Interview (Part 1): Adam Kolbrenner, Madhouse Entertainment

August 22nd, 2016 by

This week, we are fortunate to have as our guest manager-producer Adam Kolbrenner from Madhouse Entertainment, an L.A.-based production and literary management company that works with screenwriters and writer/directors in the areas of film, television and new media.

I will be posting the whole interview over the course of the week. Today in Part 1, Adam talks about his background and the risky decision he made to embark on his own as a manager.

In college, you were an intern at the William Morris Agency, then immediately went to work as an assistant with WMA after graduation. You were there 3 years, then left to start as a literary manager. Why didn’t you continue down the agent path? Why become a manager?

I wanted to represent who I wanted to represent and believed in no matter what stage of their careers they happened to be at. Meaning, take chances on the voices I recognized even if it meant not earning any money with them for several years. This is not the case at large agencies (just ask around). I did not need to be told what writer needed a job or what director needed a specific piece of material. I wanted to discover for myself and my literary clients. This is EXACTLY how I run my business today. No one tells me who I should believe in, who I should pay attention to, or who needs more focus now because that client of the agency has made the company a lot of money in the years before me. I fundamentally believe the net result of this attitude is the difference between getting movies made and not just selling projects. I know I’m in direct opposition to the large agency mentality today, and frankly, I don’t care.

Didn’t that decision to leave WMA and strike out on your own represent a significant risk? What made you think you had what it took to be a successful manager?

There was a huge risk to leave on my own. I had no clients, no money, no real plan, and no real support from the company I left behind. But I did believe simply in one theory that I still believe in today: If I keep my mouth shut and develop great material with incredible writers, success will come. Patience and perseverance is what it will take. I know my only achievements are based on how hard my clients are willing to work for that success. I don’t have a secret formula for it. I believe great writing wins wars. But working harder than everyone else is the battle to win the war.

You rep an impressive roster of screenwriters including David Guggenheim (Safe House, spec script sales “Narco” and “Black Box”), Aaron Guzikowski [Contraband, spec script sale “Prisoners”], Justin Marks [“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”], and Justin Rhodes [spec script sales “Second Sun” and “The Join”] and Carter Blanchard (“Glimmer” spec sale to Dreamworks). What are the keys to your sales pitch to potential writer clients?

I appreciate you pinpointing a few selected clients, but I believe every client I represent should always be highlighted. I won’t bore your readers with that list of course. The key to potential writers is: BE A WRITER. Don’t talk about being a writer, don’t tell your parents or your spouse or kids you’re a writer. Don’t talk about it at parties, don’t put it on your email signature. Just write. Write more than everyone else. Try, fail, succeed, lose, but try again. My opinion is this strategy works for writers yet to even be in the WGA as well as those that have had several produced movies. I challenge any working screenwriter today to say they don’t need to write for themselves, they just wait for the phone to ring with someone offering them more money. The motion picture industry is certainly as hard as it has ever been and as hard as it will ever be. But, movies are still getting made. Just make your scripts better than the others, work harder on your craft. Having the most screenplays of any manager or management company on 2012 BLACK LIST shows the value in the original material and unique voice.

Tomorrow in Part 2, Adam discusses the differences between managers and agents, and details his philosophy of being a manager.

For the home page of Madhouse Entertainment’s website, go here.

[Originally posted January 21, 2013]

Spirit Of The Spec (Part 1): You Get An Idea

August 22nd, 2016 by

I had a conversation recently with a former studio executive turned producer in which I found myself talking about the “spirit of the spec,” essentially when a person chooses to pursue a project or goal entirely on speculation with the hopes of some eventual payoff. Not everybody would make that choice. To many, with the odds so long against success, doing something on spec is not only illogical, it’s also seemingly inane.

And yet almost all screenwriters, TV writers, novelists, short story writers, playwrights, and poets have as some part of their creative self the spirit of the spec.

