Screenwriting & Editing: The Shawshank Redemption

September 27th, 2016 by

[Originally posted September 1, 2009]

Over the weekend, we had an interesting discussion in response to this post about the [thus far] ill-fated movie project “Moneyball”. In comments, Carpet made the following statement:

i agree, this movie [Moneyball] sounds like a money-loser any way you look at it. i’m just speaking against the simplistic idea that soderbergh’s script sucks. the totality of a visionary director’s vision has to be accounted for, and script it just one part of that.

by the way — i’m an editor, not a screenwriter. although i suppose i get to do the final rewrite, don’t i?

In my update to the original post, I basically agreed with Carpet. An excerpt from my comments:

Speaking to Carpet’s broader point, one need only look at the making of the movie Annie Hall to see how important the edit process is. From the movie’s Wikipedia entry:

The film was originally intended to be a drama centered on a murder mystery with a comic and romantic subplot, and was filmed that way. According to Allen, the murder occurred after a scene that remains in the film, the sequence in which Annie and Alvy miss the Ingmar Bergman film Face to Face.[2] After shooting had completed, the film’s editor persuaded Woody Allen to cut the mystery plot and make the film a romantic comedy.”

The movie turned from a drama / murder mystery into a rom-com after it was shot — in the editing process.

So yes Carpet, you’re right: The director and editor get the final ‘rewrite’ on a movie. But it’s fair to say that screenwriters have a role that no one else has in the production of a movie: We are involved in the genesis of the movie’s story universe.

All part of filmmaking’s collaborative process — and we each have our part to play. What’s more, we can learn from each others craft. Certainly screenwriters can learn a ton from studying what editors do.

I’ve got a great example of how even a simple editorial choice can transform good script pages into a great movie sequence. It’s from The Shawshank Redemption. And I’ll post that on Monday.

Well, today is Monday and what follows is what I was referring to in my post: The opening sequence in The Shawshank Redemption. Here is how it was scripted:

 INT -- CABIN -- NIGHT (1946)

A dark, empty room.

The door bursts open. A MAN and WOMAN enter, drunk and
giggling, horny as hell. No sooner is the door shut than
they're all over each other, ripping at clothes, pawing at
flesh, mouths locked together.

He gropes for a lamp, tries to turn it on, knocks it over
instead. Hell with it. He's got more urgent things to do, like
getting her blouse open and his hands on her breasts. She
arches, moaning, fumbling with his fly. He slams her against
the wall, ripping her skirt. We hear fabric tear.

He enters her right then and there, roughly, up against the
wall. She cries out, hitting her head against the wall but not
caring, grinding against him, clawing his back, shivering with
the sensations running through her. He carries her across the
room with her legs wrapped around him. They fall onto the bed.

CAMERA PULLS BACK, exiting through the window, traveling
smoothly outside...

2 EXT -- CABIN -- NIGHT (1946) 2 reveal the bungalow, remote in a wooded area, the
lovers' cries spilling into the night...

...and we drift down a wooded path, the sounds of rutting
passion growing fainter, mingling now with the night sounds of
crickets and hoot owls...

...and we begin to hear FAINT MUSIC in the woods, tinny and
incongruous, and still we keep PULLING BACK until...

...a car is revealed. A 1946 Plymouth. Parked in a clearing.

3 INT -- PLYMOUTH -- NIGHT (1946) 3

ANDY DUFRESNE, mid-20's, wire rim glasses, three-piece suit.
Under normal circumstances a respectable, solid citizen; hardly
dangerous, perhaps even meek. But these circumstances are far
from normal. He is disheveled, unshaven, and very drunk. A
cigarette smolders in his mouth. His eyes, flinty and hard, are
riveted to the bungalow up the path.

He can hear them fucking from here.

He raises a bottle of bourbon and knocks it back. The radio
plays softly, painfully romantic, taunting him:

 You stepped out of a dream...
 You are too wonderful...
 To be what you seem...

