Writing and the Creative Life: Possibility Thinking, Practicality Thinking

October 8th, 2015 by

You can not overestimate the value of a great idea as the basis of a story. Here are some quotes from a pair of established screenwriters about the importance of story concepts:

“Most aspiring screenwriters simply don’t spend enough time choosing their concept. It’s by far the most common mistake I see in spec scripts. The writer has lost the race right from the gate. Months — sometimes years — are lost trying to elevate a film idea that by its nature probably had no hope of ever becoming a movie.”

— Terry Rossio (Aladdin, The Mask of Zorro, Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl)

“Ideas cost NOTHING and require ZERO risk. And yet, oddly, the LEAST amount of time’s usually spent in the idea stage before a small fortune is dumped on a whimsy that’s still half-baked… Ideas cost nothing yet have the potential to yield inexplicably long careers and happy lives.”

— Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Zak and Miri Make a Porno)

That leads me to another quote: “The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” That’s from two-time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling and although he’s talking about his field of science, this observation also applies to writing.

In this spirit, I’m always on the look-out for tips on how to develop story ideas, so when I saw this article — Easily Create Hundreds of Ideas at Will — that was one I definitely had to read. Some excerpts:

The key to generating a lot of ideas is to separate your thinking into two stages: possibility thinking and practicality thinking. Possibility thinking is the raw generation of ideas, without judgment or evaluation of any kind. You turn off your internal critic. Your internal critic is that part of your mind that is constantly telling you why something can’t work or can’t be done. The strategy is to generate as many ideas, obvious and novel, as possible, without criticism of any kind.


Increasing your idea production requires conscious effort. Suppose I asked you to spend three minutes thinking of alternative uses for the common brick. No doubt, you would come up with some, but my hunch is not very many. The average adult comes up with three to six ideas. However, if I asked you to list 60 uses for the brick as fast as you can, you would have quite a few in a short period of time.

By forcing yourself to come up with 60 ideas, you put your internal critic on hold and write everything down, including the obvious and weak. The first third will be the same-old, same-old ideas you always get. The second third will be more interesting and the last third will show more insight, curiosity and complexity. Early ideas are usually not true ideas. Exactly why this is so is not known, but one hypothesis is that familiar and safe responses lie closest to the surface of our consciousness and therefore are naturally thought of first. Creative thinking depends on continuing the flow of ideas long enough to purge the common, habitual ones and produce the unusual and imaginative.

60 ideas. Wow! Seems like a push, but if it’s true that quantity leads to quality, why not take one hour out of your life and give it a shot.

So that’s possibility thinking. What about this idea of practicality thinking:

Once you have a list of alternative ideas, you can elaborate and change them. Every new idea is some addition or modification to something that already exists. You take a subject and manipulate or change it into something else. There are nine principal ways you can manipulate a subject. These ways were first formally suggested by Alex Osborn, the father of brainstorming, and later arranged by Bob Eberle into the mnemonic SCAMPER.

S = Substitute?
C = Combine?
A = Adapt?
M = Magnify? = Modify?
P = Put to other uses?
E = Eliminate?
R = Rearrange? = Reverse?

You isolate the subject you want to think about and ask the checklist of SCAMPER questions to see what new ideas and thoughts emerge. Think about any subject, from improving the ordinary paperclip to reorganizing your corporation, and apply the “Scamper” checklist of questions. You’ll find that ideas start popping up almost involuntarily, as you ask:

Can you substitute something?
Can you combine your subject with something else?
Can you adapt something to your subject?
Can you magnify or add to it?
Can you modify or change it in some fashion?
Can you put it to some other use?
Can you eliminate something from it?
Can you rearrange it?
What happens when you reverse it?

You take a subject and change it into something else. (e.g. drilled petroleum becomes chemical feedstock becomes synthetic rubber becomes automobile tires. Natural gas becomes polyethylene becomes milk jugs. Mined ore becomes metal becomes wire becomes parts of a motor.)

This sounds like some of the techniques I have discussed before on the blog like Gender Bending, Genre Bending, and the whole concept of Similar But Different.

The point is any original story you write is much more likely to succeed if you are working with a strong story concept. And if you believe a guy who won the Nobel Prize twice, the best way to find a great story idea is to generate a lot of ideas.

Possibility Thinking and Practicality Thinking may help you do precisely that.

Writing and the Creative Life is a weekly 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 May 1, 2014]

Daily Dialogue — October 8, 2015

October 8th, 2015 by

OWEN: Call me. (Hands him a business card)
PRICE: How about Friday?
OWEN: No can do. Got a res at eight-thirty at Dorsia. Great sea urchin ceviche.

There is a stunned silence as he walks away and sits in a corner of the room, ostentatiously studying papers.

CLOSE-UP on Bateman’s face, cold with hatred.

PRICE: (Whispering) Jesus. Dorsia? On a Friday night? How’d he swing that?
McDERMOTT: (Whispering) I think he’s lying.

Bateman takes out his wallet and pulls out a card.

