My Interviews with 20 Nicholl Fellowship Screenwriting Winners

June 27th, 2016 by

The Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting competition is the most important of all screenplay contests. Founded in 1986, it is administered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and previous winners have included Allison Anders, Susannah Grant, Ehren Kruger, Michael A. Rich, and many others who have gone on to careers in the film and television business.

Since 2012, I have made it a point to seek out each year’s Nicholl winners for interviews. Why? Two reasons. First, to analyze their winning script and creative process to see what we, as writers, can learn from them. Second, to get a snapshot of writers at the front end of their professional careers. While I definitely enjoy interviewing established writers, there is something unique about catching a writer as they transition from aspiring to working writer.


Here are links to interviews I have conducted with 20 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting winners including all of them from 2012-2015:


Destin Daniel Cretton


Nikole Beckwith
Sean Robert Daniels
James DiLapo
Allan Durand
Michael Werwie


Frank DeJohn & David Alton Hedges
Patty Jones
Alan Roth
Stephanie Shannon
Barbara Stepansky


Sam Baron
Alisha Brophy & Scott Miles
Melissa Iqbal
Sallie West


Elizabeth Chomko
Andrew Friedhof
Anthony Grieco
Sam Regnier
Amy Tofte

If you are an aspiring screenwriter, there is a lot of wisdom in these interviews. Read them. Learn from them.

In the meantime…

Keep writing.

Richard Linklater letter to cast before shooting “Dazed and Confused”

June 27th, 2016 by

This floated around online over the weekend, a letter Richard Linklater sent in 1992 to the cast of his upcoming movie Dazed and Confused.

Dazed and Confused letter

To frame this discussion, a couple of things. Dazed and Confused was the follow-up to Linklater’s very first original feature length movie Slacker which came out in 1992. At the time, Linklater was 32 years old. In other words, he was at the very front end of his movie career, so the level of maturity and insight he has about the process, as demonstrated in this letter, is notable. For example:

    • He knows his characters so well, he has learned what their “favorite albums” are. Moreover he planned to use music as a way to help the actors get in touch with their characters.
    • The subtext of his second paragraph is awesome: He is saying he has put his trust in the actors, which puts them in a position of responsibility to bring their A game to the process, then balances that out with language which conveys what he expects on set to be fun and “inspirational”.
    • The third paragraph is filled with one keen observation after another, hard to know where to begin: Work hard… artistic troupe… BRING SOMETHING. But for those of us who ply our trade as screenwriters, Linklater write this: “…if the final movie is 100% word-for-word what’s in the script, it will be a massive underachievement.” Mind you, he not only directed the movie, he wrote it, so what he is doing by noting his own words-on-the-page are not sacrosanct is invite the creative input of the cast, giving them the freedom to explore their character more deeply, and bring what they discover onto the set to test it out. He embraces going “out on a limb, saying “it’s out there at our most vulnerable and desperate moments, where our breakthroughs will come from.”

This is a young creative talent who trusts the process, believing you can combine hard work in service to the characters and story, yet still have fun along the way.

I think the spirit of what Linklater was going for in this letter is no better summed up than by the very first words actor Matthew McConaughey uttered as his character Wooderson in Dazed and Confused. And here is the backstory to those famous three words as told by McConaughey on his SNL appearance in 2015:

See, right there. A completely unscripted scene. Linklater going with his gut. McConaughey digging into his character. And we end up with this:

So many takeaways from Linklater’s letter, but for writers, let’s focus on this: Know your characters. Know your story universe. “Know this movie,” as Linklater says. If you do, then translate it onto the page, not only the scenes, the dialogue, the action get loaded into the filmmaking process, but also the spirit and essence of your story. The words in your script may change, but if the people working on your story resonate with your vision…

You may end up with a damn fine movie.


2016 Scene-Writing Challenge: Day 19

June 27th, 2016 by

For the fourth straight year, June is Scene-Writing Month here at Go Into The Story. Every Monday-Friday at noon Eastern / 9AM Pacific, I will upload a post with a scene-writing prompt. Each day, write a scene per those guidelines. Upload your scene here in the comments section of the original post. That way you can critique others’ pages and receive feedback on your scene as well.

Why scene-writing? If the average scene is 1 1/2 to 2 pages long and a script is 100-120 pages, then a screenwriter writes between 50-80 scenes per screenplay. Thus in a very real way, screenwriting is scene-writing. The better we get at writing scenes, it stands to reason the better we get as a screenwriter.

