Classic International Movie: “Akira”

October 10th, 2016 by

October is classic international movies month. Today’s guest post comes from Clay Mitchell.

Movie Title: Akira

Year: 1988 (Japan)

Writers: Screenplay by Katsuhiro Ôtomo and Izo Hashimoto (based on the manga by Katsuhiro Ôtomo)

Lead Actors: Mitsu Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama, Taro Ishida, Tetsusho Genda, Mizuho Suzuki (original Japanese version. There are two dubbed versions with a different set of voice actors in each.)

Director: Katsuhiro Ôtomo (listed as supervising director)

IMDb Plot Summary: A secret military project endangers Neo-Tokyo when it turns a biker gang member into a rampaging psychic psychopath that only two teenagers and a group of psychics can stop.

Why I Think This Is A Classic International Movie

It’s a cyberpunk dystopian movie which has impacted and influenced music, film and television since its release (THE MATRIX, LOOPER, CHRONICLE, STRANGER THINGS). AKIRA launches us immediately into a world of a colorful bright future coupled with the grimy dark alleyways we are familiar with because we have seen that influence. AKIRA takes risks in showing us that world and it make no apologies and does not dumb down the scope of the story.

My Favorite Moment(s) In The Movie

Kaneda’s bike.


Kaneda’s bike slide.

The bar scene. It really augments the duality of the bright future coupled with the dystopian landscape.

My Favorite Dialogue In the Movie

Tetsuo: Keneda, you’ve always been a pain in the ass. You’ve been telling me what to do ever since we were kids. You always treat me like a kid. You always show up and start bossing me around.
Keneda: And now you’re a boss, too… of this pile of rubble.
Tetsuo: Kaneda!
Keneda: That’s Mister Kaneda to you, punk!

Key Things You Should Look (Listen) For When Watching This Movie

It may be difficult to see this, but the Japanese dialogue of AKIRA was recorded before the animation was completed. So, the animation was drawn to match dialogue instead of having the dialogue to match the animation. This is unusual for Japanese films at the time, but is common for Western animated films.

The music was also completed before the movie was completed. So, most of the music had to be edited to fit the scenes.

The film has over 2,100 shots, which is double of most animated films. More than 350 different colors were used in the film. I read somewhere most current animated films use around 50 or so. The films was also shot at 24 frames per second.


The comic was originally released as a black and white serial. It was later collected and colored for a graphic novel release to coincide with the feature film release, including one by Marvel in the United States. The release of AKIRA as a graphic novel came in the same wave as Alan Moore’s WATCHMEN and Frank Miller’s BATMAN RETURNS. The popularity of the AKIRA graphic novel led another wave of translated mangas in the West.

Makiko Futaki was one of about 60 animators who worked on AKIRA. Her name isn’t a household name, but she was the lead animator at Studio Ghibli.

AKIRA was a big-budget animated movie for its time, costing about $10 million (SPIRITED AWAY set a new record with its $19 million budget), and it was made without a big-name animator or animation studio… and without a big-name star attached to the film. To compare… Disney’s OLIVER AND COMPANY was released the same year with a budget of $4 million.

The live-action version of this movie has languished in development hell since the 1990s. Actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zac Efron were once attached to various iterations of the project. Leonardo DiCaprio owns the film rights through his production company. Script drafts by Gary Whitta (BOOK OF ELI) and Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby (CHILDREN OF MEN) are among the ones floated around. Production offices were even set up in 2012 in Vancouver before it was shut down by Warners.

The movie takes place in 2019 after World War III in Neo-Tokyo. An Olympic stadium is being built in preparation for hosting the Olympic games. Japan is actually hosting the summer games in 2020.

Thanks, Clay!

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 30s movies, 40s movies, 5os movies, 60s Movies, 70s movies, 80s Movies and 90s Movies. This month, we’re working on classic international movies. And thanks to the GITS community, we’ve got at least 22 movies in the works and hopefully more!

Those who I put in bold have already sent me their posts. If you haven’t sent yours to me, please do so as soon as you can!!!

