Zero Draft Thirty: Story Prep – Character Development

October 22nd, 2015 by

T minus 9 days. On November 1, the Zero Draft Thirty challenge kicks off!

Zero Draft is what some writers call the vomit draft… or muscle draft… the just-get-the-damn-thing-done draft.

And thirty is… well… the number 30 which is… oh, yeah… the number of days in November!

Write an entire first draft of a script in November — FADE IN to FADE OUT in 30 days.

Feature length movie screenplay. Original TV pilot. Rewrite a current project. Break a story in prep. Generate a month’s worth of story concepts.

Whatever you feel will ratchet your creative ambitions into overdrive, do THAT!

Go here, here, and here to learn about the Zero Draft Thirty challenge.

Check out the comments and see the dozens upon dozens of writers who have signed up. And you are invited to join the creative fracas.

In the days leading up to ZDT, I figured we could spend some time talking about story prep as well as psychological prep for our collective writing effort. I began that process in this post sharing some tips on how to break a story in prep. Yesterday we got down to brass tacks in talking about a powerful prep tool: index cards. Today let’s talk character development.

In my view, the single most important key to story prep is curiosity. Specifically getting curious about your characters. They are the players in the narrative. They have lived in your story universe 24/7/365. At some fundamental level, it’s their story. So who better to learn about your story than by engaging your characters?

How to do that? Get curious! Ask questions! Reflect on each character’s personal history and backstory:

Personal History: Everything that has happened to a character which has shaped them generally.
Backstory: Only those events and incidents which have a specific bearing on your story.

The idea is to amass as much information, background, and content about each character as you can. It’s all potential narrative material. Then as you focus your story, the most relevant dynamics emerge becoming the character’s backstory, providing important grist for your plotting process.

Here are links to a bunch of character development tools:

Obviously you’re not expected to use all of these. Rather consider them resources from which you can pick and choose when working with your characters.

But notice how so many of them involve asking questions. Again the key is to get curious about your characters. Why are they the way they are? How are they the way they are?

Who. What. Where. When. Why. The journalist’s credo applies as you are digging into each character to uncover their story so that collectively the Story emerges.

My embrace of the importance of story prep led me to create – to my knowledge – the first online workshop of its type — Prep: From Concept to Outline. That was five years ago when I launched Screenwriting Master Class and it has proved to be one of the most popular courses I have ever offered. The next session begins Monday, October 26. And yes, we work with a variety of question-based exercises to delve into the individual and collective lives of your story’s characters. From that, your plot organically comes into being.

Back to the Zero Draft Thirty challenge.

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

30 days. A first draft of an original screenplay.

Who’s with me?

It’s cool! It’s crazy! It’s free!

NOTE: For those of you using Twitter, use the hashtag #ZD30SCRIPT.

Background on the Zero Draft Thirty challenge:

Who’s with me to pound out a script in November
Zero Draft Thirty: Write a Script in a Month Challenge
Zero Draft Thirty: Story Prep – Overview
Zero Draft Thirty: Story Prep – Index Cards

And here’s something cool! Writer and GITS follower Sergio Berrione has translated the Zero Draft Thirty challenge into Spanish! Any other hearty souls want to translate it into another language, contact me. Story: The Universal Language!


Go Into The Story Week In Review: August 31-September 6, 2015

September 6th, 2015 by

Links to this week’s most notable posts:

Andrew Stanton, Part 1: “The Clues to a Great Story” (TED Talk)

Andrew Stanton, Part 2: “The Clues to a Great Story” (TED Talk)

Andrew Stanton, Part 3: “The Clues to a Great Story” (TED Talk)

Andrew Stanton, Part 4: “The Clues to a Great Story” (TED Talk)

Andrew Stanton, Part 5: “The Clues to a Great Story” (TED Talk)

Black List Writers on the Craft

Classic 40s Movie: Double Indemnity

Classic 40s Movie: Five Graves to Cairo

Classic 40s Movie: His Girl Friday

Classic 40s Movie: Mrs. Miniver

Classic 40s Movie: Notorious

Classic 40s Movie: The Maltese Falcon

Conversations with Wilder (Part 25): On cross-dressing in Tootsie and Some Like It Hot

Daily Dialogue theme for next week: Betrayal

Free Tickets to Upcoming Event: Sublime Primetime 2015!

