Page One Writer’s Conference: May 2, 2015

April 24th, 2015 by

Attention all you writers within hailing distance of Chicago: On May 2nd, be sure to check out the DePaul University School of Cinematic Arts Page One Writers’ Conference.

page one 2015

Here is the list of writers and industry insiders who will be appearing at the event:

-Randi Barnes is a film and TV writer whose most recent work includes the animated film, Legends of Oz and the current hit TV series Girl Meets World.

-Alex Beh is an award winning Actor/Writer/Director and recently name by Shoot Magazine as one of the new directors to watch. He has directed and appeared in multiple commercials and his first feature film, Warren, is now available for streaming.

-Linwood Boomer began his career as an actor in the NBC series Little House on the Prairie. He moved behind the scenes in 1985 and since served as an executive producer or consultant on many TV shows, leading to his biggest success, the Fox comedy Malcolm in the Middle.

-Trey Callaway is a veteran writer that has written for both Film and TV (I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, CSI:NY) and currently, is the Executive Producer and writer of a new CW series called The Messengers, which debuted mid-April.

-Josh Golden graduated from DePaul University’s Digital Cinema program. After making his move out west, he wrote the spec script Road to OZ, which became a finalist in the prestigious Nicholl Fellowship, and soon thereafter the script sold to New Line Cinema.

-Sneha Koorse first gained attention upon winning the Grand Prize in the Slamdance Screenwriting and Teleplay Competition. Her first staff writing job was on FX’s The Americans, for which she received a WGA Nomination for Best New Series. Currently, Sneha finished the first season of NBC’s show, Constantine.

-John Oakes is senior vice president of development at Bold Films. Jon has produced such films as, Drive, starring Ryan Gosling, Legion and The Hole. Bold Films is the production company behind Whiplash and Nightcrawler.

-David and Janet Peoples’ collaboration as scriptwriters began on the Oscar-nominated The Day After Trinity documentary. David, a former editor of news programs, documentaries and commercials is a screenwriter known for the films Blade Runner, Unforgiven and Twelve Monkeys which he wrote with his wife, Janet.

-Kate Powers has been a writers’ assistant and/or script coordinator for shows such as, Breaking Bad, The Good Wife and Mad Men before becoming a writer for Sundance Channel’s Rectify, for which she was nominated for a WGA Writing Award for Episodic Drama for her episode, “Donald the Normal.”

-Erin Rodman has worked in many facets of film and television production and development for many networks and studios. As a writer, Erin is a Nicholl Fellowship semi-finalist and a Family Friendly Programming Forum award winner.

-David Rosenthal has been writing and producing television for over twenty years. His credits include Spin City, Gilmore Girls, The Middle and Jane The Virgin.

-Bruce Joel Rubin is a writer and producer, known for Ghost, for which he won an academy award for Best Original Screenplay, Jacob’s Ladder, Stuart Little 2 and Deep Impact.

-Craig Titley is a feature and TV writer/producer who found success writing family films such as, the live-action Scooby-Doo, Cheaper by the Dozen, and Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lighting Thief. In television, Craig has written episodes for Star Wars: The Clone Wars and is currently a writer/producer on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

-Rob Wolken is the co-owner and COO of Rain Management Group. He handles artists in film, TV, theater and new media, some of his clients produce such shows as: House of Cards, The Mentalist and NCIS New Orleans. Rob is also the Executive Producer on the new ABC Family series Stitchers.

For more information, you can visit their Facebook page here.

For background on the DePaul University School of Cinematic Arts, you can read my June 2014 interview with screenwriter and faculty member Brad Riddell here.

Remember the date: Saturday, May 2nd. Spread the word, Midwesterners!

Update: The Joker’s third scar origin story from The Dark Knight

April 7th, 2015 by

Last week, I was musing about The Dark Knight and what the Joker’s third origin story of his facial scars might have been before Batman rudely interrupted the psychopath by tossing him off the skyscraper. One thing led to another and we ended up with a contest. A bunch of folks contributed their take on what the Joker might have said had he been allowed to continue. Indeed I offered a prize:

I’ll do a 30 minute teleconference with the writer of the winning entry. If you have a story idea — logline or short treatment (no more than 2 pages) — we can discuss that. Or if you just want to talk about writing, we can do that, too.

