Go Into The Story Script Reading & Analysis: American Hustle

December 16th, 2014 by

We’ve had a successful relaunch of the GITS Script Reading & Analysis series. I say relaunch because we have done this type of thing before. For the next month, I will be spotlighting previous movie scripts we have studied.

Today: American Hustle (2013)

Written by Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell

IMDb Plot Summary: A con man, Irving Rosenfeld, along with his seductive partner Sydney Prosser, is forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso, who pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.

Links to the entire November 2014 series:

Scene-By-Scene Breakdown
Major Plot Points
Psychological Journey

For my 7-part series on How to Read a Screenplay, go here.

30 Days of Screenplays [2013]

30 Days of Screenplays [2014]

Years ago, I came up with this mantra: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages. A link to my reflections on that here.

Cannot emphasize enough the importance of reading movie scripts.

Interview (Video): David Seidler

December 16th, 2014 by

Another in an excellent Creative Spark series of videos from Academy Originals, this one with David Seidler whose screenwriting credits include Tucker: The Man and His Dream and The King’s Speech, the latter for which he won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

A wonderful few minutes with Seidler who uses a great metaphor for the writing process: Fishing. Also interesting to note that he not only uses 3×5 inch index cards, but then after he’s broken the story, Seidler writes up an extensive treatment from which he pounds out a first draft. I know many writers who prefer that to an outline.

The fishing thing reminds me of a Business of Screenwriting post I wrote years ago here.

For other Academy Originals videos, go here.

2014 Black List: Final

December 16th, 2014 by

Yesterday morning, the 2014 Black List was released to the public. Here is the list ranked per the number of votes each script received along with loglines:

Catherine the Great by Kristina Lauren Anderson (51)

Sophia Augusta takes control of her life, her marriage, and her kingdom becoming Russia’s most celebrated and beloved monarch: Catherine the Great.

Rockingham by Adam Morrison (38)

A look into the mania of the OJ Simpson trial, through the eyes of Simpson’s sports agent Mike Gilbert and Los Angeles Police Department Detective Mark Fuhrman.

The Swimsuit Issue by Randall Green (35)

A nerdy high schooler, who fancies himself an amateur photographer, attempts to create a “Swimsuit Issue” featuring his high school classmates in hopes of raising enough money to go to summer camp.

The Babysitter by Brian Duffield (34)

A lonely twelve year old boy in love with his babysitter discovers some hard truths about life, love, and murder.

Rothchild by John Patton Ford (32)

A young, well-educated loner kills the members of his mother’s estranged family one-by-one in hopes that he will inherit the family’s vast fortune.

The Wall by Dwain A Worrell (30)

A sniper and his spotter must kill and avoid being killed, separated from an enemy sniper by only a 16x6ft prayer wall.

Cascade by Kieran Fitzgerald (25)

Based on the documentary style film “The Day Britain Stopped” directed by Gabriel Range, an oil tanker collides with an Iranian patrol boat in the Strait of Hormuz, triggering a chain of tragic disastrous events.

Aether by Krysty Wilson-Cairns (24)

In near future London, a revolutionary technology has been invented that can record sounds hours after they were made. Detective Harry Orwell, inventor of this technology, is part of a pilot program where investigators record and analyze past sound waves and finds himself the prime suspect while investigating a string of brutal murders.

Situation Comedy by Cat Vasko (24)

A young woman, feeling directionless, stumbles upon a mysterious courtyard where she is transported into a sitcom-like universe, becoming a major character on this “TV show.”

Tau by Noga Landau (23)

A woman held captive in the futuristic smart house of a serial kidnapper realizes that her only hope of escape lies in turning the house’s sentient computer against its creator.

Echo by Chris MacBride (18)

A CIA drone coordinator battles his own psychological health while trying to decipher whether his wife has been replaced.

Mena by Gary Spinelli (18)

In the late 1970s to mid 1980s, Barry Seal, a TWA pilot recruited by the CIA to provide reconnaissance on the burgeoning communist threat in Central America finds himself in charge of one of the biggest covert CIA operations in the history of the United States, one that spawned the birth of the Medellin cartel and eventually almost brought down the Reagan White House with the Iran Contra scandal.

Dodge by Scott Wascha (17)

A genre bending action comedy about a pill popping thug who begins to develop superpowers.

North of Reno by Banipal Ablakhad, Benhur Ablakhad (17)

A down and out prison guard attempts to murder a recently released inmate and steal a half million dollars in hidden heist money.