Go Into The Story Black List Writer Interviews

Go Into The Story Movie Analysis: Straight Outta Compton

Interview (Video): Diablo Cody

Interview (Written): Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick (“War Room”)

Interview (Written): Milan Tomasevic

Movie Analysis: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Movie Analysis: Straight Outta Compton

Next week’s Go Into The Story Script Read and Analysis: “Looper”

On Writing: Joss Whedon

Reader Question: Do characters “own” a scene?

Saturday Hot Links

Screenwriting 101: Alvin Sargent

Screenwriting News (August 31-September 6, 2015)

Story is the foundation of everything

The Business of Screenwriting: The Path of Least Resistance

Video: THR’s Drama Writer’s Roundtable

Why haven’t you finished that script?

Writing and the Creative Life: “Come to the edge”

Andrew Stanton, Part 2: “The Clues to a Great Story” (TED Talk)

September 1st, 2015 by

Last week, I brought up the Andrew Stanton TED Talk from 2012 in the context of a discussion about storytelling. It reminded of how great his presentation was. So great, when I went into the archives to check the series I ran at the time, I had actually taken the time to transcribe the entire 19-minute talk. So for the next two weeks, I will reprise that series from one of the principal figures in the phenomenon which is Pixar Animation Studios.

Last Sunday, our featured video interview was a TED Talk given by Andrew Stanton, one of the key members of Pixar’s ‘brain trust’ whose screenwriting credits include Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Wall-E and the current live action movie John Carter which he also directed [along with A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo and Wall-E].

The subject of the TED Talk: “The Clues to a Great Story.” Given the success of Pixar and Stanton’s participation in it, I decided to produce a transcription of the entire 19-minute presentation. I will be posting it segment by segment for the next week or so because Stanton packed a lot of big ideas into his short talk.

Today: Part 2.

The most current lesson in story I’ve had was completing this most recent movie in 2012. It’s called John Carter, it’s based on a book called “The Princess of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs. And Edgar Rice Burroughs actually put himself as a character inside the movie, and he’s the narrator. He’s summoned by his rich uncle John to his mansion with a telegram saying, “See me at once.” But once he gets there, he finds out his uncle has mysteriously passed away and been entombed in a mausoleum on the property.

[Scene of character introduced to the mausoleum]

What this scene is doing is fundamentally making a promise. It’s making a promise that this story will lead somewhere that’s worth your time. And that’s what all good stories should do, they should give you a promise. You can do it in an infinite amount of ways. Sometimes it’s as simple as “once upon a time.”

These Carter books always had Edgar Rice Burroughs as a narrator in it, and I always thought it was such a fantastic device. It was like a guy inviting you around a campfire. Or somebody in a bar saying, “Let me tell you a story. It didn’t happen to me, it happened to somebody else, but it’s worth your time.”

A well-told promise is like a pebble being pulled back in a slingshot and propels you forward through the story to the end.

A few things:

* “It’s making a promise that this story will lead somewhere that’s worth your time”: There are two parts to this promise. The first is that do enough to convey the promise in the first place, excite the reader’s imagination and in so doing awaken their expectations. Then you have to deliver the goods!

* “A well-told promise is like a pebble being pulled back in a slingshot and propels you forward through the story to the end”: What a great image to accompany your writing. I call it Narrative Drive, the energy the story generates and sustains to keep the reader always wanting to turn the page, to move forward, to see what happens next.

For Part 1 of Stanton’s TED Talk, go here.

Tomorrow: Part 3.

[Originally posted March 13, 2012]

Classic 50s Movie: “The Searchers”

June 1st, 2015 by

May is Classic 50s Movie month. Today’s guest post comes from Melinda Mahaffey.

Movie Title: The Searchers

Year: 1956

Writer: Frank S. Nugent from the novel by Alan LeMay

Lead Actors: John Wayne, Natalie Wood, Vera Miles, Jeffrey Hunter

Director: John Ford

Adapted IMDb Plot Summary: John Wayne stars as Civil War veteran Ethan Edwards, who embarks on a journey with his adopted nephew Martin to rescue his young niece Debbie from an Indian tribe.

