Scene Description Spotlight: Express Your Voice

May 19th, 2015 by

I have a brand new class debuting on May 25. It’s called Scene Description Spotlight which sounds super practical. And in a way, it is because at one level, it’s an immersion into the nuts and bolts of the writing craft. However what it’s really about is this: Exploring and expressing your voice as a writer.

You hear this over and over and over again in Hollywood development circles. Agents, managers, producers, execs, talent. All looking for writers with distinctive voices.

If you think voice just means character dialogue… think again. Voice also involves scene description. You know, that boring stuff you write to set up and play out a scene.

Over the years, professional screenwriters have learned to use scene description as a way to create strong visuals… convey mood… entertain the reader… and express their voice. Like this from The Matrix:

The Big Cop flicks out his cuffs, the other cops holding a
bead. They've done this a hundred times, they know
they've got her, until the Big Cop reaches with the cuffs
and Trinity moves --

It almost doesn't register, so smooth and fast, inhumanly
fast.

The eye blinks and Trinity's palm snaps up and his nose
explodes, blood erupting. Her leg kicks with the force of
a wrecking ball and he flies back, a two-hundred-fifty
pound sack of limp meat and bone that slams into the cop
farthest from her.

Or this from Wall-E:

It hovers gracefully above the ground.
White. Egg-shaped.

Blue-lit eyes.
Female.
Eve.

Wally is transfixed.
Inches closer.
Watches Eve from behind the device.
Tilts his head.
Time stops.
She's the most beautiful thing he's ever seen.

Or this from Little Miss Sunshine:

No one knows what to make of Olive rocking, her back turned.

However, when the first verse begins, Olive turns and 
strides up on the stage -- hands on hips, shoulders swinging 
-- with an absolute and spectacular physical self-confidence.

She rocks out, busting crazy moves this stage has never seen: 
shakes, shimmies, twirls, dips, undulations -- a melange of 
MTV rump shakin', Solid Gold Dancers re-runs, and 
out-of-left-field inventions of her own. Other moves are 
clearly drawn from Grandpa's sixty-year career of strip-bar 
patronage.

She dances with a total command -- an exuberant, even witty 
mastery of her body, the music, the moves, everything.

Most of all, she's doing it for herself -- for her own sense 
of fun -- and the judges are instantly irrelevant.

The audience is stunned. No one moves. Mouths hang open.

In my 1-week Scene Description Spotlight, you will learn about:

* How Genre + Style = Narrative Voice

* Memorable ways to introduce characters

* The crucial importance of ‘editorializing’

* Using tempo and pace to make scenes spark to life

* The freedom screenwriters have to break grammatical rules

* Directing action through line management

* Imagematic, psychological, and action writing

And much, much more!

The class includes dozens of examples from notable movie scripts as well as some of the most recent selling spec scripts to give you a clear sense of how to use scene description to give expression to your voice and make your script worthy of one of Hollywood’s highest compliments: It’s a good read.

I’m really excited about this class and you should be, too. Take something as seemingly simple and mundane as scene description… and use it to show off your voice.

To learn more and enroll, go here.

The class begins Monday, May 25. As always, I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

Creative Spark

May 13th, 2015 by

A guest post from screenwriter Tom Benedek (Cocoon), co-founder of Screenwriting Master Class.

I had never done a workshop with kids before. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sent a request for mentors for the Spark program they run. Wednesdays from 2 to 4PM for 10 Weeks. I said ‘yes.’ Middle School kids are paired with one mentor each to work on film projects. My mentee, David, loves the video game, Crossfire, and wanted to do a show about it. I showed him how Final Draft works and he wrote a script while I sat next to him. We were joined by his friend, Luis, and his Mentor, Jeff, who is a special effects coordinator. Lucky thing. The script David and Luis completed has green screen, a dog, plenty of action. We managed to shoot it around the Academy building in our 3 allotted shooting days of 2 hours each. It was fun. Volunteering is great. Making a film with like-minded individuals – We had a blast. Thanks to Bettina Fisher and the Academy Educational Initiative. And our editor, Kevin!

Here’s our little epic:

Here is a link to Spark.

