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!

The mysteries of writing dialogue

September 8th, 2014 by

There are many intangibles about the craft of screenwriting. Much of that derives from the fact that story itself is organic. Stories — good ones, at least — are not formulas. They are not widgets. Rather they are living, breathing entities with a heart, soul, and even will of their own. They slip and slide as we develop and write them, creating a series of challenges as we try our best to solve their mysteries.

Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than with dialogue. When I pose the question, “How do you write dialogue” to professional screenwriters, the most common response is basically this: I don’t know.

Common advice as to how to learn to write good dialogue:

* Listen to real-life conversations to get a sense of how people talk.

* Read scripts and watch movies – or better yet listen to moviesin order to grasp the feel and flow of film characters talking.

* Simply keep writing, that the more you pound out pages and knock out original screenplays, you will develop your ear for dialogue.

All of those are reasonable points. But aren’t there principles and practices we can learn to help bring into focus a writer’s ability to craft compelling, entertaining and effective dialogue?

That was my thinking when I sat down to create the fifth class in the Core curriculum – Core V: Dialogue.

As with everything I teach about screenwriting, it starts with character. Isn’t it obvious the more you know and understand about your story’s characters, the more likely their respective voices will emerge into your consciousness?

Beyond that, it’s not just about hearing them, it’s about choosing the most impactful dialogue to support the point of each scene and drive the plot forward.

Hence the fifth Essential Screenwriting Principle: Dialogue = Purpose.

In a screenplay, there is almost zero room for extraneous dialogue, rather every line should tie into the Plotline and/or Themeline.

In Core V: Dialogue, we dig deep into this subject through 6 lectures I have written:

Lecture 1: Introduction to Dialogue
Lecture 2: Finding Your Character’s Voice – Inward Journey
Lecture 3: Finding Your Character’s Voice – Outward Expression
Lecture 4: Subtext
Lecture 5: What Is Not Said
Lecture 6: Realistic Dialogue

In addition there are several Insider Tips, analysis of several movie scripts, opportunities to workshop dialogue in some of your own original scenes, a 75-minute teleconference, and much more.

A testimonial from a writer:

“Scott is so generous with sharing his knowledge and it’s a great blessing to those of us who are just starting off/been doing it for years/need a reminder/need inspiration. I just completed the Core Dialogue course and I can honestly say he delivers back your investment threefold.” — Sabina Giado

There is no right way to write. Every writer is different. Every story is different. And you can learn everything you need to know about the craft of screenwriting by doing three things: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages.

However if you want to explore the subject of dialogue in an immersive fashion and from a distinct character-based perspective, I invite you to join me for this 1-week online class which begins Monday, September 15.

For more information, go here.

Why haven’t you finished that script?

September 2nd, 2014 by

You know, that story you’ve been kicking around for months. Maybe it’s pretty well worked out, but you just can’t summon up the energy to type FADE IN. Or you have a partial draft and you’re stuck, not sure which way to go. Or a story concept you think has strong potential, but you’re battling your own Voices Of Negativity…

The simple fact is an unfinished script is nothing but potential. And nothing but potential is… nothing.

Maybe what you could use is this.

* A structured environment with actual due dates to inspire you to knock out pages.

* A workshop where you receive constructive feedback from a group of writing peers.

* A mentor who is a professional screenwriter and educator to accompany you on your writing journey.

That’s what we offer at Screenwriting Master Class with our Pages I: The First Draft workshop. 10 lectures [written by me] to spur your creativity, 10 teleconferences to review your pages, 10 due dates to motivate you to get from FADE IN to FADE OUT.

If you are comfortable with the sequence approach to screenwriting, you will feel right at home in this course.

If your grasp of story structure is a weak point, this workshop will help you ground your understanding.

If you have trouble finding the discipline to deposit your ‘derriere on chair’ and write, Pages I takes that problem on in a direct, practical and supportive manner.

Some thoughts by writers on the singular importance of the first draft:

“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

“Even if you write it wrong, write and finish your first draft. Only then, when you have a flawed whole, do you know what you have to fix.” — Dominick Dunne

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

“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

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

Winding Road Final

If you’re looking to go on that unique journey of discovery which is a first draft and could use the structure of an online workshop to help guide you through the process, go here to learn more about Pages I.

Our last session for 2014 begins Monday, September 8, so this is a great chance to make this year count in terms of your creative work.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

Style = Voice

August 25th, 2014 by

How you approach screenwriting style is a reflection of your writing voice. This is the case whether you are intentional about it or not. A professional script reader, who plows through hundreds of scripts per year, will pick up on a script’s sense of style – or lack thereof – from the very first line of scene description. Therefore it stands to reason you need to think about your writing voice as conveyed in your script’s style. And that is what Core IV: Style is all about, exploring the breadth and depth of the 4th essential screenwriting principle I teach in the Core content of The Quest:

Style = Voice

Start with this question: Who tells your story? Obviously, when you sit down to create a screenplay, you write the story. But when a manager, producer, agent, or studio executive reads your script, who tells your story to them?