I was originally going to award one prize, but the posts were so great, I ended up going with three winners. They are: Will King, Jacob Holmes-Brown, and Chris Molinaro. Here are their winning entries.

Will King

I’m going with the observation that the Joker tailored his story to each audience, and at this point, his audience is Batman.

Just past this point after Batman pulls him back up on the safety line (or Batrope—yeah, I’m a child of the 60s), the Joker plays his hand by saying “You didn’t think I’d risk the battle for Gotham’s soul in a fist fight with you?” and tells him about Harvey being his ace in the hole.

So, my what-if for this alternate scenario is: what if the Joker was just about to expose his hand when Batman cut him off?

JOKER
You can’t rely on anyone these days. You’ve got to do everything yourself, don’t we? That’s okay, I came prepared.

It’s a funny world we live in. Speaking of which, you know how I got these scars?

As a kid I had a dentist who said I didn’t open my mouth wide enough. He told me, “We got to make it a lot bigger so I can work in there.” So, he took the drill, but instead of drilling my teeth, he used it to broaden my smile, all the while humming along with it’s high-pitched whine. Sure made him happy. His office had one of those old-fashioned doors with the name painted on the wavy glass. Funny world. You see, it didn’t say “DDS” or “Dentist” like the others. His had a different spelling: D-E-N-T. Period. Funny, don’t you think?

Jacob Holmes-Brown

I always saw the Joker’s stories as writing himself an origin story. He is clearly an unreliable storyteller as we don’t know if either of his stories are true but I felt that it was the process of telling that was more important to him.
For me the scars themselves are just a detail, the Joker always seems more interested in provoking the “why” response/thought process. So I felt that in this final conversation with Batman the Joker wanted to reveal Batman to himself.

***

JOKER: Speaking of which, you know how I got these scars? You could say that I had a, uh, a rough childhood. Abandoned and set adrift in this mean ol’ scary world. I looked at myself in the mirror, I thought- I couldn’t keep them, I could save them, you know. ‘course you do. Not as me anyhow. But you stare into yourself for too long, Bats, you stare into the void, and you- I just got to that point where I couldn’t go on staring any longer. Not when you’ve got the radio crying out and the television crying out, all those screams just trying to get a piece of your attention. So I broke the mirror. And, with so many eyes on me, I took the glass… [traces his smile with his fingers] and I put on my mask. Who am I without it, hmm? Maybe just another lunatic who climbed out of the asylum. Maybe just another little lost boy without a mommy or a daddy… but that’s who I was and he doesn’t interest me much anymore.

Chris Molinaro

Wanna know how I got these scars? When you’re a kid who gets off killing small animals, it raises a red flag or two. But once you graduate to… bigger game… that’s when they send you to juvi. Out of sight… out of their minds.

The other boys used to tease me relentlessly. Always laughing. Kids can be so cruel. Now the warden was an especially creative disciplinarian. After the inevitable fights between me and the kids who sensed I was…different… he’d hand us each a sharpened screwdriver, lock us in the showers, kill the lights and tell us to settle it like men. Like men? We were little boys! Well, what are little boys most afraid of?

Monsters.

One day it’s me and Robbie O’Malley’s turn and he’s standing there, laughing at me like a hyena. As per usual. So I took that screwdriver and gave myself a permanent makeover. Oh, that shut Robbie up all right. Then I looked at that scared little urine-soaked boy and as the room went pitch black, said the last three words he’d ever hear. “Who’s laughing now?”

Honestly, every post had something interesting going on in it, so thanks to each writer who participated.

How about this: If you have other suggestions for dialogue challenges based on notable movies, post in comments. Maybe we’ll do something like this every month or so. I’m all about doing what we can to motivate people to write.

Winners, email me and we’ll set up your calls.

Again thanks to everyone who took the time and effort to get in touch with their inner Joker.

What is the third origin story about The Joker’s scars in The Dark Knight?