He opens the glove compartment, pulls out an object wrapped
in a rag. He lays it in his lap and unwraps it carefully --

-- revealing a .38 revolver. Oily, black, evil.

He grabs a box of bullets. Spills them everywhere, all over
the seats and floor. Clumsy. He picks bullets off his lap,
loading them into the gun, one by one, methodical and grim.
Six in the chamber. His gaze goes back to the bungalow.

He shuts off the radio. Abrupt silence, except for the distant
lovers' moans. He takes another shot of bourbon courage, then
opens the door and steps from the car.

4 EXT -- PLYMOUTH -- NIGHT (1946) 4

His wingtip shoes crunch on gravel. Loose bullets scatter to
the ground. The bourbon bottle drops and shatters.

He starts up the path, unsteady on his feet. The closer he
gets, the louder the lovemaking becomes. Louder and more
frenzied. The lovers are reaching a climax, their sounds of
passion degenerating into rhythmic gasps and grunts.

   WOMAN (O.S.)
 Oh god...oh god...oh god...

Andy lurches to a stop, listening. The woman cries out in
orgasm. The sound slams into Andy's brain like an icepick. He
shuts his eyes tightly, wishing the sound would stop.

It finally does, dying away like a siren until all that's left
is the shallow gasping and panting of post-coitus. We hear
languorous laughter, moans of satisfaction.

   WOMAN (O.S.)
 Oh god...that's sooo're
 the best...the best I ever had...

Andy just stands and listens, devastated. He doesn't look like
much of a killer now; he's just a sad little man on a dirt
path in the woods, tears streaming down his face, a loaded gun
held loosely at his side. A pathetic figure, really.


5 INT -- COURTROOM -- DAY (1946) 5

THE JURY listens like a gallery of mannequins on display,
pale-faced and stupefied.

   D.A. (O.S.)
 Mr. Dufresne, describe the
 confrontation you had with your
 wife the night she was murdered.


is on the witness stand, hands folded, suit and tie pressed,
hair meticulously combed. He speaks in soft, measured tones:

 It was very bitter. She said she
 was glad I knew, that she hated all
 the sneaking around. She said she
 wanted a divorce in Reno.

 What was your response?

 I told her I would not grant one.

  (refers to his notes)
 I'll see you in Hell before I see
 you in Reno. Those were the words
 you used, Mr. Dufresne, according
 to the testimony of your neighbors.

 If they say so. I really don't
 remember. I was upset.


 What happened after you and your
 wife argued?

 She packed a bag and went to stay
 with Mr. Quentin.

 Glenn Quentin. The golf pro at the
 Falmouth Hills Country Club. The
 man you had recently discovered was
 her lover.
  (Andy nods)
 Did you follow her?

 I went to a few bars first. Later,
 I decided to drive to Mr. Quentin's
 home and confront them. They
 weren't I parked my car
 in the turnout...and waited.

 With what intention?

 I'm not sure. I was confused. Drunk.
 I think mostly I wanted to scare them.

 You had a gun with you?

 Yes. I did.


 When they arrived, you went up
 to the house and murdered them?

 No. I was sobering up. I realized
 she wasn't worth it. I decided to
 let her have her quickie divorce.

 Quickie divorce indeed. A .38
 caliber divorce, wrapped in a
 handtowel to muffle the shots,
 isn't that what you mean? And then
 you shot her lover!

 I did not. I got back in the car
 and drove home to sleep it off.
 Along the way, I stopped and threw
 my gun into the Royal River. I feel
 I've been very clear on this point.

 Yes, you have. Where I get hazy,
 though, is the part where the
 cleaning woman shows up the next
 morning and finds your wife and her
 lover in bed, riddled with .38
 caliber bullets. Does that strike
 you as a fantastic coincidence, Mr.
 Dufresne, or is it just me?

 Yes. It does.

 I'm sorry, Mr. Dufresne, I don't
 think the jury heard that.