PRICE: (Suddenly enthused) What’s that, a gram?
BATEMAN: New card. What do you think?

McDermott lifts it up and examines the lettering carefully.

McDERMOTT: Whoa. Very nice. Take a look.

He hands it to Van Patten.

BATEMAN: Picked them up from the printers yesterday
VAN PATTEN: Good coloring.
BATEMAN: That’s bone. And the lettering is something called Silian Rail.
McDERMOTT: (Envious) Silian Rail?
VAN PATTEN: It is very cool, Bateman. But that’s nothing.

He pulls a card out of his wallet and slaps it on the table.

VAN PATTEN: Look at this.

They all lean forward to inspect it.

PRICE: That’s really nice.

Bateman clenches his fists beneath the table, trying to control his anxiety.

VAN PATTEN: Eggshell with Romalian type. (Turning to Bateman) What do you think?
BATEMAN: (Barely able to breath, his voice a croak) Nice.
PRICE: (Holding the card up to the light) Jesus. This is really super. How’d a nitwit like you get so tasteful?

Bateman stares at his own card and then enviously at McDermott’s.

BATEMAN: (V.O.) I can’t believe that Price prefers McDermott’s card to mine.
PRICE: But wait. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

He holds up his own card.

PRICE: Raised lettering, pale nimbus white…
BATEMAN: (Choking with anxiety) Impressive. Very nice. Let’s see Paul Owen’s card.

Price pulls a card from an inside coat pocket and holds it up for their inspection: “PAUL OWEN, PIERCE & PIERCE, MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS.” Bateman swallows, speechless. The sound in the room dies down and all we hear is a faint heartbeat as Bateman stares at the magnificent card.

BATEMAN: (V.O.) Look at that subtle off-white coloring. The tasteful thickness of it. Oh my God, it even has a watermark…

His hand shaking, Bateman lifts up the card and stares at it until it fills the screen.

He lets it fall. The SOUND RETURNS TO NORMAL.

CARRUTHERS: Is something wrong? Patrick…you’re sweating.

American Psycho (2000), screenplay by Mary Harron & Guinevere Turner, novel by Bret Easton Ellis

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Rivalry. Today’s suggestion by Jon Raymond.

Trivia: Looking for a way to create the character of Patrick Bateman, Christian Bale stumbled onto a Tom Cruise appearance on David Letterman. According to American Psycho (2000) director Mary Harron, Bale saw in Cruise “this very intense friendliness with nothing behind the eyes” and Bale subsequently based the character of Bateman on that. Interestingly, Tom Cruise is actually featured in the novel; he lives in the same apartment complex as Bateman, who meets him in a lift and gets the name of Cocktail (1988) wrong, calling it “Bartender”.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Commentary by Jon: “Bateman (Christian Bale) has a hateful rivalry with Paul Owen (Jared Leto), who outplays him at every turn, even though it’s only ever about appearances (He’s not too fond of anyone else who outplays him as well). The rivalry is prevalent among all these guys.

But none can touch Owen with his reservation at Dorsia or his unrivaled business card, especially not Bateman who had to lie about a Dorsia reservation, and whose card is second rate to at least a few others.

This is a classic pivotal scene and inciting incident, which reveals Bateman’s deep inner conflict, torment, personal anxiety, and hatred toward Owen, and serves as the premise of the story (Bateman’s psychosis). This incident sets Bateman off on a killing spree, starting later with taking an axe to Owen to Huey Lewis’ ‘Hip to be Square'”.

Interview (Part 3): Ben Jacoby

October 7th, 2015 by

This week I’m featuring an interview I did with Ben Jacoby. This has a particularly unique hook in that I have an email thread with Ben dating back to July 30, 2013. Every several months, Ben would contact me with the latest development in his writing life, so in effect the emails are a living history of his emerging screenwriting career. The fact he has been a longtime GITS follower makes his story especially satisfying.

Today in Part 3, Ben shares what it’s like to have not one, but two scripts generate heat from the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting competition:

Scott:  To that last point, you put your money where your mouth was when you wrote me a couple months after Borderland wrapped. You said, “I submitted two scripts to the Nicholl Fellowship this year and both advanced to the quarterfinals. Fingers crossed. Send me some juju, some creative juju,” which I did.

One of those scripts was “Earthwalkers,” which ended up a Nicholl finalist. Interestingly enough, after I sent you those congratulations, an agent contacted me to get in touch with you. But you told me you had already signed with Verve.

So “Earthwalkers” was a finalist, and “The Inklings,” which we talked about earlier made the top 50. So, maybe you can walk us through that whole Nicholl experience.

Ben:  It was incredible. I still can’t believe I got that call. First of all, I thought if either of those scripts had a chance, it would be “The Inklings,” because I was just neck deep in it at that time, and it was a really emotional experience for me, writing it. I think I was most surprised about “Earthwalkers” making it because after I wrote that script, I paid for coverage from a couple of readers—and the feedback was not positive. [laughs] They completely eviscerated the script. It was painful. So, needless to say I wasn’t confident.