To provide extra motivation for this series — to get people to WRITE PAGES — I am giving away some of my Core classes to Scene-Writing Challenge participants. That’s right: For free!

Everything you need to know about screenwriting theory in this unique curriculum based on eight principles: Plot, Concept, Character, Style, Dialogue, Scene, Theme, Time.

CORE I: PLOT – A one-week class which begins with the principle Plot = Structure and explores the inner workings of the Screenplay Universe: Plotline and Themeline. Start date: June 27.

CORE II: CONCEPT – A one-week class which begins with the principle Concept = Hook and examines multiple strategies to generate, develop and assess story ideas. Start date: July 11.

CORE III: CHARACTER – A one-week class which begins with the principle Character = Function and delves into archetypes: Protagonist, Nemesis, Attractor, Mentor, and Trickster. Start date: August 8.

CORE IV: STYLE – A one-week class which begins with the principle Style = Voice and surfaces keys to developing a distinctive writer’s personality on the page. Start date: August 22.

CORE V: DIALOGUE – A one-week class which begins with the principle Dialogue = Purpose and probes a variety of ways to write effective, entertaining dialogue. Start date: September 19.

CORE VI: SCENE – A one-week class which begins with the principle Scene = Point and provides six essential questions to ask when crafting and writing any scene. Start date: October 3.

CORE VII: THEME – A one-week class which begins with the principle Theme = Meaning and gives writers a concrete take on theme which can elevate the depth of any story. Start date: November 14.

CORE VIII: TIME – A one-week class which begins with the principle Time = Present and studies Present, Present-Past, Present-Future and time management in writing. Start date: December 12.

Each is a 1-week online class featuring 6 lectures written by me, lots of screenwriting insider tips, logline workshops, optional writing exercises, 24/7 message board conversations, teleconferences with course participants and myself to discuss anything related to the craft of scriptwriting.

A popular option is the Core Package which gives you access to the content in all eight Craft classes which you can go through on your own time and at your own pace, plus automatic enrollment in each 1-week online course — all for nearly 50% the price of each individual class. If you sign up now, you can have immediate access to all of the Core content.

In June, to qualify to take one of my Craft classes for free, write and submit ten [10] Scene-Writing Challenge posts, then provide feedback on ten [10] posts from other writers. The former to get you writing, the latter to work your critical-analytical skills.

A chance to take any of my eight Core classes, interface with me online along with the usual stellar group of writers who take Screenwriting Master Class courses, while using writing exercises and feedback to upgrade your skill at writing and analyzing scenes?


That’s what I’m prepared to do to encourage you to write pages.

A couple of logistical notes:

* Limit your scenes to 2 pages. First, most scenes are 2 pages or less in length. Second, out of fairness to everyone participating in the public scene-writing workshop, let’s not abuse anyone’s patience or time with really long scenes.

* Don’t be concerned about proper script format when you copy/paste your scene, rather the content and execution are the important thing. So as a default mode, do this: (1) Don’t worry about right-hand margins on scene description or dialogue, just keep typing until it manually shifts each line. (2) Don’t worry about character name position, rather do this:

SCARLETT: Rhett, Rhett... Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?

RHETT: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

Today’s prompt: Interruption.

A couple of ways you can approach this prompt. You could simply do a scene where one character interrupts another. Or in an attempt to work your chops writing realistic dialogue, how about a scene where characters constantly interrupt each other’s conversations? I like to indicate that by using double dashes like this:

SAM: If you don’t gimme that dough, I swear I’ll–
ETHEL: Swear you’ll what?
SAM: I swear I’ll kick your–
ETHEL: My ass? Nah, I’m gonna kick your so hard–
SAM: You and whose army?

If you are interested in qualifying for 1 free Core class with me, please note in each post you submit the number of scenes you have written. If today is your first effort, note that it is Scene 1. The next one, Scene 2. And so forth.

Also when you provide feedback on someone’s scene, please note in each reply the number of comments you have uploaded. So if today is your first response, Feedback 1. The next one, Feedback 2.

You are on an honor system, as I don’t have time to check every post, so do the right thing!

Remember: In order to qualify for one of my free Core classes, you need to submit ten [10] Scene-Writing Challenge posts, then provide feedback on ten [10] posts from other writers. One post and one feedback per scene prompt.