TV is not TV anymore. It is long-form big screen entertainment – spectacle, indie, domestic drama – whatever you want it to be. You may choose the characters, the setting, the workplace that is in your heart and mind — then transform it into a world of story, a place to explore the depths of human behavior and your own soul. Consider these observations from Russel Friend, Executive Producer/Writer of HOUSE (Fox), Executive Producer/Writer of GLEE (Fox), Executive Producer/Writer of BATTLE CREEK (CBS), talking about how he hires writers for shows he is running:

I looked for scripts that surprised me. Procedurals bored me to tears. Hospital shows, cop shows, obvious shows. Instead, I looked for people who wrote things that nobody else was. For example, Becky Kirsch: I was sent her spec pilot about an 18th Century New England woman locked up in an insane asylum. Nobody was going to make this series. Nobody would probably buy it. But it was wonderful. It was different. It showed me someone who was going to think outside the box. But the writing was also solid, traditionally structured, and so I knew she understood what the inside of the box looked like, too. Again, this isn’t exactly clear advice for how to get a job. What I’ll say is this: every writer has to stand on his/her creative instincts and writing talent, and that means a writing sample should make both of those things abundantly clear. You have to succeed or fail on these things because they are your most valuable possessions as a screenwriter. Write samples that speak to that, not samples that you think will get you hired. The latter ones almost never will.

For the entire interview with Friend, go here.

If you are thinking of writing an original TV pilot, get in touch with your creative instincts and use your writing talent to go from concept to script in my 8 week Screenwriting Master Class workshop that starts Monday, May 18.

Tom is a great teacher and this is a class I highly recommend, one where you can take your initial creative spark and bring it to fruition with a completed TV pilot script. To find out more, go here.

Rewriting your script

April 6th, 2015 by

Let’s face it: Rewriting is a bitch. Or a bastard. Pick your gender specific invective. Doesn’t matter. The process is a pain no matter how you shake your fist and swear at it.

One big issue I’ve found with writers caught up in the maelstrom of rewriting is that there is no one surefire path to success. This stands to reason. Stories are organic and so a certain amount of rewriting them involves wallowing in the wilderness. That’s just the nature of things.

However I have an approach which I honestly believe can move your process forward in a big way. It’s one I use in the Pages II: Rewriting Your Script workshop, a 10-week class that guides you through a rewrite.

In this workshop, you will not only drill down into your story and understand it more clearly, if you do the work, you will get from FADE IN to FADE OUT on your next draft, and move you script toward the point you can bring it to market.

Here is an overview of the approach employed in Pages II: Rewriting Your Script:

* The first four weeks, it’s about assessing your current draft, identifying problems as well as content that works, brainstorming solutions, then working up a revision outline.

* The next four weeks, it’s knocking out your draft in quarters: Week 5 – Act One. Week 6 – The first half of Act Two. Week 7 – The second half of Act Two. Week 8 – Act Three.

* The last two weeks: Polish and Edit.

There are 10 lectures that provide prompts and tips to steer you through the rewrite, weekly due dates to compel you to do the work, and a workshop environment in which you receive constructive critiques from your fellow writers along with detailed feedback from myself, a combination of written feedback and teleconferences.

What’s more, you learn tools you can use to incorporate into your rewrite process from here on out, making your experience less bitchy / bastardy.

Here is a testimonial from Russell Simpson, a writer who has gone through the Pages II experience:

“I asked friends, trawled the internet, read the blogs and still found myself a touch bewildered by all the self-aggrandizement and shady plaudits. Then I read the brilliant BlackList Blog. And I looked up the writer. And it’s Scott Myers…

Scott’s course is superb. Scott possesses an enviable combination of honesty, bravery and mercy. As long as you are prepared to work hard, this course WILL improve your craftsmanship. I fed a feature through Scott’s dynamo brain and, out the other end is a piece of which I’m intensely proud. If you’re hesitating, stop. You’ll be thankful.”

I do not subscribe to the belief there is one approach to writing… or rewriting. Every writer is different. Every story is different. But I do know this: The process we use in Pages II has helped many, many writers solve major story issues, discover important story keys, and enable them to take their script to the next level.

If you have a script that is a complete draft, but you know needs work…

Or a partially completed draft where you got stuck and couldn’t find your way out…

Or a story you’ve rewritten multiple times, yet feel it just doesn’t work…

I encourage you to consider joining me in my upcoming Rewriting Your Script workshop which begins Monday, April 13. Note: This is the only time I’ll be offering Pages II in 2015.

For more information, go here.

For a look at my first lecture from Pages II: Rewriting Your Script, go here.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

Be Polite / Bring the Fight

April 1st, 2015 by

A guest post from screenwriter Tom Benedek (Cocoon):

I learned a new word yesterday. Paskudnyak. Actually, it is a very old word. Its meaning is as ancient as time itself. Here’s one definition:

Yiddish insult. THE most potent and offensive insult known to man. it has so much connotation that cannot be truly defined that the closest you can come to its meaning is “horrible person”. no other definition has the meaning, and there is no way to convey how powerful that word is. Use with caution.

