Movie Trailer: “Housebound”

September 18th, 2014 by

Written by Gerard Johnstone

Kylie Bucknell is forced to return to the house she grew up in when the court places her on home detention. However, when she too becomes privy to unsettling whispers & strange bumps in the night, she begins to wonder whether she’s inherited her overactive imagination, or if the house is in fact possessed by a hostile spirit who’s less than happy about the new living arrangement.


Classic 70s Movie: “What’s Up, Doc?”

September 18th, 2014 by

September is Classic 70s Movie month. Today’s guest post comes from Weston Turner.

Movie Title: What’s Up, Doc?

Year: 1972

Writers: Story by Peter Bogdanovich, Screenplay by Buck Henry and David Newman & Robert Benton

Poster Whats Up Doc

Lead Actors: Barbra Streisand, Ryan O’Neal, Madeline Kahn

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

IMDB Plot Summary: Howard Bannister is a studious, quiet musicologist who dreams of making great discoveries in the world of igneous rocks and their musical properties. His fiancee, Eunice Burns, is overbearing, dramatic and working on training him to be her ideal, more obedient, husband. Their competition for a Musicology research grant brings Howard into the world of carefree, penniless Judy Maxwell and her instant love-at-all-costs attraction to him. This makes his efforts to acquire the research grant infinitely more confusing and complicated, as does the fact that his overnight bag full of rocks looks the same as Judy’s bag full of clothes, which also looks like the bag a woman is using to store her diamonds, which uncannily resembles a bag that contains some illegally-obtained top-secret documents.

Why I Think This Is A Classic 70s Movie: Peter Bodanovich was the prototype for a whole generation of filmmakers that rose to prominence many years after he had become an elder statesman of cinema. He was a movie geek through and through, obsessed with cinema and the pure joy he found in watching and making films. His output could, in many ways, be analyzed through the same lenses used in dissecting the work of Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson. There’s many referential, sometimes cheeky, sometimes reverent pastiche-y qualities, of course. But humming underneath that is a manic, punchy, and gleeful energy coursing through every frame. It’s an elusive quality that is impossible for a director to fake and, when it is present, just as impossible for a viewer to ignore.

I think What’s Up Doc? is the culmination of Peter Bogdanovich’s deep adoration for movies and all the ways they can spin a hilarious and hectic yarn. It’s pacing, writing, and direction is refreshingly bold, fun and inventive. “Pure Cinema” is a term that is making a bit of a comeback as Gravity, Under the Skin, and Upstream Colors entered movie fans’ and critics’ discussions. Those examples are science fiction and this is a comedy, but it’s a comedy that embraces the medium even more than usual. It’s re-appropriation of classic screwball characters and sequences is one of genuine love and enthusiasm and they balance it with enough self-awareness to sell us on a screwball comedy that was made years after most had given up on trying to make a great one. Maybe it seemed futile to dedicate so much time and craft into what some would dismiss as “just” an entertaining but slight trifle. It can stand toe-to-toe with the classics of the screwball Golden Age and a lot of that is due to Peter Bogdanovich’s zeal for the genre. He believed in these stories and he knew there are no films that are “just” entertaining or funny or joyful. Those qualities weren’t easy to come by. They emerged from time spent refining the writing, acting, and direction. The 1970s era of American Film has become a hallowed moment in cinema’s history. It’s championed as a time where creativity, experimentation, and film-addicted raw passion flourished. Peter Bogdanovich used that window to make this breathless, sharp, and hilarious tribute to the films he loved. It’s emblematic of that element the best filmmakers of the ’70s carried with them: a undying devotion to the greatness possible in these films.

My Favorite Moment In The Movie: One of the reasons why the jokes land so well and the convoluted story breezily zips along without causing any headaches is that the writers on the film keep devising better, simpler, and more clever ways of playing the jokes into their storytelling. They smuggle the plot devices and exposition into slapstick free-for-all’s and snappy banter.