On the Basis of Sex by Daniel Stiepleman (17)

The story of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, as she faced numerous obstacles to her fight for equal rights throughout her career.

Moonfall by David Weil (16)

The investigation of a murder on a moon colony.

The Munchkin by Will Widger (16)

A little person private eye investigates the disappearance of a young actress in 1930s Hollywood, leading him to uncover conspiracies involving THE WIZARD OF OZ and Metro Goldwyn Mayer brass.

Matriarch by Eric Koenig (15)

A prison psychologist has 48 hours to convince a serial killer to tell her the location of her final victim before she is executed.

The Defection by Ken Nolan (15)

After the Edward Snowden affair, an intelligence contractor defects to North Korea, taking a mysterious bag with him, and the CIA hires an expert trained during the Cold War to help with the case.

The Long Haul by Dan Stoller (15)

A self-destructive trucker estranged from his son travels cross country with a problematic nephew whom he barely knows.

Berliner by F Scott Frazier (14)

As the Berlin Wall is being constructed at the height of the Cold War, a veteran CIA agent searches for a Soviet mole who has already killed several fellow agents, including a young agent he’s mentored.

One Fell Swoop by Greg Scharpf (14)

A self-centered divorce attorney’s life takes an unexpected turn when he is guilted into spending time with the family of a one night stand who dies in a freak accident.

Bird Box by Eric Heisserer (13)

A woman tries to lead her children to safety after the world is invaded by monsters who turn you insane upon sight.

Huntsville by Anthony Ragnone (13)

A girl tracks down the man responsible for her father’s death and avenges him.

In the Deep by Anthony Jaswinski (13)

A lone surfer attacked by a shark and stranded on a reef must find a way back to shore before succumbing to her injuries.

The Founder by Rob Siegel (13)

The origin story of McDonald’s and Raymond Albert “Ray” Kroc.

The Search by Spencer Mondshein (13)

An expert tracker battles his demons while on a journey to rescue his estranged older brother who has vanished in the uncharted wilderness of the Northwest.

Yellowstone Falls by Daniel Kunka (13)

After an apocalyptic event, a mother wolf is separated from her mate and the rest of the pack, and has to protect her cubs from swarms of mutated humans.

Syndrome (E) by Mark Heyman (12)

A detective solving the case of a disturbing film with subliminal images that is killing people who come in contact with it discovers a greater evil.

Beef by Jeff Lock (11)

The manager of a fast food chain in Muncie, Indiana gets in over his head with some bookies.

Black Winter by Jonathan Stewart and Jake Crane (11)

On the eve of a US-Soviet disarmament treaty, a British scientist and a NATO medical investigator discover a secret Soviet plot to unleash a terrifying biological weapon.

Cartoon Girl by Randall Green (11)

When a young boy finds out that the cartoon character he’s in love with is based on a real girl, he drags his single father on a road trip to track her down.

Road to Oz by Josh Golden (11)

The early days of brilliant, whimsical author L. Frank Baum, who gave the world The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Big Time Adolescence by Jason Orley (10)

A sixteen year old virgin with a growth deficiency slowly gets corrupted by his hero, an aimless college dropout.

LBJ by Joey Hartstone (10)

Lyndon Johnson goes from powerful Senate Majority Leader, powerless Vice President to President of the United States following the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Possession: A Love Story by Jack Stanley (10)

In a seemingly perfect marriage, a man discovers that he is actually wedded to a demon inhabiting another woman’s body.

The Secret Ingredients of Rockey Cola by Mike Vukadinovich (10)

Twin brothers with opposite personalities are separated at a young age and go on to live drastically different lives, eventually being reunited in the effort to save the company ‘Rocket Cola’ despite their love of the same woman.

The Shower by Jac Schaeffer (10)

At a baby shower for their longtime friend, the attendees suddenly find themselves in the middle of a different type of shower: meteors that release a vapor turning men into blood-hungry aliens.

Celeritas by Kimberly Barrante (9)

When a missing astronaut crash lands forty years after he launched having not aged a day, his elderly twin brother helps him escape the NASA scientists hunting him. As the government closes in, neither brother is who they claim to be.

I am Ryan Reynolds by Billy Goulston (9)

An inside look at the marriage, career, and mental state of 2010’s Sexiest Man Alive.

Jackpot by Dave Callaham (9)

After a group of bumbling teachers win a large amount of money, their greed and incompetence put them on a hilarious path toward death and destruction.

