“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!

Knock out that first draft!

December 29th, 2014 by

As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one rule about a first draft and it’s this: “Get the damn thing done!”

Easy to say. Hard to do.

That’s why I created the Pages I: The First Draft writing workshop, a structured online environment – 10 weeks, 10 lectures, 10 writing assignments – to empower a writer to get from FADE IN to FADE OUT.

If you have a story you’ve pretty well developed and could benefit from:

* Weekly due dates to compel you to knock out script pages

* Lectures to steer you through the writing process

* Feedback and support from a community of fellow writers

* Analysis of your pages from a professional screenwriter and educator

* Teleconferences to drill down in your story and the craft of screenwriting

I have found the approach we use in the workshop, breaking down each weekly assignment to 10 pages or so, basically one or two sequences, makes the writing much more manageable. That in combination with several other factors make the success rate in my writing workshops – writers actually completing their scripts – quite high.

Some testimonials from writers who have participated in the workshop:

“Having read almost every screenwriting book out there, none can hold a penny to Scott’s approach of story driven by character, which can not only have you confident in your writing abilities, but can also solve the worst case of writers block (as it did for me).” — Aarthi Jayaraman

“A great experience. I didn’t just get a 99 page first draft out of it, I got all the notes, comments and ideas to start my second draft.” — Michael Waters

“I would highly recommend the Pages I course. I was hesitant to spend the money, but Scott Myers is a fantastic instructor:  knowledgeable, encouraging, genuine, funny, and generous. The class set up and size is optimal. And although, personally, I was unsure how much I would get from the peer feedback – I found that incredibly rewarding as well.” — Stacey Fernengel

typing-hands

Consider enrolling in the upcoming Pages I workshop. Instructor: Yours truly.

It begins next Monday, January 5th.

Go here to learn more. Or if you have any questions feel free to email me.

Let me end with a some writer quotes about first drafts:

“First drafts are for learning what your story is about.”
— Bernard Malamud

“The first draft is nothing more than a starting point, so be wrong as fast as you can.”
— Andrew Stanton

“Then comes the great leap which is the first draft, I call it ‘the muscle draft,’ where you just muscle it out. You don’t worry about what you’re missing, you just get through it, get to the end.”
— Darren Aronofsky

“Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. That first draft is just spaghetti on the wall.”
— Dennis Lehane

“Sometimes you’re swinging your way through a first draft like a blind miner with a pick-axe. That’s OK. Get it done, nothing else matters.”
–Justin Marks

“The first draft, the first structure is really important… Do it fast, don’t get stuck.”
— Oliver Stone

“No matter what you write, good or bad, it’s an improvement to a blank page.”
— Chris Sparling

Why not start off the New Year by taking on a new screenplay? I look forward to the opportunity to work with and support you in knocking out that first draft!

Thinking Bigger For The Small Screen

December 2nd, 2014 by

A guest post from screenwriter and educator Tom Benedek whose screenwriting credits include the movie Cocoon.

Happy holidays. Lots of interesting movies opening now. I’m excited! And, on the home screen front, series television continues to bubble excitedly — a lot of interesting TV to catch up on, anticipate, etc..

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 December 8.

For more information on Tom’s excellent class, go here.

A different approach to “theme”

November 10th, 2014 by

Nearly everything I’ve ever read on the subject of ‘theme’ in relation to screenwriting has felt either confusing or impractical.

What does theme mean? How should we understand it? How can we use it in our writing?

The ironic thing is theme is incredibly important:

* Important in helping us find the focus of our story.

* Important in mining the story’s emotional and psychological depth.

* Important in elevating the impact of the events that transpire in our story.

That is why I created Core VII: Theme. And starting Monday, November 17, I will be teaching this unique one-week online screenwriting class.

The course consists of six lectures I wrote, message board discussions, insider tips, and an optional writing exercise to workshop one of your stories. All of those you can do on your own time, everything from downloading and reading lectures to posting comments.

There is also a 90-minute teleconference between class participants and myself where we discuss the course content and anything screenwriting related.

In this course:

  • You will learn a coherent take on theme, how it relates to the overall story, and tips on how to weave thematic material into your scripts.
  • You can put to use what you have learned by workshopping one of your own stories.

Scripts we will study in the class: The King’s Speech, The Silence of the Lambs, Tootsie, The Shawshank Redemption, Bull Durham, As Good As It Gets, The Dark Knight, The Social Network among others.

When I introduced this class, the response from participants was hugely favorable, the major sentiment that this approach to theme not only clears up a confusing subject, but also provides practical tools a writer can use to work with themes in their own stories. Like this testimonial:

Your “Theme” class for aspiring screenwriters is not just helpful, it is essential. From the personal attention to the numerous “A-Ha!” moments throughout the class, I was thrilled to simply KEEP LEARNING. How many teachers can boast about that with their students? — Heather Thompson

So sign up now!

I look forward to working with you!

Screenwriting as scene-writing

November 3rd, 2014 by

Every time we sit down to write a script, we are faced with a scene. This can be a daunting task considering a script may have 60, 75, 90 scenes or more. In a very real way, screenwriting is at its core scene-writing.