That exact same draft made the Nicholl finals. So there you have it. Finding success in competitions is very much about getting lucky and getting the right readers.

After the quarterfinal notification, they sent out two judges’ comments per script. I think last year was the first year they did that. So, I sent those comments to a mentor I’d met at a screenwriting convention, a successful writer—who I won’t name—and asked if he’d mind sending them and my script to any agents he knew. I figure I had enough capital for one favor, so I cashed it in.

He sent them out to a few agents and Adam Weinstein at Verve really responded. I signed with him right away. So, in a way, the quarterfinals were really the most important step for me in the competition.

Scott:  Verve is a great agency.

Ben:  They’ve been amazing.

Scott:  Then in February of this year, as we’re tracking the arc of your career, you sent me this note, “I wanted to write and share some good news. I just landed my first studio-writing gig. The last few months have been a whirlwind. I’m walking on clouds. Thank you again for always inspiring and motivating us writers.” That project is called “Doctors,” right?

Ben:  Yes.

Scott: That’s at 20th Century Fox. It’s based on a graphic novel from Dash Shaw who is pretty well acclaimed as a comic creator. And, David Goyer is producing the project. I did a little research and it looks like Fox picked it up in October 2014. You wrote me in February 2015. I am guessing this was an open writing assignment, one a lot of writers were pursuing?

Ben:  I believe so. I didn’t really want to know anything about who I was going up against, I never do. [laughs] The only person you can compete in these things with is yourself. So I just told myself this is my shot, I have to put together the best pitch I can and deliver it, and just hope they like it.

Scott:  What was that process like? Do you remember how long the pitch was, how comprehensive it was?

Ben:  It was very comprehensive. I have a hard time figuring out all the things I want to talk about in a pitch if I don’t really break a detailed story. So, my pitches tend to be on the long side.

After the Nicholl, I met with Fox in my first round of generals and they mentioned the project. I read the comic and was blown away by it. It’s dark and eerie and complex, and hits on some very fascinating themes. Difficult and fascinating, not standard popcorn movie fare. I spent about a month putting my take together and it ended up being about 25 minute pitch. It’s about doctors who discover a way to tap into people’s afterlives.

Scott:  Meeting David Goyer too, that must have been quite exciting.

Ben:  It was amazing. It was nerve-wracking as hell. I pitched my take to Fox and then to David. And he’s just incredible. He made me feel comfortable, which I really needed. [laughs] And throughout the entire process he’s just been a real champion, and his feedback is brilliant. He and Kevin Turen, the president of his company, they’re both truly brilliant creatively.

Scott:  So, last month I get an email from you, “My draft on ‘Doctors’ went great. And, more good news—I just sold another pitch!” That pitch is still under wraps. Can you talk about that at this point?

Ben:  I can’t yet, unfortunately. But I’m dying to. It’s an idea that’s been percolating in my mind for a long time, so I’m beyond thrilled that someone took an interest in it.

Scott:  Literally in two years’ time, with this email chain that we’ve got going, you’ve gone from watching your first small budget movie being produced in Atlanta to making the Nicholl finals, landing a studio writing assignment, then selling a pitch. It’s pretty remarkable. Do you pinch yourself at some times and go, “Wow, is this really happening?”

Ben:  Pretty much every day.

Scott:  I know this is a big question, but are there any lessons you sort of learned along the way in this upward move in your career?

Ben:  Just that you have to keep writing and never stop. I always worked as hard as possible, even when I had 40-hour-a-week job, which didn’t allow for much time. Just find a way to write. I would bring my laptop on the bus in New York and write for 20 minutes on my way to work every morning. Then again on the way home. And at lunch too.

I snuck Final Draft onto my work computer and got a screen-guard so no one would see what I was doing. [laughs] Other than that, just establish relationships and nurture them. Of course you have to get lucky too. I think the Nicholl was luck for me, but I really believe you can put yourself in a position to get lucky by honing your craft and by working as hard as possible.

Scott:  That’s right. The Nicholl wouldn’t have happened if you had not written those two scripts on spec.

Ben:  You have to work hard, write what excites you and hope it’s good enough to catch someone’s eye.

Scott:  Let’s talk about your other Nicholl script, “The Inklings,” which I read and really enjoyed. When you said you thought it might be right up my alley. Literally just the other day, I was talking to someone about Charles Williams because “All Hallows Eve” is one of my favorite novels, I am a huge Tolkien fan, and I’ve read a bunch of C.S. Lewis, so I know about that group of writers who called themselves The Inklings.

Ben:  Well, I already know you’re a fan—and I haven’t mentioned this yet, but I actually got the idea for this script from your blog.

Scott:  Seriously!?

Ben:  It was a few Halloweens ago, you wrote something about “All Hallows Eve” and Charles Williams and The Inklings. I had never heard of them. I obviously knew Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, but I didn’t know Charles Williams, and I didn’t know that all these writers were friends and colleagues.

I read that on your blog and immediately thought, “Wait, what if there was something to that.” The greatest fantasy writers of the 20th century were all connected. What if they shared a secret? What if they had access to some secret realm where they drew their stories from? That’s basically where the seed of the script came from. So thank you for that!