After my conversation with the producer, it occurred to me this is a subject we should discuss here at GITS because it speaks to the very core of why we’re here and what we’re about as people driven by creative impulses. So today through Friday, I will post something each day exploring what it means for a writer to have the spirit of the spec.

You get an idea.

That’s where it all starts.

An image. A feeling. A line of dialogue. A conceit. A character.

Something that catches your fancy. Causes you to stop and think. Triggers your imagination.

Could this be a story? A novel? A movie? A TV series?

You play around with it. Tinker with it. Ask questions.

What genre is it? Who is the main character? What is distinctive about this idea? Is it big enough to sustain a feature-length screenplay? Is it any good?

But the biggest question of all you can ask is the shortest one: What if?

What if I stuck this character in that situation?
What if I made the character a female instead of a male?
What if I started out this character as far away from their goal as possible?
What if I switched genres?
What if I switched Protagonists?
What if I amped up the stakes?
What if…

And before you know it, you are watering this seed of an idea with a cloudburst from your brainstorming. Will the seed take root? Grow? Blossom into a story worth writing?

You likely will not know the answer at this stage.

Here it is just you… and your idea.

The idea may turn out to be a pathway to success. Or a dead end. But if you are a person who lives for creativity, who exists with the oftentimes bewildering ramblings of your instincts, never forget for one second the awe and mystery that is this…

Your ideas.

They are the cornerstone of everything you do as a writer.

For those who live with the spirit of the spec, ideas are our creative lifeblood, ideas are what fuel our stories, ideas are what keep our dreams alive.

How about you? What is your attitude toward your ideas? How do you engender them? How do you develop them? How do you honor them?

Tomorrow: You Act On Your Idea.

On Writing

August 22nd, 2016 by


“There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.”

— Beatrix Potter

Daily Dialogue — August 22, 2016

August 22nd, 2016 by

CODY: Uh, I don’t know. I guess I’d like—
BIG Z: What you…what you want is something in between. Trust me, I’m the expert here, okay?
CODY: Okay.
BIG Z: So, uh, here are your shaping tools. Now, remember, the board’s already inside there, see, somewhere, and what you’re doing is you’re trying to find it, you know, reveal it.
CODY: Okay. Okay.
BIG Z: All right. Every carve counts. Why are you smiling? Don’t smile.
CODY: I’m not…I’m not smiling. I’m just, you know, I’m excited.
BIG Z: This isn’t like hacking a piece of ice. You know, it takes patience and finesse.
CODY: All right, already. I’m trying to—will you just give me the tools, please? Sheesh!
BIG Z: All right, here, take it, take it. Go ahead.
CODY: Thank you. Here we go.
BIG Z: What are you doing? Look, if you’re going to do it, you do it right. All right, look, first of all, with the grain. With the grain. You see what I’m doing here? You let the tool do the work, you see? Just like you’re riding the wave, you let the wave do the work. You don’t fight the wave. You can’t fight these big waves, Co. Long strokes. Loads of finesse. Find the board within the tree. Nice and easy.
CODY: Yeah, I got it.
BIG Z: See, then you just…just…
CODY: Maybe I could do it now?
BIG Z: …move with…with the…
CODY: Can I do it now?
BIG Z: Shhh.
CODY: (Whispers) Can I do it now?
BIG Z: Yeah. My bad. Got carried away, sorry about that. It’s your board.
CODY: My board. K, with the grain. I got it.
BIG Z: Don’t forget to eyeball it.
CODY: I got it.
BIG Z: Once in a while.
CODY: Okay, long strokes with the grain.
BIG Z: Not too long.
CODY: (Sighs) Here we go.
BIG Z: You’re doing it wrong—
CODY: Will you just, will you just, will you just let me—I can’t, I—no finesse when you’re in my face, okay? Just let me make the board!
BIG Z: Do you want my help?
CODY: Do I—no, I don’t want your help. I don’t want your help.
BIG Z: Oh, you don’t want my help?
CODY: I don’t want your help.
BIG Z: Oh, all right.
CODY: Okay?
BIG Z: Fine. Fine.
CODY: I just want to make my board.
BIG Z: Build the board yourself, man, all right. Fine.
CODY: Thank you. Thank you.
BIG Z: I don’t care what the board looks like. You’re the one who’s got to ride it.
CODY: Fine, I’ll—thank you.
BIG Z: It’s in there somewhere. Go find it.
CODY: Do you—walk over there, please! Please!
BIG Z: Don’t cut yourself.