A Prophet – Paul Graunke
Akira – Clay Mitchell
Amelie – Kevin Curran
Belle Epoque – Melinda Mahaffey
Cinema Paradiso – Traci Nell Peterson
Diabolique – Sherin Nicole
Jules et Jim – Susan Winchell
Kolya – Melinda Mahaffey
Lady Vengeance – David Joyner
Millennium Actress – Chris Neumann
OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies – John Henderson
Reprise – Wally Marzano-Lesnevich
Seven Samurai – Will King
The Lives of Others – PaulG
The Tenant – Marija Nielsen
This Man Must Die – Marija Nielsen

Looking for more volunteers, your chance to memorialize your favorite international movie and yourself as a contributor to our ongoing blog series on classic movies.

Video: Courier 12 Screenwriting Conference

October 10th, 2016 by

On Saturday, October 8, the DePaul University School of Cinematic Arts hosted its 5th annual Courier 12 Screenwriting Conference which was simulcast live on the DePaul Visiting Artists Series YouTube channel. The theater in which we held the event was packed for every session which figures because panelists included Steven E. de Souza (48 Hrs., Die Hard), Jack Epps, Jr. (Top Gun, Dick Tracy), Stephany Folsom (Thor: Ragnarok), Marc Manus (Zero Gravity Management), Aaron Rahsaan Thomas (“Friday Night Lights”), and Kam Miller (“Law & Order: SVU) among other featured guests.

Courier12-Promo-v3 Small

If you were unable to attend or missed the simulcast, here is video of all four panel sessions:

Session 1: Project Development

Brian Banks, executive in charge of production at Nickelodeon
Samantha Olsson Shear, head of development at Kickstart Entertainment

Moderator: Screenwriter and DePaul School of Cinematic Arts faculty member Chris Parrish

Start Time: 00:10:30
End Time: 01:14:30

Session 2: Strategies for Emerging Writers

Zach Cannon, script coordinator
Stephany Folsom, screenwriter, Thor: Ragnarok
Marc Manus, Zero Gravity Management

Moderator: Screenwriter and DePaul School of Cinematic Arts faculty member Anna Maria Hozian

Start Time: 01:39:55
End Time: 02:31:45

Session 3: Writing for Diversity in Hollywood

Aaron Rahsaan Thomas, producer, “Friday Night Lights”
Kam Miller, writer, “Law and Order: SVU”, author of the new TV-writing book, “The Hero Succeeds”

Moderator: Screenwriter and DePaul School of Cinematic Arts faculty member Brad Riddell

Start Time: 03:06:25
End Time: 04:08:30

Session 4: Screenwriting for Blockbuster Hollywood Films

Steven E. de Souza, writer, director, producer, 48 Hrs., Die Hard, Commando, The Running Man, Judge Dredd
Jack Epps Jr., writer, producer, Top Gun, Dick Tracy, The Secret of my Success, Legal Eagles

Moderator: Screenwriter and DePaul School of Cinematic Arts faculty member Scott Myers

Start Time: 04:46:50
End Time: 05:56:40

I live-blogged the first three sessions and pulled some juicy quotes which you can read here.

Watch Courier 12 Screenwriting Conference Live on YouTube

October 7th, 2016 by

Tomorrow, Saturday, October 8, the DePaul University School of Cinematic Arts is hosting its 5th annual Courier 12 Screenwriting Conference which will be simulcast live on the DePaul Visiting Artists Series YouTube channel.

Panels include:

Project development
1 p.m.
Brian Banks, executive in charge of production at Nickelodeon; and Samantha Olsson Shear, head of development at Kickstart Entertainment, discuss project development in the entertainment industry. Screenwriter and DePaul faculty member Chris Parrish will moderate.

Strategies for emerging writers
2:30 p.m.
DePaul University professor Anna Maria Hozian will discuss strategies for emerging writers and feature a panel with Thor: Ragnarok screenwriter Stephany Folsom, script coordinator Zach Cannon, and Marc Manus from Zero Gravity Management.

Writing for diversity in Hollywood
4 p.m.
Brad Riddell, a DePaul faculty member, will discuss diversity issues in Hollywood with “Friday Night Lights” producer Aaron Rahsaan Thomas and “Law and Order: SVU” screenwriter Kam Miller, author of the new TV-writing book, “The Hero Succeeds.”