Tomorrow in Part 4, Ben and I dive into the script which landed him representation: The Inklings.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Ben is repped by Verve.

Spec Script Deal: “Met Gala Heist”

October 7th, 2015 by

New Line Cinema acquires spec script “Met Gala Heist” written by Gregg Rossen and Brian Sawyer. From THR:

Described as an Ocean’s Eleven-type heist film, the story centers on two estranged sisters who create an all-girl team to pull off a heist at the Oscars of fashion, the Met Gala.

Writers are repped by Original Artists and Jonathan Hung.

By my count, this is the 49th spec script deal in 2015.

There were 47 spec script deals year-to-date in 2014.

Script Analysis: “Nightcrawler” – Part 3: Sequences

October 7th, 2015 by

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

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

Today: Sequences.

A sequence is simply a collection of scenes in a screenplay that have their own narrative arc and they have been around since the earliest days of cinema. Arising from this is something known as the sequence approach. Here is a description from Wikipedia:

The sequence approach to screenwriting, sometimes known as “eight-sequence structure”, is a system developed by Frank Daniel, while he was the head of the Graduate Screenwriting Program at USC. It is based in part on the fact that, in the early days of cinema, technical matters forced screenwriters to divide their stories into sequences, each the length of a reel (about ten minutes).

The sequence approach mimics that early style. The story is broken up into eight 10-15 minute sequences. The sequences serve as “mini-movies”, each with their own compressed three-act structure. The first two sequences combine to form the film’s first act. The next four create the film’s second act. The final two sequences complete the resolution and denouement of the story. Each sequence’s resolution creates the situation which sets up the next sequence.

That’s too formulaic for my tastes. Some screenplays may have eight sequences. Some may have two or three times that many. We should never let a formula control where our stories want to go. That can restrict our creativity and lead to formulaic writing. Nevertheless the idea of a sequence has considerable merit:

• Working with sequences breaks down crafting and writing a script into smaller, manageable parts.

• Each sequence has its own beginning, middle, and end which can help to give the story a solid structure.

• With each sequence flowing directly into the next, a writer can give their script a strong narrative push.

When analyzing a script, there are multiple benefits in identifying its sequences:

• We can identify these mini-stories and see how well they track — beginning, middle, end.

• We can track the transitions into and out of them, one sequence to the next.

• We can explore how the sequences influence the pace of the narrative.

An indicator of sequences are the plot points: When a plot point happens, that generally marks the end of a sequence, building to a significant climax that spins the plot in a new direction.

This week: Nightcrawler. You may download a PDF of the script – free and legal – here.

For Part 1, to read the Scene-By-Scene Breakdown, go here.

For Part 2, to read the Major Plot Points, go here.

Written by Dan Gilroy.

IMDb Plot Summary: When Louis Bloom, a driven man desperate for work, muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism, he blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story.

Writing Exercise: Go through the scene-by-scene breakdown and identify the sequences.

Here is something you can do: Imagine each sequence as a runner in a relay race and as an individual sequence ends, it ‘hands off’ the baton to the next sequence. This is how we create a sense of narrative flow. So look at the sequences as articulated above: How does each one ‘hand off’ the story’s momentum to the next sequence?

Tomorrow we consider the script’s themes.

UPDATE: In comments on yesterday’s post, Paul Graunke did a terrific job spotlighting the major plot points in the script for Nightcrawler. I am reproducing his analysis here:

Here’s my short list of major plot points:

Inciting Incident (page 7): Lou happens upon a freeway car accident, watches free-lance video operator Joe Loder shoot the scene to sell to the TV station making the best offer. Lou gets the idea of becoming a free-lance video operator.

Pivot into 2nd Act(page 25): After some initial failures, Lou finally sells a video clip to a Nina Romina, the news director of a bottom-feeding TV station and hires an assistant, Rick. Thus is raised the dramatic question: can Lou go legit, succeed in the unpredictable and cut-throat world of free-lance video journalism?

“B” Story Development (page 46): Lou manipulates Nina into breaking her rule of never mixing the professional with personal and dine with him.

Mid-Point (page 56): Lou tampers with Joe Loder’s van, leading to a traffic accident that eliminates his major (and hostile) competition.

More Success (page 73): Because the main character is an anti-hero, a sociopath, there is no reversal of fortune or Big Setback for the main character. Rather, by “ethically challenging” means, Lou gets his biggest scoop so far, the murder scene in an upscale residential enclave.

Escalating Jeopardy (page 81): After misleading the police to keep them off the scent, Lou hunts down the murderers himself to stage and record another sensational news story.

Success Again (page 98): Lou gets his sensational news story by more “ethically challenging” means that entails others paying for his success with their lives including his partner, Rick.

Facing Down the Final Threat (page 103): Lou is interrogated by a detective who doesn’t believe his alibi but doesn’t have the evidence to charge him with a crime.

