Go Into The Story Script Reading & Analysis: Argo

December 17th, 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: Argo (2012)

Screenplay by Chris Terrio

IMDb Plot Summary: Acting under the cover of a Hollywood producer scouting a location for a science fiction film, a CIA agent launches a dangerous operation to rescue six Americans in Tehran during the U.S. hostage crisis in Iran in 1980.

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.

Video: “Living Famously” – 55 minute documentary on Alfred Hitchcock

December 17th, 2014 by

Air date: 20 January 2003:

Via The Playlist (Indiewire).

2014 Black List Word Cloud Logline Challenge!

December 17th, 2014 by

We did this last year and had a helluva lot of fun, so following in footsteps of Hollywood’s studios, it’s sequel time! Yes, it’s the 2014 Black List Word Cloud Logline Challenge!

Here is a word cloud based on the loglines for the 2014 Black List scripts, all 70 of them:

2014 Black List Word Cloud

For a larger PDF version of the World Cloud, go here.

[You can see the entire 2014 Black List including loglines for the 70 scripts here].

Your mission for the 2014 Black List Word Cloud Logline Challenge should you choose to accept: Come up with a logline using words from the word cloud. Or loglines (you may enter as many times as you want).

NOTE: One way your logline will be assessed is by how many words from the word cloud you use in your logline. If only one or two, less points. If five or six, more points.

BIG NOTE: Please CAPITALIZE each word cloud word in your logline.


That, my friends, is a truly crappy logline. However it gets across the key CAPITALIZATION point. This helps in judging each entry. Speaking of which, the inimitable Max Millimeter will return to select the winners, and you know what a hard ass he can be. His whole thing is about entertainment — “Get my [bleeping] attention!” — which you can read about here. So bear that in mind.

Oh, and when he talks about the six words test, he’s not saying make your loglines six words. What he means is can you reduce your story concept down to six words and if so, do those six words communicate a solid story and an entertaining one.

How’s this for prizes:

* 5 Semifinal Winners: 1 free Craft class I will be teaching next year through Screenwriting Master Class. There are 8 of them: Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling, Story Summaries: From Loglines to Beat Sheets, Handling Exposition, Character Introductions, Character Development Keys, Create a Compelling Protagonist, Write a Worthy Nemesis, and The Coen Brothers and the Craft of Storytelling. Each winner gets their choice of one class.

* 3 Finalist Winners: Free 1 script read + 1 month script hosting via the Black List website.

* 1 Grand Prize winner: Free 2 script reads + 2 months script hosting via the Black List website.

Deadline for entries: Midnight (Pacific), Friday, December 19th.

If you’d like to see some examples of previous Black List Word Cloud loglines, check out submissions here (2012) and here (2013).

More details about the contest:

(1) “How many loglines may I post?” You can submit as many as you’d like. That said, even in a fun challenge like this, you should focus on quality over quantity.

(2) “Since there are only about 100 words in the word cloud, there is bound to be overlap with loglines. How will you sort that out in terms judging?” Good question. And hopefully a good learning point for all of us, the difference between the logline for Dude, Where’s My Car? — “Two potheads wake up from a night of partying and can’t remember where they parked their car” — and The Hangover — Three groomsmen lose their about-to-be-wed buddy during their drunken misadventures, then must retrace their steps in order to find him”. The focus on a lost groom due for his wedding is substantially better as a comedic conceit than simply looking for a car.

(3) “What about people riffing off earlier loglines?” Another good point and I would think Max will tend to look more favorably on earlier loglines with similar iterations simply due to the earlier writer came up with the idea first.


But bottom line, let’s remember this is supposed to be a fun exercise. The opportunity to get a free script read, web hosting or Craft class with me is a nice treat, but hopefully won’t create any ill will on the part of folks who don’t get selected. Even if you don’t win, you will have exercised your creative muscles, and that’s a plus for you.

FINAL REMINDER: Please CAPITALIZE word cloud words you use in your LOGLINE!!!

Let’s have some creative fun! Good luck!

Movie Trailer: “Hot Tub Time Machine 2″

December 17th, 2014 by

Written by Josh Heald

When Lou, who has become the “father of the Internet,” is shot by an unknown assailant, Jacob and Nick fire up the time machine again to save their friend.