FEEDBACK TIP: If the writer has taken the first option – a character interrupts another character – brainstorm even more ways to interrupt what’s going on, create pressure and all around craziness.

Want to join in? Here are the previous challenge prompts:

Day 1 challenge: A scene set in an inhospitable environment, e.g., outer space, underwater, desert.

Day 2 challenge: A scene involving a secret.

Day 3 challenge: Two people talk while dancing.

Day 4 challenge: The audience knows something the characters don’t.

Day 5 challenge: Miscommunication.

Day 6 challenge: A character reviews a series of voice mails, each with worse news.

Day 7 challenge: An intervention.

Day 8 challenge: A scene with a man holding a gun.

Day 9 challenge: Introduce a character with a memorable impression.

Day 10 challenge: A conversation with someone who’s locked him/herself in the bathroom.

Day 11 challenge: One character has to break bad news to the other.

Day 12 challenge: A scene where the entire conversation takes place off-screen.

Day 13 challenge: Settling an argument by playing Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Day 14 challenge: A pet uses voice-over narration to comment on a family fight.

Day 15 challenge: Leaving a voice mail.

Day 16 challenge: Smack talk at a sporting event.

Day 17 challenge: A character has a ‘conversation’ with him/herself in the mirror. 

Day 18 challenge: A scene inspired by this photograph.

You can check out the fruits of our collective labor from the last three years:

Scene-Writing Exercises (2013)
Scene-Writing Exercises (2014)
Scene-Writing Exercises [2015]

Finally if you have what you think is a good suggestion for a scene-writing prompt, please post that as well.

It’s the 2016 Scene-Writing Challenge! Give a jolt to your creative and writing muscles… and win 1  free online class with yours truly.

NOTE: When you can verify the 10 scenes you’ve written and the 10 scenes on which you provided feedback, email me and let me know which of the eight Core classes you’d like to take. That’s all you need to do!

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is the last week of the challenge. All scenes need to be submitted by Midnight (PDT), Thursday, June 30 to be considered for a free Core class with me.


On Writing

June 27th, 2016 by

Typewriter“If you want to write, it must be the thing not that you want to do, or would like to do. It must be the thing you feel you have to do. It must be that without which you could not live. If you’ve got that, then it’ll be all right.”

— Christopher Hitchens

Via Advice To Writers

Daily Dialogue — June 27, 2016

June 27th, 2016 by

“I’m Hub McCann. I’ve fought in two World Wars and countless smaller ones on three continents. I led thousands of men into battle with everything from horses and swords to artillery and tanks. I’ve seen the headwaters of the Nile, and tribes of natives no white man had ever seen before. I’ve won and lost a dozen fortunes, killed many men, and loved only one woman with a passion a flea like you could never begin to understand. That’s who I am. Now, go home, boy!”

Secondhand Lions (2003), written by Tim McCanlies.

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

Trivia: Tim McCanlies wrote the lion as a female, because he thought it would be easier to keep under control than a male lion. It wasn’t until production began that he found out that female lions were actually much more ferocious than male lions.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Commentary by Will: “Much of the story expounds on what Hub declares here. This statement is an encapsulation, while the rest of the film shows the details as flashbacks.”

2016 Scene-Writing Challenge: Week 4

June 26th, 2016 by

Here are all of Week 4’s prompts for this year’s Scene-Writing Challenge:

Day 14: A pet uses voice-over narration to comment on a family fight.

Day 15: Leaving a voice mail.

Day 16: Smack talk at a sporting event.

Day 17: A character has a ‘conversation’ with him/herself in the mirror. 

Day 18: A scene inspired by this photograph.

For the Week 1 writing prompts, go here.

For the Week 2 writing prompts, go here.

For the Week 3 writing prompts, go here.

Starting tomorrow, four more scene-writing prompts.

For background on the Challenge and to learn how you can win a free one-week online Core class with me, go here.

Wanted: Your Daily Dialogue Suggestions!

June 26th, 2016 by

For 2,964 consecutive days, we have graced the online universe with an entertaining bit of business known as Daily Dialogue. Indeed, over 8 years ago when I conceived of this humble blog and the idea of posting something on a daily basis, this series was just about the first one to emerge from the primordial ooze of my brainstorming efforts.

How nice to start each day with a taste of movie moments featuring dialogue? Words to inspire. Learn about movie history. Reflect on the craft of dialogue-writing.

