to the party and Mason and Samantha talk to them.

(p.158-161) Mom, Dad, Samantha, Mr. Wood and others toast Mason.

(p.162-163) Catherine talks to Dad and Annie. She’s rather rude.

(p.163-164) Mason, Dad and UNCLE STEVEN have a manly conversation about sex.

(p.164-165) Dad talks to Olivia and thanks her for everything. He offers her some money for throwing the party.

(p.165-170) Dad and Mason hang out backstage at one of Jimmy’s (dad’s old roommate) concerts. They talk about him breaking up with Sheena and Dad gives him advice. Jimmy dedicates a song to Mason.

(p.171-172) Mason, Samantha and Olivia eat at a cafe. They talk about what items they want to keep because Olivia’s moving to a smaller apartment. The restaurant manager, ERNESTO, comes out. He’s the guy who worked on the septic line a long time ago. He thanks Olivia for encouraging him to go back to school, and pays for their lunch.

(p.173-175) As Mason is packing everything to move out, Olivia has a breakdown and is sad that he’s leaving. Mason doesn’t know how to respond.

(p.175-177) Mason leaves for college. He meets his roommate DALTON and his girlfriend BARB. He also meets her roommate NICOLE. They decide to ditch the orientation and go hiking in the woods. They eat some weed brownies.

(p.178-180) The four of them are hiking and Mason talks to Nicole. She seems to be creative and outgoing like Mason is. They seem to click.

(p.180-181) The four of them watch the sunset and howl at the moon. Mason talks to Nicole about seizing the moment.


Writing Exercise: I encourage you to read the script, but short of that, if you’ve seen the movie, go through this scene-by-scene breakdown. What stands out to you about it from a structural standpoint?

If you’d like a PDF of the Boyhood script scene-by-scene breakdown, go here.

Major kudos to Jacob Jensen for doing this week’s breakdown.

Tomorrow: We zero in on the major plot points in Boyhood.

This series started here and we have 23 volunteers to do scene-by-scene breakdowns of contemporary movie scripts. The scripts we have already analyzed are in italics.

American Hustle: Jon Raymond
Argo: Nora Barry
Barney’s Version: John M
Belle: DaniM
Beginners: Ali
Boyhood: Jacob Jensen
Enough Said: Ali
Flight: 14Shari
Frankenwenie: Will King
Frozen: Christina Sekeris
Gone Girl: NateKohler1
Gravity: Matt Duriez
Hanna: John Arends
Lincoln: pgronk
Looper: erikledrew
Moonrise Kingdom: Daniel Bigler
Mud: Alejandro
Paranorman: OhScotty
Prisoners: Melinda Mahaffey Icden
Short Term 12: Carolina Groppa
The Artist: Traci Nell Peterson
The Social Network: N D
The Way Way Back: Ricky
Wadjda: iamdaniel

If you’d like to participate and do a scene-by-scene breakdown yourself, please indicate which script in comments or email me. We are using scripts available on our site here. Note some of the 2014 scripts are now available there including Belle, Birdman, Boyhood, Calvary, Get On Up, Gone Girl, How To Train Your Dragon 2, Kill The Messenger, Locke, St. Vincent, The Boxtrolls, The Fault In Our Stars, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Theory of Everything, and Wild.

For new volunteers and those who have already volunteered, but not sent me a breakdown yet, please do so as soon as possible. Thanks!

Circling back to where we started, reading scripts is hugely important. Analyzing them even more so. If you want to work in Hollywood as a writer, you need to develop your critical analytical skills. This is one way to do that.

So seize this opportunity and join in the conversation!

I hope to see you in comments about this week’s script: Boyhood.

2015 Dialogue-Writing Challenge: Day 6

February 9th, 2015 by

As noted in this post last month:

What if in February, we put the spotlight on writing dialogue?

A Dialogue-Writing Challenge!

Here’s my idea: We crowdsource a bunch of dialogue-writing prompts. From that, we choose the 20 best ones. Then next month, Monday through Friday, much like the scene-writing exercises, I invite people to take each prompt, use it to write dialogue, then upload the dialogue to the site for peer feedback.

People submitted some great dialogue-writing prompts, so let’s do this!

Every Monday-Friday at noon Eastern / 9AM Pacific in February, I will upload a post with a prompt for writing dialogue. 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 dialogue as well.