Denouement (page 107): The final answer to the dramatic question is “Yes.” Lou is now a successful, independent, legit businessman. He expands his operation with a 2nd unit and they head out into the night to scavenge the streets for stories.

We can very easily use these plot points as beginning and end points of the script’s major sequences.

Thanks, Paul!

REQUEST: We have some incredible scripts in the GITS library which we have yet to analyze including Saving Mr. Banks and many more.

I am looking for volunteers to read a script and provide a scene-by-scene breakdown for it to be used as part of our weekly series. What do you get? Beyond your name being noted here, my thanks, and some creative juju, hopefully you will learn something about story structure and develop another skill set which is super helpful in learning and practicing the craft.

The latest volunteers:

12 Years a Slave – Farzin Farzam
Birdman – Doc Kane
Dallas Buyers Club – Devin Dingler
Frozen – Doc Kane
Gone Girl – Ashley
Looper – Michael Perkins
Nebraska – David Joyner
Nightcrawler – Marija Nielsen
The Wolf of Wall Street – Paul Graunke

Thanks, all!

To see examples of scene-by-scene breakdowns, go here. Part of the goal is to create a library of breakdowns for writers to have at their disposal for research and learning.

You may see the scripts we can use for the series – free and legal – by going here.

To date, we have analyzed 47 movie scripts, a great resource for screenwriters. To see those analyses, go here.

Thanks to any of you who will rise to the occasion and take on a scene-by-scene breakdown.

And for those of you who have volunteered, please send me your scene-by-scene breakdown as soon as possible!

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

So seize this opportunity and join in the conversation!

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

Rod Serling on Writing: Part 3

October 7th, 2015 by

Ever since I launched Go Into The Story, I have regularly gone down the Internet’s rabbit hole in search of unique video clips featuring renowned writers. In 2010, I hit the Mother Lode: A series of 15 clips featuring Rod Serling chatting with what appear to be college students circa 1970.

Most well-known for the long-running TV anthology series “The Twilight Zone” (148 episodes, 1959-1964), Serling has over 70 writing credits including the screenplays for movies such as Seven Days in May and the original Planet of the Apes.

Back in 2010, I went through each clip and extracted some key quotes from Serling. Then as is often the case with the Internet, the videos disappeared.

However they have emerged once again, a big hat tip to Doc Kane for surfacing them. As long as they are up, I will reprise the series. Today Serling considers this question: Does espousing a cause lose character credibility?

“Leave that soapbox behind. Carry it with you at all times,
your sense of caring and concern.
But put it into the mouths of flesh-and-blood people.
If not, write tracts.”

NOTE: At 0:32 in this video, Serling mentions the phrase “plot point.” And here I thought that Syd Field created that idea. I don’t know when these Serling interviews were produced, but they were certainly before 1984, the year Field’s first book, “Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting” was first published. So perhaps time to revise screenplay history.

For Part 1 of the series, go here.

Part 2, here.

Tomorrow: More of the interviews with Rod Serling.

Great Scene: “Almost Famous”

October 7th, 2015 by

Some times it’s a great idea to put your story’s characters together in a situation that ‘rattles their cages’ — and that’s certainly what happens in this great scene from Almost Famous (2000), written and directed by Cameron Crowe. The movie’s premise per IMDB:

William Miller is a 15 year old kid, hired by Rolling Stone magazine to tour with, and write about Stillwater, an up and coming rock band.

In this scene, Miller (Patrick Fugit) accompanies Stillwater on an airplane to the band’s next gig. Other key players in the scene are the two leaders of the band Russel Hammond (Billy Crudup) and Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee). Tension between the two about the band’s direction and their own personal lives has been simmering for a while and what transpires in this scene raises the stakes:

	147   INT. BAND PLANE -- DAY						147

	Russell and William are in mid-interview.  The kid's microphone
	is out.  It's a little bit of a rough flight.  William wears
	the same clothes.

			Why didn't you come back to the party?
			Bob Dylan showed up.  He was sitting
			at our table for... had to be an hour,
			right?  Just  Rapping.  Bob Dylan!  I
			kept looking for you.  I was going to
			introduce you.

	The kid feels pain.

			What happened to you last night?

			It's a log story.

	A sharp jolt of turbulence.  Russell begins pounding on the
	card table in rhythm.

				(singing Buddy Holly)
			"Peggy Sure... Peggy Sue... "


			"Pretty pretty pretty pretty Peggy
			Sue... "

	A moment of laughter, and then bam.  Jeff's drink rises and
	suspends briefly in mid-air.  The plane takes another mighty

			We shouldn't be here.

			Doris, we miss you!

	Fear is creeping in around the edges.  William, already an
	uneasy flier, looks down.

			This is Craig, your pilot.  It appears
			we've caught the edge of that electrical
			storm we were trying to outrun.  Buckle
			up tight now.  We're gonna do our best
			to getcha out of this.

	The rocking of the plane worsens, as all buckle up.

			"Electrical storm?"

				(strapping in for a roller
			Rock and roll.

	The sky darkens abruptly. William looks up, increasingly
	nervous, stares straight ahead.  The plane suddenly drops and
	stabilizes.  Everyone is silent but Russell.