There are lots of pretty faces in TV and film. And for every one of those, there is a paskudnyak or two around. Show business attracts both. Sometimes they may even be one and the same.

The answer to navigating the difficult professional terrain — be polite and bring the fight. Writing a great script is the most important thing. But it may not be enough. Navigating the professional terrain with civility is essential. And being tough, cultivating a thick skin.

The system works against quality 80% of the time. There are may be wonderful films every year. But many of them are almost mistakes in the system.

You have to battle to get read, to be understood creatively. This means knowing how to pitch, how to present your scripts, your ideas, your creative persona. Studios, producers, agents, managers are looking for good scripts. But they filter material relentlessly. If your material deserves recognition, you may have to fight to get it into the system, to enlist others to get your movie made along with you.

It is an exciting game. The inherent perils – part of the ride.  There won’t be more great movies unless writers create wonderful material, act with civility and fight for their work. And don’t let the paskudnyak get us down along the way.

We have a class covering some of this. Network Hollywood begins next week. We go to the offices of agents, managers, producers, stick a camera in front of them and ask questions. This approach is invaluable because you get to know something about the people you will be meeting before you sit down with them. You will always learn something from these video interviews.

This is one of the most helpful courses we offer at Screenwriting Master Class for learning how to put one’s boots on the ground in Hollywood. To learn more, go here.

Character Development Keys

March 23rd, 2015 by

If there’s one question I get asked about screenwriting theory more than any other it’s what’s my deal with character archetypes? Here’s your chance to find out what that deal is with the Screenwriting Master Class course: Character Development Keys.

It’s a 1-week online class where you do pretty much everything on your own time schedule: download and read lectures, review and post comments on the public forums, upload ideas and optional writing exercises. You want to do that in bed in your pajamas sipping coffee? Be my guest!

There is one teleconference which is live, but I record and upload that, so you can even check that out on your own time, too.

As to the course itself, there are seven lectures written by yours truly:

1: Character Archetypes and Story Structure
2: Protagonist
3: Nemesis
4: Attractor
5: Mentor
6: Trickster
7: Switch Protagonist

The study script for the course: The Dark Knight, screenplay by Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan, story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, based on characters created by Bob Kane. If you’re a fan of this movie, that alone is probably reason enough to take this class because you will understand the film in a whole new way, through the lens of character archetypes.

In addition, you will get the opportunity to put the theories you learn into action by workshopping one of your own stories.

And as a bonus: I’ll be presenting a set of character development tools I have assembled over the years to help you dig into characters even further to uncover their unique personalities and voice.

This is a great chance to immerse yourself in what I consider to be one of the most fascinating and helpful ways of approaching character development and indeed, the story-crafting process as a whole: character archetypes.

All of that in only 1-week. The course runs begins Monday, March 31. And again, you can do the entire course in your pajamas! Sucking down caffeine! Devouring chocolate bon bons! The beauty of the online experience!

For more information, go here.

Plus there’s this: For nearly 50% off, you can gain immediate access to the entire content of all 8 Craft classes as well as automatic enrollment in each 1-week Craft course. Check out the Craft Package here.

As always, I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

Coen Brothers and the Craft of Storytelling

March 9th, 2015 by

Seventeen years ago this week, the movie The Big Lebowski opened. Here is a taste of this wondrous Coen brothers movie:

Perfect timing because beginning Monday, March 16, I will be offering my popular 1-week online class The Coen Brothers and the Craft of Storytelling.

If you are a Coen brothers fan — which you should be!!! — here is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in their movies and discover story principles and dynamics these incredible filmmakers use, knowledge you can bring to bear on your own writing.

Learn about the importance of ordinary person /extraordinary situation, the dynamism of violence, the morally complicated universe, the dramatic potential of misunderstandings, authority figures, grand schemes and much, much — “Shut the fuck up, Donnie!” — more.

Workshop your own story using these same principles as well as insider tips, enabling you to put theory into practice. The class includes:

Seven lectures written by Scott Myers
Special insider tips
Daily forum Q&As
Workshop writing assignments (optional) with instructor and class feedback
A 90-minute live teleconference between instructor and class members

This is the only time I will be teaching this class in 2015 and if it’s anything like previous sessions, we are going to rock and roll!

The Dude abides. And so can you! Join me, won’t you, in my Coen Brothers and the Craft of Storytelling class. Enroll here now!

“It’s Official — Writing is Good For You!”

February 4th, 2015 by

A guest post from screenwriter Tom Benedek (Cocoon) and co-founder of Screenwriting Master Class:

I have always said that my writing practice keeps me sane. Now I know it is true because I read it in the New York Times. There’s a catch though. And it’s a good one.