Screenwriting for blockbuster Hollywood films
5:30 p.m.
Screenwriter Jack Epps Jr., known for films including Top Gun and Legal Eagles, and writer and producer Steven E. de Souza, who wrote Die Hard and 48 Hrs.” will discuss writing blockbuster Hollywood films with screenwriter and DePaul University faculty member Scott Myers.

Courier12-Promo-v3 Small

Admission to the event is free and open to the public. Press:

Chicago Tribune

Los Angeles Times

Miami Herald


Twitter: #C12DePaul.

Scene Description Spotlight: “Star Trek” (2009)

October 7th, 2016 by

One key aspect about scene description is something I call narrative voice. It is the invisible character in your script — the mindset, personality, and ‘voice’ of the character who conveys the story, primarily through scene description, but also in transitions choices, pace, scene cross-cuts, etc.

Narrative voice is heavily influenced by the story’s genre – that is if you’re writing a comedy, your NV should be funny; if you’re writing a horror flick, your NV should be scary; if you’re writing an action movie, your NV should kick ass. In other words:

Narrative Voice = Genre + Style

Let’s start off this week’s series of posts with a look at the writing style of Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman as demonstrated in the screenplay for this summer’s hit movie Star Trek. This excerpt is part of a big action sequence, so we should be looking for a kick ass narrative voice:


WITHOUT A CHUTE! Kirk, holding on, watching this wide-eyed --
and knowing what he must do, he RUNS AND JUMPS --

KIRK FALLS FAST, he's only gonna have one shot at this, presses
his arms to his sides and ROCKETS downward, building speed, four
hundred feet below is Sulu, FREEFALLING --

KIRK moves his feet and hands, angling toward him -- slashing
downward at 160 mph, closing like a missile -- the gap between
them narrows -- Sulu's 30 feet below him... 500 feet to the
planet surface. 40 ft -- 20 -- 10 -- WHAM! Kirk slams into
Sulu in a mid-air tackle -- they TUMBLE TOGETHER -- Kirk's made
the grab and locked his arms around Sulu in an iron grip,
screams in his face:


Sulu DOES -- it opens -- but HOLY FUCK, the double weight RIPS



The TRANSPORTER CHIEF works his controls, sweating -- trying to

I'm trying! I can't lock on your signal!


SNAP AROUND as Chekov hears this -- watching his controls --
Uhura watching too --

-- you're moving too fast!

-- no-- I can do that--I CAN DO THAT!!!

Chekov suddenly BOLTS -- Uhura watches him race off -- a CREW
MEMBER steps into frame:

The black hole's expanding, we won't
reach minimum safe distance if we don't
leave immediately.




And we take him to:


-- where he races to the controls, out of breath, yelling:


-- and he begins working the controls --





Chekov's manipulating a joystick-like TARGETING DISPLAY --
trying to match the CROSSHAIRS on the DROPPING FIGURES --

-- holdonholdonholdonholdon!


and Sulu enter frame, BULLET-WHOOSH right past us, DROPPING --



TIGHT ON CHEKOV as he struggles to lock onto them -- BEEP!

Compensating gravitational pull and --





AND PAINFUL, BUT SAFE! Transporter engineers GAPE in utter
amazement and relief -- Chekov, sweating, laughs. Kirk and Sulu
get their bearings, peeling themselves up, at stunned whispers:

... thanks.

... yeah, not a problem.

So first question: Did that scene description kick ass? Yes. One seamless flow of action, told in a hyperbolic voice befitting the action. Of special note:

* Lots of CAPITALIZATION to (A) highlight specifics bits of action (The platform BANKS… he RUNS AND JUMPS) and (B) underscore key narrative elements (trying to LOCK ON TO THEIR MOVING TARGET).

* Lots of underlining and CAPITALIZATION to REALLY spotlight a key narrative element (NOW THEY’RE BOTH FREE-FALLING WITH NO CHUTE, THE GROUND COMING AT THEM FAST!).

* Bold for all the sluglines – to make as clear as possible the shifts in location.