Surf’s Up (2007), screenplay by Don Rhymer, Ash Brannon, Chris Buck and Christopher Jenkins; story by Christopher Jenkins and Christian Darren

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Mentor, suggested by Michael Waters. Today’s suggestion by Will King.

Trivia: When Cody washes up on the beach while Z is training him, Z laughs and says “Wipeout.” This is an homage to the beginning of the song “Wipeout” by The Surfaris, where a similar laugh and the word “wipeout” begins the song.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Commentary by Will: “Surf’s Up is a story about the failure of the mentor character. Young Cody Maverick idolized Big Z, a world-class surfer. When Big Z died during a surfing competition, Cody vowed to become like his hero. He travels to Pen Gu Island to participate in the Big Z Memorial surfing competition and discovers that Big Z is still alive but living in isolation under an assumed name. Z lost his interest in competition and tries to convince Cody there’s more to life than winning a surfing trophy, but Cody is so wrapped up in the idea of winning he can’t give up the dream. When Cody learns that his hero faked his death to avoid losing to up-and-coming competitor Tank Evans, Cody’s entire world comes crashing down.

In this scene, Big Z tries to teach Cody the secret of making the perfect surfboard, and their values clash becomes apparent. Z is very zen (“find the board”) while Cody just wants to make the board so he can get on with learning from Z how to win the upcoming competition.”

Zero Draft Thirty 2016 Autumn Challenge: Story Prep

August 21st, 2016 by

It all started with this blog post in October 2015: Who’s with me to pound out a script in November?

That led to this: Zero Draft Thirty: Write a Script in a Month Challenge.

Every day for 30 days in November, I did a Zero Draft Thirty post with inspirational writing quotes, videos, and handed out a daily Award to the person deemed worthy for their efforts in supporting our collective cause.

A Facebook group emerged from the process, now with over 1000 members. The Challenge was written up in Indiewire. Translated into Spanish. Got its own hashtag on Twitter: #ZD30SCRIPT.

Eventually over a thousand writers joined up for the Challenge. Via Facebook, Twitter, or email, nearly 200 writers let me know they had finished their Zero Drafts.

So we decided to make the Zero Draft Challenge a twice a year thing: Every March, like we did here, and every September. Here we are, just about a month out from the Zero Draft Thirty 2016 Autumn Challenge.

It’s simple. Pick a script-writing project. Type FADE IN on September 1. Type FADE OUT on September 30.

And you are cordially invited.

If you are plunging headfirst into the Zero Draft Thirty challenge, my advice: Spend these last 10 days prepping your story. Here are come tips:

  • Character, Character, Character! Start with some basic questions: Who is my Protagonist? What do they want (Conscious Goal)? What do they need (Unconscious Goal)? Then go from there. Every character who emerges in your process, ask yourself: What do they have to do with the Protagonist’s journey? How do they impact the Protagonist’s psychological transformation? My mantra is this: Start with character. End with character. Find the story in between.
  • Brainstorm! This may be the single most important aspect to story prep: Giving free reign to your right-brain. It’s not only about free association, it’s also using direct engagement exercises with your characters, things like interviews, monologues, sit-downs. Create a Master Brainstorming List and put everything down. Don’t pre-judge anything. You never know when some moment, line of dialogue, theme, stray image can become important in your story-crafting process.
  • Plotting! What are the major plot points? Are there sets of scenes which tell a mini-story with their own Beginning, Middle, and End? If so, you can shape them into Sequences which you can connect one to the other to create a seamless narrative. Perhaps the most important plot point to know before typing FADE IN: What is the end of your story? And by that, I mean what I call the Final Struggle, the story’s Big Test which provides a resolution to the plot.
  • Metamorphosis! Joseph Campbell said the entire point of The Hero’s Journey is this: Transformation. So as you do story prep, be sure to dig deep into the Internal World, the psychological realm of your story universe. What is the Protagonist’s beginning Psyche State? What is the Protagonist’s ending Psych State? Those define the bookends of their metamorphosis. In a very real way, the plot services that journey. Focus on that arc and how the character changes.