Plus One by April Prosser (9)

Just out of a long term relationship and realizing that all her friends have married, Rachel discovers that her only remaining wingwoman is Summer, a loud and oversharing wildcard.

Wonka by Jason Micallef (9)

A dark, reimagining of the Willy Wonka story beginning in World War II and culminating with his takeover of the chocolate factory.

Beauty Pageant by Shea Mirzai and Evan Mirzai (8)

After they unwittingly get their daughters disqualified from the child beauty circuit, two warring stagemothers are forced to go head to head in an adult beauty pageant.

Bismarck by Jared Cowie (8)

As Britain struggles through the darkest hours of World War II, a naval officer, raw from the loss of his ship during the evacuation of Dunkirk, is thrust into the thick of the hunt for the Nazi super- battleship, Bismarck. Based on a true story.

Morgan by Seth W. Owen (8)

A corporate risk management consultant is summoned to a remote research lab to determine whether or not to terminate an at-risk artificial being.

Shadow Run by Joe Gazzam (8)

A viral attack puts lives in danger, forcing a CIA agent to initiate a secret prisoner exchange of Russia’s most notorious spy for the American scientist who can create a cure.

The Bringing by Brandon Murphey and Philip Murphey (8)

A private investigator investigates a mysterious murder at a downtown Los Angeles hotel and uncovers it’s dark supernatural history. Based on true events.

The Takeway by Julia Cox (8)

A young, play-it-safe, art restorer is swept up in a whirlwind romance with her charming boss, who turns out to be a world- class thief.

Blink by Hernany Perla (7)

Years after being fully paralyzed during an infamous bank robbery, a man is taken hostage for the secrets in his head. His only form of communicating with the outside world – and outsmarting his captors – is his ability to blink.

Boston Strangler by Chuck Maclean (7)

In the 1960s, a determined detective puts his life and career on the line to solve the case of the Boston Strangler.

Erin’s Voice by Greg Sullivan

A deaf computer genius’ world is thrown into turmoil when he meets a troubled coffee shop waitress whose voice turns out to be the only thing he can miraculously hear.

Everyone Wants Everything by Abraham Higginbotham (7)

As his life reaches its neurosis-inducing midpoint, a married man asks himself an eternal question with no real answer — “Am I living the life I want to be living, or do I need to start over before its too late?” Torn between two lives, he’s forced to do the one thing he doesn’t want to do — make a choice.

Gifted by Tom Flynn (7)

A thirty year old man attempts to continue raising his deceased sister’s seven year old daughter, a kid-genius, while battling his own mother for custody.

Manchester by the Sea by Kenneth Lonergan (7)

An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.

Merc by Andrew Bozalis and Derek Mether (7)

When a disgraced former soldier finds success by working for a private security company, the illegal tactics the company employs challenges his worldview.

Professor Pasghetti by Jeff Feuerstein (7)

A famous children’s author, with an affinity for drugs and hookers, finds himself on a journey of self-discovery with a dead stripper and her eight year old son.

The Eden Project by Christina Hodson (7)

When a race of genetically modified humans living secretly among us declare war on Man, the fate of the world is in the hands of a rogue “Synthetic” named Eve and a young girl who is about to discover she’s not all human.

Uncle Shelby by Brian Brown and Elliott DiGuiseppi (7)

The little-known personal, heartbreaking, and darker side of cartoonist/author Shel Silverstein.

A Garden at the End of the World by Gary Graham (7)

In a post-apocalyptic world, a recluse, trying to recreate trees to produce new life, takes in a young girl who is on the run from some bad men, including her father.

Coffee & Kareem by Shane McCarthy (6)

An overweight, foul-mouthed nine year old reluctantly teams with the straight edge cop sleeping with his mom to take down Detroit’s most ruthless drug lord.

Forgive Me by Max Hurwitz (6)

How Mike Wallace helped to create 60 Minutes and how years later, he confronted and dealt with his own depression.

In Real Time by Chai Hecht (6)

A young man convinced that his mentally unstable sister needs to relive her high school prom from ten years prior to overcome her depression goes to great lengths to recreate that event.

In This, My Darkest Hour by Bryan McMullin (6)

A man rises to power during the California gold rush, tearing his family apart.

Money Monster by Alan DiFiore, Alan Rauf and Jamie Linden (6)

After a man loses all his money in the stock market by following the advice of a Wall Street TV host, he takes the money adviser hostage on live television.