I invite your comments on those style choices as collectively they represent a bending of the ‘rules’. But don’t let that make you lose sight of the actual words Orci & Kurtzman use to both paint a picture of what’s happening and convey the furious pace of the action. To spotlight that, here is a list of verbs they use in SD in this excerpt:

banks, falls back, holding on, runs, jumps, falls, presses, rockets, moves, angling, slashing, closing, narrows, slams, tumble, locked, screams, opens, rips, snaps, free-falling, works, sweating, trying, hears, watching, bolts, watches, steps, sprints, yelling, races, yelling, begins working, speed-dropping, manipulating, trying to match, bursts, enter, bullet-whoosh, dropping, struggles, hits, dematerialize, rematerialize, slamming, gape, laughs, peeling.

Just tracking the verbs gives a reader a sense of the scene’s action and pace. O&K even make up verbs to get the point across: speed-dropping, bullet-whoosh. As a screenwriter, you can do that. In fact, you can do anything to grab the reader’s attention and sell the moment.

One last obvious note: Apart from the 3rd paragraph, which is 7 lines long, all the other paragraphs of SD are no more than 3 lines in length, most of them 1 or 2. Again befitting this type of scene — quick cuts, quick action.

What do you think about this approach to scene description?

For more on narrative voice, you can go here to read an article I wrote for Screentalk magazine.

[Originally posted December 7, 2009]

Everything you wanted to know about specs [Part 12]

September 20th, 2016 by

Spec scripts, that is. I’m guessing that perhaps 90% of the people who follow this blog at some point in their lives will write a spec script. And the other 10% are involved in buying and selling them. In light of that fact, last year I interviewed a top manager and some Hollywood screenwriters about the ins and outs of what is involved in bringing a spec script to market. I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to do something with that inside information, so when Vanity Fair recently came out with this article — When the Spec Script was King — a decent piece, but pretty surface level, I figured this is as good a time as any to dig into the subject in a comprehensive fashion.

In Part 1, we looked at the genesis of the spec script in Hollywood from 1900-1942.

In Part 2, we covered the emergence of the spec script market from 1942-1990.

In Part 3, we analyzed the Boom / Bust / Boom / Bust cycle of the spec script market.

In Part 4, we surveyed the buyers, both major studios and financiers.

In Part 5, we examined the screenwriter-rep relationship in terms of developing a spec script.

In Part 6, we explored rolling out a new writer’s spec script.

In Part 7, we delved into the subject of attaching producers.

In Part 8, we considered the value of attaching talent.

In Part 9, we learned about reps wanting to “own all the tickets”.

In Part 10, we dug into how reps generate buzz for a spec script.

In Part 11, we scrutinized the practice of slipping a script to someone.

Part 12: Serendipity

Hollywood is one of the world’s most famous brands. And of course, there is that iconic sign:

If you don’t live and work in Los Angeles, you may think the movie community is this enormous entity.

It’s not. Instead it’s actually quite small, particularly if you are just talking about those who are involved in project acquisition and development. There are perhaps a few thousand people. Think about that. A few thousand people. The Hollywood film community is like a small town. Well, one where everyone is on speed dial. So serendipitous things like the following can happen.

From my  interview with screenwriter Ashleigh Powell in March 2013 [emphasis added]:

Scott:  So you write this script [“Somacell”]. How did David Goyer get involved and what was the process whereby it ended up selling?

Ashleigh:  I wrote the script. I was going out to a handful of producers that I had already met and had a relationship with. We gave it to an exec I actually knew from my assistant days – we were both on desks at the same time and were always scheduling meetings and calls for our respective bosses. He read it and liked it, but ultimately it wasn’t right for his company. But he passed it on to his wife to read… and she just happened to be David Goyer’s Creative Executive. So that’s how it got into his hands. Which was amazing. I was just thrilled for that. Then, simultaneously, Warner Bros. somehow ended up with it. No one on my team even knew they were reading it, and one evening they  called up my agents and said, “Hey, we want to make a deal on this script tonight.” It was shocking moment. It took us all by surprise. It was just a random confluence of events.

Scott:  Boy, does that speak to the power of writing a great script.

Ashleigh:  It’s been really fun for me to hear that people are passing the script to their friends or to other executives on their own, without any intervention from my manager or agent or anything like that. It’s just working its way around.

Like I said… small town. It’s why networking can work so well in Hollywood. There are these subcultures — movie development, TV development, production, post-production, and so on — all these aspects of making entertainment product inhabited by people who as it turns out pretty much have one or at most two degrees of separation.