 Yes. It does.

 Does what?

 Strike me as a fantastic coincidence.

 On that, sir, we are in accord...


 You claim you threw your gun into
 the Royal River before the murders
 took place. That's rather convenient.

 It's the truth.

 You recall Lt. Mincher's testimony?
 He and his men dragged that river
 for three days and nary a gun was
 found. So no comparison can be made
 between your gun and the bullets
 taken from the bloodstained corpses
 of the victims. That's also rather
 convenient, isn't it, Mr. Dufresne?

  (faint, bitter smile)
 Since I am innocent of this crime,
 sir, I find it decidedly inconvenient
 the gun was never found.


6 INT -- COURTROOM -- DAY (1946) 6

The D.A. holds the jury spellbound with his closing summation:

 Ladies and gentlemen, you've heard
 all the evidence, you know all the
 facts. We have the accused at the
 scene of the crime. We have foot
 prints. Tire tracks. Bullets
 scattered on the ground which bear
 his fingerprints. A broken bourbon
 bottle, likewise with fingerprints.
 Most of all, we have a beautiful
 young woman and her lover lying
 dead in each other's arms. They had
 sinned. But was their crime so
 great as to merit a death sentence?

He gestures to Andy sitting quietly with his ATTORNEY.

 I suspect Mr. Dufresne's answer to
 that would be yes. I further
 suspect he carried out that
 sentence on the night of September
 21st, this year of our Lord, 1946,
 by pumping four bullets into his
 wife and another four into Glenn
 Quentin. And while you think about
 that, think about this...

He picks up a revolver, spins the cylinder before their eyes
like a carnival barker spinning a wheel of fortune.

 A revolver holds six bullets, not
 eight. I submit to you this was not
 a hot-blooded crime of passion!
 That could at least be understood,
 if not condoned. No, this was
 revenge of a much more brutal and
 cold-blooded nature. Consider! Four
 bullets per victim! Not six shots
 fired, but eight! That means he
 fired the gun empty...and then
 stopped to reload so he could shoot
 each of them again! An extra bullet
 per lover...right in the head.
  (a few JURORS shiver)
 I'm done talking. You people are
 all decent, God-fearing Christian
 folk. You know what to do.


7 INT -- JURY ROOM -- DAY (1946) 7

CAMERA TRACKS down a long table, moving from one JUROR to the
next. These decent, God-fearing Christians are chowing down on
a nice fried chicken dinner provided them by the county,
smacking greasy lips and gnawing cobbettes of corn.

   VOICE (O.S.)
 Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty...

We find the FOREMAN at the head of the table, sorting votes.


8 INT -- COURTROOM -- DAY (1946) 8

Andy stands before the dias. THE JUDGE peers down, framed by a
carved frieze of blind Lady Justice on the wall.

 You strike me as a particularly icy
 and remorseless man, Mr. Dufresne.
 It chills my blood just to look at
 you. By the power vested in me by
 the State of Maine, I hereby order
 you to serve two life sentences,
 back to back, one for each of your
 victims. So be it.

He raps his gavel as we


And here is a partial version of the sequence and how they edited what they shot in the movie:

Straightaway there are two big differences between the script and the movie:

(1) Where the script starts inside the cabin [Scene 1] with Dufresne’s wife and lover already going at it, the movie starts with a shot of the cabin in the woods [Scene 2], then inside Andy’s car [Scene 3].

Why the change? First, by not revealing what’s going on in the cabin upfront, the movie creates a question for the viewer: Why are we here?. Then when Andy pulls out the pistol, the situation shifts into a full-blown mystery: What the hell is going on? I’m guessing the movie’s writer-director Frank Darabont and his editor on the film Richard Francis-Bruce figured the audience is going to find out about Andy’s wife cheating on him soon enough, why not arouse some curiosity first, then pay it off later?