Why I Think This Is A Classic 50s Movie: Cited as one of the greatest films ever made, The Searchers has legendary fans. Writing in The Hollywood Reporter, Martin Scorsese said the film was a “touchstone” for him and other directors of his generation, while Stephen Spielberg has reportedly watched the movie numerous times, including twice on the set of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Having said that, I don’t always find The Searchers to be the most enjoyable movie to watch – it feels unnecessarily lengthy (119 minutes) and has some unfunny comic scenes and characters. But I always come back for John Wayne’s performance. When I think of the heroes he portrayed onscreen, I think of a gruff character who treads the line between hero and villain, and I find his Ethan Edwards to be the deepest iteration of that. The Searchers is arguably John Wayne at his finest.

My Favorite Moment In The Movie: Well, let’s start off with the classic scene. Although Ethan has spent years searching for Debbie, he’d rather see her dead than living as a Comanche. Toward the end of the film, he has to make that decision:

But my favorite moment comes earlier in the movie, when he admits he’s hidden the truth about his other niece Lucy from Brad Jorgensen (her sweetie) and Martin. It’s the only scene where he shows the grief he feels; he’s usually so fixated on revenge.

My Favorite Dialogue In the Movie: Near the end of the film, Ethan and Martin return home, and Martin finds out that his sweetie, Laurie Jorgensen, is about to marry another man. (Note that this exchange is followed by one of the most polite fight scenes ever.)

Laurie: Marty, Charlie, I ain’t gonna have no fighting in my house.
Marty: Well, then, we’re just gonna fight outside, doggone it.

Key Things You Should Look For When Watching This Movie:

How the opening and closing scenes mirror each other: As the opening credits roll, the song “The Searchers” (written by Stan Jones) asks: “What makes a man to wander? What makes a man to roam? What makes a man leave bed and board and turn his back on home? Ride away, ride away, ride away.” Then the door of a homestead opens, and Martha in silhouette is framed against a Monument Valley backdrop. She comes outside to see who her visitor is – and it’s Ethan, the prodigal son. Then, at the end of the film, as Ethan arrives with Debbie, another verse of the song begins to play, ending with the same refrain of “Ride away, ride away, ride away.” This time, as the men return with Debbie, they are welcomed home by the Jorgensens. Everyone goes inside – except for Ethan. He’s framed in the dark doorway, and as he turns away, the door shuts on him.

The relationship between Ethan and Martha: There’s been a lot of speculation about the exact nature of the relationship between Ethan and Martha, his brother’s wife. Is it just fondness? Unrequited love? Is he actually Debbie’s father? The film provides no answers, but the dynamic between them is definitely weird.

Sister act: Natalie Wood plays the teenage Debbie, while her little sister, Lana Wood, plays the younger Debbie at the beginning of the film.

And a blooper: About 25 minutes into the movie, Ethan and a group of men find a Comanche Indian buried under a rock. As they lift up the heavy stone, you can very distinctly see movement as the actor breathes.

Thanks, Melinda! To show our gratitude for your guest post, here’s a dash of creative juju for you. Whoosh!

And thanks to everyone who contributed a post.

For the original post explaining the series, go here.

For all of the 50s movies featured in the series, go here.

For previous classic movie series: 60s Movies, 70s movies, 80s Movies and 90s Movies.

How To Write A Screenwriting Book

May 15th, 2015 by

John August (@JohnAugust) tweeted a link to a blog post by Anthony Giambusso who wrote this nice piece of satire: How to Write a Screenwriting Book. I contacted Anthony and he agreed to allow me to feature it here.

Do you have the dream of writing a successful screenwriting book, mixing it up with the pro screenwriting book authors, and seeing your book on all the “Film & Film Production” shelves at the bookstore? Well I’ve compiled an easy to follow step-by-step guide to make that dream a reality. I’ve decided to tear the veil off of the screenwriting book industry and rack that picture into focus.

