Daily Dialogue — August 19, 2014

August 19th, 2014 by

“There’s a name for you ladies, but it isn’t used in high society… outside of a kennel.”

The Women (1939), screen play by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin, based on a play by Clare Boothe Luce

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Smack Talk. Today’s suggestion by Eric Harris.

Trivia: There are over 130 roles in this movie, all played by women. Phyllis Povah, Marjorie Main, Mary Cecil and Marjorie Wood originated their roles in the play, which opened on 7 September 1937 and had 666 performances at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York. No doubles were used in the fight sequence where Rosalind Russell bites Paulette Goddard. Despite the permanent scar resulting from the bite, the actresses remained friends.

Dialogue On Dialogue: I confess I’ve never seen this movie. But 130 roles — all women — and written by women, I’ve definitely got it on my to-see list.

If you have a suggestion for this week’s theme, please post in comments.

Quest Writing Workshop: Chapel Hill, October 16-19, 2014

August 18th, 2014 by

In October 2013, ten writers from across the United States and Canada converged at The Writers Junction in Santa Monica for a 4-Day Quest Writing Workshop with me as their host and teacher. It was a remarkable weekend, so much so I held another workshop in Santa Monica in March 2014 with ten more writers from the United States, Canada and Australia. Same amazing results.

* The learning that went on as we immersed ourselves in character-based screenwriting was palpable, insights and revelations throughout each session, a cumulative theoretical take on the craft that resonated with all of the participants.

* Each writer put that theory into practice on their own stories, a series of writing exercises that not only provided them with a proven approach to prep-writing, it also enabled attendees to make significant progress on their stories.

* The actual workshop process whereby everyone embraced the idea of constructive critique, honest assessment plus brainstorming suggestions, resulted in one key creative breakthrough after another.

Here are a few observations from some of the writers involved in the Quest Writing Workshops:

“I’ve taken many courses (both academic and recreational), and the workshop was just an excellent combination of practical knowledge mixed with personalized attention.” — Pat Suh

“The Workshop time was unbelievable; your ability to foster such a positive, encouraging environment for the exchange of ideas is the reason it worked. Every single person grew their story from a loose idea into something that resonated deeply with the group.” — Jonathan Barger

“Thank you again for gathering together such an interesting, diverse group of aspiring screenwriters and providing us all with such a wonderful shared learning and networking experience!” — Melanie McDonald

“As an advertising writer I’ve been in a million brainstorms. But Scott’s classes are special. They’re more like braincyclones, where we generated a mass of powerful ideas that elevated our stories into places that surprised and delighted us all.” — Matt Sherring


“I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with Scott and the other participants in the inaugural Quest Writers’ Workshop. There was a palpable electricity in the air while we worked, the kind you wish you could bottle up to take a drag from whenever you need to be inspired.” — Lisa Meacham

“Thank you again for a great workshop, the results far exceeded my expectations. I can’t believe how far my story came in just a few days. The four-day course literally saved me months of planning!” —- Louise Baxter

“Scott is a fantastic teacher, and the energy amongst the Questers was palpable! Never have I been in such a positive creative environment in which everyone was genuinely interested in helping one another.” — Sarah Grimes

“I’m not trying to blow sunshine up your skirt when I say I got more out of those four days than I did all of grad school.” — Michelle Burleson

Here is an overview of our four days together:

Thursday: We began by digging into the first of three sections of the Core curriculum: Character. Then we workshopped character treatments for the Protagonist from each writer’s story. Finally we went through a host of brainstorming exercises to compelling participants to explore their respective stories. Focus: Brainstorming.

Friday: We interwove theory and practice, covering two other Core sections — Plot and Theme — as well as Prep exercises designed to help writers wrangle their stories, both in terms of the Plotline, events in the External World, and Themeline, movements in the Internal World, the realm of the story’s psychological and emotional journey. Focus: Subplots.

Saturday: We spent a majority of time workshopping stories, each writer exploring major Plotline points to construct the spine of their story’s narrative structure. Focus: Plotting.

Sunday: Again most of the focus was on workshopping stories, the writers learning the benefits of index cards as they fleshed out major plot and subplot elements, rounding them into shape toward a coherent, comprehensive outline. Focus: Outline.