(2) Where the script stays with the action on the night of the murder, at 1:12 in the movie, we hear the V.O. of the District Attorney from the trial: “Mr. Dufresne, describe the…” Then cut to a C.U. of Andy on the witness stand at his murder trial. Thereafter, the scenes are cross cut — from the night of the murder to the trial, back and forth.

This is a huge change and much for the better. First, it doesn’t force the viewer to go through the events twice: The night of the murder, then hear the details again in the trial. By intercutting the two sequences, the viewer experiences the night’s events one time — so no wasted exposition.

Speaking of exposition, in the script, there are 34 sides of dialogue in Scenes 5-8, where the story cuts in on Andy’s testimony to the judge’s sentencing. That’s a ton of ‘talking heads’. By cross cutting between the trial testimony with what was happening on the night of the murder, inside and outside the cabin, the exposition transforms into commentary on the action, the words ‘connected’ to visual images – much more cinematic.

Here’s the breakdown of the cuts in the movie version of the opening. The italicized segments are where the trial V.O. is laid over visuals of the night of the murder:

0:00 – 1:12: Scene 2 + Scene 3 (partial) — establish the cabin / Andy in car

1:12 – 2:00: Scene 5 (partial) — Andy trial testimony: background of the night of the murder

2:00 – 2:06: Scene 1 (partial) — Andy and D.A.’s V.O. over visual introducing Andy’s wife and her lover Glenn Quentin as they enter cabin and embrace

2:06 – 2:20: Scene 5 (partial) — Andy trial testimony: talks about how he ended up outside the cabin

2:20 – 2:33: Scene 3 (partial) — Andy’s V.O. describing his state of mind over visual of him inside his car, loading up gun with bullets

2:33 – 3:40: Scene 5 (partial) — Andy and D.A. back and forth about the whereabouts of the gun

3:40 – 4:28: Scene 3 (partial), Scene 4, Scene 6 (partial) — D.A. summary argument to the jurors V.O. over visuals of Andy taking a last drink in his car, emerging from the car, and stopping outside the cabin

4:28 – 4:50: Scene 6 (partial): D.A. asserts “this was revenge of a much more brutal and cold-blooded nature”

4:50 – 5:12: Scene 1 (partial): D.A. V.O. explains how murderer had to reload to fire 8 bullets over visuals of Andy’s wife and lover as “he enters her”

5:12 – 5:33: Scene 8: Judge sentences Andy

There are many other reasons why the movie version works better than the scripted version. I look forward to your impressions in that regard in comments.

The takeaway is that you can use cross cuts to enhance the visual nature of your story. A great script to read that employs cross cuts / intercuts a lot is The Dark Knight which you can get here.

Video: “MICHAEL CLAYTON: The Tortured Path to Redemption”

September 27th, 2016 by

A lot of video essays come my way and frankly many of them are not very good. This one is as it does a nice job delving into the psychological and existential journey of the Protagonist in the outstanding movie Michael Clayton.

Two things. First, you can watch this movie, written and directed by Tony Gilroy, each day for a month and learn something of value relative to the craft of storytelling. Second, this analysis is a good reminder that many movies have key themes and dynamics which have theological roots. In Michael Clayton, the Protagonist’s journey is one grounded in the need for redemption. As storytellers, we can use religious themes and use them as metaphors to tap into universal human experiences.

For my series on The Theology of Screenwriting, go here.

For more about the video, go here.

Everything you wanted to know about specs [Part 17]

September 27th, 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.

In Part 12, we acknowledged the role that serendipity can play in the process.

In Part 13, we discussed the strategy of targeting specific buyers.

In Part 14, we drilled down into the strategy of going wide.

In Part 15, we indulged in the ultimate fantasy of a bidding war.

In Part 16, we got a first-hand account of a preemptive purchase.

Part 17: Write what they’re buying or…

For the three weeks, we have taken a comprehensive look at the spec script market. Okay. Now what do you do with that information and insight?