April 2nd, 2015 by

This week in my Character Development Keys class, yet another stellar session, our study script is The Dark Knight. In one of the many forum discussions, we were analyzing the story’s Nemesis figure: The Joker. The subject came up about the two stories Joker tells about his scars.

The first version he recounts to Gambol, the crime boss:

Wanna know how I got these scars? My father was a drinker and a fiend. And one night he goes off crazier than usual. Mommy gets the kitchen knife to defend herself. He doesn’t like that. Not. One. Bit. So – me watching – he takes the knife to her, laughing while he does it! Turns to me, and he says, “Why so serious, son?” Comes at me with the knife… “Why so serious?” He sticks the blade in my mouth… “Let’s put a smile on that face!” And… why so serious?

The second version he tells to Rachel:

Oh, you look nervous. Is it the scars? Wanna know how I got ‘em? C’mere, look at me. So, I had a wife, who was beautiful…like you, who tells me I worry too much, who tells me I oughta smile more, who gambles and gets in deep with the sharks… Hey. One day they carve her face. And we got no money for surgeries. She can’t take it. I just want to see her smile again. Hmm? I just wanted to let her know that I don’t care about the scars. So, I stick a razor in my mouth and do this… to myself. And you know what? She can’t stand the sight of me! She leaves! Now I see the funny side. Now, I’m always smiling!

There’s an obvious discussion to be had about these two. Obviously they both can’t be true, so which one is it? Or more likely, neither is. But then I got to thinking about the final struggle between Batman and Joker. And just before Joker is going to detonate the bombs on the ships, he says this:

Joker: Speaking of which, you know how I got these scars?

To which Batman replies:

Batman: No, but I know how you got these.

Then proceeds to assault Joker and send him tumbling ass over teacups off the skyscraper only to save the Bad Guy’s life. You can see the specific interchange at the 01:30 mark of this clip:

My question is this: What was Joker’s third story? What would he have told Batman had he had the chance? It might be fun for folks to take a whack at Joker’s third — unspoken — story.

To spice up things, how about a prize? I’ll do a 30 minute teleconference with the writer of the winning entry. If you have a story idea — logline or short treatment (no more than 2 pages) — we can discuss that. Or if you just want to talk about writing, we can do that, too.

For inspiration, you might start off with this interesting analysis on Reddit about the first two stories.

But what is that mysterious third story Joker started to tell? Put your creativity to work and concoct a story Joker might tell.

Let’s put a deadline on this: You have through midnight Pacific Daylight Time this Friday.

Speaking of which, you know how I got these scars…

There’s your prompt. Finish Joker’s third story.

Go!

UPDATE: I will announce the winners — yes, there are more than one! — tomorrow (Tuesday) right here on the blog.

Resource: Writing Groups

March 5th, 2015 by

This week, I’ve been aggregating writing groups arising from a post I did on Monday wherein I asked: Are you a member of a writers group? Lots of responses. Then Go Into The Story Research Assistant Wendy Jane Cohen did her usually brilliant job (thanks, Wendy!) and has come up with this list:

LOS ANGELES AREA

Dramatica Writers Group (Burbank, CA)
Ink Tank Group (Burbank/DTLA)
Hollywood Write Club (Hollywood, CA)
Script It Writers Group (Los Angeles, CA)
Sunday Night Screenwriter’s Group (Los Angeles, CA)
Malibu Screenwriting Group (Malibu, CA)
Orange County Screenwriters (Orange County, CA)
Pasadena Area Screenwriting Group (Pasadena, CA)
Pomona-Claremont (Round-the-way) Screenwriters Group (Pomona, CA)
Coffee House Writers Group (San Dimas, CA)
South Bay Screenwriters (San Pedro, CA)
ScriptWrights (Studio City, CA)
Beyond Baroque Screenwriting Workshop (Venice, CA)
Ventura County Screenwriters Group (Ventura, CA)

NORTH AMERICA (Alphabetized by State)