My Friend Dahmer by Marc Meyers (6)

Based on the acclaimed graphic novel by John Backderf, Jeffrey Dahmer struggles with a difficult family life as a young boy and during his teenage years he slowly transforms, edging closer to the serial killer he becomes.

Seducing Ingrid Bergman by Arash Amel (6)

Based on Chris Greenhalgh’s eponymous novel. Ingrid Bergman and war photographer Robert Capa engage in a passionate, life- changing romance in post-World War II Paris.

The Beautiful Game by Zander Lehmann (6)

A high school soccer star’s personal life becomes complicated leading up to his championship game as he develops a relationship with his soccer coach.

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by David Bar Katz (6)

The story of Clark Rockefeller, a con artist thought to be American royalty until he kidnapped his young daughter initiating a manhunt that revealed his true identity.

The Wilde Ones by Tyler Shields (6)

In a corrupt Southern town, a dangerous sociopath runs bareknuckle boxing fights that pit its youths against each other.

Here is a photo of Kristina Lauren Anderson at the Black List 10th anniversary party which took place Sunday night at the Palihouse in West Hollywood the very moment when it was announced her script Catherine the Great had topped this year’s List.

BL10 Kristina Lauren Anderson

Photograph courtesy of Robin Roemer

Congratulations, Kristina! I spoke with her and Kristina has graciously agreed to an interview. Look for that sometime next year. For now, Kristina, enjoy the ride!

I will have stats and analysis of this year’s Black List later on this week. Plus it’s the return of the Black List Word Cloud Logline Challenge! Be on the lookout for that — with prizes!

To download the 2014 Black List, click here.

Movie Trailer: “Tracers”

December 16th, 2014 by

Written by Leslie Bohem, Matt Johnson, Kevin Lund, T.J. Scott

Wanted by the Mafia, a new York City bike messenger escapes into the world of parkour after meeting a beautiful stranger.


Writing Goals: 2015 [Part 2] — Assessing Where You Are

December 16th, 2014 by

This series of daily posts, starting yesterday and going through next Friday (M-F),  is not about resolutions which we make on December 31 and break by January 30… or sooner. This is not about wish lists and ephemeral fantasies. This is about each of us committing ourselves to ply the craft of writing day after day, to tell stories only we can tell, and to end up with a tangible product in our hand — a completed manuscript. Then start on another story…

Writing is hard. It just is. It’s a lonely occupation, far too often we get lost along the way, we have to fight off constant Inner Voices of Negativity, and the competition is stupid insane. In the face of that I guess what I’m hoping for in this effort is to enlist the entirety of the burgeoning GITS community to create a sum greater than the parts, a spirit of I Can Do That which grows and grows, and pours out into each of our little creative cups, feeding our souls and fueling our persistence.

Hence 10 posts. First and foremost, I believe the best way to identify simple, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely writing goals is to do a thorough job of self-examination, which is what we are doing this week, buttressed by some good, old-fashioned inspiration, which is what is on the docket for next week. But there’s also this: Each day I’m here bellowing at you is an opportunity. You may not be with us on Day 1. You may not catch up to us by Day 5. Perhaps it may take you until Day 10. But make no mistake: This is a Herald’s Call. The only way you are going to become a writer is by being a writer. And the best way to be a writer is to make goals… and meet the hell out of them.

If you missed the Day 1 post, you can catch that here.

Today: Assessing Where You Are

We started yesterday by looking back on what we accomplished in 2014. That part of the process is practical, aggregating our significant events and tangible achievements in the previous twelve months. Today we assess where we are as writers. This aspect of the process is more emotional, even spiritual.

Get curious about your Creative Self. Perhaps ask one or more of these questions:

* Is this where I want to be as a writer?

* Am I writing what I want to be writing?

* What do I want to write?

* What do I need to write?

* Is there a particular story I have surfaced about which I am particularly passionate?

* Has something important happened in my life this year which has shifted my writing perspective?

* Am I in touch with my Creative Self?

* What can I do to be a better writer?

How about you? Where are you as a writer? How would you assess where your Creative Self is just now? If it’s unclear, a piece of advice: Go into a room, shut the door, turn off all electronic conveyances, and ask yourself some of those questions noted above. What is your Creative Self calling you to do as a writer?