This is brilliantly executed in the dinner table scene where Howard Bannister meets Mr. Larrabee, a man whom he is desperate to impress. Of course Judy is already three or four steps ahead of him and has been detailing all manner of fictional hijinks in Howard’s name in an attempt to impress the fellow scientists and win Howard’s heart. The only way she could insinuate herself into the conversation so quickly, easily, and deeply she decided to pretend she was Howard’s fiancee, Eunice Burns. The scene is marvelously slippery and fun. It hits all of the conflicts and delightful notes you want it to (Howard’s intellectual stammering exasperation, Judy’s effortless powers of chaos) and then swerves away into turns you did not expect. The elements of tension in the scene are provided by the audience’s expectations. Not only have we had several overlapping conflicts setup to explode in a scene like this, we also have years of screwball filmmaking where scenes like this tend to hit certain key notes. This is not the case here. Mr. Larrabee, whom you might expect to be a stock character that is suspicious of Judy and difficult to win over, turns out to be joyfully smitten with Judy/Eunice. He instantly wants to award Howard the prize, thanks to Judy’s antics. She basically hands Howard what he’s wanted without even trying. A suspicious pompous enemy of Howard’s fails to win the money or cause Howard any trouble at all. Howard’s clumsy attempts to take the reigns of the conversation or situation, anything really, are smoothly dissuaded by Judy’s charms and this all leads to the pivotal moment at the end of this scene.

By now, plenty of hilarious jokes and sight gags have been had and we can see the Howard/Judy storyline gaining traction. We end up with everyone at the table following Howard and Judy in crooking their heads under the table to continue their conversation. Finally, Eunice Burns has managed to push her way into the private dinner just in time to seem like the perfect lunatic before the entire crowd of people. She is violent and screaming and won’t listen to anyone except Howard. Mr. Larrabee asks how Howard knows the “dangerously unbalanced woman”. And from here. the whole movie turns. Howard denies having ever seen her before and, for the first time, takes a stand with Judy against Eunice. The whole movie takes a big turn at this point as he makes a pivotal choice and must now find his way through the consequences.

This is a perfect example of a scene that balances several different styles of comedy and manages to write in the plot dialogue and interactions without either getting drowned out. It’s a masterclass in timing and comedic structure.

Dinner Scene Part 1

Dinner Scene Part 2 (kind of) – “Dangerously Unbalanced”

My Favorite Dialogue In the Movie:

Howard: Sir, my name is Howard Bannister and I’m from Ames, Iowa.
Judge Maxwell: No excuse.
Howard: No, sir, it all started when I bumped my head in the taxi… on the way in from the airport.
Judge Maxwell: Are you pleading insanity or amnesia?
Howard: Neither. I went to the drugstore to get something for a headache… the druggist tried to charge me for a radio. She said her husband would pay for it. But I didn’t, of course.
Judge Maxwell: Of course.
Howard: She ripped my jacket and when Eunice came along…
Judge Maxwell: Who’s Eunice?
Howard: Eunice is my fiancée.
Judge Maxwell: You have a wife AND a fiancée?
Howard: No, sir. But, she kept calling me “Steve.”
Judge Maxwell: Your own fiancée calls you “Steve?”
Howard: No, sir, my wife. Or rather, the one who ISN’T my wife.
Judge Maxwell: What does the one who isn’t your FIANCEE call you? Howard?
Howard: No, sir, the one who isn’t my fiancée doesn’t call me Howard and the one who isn’t my wife doesn’t call me Howard because the one who isn’t my fiancée is also the one who isn’t my wife. The other one who ISN’T my wife, the one who IS my fiancée… she doesn’t call me “Steve.” She calls me Howard. Do you see?
Judge Maxwell: Let’s just skip over this part, and move on.
Howard: That night at the banquet she was there again.
Judge Maxwell: Who was there, your wife or your fiancée?
Howard: Neither.
Judge Maxwell: There’s a third?
Howard: No, sir, the one who isn’t either. Everyone was calling her “Burnsy.”
Judge Maxwell: Why?
Howard: That’s short for Burns, Eunice’s last name.
Judge Maxwell: Eunice WAS there.
Howard: No, sir, BURNSY was there. Or rather, the one who ISN’T Burnsy.