Let’s consider this a response to a reader question because I get this type of inquiry pretty regularly from aspiring screenwriters. It takes different forms:

What type of stories should I focus on writing for my spec script?

I have a lot of story ideas: How do I know which one to write as a spec?

What’s the best approach to take to maximize my chance of selling a spec script to Hollywood?

There is no one right answer. Even if there was and I gave it to you, you can be certain you would open the trades tomorrow to read a story about some writer who came along and did precisely the opposite, and just sold a spec for six figures.

That said broadly speaking, there are two basic paths an aspiring screenwriter can take when writing a spec script.

The most obvious approach is this: Write what they’re buying.

It’s the first rule of sales: Qualify your customer. If Hollywood is your ‘customer,’ then you find out what they are buying. That can mean right now, that can mean established patterns in terms of genres and movie story types over a decade or more, that can mean reading the tea leaves for what you think may be the next big thing. You do due diligence in terms of gathering information about the Hollywood acquisition market so when you assess your story concepts, your own interests, and your potential as a writer to develop your voice, you can make an intelligent choice in what you pursue.

I know there is a pretty persistent piece of advice given by established writers that goes something like this: “Don’t pay attention to the market. Things change. What you write today won’t reflect what they’re buying tomorrow. Besides it’s important to be authentic. The old adage is true: Write what you know.”

Write Write Write

The problem with this take is while it may be sound advice for some types of writers, it can be absolutely the wrong tack for others. For example, if your passion is action, those are the movies you watch, those are the scripts you’ve analyzed, that’s the type of story that oozes from your creative soul, then you’d probably be dumb not to track that part of the acquisition market.

First off, what if there is a script that sells or a project in development that is the precise concept you were planning on writing? What a waste of time that would be to write a script that has zero chance of selling.

Second, determining what’s going on in development and production may provide you with just the spark for a variation on a preexisting idea to use for a new spec.

Third, you can be damn sure professional screenwriters track what sells to know what’s going on. Shouldn’t you?

In the case of this type of writer, why would they consciously not pay attention to the acquisition marketplace when in fact there are multiple good reasons to do precisely that?

So if you read an article like this one in the Hollywood Reporter — “Revenge of the Over-40 Actress” — which notes that with a plethora of great, well-known actresses over the age of 40 in combination with studios beginning to make more movies targeting the 40+ and Baby Boomer demos, maybe you start thinking about that when assessing your next spec story concept.

Or when 15 of the 49 spec script sales this year have been some variation within the thriller genre, that could influence your choice to write a thriller.

Or maybe not. Maybe the buyers are reaching a saturation point on the genre. And that’s the thing. You may research market trends until your skull has devolved into a cavity filled with mashed yeast, and your success, while influenced by information you learn, will still come down to talent, voice, and instinct.

Besides some writers simply cannot function by tracking movie trends or even trying to write what they think the buyers will buy. For that type of writer, there is another path to pursue in the spec script market.

That’s the subject of tomorrow’s post.

Screenwriting 101: Josh Friedman

September 27th, 2016 by

Daily Dialogue — September 27, 2016

September 27th, 2016 by

“There is no death. There is only a transition to a different sphere of consciousness. Carol Anne is not like those she’s with. She is a living presence in their spiritual earthbound plane. They are attracted to the one thing about her that is different from themselves – her life-force. It is very strong. It gives off its own illumination. It is a light that implies life and memory of love and home and earthly pleasures, something they desperately desire but can’t have anymore. Right now, she’s the closest thing to that, and that is a terrible distraction from the real LIGHT that has finally come for them. You understand me? These souls, who for whatever reason are not at rest, are also not aware that they have passed on. They’re not part of consciousness as we know it. They linger in a perpetual dream state, a nightmare from which they can not awake. Inside the spectral light is salvation, a window to the next plane. They must pass through this membrane where friends are waiting to guide them to new destinies. Carol Anne must help them cross over, and she will only hear her mother’s voice. Now hold on to yourselves… There’s one more thing. A terrible presence is in there with her. So much rage, so much betrayal, I’ve never sensed anything like it. I don’t know what hovers over this house, but it was strong enough to punch a hole into this world and take your daughter away from you. It keeps Carol Anne very close to it and away from the spectral light. It LIES to her, it tells her things only a child could understand. It has been using her to restrain the others. To her, it simply IS another child. To us, it is the BEAST. Now, let’s go get your daughter.”

