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:

SCRIPT WRITER CASE STUDY #2:

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?

No.

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).

ADVICE FOR CASE STUDY #2:

  • 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.

SCRIPT WRITER CASE STUDY #3:

“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.”

ADVICE FOR CASE STUDY #3:

  • 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 Screenwritingmasterclass.com 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.

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

EXT. BATTERY PARK – DAY

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.

Daily Dialogue theme for next week: Alcoholism

August 13th, 2016 by

The Daily Dialogue theme for next week: Alcoholism.

The Lost Weekend (1945)

A slew of movies about alcoholism which you can see here, but you can expand the range of possibilities by recalling characters who themselves are addicts in stories which aren’t focused on this theme.

Let’s see what we can do this week: 7 great examples of dialogue featuring alcoholism.

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 related to the craft of writing? If so, feel free to lay that wisdom on us.

Consecutive days of Daily Dialogue posts: 3,012.

Be a part of the proud Daily Dialogue tradition, make a suggestion, and have your name emblazoned on a blog post which will forever hold a hallowed spot in the Go Into The Story archives!

Upcoming schedule of themes:

August 22-August 28: Mentor [Michael Waters]
August 29-September 4: Blame
September 5-September 11: Argument [Mark Twain]
September 12-September 18: Bullying
September 19-September 25: Military Moments [Will King]
September 26-October 2: Clairvoyance
October 3-October 9: Cooking [Katha]
October 10-October 16: Coaching
October 17-October 23: Cover Up [Will King]
October 24-October 30: Discipline
October 31-November 6: All Is Lost [Melinda]
November 7-November 13: Embarrassment
November 14-November 20: Bechdel Test [Will King]
November 21-November 27: Enthusiasm
November 28-December 4: Alien Invasion [Michael Waters]
December 5-December 11: Excuse
December 12-December 18: Fish Out Of Water [Will King]
December 19-December 25: Faith
December 26-January 1: Failure [Will King and Melinda]

Be sure to post your ideas for this week’s theme: Alcoholism.

Continued thanks to all of you Daily Dialogue devotees, your suggested dialogue and dialogue themes. Grateful for your ongoing support of this series.

Writing and the Creative Life: One key to creativity… naps?

August 5th, 2016 by

I was doing my usual thing yesterday, working my way through a virtual pile of emails, organizing my daily To Do list, and generally being a productive busy bee when I saw this tweet from fellow screenwriter Arash Amel:

Writing tip for the day: sometimes when you don’t feel like writing, just stop. Have a nap.

Have a nap. That jarred something in my memory, so I started digging into the archives of my blog and found a post I wrote over 5 years ago called “Naps: Key to Creativity?” The piece cited a New York Times article which examined scientific research between the connection of sleep and creativity:

“There is a cultural bias against sleep that sees it as akin to shutting down, or even to death,” explains Dr. Jeffrey Ellenbogen, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School and director of the Sleep Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Most people, Dr. Ellenbogen says, think of the sleeping brain as similar to a computer that has “gone to sleep” — it does nothing productive. Wrong. Sleep enhances performance, learning and memory. Most unappreciated of all, sleep improves creative ability to generate aha! moments and to uncover novel connections among seemingly unrelated ideas.

Steven Jobs, the chief executive of Apple, once defined creativity as “just connecting things.” Sleep assists the brain in flagging unrelated ideas and memories, forging connections among them that increase the odds that a creative idea or insight will surface.

So some scientists and entrepreneurs think sleep is beneficial. But what about arty types? Again from the NYT article:

“It’s more that sleep brings a change of approach,” explains Mark Holmes, an art director at Pixar Animation Studios who worked on the film “Wall-E.” “You can get tunnel vision when you’re hammering away at a problem. You keep going down this same path, again and again, just tweaking, making incremental changes at best. ” He continues: “Sleep erases that. It resets you. You wake up and realize — wait a minute! — there is another way to do this.”

And how does that “reset work:

“Sleep makes a unique contribution,” explains Mark Jung-Beeman, a psychologist at Northwestern University who studies the neural bases of insight and creative cognition.

Some sort of incubation period, in which a person leaves an idea for a while, is crucial to creativity. During the incubation period, sleep may help the brain process a problem.

“When you think you’re not thinking about something, you probably are,” says Dr. Jung-Beeman, who has a doctorate in experimental psychology.

When you think you’re not thinking about something, you probably are. Like when you are dreaming:

Another theory is that typical approaches to problem-solving may decay or weaken during sleep, enabling the brain to switch to more innovative alternatives. A classic switching story, recounted in “A Popular History of American Invention” in 1924, involves Elias Howe’s invention of the automated sewing machine: after much frustration with his original model, which used a needle with an eye in the middle, Howe dreamed that he was being attacked by painted warriors brandishing spears with holes in the sharp end. He patented a new design based on the dream spears; by the time the patent expired in 1867, he had earned more than $2 million in royalties.

My predominant instinct when writing a story is to immerse myself in it in the most comprehensive fashion possible. Oftentimes that involves endless hours devoted to research, character development, brainstorming and plotting. I know the value of a direct approach to the creative process, slogging into and through the story universe with lots of intentional effort and thought.

Yet I know that in some intangible way, writing a story involves a type of magic, a metaphorical way of referring to an indirect approach to the process.

And what could be more indirect than giving oneself over to a nap?

So the next time you are stuck or feeling uninspired, consider doing what Arash Amel suggests: Take a nap. The answers you seek may be lurking in your dreams.

Writing and the Creative Life is a series in which we explore creativity from the practical to the psychological, the latest in brain science to a spiritual take on the subject. Hopefully the more we understand about our creative self, the better we will become as writers. If you have any good reading material in this vein, please post in comments. If you have a particular observation you think readers will benefit from and you would like to explore in a guest post, email me.

[Originally posted October 31, 2013]

“Underwritten Female Character: The Movie”

July 7th, 2016 by

Hey, screenwriters, this is definitely worth a look, both funny and a great reminder: Write multidimensional women characters.

Via Nuclear Family.

HT FastCo Create.

Video: ATX Festival Panel — Beau Willimon in conversation with David Simon and Tom Fontana

June 20th, 2016 by

From the recent ATX Festival:

After more than a decade of reporting crime from the streets of Baltimore, how did a career journalist like David Simon learn to navigate a TV writers’ room? The outcome was in no small part due to the indispensable guidance of veteran TV producer Tom Fontana. Together, they brought Simon’s realistic characterization of the BPD’s Homicide division to life in the provocative and critically-lauded, Homicide: Life on the Street. Separately, the two would go on to create two series that began to define HBO and stand out as part of the TV revolution: Oz and The Wire. Join Simon and Fontana as they reflect on their earlier and vastly different experiences in the realm of 90s broadcast TV.

Simon and Fontana are icons: Homicide, Oz, The Wire. Incredible TV. And Willimon (House of Cards) is on his way to joining them. The conversation is both illuminating and hysterical, so many great anecdotes.

For example for the series Oz, Fontana wrote out each character’s story for the entire season, all their scenes, then folded the scenes together into an episode.

For more ATX Festival videos, go here.