Key Things You Should Look For When Watching This Movie:

Visual Comedy Grammar – This movie is chock full of all the filmmaking tricks you can imagine. There’s a car chase that rivals the Diapers Sequence in Raising Arizona. It has all of the standard tropes of a car chase but they’re either subverted or pushed to further absurdist extremes. The mirror, the concrete, the ending on the deck: they’re all so funny and thrilling because the director and writers love them as much as we do and also know, as much as we do, how played out they are. This leads to great effort being expended in putting a unique spin or punchline to the proceedings. On many occasions, the camera is as playful as the script: it reveals things to us in frame when it’s funniest to do so, it uses odd shaped furniture for laughs, and it has a blast with the door-slamming, towel-wearing, fire-starting, and balcony-standing.

Verbal Comedy Grammar – This whole film would be well worth studying for the dialogue fireworks alone. It doesn’t have the caustic wit of Billy Wilder, but it has the sense of oneupmanship and play that fuel comedy so well. It’s fascinating to see how even the characters you’re rooting for still have competing interests. It makes every scene a situation that has to be resolved in a funny way. The dialogue includes rapid back-and-forth, overlap, setup/punchline, and all of it springs from well drawn characters with clear conflicts. They can be as clever as they want, because we know these characters, and we can see the sparks as two opposing stubborn characters get in the way of what the other one wants. It demonstrates how the time and craft we put into the characters pays off and will only make the comedy land harder.

Thanks, Weston! To show our gratitude for your guest post, here’s a dash of creative juju for you. Whoosh!

You may follow Weston on Twitter: @LogicDamaged.

We already have a set of 80s Movies and 90s Movies. This month, we’re working on 70s Movies.

Thanks to all of you for your participation in this project, creating a resource for writers, movies we should all watch to help learn the craft of screenwriting!

Writing and the Creative Life: The act of writing provides health benefits

September 18th, 2014 by

Just the other day, I posted my response to this reader question:

The road from unpaid screenwriter to paid screenwriter is long, winding and unpredictable. It’s not certain that you’ll ever be one. How can one keep yourself motivated?

I wish I had stumbled across this Scientific America article earlier because I would have added it to my answer: “Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Love to Write”. What is the surprise?

No matter the quality of your prose, the act of writing itself leads to strong physical and mental health benefits, like long-term improvements in mood, stress levels and depressive symptoms. In a 2005 study on the emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing, researchers found that just 15 to 20 minutes of writing three to five times over the course of the four-month study was enough to make a difference.

By writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events, participants were significantly more likely to have fewer illnesses and be less affected by trauma. Participants ultimately spent less time in the hospital, enjoyed lower blood pressure and had better liver functionality than their counterparts.

The act of writing itself leads to strong physical and mental health benefits. 

So even if the path to success as a writer is “long, winding and unpredictable,” the very fact you are writing is a net plus in terms of your health. Fewer illnesses. Less trauma. Lower blood pressure. Better liver functionality. Even if you don’t make a dime off your writing, the physical and emotional benefits may make the effort worth it.

Then there’s this:

You don’t have to be a serious novelist or constantly reflecting on your life’s most traumatic moments to get these great benefits. Even blogging or journaling is enough to see results. One study found that blogging might trigger dopamine release, similar to the effect from running or listening to music.

People ask me all the time: How do you blog so much? Now I have the answer: Dopamine! Evidently blogging provides a natural high.

From long-term health improvements to short-term benefits like sleeping better, it’s official: Writers are doing something right.

In the past, I’ve always said this about writing: Do it because you love it. What this article proposes is a variation on that theme: Do it because it loves you!