Poltergeist (1982), screenplay by Steven Spielberg & Michael Grais & Mark Victor, story by Steven Spielberg

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Clairvoyance.

Trivia: After Diane rescues Carol Anne from Afterlife and they falling violently to living room, Tangina urges to take both to the bathtub, which was full of water. Since then water is considered the element of life, it implies that they comeback dead from Afterlife, and that mother and daughter resurrect in the bathtub, as pretending a rebirth.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Clairvoyants often take on the role of Mentor because they have special knowledge about the spiritual realm. This monologue by Tangina in Poltergeist is filled with deep insight into that other realm.

Screenwriting as Scene-Writing

September 26th, 2016 by

Every time we sit down to write a script, we are faced with a scene. This can be a daunting task considering a script may have 50, 60, 70 scenes or more. In a very real way, screenwriting is at its core scene-writing.

Therefore it is essential for you to know how to handle writing scenes.

Beginning next Monday, October 3, I will be offering my 1-week online screenwriting course, Core VI: Scene. It is part of the 8-part Core curriculum which itself comprises the foundation of the screenwriting theory I teach in The Quest.

This class presents key guidelines to help writers develop a deeper understanding of scenes — what they are, how they function, and most importantly how to approach writing them.

* Learn six fundamental questions you should ask about every scene as you construct and write it.

* Put theory into practice by workshopping some of your own original scenes.

Six lectures written by Scott Myers
Special insider tips
24/7 daily forum interaction
Workshop writing exercises with instructor and class feedback
A 90-minute live teleconference between instructor and class members

Plus you can workshop a logline of one of your original stories and post it for feedback.

So go here and sign up now.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

Zero Draft Thirty 2016 Autumn Challenge: Day 26

September 26th, 2016 by

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 26.

September 1: Type FADE IN / The Beginning.
September 30: Type FADE OUT / The End.

30 days. 1 script. Movie script. TV script. First draft. Rewrite. Whatever.

Get it down. Get it done.

For background on how the Zero Draft Challenge came into being and what it is, go here, here, and here.

To download your very own Zero Draft Thirty calendars — created by Yvetta Douarin or Chris Neumann — go here and here, then keep track of your progress!

On Twitter, use this hashtag: #ZD30SCRIPT.

Facebook: Here. 1200+ members strong.

Join the conversation for a chance to win The Marion Award!

Today’s Writing Quote

“Each writer starts differently,
but the only valid way is start with character.
Character IS plot.
Character IS story.”
— Eleanor Perry

Today’s Inspirational Video

Joseph Campbell was born on March 26, 1904 and to celebrate his birthday, check out the conversation in the video above with one of the great thinkers about Story, Creativity, and Life.

Campbell said: “Follow your bliss. The bliss is the message of God to yourself. That’s where your life is”. As writers, we follow our bliss every time we sit down to engage our stories. In that enthusiasm, we come alive.

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 1

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 2

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 3

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 4

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 5

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 6

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 7

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 8

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 9

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 10

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 11

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 12

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 13

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 14

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 15

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 16

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 17

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 18

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 19

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 20

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 21

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 22

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 23

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 24

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 25

Check back later for the winner of today’s Marion Award!

Spread the word.

Join the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group! Follow on Twitter: #ZD30SCRIPT!


UPDATE: Courtesy of Megan Bickel, read this in your best De Niro voice:

For that bit of whimsy, today’s Marion Award recipient is Megan Bickel!