  • When writing about your credentials, be vague, yet amplified. Instead of saying you have worked with producers in Hollywood, say ‘top’ producers. Instead of saying you’ve worked for a studio, try ‘major’ studio. You may even try switching it up and writing ‘major producer’ and ‘top studio’. Your creativity will be rewarded.
  • Include a minimum of twenty pages of your own work that has not been produced, and use that as your template to teach screenwriting.
  • Choose at least three iconic movies (ex. Jaws, Chinatown, Vertigo) and make a list of decisions made in those stories. Then, make a list called ‘dos’.  (Try throwing in a modern movie like “Birdman”).
  • Do the opposite of the previous step, and make a list of things from terrible movies, and call that list ‘don’ts’. Don’t spend too much time on this step. Just write down anything you can remember from the terrible movies.
    • For example: “Everyone in ‘terrible movie’ wore hats. The top of the human head is one of the most expressive parts of the body. Try to limit your screenplay to a maximum of three hats.”
  • Make bold statements. Here are some for inspiration.
    • “Your movie MUST be about ONE thing” (Notice how I put ‘must’ and ‘one’ in caps so the reader can’t deny it).
    • Characters must represent something deeply passionate to you, or they will NEVER seem authentic” (I just made that up, but it sounds legitimate right?).
  • Throw around the word ‘subtext’ but never truly explain it. Say things like “Jaws is the the physical manifestation of Brody’s deepest insecurities.”
  • Create a ‘steps’ system. Call it something catchy.
    • “The 7 Undeniable Steps to a Sellable Story”
    • “14 Steps to get your reader to sprint from Fade In to Fade Out”.
    • (The more random the number, the more it seems legitimate). “89 Steps to EVERY successful Screenplay” (again, note the caps).
  • Be specific! People love specifics. They love bullet points. Give them a list of technical ‘yeses’ and ‘nos’ that they can hold while writing or rewriting. Some examples below (but create your own!)
    • (Character names) Characters named John are fine, but change the spelling to something new like ‘Jaun’ ‘Jawn’ or ‘Dgon’.”
    • (Fancy grammar terms) NO subordinating conjunctions! (You don’t have to know what it means).
    • (Get em’ counting) Limit one capitalized word per page, and a maximum of fifty per screenplay.
    • (Random no nos) Never set a scene in mud. Directors hate shooting scenes in mud. They will be less likely to attach themselves to your script.
  • Write a list of successful writer’s anecdotes on writing. You can simply Google these.
    • “The most ordinary word, when put into place, suddenly acquires brilliance. That is the brilliance with which your images must shine.” – Robert Bresson   (See! It’s almost as if you wrote it).

A lot of things have changed since I broke in as a screenwriter in 1987. One of the most prominent is the sheer volume of screenwriting books. The awareness of screenwriting among the general population has risen rather spectacularly the last few decades and that has attracted a lot of people looking to feed off that teat. Hence screenwriting books.

What Anthony gets at with this post are some key commonalities between many if not most of them:

* They are pretty much structured the same way.

* They are basically variations on the same themes and yet–

* They make claims about the particular insight only they have about the craft.

* And the not so subtle subtext: If you want to have any chance of succeeding, buy their book.

Are any of the books good? Maybe some, but my guess is scant few. I do know this: A vast majority of the actual pro screenwriters I know have a negative attitude toward screenwriting books ranging from antipathy to outright hatred.

My oft-stated advice: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages. Learn from interviews with actual working screenwriters. And feed your intellect and soul by consuming books, music, and culture.

The fact is if you are passionate, persistent, and patient, you can learn the craft… and not spend one dime on screenwriting books.

For the rest of Anthony’s satirical piece, go here.

To learn more about Anthony, go here.

Twitter: @TonyGiambooyah.

HT to John August for the link.

Classic 50’s Movie: “On the Waterfront”

May 1st, 2015 by

May is Classic 50s Movie month. Today’s guest post comes from Bilbo Poynter.

Movie Title: On the Waterfront

Year: 1954

Writer: Bud Schulberg (based on a series of articles by Malcolm Johnson)

Lead Actors: Marlon Brando, Lee Cobb, Rod Steiger, Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint

Director: Elia Kazan

IMDb Plot Summary: “An ex-prize fighter turned longshoreman struggles to stand up to his corrupt union bosses.”