Writing and the Creative Life is a weekly series in which we explore creativity from the practical to the psychological, the latest in brain science to a spiritual take on the subject. Hopefully the more we understand about our creative self, the better we will become as writers. If you have any good reading material in this vein, please post in comments. If you have a particular observation you think readers will benefit from and you would like to explore in a guest post, email me.

Daily Dialogue — September 18, 2014

September 18th, 2014 by

“You think I’m funny, I’m an asshole? No no no… what’s funny is HER… what’s funny is, I had you two followed, because if it’s not you she’s sleeping with, it’s someone else… what’s funny is, when she gives you that LOOK, and says, ‘I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, Ray, I ain’t done nothin’ funny’… but the funniest thing to ME is… you think SHE came back HERE for YOU… THAT’S what’s FUCKIN’ FUNNY!”

Blood Simple. (1984), written by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Adultery.

Trivia: On the advice of Sam Raimi, the Coens went door-to-door showing potential investors a two minute ‘trailer’ of the film they planned to make. They ultimately raised $750,000 in a little over a year, enough to begin production of the movie.

Dialogue On Dialogue: That’s the thing about adultery. If someone sleeps with a married person, knowing they are doing so while living a lie… how can you trust them not to do the same thing to you? That’s a point aggrieved husband Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) makes here to the man involved in the affair Ray (John Getz).

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

Black List Live: “The Seekers of Perpetual Love” – September 20, 2014

September 17th, 2014 by

The latest from the Black List [and another ticket giveaway]:

The Black List announced that Seth Green (ROBOT CHICKEN, AUSTIN POWERS, THE ITALIAN JOB, PARTY MONSTER, FAMILY GUY) would be joining the cast of their live staged reading of THE SEEKERS OF PERPETUAL LOVE this Saturday, September 20th at 8:00pm at the Montalban Theater in Hollywood.

Alison Brie, Nathan Fillion, Justin Bartha, Melanie Lynskey, Jean Smart and Dean Cameron round out the rest of the cast of the reading and Cooper Thornton returns as Black List Live’s narrator.

Screenwriter Victoria Strouse will direct the 2008 Black List script formerly known as “The Apostles of Infinite Love.”

SEEKERS is a comedy about a trio of dysfunctional upper class New York siblings who recruit a New Age “deprogrammer” and go on the road to save their sister from a doomsday cult—confronting their deep-seated issues with each other along the way.

Tickets are available now online at ($35 General admission; $30 WGA members and students).

A limited edition SEEKERS poster by Pixar graphic artist Craig Foster and signed by the cast will be available for sale in the lobby of the theater before the show.


Black List Live! presents:

Saturday, September 20, 2014
7:30pm Doors, 8:00pm Show
The Ricardo Montalban Theatre
1615 Vine Street at Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028


The Black List Live! series launched at the Los Angeles Theatre on June 14, 2014 with Stephany Folsom’s 1969: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Over 750 people were in the audience to watch Jared Harris (Mad Men, Sherlock Holmes 2, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Kathryn Hahn (Bad Words, Parks and Recreation), Thomas Sadoski (The Newsroom), Shannon Woodward (Raising Hope), Clark Gregg (The Avengers, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Rich Sommer (Mad Men), Aaron Staton (Mad Men), Lance Reddick (The Wire and Fringe), and Tessa Ferrer (Grey’s Anatomy, Extant) perform from the script.

Black List Live! was created by The Black List to continue its mission of promoting Hollywood’s most liked unproduced screenplays and the writers who write them. Black List Live! readings will be announced seasonally and continue on a quarterly basis both in Los Angeles and elsewhere.

Another great Black List event. You may secure tickets here.

But wait. In an exclusive, Go Into The Story has 5 pairs of tickets to give away to the Black List Live! “The Seekers of Perpetual Love” program. How to get your free tickets?

Some background: In December, the Black List will celebrate its 10th anniversary for it was in 2005 when the first annual Black List made its way around Hollywood development circles. To honor the Black List and make you use some creativity, I want you to go here where you can read through all 9 annual Black Lists online. Every script that has made the Black List since 2005 is there. Here’s what I want you to do:

Take at least two Black List script titles and create a mash-up of a new script title.