So sometimes a script gets slipped to Person A who gives it to Person B who is married to Person C who works at Studio D. And you can be Agent E and Manager F suddenly getting a call from Studio Executive G saying they want to buy Script H written by Writer I. All complete serendipity.

That’s the exception, not the rule. Generally reps have to decide whether to go wide with a spec or take a more targeted approach. We’ll dig into that in next post: The strategy of targeting specific buyers.

Writing a First Draft: Enjoy the Process???

September 6th, 2016 by

A guest post from Tom Benedek, screenwriter (Cocoon) and co-founder of Screenwriting Master Class:


How to write a script? “Now? Me?”

And enjoy it? “Huh?”

“I need to commit to getting the draft done. Once I am writing pages, I keep the faith until finishing the draft. Sometimes I am reluctant to get started because I dread ending up with less than I dreamed it would be.”

Could this writer ever know what they really have unless they write that first draft?


Work on the outline. For a while. Then start writing pages. Maybe play with the outline a bit along the way. But write the pages. Now.

Because no one knows what those pages will be until they are written. The unconscious tapped during the writing process plays by its own rules. That idea, that logline or outline may be the golden path to something extraordinary.

That is why creative work is exciting. Fun. The ultimate adventure (for screenwriters).


  • Finish an outline that is good enough. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect/measured out.
  • Make a writing schedule.
  • Sit down with your writing instrument of choice at those times. And write pages – your next script.


“I am so much like Script Writer #2”.

“Personally, I have a lot on my plate right now. But I have had an outline, a beat sheet of sorts and all kinds of notes on my laptop, my desktop, in Dropbox for a couple of years.”

“So I decided that no matter what else is going on in my life, I’m going to write 4 pages a day 5 days a week to see what this thing really is. I see the idea more clearly now, as a genre film. I am not going to lose any of the idiosyncrasies I love, BUT I am going to adhere to the rules of its genre form. So my agent will read it and maybe try to sell it.”

“I didn’t see this project as a genre film for a long time. After percolating it, I finally realized what I was dealing with. And now — no other way to see what I have until I write it. So I have to write pages. Now.”


  • I, Tom Benedek, am Screenwriter #3.
  • I have no excuses for not writing this script.
  • I will write a first draft now.
  • I will enjoy it.

Anything is possible. “Nobody knows anything.” You will never have your breakthrough script unless you write it.

My upcoming Pages I: Writing the First Draft online workshop at starts next week: September 12. Join me for the next chapter in your creative adventure!

80% of the writers who take the Pages I workshop at Screenwriting Master Class finish a first draft within the 10 week time period of the course. And 90% get to FADE OUT within a few additional weeks.

How is this program so successful? Writers have a structure and weekly due dates to motivate them. There is a combination of expectations and support from fellow writers participating in the workshop. And perhaps most significantly, the instructors – Tom or myself – provide extensive feedback along the way, everything from script page notes to suggestions to moral support.

To learn more about the Pages I: Writing the First Draft online workshop, go here.

Daily Dialogue — September 6, 2016

September 6th, 2016 by

Felix: Oscar, you’re asking to hear something I don’t want to say, but if I do say it, I think you ought to hear it.
Oscar: You got anything on your chest besides your chin, you better get it off.
Felix: All right! Then you asked for it! You’re a wonderful guy, Oscar. You’ve done everything for me. If it weren’t for you, I don’t know what would have happened. You gave me a place to live and something to live for. I’m never going to forget you for that, Oscar. You’re tops with me.

Oscar double takes.

Oscar: If I’ve just been told off, I think I may have missed it.
Felix: It’s coming. You are also one of the biggest slobs in the world.
Oscar: I see.
Felix: Totally unreliable, undependable, and irresponsible.
Oscar: Keep going. I think you’re hot.
Felix: No. That’s it. You’ve been told off. How do you like that?
Oscar: Good. Good! Because now… I’m going to tell you off.

Oscar faces Felix.

Oscar: For six months, I’ve lived alone in this apartment… all alone in eight big rooms. I was dejected, despondent, and disgusted, and then you moved in… my closest and dearest friend. And after three weeks of close personal contact, I’m about to have a nervous breakdown. (starts to cry) Do me a favor, will you, Felix? Move into the kitchen. Live with your pots, pans, ladles, meat thermometers. When you want to come out, just ring a bell, and I’ll run into the bedroom. I’m asking you nicely, Felix, as a friend… Stay out of my way.