The concept is based on the idea that we all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves. But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it completely right. Some researchers believe that by writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better health.

The catch — you have to write something that is personal to you. And you have to reflect on it, revise it.

We often hear that managers, agents, producers seek out unique voices in scripts. Who doesn’t? We are all striving to “bring it” every time we sit down to write. Verve Agent Tanya Cohen recently spoke about this in Variety. She fervently believes “the cream will rise to the top” as it always has, so long as there’s truth and passion involved. Agent Cohen: “I think, at the end of the day, writers should write what they know — what they emotionally know.”

As screenwriters:

• Every story we write, every script idea we pursue is personal to us, like it or not.
• We may be writing a genre piece about something completely remote from our personal experience but it still needs to have some meaning for the writer.
• Again — all writing is personal.

With every spec script, there may be an external goal – a sale, a career, making the film, winning a contest, glory in festivals, etc.. however the act of writing, the creative work itself is a means to interpret and express ourselves, explain the world, reflect on life, expand and explore our own lives. This benefit of writing is always there for us. (That is what keeps me writing — even if I have my eye on the prize outside myself, in what we like to think of as the “real world.”)

Here is where the science intersects with screenwriting: By surrendering our selves, our sensibilities to our characters, plots, script structures, we may write more fully realized scripts AND become more fully realized individuals.

I have a Prep Class starting on February 9 at Screenwritingmasterclass.com. It’s a 6 week script outline writing workshop. As an add-on, there will be some stimulating material about the creative process to play with for those who are interested.

The First 15 Pages one-week workshop also starts on February 9. Learn ways to stimulate your creative approaches to crafting those first pages. Class members may post their own first 15 pages for class discussion and instructor Tom Benedek’s feedback in a Skype teleconference.

For more information on the Prep workshop, go here.

To learn more about the First 15 Pages workshop, go here.

Story Summaries: From Loglines to Beat Sheets

January 26th, 2015 by

From elevator pitches to development meetings to conference calls with talent, a screenwriter’s ability to share stories in a variety of narrative forms is both a valuable and necessary skillset. In the upcoming 1-week Screenwriting Master Class online course “Story Summaries: From Loglines to Beat Sheets” [February 2-8], you will learn six different story summaries that are critical assets for any screenwriter.

A screenwriter not only needs to know how to write a script, we also have to be able to convey our stories in multiple other ways. Beyond that, every time we shape a story in a different way, we learn something about it. As such, summaries can be helpful tools in developing, understanding, and crafting our scripts.

This 1-week online course that I will be teaching covers multiple story summaries: Logline, Synopsis, Breakdown, Treatment, Scriptment, and Beat Sheet.

Learn the ins and outs of six different story summaries including using them to help you craft your stories.

Plus you will have the opportunity to craft a logline of your own story with an optional workshop exercise.

The course consists of:

Seven lectures written by Scott Myers

Daily forum Q&As

Optional workshop writing assignments with instructor and class feedback.

A live teleconference between instructor and class members.

In the past, the response from participants in this course has been extremely positive. Here’s one reaction:

The prepared lectures alone are worth the price of this class.  But, the added bonus of discussing the lectures as well as being able to workshop my loglines with Scott and my classmates was a fantastic learning experience that really helped me develop my ability to whittle an idea down to one intriguing sentence.  If your manager, agent, guru, mother, or favorite reader asks you for a synopsis, treatment, beat sheet, or logline and you have no idea what any of those are then this class is for you. — Calvin Starnes

If you haven’t tried an online course before, this is a great and simple way to do it. You can download lectures any time and read them at your leisure. Peruse forum comments from your fellow classmates and respond whenever you want. The teleconference is on Skype and recorded so you can have access to it for transcription purposes. It’s amazing how convenient and effective online education is.

So why don’t you join me for “Story Summaries: From Loglines to Beat Sheets”? You can find out more about this 1-week online screenwriting class here.

I hope you can join me starting next Monday for this important and informative class!

Tom Benedek on Gone Girl, Broadchurch, and writing for TV

January 7th, 2015 by

A guest post from Tom Benedek, screenwriter (Cocoon) and teacher:

Happy New Year. Right after seeing Gone Girl, I found myself getting hooked on Broadchurch, a British TV series available on Netflix Streaming. Gone Girl functions as a mystery during its first half, then at the midpoint, it shifts into a kind of thriller mode with some fascinating, twisted character development. Could Gone Girl be TV? Along the lines of a show like The Affair or, of course, House of Cards – perhaps. Do I want to have this fun couple in my house every Sunday evening? Hmmm. As a movie, Gone Girl spun me around a few times. I will not forget it.