So for example, I’ll dip back to 2012 Black List and take the Eric Heisserer script “Story of Your Life” and the Michael Werwie script “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile”, and create this mash-up title:

“The Story of Your Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile Life”.

You may enter as many times as you’d like, but the mash-up version has to be composed exclusively of Black List script titles.

Also this: If you have won free tickets before from any Go Into The Story giveaway, you are ineligible for this contest. Let’s spread the wealth, people! And you are on your honor, so please don’t crush my idealistic attitudes about the goodness and honesty of writers.

DEADLINE: Thursday, 12AM, Eastern Daylight Time.

Again you may enter as many times as you like, but only if you are eligible and your entries must be uploaded to comments in this post by Thursday, September 18th at midnight.

We’re giving away 5 pairs of tickets! Who wants to play? Hit Reply, head to comments and let’s see your Black List title mash-ups!

An Argument Against Screenplay Formulas (Part 3): They diminish the craft of screenwriting

September 17th, 2014 by

Ever since the beginning of the studio system era back in the 1930s, writers have had a tough slog gaining much in the way of respect in Hollywood. Movies have always been star vehicles, so actors have always had power. With the ascension of the auteur theory in the 50s, directors moved to the forefront, too, and we are reminded of their power status every time we see “A Film By” credit going to one of them, even if they didn’t write a single word of the script. Studio executives have the power of the green light, ultimately determining whether a movie gets made or not. There are many powerful producers as well based on their networking, track records and financial connections.

As for writers? We get hired, we get fired. We rewrite a script on assignment, we get rewritten. By and large, the press, while fawning over actors and directors, do an amazing and consistent job of overlooking the writer’s contribution to movie projects.

This is ironic because none other than Hollywood’s first great movie producer Irving Thalberg, who was directly involved in the production of 90 movies during his career, was quoted as saying this:

“The most important person in the motion picture process is the writer… and we must do everything in our power to prevent them from ever realizing it.”

Why important? Because it is the writer who takes ideas and puts them into script form. Without a script to shoot, it is next to impossible to make a movie, at least one with any quality to it.

And what factors in a writer’s arsenal can result in a great script? Talent. Experience. Voice. Knowledge. And perhaps most important of all… Creativity.

At a fundamental level, Creativity is our calling card. Thus writers, individually and collectively, must do everything we can to protect this piece of conventional wisdom: We are creative.

Hollywood needs stories to survive. We, as writers, create those stories. That is the ultimate foundation of whatever power writers have.

Now consider this dialogue from the 1992 movie The Players, screenplay by Michael Tolkin, based on his novel, directed by Robert Altman. In this scene, new studio executive Larry Levy, arrogant and opinionated, posits the following:

Larry: I’m just saying there’s time and money to be saved… if we came up with these stories on our own.
- Where are these stories coming from?
Larry: Anywhere. It doesn’t matter. The newspaper. Pick any story.
- ‘Immigrants protest budget cuts in literacy program.’
Larry: Human spirit overcoming human adversity. Sounds like Horatio Alger in the barrio. Put Jimmy Smits in it and you’ve got a sexy Stand and Deliver. Next. Come on.
- This isn’t my field.
Larry: It doesn’t matter. Give it a shot. You can’t lose here.
- How about ‘Mud slide kills in slums of Chili’?
Larry: That’s good. Triumph over tragedy. Sounds like a John Boorman picture. Slap a happy ending on it, the script will write itself.

The Player Gallagher

Peter Gallagher as Larry Levy in The Player

The script will write itself. The suits would love to believe this, even though they know it’s not true because that would make their lives a lot easier, not having to deal with pesky writers and their ideas, vision, tempers and mood swings, not to mention sometimes what they write works… and sometimes it doesn’t.

So along come the screenwriting gurus with their tsunami of screenplay formulas.

What do you think the impact of those systems and paradigms have on the perception of the screenwriting craft in Hollywood? Would it elevate what we do in the eyes of others? Or diminish it?