Phoenix Screenwriters Association (Phoenix, AZ)
Tucson Writers Workshop (Tucson, AZ)
Berkeley Writers Circle (Berkeley, CA)
Desert Screenwriters Group (Palm Springs, CA)
Oxnard Screenwriters (Oxnard, CA)
San Diego Screenwriters Group (San Diego, CA)
San Francisco Screenwriters Group (San Francisco, CA)
Shut Up and Write! (San Francisco / Bay Area, CA)
Litchfield Hills Film Festival – Screenwriters Group (New Milford, CT)
Washington Screenwriters (Washington, D.C.)
Miami Screenwriters (Miami, FL)
Orlando Screenwriters Meetup (Orlando, FL)
Sarasota Writers Group (Sarasota, FL)
Atlanta Screenwriters Anonymous (Atlanta, GA)
Georgia Screenwriting Group (Hiram, GA)
Oahu Shut Up and Write (Honolulu, HI)
Chicagoland Screenwriters and Filmmakers (Chicago, IL)
Chicago Screenwriters Network (Chicago, IL)
New Orleans Screenwriters Group (New Orleans, LA)
Boston Screenwriters Group (Boston, MA)
Noho Screenwriters Workshop (Northampton, MA)
Baltimore Screenwriters Coffee Club (Baltimore, MD)
Minnesota Screenwriters Workshop (Minneapolis, MN)
Kansas City Scriptwriters (Kansas City, MO)
Las Vegas Screenwriters Group (Las Vegas, NV)
New Jersey Screenwriters Network (North NJ)
Long Island Screenwriters Group (New York, NY)
NYC Screenwriters Collective (New York, NY)
Shut Up and Write! (New York, NY)
American Screenwriter’s Association (Cincinnati, OH)
Dysfunctional Screenwriters Society (Philadelphia, PA)
Philly Scriptwriters (Philadelphia, PA)
Tennessee Screenwriting Association (Nashville, TN)
Austin Screenwriters Group (Austin, TX)
Dallas Screenwriters Association (Dallas, TX)
San Antonio Screenwriters Guild (San Antonio, TX)
Salt Lake City Writers Group (Salt Lake City, UT)
Utah Screenwriter’s Group (Salt Lake City, UT)
Northern Virginia Writers Guild (Fairfax, VA)
Burlington Writers Workshop (Burlington, VT)
Seattle Writers Group (Seattle, WA)
Wisconsin Screenwriter’s Forum (Madison, WI)

Canada

The Writers Room (Ottawa, Canada)
Toronto Screenwriters Group (Toronto, Canada)
Vancouver Screenwriters Meetup Group (Vancouver, Canada)

INTERNATIONAL

Europe

Dublin Screenwriters Group (Dublin, Ireland)
Galway Scriptwriters Group (Galway, Ireland)
London Writers’ Circle (London, United Kingdom)
Scottish Screenwriters (Glasgow, Scotland)

Oceana

Sydney Screenwriters Group (Sydney, Australia)

ONLINE

The Academy of Film Writing
The Internet Writing Workshop

FIND A WRITING GROUP / OTHER RESOURCES

LA TV Writers Group (Online Tracking Board)
Meetup Search For A Screenwriting Group In Your Area
The Scriptwriters Network
ScreenPlayLab
JHRTS NY / LA

Three things. First, the inclusion of these groups on GITS does not mean I endorse them, rather I am simply providing them as a resource. You should do due diligence in checking them out for yourself.

Second, if you have a suggestion for another writing group, please post in comments and I’ll be happy to update this post.

Three, this is where this whole initiative started, my thoughts on the matter:

However you do it, connect with other writers. Good ones. Create a writing group. Commit to reading each others’ pages and provide a constructive critique. You’ll help them. They’ll help you. Everyone will become less ‘precious’ with their work. You will be learning how to accept critiques of your material, lock in on the good ideas, then implement them in rewrites.

I am putting this into the Archives as a resource for writers from here on out.

Onward!

Chuck Jones’ Rules for Writing “Road Runner” Cartoons

March 5th, 2015 by

Received this email yesterday from longtime GITS follower filmmaker Amos Posner:

I just tweeted something I realize I should have sent you: Chuck Jones’ rules for the Coyote and Roadrunner. I snapped a picture at the Museum of the Moving Image. It’s an incredible lesson in simple rules establishing characters and a world. Thought you’d enjoy.