The main thing: Engage your characters! It’s their story. No one knows it as well as they do. The more you spend time probing into each of their individual lives and backstories, thinking about their respective narrative functions – why each one is a participant in the story – the better off you will be as you pound out pages.

Which brings us back to the Zero Draft Thirty challenge.

September 1: Type FADE IN.
September 30: Type FADE OUT.

30 days. A first draft of an original screenplay. Or a rewrite of an existing script.

For background on the Zero Draft Thirty challenge, go here.

Don’t forget the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group. A terrific collection of folks who post things every day, even when we’re not in a challenge.

So calling all Zeronauts, Outlaws, Scamperers, and Writing Warriors. Who’s up for pounding out a Zero Draft in September? LET’S DO THIS THING!

Hashtag: #ZD30SCRIPT.

Learn the craft

August 21st, 2016 by

Here’s one big problem with most of the screenwriting approaches I see floating around: Their focus is almost exclusively on writing a screenplay. Obviously this is important. You must be able to translate your talent, voice, and vision for a story onto the printed page. A script not only is a commodity which you can sell, it is also a representation of who you are as a writer.

But while a screenplay is an end product of what we do, there is so much more to actually being a screenwriter than simply writing a script. And much of what that is about, that ‘stuff’ we ingest along the way, impacts how we approach our writing, where we put our focus, and what ends up on the page.

In other words, it is not just about writing a screenplay. It’s about thinking and acting like a screenwriter. And to do that, we need to learn the craft.

How? Just as there is no right way to write, there is no right way to learn the craft. However here is a list of areas I think any writer would be wise to include in their learning process:

Theory: Some writers need less of this, some require more, but at least a basic take on the fundamentals of screenwriting theory.

Research: While it might not be necessary to determine a specific approach, a writer should know their way around a library or nowadays the Web. Perhaps more important, a writer should engender and feed their curiosity to dig into the subject matter of the story they are writing as that is the surest path toward being able to create a world that feels authentic to a reader.

Prep: While it may be fine to approach writing a novel with zero advance work, screenwriters who choose to work on assignment are not allowed that luxury. Generally we have about 10 weeks to turn in a draft and one key to managing to pull that off on a consistent basis is to break your story in prep. This varies from writer to writer, but often an outline becomes their best friend.

First Draft: Some call it a ‘vomit draft,’ others a ‘muscle draft,’ however a writer refers to it, they ought to develop a mindset whereby they can knock out that first draft without constantly going back or getting stuck. This is where the value of prep emerges in a big way because if a writer breaks the story before they type FADE IN, they are much more likely to be able pound out a first draft.

Rewriting: There is perhaps no other narrative form to which the saying ‘writing is rewriting’ pertains more than screenwriting. So part of this learning curve is not only developing an approach to the rewrite process, but also an embrace of this as an ongoing reality of what screenwriters do. For a screenwriter, rewriting is akin to breathing. It just is.

Production: If a writer is lucky, their script becomes an actual movie. That sounds wonderful, and it is, but it also means every scene gets translated by the film crew into the nuts and bolts of actual production. Therefore it behooves a screenwriter to understand the connection between what they write on the page and what that entails when a movie gets made. Helpful hint: Make some short films to put yourself on the set.