Cue playback: The script will write itself.

It’s not just the books, webinars, weekend seminars, and DVDs, it’s story structure software, literally creating the impression that all someone needs to do is answer a series of questions, plug in information, and there you have it: Story structure in a nutshell.

To my knowledge, the software angle is not a particularly new thing as I’m aware of one program that has been around since 1994, but others have emerged to tap into the growing number of consumers wanting to explore screenwriting. Over time, the aggregation of all this formulaic detritus, I fear, has contributed to the devaluation of screenwriters in Hollywood. Not a primary reason perhaps, but one factor, helping to reinforce the idea that writing a script should be easy, anyone can write a script, and buttress this attitude…

The script will write itself.

This cuts straight at the writer’s power base: Creativity. Worse, some of these formulas appear to have bubbled up into and through Hollywood development circles, the result of which is to make the job of writing a script on assignment, already a challenge, that much more difficult.

That is the subject of tomorrow’s post.

For Part 1 of the series “An Argument Against Screenplay Formulas: They are selling you a lie” — go here.

For Part 2 of the series “An Argument Against Screenplay Formulas: Formula leads to formulaic writing” – go here.

I welcome your comments and thoughts.

And for the record on Saturday, I will do a post in which I make an argument on how screenplay formulas do have a place in a writer’s life, albeit a very, very limited one.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, I’m including my update from Part 2 drawing a distinction between formula and structure.

I’ve gotten emails from several writers a bit frantic in tone, so let me make this clear: There is a difference between formula and structure. When William Goldman famously says, “Screenplays are structure,” at a fundamental level, that is true. The ultimate end point for a screenplay is the production of a movie and because of certain limitations and conventions common to movies, the structure of a script is intimately tied to the actual nuts and bolts process of making a film.

So let me be clear: I am not saying structure is bad. On the contrary, story structure is critical to the success of a screenplay.

The problem is equating formula with structure.

First off, as discussed, there is no one single formula to craft a screenplay’s structure. Stories are organic. Formulas are not. So the very premise that this screenwriting guru or that can make some claim as to the universality of their formula is false on the face of it. There are endless possibilities for stories and story structure.

Second, from what I’ve seen in the countless scripts I’ve read from writers who have been influenced by screenplay formulas, clearly their focus in the writing has been with Plot, as if Plot is the sum of story structure. It is not. A screenplay’s universe has two dimensions: The External World, what I call the Plotline, the domain of Action and Dialogue, and the Internal World, what I call the Themeline, the domain of Intention and Subtext. The former is where we see and hear the story’s Physical Journey. The latter is where we interpret and intuit the story’s Psychological Journey. Without the Internal World, a story is essentially without any meaning or emotional resonance. Therefore if the preponderance of focus in a screenplay formula is on the makeup of the External World, that is only serving one part of the story’s structure. Story structure properly understood involves both domains: External World (Plotline) and Internal World (Themeline).

Third, and perhaps most importantly, whatever story structure you end up with, one of the major points of emphasis in my teaching is how you get there. This goes back to outside-in writing, as noted above, versus inside-out writing. I believe you are much more likely to find an authentic story structure, not a formulaic one, through the inside-out approach, starting with characters, immersing yourself in their lives, engaging in an active, dynamic process in which both the Plotline and Themeline emerge.

So when I call into question screenplay formula, please understand, this is not the same thing as story structure. In a sense, screenplays are structure, but that structure involves both Plotline and Themeline… and it’s critical how you go about crafting that structure.

Outside-In / Formula = No!
Inside-Out / Characters = Yes!

Documentary: “Rosemary’s Baby”

September 17th, 2014 by

A 47-minute doc from Criterion featuring interview with Roman Polanski, Mia Farrow and producer Robert Evans:

Via Indiewire.