Why I Think This Is A Classic 50’s Movie: A big reason I think of On the Waterfront as a classic 50’s film is because of the emblematic cinematography of Boris Kaufman, who later shot 12 Angry Men, The Fugitive Kind, and a little later on, The Pawnbroker, among others. Kaufman came out of the French realism movement of film making and brought that style to Hollywood. The result has the feel of an old newsreel or the Gillette Friday Night Fights – fitting for a movie about a washed up boxer.

My Favorite Moment In The Movie: Is actually not the iconic scene of the film – and one of the great movie scenes of all time (see below) – but a much quieter scene where Terry (Brando) and Edie (Marie Saint) take a walk together through their neighborhood and stop at a set of swings. At one point Brando picks up one of Marie Saint’s gloves from the ground and absentmindedly starts to play with it. It’s hard to imagine this was scripted and yet it lends itself so well to building on the moment – meant to be a vulnerable one in world without sentiment. Here the tough ex-pug is fascinated and becoming smitten with the sweet and completely alien girl from the neighborhood who made good. This scene is why Brando was great.

My Favorite Dialogue In the Movie: It would be hard to include anything other than the following – which I act out for my daughter regularly to much eye rolling.

Charlie: Look, kid, I – how much you weigh, son? When you weighed one hundred and sixty-eight pounds you were beautiful. You coulda been another Billy Conn, and that skunk we got you for a manager, he brought you along too fast.

Terry: It wasn’t him, Charley, it was you. Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, “Kid, this ain’t your night. We’re going for the price on Wilson.” You remember that? “This ain’t your night”! My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn’t have to take them dives for the short-end money.

Charlie: Oh, I had some bets down for you. You saw some money.

Terry: You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it. It was you, Charley.

Key Things You Should Look For When Watching This Movie: The fact that this was filmed on location in Hoboken: the bars are real, the mist off of the concrete, the rooftops and docks all real, but the drama is elevated here by the score of Leonard Bernstein (the only original film score by Bernstein).

The other thing to note is that this a collaboration of Kazan and Schulberg, who had by then both testified before the House Un-American Activitites Committee against others in Hollywood. You can’t help but draw a comparison to the hounded, morally compromised Terry testifying before the Waterfront Crime Commission. Being a rat and what that means is a big part of this film – Don’t take my word for it though. On the Waterfront cleaned up at the Oscars that year, and has been preserved by the Library of Congress as one of the greatest American movies.

Thanks, Bilbo! To show our gratitude for your guest post, here’s a dash of creative juju for you. Whoosh!

We already have a set of classic 60s Movies, 70s movies, 80s Movies and 90s Movies. This month, we’re working on 50s movies.

Here is an updated list of 19 fine folks who have already volunteered [those who I put in bold have already sent me their posts]:

A Place in the Sun – Zach Jansen
A Star is Born – mkm28
All About Eve – Ricardo Bravo
American in Paris – stefani1601
File on Thelma Jordon, The – David Joyner
High Noon – Jeff Messerman
Invasion of the Body Snatchers – Rick Dyke
Kiss Me Deadly – jhenderson
Marty – jetwillie69
Night of the Hunter – Mark Twain
On the Waterfront – Bilbo Poynter
Rear Window – Roy Gordon
Rebel Without a Cause – uncgym44
Searchers, The – mkm28
Seven Samurai, The – PaulG
Some Like It Hot – Will King
Sunset Blvd. – Rick Dyke
Tokyo Story – Jeff Messerman
Vertigo – Jason Pates

I’m looking for 31 guest posts, one for each day of May. Why not pitch in to help add to this online resource to inspire writers to learn about and – most importantly – watch great movies.

If you have a classic 50s movies on which you’d like to do a writeup, please either post in comments or email me.

Thanks in advance!

For the original post explaining the series, go here.

For all of the 50s movies featured in the series, go here.

Create a Compelling Protagonist

April 20th, 2015 by

In almost every movie, the most critical character is the Protagonist.

* Typically the story is told through their perspective.
* Their goal usually dictates the end point of the plot.
* All the other primary characters are somehow linked to the Protagonist.
* Normally they go through the most significant metamorphosis.
* And the Protagonist acts as the main conduit into the story for a script reader and moviegoer.