I encourage you to share your thoughts and impressions in Comments. And I put out a special invitation to those of you who are just starting on your writing adventure. Even if you have just recently discovered screenwriting or are contemplating for the first time giving expression to your creative impulses, stake that claim here today. As a bonus, I’m giving out batches of creative juju to all responders in Comments today!

Tomorrow we switch perspectives, instead of looking back at the past, then here today at the present, we extend our view toward the future… not just 2015, but beyond… by asking this simple question: Where do you want to be as a writer?

See you in Comments!

Screenwriting 101: Stephen Gaghan

December 16th, 2014 by

When I moved to Los Angeles, I wrote spec screenplays. I was really poor, and I thought I was just gonna do this for a while to make a little money so I could write novels. I thought movies were a second-class art form.  I condescended to it—I didn’t know enough to know it was really gonna be hard.

Things changed around the time I met Michael Tolkin. When I saw “The Player” (1992), when I was still living in New York, I had thought, “I wonder if I could do that.” A couple of years later I had become friends with an executive who was working with him on a project for HBO about Microsoft, and she put the two of us together. When he and I first met, we talked about Proust, and we both loved Tolstoy, and we had a lot of similar references. So we ended up spending the whole meeting talking about “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” and “The Kreutzer Sonata.” And I was just so happy. I didn’t care what happened after that—it was just the greatest afternoon. I thought, “I love this guy. He’s so funny and so cool, and just an absolutely first-rate artist in all of his thinking.”

We teamed up on the HBO project, which was a satire about Bill Gates and Microsoft, a sort of “Dr. Strangelove” piece about technology, called 20 Billion. We’d break up the scenes, we’d write our scenes, we’d get back together, and his scenes were just so much better than mine that I couldn’t believe it. I’m lucky I could see how much better his were—I mean, that’s the first real break, realizing how not-good you actually are, and cutting through all the nonsense smoke that’s usually being blown at you in the zip codes around Beverly and La Cienega boulevards. But I knew—I knew he was great and I was terrible, so I started literally sitting behind him and watching him type when he would write his scenes. We’d keep reworking the story, and this went on for a long time. And then one day, I riffed out a subplot involving two characters who were sort of like the girl I was living with at the time and myself. I wrote the scenes, maybe 15 pages, in a few hours. I showed Michael the scenes, and I saw it in his face: “Hey, this is actually pretty good. That’s gonna be in the movie.” And he was happy for me, too. And when it was over, I was at the point where I felt like, “Wow, I’m writing scenes that should be shot.” Three years of my writing career had gone by—I used to think, “I’ll just dash off some Simpsons episode and make some money and come back to fiction”—and in that time, I had written volumes of terrible stuff. But watching Michael changed my approach to everything. I realized that this was a real art form and that I didn’t understand it. I had to prostrate myself before it and study it if I wanted to be good. I had some other friends around this time, too, who were doing very interesting scripts: Charlie Kaufman and Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson. We traded our stuff back and forth. I saw early drafts of Being John Malkovich (1999) and Rushmore (1998). I saw fully formed film artists who were my peers and I wanted to do what they were doing—get my own voice or vision of the world out into that world. I had no clue how this was going to happen, but suddenly I just really loved this fucking art form. It’s like haiku repeated 10,000 times in one document. The bar was set way higher than I thought.

Stephen Gaghan

Daily Dialogue — December 16, 2014

December 16th, 2014 by

SPADE: Alright, I’ve got another suggestion. It may not be as good as the first one, but it’s better than nothing. You want to hear it?
GUTMAN: Most assuredly.
SPADE: Give them Cairo.
GUTMAN: (Chuckles) Well, by gad, sir…
CAIRO: And suppose we give them you or Miss O’Shaughnessy? How about that, huh?
SPADE: You want the Falcon. I’ve got it. A fall-guy is part of the price I’m asking. As for Miss O’Shaughnessy, if you think she can be rigged for the part, I’m perfectly willing to discuss it with you.
CAIRO: You seem to forget you’re not in a position at all to insist upon anything.
GUTMAN: Now, come, gentlemen, let’s keep our discussion on a friendly basis. There certainly is something in what Mister Cairo said.
SPADE: If you kill me, how are you gonna get the bird? And if I know you can’t afford to kill me, how are you going to scare me into giving it to you?
GUTMAN: Well, sir, there are other means of persuasion besides killing and threatening to kill.
SPADE: Yes, that’s…that’s true. But they’re none of them any good unless the threat of death is behind them. You see what I mean? If you start something I’ll make it a matter of your having to kill me or call it off.
GUTMAN: (Chuckles) That’s an attitude, sir, that calls for the most delicate judgment on both sides — because, as you know, sir, in the heat of action men are likely to forget where their best interests lie and let their emotions carry them away.
SPADE: Then the trick from my angle is to make my play strong enough to tie you up, but not make you mad enough to bump me off — against your better judgment.
GUTMAN: By Gad, sir, you are a character!