Writing Goals: 2015 [Part 3] — Where Do You Want To Go As A Writer?

December 17th, 2014 by

In Part 1, we looked back at the Past, what we had accomplished as writers in 2014.

In Part 2, we considered the Present, assessing where we are now.

Today we direct our self-reflection toward the Future. Not just 2015, but beyond. Five years from now. Ten years. Twenty. We consider the question: Where do you want to go as a writer?

Of course, we can’t know the answer. Indeed we can’t even assume we’ll make any money in the creative arts. As I wrote in this TBOS column is: “Movies don’t owe anybody a living.” Swap out any kind of writing for ‘movies,’ it’s the same thing.

But while we must keep our feet firmly planted on the ground, understanding the odds against financial success, there is no good reason why we can’t put our head in the clouds, indeed poke above them to catch a glimpse of our possible bright future. In fact, it’s important to envision what a successful career in the entertainment field would look like because when you break into the business, one of the earliest conversations you will have with your agents and/or manager is around this question: What do you want to do?

During this part of your reflection process, if your mind wanders off into images of a home in the Hollywood Hills, a new sports car, walking the red carpet at a movie premiere, Spielberg on the phone to ask you to salvage a troubled script, your Academy Award acceptance speech, I have no problem with that. We all deserve and need fantasies such as those to kick-start our motivation from time to time.

But the focus here is specific: You and your writing. Where do you want to be with it in a decade or longer? What would be the most fulfilling use of your creativity as a writer?

Again if you haven’t joined in with our collective ruminations in this series of posts yet, now is a perfect opportunity. First off, there’s zero negativity involved in this mental exercise today, rather it’s all about a positive sense of your future (i.e., fun stuff). Second whether you subscribe to the theory of creative visualization or not, having a specific image of yourself as a writer in the future at least provides you with a point of focus for your efforts in the present.

Today: Where Do You Want To Go As A Writer

Here are some questions you may ask yourself:

* Do you want just to write movies?

* Do you want just to write TV?

* Do you want to write both?

* Do you want to write and direct?

* Do you want to write and produce?

* Do you want to bounce between writing big commercial movies and character-driven indie films?

* Do you want to write screenplays and novels?

* Do you want to carve out a niche writing specific types of movies or write across multiple genres?

I’m sure you have other questions to add to the list. Whatever you ask yourself, the important thing is to project into the future and imagine where you want your writing to take you. Stop by Comments, won’t you, and share your thoughts.

Tomorrow we focus on practical matters. Remember what we’re trying to do here is be S.M.A.R.T. about our choices when it comes to Writing Goals: 2015.

S = Smart

M = Measurable

A = Achievable

R = Realistic

T = Timely

After spending time with our head in the clouds, tomorrow we focus on keeping our feet on the ground.

See you in Comments!

Script To Screen: “Cool Hand Luke”

December 17th, 2014 by

A key scene from the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke, screenplay by Donn Pearce and Frank Pierson, novel by Donn Pearce.

IMDb plot summary: A man refuses to conform to life in a rural prison.


               and Luke falls back into the dirt. He's hurt, startled, but 
               grins. We HEAR a CHEER from the men O.S., as he gets up. He 
               is stripped to the waist, wears huge 16 oz. boxing gloves.

               FULLER ANGLE

               showing Dragline similarly dressed. They are squared off in 
               the yard, surrounded by YELLING men who want blood. It is a 
               release from the sexual tension built up by the night before. 
               The guards stand in the guard boxes, watching. The Captain 
               sits up on his porch, so he can see without being too obvious.

               Luke gets up and manages a lunging right across to Dragline's 
               Adam's apple. Dragline is momentarily staggered but counters 
               with a terrible clubbing blow that mashes Luke's gloves into 
               his face, knocking him to the ground. Time is called for the 


               as he gets to his feet.

                         Why don't you just stay there? He's 
                         only gonna knock you down agin.

                         It's not your fault. He's just too 

                                     SOCIETY RED
                         Let him hit you in the nose, get 
                         some blood flowing. Maybe they'll 
                         stop it before he kills you.

                              (shaking his head, 
                         I don't want to frighten him.

               The second round is called and Luke advances toward Dragline.