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

The Craft classes highlight key principles and practices tied to the nitty gritty of writing a script. Here is the Craft lineup, the only time I will teach each of these courses in 2015:

January 19: Craft: Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling

February 2: Craft: Story Summaries

February 16: Craft: Handling Exposition

March 30: Craft: Character Development Keys

April 27: Craft: Create a Compelling Protagonist

May 11: Craft: Write a Worthy Nemesis

May 25: Craft: Scene Description Spotlight

June 22: Craft: The Coen Brothers and the Craft of Storytelling

Each is a 1-week online class featuring 7 lectures written by me, lots of screenwriting insider tips, logline workshops, optional writing exercises, 24/7 message board conversations, teleconferences with course participants and myself to discuss anything related to the craft of scriptwriting.

A popular option is the Craft Package which gives you access to the content in all eight Craft classes which you can go through on your own time and at your own pace, plus automatic enrollment in each 1-week online course. All for nearly 50% the price of each individual class.

To qualify to take one of my Craft classes for free, write and submit ten [10] Dialogue-Writing Challenge posts, then provide feedback on ten [10] posts from other writers. The former to get you writing, the latter to work your critical-analytical skills.

A chance to take any of my eight Craft classes, interface with me online along with the usual stellar group of writers who take Screenwriting Master Class courses, while using writing exercises and feedback to upgrade your skill at writing and analyzing dialogue.


A couple of logistical notes:

* Limit your post to 2 pages. Out of fairness to everyone participating in the public dialogue-writing workshop, let’s not abuse anyone’s patience or time with really long scenes.

* Give your scenes a beginning, middle and end. You may enter late and exit early, but provide an arc to each of your posts. Even monologues or telephone conversations, both of which we will be doing this month.

* Don’t be concerned about proper script format when you copy/paste your pages, 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 one-sided telephone conversation in which a character has an argument with a person on the other end of the phone.

Sometimes you want to write both sides of a telephone conversation. But sometimes, it’s better to stick with one character. That allows us to stay with them in their emotional upheaval. Here’s a good example:

One thing to focus on in this writing exercise is to know what the other side of the conversation is, even if it doesn’t appear as actual dialogue.

Focus on the dialogue, not the action to drive the scene. In most movies, it’s the other way around because movies are primarily a visual medium, however sometimes the script requires a dialogue-driven scene and we need to hone our chops at being able to do that effectively.

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

If you are interested in qualifying for 1 free Craft class with me, please note in each post you submit 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.

Also when you provide feedback on someone’s scene, please note in each reply the number of comments you have uploaded. So if today is your first response, Feedback 1. The next one, Feedback 2.

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

Remember: In order to qualify for one of my free Craft classes, you need to submit ten [10] Dialogue-Writing Challenge posts, then provide feedback on ten [10] posts from other writers.

FEEDBACK TIP: Record one of your own phone calls. Track how many times there are interruptions. People speaking over other people. In fact, why not do a dialogue transcript of some calls? This will help you make your scripted telephone conversations read more realistic.

Want to join in? Here are the previous challenge prompts:

Day 1 challenge: Two characters flirt at the drive-thru window.

Day 2 challenge: Multiple characters in an argument where no one actually gets to finish a sentence.

Day 3 challenge: A ‘conversation’ one character has with someone buried in a cemetery grave.

Day 4 challenge: A new member of a support group reluctantly introduces him/herself… and their addictions.

Day 5 challenge: Write a scene built around the line “You need to get out”.

It’s the 2015 Dialogue-Writing Challenge! Give a jolt to your creative and writing muscles… and win 1 free online class with yours truly.

NOTE: My Craft: Handling Exposition class starts Monday, February 16. If you have done all 10 exercises and provided 10 feedback posts by Friday, you are eligible to take that class for free. It’s an important class that dovetails directly into writing dialogue, so use that as some motivation this week!


Interview (Written): Eric Heisserer

January 3rd, 2015 by

An interview from the site First Scream to the Last with screenwriter Eric Heisserer whose movie credits include A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Thing as well as writing his directorial debut Hours.

Were you a fan of the original Elm Street, and what did (and didn’t) you want to achieve with the remake?

The original remains one of my all-time favorites, although I think of the series Dream Warriors is the best.