Oscar stumbles out of the room into the bathroom.

Felix: Walk on the paper, will you? I washed the floor in there.

Oscar stiffens. Wheels around. Charges after Felix.

Felix: Hey, stay away from me, Oscar. Oscar! Oscar, stay away from me! Oscar!

The Odd Couple (1968), screenplay by Neil Simon, based on a play by Neil Simon

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Argument, suggested by Mark Twain.

Trivia: Neil Simon’s brother, Danny, had the original idea: Two guys stuck together as roommates, one’s a slob, one’s a neatnik, but never did anything with it. Neil asked Danny if he could write it, Danny said yes, and the rest as they say is history.

Dialogue On Dialogue: This is a great scene with a double reversal and a twist at the end. The first reversal is Felix “telling off” Oscar, but doing so by expressing his appreciation for what Oscar has done for him. It’s funny because Felix’s delivers the lines in anger mode. The second reversal is Oscar’s response, which we expect to be volcanic ire, but instead features his character breaking down into tears. The twist Oscar charging Felix, declaring he’s going to “kill” Felix.

Comment Archive

Set-up and Payoff

September 4th, 2016 by

One of the most important narrative elements screenwriters have available to us is set-ups and payoffs. The basic idea is this: We establish something that pays off later. Here are some examples:

  • Aliens: In an attempt to make herself useful, Ripley sets up how she can control a power loader. This pays off later when she engages the alien ‘mother’ in combat and delivers her classic line, “Get away from her, you bitch!”
  • The Dark Knight: At dinner with Bruce Wayne, Harvey Dent provides a set-up when he says, “You either a die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” By the movie’s end, Dent pays off the truth of his own words.
  • The Shawshank Redemption: Warden Norton creates a set-up when he returns Andy’s Bible and says, “Salvation lies within.” This gets paid off when Norton opens Andy’s Bible which is inscribed, “You were right. Salvation lies within,” and Norton sees the hollowed-out pages Andy used to hide his rock hammer.
  • Magnolia: The numbers “8” and “2”. There’s an 82% chance of rain. Science convention begins at 8:20. That’s a set-up tied to Exodus 8:2: “If you refuse to let them go, I will plague your whole country with frogs.” Which pays off at the end of the movie.
  • Fatal Attraction: Alex creates a set-up when she tells Dan, “I’m great with animals and I love to cook.” The boiled bunny rabbit serves as the payoff.

Implicit in the set-up / payoff dynamic is the idea of foreshadowing whereby the writer gives the script reader an insight into events that will happen later on before they understand the significance of those occurrences. It can be an especially effective psychological ploy for several reasons:

  • It can get the reader’s attention: Presented without context, a foreshadowed event can surprise the reader as the opening of The Hangover.
  • It can raise the reader’s curiosity: A foreshadowed moment can cause the reader to wonder what is going on, what is the significance of this, why am I seeing this now, like the cold opening of Fight Club.
  • It can create a sense of mystery: A foreshadowed image can generate a riddle we carry with us all the way through the script as in perhaps one of the most famous set-ups of all time — this “Rosebud” scene in Citizen Kane.

Standard Image

A great example of set-ups is the opening of Back to the Future [you can see an homage by high school students to that scene here]. Consider all the details that pay off later:

  • The coffee maker with no pot. This sets up the fact that Doc Brown is not at home, indeed, hasn’t been here for at least a few days.
  • A TV Anchorman talks about the theft of plutonium from a research facility and suspected Libyan terrorists. That sets up the fuel rods for the DeLorean time travel machine and the men who shoot Doc Brown.
  • Einstein’s overflowing bowl of dog food. This sets up Doc Brown’s dog who does the first time travel experiment.
  • Marty’s skateboard. This sets up a whole runner for how Marty gets around in the present – and then in an improvisational fashion in the past.
  • The skateboard rolls across the floor and hits a container marked “Plutonium”. See above.
  • Marty playing guitar. Loud. This sets up the fact that Marty is a musician [another runner] and that he likes to show off when he plays [which we see in the present and the past].
  • Phone call from Doc Brown. This sets up two things. One: He asks Marty to meet him at Twin Pines Mall at 1:15, which Marty does. Two: The clocks going off at 8AM confirms for Doc Brown that his experiment worked. And as a nice grace note, when Mary discovers the clocks are 25 minutes slow, he hustles out of there — late for school – into the movie’s opening credits.