Post-Production: There’s a lot involved in post, but the single most important point of focus for a screenwriter is to be mindful of the editing process. Indeed a writer thinking like an editor when crafting a script, everything from scene construction to scene transitions, can make for a better read and benefit the entire production and post process.

Acting: One of the smartest things a writer can do is take an acting class (or two). Yes, this is about writing dialogue that is ‘actor friendly,’ but it is also about something incredibly fundamental: understanding characters. Actors ask the same questions about a character writers do: motivation, personality, backstory, want, need, goals. The more a writer can grasp how actors think about their craft, the more that can translate into strong characterizations on the page.

Business: While a writer relies on their agent, manager and lawyer for career advice as well as inside information about industry trends, it is important for a writer to understand the basics of the entertainment business. From acquisition to development to production to marketing to distribution to finance, a writer’s stories get touched by people in all of these areas, so it just makes sense for them to have a basic comprehension of how the film business works.

Producers: Per this last point, one of the most important ways of thinking about screenwriting is as a producer. The ability to put on their ‘hat’ and see things through their eyes can be enormously helpful for a writer in terms of everything from story decisions to business strategy. Producers are often a writer’s best friend on a project. Understanding their world view is a plus.

Critical Eye: The movie business is incredibly competitive and it is ridiculously hard to get any movie produced. Therefore a writer must adjust their analytical instincts accordingly. A good place to start is with this basic question directed at each story a writer takes on: Is this a movie? The ability to answer that question honestly and without prejudice is key. A writer can use that same level of scrutiny to story choices: Is this distinctive? Is this cliche? Is this the very best I can do? If not, do better.

The World of Cinema: Any writer who hopes to grow a career as a screenwriter must immerse him/herself in the world of cinema. See every movie. Read every script. Know film history. This is important for a myriad of reasons including the simple fact that everyone in the business constantly refers to other movies, therefore a writer must know their stuff to be able to converse knowledgeably in development meetings, meet-and-greets, social circumstances, and the like.

There’s a lot more I haven’t mentioned — how to pick your battles, how to incorporate script notes, how not to be an asshole, and so forth — but the point should be clear and worth repeating: Learning the craft is much more than knowing how to write a screenplay..

It’s about becoming a screenwriter.

Screenwriting News (August 15-August 21, 2016)

August 21st, 2016 by

This week’s writing deals and movie project news.

Jeff Buhler writing “Blood” for Bold Films.

Etan Cohen writing-directing “Holmes and Watson” for Sony Pictures Entertainment with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly attached to star.

Cameron Fay writing feature adaptation of TV series “COPS” for Boies/Schiller Film Group.

Dan Fogelman sells spec script “Life Itself” to FilmNation Entertainment.

Lauren Iungerich sets up comedy pitch “My Daughter’s Quinceañera” at Universal Pictures.

Christopher Keyser writing remake of “Witness for the Prosecution” for Twentieth Century Fox.

Mark McDevitt sets up 2015 Black List script “Ida Tarbell” at Amazon Studios.

Shea Mirzai and Evan Mirzai set up 2012 Black List script “Doppelgangers” at Paperclip Ltd.

Nicole Perlman and Alex Hirsch writing “Pokemon” for Universal Pictures.

Luke Scott writing-directing “The Hunger” for Twentieth Century Fox.

Laura Solon sells action comedy pitch “Bodyguards” to Universal Pictures.

Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel period drama adaptation “The Aftermath” lands at Fox Searchlight Pictures with Keira Knightley and Alexander Skarsgard to star.

Interviews (Video): Seth Rogen (“Sausage Party”)

August 21st, 2016 by

An R-rated animated movie with a production budget of $19M which to date has grossed $55M. That’s Sausage Party, a project 10 years in the making. Here are the writing credits: Screenplay by Kyle Hunter & Ariel Shaffir & Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg, story by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg & Jonah Hill. You can expect a sequel.