It is someone who remains largely invisible, but whose presence is felt from FADE IN to FADE OUT. Someone about whom many screenwriters have little knowledge and yet traffic in that unseen world every time they write a scene. Someone who can make a screenplay a great read – or something less.

Let’s call it Narrative Voice.

Narrative Voice is not a narrator per se. You will never see it with its own side of dialogue. In fact, you will never name it in your screenplay. But Narrative Voice is there. And it is a critical aspect of your script’s success.

What is Narrative Voice?

Narrative Voice is the storytelling sensibility you bring to your screenplay through your writing style. Think of Narrative Voice as your script’s invisible character. Although silent, it is present in every scene, every line, every word you write. As you develop and sharpen each visible character in your screenplay, you also need to figure out who your Narrative Voice is, what your Narrative Voice sounds like, and how your Narrative Voice will play an active role in the telling of your story.

In Core IV: Style, a 1-week online class I will teach starting on Monday, September 1, you will learn about:

* The ins and outs of Narrative Voice

* Elements of screenplay style

* Psychological writing (Perspective, Proximity, Perception)

* Imagematic writing (Verbs, Descriptors, Poetics)

* Action writing (Lines, Paragraphs, Direction)

And much more. The course consists of four components:

  • Lectures: There are six lectures written by me, each posting Monday through Saturday.
  • Writing Exercises: These optional exercises offer you the opportunity to test out your own writing style, plus the chance to workshop and receive feedback on one of your own loglines.
  • Teleconference: We will have a Skype teleconference call to discuss course material.
  • Forums: The online course site has forums where you may post questions / comments.

Our study scripts: Wall-E, The Hangover, The Dark Knight, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Last Boy Scout, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Chinatown, The Matrix, Black Swan, Legally Blonde, American Beauty, Little Miss Sunshine, Basic Instinct, Unforgiven, True Grit, The King’s Speech, and Winter’s Bone.

For those of you who have not taken an online class, the interface is extremely easy. Plus online classes can be an amazing experience. Most of the activities you can do on your own time — download and read lectures, review and respond to forum discussions, upload loglines and track comments. In addition, I’ve been teaching online for over a decade and it never ceases to amaze me how much of a community emerges in such an environment.

Core IV: Style is one of eight classes in the Core curriculum. Here is the schedule for the remaining five classes, the only time I will be offering these courses in 2013:

September 1: Core IV: Style

September 15: Core V: Dialogue

October 27: Core VI: Scene

November 10: Core VII: Theme

December 2: Core VIII: Time

Choose one or two depending upon your interests and needs. Or if you’re really serious and want to save some coin (nearly 50% off), consider The Core Package which gives you immediate access to the content for all eight Core classes which you can go through at your own pace, as well as the option of taking each 1-week online course.

“When I found out about Scott Myers’ Screenwriting Master Class, I signed up for the first module, to test the waters, but before the week was out, I’d signed up for the rest [The Core Package]. Wish I’d known about it all those years ago! Value for money, solid understandable notes, a teacher who’s been there and done it, plus swapping ideas with fellow writers – it doesn’t get any more real.” — Philip Brewster

I have gotten to know dozens of professional script readers throughout the years and I can let you in on this little secret: A writer’s voice as exhibited in screenplay style goes a long way toward winning them over and getting you favorable script coverage.

For information on Core IV: Style, which begins September 1, go here.

For The Core Package, go here.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

The First 15 Pages

August 19th, 2014 by

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

Structure is everything. Perhaps. Breaking down the moving parts of the opening pages of the best screenplays yields a means to understanding their creative DNA. Putting all those pieces together — character intros, plot points, color of setting — is job one.

AND there is that other realm of it — writing style. Emotional attitude. Tone.

As I start writing the first script pages on a new project, I want two things to be going on. I need to get all this information about the story and the characters set in motion and I want to engage my reader emotionally. One and the same? Yes and no. All the ingredients for a wonderful script may be in the writer’s mind, in notes, in outline form. But the means, the voice on the page has to deliver all that and build this special emotional bridge with the reader.

Bringing your own unique voice into your screenwriting work is crucial and difficult. You can’t direct on the page. But you can emphatically present the moments of the story from your own point of view, bring your emotions to the piece. Simultaneously, the job is just tell the damn story. But this trick of keeping the voice of the storyteller in there somehow matters.

“In the broadest possible sense, writing well means to communicate clearly and interestingly and in a way that feels alive to the reader. Where there’s some kind of relationship between the writer and the reader — even though it’s mediated by a kind of text — there’s an electricity about it.” — David Foster Wallace

Creating that “electricity” is so difficult and essential. Your passion for your story and characters may just offer all that from the beginning. For most of us, it becomes necessary to labor over the words – to create that electricity in the text.