Here is the picture:

Posner Chuck Jones

Turns out Amos didn’t need my help in spreading the word as his tweet became part of yesterday’s social media tsunami. I got in touch with Amos asking him his thoughts re Jones’ rules and here is what he had to say:

I took the picture a couple of months ago at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York (which I am told now might not have been allowed), and was reminded of it the other day when I met with an actress friend about a web series for which she had written half a dozen episodes. Her scripts were funny and charming and had a great concept, but something was just a little off. In talking to her, I realized the problem: She hadn’t quite decided on the rules of the show, so the concept didn’t feel consistent from episode to episode. I brought up Jones’ rules as an example. In just nine very concise thoughts, he gets right to the core of what those characters were and why they worked. Almost like an outline of a character or premise, instead of just plot.

A larger lesson of that exhibit is what an omnivore Jones was when it came to influences. Comedians like Buster Keaton were obvious influences, but some of the fine art influences were just as important–like seeing how Degas dancers influenced Bugs Bunny’s posture and movements. Stuff we never would have noticed as kids, but which had major effects.

Re-posted the picture today, and people seem to be really responding to it. Not shocking. These concepts are so simple, but cut so deep. I can’t tell whether the rest of us are over-thinking or under-thinking things.

We may be doing both. We under-think when we don’t perceive our story’s physical environment as a character. It has its own personality and tone which includes its physics. The narrative benefits when we are proactive on this front and really think through the specifics and nature of our story universe.

On the other hand, we can get so wrapped up in the complexities of a story universe, we lose sight of the basics. In that regard, Amos’ point about Jones is prescriptive: “In just nine very concise thoughts, he gets right to the core of what those characters were and why they worked.”

As example of hitting the notes just right, here is a taste of “Road Runner”:

Thanks, Amos, for providing this bit of storytelling enlightenment.

Amos has a movie coming out: B-Side which is rolling out in April. Here is the movie’s website. Be sure to check it out.

Twitter: @AmosPosner.

Writing Groups (cont’d)

March 3rd, 2015 by

I posted something yesterday about writing groups and got an initial flurry of responses, so here is a preliminary list:

North America

Phoenix Screenwriters Association (Phoenix, AZ)

Tuscon Writers Workshop (Tuscon, AZ)

Berkeley Writers Circle (Berkeley, CA)

Beyond Baroque Screenwriting Workshop (Venice, CA)

Desert Screenwriters Group (Palm Springs, CA)

Orange County Screenwriters Association (Orange County, CA)

San Francisco Screenwriters Group (San Francisco, CA)

Shut Up and Write! (San Francisco / Bay Area, CA)

Litchfield Hills Film Festival – Screenwriters Group (New Milford, CT)

Washington Screenwriters (Washington, D.C.)

Miami Screenwriters (Miami, FL)

Sarasota Screenwriters (Sarasota, FL)

Chicagoland Screenwriters and Filmmakers (Chicago, IL)

New Orleans Screenwriters Group (New Orleans, LA)

Baltimore Screenwriters Coffee Club (Baltimore, MD)

Kansas City Scriptwriters (Kansas City, MO)

Las Vegas Screenwriters Group (Las Vegas, NV)

Long Island Screenwriters Group (New York, NY)

NYC Screenwriters Collective (New York, NY)

Shut Up and Write! (New York, NY)

Dallas Screenwriters Association (Dallas, TX)

Burlington Writers Workshop (Burlington, VT)

Seattle Writers Group (Seattle, WA)

The Writers Room (Ottawa, Canada)

Toronto Screenwriters Group (Toronto, Canada)

Europe

Dublin Screenwriters Group (Dublin, Ireland)

Galway Scriptwriters Group (Galway, Ireland)

London Writers’ Circle (London, United Kingdom)

Oceana

Sydney Screenwriters Group (Sydney, Australia)

Online

The Academy of Film Writing

The Internet Writing Workshop

If you have other suggestions, please post in comments.

Question: Are you a member of a writing group?