After each day’s session, we carried on our conversations at local watering holes, a chance to dig more deeply into stories, socialize, and have a great deal of fun together.

In other words, we packed a whole hell of a lot into four days.

In addition, I created a private online site for workshop members where they introduced themselves before the weekend so we managed to hit the ground running, posted exercises and feedback during the four day session, and continued the process after our time together, moving on into first drafts. Indeed, many of the participants have finished their scripts and are using the principles and practices they learned in the Quest Writing Workshop on new projects.

After receiving universally positive response from participants, I have decided to reprise the 4-Day Quest Writing Workshop only this time in Chapel Hill, North Carolina: October 16-October 19, 2014.

Why Chapel Hill? First off, it’s where I currently live and if this proves to be a viable travel option, I can add more workshops to my schedule, enabling additional people to participate in what I believe is an incredible learning opportunity.

Also this: Chapel Hill is a lovely town, especially in October with its autumn leaves.

UNC Fall

This is an image of one of the historic buildings on the campus of the University of North Carolina, the oldest public university in the country. The town and surrounding area ought to be bursting with color, affording us much in the way of visual stimulation for our creative efforts.

Moreover The Franklin Hotel, where we will hold the workshop, is located smack in the middle of Franklin Street, the main artery in downtown Chapel Hill, with literally dozens of wonderful eateries and shops within a few blocks, including perhaps my favorite libation center in the world The Crunkleton, where we will definitely spend time socializing after our daily sessions. The first round is on me!

If you want to make a real adventure out of your trip, Chapel Hill is centrally located: 2-3 hours from numerous points of interest including the Outer Banks and Atlantic Ocean, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Appalachian Mountains, as well as beautiful, historical cities such as Charlottesville, Virginia to the north, and Charleston, South Carolina to the south.

If you have a story idea you believe is a strong one and you are passionate to write it…

If you like this blog and want more of the fundamentals of my approach to character based screenwriting…

If you want to learn a proven, professional approach to breaking a story in prep…

I encourage you to consider enrolling in my upcoming Quest Writing Workshop. There are currently rooms available in The Franklin Hotel and there are also a lot of other hotels to stay within 5 miles or so. Hardly any traffic, so getting to the Franklin is a snap, and parking for the workshop is complimentary. But act soon as UNC has a home football game on October 18, so hotels will be filling up in the next few weeks.

If you’d like more information, email me and I’ll be happy to forward you a workshop syllabus as well as answer any questions you may have. Or go here to sign up. Enrollment is limited: 10-12 writers, depending upon demand.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you in this terrific workshop opportunity.

Writing Question: What are the best jobs that leave your days free for writing?

August 18th, 2014 by

I generally loathe listicles, but this headline caught my attention: 7 Easy Jobs That Leave Your Days Free for Writing. Since many, if not most of you have some sort of gig to pay the bills while knocking out spec scripts, I figured this might be of some relevance, if not interest. Here are those jobs:

Newspaper delivery. The days when a boy with a bag on his bike delivered the paper are over, in many communities. Many routes call for a car, and a grownup to drive that car. I’ve known more than one freelancer who was an earlybird and could get up, fling papers from 4:30-6:30, come home, and call the rest of their day their own. If your town has more than one paper, sometimes you can get signed up to deliver both and double your income.

Stocking grocery shelves. I personally know writers who’ve taken advantage of this gig to keep the checkbook full. It’s quiet, it’s mindless, and gigs are usually pretty easy to get — after all, how many people are willing to work midnight to 4 a.m.? Go home, catch some sleep, and by midday you could be writing.

Pumping gas. A close family friend who is now an acclaimed sci-fi novelist pumped gas at night for years, while he was waiting for his work to find an audience. In some states, you still can’t pump your own gas, but even in self-serve places there’s always at least one attendant on duty. When things are slow, you could even read or jot down ideas.

Warehouse work. If you’re physically fit, this can be a great place to grab a night shift, as warehouse jobs tend to pay better than the minimum wage. If you live near any industrial area with big distribution centers, know that most are busy all night long, getting boxes ready to ship the next day and shelving goods for future purchase. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get trained up on how to drive a forklift. Fun times!