“Writing well in the sense of writing something interesting and urgent and alive, that actually has calories in it for the reader — the reader walks away having benefited from the 45 minutes she put into reading the thing — maybe isn’t hard for a certain few. I mean, maybe John Updike’s first drafts are these incredible . . . Apparently Bertrand Russell could just simply sit down and do this. I don’t know anyone who can do that. For me, the cliché that ‘Writing that appears effortless takes the most work’ has been borne out through very unpleasant experience.” — David Foster Wallace

Most of us mortals, David Foster Wallace included, are forced to manufacture that electricity in rewrite. It may be there in fits and starts (or everywhere, bless you) in that first draft. Mainly, it is just essential to start out mindful of what you want and to have thought through the main ingredients of your script. So they will be evident in those first 15 pages you rough out. You won’t find your voice unless you start writing. So — you have to get those first 15 pages into script form. Then, you can edit them and reinforce your emotional bridge with the reader.

I will be teaching a one-week online class at next week: The First 15 Pages. There will be plenty of consideration of the essential structural ingredients — character building, plot development techniques, etc. for the opening pages. The class will also consider the practice of writing – finding your voice, fulfilling your creative mandate as you write or rewrite the first 15 pages of any script project. By reviewing the essentials in a few great scripts, you will see where the magic is — along with the sound structural fundamentals. Here is the link to the class.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

Tom is a wonderful writer and teacher, and this is the type of learning experience that is crucial to the craft: Learning how to get into your story setup in an effective and entertaining way. So I encourage you to check out Tom’s new class here.

Character = Function

July 28th, 2014 by

In a screenplay, characters exist for a reason. Unlike a novel, a writer doesn’t have unlimited time to introduce characters willy nilly, rather the limitations of a script’s length compels us to handle characters with one eye always on how they connect to the plot. Moreover almost all movies feature a Protagonist who goes through some sort of metamorphosis. As a result, it’s almost certain all of the primary and even secondary characters in a story tie into and support the Protagonist’s transformation.

All of this translates into a 3rd essential screenwriting principle I teach in the Core curriculum:

Character = Function

This may sound reductionist. It is precisely the opposite. Much like an actor asks, “What’s my motivation,” digging down into the core of their character’s persona, so, too, do we as screenwriters delve into characters to determine what their core essence is and how that plays out in terms of their respective narrative functions. Once we make those discoveries, we can shape our characters in unlimited ways, all the while playing to how they function in relation to the narrative.

That is the starting point of Core III: Character, a 1-week online class I will be teaching starting on Monday, August 4. In this course, you will learn about:

* Five primary character archetypes: Protagonist, Nemesis, Attractor, Mentor, Trickster

* Protagonist Metamorphosis Arc

* Nemesis as opposition and ‘shadow’

* Attractor as the character most connected to a Protagonist’s emotional development

* Mentor as the character most connected to a Protagonist’s intellectual development

* Trickster as the character who tests the Protagonist’s will

* Different Protagonist paradigms

* Working with archetypes and switching Protagonists

And much more. The course consists of four components:

  • Lectures: There are six lectures written by me, each posting Monday through Saturday.
  • Writing Exercises: These optional exercises offer you the opportunity to workshop one of your own loglines and receive feedback from class members.
  • Teleconference: We will have a Skype teleconference call to discuss course material, a great opportunity to interface directly with me and other writers in the course.
  • Forums: The online course site has message boards where you may post questions / comments, almost always a place where remarkable conversations and analysis takes place.

We will analyze the following movies: The Wizard of Oz, The Apartment, The Silence of the Lambs, Slumdog Millionaire, Citizen Kane, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Life Is Beautiful,

For those of you who have not taken an online class, the interface is extremely easy. Plus online classes can be an amazing experience. Most of the activities you can do on your own time — download and read lectures, review and respond to forum discussions, upload loglines and track comments. In addition, I’ve been teaching online for over a decade and it never ceases to amaze me how much of a community emerges in such an environment.

Core III: Character is one of eight classes in the Core curriculum. Here is the schedule for all of them this summer and fall, the only time I will be offering these courses in 2014:

July 7 – Core I: Plot
July 21 – Core II: Concept
August 4 – Core III: Character
September 1 – Core IV: Style
September 15 – Core V: Dialogue
October 27 – Core VI: Scene
November 10 – Core VII: Theme
December 2 – Core VIII: Time

Choose one or two depending upon your interests and needs. Or if you’re really serious and want to save some coin (nearly 50% off), consider The Core Package which gives you immediate access to the content for all eight Core classes which you can go through at your own pace, as well as the option of taking each 1-week online course.

“Joining Scott’s class is one of the best decisions anyone could make when deciding to embark on the journey of writing a screenplay. His passion for teaching and screenwriting could not be more inspirational. I couldn’t wish for a better teacher and mentor!” — Theodora von Auersperg

“Your unique lectures helped me think about character in new ways, and will inevitably change the way I approach new ideas and outlines. And I’m blown away and impressed at the level of personal feedback/communication from you. I don’t know how you do it– androids couldn’t manage their time more efficiently than you.” — Bob Corsi

I have spent years studying Carl Jung, who was a huge influence on Joseph Campbell, and as the Hero’s Journey may act as a paradigm for narrative generally, I am convinced there is a similar universality in movies relative to these five character archetypes. Moreover these archetypes are a key to character-based screenwriting, providing writers a non-formulaic way to engage the story-crafting process.

For information on Core III: Character, which begins August 4, go here.

For The Core Package, go here.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!