March 2nd, 2015 by

The other day, I posted my take on “constructive critique,” the philosophy we use in my classes and workshops. In it, I said this:

However you do it, connect with other writers. Good ones. Create a writing group. Commit to reading each others’ pages and provide a constructive critique. You’ll help them. They’ll help you. Everyone will become less ‘precious’ with their work. You will be learning how to accept critiques of your material, lock in on the good ideas, then implement them in rewrites.

I received quite a few emails over the weekend with these type of questions:

* How do I go about finding/joining/creating a writing group?

* Is there a list somewhere of writing groups?

And so I pose those questions to the GITS community. I know of some screenwriting groups including these:

Dallas Screenwriters Association

Desert Screenwriters Group (Palm Springs)

Long Island Screenwriters Group

If you know of others, please post in comments with a link. Let’s see if we can create / aggregate a list of writing groups and I’ll be happy to create an archive for those.

Beyond that, if you are a member of a writing group, how did you find it? What advice would you have for individuals seeking information on writing groups?

As always, thanks for your help, people!

What I shared today with my UNC Chapel Hill students

February 12th, 2015 by

Today was the first time I would meet with my students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after the tragic shooting deaths on Tuesday in this university town.

The deceased: Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. Barakat was a second-year student in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Dentistry. His wife Yusor, a North Carolina State University graduate, was planning to enter the UNC School of Dentistry in the fall. Razan was a student at N.C. State in nearby Raleigh.

I have been a visiting lecturer at UNC Chapel Hill since 2008, teaching in the Writing for Screen and Stage program within the Communication Studies Department. The class I am teaching this semester – History of American Screenwriting – has 25 students. They are a wonderful group of young women and men. Smart, enthusiastic, curious, energetic.

Today’s session: A discussion of this week’s movie Double Indemnity, our conversation guided by each of the student’s weekly research papers which we go through together in class. The learning that goes on in our Thursday meetings is remarkable, lively sessions filled with all sorts of insights, conjecture, and analysis.

Late last night, I felt compelled to say something to my students about this act of senseless violence which has shocked the university and our community of Chapel Hill. Here is what I shared:

Before we start class today, I’d like to spend a few minutes talking about the tragic events of Tuesday afternoon… the shooting deaths of three young people here in Chapel Hill.

There are no words.

In the immediacy of this violence, there are no words to create any sort of context within which we can make sense of what transpired.

So we hug our friends…
We reach out to our families…
We attend vigils for the victims…
We offer silent benedictions on their behalf.

These are right and good things to do.

But in the bigger picture, there are words.
Words which each of us…
You and I…
Can use.

As writers.
Screenwriters. TV writers. Playwrights. Novelists. Poets. Journalists.

We can use words to write…
Stories.

What can stories do?

In stories, we can create characters…
Who put a human face on others…
On The Other.
People whose skin color is different than ours.
Whose religion is different.
Whose sexual orientation is different.
Whose socioeconomic and cultural background is different.
Whose behaviors, language, clothes, and habits are different.

We can tell stories that convey the humanity we all share.
We can shrink the emotional and psychological distance between…
This person… and that person.

With stories, we can create a sense of personal identification.
So instead of looking at Them as an It… They become You.
With more stories, You becomes We.
And with even more stories, We becomes Us.

With stories, we can transform The Other…
Into a Brother… or a Sister.

We can speak the one undeniable, unalterable truth.
That we all exist on this speck of earth…
Amidst an unfathomably vast universe…
Each of our lifespans a relative nanosecond.

Amidst the awesome mystery of that existence… of life itself…
The differences between us lie merely on the surface.
The similarities go deep under the skin and are essential to who we are as people.

Where some would dehumanize others…
We can write stories that humanize them.

Telling stories is not a panacea.
Violence will never go away.
Evil will always have its place.

But if we write stories…
To expose injustice… to celebrate diversity…
To explore the unknown… to dimensionalize what is known…
To engage our fears… to inspire our hopes…
And always in some way to verbalize and visualize our common humanity…

Perhaps next time…
One human being won’t pull the trigger on another human being.
One human being instead of raising a fist will offer a handshake.
Acknowledging that this is a fellow traveler on a journey we are all taking…
A journey called Life.