So guess what? You need to create a Protagonist that grabs a reader’s attention and keeps it for 100+ pages.

How to do that?

That’s what we will be exploring in my upcoming 1-week online class “Create a Compelling Protagonist”.

Go beyond writing a ‘sympathetic’ Protagonist. Dig deeper than giving your Protagonist a ‘flaw.’ That is surface level writing. In this class, you will learn an approach that will help you immerse yourself into this key character, and craft a Protagonist worth writing… and reading.

This class not only explores proven ways to help you create a compelling character, it also lays out an approach you can use as the groundwork for developing the rest of your story.

Seven lectures, 24/7 forum feedback, insider tips, 90-minute teleconference, and the opportunity to workshop your story’s Protagonist [or Protagonists].

Plus if you’re a fan of the movies Bridesmaids, The Social Network and Up, we’ll be using those as our study scripts. They offer a diverse set of Protagonists and yet the approach we will study next week shows how a writer can craft such compelling and different lead characters.

It all starts Monday, April 27. You can learn more and sign up here.

Here are some observations from writers who have taken the class with me:

“One week of Creating a Compelling Protagonist challenged me in ways I couldn’t challenge myself. If you want to develop your ideas, this is a rare opportunity at great value. Thank you, Scott!” – Brianna Garber

“I’ve taken a ton of classes, both inside and outside film school, and this was one of the best. The material provided a ton of inventive ways to approach the development of a solid, three-dimensional protagonist, and helped me dig deeper into the character’s internal world — forcing me to reject easy solutions, the first ideas that came to mind.” – Jason Young

“Scott generously offers up his knowledge, insight, time and resources, so that in just one week a fully formed character can begin to lead you into your story.” – Ellen Musikant

“A class that is perfect for anyone looking to learn the primary character archetypes, their psychology, and how they relate to the protagonist. The lectures provide thorough examples of these character archetypes in modern and classic movies, and the online forums were a hotspot to ask questions about the material or anything related to screenwriting. Scott’s style of teaching is highly accessible to anyone, as he creates an environment of easy, open discussion on the subject of character and welcomes any other questions you may have along the way.” – Kristen Vincent, sold spec script “Fetch” in 2013.

This 1-week Craft course is coupled with another class: Write A Worthy Nemesis. That begins Monday, May 11. For information on that session, go here.

This is the only time I will be offering these Craft classes in 2015, so take this opportunity and sign up now!

Interview: David Guggenheim (2010, 2012 Black List)

April 19th, 2015 by

David Guggenheim broke into the business in February 2010 by selling the spec script Safe House which was produced and has grossed $208M worldwide. Since that time, Guggenheim has sold two more spec scripts: “Black Box” to Universal and “Narco Sub” to 20th Century Fox, as well as the pitch “Puzzle Palace”. With several other projects in development and having made the Black List twice (2010, 2012), it’s safe to say Guggenheim is one of the hottest action-thriller screenwriters in Hollywood today.

Guggenheim 2

Here are links to the six installments of the entire interview:

Part 1: “You know, I just love the craft of constructing a story, coming up with movie concepts. That’s the fun for me. Just you and a blank page and you’re just coming up with stories.”

Part 2: “I love spy movies, and that’s my favorite genre to work in. And what I like doing, is taking a piece of a movie, that’s usually isn’t the focal of the movie, and blowing that up, and saying let’s do the movie from that point of view.”

Part 3: “For me, the best action movies are always the character‑driven action movies and they’re the one’s you always remember.”

Part 4: “Obviously, for the sake of the read, you want the action to jump off the page as much as possible, but what’s more important than the actual choreography is to come up a fresh way figuring out how the characters got into the action scene in the first place and how they get out of it.”

Part 5: “I think in a spec you need to make sure you’re hooking your reader in that first 15 pages, and that it has a strong enough concept. Because your concept it what’s going to set it apart.”

Part 6: “I will take any idea and I will try it. I may not agree with it when it’s given to me, but I always give the idea a chance, and I’ll try it.”

David is repped by Paradigm and Madhouse Entertainment.

[Originally posted April 2013]

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!