Bar back. One entrepreneur I know who opened a shoe boutique took this side job while she waited for her store to catch on, but I think this gig works even better for writers. Unlike becoming a bartender, you don’t have to know how to mix drinks to lug kegs in from the back and empties out to the curb. And of course, bars are a gold mine for seeing characters who might come to inhabit your novel one day.

Drive a cab. You can take a shift during the time you’re not so creative — yet another opportunity to eavesdrop with impunity and get inspired with writing ideas.

Security. Hey, malls need somebody to keep watch all night in case some weirdo breaks in, right? In the right situation, you could read, nap, or even get some writing done while on the clock. As with warehouse work, security gigs pay well because of the danger…which is often mostly the danger of falling asleep.

I was reminded of an interview I did with screenwriter Michael Werwie, winner of the Nicholl Fellowship in 2012.

Michael:  Yeah, once I graduated I took a job bartending, and I bartended for nearly 10 years.

Scott:  That was in L.A.?

Michael:  Yes, West Hollywood. I was at one place for the entire duration of its run, from day one until the last day, called O-Bar. Then that closed and I went to another place not too far away.

Scott:   How has bartending fit into your writing schedule?

Michael:  Bartending couldn’t have been a more perfect fit. I had my days completely free and I used that time to write. I’d wake up, eat breakfast, and write, and that just became a discipline, to the point where if I skipped it or didn’t have time to do it for whatever reason, it felt strange. I would do that every day, and would also take meetings, if and when I had those (which were few and far between for many, many years). Bartending allowed me to make the most money while working the fewest hours. It was a good balance because I could treat writing like a full‑time job and still pay the bills.

As for myself, I traveled up and down California schlepping my comedy act to such grand places as Thousand Oaks, Ventura, and Stockton. I’d work for 2-4 weeks straight, all the while working out stories in my car barreling up and down I-5, then I’d take off a week, transcribe my tape recorder notes and pound out pages in 20 hour writing marathons. It was lather, rinse, repeat for about a year before I sold a spec script. So I guess in a way, that was a pretty ideal gig as it allowed me quite a bit of freedom.

So riffing off the article, what do you think are ideal jobs that allow one the most time and energy to write? Maybe someone will provide a suggestion that others will pick up on, find that kind of gig, and write the next Great Spec Script.

What are your thoughts on the subject?

By the way, it was just announced a few weeks back that Michael Werwie landed this writing gig. All those years as a bartender, paying off!

For the rest of the article, go here.

Character actors have an important message for Hollywood

August 18th, 2014 by

Via Entertainment Weekly.

5 Screenwriting Skills: #1 — Talent

August 18th, 2014 by

[Originally posted March 18, 2013]

During the nearly 5 years I’ve run this blog, I have been privileged to do one-on-one interviews with a number of screenwriters, especially this year as I set a goal to post a Q&A per week for 2013.

Over the course of those interviews, it’s been fascinating to learn the variety of approaches to the craft, yet at the same time how certain themes recur.

Recently I was struck by five personality traits and five skill sets that keep popping up. So I thought it would be helpful to do a series, a checklist if you will, of aspects of things we should be mindful of as we develop as screenwriters. Today:

Screenwriting Skill #1: Talent

What is talent? If you root around the web with that question, you’ll find a wide variety of opinions. I even did a word search for “talent” in this blog’s On Writing archive. I came up with an interesting and diverse set of quotes:

“I see the notion of talent as quite irrelevant. I see instead perseverance, application, industry, assiduity,
will, will, will, desire, desire, desire.” – Gordon Lish

This would appear to diminish the importance of a writer’s talent. Of course, Lish is speaking as someone who has talent and therefore its presence may come as no big deal to him. Besides I suspect he’s taking a dip in a pool of hyperbole to make a point about the importance of perseverance, application, will, desire and all that, something with which I think we would all agree. But still, talent as “quite irrelevant”?