Today words are hard to come by…
As we try to offer prayers of support to the victims’ families and friends…
And struggle to put together simple sentences to make sense of this tragedy.

But over time, words will come.
As storytellers, I encourage you to embrace this power we have as writers…
Use your words.

Use your words to tell stories.
Stories that make us laugh… make us cry…
Make us angry… make us scared…
Make us wonder… make us think…
But always make us realize…

The humanity we all share.

Writers, we can’t control the violent acts of others. But we can write. Words have power when shaped into stories. Let’s re-commit ourselves today to write stories worth reading… stories worth hearing… stories worth watching.

Do it for young people everywhere.

Do it for Deah, Yusor, and Razan.

Do it for humanity.

Do it for the good of your soul.

Deah, along with other UNC Dental School students, created Project: Refugee Smiles – The Syrian Dental Relief Fund. If you wish to do something beyond using your words, you can use your money to support this worthy cause in honor of Deah, his wife and sister-in-law.

UPDATE: The Syrian Dental Relief Fund has become an ad hoc memorial fund for Deah’s dream and the response over the last 24 hours has been astonishing. With an original goal of $20,000 in an end date 168 days from now, when I last checked, the crowdfunding site had raised $280,000! Here is a video Deah made sharing his vision for this relief operation:

Please help Deah’s dream come to fruition by supporting this effort. Perhaps with enough money, it can become an ongoing relief entity, providing dental care in other needy areas. In any event, it is a wonderful testament to a young man with a passion for giving whose life was cut short.

To make your contribution, go here.

Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling

January 12th, 2015 by

14 movies produced. 14 movies #1 at the box office. Worldwide B.O. gross of $8.5 billion. Average B.O. per film: $608M by far the highest average per film of any studio in Hollywood history.

It’s not just dollars and cents, it’s also quality storytelling. 26 Academy Awards, 7 Golden Globes, 3 Grammys. Indeed 7 of Pixar’s 14 films are in the IMDB Top 250 Movies of all time.

No disrespect to Disney, but I think the real Magic Kingdom lies 397.8 miles north of Anaheim in a city called Emeryville, California where you’ll find this:

Pixar_Animation Studios

Longtime GITS readers know of my obsession fascination with Pixar having blogged about them dozens of times. Due to having two sons who quite literally have grown up in what someday is likely to be called the Pixar Era, I have seen every one of the company’s movies, most of them several times.

In my estimation, the filmmakers at Pixar are master storytellers.

But how do they successfully wrangle magic time after time in their films? Are there lessons we can learn from Pixar to inspire and upgrade our own writing?

Those are two key questions I undertook in creating the online course Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling. My answer: An emphatic yes!

First off, there are the practices Pixar uses in developing, breaking, writing and rewriting a script. In our 1-week class, we go through that process step by step, then see how we can adapt that approach to our own writing.

Then there are several narrative principles evident in Pixar movies, six of them we focus in our online class: Small Story / Substantial Saga, Special Subculture, Strange Sojourners, Separation, Sentimentality, and Surprise. Going through every Pixar movie, we explore how these dynamics work in the context of each narrative and their overall applicability to storytelling.

There are 7 lectures, each of which I wrote, the content buttressed by a lengthy interview I conducted with Mary Coleman, Senior Development Executive at Pixar since the days of Toy Story 2, so we get a real inside look the outfit’s creative process.

The class also has a Logline Workshop where you can post a story idea and revise per peer feedback. And two teleconferences to accommodate peoples’ schedules where participants get a chance to dig into the course content with me as well as discuss anything related to writing, screenwriting, and movies.