Twitter Rant: Eric Heisserer on the Screenwriter’s Creative Power

September 17th, 2014 by

Eric Heisserer (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Final Destination 5, The Thing, Hours, Story of Your Life) is probably the Hollywood screenwriter most willing to go online and provide a Twitter rant on a specific subject related to the craft. Writer Tim Wainwright hosts a blog and has been posting Eric’s rants there for the last year or so.

After several GITS readers asked me about archiving screenwriting Twitter rants so they wouldn’t get lost down the online rabbit hole, I reached out to both Eric and Tim about hosting some of Eric’s previous rants here. They both thought that was a swell idea.

Today: Eric’s March 2014 rant on the creative power a screenwriter brings to the professional table.

*takes a swig* Okay, ladies and gents, it’s thunder and lightning.

In a meeting recently, an exec pitched me a movie title and showed me the poster. That’s all they had. Plus marketing’s word it was “gold.”

You don’t build a goddamn house by starting with the furniture. I don’t care what the IKEA lady said, you’re gonna have a bad time.

This kind of mindset is actually common in the studios. Why? THEY DON’T CREATE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY. That’s our job. So what can they do? They can think up movie titles and walk them into the marketing department and get some poll done at a mall. No studio wants the motto: “Patiently waiting for original material.” They don’t want to believe that’s a reality. They want control.

The good news is: An original story with a universal message will win you keys to the city. That right there is the REAL gold.

But if you’re struggling to get a foothold in this crazy upside-down business, sometimes your only way in is with a studio property. *cough*

So what can you do in the scenario when facing an exec pitching you CATNADO? If you’re struggling to pay bills? Character. It will feel like the most bizarre thing to go at it talking about theme, character, and metaphor, but crack that, you’ll get hired. The mid-level people are all focused on the trailer, the poster, etc. But the top execs? They want to keep relationships with actors. How?

By delivering great CHARACTERS in their movies.

If you want to pitch CATACLYSM or whatever “summer tentpolecat” open writing assignment, make it something a star would love to star in.

I pitched for a project last year by showing up with a scripted monologue for the hero. I said, “This is the kind of person he is.” That was above-and-beyond, but I saw the whole movie through that lens, and as a writer my most convincing weapon is actual writing.

On top of all this, you ABSOLUTELY CANNOT be cynical about the business. Even if you feel like Charlie Brown w/ Lucy’s football. Way more execs than you realize can smell cynicism. Can sense when you truly believe they’re the enemy. That attitude is cancer.

There are amazing people in the studio system, at all levels. They can be hard to find, yes! But good attracts good. Seriously. The people making STORY OF YOUR LIFE believe in movies with ideas. They have big hearts. They don’t care about the ‘fuckability factor.’ There are screenwriters who’ve found their way to producing positions. They know the plight of the writer. A lot of them are way cool.

You have to silence that voice that warns you’ll get fired for pushing for quality, and assume it’s a monogamous movie relationship.

Also! The studio system isn’t the only game in town. I got HOURS made entirely out of that world, with one producer and financiers.

None of these paths are simple or easy. You will get exhausted swinging at them. But great material gets attention. Maybe quick, maybe slow.

If your goal is to sell a screenplay, you are in for a world of hurt. Because those shouldn’t be your goalposts. A sale = a START to career.

Another one: DO NOT dare watch a crap movie and think you can make it in the biz because “I can write better than that!” No no no. That is called the “shit plus one” dilemma. It means your goal was to produce something marginally better than shit.

And consider maybe that crappy movie actually started as a GENIUS script, way back when? And some writer cries over the monster it became.

*coughs* *coughs again*

So let’s reach for really damn awesome writing. Let’s raise the median, skew the grading curve, build a new floor.

If you’re looking for total creative autonomy, you’re bound for heartache in this business. It’s collaborative by design. Want your words to reach the audience directly? Cool! Write a novel. A script is a thing to build what the public eventually sees. That means when you’re working with producers, directors, cast, execs, etc., you have to think about what will help them in your writing.

The spec script gives you freedom to do whatever you want. Put in all the needle drops you desire. Paint the world blue. Go nuts.