Cairo whispers to Gutman.

SPADE: (Looking at Wilmer) Six-two and even they’re selling you out, sonny. (To Gutman) I hope you’re not letting yourself be influenced by the guns these pocket edition desperados are waving around, because I’ve practiced taking guns away from these boys before so we’ll have no trouble there. Wilmer here is…
WILMER: All right!
GUTMAN: Wilmer. Wilmer. WILMER!

Spade decks Wilmer. O’Shaughnessy grabs Wilmer’s gun but Spade takes it away. Spade and Cairo carry Wilmer to the couch. Spade collects Cairo’s and Wilmer’s remaining guns, then returns to Gutman.

SPADE: There’s our fall guy. Now, either you’ll say yes right now or I’ll turn the Falcon and the whole lot of you in.
GUTMAN: Don’t like that, sir.
SPADE: You won’t like it. Well?
GUTMAN: (Looks at Wilmer, then sighs.) You can have him.

The Maltese Falcon (1941), screenplay by John Huston, novel by Dashiell Hammett

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Negotiation. Today’s suggestion by Will King.

Trivia: Gutman and Wilmer are referred to as “Fat Man” and “Little Boy”. These are the names used for the two atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima respectively.

Dialogue On Dialogue: One key to a good negotiation scene: Give the participating characters a shared goal. If they all want something, but only one of them has it, then you have conflict. And conflict primes the pump of negotiation.

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

Update: Award season screenplay downloads (NEW: The Gambler)

December 15th, 2014 by

It’s that time of year again when studios 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.

If you want to get these scripts first, come here. No one posts them faster than GITS.

Current total of 2014 scripts for download: 21.

Newly added script in bold below:

A Most Violent Year (A24)

Belle (Fox Searchlight)

Big Eyes (The Weinstein Company)

Birdman (Fox Searchlight)

Boyhood (IFC Films)

Calvary (Fox Searchlight)

Dear White People (Lionsgate)

Get On Up (Universal Pictures)

Gone Girl (20th Century Fox)

How To Train Your Dragon 2 (DreamWorks Animation)

Into The Woods (Walt Disney Pictures)

Kill The Messenger (Focus Features)

Locke (A24)

St. Vincent (The Weinstein Company)

The Boxtrolls (Focus Features)

The Fault In Our Stars (20th Century Fox)

The Gambler (Paramount)

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Fox Searchlight)

The Imitation Game (The Weinstein Company)

The Theory of Everything (Focus Features)

Wild (Fox Searchlight)

Studios also make production notes available (new in bold):

A Million Ways to Die in the West


Get On Up

Magic in the Moonlight



A special thanks to Wendy Cohen for tracking script downloads for us!

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

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 2014? Right here as Wendy Cohen and I will be tracking and aggregating them as they go public!

Writing A Script, Part 6: Outline

December 15th, 2014 by

Here’s another in a series of posts about how I approach writing a script. Previous posts:

Part 1: Story Concept

Part 2: Brainstorming

Part 3: Research

Part 4: Character Development

Part 5: Plotting

Today Part 6: Outline

I start by transcribing the content of the cards into a new Word file called Story Outline.I generally will have written down notes and ideas on the cards related to each scene or beat, so that information goes into the outline as well.

[Note: There are many software programs that exist nowadays that are built for outlining.]

The goal here is to create a blueprint with Scene 1, followed by Scene 2, Scene 3, all the way to the last scene and FADE OUT.The hard work here is to make sure as best as I can that the story tracks and handles all the subplots.A final consideration is to think about the transitions, how to make each shift from one scene and sequence to the next is as smooth and seamless as possible.

Apart from locking down the story’s structure, I also think about every scene, asking a series of questions:

* What is the point of the scene?

* What is the scene’s Beginning, Middle, and Ending?

* What characters should be in the scene and why?

* What is the conflict in the scene?

* How do I enter / exit the scene?

That can change in the actual writing of the script – as well as scene order – but I like thinking through my scenes in advance.