					RUSSELL (cont'd)
			Wooooooo Baby!

	A moment later, an ashen-faced CO-PILOT emerges, balancing
	himself with hands on the ceiling of the shuddering plane.

			We're gonna try to land in Tupelo.
			We're going to have to cut the inside
			lighting for the next several minutes.
			We found a field to land in.

	The kid notices Silent Ed is rubbing a small crucifix.

			A field?

			I can't breathe.

	Push in on Russell. We hear a series of unfamiliar electrical
	sounds.  The plane screwballs through the sky.

			It might be a rough set-down.  We should
			be fine.
				(cracking at the edges)
			But what we do say in a situation like
			this is - We would pass but before the
			plane ... disassembled.  However, God
			help us, if there's anything you want
			to say to each other, any secrets,
			anything like that, now would be a
			good time.  But just hang in there.
			We'll get you out of this.

	He returns to the cockpit.  The weather worsens, as the hail
	suddenly pelts the plane, and it comes down hard.  Inside lights
	shut off.   William stares straight ahead, as the cockpit door
	swings open - total chaos visible inside - and then shuts again.

			And everyone thinks it's so glamorous
			out here.

				(oddly detached)
			He just told us we're gonna die.

				(insecurities running wild)
			We're gonna crash in Elvis' hometown --

			Shut up.

			-- we can't even die in an original

			C'mon Dennis, get us a better city.

	Nervous laughter.  Another sheet of hail hits the plane.

			Oh my God.


	Just shaking.  Nearly in tears.   Hyperventilating.

			If something should happen.  I love
			all of you.  I don't think we have to
			do the secrets thing.

	The plane shakes.  Now lightening strikes very close.  A
	flashing wall of electricity rolls through the plane and
	evaporates with a burning smell still in the air.  In the

			I once hit a man in Dearborn, Michigan.
			A hit-and-run.  I hit him and kept on
			going.  I don't know if he's alive or
			dead, but I'm sorry.

				(gripped with fear)
			Oh my God.

	The plane wildly rises, and falls.  It stops for a moment.  A
	strange smooth patch.

			I love you all too, and you're my
			family.  Especially since Marna left
			me.  But if I ever took an extra dollar
			or two, here and there, it was because
			I knew I'd earned it.

			I slept with Marna, Dick.

			I did too.

			I waited until you broke up with her.
			But me too.

			I also slept with Leslie, when you
			were fighting.

			You... slept with Jeff?

			Yes, but it didn't count.  It was the
			summer we decided to be free of all

				(to Jeff)
			And you say you "love me."

				(the truth)
			I don't love you, man.  I never did.

			Please.  Enough.

			NONE of us love you.  You act above
			us.  You ALWAYS HAVE!!

			Finally.  The truth.

			You just held it over us, like you
			light leave... like we're lucky to be
			with you. And we had to live with it.
			I had to live with you, and now I might
			die with you and it's not fucking fair.

	William watches, catatonic.

				(to Larry and Ed)
			You hate me?  You too?

	Larry stares at him.  Ed says nothing.

					RUSSELL (cont'd)
			All this love.  All this loyalty.
				(incredulous, giddy)
			And you don't even like me.

			And I'm still in love with you Leslie.

	Bam.  The plane is pulling sideways, and dropping altitude.

			I don't want to hear anymore.    Shut
			up! Shut up!  Shut up!

				(to Jeff)
			Whatever happens, you're dead.

			Don't be self-righteous, Russell, not
			now.  You were sleeping with Penny,
			that groupie.  Last summer, and up
			until yesterday.  Why don't you tell
			Leslie THAT?

	Russell tries to get up and attack him.  The force keeps him
	in his seat.  He yells.  Loud.

				(freaking out)
			I quit.

	The turbulence worsens.  William finds his mouth saying
	emotional words he cannot control.

			"That groupie?"  She was a Band-Aid.
			All she did was love your band.  And
			you all -- you used her, all of you.
			You used her and threw her away.  She
			almost died last night, while you were
			with Bob Dylan.  You're always talking
			about the fans, the fans, the fans.
			She was your biggest fan and you threw
			her away.  And if you can't see that,
			that's your biggest problem.

	Russell and Jeff stare at each other.   The plane is rocking
	very very hard.  Leslie is crying.

			I'm gay.

	They all turn to the silent drummer.  (It's his first spoken
	dialogue of the movie.)


	The plane pops out from below the clouds.  Sunshine spikes
	through the embattled windows of the plane, as they float
	downwards to the city of Tupelo, Mississippi.  A very very
	uneasy silence fills the plane.  No one can look at each other.
	Out bursts the Co-Pilot, giddy with victory.

			Thank God above, WE'RE ALIVE!!   WE'RE

	Shot of all the occupants, ending with Russell.  Suddenly, the
	alternative seems far more attractive.  We hear Rod Stewart's
	"Jo's Lament" as music plays over their still-shocked faces.