Why did the pilot episode of Broadchurch completely hook me? I don’t usually get involved in this kind of show: it is a straightforward murder mystery. The thing is — it has engaging, likable, yet potentially dark characters. The establishing setups of story, place, people are conventional AND highly resonant, with clear, relatable emotional tugs. Twists of story build emotional contrast almost immediately and yet it feels highly character driven. I will keep watching Broadchurch, catch up before Season 2 begins soon.

More and more feature creators are moving into TV. Along with intense viewership, binge watching, some truly excellent shows, there have been changes in the TV writing marketplace.

TV execs have been raising the bar on pitches. They don’t just want to know the details of the premise, pilot script structure and characters. They expect to hear thumbnail structures for three more episodes AND the season arcs for the main characters.

This means that writer-creators must know more about their shows than ever before — taking responsibility for the concept as a long running TV show. The networks/channels want to see a big canvas. You, the writer, have the opportunity to fill it, truly invest in your premise, characters and story.

TV writing has its own specific structural principles which feature writers can easily grasp. Understanding how to shape a new show and series may be valuable for all your future writing. So please consider my upcoming class TV: PILOT CREATION WORKSHOP starting Monday January 12.

To learn more about the workshop, go here.

Some upcoming writing events

January 2nd, 2015 by

In November and December, a lot of people were inquiring about my Screenwriting Master Class schedule for 2015. It’s finally locked down. For the entire list of classes by Tom Benedek and myself, go here.  I want to spotlight three upcoming writing events:

READY TO WRITE THAT FIRST DRAFT?

Pages I: Writing the First Draft: This online workshop takes you from FADE IN to FADE OUT in 10 weeks. The first Pages I session of 2015 begins Monday, January 5. A structured program with weekly feedback from me and your fellow writers may be just the ticket you need to pound through that script you’ve been developing. Go here to enroll.

FOCUS ON THE CRAFT OF SCREENWRITING!

Monday, January 19 marks the beginning of the first of eight Craft classes I will be teaching in the winter and spring of 2015:

Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling
Coen Brothers and the Craft of Storytelling
Character Development Keys
Handling Exposition
Story Summaries: From Loglines to Beat Sheets
Create a Compelling Protagonist
Write a Worthy Nemesis

Plus I will be introducing a new Craft class: Scene Description Spotlight.

Consider enrolling in The Craft Package: All eight Craft classes at a nearly 50% discount! The Package gives you immediate access to all the course content to go through on your own time as well as automatic enrollment in each live 1-week session.

Lectures written by me. Professional writing tips. Optional writing and logline exercises. Live teleconferences. 24/7 forum conversations. And as always, an incredible gathering of writers from all around the world. The energy, discussions and learning that goes on in these classes never ceases to amaze me.

I am only teaching these Craft classes once in 2015, so here is your chance. The Craft Package is a popular choice and an excellent value. Go here to sign up.

NOTE: The Craft series begins with the super popular class: Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling, start date January 19. Check it out here.

WORK WITH ME LIVE AND IN-PERSON!

I will be back in Santa Monica, California March 12-15, 2015 for the next session of the Quest Writing Workshop. The on-site component is four days and those sessions have proved to incredible. But that’s just the start. After that intensive long weekend, there is a 16 week online program in which you finish prepping your story, then write a first draft from FADE IN to FADE OUT. And it doesn’t end there as the Questers you have worked with become an active, ongoing writers group. Think that’s not possible? There is a group of writers who took classes with me 10 years ago who still read and critique each others’ work to this day!

Honestly I am so proud and excited about the Quest Writing Workshop. The response to it has been phenomenal, grounding participants in solid screenwriting theory and proven practices, all the while developing and writing original screenplays. Plus as much as I love the online platform, it’s great to be able to interact with writers in a face-to-face environment.

I cap enrollment for the Quest Writing Workshop to make sure we have enough time to focus on everyone’s story, so if you’re interested, I recommend you sign up sooner rather than later as my previous spring and fall sessions in Santa Monica have sold out. You may enroll here.

By the way, for those of you traveling from out of town, with the emergence of Airbnb, there are so many more affordable and convenient housing options available now. Check out the wide array of choices right in Santa Monica here.

As I always say, you don’t need to spend a dime to learn the craft of screenwriting. Read scripts. Watch movies. Write pages. Hell, there is a ton of free resources on my blog, literally thousands of posts.

But if you want to accelerate your understanding of the craft, enhance your abilities as a writer, and take your storytelling chops to the next level, I honestly believe the classes I teach and workshops I lead are the best bargain out there.

If you have any questions or want more specific information, email me.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you.

Onward!