Here are some interviews with co-writer and star Seth Rogen:

Would you believe the movie has a theological angle to it? Rogen acknowledges it in these interviews and here’s a compilation of clips from the movie to prove the point:

Anybody seen Sausage Party? If so, reactions? Currently has an 82% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Whatever your response, it’s great to see an original movie in theaters and finding an audience.

Daily Dialogue — August 21, 2016

August 21st, 2016 by

Sutter walks with Aimee at an outside party. He produces a flask from his back pocket.

Aimee: Ooh, can I try that.
Sutter: I don’t know. It’s pretty serious stuff.
Aimee: Just a taste.
Sutter: You sure?
Aimee: Yes.
Sutter: Awright, here you go. Go for it.

He hands her the flask. She takes a sip.

Aimee: Oh my God.
Sutter: Yeah.
Aimee: (grimaces) Ooh.
Sutter: I know. I told you.
Aimee: How can you drink that?
Sutter: I dunno, I guess I’ve been doing it for a while. You know who gave me my first beer?
Aimee: Who?
Sutter: My dad. I was probably six years old. Used to take me to baseball games every Saturday and then he’d let me have little sips of it.
Aimee: Did you get drunk?
Sutter: Nah, I didn’t get drunk, but it tasted really nice and warm.
Aimee: Where’s your dad now?
Sutter: He’s an airline pilot, he flies all across the country.
Aimee: Sutter, that’s awesome.
Sutter: He is awesome.

The Spectacular Now (2013), screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, novel by Tim Tharp

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Alcoholism.

Trivia: At one point during preproduction, the script began to change. Shailene Woodley was worried that the new rewrites would make the story less honest, and at one point even called Miles Teller to tell him that she was thinking of dropping out. Teller managed to convince her to stay on the movie, and the rewrites never happened.

Dialogue On Dialogue: The phrase “spectacular now” refers to Sutter’s insistence on living in the present, fueled in large part by a constant alcoholic buzz. The fact that here he lies about his father being “awesome”, something we discover later on, points out why in part Sutter refuses to move into the future because to do so, he would have to confront some tough truths in the past.

Daily Dialogue theme for next week: Mentor

August 20th, 2016 by

The Daily Dialogue theme for next week: Mentor suggested by Michael Waters.

So many memorable Mentor characters in movies. They teach. Inspire. Give directions. Provide insight. And sometimes they have to get in the face of the Protagonist and lay down the God’s honest truth.

Let’s see what we can do this week: 7 great examples of dialogue featuring a Mentor figure.

The usual drill:

* Copy/paste dialogue from IMDb Quotes or some other transcript source.

* Copy/paste the URL of an accompanying video from YouTube or some other video source.

I’d also ask you to think about why the dialogue is notable. Is there anything about the dialogue which provides some takeaway related to the craft of writing? If so, feel free to lay that wisdom on us.

Consecutive days of Daily Dialogue posts: 3,019.

Be a part of the proud Daily Dialogue tradition, make a suggestion, and have your name emblazoned on a blog post which will forever hold a hallowed spot in the Go Into The Story archives!

Upcoming schedule of themes:

August 29-September 4: Blame
September 5-September 11: Argument [Mark Twain]
September 12-September 18: Bullying
September 19-September 25: Military Moments [Will King]
September 26-October 2: Clairvoyance
October 3-October 9: Cooking [Katha]
October 10-October 16: Coaching
October 17-October 23: Cover Up [Will King]
October 24-October 30: Discipline
October 31-November 6: All Is Lost [Melinda]
November 7-November 13: Embarrassment
November 14-November 20: Bechdel Test [Will King]
November 21-November 27: Enthusiasm
November 28-December 4: Alien Invasion [Michael Waters]
December 5-December 11: Excuse
December 12-December 18: Fish Out Of Water [Will King]
December 19-December 25: Faith
December 26-January 1: Failure [Will King and Melinda]

Be sure to post your ideas for this week’s theme: Mentor.

Continued thanks to all of you Daily Dialogue devotees, your suggested dialogue and dialogue themes. Grateful for your ongoing support of this series.