AA Francis Marion Bickel

For your chance to win the Marion Award, one given away each day during the Challenge, post something inspiring — even with hamster! — here on the blog, via Twitter, or the Facebook group.

Congratulations, Megan!

Spread the word.

Join the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group! Follow on Twitter: #ZD30SCRIPT!

Now everyone go write!

Only 4 days left!

October: Classic International Movie Month

September 26th, 2016 by

Every several months since 2013, we’ve had a Classic Movie Month in which I invite GITS readers to volunteer writing up an overview of one of their favorite movies. We’ve moved through this process decade by decade, the idea being to create an online resource for writers to have at their disposal when studying movies and movie history. Thus far we’ve covered these decades:

Let’s try something different this time around and focus on international movies, that is movies produced outside the United States.

I’m looking for 20 volunteers to write guest posts to go live Monday through Friday in October, each entry featuring a classic international movie you think screenwriters should know about and hopefully at some point watch. If more people volunteer, then we can expand the series into 31 posts to run seven days a week.

Here is a template you can use for your guest post:

Movie Title


Writers (screenwriters and any authors whose books were used as the basis for adaptation)

Lead Actors (Just the main ones)


IMDb Plot Summary (You can find that directly under the Your Rating box. If you don’t feel the summary does the story justice, feel free to write up a logline of your own.)

Why I Think This Is A Classic 40s Movie (Feel free to write as much as you’d like up to a half-page or so.)

My Favorite Moment In The Movie

My Favorite Dialogue In the Movie (IMDB has a Quotes section for almost every movie, so you can find key dialogue in your movie’s site.)

Key Things You Should Look For When Watching This Movie

Please use this exact template to help me in the editing process.

If you need to look at some examples of previous posts, go here, here, here, here, or here and click on any link.

If you can find a YouTube clip from the film or its trailer, please include that URL.

When you are done with your guest post, you may simply copy and paste the content into an email to me or create a Word document and attach it to an email.

I will run the posts in the order I receive them.

If you are interested in doing a guest post, please indicate in Comments or send me an email with the movie you would like to cover.

For inspiration, here are images from some classic international movies:

Rashômon (1951)

Cries and Whispers (1972)

Wings of Desire (1987)

8 1/2 (1963)

Here’s your chance to feature a personal favorite of a classic international film. And for every contributor, I will send a special gust of creative juju your way. Click REPLY and see you in comments!

Everything you wanted to know about specs [Part 16]

September 26th, 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.

In Part 12, we acknowledged the role that serendipity can play in the process.

In Part 13, we discussed the strategy of targeting specific buyers.

In Part 14, we drilled down into the strategy of going wide.

In Part 15, we indulged in the ultimate fantasy of a bidding war.

Part 16: Preemptive Purchase

It’s January, 1987. Through sheer serendipity, the spec script K-9 has wound its way from a low-ball offer from 20th Century Fox, to a threatened lawsuit from Fox, to them relinquishing all rights to the script, to everyone in town reading the script, so that when I drive my 1978 beat-to-shit Ford onto — ironically — the Fox lot on Pico, that tiny part of the universe known as the Hollywood movie community is pretty much abuzz about the 112 page screenplay I co-wrote.

And at noon today, the bidding period is scheduled to commence.

This is heady stuff for a guy who has a lifelong passion for movies, but barely any understanding of how the movie business works. Plus there’s this: I’ve got maybe $500 in my checking account [making a living as a stand-up comic can do that]. So the figures my agents are batting about in terms of potential deals for K-9 — $100K… $150K… maybe even $200K — sound astronomically delicious to my ears.

I am twitching with excitement as I edge into the expansive offices of the project’s producer Larry Gordon, former head of production at Fox [hence the location and opulence of his digs]. But as soon as I enter, I hear this:


It’s Larry. Yelling into his phone. The person on the other end is screaming back. I can tell it’s one of my agents, Marty Bauer. The fact I can hear his voice is noteworthy… seeing as he’s not on speakerphone. Rather the decibels he is creating, which I can hear clear across the conference room, are emerging like a shrieking pterodactyl from that tiny phone speaker.