Therefore it is essential for you to know how to handle writing scenes.

Beginning next Monday, November 10, I will be offering my 1-week online screenwriting course, Core VI: Scene. It is part of the 8-part Core curriculum which itself comprises the foundation of the screenwriting theory I teach in The Quest.

This class presents key guidelines to help writers develop a deeper understanding of scenes — what they are, how they function, and most importantly how to approach writing them.

* Learn six fundamental questions you should ask about every scene as you construct and write it.

* Put theory into practice by workshopping some of your own original scenes.

Six lectures written by Scott Myers.
Special insider tips.
24/7 daily forum interaction.
Workshop writing exercises with instructor and class feedback.
A 90-minute live teleconference between instructor and class members.

Plus you can workshop a logline and post it for feedback.

So go here and sign up now.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

“Character drives TV”

October 28th, 2014 by

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

“Character drives plot.” We say it over and over again in every film script workshop we do.

Same goes in TV writing, naturally. Plot, story are crucial in television, too. But it is all about that family of characters.

Example: I keep watching Homeland for the characters. It is easy to argue that the stories have gotten weird AND over-familiar —  but I still enjoy the characters. So I keep watching – anticipate potential shifts in key character relationships as those familiar thriller CIA/terrorist plot tropes unfold.

Job #1 in TV series creation is an engaging family of characters with personal stories, built-in emotional conflicts which can be mined, explored, pushed into new territory incrementally.

Concept, the world of the show is just as important. BUT any world may do if the characters are great, if their attitudes to plot elements are full of life and human truth. That familiar world becomes fresh through the lives of dynamic, engaging characters.

Home screens get larger. More movie talent moves into TV. More channels seek better shows. Feature film evolves – influenced by the impact of the medium.

So — understanding TV, how script structure, plot, character differs from features is valuable. If you are interested in writing a pilot, please consider my upcoming class TV: WRITING THE ORIGINAL PILOT SCRIPT one week class starting Monday, November 3.

Writing an original TV pilot is a great thing to do right now. It is fun. It is challenging. It is a great creative  endeavor, writer marketing tool, means to representation and jobs. Manager, agents, producers like to read 30 page or 60 page scripts. Spec pilots sell. They get made into shows. They lead to jobs – in TV and in features.

Please do join me for this fun and exciting class.

For more information on this exciting class, go here.

Break your story in prep

September 29th, 2014 by

Have you ever started a script and not finished it?

Has it ever taken you 4, 5, 6 months or more to finish a script?

Have you ever gotten so lost when writing a story, you became incredibly frustrated?

Chances are you did not do enough story preparation.

Don’t you think it’s time to approach writing like most professionals do and break your story in prep?

Screenwriting Master Class offers a 6-week online Prep: From Concept to Outline writing workshop, a unique approach to develop your story, enabling you to crack it before you type FADE IN.

The beauty of this approach is three-fold:

  • You can go into the page-writing part of the process with confidence because you’ve already broken the story.
  • Since you won’t be overwhelmed with finding the story when writing pages, you can focus your creativity where it should be — characters, dialogue, themes, mood, pace, etc.
  • By devoting six weeks to prep, you will almost assuredly cut the overall amount of time you spend writing your script and increase the odds you will finish your draft.

Here are a few testimonials from writers who have participated in the Prep: From Concept to Outline online workshop:

“‘From Concept to Outline’ is a course I wish I had known about a couple of years ago. I would recommend this whole-heartedly for anyone who is about to embark on their first script or ANY script. This lays the foundation stone to your story.” – Camilla Castree

“This has been an outstanding class. I’ve taken a few from other sources and most don’t live up to their promises (they shall remain nameless). But here, I’ve learned so much and gotten way more than my money’s worth.” — Daniel O’Donahue

“I went into Scott’s Prep class doubting I’d ever finish a script; I came out with the tools, confidence and inspiration to power through a complete first draft in just a few months. Amazing!” — Jessica Sada

In the nearly four years I’ve been teaching through Screenwriting Master Class, I’ve led multiple Prep workshops as it has proved to be one of the most popular classes we offer. Why? Because it works! If you fully engage yourself in the six stages of this process, you will end up with an outline you can use as a springboard for writing your screenplay.

Moreover I hear from writers frequently who have taken the workshop, how they continue to adapt and use it on other stories. I’m not saying it’s the way to break a story, however it has proved to be a viable approach for many writers.

What the workshop consists of:

* Six lectures written by me

* Six writing assignments which take you from a Protagonist Character Treatment all the way to a Narrative Throughline outline

* Six due dates to spur you to make progress on your story

* Online forums with feedback from myself and your fellow writers

* Weekly teleconferences for yet more feedback

In other words, a structure which steers you through the prep-writing process… from concept to outline.

I will be leading just 1 more session in 2014 starting October 27. Here’s your chance to give yourself a holiday gift: A fully worked-out story into which you can leap on January 1st, a great way to start the New Year typing FADE IN with confidence you know where you’re going.

For more information, go here.

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