The reboot was tricky for a number of reasons, not the first of which was that I was inheriting a few bits of story from the Wesley Strick draft. (Strick had been hired to write a draft of the film long before I was brought in, and the studio decided to go in a new direction.) In that version, the studio and producers liked the idea that Freddy Krueger should be initially seen as some innocent man wronged by the town, and the dream murders are h is acts of vengeance. Strick had explored this a little in his draft, and they wanted to keep that in play.

The other piece I inherited was the idea that Krueger was a molester, not just a murderer – harkening back to the early versions of Craven’s first movie, before the spate of real-life cases in California made that too politically charged.

My own aim in the reboot was to build something that honored what Wes Craven built, but also introduced one or two new ideas to the character. Otherwise, it would feel too redundant. That’s a pitfall I told the studio I wanted to avoid.

Did the end product remain loyal to your screenplay, and what are your thoughts on the completed movie?

Oof. Maybe, oh… five percent? Ten? A rough skeletal structure of what I wrote remained in the final cut, but most of the dialogue and entire groups of scenes were changed, added, or removed. Now and then I recognize a line I wrote, or a horror sequence. Actually, this is not unusual when it comes to studio franchises. I’m relieved that the microsleep idea went the distance, along with the line about the brain still being active for a few minutes even after the heart stops. There were extensive reshoots, as this was such a tricky project for everyone involved.

Part of the reason it became so complicated is that everyone’s idea of Krueger was a little different. Some preferred the jokester version; the Krueger with a dark sense of humor. Others were sold on the pure evil version. In general, it seems that franchise films of the 1980s got sillier as they progressed through the films. I had an opinion on the Krueger that would work for us, but the top execs at the studio ultimately make that kind of call when it comes to tone, and thus if you see an early development draft of mine on this project, you’ll discover it bears little resemblance to the final version. That’s not shirking blame or anything, that’s just the reality of screenwriting.

As Eric notes in the interview, he writes outside the horror genre, so I’m excited to see what happens with another project he has in development: Story of Your Life. You can read about that in my April 2013 interview with Eric.

For the rest of the interview, go here.

TCM Remembers 2014

December 31st, 2014 by

Every year, TCM does an elegant visual memoriam for many of those involved in the film business who have died during the previous 12 months. Here is the 2014 edition:

A lot of talent passed away this year. But they left us with some amazing memories and cinematic moments. Godspeed to them all.

And a reminder to those of us still fortunate enough to be alive and kicking. Life is precious. For those engaged in creative endeavors, here’s to a 2015 where we make the most of our time and give ourselves fully to our stories.

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

December 9th, 2014 by

We’ve had a successful relaunch of the GITS Script Reading & Analysis series. I say relaunch because we have done this type of thing before. For the next month, I will be spotlighting previous movie scripts we have studied.

Today: The Sixth Sense (1999)

Written by M. Night Shyamalan

IMDb plot summary: A boy who communicates with spirits that don’t know they’re dead seeks the help of a disheartened child psychologist.

Links to the entire January 2012 series:

General Comments

For my 7-part series on How to Read a Screenplay, go here.

30 Days of Screenplays [2013]

30 Days of Screenplays [2014]

Years ago, I came up with this mantra: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages. A link to my reflections on that here.

Cannot emphasize enough the importance of reading movie scripts.

Daily Dialogue theme for next week: Proposal

November 22nd, 2014 by

The Daily Dialogue theme for next week: Proposal, suggested by Aamir Mirza.

“At least check the pockets.”

Wedding proposals seem the obvious angle here. But what about business proposals? A deal between friends? I’m looking for seven great suggestions, folks. Thanks in advance!

The usual drill:

* Copy/paste dialogue from IMDB Quotes or some other transcript source.

* Copy/paste the URL of an accompanying video from YouTube or some other video source.

I’d also ask you to think about why the dialogue is notable. Is there anything about the dialogue which provides some takeaway re screenwriting?

Here is our lineup for upcoming Daily Dialogue themes:

December 1-December 7: Leadership
December 8-December 14: Quitting
December 15-December 21: Negotiation [Michael Waters]

Check this out: The GITS Daily Dialogue Topic Index! You can read about Liz and Allie, two sisters who are big fans of the blog, and were inspired to create the index. A great resource for writers looking for inspiration for their own dialogue writing. You can be a part of this proud tradition with your ideas for weekly themes and Daily Dialogue suggestions.

Please post your ideas for this week’s theme — Friendship — in comments. Thanks!