Back and forth they go, Larry and Marty, dropping F-bombs at each other, Larry red-faced, Marty doubtless as well.

I turn to one of Larry’s people, utterly confounded.

“What’s happening?”

“Larry and Marty are negotiating his producer’s fee. Marty wants 10%. Larry only wants to give up 5.”

At that precise moment amidst F-bombs and other expletives being flung about by these two cinematic warriors, I see my bright shiny future flying out the window before I’ve even had a chance to experience its delights.

I turn to Larry’s guy.

“This is not good, right. I mean could this cause everything to like… go south?”

The guy smiles at me.

“Nah. Don’t worry. Larry and Marty are friends.”

Sure enough, after a few more expletives, the guys settle their deal, and that’s that. All smiles.

Welcome to Hollywood, Mr. Myers.

It’s now 11:50AM. Larry sits at the head of his long conference table. Seated there are his people, one of my agents Peter Benedek, and my writing partner and me. Larry is fielding calls, his assistant poking her head in the door every few seconds.

“Sherry Lansing on line 2.”

That would be Paramount’s president of production.

“Dawn Steel on 1.”

That would be Columbia Pictures.

TriStar… DEG… Eddy Murphy’s people…

Larry rolls calls, each one about 30 seconds, quick inquiries about the script.

“Lansing says she doesn’t want to get into a bidding war. She’ll call back.”

Assistant enters.

“Sherry Lansing on line 3.”

Larry winks. Picks up the phone.

And the clock keeps ticking toward noon…

Suddenly the door bursts open. It’s Dan Halsted, the junior agent at Bauer-Benedek who signed us after reading our script.

“Universal made an offer.”


“All in, seven-hundred-fifty thousand dollars.”

A long silence as we take turns looking at each other.

Larry says, “Well, boys, like the sound of that?”

I turn toward  Peter and Dan. They’re smiling like cats who just caught a pair of birds.

I tilt my head toward my writing partner. He looks like Nosferatu, the blood drained from his face.

$750K can have that effect on a person.

I shrug. He shrugs.

Larry slaps the table and says, “Looks like a deal to me.”

And that, my friends, is what you call a preemptive purchase.

When a studio has a strong interest in a spec script or other type of literary material, and they want to avoid getting into a bidding war where the sale price can get jacked up and up, sometimes they will decide to step up to the plate and make a substantial offer. Their hope is the amount of cash and other benefits will be high enough, the sellers decide to take that deal and forego putting the script on the open market.

There is risk involved in this type of strategy on both sides.

For a buyer, they may in effect be bidding against themselves as they don’t know for sure what sale price might transpire in an auction environment.

For the seller, if they accept the preemptive offer, they may be losing out on the potential for more money in a competitive bidding scenario. On the other hand if they opt to pass and go out wide, there is always a chance the script could end up not finding a buyer.

But when the offer is for three-quarters of a million dollars, that’s pretty much a no-brainer.

We take the preemptive offer.

For 16 posts in this series, I’ve been taking you through the ins and outs of the world of spec scripts. I have four more posts planned to round out the subject

17: Write what they’re buying.

18: Sell them your dream.

19: The value of a spec script… even if it doesn’t sell.

20: The value of a spec script… if it does sell.

If you have additional questions or areas you want addressed related to spec scripts, please post in comments, and I will be happy to consider adding however many more posts to respond to your inquiries and concerns.

On Writing

September 26th, 2016 by

Typewriter“A writer friend advised, when I was starting out on my first book: ‘write like you talk.’ I took that to mean that good writing must have a conversational quality, should not be arch or pretentious. And as you are aware when speaking to others when their attention lapses, so when writing you must think: How do I hold the reader’s attention?”

— Ken Auletta

Via Advice to Writers