Here are some nice comments from folks who’ve taken the class:

“I was lucky enough to be able to take Scott’s Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling class. It was my first class and a wonderful experience. I learned a ton and now have some important utensils that will help make all my stories better. Scott’s a great teacher and it was a pleasure learning from him!” — Valencia Stokes

“This course is awesome. I refer to these notes and lessons all the time.” — Traci Nell Peterson

“A course on Pixar movies? Apart from legitimately letting out my inner child and renting Up ‘for research purposes, I learnt about the ethos of the Pixar Brain Trust and the essential elements contained in all of their movies. Scott took us on an all-inclusive week long journey into why Pixar are so successful and how to practically apply this to your own script.” — Camilla Castree

“I recommend this course wholeheartedly. Plus you get to watch Pixar films as homework.” — TheQuietAct

“Scott Myers is a brilliant teacher and unites his knowledge and experience, insight and depth of thought in his lectures as well as he is providing help and support to his students. I highly recommend the class.” — Eva Brandstätter

A few words about the format: I’ve been teaching online since 2002, worked with over 1000 writers in that context, and honestly believe it is superior to the onsite class environment in many ways:

* You can do virtually everything on your own time: Download lectures, read forum conversations, add your own comments, upload writing exercises and assignments. In your pajamas. In bed. Drinking coffee. However you want to access online course content, you can do it.

* As opposed to listening to a teacher present lectures verbally, you get to download lectures and read them. Again at your leisure, but even more importantly, instead of feverishly trying to jot down notes from a verbal presentation, here you get everything laid out for you. I take great pride in my lectures, as they not only provide great content, they also have a narrative flow to them. Yes, they tell a little story.

* Feedback and conversations online tend to be much more thoughtful and therefore beneficial than onsite settings. Why? Because instead of off-the-cuff, random comments, participants online tend to spend more time and reflection in composing posts for online.

Finally I’m constantly amazed at how much of a community emerges in online class environments. Writers from all around the world and somehow we bind together into remarkably vibrant learning communities, time and time again.

So if you’ve never tried an online screenwriting class, come on in! The virtual water’s fine!

For more information on Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling, go here. And if you really want to treat yourself well, consider The Craft Package for a nearly 50% savings on Craft classes.

Did you know Pixar has two movies being released in 2015? Inside Out which comes out in the U.S. on June 19 and The Good Dinosaur which arrives on November 25. By the looks of it, two more four quadrant films from the studio, appealing to young and old, male and female. This makes the timing doubly good to take Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you! Or to put it another way…

TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!

Video: “Best Writing Trick I Know”

January 12th, 2015 by

HT to screenwriter Mike Le (@WriterLe) for tweeting the link to this video with nifty piece of writing advice from author Victoria Schwab:

It’s funny how little things can work as motivators. A calendar and stickers? Why not! That’s not the only way to get one’s derriere on chair and actually write. I believe it was an interview I read with Neil Simon who would tell himself, “Okay, I finish this scene, I can go have a snack.” Hell, for some kinds of work, I use the Pomodoro Technique.

The point is whatever works!

As fate would have it, I ran across this article today: How to Stop Procrastinating: 4 Steps Backed by Research. Here is a summary of those steps:

* You don’t need more willpower. You need to build a solid habit that helps you get to work.

* Getting started is the tricky part. Turn that habit into a “personal starting ritual.” It can even have some fun to it as long as it signals that in a few minutes, it’s time to get cranking.

*The most powerful habits change how you see yourself. Think about what makes you feel like someone who gets things done and make that a part of your starting ritual.

*Eat chocolate with friends. Maybe not literally, but it’s a good reminder that you need both rewards and a support network to build rock solid new habits.

That “solid habit” angle is key. I’m reminded of a quote from screenwriter Frank Pierson (Cool Hand Luke, Dog Day Afternoon:

“Sit down at ten o’clock in the morning and write anything that comes into my head until twelve. One of the few things I’ve discovered about writing is to form a habit that becomes an addiction so that if you don’t put something down on paper every day, you get really mean and awful with withdrawal symptoms, and your wife and your dog and your kids are going to kick your ass until you get back to it because they can’t bear you in that state of mind.”

“Form a habit that becomes an addiction.” To get there, if you need cute little stickers… or a bowl full of Fritos… or a timer program on my computer that says, “Get your ass in gear for a writing session,” then when I finish responds, “Great job, genius”… just do it.

How about you? Do you have any fun bits of business you do to motivate yourself to write? Please share them in comments, okay?

You can subscribe to Victoria Schwab’s YouTube channel here.