The moment that spec sells, understand the realities that set in: Song rights are expensive/impossible. Digital coloring troublesome. Etc.

The biggest lesson I learned as a writer was to work on my social skills. Shyness cost me jobs early on. Fear of introducing myself, mainly.

I hate the term “networking.” It’s not really accurate. It’s also a staid business term. What we do? Seek friends. Mentors. Peers.

When I write a script now, I don’t write for the studio, I write to impress @jonspaihts, @jonrog1, @garywhitta, and my other writer friends.

So this began with me bitching about the exec with a movie poster and no script, but it ends with: They need us to show them the better way.

You’re all awesome and I’m a little drunk. I’m gonna bail tonight before I start hugging everybody.”

The link to Tim’s blog post for this rant is here.

Eric has put together a book that arose from his Twitter exchanges: “150 Screenwriting Challenges” which is available for Kindle here.

Each day this week, I will be posting one of Eric’s Twitter rants via Tim’s blog.

You may see all of the Screenwriting Twitter Rants archived on the site here.

Thanks, Eric, for taking the time to share your insights with the online screenwriting community.

Thanks, Tim, for making the effort to aggregate Eric’s Twitter rants.

Movie Trailer: “The Guest”

September 17th, 2014 by

Written by Simon Barrett

A soldier introduces himself to the Peterson family, claiming to be a friend of their son who died in action. After the young man is welcomed into their home, a series of accidental deaths seem to be connected to his presence.


Release Date: 17 September 2014 (USA)

Classic 70s Movie: “Midnight Express”

September 17th, 2014 by

September is Classic 70s Movie month. Today’s guest post comes from Les Sava.

Movie Title: Midnight Express

Year: 1978

Writer: Oliver Stone (adaptation of book by Billy Hayes)

Poster Midnight Express

Lead Actors: Brad Davis, Irene Miracle, Bo Hopkins, Paolo Bonacelli, Paul L. Smith, Randy Quaid, Norbert Weisser, Peter Jeffrey, John Hurt

Director: Alan Parker

IMDB Plot Summary: The “true” story of Billy Hayes, an American college student who is caught smuggling drugs out of Turkey and thrown into prison. (quotation mine.)

Why I Think This Is A Classic 70s Movie: The plot line alone makes this a quintessentially ’70s flick! This multiple Academy Award winning film put a spotlight on Oliver Stone, who won Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.

My Favorite Moment In The Movie: An action scene — where Billy has a harrowing breakdown and becomes brutal himself. (N.B., not an accurate portrayal of events.) You can see it here.

A very close second is also an action scene, untrue, but chilling [here].

My Favorite Dialogue In The Movie:

Billy Hayes (writing to girlfriend) “Dear Susan: Poor Jimmy was caught and beaten so badly he got a severe hernia, and lost a testicle. He’s been in the sanitarium for months. In comparison, my problems seem very small.”

Key Things You Should Look For When Watching This Movie: This film is controversial for two reasons. First, it was billed as “A True Story of Triumph” when at least four of the major plot points were not based on fact, according to accounts by Hayes himself, both before and after the film was made. The sequences, written by Stone, all heighten the drama significantly and add intrigue to the story, so it’s easy to see why he would add them. I think it’s interesting to consider whether and to what extent it is within the writer’s prerogative to take such broad dramatic liberties when the film is dubbed “a true story.” Of course such marketing decisions would be an executive’s call, not a writer’s, but it’s worthy of thought just how much leeway a writer might be given in an adaptation assignment.

Second, this movie was considered controversial due to a one-dimensional portrayal of Turks as barbarians. Stone apologized for this in 2004.

The movie was filmed in Malta, not Istanbul.

Thanks, Les! To show our gratitude for your guest post, here’s a dash of creative juju for you. Whoosh!

We already have a set of 80s Movies and 90s Movies. This month, we’re working on 70s Movies.

Thanks to all of you for your participation in this project, creating a resource for writers, movies we should all watch to help learn the craft of screenwriting!