How about another quote:

“Practice, practice, practice writing. Writing is a craft that requires both talent and acquired skills.
You learn by doing, by making mistakes and then seeing where you went wrong.” – Jeffrey A. Carver

This is interesting because Carver draws a distinction between talent and skill. If we were in a classroom setting discussing the concepts in a hypothetical manner, I wouldn’t have a problem with this. However we are talking about screenwriting and that by default is tied inevitably to the business of making movies. And while practice, practice, practice is critical – something I’ll be writing about this week – talent is absolutely essential to a screenwriter’s success.

Therefore I will stick with this simple definition of talent: natural aptitude. For purposes of this post, it means that an individual has a natural aptitude for writing.

Now even young Will pictured here in Shakespeare in Love demonstrated at the beginning of the movie that talent alone was not enough to succeed. In his particular case, while his conscious goal may have been to become a great playwright, he was essentially lost, leading a shallow existence carousing, chasing women and basically not taking his craft seriously. Fortunately he found a muse in the form of Viola, a relationship which took him to the heights of passion and love, and the depths of misery and despair. For it was only then, having experienced the extremes of life, going beyond the shallow surface of his previous existence, that his talent was able to rise to glory.

And that’s the point: Everything he did — indeed everything we do as writers — is all in service to our talent, to create paths so that it may stride into the light of day, onto our keyboards or pads of paper, and finally manifest in a completed story.

“Genius gives birth, talent delivers.” — Jack Kerouac

Leave it to Kerouac to gives us a take on the subject that anyone who works in the Hollywood film industry would appreciate. Talent delivers.

We’ve all heard of a talent show, right? As screenwriters, that is the bottom line: We need to show our talent. Of course, it is not the only requisite skill as we all know and I will discuss the rest of this week, but at some fundamental level, we need to have a level of talent that enables us to wrangle a story, put it down into 100 or so pages of a screenplay, and somehow make a magical connection with readers.

So what about The Big Question looming over this discussion, one we have asked or will ask of ourselves at some point: Do I have talent as a writer?

Each of us has to come to our own answer. And not only if we have talent, but what kindof talent, say for example, we are strong when it comes to dialogue or characters, but less so with plot or themes (or whatever).

How to determine these things? Honestly, I don’t know. But I do know this: If you are drawn to writing, a path you feel compelled to explore, then you must believe you have talent, you must act on that assumption. You will get nowhere otherwise.

As we explored in this series last week, there are certain traits that benefit a screenwriter: Passion, Courage, Consistency, Flexibility, Persistence. All of those facilitate our skills. And a primary member of a screenwriter’s skill set has got to be talent, more specifically being able to show our talent.

How about you? What are your thoughts on the relative importance of talent when it comes to writing?

Tomorrow: Screenwriting Skill #2: Knowledge.

From last week:

5 Screenwriting Traits: #1 — Passion

5 Screenwriting Traits: #2 — Courage

5 Screenwriting Traits: #3 — Consistency

5 Screenwriting Traits: #4 — Flexibility

5 Screenwriting Traits: #5 — Persistence

Movie Trailer: “Mommy”

August 18th, 2014 by

Written by Xavier Dolan

A widowed single mother, raising her violent son alone, finds new hope when a mysterious neighbor inserts herself into their household.


Release Date: 8 October 2014 (France)

Free Screenwriting Resource: Script Reading & Analysis

August 18th, 2014 by

On a semi-regular basis, we will take up a movie script and spend a week breaking it down at several levels of analysis: General Background, Structure, Characters, Theme, and Dialogue. Sometimes we even watch the movie simultaneously around the world, then tweet about it live, what we have come to call a TweetCast.

This series speaks to the importance of reading scripts and watching movies. Here are a couple of examples of the type of analysis we get into in this series:

Gladiator [Action]

General Comments





Michael Clayton [Drama]

General Comments





TweetCast Transcript

I am thinking we need to bring this back on a more regular basis, perhaps monthly… because if you are not reading movie scripts, then you are missing out on one of the best ways to go to film school on the cheap.

Go here for the link to dozens of movies we have studied in the Go Into The Story Script Reading & Analysis series.

Go here to access links to all of the select group of Free Screenwriting Resources from Go Into The Story.