Another good example is The Sixth Sense. Look at this scene at the very end and consider how this series of payoffs [told as flashbacks] lead Malcolm to the startling conclusion that he is a ghost:

  • Cole: “I see people. They don’t know they’re dead… they only see what they want to see.”
  • The kitchen table where Malcolm’s wife Anna has been dining… alone.
  • Their meeting at the restaurant where Anna picked up the tab.
  • The basement door with the red handle Malcolm couldn’t open.
  • The frost emitted from Anna’s lips.
  • And of course, the gunshot to Malcolm’s abdomen.

The Sixth Sense is one of the most notable examples of what is known in Hollywood as a Big Twist movie. To pull that off, the writer needs to set up those surprising payoffs [see also The Usual Suspects, Se7en, Psycho, Memento].

Set-ups and payoffs are terrific tools for screenwriters. Don’t forget to use them!

Daily Dialogue — August 27, 2016

August 27th, 2016 by


EDWARDS, thrown for a major loop, sits like a zombie alongside KAY on a bench in Battery Park. Kay drinks his coffee while they talk.

KAY: Any given time, around fifteen hundred landed aliens are on the planet, the majority right here in Manhattan. Most aliens are decent enough, just trying to make a living.
EDWARDS: Cab drivers?
KAY: Not as many as you’d think. Humans, for the most part, don’t have a clue. Don’t want one, either. They’re happy. They think they’ve got a pretty good bead on things.
EDWARDS: Why the big secret? People are smart, they can handle it.
KAY: A person is smart. People are dumb. Everything they’ve ever “known” has been proven to be wrong. A thousand years ago everybody knew as a fact, that the earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, they knew it was flat. Fifteen minutes ago, you knew we humans were alone on it. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.
EDWARDS: So what’s the catch?
KAY: What you’ll gain in perspective, you’ll lose in ways you’re too young to comprehend. You give up everything. Sever every human contact. No one will know you exist. Ever.
EDWARDS: Nobody?
KAY: You’re not even allowed a favorite shirt. There. That’s the speech I never heard. That’s the choice I never got.
EDWARDS: Hold up. You track me down, put me through those stupid-ass tests, now you’re trying to talk me out of it. I don’t get it.
KAY: You got ’til sun-up.
EDWARDS: Is it worth it?
KAY: You find out, you let me know.

Men In Black (1997), screenplay by Ed Solomon, screen story by Ed Solomon, comic by Lowell Cunningham

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Mentor, suggested by Michael Waters. Today’s suggestion by Lois Bernard.

Trivia: The climax was going to be a humorous existential dialogue between agents J and K and the Bug, but the studio called for a more action-packed climax, so it was changed to the Bug getting blown up.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Commentary by Lois: “I would never have guessed that last bit of trivia, to me the ending seemed perfect for the movie. This scene is basically pure exposition with enough comedy put in to make it entertaining.”

My thoughts: Mentors know ‘stuff’. Wisdom. Insight. And sometimes inside information. Here Kay reveals some real inside info about aliens.

Interview (Part 4): Adam Kolbrenner, Madhouse Entertainment

August 25th, 2016 by

This week, we are fortunate to have as our guest manager-producer Adam Kolbrenner from Madhouse Entertainment, an L.A.-based production and literary management company that works with screenwriters and writer/directors in the areas of film, television and new media.

I will be posting the whole interview over the course of the week.

Today in Part 4, Adam reveals some insider details on two big movie deals with which Madhouse Entertainment was involved.

If we could, I’d like to briefly go through your experience surrounding the circumstances of three spec script sales in which you were involved: What were some memorable details of the sale of Aaron Guzikowski’s spec script “Prisoners”?

This answer should be in a book somewhere.  7 years.

Guzikowski was an aspiring screenwriter living in a small apartment in Brooklyn, NY.  In 2006 he sent me a query letter in the mail (with an actual stamp and everything).  He was asking if I wanted to read a script of his that was a small contained horror film.  Horror is not really in my blood (so to speak) but I had him send it to me because there was a unique idea to it.  The script and story were flawed but it was clear to me on page 1 of his script, he knew how to write.