At first, it was just me drawing upon my reservoir of cinematic memories, but quickly the Go Into The Story community joined in with your suggestions, one of which quickly took root: What about a weekly theme?

So for several years, that’s what we’ve done. For example, here are some themes starting with the letter A:

As you can see, some are just general themes like Addiction or Arrest. Others are more specific to the craft of writing like Acceptance Speech or Action Hero Wisecracks. Over the years, we’ve explored hundreds of Daily Dialogue themes and I’d like to think we’re all the better for it in terms of upgrading our overall knowledge as writers and movie lovers, and had some fun along the way entertaining ourselves.

Well, it’s that time again where I solicit your suggestions for Daily Dialogue themes. To get an idea of previous examples, go here and check out this helpful index created by two GITS fans, Allie and Liz.

What themes spring into your mind? What subjects would you like to explore over the coming months in terms of writing dialogue? Remember there is both an entertaining and educational component to this series.

Also this: The theme needs to support at least 7 posts, one for each day of the week. “Norwegian Yak Farms”? That won’t work. “Argument”? That does work.

So if you’d take a few moments, think of a Daily Dialogue theme you think would make for a great weekly selection, and post that in Comments, I’d not only appreciate it, I’ll ‘honor’ your input by acknowledging your contribution every single day of the week your theme is used. Think of how famous that will make you!!!

Finally thanks to all of you who have participated in the Daily Dialogue series over the years. We are just about to hit the 3,000 consecutive day mark which, if you think about it, is a pretty damn remarkable achievement. As a reward for our collective efforts, here are some links for writing good dialogue:

5 Golden Rules for Writing Authentic Dialogue

7 Tips for Writing Dialogue

5 Tips on Writing Dialogue

8 Good Reasons to Use Dialogue [PDF download]

9 Easily Preventable Mistakes Writers Make with Dialogue

9 Rules for Writing Dialogue

Join the Daily Dialogue Devotees! Let’s hear your suggestions for weekly Daily Dialogue themes! Thanks and as always…


Screenwriting News (June 20-June 26, 2016)

June 26th, 2016 by

This week’s writing deals and movie project news.

Assaf Bernstein writing-directing thriller “Behind the Glass” for Dana Lustig Productions, Primary Wave, and Ace in the Hole Productions.

John Brancato and Josh Olson sell action spec script “Trigger Warning” to Thunder Road.

Aron Eli Coleite adapting fantasy graphic novel “Amulet” for Twentieth Century Fox.

Jon Croker adapting horror comic book “Aleister Arcane” for Amblin Partners and Mandeville Films, Jim Carrey to star.

Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser, and Spenser Cohen sell science fiction spec script “Moonfall” to Universal.

Mark Gunn and Brian Gunn adapting comic book “Jupiter’s Legacy” for di Bonaventura Pictures.

Anthony Jaswinski sells thriller spec script “Mary” to Tooley Productions.

Jay Longino sells graphic novel-based pitch “Son of Shaolin” to Sony.

Adam McKay sells pitch “Bad Blood” to Legendary Pictures in bidding war, Jennifer Lawrence to star, McKay to write and direct.

Michael Sheen adapting graphic novel “Green River Killer” for QC Entertainment and Dark Horse Entertainment, Sheen to direct and star.

Dan Wiedenhaupt writing remake of 2014 German movie “Who Am I” for Warner Bros., David Goyer to direct.

Documentary: “Frank Capra’s American Dream”

June 26th, 2016 by

A 1997 documentary “Frank Capra’s American Dream” featuring a Who’s Who from the filmmaking community including host Ron Howard, Robert Altman, Richard Dreyfuss, Peter Falk, Amy Heckerling, Marshall Herskovitz, Michael Keaton, Garry Marshall, Martin Scorsese, and Oliver Stone.

IMDb page.

Interview (Audio): Frank Capra

June 26th, 2016 by

A 1971 interview with writer-director Frank Capra whose movie credits include It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Lost Horizon, You Can’t Take It With You, and Meet John Doe. Capra began his career as a gag writer and worked with Hal Roach, Mack Sennett, and Harry Langdon before transitioning into writing and directing movies for Harry Cohn at Columbia Pictures. He called himself the “hoi polloi’s boy” and his movies are known as stories for and about the “common man”.

Capra’s Wikipedia page here.

IMDb page here.