Each day in August, I’m going to highlight a screenwriting resource available on the blog. Why? Because with over 15,000 posts and 70+ archive topics, I want to make sure readers are aware of the many, many assets available here for reading and research. And they are all free!

On Writing

August 18th, 2014 by

“A character is never a whole person, but just those parts of him that fit the story or the piece of writing. So the act of selection is the writer’s first step in delineating character. From what does he select? From a whole mass of what Bernard DeVoto used to call, somewhat clinically, “placental material.” He must know an enormous amount more about each of his characters than he will ever use directly—childhood, family background, religion, schooling, health, wealth, sexuality, reading, tastes, hobbies—an endless questionnaire for the writer to fill out. For example, the writer knows that people speak, and therefore his characters will describe themselves indirectly when they talk. Clothing is a means of characterization. In short, each character has a style of his own in everything he does. These need not all be listed, but the writer should have a sure grasp of them. If he has, his characters will, within the book, read like people.”

– William Sloane

Via Advice To Writers.

Daily Dialogue — August 18, 2014

August 18th, 2014 by

“It looks to me like the best part of you ran down the crack of your momma’s ass and ended up as a brown stain on the mattress!”

Full Metal Jacket (1987), screenplay by Stanley Kubrick & Michael Herr & Gustav Hasford, novel by Gustav Hasford

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Smack Talk.

Trivia: It is a common misconception that much, if not all, of R. Lee Ermey’s dialogue during the Parris Island sequence was improvised. In several interviews Ermey himself has stated that he worked closely with Kubrick to help mold the script so that it was more believable, all while retaining certain dialogue crucial to Kubrick’s vision. While filming the opening scene, where he disciplines Pvt. Cowboy, he says Cowboy is the type of guy who would have sex with another guy “and not even have the goddamned common courtesy to give him a reach-around”. Stanley Kubrick immediately yelled cut and went over to Ermey and asked, “What the hell is a reach-around?” Ermey politely explained what it meant. Kubrick laughed and re-shot the scene, telling Ermey to keep the line.

Dialogue On Dialogue: This is some damn serious smack talk, but with a purpose: To establish Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) as an authority figure and start the process of breaking down the recruits… in order to build them up as killers.

Go Into The Story Week In Review: August 11-August 17, 2014

August 17th, 2014 by

Links to the week’s most notable posts:

5 Screenwriting Traits: #1 — Passion

5 Screenwriting Traits: #2 — Courage

5 Screenwriting Traits: #3 — Consistency

5 Screenwriting Traits: #4 — Flexibility

5 Screenwriting Traits: #5 — Persistence

“Conversations With Wilder”: Part 8

Daily Dialogue Theme for Next Week: Smack Talk

David Simon writes about Robin Williams in “Homicide: Life on the Street”

Declare Your Independents: Volume 25

“Destroy property, defy authority… and take people’s clothes off”

Do you start scripts, but not finish them?

“For Would-Be Screenwriter, Enough False Starts To Fill A Book”

Free Screenwriting Resource: 1, 2, 7, 14

Free Screenwriting Resource: Character Types

Free Screenwriting Resource: Everything You Wanted to Know About Specs

Free Screenwriting Resource: Great Characters

Free Screenwriting Resource: Great Scenes

Free Screenwriting Resource: Screenwriting 101

Free Screenwriting Resource: Writing Mantras

Go Into The Story interview: Frank DeJohn and David Hedges [2013 Nicholl Winners]

Great Character: Sarah Connor (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)

How to Write a Rom-Com That’s True to Life (and Love): Tips from the Screenwriter of What If

Interview (Audio): Craig Mazin with Brian Koppelman (“The Moment”)

Interview (Video): John Michael McDonagh & Brendan Gleeson (Calvary)

Interview (Video): Peter Tolan

Interview (Written): Chris Sparling

On Writing: Ray Bradbury

Reader Question: What is a good number of scripts to have in my portfolio?

Saturday Hot Links

Screenwriting 101: Danny Boyle

Screenwriting News (August 11-August 17, 2014)

Script To Screen: Big Fish

The History of Sound at the Movies

Writing and the Creative Life: Look… Don’t Overlook