From there, we spent about 6 months coming up with new ideas for movies that he can write and we can develop from the ground up together.  Thanksgiving 2006 he came up with the concept for PRISONERS.  We worked through countless treatments and outlines, to drafts and rewrites, and he worked with Madhouse on PRISONERS until February 2009.  Over 2 years.  We had never even met in person.  We were giving him notes while he was in a supply closet of his temporary job in Brooklyn.  People would literally be walking in and he’d be handing out paper and pens.  But AARON GUZIKOWSKI never once wavered in the work that was required.  He knew that notes aren’t always perfect but use the good ones, and think about the bad ones.  He never fucking quit.

I gave the script to all the agencies in one weekend in February 2009.  Initially, the agents all passed on the project because they felt it was going to be “too hard” to get made.  But one agent named Adam Levine responded well to it.  Adam at the time was at Endeavor, he has since become one of the founders of VERVE Agency where Guzikowski was one of the initial clients for the start up agency in 2010.

Endeavor began to build a package around PRISONERS as the script was sent out around Hollywood.  The feedback was unlike anything I’d ever seen.  The project had Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale set to star (before production of their film ‘The Fighter’) and had Bryan Singer (XMen) set to direct.  Ultimately, that package proved to be too expensive for the marketplace based on the type of story told in PRISONERS.  At this point ALCON ENTERTAINMENT (‘Blind Side’, ‘Insomnia’, and upcoming ‘Beautiful Creatures’) asked to purchase the screenplay free and clear of any package.

From there, the project navigated through a process that included having Leonardo DiCaprio attached to star (in the role Wahlberg was interested in playing) that was not able to get off the ground based on timing for Dicaprio.

I am pleased to say that as of January 14th, 2013 the cameras will roll in Atlanta, Georgia for PRISONERS.  Our director is Denis Villeneuve (Oscar nominated for his brilliant film ‘Incendies’).  Our extraordinary cast includes:  Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Maria Bello, and Paul Dano.  Madhouse Entertainment is producing (Adam Kolbrenner, Producer and Robyn Meisinger, Executive Producer) along with Kira Davis.  The film will be released by Warner Bros and Alcon on September 20th, 2013.  Just shy of 7 years since the idea surfaced in AARON GUZIKOWSKI’s brain.  During this time, GUZIKOWSKI additionally wrote the Mark Wahlberg hit “CONTRABAND” that was released in January 2012 and the upcoming Legendary release “SEVENTH SON” that stars Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore.  He’s become one of the most in demand screenwriters working in Hollywood.

What were some of the noteworthy items associated with the sale of David Guggenheim’s spec script “SAFE HOUSE”?

DAVID GUGGENHEIM was working as an editor in NYC at US Weekly Magazine.  He had spent several years getting his material out to the community from his home in New York.  We started working together on SAFE HOUSE at the early script stage.  We worked on it and took it to the marketplace with his agent David Boxerbaum.  Our plan was to be sure that everyone in town read the material because we were so proud to show it off.  The response was overwhelming.  Producers, buyers, studios, all wanted this script.  It was built for two major movie star roles.  This was February 2010.  We were in production in January 2011 for Universal Studios.  We were released worldwide February 2012 starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds and became a major hit for Universal as it went on to gross over $200,000,000 worldwide boxoffice.  GUGGENHEIM is hard at work on the sequel to be shot in 2013.

As you look at those 2 deals, are there any big ticket lessons or takeaways you can discern there? Any universal truths each script project share?

Incredible characters.  Original story with unique twists.  Well told.

Tomorrow in Part 5, Adam discusses some of the issues facing working screenwriters nowadays and shares inside information on one of the more notable deals in the last several years.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

To read press articles about Madhouse Entertainment, go here.

[Originally posted January 24, 2013]

UPDATE: Prisoners went on to become a big hit and you can read about Aaron Guzikowski’s success after that movie here. You can also read my February 2014 interview with Aaron here. After Safe House, David Guggenheim has also gone on to big things which you can read about here including the upcoming CBS TV series “Designated Survivor”. You can read my April 2013 interview with David here.