	Music continues, as they walk together like ghosts in a long
	and very pregnant silence, ignoring the kid.  Everything is
	different now.  The kid peels off and throws up in a dumpster.
	We continue with the band, unhappily moving forward.  William
	hustles back to catch up.  They ignore him.  There are much
	bigger thoughts in play.  No one wants to speak.

			Well, I think we can build on this new

	Boom.  Russell attacks him, and they're pulled apart.  The
	band continues moving forward, arriving at a fork in the airport
	terminals.  William stops.  This is where he must part company.
	He stands at the mouth of the next terminal, as the band
	continues, unaware he's split off.   He watches their backs,
	they've forgotten him.

	Then Russell turns, sensing something missing.  William.  All
	now stop and turn.  Still shell-shocked, they summon a pre-
	occupied but heartfelt goodbye.  William waves.  Music

The scene in the movie:

I talk a lot about the External and Internal Worlds of a story universe, that while something is going on in dialogue and action, there should be something else going on underneath in characters’ subtext and intentions. There are times when you want all that ‘stuff’ in the Internal World to erupt into the External World. Putting your characters under pressure is an excellent way to foment moments of explosive emotional honesty — just like this great scene from the wonderful Cameron Crowe movie Almost Famous.

[Originally posted April 23, 2010]

Daily Dialogue — October 7, 2015

October 7th, 2015 by

Indiana: Hello…
Belloq: Jones? JONES….
Indiana: I’m gonna blow up the Ark, Rene.
Belloq: Your persistence surprises even me. You’re going to give mercenaries a bad name.
Dietrich: Dr. Jones, surely you don’t think you can escape from this island?
Indiana: That depends on how reasonable we’re all willing to be. All I want is the girl.
Dietrich: And if we refuse?
Indiana: Then your Führer has no prize.
Belloq: OK Jones, you win. Blow it up.
Dietrich: Do what?
Belloq: Yes, blow it up. Blow it back to God. All your life has been spent in pursuit of archaeological relics. Inside the Ark are treasures beyond your wildest aspirations. You want to see it opened as well as I. Indiana, we are simply passing through history. This, this is history…Do as you will.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Rivalry. Today’s suggestion by James Schramm.

Trivia: According to the novelization, the writing on the headpiece of the Staff of Ra included a specific warning not to look into the Ark. This is why Indy and Marion survive the conflagration at the end simply by closing their eyes. It may be an allusion to 1 Samuel 6:19, where God “smote” the men of Beth Shemesh for looking into the Ark.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Commentary by James: “Indy is thwarted by Belloq at every turn during the movie and finally, when it seems he has the upper hand, he relents. Belloq was right, they are the same, both wanting to see the greatest find in the world opened. Great scene, great rivalry.”

The 2015 For Your Consideration Screenplay Download Season officially begins!

October 6th, 2015 by

It’s that time of year again when studios and production companies make available PDFs of movie scripts for award season. As in years past, we will be tracking them and posting links as they become available.

UPDATE: Current total of 2015 scripts for download: 8.

Newly added scripts: Legend, Trainwreck.

Ex Machina (A24)

Legend (Universal)

Mississippi Grind (A24)

Remember (A24)

Slow West (A24)

The End Of Tour (A24)

Trainwreck (Universal)

While We’re Young (A24)

As the scripts become available, we will add them to our Movie Script Download archive, all of the scripts official, free, and legal.

Once again, many thanks to Wendy Cohen who has taken the lead on this front for several years now. This time especially so as she is busy in her first year in the University of Southern California Writing for Screen & Television Masters of Fine Arts Program.

Reading movie screenplays is absolutely critical to your development as a screenwriter. Along with watching movies and writing pages, it is a fundamental practice you should put into place. Make it a goal to read at least one movie script per week.

Where can you go to get access to many of the top movie scripts from 2015? Right here!

Interview (Part 2): Ben Jacoby

October 6th, 2015 by

This week I’m featuring an interview I did with Ben Jacoby. This has a particularly unique hook in that I have an email thread with Ben dating back to July 30, 2013. Every several months, Ben would contact me with the latest development in his writing life, so in effect the emails are a living history of his emerging screenwriting career. The fact he has been a longtime GITS follower makes his story especially satisfying.

Today in Part 2, Ben talks about two indie features he wrote which got produced including one starring Bruce Dern and Peter Fonda:

Scott:  In that same email in July of 2013 you said, “And speaking of dreams, my first produced screenplay’s currently in post-production. I’m riding on cloud nine. I was on set for rehearsal, scouting, shooting. It was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life.”

That was a movie originally called The Circle, now called Bleed. The plot is described as, “Six friends blindly follow a deadly fate as they explore a burned-down prison in the woods.” How did that project come about?

Ben:  Through some other work I’d done with a producer, he referred me to these guys in Atlanta who were looking to produce their first feature. They’ve been a commercial production company for a long time, wanting to do a feature film.

They found this real location, a burned-down prison in the woods outside Atlanta, and it’s just the most horrifying place you’ve ever seen. If you wanted to build a scary burned-down prison movie set, you couldn’t do it better. And there it was, completely abandoned.