               TWO SHOT LUKE, DRAGLINE

               circling. Luke has to get in his shot before Dragline gets 
               too close and clubs him again. He feints a punch that moves 
               Dragline off-balance and winds up for a big one, but Dragline 
               smashes him backhand. Luke hits the dirt, the men SCREAM AND 
               YELL. Wiping some blood from his mouth, Luke rises again. He 
               is dizzy. Dragline smacks him down again.

               THE MEN

               SHOUTING, SHRIEKING, they have blood in their eyes, releasing 
               their tensions.


               as the fight continues. The Captain on his porch rocks and 
               spits dry little spouts of wind, Godfrey, impassive, waiting 
               in his guard house. The YELLING gradually subsides as Dragline 
               continues to smash Luke, who keeps getting up.

               ANGLE ON DRAGLINE

               Without relish, he pokes Luke down again. Now there is no 
               cheering, no yelling, just silence.

               ANGLE ON CAPTAIN

               as he gets up and walks down to the wire where he can see 
               what is happening. The silence disturbs him.

               ON LUKE

               He rises, grinning and winds up to throw another punch. But 
               the act of lifting his giant glove is a Herculean task. 
               Seconds go by in which he tries to raise the glove high enough 
               to launch a punch.

               ON DRAGLINE

               waiting, gloves at waist level, poised.

                         Ommana pop you one easy. Stay down.

               He pops Luke who reels, goes down on a knee and then slowly 
               rises, rises. Dragline is honestly agonized.

                         I'm gonna kill you, you go on...

                         That's what you're gonna have to do.

               ANGLE ON CAPTAIN


               ANGLE ON BOSS GODFREY


               ANGLE ON DRAGLINE

               He raises his fists. But Luke is up again. Dragline realizes 
               he'll have to kill him to beat him. After a long moment, 
               Dragline drops his hands to his sides, looks back toward 
               Godfrey and the captain and then starts walking to the 
               barracks, fast.

               ANGLE ON LUKE

               He looks after him and reaches up to wipe the blood away, 
               still grinning.

Here is the movie version of the scene:

Several differences, most notably the repeated suggestion for Luke to “stay down,” driving home his stubborn refusal to give up. The fight is extended in the movie, numerous moments in which Dragline clobbers Luke to the ground – again reinforcing the point of the scene, a metaphor for the entire story: Luke will not bow to authority or what is expected.

It is instructive to go through the movie scene, shot by shot, a deft use of 1st and 3rd person POV, as well as proximity, cutting from the prisoners to the guards, back and forth. It provides a perspective on the fight that widens its influence and makes an influence on the Captain and the other prison employees, setting up much of what transpires later.

One of the single best things you can do to learn the craft of screenwriting is to read the script while watching the movie. After all a screenplay is a blueprint to make a movie and it’s that magic of what happens between printed page and final print that can inform how you approach writing scenes. That is the purpose of Script to Screen, a weekly series on GITS where we analyze a memorable movie scene and the script pages that inspired it.

Daily Dialogue — December 17, 2014

December 17th, 2014 by

Dalton Russell: I got a question for ya’. You get it right, I give you more time.
Keith Frazier: And?
Dalton Russell: You know what happens if you don’t. Which weighs more: all the trains that pass through Grand Central Station in a year – or the trees cut down to print all U.S. currency in circulation? Here’s a hint. It’s a trick question.

They both hang up.

Keith Frazier: What the hell was that? Playing games, now?
Captain John Darius: [realizing] It’s the trains. U.S. money isn’t printed on paper at all. It’s cotton.
Mobile Command Officer Berk: Yeah, that’s, that’s right.
Captain John Darius: No trees were cut down.
Mobile Command Officer Rourke: Are you sure?
Captain John Darius: Yeah. One hundred percent.
Keith Frazier: Okay.

He dials Dalton’s number again. The phone rings. Dalton picks it up.

Keith Frazier: I got it.
Det. Bill Mitchell: Wait a second, wait a second.
Keith Frazier: Call you back.

Both Frazier and Dalton hang up their phones.