My outlines can be quite long. I just pulled out one from my files that is 32 single-spaced pages. But then, I like to throw in everything I dredge up for each scene: images, bits of dialogue, Internal World dynamics, transitions, and so on.

Okay, now I want you to take a deep breath and realize something: All that — story concept, brainstorming, research, character development, plotting, and outline — and I haven’t written one word of the actual script. I have found doing the hard work up front — prep-writing — gives me more room for creative thinking in my page-writing process.

Let’s me be clear: I am not saying that every writer has to work this way. Each writer has to find the approach that works for them. For example, Neil Simon eschews outlines:

When I started, I got out the yellow legal pads and I outlined the entire play. Then I started to write the play, and the characters started to want to drift off where they wanted to go. So I pushed them back into the outline, and they say, We don’t like it in this outline, we want to get on another yellow pad. This yellow pad stinks. So I just kept trying to force them there, and I realized I couldn’t do that.

At this point, I don’t make outlines at all. I make an outline only in my mind. If I can say two or three sentences about the play, then I have a play.

That’s as much of an outline as I need, because when I write something I want to be as surprised — and this goes for screenwriting too in terms of the original screenplay — I want to be as surprised as the audience is. If I know everything beforehand, it becomes a job. Just let it happen and see where it takes me.

Okay, that’s one extreme. Conversely, there’s writer-director Paul Schrader, who is known to craft such extensive outlines that he can predict within a quarter-page how long each scene is before he writes it. His take:

Question: Do you still outline it in one page?

PS: Yeah. And then re-outline it. On this one I went right from the outline to the script. But usually, if I have any concerns about whether the idea is really going to work, I then go into a sequential breakdown.

All a sequential breakdown is…. let’s say in an average movie there are anywhere 45 – 55 – 60 things happening. That’s your outline, the list of things that happen. That’s not the list of shots, or the list of scenes and drive-ups, just the things that happen. Like, they meet at the Chelsea Hotel, returns to office, make phone calls, whatever.

So you take each one of those items on your outline and make it into a paragraph. So now you’re starting to include dialogue.

Question: 5 – 8 lines?

PS: Yeah. So now, instead of a one page outline, you have about a 15 page, single-spaced breakdown. And if your idea still survives all of that, then there’s a pretty good chance it ll work. I’ve had idea that have worked at an outline stage, but died at the breakdown stage.

And when an idea dies on you it is, in fact, one of the best things that can happen. Because you’ve just saved yourself an enormous amount of time and grief. Some ideas just don’t want to be written. They don t want to be written by you. Some ideas have fooled you into thinking that they have more power than they, in fact, do. If you find that out after writing a first draft, you’ve wasted a lot of time and you’ve also lost faith in yourself because you believed in something and you couldn’t pull it off.

So two extremes. And a writer must find their own approach, there is no “right” or “wrong,” just what works for you.

That said, I do encourage all aspiring screenwriters to try an immersive prep-writing approach, like the one I’ve laid out so far in these 6 posts, at least once. If it works, great. If not, you’re free to track down Neil Simon and kick it free-style with him.

You can read the complete interview with Paul Schrader here.

Tomorrow Part 7: Script Diary.

[Originally posted June 11, 2008]

Interview: Patty Jones (2013 Nicholl Winner)

December 15th, 2014 by

Patty Jones’ original screenplay “Joe Banks” won the Vancouver based writer a 2013 Nicholl fellowship.

2013 Academy Nicholl Fellowships Reception

Here are links to the five installments of the entire interview:

Part 1: ” was a pretty heavy reader. Even if you fall off it when you’re a teenager and you get into other pursuits and bad behavior, the stuff you read as a kid forever resonates.”

Part 2: “I literally woke up one morning. It was 7:00 AM and I’m lying there in bed. I said to my boyfriend, ‘I think I have an idea.’”

Part 3: “And I quickly realized that I had gotten myself into something when I started the character of Joe and I thought, ‘You better keep this up.’ There were moments where I thought, first of all, ‘Can I come up with any more euphemisms for testicles? Can I come up with more?’”

Part 4: “Being in Canada felt a bit weird, and I wondered when they put the list out, when they announced the finalists, and I could see the word ‘Canada’ beside my name I thought, Will there be a stigma, will there be a bias?”

Part 5:  “Writing dialogue is insanely fun, and I believe in it. I believe what I’m writing. I believe these characters exist.”

Patty is repped by Benderspink.

Twitter: @heypattyjones.