They wanted to make a movie about this place. They had a treatment, we reworked it and I went and wrote the script. They cast it incredibly quickly. Shockingly quick. After all the false starts and disappointments over the years, I just took everything they said with about a five pounds of salt. They said they wanted to shoot this in May. That they were going to cast it, and work on effects, and so on. I said, “OK, sure, great.” I went to Atlanta to meet with them, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. They actually had the entire cast there, all assembled and doing a read-through. They said they were shooting next week. I couldn’t believe it.

Because they were a commercial production company, they had all their own gear. They had cranes and lights and crew and editing bays and sound, an amazing cast, and the same guys who do the makeup effects for “The Walking Dead.” It was shocking to see. They shot the thing quickly, and I think it ended up being really great.

Scott:  I think I even posted a trailer on the blog, if I’m not mistaken.

Ben:  Yes, that was an early trailer, and it’s since gone through a lot more post-production, more reshoots, and scoring and all that. I think distribution is right around the corner so hopefully people will get to see it soon.

Scott:  So then, cut to November 2013. You sent me another email. “I’ve taken two writing assignments of late, one on spec, one paid, so, the slow but not so steady progression to professional writer is still moving forward.”

“Also, I just finished a second draft of a spec that’s been consuming me for some time, by far the script I’ve been most passionate about. I got lost in the world. Fell in love with the characters, their struggles, and their quest for redemption. I really found the animals in this one. It was definitely a case of trying to sell them my dream.” What was that script?

Ben:  That was “The Inklings.”

Scott:  Ah, “The Inklings.” We’re going to talk about that, because you said to me, “Scott, I hope this is a script that will really resonate with you,” and boy, were you right about that. We’ll hold off that conversation for just a little bit, but that speaks to the importance of writing something you’re passionate about, right?

Ben:  Yeah, definitely. I’ve written stuff on spec for the sole purpose of trying to sell it. Something that I was kind of interested in, but mainly had my eye on the prize. And you can really just tell in the finished product. It doesn’t have that spark. So I decided—what is it you say?

Scott:  Write what they’re buying, or sell them your dreams.

Ben:  Yup. Sell them your dreams, and don’t be afraid to dream big too. I’ve been told by friends not to write certain scripts because either I didn’t have the rights to the underlying material, or because a script would have cost $150 million to make.

But if it gets you excited, it has the potential to be special regardless of all that stuff. “The Inklings” borrows from material I don’t have the rights to, from several authors, and it’s a massive fantasy adventure huge-budget script, but I figured at the very least I’d learn something about screenwriting and about myself by writing it, and I did both.

Scott:  Then in June 2014, another email, “Just wanted to share some exciting news with you. My most recent project just landed Bruce Dern in the lead, and Peter Fonda in a smaller role. We start shooting next week, and I’ll be on set.” Now, that’s a movie called Borderland?

Ben:  Yes.

Scott:  What’s the story on that project?

Ben: It’s a dramatic thriller about crossing from Mexico into America, multiple storylines interweaving. There’s a heavy psychological element too. My favorite movie for a while has been Amores Perros, and I borrowed a lot from Arriaga and Innaritu for that script.

The idea of a single moment branching out into the past and the future, branching out to these characters, disparate characters, bringing them together, destroying some lives, creating new ones. Innaritu hits that structure in almost all of his movies and I think there’s something very profound about it—how we’re all connected.

So, I tried to craft something in that style with Borderland. We had a very, very small budget, but managed to get that amazing cast, and it all came together very quickly too. I started writing the script in April and we were shooting it by June. It was an incredible experience.

Scott: How did you get that project?

Ben: I’d written some stuff on spec for a producer, and he introduced me to the director, who was looking for a writer. We met, talked through the project. They already had a script but wanted to go in a different direction, so we re-broke it and I went off to write it.

Scott:  It’s interesting, you’re talking about these producer connections that you had that led to this, that led to that, and then directors who had connections in getting casting and whatnot. It really speaks to the importance of networking, doesn’t it?

Ben:  Yeah, I think that’s pretty much all it’s about. It’s about relationships.

You have to perform well, and you have to write well, and you have to be dedicated and driven. But you absolutely have to cultivate relationships. If you meet someone, connect with them, and end up working for them, and they like what you’ve done, you’ve just opened another 20 potential doors. You have to keep nourishing those relationships and hope they lead to something productive.

Of course the problem is that up to that point you have to do a lot of writing for free. There’s no way around it. And that means working on a lot of projects that will probably never reach fruition. You have to write a lot of scripts for yourself that will never be made and do a lot of “work” for others that will never pay. And you have to reconcile yourself to that.

As long as a script leads to something though, as long as it improves your craft, or gets you in the door with someone, it was worthwhile. You have to look at your screenplay as a work of art in itself and be happy and satisfied with that. If you don’t you’ll drive yourself crazy.

Tomorrow in Part 3, Ben shares what it’s like to have not one, but two scripts generate heat from the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting competition.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Ben is repped by Verve.