Det. Bill Mitchell: It’s a trap. They both weigh the same. Tell him they both weigh the same. They both weigh nothing.
Keith Frazier: They both weigh nothing or they both weigh the same?
Det. Bill Mitchell: Tell him they both weigh the same. Tell him they both weigh the same. Do it now.
Keith Frazier: They both weigh the same. Got it.

Dalton picks up the phone.

Dalton Russell: Well?
Keith Frazier: They both weigh the same.
Dalton Russell: [with evil nonchalance] This time, send sandwiches.

Inside Man (2006), written by Russell Gewirtz

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Negotiation.

Trivia: According to Spike Lee, he and Willem Dafoe met in the men’s room during the intermission of the play ‘Julius Caesar’, in which Denzel Washington appears. As they were standing side by side in the men’s room, Spike said: “We should work together” and Dafoe replied: “Yeah, Spike, we should” and that was it. Later on, Spike sent him the script.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Hostage negotiation has a storied history in Hollywood movies. What other ones can you think of?

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

Update: Award season screenplay downloads (NEW: Unbroken)

December 16th, 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: 22.

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)

Unbroken (Universal)

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 7: Script Diary

December 16th, 2014 by

Here’s another in a series of 10 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

Part 6: Outline

Today, Part 7: SCRIPT DIARY

The last thing I do before I type FADE IN is create yet another Word file, which I call Script Diary.

I come to the diary to start every writing session. I visit it when I get stuck. I return to it when I hit on a story revelation. Day after day, I use my script diary to chronicle the writing of the story.

At the start of a writing session, I note the date and time in the script diary, then get my fingers and brain loosened up by typing up my thoughts about the scene I am about to tackle. I’ll remind myself what type of scene it is, which characters are participating in it, what each of their agendas is, who is playing what story function for that scene, how the scene relates to the overall plot, what the central point of the scene is, and so on. As I’m doing that, normally lines of dialogue pop to mind and I’ll put those down — so in essence I’m pre-drafting the scene, and can take that sketch to my script file and use it to write the actual scene.

I also use the script diary to track my emotional connection to the story. For instance, I may be worried about whether the scene I’m about to write will work or not. I may be concerned that one of the characters doesn’t feel quite right. If I’m stuck, I use the diary as a place to express my fears about the story; in fact, if I’m really stuck, I’ll ‘ask’ the characters, right there in my diary, to talk to me, show me what they want or need.

Now you may think I’m crazy — talking to my characters, asking them for help! But ever since I’ve started using a script diary, my experience of my story’s characters has become that much more… real, I suppose is the best way to describe it.

My first experience of this was when I was writing Snowbirds, where something special happened between the use of that script diary and the writing of the script: somehow a sacred space, if you will, came into being. This parallel ‘place’ sort of inside and outside my head – I mean, I would be thinking of it, so part of my experience was inside my head, but I would sense the place off to the side about a foot or two away from me. And in this ‘place,’ I would find my characters.

Abby, Rosa, Emerson, Truman, Bernice, Chuck, Irene, Ed, Sarah, and Lucky. All of them. They emerged with more and more clarity as I pressed further into the script, so that by the time I reached Act II, they were always ‘present’ in a way. They didn’t invade my thoughts, nor did I interfere with them. They weren’t doing what I was writing or imagining, rather they would more or less just kind of shuffle around, not looking at me. But whenever I was stuck – and I got stuck in Act II several critical times – I would start writing in my script diary, and I’d become aware of them, just out ‘there.’ And suddenly, one of them would turn and halfway glance at me or motion, and I’d ‘follow’ them. The two most critical story twists I could never have foreseen in the prep-writing phase occurred in this way – first, following Ed, and another time following Abby.

What I am saying is that my characters led me deeper into my story. They showed me the way. And the script diary was a crucial part of that experience because, I think, I was opening myself up to my characters, creating a ‘dialogue’ with them on those diary pages.

And there’s something else that very cool about a script diary: when you’re done with the project, you’ve got this journal of the entire writing process. You can go back to see and feel the actual moments where you found a breakthrough, where you busted through a story block, where your characters spoke to you.

Like everything else in this succession of posts, a script diary may not work for you. However, I encourage you to try it at least once. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

And now after all of that, our next post will finally get to the page-writing process, beginning naturally enough with the first draft.

[Originally posted June 12, 2008]

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.